Homage to the Rhode Island Coast

Fotographia is the current, completely online exhibition from the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, and in my last post I promised that I’d tell you about the two photographs of mine that were chosen for it.

As the name implies, Fotographia features photographs exclusively. Fortunately for me (and for other adventurous creators of photographic art), gallery owner Robert Langdon encourages artists to stretch their boundaries, leave their comfort zones, jump out of the box, because many of my choice artworks aren’t instantly recognizable as photographs.

Take Windswept, for example. Windswept was the name of what had once been a twenty-one-room mansion on the New England coast—specifically, a short drive north of Narragansett, Rhode Island. This ruin is all that’s left of it today. Easily accessible from a trailhead that’s located right on the main road, Windswept (what’s left of it) has been photographed countless times, and so my challenge was to do something different with it. It looks quite striking when the sun is illuminating it from a bright blue sky—the gold-and-blue combination is always a powerful one. I had some images like that and experimented with various filters, such as making it look like something Turner would have painted. None of those really respected the character of the place, at least not to me. Finally I decided it was time to put the virtual paintbrushes away and try something more in the character of a drawing. Here you see the result. The stones are strongly outlined without having a gritty look (I didn’t want gritty), and the absence of the bright colors emphasizes the shapes and lines. Lesson learned: It wasn’t necessary to rely on the bright colors to portray this interesting historic structure effectively.

In the second half of the 19th century some of the artists who had been painting the Hudson Valley and Catskills started to travel east, following what would eventually become the New England coastal experience. They included John Frederick Kensett, William Trost Richards, and Alfred Thompson Bricher. I fell in love with this school of painting when I saw several examples in the windows of the William Vareika Fine Arts Gallery in Newport, RI. Early one morning—before opening hours—I was feasting my eyes and Mr. Vareika (one of the Nicest People in the World), who was waiting for art shippers to pick up a consignment, let me run upstairs to see an Alfred Bricher. I was hooked. Now when I photograph this section of the Rhode Island coast, I feel the spirits of the 19th-century artists who immortalized these scenes in their paintings. This work, which I call Timeless, is my most successful attempt (thus far) to pay homage to this typical way they had of catching the sweep of the coastline. By using a filter that flattens the details, I ended up removing, from the human figures, any suggestion of a particular point in time. My son said he could just imagine the Victorian people walking this beach. For me that meant success.

Fotographia will run online until May 30. You can visit it here. And of course, all artwork is for sale.

Expanding One’s Vision

Since the pandemic put a temporary end to the traditional opening reception for gallery art exhibits, Robert Langdon, owner and curator of the wonderful Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, NY, has held a Zoom gathering to celebrate each of the gallery’s shows, both those held in the physical gallery and those exclusively online at artsy.net. The participating artists each get a few minutes to say something about the work(s) they have in the show, and the public may also attend on Emerge’s YouTube page. These events aren’t easy to organize, and all of us whose work has been chosen for the various shows are grateful to Robert for being so enterprising and going the extra mile for his artists. The Zoom meeting for Fotographia, which is now open exclusively online, was held on April 18. I watched with intense interest because, in addition to presenting my own work, I was curious to see what my fellow photographers are doing.

The ninety minutes I spent watching in front of my laptop has done more for my potential creativity than six months’ worth of courses or workshops on “expanding your photographic horizons” could have done.  I’m not knocking courses or workshops—I’ve benefitted from oodles of them and am very indebted to the teachers. But one thing I’ve now learned about myself is that when it comes to trying something different (Robert’s allusion to how some of his artists have been “challenging themselves” activated something deep in my brain), verbal input coupled with specific assignments doesn’t have a lasting impact on me. I need to do what I did watching the Zoom: absorb other people’s work and let it sink into my subconscious through the “this can be useful” filter. Not “useful” in the sense of something I can imitate, but as something that will inspire and challenge me to go beyond my creative comfort zone in a way that expresses who I am and not my response to a course assignment.

