Juxtaposed from the complicated techniques featured of late, sometimes the best art is the most straightforward, the simplest. In this work, great depth is achieved by the layers of light and shade provided by the forest itself. All the artist need do is extenuate the strengths of the photograph. Often the most powerful artistic technique is simply not doing anything stupid.
… or is that not as simple as it sounds … ?
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This is often a difficult time of year for me because by now I’m pretty much out of good photographic captures. I find winter a lousy time of year to shoot; once the Christmas lights are down all you’ve got is a cold, dead world. The light is bad when there’s any light at all. (I actually lined up a shot while running an errand this morning, finished the errand and grabbed my camera, and discovered any semblance of decent light had vanished). I start combing through my captures from the previous summer and autumn to see if I missed something or I pull something I’d previously brushed past to see if maybe I can pull something from it.
It’s always a relief when I find something like today’s work; something that, once I’ve worked with it, is actually pretty good. I wonder if I’ve got more there.
That said, it’s time for me to grab the photo bag, make sure all the cameras are charged, get my feet moving on the pavement. I can go another week, maybe two, before I’m out of material unless I bring more home. This is when the new year truly begins.
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Update: Just after writing this, while getting my Nikon ready, I discovered it contained a cache of captures from last October’s Porchfest that I’d forgotten about. The well is again full!
Bunch of stuff to talk about today, both photography and art.
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It’s an unusually warm, even hot, September day last fall and I’m of a need to take the camera out and capture new material. Off I go, late morning, to one of our historic neighborhoods, park the car and begin walking. I’m out there for close to three hours, relocating by a few blocks twice, the sun getting hotter each step. Three hours, and I captured roughly five or six dozen shots. I kept lining them up and in the back of my mind I’m thinking how much better the same shot would be in a month when the autumn colors kick in. But I kept at it, focusing on textures and the contrast produced by the sunlight against the historic structures.
Here’s how many works I’ve extracted from those three hours and those five or six dozen captures:
OK, that’s not entirely true – I did get a couple. Like as not, I’d have pulled more but for what happened next.
I got back in the car, stopped off for a 15-minute break and something to drink, then went over to Riverside Park where the Chalk Festival had just begun: roughly 30 artists of all ages spread out along the sidewalk with their colorful piles of chalk, each creating a work of art which would last until the next downpour. And I can see there’s already a number of people taking photographs, including one of the guys from the newspaper I recognize. I’m thinking, probably won’t get much here, but I stroll through anyway, grabbing a dozen shots or so. I spent maybe 20 minutes. At this point, now, I’m hot, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I figure I’ve done all I can do with this, so I head for the barn.
Those 20 minutes led to a half dozen superb works, a couple of which I count among my best ever. EVER. Those new techniques I’ve discussed, they came roaring into play, here. I found things in those few captures I’d have never found before. There MIGHT be something hiding in those three hours and five or six dozen shots I’d taken earlier, but everything that’s come after has overshadowed it. Irony lives in the camera.
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First of all, I would NOT necessarily include the work featured here in one of those half dozen superb works. This is the most complicated work I’ve ever attempted. It grew to ultimately combine a half dozen separate files of the same capture, each crafted differently, then blended back together, along with numerous filters and adjustment layers – enough to become the largest file, by far, in my portfolio in terms of kilobytes. I’ve certainly spent more time on this one than anything else – weeks dwelling over certain aspects of it, going back and tweaking this, tweaking that. I even went back today, after I started writing this, and added a couple more touches.
And for all of it, I’m not sure I don’t just simply have a sloppy blob. It’s either that, or a masterpiece.
It might be that I’ve found the limit of these new techniques; there’s a point at which enough is enough. In retrospect, the original capture was heavily backlit, perhaps too much so for the direction I tried to take it. Did I try to push it in a direction it couldn’t go? Was I simply trying too hard? Or, did I succeed in ways I can’t yet comprehend?
