Happy, Creepy Halloweeny!

Día de los Muertos. Tucson, Arizona, 2014
Día de los Muertos. Tucson, Arizona, 2014

In celebration, I have two creative exhibits for you…

Exhibit A is the photography of Christine McConnell, who combines idealized 1950s moments with some really bizarre and jarring additions to the scenes. You can ponder the meaning and weird yourself out by looking at some of her still images HERE, and then you can listen to Christine explain herself in this Weekly Flickr Video of her work.

Exhibit B is an amazing collection of mummies (19th century cholera victims) at the Mexican Mummy Museum, called Seeing the Dead. As I kid, I would have loved seeing this, given my fascination for all things Egyptian and mummified. In this case, the mummies were inadvertantly preserved…but they are spectacular. The tragic story of how they came to be and the issue of how different cultures handle death, are the two key themes the photographer, Brian Thomas, is pursuing. He does a great job of portraying the striking juxtaposition of the dead together with their live human viewers. Prepare to be amazed HERE.

Happy Halloween…don’t let the sinister, creepy-crawly bed bugs bite!

Cell Phone to the Rescue!

The Genius Bar. Boulder, Colorado, 2014
The Genius Bar. Boulder, Colorado, 2014

I can’t remember if I have posted this image before or not. No matter. It is still worth another glance and friendly chuckle.

The above was made at the local Apple store with my iPhone 4–proving once again that the absolute best camera is the one you happen to have with you at the time.

It looks like our local cell provider is ready to upgrade us, for free, to the iPhone 5, probably because those now-ancient “5” models are gumming up the warehouse supply shelves with the recent release of the iPhone 6. I am looking forward to this upgrade as the camera in the “5” is much better than the one I currently have in the Paleolithic “4”. I’ll be going from 5MP to 8MP plus some other nice tweaks. (For an interesting comparison of all the iPhone cameras by generation, try this revealing article by Lisa Bettany.)

This upgrade will make my subway street photography project in Barcelona a whole lot easier. Even the Fuji X100s is too obvious in the close quarters of a subway compartment. With a cell phone, you can pretend to be surfing the web or texting, and be snapping away the whole time. This may become my “go-to” street machine for those occasions when extreme discretion is advised–“R-rated” street photography!

Here are a few first attempts from the Barcelona subway project (these, with the Fuji). Dozens of other, better and much more intimate, images escaped me because even the small, range-finder camera was too big and obvious to use without attracting unwanted attention.

BCN Metro #1. Barcelona, 2014
BCN Metro #1. Barcelona, 2014
BCN Metro #3. Barcelona, 2014
BCN Metro #3. Barcelona, 2014
BCN Metro #6. Barcelona, 2014
BCN Metro #6. Barcelona, 2014

The Intimate Landscape

Floating Leaves. Middle St. Vrain Creek, Colorado, 2014
Floating Leaves. Middle St. Vrain Creek, Colorado, 2014

I always a sense of accomplishment when I can create one of these semi-abstract nature images. This one isn’t perfect–for my taste there is too much negative space at the bottom right (I need to rework it to bring out more detail there). But, these kinds of photographs are so much different than the standard, calendar landscape you see on the post card racks. They are much more personal and intimate.

To me, this image is all about mood…the passing of autumn…the nostalgia of time gone by…the fading away of sun and laughter…the foreshadowing of the cold winds of winter…

Reattack the Post-Processing

I don’t know about you, but I find it revealing to come back to an image I have previously post-processed to see if it can be improved. It usually can. Sometimes, I even wonder, “What was I thinking!”, when I look back at these photographs. Other times, the changes required to improve it might be more subtle.

Here, for example, is a picture as I originally post-processed it. My own eye, supported by feedback from others, said the fore to mid-ground lacked depth and interest–half of the image was too flat despite the obvious interest in the upper part of the photo.

Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (First post-processing attempt.)
Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (First post-processing attempt.)

