Canon's 5D mark II DSLR has been out on the market for quite some time.  Long enough for several high end videos to get shot through its HD video capability.  Some are almost feature length, most I suppose are merely add-ons to already exhaustive shoot days.  With this simple affordable camera, high end video has come to the masses, or at lease to the myriad of photographers who have one.  A once well defined boundary has suddenly blurred.  Still photography has always existed separate from that other world.  The world of Burbank, Hollywood, DP's and unionized card carrying member-only workforces.  That line seems to be vanishing fast.  I wonder how Hollywood will react when most still shooters can offer motion picture add-ons to the products they are already photographing still.  Turn the well established system on its head?  I think not.  Even though the likes of National Geographic TV is now excepting some of its footage from this camera, it'll always be a completely different medium from still photography.  They have coexisted for more than a century.  Both have their creative and commercial use and the simple fact that technology is racing to bring both mediums into the hands of a single person doesn't change that fact.  Regardless of what piece of equipment either form is shot from, broken into their most basic principles, one is still and one moves, and that will never change.



I think it's necessary for a photographer to be an acute observer.  Even more so than participation.  To learn observation, with and without a camera takes patience.  How many times have you sat and watched the immediate world around you.  The unfolding scenes surrounding your perimeter.  Whenever I do this the first thing I notice, if I happen to be in a populated area, is how fast people move through.  As I sit and watch I also become aware of emerging patterns within my little world.  How light and wind interact with my little scene, insect life, which at first seems random but eventually patterns emerge even there.  Without touching a camera I learn about this patch of world by simply watching, removing myself from participating in what I see.  I've always considered myself a watcher of things, a self described, or prescribed, naturalist.  After sitting awhile I decide to wander on to my next patch and I come to recognize the innumerable places I myself have simply sped by, never taking the time.  But once in awhile it's good to stop, sit down and watch.

Short but sweet, cheers all!


Legion of Honor

Two posts ago I talked about a redirection in my work towards architecture photography.  Well I've been shooting a ton and am having so much fun with it.  It's incredible to watch dusk creep up slowly and see these buildings come alive under their own illumination, and has a photographer balancing the two.  I'm still building my new portfolio, but below are two images I did at the Legion of Honor Museum last night.  More to come so stay tuned:


Context Revisited

A response to my post on February 10th.

On a cold Winter day in December 1944 Pablo Picasso was sitting in his Parisian third floor studio when the German Gestapo paid him a visit.  This wasn't a new thing, they'd been harassing the artist for months with allegations of hiding Jewish friends and distributing works of art that had no place in the ever increasing fascist Europe.  On a little wooden table there laid a pile of postcards depicting his 1937 painting Guernica, the brutal depiction of the German fire bombing of the Basque country town of the same name.  One of the German's picked up a postcard of the painting and asked, did you do this.  Picasso simply said, no you did, go on take it, it's a souvenir.   Sixty-six years later, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, Colon Powell gave a speech at the UN drumming support for the illegal invasion of Iraq which was to be followed by a press conference.  At the press conference, behind his podium, hung a life size tapestry of the painting Guernica, 12x22 feet in all.  This, as it turns out, just wouldn't do, so instead of heeding the deep symbolic message that lives in the painting, they covered it up.  That by my definition is the power of art.  A grotesquely, cubist rendition of a Nazi war crime, not photographed but painted in oils, remains as relevant today as it did sixty plus years ago.  

Modern art can be the most powerful of mediums, but I still detest blank pieces of paper pinned to the wall.  
Cheers All!


New Directions

I've decided focus on a new commercial direction with my photography, architecture photography.  I feel it could be a wonderful commercial outlet for this humble landscape artist.  After all it's essentially urban landscape, using a lot of the same techniques as photographing the natural environment.  San Francisco is a hotbed of cool architecture; classic, contemporary and ancient.  I plan on taking full advantage of this.  This is one area of photography I never considered.  I had always envisioned my commercial outlet to be a combination of nature and people, but as the years have gone by I've photographed thousands of landscapes but no people.  Unequivocally telling me perhaps I don't like to photograph people.  The brain can be such a powerfully manipulating device.  So far it's been fantastically interesting and I'll post fresh images as I shoot them.  The morning after thinking about this I went out and photographed a few buildings at sunrise, nothing spectacular, but as I grow into this new role I think they'll be getting much better.  Landscape artist, architecture photographer.
                                 The Academy of Sciences Building
Cheers All!


