Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lenswork Magazine

A few weeks ago LensWork Magazine issue #79 arrived. It sat nicely on the nightstand next to the bed waiting to be looked at.

There wasn't interest in it for me. I couldn't understand why since I've devoured every single issue up to this one.

Wood Duck - 2008

So I let the issue rest.

Last weekend I started to wonder about my response to the unread magazine. At first I thought it might be that I didn't like the work in this issue. But how could I say that? I'd not even cracked open a page. So that had to be a rationalization on my part.

Wood Duck - 2008

Whenever I catch myself in self deception, I try to stop and dig deeper. In this case I was looking for a better reason for not reading the latest issue.

As I let my awareness wander, I found that I was uncertain about the "success" that came from my In The Railyard work that had been published in LensWork Extended #78. What did it mean to be published by one of the finest photographic arts magazines in the world? What did it mean to me and my work that someone had found something I created to be nice enough to print? Why couldn't I understand what was going on?

Wood Duck - 2008

Even as I write, I remain surprised at how strong the feeling is that somehow I wasn't good enough.

Where the h*ll did that feeling come from? Why don't I feel my work is good enough? Why can't my work be as good as the next guys? Or am I pushing... pushing... pushing...??? For what? ... Oh... watch the next step... here comes the drive to do something even better... even more marvelous... bigger... grander...

Yikes! I need to put on the brakes. I really like some of my own work. Or do I?

What motivates me? If I'm being truthful, it is the act of creating and the attention I receive afterward. I love the process of figuring out what to say and how to say it. I like it when people comment on my work and I get to share my feelings about an image. I like to listen to what other people have to say. I enjoy the exchange. I enjoy following on-line forums devoted to art critique. I love looking through some of the millions of photos others have created and posted on Flickr.

Wood Duck - 2008

I am a complex beast with an insatiable urge to create, participate, engage, and share. I see that I am sensitive to the thoughts and comments of others. I am buffeted by a world I have little or no control over. I see that my mind can make up all kinds of stories meant to shape my view of the world.

I finally opened the LensWork magazine and found it was interesting. Brooks has yet another insightful editorial. Bill Joy has yet another fine closing piece. In between the editorials and scribblings I found some images were better than others to me. I even teased out a few ideas that might be worth exploring.

Being human is sometimes such a strange experience.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008


Vancouver, BC - 2008

My wife and I headed north on a rather rotten day. We were going to Vancouver, BC to visit a friend of mine who popped over from England for a convention. The day was doubly rotten. One of my wife's dear friend lost her battle with cancer. We didn't realize this until we were already in British Columbia. Sad. Very sad. Add to this that my friend has hit a patch of rotten luck, and it could have turned into a pity party. It ended up much better than that. Fortunately.

Vancouver, BC - 2008

As we visited that fine city to the north of us, I learned something about the way I see the world. It starts with the acknowledgment that I love to travel. Moving about the globe seems to enable my photographic vision. In simple terms, everything is fresh and new to me. So taking fun images is like shooting fish in a barrel. Its easy.

I worked several themes during the trip. From our 24th floor hotel room we were able to over look much of Vancouver's West End high rise skyline. I took the opportunity to make a few images whenever the sky and lighting looked like it might be interesting.

Vancouver, BC - 2008

Thinking back to St. Ansel and his body of work, people seem to remember his Yosemite Valley photos. Highly valued, St. Ansel had much to "say" about the valley. He photographed there for decades and came away with more than a few nice things. How on earth did the valley remain fresh and interesting to him?

After we returned home and I had the chance to process a few things I realized I just don't see my own city in the same way as I do other places. It seems that my own town is too familiar to me. So how do I awaken my photographic vision in a place where I get to see everything of "interest" nearly daily? How do I expand my ideas to include the familiar and, at the same time, seek out new and potentially good photographic ideas?

Vancouver, BC - 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Photo idea

Here is a video FILLED with really great ideas!!! Here's a link to what Jarvis has to say on the shoot.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I have been giving a lot of thought to art, what it means, and how I view it.

In this society the easy measure of success is financial. If you are selling photographs, then you are 1) good and 2) successful.

Steam Tractors - Steaming Up

I have come to view success a little differently. In short, success to me will be if someone a few hundred years from now picks up a print I made and appreciates it. The only drawback with this definition is that I won't be there to witness the event.

There may be, however, a few key indicators to potential future appreciation.

My wife and I went to the Charles Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana recently. While waiting for my wife I spied an interesting painting. I stood before it and considered what it was that made it so interesting to me.

The first thing I noticed with the sense of "depth" the image had. The second thing I noticed was how it made me feel. There were trees in the foreground and a high snow-capped mountain behind. Everything in the image was carefully arranged and composed. Light spilled from the high right throughout the scene. Everything was as it "should" be. Classic traditional art.

Steam Tractor - View from the Cockpit

I continued to look at it with deeper more careful observation. As I did this, I noticed that the bark on the trees that were in deep shadow contained beautiful "correctly" contrasted details. It was almost as if I could reach out and touch the bark and feel the coolness of the tree's shade. The dried grass field in the foreground was clearly and cleanly articulated. The straw colors reminded me of the dry late summer heat. Looking up onto the mountain, snow fields were beautifully painted, with just a hint of blue, just like glaciers I saw throughout the Rockies. It seemed there was a small bit of haze between the foreground features and the mountain, just like smoke or humidity found in late summer. Finally, I considered the cloud formations. They were delicately rendered, exactly as I remembered similar cloud groups I saw in the Grand Tetons.

Steam Tractor - Waiting to Go

Taken in total, the painting was a near perfect articulation of scenes I had grown up with. From a photographers perspective, this scene was precisely as a human eye and brain would see and experience a view like this in real life.

From a photographer's perspective I knew instantly how photographs fail to recreate similar scenes. Had a camera been used to make the image the shadows would have been dark and muddied. The snow-capped peaks would be been too bright and over-exposed to properly capture the hint of blue. The haze might have been removed or reduced with the use of a UV filter. The colors would have been "punched up" through the use of Fuji Velvia or a similar function on a digital camera. A photographer would have had to work incredibly hard to come close the revealing what the painting did. A photograph would have been "something else".

As a culture and society that has looked at photographs for over 150 years, we have become "educated" as to the hard stern limits of photographic technologies. We learned from the great English photographers who captured the light of India and from the wonderful French photographers who worked the tourist post card trade in Egypt. We learned from Life magazine and National Geographic. We learned from the Great Saint Ansel Adams. We have learned what is and what is not a photograph.

Steam Tractor - All Wonky and Askew

So, what happens when image making technologies evolve and change? What happens when an image capture device is able to retain the hint of blue in the high mountain ice field? What happens when the "micro-contrast" of deeply shadowed tree bark is not only retained, but nicely enhanced? What happens when a photograph looks more like what the eye perceives than not? Is it still a photograph? Or, just as importantly, is it art?

William Mortensen had a lot to say on the topic of what comprises long lasting art image making. One of the things he noted is that careful composition is essential. He also placed strong emphasis on the quality of light deployed in the making of an image. Mortensen talked about the differences between "notan" style and "chiaroscuro" style lighting. The most descriptive guidance he left us are his Camera Craft published books. From 1937 and into the 1950's, William Mortensen wrote about art, image structure, image control, and, where appropriate, how to position, cloth, and light a human subject.

It seems that certain images have stood the test of time. Whether viewing the ancesteral cave paintings in France, or the incredible tile work from Byzantium, or the awesome paintings of the pre-Rennaisance Italy, much of the work is "visibly" and "knowingly" considered by many to be true "art". That is to say, images created several thousand years ago still hold appeal to viewers all these years later.

