Category Archives: Photography

The View Looking In

The buildings in Vienna tend to be: 1) beautiful; 2) old; and 3) well-built. During my student study abroad trip, I’m staying in a neighborhood-sited youth hostel, and near this hostel are some apartment/office buildings with typical, thick walls and deep window sills. Deep window sills naturally create a place to put “stuff” and stuff is what I found while walking the neighborhood with camera in hand.

From plants to blueprints to antique small appliances, lots of unique old stuff can be seen from the outside looking in while talking a stroll down the sidewalk. Of course, interesting reflections from the outside are also seen in these windows. You just have to walk slow and look carefully and interesting micro-sets of human lives can be seen. Of course, photographing into windows tends to upset folks.

I was yelled out in German by several concerned Austrians who were not at all impressed or placated by my odd choice of subject matter. As far as they were concerned, I was up to no good and was invading people’s privacy (even though I wasn’t photographing any people and was on the public sidewalk and the stuff in the windows wasn’t hidden to curtains but was instead in full view of the street). Austrian’s (and perhaps most Europeans from what I’ve been told) have the general feeling that you need permission to photograph nearly everything (I just do my best to ignore them while making my image and moving on).

More images from the outside of Vienna’s streets “Looking In” can be seen in my gallery section “Looking In.”

Are Photographers Junior Terrorists?

The world has gone and become afraid of photographers; very afraid. Afraid of photographers with big cameras anyhow. There was a time when many tourists walked around with big cameras. Heck, even 4×5 view cameras “back in the day” (before TV and microwave ovens). Of course, these have been replaced for most tourists with the mighty cell-phone-cam-computer-stereo-wonder-gadget. Now days, anyone sporting a camera bigger than a Hostess Twinkie is suspected of nefarious activities. Oh, and carrying a tripod too? Could be used for mounting a rocket launcher I suppose. Why else would someone be carrying such a contraption with ISO 56 million soon to be released?

Confronting the Stranger with the Big Camera

I was up to my ears in suspicion yesterday while carrying said “big camera” and “rocket-launcher-tripod.” Perhaps it is also my “strange” photo subjects. I kink of fell in love with photographing in the Budapest subway stations at 5:00 am when few people were around. I think there is something kind of creepy yet hauntingly beautiful about these places, particularly when they are empty of people. But these places also have security cameras mounted in the ceiling all over the place.

About an hour into my photographing the escalators, security couldn’t take it any more and sent two young kids to see what the heck the crazy foreigner was up to. They spoke even less English than I speak Hungarian (I don’t speak any). So, I showed them some images from the back of the camera. Images that showed empty escalators or dragged shutter images with me riding up and down the escalators and hand holding the shaking camera. You know; crazy stuff that only a camera nut would do. No, not a single image of missile silos or secret terrorist plots. The junior security men then scratched their heads while looking at me as if I had two heads, then gave me thumbs up and left me to my insanity and my escalators.

After finishing a meal at McDonald’s in Budapest, Hungary (I know how sad that sounds), I stopped to mount my camera on my tripod before heading out into the concrete jungle. But I didn’t even get the tripod head clamp tightened on the camera before I was pounced upon by an every vigilant Mickey D manager who admonished me, “no photography in McDonald’s.” Really? Are you serious? Are there legions of photographers hiding in the Golden Arches, just waiting to snap a pic of Britney Spears buying Happy Meals for her tots?

I mumbled something about the fries being too salty then fled the place. Out in the real world I began to look for something interesting to photograph. The last couple of days I had developed a fondness for phone booths. You know, those things that Superman would change into before cell phones and vandalism killed them all over the United States. Got it? Ok, so I see an interesting looking specimen sporting a pink phone. In fact, there was two identical booths not 10 feet apart. Except… one of the booths had a “poor” person leaning against it with a sign in Hungarian, likely asking for money since there was a little cup in front of him. Which one do I shoot? I spent nearly 10 minutes deciding and in the end, thought that the poor person added something to the photo. Something about a technological device (old as it was) propping up the back of someone who has likely been passed over by technology; someone who’s life has not been improved by technology.

