Does Size Still Matter? ~

It's a conversation that goes back to the beginning of time. If you measure time in pixels, anyway. I was there at the beginning, before the turn of the century (I always wanted to say that) and I'm still around to start an argument. We wanted bigger sensors then, more pixels, and we still do. If it seems to matter even now, it's because we still can't help but compare this to our experiences back in the day when we were shooting on those lovely big negatives. It's an uneasy transition, and sometimes quite unconscious. My brother Jim, a remarkable life-long landscape shooter who certainly knows his way around the upper echelons of digital cameras, sent me some unworldly and spectacular black and white images he had recently taken of storm clouds over a Minnesota lake, with an innocent after-thought thrown in: makes me wish I had a large-format camera. Me too, bro...maybe.

Because back then, size really really did matter.  A bigger negative gave you an image with more clarity and more detail than a little one. Medium-format was universal, and when I shot my Hasselblad or Mamiya with the mirror locked up, the developed negatives were sublime, and their prints were pure magic. Landscape people commonly trudged about with their 4x5 cameras, looking all Ansel Adamsy, making black & white masterpieces. And as you can see from the oddly out-of-place selfie above, I even sported an 8x10 camera for a while. Let's just say it was my Edward Weston phase.  But let me tell you, an 8x10 sheet of perfectly exposed and processed Tri-X, contacted-printed on a sheet of Brovira,...well it was, um, groovy. (The only 35mm we shot were Kodachrome or Ektachrome slides. A blog post for another day). Bigger, better, and yes, heavier. Way heavier.

So how much of this translates into the digital world we know and love today? Probably more than it needs to, because just as with a large negative, the size alone affords us little advantage all by itself. There's too much else at stake, not the least of which are good lenses and strong vision. And as sensors get larger (and better), the architecture of cameras gets smaller and smaller. I'm lost anymore without my little mirrorless Fuji, and my iPhone? if I could carry it into my dreams, I probably would. I made this lake scene on my little 6s. Pixels be damned.

The point? Use what you have, worry more about your style and vision and bank account. Pixels don't come cheap, but great art can -- and usually is -- created on modest technology and modest budgets. The rest is just bragging rights.

Besides, mine's smaller than yours.

A Color of Black & White ~

Chalk it up to old age if you like, or just a trip down memory lane, but I've been thinking a lot about black & white photography recently. Most of my photography career was dominated by the practice, in the lab and behind the camera. In fact, both were necessary components of the magical black & white arts: you shot it, and you developed and printed it. Along the way were incredibly expressive tools and techniques. Sometimes I miss that, smells and all.

What amazes me to this day is the remarkable range of color and tone that were possible in the craft we simply think of as "black & white" photography. Some of it had to do with the variety of papers we had: silver bromide papers, some with a barita base that increased the "whiteness", and some smooth, very warm-tone chloro-bromide papers. The names may not mean much to you now, but I assure you they still resonate with me: Agfa Brovira, Oriental Seagull, Kodak Ektalure. Geez, I can't even remember what day it is half the time, but somehow I can conjure up clear memories of these, and a lot more.

And toners; we had tons of toners. Chemical toners were largely used as a means of increasing image permanence in the photographic print, but they also imparted a fine, subtle coloring of the image as well. Selenium was common; it produced a cooling, slightly purple-ish tone to high-silver papers which was lovely to behold. And everyone, of course, is familiar with the warm brown tones of sepia, often used to give prints an "old fashioned" look. I rarely liked it. But you get the point: a combination of paper and chemistry could result in a remarkable range of possibilities.

So let's cut right to the chase: can the modern digital photographer find love and happiness in black & white? Well, yes, maybe even more. There's some mind-blowing, incredibly beautiful photography going on out there. And onOne Software, for example, re-creates the look of actual black & white films, some of which disappeared from the market years ago. How cool is that? But for me, the great black & white experience can't ever be fully duplicated. I miss the cloister of the darkroom too much, but I'm not complaining. I think I'm finding more expression with my photography than I ever have, it's just...different.

It's more colorful.

A Rule Of Thirds ~

Chalk it up to twelve years of Catholic education, but when I hear the word "rules",  I just kind of ... bristle. Yet I was hardly fazed when I was studying art and photography and "the rule of thirds" (along with many other theorems, constructs, proclamations, and paradigms) was displayed on the chalk board. It was the foundation of all the was beautiful, they said. It was passed down from our elders. It was dogma. And I ate it up with the passion of the true believer. (Remember, Catholic school, nuns, the works).  And the truth is, it still guides me and informs my work, but it just doesn't... rule me anymore.

