Welcome to my blog. I use this mostly to toot my own horn but occasionally am inspired to write something about photography. Although I photograph regularly, I no longer write according to a schedule, so new posts here happen when the spirit moves me. Thank you for visiting and come back soon.
Once I stood along a major route below an overpass taking photos of the underside of a bridge. After nearly having my heels run over by passing cars, I decided to invest in a green florescent vest - the kind that highway workers wear at construction sites so they don’t get mowed down by motorists. At seventeen dollars, it was a small price to pay for my safety when doing my own version of road work.
I’m not usually in such precarious positions, but it did have an added benefit when I wore it downtown on my way to photograph the colored lights of the Market Street Bridge one December night. It was winter, dark and cold, and I was wearing my heavy black down coat. In spite of cars’ headlights – or, perhaps, because of them – I knew that many would not be able to see me crossing the street. So, I put my hot green vest over my coat before hauling myself, my camera and my tripod to the river.
Oddly, the vest offered an unanticipated form of protection. At Riverfront Park, a young man carrying a small plastic bag which appeared to contain his dinner asked me, “Am I allowed to be here?”
“What?” I asked.
He repeated the question.
“Sure,” I answered, “and why did you ask me that?”
He responded that, because I was wearing the florescent green vest, he thought I was some kind of cop or something.
It wasn’t my intention to impersonate a police officer. Hell, I just didn’t want to get flattened while crossing the street. But the vest seemed to say “Official,” at least in his mind, and who was I to argue. Perhaps it would to others.
I felt safer already.
I recently read an article by the Onward Global blog called “Writing on Photography: Q & A with Jörg Colberg.” (https://onwardphoto.org/how-to-write-about-your-photographs-q-a-with-jorg-colberg/) It immediately piqued my curiosity. We photographers are not accustomed to talking about our work, much less writing about it, so I found the article intriguing. When entering a contest or submitting a proposal, we may be asked to write an artist’s or project statement, but seldom do most photographers in my opinion write about their work at the beginning or throughout a project. I was among the ones who did not.
We’re all familiar with the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if it’s not..?
“On the one hand, photographers are maybe the most literal (and conservative) of all artists,” Colberg states, “usually thinking that, for example, that which is depicted in a photograph is its subject. On the other hand, many photographers cannot disassociate what they know about a photograph from what is actually in it. One’s intentions, to pick the most obvious example, are usually not communicated by a photograph. But photographers often assume that everybody else knows what they know...”
The exhibit of my street photography I had March 2016 highlighted this. As soon as it was hung, I saw a few photos that should not have been included. They didn’t meet the requisite intentions or theme that I was trying to convey. Had I engaged in writing about the work as I was going, I might have recognized that and saved myself the internal embarrassment of not having my shit together as it were.
“The process of writing about our own photography helps us to clarify our thinking, and this clarity in turn helps our photographic work,” states Colberg. He believes that “ to successfully finish a project the photographer needs to achieve utmost clarity about the work. Without that clarity, s/he will be unable to produce a coherent edit.”
After reading Colberg’s Onward conversation, I began keeping a journal about the photo projects I was working on, including pasting thumbnails of the individual images along with the descriptions. Over time, it became clear which photos were clustering together by theme or intent and which were ones that, although I liked them, just didn’t fit. Unfortunately, it’s often an emotional attachment to a photo that causes us to keep it whether it fits the project or not. Writing about the images also helped me redefine the work if it veered onto a path that I had not originally intended or anticipated. The journal enabled me describe the work so I can convey a project’s theme to someone else when writing an artist statement or project description. And, I’ve since used this process for whittling my street photos into a coherent edit should I be lucky enough to have that body of work exhibited elsewhere.
In closing, Colberg offers this advice:
Jörg Colberg is a photographer, professor of photography, and writer. His popular online magazine Conscientious features photobook reviews, profiles of individual photographers, and essays on photography. He is one of the review instructors for ONWARD Global Courses, where Japanese photographers learn how to develop a strong body of work over one year.
I try to educate myself about photographers whose work has preceded mine whether they are known for street photography or not. I recently watched a BBC Master Photographers episode about Ansel Adams (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdCq-1MJmHw). Adams was thoroughly charming, and listening to him talk not only about specific photos but also his technique was enlightening and encouraging.
Adams visualized what the photo would look like before he snapped the shutter. To achieve complete control over the final image, Adams did his own printing. “You can make enhancements when you print,” Adams said, “but you can never escape the original visualization.”
The print to Adams is the equivalent of two things – what the photographer saw and how he felt about it. Adams was a trained pianist, and for him, the negative provided the score, while the final print was the performance. “You interpret the original score,” he said, “but you are never far enough away to violate the essential concept.”
In the video, Adams showed three versions of one of his photos produced over the course of several years. Each photo, processed differently, has a different emotional quality. “Well, if I were a pianist and giving a concert I would probably play a particular piece very differently in Feb than I did in June,” said Adams.
His most famous photo, Moonrise Over Hernandez, NM, became more and more dramatic as Adams reprinted it over the course of about 40 years.
