Hugh MacLeod‘s third book Freedom Is Blogging in Your Underwear arrived at my house earlier this week and reminded me all over again why I love Hugh’s work. He mixes quirky cartoons with very pithy commentary that cuts to the heart of the issue. It’s very cool. The balance of text to cartoons in Freedom is biased towards cartoons, which makes it very easy to dip in and out of, or to go through at once, which is what I did.
Regardless of whether you live in an area that people would travel to because of it’s natural beauty, or whether you live in an area that people feel they need to leave to experience natural beauty there are images to be made. The skill that we need to learn is to see them. This is something that takes practice. Freeman Patterson’s book ‘Photography and the Art of Seeing‘ is a great place to start. A new edition just came out – it’s exceptional and should find a home on every photographer’s shelf.
Learning to see the possibilities around you means carrying a camera around with you and using it every day. For me there are days when that’s not an issue at all and then those other days when I’m running to stay in one place, not so easy. But I keep trying.
I’m finding with the iPhone that I enjoy the exploration of image after taking it, at least as much as taking it in the first place. The image above was taken while I was waiting for my son to be released from school the other day. I played with it in photoforge and phototoaster.
I was very excited to find my copy of Bruce Percy‘s new book hanging from my mail box when I got home on Wednesday. Bruce’s book is a collection of 40 of his images that cover both his landscape and portraiture work, one image per page with an accompanying page of text. I suspect that the title is a nod to Galen Rowell and Bruce acknowledge’s in his introduction that the format is a nod to Ansel Adam’s book ‘Examples: The making of 40 images‘. The foreword is written by Michael Kenna another of Bruce’s influences.
I’ve been a big fan of Bruce’s photography for quite a while, although I associate him more with landscape photography than portrait work so the mix in the book is curious choice for me. I find the photographs of Scotland particularly intriguing – perhaps the familiarity of being of being at home allows Bruce to push beyond the obvious pretty landscape and try for something that is less of a record of the scene and more a record of what he felt. If there are any images where he is channelling Michael Kenna it is these, but that’s not to say that these are Kennaesque copies. Rather, they use the recognition and inspiration from Kenna’s work that the camera need not faithfully record the scene but can effectively capture your response to the scene. It’s a great book, one that I’m going to enjoy going through in much more detail.
You can find ‘Art of Adventure’ for sale here. Well worth adding to your collection.
I end up buying a lot of books, some I find more interesting and useful than others. The difficulty that I have is knowing what level the book is pitched towards. Books about photographing kids can be a real mixed bag. I have found a few that I liked. Nick Kelsh‘s book ‘How to Photograph Your Baby: Revised Edition‘ is interesting. Not f stops and shutter speeds but more what it takes to get a good shot of your kids. Working through some of the ideas had a significant impact on the quality of the photos of my kids. Well worth a look.
My recent purchase was Photographing Childhood by Lanola Kathleen Stone. I regretted the purchase as soon as I’d clicked buy on the amazon.com site. What was I thinking? I take a lot of photos of my kids but I’m happy enough with what I’m getting that I don’t feel a need to pursue this hard. I was blown away when Photographing Childhood showed up on my doorstep a few days later and I began flipping through it. The book covers a lot of ground, beginning worth a historical tour through some of the masters who’ve shot children and then onto the only chapter that deals with technical issues ‘Tools of the Trade’ which discusses light more than it does f stops and shutter speeds (awesome!) before hitting ‘A Timeline of Childhood’, a tour through some contemporary photographers and dealing with issues of file storage. If you only read the the chapters dealing with the historical and contemporary photographers you’d be ahead of the game. Buried in this section is a primer on how to view new images and a list of questions to run through as your doing so – for me this was worth the price of admission. Even if your primary focus is not shooting kids this is a great book to have on your shelf. Go get it!
I spend a lot of time traveling around Boston using the underground system which is locally referred to as ‘The T’. Even though I’d traveled around for years on the T it was only since my obsession with grungy iPhone photos kicked in that it occurred to me that there were some potential images to be made while waiting for the train. Initially I considered these to be sketches of what I might be able to do with my ‘real’ camera. Even so I quite like what I’ve been able to do so far and will continue to push the idea forward.
Lumiere Press are celebrating their 25 th anniversary with the release of STEICHEN: Eduard et Voulangis . As I’m sure you’re all well aware Eduard Steichen was an American photographer, painter, and art gallery and museum curator. Amongst other things Steichen was the first fashion photographer and the curator responsible for the family of man exhibition at the MoMA: An exhibit of 508 photos by 273 photographers in 68 countries were selected from almost 2 million pictures submitted by famous and unknown photographers.
STEICHEN: Eduard et Voulangis focuses on the period of Steichen’s life just after the first world war when he spent time in his home village of Voulangis, just outside of Paris, experimenting and developing as an artist. The volume pairs a very early portfolio of the early modernist work of Eduard Steichen, with an essay from Michael Torosian that charts the path of Steichen’s early development as an artist, his ascent in the orbits of Paris and New York and the confluence of cultural, aesthetic and personal events that dramatically forged his work as a photographer. My copy arrived just before I headed off for a trip to Europe and I’m looking forward to chance to dig into when I return home.
