Friday, April 12, 2019

Chapter 3: Like Wisps of Long Hair

My first photo of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is of course a single, immense geological entity.  But its appearance, character and spirit are ever-changing with location, time of day and - especially - weather conditions.  The Canyon is so large that it has its own micro-climates, influenced by but seemingly independent of those of its immediate surroundings. Aided by these meteorological forces of nature the Grand Canyon becomes a great geological chameleon possessing magical powers of transformation; a quick-change artist unfailingly resplendent in any of its adaptive guises.

Of course my fellow Wisconsinite, John Muir, said it best:
'Half a dozen or more showers may oftentimes be seen falling at once, while far the greater part of the sky is in sunshine, and not a raindrop comes nigh one. These thundershowers from as many separate clouds, looking like wisps of long hair, may vary greatly in effects. The pale, faint streaks are showers that fail to reach the ground, being evaporated on the way down through the dry, thirsty air, like streams in deserts.  Many on the other hand, which in the distance seem insignificant, are really heavy rain, however local; these are the grey wisps well zigzagged with lightning.  The darker ones are torrent rain, which on broad, steep slopes of favorable conformation give rise to so-called "cloudbursts"; and wonderful is the commotion they cause.' 
Next time in 'The Grand Canyon of the Colorado"- Chapter 4: Throb and Quiver and Glow

One of the most intense rainbows I've ever seen, and a more
understated companion.

Its going to rain

Storm over Desert View Watch Tower, South Rim

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Chapter 2: The Proudest Temples and Palaces



This is Chapter 2 of a collaborative effort including photos from my visit to the Grand Canyon annotated by passages excerpted from naturalist John Muir's "The Grand Canyon of the Colorado". (5 photos) You can view 'Chapter 1: The Living, Rejoicing Colors' here.

If the Grand Canyon were an invariant entity its size alone would make it difficult to appreciate in full. But the Canyon is anything but constant.  It is continuously being reshaped by myriad cycles of deconstruction, construction and reconstruction, giving rise over eons to new promontories referred to as amphitheaters, temples, palaces and buildings.  Not surprisingly, Muir says it best:
"Thus the canyon grows wider and deeper. So also do the side canyons and amphitheaters, while secondary gorges and circues gradually isolate masses of promontories, forming new buildings, all of which are being weathered and pulled and shaken down while being built, showing destruction and creation as one. We see the proudest temples and palaces in the stateliest attitudes, wearing their sheets of detritus as royal robes, shedding off showers of red and yellow stones like trees in autumn shedding their leaves, going to dust like beautiful days to night, proclaiming as with tongues of angels the natural beauty of death."                          - John Muir

Next up: Chapter 3: "Like wisps of long hair"





Saturday, March 30, 2019

Chapter 1: The Living, Rejoicing Colors



On a recent trip to the Grand Canyon I was convinced that my camera and I would be able to capture much of its true essence. After all, I had prepared well in advance by devouring all sorts of advice for capturing the Canyon by camera.  The magnitude of my error in this regard was only slightly exceeded by the immensity, grandeur and awe-inspiring beauty of this majestic gash through geological strata, history and time. My not insignificant abilities were completely overwhelmed.

Upon returning home and brooding about the absence of something ‘felt’ at the Canyon that did not fully translate into my photographs I discovered a salve for my bruised ego in a passage written by the great naturalist John Muir in 1902:
‘But it is impossible to conceive what the canyon is, or what impression it makes, from descriptions or pictures, however good.’
In the hopes that pictures and descriptions together can overcome the individual shortcomings of either, especially when the descriptions are Muir’s own, I’ve decided to prepare a series of blog posts combining my images with passages from Muir’s 1902 ‘The Grand Canyon of the Colorado”.  I am hopeful that Muir’s power of observation and mastery of words will compensate for my many deficiencies fully aware that his brilliance will also serve to make my shortcomings even more glaring.

So here is Chapter 1 - The Living, Rejoicing Colors
“All the canyon rock-beds are lavishly painted, except a few neutral bars and the granite notch at the bottom occupied by the river, which makes but little sign.  It is a vast wilderness of rocks in a sea of light, colored and glowing like oak and maple woods in autumn, when the sun-gold is richest.... But the COLORS, the living, rejoicing COLORS, chanting morning and evening in chorus to heaven! Whose brush or pencil, however lovingly inspired, can give us these?”                          John Muir 
I’ll hope you’ll join me for Chapter 2 - The Proudest Temples and Palaces - coming next week.







Thursday, March 7, 2019

Happy 90th Frank Owen Goldberg

Stata Building, MIT, Boston, MA

One week ago today, on February 28, Frank Owen Goldberg celebrated his 90th birthday.