Steam Powered Tractors

In current times I see that some photographic artists are stuggling with what has become of their craft. In one dimension there is the emergance of digital creation tools. In another dimension there is the now wide open possibilities that new tools and processes allow image makers. In yet another dimension is the question of how blurred the lines between "truth" and "manipulation" has become. Simply put, some people are asking questions about photography as a stand alone art form in an age where anything and everything can be created, manipulated, and managed from concept through to execution.

These are tough times for photo-traditionalists. From my own observations, it has appeared that photo-"insiders" long understood how to "look" at a work and find it "acceptable" and "pleasing" to them. I also observed how viewers unfamiliar with photographic techniques and processes can often times become befuddled by what they are looking at. It seems as if they failed to "see" what photo-"insiders" "see".

Things change.

Its interesting to watch as other struggle and strive to find a place in this rapidly evolving growing field of expression. In my own work, I have come to recognize the power of a well executed, properly lit, neatly processed image. It took the adoption of new tools and techniques to realize this vision. I couldn't be more excited by the possibilities.

Steam Tractors - Waiting

Monday, September 08, 2008

What I could have said - LensWork Extended #78

I just received my print copy of LensWork Sept-Oct 2008. Quickly thumbing through the magazine to see what Brooks might have written as an intro to my work I was struck by the words "innocent" and "child like".

Well! Here I always viewed myself as a serious "artist". Child-like? That stopped my train of thought. Innocent? Not from a "man of the world", surely.

Yet, the more I thought about it the more I realized that was exactly the "feel" when I'm in the company of heavy railroad equipment. Let me see if I can articulate what this means to me.

Napa - SD9

Back in the day I lived in Southern California. I have no idea what its like now, but when I grew up there the cultural message was strong. The culture demanded "sophistication". Everything from the cars one drove to the house a person lived in to the places one went to eat.

Looking back I'm very much surprised I didn't see it before. There was a distinctly condescending look on anyone who prepared their own meals from scratch. There was the strong judgment of anyone living in slightly beach worn apartments. There were laws in some parts of Southern California that prohibited the hanging of clothing on lines to dry. It was as if the entire Los Angeles and Orange County area was continually "sanitizing" itself for their own protection.

Protection from what? With the distance of time and place I still don't know.

Moving to Portland, Oregon 22 years ago began a sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle transformation. I started by being very aware of my place in culture and society and trying to find a way to "scramble" up the ultra-conservative cultural dung heap of expectation and judgment. I have ended up realizing that who I am will not change, regardless of what the predominant culture "demands" of me.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - SPS700

In hindsight its funny to think of Southern California as being ultra-conservative. Yet, that's exactly what my childhood and young adulthood was; very conservative. Surfers were supposed to be the very cool laid back people one see's in Endless Summer. Restaurants by the beach were supposed to be the height of cuisine production. Rodeo Drive was supposed to be somehow better with fashion than what's found in Paris, France. The media told us time and again just how wonderful it was to live in paradise.

Its nearly impossible to just be when media, cinema, traffic, voices, technology, strip malls, palaces to ultra-conservative churchianity all shout "you're never ever going to be good enough" unless you are stinking filthy rich.

Paradise? Its taken far too long, but paradise to me is living fully within one's means and within one's self. Paradise is the silence that comes with turning off the TV and the stereo. Paradise is parking the car and riding the bike to catch public transportation the rest of the way into work. Paradise is drinking a chilled pint of locally grown and prepared organic brew.

Paradise is stopping the mind from thinking and just being.

In Ram Das' book The Miracle of Love a story is told about the great mystic Neem Karoli Baba. He is said to have had a child like curiosity of the world. When he'd go for a ride in a car he would sit and smile, giggle, and laugh all the while swiveling this way and that to take in all the great sights and scenes as they passed by.

I am no mystic. Trust me on this point. Yet I find the story of Neem Karoli Baba such a beautiful juxtaposition to my earlier experiences on this planet. Its very freeing to know that its OK to be child like.

When I walk into the Brooklyn Roundhouse to tempt fate by trying to make a few fine images I feel very much like a child. My eyes invariably grow wide in their sockets. My stream of thoughts slows down. My breath catches in the throat. My mind and heart open to allow the enormity of the power steam locomotives to sink in and work their magic. This is big! fun!! stuff!!!

It is from this perspective that I am very happy that my joy and happiness come across in print as described by Brooks Jensen in his beautiful LensWork Magazine.

Eureka - GP9 at dusk

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Yikes! This is creative good stuff!!

Lenswork Magazine

In the September-October issue of LensWork Magazine, Brooks Jensen presents his views on how "Power People" in photography are different than photography "Enthusiasts". The punch-line is that "Enthusiast" images no longer mean they are in any way less than images made by "Power People".

I loved it. Finally, someone explaining me to my self in a way that was completely believable.

I really like the idea that photographs produced by enthusiasts can be the equal to those produced by the anointed power elite. Beyond the obvious reason, and beyond what Brooks wrote, I have the strong sense that what drives the photographic power elite is commerce and narcissistic attention. Money. Me.

Money is not a bad thing. Don't get me wrong. Everyone needs to eat. Me? Well, didn't the Beatles sing about that once upon a time?

Money can change a person's point of view so radically as to lead them into managing "perceptions" of themselves (Me!Me!Me!) and their work. For the power elite, "perception" is more important than image content. "Perception" of the artist, however, can lead to stagnation. Again, as Brooks points out, few photographers ever produce better work after they have been "discovered".

Young Shaman [4]

About a year ago I was at a significant fork in the road of my own artistic endeavors. I needed to decide if I was going to don the cocktail party coat of "perception". I needed to decide if I was going to drag my wife around to cocktail parties and talk "high art". I needed to decide if I was going to put the time and effort into trying to become one of the photographic power elite.

After all, my wife and I can converse on a wide range of topics. We know our wines and food very well. We know our politics inside and out. We can speak to art and its place in culture and society. We can even dress up and look pretty darned good in the process. Alas, I knew that isn't truly me.

Through contrasts, Brooks Jensen makes a strong case for the photographic "enthusiast". Boy, am I ever glad he wrote on the topic so very strongly. I identify with what he says. I love taking and making images much more than I enjoy partying it up with groups of self proscribed photographic art "power elite". I enjoy finding ways of expressing my art more than I do worrying about how to pay the $50,000USD needed for the latest newfangled camera toy. I much prefer selling for a modest price my prints to folks who really enjoy the work than I would trying to convince anyone that a 30x40inch print of mine will help make them an acknowledged and well respected photographic art collector.

During my interview with Brooks for LensWork Extended #78 Sept-Oct In the RailYard he made two obvious points. These points are so quickly glossed over by the fast paced moneyed authoritative art power brokers that I feel too many folks don't even realize these p0ints exist. The Smoke and Mirror game has been very well played. Here's what I took from my conversation with Brooks.

First obvious point - In 200 years no one will care if you used film or digital to make an image.

Second obvious point - All that an artist can hope for is that their work stands the test of time.

In a society where money "speaks", in a culture where all that matter is how things are "perceived", in a country where all that people care about is how to get "there's", art is a nearly impossible thing to understand.

Its very useful to me to take a big step back and attempt to look at what I do and why I do it from the perspective of time.

I will never know, but I sincerely hope that some time, some where in the distant future some one will take a print I have made and find joy in looking at it.

Young Shaman [2]

Friday, August 15, 2008

Now that I think about it... [3]

I was recently interviewed by Brooks Jensen for the LensWork Extended #78 Sept-Oct issue. Some of my "In the RailYard" will be published.

After we hung up, I got to thinking a bit more about the questions Brooks asked and my reply. Hindsight being what it is, I would like to amend or add to my comments.