So I set up the tripod in clear view of the phone-booth-guy. I fact, I spent a good 5 minutes setting up before I snapped the photo. I figured, if he objected, I’d give him plenty of time to get out of the way or to wave me off, cover his face with his sign, etc. However, I didn’t seem to get any reaction so I made a couple of exposures. At least from him I didn’t get a reaction. But before I could leave the scene of the crime, I was pounced upon by an English-speaking Hungarian women who said that she was a photographer too and that what I just did was “illegal.” That if the police came, they would confiscate my camera card for invading the privacy of the poor person. That my photo would be viewed as showing the poor person in a negative light. She said that there were laws all over Europe making it illegal to photograph the poor without their verbal permission.

That must make photojournalism really tough to do. Ok. So I realize that the case could be made that photographing his “poor person” condition might make some viewers, some photographers, and some poor people, uncomfortable. But isn’t one of the steps to eliminating poverty, to show it? Should not artists do what they can to get people to view poverty and think about poverty, till society decides its had enough and ends it? Is ignoring it, avoiding it, not including it in art and media, going to solve the problem of poverty? I don’t know all the answers, but a photographic artist, I don’t feel that the poor should be invisible to my camera lens.

So I will soldier on with my big camera and dangerous tripod. Trying not to get arrested for photographing people and things that other people think I have no business photographing unless I’m either crazy or a terrorist or both.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building

The Hungarian Parliament Building (Hungarian: Országház, literally country house) is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary, one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings, a notable landmark of Hungary and a popular tourist destination of Budapest. It lies in Lajos Kossuth Square, on the bank of the Danube, in Budapest. It is currently the largest building in Hungary. Construction completed in 1904 [source: Wikipedia].

I haven’t yet visited the Parliament Building but I photographed this twilight image from the opposite bank of the Danube. I used a slow shutter speed to smooth out the turbulent waters of the Danube. The river is turbulent due to the many sight-seeing small cruise ships that take tourists on trips up and down the river each evening. I had to time my exposures to be between the many passing ships, whose lights would have marred the image.

My settings were ISO 100, 6 seconds @ f/16. I would have used my neutral density filters to length the exposure even more, but I did not have them with me at the time. If I have a chance to re-shoot it, then I will try about a 30 second exposure and will post the difference here.

May Gallery Stroll Article

This is a reprint of an interview about my photography conducted for the Gavin’s Underground blog for City Weekly newspaper in connection with the Utah Art’s Festival, May Gallery Stroll. The full article is located here.

