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#30 Learning by Looking

I contend that once you understand how to use your camera, the best education to get better is to look at great photographic works.

MEUDON: https://www.neomodern.com/blog/2017/10/18/meudon-1928-by-andre-kertesz (or maybe better: http://www.all-art.org/history658_photography13-17.html

YVES KLEIN story: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/13/yves-klein-london-birth-blue


We discuss these fantastic photographs in the episode, my “favorites.” “Favorite” is perhaps too strong a term. But these are the images I looked at growing up, that i return to, year after year. Importantly, I continue to love them, never tire of them, and find they inspire my own photographic efforts. Ok. They’re pretty close to favorites.

Chicago, by Harry Callahan (1950)

Igor Stravinksy, by Arnold Newman (1953)

Igor Stravinksy, by Arnold Newman (1953)

Alma Lavenson, Self Portrait (1932)

Winter Sunrise, Lone Pine, by Ansel Adams (1940)

Kertesz, “Mondrian’s Pipe and Glasses” (1926)

Kertesz, “Chez Mondrian”

Kertesz, “Chez Mondrian”

EDIT 1/31/19 This was the episode where Suzanne first suggests Rubin explore the photos that inspired his work — something that became The Fifty. And these 6 photos were the beginning of that effort. Here’s the final set:


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#29 Filters and Post: Great Photos are Made Not Taken

The original iPhone image, sitting in the park…

The original iPhone image, sitting in the park…

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The B&W instagram filters offer reasonably subtle adjustments.

For more nuanced control and potentially dramatic adjustments there are more advanced tools; here i’m using Adobe Lightroom. (Lightroom MOBILE is free for Adobe subscribers) :

https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom-cc/how-to/lightroom-mobile.html

A crude example to make the point; using Adobe Lightroom, I made the blues look dark, and the greens look light…

A crude example to make the point; using Adobe Lightroom, I made the blues look dark, and the greens look light…

or conversely, here the blues are light and the greens are dark. These kinds of shifts allow me to make decisions about whether i want the church or people or some other elements to pop out or blend in.

or conversely, here the blues are light and the greens are dark. These kinds of shifts allow me to make decisions about whether i want the church or people or some other elements to pop out or blend in.

The issue with filters is they are a general solution, and the BEST solution, if you care enough, is to be specific that in THIS photo you want THAT color to be light, and this other color to be dark (if you’re in b&w; there are equivalent controls in color) and it generally depends on the photo.


THIS EPISODE’S ASSIGNMENT

Filters. Either take a new picture or use one you have… see what different filters do to the image as you play with it. Clearly different images demand different filters, although it’s also nice to find a “look” you like, that perhaps fits you, and let it color many of your photos.

We are not, fwiw, pushing black and white - and we hope you’ll experiment with all sorts of color effects. Post what you made (and if you’d like, send us the original and let us play with it too!)


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#28 Constraints and Photographic “Games”

There’s nothing worse than a blank canvas. The painter Cezanne once said “It’s so fine, and yet so terrible, to stand in front of a blank canvas.” (I’m not sure he does that justice. I think i’d lean more towards this quote by Hannah Kent:

“People speak of the fear of the blank canvas as though it is a temporary hesitation, a trembling moment of self-doubt. For me it was more like being abducted from my bed by a clown, thrust into a circus arena with a wicker chair, and told to tame a pissed-off lion in front of an expectant crowd.”

Constraints are the savior. Seeing what you can do given some constraints (some technical: your smartphone will have somewhat limited resolution and focal length; some arbitrary: no cropping, black and white only…) Photography is poetry at its core, and some of the joy comes from working inside the proscribed form. Think limericks. Think haiku.



BTW: the parlor game of assembling parts of the drawing is called “Consequences” and is akin to the more general game known as “Exquisite Corpse” (not “delicious monster” but i love the mistake). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse



A few selects from my shooting “game” at 40mph more or less, as i was driving around with friends in Nicaragua (2016). They sorta give the impression of intimacy but really are a snapshot of the facade of the roads.

“Yellow Taxi” (2003): The highly constrained photographic poetry of Gabrielle Israelievitch: three images, straight cuts.

“Yellow Taxi” (2003): The highly constrained photographic poetry of Gabrielle Israelievitch: three images, straight cuts.