Now, compare the above image with the one below. Can you see the difference? In this version, I tried to bring out more depth by improving the color in the mid-ground bushes, selectively brightening up the foreground, and working with selective clarity/detail in the trees.

I will surely continue to revisit the image in the future as my post-processing skills evolve. I would guess that we all have a huge library of old images that could be reworked to a much higher standard–perhaps a good activity for a cold, rainy or snowy winter day.

Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (Third post-processing attempt.)
Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (Third post-processing attempt.)

Ugly as Art

Powerline Portrait. Sawhill Ponds, Boulder County, Colorado, 2014
Powerline Portrait. Sawhill Ponds, Boulder County, Colorado, 2014

Can you seek out ugly subjects and make art? Maybe this would make a good project: “Ugly Landscapes”. It can make for an interesting “seeing” exercise, this looking around at the less photogenic zones of your surroundings.

By way of comparison, the following image is what the landscape looked like in the other direction. I doubt many photographers at Sawhill Ponds ever photograph the power lines when such scenes are more immediately obvious…

Autumn at Sawhill, #7. Sawhill Ponds, Boulder County, Colorado, 2014
Autumn at Sawhill, #7. Sawhill Ponds, Boulder County, Colorado, 2014

Mount Shavano Monochrome Reprise

To follow up on yesterday’s more documentary-style blog post, here are a few “artistic” images from that summit sunset sojourn.

I really enjoy–and even prefer–this high-contrast monochrome effect once the sun sinks low and deep shadows start stretching across the high mountains on to the plain. (NOTE: In large print form, there is often subtle detail, even in the deep shadows, that is not visible on your computer screen.)

Shavano View, #1. From Mount Shavano summit, Colorado, 2014
Shavano View, #1. From Mount Shavano summit, Colorado, 2014
Shavano View, #2. From Mount Shavano summit, Colorado, 2014
Shavano View, #2. From Mount Shavano summit, Colorado, 2014
Shavano View, #3. From Mount Shavano summit, Colorado, 2014
Shavano View, #3. From Mount Shavano summit, Colorado, 2014

14er Report #13: Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak (Fall Conditions, East Slopes)

Shavano Sunset. Mount Shavano, Colorado, 2014
Shavano Sunset. Mount Shavano, Colorado, 2014

 

…get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space.

Edward Abbey

Thanks for that one, Ed. May you rest in peace somewhere out there in the lonely desert of southern Arizona.

Now, on to important matters…

Yesterday’s 14er adventure was a bit of an experiment. Up until this trip I had always done a very early morning, oh-dark-thirty drill to get me up near or on the summit by sunrise. This time around, with the thunderstorm threat now about nil, I decided to try going late to be on top for sunset–then hiking down after dark. You’ll see how it went and what  I think about this in the full report below.

On a completely off-the-wall note, today’s objective–to climb both a “mount” and a “peak”– led me to wonder about naming conventions. What is the difference between a “Mount” and a “Peak”, anyway? I would think a Mount would be massive and a peak would be pointy but, if you look around at Colorado high points (like today’s pair), it seems that the designation could be a bit subjective.

Surprisingly, someone has actually done a legitimate, scholarly, statistical analysis of this very question (no doubt prompted by many fart-fueled and cramped hours of storm-bound, high-altitude, tent debate with his or her companions).

The research paper in question? Here you go: Are Summits Titled by Topography or Whim? A Multinomial Logistic Regression Study on Mountains, Mounts, and Peaks, by Steph Abegg, March 2010. I won’t spoil the conclusion–you’ll just have to feed your own curiosity starting AT THIS LINK.

OK, on to the trip report–one”Mount” and one “Peak”. Click here for the full report and selected images.

Did any historical event before 1950 ever happen in color?

