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A tribute to my late business partner and best friend. January 22 2018, 0 Comments

If we are fortunate enough, we may at least once in our lives, have a friend so wonderful, so insightful that he or she can see in us what we cannot see in ourselves. It is what my 28 year friend and business partner did for me. I'd like to think that I did that for him as well. 

Robert bought me my first camera. I was in graduate school and finishing a second Master's Degree. When he gave it to me back in 1989, he said I would make a great photographer. I thanked him and reminded him that I was already on a career path. He smiled and said, 'Yes, but you are going to make a great photographer."

Robert was harsh sometimes with my work but I came to understand that his perfection would help shape the way I saw and captured light. His severe editing helped shape the simplicity of my work. Over the many years he encouraged me and was supportive, although we made arguing an art form! I saw my work develop and diversify. I could always tell when he liked a photograph. He'd say, "Wow! Is this for me?"

If I had a particular notion for a new collection he was honest when I asked him what he thought about it. Sometimes he would just look at me and then blurt out, "Where did you get a stupid idea like that?" More often, he would tell me to go for it. I loved that he would let me know when something was not thought through properly. 

I have gone through generations of cameras but I still have that first camera, a Minolta 370. The process is the same...hand held light meter, manual settings, tripod. I am out of the chemical darkroom and into the electronic darkroom. 

It took until I was 45 to pay off my student loans for the degrees which sit in a drawer. And everytime I get ready to shoot these days, I hear the echos of Robert's voice, "Go for it. You're going to make a great photographer." 

  


Making Time Stand Still April 25 2016, 0 Comments

So much of our lives is spent in motion, too much… absolutely too much. We live in an era where being still, being quiet or contemplative is seen as unproductive, a waste of valuable time. The cell phone, the text messages, iPad, iPod, cable and computer are seen as musts. Many are rarely “in the moment” but preoccupied with these distractions. Time springs by while as a society we are drowning in the misbelief that we must be continually connected. The fact is these things disconnect us and I wonder how we have allowed ourselves to be lead so far off the path of reality. In my work, being still and completely unplugged is essential.

Photography is all about time. Often, I awaken long before dawn and am at a location waiting for the perfect moment in order to capture our amazing landscape. I can wait for hours, sometimes having to return to a place over a period of weeks or months. But when the timing is right I can make time stand still.  When I press the shutter button for 1/60 of a second, 1/100 of a second, 1/125 of a second, time is literally stopped. The image is committed to film or a memory card. The laughter, the landscape, the celebration or rage of a storm is documented. In that minimal portion of a literal second, the truth of reality is revealed in only the way a photograph can display it. It is raw. It is unaltered.

We rely on images. Images share world events, our joy, our pain or just an incredibly beautiful landscape. The photographic journey does not alter images. It shares what the photographer sees and documents, not what it creates in a computer. True photographers take time to learn how to meter light, and understand depth of field. They engage the manual settings of their camera and learn to set the Kelvin Scale.

To quote George Eastman, "Light makes photography. Embrace it. Admire it. Love it. But above all KNOW LIGHT. Know it for all you're worth and you will know the key to photography."

Unplug and learn your art, your craft. Refrain from using someone else's intellectual property (software) to correct what you did not know to do in the field. Yes. It takes time, thought. But I can assure you no-one will ever wonder if your work is "real."


Your Work Should Evolve February 03 2015, 0 Comments

Back in 1989 when I was given my first camera, a Minolta 370 all manual film camera, I had no idea how to use it let alone could I envision a lifetime of work in the photographic industry. But I loved the magic that happened in the darkroom, when a blank sheet of printing paper came alive with what I saw through my view finder. I had no formal education and I often found myself asking others in the field how I could replicate what I had done when a particular image suited my fancy. I remember one time in particular. I had photographed a friend's child. The light bouncing off the sand at the beach was so blinding that all but the child's sweet face and head were blown out of the photo. The result was a beautiful black and white photo that looked like a line drawing. When I asked a friend about it, he laughed at me and said, "You create really cool art because you don't know any better. No-one has educated the creativity out of you." Then he went on to explain "High Key" photography to me. I worked for a long time in portrait photography. I loved my work of Stella, one of the original tap dancing grannies from Esther's Follies in Austin, Texas. I also loved photographing Santa Claus and the self-appointed "Father" John. 