Two Poems

Today I wanted to simply post two of my favorite poems, both speak with simple words, but are deep in eternal meaning. The first is by the immeasurable Walt Whitman, who in my humble opinion can eloquently write more in a single sentence than most authors say in entire books.  The second piece is from the poet laureate Robert Bly, which speaks clearly to how I feel when I'm out buried in the landscape.

A Clear Midnight by Walt Whitman
This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes
thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Solitude Late at Night in the Woods by Robert Bly
The body is like November birch facing the full moon
And reaching into the cold heavens
In these trees there is no ambition, no sudden body, no
Nothing bu bare trunks climbing like cold fire!

My last walk in the trees has come. At dawn
I must return to the trapped fields,
To the obedient earth.
The trees shall be reaching all the winter.

It is a joy to walk in the bare woods.
The moonlight is not broken by the heavy leaves.
The leaves are down, and touching the soaked earth,
Giving off the odor that partridges love.



The more I visit art galleries and museums the more I'm convinced modern art is unfortunately all about context.  Or I should say the perceived value is all about context.  Not only economic value, but the artistic as well.  I recently attended an open night at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco to see the amazing cellist Zoe Keating (if you've never heard her, you need to today, here's a link).  After the show I wandered around the four floors of mixed art work with equally mixed emotions, sometimes cynical but mostly disappointment.  As an example of this, on the third floor I casually turned to my wife and cynically said "it's not a modern art gallery without a blank piece of paper taped to a wall" and sure enough the next room we went into had an entire wall of blank pieces of paper pinned to the wall.  This same floor also had two huge canvases painted solid color of blue, by different artists and located in different parts of the museum.  I had to read a lengthy explanation about the intention of the artist, which was full of funny ramblings about mans inability to focus attention on the structure of blah blah blah.  If a piece of artwork is required to have a multi-page explanation, perhaps the actual piece wasn't executed effectively.  In a rare interview J.D. Salinger gave regarding his seminal work Catcher in the Rye he was asked about the intentions of the main character Holden Crawfield, and Salinger curtly relied "read the book, it's all there, if I need to better explain my characters intention, I would have written the story differently...".  Perhaps that is why he was such a recluse, his artistic intentions are perfectly laid out in his books.  Maybe this isn't the best example because the written word is much easier to understand than the often confusing abstraction of modern visual art.  But if a piece of work is required to have a written explanation in order for its understanding, perhaps the explanation is what should be presented.  If these artworks were removed from the immaculate space of the museum and placed in an alleyway, would they hold the same esteem.  Blank pieces of paper taped to a wall anywhere else would be considered trash, but here it's art. 


How I Shot It - "Rialto Beach Study No.1"

The Olympic Coastline in Washington State has some of the most rugged and wild scenery along the entire length of the West Coast.  Little houses, no resorts, few access points, thick forests extending down to the high tide line, it's a landscape photographers paradise.  My good buddy Patrick (see his work here) and I had been photographing the parks interior for most of the day, along the Hoh River Valley, which is equally wild with the thickest vegetation outside the Brazilian Rainforest's.  Rialto Beach faces almost directly West, and we knew the Sun's setting angle and thus decided to head here over some of the other spots.  There are so many seastacks along this stretch of coastline I could get lost for months photographing them.  We jumped out of the car and knew we were in for a treat, the sun was 45 minutes from setting and we had to hike about two miles to get to the spot we wanted.  For those of you who have seen Washington's Coast you know how rocky it can get, this place was no exception.  None the less we strapped our gear and started humping it up the beach.  We rolled onto the scene and parted ways, as we usually do, which makes shooting together so enjoyable. We each have our own vision of what the scene can offer.  As the sun set I made several exposures of some surrounding seastacks, but wasn't satisfied.  As I walked further on this seastack, which from the side was shaped something like a huge upside down 'V', turned out to be quite narrow when viewed head on.  The sun had been set for over 30 minutes and so I was beginning to chase the last of the light.  I wanted the color to be soft and shift cyan and so loaded color negative instead of chrome film in my camera back.  I also wanted the water to soften quite a bit, to really focus all attention of the shape of the seastack.  I used a 3 stop ND filter to lengthen the exposure time which ended up being close to three minutes with reciprocity.  The sky was a nice surprise.  I didn't notice that it was flowing parallel to the shore, reinforcing the attention to the rocks.  This has consistently been one of my favorite images I've shot.  


