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?
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?
Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right!
I’ve been having one of those weeks, as I often do. I’ve had a couple of things happen that have really made me challenge my assumptions, especially about what I’m capable of.
I think what you are capable starts with what you believe. So it’s definitely worth asking the question ‘what beliefs do I hold that prevent me from achieving what I’m capable of?’
Sometimes you can’t see this for yourself and need to talk this through with others. Sometimes you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and this changes your perspective.
Obviously just believing that you can is not enough. It requires work and effort to close the gap between your current reality and what you know you can achieve. There will be frustration and disappointment along the way but you have to stay the course and keep at it.
Susan Bein is a teacher, graphic designer and photographer based in Portland, Oregon. I first came across her work on Instagram, although how I found her there I’m not sure. I think I was following links from one person to another to another. On Instagram Susan is @Wizmosis – check out her work!
In her bio she says:
I was an art kid who began photographing as a teen because I couldn’t paint or draw what I could see in my mind’s eye. I took classes from many of the photo giants of the time; Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Caponigro. I used black and white film and large format cameras.
What an amazing opportunity to learn from the masters of photography a veritable who’s who.
Susan drifted away from photography and into graphic design and teaching. Falling in love with photography again with the advent of the iPhone.
I love her iPhone work that is on Instagram and featured in her book Slightly Bonkers. The book is more magazine-like which gave Susan an opportunity to include a large number of the images that she made during the craziness that was 2020. I’m glad she did. Take a quick look in the flip through below.
Check out Susan’s presentation in the video below and learn more at her website here.
I very much enjoy seeing how other artists work, the spaces that they work in and to delve deeper into the process behind the things that they create. At the same time I’m looking and listening for cues that explain what they’ve just created. The secret decoder ring that answers the question ‘what does it mean’?
I’ve had little to no academic training in art – I will exempt the photography workshops and classes that I’ve taken from ‘formal academic training’ – and so understanding what the art world is all about is something of a mystery. Art history, like history in general, is something that I thought to be dry and dull and not worth a second look.
However I keep hacking away and occasionally will have break throughs, or at least will find an answer that is spoon fed to me. This is exactly what happened in my research of the work of Wynn Bullock. If you dig hard enough you can find discussion of the four major principals that governed his work:
1. Space-Time – seeing the true quality of things are recognizing their relationship and interrelatedness with other events
2. Opposites are one – you can’t have ‘up’ without ‘down’, ‘rough’ without ‘smooth’, ‘joy’ without ‘sorrow’
3. Reality and Existence – the known and the unknown
4. Ordering and things ordered coexist yet have independent significance – Ordering represents activities of the senses and the mind. ‘Things ordered’ are those things that result in the stimuli that we respond to.
if you then look at the work with these principals as a guide you can start to understand what he was driving at and judge for yourself did he hit the mark or not.
I continue to ruminate on the idea of artist’s communities and in particular what does it take to build and sustain an effective group. I was surprised to find relatviely little written on this topic until I asked, and answered for myself, the following questions:
What do you get out of it?
What do you contribute to the group?
What is the optimal size of such a group?
How would you answer these questions?
For me this kind of group would provide both support and accountability. It would provide me with access to experience that I currently don’t have, to feedback about current directions that I’m heading in and provide me with the impetus to keep going.
In addition to being generally supportive of others in the group I would imagine that in such a group everyone has overlapping skills but expertise in specific areas. Each member could as requested teach and share their unique expertise with the rest of the group to help all move forward.
I always feel as though if you are at dinner with a group of more than 6 you really only interact with your nearest neighbors anyway, ~ 5 others, so this is the right number for a dinner party for me and it feels about the right size to me for one of these artists groups. Small enough to be able to really know the other people in the group.
After unpacking this for myself I realized that what I was describing was what is now commonly referred to as a ‘mastermind group’, something that most people trace back to Napoleon Hill’s book ‘Think and Grow Rich’. I read this book 15 years ago and had a quick skim through it again when I was writing this. The language is archaic, making it hard work to get through.
Hill was of course focused on how you can accumulate money and the mastermind group was a tool that would let you develop and vet your plans with a team of people that complemented your skills. Not quite what I had in mind. I was thinking more along the lines of ‘to help you develop mastery and achieve your goals‘.