For a while, I loved photographing pets. I loved photographing a wedding ONCE. But when the digital age came to fruition, I detested people wanting to change their looks. I had long been taught that photography was about documenting what is. So, I decided to turn to the world's landscape. I indeed love this type of photography. When folks ask me what I do, I tell them, "I listen to the landscape, collect the silence and document what is." I don't mind getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning so that I can be on location when the light comes. I always say that it is the time before the world invades our lives. And after more than twenty-five years, I love my work as much as I did when I started out, maybe even more. I still use all manual settings on my camera and I still sometimes use a hand held light meter just because. My friend Frank Lavelle, says we are dinosaurs and I laugh because I can set an f-stop and a shutter speed with dead on precision, no meter needed.

But as I enter this next phase of my life, I have once again added to my resume another area of work, photo-documentaries. It is a natural off shoot of my travel, now adding the written word to accompany the photographic stories I have been seeking out over the past few years while on travel shoots. My work is once again evolving, something I take both pleasure and pride in. 

I hope to publish some of these photo-documentaries in the next year or so. I have gone after some difficult topics. Some are topics that many people would like to shield their eyes from. But we live in a time where cannot afford the luxury of ignoring outdated policies, human suffering, or the simple fact that we often do not treat one another very well.

I have come to believe that I am in this industry to share not just the beauty, but the truth, which is the next chapter in my photography.


When The Work Doesn"t Come August 16 2014, 0 Comments

There are times when the work flows freely. The ideas overflow from within and there are hardly enough hours in the day to capture the images in a particular body of work. There are also the long term projects created over a period of months or even years. These projects can be inspiring and motivating as the visual progress comes to light and the tangible, physical photographs can be organized and shared as en exhibit or book.

But what about when the work doesn’t come? Occasionally, happily it has not been too often in my career, there are times when I am suspended in my work. Perhaps a photo shoot did not work out well, too many sand storms in the desert! Or perhaps a photo shoot was cancelled due to war breaking out in a country where I had planned a photo documentary shoot. Time passes and a sense of urgency rolls over me as I become concerned about not keeping my skills sharp. I realize it is somewhat ridiculous given my years of experience and knowledge of light. But never the less, the concern exists.

Although the art shows have been plentiful this year, the new work has been hampered indeed by sand storms, and trip cancellations due to war. Long term projects fill in a great deal of time but I have thrived on the creativity that comes with capturing new bodies of work.

So I offer to you a few substitutions that help fill in the gaps while I rework schedules, funding and ideas for some of the work that I have had to postpone. First, I tend to review all of my collections on hard drives. I often find “new” images that I have never printed. In the process of trying to limit a collection to 12-24 pieces, I sometimes chose one over another for the sake of not making a collection too large. Adding these “new” images or swapping one or two out can keep a collection fresh. After twenty some years I have thousands of pieces of work just waiting to see the light of day.

Secondly, I find substitute photo shoots. These are usually shorter trips but are on my list of eventual shoots. Substitute shoots often turn into beautiful collections of work. The unintended often does.

Finally, I try to visit art museums or if that is not possible, the art section in a book store. Studying someone else’s artwork helps give perspective even if it is a different art form from your own. Take it in and find the inspiration.

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Cataloging Your Work February 19 2014, 0 Comments

Having spent more than twenty years in film and digital photography, I have work in every corner of my home, and studio. Portfolios are piled high and new work is still locked inside the catacombs of more than a dozen hard drives waiting to be cataloged and printed. Cataloging your work should be a priority, just as backing up your work should be. Cataloging your work is akin to a finger print of your life’s work. These easy steps will help you to catalog your work.