The third topic I would like to cover is a furthering discussion of the use of Open Source tools for image processing.

I believe that commercial tools are valuable to commercial artists. These kinds of tools clearly define the limits of creativity. Yet, they provide a level of stability and assurance that a commercial artist can rely on. Once the investment in money, time, and energy is made, the artist can free themselves to work within the boundaries set by the commercial tools.

Open Source tools sometimes aren't as well "packaged" as their commercial equivalents. One thing that is attractive about deploying Open Source image processing is that limits are less clearly defined. To me, this means the boundaries of capability and creativity can be pushed well beyond the typical limits set by commercial offerings.

An analogy that might help describe my thoughts and feelings about commercial verses Open Source tools is this. There are woodworkers who go down to the local tools supply and buy the tools they need. The barrier to entry is money. Once the tool is in hand, they can return to their craft and continue creating whatever it is they wish to create.

On the other hand, I know a number of woodworkers who in some cases make their own tools. For instance, tools that help make a new version of an old molding for which there is no longer a pattern. For these artists, the barrier to entry is time. That is, the time it takes to make the tool that will do the job.

Similarly, in my use of Open Source tools and technologies, I feel there are few limits to creative expression. Sure, it can take time to seek out a set of applications, learn their use, and then apply them to a project of images. Once I'm done, I have pushed myself and my images well beyond the boundaries and capabilities of similar commercial tools offerings.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - SPS700

Perhaps a few links are in order. These might help give you a sense of where I am working today. Some of these tools are very "raw" and unpolished. Others are generations old and match or exceed the stability and capabilities of their commercial equivalents. The image above was created using a combination of nearly all of these tools. I hope you find them useful.

Applications that extend the capabilities of a normal digital point and shoot beyond any DSLR (regardless of price) - CHDK

Noise reduction software - Greycstoration

An image processing application - Gimp

High Dynamic Range control software - Qtpfsgui

Image stitching software - Hugin

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Now that I think about it... [2]

I was recently interviewed by Brooks Jensen for the LensWork Extended #78 Sept-Oct issue. Some of my "In the RailYard" will be published.

After we hung up, I got to thinking a bit more about the questions Brooks asked and my reply. Hindsight being what it is, I would like to amend or add to my comments.

The second topic I would like to cover is the use of Open Source tools for image processing.

During the interview, I think I may have rambled a bit, trying to get everything that came to mind into a couple paragraphs. It might be a meaningless mess to try and listen to.

The topic of image processing tools is, for me, an important topic. I will start by comparing and contrasting commercial for sale tools with Open Source tools.

Commercial for sale tools are widely known in the West. Its how we live our lives. That is, we buy what we want and hope that it does the things we intend them to do. I think of commercial entities as large mostly inaccessible beings with few points of access to their inner sanctums. Someone or something "gives" us a tool in a one to many kind of relationship. One company, and perhaps many customers. Intellectual property and copyright protections are granted to the commercial entity, not to the human creators of a work. Furthermore, aside from what might be available from "value added partners", there are few opportunities to extend a tool beyond its original capabilities. The barrier to entry is money. Pure and simple.

This kind of approach is easy for Westerners to understand since this is what we have been raised to expect. Closed protectionist capitalism is like this. For photographic tools I think of the foundation being Microsoft Windows, with perhaps a few Apple OS-X users thrown in, just to mix things up. For the tools themselves, I think of Adobe and their Photoshop suite of applications.

For more than a decade I have been making use of Open Source infrastructure and tools. In my work-a-day life I have attempted to introduce people to the joys and freedom provided by the Linux operating system. Several companies have allowed me to influence their operating system choices in this direction. One company even makes over $400 Million a year based on products that use Linux inside.

When I transitioned from traditional mechanical-chemical tools and processes to digital, I naturally looked into what Open Source tools might be available to me.

Open Source has a few properties that stand in stark contrast to commercial entities. For instance, Open Source provides a many to many relationship. There are many developers and many consumers. Developers are protected by a license scheme that grants the originators copyright protections. This also helps protect creator's intellectual property. Open Source works are openly shared and many times cost nothing to acquire. As a user, if you make an enhancement or fix a few bugs, you give your updates back to the community at large. Over time the Open Source community strengthens as more developers participate and more good solid work is released. The most common barrier to entry in the use of Open Source tools is time, not usually money.

When I think of Open Source, I think of Google who bases their massive search engine on Linux. I think of Apache web servers, which serve over 70% of all web pages to computer users world wide. I think of Open Source works as being accessible, easy to engage, and extendible in any direction a user or developer might need or desire.

For the LensWork portfolio I used a variety of Open Source image processing tools.

I used Qtpfsgui to capture the high dynamic range of the original scene. I then used Qtpfsgui's ability to map tones using several different operators and a wide variety of parameters to achieve the desired effect. In the commercial space, Photomatrix is Qtpfsgui's equivalent.

In a few cases I used Hugin to stitch multiple images together to form the foundation image that I worked from. In the commercial space, there are several panorama applications to choose from. But unlike its commercial counterparts, Hugin offers nearly a dozen ways of projecting an image onto the final image space.

I used the Gimp for Photoshop-like manipulations. The Gimp offers all the features and functions of Photoshop, and it does it for free.

Binaries of each of these packages are available for Windows, Mac OS-X, as well as native Linux.

A final word about operating systems and compute infrastructure: In my experience of running applications on top of the Linux operating system I have found stability. Real stability. No funny wierdness of things not working, or slowing down, or corrupting my work. Furthermore, Linux runs on just about any Intel or AMD processor based computer. This includes nearly any computer a person can buy today. Windows, on the other hand... ah... how can people stand that operating system? Maybe they just don't know any better? Apple... makes brilliant stuff! But the brilliance comes at a cost. I can't afford it so I use Linux.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - in Sepia

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Now that I think about it... [1]

I was recently interviewed by Brooks Jensen for the LensWork Extended #78 Sept-Oct issue. Some of my "In the RailYard" will be published.

After we hung up, I got to thinking a bit more about the questions Brooks asked and my reply. Hindsight being what it is, I would like to amend or add to my comments.

The first topic I would like to cover is printing.

Brooks asked me a couple times about how I printed the images in the portfolio. I gave rather incomplete answers.

I come from traditional analog chemical processes. So my current work emulates many of the tints and papers that I have used over the past 40 years of making prints.

I made the jump to digital daylight processes after I was convinced of the longevity of the prints (200+ years) and confirmed that I could exceed the resolution of my old work. For this reason I use a common consumer grade pigment based printer. The papers I use are "photo rag" in nature. That is to say, they have high cotton fiber content.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - in Sepia

For the LensWork portfolio, I printed to Hanemuhle Photo Rag Smooth 188gsm. The images were tinted using a hand built "sepia" tone. The image sizes were selected to allow a sufficiently wide boarder for viewing.

Recently, Ted Mishima shared with me the beauty of Epson's Velvet Fine Art Matte. I love the texture and the way blacks are really black. I also love the way that light appears to be "sucked in" by the surface. This is beautiful material and I can't seem to get enough of looking at images made to it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On Minor White

Doctor Scott Jones shared the following with the Interim Group. It is with his kind permission that I repost it here.


From: Scott Jones
Sent: Saturday, August 02, 2008 9:50 AM
Subject: Interesting description of early Interim Group Meetings

Hi Friends,

Dennis Purdy kindly sent me this fascinating account from Larry Bullis, an early Interim Group member, on his recollections of the Interim Group meetings and some of the Minor White workshops. I thought many of you would be interested in this history. Enjoy!


