When is a photograph made?

Lady Liberty PNG.png

I didn't see Lady Liberty right away. That's not to say I didn't see the real person standing in front of me at the Washington, DC Women's March. Rather, the moment of recognition came later.  One day a few weeks after it was shot, I opened the files of my work on the Mall in DC and suddenly this image caught my eye.  I’d passed over it before, not feeling moved by it.  But now the slightly bowed head of the woman in a foam Statue of Liberty crown, solemn against a background of other marchers, seemed important.  I went to work on the file, eventually showing a print of it at the gallery.  It's an experience we have all had, I think.  Going back through an old shoot, we run across an image that did not seem interesting at the time it was made and find it worthy of notice. It now seems to say something important.

Geoffrey Batchen, in a 2002 essay entitled "Taking and Making," asks, "When is a photograph made?"  He goes on to describe exactly the process I experienced with my image of Lady Liberty. Using examples of Alfred Stieglitz' and the Australian photographer Max Dupain's work, Batchen illustrates how negatives exposed at a time when they weren’t characteristic of the photographer's work are later incorporated into artist’s body of work and made public in a different phase of the photographer's career.  Batchen credits this phenomenon to changing artistic conventions. Stieglitz' work entitled Paula, or Sun Rays, Berlin, 1889, is illustrative.  In this image, Stieglitz' young lover sits at a table before an open window with strong sunlight coming through the blinds. The light leaves strong linear shadows on the wall behind the table at which the young woman is sitting and across her figure as well. Stieglitz' photos of her are pinned to the wall.  It is a decidedly modernist photo, taken at a time when Stieglitz was also advocating for the Pictorialist photographic movement. Although the negative was apparently made in 1889, the image was not printed nor displayed until about 1916 as far as we know. What happened in those intervening 27 years? Batchen proposes that as Stieglitz was exposed to examples of European avant-garde art, including the works of Rodin, Picasso, Cézanne and Matisse, his concept of what constitutes an artistic image changed. Exposure to contemporary works of art created a conceptual environment in which Stieglitz could return to the image of his young lover and now see it as an image of artistic interest that he included in subsequent shows of his work.  What changed?  The negative didn’t.  But the mind of the photographer did.  So, Batchen wonders, when was this work of art made?  Was it made at the moment of exposure or when Stieglitz had a conceptual framework in which to locate this image as a work of art?

There are varying answers to this question. Some photographers staunchly defend the concept of previsualization wherein the finished image is visualized prior to the shutter being opened. The photographer makes a number of decisions before any light strikes the film that allow him or her to produce as close a print as possible to what is seen in the mind's eye. For these photographers, we might assume that the photograph is made in that moment of exposure, preceded by a number of decisions aimed at replicating the photographer's vision and followed by actions such as developing and printing that make that vision concrete. In contrast, Brooks Jensen recalls an interview he did with Jerry Uelsmann in which he asked Uelsmann if he went out into the field with his camera already knowing what kind of composite image he wanted to make and therefore searching for the components of it. Uelsmann said no. Making exposures in the field was what he considered "gathering assets."  He goes out with his camera not with the intent of gathering the components of a pre-visualized image as much as recording things of interest that might then be combined to make one of the surrealist images for which he is so well known. For Uelsmann, it seems, the image is made not when the shutter is clicked but when the finished print emerges from the darkroom.

Marshalltown Iowa 2017 PNG.png

Batchen's point that the changing conceptualizations of what constitutes art allow us to see anew is an important one. Photography is a visual language and learning to understand that language more deeply, and as it changes over time, opens the door to seeing things we would not necessarily have seen before. I made an image a few days ago that I would most likely not have made three or four years ago. I have become interested in the work of the New Topographic photographers and their contemporary followers.  Their work has led me to see "landscape" in a new way.  Now, the influence of human beings on the environment in which we live seems like a justifiable subject for photography. While walking with an old friend of mine, I saw a bright metal building, a cell phone tower, a shadowed wall with a tree beside it and, because I had the concept of a different kind of landscape available to me, I also saw an image that I felt was worth taking. Having grown up admiring the work of Ansell Adams, Edward Weston, and other more traditional landscape photographers, this is quite a change. No longer is pristine Nature the only fitting subject in the environment around us.

Couple PNG.png

There are other factors, perhaps less grand, that contribute to our ability to see images as time passes. What I believe happens under the circumstances - in addition to what Batchen proposes - is that the preconceptions we bring to the initial shoot loosen over time. I know I often come home from a session anxious to look at the images only to be flooded with a feeling of disappointment as I download them or as they emerge from the developing tank. What I see before me doesn't match what I had hoped for in the work that I was doing that day. The work doesn't fit my preconception.  However, after a day or two, or sometimes months, I begin to see the images in a new light. Some of them become interesting in ways I had not anticipated. This picture of a young couple who agreed to model for me is an example. While my preconception of the work with them wasn't well articulated prior to the session, it was certainly there. And when I saw what we had done, I was initially a bit disappointed. But as I looked at the images over several days, I let go of that preconceived notion of the work we were doing and saw what we had done with fresh eyes. That's when this image emerged. Had I not been able to loosen my conceptual grip, so to speak, I might never have realized the value that I now see in this lovely image of a woman embracing her male partner.