I’ve been thinking about learning in the last couple of weeks and have become increasing comfortable with the notion that 20% of our efforts give 80% of the results, or knowing 20% of something can get you 80% of the way there. For many people this is good enough, with the disproportionate amount of effort it takes to go the last 20% of the way not worth the effort it takes.
For the longest time I wanted to take better photographs without really a notion of what better really meant. Even now I’m not sure what better really means but I’ve settled on it being sufficiently skilled that I can conceive of an image and realise that in the final image. I’ve started to realize that for me this is a little bit like looking for the end of a rainbow. What I’ve found is that the more skilled that I become, the more that the technical stuff falls away allowing me to spend time on the artistic piece, the further and harder I push. What was difficult becomes easy and uninteresting. The new challenge is the thing that stretches and tests your abilities both technically and artistically. Failure, frustration and disappointment remain part of your everyday existence. Perhaps those failures become more spectacular as your skills develop and you try and push to bigger things. But failure remains a constant, intermingled with some successes and it’s those successes that make it all worthwhile.
So how to get better when better remains an unachievable goal. There are of course stages to this growth. Arguably imitation is the foundation of all that we do. We look at those artists that are making the kind of work that we’re interesting in and ask the question how do they do it. We work the technical side of things and figure out how they did what it was that attracted us and make servicable copies of the work of the masters. Great examples of this are the multitude of photographers that make the pilgrimage to Yosemite each year to make their own copy of Ansel Adams great photographs. That’s pretty cool – execute one of these photographs immaculately and you’ve got a pretty nice looking photograph that your friends and family will most certainly coo over.
I would argue that the next phase is to build a familiarity with the things that appeal to you. This covers the gambit of design sensibilities, aesthetic qualities in everyday life – furniture, tools that you use everyday – computers kitchen gear, dishwear, cutlery etc. as well as becoming encyclopedic in your familiarity with the medium that you work in – landscape photography, portrature, etc. and perhaps digging depper to sub specialties such as water in the landscape.
The final and perhaps hardest step then is to combine the technical and the artistic to create something that is truely your own.
I’m going to unpack my thoughts around getting better over the next few weeks. Comments appreciated as always. Thoughts on the 80/20 rule in relation to skill development? I’d love to hear them.
Were getting to the time of year when people review the year just gone and plan for the year ahead. I guess I’m doing the same, although I will leave the ‘my 12 best images’ post to others.
It’s interesting to look back over the last year and see what images I consider to be my best how these compare to last years work and how they relate to one another. I started the year with the intention of making a set of color images of the coast on clear mornings. This idea began to evolve during the course of the year as I made a number of images during foggy conditions, trying to make the most of my time photographing. Even with a clear plan of what you want to achieve, being flexible enough to respond to the situations you find yourself in, can lead you in directions you hadn’t expected. Perhaps for you, as has been the case for me, these photographs will be standouts and serve as jumping off points for new projects.
I feel like I must be the last person on the planet to have stumbled upon the utility of picture styles as they seemed to be called by Canon or Camera profiles as you might find them in the Lightroom Develop module. Do you use them as part of your raw file workflow?
Up to this point the first few steps following import of a photo into Lightroom have been to apply the lens profile, add a small amount of sharpening, crop & straighten if needed, set overall brighteness and adjust contrast. Then I’m over in photoshop for more adjustments.
I did play with picture styles a very long time ago and decided that they weren’t doing much for me. Since then I’ve studiously ignored them. When I have some time I will often click around prices of software just to see what things do. That’s what I was doing when I clicked through the various picture styles that are available beyond ‘Adobe’ that I had been using.
Of the 4 additional picture styles I feel like Landscape, used for the image at the top, gives me the best base to build from for this particular image. Still some work to do on this image but less than I would have had to do. Well worth a look.
Ketchum has used his photography to champion environmental awareness much like his friend and mentor Eliot Porter had done. He has worked to shine a spotlight on areas as diverse as the Hudson River Valley, California’s Big Sur coast, Alaska’s Tongass rainforest, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River Valley and, most recently, to Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska. His work in Bristol Bay is in opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine which given it’s location would likely have a dramatic impact on the salmon fisheries in that area.
Beyond his environmental activism, Ketchum continues to explore the possibilities of the digital darkroom. Watch him describe some of his digital creations below.