Notes on Minor White's 1964-65 Portland Oregon workshops.
Larry Bullis, 2008
I was fortunate to attend two series of workshops with Minor White in Portland, Oregon, with his "home" group. Minor had gone to Portland in the 1930's, been employed there by the Works Progress Administration to photograph the historic steel fronted buildings on Portland's waterfront, and had been involved in the camera club there. Subsequently, after his stint in the army in WWII, he went to San Francisco to work with Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts and then to Rochester to teach at RIT.

Many of the original members of his original group were still active. Every summer, Minor would come back to Portland and give workshops, which members of the old group attended. During the year between summers, the group or as much of it as could or wished to, would meet at Dr. Rustin's for the "Interim Workshop". This group is still going in a different location and with a different group of people, and unfortunately, without Minor. Participants would show their prints. Tapes were made of the proceedings. Minor would receive the tapes with the photographs that were discussed. The next month, the photographs were returned with his reply. During these interim meetings, the protocols were followed as they were with him present, but, of course, without his voice, except on tape in the comments concerning last month's presentations.

Here, in response to a thread on APUG about developing one's ability to see, I will describe the methods he used in his workshops as best I can. I believe the descriptions to be about as accurate as any could be. I thought it best to post it as an article, because of its length and its potential interest for other viewers.


Photographs were viewed in a state of meditation. Every exercise was preceded by an induction to help the students attain the appropriate state. The student was prepared for the session through a guided progressive relaxation discipline. This induction would take approximately, I believe, about five minutes. The instructions were given slowly and deliberately, allowing time at each instruction for the student to accomplish the release of that body part or region before proceeding to the next. The intent of this was to bring the student's attention home to the body, rather than the usual flitting around between now and next weekend, love life, and tomorrow's dinner menu. Present in the body (this is quite an unusual state for most people, I think; we tend to live in our heads a lot) permits an unusual kind of simple awareness which does not include interpretation of any kind.

After the induction, the student would be asked to open his/her eyes, and would find a music stand positioned directly in front with a matted photograph on it. Note; music STAND. There is no music in the environment. Each student had a stand with a print on it. The photograph would be one that MW had brought with him; not one of his, but one he had for the purpose. It would be superb, but not a "masterpiece" and I think that was deliberate. I think it would be a mistake to use a photograph that is too powerful until the process is mastered.

Minor must have traveled with 20 or more of these prints. Imagine traveling through the most primitive, hot, and dusty parts of the US, like the Henry Mountains in Utah, with 20 or more immaculate prints, to say nothing of lots of 4x5 film, view cameras, music stands, etc. in his red 1960's VW bus. He travelled with an assistant, and the bus would be made dark at night for loading and unloading holders by being covered with a large tarp (it was carried too) by the person not enclosed in the bus. Somebody needed to be there to install and remove the tarp. Film was carried in a cooler, with ice. Well, I guess he had it easier than Carleton Watkins did.

It is impossible to write in Minor's voice, but here goes. Also, I've experienced similar inductions in other contexts, so while the spirit of the process is accurate, it is not verbatim Minor. I'm sure he would, however, approve.

The induction:

Sit in a chair, your feet flat on the floor. Lap is a good place for the hands. Close your eyes.

Become aware of the sole of your left foot, where it contacts the floor. Place all of your attention there. (pause)

Retaining the awareness of the sole of the left foot, also become aware of the sole of the right foot. (pause) Allow that awareness to include all of both feeet. (pause) And the ankles. (pause).

Allow the awareness to expand into your calves. (pause) Then your knees. (pause) And your thighs.

Allow the awareness to include your genitals, your hips and pelvic area. (pause).

Allow the awareness to expand into your stomach region and into your chest. (pause). Take three deep breaths and release, allowing the tensions in your body to expel in the exhalations.

Continue the expansion of awareness into your shoulders. Release the shoulders. Into the neck, and head. (pause)

Become aware of the muscles in your face. Allow them to relax. (pause)

When you are ready, open your eyes.

In theory, totally relaxed, perfectly present in the body, aware and open without anything in the mind (yeah, really!) the student would then look at the print for about 15 or 20 minutes. The room would be totally silent during this time. The long time may seem excessive, but it isn't. If one knows that there is that much time involved, very soon one "gives up" and allows one's self to really get into the photograph and drop any worries about being able to see it all. With experience, the student will simply look at the photograph, allowing the eyes to pass over every millimeter, every line, every bit of glorious silver, every texture and every beautiful gray. (Would it work with an ugly photograph? I think so. It can work with anything. I assign my students to look at burnt toast. The important thing is to avoid judgment. Hey, burnt toast can be beautiful. Try it.).

At the end of the viewing time, the signal to gradually allow one's concentration to return to the room would be given, and after a few minutes (when MW could see that everyone was back) discussion would begin. These discussions could take any number of directions, some of which were not just talk, but could include body movements, postures and gestures. Each person would recount the experience with the work which often included difficulties, such as...

1) judgment - good or bad
2) technical criticisms
3) distractions
4) discomforts
5) associational chains
6) design criticisms
7) likes and dislikes
8) anything else

I only number these to be sure that they separate one from the other in the reader's mind. I want the reader to note that these things are difficulties, despite what often is regarded as how you look at a photograph; i.e. to determine if it is good or bad. Value judgments like that, or any other valuation or analysis of any kind are considered intrusions on the experience; distractions. Flights of imagination, such as "it reminded me of..., it looks like a..., it made me think of... etc. were NOT encouraged, but would be grudgingly tolerated if they didn't take very long. Intellectual analysis was considered a difficulty. Everything Gets in the Way. Opinions are definitely not honored. "I like it" is entirely irrelevant.

Not only difficulties would be discussed. The discussion could turn to appreciation, emotion (there were incidents of tears, etc.) and intangibles. It is not easy to discuss feelings, because there are no words that come from that part of the human makeup. An attitude of respect for the work and for the individuals present was always maintained.

One must be open, relaxed, and loose to concentrate this way, but incredibly vigilant and very aware of oneself, at the same time as being aware of the image and the self in the process of observation. Got that? This means to be present to oneself as one observes the work. It is a conscious dialog with the work. If this is hard to grasp, that is not surprising. It's not at all easy to explain. It is a sort of dual consciousness; it is not just "I look at print" but, almost from a position that is superior to my ordinary self, I am aware of myself observing the print. I am, ideally, fully present and aware of my presence as my eyes scan and send the data to the brain; my awareness includes that process going on as well. I am observing myself observing the image; it is all there.

What do you do about the fact that these difficulties, these distractions, are inevitable? Remember, Minor White was a meditator. He knew how to let thoughts happen, let them go, and come back. Always come back.

The tenor of the atmosphere? Somewhat painfully self conscious. Here again, it might help to know that Minor was a Gurdjieff student. G's method requires constant self observation which is frequently uncomfortable and just might make one seem a bit weird to other people because of the intense self-focus - and knowing that it might make one seem weird could make one more self-conscious. He brought that into his teaching. His workshops could be fun, sometimes, but more often were rewarding in other ways, and not necessarily very comfortable to be in. He had a great sense of humor which he used very sparingly. A great premium was placed upon a rather serious self awareness.

The problem with using Minor White as a source of models for exercises is that you would almost need to be Minor White to use them. Minor was very charismatic, very commanding in workshop situations, and adept at creating what some would call an environment for learning, but others might call hypnotism. I think it would be very hard for an individual to apply his methods solo without training, but not impossible. I am able to do it, but it does take a peculiar effort, and I've had the training. Also, there are times that I simply can't do it. That effort isn't like "work", exactly; it is an effort to remember to do it. You know, remember to remember.