Finally, I believe, there is another way in which we recognize images. And that brings us back to Lady Liberty.  The Women’s March was an exuberant, irreverent, and energetic gathering of nearly 500,000 people on the Mall in DC.  I went with a photojournalistic intent, hoping to simply document the gathering, but soon found myself caught up in the spirit of it all.  I shot in color and was taken by the humorous signs and ingenious costumes of those we marched.  In the midst of it all, I glimpsed Lady Liberty in a moment of reflection and made a quick shot.  However, the image seemed out of place among the colorful, energetic images of the rest of the march.  It was quiet, solemn, and worked better in black and white. I set it aside and worked on other images.  Gradually, however, my own view changed.  The feeling of the day faded.  Other events led me to take a less hopeful view of what was happening in society.  Now the image of the woman on the Mall with her prayerful look and foam tiara held more meaning.  It became a photograph for me and not simply a file.  In some fundamental way, the images we make reflect our own consciousness, our own emotional state, and our own view of the world.  I would add that to Batchen’s understanding of when a photograph is made.  Photographs are also made when we recognize that the image in front of us reflects who we are.  The unanswered – and maybe unanswerable – question is, what leads us to take those images that we are not yet ready to see in the first place?  How do we know what we are not yet ready to know?

This essay first appeared in Shadow and Light Magazine, May/June 2017 issueIt is reprinted with permission of Shadow and Light.  You can purchase the entire issue in which this piece appeared here and can subscribe to Shadow and Light here

Intentions . . . . and a walk in Santa Fe


The last few days, I've been trying to shoot a specific photo. More to the point, I have been trying to re-create a photo that I shot a couple of years ago but that was inadvertently destroyed. I can see that image clearly in my mind and know exactly where I shot it. I've gone back to the same spot several times only to come away with images that are bland and uninteresting and don't live up to my memory of that image from the past. However, walking to and from the site of my earlier photo, I've shot several other photos that I really like - images that have life and interest.

While this may be an experience specific to my efforts to exactly re-create an image, I suspect it is something we all struggle with in a way. We are urged to see in our minds what we want to capture in the camera. Ansel Adams declared that, "Visualization is the most important thing in photography."  And a quick search on Google reveals page after page of web posts about the importance of previsualization.

Now I hesitate to argue publicly with Ansel Adams, but it seems to me that attempting to create the exact image we see in our minds can become a trap. My experience this week is evidence. With that specific image in my mind, nothing I've been able to shoot lives up to it. At the same time, I turn around to head home, see something that I didn't expect, and am able to make a satisfying photograph.  I understand that Adams was also talking about the technical end of creating photographs, and the necessity of seeing the finished image in order to make the correct decisions about exposure, development time, and so forth. But even Adams admitted that previsualization didn’t always work.  Describing how he made Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, in his book Examples: the Making of Forty Photographs, he writes, “I had been photographing in the Chama Valley, north of Santa Fe. I made a few passable negatives that day and had several exasperating trials with subjects that would not bend to visualization.”  And then, driving back to Santa Fe, he saw the unexpected, the unplanned – the moon rising over the small town of Hernandez.  We’ve all had both sides of that experiences, I think; the frustration when we are trying too hard to make the work go right, and the nearly mystical gift of an image when we aren’t trying at all.

Adobe Shadows #1

What are the ingredients of those mystical moments, and how can we cultivate them?   A day I spent in Santa Fe a couple of years ago stands out to me as one of those lovely photographic experiences. I had nothing in mind, and would probably have been just as happy if I came home without having taken a shot. But I am an inveterate wanderer, and nothing is a better excuse to wander and look than having a free day and a camera in hand. There is pleasure in simply seeing the world, letting it flow in front of me in whatever way it wants.

That's how "LOVED" came about. It was a chilly March morning, as I recall, and I was ready for a warm cup of tea in one of the cafés along Canyon Road, when something in a little courtyard caught my eye. Next to a trashcan and an anonymous door, partly hidden behind a patch of weeds, a discarded sign declared, "Loved."  I shot a frame, then came in closer and shot another. The odd juxtaposition made me wonder; what was loved? Who was loved? And why was love thrown away? The moment was over quickly and I continued my search for a place to warm up. But the image stayed with me.

When I set out with a goal in mind to make a specific photograph, I more than likely come back empty-handed. When I simply wander around, images present themselves in ways that I would've never planned or anticipated. What makes the difference?