THIS EPISODE’S ASSIGNMENT

Textures. Look around at the textures you pass. Grab pictures. See if you can push yourself compositionally. Maybe see what happens in b&w, so the texture is stronger than the colors. Share them on our Neomodern FB page (or tag them #everydayphotography in instagram).

As you think about texture, realize it’s not always a close up of a flat surface — notice texture as it wraps itself across all sorts of shaped objects; and it may not only be a close up, some textures reveal themselves at a distance. Just make the texture a key element of your image. Here are some screenshots of mine:


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#27 The Annual Thanksgiving Show


Here are a sampling of my Thanksgiving pictures from the past few years. If you’re wondering how to think about your shoot, perhaps consider the “assignment” as a cross between a cooking show, some stolen moments from the activities of the day (walks, playing music, setting up, watching the game, playing with the kids/pets), plus some candid portraits of the elders.


Turns out Jeff was indeed sneaky, and was shooting all afternoon.

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#25 Trying NOT To Be an Amateurish Amateur

At least part of the fun of photography, for me, is shooting frequently-shot subjects, and seeing if I can produce a reasonably original, and somewhat personal, image. As Sontag said in 1977, it seems like everything has already been photographed (!) which isn’t true at all, but the ubiquity of cameras certainly pushes us to try harder to see the world uniquely.

Père Lachaise, Paris, 2016 by Rubin

Père Lachaise, Paris, 2016 by Rubin

Coit Tower, San Francisco, 2015

Coit Tower, San Francisco, 2015

NOTE: I say in the show that it’s “contests” that might be restricting content, but i misspoke - what i meant to say was that certain kinds of “crits” (short for “critiques”: photographic feedback sessions with experts) have ‘mentors’ who will specify their fields of interest and, frequently, subjects of which they have no interest.

Regardless, the subject matter we are drawn to, but may need to push ourselves to make novel: nudes, cemeteries, monuments and statues, old people, the homeless, chipping paint, flowers, pets… these are all photogenic by nature (and to be honest, i love shooting all of them) just realize what you’re up against. If you’re trying to distinguish your pictures from the crowd, particularly in contests, these are subject matter that will make it hard to impress professionals.

 
Jerome, Arizona (1949) by Aaron Siskind. 1. He sets the bar high for old paint. 2. This online reproduction doesn’t hold a candle to an original print. It’s one of those special images that makes it clear the difference between a great print and an okay one.

Jerome, Arizona (1949) by Aaron Siskind. 1. He sets the bar high for old paint. 2. This online reproduction doesn’t hold a candle to an original print. It’s one of those special images that makes it clear the difference between a great print and an okay one.

Photography isn’t looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
—Don McCullin, war photographer

Rookie Post Production

Saturation

Suzanne, chilling after recording an episode. Gorgeous sunset…

Suzanne, chilling after recording an episode. Gorgeous sunset…

Same image, cranked color saturation. It’s certainly more dramatic. But cloying…

Same image, cranked color saturation. It’s certainly more dramatic. But cloying…



“Bokeh” and try not to use that word…

Using a short depth of field means that there’s a narrow window of the frame that is in focus, and everything behind that is somewhat blurred. It’s cool to control, and one of the great tools you have as a photographer making an image.

Using a short depth of field means that there’s a narrow window of the frame that is in focus, and everything behind that is somewhat blurred. It’s cool to control, and one of the great tools you have as a photographer making an image.

It can be fun to play with depth of field — here the flowers in the foreground were the focus, and so the ‘subject’ was purposely more indistinct in the background.

It can be fun to play with depth of field — here the flowers in the foreground were the focus, and so the ‘subject’ was purposely more indistinct in the background.






  • Suzanne’s Instagram (@sfritzhanson)

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#24 Establishing Trust

We have to accept that being photographed makes us feel vulnerable, and comparatively, taking a photograph of someone is inherently threatening. We must keep that in mind when we waive cameras around, always remain sensitive to the invasiveness of the act.

This show continues thoughts from Episode #5

Home Selfie (2018).

Home Selfie (2018).

Cute couple in the park. It had all the makings of a cool picture, but never quite materialized…(and yes, this is hyper saturated. i was playing with attributes before deciding the photo just wasn’t there.)

Cute couple in the park. It had all the makings of a cool picture, but never quite materialized…(and yes, this is hyper saturated. i was playing with attributes before deciding the photo just wasn’t there.)

