Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CI 15: Image Critique (Annie Liebovitz)

I had the pleasure of being informally introduced to the photographer Annie Liebovitz today. Of course, most of us have heard of her before, but I was unfamiliar with her scope of work, her personality and character and the winding path this career has taken her. I caught but a glimpse of that in the documentary "Life Through a Lens" today and left feeling very intrigued.

As I began searching through her images, it became clear that I am definitely a fan of her style and approach to photographing 'life' and the people she encounters.  I found it challenging to select only one photograph to write about that interested me. There were so many! I finally narrowed it down to one image that immediately caught my eye as it did not seem to "fit" into her familiar style of images; it literally stood out. But in recollecting on what I learned through her interviews in the documentary, I would say it is a very personal and meaningful memory to Annie.

This is a photograph of her friend, lover and collaborator of 15 years, Susan Sontag in Petra, Jordan, whom passed away in 2004. She faces away from the camera, a tiny figure dwarfed by a mammoth cave opening, outside which we can see an ancient building facade. Waiting...wondering (perhaps) to step out. It’s a complex and pensive shot, both inside and outside, natural and man-made, populated and yet oddly empty. There is a rawness and an unguarded feeling in this image. Susan was obviously one of the most important and influential relationships Annie had in her life and I think the composition portrays this well.

The high contrast exposure which encompasses both strong vertical and diagonal lines, all leads our eye to her subject. I find it intriguing and ironic that in this grandiose scene, Susan is portrayed to be a very small single point of interest in the composition. Perhaps it reflects her unpretentious attitude towards the world.  From what I gather, she encouraged Annie to pursue the moral obligation in her work, often encouraging her to get back to her root visions. To look at the "bigger picture" so to speak, and make 'meaningful' photographs. I feel the layered and textured cave walls emulate this depth and complexity very nicely. The strongest element in this image is of course the vertical highlight area that bold takes us right to Susan. Beautiful!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Abstract Aviation

Click on the photo to see abstract photos from my trip to the Western Canada Aviation Museum!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Urban Exploration

What is urban exploration?

Urban exploration. It goes by many names such as UE, UrbEx, Infiltration, and Reality Hacking. It is all about going into places you are “not supposed" to go. Urban exploration has 2 different meanings:
 The first one is related to the city we live in. We are enclosed, almost entrapped, in this urban environment. We follow the streets guided by the paths that are drawn, no chance to escape our average everyday existence. Urban exploration is the research, documentation, escape, exploration, and mapping of these forbidden spaces that include maintenance or service areas, utility tunnels, abandoned buildings, such as mental institutions, and basically any place where the everyday public are not supposed to be. Open a door, cross a fence, or sneak into a hole and you visit the world of Urban Exploration. You have left the normal world, you are exploring.

The second meaning is related to the abandoned places or utility tunnels themselves. Sometimes these hulking structures lay rotting in the middle of the city and sometimes they are in the quiet suburbs abandoned and waiting in silence. These are places isolated from the “normal” world, places most people will never venture into or see. This what drives you to these forbidden places and changes everything in your reality with your first step forward. With that step you are in, you are exploring.

How to do urban exploration?

- No breaking and entering. This does not mean that every urban exploration trip is legal, but never break anything to enter a site, locks included.
Try to sneak in without any damage, much like a stealthy ninja.
Ask permission to visit places via their owners as often as possible.
- Respect the places you visit. No tags, no vandalism, no senseless destruction, no theft. Do not forget that people will visit the place after you do, so let them experience it just as you did! Always try to leave the place untouched and use the motto: "take only pictures, leave only footprints..." 
- Safety: urban exploration can be a very dangerous hobby. Whether you are climbing a crane, walking on a rotten and fragile floor, or wandering near barrels of toxic waste the risks are everywhere. Good knowledge of the environment you are in is absolutely necessary and specialized equipment adapted to the conditions is often required, such as: helmets, climbing gear, respirator, gloves, lights, ..etc.

Click here to view my most recent 'Urban Exploration' in Culross, MB.

Friday, October 22, 2010

AT 9: Photographic Hero

“A good photograph, like a good painting, speaks with a loud voice and demands time and attention if it is to be fully perceived. An art lover is perfectly willing to hang a painting on a wall for years on end, but ask him to study a single photograph for ten unbroken minutes and he’ll think it’s a waste of time. Staying power is difficult to build into a photograph. Mostly, it takes content. A good photograph can penetrate the subconscious – but only if it is allowed to speak for however much time it needs to get there.” - Ralph Gibson

I have to admit, my initial decision to choose Ralph Gibson as one of my 'B&W Photographic Heroes', was a hasty one. I quickly decided I was drawn to his work by only seeing a hand-full of his images. However, as I have been exploring his work and learning more about his style, personality and character, I recognize it was quite an intuitive decision after all! In reading some of his philosophies on photography and creating art, I found myself agreeing with many of his insights and ideas. Somehow, I relate.