A workshop might last several days, and after the first introductory one where the zone system and viewing protocols would be explained and demonstrated, would be held at some remote site such as Cape Kiwanda or Cape Arago on the Oregon Coast. The day would start early in the morning; can't remember how early, but it was early. The importation of Eastern spiritual materials had not yet quite begun in 1964-65, although it was starting, so there was no "yoga" as we have today. Minor had us doing calisthenics; you know, jumping jacks, pushups, sit-ups, etc. to start the day. Early! Then coffee. Then talk. Then breakfast, then more talk, then shoot at some location that had been determined, then if there was a darkroom arrangement, process, then meet with prints, view and discuss, more talk, dinner, more talk, maybe see one of Minor's INCREDIBLE dual projector slide shows (he was a master of fade and dissolve, which he did with hand dimmers, and used the superimposition of images to create spectacular dynamic interactions). Then socialize with liberal drink. The night would end late and the next day would start Early - really early. I think about 5 o'clock. With jumping jacks, pushups....

Out "shooting" (which term I can't recall in use, but there is a famous story about MW saying to students going out with their cameras: "Happy Snapping!") the model was similar. Ideally, I would not "look for pictures" but would stay in a meditative state, remain open, not be critical and allow the image to find me. I never felt it worked for me then, but it does now quite often. My wife tells me that Freeman Patterson called this "relaxed attentiveness" or something close to that. Another of my most honored and revered mentors, Lloyd J. Reynolds at Reed College, called it "serene open awareness". I submit it to you with my recommendation.

The pace was rather severe and within a few days, several students would be gone, never to be seen again. I asked him what the reason for the severity was. He told me that fatigue would break down the students' resistance and he could just "pour it in". Minor believed that getting more than four or five hours of sleep was to indulge in sheer luxury. He would nap in the afternoon, perhaps curled up in the back of somebody's station wagon, for ten minutes, no more. He would count to ten, and be asleep. That was all he seemed to need. He was very strong; us young folks could keep up with him as he flapped his way up the streambed at Oneonta Gorge in his rubber thongs, his tripod with the Sinar over his shoulder, but older students fell back, not even trying to keep up.


Minor's methods were and remain controversial. His models were more traditional Eastern methods where the student surrenders control to the teacher and does as s/he's told, but these methods were adapted more or less successfully to the more permissive American environment. He was not a tyrant. There were, and maybe still are, some who think that he may have done more harm to students than good. Critics point out his mystification, the tendency of his students to become second rate clones, etc.

I myself elected to pursue a different road, but I honor my teachers, of whom Minor White is one. My intent here is to present as best I can an accurate picture of specific workshops, not to laud or criticize. I have used daily what I learned with him for the past 44 years. In that regard, he is not alone, but a member of a select and honored group. He was and remains very important to me, as a teacher and as a person, but - not as a "god". Like all of us, he had his strengths and weaknesses. Those who seem larger than life also have passions that are larger than life. The whole person is magnified.

Friday, August 01, 2008


I almost don't know where to begin...

Talented yogis have been said to watch as a large "whale of inspiration" crests the ocean of consciousness only to let the inspiration go merrily on its way. Watching. Constantly witnessing. Obviously I am not one of those kinds of people.

The journey through creative photographic expressions has taken so many paths over the course of the past eighteen months. Have I needled a creative vein? I can't seem to let any of it go. Every idea that pops to mind needs to be explored. Every nudge leads to new opportunities to learn and create. Every moment is filled with the promise of some great unfulfilled artistic demand.

Radiant Bones - Still Life

Taking a moment to sort some of this out, I realize several things about myself.

My mind can think up a great many things. It can plot and plan and worry the details of the smallest thought. Its from this place that the past forty years of photography was experienced from. Tools. Process. Cameras. Lenses. Chemistry. The books of St. Ansel. Platinum. Palladium. Ultra Large Format. Testing. Proving. Defending. Attacking. Seeking. Wishing. Desiring. To be good. To be acknowledged.

What of the heart?

In my family system, the heart was something that barely existed. To be ignored. To be stilled. It was threatening. It was emotional. It was unreliable. Yes. That is the word. Unreliable.

Yet my time on this small insignificant planet has begun to reveal a deeper truth about the heart. The heart can be still and quite. From that stillness and quietness something else is revealed. The heart has its own way of being. The heart notices and knows about things that the mind doesn't even know exists. The heart has a different expression of reality.

Radiant Bones - Silhouette

Could it be that "good" artists know how to listen to and live in a broader awareness of their heart? As Homer Simpson would say - "DOH!!!"

Eighteen months ago I started down a path away from traditional cameras, film, and chemical processes. The transition to digital has been anxiety producing. I was stepping into uncharted waters. I knew everything about the old approach and nearly nothing about the new.

Since my money earning career is with computers and software development I should not have had as much anxiety as I did. With a little more confidence I would have understood that I was probably decades of knowledge ahead of people untrained in the field of computer science. The applications, tools, and processes readily adapted to my traditional image making approaches. A properly exposed image was still very much a properly exposed image. Dodging was still dodging. Burning was still burning. Composition and light are still composition and light. Printing was still printing. Viewing a finished work was still viewing a finished work.

What has radically changed is the time between idea, execution, and finished product. This one simple reason is how the heart got engaged, opened up, and appears to now be having a Field Day of it all.

Where am I now? Well, I'm thrilled that I enjoy exploring texture layers. This is something I used to do back in the day. The tools are different, and level of control I now have is astonishing. The mind loves that part. The heart enjoys looking at a work, responding, and giving back to the thinking mind new ways to explore. Mind. Thought. Heart. Response. Directed feeling. Mind. Thought. Reinterpretation. Heart. Re-response. All in a very short span of time.

Oregon Country Fair 2008 - Rachel Brice

In this way, texture layers have gone far beyond anything I ever considered and certainly out distances many of the photographic expressions a person typically sees. Its from this place that I can witness the challenges this imposes on some photographic "insiders" and practitioners. "Outsiders" and "lay" viewers seem to be less troubled with my new work. In fact, some of my biggest cheerleaders come from artists and professionals who know little or nothing about photography.

That's for today. Where will the heart lead tomorrow? Wherever it leads there is a quiet confidence that I can sort it all out and find a way to express what needs to be expressed.

Oregon Country Fair 2008 - Angel Rising Above [3]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lenswork Magazine

I just received the following email:

Hello Christopher Perez... And thank you for submitting your "trains" portfolio for our consideration. I'm pleased to let you know that this work has been selected for publication as a Bonus Feature on LensWork Extended #78 computer DVD for September-October, 2008. Congratulations!

Of course, there are a few things we will want to organize as soon as possible...

I am very pleasantly surprised, very happy, and a little in shock. Stay tuned. Brooks will be interviewing me as part of the distribution of my work. I just hope I don't make a d*mned fool of myself!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How I did this... [7]

For the last of this series of posts I wanted to spend a moment to talk about an image that garnered the kind of response an ego-addled-mind can only dream of. This image has won awards, prints have been purchased, and the photo has been viewed on Flickr 7,000 times.

As I was developing my understanding and skills of modern image manipulation tools, I thought it would be good to start very simply. Later, I could work my way up in complexity as needs or desires demanded.

It was winter. It was cold out. Yet, I wanted to make a few images. I had stumbled upon David Hobby's Strobist Blog and was thrilled by the strobe images he described. David links his blog to Flickr, the same community site where I have my photo dump page.

An idea occurred to me make a series of images of a recently acquired mammalian skulls using the simplest of lighting methods. I stumbled downstairs one fine weekend and stood in my light/darkroom and thought awhile. What I came up with was a way to suspend my Alien Bees 3x4foot softbox/B800 between two tables. I then placed white rag board on all sides as a means of filling the subject completely from every angle with light. Then I scrounged through my rag-bag of backdrop materials and hauled out some things suitable. For the background I wondered if a subtle white on white might work well.