The Face (Ghost from the past). 2014
The Face (Ghost from the past). 2014

It is amazing how our understanding, perception, and feeling for an era is colored (so to speak) by the photographic technology that was on hand to record the events. When we float our history-curious consciousness back before about 1950, for example, most of us probably will find our mind filled with mental images that are strictly in black and white.

Civil War scenes, the trench battles of World War I, the D-Day invasion, Depression-era farmers, famous politicos, artists, movie stars, and scientists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries–do they ever scroll past your mind’s eye in color? Probably not. (Thank you, high school history books!)

Now, take a look at THIS LINK and see what you think [February 2017 NOTE: The original link died. This new link shows 49 rare color images from the Great Depression era]. I am betting you will find these images fascinating. As social commentary and documentary photography alone many are quite powerful, but the colorization adds an intoxicating secondary effect. It is as if these people were still alive today and you could walk next door and visit them…they are your friends and neighbors…your current famous public figures…they are us. They are simply dressed up in period costume, that’s all. Or so it seems.

There is something about seeing the color of the eyes (especially this), the clothing, the signs, the buildings, the natural environment, that brings these scenes even closer to our hearts. I personally sense more of a shared humanity…ancestors who are no longer exiled to that strange, distant, and separate world of monochrome ghosts.

What do you think?

[Some of the images you’ll see: Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Clint Eastwood, Winston Churchill, President Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplin, Red Hawk of the Oglala Sioux, Babe Ruth, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Kennedy brothers…then, scenes from New York, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, a burger joint, an ice wagon, the Hindenburg Crash, a Samurai training camp, the Baltimore slums, a rural Carolina store…and many others.]

Wednesday Critique #18, 10/22/2014: On Personal Artistic Growth

Hornecker for Sheriff. Home On the Range (Jeffrey City), Wyoming, 2014
Hornecker for Sheriff. Home On the Range (Jeffrey City), Wyoming, 2014

Yes, this is related to the idea of “critique”. In today’s case, sort of a personal, introspective critique…

At one time or other, we all wonder where we might be on that long, seemingly endless spectrum that is OUR ARTISTIC PROGRESS (yep, it likely is endless!). Are we getting any closer to realizing the art we really want to make? Just exactly where are we on this creative journey?

I just ran into an interesting article on the Luminous Landscape website (LuLa, as some say) by the noted landscape photographer, Alain Briot, that might give us all some needed personal perspective. The article, Critiquing Photographs, is worth the read just for that specific topic, but what nabbed my eye was Briot’s diagram which he calls The Alain Briot Photographic Skills Pyramid (scroll down to paragraph 18 on that previous link). If you recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from your college sociology and psychology classes, then you have an idea of the Khufu-like format.

[If you want to follow along, you’ll have to open a separate window to the LuLa link cited above. For copyright reasons, I don’t want to post Briot’s actual diagram here.]

I find that I actually move up and down Briot’s Pyramid, depending on the subject matter I am working on and where my head might be on any particular day. For example, if I am trying to do a portrait of a friend–just a headshot–in a jury-rigged studio in my home, I will definitely find myself on the first two steps of the climb–those pertaining to using equipment properly and developing basic technical skills. This is because such photography is out of my comfort zone.

On the other hand, if I am working on my 14er landscapes, my monochrome nature abstracts, my rural Americana portfolio, or my Barcelona street photography, I may find myself somewhere in-between the middle and top steps of the pyramid–that is, designing and completing projects and creating a unique body of work.

Ideally, within a few more years, I will have focused in even more sharply on specific genres and a defining personal style, and the bulk of my effort will go into individual projects that reflect more completely my unique vision.

So, take a look at Briot’s Hierarchy. Where are you on the steps of the pyramid? Have you progressed? Where is it you want to go? The view from the top might be quite rewarding!

[Alain Briot is a fine art landscape photographer, and teacher currently living in Arizona with his wife, Natalie. Both Natalie and Alain offer seminars, print reviews, and personalized instruction. You can visit his website at Beautiful-Landscape.com.]