"Who the hell is Frank Goldberg?"  you might well ask.  It could be that you know him better by his adopted name - Frank Gehry - the renowned Canadian-American architect.  Ostensibly the best known architect of our time, Gehry's name is synonymous with the unorthodox - some would say the outrageous - materials, shapes and forms used in his building designs.

Born on February 28, 1929 Gehry graduated from USC and the Harvard Graduate School of Design before embarking on what would become a historic but wildly controversial career as an architect.  He emerged as a prominent figure in the Deconstructivist movement which eschewed the prevailing principle that form must always follow function - or even be related to it some way.  According to ArchDaily, the architectural weblog, Gehry expresses this aesthetic "in titanium-clad undulating envelopes, perplexing volumes and aesthetically discordant detailing."

Gehry's first brush with fame came after he remodeled his Santa Monica residence, shrouding the original bungalow in chain link, plywood and glass geometric forms.  This early unorthodoxy foreshadowed the unconventional use of materials and shapes that would become the hallmark of his later building style.  The remodeling effort was met with cheers ... and jeers.

This early bipolar reaction to his remodeled home also foreshadowed his simultaneous ascension to the top of critic's 'Best" and "Worst" Architect lists.  You see, in addition to all the accolades, his work has also been criticized as being bizarre, impractical, overly costly, inefficient, wasteful of resources and functionally flawed.

As a self-proclaimed 'deconstructivist' architectural photographer interested in capturing and promoting artistic forms in the built environment without consideration for how they might relate to function, Gehry's work has had a strong appeal for me.  I have had the opportunity to photograph many of Gehry's buildings and will always seek opportunities to photograph more.  But it is not his architecture that I honor by commemorating his 90th birthday.  I am not qualified to comment other than to say what I like.

I celebrate his vision, his commitment to his art and to his tenacity in the face of criticism. That's something I struggle with.

In awarding Gehry the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989 the jury commented that Gehry is
"Always open to experimentation, he has as well a sureness and maturity that resists, in the same way that Picasso did, being bound either by critical acceptance or his successes." 
Thanks for the inspiration.

In celebration I offer a collection of some my photos of Gehry's iconic architecture, including the Stata Building on the MIT campus (top), my most critically acclaimed photograph.

In you are interested in learning more about Gehry's work I've included this link to a slideshow of 31 of his buildings recently published in Architectural Digest.

Weisman Museum, University of Minnesota
Weisman Museum, University of Minnesota
Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle, WA
The Dancing Building, Prague, Czech Republic
Beekman Tower, 8 Spruce St., NYC
DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany
Detail - Jay Pritzker Pavillion, Chicago, IL

















Monday, March 4, 2019

Echoes of the Music of the Ainur

My newest exhibit - "Echoes of the Music of the Ainur" - is now on display through the end of April at the UW-Madison Fluno Center. I've included a couple of images from the collection in this post along with the exhibit description.  Stop by and view all 34 images when you get the chance. Thanks!


Echoes of the Music of the Ainur

'It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives the echo of the music of the Ainur more than any other substance that is in this Earth.'     J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
In Tolkien's mythical masterpiece "The Silmarillion", the 'Music of the Ainur' refers to the great song composed by the Ainur or Holy Ones; immortal spirits existing before the dawn of Creation. At first harmonious, the composition of the Great Song soon devolved into two themes that
'were utterly at variance.'
'The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came.' 
'The one was deep and wide and beautiful'
 'The other ... was loud and vain, and endlessly repeated... And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice.' 


'The other ... was loud and vain ... it essayed to
drown the other music by the violence of its voice.'

It is from this epic score with its opposing themes that the Universe was created.  And remnants of these opposing themes can still be heard in the ancient voices of water - 'The Echoes of the Music of the Ainur.'

When I photographed the images in this exhibit I heard and was inspired by the 'echoes' resident in the water before me. The images in the exhibit are pictorial verses highlighting the two opposing themes interwoven into the Great Song of creation.  Although less obvious than the visible elements depicted in each photograph, the echoes were also captured - if only figuratively.  From the roar of waterfalls, thunder of crashing surf, the delicate rhythms of waves gently lapping on the side of a boat or the peaceful silence of a calm lake at dawn, the echoes exist just below the surface.

So while viewing the images take a moment and "listen" for the echoes of the two themes, for each is
'part of the whole and tributary to its glory.'


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Variations on a Theme

Today's image processing engines provide the photographer with surprising creative latitude.  Ordinarily I apply the tools to create a final image that resembles the scene as it was in front of my lens.  Increasingly I utilize post-processing tools to introduce enhancements infusing the image with elements that help tell a story, communicate my experience at the time or evoke emotional reactions in viewers.

