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.

Going Deeper

I’ve been off on a tangent this afternoon instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing.

I was thinking about how much fun it is to know more about things – whether it be how to read a picture or how to make and taste coffee. The more we know the richer our experience is. It reminded me of the Richard Feynman anecdote about the beauty of a flower. Check it out in the video below and in the link 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?

Looking at Pictures

I was listening to an interview this morning with Paul Sanders of the website ‘Discover Still‘. Paul was formerly the picture editor for The Times newspaper in the UK. In his job he estimates that he was looking at at least 10-20,000 pictures a day and on the day of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding over 100,000 pictures. That is a lot of pictures!

As photographers looking at pictures, being able to read them and then talk about them is an important part of our development. It is important to be able to move beyond I like this and I don’t like that, even more so if we are to critique our own work or that of others with the intention of making stronger photographs.

I have been looking for a simple framework that will allow me to move further on my journey of looking at and reading photographs. I was excited to come across the workshop in the video below presented by Eileen Rafferty where she describes the system that she uses. Take a look at the video below and let’s talk about it. How do you look at pictures? Do you have a structured process? Is it useful for you to talk about what you’re seeing and feeling in images?

Is Something Better Than Nothing?

We’re rapidly heading towards the end of the school year here. With it will come celebrations and changes in routines.

One of the things the kids do in the local elementary school here is to have an end of year play. It was a remarkable effort – the kids were split into small groups, did their lines separately in front of a green screen and then the whole thing was cut together afterwards. I was impressed what the teachers were able to do.

Listening to my daughter though it sounded like there had been some grousing but parents that didn’t think it was up to standard. Putting my thoughts about that to one side, it made me think about whether producing something in challenging circumstances, if it’s not up to your usual standard, is worth it.

What do you think about that? I have mixed feelings and I think that there’s a place for it all – it’s about how you frame the conversation.

I think that we should ruthlessly curate our work to create a portfolio that we’re proud of. As we continue to work, rather than add and grow the body of work that we present to the world we should edit so that we are only showing our best work in our portfolio.

I think that there’s also plenty of room now to show work in progress, behind the scenes and other raw ideas. Personally this is something that I’m interested in and thing that it adds rather than detracts. Good fodder for blogs, posts/stories on instagram and other platforms. What about you? Do you share works in progress? Do you think it devalues the images in your portfolio?

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.