Every time I see Suzanne she is wearing a different stunning pair of shoes. I kid you not.

Every time I see Suzanne she is wearing a different stunning pair of shoes. I kid you not.


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#23 Are Your Pictures Any Good?

Photowalks Rock! It’s fun and nicely instructive to watch other photographers do what they do - see what interests them and catches their eye. Even if you miss something, once a cool subject is pointed out, it’s great to explore how you’d compose a photo around it, and see how others do the same. I’m a new convert!

Even if you only take pictures occasionally, a lot can be gleaned from the experiences of people who walk around with cameras and take pictures all the time — specifically about how to approach a subject (person or object) and begin to compose, but also about what’s okay to shoot: can you just point a camera at a person on the street? Do you walk around with a camera out, or do you pull it out when you see something? How does one “prepare” for catching a random moment?

A few of my pictures from the photowalk, Oct 28, from Neomodern to Ft. Mason.


A few selects from the folks on the photowalk in SF:

I’d note that in almost all cases, these images look as nice as they do as a result of some post-processing — burning and dodging, bringing up low values, etc. As Ansel Adams said so well, great photos are made, not shot.

by Rich

by Sam

by Gian Marco Vanzo

by Wesley

by Vicky Ross (IG @vickys._photos)

by Sam


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#22 Walking Around with a Camera

My all too-dangerous shot out my windsheild of the Broadway Tunnel, which is officially the “Robert C. Levy tunnel”

My all too-dangerous shot out my windsheild of the Broadway Tunnel, which is officially the “Robert C. Levy tunnel”

Walking-around pictures: No specific plan, although once you find something sorta interesting, you do start to look for that kind of thing.

Transamerica Bldg, SF

Ferry Building, SF


Uelsmann’s “Magritte’s Touchstone” (1965) on a phone next to one of Magritte’s floating stones at SFMOMA.

Uelsmann’s “Magritte’s Touchstone” (1965) on a phone next to one of Magritte’s floating stones at SFMOMA.


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#21 On Reading Susan Sontag

Winter Sunrise, from Lone Pine (1944) by Ansel Adams [For more about this photo tune into Episode #20]

Winter Sunrise, from Lone Pine (1944) by Ansel Adams [For more about this photo tune into Episode #20]

On Photography, by Susan Sontag [view PDF]

But being educated by photographs is not like being educated by older, more artisanal images. For one thing, there are a great many more images around, claiming our attention. The inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems. … In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. (Sontag, from On Photography)

 
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966

A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966

Photos by Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus giving a talk at RISD in 1970, by Stephen A. Frank

Diane Arbus giving a talk at RISD in 1970, by Stephen A. Frank

Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967

Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967

Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC, 1962

Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC, 1962


Edward Steichen, 1915

In photography’s early decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images. This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset. In 1915 Edward Steichen photographed a milk bottle on a tenement fire escape, an early example of a quite different idea of the beautiful photograph. And since the 1920s, ambitious professionals, those whose work gets into museums, have steadily drifted away from lyrical subjects, conscientiously exploring plain, tawdry, or even vapid material. In recent decades, photography has succeeded in somewhat revising, for everybody, the definitions of what is beautiful and ugly—along the lines that Whitman had proposed. If (in Whitman’s words) “each precise object or condition or combination or process exhibits a beauty,” it becomes superficial to single out some things as beautiful and others as not. If “all that a person does or thinks is of consequence,” it becomes arbitrary to treat some moments in life as important and most as trivial. (Sontag)


Legends of photography. Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and Jerry Uelsmann. Photo by Ted Orland, 1969

Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland

From the Introduction:

THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT MAKING ART. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people — essentially (statistically speaking) there aren't any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time. Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar.

One and a Half Domes, Yosemite (1975), by Ted Orland


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#20 Truth!

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything.” 

—Pablo Picasso, 1923

·       “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”
— Richard Avedon

“Photography is not all seeing in the sense that the eyes see. Our vision, a binocular one, is in a continuous state of flux, while the camera captures and fixes forever a single, isolated, condition of the moment. Besides, we use lenses of various focal lengths to purposely exaggerate actual seeing. In printing we carry on our willful distortion of fact by using contrasty papers which give results quite different from the scene or object as it was in nature. This, we must agree, is all legitimate procedure: but it is not “seeing” literally, it is done with a reason, with creative imagination.”

