Tag Archives: photography

Put Down the Weston, and No One Gets Hurt

SometimEmpty Buildinges, before a photo shoot, I’ll grab something like B&W Magazine and just look at the photographs: randomly turn the pages and let my gaze float. Away from the house, I might arrive a little early and look through photo.net on the phone. It’s kind of like a runner doing stretches or a musician playing scales. I sometimes think of it as “tuning up the eye.” I start seeing regular life as images. Maybe it lights up the brain’s photo neuron pathways.

For one thing, you start seeing the world in shapes—a triangle here, a rectangle there—and the relationships between them. The empty space becomes a shape of its own. Like Miles Davis, you start playing the space between the notes. And you start to see tones. You look at scenes to spot that 18% gray for the camera’s meter to latch onto—especially important if you’re using a spotmeter. (I find that my Canons read more like 12% gray.) A frame begins drawing itself around the everyday. Once you begin seeing that way, it’s sometimes hard to shake.

In almost any art, it’s vital to experience the work of others. If you write plays, read plays (or reread favorites). Play guitar? Listen, even if the guitarist works in a form that leaves you a bit cold. The country Telecaster picker can teach the Ibanez-wielding shredder a few things and vice versa. Take photographs? Look at pictures. Lots of pictures. All the time.

A point comes, however, to put down the book or magazine or close the website. Obviously, if everything you shoot comes out looking a bit too much like your favorites, it’s at least best to look at someone else’s work. Sometimes, though, it’s best not to look at anyone at all. The tank fills. In fact, particularly if you’re feeling stuck, it’s best not only to put away the big Weston collection but to stop looking at photographs altogether. Just for a stretch. Do something else. Anything else. Maybe not go to the movies (as they’re moving photographs), but go for a drive. Listen to music. Dig in the garden. Go for a walk and leave the camera home. Let the photo brain take a rest. The same goes for whatever art you’re engaged in.

A few art forms lead themselves to this. One of the things I like about writing for theatre is that it takes two forms. The first comes when you’re composing, whether that means conducting research or actually putting down words. The second comes when you have a production or reading, and you collaborate with a director and actors. You get the introvert and extrovert time. Even so, really making a concerted effort to stop thinking about your form, much less practicing it, not only can make you happy—it can keep you sane.

That is, we kind of get locked into our art. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially when you’re facing a deadline. Other times, it’s a symptom of the artist’s obsessive side. People often ask me how I can write every morning before work. They praise my discipline, but, really, it’s a mixture of habit and bloody-mindedness: I can’t think of anything else. And my brain’s become so conditioned that it starts coughing up ideas around 6:00 and won’t let go until I shake some words loose. (It’s worth noting that some of those dedicated writing hours are spent staring into space and sipping coffee to kick the brain into working order; other mornings, I just give up and read something: the brain’s hung up its gone fishing sign.)

This won’t necessarily be easy, especially if you’re locked in deep. If you practice multiple arts, whether professionally or as a hobby, working in another form can distract the mind—shiny, shiny!—and give your overworked gray areas a breather without going into total withdrawals.

Strangely enough, the tension you may feel not working on your chosen art may be a good thing. It’s a sign that your unconscious mind is throwing its weight around, churning under the surface. Because, realistically, you’ll never stop working. It’s just not going to happen. You’ll start dreaming about it. You’ll experience intrusive thoughts that will make you want to run to the pen or the camera. But if you can get to the point, where you’re not in acute discomfort and you’re enjoying something else…like life…finally returning to your form can bring more than relief. You might find that you’ve improved. That you’ve been able to do something that, previously, you could not, whether it’s automatically spotting that 18% gray or playing a guitar riff that’s been eluding you.

Though a seeming paradox, sometimes you have stop to progress. You have to give your unconscious time to run. Often, it’ll surprise you. If nothing else, you’ve had a break, a little vacation from the Effort That Never Ends. And that’s never a bad thing.


Photographica: Storm Edge


Storm Light 2
Shot on the cusp of a massive wind and rain storm. Birds wheeling in massive flocks, trying to find stable trees to land on. The barometer dropping and dropping. That weird ozone feel to the air, like you haven’t entirely awakened…and you know it. The air takes on a slight metallic taste. At this point, the wind hasn’t really started, but it’s on the way. Shortly.

I ride the bus most workdays, but I seldom shoot from the windows. People become uneasy when you take out a camera on public transportation—it’s an artificially private zone, and a camera violates that anonymity (no matter how great Walker Evans is). This, however, I couldn’t pass up. Storms may be massively destructive—and this one did its damage—but the skies…the skies become stunning. To my eye, the thick, dirty bus windows and reflections seemed to add to that feeling of unreality. It feels like a cross between a dream memory and a frame from a Wim Wenders film—low, fast-moving clouds and the magic hour.