And so I arrived at church early on Monday morning, and the first thing I noticed was the way the light from a stained-glass window was reflected on a wall. Self-dialogue no. 1: “Do I dare go over with my iPhone and photograph it?” “You know that if you don’t, you’re going to be staring at it for the next half-hour watching it fade.” “OK, I’ll do it, to heck with what anyone thinks.”  

The Result

After church, self-dialogue no. 2 took place as I headed to my car: “Go take a walk around the church property, see if there’s anything worth photographing.” “There won’t be, just the same stuff, sun is probably too high anyhow.” “Go anyway.”

I went. The sun was in a good position and I got some nice shots of the light illuminating some of the gravestones in the cemetery. But the real moment of inspiration came when I went around to the front of the church and something said, “Switch to B&W.” No dialogue this time—I did as I was told. My iPhone has a “Noir” setting that I’ve used before with dramatic results, and the stark contrast caused by the sunlight inspired me to make compositions I’d never have thought of if shooting in color or in more conventional light. Here are a few of those:

As a dear friend of mine likes to say, “Trust your intuition; it’s why God gave it to you.”

And my photographs that are on display in the Emerge Gallery’s Fotographia exhibition? I’ll tell you about them in the next post, but meanwhile, please do visit the show at Artsy https://www.artsy.net/emerge-gallery-ny and enjoy everyone’s amazing work.

Something Blue

I love George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. And contemporary composer Michael Torke’s Bright Blue Music. And blue skies and blue water. When Robert Langdon of the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties issued a Call for Art for a show he was titling “Something Blue,” I did one of my “digital rummaging” exercises through my recent (two or three years) photographs for some works to submit.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought. Images for gallery shows have to be topnotch in their own right, and they have to have sales potential for the particular gallery you’re submitting to. Here I am submitting to a gallery in the Hudson Valley and most of my best “blue” pictures – again, think water and/or sky – are, well, taken in Rhode Island.

Fortunately, water and sky have a universal appeal that transcends their particular location. It’s not as if I were submitting pictures of buildings in Providence (I hardly have any). So I chose three, and these two were accepted.

Blue Paradise

One of my dear longtime mentors, California-based photographer Kerry Drager, always advises his students and followers that when they’re searching for a composition and find a nice horizontal, then turn the camera around and see if there’s also a good vertical to be had. (And vice versa.) The aptly named Blue Paradise (I love this place) is one of those experiments that didn’t quite work out. With tons of horizontal images in varying compositions already in my files, I wanted to try for a vertical, and the sky that evening seemed as if it would be perfect for this – nice layers of different colors. The problem was that I underestimated the strength of the top, white layer; it was overpowering. It had to go. The end result was what you see here – another horizontal, but one of my best of this scene. And I always like trying for an effect where the solid, unmoving rocks contrast with the silky texture of the water (longish exposure, facilitated by the diminishing daylight). Blue Paradise is hanging, matted and framed, in the Emerge Gallery’s “Something Blue” show.

Unconquered

Unconquered is one of those pictures that virtually took itself. When the wind gods favor me with the wild waves, I find a good composition and click the shutter again and again, because that’s the way you ensure you’ll get one good one out of the bunch. Ask Kerry, he does this on the West Coast. Here my unmoving, solid point was the lighthouse, which (thanks to the telephoto zoom) looks much closer than it is. In postprocessing I had to do some work with clarity and brightness to ensure that the light and the rocks would stand out. And then I wanted to give the picture a title that would draw attention to the lighthouse and not to the obvious drama in the waves. My friend and fellow Catskills photographer John O’Grady often likes to do that – title a photograph after a very small object in the image – and sometimes I find myself channeling John when I’m photographing. What to call a picture about a lighthouse sturdily surviving being battered and buffeted by the wild winds? As I was thinking about this, I had the radio tuned to our classical music radio station, WMHT, and the music being played was my favorite piece by the above-mentioned Michael Torke: Unconquered. I had my title.