—Ed Weston, from his daybooks

On April 5, 1980, this happened. Sorta…

On April 5, 1980, this happened. Sorta…

 
 
Dalí Atomicus by Philippe Halsman

Dalí Atomicus by Philippe Halsman

“Capturing the essence of those he photographed was Philippe Halsman’s life’s work. So when Halsman set out to shoot his friend and longtime collaborator the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, he knew a simple seated portrait would not suffice. Inspired by Dalí’s painting Leda Atomica, Halsman created an elaborate scene to surround the artist that included the original work, a floating chair and an in-progress easel suspended by thin wires. Assistants, including Halsman’s wife and young daughter Irene, stood out of the frame and, on the photographer’s count, threw three cats and a bucket of water into the air while Dalí leaped up. It took the assembled cast 26 takes to capture a composition that satisfied Halsman. And no wonder. The final result, published in LIFE, evokes Dalí’s own work. The artist even painted an image directly onto the print before publication.” (Time100)


“I would argue that this expressive power comes in part from how we think of photos, a sort of unwritten agreement about the truthfulness of photographic images. Somehow in the back of our minds we cannot shake the feeling that what you see in a photograph is real and true.

Though we know photos can be doctored, airbrushed, touched up, Photoshopped, we still see them as real. Our head tells us to be cautious, look closer, analyse what we see, but our heart cries out ‘It’s real! I am seeing it with my own eyes!’ “ (Tate Debate, 2011)

One of the most iconic photos ever taken, Robert Doisneau’s “Kiss, by the Hotel De Ville" — does it change how we feel about the picture after knowing the photographer hired these models and staged it?

One of the most iconic photos ever taken, Robert Doisneau’s “Kiss, by the Hotel De Ville" — does it change how we feel about the picture after knowing the photographer hired these models and staged it?


Winter Sunrise, from Lone Pine (1944) by Ansel Adams

Winter Sunrise, from Lone Pine (1944) by Ansel Adams

The people who think that Ansel would have embraced Photoshop usually point out a certain image of his—Winter Sunrise: Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, 1944. Ansel talked about this image in his book, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. He made the image while in the neighborhood shooting his documentary project of the Japanese Internment Camp, Manzanar, during 1943 and 1944. In this otherwise pristine landscape, the local high school students had put their school’s initials, “LP,” on the hill side in white-washed rocks. “LP” stands for Lone Pine.

Ansel made the image and spent a number of years dealing with it after the fact. In his words, “I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.” When I took a workshop from John Sexton in 1987, he related the story that Ansel gave him the job of scraping the LP out of the 8x10 negative with a scalpel, when John was Ansel’s assistant in the 70s. On the face of things, this account isn’t all that different from what digital photographers do every day, cloning out offensive elements from their images to make them a better representative of what they saw and felt. And it’s a good way to control things beyond your control when you shoot.

From “Focus on Photography” July 15, 2008


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#19 The Space Between

Monolith, Half Dome, by Ansel Adams

Monolith, Half Dome, by Ansel Adams

Lenticular Lenses on Wikipedia

Shannon Tindle’s 360 Animation on Google Spotlight: “On Ice”

Ralph Gibson’s hand in his photo of Mary Ellen Mark… this is a moment between them, and we are there.

Ralph Gibson’s hand in his photo of Mary Ellen Mark… this is a moment between them, and we are there.

David Hockney’s photomosaic reveals his own feet at the bottom of the collage.

David Hockney’s photomosaic reveals his own feet at the bottom of the collage.


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#18 Simplification

This is an interesting article from Petapixel on the complexities of good burning and dodging: CLICK

dean.jpg

Suzanne’s pictures from last night and this morning:

First shot.

First shot.

 
Second shot, nicer composition.

Second shot, nicer composition.

Second shot, slightly edited in Adobe Lightroom — a little more contrast, a little darkening of the concrete, a atouch more saturation in the colors (probably too much), and a hint of burning out the too-bright construction barricade in the background.

Second shot, slightly edited in Adobe Lightroom — a little more contrast, a little darkening of the concrete, a atouch more saturation in the colors (probably too much), and a hint of burning out the too-bright construction barricade in the background.