After about 30 minutes of fooling around with the light, materials, rag board, backdrop, and subject matter, I was ready to try my hand at making a few images. For the next two hours I had played with different ideas, different skulls, and different camera angles. The thing that stuck me as the most powerful representation was a bare white on white shot from nearly the top view of the biggest mammalian skull I had on hand, the coyote head.

The processing was very straight forward. I brought the image into the free Open Source application called the Gimp. I adjusted the levels slightly and bumped the contrast just a little. The changes were slight, but I hoped effective. Then I added a platinum tint to warm the photograph.

After downsizing the image and posting it on my Flickr pages I thought it might be fun to share this with the Strobist Flickr pool. I didn't think much about it until somewhat later when David Hobby mentioned he had taken a few of the pool images and shared them at Apples latest OS-X release party. People ooh'd and ah'd and seemed to like David's selection. So imagine my surprise when this image had been included in that showing!

Again, time passed and I didn't think much about the photo. This, even after a c0uple friends and colleagues purchased a few prints.

Around the end of 2007, David Hobby announced that he had lined up a few awards for a small contest he was running. David brought in outside help to judge Strobist images and to make a selection of five images from the vast pool of fine photographs. As David shared what the awards would be, I noticed that Alien Bees had offered an ABR800 ring light. I had been lusting after one and said so on Mr. Hobby's blog. It was like rolling dice and I was excited by the possibilities.

At the end of December, David started to announce the winners. My photo had won 4th place. I was stunned. I was shocked. I was amazed. I was very happy.

The ABR800 was eventually mine, and it's arrival led to yet another photoshoot with my favorite models, Sofia and Jane Archer. But that's a story partially told previously...

Radiant Bones - All Hallows Eve

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

How I did this... [6]

My fevered mind keeps coming up with more and more ideas for photo projects.

A few months ago I realized that I had a desire to make a few images of icons in a modern vein. Reading The Historian brought to mind images of Byzantium. The flat lit Notan-like detailed icons were what I had in mind.

In similar time, I reread William Mortensen's book Pictorial Lighting from 1937. He described the use of Notan light as being particularly strong for creating icon-like images. Mortensen gave instructions in the book for a lighting setup that gave Notan effects.

The Basic Light configuration is a two light approach to rendering detail and subtle texture. One light is placed as close to the lens as possible to illuminate the subject. A second light is pointed at head level at a white backdrop. The exposure of the two lights is balanced. The backdrop light is set to match the skin tones of the subject. In this way, the white backdrop is not purely white, rather, it has just enough tone to ensure the limb effects of the subject is revealed.

Limb effects relates to the way the edges of a curved surface is effected by light placed next to the point of view. When lit in the Basic Light manner, limb effects lead to darker edges of the subject. This is what gives the desired separation between the subject and very nearly equally toned backdrop.

In the case of the images I wanted to make, I thought about Mortensen's comments on ring light use. In 1937, ring lights were uncommon. By 1943 when he wrote a book on electronic lighting, he had come to the idea of a ring light as perhaps a great way to achieve Notan light. Ring lights would give the ultimate in limb effects.

Working with Sofia, a bellydancer, I wanted as much limb effect as I could get. The images I wanted to create were not to be "familiar", as in a good photo of a relative or friend. Rather, I wanted something timeless, a little more remote feeling, and very tranquil. The Alien Bees ABR800 ring light was a great solution.

After spending a fair amount of time on making images of Sofia in motion we were coming down to the end of the photo-session. I put up a black backdrop and lit it from behind. We found a large pillow for the model to sit on and my wife and I worked to drape Sofia in various ways using her bellydance veils.

Theme - Icon from Byzantium

Processing the images later helped me complete my original vision. A subtle halo was added. The background was manipulated into something a little softer and darker. The model color was desaturated slightly by mixing an overlay of platinum tints.

As with other images of my series "How I did this...", this image is popular on Flickr. Sofia represents for me the iconic Maiden in a timeless, calm, and pleasing manner.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How I did this... [5]

During the winter my wife and I discovered that a nearby lake is home to a wide variety of birds. The weather is just warm enough that the scaups, ducks, cormorants, and kingfishers congregate in a common area. Of course it helps to have free access to the lake and surrounding pathways and being able to buy food for the birds just outside the gate.

After the worst of the winter weather had done its job to chill everyone to the bone, I hauled out the Big Bird lens and headed down to see how my favorite Buffelheads were doing. The sun was peeking out between the clouds and the air was surprisingly warm.

After working on Buffelheads in flight and seeing how close I could come to the Wood Ducks I suggested it was time to pack it all up and head for home.

We stopped to take a look at the Cormorants all lined up on a downed tree. The arrangement was rather appealing. I hadn't recalled seeing so many birds on the log at the same time. As I started to wander off my wife asked me "Aren't you going to take a picture?"

Cormorants - on a log

I set up the tripod, mounted the Big Bird lens onto the camera, and firmly fixed the whole arrangement to see what kind of photos I could get. I tried a couple different locations and shot what I could in each place. Since I didn't have a remote shutter release, I set the camera on 2 second delay in the hope that the system would settle down long enough to grab a clear clean image. In fact, all of the images from this quick session are very sharp.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How I did this... [4]

There is a taxidermist near the house. I had been wanting to go in to see what they might have. Kerik Kouklis (a platinum printer from California) had a series of images of mammalian skulls that attracted my attention. I visited the bone and fur shop with Kerik's work in mind.

I learned that certain bones are unlawful to sell. Other bones are offered for sale with no hindrance of the law. After choosing the largest lawful skull I could find and paying for it, I quickly headed home. The project I had in mind would look nothing like Kerik's work. Rather, what I saw in my mind's eye was a body of work a little more ethereal in nature.

In similar time I had stumbled upon David Hobby's Strobist blog and was excited by the work and lighting techniques that he brought to readers attention. David also runs a Flickr pool devoted to followers of his Strobist pages. From these two sources of inspiration I wanted to try my hand at photographing the etherial theme as a white on white work.

My light setup was, well, there's no other way to put it, bone simple.

I chose the backdrop and grabbed two three foot high tables. I mounted an Alien Bee B800 onto a three by four foot softbox and rested by the edges of the softbox to suspend between the two tables. Then I took five sheets of white ragboard. One sheet of ragboard rested vertically against the two tables to form the "back" of the unsophisticated light box. Two sheets of ragboard rested vertically from the floor to just under the Alien Bee softbox to form the "sides" of the box. Then two more sheets of ragboard were used to form the "front" of the light box.

The last two sheets of ragboard were required so that I could shoot between the sheets and through the makeshift barn door like opening they formed. The idea was make sure light from the Alien Bee B800/Softbox bounced from all sides and angles, spilling all over and around the subject.

The whole time the subject rested quietly in the middle. I suppose this was an unintended benefit of working with a dead subject.

Radiant Bones - All Hallows Eve

Post processing in the Gimp was kept to a minimum. The original exposures contained all the detail I was hoping for. I added Ken Lee's Bronze Quadtone tint to bring a little platinum warmth to the final print.

If my Flickr post of this image is any indication, people like the image. This photo has received well over 1,000 views.

We will see something very similar to this when I write about the award winning skull image that is also posted on my Flickr site.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

How I did this... [3]

When I made the transition to digital tools, one of the things I was interested in pursuing was wildlife photography. When I worked with film, I just couldn't bring myself to spend the money it took to practice the craft. I felt it would take too much film to "get it right". So I never bothered.