I think it is this.  Having a goal puts us on a path that only leads to one place.  Any deviation from that path is a distraction and interesting things that the world gives to that don't fit the path to the goal are dismissed or discarded. When we attempt to take control of a fluid process and bend it in a certain direction, we risk losing the possibilities of spontaneity, or surprise.  Trying harder only raises that risk.

Adobe Shadows #2

When I set out with a goal in mind to make a specific photograph, I more than likely come back empty-handed. When I simply wander around, images present themselves in ways that I would've never planned or anticipated. What makes the difference?

I think it is this.  Having a goal puts us on a path that only leads to one place.  Any deviation from that path is a distraction and interesting things that the world gives to that don't fit the path to the goal are dismissed or discarded. When we attempt to take control of a fluid process and bend it in a certain direction, we risk losing the possibilities of spontaneity, or surprise.  Trying harder only raises that risk.

After warming up in a little café, I continued my walk in Santa Fe. In a completely nondescript parking lot, one I would usually pass by without a second thought, I saw the shadows of an overhanging tree against an adobe wall. I made another image, and then a couple more, trying to capture the subtlety of light and shadow and texture.  There is something quite beautiful, and elemental, about sunlight on adobe.

If goals get in our way, then, what is it that leads us through experiences like my morning in Santa Fe? I'd like to propose that the alternative to having a goal is bringing intention to our work. What's the difference? Where goals lead us to search for a specific end, intentions set us on a path whose end is unpredictable and which we likely never reach. Intention allows for detours, distractions, and the meandering that can lead us to the fresh and unexpected.  Even if that effort proves a dead end, there need be no failure or frustration.  The path continues. 

There is another level to this distinction, something more subtle.  Goals invite us to impose our will on the world and make something happen.  The effort to create then becomes a battle between what is and what we want to be.  Intentions, on the other hand, can lead us to a state of allowing. The battle doesn't have to be joined.  We simply have to be open to what is in front of us. Goals threaten to take away our ability to be present; intention ushers us into the present moment.

As my day in Santa Fe continued, I found myself downtown near the museums and the Palace of the Governors.  Despite the magnificent mountains to the east and the wide-open sky to the west – a vista that certainly could have made a beautiful image - I found myself intrigued with the details of the buildings. The ends of the wooden vigas in the bright sunlight against the shadows on the adjoining adobe caught my eye.  The harsh light, rough wood, and shadows created a nearly abstract pattern.  Another image.

So what is the intention we bring to photography when we have entered the flow and it is going well? It is tempting to first think of it in photographic terms. Do we bring the intention to find the best light? Do we bring the intention to experiment with the visual frame? The best intention we can bring to our photographic work is more fundamental. I think it is simply the intention to be present.  This is not an easy, or passive, task.  In their book, Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orlando talk about how much making art is about dealing with fear.  "Fears arise when you look back, and they arise when you look ahead." Undealt with, our fears lift us out of the present. But what do we have to fear is photographers? After all, we simply walk around snapping pictures and no one needs to see any failures. It is a largely solitary affair. But there are indeed fears. We know the failures.  We wonder if we are being good enough, if our images are strong enough, if we will ever reach the level of our art that we aspire to. All of these things take us out of contact with the visual world before us.  And it is our fears, I think, that make goals so tempting. Goals suggest we can predict the outcome, that we don't have to take chances, that we can't be thrown off the path.

Late in the afternoon, when the sun began to sink into the Southwest, creating the almost palpable afternoon light of Santa Fe, I was walking down the side street away from the Plaza when another beautiful detail stood out for me. The sign for a restaurant and a nearby utility pole created a powerful shadow, again on an adobe wall. I don’t believe it is an image I could have searched for. It was an image that had to be found, an image I had to be present for.

In addition to being present to the world, as photographers we need to have the intention to interact with that world, at least visually. I sometimes think that making photographs is like a dance between what’s in the world, what I know that the materials of photography can do, and all of the experience and knowledge I bring to that specific situation at that specific time. Good photographs can’t be made, in my view at least, from emotional distance.  We need to be present, not in some abstract way, but in a getting your eyeballs dirty way.  We need to both see the world and move into it, taking a chance.

That evening, as I headed back to where I was staying, I passed a house with a white picket fence.  The gate was open slightly and caught the evening light perfectly.  It immediately made me think of Paul Strand's white picket fence image from so many years ago. But it also seemed to reflect what my experience had been that day. Intentions leave the gate open, leave us with a path to follow forever if we choose, and help us bring a presence to our art that can get lost too easily when we rigidly set out to make a certain thing.  Perhaps that is the best intention of all, to leave the gate open as best we can.