A Park Bouquet

I love to shoot these images.  Because of the extreme proximity, each shot is like a tiny studio setup, but outdoors.  Shot in all lighting conditions it easy to manipulate the light with small reflectors, gobos, flashes and diffusion scrims.  The compositions become about simple color patterns, focus shifts and graphic elements within each plant.  I meditatively treat the process by wandering around with all my gear, no set direction or place.  It's all about being outside, finding the inspirations in the little things and having fun with shape and color.  So, here's a splash of it to lighten your day.


Interpratation not Replication

I've never liked the word belief, it's used to back fallacious arguments and close the door on open discussion.  So I'm not going to use it here, but instead use 'opinion', which hopefully will invite some discussion.  One of my opinions is photographic art is about interpretation not replication, which for me equates to snapshots.  A snapshot is just that, a frozen replicated moment, shot to reinforce the future memory of the event.  Art is as much about the artist as it is their medium.  I was in the National Gallery in Washington DC a few years back and under a series of stunning Monet paintings was a little plaque with a quote from him, "what I want to reproduce is what exists between the motif and me".  Photography has always been an outsider in the realm of the visual fine arts.  It's the one medium most everybody participates in.  And yet photographic artists are constantly being chided for over manipulation.  The comments, is this Photoshop'd, how's this manipulated, did it look like that in real life, and so forth abound during all photo discussions.  This is even evident on the photographers side, I've been in numerous galleries that stress how the images shown are as close to replicating the scene as possible, or how no filters were used, etc.  I could care less how an image was produced.  I like the final.  I want to feel what the photographer did, not see what he saw.  Show me more than a mere replication, show me your interpretation.  Because lets be real, all photography is manipulation, and I mean all.  Every photographic decision is a departure from reality; from shutter speed to saturation.  When a viewer once came rushing up to Ansel and said my god your images are so realistic, he simply laughed and so no, they are not.  The sky was not black, these images are how I felt, not what I saw.  That's right on.  So burn, dodge, add contrast, saturation to your hearts content.  Stand out and show your interpretation of what you saw, not simply what was there. 


A City Wander

I had prints showing in a little pop-up show downtown this past weekend, put on by the very creative team at taylor stitch (cool clothes, cool people, cool website).  After hanging at the show for a few hours I decided to wander back across town, taking my time.  San Francisco is such a cool city to wander in; crazy architecture, back alley stairways, eclectic stores, odd eats, and more than an afternoons share of unique people.  Hidden views abound all over, back lot urban gardens and cool paths lead to equally unique neighborhoods.  All I had was my iphone, but that in itself makes it fun.  I ended up getting soaked head to toe in a late afternoon thunderstorm, but had a blast wandering back amongst the Victorian architecture and Eucalyptus groves.

Cheers All!


Vintage is the New Hip

If you read yesterdays post this is going to be the exact opposite, a departure from the fantastical technology headed our way.  There's a deep duality with me, I fully embrace the coolness of modern technology, and where it's heading and yet at the same time my deepest fantasy is to build a rustic mountain(or desert) cabin, furnish it with hand built furniture, stock it with produce grown form my garden and meat hunted.  To watch the quiet sunrise, far removed from the city where I now live.  To live as close to nature as possible, to observe first hand the changing of the seasons and the running of the deer (past piece).  If you know me you know I love to build things.  I have much more fun building something than using it, most recently I carved and built a model sailboat, which has been sailed exactly once. 
I'm definitely a journey/process versus destination guy.  So my next project is going to be a camera, a large 20x20 wooden camera, complete with a handmade lens and film holders.  Why so large, well I plan on shooting wax paper and collodion negatives contact printed on a variety of prepared surfaces, but I'm most excited about salt prints. 
Contact printing is sandwiching the negative and paper together in a glass frame and exposing it to UV light.  The size of the final print is equal to the size of the negative.  I'd like to exhibit the final work along side the materials used to produce it.  I've always had this feeling when visiting art galleries, when there is a plethora of information 'defending' the process by which the particular photographer achieved the images, that if what's being sold is the process than the process should also be on display.  Plus it would be really fun to describe the whole project, from building the camera to producing the final images.  Handmade throughout, no computers, pixels or inks.  Sometimes disconnecting is the best thing you can do.  Yes I know I'm writing a post about handmade on a computer, but hey what'd you expect, a handwritten blog post.  Ooh, now there's an idea, a snail mail blog, but then it wouldn't be called a blog but a snog (snail + log), of course I already use the word snog at Christmas time, Soy Eggnog; snog...