Using your computer programs such as Photo Shop or Light Room, you can create your files online. (Make a print out so you have a backup copy.) Most photo software will allow you to catalog images as you process them. You will begin by creating a file name for groups of images but also, be certain when using this component of your software that you name your photographs individually as you process them. Your software will automatically number your photographs but numbers do not jog the memory when you have thousands of images. Your camera type, f-stop, shutter speed and color temperature will automatically be given. If there is a space to add the date the images were taken, the time of day the images were taken and the lens used, log that information in as well. If not, you will want to manually add this information on the print out. For images on film negatives, similar steps should be taken by recording the name of the image, the f-stop and shutter speed, film type and speed, and the camera and lens used. This can be done in a paper notebook or in Microsoft word.

Why catalog your work?

  1. Easy access to specific images. It eliminates searching when you want to present work to a client.
  2. Identification. As you build your body of work, your style will emerge. One of your goals as a photographer should be to make your work identifiable with your style. No-one mistakes a Van Gogh with a Monet. You can more easily nurture the development of your style if you are able to look at your work as a whole. Creating portfolios is the easiest way to do this and it catalogs your work at the same time.

Portfolios are bodies of work that display your skill as a photographer. I have twenty to thirty portfolios ready at any given time. Subject matter is grouped together. Product photography, such as images of food are one portfolio, for example, while images of still life are another portfolio. Do not make the mistake of mixing work in the same portfolio. You want your portfolio to be diverse but subject matter should be grouped together. A potential client who is interested in food images for their restaurant is probably not going to care if you can photograph real estate. When I meet with a potential client I always take with me what they have asked for but also take with me a few portfolios that they might want to see but didn’t know to ask for. However, I never mix the work into the same portfolio.

  1. Copyright. Work should be cataloged for the purpose of maintaining copyright. You don’t want to lose track of what work you have filed with the federal copyright office as you build your body of work. Making a catalog documents when and where photographs were taken but also the type of equipment used, the f-stop, shutter speed and color temperature.
  2. Insurance. If valuable work is stolen or lost in a hurricane or other disaster, details about the individual pieces make identification easier and may make filing an insurance claim easier.
  3. Finally, in the event that someone uses your work without permission, you have a log of all information regarding how, when, and where the image was taken. This is a great way to provide documentation that no-one else will have, hence “proving” the original work is your own. (Also see blog on Copyright)

The Next Photo Shoot January 14 2014, 0 Comments

January. I sit with my calendar in front of me and an endless list of places to photograph. I look at the pile. The pile is a group of projects that I have been working on, some projects requiring time and attention for years. I try to calculate how much time I need this month to get my taxes to the accountant, how much printing time I need for an upcoming competition and art show on the east coast. As I do these things, I think on a comment I have heard from my art friends for years, “This stuff kills my creativity.” I want to groan.

Even eight weeks after my return from Cuba, I mentally walk the streets of Havana in the quiet early hours when one has time to be still, the time before the sun peaks over the horizon and the world once again invades our lives. I think about my return there. I wonder when that will be. I wonder how such a place could grab hold of me so completely.

I relish the time in which I wait, sometimes for hours, for the light to reveal the lines I now seek to photograph. I live to do this work surrendering myself to know no time or day, just the images slowly showing themselves to me as if to share a secret. The light changing form from moment to moment enticing me to chase it, capture it. Slowly a timeline emerges… Show on the east coast, early spring. Late spring, Valley of Fire and Death Valley. By late summer, long term project #1…finish first draft. Dropping into an entirely different culture and losing myself completely in my work, early fall.


Try On a New Medium October 04 2013, 0 Comments

 

Working in photography for the past two decades has taught me the physics of light and the human visual spectrum of color. No matter how advanced the technology becomes, if you can’t measure light and have no understanding of how color and human vision record what we see, you will never be a master of photography. Technical aspects do change and take years to learn. But photography has taught me something else necessary to capture the landscape, patience. Over the years I have gotten quite fluid with respect to capturing light. I can estimate light and camera settings quickly and as a consequence, work quickly when necessary.