GalleryUAF held a triple artist show for May, the last one before September as the staff now prepare for the Arts Fest and shut down the gallery for the next few months after. This month we talk with two very different photographers, Scott Page and Chris Madsen, and painter Michelle Condrat about their works and thoughts on local art, all with photos for you to check out over here.
Scott Page
scottPage.jpg
Gavin: Hey Scott, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Scott: I own and operate an online store selling kitchen products at Canning Pantry. I was an environmental consultant for seventeen years before starting my online business in 2003.
Gavin: What first got you interested in photography, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Scott: I became interested in photography when I discovered my older sisters old Kodak Brownie camera. I was fascinated with the ability of the little brown box camera to capture images. After getting back the images from those initial attempts at photography, I began doing extra chores to earn enough money for an old Instamatic camera and film. My interest continued and I later convinced my dad that I needed the Time-Life photography series of books to further my young education. I was perhaps ten years old, yet I devoured each book in the series that came in the mail about every other month. I was also heavily influenced by the photojournalism magazine Life, which came weekly to our house, displaying the horrors of the Vietnam war. One of my early influences was Ernst Haas who did several photo essays in Life, which highlighted his motion study work. His influence can be seen in my similar work.
Gavin: You’re currently earning your Bachelors in Photography from Utah State. What made you choose USU, and what was their program like for you?
Scott: I have not yet completed my Bachelors program in photography but will graduate in 2012. After seventeen years as an environmental consultant, and seven years running my own business, I decided to return to school to formally study the photography passion that developed just after I learned to tie my own shoes.
Gavin: Your body of work seems to incorporate different forms, you snap landscapes and motion shots, but you’ve also tired self-portraits and bodily figures. Why spread yourself across different genres and experiment as opposed to focusing on a single type and become an expert?
Scott: I’m still discovering the artist within and exploring different avenues of creative output. While becoming an expert in one area may be the way to greater success, I’m doing this for fun and personal growth and do not feel the need concentrate on one area. I do plan to attend graduate school with a plan to pursue a third career as an exhibiting artist and photography teacher. Graduate school will be the place to refine and narrow my creative focus. Right now, I’m just having a blast photographing whatever interests me at the time.
Gavin: Of all the different themes you’ve experimented with, which one do you enjoy working with the most, and what keeps drawing you back to it?
Scott: I certainly love black and white film photography. Specifically, using this material on images of rural and urban decay. I’m intrigued with showing the evidence of people; the effects of their previous presence and subsequent abandonment of places, objects, and buildings as people move on to bigger, better, shinier and newer things. Perhaps it is a way for me to explore the feelings of abandonment and loneliness that I’ve felt in my own life. The focus of my current UAF show is motion studies which are considerably different from the still and quiet images of decay and abandonment. My enjoyment and interest in these types of images that show energy and movement are also likely related to my experiences in early life. My father became paralyzed from contracting polio when he was young and was on crutches throughout my life. As a boy, in ignorance I feared getting polio too and had nightmares and anxiety attacks about being unable to move or run. My motion studies are perhaps a way to explore and confront these early experiences.
Gavin: For your own personal choice, do you prefer traditional film or digital, and why?
Scott: That’s a tough question. If I’m doing color work, it will most likely be digital. But there is a whole history and romance surrounding traditional photography methods that are hard to leave behind. Wet darkroom black and white prints have a rich luminous handmade quality that is hard to duplicate digitally. That said, digital offers levels of control that are difficult or impossible to achieve via the traditional methods. Layering or composting in Photoshop enables the photographer to create images that directly reference the artists imagination. I believe that both digital and traditional materials each have their own unique qualities and that working with a hybrid workflow often provides the most unique look with the highest level of control.
Gavin: What kind of equipment do you choose to shoot with for your main body of work?
Scott: Again, a tough question. I shoot 35mm film or digital and both medium and large format film cameras. The project I’m working on dictates the equipment. I recently did a 10-day urban shoot on the streets of Toronto and New York City. I only used a 4×5 film camera for this work and was able to capture some truly beautiful images that smaller formats would have made difficult or impossible to achieve.
Gavin: Usually most photographers tend to pack up and head to a major city to display and make their mark, but you’ve chosen to stay in Hyrum. What made you decide to stay?
Scott: The internet has really made it easier for photographers to show their work in major markets. Not only can you showcase your work on your own website or on the picture sharing sites, but there are online databases of artist calls-for-entry, where you can submit work on a regional, national, or international basis. I started entering these juried shows just over a year ago and have had the opportunity to show my work in markets from California to New York. It is true that artists close to large population bases, have access to large buying markets. But the economy has become worldwide and artists now have many more opportunities to become involved in that world market.
Gavin: Have you given any thought to starting your own professional photography business, or are you mainly sticking to doing it as an art as opposed to job?
Scott: I have no interest in pursing a commercial photography business. I’m 50 years old and simply don’t have the years left to build a client base. Portraiture is perhaps the fastest route to a photography business, but my interest in that type of work is fairly small. I’d love to teach photography and continue to pursue exhibition opportunities. For myself, I believe that is the path to keep photography fun and exciting.
Gavin: Tell us about the new works you have on display for this Stroll.
Scott: If you look at the motion work of Ernst Haas, you will see the influence that master had on me as a ten or twelve year old. One of the unique properties of still photography is that it has the ability so show a span of time in a single instant. Photographs usually show us a frozen “existence” that occurred in a small fraction of a second; say from around 1/60 to 1/250 of a second or so. But an interesting world beyond our normal perception exists at the two extreme ends of shutter speeds. Both high-speed and slow-speed photograph offers imagery outside of our normal visual perception. For this exhibition, I’ve chosen to work with slow shutter speeds, often from around 1 second to 1/15 of a second. While capture objects in motion, these slow shutter speeds compress movement into a interesting display of swirling color and captured energy. I often seek out amusement parks and carnivals for colorful and fun subject matter for this type of work. A couple of the photographs are large format film based works taken in New York City. These depict the energy and movement of a large city, but unlike the moving subjects in the carnival ride photos, motion and energy is implied through movement of the camera during double exposures.
Gavin: What are your thoughts about being displayed at GalleryUAF along with Michelle and Chris?
Scott: I’m really excited about displaying at GalleryUAF and particularly alongside the work of Michelle Condrat. I’m not sure how she feels about her work, but I feel that is some ways, it is the “painting” equivalent of my motion work, applied to the landscape instead of the amusement park. Her work has a vibrant “aliveness” and energy in the landscape that I feel is similar to the output of subatomic energy (of which we are all products of) that I’m trying to capture with children zooming in circles on a carnival ride.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Scott: Utah has a really strong art scene for a western small-population State. Our university museums and community art centers offer good opportunities for artists and the public interested in looking at or learning about art. The Park City art scene and Sundance Film scene is particularly strong. Even the wonderful Central Utah Art Center in little Ephraim has gotten some national press. I do sometimes feel that the local art scene is a bit heavy on the landscapes, portraits and religious-based work, but that is not surprising given the sentiments of the population. It is unlikely that my male and female nude work will find many exhibition opportunities in Utah.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Scott: Given our population size, Utah is pretty visible to the world due to Park City and Sundance. However, our museums are fairly small and spread out in multiple venues between the LDS Church properties, university museums, Park City galleries, and various local museums and galleries. A single, central, large high-class museum would be great to promote art in Utah but is probably unlikely to happen.
Gavin: What’s your take on Gallery Stroll as a whole and how its doing today?
Scott: This is my first real participation in the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll so I have no experience to base a comment on.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Scott: At the end of May, I’m headed to Austria, Italy, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for forty days of daily photography. I’m hoping to return with some exciting imagery that I can share with Utah. This fall, Utah State University will have an exhibition of work generated by the group of students participating in this central European trip.
Gavin: Is there anything you’d like to plug or promote?
Scott: The Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim has some wonderful national exhibitors and they have an art bus that travels from Salt Lake to their gallery openings. Those who love art should check it out. You can see more of my work at my website.