I guess the trouble started a couple years after I began working in studios when, after a steady diet of large-format film and the occasional roll of 6x7 medium-format (and, not so commonly at the time, the ungodly 3:2 format of the 35mm camera) I was introduced to the lovely, simple, gorgeous square of the Hasselblad. Now truth be told, I was taught to compose loosely with it, so that a rectangular-formatted image could still easily be cropped and printed from it. But phooey on that. The perfect square I saw in the viewfinder was nature at its best, rules be damned. Granted, it's an occasional treat and not appropriate every time and every portrait. But when it is, it's sublime. My portrait of Whitney C would have no power or grace composed in any other manner. It's just how I see things sometimes.

The rule of thirds (and the corresponding principle of "power-points" in a composition) is of course a viable artistic standard that can lead us down many a beautiful path. We ignore it at our peril. Honestly, I'm not an anarchist; I can conform to convention and "rules" with the best of them (again, think nuns.....) and we need to be mindful of their usefulness as guides, lest our work dissolves into some sort of expressionistic garble. But we can turn it on its head from time to time. A slight bend of the rule, or an odd juxtaposition within it, can make a more compelling and powerful composition -- or a disaster. It's a thin line that divides them, but it's delightfully fun to live on that edge.

So I figure, it's ok to learn and follow the rules, as long as you make up a few of your own as you go along. After all, it's your vision, your statement, your story. And nobody can tell you how to do that.

Not even the nuns.

Trying To Get Back Home ~

Let me tell ya folks, nostalgia ain't what it used to be. We're reminded of this every time we think we have it figured out, or at least I am. This past week was a case in point. My big brother and little sister and I met up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a week of photography up in the Tetons. Jim and I get together every year for a photographic excursion (and a little tequila) and the addition this year of my portrait photographer sister made a very special family event. And the Tetons hold a very special place in our family's heart and memories.

We spent a lot of time up there, going back to the 1960's and '70's. It was probably our dad's favorite place to hang out for a summer and paint; the barn you see here, out on Mormon Row, featured prominently in many of his watercolors. And for me, too: I spent many seasons there in the '80's as well, photographing landscapes for a studio I worked for, and conducting photography workshops. I recall it being more rustic then, not nearly as refined and developed as it is now. I looked for some of my favorite haunts and watering holes which, predictably, are long gone. That's progress for you, and tourists. But considering that this is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth, you can hardly blame them.

Thomas Wolfe famously said you can't go home again, and I imagine he tried doing just that. But for my brother and I, home is an elusive concept. We moved a lot growing up, and so attachments and sentiments were more fleeting. You make do with what you have, where you are. Maybe this is why, for nearly our entire adult lives, we have been so passionate about photography. If photographs can be developed over time and made permanent, then maybe memories can, too. It's a comforting notion.

It reminds me of home.

A Ghost In The Gallery ~

My recent trip to Chicago was memorable in so many ways, not least of which was my pilgrimage to the Art Institute. It's one of the world's truly great art museums. I regularly haunt museums and art galleries; this one is Mecca, and this was my hajj. And I'm hardly exaggerating, for in any museum like this (though there aren't many), I make sure to seek out one of the great influences of my career and my art: the great portrait painter John Singer Sargent. If my trip to Chicago had been only an afternoon to see the few paintings of his on display, I would still have been a happy camper.

Let me back up a little bit, say about 40 years or so. I was a young student just learning my craft, earnestly training in the art of studio portrait photography. The city I was apprenticing in was also where my dad had his art gallery, so along with my technical studies I fell under the sway of some incredible portrait painters. They made in watercolor, oils, and even pastels the kinds of portraits that influence me to this day. And something even more: they introduced me to the world of art and artists that influenced them. This was powerful stuff to a small-town kid. To understand the power of light and shadow, sure, study Rembrandt, Caravaggio, the masters. But to understand the modern sensibilities of a portrait -- perceptive, intimate -- you study Sargent.

Photography is my life and my craft; it has its own trajectory that I follow like a bullet on a beam of light. I'm still trying to get good at it. Although I wander around these days taking pictures of darn near everything I see, the portrait is still my passion of choice. And if you're serious about what you do, you draw on the inspirations that have shaped your direction, that have moved throughout time until they hit your eye. John Singer Sargent is that for me, but there are many, many others: painters and poets, sculptors, singers, playwrights and storytellers -- and photographers. We pick up where they left off.

