Future of the Past

a backroad out of this traditionalist neighborhood

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The Next One

This week, for our final blog post, we are to read the Two Way Lens blog, pick one of the contemporary photographers’ interviews and respond to it.  It was hard to pick one, really, they are all a pretty good read.  But I did pick one, David Simonton.  The interviews are set up with three different questions accompanied by a few pictures from the photographer’s work.


Simonton starts with a quote by Emerson, “Enthusiasm is the great engine of success.” I think this is a good point because, especially in the classroom setting, its easy to see the difference in the work of the unenthused and the truly invested.  It makes a difference in not only the physical output and presentation of the work, but also the conceptual backing.  The level of investment and enthusiasm one must have for their work is much more than one might expect. Without this personal investment, work becomes stale and, yes, half-assed.

Next he talks about the discussion he had with another photographer and the conclusion that the best photograph is always “the next one.” He says “The idea that the best is yet to come is a potent stimulant! and it’s one of the things that compels me to pick up my camera.” This is also a good point because as students, we are definitely always growing and changing, learning new techniques and making better and better work.  As this year comes to a close, its a good reminder that nothing is really ending, just getting better and better.


Next, Simonton discusses a conversation he had with Steve McCurry in which Simonton replies, “if you’re engaged in the process, the results will take care of themselves.”  This has always been my thought; don’t worry about wether or not it will be good work, just make it and love it and it will be good work if that investment is present.


Finally, I think its great that he talks about success and how its not necessarily something to be measured with monetary values, but rather, “successful in that my own early enthusiasm for photography has never diminished.”  I think this is great, and as said before, make great work and great things will come of it.

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Final Project

This week we are to write a proposal for our final project in Alternative Photographic Processes.  Since I am continuing my semester-long exploration for my final, my proposal is more of a statement than a proposal. The final body of work will be comprised of 10-15 kallitype prints, contact printed at 4×5”. I will have images from throughout the semester included, as well as a batch of most recent images.

Some of the images from this semester here

I am interested in making art in response to a relationship with the land.  Wether I create that relationship or find it existing in the everyday normalities of human existence, this interaction between nature and human has inspired much of my work. Photography is the best medium with which to make my work because I am interested in reproducing what exists in the world, and this medium carries the historical weight of photographic truth.


These photographs were all made in a small town in Western New York, Hornell.  The photographs focus on the subtle oddities found in my five month exploration of the town. These oddities only become so when one is asked to focus on them, really see what is happening, as they are part of daily life and often ignored.  I am interested in this exploration of the town in this way because when one assumes knowledge and familiarity of a place, often things an outsider sees are vital parts in description that get lost in the everyday bustle of life.  

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For class this week we were to read Edward Weston’s Seeing Photographically, an essay on photography as a process of thinking, not just art making.  


Overall, I thought the essay was really great; it shed some light on some things that we as makers often over look because we are so used to the process and medium.  

The point he mostly talks about it pre visualising the image before its made, before the shutter is clicked.  He says “the resulting negative and print attested to the beauty and truth of the pre visualisation.”  In this current age, we forget how precious the photograph is because they are everywhere, accessible and cheap. When they were first introduced, much more value was put on each frame and you couldn’t just go around clicking hap-hazardly not only because of the expense, but because of the importance and value of each frame.  Today, larger formats help with that concept, but there should be more pre planning than many people do.  

Another point he makes is “we feel that within the frame of that particular medium we can best express whatever it is we have to say,” and I think this is a good point to bring up because so many people ask why it is you do what you do and that is exactly why.  Our specific point would not be as easily understood in a different medium, or, even within the medium, a different process.  

I enjoyed the distinction he made between photo and painting because, as he says “this misconception was responsible for a great many horrors perpetrated in the name of art, from allegorical costume pieces to dizzying out-of-focus blurs.”  This whole discussion reminded me of a phrase I slightly altered to: not what can painting do for photography, but what can photography do for art, because they are so similar, it is most important that we make that distinction so the “great manny horrors” do not happen.  

I am glad he touched on the “rules of photography” which is connected to the painting and photography through the “photo-painter’s approach” which includes the idea that a “photograph is purely the product of a machine and therefore not art.” He also talked about how musical instruments are machines and therefore music is not art.  In response to this I’m wondering if the human voice, often thought of as the singer’s musical instrument, is also comparable to the camera as the artist’s hand (that would draw the picture) it makes the music, or the photograph in this case.  