Learning to “See”

Nude with Warhol Mona Lisa

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a talented black and white portrait photographer, Levi Sim, owner of SDesigns Photography. We were discussing photography in general and he made the comment that most people spend only a few seconds looking at a photo. It is artists and other photographers that really “see” into a photo.

This reminds me of a quote by legendary documentary photographer Dorothea Lange – “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” When I became interested in photography as a young boy, I did not have the money to purchase fancy equipment or lots of film. But I did have a library card. Over the next 30 years of so, money would often be an issue and the pursuit of photography took a backseat to raising a family and paying the bills. However, I could always afford to visit the library. I spent countless hours reading about and looking at great photography.

Since I’m now back in college with students less than half my age, finally studying art formally, I’m finding that those decades spent looking at and thinking about photographs have served me very well. My eyes have been “educated” so to speak, and I feel that I’m better prepared to produce interesting photographs. While I don’t always succeed, I feel that my book-trained eyes improve the number of keepers and help to limit the larger quantity of mediocrity.

So if the high cost to photo equipment has got you down, spend some time at your local library. Viewing great photography is almost as worthwhile as making great photography.

 

The Photographer’s Eye

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a talented black and white portrait photographer, Levi Sim, owner of SDesigns Photography. We were discussing photography in general and he made the comment that most people spend only a few seconds looking at a photo. It is artists and other photographers that really “see” into a photo.

This reminds me of a quote by legendary documentary photographer Dorothea Lange – “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” When I became interested in photography as a young boy, I did not have the money to purchase fancy equipment or lots of film. But I did have a library card. Over the next 30 years of so, money would often be an issue and the pursuit of photography took a backseat to raising a family and paying the bills. However, I could always afford to visit the library. I spent countless hours reading about and looking at great photography.