And they're hanging out at the museum.

Plato's Travelogues, Part IV ~

Travel, if we are to believe Twain, is "... fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." and this doesn't even take into account the Red Line on the Chicago "L".  Or any number of other public conveyances that are just sure to test your resolve in this manner.  But photography is all about adventure; we need to seek out those places yet unseen to fix our gaze and capture our imagination. The little annoyances come along for the ride.

I've just returned from a week in the Windy City, which, as luck would have it, was more of a rainy one. But this little annoyance is hardly a deterrent; in fact, the urban landscape in gray and rainy conditions is the answer to a photographer's prayers, if we were so inclined to implore the almighty. I'm all about mood and atmosphere; the sunshine be damned. But as he giveth, he taketh away, oh yeth; for my Cubs game was rained out as payment for my presumption. This, I imagine, is how the world works.

But let's finish up Twain's observation of travel's benefits: "...Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Indeed. I was raised with but the loosest of connections, and have thus been a wanderer all my life. Airport security lines, crowded public transportation, and rained-out ballgames is the price of admission; minor annoyances all. My feet are in motion, and my camera is charged and ready.

And brother, Chicago is beautiful in the rain.

The Semi-Naked Truth ~

I came into this world naked, and, presumably, I'll exit in much the same way. Otherwise I totally rock the shorts-and-Hawaiian shirt vibe. (Is that on fleek, or just fleek? It's so hard to keep up.) But I come to this innocent observation honestly and forthrightly, because nakedness figured prominently in my photo-world last week, and I'm not talking about mine. I had the opportunity to do a nude study in the studio and, like all studio projects, it was compelling and challenging. And thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable.

But what is it about nudes -- female nudes in particular -- that visual artists are so attracted to? We could go on at length about the subtle mysteries of the female form, the refined visual aesthetic of lighting, mood, and texture, even the unmistakable eros inherent in the subject. Important, even necessary considerations, to be sure, but still somehow short of the mark. And maybe that's just it; maybe we over-think it to the point of abstraction.

In my case, it was the opportunity to work with a beautiful woman who had some seriously beautiful tattoos. Body adornment -- piercings, ink -- fascinates me, and has been an on-going studio project for a long time. And as I think about, this drives closer to the truth about the nude aesthetic for me: it's the living, breathing, human story somehow captured in the camera, and not a static discussion of the parts.

This is what drives me. This fascinates me. This is the intersection of our lives, and it celebrates the vulnerabilities, passions, and mysteries of both the photographer and the photographed; it is here that powerful stories are being told. All portraiture is this for me, but a nude amplifies the nature of that connection a hundredfold.

We don't stay long in this world, naked or otherwise. Along the way we leave behind the bent twigs that marked our passage; for me, these are photographs. I hope that I caught not only your image, but also your story, for therein lies mine as well.

And mine is totally on fleek.

If I Could Find The Perfect Salad, I Would Know The Universe ~

So here's my question: what do you feel when you look at a photograph? And I mean, really look, get absorbed in it, let it wash right over you. And not necessarily in a gallery, or a magazine, or online (though god knows looking at photos -- any and pretty much all photos -- is something I am shamelessly addicted to). No, I mean your photos. If something drove you to a particular scene, made you pick up the camera and make an exposure, and then dawdle and fuss with it in the darkroom or at the computer, then what was it? Did it somehow move you? Do you think any about it? Or does it even matter?

Well, I for one think it somehow does, but I didn't always think that way. Maybe it comes with the years (of which I probably have more than my fair share) and the fact that I mostly shoot for myself these days, and turns out I'm a demanding bastard of a customer. But the events of the past couple weeks, stressful and heartbreaking, have left me in an unusually contemplative mood, and it is here that I turn to the meditative balm of taking pictures. And looking at them.

Interestingly, the excitement I feel when I've taken what I think is a great photo is rarely there to greet me when I open it up on the laptop and start tuning it. But not disappointment either, no. My initial performances in Photoshop are somewhat desultory (sizing, usually, and perhaps a schmutz of sharpening), and I have to put it away and let it percolate for a while. When I come back to it days, or even weeks later, lo and behold there it is waiting for me with a bouquet of flowers and a guilty smile. Where've you been, sailor?  Now, and only now, can I really look at it, be absorbed by it, and let it wash over me. And yes, I think it matters.