A dutch angle (from wikipedia): The Dutch angle, also known as Dutch tiltcanted angle, or oblique angle, is a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle on its roll axis… This produces a viewpoint akin to tilting one's head to the side.[1] In cinematography, the Dutch angle is one of many cinematic techniques often used to portray psychological uneasiness or tension in the subject being filmed.

Dutch refers to a bastardisation of the word "Deutsch", the German word for "German". It is not related to the Dutch people or language. It originated in the First World War, as Navy blockades made the import (and export) of movies impossible. The German movie scene was part of the expressionist movement, which used the Dutch angle extensively.[1][2]

Original. Really good.

Original. Really good.

Slight burning of area around the subject, to decrease attention drawn away from her.

Slight burning of area around the subject, to decrease attention drawn away from her.

The burned-in image, now converted to B&W. Further decreases details around the subject, particularly the strong green mat.

The burned-in image, now converted to B&W. Further decreases details around the subject, particularly the strong green mat.


Mary Ellen Mark, by Ralph Gibson

Mary Ellen Mark, by Ralph Gibson


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#17 The Death of Photography?

> Wim Wenders IMDB

Wenders, too, now regards photography as a thing of the past. “It’s not just the meaning of the image that has changed – the act of looking does not have the same meaning. Now, it’s about showing, sending and maybe remembering. It is no longer essentially about the image. The image for me was always linked to the idea of uniqueness, to a frame and to composition. You produced something that was, in itself, a singular moment. As such, it had a certain sacredness. That whole notion is gone.” >> The Guardian 10-12-17

Until the End of the World (1991): Filmed in 15 cities and 7 countries around the world, the final third of the story ends up in a cave and a series of stunning locations in outback Australia. The film took 10 years to complete and was Wenders’ most ambitious project.

Until the End of the World (1991): Filmed in 15 cities and 7 countries around the world, the final third of the story ends up in a cave and a series of stunning locations in outback Australia. The film took 10 years to complete and was Wenders’ most ambitious project.


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#16 The Rule of Thirds is Bullshit, Seriously, and other Topics of Composition

“When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision. Following rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial clichés.”

—Edward Weston

Please forget all this bull about the “rule of thirds” — even if i concede there are some aesthetic preferences for compositions with “focal weight” to the side of the frame, it is precisely NOT how to learn to take photographs. The nature of photography is about how you fill the frame with the things you’re photographing—it is a canvas, and you get to arrange objects in that canvas. Where objects GO in that frame depend entirely on the nature of those objects and what’s going on in the frame.

Here are an assortment of wonderful pictures of people, by some of the greatest photographers in history. Each of these is in our collection and they have all influenced me, served as my ‘training data’ (as students of computer learning and artificial intelligence might say). While subjects occupy various positions in the frame, it’s clear to me that their position is based on other important factors.

Additionally, i decided to revisit some of my favorite snapshots from a few days I spent in Bellingham, Washington this summer. At first glance i can see why some might look like they were following some sort of “rule of thirds” but after exploring this, in all cases, it was coincidental. What’s true is that the “subjects” (if that’s the right word) are frequently not in the center of the frame. This “not-centeredness” is a worthwhile tool in figuring out a nice composition of objects in the frame, but it has nothing to do with any one subject being in any one position. It’s about fitting the things you want on the canvas into the picture at the same time, and the playing (to the degree possible) with their relative orientations. Composition isn’t an abstract idea of positioning, it’s about weights and attention of various points in the image, it’s about harmony… and cannot be separated from the objects themselves. In a sense, the composition is somewhat dictated by the objects being shot. The photographer can move them around by changing focal length and position, by adjusting depth of field, but it’s about an array of objects and their relationships, and virtually never about putting something somewhere in the frame.