The juxtaposition of “sometimes you just know” is “sometimes you have no idea”. Sometimes, it’s not where we’re at, it’s where we’re going. And we have no idea where that is.
A good friend has a house just off St. Louis’ Forest Park; a gorgeous home in the Beaux-Arts style with grand proportions and splendid architectural details. He’s gone to enormous effort to renovate and decorate it back to its turn of the century grandeur. I’ve featured it in my work on a number of occasions.
Of course, when I walked in the first time I was a kid in a candy store trying not to eat everything all at once through my camera. It took a couple visits before I politely asked if I could capture photographs, to which he was, of course, happy to accommodate. But you don’t want to just walk into a man’s home and start shooting photographs without asking.
Once I’d started shooting it occurred to me I didn’t know what the heck fire I was doing. It took a couple attempts for me to figure out how to capture his home properly. For me, every new subject is like that.
There’s a way to capture photographs that is definitively ‘photography’ and another way that forms the basis of ‘art’. I really don’t know how to define the difference; it’s almost like the more perfect the photograph, the stronger it is in its own right, the more difficult it becomes to drag an artistic vision from its pixels. I’ll point again to my post of January 30, a gorgeous capture from the roof of The Last Hotel in St. Louis at sunset. It took four attempts before I had something I felt happy with. By comparison, the very next post on February 3 was pulled from an OK,, but not great, photograph. Even though it was captured in the same place at the same time on the same day, I was pointing in the wrong direction, so the light isn’t quite right, it was the incorrect lens, so the composition is off, and the original exposure was a little flat for my tastes. But get the computer involved and open my artist’s eye and it became, I think, a very good work in very little time. It’s the imperfections in which providence lives.
On to today’s work and the automobile, the second I’ve done with my nephew Sam Woodson. As I’ve written, automotive design was my first love and continues to be a passion, and yet there’s very little of that in my portfolio. I have to conclude it’s because I haven’t really figured out how to shoot it in such a way as it leads to ‘art’. Along comes my good nephew Sam with a couple shots of his cars he’d like artsy’d up, and it turns out there was something in each of them that had me thinking, ‘yeah, I see something here’. And I think, from what he captured, I think I see better how to capture new automobile photographs myself. I think. Providence.
Now, back to my friend’s house in St. Louis, and the reason I brought it up; there’s one room, a gorgeous front room with a majestic fireplace and a grand piano and southern-facing windows in which the light is filtered so beautifully by flowering trees just outside. I’ve only partially caught that room; its complete panorama has eluded me. The reason is that at the end of the room there’s a striking painting of a bearded lady. A queen; classically elegant and royal, in an ornate frame. And she has a beard. AND I CAN’T FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO WITH HER! Because if she’s in the composition, no matter what kind of art I create, she’s going to draw the attention. She’s going to seem like something I added rather than captured. She’s going to co-opt the vision.
One day, I am going to walk into that room, and I’m going to know how to handle her. Providence!
Let’s do an exercise – go to the cupboard and take out a favorite cup. Sit down with it; study it closely. Set it on a table or hand hold it Bring the eyes close to it. Turn it around and over. Consider why it’s a favorite. The colors. The patterns. The way it fits in the hand. Let the mind wander over it. What about it resonates?
You have just had an experience in art; an entity from the external world that invokes an emotional or subliminal meaning in the internal world.
Some would argue that the cup is less art than it is DESIGN; I would argue that design is simply another form of art. Painting, sculpture, photography, music, acting, writing … design … it’s all different forms of ART.
Art often has a juxtaposition between realism and abstraction; in design that juxtaposition is expressed as form versus function. The cup in the cupboard is there because it performs a function; it has a purpose – if it didn’t, say, if it were part of an ornate tea set, it wouldn’t be in the cupboard it would be displayed on a table or a hutch. It might be the favorite simply because of the way the hand fits it, or the amount of coffee it holds. Might be, but probably not unless it’s the only cup in the cupboard. Something about its form resonates more than anything else there. There is meaning in its status.