The secrets to doing photography are no more evident to me than they are to you, but I think they boil down to this: look both ways, be kind to strangers, hold your loved ones close, buy a good lens.

And now look what you've done.

On The Hazards of Clement Weather ~

We had a pleasant coastal adventure last week, replete with cameras, wine, and abundant sunshine. My sister came to visit, and along with her two lovely daughters and my wife, the watercolor painter, we rented a condo in Agate Beach, which is near Newport on the Oregon coast. Seemed everyone was in total shock at our great and good fortune, as we happened to have hit that perfect window of opportunity: the first multi-day span of time since, apparently, the Jurassic period wherein the sun was bright, the temperature was warm, and the seas were calm; an early-spring trifecta that the locals would have you believe will never occur again. There was much rejoicing in the land, except, of course, for me. This is not what I came for.

But I am being selfish; it is exactly what my traveling companions hoped for. My little sister, who owns a portrait photography business, lives in the untangled wilderness of suburban Denver, whose denizens not only experience up to 300 sunny days a year, but come to regard it as some sort of birthright. So what do they know. My nieces, young and lovely in an Ipanema-like way, need the sun to survive. A year in Oregon could easily prove fatal. And my wife is a painter; sunshine is Giverny. But sunshine just doesn't do it for me.

Let me make this clear, I'm a downright cheerful guy. I'm only thinking photographically. It seems to me that when the sun shines brightly, I end up taking pretty pictures and maybe not a lot more. And like I said, that's not what I came for. The colors are too easily blown away; the shadows impenetrable. It doesn't even have to be gloomy or foggy (although extra points if it is!) but even a little overcast reveals so much more about the world than we are sometimes prepared to see. These kinds of images are (for me, anyway) more personal, more intuitive, and often reflect inner states that surprise the hell out of me. As I've said here many times, art is autobiography. If I'm going to share my images and thus my stories with you, then let them be candid, a little unsettling, maybe even difficult or hard to fathom, but never, dear God, boring.

The two photos I have posted here, one from that recent coastal trip and the other from about a year ago, are pretty much what I'm talking about. Don't get me wrong, shooting with my sister in the bright, beautiful sun of the Oregon coast was delightful, and I'm glad for that opportunity. But standing beneath the St. Johns Bridge as the fog was rolling in was something altogether different. Call it what you will: contemplative? introspective? moody? somber? Hell, you can call it a taxi if you want. And that's the point. One is the static (albeit lovely) image of the identifiable, the other carries the unremarkable stigma of the nameless. It's downright compelling. That's what I enjoy most about photography.

And that's what I came for.

A Little Techno-Talk For A Change ~

I've been attending to my blog for a long time now, and people who follow it tend to ask me the same questions fairly often;  1 -- how (and why) go you go for a particular "look" in the photos you post, and 2 -- what's wrong with you, anyway?  The answer to that first question will be the subject of today's post. As to the second, well, who has that kind of time.

When I shoot with my Canon or mirrorless Fuji, I tend usually to shoot in RAW, and will open that file in Adobe Capture Raw (I'm still using CS6) to resize and maybe tweak with an adjustment or two. My CS6 has the onOne Perfect Suite plug-ins, and that's where I'll go to town and really work that poor bastard. I like being surprised, and there is abundant serendipity in every photo you take. I will, more often than not, drag that file down into a painting program call Arista Impresso Pro, which would actually be a good name for a coffee shop, if you ask me. I use it to create a completely new "painterly" image and then open both it and the original photo as layers in Photoshop, with the painting layer on top, and proceed to erase almost all of it away. I want to be left with just the impression of the painting (as with the photo up above) and maybe some interestingly altered tones and highlights. Depends on my mood, I guess.

If it's a photo made on my iPhone, I'll almost always work it in Snapseed before I import it into Photoshop and proceed onward. The image immediately above is one such example. A different look, a different feeling. I don't think this is anything new with digital photography, either. It may have been chemistry instead of computers, but when I worked with black & white film I spend just as much time and effort in the darkroom making that image come alive for me. And speaking of black & white:

I mean, who said there was anything "realistic" about a black & white photograph, anyway?

