July 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’ve been cleaning up in the basement following the mildew incident noted in an earlier post. Going through boxes of old images has been very interesting. Like this disk I discovered from maybe five years ago. Not sure which camera I was using, either a Rolleicord or a Mamiya TLR. It’s hard to get double exposures to swirl in this dramatic way with digital cameras. With film, I could always count on interesting results. The pictures were taken in corn fields near the Connecticut River in Windsor, Connecticut.
July 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
In 1976 or 1977 there were no personal computers, no digital cameras, no Photoshop, and no self-publishing with Snapfish or AdoramaPix. But I wanted a book, and the office where I worked had a comb-binding machine and a selection of Press Type. So I gathered together some prints and made Hall of Mirrors. Those were my street photography years. I was looking at Cartier-Bresson, Danny Lyon, Constantine Manos, Helen Levitt . . . the gods of the street. I stalked county fairs, demonstrations, and parades, always on the lookout for Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.” The archetypal street camera was the Leica, because it was small and quiet and unobtrusive. They were also expensive. A second-hand Nikon F was more in my price range, and I used it for most of these photos, even though it was big and bulky and attracted a lot of attention with its noisy shutter. I did eventually buy a Leica, but oddly enough it came just as my street days were ending. Poking a camera at people suddenly seemed like an imposition, and I went on to other things. Hall of Mirrors has travelled around with me for more than 30 years, and it shows the wear. I’m going to scan the images and make a “real” book with them on Snapfish. It will be more tidy, but I’m not sure that anything will match the pleasure of wrestling with the first version and completing it against the odds. I put this quote from Rilke on the title page: “It was simply like that. The main thing was being alive. That was the main thing.” Well, at least that hasn’t changed.
July 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
I just went to the basement to look for one of my old photos and discovered a bit of mildew beginning to grow on the outside of one of my archival storage boxes. OH, #$%#$^@!! Basements aren’t great places to store anything, especially in Connecticut’s hot and humid summers. Fortunately, the mildew was just a light dusting on two of the boxes, and it hadn’t spread to the pictures inside. Now the boxes have been wiped off with a mixture of vinegar and water and are going to be stored upstairs where there is more light and where the air circulates.
In the process of opening the boxes, I found a notebook I had started way back in the late ’70s. It was a place where I could keep my experimental pictures. At that time, I was still working hard at good exposure and development of nice, crisp black-and-white pictures, but there always was a small rebellious voice in me that asked, “yeah, but what if . . . ?”
In this case, the pictures were taken with a Kodak Instamatic, the film was developed at the drugstore, the pictures were run through the copy machine at the office, and the resulting images were altered with colored pencils and model airplane paint. OK, so they’re pretty rough, but I had a great time doing it and, looking back, I kind of wish I had pushed it farther.
July 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
The song is by one of my favorite musicians, John Renbourn. You can find it on his album Ship of Fools.
Praise to the moon, bright queen of the skies,
Jewel of the black night, the light of our eyes,
Brighter than starlight, whiter than snow,
Look down on us in the darkness below.
If well you should find us then well let us stay,
Be it seven times better when you make your way,
Be it seven times better when we greet the dawn,
So light up our way and keep us from all harm.
Give strength to the weary, give alms to the poor,
To the tainted and needy five senses restore,
Give song to our voices, give sight to our eyes,
To see the sun bow as the new moon shall rise.
Cast your eyes downwards to our dwelling place,
Three times for favour and three times for grace,
Over the dark clouds your face for to see,
To banish misfortune and keep Trinity.
In the name of our Lady, bright maiden of grace,
In the name of the King of the City of Peace,
In the name of our Saviour, who hung on the tree,
All praise to the moon, for eternity.
Panasonic FZ35–What a great camera!
July 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
The forest along the coast of Maine looks different than those in Connecticut and inland Maine, where I spend most of my time. There is a fineness of detail that comes from the prevalent small-needle evergreens, there is a darkness in the thickets that is different from the inland woods, and this darkness is occasionally interrupted by the white pillars of paper birches. My father worked for the Maine Forest Service when I was a kid, and I remember the older men who had been beautifully educated at the Forestry School of the University of Maine. I remember hearing them pronounce the Latin names for the firs and hemlocks and birch and being delighted, even at that age, with the way their elegant learning lived side by side with the wildness of the Maine forest.
Chebeague Island, Olympus E-PL1 with Lens Baby Composer
July 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’ve been reading a book called Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, by Peter Turchi. There’s a chapter where he talks about early maps in which the cartographers filled in unexplored territories with images of sea monsters or devils or various mythical beings. Turchi says, “Far from being viewed as worthless, such maps were prized; for a very long time, decorative or fanciful maps were at least as numerous as what we might call ‘practical maps.'” He goes on to quote historian Alfred W. Crosby, who said that fanciful maps were “more like an expressionist portrait than an identification photo. [They were] for sinners, not navigators.” In other words, maps for people for whom the imagination was important, not for people who needed to carry a load of olive oil to Venice. All of which made me think about the difference between photographs that are made for the purpose of recording data of some sort—pictures of oil spills or guerilla attacks or Uncle Buster’s birthday party—and pictures like the ones I make that are more landmarks of the imagination than landmarks of fact. You are not required to be a sinner in order to enjoy them, but I do hope they stir your imagination.
The sandbar between Great Chebeague and Little Chebeague Islands, Maine, taken with an Olympus E-PL1 and a Lensbaby Composer
July 17, 2010 § Leave a comment
My Olympus cameras have a setting called “grainy black and white,” which I haven’t used much. It’s an electronic simulation of a condition that used to affect black and white film in the days of analog photography, when photographers would “push”their film–underexpose and overdevelop it–which allowed them to take pictures in low lighting conditions. While this resulted in images they might not have gotten otherwise, it also emphasized the grains of light-sensitive silver that were embedded in the negative and which gave the final print a textured look. Hence, photographers referred to the resulting images as “grainy.” The pictures also tended to be contrasty, with pronounced blacks and whites and a reduced range of grays. It’s this last attribute that has prevented me from using the “grainy black and white” setting, because I like to see a wide range of contrast, from black through gray to white. But when I saw the decaying logs in this sea wall at the southern tip of Chebeague Island, off the coast of Maine, I thought they would be good subject matter for this technique.
I also was thinking about the art classes I took with Kitty Winslow at Wesleyan University, in which she talked about “mark making,” the act of creating marks with visual resonance that are not necessarily the traditional “marks” that one might make when doing a traditional drawing, or in this case, doing a traditional photograph. So I have pushed myself a little harder here than in some of my pictures, going toward a place where there are fewer clues for the viewer. I hope there is enough information left in the pictures so you can stretch your imagination and make something that fits your view of the world.
Olympus E-PL1 with Lens Baby Composer