In the Steps of Jervis McEntee

Do you go into mourning once the fall foliage season has ended? Is that it for photography until next summer mercifully cools to an end or, at best. until a blanket of snow adds some brightness to what’s often referred to as “stick season”?

That needn’t be the case. I’ve contended that “there is beauty in bleakness” ever since my trips to Arctic Sweden in the 1990s, and that includes the bleakness of November par excellence. One of my most enduring and endearing photographic memories is of a shoot at Copperas Pond in the Adirondacks a number of years ago. The subdued, diffused light provided by the pale sun made the delicate red berries — I’m not sure what they are, but here’s a photo of some similar berries from last winter in the Catskills — stand out.

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But what about the wider landscape? Is it possible to extract a usable photograph out of the vast, brown sea of bare trees that confront us as we survey a wide-angle landscape during that time between the colorful leaves and the white snow?

I found the answer in two exhibitions of Jervis McEntee, the 19th-century landscape painter who worked mostly (if not exclusively) near or in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Even McEntee was unusual in admitting that November was his favorite time to paint. Fortunately, both exhibitions — one in Kingston and the other (open until December 13) at SUNY New Paltz — and their catalogues carried examples of the works he created at this visually challenging time of year, so I was able to study them before going out on my own November shoot.

The secret, I think, is to work with the bleakness, not against it — that is, to accept it and decide how to make it an advantage rather than try to “correct” it by (for example) enhancing the values of your Vibrance or Saturation slider or going too heavy with filters. For illustrations, here are two of the images I made from my November shoot at Ringwood Manor in Northern New Jersey. Ringwood is one of those places that offers photo opportunities in every season and in almost every kind of light. What could I do with it on a late, rather heavily overcast afternoon in November?

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The first thing the above image needed was a dialing down of the green grass; having been a loyal Fuji Velvia shooter back in the film days, I tend to keep the setting on my Nikon DSLRs on Vivid, which gives that characteristic saturated green. Then, the browns in the image needed the reverse: a bit of enhancement. Finally, to get a hint of a “painterly” look I used the BuzSim preset in Topaz Simplify 4 and increased the detail just a bit.

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This image also benefited from BuzSim and an increase in the detail, as well as an overall dialing down of the saturation.

I think I succeeded in getting what I wanted from these images. I learned from McEntee’s paintings, not because I wanted to “imitate” them and turn my photographs into paintings but because I wanted to see how I could produce what are still recognizably photographs, but ones that show the November landscape to its best advantage and that it is possible to do this.

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Paying Photographic Homage to a Catskill Ruin

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Abandoned buildings get a lot of attention from me and my cameras, and the Cold Spring Resort in Tannersville, NY is one I’ve returned to again and again. It’s one of the few still remaining from the heyday of the Catskills resort industry. On Saturday I visited for the fourth time—or was it the fifth? In any case, the poor building is in such condition that I never know when a visit will be my last before the place finally gives up the ghost.

Speaking of ghosts, if there are any of those occupying the Cold Spring Resort’s many empty rooms, they are friendly ones. The place has a palpable, positive energy about it that I attribute to the countless people who vacationed here back in the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are photos from the latest trip. When working on a unified project (which this visit was in aid of) it’s best to process all pictures in a fairly uniform way, but I had to make one exception here with the monochrome image; it was taken with a point and shoot, which produced a color cast that, try as I might, I couldn’t get rid of except by completely desaturating it. (Even without the persistent color cast the image fairly screamed monochrome – there was no color to speak of except for that bit of greenery that, well, isn’t all that green.) I finished it off with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

The other images—made with the Nikon D7100—were subjected toNancy_6_9 rather minimal postprocessing, by which I mean that I did the usual basics in Lightroom and then finished the enhancements in Photoshop – but no plugins, despite my array of Nik and Topaz products. The day was overcast with a sky almost (fortunately only almost) verging on blah washed-out monotone, and in order to help the building and surrounding flora to emerge from the murky grayness I selected the sky, used Brightness/Contrast to darken it and increase the contrast where necessary, then inverted the selection and increased the brightness and the vibrance to make the building pop—not only the building but also whatever greenery, foliage, and flowers were present. Nancy_6_4It was important to me to make enough images showing the building (or parts of it) among the vegetation that’s slowly taking it over; a contrast between the dying building and the lively-colored vegetation that, ironically, in its autumn colors represents the dying of the year. At least for some it does; my favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote that “Nothing is so beautiful as spring,” but then Fr. Hopkins had never experienced the stunning colors of autumn in the Northeastern USA.