Also characteristic of design is that its representation is industrialized. Likely, the cup is not a one of a kind object produced by an artisan – be nice if it were but likely it is not. It might be RARE, but, again, if it were it likely wouldn’t be hiding in a cupboard. Design is one means of differentiating an industrialized product from all the other industrialized products, and as Billy Durant and Harley Earl knew, superior design leads to greater sales. Nowhere are the passions of design more resonate that automotive design.
I wrote in my January 17 post that automotive design was my first love. My nephew Sam has the same bug. I describe in the February 3 post that he’d asked me to create art from a couple photographic captures he’d made; I generally don’t like to work from someone else’s captures, but in this case it appealed to me. In the first place, he’d done several things right with his captures which made it easier for me to work. He hadn’t tried to take a ‘portrait’ of the cars, which is the first thing many artists get wrong when creating automotive art. He picked a particular perspective highlighting a particular element of the design. He also got LOW when he captured the image - that’s another mistake artists and photographers often make. Don’t shoot the car standing up; shoot an automobile like shooting a child – get eye level. Look closely at how he arranged the car a little off kilter in its lane which had the effect of creating multiples lines between the car and the center stripe. That contributed to a much more interesting composition. The addition of the train created two horizontal lines to intersect and break up the diagonals of the stripe and the car. Everything comes together perfectly a little off center. The rule of thirds is expertly in place here, though I suppose my crop of Sam’s original image helped create that. I worked on cropping, exposure and motion blurs, then drew from both my established and newer techniques to effect edging, lighting, and color blending when I applied my artist’s perspective.
A successful collaboration is at hand! I’ve been wanting to become better at automotive art. I’ve learned a great deal myself from working with Sam’s captures, so, an activity I would normally shy away from has been beneficial all around. We’ve got another one in the wings … to be posted later this week.
Artists are symbionts.
I started to write that art is like puppies continuously dancing around your feet seeking attention and play and love and FOOD and trips outside and then another trip outside, and that’s great when the artist is in the mood for it, but when the artist isn’t it’s just annoying. All the more so in that they have to be taken care of whether annoying or not. Puppies are a responsibility; they have to be cared for and they won’t necessarily function according to a convenient schedule.
But art is not like a puppy. Somebody else might be around to occasionally do puppy duties. Nobody else can take care of an artist’s art. It nips at the consciousness demanding attention. There is never enough time to give to it. It is jealous of distractions. Given all it asks for the artist becomes self-absorbed, anti-social and cold; allow it to languish and the artist simply becomes hollow.
Artists are symbionts. We are a symbiosis of both human and non-human components. It’s why we’re nuts.
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Today’s work came together quite happily. It required just the right amount of creativity – not too easy, and it did what it was supposed to do. Like a good puppy. I’m working with another piece right now that JUST-WON’T-DO-WHAT-I-WANT. I may be committing the cardinal sin of trying to force it to be something it can never be - trying to make the symbiont do something it doesn’t want to. Likely (hopefully) post it in a couple weeks …
Oscar time is a good time to remind each other that rewards reflect work which resonates with enough people in the moment to reach acclaim but doesn’t necessarily mean the work will be recognized with the same esteem over time. Other works which were not seen by enough people or were lost in short-term hoopla may rise, first as ‘cult’ status and later recognized as masterpieces. And sometimes it’s politics alone. In 1999, the Motion Picture Academy overlooked ‘Saving Private Ryan’ for best picture and gave 13 nominations and the best picture award to a film called ‘Shakespeare In Love’. Anybody seen ‘Shakespeare In Love’ on any channel or streaming service lately? Go back 20 or 30 years and we routinely find films with far greater lasting impacts than the actual Oscar winners. And, if one thinks about it, this year marked the first time ever that a foreign language film, ‘Parasite’, won the best picture award. All the work of Fellini, Truffaut, Bergman, Kurosawa, that went unnoticed, or at best segregated into a category called ‘foreign language films’, where the greater public essentially ignored them.