Weston then discusses the nature of the recording process, in that all other art forms have the ability to edit and change the outcome as they are making.  The changes for a photographer all happen in the pre-visualisation, a “photographer’s recording process cannot be drawn out.”  I have always looked at a photographer’s body of work as many sketches and ideas that work together to complete the final idea, not one photo on its own completing the idea.  

Ultimately, “It is learning to see photographically- that is, learning to see his subject matter in terms of the capacities of his tools and processes.”

I am really glad he mentioned that “by selecting the simplest possible equipment and procedures and staying with them” and “this advantage can only be retained if he simplifies his equipment and technic to the minimum necessary, and keeps his approach free from all formula, art-dogma, rules, and taboos” because so many people get caught up in the “techy” side of photography and never actually learn to see, they just look around and click the shutter, taking pictures of what “should” be good pictures.

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X, Y, Z

This week we listened to the Modern Art Notes Podcast on Robert Maplethorpe.

This podcast studies his work X,Y, and Z  Portfolios.  They study sadomasochistic imagery, floral still life, and nudes.  Combining these three ideas into essentially one body of work with three parts.  This instantly reminded me of some of Walt Whitman’s poetry specifically studying the relationship between nature and human body and sexuality.

The installation of the square format photographs lend themselves to a grid like set up, but the curator did not set them in a perfect grid, they are in X-Y-Z rows, but the rows are slightly off center.  In another studio we discussed the possibility in portrait photography of “pose and let go” where you pose the model and then as you are getting ready to make the photo, they let go a little.  This slightly off grid is very much like that.


I thought it was interesting that he did not print his photographs himself, he had a few people he worked with that did his printing. All the images, throughout the three portfolios were printed the same, high contrast but not loosing too much tonal value, in a sense just enhancing the tones.  Keeping the printing the same allows the viewers to focus on the subject matter, it becomes a constant.


The studio lighting was a key element of control for Maplethorpe.  The lighting is very precise.  In his “Daniel” photo in the Z Portfolio, Maplethorpe uses the light to sculpt the body.  In many of his photographs the light becomes the subject rather than the physical being in the photograph.  One starts to notice a rhythm between the images on the wall, the jumps and explorations through seemingly student exercise related images.  Maplethorpe was interested in simplification, which these exercises and studies lends themselves to that simplification.  He used a shallow depth of field to focus on closeness.



I think what people should take away from this is the fact that he was so productive and had such great work ethic, even though he had a night life and went out with friends and such, he still made alot of work.

The podcast gently touches on the self portraits he included in the work and how that speaks to participation as the self, not acting or posing, trying to be someone else.  It is as if he is saying this is my culture and life.


The final point in the podcast was how art introduces challenges and as viewers we respect the right of the artist to introduce these challenges.

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Yesterday I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art to check out the photography show I mentioned earlier.  When I was there over December break, I remember seeing some photographs being put up in an of limits room, so I knew right where to find the show.  The exhibit was set up in just one room, photographs all around it on the walls, with a table and chairs in the middle with a few books of photographs by the two artists in the show, Frank Gohlke and Emmet Gowin.

American Vesuvius

The show was wonderful.  This photo only shows half the gallery, behind the camera is the same  length of room again.  I started with reading the intro on the wall to the show, then the short clip, but what I was really interested in was the photographs.  The room was split about half Gohlke and half Gowin, and they were not mixed in with each other, each had their half of the room.  Even without name cards you could tell the difference in not only vantage point, but the printing.  Two very individual voices discussing the eruption of the mountain.

Emmet Gowin’s photographs were my favourite, but not so much that the show could have been solo I don’t think.  Gowin’s photographs are aerial, often without any hint of horizon line, not hint of scale.  I really like the disorienting quality of these photos, it was hard to tell how large or small anything was, but I don’t thing it was necessary to know.  There was so much detail in the images, so much to be missed if one just walked by, or just glanced from a few feet away, took me quite a while to get through the photos.

emmet gowin_1

Frank Gohlke’s were wonderful too, printed darker, perhaps more ominously.  The photographs of his that I enjoyed most were the pairings of before and after, well, right after the eruption and 10 years later.