This essay first appeared in Shadow and Light Magazine, September/October 2016 issueIt is reprinted with permission of Shadow and Light.  You can purchase the entire issue in which this piece appeared here and can subscribe to Shadow and Light here

South by Southeast Magazine Portrait Exhbition

Strrings #1

Strrings #1

I am very pleased to have my image "Strings #1" included in the Portrait show sponsored by Nancy McCrary at South by Southeast Magazine.  The juror for the show is Elizabeth Avedon.  It could not be a better team.  The show will be exhibited at the South by Southeast Gallery in Molena, GA from November 1st through December 15th. 

I was especially happy to have this image chosen because it represents a couple of departures for me.  First, it is shot on film - a medium I am becoming more and more comfortable with.  Second, the use of the twine to give an idea of the constraints that coexist with connection is a little move into the conceptual art area.  Many thanks to Blueriverdream and her partner for their collaboration in the creation of this image.  It is such a pleasure to work with such talented folks.

With the Muse

"It seems old,” Blue said when she first saw this image, "or maybe timeless."

We had spent a relaxed afternoon, a few days before, shooting in the natural light space of a warehouse building in Baltimore. I've known Blue for several years now, shooting regularly, and we have established a familiar rhythm and understanding in our work. This image was made in an off-moment when I had just changed film magazines and Blue was standing patiently waiting to begin shooting again.

"She's your muse," someone remarked, noting how often we work together and the quality of the images that come from those sessions. The statement rankled a bit but I didn't know why.

Click for larger image

While straightforward, and perhaps even plain, I couldn't stop coming back to the image. Blue's comment made me think more carefully about why.  It reminds me of so many images I've seen of models in the studio, in an off-stage moment, alone with the artist or in front of a drawing class, as they rest for a bit or get ready for the next pose.  There is, as Blue said, something timeless about a model and artist working together.  It connects us to the community of those who try to create, to centuries of art making, and to the influence of the Muse.

We have come to think of a muse as a specific person, someone to whom the artist is strongly, often erotically, drawn. History is replete with examples: Lee Miller and Man Ray, Charis Wilson and Edward Weston, Helga Testorf and Andrew Wyeth, to name just a few from recent years. In this vision of the Muse, the artist is dependent on his muse for inspiration.  Although the relationship often begins with passion and excitement, it can quickly become ambivalent and strained.  Calling someone "my muse" introduces a kind of possessiveness that may not serve either partner.  While great art has emerged from such relationships, so has great suffering.  We easily come to hate those on whom we become so dependent.

There is another way to think of the Muse, a way that better fits my own experience, at least.  Like the Greeks who saw the influence of the gods in the making of art, I think of the Muse as a kind of spirit that envelopes both artist and model when we come to the studio, whatever space that might be. I feel it in the flow of the best sessions. We start with small talk, direction, a discussion of what to do next, and then slowly the talk fades.  When the work is strong and going well, I find myself absorbed in my work yet connected to the model at the same time, all of it held in silence.  We are in the presence of the Muse.

What are the components of that presence? I think artist and model must have the courage to bring intention and vulnerability to the work. It is easier to see the vulnerabilities of the model.  She - because it is most often a woman - must intend to be part of the creative process rather than being a simple mannequin.  In doing so, she loans something of herself and her identity to the artist. She takes the risk of representation, the assumption that the image is the person. In defense of her photographs of her children nude, Sally Mann tried to make the point that the photograph was not the child. But it is a hard point to make when we believe culturally that a single captured moment holds the entire person and that possessing an image is akin to possessing the person. Certainly, the model also takes the risk of being portrayed nude. Artist and model may know better, but the assumption is that nudity and sexuality go hand in hand and that those who pose nude are suspect. Modeling in this way is an act courage.

The photographer's vulnerability is more subtle. When we work with another person to make art, we make our vision public before it is yet realized. We ask the model's help in bringing what we see in our mind's eye to the final print. In doing so, we risk failure, or false starts, or other evidence that we don't quite have it all in hand. If we shoot a landscape, we take the film or the file back to the privacy of the workroom and make it public only when it is completely finished in our eyes. As we work with a model, however, we have to at least hint at the vision we have in mind before we have established complete control of it.  Our vulnerability may not be as obvious as that of the model whose representation hangs on the wall of the gallery or spreads through the Internet but we still take a psychological, and maybe spiritual, risk. I feel it in the twinge of anxiety as I prepare for a shoot. 

"Will it go well?" I ask myself.  "Will we connect today? Will we make something beautiful?"

It is a messy process, rarely effortless, often frustrating.  That's why I love this simple image of Blue against the studio wall, resting, immersed in the work, thinking as I imagine it, about what comes next. It is a moment of repose captured on film.  And it is also a moment with the Muse.