On the technical side of Ralph Gibsons' work, for most of his career he has worked exclusively with Leica. Specifically,  the 35mm rangefinder camera. He states “The rangefinder enables one to see what’s outside of the frame as well as what’s inside of the frame. With a rangefinder you see something, you make the exposure and you continue to look at what you’re seeing. The rangefinder is ideally matched to the perceptive act, the personal act of perception.”

When Ralph is out shooting, he typically carries two Leica bodies and three fixed lenses. One body will have color negative film and the other black and white. He almost exclusively uses Rodinal chemisty and Kodak TriX black and white film. On occasion he will use Fuji 400 or Neopan 1600. For colour film, he will typically use Fuji Superia 100. As far as metering goes, he uses his TTL meter in the most general sense, typically center-weighted. When he is shooting black and white, he will rarely pay any attention to it at all! Aside from the time spent in the studio, he will also rarely use a tripod.

Ralph is well know for his skill in the dark room and has great respect for his materials. To this day, he develops all his own film. He states, “I base the fact that I develop my film personally means that there’s going to be certain irregularities in my agitation. And I have discovered that, in these irregularities there is some creative input. I don’t want my film to be developed too well, too cleanly, too smoothly. I don’t want that slick look. I’ve had a life long relationship with grain.” I think this approach is a big part of what makes his images and style unique.

With his traditional and formal style of approaching photography, I find it commendable he remains dedicated and true to his craft in this digital age. However, Ralph Gibson is no stranger to the computer and digital darkroom. He is well versed in both Photoshop techniques and Quark which he primarily uses for his photo book layouts and prepping for exhibition Iris prints. With his long-time relationship with Leica, often they will send him new equipment to experiment with. He feels digital photography is all about resolution, as though it’s going to provide us with a picture that harbors more content, more emotional power. He agrees it’s very good for a certain kind of graphic thing in colour but he doesn’t necessarily do that kind of photography. He feels that digital just doesn’t look the way photography looks, it looks like digital. Digital photography is another kind of information and excels in areas that he is really not interested in. I love how he states, “I’m interested in the alchemy of light on film and chemistry and silver. When I’m taking a photograph I imagine the light rays passing through my lens and penetrating the emulsion of my film. And when I’m developing my film I imagine the emulsion swelling and softening and the little particles of silver tarnishing.” He not only pre-visualizes the image, he pre-visualizes the process. He communicates with his materials.

Compositionally, Ralph Gibson’s work is simple, tight and typically formally designed. As I stated in a previous essay introducing Gibson, he is a master of dramatic understatement. His high-contrast pictures - usually focusing on one geometric element (the corner of a room or set of stairs) or a single human gesture (the curve of a hand) - form a kind of dream-narrative when gathered together. Or, as Gibson puts it, "I embrace the abstract in photography and exist on a few bits of order extracted from the chaos of reality". Gibson’s minimalist black and white compositions have influenced a generation of photographers. By isolating the essential elements of a scene, his pictures show a style that is unique and immediately recognizable. His images often incorporate fragments with erotic and mysterious undertones, building narrative meaning through contextualization and surreal juxtaposition.

Gibson knows an image when he sees it but he rarely knows what his next photograph will be unless of course, he is working on a specific project. He mostly crops in-camera, meaning he will move in closer and take things away until he gets everything out of the frame except what he wants. Therefore his process is considered subtractive rather than additive. Part of this subtraction has to do with casting things into the deep shadows to eliminate a lot of unwanted detail and activity. In doing so, he creates a shape. Instead of just being a variation on light, for him shadows become cut forms. He’ll typically take a picture of anything in an attempt to compose it within the proportions of the ‘golden’ means (the 24x36mm proportion) just to see if he can compose it perfectly. I love how he strongly uses design elements like line, shape and texture to create his images. He can very successfully transform a seemingly simple and humble object into a subject of importance.