The presence in the room brought on by the photographs was brilliant, I have never felt that in a gallery before, it was fantastic, captivating, intense.


Unfortunately, about half way through my journey, some business people walked through the gallery (I’m going to guess they worked for or with the museum, they were clearly not there to look at the art) and the ring leader exclaimed to the others that these were “just some black and white photos” and they all continued their shuffle out.   Its unfortunate that some people cannot appreciate art, but I suppose thats what makes those of us who can that much more appreciative of that ability.  Art making and seeing is not something you learn, its something that is inside you the whole time, and just needs to be brought alive.  Some people have it, some don’t, thats what makes it special.

The books in the center captivated some more of my time, got through two books of Emmet Gowin’s photographs before I had to leave.  One was on his series taken of Edith, in Dansville, VA, the other was Changing the Earth.  The first book  I wanted to peruse through because I have seen a few of these images and was interested in the rest of the series.

Emmitt Gowin Emmet Gowin_2

The second book was beautiful.  It consisted primarily of more aerial shots, but of places other than Mt. St. Helens.  There was also some great writing preceding and following the images.



“When one really sees an awesome, vast, and terrible place, we tremble at the feelings we experience as our sense of wholeness is reorganized by what we see.  This is the gift of a landscape photograph, that the heart finds a place to stand.”

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Little Nuances

We have our midterm critiques this coming week and we are to have examples of each of the processes we have been studying and we need evidence of a coherent project going.  

We first started with toning black and white darkroom prints.  I needed to revisit this process because I did not have good prints or negatives with a solid idea for the project behind them.  

Then we did cyanotypes.  The biggest thing with the contact print processes is the negative.  The problem we were having came from the contrast that the computer hooked up to the Agfa printer was adding, so all of our negatives had much more contrast than we were expecting.  So I printed a bunch of recent photos at really awful contrasts, and they still came out great because of the computer’s alterations.  I also experimented with a variety of size, and I hope to continue doing more of this experimenting.  I want to find a negative worthy of printing 22×17, the largest negatives we can make.  I think I have found an image…

After cyanotypes we talked about toning the cyanotypes.  The ones I have ready for Monday are toned with Borax and tannic acid solutions.  The tannic acid is really lovely, making the highlights a rosy pink and the blue getting even darker with a light purple tint. 

Then we learned how to do the Vandyke process.  I personally love this process. The contrast is much lower and less of the image seems to wash off, which is comforting.  I love the tone of the brown and how it changes from an orangey to a bark brown in the fixer, then to a chocolate brown when dry. 

Finally we learned about putting vandyke over cyanotype.  The key to this is really making sure the vandyke is not exposed too much or it will not let the blue show through to create the lovely tone mixing.  

At this point I’ve got some good examples of each, but I will go back tonight and tomorrow to be certain, afterall, I’ve got the time and resources, why not. 


As far as my project/concept is concerned, I have done some thinking, re-evaluating, considering, deciding, editing, shooting, and I think I have figured out what is drawing me into the little town, why I enjoy photographing it.  What I got most excited about, I guess even from the beginning, was the weird oddities that presented themselves while I was walking around the place.  Sweeping part of the sidewalk, cutting most of a tree down but not all, 6 satellite cable dishes on a house thats falling down, a river contained entirely by concrete, just to name a few. I like these finds because thats what they are, little documents of an exploration, sharing the things I found that surprised me and did not seem quite right.  At the beginning of the semester I was a bit reluctant to wander very far, but as I got more comfortable with the process, I started wandering and the magic started happening.  Each of the images I am sharing in critique is not only printed in one of the methods we discovered this semester, but it tells a little story about the town and people of this town through the viewer’s discovery of that thing that seems not quite right. Overall I have enjoyed finding these little nuances, and I hope the viewer of the images will too.  

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Standing Out

Thursday we had a visiting artist at Alfred, Jessica Eaton came to campus to give 15 minute individual critiques with our class and a public lecture later that evening.  I was first introduced to her work last semester, in View Camera, during the colour film lecture, right before we did some test negatives.  Anyway so from the get go, I liked her work, but I was not crazy about it in the sense that it is not something I thought I could relate to (being completely interested in black and white, landscape, concept, etc.) but I was still excited that she was coming to visit because not only is she a fresh, young, artist, but she could bring her different ideas and approaches to our crits.  I was also excited to hear the story of how she moved from art school to an artist “making it” in the real world, and how she came to make the art she is currently making.