"I don't know what good composition is... Sometimes for me composition has to do with a certain brightness or a certain coming to restness and other times it has to do with funny mistakes. There's a kind of rightness and wrongness and sometimes I like rightness and sometimes I like wrongness." —Diane Arbus

 

“A good picture-- in photography or any other medium-- is most likely to be produced by the artist who upsets the apple cart, snaps his fingers at the rules, and does as he pleases. Then an art critic comes along, measures and analyzes, interprets the result, and lo! another ‘rule of composition’ is born. This sequence cannot be too emphatically stressed. Pictures come first, composition after. There is no hen-and-egg doubt about it. From his earliest days man has made pictures, to frighten evil spirits, to record history, to portray happenings, to express himself and his feelings, for any number of reasons except one-- he did not make pictures to carry out the laws of composition.” —Edward Weston, 1937


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#14 Shooting on the Right Side of Your Brain

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” -Elliot Erwitt

Amaryllis (1933) by Imogen Cunningham

Amaryllis (1933) by Imogen Cunningham

Nude in Doorway (1936) by Edward Weston (of his girlfriend Charis Wilson)

Nude in Doorway (1936) by Edward Weston (of his girlfriend Charis Wilson)


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#12 One Print Only

Ansel Adams “Moonrise, Hernendez” (1941)

Ansel Adams “Moonrise, Hernendez” (1941)

Here’s Ansel Adams account of the creation of his image “Moonrise, Hernedez” CLICK

Variations in the printing of the negative, over the course of decades.

Variations in the printing of the negative, over the course of decades.

Ansel Adams’ original negative contact print. Seeing what this could be, from what is here, is non-trivial work. Not everything comes out of your camera “done”.

Ansel Adams’ original negative contact print. Seeing what this could be, from what is here, is non-trivial work. Not everything comes out of your camera “done”.


Florence, 2015

Florence, 2015

The rest of the images from this shoot, and more about the composition here, was discussed in Episode 1, and can be seen HERE.


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#11 Why Print? (Part 2: “It's not photography if it's not printed!")

It’s not that many images aren’t “good” — it’s just that part of the job is picking one and not boring everyone with your indecision.

It’s not that many images aren’t “good” — it’s just that part of the job is picking one and not boring everyone with your indecision.

WHY PRINT?

  1. The selection process is part of the photographic process. It’s an important threshold to subject images to, particularly now that it’s so easy to take images.

  2. Legacy curation: when we die, what of these images do we pass along as important. Do we just hand over a key to a cloud account with terabytes of images? tens or hundreds of thousands of images? Who would go through that? And what would they find important versus what you know to be important? Printing takes on this issue and creates an important subset that can be managed, saved, passed along, enjoyed.

  3. They proscribe how an image is consumed. You just don’t know what kind of device your image is going to be viewed on — it could be big or small, cropped by software or through reposting, over- or underexposed by a range of uncontrollable brightness settings on devices, modified in any myriad ways. If you care about the thing you’ve created, you want to control many aspects for how it is to be viewed, and decide how it should be presented— including its size, framing, surroundings, and exposure. Giving this up is giving up too much…

  4. The creation of an object. A photo isn’t just an image, it’s a physical manifestation of that image. Ansel Adams said that the negative is the score, and the print is the performance. Each performance is another opportunity to do something amazing. And having a THING that you can hold… look at repeatedly, over time… this is special. Printing MAKES it special. It MAKES it iconic.

  5. The hedge to technology. Sometimes an image is important enough that you just need to make sure it’s not ephemeral, able to be lost or buried. Maybe tech will get better and you’ll always be able to see those digital files, but — probably not.

  6. You have to live with an image to know that it’s good. We keep thinking of printing as the deciding moment as to whether something is “good enough” - but we really can’t know that until we HAVE the print, and spend time with it. Printing is part of this evaluation process. (It’s another reason to print often, even if we only frame occasionally.)


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The story, btw, of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, and the photograph by Joe Rosenthal that became an icon. HERE


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#10 Get the Cliché Out of the Way

Reframing the classic shot of Mt. Rushmore (1984). In the end, I just wanted enough of the monument to identify where you were…

Reframing the classic shot of Mt. Rushmore (1984). In the end, I just wanted enough of the monument to identify where you were…


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#09 Why Print? (Part 1: The Hedge)

As you get older, your life is literally littered with old tech formats that are increasingly impossible to access and devices that are not easily connected back up to be managed. Will the cloud solve that? Sorta…

As you get older, your life is literally littered with old tech formats that are increasingly impossible to access and devices that are not easily connected back up to be managed. Will the cloud solve that? Sorta…

This happens.

This happens.