The digital equipment I purchased changed all that. As I read through the owners manual I realized that I could fire off over six images a second at fill clip and not have to spend any more money to try my hand at wildlife photography. I hoped the auto focus could keep up.

I shouldn't have worried. The AF is brilliantly fast, just so long as I keep the focus point on the portion of the subject that I really want in focus.

During the winter, my favorite bird is in abundance in the neighborhood I live in. They tend to roost together in very large numbers. As such, everything that looks promising to eat throughout the area is inspected, poked, prodded, and tested for its food value. These highly social birds work the ground looking to tasty treats in what seems like roving herds.

One late afternoon, as the sun was headed for the horizon, I spied a roving band of crows. They were working their way down the street looking for dinner. As soon as I parked the car and leap into the house to grab the camera, I was headed out the door with a wave to my wife and the words ".... I'll be back shortly..."

The birds were moving away from me. Every time I got "close" to these skittish eating machines they would move on down the road. Thinking it was me they were concerned about I felt rather dejected. The group of birds looked good and would make great subject matter, if only I could find a way to not scare them off.

Feeling desperate to get an image, any image, I crossed the street and tried to work my way ahead of the birds. I didn't look at them as I passed. I tried to look as non-threatening as I could. Then, three houses ahead of the pack, I crossed the street to their side, crouched down, and waited.

I damaged my knees in a motorcycle accident over two decades ago. So the squatting position was a little painful. The temperature was dropping with the sun. And the whole situation was tenuous at best. I was sure the birds would know I was there and fly off before they got within range of the lens I had on the camera.

I waited. I watched. I wondered. Sure enough, the feed hoards worked their way toward me. The excitement was killing me. So to speak.

I started taking pictures as soon as the birds filled a quarter of the frame. Still, they moved forward. Now I was shaking with excitement as some of the birds were nearly filling the view finder. The zoom was a boon in the situation as I could reframe without moving too much. All the birds could hear was the camera's shutter as I tried to capture as much as I could.

Crow - out looking for food

Suddenly, and quite without warning, the birds flew up into the trees over the road. There they sat squawking and yacking to each other. Something or someone had spooked them. My little photo session with the crows was finished.

Reviewing what I just captured back in the warmth of the house I could see some promise in the images in the camera. After processing and posting some of the photos up on my Flickr pages I could see that one image in particular was getting a lot of "hits". Currently, the views stand at well over 800 on this one. People seem to like it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

How I did this... [2]

Portland has a few good graffiti artists. I really enjoy seeing their work, but many times I need to rush to get photos of a scene before someone paints over it. The "authorities" tend to be very confused about what is and what is not "gang" related. So, they try to paint over everything and anything looking like streetart.

However, there is a neat place up on Belmont where the graff stays up for long periods of time. The artist(s) are wonderfully creative! So when my wife told me that some new art went up, I was excited to see what they'd come up with. If the web address on the art is any indication, the artist(s) hails from somewhere north of the US border. I like Canada. I can see that a wee-trip north to photograph their own streetart could yeild some good images.

My wife and I pulled the Prius up to the curb on the opposite side of the street. The parking space in front of the art was filled with some huge gas guzzling blob. I needed the widest angle lens I had. That wasn't too difficult as I have a 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 EF-S Canon lens that mounts perfectly to my new 40D.

The scene had a very wide dynamic range. Shadow details were easily 20 stops lower than the exceedingly bright back-lit thin clouds. This led me to the idea of realizing the subject as a high dynamic range tone-map. I set the 40D's automatic exposure bracketing function for +/-2EV and made sure the shutter would trip multiple times at high speed. The camera was hand held and I wanted as little motion between exposures as possible.

Once captured, I imported three images (one each +/-/0 EV) into an Open Source application called Qtpfsgui. I checked the box that forced an alignment, just in case the three images needed it. The first step yielded a high dynamic range tiff format file. These files tend to be flat looking and really aren't very interesting.

To make the photo "sing", I selected Qtpfsgui's tone map funtion and used the Fattal filter to re-write the tones they way my mind's eye "saw" them when I first took the three photo stack. There are modifiable parameters in the tone mapping software that allow a user to stretch the image re-mapping in several dimensions. Since I have been working with the application for some time it was easy for me to select the parameter values that closely matched my desired output.

After saving the tone mapped image as a jpg, I opened another Open Source application called the Gimp. The Gimp is a great Photoshop-like application that you can use to edit photos. In this case, I used the Gimp to snug up the upper and lower values and to bring down the "shadow" (darker) tones.

Street Art - Belmont

I love the way I can go from image capture to finished product in such little time. Add to this the use of Open Source (aka: free, as in no cost) image manipulation software and I'm thrilled with how my image processing has been streamlined.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How I did this... [1]

I use Flickr as an on-line gallery space for many of my images. The site is well organized, easy to upload to, and allows the ability to receive feedback and comments from community participants. There are currently over seven million registered Flickr users.

Compare this with the number of viewers a decent photographer might get during a one month gallery showing and you can begin to understand why I like Flickr. It's a great way to have ones work viewed and reviewed by potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

In this series I would like to take five of my most viewed images posted on Flickr and share a few thoughts and comments. I would like to share how I made the image, what it meant to me at the time, and what the image has become.

Yogini - Sitting Meditation 1

The first image I would like to talk about is rather special to me. Here's why.

My wife and I had recently moved into Portland after spending far too long living in an outlying suburb. Once in town I realized there was a large community of photographers who met on a regular basis. Some groups met to critique each others work. Others met just to enjoy a beer and conversation.

I met Ray Bidegain in one of the small gatherings that take place monthly on the east side of town. Ray, as you may already be aware, is a very fine platinum print artist. His work includes figure studies (for which he is rightfully well known) and landscape images. After seeing his work, I was hooked on the idea of making my own alternative prints. Ray's work was selling well at the time and I thought perhaps I could make and sell a few images too.

Ray was renting studio space up in the north west part of town and was looking for other photographers to share the rent. It was a nice space. A little small, but it had large west facing windows. The space also had a large hand painted backdrop. I signed up with Ray and started paying him rent to sublet the space.

I posted a call for models in the local Craigslist Artists group. This gal was the first to reply.

We set a time and date and I started to gather my materials for the shoot. At the time I was working with an 8x10 Deardorff front swing camera with a 300mm f/4.5 Schneider Xenar in number 5 Compound shutter. I also worked in 4x5 using a nice Arca Swiss Discovery, which Ray has since purchased from me. The 8x10 film was TMax400. The 4x5 film was Ilford FP4+.

The image here was produced all in camera. The Arca Swiss 4x5 had a 150mm Schneider Symmar Convertable f/5.6 in #1 Prontor shutter mounted to the fore. The model was asked to meditate, which she obviously knew how to do. The halo was such a huge bonus that I was thrilled by the very first print I ever made of the model. I used a large softbox high off camera left and placed a 7 inch coned monolight directly behind the models head pointed at the backdrop. The setup was as simple as that.

I have since sold many prints. My Flickr page has received over 1,300 views to date. People have responded positively in all respects.

This image is a 4x5 inch contact Palladium print that I made. It is window mounted to 11x14 inches, and, I have to say, it looks great.

So many things came together all at the same time. It's one of those experiences that I feel I have been working a lifetime to participate in. I feel lucky.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

As Mel Brooks once said...

"A funny thing happened on the way to the Coliseum."

There is a group of photographers in Portland who gather on a regular basis. We critique each others work. Sometimes I don't get home until well after 10pm.

I attend several of these kinds of groups. One is devoted to casual conversations over beer and food. Another is quite serious about tools and technique. Yet another consists of artists, teachers, and professionals.

