Looking at Pictures – Sea of Japan, Oki (307), 1987 Hiroshi Sugamoto

Sea of Japan, Oki (307), 1987 Hiroshi Sugamoto

I am fascinated by the ocean, it’s ever changing moods and the possibilities that it offers. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Hiroshi Sugamoto’s Seascape images so much.

I’ve been thinking about composition and how to use the psychology of how we see to make stronger images. This is something that I first came across in Vincent Versace’s Books (also see here).

Vincent teaches us that:

‘The unconscious eye “sees” in a predictable manner. It first recognizes light areas and then moves to dark ones, sees high before low contrast, records high before low sharpness, notices focus before blur, and focuses on high color saturation before low.’

I feel like the seascape images ignore the ‘rules’ of composition but still manages to hold a space for us to look deeply and remain engaged with the image. In the Sea of Japan image above I find that my eye is drawn immediately to the horizon line and then explores that dark shapes in the ocean surface before being drawn back to the horizon line. Then the whole process repeats.

I do wonder whether these images work better as stand alone images or as part of a series where you get to experience the ever changing moods of the sea.

How about you? How do you see this image? Do you prefer a stand-alone or the series?

Friday Inspiration: Lori Vrba

Being ‘geographically restricted’ for the last 18 months or so has forced many of us to either stope making photographs or shift our thinking. For me that has been a deeper dive into subject matter that is close to home. What I have come to realize of course is that I would make the same photographs regardless of whether I had travelled 5 miles or 5,000. It’s just how I’m wired.

I’ve also been thinking about how people work close to home but make stunningly original work. One person I came across was Lori Vrba. Originally from Texas, Lori moved to North Carolina about 14 years ago. With that move came a shift in perspective and some really imaginative photographs.

I often think about the subject matter and process and how they inform one another. Does Lori make the images she makes because she uses film and traditional darkroom processes? Would she be off in a different direction if she were to switch to digital? I suspect we’re not likely to find out any time soon, the magic of film and the darkroom (her new darkroom!) pull too strongly.

Check out the flip through of Lori’s book ‘The Moth Wing Diaries’ below and see more of her work on her website here.

School’s Out For Summer!

I’m shocked to find myself in the summer holidays. Where did the year go? My kids are now rattling around the house looking for things to do. If I were them I would want to spend my time in The Music Shed with David Morgan.

Instead I’m finding myself swamped with multifarious commitments and obligations making doing the things that I want to do a challenge.

Photography seems harder in the summer, trees are less interesting when they are fully clothed and blogging is taking a back seat.

How about you? Ready for a summer break?

Looking at Pictures: Orsa, Dalarna, April 12, 2013 – Jan Töve

I’m looking at Jan Töve’s ‘Faraway/Nearby’ book the image above stood out to me. I was surprised that this image wasn’t on his website as part of the portfolio for this work. Hence the wonky image above snapped from the appropriate page in the book.

What goes on in this building? At first glance I thought that it looked like a grain silo but then there seems to be more going on.

I’m still working on articulating why this caught my eye. Certainly the color palette – I like the muted red and especially the blue. I find that I’m drawn to blues like this more broadly. The graphic form is also something that appeals to me, both the shape of the building and also the negative space that it makes. The diagonal line to the upper right and lower left give the image a bit of movement. Finally the mix of textures is also appealing to me.

Why did Jan take this picture? What do you make of it?

Doing it on Purpose

My days are packed, I’m sure yours are too, which means that I often find myself wondering is this the most important thing that I can be doing right now. Prioritization is both a chore and something that I find painfully difficult because I don’t like saying no.

I was recently reintroduced to Ikigai a Japanese term meaning ‘having a direction or purpose in life, providing a sense of fulfillment and towards which they the person may take actions, giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning.’ Take a look at the graphic below for a sense of what were talking about but also realize that this isn’t quite ‘it’. See here for an explanation.

If you’re interested in digging into your own purpose check out this work sheet from Dandy People here.

Being clear about my sense of purpose has really helped remove some of the big items from my plate leaving me clear to focus on a smaller set of things where I can really make a difference. How about you? How do you make sense of the myriad of things that you could do?

Friday Inspiration: Paul Strand

Tir A'Mhurain, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, Paul Strand | Mia

One of the great things about being ‘self-taught’ when it comes to art and photography is that it is a choose your own adventure type of experience. I have, and continue, to explore the things that capture my attention. I will go on deep dives into particular areas until I hit the limit of my attention span and then move on to a different topic. That’s the great part. The not so great part is that this approach leaves large areas not just unexplored but untouched.