There’s a lot wrong with the image. A second earlier or later might have made it a better composition. The exposure’s off. But it kind of works because it’s wrong. It’s close to what my eyes saw, as they saw it. And the image has not been tweaked, other than some sharpening and clarity applied.

I’ve been through worse storms (including a couple of hurricanes), but, still, I knew I’d never see this view the same way, and I pass it five days per week: exhilarating, with just a hint of fear. Where the best pics come from.

[Shot with a Canon 70D, with a 18mm – 55mm Canon zoom.]

 


Photographica: Late Afternoon and into the Past

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

A late winter afternoon–after a stretch of rain, the air still thick. Winter in the Pacific Northwest often limits you to shooting detail, given the long overcast stretches. But, when it clears, it gives you this full, rich light and color more akin to the semi-tropics, plus long shadows. Maybe the moisture content in the air; it somehow bends the light.

Here we have the golden hour plus: the warm light tinged with winter blues. The photo’s seem some post-production work, mostly to render it the way I saw it. Or at least how I remembered it. There’s no telling how far that can stray. Memory’s it’s own kind of filter.

The site–the Modish Building in downtown Portland–holds a special meaning for me. My first play–Controlled Burn–was produced on the fourth floor, in a sort of underground art gallery, with the artists squatting on site…not us, we came in as guests. Very punk, man! Kind of. They did throw some great parties. They also had limited gear available. The sound system was fantastic, and there must have been 50 cues, but our lights consisted of slide projectors and flashlights with colored gels over the lenses (and a silver plastic balloon that served to create a very cool watery effect). We took our set up in a rickety industrial elevator than ran so slow that you could reach out and touch the wall as it passed. We called if the David Lynch Memorial Elevator. We had to bring audiences up to the fourth floor in batches of ten. Luckily, the fire inspector never visited us.

With time, you learn. Back then, I had no idea. I remember Kyle Evans (who helped found Pavement Productions) and I attended PATA auditions when looking for actors. We knew nobody in the theatre community, nobody knew us, but they treated us as equals, and we ended up working with some very cool people like Sherilyn Lawson, Marty Ryan, and Catherine Egan (as a shamanistic dancer).

That’ll be 25 years ago this coming September. First play. Birth of Pavement Productions (I certainly had no idea that would last for 18 years). And my first review–the Oregonian compared me to a young Sam Shepard. They also said the play was kind of a mess–really, it was more performance art–and dubbed it “Uncontrolled Burn.” And thus the pattern: the critic give, and critic taketh away. Still, they couldn’t have made me happier unless they’d compared me to Beckett or Ionesco.

Funny that the piece really was a series of interconnected monologues, and I’m currently playing with a series of interconnected narrative poems–which could be performed as a series of monologues. I don’t know whether that means the circle comes round or I just have a limited number of ideas.

(Shot with a Canon 70D, 18-55mm zoom lens, processed in Adobe Lightroom.)

P.S.: This marks my blog’s 500th post.


Photography: Chasing the Light

End of a DayI’m riding the bus home, after an especially long day at work. Pretty beat. Listening to music, Jeff Beck or Radiohead probably, and I’m watching the light get sweeter and sweeter. High, scattered clouds diffusing winter sunlight and becoming increasingly warm as the sun goes down. The sky’s still a rich blue, but it won’t last: the light’s rapidly fading. There’s maybe 15 good minutes left.

Finally, about ten blocks from home, I pull the buzzer. I just have to get out to see what I can find. I shoot a couple of pictures of a church. They don’t amount to much–really, to make it work, I need a graduated filter to balance out the sky and building, and I don’t have one with me. So I turn to walk towards home and see this. Right there, waiting. Just as I raise the camera, two figures enter the frame. I don’t even think–I just hit the shutter. I shoot a couple more in quick succession, but I know somehow–assuming I caught what I saw–that the first one would be the pick. It was.

Winter in the Northwest can be a drag. We joke about it, but we do get an awful lot of rain, and the steady overcast can get to you. A gray stretch can really help you appreciate a little sun. And, given the light’s always at a lower angle, you can shoot all day long with interesting light (unlike summer, where you might as well put the camera away between 11:00 to 6:00, unless you’re shooting an event). The overcast also can be excellent for shooting details–plants can turn out especially nice in monochrome–but the clear light–it can keep you going.

I snagged a couple other decent shots on the walk home, but this was the one I looked forward to downloading. Sometimes, you can just feel it.


Becoming a Photographer Again

Like many, I take pictures. Or, more precisely, I make pictures: a photograph begins with capture of the image–the point at which you bring your vision (as such), your camera equipment, and your knowledge together to freeze a moment. A whole other process takes over following that.

Since I’ve been around awhile, I started out with film. It’s both a glorious and inflexible medium. For one thing, it inserts a lag: from the time you take the pictures to the time you develop them or get them back from the lab. That excepts Polaroid, which develops in your hand–which is why commercial photographers Continue reading