But that’s how life works, actually. Our most important moments slip past us like a river, perhaps unrecognized in the moment. I find myself becoming more reflective as I age, remembering everyone I’ve loved who’ve simply floated past with the eddies and currents. And, juxtaposed, the people I could have been more charitable with whom I’ve now lost the chance to attend.
In my art, I’ve learned however much I may like or dislike a work at its creation, only time will tell if it was actually any good. That’s why I pretty much throw everything out there; to see what will stick. Give every impulse room to thrive.
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It’s that point in the calendar in which I’m mainly going back to last year’s photographic captures, looking for something to work with so I don’t have to face the grey, lifeless February of today. This capture, of a Missouri River overlook next to the Missouri Governor’s mansion, came out of several hours scouting through its adjacent historic district. And I think it’s the only one I’ve done anything with, raising issues of purpose vs. serendipity. But I’ll get to that in a few blogs …
Happy to be back at Soulard after an absence of many months. Logistics come into play when exhibiting at this delightful little gallery just up the street from the old Anheuser-Busch brewery. In the first place, I have to be able to get there, so the schedule has to line up both coming and going. In the second, the time between acceptance into an exhibit and the drop off date is just five days – for metal I need two weeks in order to have the work produced. If I produce a work on spec ahead of time and it’s not accepted I’ve just thrown a hefty wad of cash into the street. No where does moving to inkjet, in which that ten days production time shrinks to a few hours, have greater benefits.
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One of the works on display, ‘Marked Down Man’ actually received a first-place award at another gallery last year, and also sold as a smaller 10x14 metal work. I should clarify – metal works that sell I will never again produce in that size. The buyer of a metal work has complete exclusivity to that work in that size. With inkjet, all bets are off. I will reproduce inkjet as often as someone wants it. But look at the difference in price – a metal work in that size and frame would cost well over three times as much!
The second work represented, ‘Automated Consumption’, is illustrative of the new techniques I’ve been evolving, which are being really well received. My artistic style has been all over the place, but I may have found something that is truly ‘me’. The photographic capture for this work came from the Baseball Village sports bar across from Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It’s an attempt to copy Wrigleyville. Just sayin’ …
No new techniques at play in this one; nothing especially fancy. Just a good photographic capture at the perfect time of day, cropped to a 1x2 scale. Enhancements to exposure, lighting, saturation and hue, plus filtering for edging and texture to create a dreamscape. I’d call it ‘old school’, except that much of what I’ve done with this work would have constituted new techniques several years ago. New or old is irrelevant. Every work defines its own reality.
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If it’s not recognizable, this is a view of the top of the City Museum in St. Louis, captured from the rooftop of the building next door, The Last Hotel, looking north.
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I did some work for family this past weekend that has me considering my purpose with this medium I call photo art; specifically, both what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to NOT do. What I DO do, as I’ve stated so many times, is try to reveal the art in everyday things, captured deep within the pixels of digital photography. To accomplish this, the final work must ‘feel’ natural, not forced, not faked, not like I’ve simply taken a picture and applied a watercolor filter. It has to invoke its own vision, a reality that exists in its own universe as an extension of the artist’s imagination.
My nephew, who loves his cars, took a couple pictures and asked if I could do my artsy thing with them. Generally, I shy away from this – I like to control an image from the capture forward if I’m going to claim it as my own work. But he’s family and I love him, and I thought I’d give it a shot – plus, I love automotive art and would like to get better at it, so if nothing else it would serve as a good artsy exercise. While I was doing it, I kept thinking, “It can’t look fake!” It can’t look like I simply took his picture and slopped something over the top of it. It’s got to, as noted above, reflect an artistic vision extending from my own imagination – more difficult to achieve since I hadn’t captured the photograph. But, as it happened, it WAS a good exercise, and I THINK he’s going to be happy with what I’ve come up with; I sure hope so. Art appreciation is subjective. But so is reality …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.