I recently rediscovered Paul Strand. I say rediscovered because I’ve certainly heard the name before but couldn’t think of a single iconic image of his when his name recently came up in conversation. I thought that I would spend a few moments this week to have a bit of a read and exploration and share a bit of that here. As an aside, the Metropolitan Museum has a good set of essays on the History of Photography, important movements and photographers including Paul Strand.

Strand was born in 1890 and died in 1976 and as such his photographic career spanned almost all of the 20th century. His early work was very much in the mold of his mentor, Edward J. Steichen – pictoralist – focusing on life in the city. Fascinating to realize that this was at the time when the use of cars were on the rise and so it would have been a period of great change.

Paul Strand: Portfolio Three | Aperture

His later work focused more on communities. I’m currently looking for a copy of ‘Time in New England’ to complement the book he created from his time in the Outer Hebrides – Tir A’mhurain: The Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

I was surprised, or rather amazed, at the quality of the reproductions in this book. Digging further I learned that Strand was committed to the print and worked hard to be able develop technical expertise that allowed him to capture images with good tonal range. Learn a little more about Paul Strand in the videos below.

Mid-Year Goal Review

It’s hard to believe that we’re in June already. Where did the first part of the year go? I’m taking a breath this week and with that comes a reflection on what I’ve managed to achieve in the first part of the year and set myself up for the second half of the year.

While the first part of the year has zipped on by I’ve had some successes and some misses.

In the successes category I’ve got a new computer and restructured my catalog and back-up strategy. I’ve started posting regularly on instagram and used some of those images to make a small handmade book. Which in turn gave me a project to learn more about InDesign. I’ve gotten clearer about my why for photographing, something that I have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with. The struggle is real! As a result of my regular posting on instagram I’ve photographed more, all with the iPhone, and found myself hitting the limits of the iPhone as a camera.

There are lots of things that I haven’t done of course. I had plans to photograph and compile a family cookbook. I started taking pictures for that but haven’t gotten very far with it. Perhaps for Christmas 2022? There are many other things that have been pushed to one side to make room for photography, blogging and instagram. As I look now towards the next 6 months I’m thinking about what do I want to achieve by the end of the year.

Elizabeth King tells us that ‘Process Saves us From the Poverty of Our Intentions‘ which really resonated when I first came across it and still does. Having a daily practice of creating is the only way for me to accomplish all of the different things I have up in the air.

It is also fitting because I’ve been thinking a lot about intentions vs goals. They can seem like the same thinking but are subtly different. I like to think that intentions describe a desired end state, The Why. Plans are where the process fits in and are the How. Goals are the things that will need to be achieved in order to get there – The What.

Still some work to do to nail down intentions for the second half of the year but it’d definitely coming into focus.

How about you – Goals? Intentions? Plans? None of the above but just see where the breeze blows you? I’d love to hear about your process.

Managing Expectations

I continue to think about and torture my friends by asking them about making Art and making photographs specifically. What is it for? Who is it for?

There are so many ways that we can use our time why make art if it’s not putting food on the table? Why make art if there’s no waiting audience for it?

The answer that I keep coming back to is that for me, and I suspect many others, creating things is an internal drive. I just have to do it. The world gets out of balance without the ability to create things. Nice if there’s and audience for what we’re making but it’s not the reason for making it.

Where things get a bit wobbly is when you have expectations for what you are creating. Whether it’s the standard that you set for yourself for quality? Whether it’s the ‘likes’ on Instagram or the number of pieces sold. Focusing on these things as measures of how good the work is will inhibit your progress as an artist.

Instead it’s much better to focus on the process of creating. Thinking about how many days did I get out to photograph this week, this month, this year or how many photographs did I ‘finish’ – take through the edit process and print? Seems to me a much better way to measure our creative output.

Exploring New (To Me) Papers for Printing

I’ve been having fun with my printers in the last week. I made several prints of the tree in fog that I had taken recently trying out different papers.

Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art, Epson Hot Press Natural, Epson Exhibition Fiber and Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta. It’s hard to tell the difference between the papers in the photo above and video below.

For my prints I have previously preferred a Matte paper but for this image I really like the fiber based photo paper leaning towards the Hahnemühle Byarta. I know that there are general rules of thumb when it comes to choosing paper – glossy images do better on glossy paper – with the final choice being an aesthetic one. For me this image seems to have a bit more depth on the byarta paper, so I’m going to stick with it for now.

Are you printing your images? Do you have a favorite paper? I’d love to hear what you’re using and why.