At the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe there is an entire room devoted to the transformation the print made over Adams' career. The earlier (and much more valuable) prints are lower in contrast, with more subtlety in the clouds; the moon is a medium gray. In the later prints the sky is almost black, and the moon and cemetery crosses almost white. Some of the clouds have completely disappeared. The early prints are a more quiet observation of the scene, the later ones - well, they just hit you over the head. Kevin Shick, “Revisiting Ansel Adams Moonrise, Hernandez, NM,” (http://www.kevinshick.com/blog/2013/4/revisiting-hernandez-nm)
Although there is a procedure for printing, there is much judgment involved on the part of the artist. Adams said that the negative for Moonrise was difficult to print. He tried many methods using different chemicals, processing times and papers. With the negative in the enlarger, he increased the light hitting certain areas (burning-in) which made the sky blacker and the clouds less bright so the moon would stand out more. With all these artistic adjustments, Adams said "it is safe to say that no two prints are precisely the same."
With the advent of Photoshop and other post-processing software, two misconceptions have developed (no pun intended) about the final image that one produces from a negative. The first is that film photos before post-processing software were SOOC (straight out of camera) and the second is that contemporary photographers who use post-processing software are cheating by manipulating their photos. (To clarify, this is an essay about photography as art, not about photojournalism which carries with it an assumption that the photo is an unmanipulated depiction of actual events.) I have been at the Harrisburg Camera Club’s photo booth at ArtsFest where members sell their images only to have people approach us and ask if the images were “colorized” or “Photoshopped” as if they are dirty words or, in fact, not “real” photographs because the photographers played with the images.
Adams, like other film photographers, used the darkroom to process his photos. What contemporary photographers do sitting at their computers, Adams did standing in his darkroom, although admittedly the options might have been fewer and results more difficult to achieve. (https://whitherthebook.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/ansel-adams-and-photography-before-photoshop/ )
I’m reminded of a story told by I think John Barclay at a photography workshop I attended. Adams did a series of photographs of the national parks and received hate mail from someone who visited the parks and complained that they didn’t look like Adams’s photographs.
I often wonder if historical figures in photography had the same tools we do today would they be using them. For Adams, I think the answer is “yes.” This video was created in 1983 before digital cameras became available, but there were technologies being developed. What excited Adams is that in a few years (after the filming of this video) there would be a new medium of expression of the electronic image. “I know the potential is there and I know it’s going to be wonderful,” he said.
In the 1970s, Adams developed a partnership with the University of Arizona that culminated in the Center for Creative Photography (http://artmuseum.arizona.edu/events/event/photography-ansel-adams), and in 1975 the Ansel Adams Archive became one of the founding collections. Adams provided the negatives to his images with the stipulation that the advanced students would have an opportunity to print them. “These negatives will be reinterpreted through a fresh medium, and I think that is marvelous,” said Adams.
Recent Awards and Acceptances
My photo, Three Faces, won an honorable mention and catalog exhibit with the New York Center for Photographic Art.
Blow, appeared in the January 2017 issue of Black & White magazine. http://www.bandwmag.com/back-issues/bw-no-116
My photo, Fantastic Fries, won 1st place in the color category at the Harrisburg Camera Club's print competition Tues, Dec. 6th. It was taken at the Reading Fair Grounds and is part of a series I'm working on. The score was 57 out of 60 points. And my photo, The Conversation (the color version of the one in my street portfolio), took first place in the digital competition in January 2017. It garnered 60 out of 60 points.
One for the Money, a street photo I took in NYC, garnered 2nd place in the Art Association of Harrisburg’s member show in September. The theme was animals. And, Obsolete, a pic of a torn, tattered phone book on the street in Philly, won 2nd prize in the Art Association’s 88th International Juried show in May of 2016.
I recently entered a photography contest, and although I didn't win, I was fortunate enough to have had a portfolio review of the images I entered. It was nice to hear my work discussed by someone for whom it was new and who understood what I was trying to achieve. The contest was through Lensculture and the reviews were not by the contest judge but supposedly by a Magnum photographer although the reviewer's name wasn't provided. I will never know who it was but I appreciated the fact that he or she got it when it comes to my street photography. The review follows.
Greetings Karen, and thank you for submitting your work to LensCulture’s Magnum Awards!
This is a lovely group of street images you have here. I really appreciate the poetic and thoughtful text.
I think that this dark and grainy aesthetic you’ve developed really goes a long way towards evoking the emotional response you speak to in your submission statement. To me you’ve created undercurrents of deep dramas that exists within even the most mundane aspects of life.
In Blow, I think it’s particularly effective in reversing the celebratory mood of the two central figures, and placing your audience in a space to consider a moment like this from an inverse perspective. There is also a bizarreness to the two floating faces in the background, and it’s hard to come to terms with the logic of this image, which I think makes for a vastly more interesting picture because it leaves open so much space for interpretation and speculation on the part of your viewer.
Much of the same thoughts are seen in Three Faces of Steve. The inclusion of the two faces, again with little grounding of reason or logic, to me allude to a kind of fracturing. In this case, as you directly point towards a protagonist, I read this as an image of personality, or personalities. There is a lot of tension in this image created by competing visual elements, and I can’t help but read the image as a psychological portrayal of this character, as more of an internalized portrait rather than externalized.
For me, Takeout is the least successful image of this group. The bright “Sandwich-Man” text forces a sense of specificity into the image, and moves it away from the ambiguity that I think is central to the other images here. This scene to me is too grounded in reality to allow for speculation, and it makes me aware of this space as an actual existing place, rather than a metaphorical one.
The foreground element in Closed for Business has a certain type of violence to it in its abrupt gestures. As it overlays the rest of the image it defines the scene in its terms. The distant figure in the window is indecipherable, and I think that adds to the sense of uneasiness and uncertainty that you’re depicting throughout this group.
At any rate, keep up the good work! It was a pleasure to spend time with your work and I hope to get the chance to see more form you here in the future!
Recommended Books & Photographers