This essay first appeared in Shadow and Light Magazine, March/April 2017 issue.  It is reprinted with permission of Shadow and Light.  You can purchase the entire issue in which this piece appeared here and can subscribe to Shadow and Light here

Editing and Sequencing

Cocoon #167

A few years ago, when I began posting some of my early photographic attempts on Facebook, one of my friends replied by posting a picture that her 12-year-old child had taken. "See," she said, "my daughter is a photographer, too!"

It's something that those of us who call ourselves photographers face over and over again. With cell phones and point and shoot cameras increasing in their ability to render good images, it's easy for all of us to occasionally take a great picture. So what differentiates an amateur from someone who is really dedicated to creating art with photography? I learned a lot about that earlier in May when I attended a workshop in editing and sequencing a body of work, taught by Magdalena Sole and Elizabeth Avedon.

What photographers do that amateurs don't is, first, make strong images consistently and then put them together in ways that emphasize the strongest shots in a sequence that engages the viewer at a level that the single shots alone can't. That level may be conceptual, graphic, aesthetic, or emotional. The images act like notes in a song, whose timing and arrangement create something larger than what the notes scattered randomly could do on their own.

During the workshop, I re-edited the Cocoon project that I have been working on for the past several years. I chose that body of work at the suggestion of the instructors who believed it would give me the most interesting set of images to edit and sequence. Frankly, going into the workshop, I wasn't sure they were right. I was a little tired of the series and felt like I had wrung everything out of it that was there to find. I was certainly wrong.

I discovered several things over the course of my week with Elizabeth and Magdalena.. First, because they'd asked for at least 300 images to start with, I went back through old cocoon shoots in order to fill out the initial pool. In the course of that exercise, I discovered images that hadn't seemed interesting at the time but became interesting now as I saw them again. The images in this blog post are two of those.  I think I was more able to see subtle images as I looked back over the work and I was able to see early images in the context of later images which help those earlier images become more interesting.

Cocoon #168

I also learned how hard it is to edit your own work. I have an emotional attachment to many images that make it hard to leave weaker images out of the selection. It becomes as simple, at times, as wanting to make sure all my models are represented in work that I'm showing, or remembering the special quality of a particular shoot and wanting to represent that as well. Someone who can look at the body of work more objectively can be very helpful in making sure that I don't include favorite, but mediocre, photos.

I found that the process of editing and sequencing is largely intuitive. Or perhaps a better way to say it is that it's primarily learned by experience. I watched as Magdalena and Elizabeth helped all nine of my fellow workshop participants edit their work and learned a tremendous amount as I did so. I kept wishing for principles, or a schema by which to understand sequencing in particular, but didn't really find attempts to generate them useful.

The image selection process was painful, and the struggle to create a sequence took time, but in the end I was really pleased with what resulted.  The narrative flow that organized my work was moving from simple and classically beautiful images to darker and more complex images. I also was interested in ending with the cocoon fabric being torn open to represent the whole notion of emergence we associate with a cocoon. 

I have posted the updated edit of the cocoon series on the website. I'd love for you to take a look and tell me what you think.




Dance on film

Click to enlarge image

I've been slowly experimenting with shooting film and recently had a chance to shoot in the studio with a very talented dancer - Vanessa Owen. Vanessa dances with a wonderful local dance company - Company E -  and also models for photographers. It was truly a treat to work with her.

In my exploration of film, I've been using a classic camera: the Mamiya RB67.  The RB67 is a medium format camera that shoots nearly square negatives on 120 format film. It was the workhorse camera for many years with any number of uses including the studio, landscape photography, portraiture, and many other things.  With the rise of digital technology, however, these cameras are available used for very little cost. While that's a sad commentary in some ways, it's good for photographers like me who want to try their hand at film photography without a big initial investment. It took a little while for me to figure out how to sync this camera with the strobe lights in the studio but once I did it was fun to play with the unique look of film and the contrasty studio light that I so enjoy. The film that I was using for this shoot was Kodak Tri-X, another classic of the analog photography era.  It has a unique look with visible grain and a somewhat contrasty appearance of its own.

In working with dancers, I find that a collaborative approach works best. We will generally start with an idea of how we want the image to look - especially the "pose" - and work toward creating it. Sometimes this pose emerges from the dancer's own invention, sometimes from my idea, or sometimes it comes from a set of images we found of other photographers whose work appeals to us. Known as a "mood board," this allows for ongoing inspiration over the course of a three hour shoot. Here is a link to the mood board we used for the shoot. Oddly enough, Pinterest is an ideal platform for constructing and sharing mood boards between models and photographers.

This image came from a pose that Vanessa herself struck.  When shooting digitally, we work to refine each pose by shooting and then looking at the image on the back of the camera to see what works and what doesn't. I remain in awe of dancers' ability to re-create a leap or a pose almost exactly while making a small adjustment.  Sometimes a hand is hidden behind a leg, hair is shading the face, or one part of the body looks fine while another part looks awkward. When working with film, however, we don't have immediate feedback and we have to hope that the shot will be good when the film is developed and scanned. In this case I think we succeeded. I was really happy with Vanessa's powerful pose, the lovely light and the wonderful, somewhat retro, look of Tri-X. 