I owe the idea for the postprocessing approach to renowned photographer and teacher Rob Sheppard, who is an unfailing source of wisdom as well as technical insights, though, as they say at the end of the Foreword to every academic book, “Any imperfections are strictly mine.”

 

“The Old Barn” Scores at Windham Art Fest

On Saturday I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual Art Fest in beautiful, bucolic Windham, NY — a friendly, wonderful community of artists (painters, photographers, woodworkers, pottery makers) displaying their artworks for sale and enjoyment. For me it was an interesting lesson in taking risks: at the last moment I decided to include two photos among my fine art cards, thinking that no one would buy them, but, to my surprise, they were the first ones that sold — all the copies!  Here they are:

Cold Spring Resort, Tannersville, NY

Cold Spring Resort, Tannersville, NY

Mountain Top Historical Society HQ, Haines Falls, NY

Mountain Top Historical Society HQ, Haines Falls, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each participating artist was asked to donate one piece to the Silent Auction. My donation was a wood-framed, matted 11 x 14 titled Adirondack Barn, here renamed The Old Barn because I was afraid people wouldn’t be interested if they realized it wasn’t from the immediate area. It’s true, people like to buy local subjects. But not only did I sell two cards of it — it was also (in the organizer’s words) “the hit of the auction”! More tickets in my box than in any other. I’m so glad that someone is now enjoying The Old Barn, which is a personal favorite among my pictures. Here it is. If you’d like to purchase it for yourself, click the photo to get to my website.

The Old Barn

The Old Barn

My summer is crammed with more events — exhibitions and talks featuring my book Historic Hudson Valley. More about that in my next blog.

Two Hudson Valley Events

 

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Happy spring! I recently spent a few days on the New England coast north of Boston and will be writing some posts featuring my images and the history of that very picturesque region, but for now I want to tell you about two events occurring right now.

The Hunter Foundation is located in what to me is the most beautiful area in the Catskill region; you can visit their website to learn more about the Foundation.  I was invited to donate one of my photographs to their 2014 Online Auction, and so I chose one of my most popular images, Catskill Woodland Glow (shown above). The winner will receive this photograph, signed and beautifully framed, along with a copy of our book, Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour.  Please visit the Hunter Foundation’s website to see the page for my entry — there are many good prizes here. Why not place a bid on something? You may win something you’ll enjoy having. Bidding is going on now through May 1

Also — if you’re in the Albany area, this Sunday Anton and I will be speaking about our Historic Hudson Valley book at the Albany Institute of History and Art. That’s Sunday April 27 at 2 pm. We’re quite excited to have been invited to speak at the home not only of one of the most impressive collection of Hudson River School paintings anywhere but also of the complete collection of Thomas Cole’s papers.  You can get directions from the AIHA home page, and here is the page featuring our talk. We’d love to see you there!

Walker Evans American Photographs at the MoMA

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My first encounter with the work of Walker Evans was, I think, the most mind-bending revelation I’ve ever had with regard to expanding my concepts of the possibilities of photography. Until then, my personal experience of attempting “serious” photography had been shooting landscapes and nature, and my chief inspiration was the highly colorful Fuji Velvia work of the great Galen Rowell. Could there be anything else?

Then one day, must have been in the late 1990s, my son suggested that we go and check out a Walker Evans exhibit that was running in NYC. So we did. And thereby entered an entirely new artistic world. Art? Yes. Evans’s work is highly documentary and his subject matter disarmingly ordinary, but for all that, he thought carefully about his compositions and the use of light and dark. At that exhibit several years ago, what knocked me over the head most was the ordinariness of his subjects. Here weren’t spectacular landscapes, mountains, waterfalls, but plain regular people, plain regular buildings, including gas stations and shacks. All in monochrome.

My son commented on this ordinariness, “Who today would ever think of just photographing a Stewart’s Shop?” (For those of you who don’t live in upstate New York, think 7-/11, Cumberland Farms, Wawa.) That remark stuck in the back of my head for years and eventually was the catalyst for my own work photographing old buildings—stores, homes, resorts, whether repurposed or ruins. Whether I’ve yet to capture successfully the iconic Stewart’s Shop remains to be seen, though I’m trying.

