Friday Inspiration: Stephen Shore

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I’m continuing to dig deeper into the work of some of the photographers that were part of the New Topographics exhibition curated by William Jenkins in 1975. These were a group of photographers working to find ‘beauty in the banal’, making ‘photographs of a man-altered landscape’. In many ways it’s easy to dismiss this work as having a ‘snap-shot’ aesthetic and for some of this work I really struggle to connect with it. This week’s project has been Stephen Shore. If you read his biography one of the first things that is pointed out is that he sold his first photographs at age 14 to Alfred Steiglitz and that at 24 was only the second living photographer to have a solo show at the MoMA.

His work in the New Topographics exhibition was in color whereas the other 7 photographers were shooting in black and white. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that at that time in the early ’70’s shooting in color was not what you did if you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Color was okay for magazines but not for ‘art’. Perhaps this further adds to the sense of these photographs being snapshots. In looking over this work and some of the subsequent work that arose out of these early projects I can’t help but think that this would be a great instagram feed and indeed you can find Stephen Shore on Instagram although I was surprised to find that I don’t connect with these photographs in the way that I do with the images in his books.

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I often feel like I’m missing the joke when I look at contemporary photography and so it’s been useful for me to listen to Shore talk about his work in the videos below and lift the veil, at least a little.

Stephen Shore American Surfaces from Spike Productions on Vimeo.

Stephen Shore Uncommon Places from Spike Productions on Vimeo.

Stephen Shore in Conversation with Peter Schjeldahl from Aperture Foundation on Vimeo.

Being Creative Means Making

Sometimes I catch myself and otherwise others give me a helpful prod but if you’re going to use the ‘creative’ moniker then that means, or at least should mean, actually making things rather than thinking and talking about the creative act. I’ll give you that pushing the button and making the image could be the creative act but for me the end product of creative has to be some tangible thing. To keep my feet to this fire I have been using my iPhone more than ever before to play and make images. I’m pairing these experiments with Artifact Uprising’s printing service to make little prints and now books all without leaving the iOS environment.

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I was very happy with my little book part one of what I hope will be a four part series, one book of images per quarter, and perhaps a ‘greatest hits’ compilation at the end of the year. And perhaps I will pair the images with a collection of essays that describe the journeys and experiences and maybe make a slipcase to put them all in and, and, you know how it goes. I have to remind myself one step at a time. Small doable chunks.

Around the same time I got my little book I got Magda Biernat’s little book ‘Adrift’. Biernat’s project Adrift begins a dialog about climate change in the pairing of images of icebergs in antarctica with abandoned hunting cabins of the Iñupiat eskimos in the Arctic. The natural and the man made are both adrift in increasing numbers as the poles warm, causing more icebergs to be cast off and the hunting cabins to be abandoned as the animals the subsistence hunters pursue either dwindle in number or their migration patterns change.

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What blows me away about the book is how creatively well done it is. There are a number of ‘what if’s’: What if we prepare the book as if it were a Japanese accordion book? What if we have the accompanying essays bound as a separate text block. What if the book opens on the horizontal, bottom to top, rather than the vertical right to left? All of which work and all of which serve to draw me in further.

It’s worth keeping these things in mind when you’re working on your own book projects, perhaps using templates from some of the big on demand publishing services, that you’re getting locking into a standard format. How can you work within that box and yet break it so that you have something that better serves the work and that is uniquely your own. Daniel Milnor photographer at large for Blurb continually is pushing at the edges of what is possible with the Blurb format and is well worth paying attention to as you think about developing your own projects.

G.G.A.S.*: Canon 100-400 mkII

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*Galloping Gear Acquisition Syndrome

I am generally happy to remain ignorant of the latest bells and whistles that the camera manufacturers have added in order to sell another piece of gear that no-one really needs. However, of late my head has bean turned by lots of new doodads. The latest in this parade of head turners is the updated version of Canon’s 100-400mm lens. I had the original ‘dust pump’ version of this lens which I eventually retired because it never saw much action and following it’s use I ended up spending a while cleaning the sensor on the body that it was used on. Having said that, there was a certain novelty factor to the way that the lens extended to change focal length. For the weight and number of times I used the lens I decided to leave it on my desk at home and make do with my very much lighter 70-200mm lens.