In this post I decided to share multiple approaches I took to process the same original image, flexing the creative muscles I've been tuning in the digital processing gym.  These variations on a theme serve to underscore how 'subjectivity' can easily supplant the 'objectivity' once considered by some to be photography's supreme virtue and and by others to be its major artistic limitation.

I was out shooting on a cold winter afternoon and became intrigued by the complex pattern of interwoven oak branches seen against the flat, blue-gray sky.  My original intent in capturing this image was to create a very graphic image highlighting the rich network of irregular pattern of the branches. My intent was to create an abstract more than an image of tree branches per se. I am a sucker for patterns.

This first image represents the image directly out of the camera, without the benefit of any processing adjustments.

1. Directly from camera
After cropping the frame, opening up the shadows a bit and converting the image to black and white I pretty much had the very graphic image I had originally envisioned (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 'Pre-visioned' graphic image 
As is often the case, the 'prevision' version missed the mark a bit. So I decided to process another image with the intent of creating a more accurate reproduction of the scene that would convey the 'cold feel' of the scene (Fig. 3). In this case a cool blue tone added to the highlights and shadows made a cooler feel; giving the smaller branches a 'frosted' look.

Fig. 3 Cold and frosty
Emboldened by the latitude available to me I decided to try a few other variations on the theme.  I really wanted to try a graphic image that offerd a 'pencil sketch' look and came up with Figure 4. A pretty reasonable success if you ask me.

Fig. 4  Pencil sketch
Emboldened by what I considered to be the success of these variants I decided to try to push the envelop further.  In this case I decided to create a bold, colorful variant of the my pre-visioned graphic original. Although any number of other variants worked to some extent, the version depicted in Figure 5 really spoke to me.  This is no way that this image could be considered an accurate reproduction of what I saw at the time. It is clearly a 'creative' version satisfying a personal aesthetic.

Fig. 4 Fanciful interpretation
Since I was able to create an obvious 'unreal' version I decided to try to create a convincing "real' version that was a completely fraudulent rendition. How about a night shoot illuminated by moon light (Fig. 5)?

Fig. 5 Moonlight

I liked how the moonlight mood worked with the otherwise flat, uninteresting sky of the original.  How about making it interesting by substituting a sunset fell (Fig. 6)?

Fig. 6  Colorful sunset

Interesting, no? How about reaching for the stars (Fig. 7)?

Fig. 7  Milky Way

So there you have it. Seven variations on a theme.  

As photographers we have a responsibility to exercise our craft creatively, yet responsibly.  As viewers of photography we all have a responsibility to appreciate the intent of the artist but also need to recognize the latitude available in the artist's palette and to not blindly acquiesce to any photographic 'reality'.

More on this in future posts.










Friday, February 1, 2019

Just Flush It

Every photographer I know captures images that qualify as "stinkers'.  By virtue of poor concept, poor composition, poor craftsmanship or any combination of the three some images are just crap.  I know that I contribute more than my proportional share to the digital methane burning a hole in the ozone layer of the photographic ecosystem.

Original 'stinker' - I so wanted this one!

'Flushed' version - after hours of 'polishing'

You might think that serious photographers would be discriminating enough to just flush these losers down the digital porcelain throne. But for reasons of pride, lack of self-criticism, unrealistic hope, grand delusion or desperation we often try to make winners of these losers.  We spend hours tweeking the sliders of our processing software hoping that we can buff a great image from a flawed capture.  One leading photographer referred (indelicately, but appropriately) to this process as “polishing turds’.

Even fully aware of the futility of such questionable heroics I find myself having difficulty fighting the urge to “save” marginal images. To compound matters, many popular photography mentors, educators and vendors have developed bundles of presets - ‘development’ recipes - designed to squelch the ‘stink’ of photo ‘bombs’, magically replacing them with usable imagery. These bundles might be considered ‘digital imagery air fresheners.’

To their credit, these gurus caution us that their digital solutions aren’t intended to rescue bad digital captures, nor will they compensate for poor imagery. But these vendors underestimate (or perhaps they know all to well) how delusional we can become with our images and the lengths to which we will go to pull a miracle out of the toilet, so to speak. If truth be told, when used appropriately these ‘extreme’ preset solutions really do come in handy in some tough situations. When it comes to misuse ‘we’ rather than ‘they’ are the problem.

So, what’s my advice? Next time you have an image swirling around the proverbial bowl - just flush it. Rather than wasting time polishing a doomed image use the time saved to go out and capture new, better, ‘stink-free’ images.

Now, if only I can follow my own advice.