But I found a renewed appreciation for some of my artist friends when I tried on a new medium. My friend Kris is an amazing potter. He throws pottery the way I take images. As I watched him work I thought, cool. I can do that! So I signed up for some individual lessons. I spent nearly a year just working on the basic fundamentals of throwing. While Kris could throw a pot in ten minutes, I struggled to throw one worthy of saving in a couple of hours. I struggled with hand placement, and how much pressure to apply on the clay. I struggled with when to lift a piece from the wheel.  I often added too much water when the wheel was in motion or just the opposite, not enough.

This is way good art costs. We are not paying for the ten minutes it took someone like Kris to make the pottery, we are paying him for the years he spent learning how to craft his pottery in ten minutes.

While I have always maintained this mind set with regard to my own work, it had been some time since I was reminded of the years my fellow artists’ have spent developing their own art. And their skill being no less than mine warrants the same appreciation.

I thought it wonderfully interesting to try on another artists medium for a while. Look out…next, I am going to paint!


What is Copyright? September 13 2013, 0 Comments

According to the dictionary, COPYRIGHT is: “The exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc. works granted by law on or after January 1, 1978, are protected for the lifetime of the author or creator and for a period of fifty years after his or her death.”

It is true that as soon as you write a story, paint a painting, compose a song, or press the stutter button on your camera, that work of art belongs to you and only you. It applies to software someone has created, or blueprints, etc…

More than a decade ago when people started to download music without paying for it, several major music companies began suing individuals and rightly so. Copying, reproducing, scanning or in any other way using another person's work without permission is stealing. Plan and simple. The comment I have heard through the years is “Oh what does it hurt?” Let me explain…

First, what you are taking isn’t yours. Secondly, you keep the artist from making a living. Truly. I have had to retire images because I could no longer keep up with the ways in which some of the images were being stolen. It has cost me thousands in income. And no I can’t afford to lose income. People who steal other peoples work degrade the work itself. It’s like saying, “Yes, I want your art but I shouldn’t have to pay for it.” Really? When you go to work does your boss want you to be productive but then say that he /she shouldn’t have to pay you?? Try eating that for dinner!

I always hope that artists take the time to register their work, whatever art form it is, with the Federal Copyright Office. This ensures a couple of things. First, your work is on file as YOUR work. Secondly, it allows you to sue for damages. If someone uses your work without permission, even on a Facebook page, you can sue them and will probably get a judgment by the court. However, work that has been filed with the Federal Copyright Office allows you to sue for damages.

For example, if a person uses your work on their own website without permission, and makes $500,000 as a result, you can sue them based on what they earned as a result of using your work without permission. This holds true for someone who uses your image without permission for the simplest of things such as an invitation. If it is copied and distributed say, 100 times, you can receive damages for each time it was distributed. In short, 100 times.

Violating copyright is serious. Many believe that they cannot be sued if they use something they don’t make money off of. WRONG! Just ask the folks that were fined $10,000 per download when they stole music in those early days of illegal downloading!

For more information on Federal Copyright procedures, go to: www.copyright.gov


Texas, Mexico and The Bridge Btw Them July 31 2012, 0 Comments

 

