Friday Inspiration: Carleton Watkins

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I can’t remember where I first read about Carleton Watkins, perhaps it was this article in the Smithsonian magazine.  For someone like me, who thought that photography started with Ansel Adams, it was something of a revelation to read about and see Watkin’s photographs of the American west and particularly of Yosemite Valley.  While many of his photographs are stereograms the views of Yosemite are quite familiar.  It was his series of photographs of Yosemite Valley in the 1860s that helped influence Congress’s decision to make the valley a National Park in 1864.

There’s an exhibition of Watkin’s photographs at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University until August 17.  To find out more about the exhibition see here.  Unfortunately I’m in the wrong part of the country to be able to get to the exhibition but I did get the related book and have been enjoying looking at the photographs.

Recognizing many of the views made famous through the work of Ansel Adams in the Yosemite Valley made me think about what Ansel Adams brought to the table.  Perhaps not his vision but his superior control of the medium and printing abilities?

Check out the video below for more details on the exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center.

Transformations

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Forgive me if I’m in danger of beating this horse to death but my recent weight-loss success has made me wonder if the same approach that I used for weight loss could be used to affect transformation in other parts or my life – personal finance and creativity/photography being just two areas of interest.

In many ways losing weight was easy – Tim Ferris had done much of the heavy lifting for me already. Tim Ferris is the author of the ‘Four Hour’ Series of books – Four hour work week, four hour body, four hour chef. The titles are super cheesy and I must admit that I read the four hour work week with a high level of skepticism. Certainly for someone like me it’s hard to imagine how I could engineer to work remotely, managers after all serve the people that report into them and so to do that job effectively you need to be available to help with whatever’s going on. In any case, Ferris’s books are case studies in learning. How to subvert the established way of doing things and get maximal results for minimal amounts of effort.  Once you cut through to this central idea his books get much more interesting.

My weight loss started with the slow carb diet that Ferris describes in detail in his book Four Hour Body and which is described briefly here. I had to make some changes to make this work for me – breakfast for me has to be a quick and easy affair even the quick breakfast wasn’t fast enough and microwaved spinach made me gag. I ended up with convenience foods for breakfast (a protein shake from Biotrust) and lunch (Cliff Protein Builder Bars) and then real food for dinner. I then took the same basic diet and applied Barry Sears Zone Diet to it – 40% carbs, 30% Fats, 30% protein. This involved weighing and measuring everything that I ate to make sure I was ‘in the zone’. Finally I began a strength, metabolic conditioning and mobility program that has me moving 6 days a week.

So here’s what I did:

* Followed a template that had been previously shown to work
* Experimented with the template to find something that worked for me
* Made small changes to my behavior, worked with them for two weeks and then incorporated additional changes for the next two weeks
* Measured my progress in as many ways as I possibly could
* Engaged accountability partners that supported, cajoled and encouraged me

While there aren’t easy to follow templates for everything that I want to work on there is a remarkable amount of information available making it possible to build case studies in the way that Tim Ferris has done for whatever you’re interested in. As I continue to explore this I’ll be sure to post more here.

In the meantime – What are you working on? What transformation would you like to make but are stuck with? Have you made a successful transformation? Did you use the steps outlined above? Something different? Any key practices to share? I’d love to hear about it.

A Beginning?

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How do you come up with ideas for new photography projects? A conscious decision? An organic development of an existing project? Or perhaps looking back through your archives and finding common themes.

Over the recent break I recently found the house in the photo above. While I was taking the photo a town worker gave me a brief history of the property. Clearly it’s abandoned and in a state of disrepair.

I see these abandoned properties everywhere, and while I’d wondered about who lived there, why did they leave and why is it now left to rot, I had never photographed them. Given my sensitivity to these abandoned properties it seems as though I should photograph them, at least until they’re out of my system.

What do you notice all the time? Perhaps that would make a good project?

Friday Inspiration: The Year in Review

I’ve been enjoying looking at other photographers ‘best of 2013’ selections and thought that I’d share a few of my favorite collections here. What are your favorites?

John Paul Caponigro: My Top 12 Images Of 2013

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Michael Frye: 2013: My Top Ten Images

Waves in the Merced River near Happy Isles, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

William Neil: My Favorite Photographs of 2013

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Harold Davis: My best of 2013

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Friday Inspiration: Edward Burtynsky – Water

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I find that I frequently return the work of photographers that have previously caught my attention. Edward Burtynsky is one such photographer. I had previously highlighted the retrospective of his work called Manufactured Landscapes and was pleased to see that he has recently completed a new project called Water.

One of the things that I am curious to see when I’m looking at new projects from familiar photographers is to see how their process has evolved, if at all. With Water, Burtynsky is no longer considering gravity as a constraint and uses a variety of tools that allow him to get the shot that he’s imagined, regardless of the vantage point. I’m not sure that I would be up for putting a Hasselblad on a model helicopter, especially after seeing Chase Jarvis’s experience, but sometimes you’ve got to do whatever it takes. Click on the link below to see a behind the scenes video of the making of Water.

Where I Stand – Edward Burtynsky from Flowers Gallery on Vimeo.

Playing Around with Presets

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Rare are the days when the photograph that pops up in lightroom is close to what I had imagined it should look like and a few tweaks and I’m done. More common are the times where I have some playing to do in lightroom and then photoshop but I know where I’m heading and then there are those images that I just wonder what I was thinking. Believe it or not, the image above started out in this last category.

The image out of the camera is shown below.

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After a few moments of not really knowing what to do with it I started clicking through the presets built into the develop module. I haven’t been a big fan of presets preferring to know exactly what slider I was changing and why. Clicking around though it quickly became apparent that this photo should be black and white. The five built in presets gave the following ‘looks’.

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Look 1 Look 2
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Look 3 Look 4
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Look 5

I liked looks 2 and 3, with not a lot to choose between them for me. I chose version 3 as a starting point and made it a little darker and a little grainer. The image below was the result.

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A little bit more clean up and I was done. I must admit that this experience changed my outlook on presets. They’re great starting points, to be pushed further or dialed back, and invaluable to get a quick sense of what different processing could do to your image. Even better if you make your own and share with friends.

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Friday Inspiration: Arno Rafael Minkkinen

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Arno Rafael Minkkinen is a Finnish photographer who has lived in the US since 1951 and currently is a Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. I first came across Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s work through a documentary on PBS. I can’t find this program online but it is worth checking out to watch Arno in action. His photography has a sense of whimsy to it and is often slightly surreal, reminding me a little of Jerry Uelsmann’s work. His photographs are largely self-portraits: A naked Arno (or at least the part you can see is) integrated into the landscape. What is quite interesting to me is that all of his images are captured in camera on a single frame of film. No digital hanky panky here! In looking at his work I find myself trying to work out the ‘trick’ to how he pulled it off. His camera has a cable release and a 9 second timer, which allows him to get in position before tripping the shutter and throwing the cable release out of the frame. Even so, some still leave me wondering.

Check out the video at this link to hear Arno talking about his work.

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