The Guild

The groups have gotten to know me. When I moved into Portland from the 'burbs I was still in my large format traditional silver print phase. People saw my work and commented positively about many of the images. Later, I moved into making hand coated Palladium prints from large to ultra large format negatives. About a year after I started printing Palladium, and after several very successful gallery shows, I jumped headlong into a war over photographic fundamentalism. Like all religious battles, things got messy.

Working with new tools and modeling my processes after traditional techniques I started to create images that thrilled me. I felt free to explore just about any photographic expression that came to mind. One evening I decided to share some of the work that I had processed just the week before.

It was late. People were tired. Some folks had left already.

Salmon St. Park Here

When it was my turn, I carefully arranged my photos for people to review.

I quickly sensed that some people were challenged by what I was sharing. As people started to comment and critique the images, it came as no surprise that they had a wide range of thoughts on the topic of photography. In short, my work was nothing like they had "expected" a "real" photograph to be.

I heard comments like "... these are not photographs...", "... I don't know what these are...", "... your images are flat... they lack depth...", "... do you realize that you are threatening illustrators by making it too easy?... they will loose their jobs over this!..."

To balance the whole charade were two photographers who came up to me afterward and said "... this is really great!", "You might be onto something... much like the Impressionists were onto something when they were tossed out of the Salons in Paris..." The last comment may be on the verge of overkill, still, my ego loved to hear it.

Old Pipes

I learned several things from the experience. I had a chance to witness the differences in how people "see" photography. It was at first surprising to watch people make assumptions about what is and what is not photography. There seems to a very clear set of "rules" about what a photograph is.

Thinking about this a bit, I have come to the realization that two things were at play. First, people on the inside of the business of making photographs have a very different view of the art than, say, the typical lay viewers, the Great Unwashed Masses. Where I had nothing but praise from the general public for me new work, the photographic establishment was, by and large, reacting quite negatively.


Second, I once again had the opportunity to feel the gulf between what I created, my intentions and hope for the work, and the way people actually respond. Depending on the viewer, the gap between "me" and "them", and the way people respond can be very large.

I am reminded of the unspoken responsibilities of an artist. While there are many dimensions and approaches to expressing art, I can see where it is helpful to provide context. There needs to be some way of connecting with viewers. In general, it seems to me that if an artist assumes a particular context, they may be missing an opportunity to connect with viewers. For on that night of late evening photo critique I had failed to hook my viewers in a way that was meaningful, accessible, or knowable to them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

System Resolution - from Luminous Landscape

I have spent a lot of time with friends and alone testing resolution of MF and LF lenses as part of real world camera systems. One of the big limitations for putting anything to film has been the resolution limits of the film itself and diffraction at smaller apertures.

In their own way, if I'm reading this correctly, nothing has changed when it comes to digital photography. Check out this article and see what you think.

The optical sensor in a CCD or CMOS array becomes the limiting "airy disk" and optical diffraction limits how far you can stop down. I'm happy to see that the laws of physics remain in full effect.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


About six months ago I found a process for handing images with incredible dynamic ranges. In traditional silver processing, this is sometimes considered a Holy Grail - to be able to retrain sufficient detail in the shadows while at the same time retaining details in the highlights. So many approaches have, well, developed over time. One approach I ended up with was using Rodinal 150:1 to 200:1 and implementing "semi-stand" 5 inversions every 10 minutes agitation. The approach worked very well. I could clearly see a beneficial effect. However, the local contrast was still not as high as I wanted.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - in Sepia

Once my transition to digital was well under way, I found a series of open source tools that might fulfill my needs. I started testing the tools on my favorite subject, steamlocomotives. Here was the most difficult subject I could find. I have shot hundreds of sheets of large format film in an attempt to capture the spirit and light of the roundhouse that the engines live in. Here in this building were incredibly deep shadows and very very bright sun bathed highlights. It's difficult to convey just how many hours I spent trying to figure out the best film/processing/printing combinations.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - in Sepia

Shockingly, it took me all of fifteen minutes working with my newfound open source digital tools to stumble upon the exact image style that I had spent the previous decade searching for. Here, finally, was a set of tools that I could use to creatively express what my eyes saw and my heart felt.

Steamlocomotives - SPS700, SP4449

I have since spent time working out alternative approaches to achieving similar results. I have found that I'm in love with the way these tools allow me to "draw" the kinds of images you see here. To me, these are wonderful expressions of light and space.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - in Sepia

Thursday, March 20, 2008

People and their camera equipment

I stumbled upon Ken Rockwell's thoughts on camera gear. His comments mirror my own thoughts on the subject. Namely, that people who obsess over the "best" camera equipment are missing the point.

I have been following various newsgroups, on-line forums, and trade-shows for years. Decades, actually. I used to wonder if Leica 35mm cameras were truly imbued with a special quality that their users could benefit from. I used to think that if it was good enough for St. Ansel, it was good enough for me. I used to test and test and test all manner of lenses, cameras, and systems just to see what was the "best". I have even published a great deal on the 'net on this very topic.

After reading his article, it appears to me that Ken and I arrived at similar thoughts in similar time. That is, cameras and lenses are just tools. They are tools that can be used wisely or unwisely, depending upon one's personal approach. But that cameras and lenses are no different than other kinds of tools that people use to create things.

Certainly a woodworker will haul out a hammer when the job at hand calls for it. Then they might choose a bandsaw or a tablesaw or a mitersaw when a different kind of works needs to be done. I seldom hear woodworkers become passionate about the kinds of tools they use or why they selected what they did quite like I hear "photographers" yack-on about their equipment. The same holds true for my experience in talking and participating in other fields of arts and craft.

When I came upon Luminous Landscape's rebuttal to Ken Rockwell, I was further amazed. Here, very redundantly, was a defense of all the bloviating, all the wringing of hands, all the too common commotion around camera and lens selection. I just don't "get it".

Art or craft is art or craft. Nothing more. Nothing less. The tools of one's art or craft are important in so far as they allow one to create what they desire to create. Ninety nine and one half percent of the equipment talk on-line, in the forums, over on the newgroups, in the various blogs is missing the point of art and craft entirely!

It doesn't matter a whit what you use to create your art or craft. All that I'm looking for is how does your work impact me emotionally.

There. I said it. Now it's time to get out there and make and share one's art and craft. Good luck.

The more art and craft in the world the better.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Stiching Panoramas together

Here is a very nice tutorial on the subject

Canon 100-400L in the field

After testing my new Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L I realized that it had potential for being a very sharp lens. Testing the 100-400L against my 70-200L near the close focus limits of both lenses showed the results to be equal (see prior post). Now, I wanted to see how the 100-400L behaved with subjects at distances greater than six feet.

Hooded Merganser (male)

One has to be careful when using long lenses. Vibration and shake are greatly magnified.

Buffelhead - in flight

In my case, I haul out the Bogen 3033/3057 setup and strap the long super zoom to the head. For stationary subjects I can clamp the controls down tight and either trigger the shutter using the 40D's 2 second delay, or use my new 2.5foot tethered trigger.

Lesser Scaup - a running start (4)

For birds in flight (BIF) I found that loosening the tripod head controls (horizontal and vertical) just enough to be able to move the camera setup is very usable. I realize it might be counter-intuitive, but using the tripod in this manner allows me to keep the focus point fairly steady on the subject. I have now shot thousands of images using this method and have better results than with trying to follow a BIF handheld (camera/lens off-tripod).

Buffelhead - on the race track

As for the lens being sharp? Oh yes, it most certainly is sharp. Much sharper than I anticipated, in fact. After reading all the mis-leading comments over on DPReview I had to steady myself and come back to reality. The 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L Canon lens is simply superb.