I’m only 55, but already in my life i have lots of accounts I can no longer access, passwords that have been lost (or email accounts required that are fallow), file formats that cannot be read, and so forth. Seriously: I have 3/4” tape cassettes, VHS tapes, MiniDV tapes, Zip disks, Floppy Disks, SCSI drives, even last years’ laptop… if you think your cloud-based secure files are safe and readily accessible, by you, by your family once you’ve passed, etc… then go right ahead storing everything there with comfort. But the fact is: print the important stuff. There are many many reasons to make prints, but as a hedge to shifts in technology is a good one.


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#08 The Photo that got me into Brown

 
Hang on. Let me back up a little…

Hang on. Let me back up a little…

 

Around the time I was applying to college in 1980, Time magazine ran a short piece about the college application process (coincidentally, at Brown); in it they described an applicant who had soaked her application in water, then let it dry completely, so it got warped. Admissions officers noted that her application wouldn’t sit neatly in the stacks they had to go through, and so it kept landing on top of their piles, getting more attention, and for a range of reasons, it worked. She was admitted.

I thought about this for awhile. I didn’t want to copy her, but I liked the idea.

Being a high school photographer, I was already planning to send a portfolio of my recent work and a letter of recommendation from a famous artist. But maybe if I wanted to seal the deal, I’d soak my application in water too. Of course, in line with my interests, I thought I should actually soak the application in photo developer. What I decided was that I should get some photo emulsion and smear it on the application, and put a picture on it directly, then the water-soaking part would actually make sense.

But what photo should I adhere?

I re-read the Brown University essay prompt. It ended “… use the space below to give us as complete a picture of you as possible.”

I joked to my mom “I should put a naked picture there.”

“Yes, do that,” she said.

The week applications were due my parents were going out of town and they left me alone to figure this stuff out. I wasn’t sure what kind of naked picture would be appropriate. I don’t have the kind of body anyone would brag about, so I wasn’t worried I’d look vain. On the contrary. I was mortified to take a naked selfie.

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I had this model kit in my room called The Visible Man, a clear plastic form into which was inserted a bunch of organs. I took a photo of it; and with my expertise in photographic multiple exposures I planned to combine it with “me” to make some sort of weird statement.

A few days before the due date, and with the house conveniently absent of parents, I put my camera on a tripod in the backyard and stripped down. I couldn’t bring myself to go Full Monty, so I plucked some local vegetation and taped it below my navel. I set the timer. I got in position. Masking tape not being particularly good on skin, I got a string of comical snaps of me standing there as the tape unstuck, leaf dropping and me flinching. I lugged an enlarger out of the darkroom and tried using it as a modesty enhancer, but eventually disliked the combo and moved it behind me. My position was known as “anatomical position” – same as the Visible Man. My expression was nonplussed. I was clearly only doing this because they asked.

In the darkroom the combinations with the plastic model all failed to work. My last effort was to use an effect called “solarization” for the background, something I learned from Jerry Uelsmann, my photographic mentor. I finished it up. It felt like a long shot to get into Brown anyway. I mailed it in.

Needlesstosay, it worked. I was accepted into the 218th class at Brown University, according the letter I received. A day later I got another letter, this from one of the admissions officers. It was handwritten. It said this was one of the most unusual things they had ever received and they hoped I’d stop by the admissions office to introduce myself in the Fall. Which I did.

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A lot happened because of this photo. When USA Today was doing a cover story on Brown in 1985, they put me in the story and my photo (not THAT photo) was on the front page. The story of my application was syndicated and apparently it ran in newspapers across the country. I got clippings from time to time. I heard that other kids tried to do similar photos in subsequent years, more like Nastassja Kinski than Visible Man, and with poor results. And I later heard that the photo was put on the wall of the Brown Admissions office where it remained for about twenty years.

I never really felt the need to share the image after 1981, I always felt people’s imagination would be far more interesting than the real thing. But this week I was nostalgically digging around in old high school negatives and I found the original image. The application was a one-off creation, but I scanned the negative the other day and re-created the process.

What the hell, the statute of limitations for embarrassing photos has passed, I spend much of my time taking far sexier photos of other people and it seems only fair. And so here, a few days before my 55th birthday, I present to you my Brown application essay question response.

“A More Complete Picture of Me” (1980)

“A More Complete Picture of Me” (1980)


If you like our show, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app, and please rate the podcast. And don’t forget to join the Neomodern Facebook group to discuss the show, share your photos, hear about specials for printing or framing your best images. Thank you!