There are times however when the extra reach can allow you to make the photograph that you have in mind. The image above is a case in point. I’d tried with my 70-200, it really wasn’t working, click on the image below to see what I mean. Nixon_150115_6450

While getting closer was certainly an option I had an opportunity to use the new 100-400 lens and made the image below using the same settings as I had with my 70-200mm. Nixon_150115_6462

Immediately noticeable on the LCD screen on the camera was that the image made using the 100-400 was sharper than that made with the 70-200 even though all the camera settings and lens settings were the same. This in inevitably led me to wonder what if I dumped the 70-200 and replaced it with the 100-400 lens. That way I’d have a nice sharp lens capable of the extra reach when I need it. My only concern is the weight – a chunky albs. We’ll see how I get on!

Happy on the Inside

One of the projects that I set for myself this year is to create 250 ‘instagram’ images. Not necessarily to post 250 images to Instagram but to finish 250 images taken on the iPhone and processed using apps. That means ~ 60 images per quarter. It’s been an usual start to the year which was the major driver for me reaching the 100 mark last week.

Looking back over the images is see that I clearly have a preferred color palette as well subject matter. My 100 a images are an eclectic collection of mostly color abstracts and landscape images.

The image above, taken on the last day of a short trip to Portland, is a clear outlier.  Without exception the other 99 are all of subjects outside, even if they were taken from the warmth of a coffee shop the subject was outside.

I doubt that there will be more like this – never say never – but it does make me wonder why I haven’t been shooting indoors more and what it would look like if I did.

Friday Inspiration: Gregory Crewdson

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I had a chance to look at some of Edward Hopper’s paintings of scenes from small town America over the Christmas break and couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of Gregory Crewdson. Like Hopper’s paintings, Crewdson’s photography shows scenes from small town America. They are vignettes that raise questions, that invite you in to wonder what happened before and what will happen next.

Many people will talk about their photographs being ‘cinematic’ but Crewdson’s images could really be stills from a movie. The work that goes into setting up each of the shots is not far from what you might expect for a cinematic production. You get a glimpse behind the scenes in the videos below. The second video is a trailer for the documentary ‘Brief Encounters‘ filmed over a 10 year period it gives not only an in depth look at what goes into the making of the work but also a sense of the events and experiences that shaped Crewdson the man.

The Gift of Time

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Often I find that I am crunched for time, which means that I need to quickly process my images and get on to the next thing. Having a little bit of extra time to work on learning new techniques, how to use new equipment and then to integrate that into my everyday workflow is a real luxury.

Over the last six months or so I’ve been dabbling a little with both of these – learning about new masking techniques and how those can be used to composite images together to make large files that will be used to make large prints.

The image above is one that I had struggled with earlier in the year. I posted an earlier version of this image here. With a little bit of extra time over the Christmas break I was able to play a little, make some composites and finally get close to the image I had felt when I was there.

Sometimes time is the best gift of all.

Light, Lines, Moment – Light, Gesture, Color

I truly enjoy looking at other people’s images, mine drive me nuts, other people’s work I enjoy. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are photographs, paintings, drawings or some other way of interpreting the world. I enjoy looking at it all. As I’ve mentioned here before, I do feel as though in some work I’m missing the joke and so I’m working hard to be able to see more, to understand more clearly what was the intent behind the creation of the image.

This of course cuts two ways – it allows me to enter more deeply into the world that creator of the work has established and it also gives me tools to help bring my vision and voice into the world. In thinking about how I look at images – what is the light, how do the lines work, what is the role of color etc. I was reminded of some of the phrases that I’ve heard thrown around when people are both making images and looking at them. Variations on light, lines, moment such as Jay Maisel’s Light, Gesture, Color.

Since I’m easily distracted, with this thread to pull at I disappeared into the internet only to find that Jay Maisel has a new book out ‘Light Gesture and Color‘. I’ve been fascinated with Jay’s ability to find photographs in the most mundane places. After watching some of the videos of him at work such as the one below and looking at the resulting images I always feel that I could try harder.

This is the fluency that I am striving for – to not only be able to take to see and appreciate the image once captured but to see and anticipate the possibilities all around me.