There's a ton of b&w controls in onOne, too; the above image was worked with a filter designed to look much the way old Kodak Panatomic-X looked and felt. Heck, it's been so long I'll have to take their word for it, but it brought back all kinds of warm and fuzzy feels, minus the stained fingers. And that's the point. No one ever took a photograph that showed, without pity and without passion, cold reality, because frankly no one knows just what the hell that is. The process that began when the shutter was tripped ends many, many miles away. There is absolutely nothing in the world that fascinates me more than that journey.

Hey, maybe that's what wrong with me.

Artists and the Rest of Us ~

It's been a great couple weeks to go wandering; predictably unpredictable rainy Oregon weather, some alarmingly early signs of spring, and the company of fine fellows. The inspiration to get out comes often, knocking on my very wet door.  And then there appeared in my Feed of Interesting Articles no less than three (hopefully) inspiring posts wherein two contemporary photographers were heralded as "artists", and the third where the writer, himself a photographer, described in a few brief, perky paragraphs how you, too, could be an artist. Who, me? Obviously it got me to thinking.

First of all.... really? As someone who was quite literally raised in the arts, I reflected upon a few of my life's odd realities, one of which was that, in all those years, and all those skilled painters, sculptors, and printers, I couldn't recall a one of them ever actually referring to themselves as an "artist".  My own dad, an accomplished watercolorist, used that word to describe everyone else in his gallery, but never himself. And I think I know why.

Painting may not be as technical a craft as photography, but craft it is nonetheless, with its own burdens of theory, technology, and innovation. Its finest practitioners work and study their asses off. The goal was always and forever a mastery of their craft to the point where we mere mortals could rightly see their work as the art it truly is. It's no different for photographers. The great practitioners in our field, many of them so inspirational and instructive to this dumb kid, worked with the same fervor and motivation; they experimented, innovated, and created a body of work that we could all look upon legitimately as art. But they are photographs, and the giants who made them were photographers. I'm damn proud of that heritage, and try to live up to it.

Bottom line, it's probably not the labels that count, anyway. Call yourself whatever you like, I'm not qualified to judge anyone's self-expression. The world is tough enough on us as it is. All I know is that I love galleries and museums; I adore looking at paintings and photographs modern and old, and am happy to share my own to an unsuspecting public. But then too, I also love reading novels and poetry. And listening to music (my tastes are eclectic but run a little to jazz). And I tend to think of all their creators as artists, even if they don't themselves.

The gifted Garrison Keillor ends his "Writer's Almanac" with a little benediction that I believe is the best and maybe only advice for all of us who call ourselves painters, photographers, poets -- or artists: Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

It's all that matters.

Thanks For The Memories ~

Someday, if I really get to feeling motivated, I'd like to write a book on being a photographer, and title it something like "Perils, Pitfalls, and Paranoia". We need as much to worry about as we can. And what brings me to this melancholic state? Simply, the arrival in my in-box of yet another in that endless stream of articles reminding me that my future, my legacy, my very birthright -- all of it -- is doomed to meaningless and un-readable twaddle in the (probably) not too distant future. Unless I make a lot of prints between then and now.

Well, um, thanks for the heads-up.

So, am I the only one who doesn't fully buy in to the panic? I mean, sure, given a source of light and a splash of silver nitrate and a negative is theoretically printable until hell freezes over. But truth be told, I have lost or damaged my share of negatives in the past, too, and that makes them as un-recoverable as the data on a floppy disk. Oh, and no back-up; the vast majority of my negatives remain scandalously un-printed, apart from their contact sheets.

I do confess to a petit goût of paranoia, though: my photos, since I began shooting exclusively digital, are backed-up on external harddrives, where also reside all the photos formerly living on my 100-year DVDs. I tend not to lose a lot of sleep over it. But data-redundancy is not really the point, as far as I can tell; my concerns are more immediate.The advent of the interwebs, and social media in particular, has made creating and sharing images more relevant, more intimate, and more exciting than ever before. This is largely what drives me. I've argued here before that for me the joy lies in the creative process, and not entirely in the resulting artifact. I'll take it, make it, post it, share it, write about it ... and then move on to the next one.  That, and strong coffee, are what get me up and out of bed.

If the fates deem I should live long enough to see the next big advancement in storage media (shoot, that could be next week) then I'll diligently transfer my files accordingly. I swear. For posterity, sure, but for myself, too. Re-discovering an old image I made years ago with fresh new insight is supremely satisfying.

And if the fates don't deem? Then to hell with them. I have great fun with photography in the here and in the now.

And that's the only place I know.