I'd love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment if you have a moment.


Loved - click to enlarge

A couple of week ago, I was very honored to have my image entitled "Loved" selected as one of the winners in a competition sponsored by Rfotofolio.  I have admired the work of this organization and the team who  run it - Connie and Jerry Rosenthal - for some time.  The juror who selected my image was Susan Spiritus whose gallery in LA is one of the best photography galleries in the country.  She made some wonderful comments about my image in her juror's statement.   As you can imagine, I was very pleased by all of this.  As a result of being selected, my work, along with an interview, will be featured on the Rfotofolio website in the near future.  I'll post a link when it becomes available.

The competition - entitled ONE - was an interesting one.  Photographers were invited to submit images that were not part of a project or a larger body of work. So much of contemporary photography involves producing a series of photographs that explore a theme or a narrative.  The images live in relationship to one another and in doing so their meaning deepens, I think. I like working in project form as my work on the  Cocoon Series, the Shadow Series, and the little pond in my neighborhood demonstrates.  But there are images I like that do stand alone and deserve some recognition so I was especially glad that "Loved" was chosen.

I shot this image on a trip to Santa Fe last year.  Walking down Canyon Road, I glimpsed the sign sitting in a sort of alleyway and the visual irony led me to get out my camera.  While I really do find it important to think of my work in terms of projects, it is also fun just to wander around and see what the world offers. 

Back in the studio!

My life has been busy, both on the photography side and also at work.  A couple of weeks ago, I spent two mornings making portraits of the participants at an adult day center that primarily serves folks with dementia.  I've done this before and it is always a pleasure.  Many of these people don't have current portraits for their families because it is hard and confusing to get them to a commercial studio.  Me coming to their familiar territory makes things easier.  It was a lovely time, the staff were very helpful, and I got to shoot some beautiful, even beatific, faces, and hear some great stories.  I met a man who worked with Thurgood Marshall on the Loving v. Virginia case that established the right of people of different races to marry, a woman who escaped Nazi Europe as a child and another many who supervised the construction of a number of important buildings.  It was a reminder that photographers can make a contribution to the community while doing the things we love.  Now I have to edit and print all those portraits!

Shadow Series #96 - click for larger image

Then, this week, I was finally back in the studio!  I had the chance to work with a talented dancer and acrobat/contortionist who I have worked with before.  We played around with a little bit of everything.  We tried some slow shutter motion capture, some work with my new film camera (samples upcoming if they turn out at all interesting) and shot some of the cocoons and shadows.  The Shadow Series continues to interest me.  It is fun to play with the same set of elements over time, seeing how they work together as the series develops, finding new relationships or viewpoints.  Sometimes the change comes as the elements change and other times it comes as my perception of the elements changes.  And sometimes it is just serendipity.  This time around the tall ladder I had been shooting shadows from wasn't at the studio and I used a stepladder instead.  I liked the more intimate sense the images had when the distance was closer. 

Shadow Series #94 - click for larger image

Cocoon Series #164 - click for larger image

We also shot with the body stocking and I came away with several images I am happy with.  However, I feel my interest in that project waning.  I hope to do some images outdoors when the weather warms up and that may signal the end of that project.  But, of course, you never know.  I've been at this point several times before only to have something new appear.

It was good to be back in the studio and working in the lovely collaborative spirit that shooting a model involves. 

A different kind of project . . . .

At the foot of the road where we live is a little drainage pond that is designed to control the flow of water through the storm sewer system.  A couple of years ago, it was dredged and landscaped to keep it full of water and provide more wildlife habitat.  The path across the little levee that helps form the pond is on my regular dog-walking route so I see it most days and have become fascinated with how it changes through the seasons.  It's home to ducks, our non-migratory Canadian geese, a regal Great Blue Heron, little frogs, escaped goldfish, any number of insects, and nocturnal animals if the dog's fascination with the smells in the weeds is any indication. 


Pond Weeds in Snow

Winter's Bones

For a number of reasons, I haven't been shooting in the studio as much as I would like (never fear - more sessions with dancers and nudes are on the calendar) so I began carrying my camera along when I walk the dog in the morning and evening just to see what might catch my eye at the pond.  I don't think of myself as a landscape photographer, really, but I have enjoyed the challenge of looking deeply into the same small bit of land over and over again as the weather, the light, and my perception and mood change. 

At first, I thought my photo forays with Ruby (the dog), were simply a way to keep my eye sharp but I think the images of the pond are beginning to turn into a project.  I hope to keep shooting at the pond over the course of the year, exploring an aesthetic of small places, and (hopefully) subtle images through the seasons. 

