LeeLee's Elves

When my daughter Leelee was six she found a little hole in an elm tree in our yard and decided that elves lived there.

26239241_10155886238248257_4358283591598883029_n.jpg

She didn’t tell Jennifer or me. But she wrote a sweet note to the presumptive little creatures, and made some tiny little “scarves” to keep them warm, and stuck it in all in the hole. We saw her playing in the yard, and when she wasn’t around we went to see what was up. I’m not saying it was right or wrong, but my wife wrote a note back, saying hello.

26231598_10155886281648257_6027187015989697654_n.jpg




Leelee didn’t tell us she received a note, in fact she was pretty secretive about the whole thing, but she was clearly ebullient, and set to work on something in her room. When we checked a few days later she had left another note in the tree.

26730611_10155886245883257_2146361656864067038_n.jpg





Needlesstosay, the conversation began to escalate. Jen created first one elf, Daphne, and then a brother, Darnell. Leelee still didn’t alert us to this new adventure, but every day she’d go to the tree to see if the elves received her notes and gifts. “Is there anything you need?” she asked. Daphne told her they had all they needed, living in the tree as they did, invisible to humans...

For fun, Jen and her friend Patrice decided to create bits of evidence of the elves’ world. It started small. A little ladder. A pile of acorns. But over time it grew in complexity.

Wedding Chairs. Rocking Horse.

26238764_10155886261143257_958410685674981733_n.jpg
26239469_10155886260083257_1893090985265554585_n.jpg


Dozens of objects and notes over a couple months.

Eventually she told us of her relationship. Her brother was skeptical, but also a little jealous of her private friends. This continued adorably all Spring. We’d hear her working in her room... and later see her put something in the tree. And we’d sneak out later and collect up her notes and insert responses and cooler and cooler artifacts.

26229691_10155886262178257_7111718906479260860_n.jpg
26230284_10155886347073257_5793389689672964984_n.jpg

And then something happened: the City of Santa Cruz posted a notice on the tree. Apparently this elm, along with the row of giant old elm trees on our street, were infected with a tree disease and were slated to be cut down. We were despondent. Leelee would certainly be crushed. Should we just let it happen? Do we fight the city? We had about a month or so to plan.

26904504_10155886348018257_8692402714683433298_n.jpg

Daphne wrote Leelee and told her that as the summer was arriving it was time for them to move on to other forests— it was their joyful life to move from woods to woods, and only sometimes they would get to know wonderful magical humans. Daphne told her that she should hang onto their furniture in case they passed this way again, but it might be many years before they’d return — it’s a big world and she looked forward to exploring it. Leelee was sad they were moving on, but happy to have new friends. And when the tree was finally removed, she was just glad Daphne and Darnell weren’t around for it.

None of us really talked much about the elves for the subsequent years... but i asked her about it not that long ago she said that she sorta figured it out at some point, around the time the tooth fairy story wound down, but still preferred to think those elves were out there enjoying the world. So do I.

— MH Rubin, Neomodern founder

Printmasters: The Great Assistants of Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams was not only a great artist and craftsman, but an historically important photographer, as a founding member of Group f64 (along with Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and others). Beginning in 1946 Adams took on assistants who helped with a range of his projects, but perhaps most significantly he taught them how to print his photographs, and under his guidance became master printers, like him. Of the six men who were Adams’ full time assistants between 1946 and his death in 1984, all were accomplished photographers in their own right. These guys are the models for our current Neomodern “printmasters.”

Pirkle Jones (1946-1956)

Don Worth (1956-1960)

Ted Orland (1971 to 1974)

Alan Ross (1974-1979)

John Sexton (1979 to 1982)

Chris Ranier (1980-1984)

"Ansel''s influence had less to do with technique than the idea that art is your way of life," says Ranier. "Ansel lived his entire life wrapped up in photography and creating art, and his message to me was that life and art are very internal and spiritual. I''m using photography both to create art and beautiful photos that celebrate life, and as a social tool to motivate people to save what''s left of the planet."