Old And In The Way, Part 4

I'm turning 64 this week -- tomorrow, actually -- which is the only non-decimal age we recognize, and it's entirely because of Ringo Starr. And who but a 64 year-old would even know this. But I'm not going to use this occasion to wax sappy about all my years in photography (43 and, hopefully, counting) nor to engage in a crusty invective against "kids today" that you might expect from the scornfully middle-aged.  (Middle aged, my ass. Who lives to be 128?)

But I digress, or more likely, my mind is wandering; you know... old guys.  I was going to reflect on my amazement about working in a profession that underwent a profound tectonic shift from analog to digital, and how I've been able to find happiness in both worlds. But then it dawned on me that our whole society underwent this waterfall of change, and left as much destruction as opportunity in its wake. And it's the "kids" today -- even my own, both in their 30's -- who are picking their way through the flotsam of the change we created, and coming up with their own ways to see the world.

And here's the thing: they may have little concept of what my world was like, back in the 60' and 70's, because that world no longer exists, but I have a pretty good idea about theirs, because I get to live and work in it. It's an amazing place. I wouldn't go back for anything. And I'm just following their lead; there's a lot of territory yet to cover.

Who knows how long we have before we have to hang up our spurs. I attended a workshop once with Leon Kennamer back in '74; not sure how old he was at that time but when he was asked that very question, said he'd consider quitting when he was no longer able to empty out a 16x20 tray of developer into a gallon jug without needing a funnel. Indeed. So I'm left to wonder about my own signpost of mortality in the digital age; maybe it'll happen when I can't focus on a 15" Retina screen anymore. Or focus on a beautiful woman posing in my studio. I just don't know.

But what the hell. As long as you still need me, and still feed me, I'm a happy camper.

How I got This Way ~

So last week I ran into an online article that I found myself sharing on Facebook. When I first saw it, I had to chuckle a bit since it made me think of all those cheesy "Learn Real Good Photography" kind of things -- which I absolutely love, don't get me wrong -- but this one made me reach for that second cup (ok, my third) and do a little pondering. I hate pondering, but that's what coffee's for. This brave little article put forth 8 tips to staying motivated and inspired by your photography, and its author, one Anthony Epes, gave me food for thought, and I am grateful for it.

Each tip provided some valuable advice, but it was the third one that has me, even now, reflecting on what I do as a photographer, and even why: take photos not to see the result, but to enjoy the process. Bear in mind that when we were shooting commercially, some very specific results were uppermost in our mind; it's the inescapable fact of making a living. But it was the zen of the motions -- the hours spent in the studio, the hours spent in the darkroom -- that provided the gravity of joy that has made me realize, over and over again, that I'm simply not capable of doing anything else in this world. I think Mr. Epes wants you to feel that same sense of fulfillment, and I applaud him for his effort.

I don't work commercially anymore, apart from some technical training and lighting workshops, but I think I'm enjoying photography now more than I ever have. I've re-discovered that process: of embracing chance, of celebrating serendipity, of actively engaging my photographic heart, soul, and eye every waking minute of every day. You don't always need a camera.

It can all be distilled into one defining and incredibly powerful statement (attributed to Ansel Adams, among others) which I have long ago taken to heart, and is the only advice I feel qualified to make to anyone wishing to understand this thing we call photography: Expose for the secrets, develop for the surprises.

Go ahead. Surprise yourself.

Life, Baseball, and Stupid Rules

Ever notice how rules are often made up by people who don't play the game? It happens all the time. Take baseball, for instance. Once again, there's talk of limiting the strike zone. Of going to the DH in the National League. Oh, and the travesty of Instant Replay. Fans (such as myself, if you haven't guessed that already) are not the ones who come up with this nonsense. It's all about the peripheral stuff -- television coverage, commercial appeal, and of course, money -- and only rarely, if ever, integral to the game itself. And, yes, I think about such things. I lead a charmed life.

This minor tantrum comes to me by way of another such rule change that came about late last year in my other beloved passion. Reuters, a most august British news agency, announced that it would no longer allow its photographers to use the RAW file format in their photography. Their reasoning, such as it was, didn't seem to address a legitimate work-flow concern, but rather that a RAW file supposedly leaves open a greater opportunity to manipulate an image, thus calling into question its authenticity. But it completely misses the point of what good photojournalism is all about in the first place. It's just changing the strike zone.