The pond images have also helped me reflect on the places that Nature occupies in the suburban world. We tend to think of Nature as apart from us, as something that lives in its own separate space, a space that we must go to to know Nature.  Our images of it tend to be romantic and heroic (e.g. Ansel Adams' dramatic landscapes).  But at our little pond, I have been fascinated by what is, in fact, a very arbitrary division between Nature and Not.  The heron stalks fish just yards from a busy highway.  A lost kickball floats in the middle of the pond. 

Pond Shadows

Pond Shadows

Cattails in Ice

Cattails in Ice

I'm certainly not the first one to explore these issues, nor likely the best.  John Gossage's book The Pond sets the bar.  But I like getting out of the studio, away from the figure for a bit, and exploring what can be seen in small spaces over time.  Hope you will come along for the walk with Ruby and me.

Southern Poetry Review

Last year (2013, that is - still doesn't seem like I'm ready for 2015)  the Southern Poetry Review contacted me and asked if they could use my images for the cover of their journal.  They publish two issues a year and wanted to use an image on each cover for 2014.  I just got the proof of the cover of the second issue and I think it looks terrific - but I guess I would.  Southern Poetry Review is a well-respected poetry journal with a world-wide readership despite its seemingly regional name.  As a published poet myself in the very distant (and best left buried) past, I am so happy to be included in the work of this journal.  Here's the cover of the first issue, in case you missed it.

Things and things and things . . .

Shadow Series #72

I'm beginning my New Year's resolution early, and that is to post more regularly here.  Since I have plunged into the uncharted waters of tweeting (inspired by a wonderful workshop on social media and web presence for photographers that I attended a couple of weeks ago),  I need to have something to tweet.  Today's post will be my first try . . . (If you click the images you can see a larger version)

I continue to work on the Shadow Series (see the New Work page here on the website).  Mostly, I've shot my models on the floor from atop a ladder, resulting in images that obscure space and orientation.  However, at a shoot in August, I was in a studio with a large white wall, shooting a male/female pair, and we played with what shadows we could make against the wall.  I'm particularly happy with this image of Holly playing with the light against the wall.  I like how her dynamic pose leads into the long shadow of her arm. 

Cocoon Series #157

More recently, I had the chance to shoot with a wonderful model and friend, Katya Zvantseva, who I've shot with before.  Katya is now pregnant and we had a great time working on the Shadow Series and the Cocoon Series with the added interest of the lines of her pregnancy.  There are lots of good images to work on but I was drawn to the one posted here because of the beautiful curve of Katya's belly contrasted with the straight line of the torn cocoon fabric.  Of course, the metaphor of Katya emerging from the torn cocoon was always close at hand.  Katya was a trooper throughout the shoot.  I so appreciate my models' dedication to making great images.

Earlier in the month, I had the chance to attend a workshop with David Bram of Fraction Magazine and Jennifer Schwartz of Crusade for Art who talked about building a good website and using social media to promote your work as a photographer.  I learned some new things and was reminded of some things I know to do but haven't been doing.  With their inspiration, I've decided to start using Twitter.  Never thought I would hear myself say I am tweeting . . . but there you are.  If you want to follow me, I'm @eemccollum . . . my Twitter link is in the menu on the left as well.

Finally, a couple of pieces of good news . . . Another Cocoon Series image will appear on the cover of the upcoming issue of Southern Poetry Review.  I am so happy to have my work associated with this influential poetry journal and to collaborate, in that way, with other artists.

In addition, I was awarded an Honorable Mention for a portfolio I submitted to  the portfolio contest at Adore Noir magazine. Adore Noir has published a portfolio of the Cocoon Series earlier and I was delighted to have this portfolio from the Shadow Series recognized in this way.   I'll post updates about both of these publications when they are available.

Back to Dance . . .

I've had something of a love/hate relationship with dance photography if you want to know the truth.  I love working  with dancers.  They are such talented folks who know so much about their bodies and how they look from an audience's point of view, who are so stunningly athletic, and who have an enduring commitment  to making art.  At the same time, I have struggled to find what I think of as a visual vocabulary for my work with dancers.  What do I add to the endeavor past documenting their performances?  Where is my creative influence in the work? 

A couple of weeks ago, I feel like I moved a bit closer to answering that question.  I had a chance to work with a very talented model and classically-trained ballet dancer - Vik Tory.  I have admired her work for some time and when I saw that she would be traveling to DC (she lives in New York), I jumped at the chance to work with her.  Not only is Vik a dancer, she is also a nude figure model and I had anticipated that most of our session would be figure work.  I was especially especially looking forward to working with Vik on some images to add to the Shadow Series thinking that her dance training would make her a natural for that project.  It did and we got some striking shadow images as well as some beautiful nudes but we both got really excited when Vik put on a leotard with an attached filmy skirt and we began to play with the transparency of the fabric against a brightly-lit white wall.  My timing was good that day and we were able to capture what I find to be some enthralling images.  Fabric helps to translate the motion of dance to the still image and Vik's clear talent is obvious as well.  We also played with including some of the studio environment in the images.  While I love the almost ethereal light of the cyclorama wall and the isolation of the figure in that space, the studio environment added interest and fun.  I was thinking of the work of Sam Haskins a photographer whose work I've enjoyed for a long time, when I thought to move some of the studio equipment into the frame. 