Neomodern is pleased to have in our collection dozens of amazing prints by these great photographers; here are a few of our favorites:


Pirkle Jones

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 10.37.06 AM.png
Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 10.37.19 AM.png

Don Worth

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 10.36.45 AM.png
Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 10.36.55 AM.png

John Sexton

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 10.35.49 AM.png
008_Trees_Blowing_Snow_5001.jpg

Ted Orland

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 10.36.18 AM.png
Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 10.36.33 AM.png

Podcast Ep #2 - "Everyday Photography, Every Day"

We’re back! In this episode Suzanne and I chat about Black and White Photography — Is it just nostaglic looking? Does it suddenly turn crappy photos into “Art”? Listen as we dig into the rationale and benefits of monochromatic images.

BACKGROUND

While most customers want color prints, I'm partial to black & white. It's not to look nostalgic. It's just that we can modify the shades of grey in ways you can't with color, to affect how people look at the image, what is the focus, what's important. For example, look a picture that includes the sky. In a color image it's perhaps blue. But in greyscale what happens to blue? By adjusting the filter the blue can be sorta white, or very grey, or even approach black. None are "false." There is no "real" grey shade that equals blue. So you can decide, based on the specifics of your image, how you'd like the blue sky to look. One reason Ansel Adams' prints are so dramatic is that he used a red filter to make the blue skies dark (when seen in b&w) which makes the rocks (and moon) stand out in certain images. Here's the same image with different filters on the blue sky:

Original shot.

Original shot.

This is not only the case with blue, but with all colors -- although it's a particularly striking effect with blues and also with greens (sometimes a field of grass should be dark, to make it disappear, and sometimes light, to highlight objects in the grass). Where this is particularly important is when the color (blue or green or whatever) is distracting and draws your attention away from the subject. Playing with the greyscale versions of the colors helps you control the attention of the viewer.

Filtering the blue towards white.

Filtering the blue towards white.

Filtering the blue towards black.

Filtering the blue towards black.

I like that shifting an image to monochrome is a reminder that in actuality all photography is surreal, even when it looks "natural" — we experience the world in a large and continuous way: this abstract freezing of a slice of visual space, for a fraction of a second... and the colors we see with our eyes are very different from what can be captured... no, photos are abstractions and b&w is a gentle reminder of that. 


NEW PODCAST: Everyday Photography, Everyday (Episode 1)

Today we are launching a new podcast for amateur photographers: Everyday Photography, Everyday where I engage in short conversations with “enthusiastic iPhone picture taker” Suzanne Fritz-Hanson. Our 12 minute chats are focused on helping everyone take better photos, and don’t get into technical and professional issues. Post questions and topics you’d like us to discuss.

This episode digs into ways to compose better photos. Not “rule of thirds” but just how to think about our photos and making them look great. Helpful?


MATERIALS FOR THE PODCAST

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards


Feedback is overwhelmingly encouraged…

SF Bay Month of Photography

Elliott Erwitt, East Hampton NY (1983)

Elliott Erwitt, East Hampton NY (1983)

There are a host of cool photographic events and exhibits this September, all month, all over town. Organized by the BAYMOP,  it should be a treat for the photo-oriented. NEOMODERN is participating by hosting a series of TUESDAY TALKS (every Tuesday in September from 6-7pm). Each talk will get up-close with some beautiful prints, and dive into some creative and historical topics, a different theme each week. I'll be talking about prints from the collection here and adding in work by local artists.

Here's the line-up:

SEPT 4: Harry Callahan, Wright Morris and Photographic Composition

SEPT 11: Henri Cartier–Bresson and the Decisive Moment

SEPT 18: Humor and Creative Juxtapositions: Elliot Erwitt and Robert Doisneau

SEPT 25: Beyond Cliché: The work of Michael Kenna and Josef Koudelka

Come on by, it should be fun and interesting (and a great way to see some fantastic museum prints up close). I think this will be good not only for the photo-oriented, but anyone who is interested in seeing their smartphone pictures get better quickly.