I have wanted to photograph both the San Antonio Missions and the El Paso Missions for a long time. So, I decided to head out a few days ago. The brochures of El Paso show it off as a quaint western city just a short drive, about an hour or so, from New Mexico. I love New Mexico. So my plan was to photograph the El Paso Missions, a bit of west Texas and then head into Southern New Mexico…One should always have a backup plan!
I arrive in El Paso mid-afternoon because of the time change. El Paso is on Mountain Time. I see a sign for the “Historic Mission Trail” so I turn off onto a side road and head about 15 miles into an area that may as well be Mexico. All of the shop and restaurant signs are written in Spanish. Bars are across the store doors and windows. Not a very welcoming sight. I trudge on because it is a beautiful day and my gas tank is full. I don’t speak Spanish, something I truly regret actually, but it doesn’t look like I am going to have to speak with anyone as long as I follow the signs.
I arrive at the first of the three missions. A light bulb goes on. I have often wondered why this mission is always pictured at an angle. The photos are awkward and cramped. Now I know why. There is a solid wall about ten feet from the front of this mission. There is no way to back up and get a complete photo of the front of the building. There is something like yellow crime tape hanging out the front door and the door is locked. This is not a good sign! I don’t have a pair of scissors to cut the tape so I get back into my car and head to the next mission. This mission is also closed but wow! What a fabulous view of this perfectly kept building. The sky is blue, the clouds are puffy and white and when the sun ducks behind them, I get a photograph with perfectly even light! On I go. The third and final mission is open but I take photos in between folks coming out and going inside.
I hadn’t expected to gather those photos that quickly but given that I did, I head further into El Paso to find a place to stay for the night, grab dinner and make a quick stop at the shopping mall! I hop onto the interstate where I am cruising along listening to a fabulous rock station, when, I am all of a sudden no longer near any shopping, hotels or restaurants. But I think I am still on the interstate. I glance over to my left and there is a VERY tall wire wall. If I didn’t known any better, I would think that I was driving next to a federal prison. Then it dawns on me that that is the border wall between the US and Mexico. Border patrol cars are everywhere. I slow because I have somehow gotten onto the bridge that goes into Mexico and the concrete barriers prevent me from turning around. I have either a sheer look of panic on my face knowing that I have no passport with me or a deer in the head light look because a border patrol car pulls up behind me. Out of the car comes an officer who looks like he could bench press 250lbs without any effort whatsoever. He asks me where I am trying to go. Completely embarrassed, I tell him that I was trying to go to the shopping mall. “Oh.” Then nothing. He busts out laughing. “The mall is about fifteen miles back. You didn’t look like you wanted to go to Mexico. Just go up about a quarter of a mile and you will see a sign that says, ‘open exit’. Turn there and it will take you right back into town. You want exit twenty-five.” Dying of embarrassment, I thank him and press on. After a short trip to Dillards where I did not find what I was looking for, I check in at a Hampton Hotel, order in and spend the night watching the Olympics.
The following morning I have my sights set on the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. I head out this time in the right direction. The sky is beautiful, mountains rising in front of me, the same great rock station blaring and coffee in my cup holder. I am about seventy miles down the road when I see flashing lights and a sign that reads, “Border Patrol Check Point”. Now I KNOW I am on the right road but every car and truck is required to stop and show that they are legally in the country. I am no-where near the border so I am a bit irritated. A U2 song has started playing on the radio and I am probably going to have to lower the volume. I approach the border agent and we chat. Turns out we were both born in New York so we get to talking for a minute and out of the corner of my eye, I am watching four other agents hand cuff a woman about 40 years old while drug dogs are in her SUV going crazy over something!! She doesn’t look particularly upset about being in hand cuffs, although the guy she is with standing ten or so yards from her does. I look at the border agent and say, “This isn’t the America we grew up in is it?” He assures me that it isn’t and waves me on. I begin to rethink this little trip. At first opportunity, I make a U-turn and even though I am hundreds of miles away, I head home where no address is required…and no proof of citizenship is needed!


Technology Trauma July 10 2012, 0 Comments

 

Moving professional photographic equipment across the country, essentially my entire studio, was enough to make me want to drive at 20 miles an hour and keep a bottle of Valium close by. Packing printers that are as long as I am tall and loading up computers, hardware, cords, etc…was probably the only portion of moving that made me want to seek therapy before, during and after I did it! But once I pulled into my new studio with all intact, I breathed a huge sigh of relief…I breathed too soon!!