At the latest Walker Evans exhibit, Walker Evans American Photographs now on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it was Evans’s artistic approach that made me take notice. As I said above, he clearly thought out his compositions; just because his subject matter was ordinary, everyday life didn’t mean that he just picked up the camera and clicked. Just as the stunning Ansel Adams show at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, MA in 2012 revealed to me the important roles of light and dark in Adams’ compositions, so this Evans show did the same for the kinds of subjects he worked with.

Walker Evans American Photographs commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first one-person photography exhibition in MoMA’s history as well as the accompanying publication, which established the potential of the photographer’s book as an indivisible work of art. Here is MoMA’s own description: “Through these projects Walker Evans created a collective portrait of the eastern United States during a decade of profound transformation—one that coincided with the flood of everyday images, both still and moving, from an expanding mass culture, and the construction of a Modernist history of photography.”

The exhibit includes approximately sixty prints from MoMA’s collection that were included in the 1938 exhibition or in the accompanying landmark publication. Obviously I can’t reproduce his work here, but if you click this link you’ll see a good selection of them. One of my favorites is the fish shack, which shows Evans at his best, making sense of those wonderfully busy places and reminding me of similar buildings in New England or, in one case, of a beloved smoked fish shack on the Baltic coast in northern Sweden.  Walker Evans American Photographs is running until March 9.  Here are further details. If you are anywhere in or near NYC, don’t miss it.

Oh, the photo at the top? Zabar’s, one of NYC’s most amazing food emporia. I took this photo the same day. Again, if you’re in the city for the Evans exhibit (or any other reason), don’t miss Zabar’s, especially if you’re a cheese aficionado.

PhotoPlus 2013 Takes Over the Javits Center

IMG_1705 sAnother huge PhotoPlus Expo has come and gone at New York’s Javits Center. I attended yesterday (Friday) so that I could also swing over to Grand Central Station to check out the Scenic Hudson exhibit, which was there for the one day only. This also made it possible to visit the B&H and Adorama booths, which are closed on Saturdays for religious reasons. I didn’t attend any presentations or workshops but did manage to get a look-in at virtually every booth, including handling the Nikon D7100 and the latest in the Lumix G series, the DMC-GX7KS. Lovely cameras both!

Here are some photos from the day.

Proudly showing the Nikon colors

Proudly showing the Nikon colors

Nikon always has an interesting set-up for people to practice their skills on. I liked this retro look--it fits right in with my obsession for photographing interiors of vintage diners.

Nikon always has an interesting set-up for people to practice their skills on. I liked this retro look–it fits right in with my obsession for photographing interiors of vintage diners.

At the AdoramaPix booth you could spin the Wheel of Fortune and win a prize. I won a coupon for an 8 x 10 aluminyzed print!

At the AdoramaPix booth you could spin the Wheel of Fortune and win a prize. I won a coupon for an 8 x 10 aluminyzed print!

 

 

Intimate Landscapes by Robert Rodriguez

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Robert Rodriguez, Jr. is one of the greatest landscape photographers working in the Hudson Valley. Robert has that most important gift of all — knowing how and when to capture the beautiful light. But that gift doesn’t come without hard work, work that takes time. In fact, at Sunday’s reception for his new show at the RiverWinds Gallery in his home town of Beacon, Robert emphasized that the most important “tool” in a nature photographer’s kit is time–time to return again and again to a specific place in order to scope out the best compositions and to wait patiently until the lighting conditions are optimum for your vision of a scene. As an example, he pointed to his stunning black-and-white image from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, taken during a vacation with his family, and recounted how it took four visits to that particular site before the light was right and he got the image he wanted. This is food for thought in a day and age when prodigious prolificness seems to be demanded of photographers; Robert shows that one needn’t buy into this.

And a gorgeous image this is. I find it interesting that many nature photographers are turning to black-and-white, not exclusively, but certainly a sufficient number of magnificent black-and-white landscape pictures are turning up that one can speak of a black-and-white renaissance.

My little snapshot at the top of the blog gives you a modest (very modest) idea of Robert’s work through the windows of the RiverWinds Gallery. If you have the opportunity to visit his exhibit, it will be at the gallery through March 4. Visit the gallery’s website for opening hours and directions. It is very easy to get to (if I say that, it’s guaranteed to be true), right off Route 9D from the I-84, and Beacon itself is worth visiting, especially for art aficionados and anyone who would appreciate amazing views of the Hudson River.