“Something Blue” runs in the actual gallery until April 25, but the pictures will still be available to purchase online from Emerge’s Artsy site after that – my Unconquered and lots of other fabulous works by my fellow artists are in the “online only” show. Please, if you’re local, visit the gallery, otherwise welcome online!

Celebrating the Ordinary

As per my usual Friday evening routine, I was listening to the Albany Symphony Hour on WMHT-FM when a composition by 20th-century American composer Virgil Thomson was announced, a ballet titled Filling Station, conducted by the Albany SO’s energetic Music Director, David Alan Miller. Seriously, it really is about attendants at a gas station. When WMHT’s inimitable program host Rob Brown read a description of it as a comic classic that draws us back to pre–World War II America, “when the virtues of the frank and honest workmen were the virtues of the country,” the work of the great photographer Walker Evans came to mind as a visual (if considerably more serious) counterpart. It’s probably no coincidence that Evans embarked upon his joint project with James Agee for Fortune magazine, which resulted in the ground-breaking book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the year before Thomson composed his ballet (1936 and 1937 respectively; something must have been in the air).

Several years ago, my son Anton and I went to see a major exhibit of Evans’s work in New York City. It was a great revelation for two photographers, steeped in breath-taking landscapes and Fuji Velvia film, to see this frank documentation of sheer ordinariness, and in black and white. Anton commented, “Could you imagine anyone today photographing a Stewart’s Shop?”

That remark set me on a years-long quest to photograph a Stewart’s Shop. For those of you who aren’t familiar with upstate New York or nearby parts of New England, Stewart’s is a chain of convenience stores, mostly with gas stations, where you can also sit in the booths and eat your breakfast or lunch and read about local events on the bulletin boards. Sort of like 7-Eleven, Cumberland Farms, or WaWa. In other words, the quintessence of the ordinary, the functional, the everyday.

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This wasn’t about getting a snapshot but about making a well-composed, well-exposed photograph. A work of art. I tried many times in many places but was never satisfied with the results—until a few months ago, when a brand new, well-positioned, photogenic Stewart’s Shop opened in Catskill, NY, on a corner I drive past quite frequently. I stopped in for lunch (I love their hot dogs), and when I left, out came my iPhone. Success! I processed one of the photos after one of the styles typical for me at this stage, applying a painterly, somewhat gritty look (above); and I processed another (below)—I chose the one that didn’t scream “Taken on New Year’s Day 2021!” too loudly—in ordinary B&W, in homage to Walker Evans, perhaps the most extraordinary photographer of the ordinary there has ever been.

Taking a Chance

I can see the sunrises from my living room window, or, to be accurate, I can see them when it’s not necessary to get up in the middle of the night to do so. Chalk up one reason why winter is one of my favorite seasons for photography. In addition, it’s about a five-minute drive to a waterfront park that provides interesting foreground possibilities for photographing the sunrise.

Most mornings the answer to “Should I or shouldn’t I?” is fairly obvious: either a beautiful sunrise is in the offing or the sky is totally overcast. But then there are mornings when it’s not so obvious. And remember, this is December. Or January. The prospect of throwing on layers of clothing, possibly having to scrape frost off the car’s windscreen, and dashing through the streets, only to end up with nothing to show for it can seem uninviting. But some mornings beckon, “Take a chance. It could be worth it.”

And so this one morning in late December I did just that. It could have gone either way. But it went the way I had hoped, and I had time to set up my gear (never, ever, ever forget the photographer’s gloves on these chilly mornings) carefully, which means ensuring you’re not overlooking the ice that may have formed when the river flowed up the boat ramp. (The Hudson is a tidal estuary — not your typical river.)

Here are two of the results. The sky, initially red, turned to blue and thus obligingly provided some variety. A painterly version of the red one is currently on display (and for sale) at the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties. The blue one is for sale on my Pixels.com website. The days are getting longer and my sunrise photography may be over for a while — but then there’s always that brief window of opportunity when Daylight Savings Time begins, the clocks spring ahead, and the mornings are dark again.