I chose the above three images to illustrate his style. I love all of these images for similar compositional reasons. They are simple, beautiful and striking. They have impact and are memorable.
In almost all of his images, there are strong lines and angles, especially at about 45 degrees!  This really strengthens the image. The deep shadows and perfectly exposed highlights add depth and weight that support other graphic elements within the image. He composes in an abstract way that adds mystery and surrealism. I find it very interesting in many of his images, there is a person's hand included and placed precisely in the compositions. Does it have a specific or implied deeper meaning, or is it simply a design element? I am curious and wish to research this further! He captures what the eye does not normally see and I feel that is what photographic art is all about!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Of course, this image is not unique. It has been created a million times by photographers near and far. However, I have always been drawn to it and I promised myself that one day I would recreate it. I wonder sometimes, who first discovered this very beautiful and metaphorical image!

Despite what others have done, I knew the page and the ring needed to be lit by candlelight to portray a warm and loving tone. I wanted a shallow depth of field so that only a few key words of this particular verse was in focus. The light source also had to be just at the right height and angle to create the elongated heart shadow.

I chose this specific composition for a few reasons; I am naturally drawn to angled lines – I feel they add strength to the image, and the shadow areas in the opposite corners give the image balance.  I also preferred the focus area in this composition compared to the other images I created. It highlights 'but if I didn't love others, I would be of no value whatsoever'. I find this to be so true in would all seem so useless if we didn't strive to love each other as He loved us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

CI 3: 100 Shots

At first, I found this assignment to be challenging. Not in taking the actual photos, but choosing how and where to set up my scene. I shot this assignment at home in the evening after being at Grand Prix Amusements all day shooting race cars, golf swings and bouncing bodies! I was tired. No...I was exhausted. This certainly was a good exercise in forcing yourself to be creative when all you want to do is go to sleep!

It was an overcast day and raining, so shooting my object outside was out of the question. I finally decided to set up my scene on the kitchen counter, under the halogen lights. I felt content with this setup considering my environmental limitations and frazzled state of mind! So, I strapped on my headphones, put on some relaxing music and took a few minutes to breathe and relax into the moment. Once I started getting 'up close and personal' with my object, I lost myself in this beautiful, abstract experience. About an hour and a half passed by the time I had reached 100 shots, but I had a few more ideas I wanted to explore so I kept shooting for another hour. I think I could have went on, but my body was saying 'NO! Time to rest.'

I thought the task of focusing so intently on my subject to be quite magical. The play of light on the coloured, shaped glass created so many interesting reflections and lines. I enjoyed viewing the other areas of my scene while looking through my glass object and how it created distorted and abstract images. Using a glass vessel as my object, I found there were many options to finding unique and interesting shots. I explored it from many different angles, positions and orientations.  I eventually filled the vase with water and an entire new set of images became available. Despite the number of photos that I captured. I felt there were many more possibilities to be explored.

To view the photos for this assignment, please click here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

AT 3 : Simple Subject Composition

Staircase, by Ralph Gibson

This black and white image is successful because it has impact! Gibson's use of line, light, tone and texture strengthen and solidify the composition. There is such life and movement in this image and it seems to beckon the viewer to walk up the steps to see where they might lead. He has transformed a common subject into an aesthetically pleasing art form. He involved us.

In the Morning

I lost myself in the wet dewy grass of my front yard this morning. As soon as I looked out the east facing window as I stepped into the living room, I saw the diamonds that were now being revealed by the bright sun, warming the coolness from the night before. Even before breakfast, I grabbed my camera and a towel and started exploring. It was magical. An hour and a half later...I realized, I was hungry and should probably eat some breakfast!

The expereince reminded me of one of my favorite songs by Steve Bell,  In the Morning.

In the morning
When the dew lies on the ground
And your glory’s all around
In the morning
When the sun is on the rise
And your splendor fills the skies

I look to You in the morning
To be my strength for this day

Here is a link to some of the images I captured.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pen or Pencil ?

Welcome to my first blog post!

Someone asked me the other day if I consider myself more like a pen....or a pencil? I spent some time thinking about it and even though I feel each of us are a bit of both (depending on the day or even the moment), I think I am definitely more like a pencil. Why? Well here are a few reasons I came up with:

• sometimes I feel dull and need to be sharpened
• I would like to be able to erase some of my mistakes
• there are many shades to my personality
• I can be hard or soft
• I like my coffee fully leaded!
• I revel in the fact that I can be so many colours
• in my life I have been broken and felt 'thrown out'
• in conversation, I like to get to the point
there are times when I need to be carried in someone's pocket
I enjoy being in the a space with different writing instruments
I am straight but have several sides
• I have the ability to create beautiful sketches
• I am made of natural substances from the earth
• at times I travel alone and sometimes in a pack
• I have been imprinted with gold by my maker

What are you?