So I suppose I will talk about my crit first, since, as it turned out, much of what she talked about were things she grappled with and figured out in her own work.  So I hung up my first 10 prints of this project for my Contemporary Photographer class.   It happened that the 10 images were 5 of the objects and 5 landscapes.  I explained my thought process, what I was getting at, how I am considering finally displaying the photographs.  I also explained how my idea has changed a bit into doing a study on two or three people, myself and one or two others, in terms of the objects and landscape image.  She gave some good constructive criticism, but also stressed that she liked my “hyper-organized” images and that for them to read as she guessed I wanted them to (grid-like, deadpan aesthetic), I would have to change my set up a bit and get my focus spot on.  I understood this, but again, we had just started these projects and these were my first tries.  But I am glad for the second opinion.  I also had some prints from last semester’s View Camera class which she looked at and gave some very positive feedback.  My last set of things I had her look at were  some darkroom prints that I had done for this class, in hopes of toning later.  She said my tones were really nice and that I need to carry even more of the meticulousness of the View Camera over into my other formats, fair enough.


Her lecture, well ok, let me say before I talk about this, that it was really intense and I have spent the last few days trying to digest all that was said, so I hope I have done so enough at this point to be able to form an informed opinion on the work/issues/techniques she presented.


Jessica Eaton began with a quote/snippet from a favourite book of hers: “The fundamental interconnectedness of all things…” I’m still not sure how this is important, because isn’t everything connected, isn’t that important? Those connections is what makes things important really…ok maybe I just figured that out…

She talked alot about where she started, what she photographed.  This was great because as young artists I feel sometimes we wonder if/how were ever going to get there, to the real world, and be successful.  Although her first images were not abstract, she seemed much more interested in the abstract ideas of colour, composition, graphic qualities, overall, ways to transform the 3-D world into 2-D imagery.  It was refreshing to hear her say she took pictures just to practice, just to take pictures.  They were bad, uninteresting, not conceptual, but they were focused on being photographically correct, technically correct.


This was especially interesting in that she shared with us the fact that her college was a conceptual college (schooling artists such as Stephen Shore), so all her technical expertise was self taught.  This is something I think everyone in that lecture should take away, being so obsessed with working that you teach things to yourself that you are interested in if they are not being taught to you in school.  That curiosity, I think thats something we can easily loose sight of, or brush to the side.

She was really interested in what was unique to photography and how she could not only capture that, but push it to the next level, and the next.


The was a break in her making process, after her undergrad, because she did not have access to photographic resources; the cameras belonged to the school, as did the darkrooms.  She forced herself to keep making pictures, just to keep up practice, just to stay on her game, until the darkroom came back into her life.  She made a piece in her living room window of sample filter packs, letting the light travel through the pages taped onto her window, creating colour casts into the room.  I really liked this piece because of its resourcefulness, simplicity, and revealing quality.  It seems this “play” resulted in an inspiration that spurred on other work, closely related to this.


Next she got into her love of strategy games, scrabble in particular, and how the “rules of the game,” “strategy,” and “grid structures” that are all important in strategy games, became important in her work.  I love that she took 36 frames of 4×5 to get one image in perfect focus.  I love the process of working solidly until you get something, the right answer.  Through the making of this photograph (of a scrabble game, ironically) she realised what she was most interested in was the ability of the camera, what can a camera only do.

She went into a lengthy, deep, intense, discussion of colour theory in terms of subtractive colour (light), which I’ll be honest, lost me somewhere between the R, G and B channels.

0702798406a86b15b47c92cd80a53c862b43ae7e_large RGB

She next talked about the body of work that has gotten the most press, Cubes for Albers and Lewitt, and finished discussing her current project which deals with defying photographic space.  This was really interesting, it dealt with the 3-D image making with red and cyan colour separation and how she can push things in the “for ground” back, and vice verse, through colour.


Overall? I think she seems like a super intense person who knows her stuff and is really dedicated to making pictures that mean something to her, that satisfy her own personal needs, and they end up being quite beautiful and a bit mind boggling sometimes.  Cheers!