One of the first things I do with any book of this type us to scan through to find the sections that look like they would offer immediate value. One such section is seeing differently. I was surprised to find that this short section was almost entirely devoted to a case study from one of my friends and mentors, Cary Wolinsky. Michael’s interview with Cary that includes the case study can be found here. I’m still working through the book but it looks like it will be a valuable addition to the photographers bookshelf, particularly the one who us interested in further developing visual literacy and the language to go along with it.
Check out the videos below to hear Michael discussing professional photography and his books.
The deeper that I delve into photography the more I realize how hard I find it to create a successful photograph using just a rules based, intellectual approach. The successful images come when I apply the technical understanding to capture the scene that really stopped me in my tracks. Being able to be stopped in my tracks happens when I slow down and quiet the chatter. This kind of slowing down and taking time to quiet the chatter is something that I’ve come to naturally but is something that I have heard both Michael Kenna and Paul Caponigro refer to. Michael Kenna has called this communing with the land, while Paul Caponigro refers to his stance of silence and to having to shut up when the subject calls to him.
Some call this contemplative photography. It was this phrase that caught my eye when I was browsing amazon.com and that led me to The Practice of Contemplative Photography by Andy Kerr and Michael Wood. The focus here is on seeing clearly or as Cartier-Bresson puts it ‘putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis’. Kerr and Wood break down contemplative photography into 3 distinct phases: The Flash of Perception – the recognition of something special that is likened to ‘being awoken form sleep by a loud noise’: this is then followed by Visual Discernment, maintaining the contemplative mind after the flash of perception and then finally, Forming the Equivalent, taking the picture that is equivalent to your perception. Each of these stages is explored in detail with their own chapters that include assignments to help you practice and example photographs to provide inspiration. The example photographs aren’t exemplars or templates to be repeated since we all will respond to our environment in different ways and as a result make very different photographs.
I must admit that I enjoyed reading and working through the book. I also find the connection made between photography and Buddhism interesting too. Kerr and Wood argue that both contemplative photography and Buddhism are concerned with clear seeing. They argue that clear seeing is the ultimate antidote for confusion and ignorance, freedom from which is a key tenet of Buddhism.
The book is not all sunshine and roses – I can’t help but take issue with the notion that the use of telephoto lenses and filters adds an unnecessary artifice resulting in plasticky photographs. Does this mean that we should only be using ‘normal lenses’ that mimic the human eye? Hardly. One of the reasons that I’ve been disappointed with my results in the past is that I haven’t been able to simplify the scene to a point that makes me feel satisfied when I see the image on the computer days later. Similarly using a filter to ensure that I don’t blow the sky out, to compress the dynamic range of the photograph is increasingly important to my being able to capture a successful image. I would argue that you should use whatever tool or tools it takes to be able to render the image that you felt and that the key is to reach a level of fluency with those tools such that the technical doesn’t get in the way as you move to making the image that stopped you in your tracks. A minor quibble with a book that I have enjoyed working through over the course of the last few months.
I’m getting ready to head over to Martha’s Vineyard for a week of photography starting Saturday. What better way to spend the week than being given a tour by the photographer who literally wrote the book on ‘Photographing Martha’s Vineyard‘ – Alison Shaw. Alison is a fine art and editorial photographer who lives year round on Martha’s Vineyard and has done so since she came for the summer in 1975 and never left. Here’s Alison talking about her book and photographing on Martha’s Vineyard:
I’ve been trying to understand the key elements of ‘Intimate Landscapes’ – I’m still a long way from them making even vague sense to me – but I am looking at as many photographs as I can in this style and reading as much as I can too. Niall Benvie‘s article in Outdoor Photography about ‘Deconstructed landscapes’. You can find a version of the article on his blog here, certainly worth a read.
I enjoyed the article enough to look up his books and came across Outdoor Photography Masterclass. Against my better judgement, since I’m trying to ween myself off ‘how to’ books, I ordered it and spent last weekend flipping through it. The book is broken up as though it were a 3 day workshop. I haven’t gotten deeply into the specifics of workflow, basic processing etc., – it seems like the usual affair, generally solid advice, perhaps a little dated. A minor quibble for instance – I’m using 8 GB memory cards, shooting raw I get about 280 images per card. I generally delete the out of focus stuff and keep the rest. It’s quite possible for me to have at least 8 GB of images from a morning or evening shoot more than will fit onto the DVD recommended for archiving purposes.
What I really liked were the more thought provoking short essays at the end of each chapter, covering topics such as ‘How Should we Critique Outdoor Photography’ and ‘Creativity, Style & Vision’. I would have been happy to have a book full of these and I’m happy to have bought Outdoor Photography Masterclass for these writings if nothing else.
To find more of Niall’s writings, and I recommend that you do!, a great place to begin with is the blog ‘Images from the Edge‘ that Niall collaborates on with Clay Bolt, Paul Harcourt Davies & Andrew Parkinson. Niall is also a regular contributor to the UK magazine Outdoor Photography. This can be hard to find in the US but is available as an iPad app and well worth having a look. Lots of good stuff to dig into.