Cheers All!


Avatar is Only the Beginning

The name aside, the iPad represents something perhaps more profound.  It wasn't that long ago that an internal single gigabyte hard drive cost well over 4000K, and you had to insert a 'boot-up' disk in order to run anything.  I'm not that old and I can vividly recall a time before the Internet, a fact my future children will chide me for I'm sure.  Yes I am well aware that Apple isn't the first company to produce a tablet computer, but lets face it Apple takes things to another level of design, use, integration and coolness.  Already periodical publishing companies are lining up to get their subscriber based content fed through it.  Will it be their savior, only times will tell, but I'm getting away from myself.  At the same time Apple was developing this device, which I'm sure has been in the works for years, a director by the name of James Cameron was developing the technology to bring his latest piece to the screen.  Spending millions he developed the most complex 3D production equipment to date, and if worldwide sales are any indication people love it.  3D isn't new, but the quality has vastly improved from the early beginnings decades ago.  And with Sony and Panasonic announcing a line of home 3D television sets, ready for shipment sometime this year, is this the way media is headed.  I wonder how a 3D photography gallery would fare.  When you walk in you're handed glasses, like the ones you're given in the theater today, and wander huge three dimensional pieces that jump off the wall at you, as if you're walking through a desert sunrise or a Yosemite snowstorm.  Attached to these glasses could be earphones with digital recordings made by the photographer at the moment of capture, to transport you even deeper into the environment, losing yourself in the 3 dimensional beauty.  Or perhaps one step further, since motion capture and still capture are now being produced via the same devices, each frame is a moving 3D landscape, with sound.  Fantastical, perhaps, but not very far off.  If the point of landscape art is to transport your viewer, this scenario seems like a sure way to get them deeper into your creative.  And for me, if BW could be produced this way, what an experience that would be.  I'm very excited about these things, very different than whats come before.  With technology changing as fast as it is, who knows what Avatar has started, all I know is it's only the beginning.


How I Shot It - "Shack with Clouds"

I tried meditating, nothing.  I tried exercising, nothing.  So I turned to the one thing that calms me the most, photographing, and left.  I had to get out for a bit, had to disappear into my work and not talk to anyone.  I had about an hour and a half before I had to be back or there would be one very confused young lady.  So without a word I grabbed my camera bag and took off for the countryside.  It was early October and today I was getting married.  We were buried in the mountainous hills that lie between Bellingham and Mt Vernon in Northern Washington.  The clouds had been rolling in and out all morning, so it wasn't complete BDE out.  I decided instead of scouring for a scene I'd pick the first interesting spot and work it for awhile, I was more interested in losing myself in the process, a way to let my mind focus on something else other than the days events.  I quickly found this broken shack buried in the brambles and set up.  The clouds were visually moving fast, but I didn't want them to completely blur over yet still have some movement to have the viewer get some sense of the weather.  I added a Polarizer filter and a red #25 filter, which combined added 5 stops to the exposure.  I exposed it for 10 seconds.  I wrote a few post production notes about lightening up the shack facade and darkening the sky down.  I shot a few more with different filter combinations, and a few to completely stop all cloud movement, but in the end I liked my first exposure the best.  By the time I was packing up, and heading back I was totally calmed down and ready for the days festivities.  Photography isn't just my profession, my love and my creative it's also my source of meditation and source of spirit.

Cheers All!