On Seeing

"Brooklyn Bridge" 2018 (© MH Rubin)

"Coit Tower, 5:32am" 2015 (© MH Rubin)

"Coit Tower, 5:32am" 2015 (© MH Rubin)

There are so many people taking so many photos, it can often seem impossible to take a unique and personal image. A guideline I enjoy: could my photo have been taken by another person on another day? The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson described "the decisive moment" where the image reflects an absolutely special instant: it couldn't have been taken even a moment before or after.

Not every image holds up to these thresholds, but they're good reminders as we take our snapshots: what am I bringing to this image? Why this and why now? One of my personal practices is to go shoot iconic subjects, things we've seen shot by a million people all the time, and from there, see if I can see things in a new or at least relatively novel way.

As Susan Sontag so nicely points out in her landmark work "On Photography," there's a difference between a photo of a beautiful subject, and a beautiful photo. Working on this is part of the fun of photography.

Color vs Black & White

While most customers want color prints, I'm partial to black & white. It's not to look nostalgic. It's just that we can modify the shades of grey in ways you can't with color, to affect how people look at the image, what is the focus, what's important. For example, look a picture that includes the sky. In a color image it's perhaps blue. But in greyscale what happens to blue? By adjusting the filter the blue can be sorta white, or very grey, or even approach black. None are "false." There is no "real" grey shade that equals blue. So you can decide, based on the specifics of your image, how you'd like the blue sky to look. One reason Ansel Adams' prints are so dramatic is that he used a red filter to make the blue skies dark, which makes the rocks (and moon) stand out in certain images. Here's the same image with different filters on the blue sky:

Original shot. 

Original shot. 

This is not only the case with blue, but with all colors -- although it's a particularly striking effect with blues and also with greens (sometimes a field of grass should be dark, to make it disappear, and sometimes light, to highlight objects in the grass). Where this is particularly important is when the color (blue or green or whatever) is distracting and draws your attention away from the subject. Playing with the greyscale versions of the colors helps you control the attention of the viewer.

Filtering the blue towards white.

Filtering the blue towards white.

Filtering the blue towards black.

Filtering the blue towards black.

I like that shifting an image to monochrome is a reminder that in actuality all photography is surreal, even when it looks "natural" — we experience the world in a large and continuous way: this abstract freezing of a slice of visual space, for a fraction of a second... and the colors we see with our eyes are very different from what can be captured... no, photos are abstractions and b&w is a gentle reminder of that. 

IF YOU WANT TO USE COLOR

"Boardwalk, Santa Cruz" 2011 (iPhone 4 photo © Michael Rubin)

"Boardwalk, Santa Cruz" 2011 (iPhone 4 photo © Michael Rubin)

Be mindful of the colors in your image. Does it matter to the story you're telling? Is it distracting from the subject or is it part of the subject? Lots of colors give your eyes lots of targets to focus on, but this can be a detriment to a powerful image. A good rule of thumb: examine a photo in greyscale, think about where your eye goes, and how the composition is working; and then ask if it's *better* with color.

Finally, be wary of over-saturating the colors: too much richness can be distracting and even grotesque. It's like too much salt when you're cooking: it definitely adds taste and makes other ingredients taste better, but too much can be a bit sickening. Sometimes subduing the colors produces a stronger result. Adjusting saturation of an image, both a little up and a little down, are often interesting ways to refine a print.

Portfolio: SF Conservatory of Flowers

This was a trip to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park (Feb 12, 2017). Lots of people are there taking photos of all the gorgeous flowers and cool spaces, so i wondered if i could create some more unique images in the well-shot space.

NOTE: I've decided that when it comes to taking pictures, beginners shoot while they're moving, hobbyists stop moving for a moment to shoot, and experts wait.

I've found I can turn my mood around simply by taking pictures. Even if i'm grumpy (say, because I've been dragged somewhere I didn't want to go) photography engages me, gives me something to do, forces me to stop and look when i might otherwise not be paying attention. I like the pictures from this afternoon in part because i tried a few different kinds of visual styles: backlighting, short and long depth of fields, color and black-and-white, abstract and realistic. Photography as a hobby is very much like an augmented reality (AR) videogame: looking through the device as you interact with the world, seeing what you can collect along the way, keeping yourself entertained and challenged. As you get better, it gets more fun.

Here are a few images from the ten I printed. The rest are here.