RAW file or jpeg, a committed and talented photographer's point of view is precisely what I want to see. The editorial process is inherent in the act of photographing any event, newsworthy or not: where the camera is aimed, what lens is selected, what sort of light is used, and most importantly, what isn't in the photograph. That's what's being manipulated, not the artifact of exposure, but the very moment in time that the photographer wants us to remember and hold dear. Doesn't matter if the photographer shot it in RAW,  jpeg, or Ecktachrome. And there was certainly more room for a skilled printer to manipulate a tri-x negative in the darkroom than you can imagine, but I don't recall anybody bitched about that.

The great storytellers of our medium have always broken the rules, and that's largely what made their images great in the first place.  Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, Sabastião Salgado and so many others gave us their personal strength of vision. Their images were powerful, and, presumably, damaging and upsetting, in some cases maybe even uplifting and affirming. Some people don't like that.

Rules have always been made by those on the outside, people who aren't fans of the game, people who want to exert some control. Some rules were just meant to be broken, and others, perhaps, just ignored.

I don't care how long it takes to play the game.

The Lay of the Landscape ~

Last week was an interesting week for me, which was great because, (outward appearances notwithstanding), not all of them are. But here's what transpired: I was given a Facebook challenge to come up with a week's worth of "nature" photos to post, and as I said at the time, I felt it really was something of a challenge, but enjoyable and well worth it. Even in my early studying days in the '70's, I never really considered myself a "nature" photographer, and am still unsure exactly what it means, to be honest. It got me to thinking, of course, and I began musing on the nature (so to speak) of nature and landscape photography, and if I was in fact conflating the two unnecessarily.

"Nature" photography, I'm thinking, is something of an artificial contrivance, the (admittedly lovely) fiction that there exists an unspoiled vision created solely for my camera. And I have no problem with this; I believe sometimes I can just point my camera and let the fates take over and deliver some surprises. The fates, of course, is a silly concept -- it's really the lifetime accumulation of our experiences left to think on their own. For me, it's a meditation, and sometimes even a discovery or two.

But I can't help thinking that a "landscape" photograph is something else again. It's a design-on-purpose, to my way of thinking. It's a construction project, it's nature upon which the man-made world interrupts mid-sentence. There is a conscious effort in making a landscape, incorporating purposeful elements of design, and the effort means the world to me, but effort it is nonetheless.

I don't really know if it's all that important, anyway. Fact of the matter is I'm addicted to the photographic image of any sort, natural or unnatural; landscape, cityscape, seascape, or any other scape. And my ultimate love, the portrait. I might approach each in a different state of mind, or maybe no particular state of mind at all. It doesn't matter if I'm looking at a photograph or making one. It's photography as zen, not as artifact.

But what the hell, it's a rainy morning and I have run out of coffee; I should go do a little wandering outside.

Nature calls.

The Winter of My Discontent ~

I rarely take a hiatus from posting. Sometimes my travels take me blessedly away from being connected, but in this case it was the usual year-end trifecta of Christmas, New Year's, and bronchitis. Last year, Kona. This year, herbal tea. And then we got snow.
Winter in Portland is usually a crappy week in January. It gets cold, it gets icy, and we get all sullen and withdrawn, not that anyone really notices. It's usually pretty gray and grim around here, which we really don't mind all that much, either. When we get foggy mornings, all the better; it makes for great photography. But that bone-chilling cold kills the heart and dulls the mind, and at this point mine can only take so much more dulling. And then we get snow.

I have a long relationship with snow. I grew up in it. I went to high school and college in Wyoming, and worked for several years in Colorado. It was a regular and predictable part of my life between the months of October and April, so its increasingly rare appearances in Portland are something I rather enjoy. I learned how to drive in the stuff from my early teens, so now I gloat with a smug superiority when I navigate my Subaru through it like a Swede. No, I'm not proud of that. But hey.
Photographically, it's a delight, and to be perfectly honest, I wish we got more. Everything changes with snow: light and shadow, landscapes and textures, moods and humor. As much as I enjoy tramping around in the rain with my camera, even more so in the snow, but our opportunities seem to decline with each passing winter.

I have no fine moral note to finesse here, just these simple observations. The snow I speak of has long since melted into memory, and the rains are due back any day now. Our lives will shift back into normal; we will return to our regularly scheduled program. But what the hell.

Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in a month.