Since I’m now back in college with students less than half my age, finally studying art formally, I’m finding that those decades spent looking at and thinking about photographs have served me very well. My eyes have been “educated” so to speak, and I feel that I’m better prepared to produce interesting photographs. While I don’t always succeed, I feel that my book-trained eyes improve the number of keepers and help to limit the larger quantity of mediocrity.

So if the high cost to photo equipment has got you down, spend some time at your local library. Viewing great photography is almost as worthwhile as making great photography.


Straight Jacket Series

A number of people have asked how I created my Straight Jacket Series of images. The project idea was born out of pure frustration. I was taking a university class on digital photography and had to come up with an idea for my final portfolio. I developed several ideas but my professor kept strongly suggesting that I change those ideas into something else; something for which I had little interest. I spent nearly two weeks developing and shooting ideas that were ultimately rejected. As the time to complete the final portfolio was rapidly approaching, my frustration grew to the point were I was sick with worry and stress.

Then it hit me. I would channel that frustration into the portfolio and I would use a straight jacket to portray my feelings of being trapped, constricted, and forced into an artistic direction that I was not interested in. Once I settled on self portraits and straight jackets, the next step after acquiring a straight jacket (isn’t internet shopping amazing!) was to decide how to portray the inner turmoil that I was feeling.

I’ve always really loved to show movement in photographs. I realized that “movement” could effectively portray the turmoil of inner emotions – that a rapidly moving background could be a metaphor for an agitated mental state. I realized that to emphasize the difference between the “outer” and “inner” states of “being,” I would need to have my body rock-solid in the photo, with the environment spinning out of control.

To create the photo, I set up my digital camera on a tripod with an off camera flash unit and through metering and a little trial and error, I determined the correct camera and flash settings to capture my body once I was in the shot. I then turned off the flash unit, switched the cameras white balance to custom white balance and using a gray card, captured and set the white balance for the light in the room (which was a mixture of tungsten, florescent, and daylight). I metered the scene and set a fairly small aperture to result in a long shutter speed of around 8 seconds (camera on manual exposure of course).

I then took a series of photos, handholding and purposely shaking the camera during the long exposures. Once I felt that I achieved some interesting captures, I then reset the cameras white balance to flash, changed the exposure settings to the previously determined settings, turned on the flash unit, mounted the camera back on the tripod, and aimed and focused the camera to the area where I would be in the shot. A friend then buckled me into the straight jacket and while I rolled around for the camera, he tripped the shutter release. After a few dozen captures, I was released from the all-to-uncomfortable jacket, and the process was then repeated in other locations.

Once in front of the computer, the images were loaded into Lightroom 2 for basic editing including spot removal, and exposure and contrast adjustments. The most effective “motion” capture was then paired with the most interesting body-image capture. The two images were then opened in photoshop and the body-image capture was dragged onto the motion capture image and placed as a layer. A mask was then applied to the body-image layer. Using a paint brush on the mask, areas surrounding the body where painted out, revealing the under laying motion image. The body itself, was carefully avoided to retain a tack sharp appearence.

The resulting image shows the body in flash-freezing stillness, while the surroundings are wildly in motion, showing the inner state of mental turmoil. The full color image was then reimported into Lightroom for editing by the Silver FX Pro plugin by Nik Software. This plugin did the conversion to black and white. The resulting black and white image was then re-opened in Photoshop again for final adjustments of tone and contrast and for printing control. Alternatively, I could have conducted the black and white conversions on the two images before combining them in Photoshop, but then I would not also have a color version.

The color versions were interesting, but ultimately, I felt that the black and white versions provided an additional element of the surreal, to coincide with the surreal nature of the inner mental state being portrayed.

Links to Great Photo Essays

A Conceptual Framework for Understanding Photographs
By Terry Barrett. Source: Visual Arts Research, Vol. 12, No. 1(23) (Spring 1986), pp. 68-77. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20715614?origin=JSTOR-pdf

When a Photograph Is Judged Artistic: The Influence of Novelty and Affect
By Philip H. Marshall and Ashton G. Thornhill. Source: Visual Arts Research, Vol. 21, No. 1(41) (Spring 1995), pp. 71-75. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20715845

Mamyia 7 Instructions

Mamiya_7II_Instructions