Isolation

The two photographs featured here are currently being shown in an online exhibition by the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, NY, entitled “Isolation.” Since I live alone and work from home as a freelancer, the isolation aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t affect me so much. What was clearly becoming detrimental to my physical health, however, was the confinement, the limitations on movement. Eventually I began taking my camera out on walks in places where I was unlikely to meet many people, and as restrictions were increasingly relaxed I widened my scope of activities. By mid-June this included a brief trip to Rhode Island–one of New York’s “approved states”–where I took both of these photographs.

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Interestingly, then, my artworks aren’t about my isolation but, rather, convey the seeming isolation of the subject matter. Take Lone Boat in Fog (above). Appearances can be deceiving. The boat looks to be all alone in a bank of fog on Narragansett Bay, but looming up close behind it, and invisible despite its imposing size, is the iconic form of the Newport-Jamestown Bridge. I like that ambivalence about fog: It can serve to obscure some forms, and yet in so doing it can also clarify by bringing out only the form that I want to show.

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And With Open Arms. I have photographed this piece of fence at different times of year so as to surround it with different colors, and each version seems to lend the fence a different “personality.”  Here the cheery summer green gives it a welcoming, friendly look, and thus ambivalence is set up again as in the boat picture: This piece of wood, intended to exclude walkers from the sensitive marshlands at a National Wildlife Refuge on the Rhode Island coast, also appears to be greeting the passer-by “with open arms.”

“Isolation” will be online at the Emerge Gallery’s Artsy site until September 13, 2020. Click here to view the artworks on display (including mine!). All artworks in the show are for sale.

 

Dappled Things

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I was photographing at the lake this morning, trying to figure out the best angle from which to capture an interesting bit of log that had become host to some bright greenery, when, upon standing up straight, I noticed the sunlight glinting on the lake through the trees—lovely combination of wavy blue water with tiny sunbursts floating on it. “Glitter of waves and glitter of sunlight”—a line from Britten’s nautical opera Peter Grimes.  A friendly young man came by, stopped, and commented on the scene, and we had a lively conversation about the beauty of and interrelation among all elements in the natural world. I recommended that he read Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees; it certainly changed the way I look at trees.

As the young man continued on his walk, he called back to me, “Enjoy your dappled day.”

Dappled! Of course!

“Dappled!” I called after him. “Today is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s birthday—‘Glory be to God for dappled things!’”

Above is one of the photos I got of that dappled water; below are three other of my images that show “dappled things.”

White clouds in a blue sky are a classic example of dappled things. This picture was also taken at the lake, but on a different day.

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This is on the campus of Providence College, Rhode Island, on a sunny spring day last year. I took one look at the scene, exclaimed “Glory be to God for dappled things!” and got the shot.    DSC0098 s

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, here is a peony from a friend’s garden, also taken this morning. I overexposed it a bit to accentuate the white highlights (caused by the sun) and thus the dappledness.

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Passion or Profit?

No easy answer to this important question. Thanks, Jeff Sinon!

Jeff Sinon Photography

Do you photograph what you love or what will sell?

A fairly simple question, but for those of us hoping of one day living the dream and becoming full time professional photographers, it’s a question that might not be so easy to answer.

From the moment I sold my first print a thought occurred to me: would the desire to sell more photos affect the way I photograph?

I’d like to think the answer is no.

But, I wonder…

Those of you who’ve been following me for any length of time know I’ve got a thing for waterfalls. Yet I barely sell or license any waterfall photographs. Yet I continue to photograph waterfalls year round, whenever I get a chance.

So it’s passion, right?

whaleback light at dusk with large rocks in the foreground

Then there are lighthouses, a subject I know has a much broader appeal with the public. While I’m not head-over-heals in love with them, there are…

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A Catskills Photographer’s Compelling Views of Trees

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If there is a visual equivalent for the expression “doesn’t mince words,” it would apply to the latest collection by Catskill photographer John P. O’Grady. Books with new Catskills photographs aren’t exactly thick on the ground, so one does well to pay attention to a collection by O’Grady, whose way with words (he wrote the texts as well) is as unique and original as his artistry with a camera.