Shortly after setting up my equipment which included a new Epson printer and another computer, I thought I was home free. Then the B&H catalog arrived and the following fiasco ensued. I knew Canon was coming out with an upgrade to the 1DS camera series and several other cameras in the 35mm division. What I did not know, at least until I opened the summer catalog, was that the new 5D Mark III was coming out. Instantly, I was on the phone with B&H trading up my Mark II so I could order the Mark III. I have learned that if you do not trade within a year of an upgrade, you camera value often drops significantly. When the camera arrived, of course it did not work with Photoshop CS5 so I got online paid and downloaded CS6 which of course didn’t work…so then I spent two hours a with a lovely person from Adobe in the Philippines downloading the next upgrade which will now allows my new camera to be recognized. (Actually, she was very patient and spoke English well. A God send!)

I then tried several test prints with my new printer. But wait! It isn’t printing correctly. I check and recheck my settings for my printing profiles. All set correctly but now five, yes, five nozzles aren’t printing. I of course call Epson. Thank God they are in America! I get some really fine gentlemen on the phone who works hard to help me but after a while suggests that we swap the printer out. I of course want a brand new one. Even though I bought this printer several months ago, I have never taken it out of the box in anticipation of the move. They want to send me a refurbished one…..I talk with someone else who has no business being in “CUSTOMER SERVICE “and I finally said, "You are failing miserably to represent Epson well in any way, shape or form." She put me on hold. Believe me it was for the best!

Then, an angel of mercy is put on the phone and after two hours, a new, yes new printer will be sent overnight in exchange for the printer I have. That is the Epson customer service I am use too after nearly 20 years and the woman on the phone was so wonderful, I wanted to cry. So, I have the printer delivered to a friend’s because there is no way a delivery truck will ever find me let alone be able to take an 18 wheeler down the single lane dirt road where my studio is located. He arrives a day late and we load the printer into my vehicle where yet another friend helps me unload it back at my studio at “No Address Required.”

Are you still with me??? I get the printer hooked up and now I think I am ready to go…not quite. My monitor calibration is really off. So I boot up my Eye One but alas, the new operating system on the computer does not recognize this software! My version has been discontinued. Did I mention that in the midst of all this my niece is flying in from NY to have her senior portraits done and my business partner is in ICU???

With my niece arriving in another day, I make sure that my back up systems are in perfect working order along with my two other Epson’s… (I really do love Epson printers with a passion!) and I spend the next week with my beautiful niece and sister. With them on their way back to NY, I order the new version of Eye One and it arrives the afternoon before I take off to see how my business partner, now out of the hospital, is doing.

I will be home in a couple of days and hopefully, with any measure of luck download the new software, calibrate my monitor and getting back to what I do best…”capture the light, listen to the landscape, collect the silence and document what is.”

 


Traveling On February 27 2012, 0 Comments

 

The wide, vast lands of the west have been pulling me toward them for years. The images of the desert running for miles in front of me as I drive the western highways with the mountains rising behind, are too numerous to capture even with the frequent trips I take to New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. It is the quiet, the solitude, the simplicity of a not at all simple landscape that will not relent in its desire to pull me close and keep me there, if only for a time.

I have been living and working in the Low Country for the past seven years. Actually, this is my second rendezvous with the beautiful South Carolina coast. In the spring, there is no other place in the country that allows Mother Nature to show off all her fine glory, as the red, pink, lavender and white azaleas bloom. The jasmine scents the early morning air with its light, sweet aroma. It is truly an extraordinary event for the senses.

Yet, there comes a time, and it always comes, when a yearning to move on sweeps over me and a call to see what I have not and to photograph an unaltered landscape replaces the certainty of the home, and the life I have built in the customary tradition of “normal.” Such a time is again upon me and I grapple with the uncertainty of yet another move but am unable to dismiss the realization that I have seen so very little. For the thousands upon thousands of photographs I have taken, there are thousands more I have not. For the many ways I have learned to live, there are many more I have yet to understand.  And for the cultures of people I have been blessed to know, the solitude of a speaking landscape summons me so that I may know it. For some, roads lead them home. My roads lead me forward.

Farewell, sweet Charleston. You are steeped in an era gone by. But life must be more than about the past. Oh great west, I am in route. Your land open to me like loving outstretched arms which now hold my future.