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled ~

The cool thing about photography is that eventually we have to get out and go somewhere. It is not a solitary pursuit. We're not holed up in an unheated garret on the left bank, though I have to admit that does sounds kind of romantic (does it have wifi?). No, we get out, we interact, we take pictures. I don't imagine writers gather up other writers and go on walkabouts, but I think they'd have fun if they did.

But it is precisely what we do, and I try to take it a step or two further than the recommended daily allowance. I like to travel to the familiar and try to make it unfamiliar, novel, a bit off-balance. It's not hard. Last week, for example, I went downtown to do a little Christmas shopping, but found myself in the mood to park up in a part of town I usually don't find myself in. It wasn't some great adventure, mind you, and was probably only a quarter mile or so from my intended destination, but it allowed for some fresh ways to see my town. It was a great walk, and provided some new iPhone material. For better or worse, you're seeing some of the results here.

I do love foreign travel, and even the quick regional get-away, but those kinds of trips are special events and can occur, at best, only occasionally. So every chance I get, right here in my hometown and at any moment's notice, I go somewhere I have never traveled. Yes, that line is from my favorite poem by my favorite poet, and it is in fact a heartfelt love poem, but heck, I  take my metaphors literally. Cummings would, I'm sure, find little fault in it. Somewhere I have never traveled, he writes, gladly beyond any experience. An adventure for the heart and camera, mes amis, and it's only a few blocks away.

So go.

The Portable Portrait ~

I have a passion for the portrait. It's what drew me to photography. Oh sure, I had the fantasy of traveling to exotic and dangerous places to shoot for National Geographic, but then I also had the fantasy that I'd play outfield for the Yankees. But I didn't have a passport and I never hit above .200 anyway (even in '66, my best summer at the plate), so the opportunity to learn portrait photography's dark arts seemed like a better idea. After all these years, it still does.

For many years, the darkroom was my place of refuge, a place of quiet contemplation where small seeds of inspiration could take shape and grow. I no longer have one, and my Macbook Pro, nice tool that it is otherwise, can't provide the same environment.  The studio stands in for it pretty well, however, and it's a place that is definitely good for the heart and soul. But here's the thing: I find that anyplace I am, with lovely light and a lovely subject, will put me in the same contemplative space, and the creative impulse is just as strong. Maybe even more.

This is why today's camera technology is so cool. The virtual world has no need for a big negative; this is mirrorless territory, even iPhone territory. My light little Fuji knows my mercurial moods and barely complains, and my iPhone is even more compliant. One or both is with me at all times, even if the perfect light isn't. But I'm forever searching for that beautiful north-facing window. After all these years, I'm making my best portraits nearby.

Photography is one of those lucky professions where you're actually rewarded for growing old. My knees may be worn but my eyes (as long as I'm wearing my glasses) are seeing light, color, shade, form, textures -- and beauty -- in entirely novel ways. There's no end to it, until the end.

But it does make me wonder what would have happened if I'd been batting over .300 in '66.

Coloring Inside the Lines ~

Color me curious, I guess. This little tidbit of language theory has been on (or slightly under) my radar since my grad school days, but its reappearance in an article in The Business Insider last week kicked in my front door. Until somewhat recently in human history, says the author Kevin Loria, we couldn't see the color blue. We couldn't see it because we had no name for it, or perhaps we had no name for it because we couldn't see it; either way it's a pretty confounding premise.

I've spent a good many years as a pretty decent color printer, I'm proud to say, though my successes were questioned by my wife who liked to point out my blue-green color vision deficiency.  I should point out that a slight blue-green deficiency is somewhat common among us guys, so I take this in stride.  I also conduct a popular shade-matching workshop to cosmetic and restorative dentists, where we study in some detail the problems involved in measuring and communicating color information, so the very notion of color -- regardless of the words we have to describe any particular hue -- looms large in the foreground of my career as a photographer.

What, then, are we to make of this whole color-blue argument? I don't know, either, but something inside me thinks it's important. We should all be perceiving the nuance of color according to our experiences and culture, and for the life of me I can't lay claim to an expansive vocabulary describing a blue sky, either. I live in Oregon. I should have a bunch of words to describe a gray sky, but I don't.

In the final analysis, though, I'm probably not the one to turn to for advice on the matter. I've long been devoted to black & white prints, and I  love color, too, but it's a strained relationship at best. I'll push, pull, bend, twist, and exaggerate it at every opportunity. The best landscape photographers pull their hair out striving for an unholy degree of accuracy, but not me. I like to improvise; the music of photography is jazz.

Or maybe it's the blues?