Lush and beautiful in the summer, at least to those who (like me) travel their more familiar paths, New York’s Catskill Mountains in winter—and winters here are long—are harsh, stark, uncompromising. It’s difficult to imagine an artist who has conveyed these qualities more successfully than John P. O’Grady in his latest book, Certain Trees in the Catskill Mountains. Even the title is bare and direct. This isn’t a “feel-good” collection of pretty pictures; viewers in pursuit of the pleasant will likely find it daunting. The texts (photos and texts are printed on opposite pages) offer interesting insights and unusual takes on Catskill history and lore. For example, he points out the irony that there are no vistas on Mount Thomas Cole (Cole, the nineteenth-century landscape painter and an avid mountain climber, never scaled this peak): they are all obscured by trees. He also shares some information gleaned from a seventeenth-century alchemist: O’Grady has an interesting library and intriguing ways of shelving his books that reveal more about him than about the book itself.

The photographs are black and white and rely on strong forms for their impact: jagged, winter-bare trees, sometimes cast as shadows on an abandoned building or on ground seemingly untouched by human or even animal life. Then there are the rocks, the Catskills themselves, the ledges that may offer a breathtaking vista or threaten instant death if the careless hiker slips and falls over the edge.

Each photo is an accompaniment to rather than an illustration of the text. There are no verbal clues to the location of each image, and to recognize it solely by the visual, one must know this place very intimately indeed.

In a book measuring 9 ½ x 8 inches, each photo averages about 4 3/8 x 3 inches; there are both verticals and horizontals. Thus each image seems to challenge—or perhaps dare?—the viewer to enter its world. To do so physically is for the physically adventurous; to do so visually through O’Grady’s photographs is for those unafraid to inhabit, even if just for a time, the mysterious and magical world that these pages set before one’s eyes.

Certain Trees in the Catskill Mountains can be ordered through John O’Grady’s website,    www.tuckabold.com.  At $15.00 + $3.00 postage, this compelling journey into the saga-spun Catskills is a bargain.

The Hudson River School of — Photography???

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Want to make your photographs look like a masterpiece by a famous artist? I used to (half jokingly) dream of the day when a click of the mouse could turn a photograph into a work of art by one of my favorite painters. These days, thanks to plug-ins and programs from Topaz Studio and other places, I can pretty well do just that — well, almost. If you want to produce your own Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, even Da Vinci, the software is there. But, wedged as I am between the Hudson River and the southeastern Catskills, my dream has me pursuing the artists whose work inspired me to live here in the first place: the 19th-century landscape artists known as the Hudson River School.

If you want to produce your own Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, or Asher B. Durand, the presets don’t exist (at least, not yet). But that’s OK — because if you’re determined enough, you can use your own ingenuity to figure out how to do it, and in the end, that’s really more satisfying.

Take the painting — I mean, the photograph above. It’s of a lake in the Woodstock area, and I photograph there frequently. In the 19th century,  Hudson River School painter  Jervis McEntee, when he wasn’t painting in or near his native Kingston, used to roam that area and produced a couple of paintings of it. McEntee’s rather subdued style, coloristically speaking, appealed to me as a corrective to my occasional tendency to post-process my photos in grungy, gritty ways, and I decided to see if I could derive inspiration from my 19th-century neighbor. This image was processed using a combination of a Nik Color Efex Pro preset and a filter on Photoshop CS5. It took some trial and error and in fact I ended up with two or three different final versions, but this one is my favorite.

Emerge_Gallery_MAR_exit_20_flier_JPG[1]It was also a favorite of Robert Langdon, owner of the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, because he has chosen it to be exhibited in the gallery’s show, “Exit 20,” opening on Saturday March 3. A wonderful variety of talented artists in all media will have their works on display, so if you’re in the area while the show is running, do come along to enjoy it. Hope to see you there!