I've shared a couple of images from our shoot here and I'll update again when I add more to the website.  And never fear . . . Vik and I both agreed we want to work together again as soon as we can.

Cocoon #120 featured by Duncan Miller Gallery

Duncan Miller Gallery in Santa Monica chooses three photographs every day to feature in their "Your Daily Photograph" email which is sent to photography fans and collectors around the world.  My photograph Cocoon Series #120 is one of the current features (September 14-15).  The image is for sale through the gallery and this is also a way to have my work seen by the many subscribers to the gallery's email list.  Here's the URL to the listing . . . and here's the image . . . .

Artists' Statements . . . .

I'm always at a bit of a loss to know what to write in an artist's statement.  They seem to be de rigeur for exhibits and publications but I also notice at the gallery that people are usually drawn first to the images and only occasionally to whatever that artist had to say about them.  Some years ago now, I took a workshop with Kim Weston - son of Cole Weston and grandson of Edward. He said whenever his uncle Brett Weston was asked to interpret his work, he simply said, "The photograph speaks for itself."  I do like that sentiment, but we always seem to want more.  A visitor came to the gallery a week ago to look at my work.  She had seen it online and had fallen in love with the Cocoon Series, she said.  We spent probably two hours looking through prints of the series and she remarked how hearing me talk about them enriched the experience of the images for her.  It was such a wonderful experience to have someone devote her time and thought to my work.  And it made me realize that what we have to say as artists may make a difference.  With that in mind, here is my artist's statement for the show I'll hang on Monday September 1  at Multiple Exposures Gallery.  I was happy with this one and happy to pair it with an image from the series I'm showing . . . see what you think . . . click the image to have it open in a light box where it may be easier to read . . . .

Where does the time go?

Shadows Series #41 - click for a larger version

Wow!  Nine months since I posted here.  My apologies!  That makes me even happier to share this image of a wonderful model and lovely person - Katya Zvantseva - from a recent shoot.  This is part of a new project that I'm calling the Shadow Series.  I use a strong directional light at a fairly high angle to keep the shadows from becoming too broad and shoot down on the model from above using a tall ladder.  I am really fascinated by the way the shadows play with the figure adding contours and emphasis.  I'm especially drawn to this image because of the sense that Katya is floating in space as well as the wonderful line of her pose and her hair adding some interest to the otherwise clean lines of the image.  Katya is truly a joy to work with.

In other news, the Southern Poetry Review will feature my photos on the cover of both issues of Volume 52 with the first issue due out soon and the second coming at the end of the year.  Southern Poetry Review is a prestigious journal and I am very honored that they saw my work and asked me to contribute.  A fellow photographer -- Andy Ilachinski - was kind enough to suggest my work to them since they had used his work for previous covers.  In fact, I seem to follow Andy around since he also preceded me in Lenswork.  I'm hoping he sells one of his images for a million bucks soon so I can coattail on that success!  I believe Southern Poetry Review sells on newsstands so check out your local bookstore - if you can find one -- around July 1st. 

Finally, I have begun to offer my prints for sale via my website.  Please check out the Purchase Prints page for more info if you are interested.

A couple in the cocoon

H & L -10.jpg

Early on in my experience with the Cocoon Series, I began to wonder what it would be like to photograph a male/female couple in it.  It wasn't a concept I pursued with much focus but it stayed in the back of my mind and I'd occasionally ask models if they had a male partner or friend they were comfortable working with in such close quarters, or if they knew couples who might be interested in working together.  Finally, a few weeks ago, I made contact with Holly Rogue and her friend via a suggestion from Blueriverdream.  One of the benefits of the DC area is the number of talented figure models we have and the connections throughout the community.  Blueriverdream helped me take the Cocoon Series in a new direction when we experimented with mud and body paint and ripping the fabric and now has helped me again by putting me in touch with this couple.  Holly and her friend were wonderful to work with . . . comfortable, skilled, adventuresome, excited about the Cocoon project.  As we shot, I was captured by the expressiveness of male and female bodies together, the different textures, the contrast of male angularity and female curve.  Although Holly and her friend were game enough to get in the cocoon together, I also liked working with one model in the cocoon and one out,  providing contrasting texture and clarity.  All in all, it was a great day and I hope to work with these two again soon.


The edges of things . . .

Alexandra Crop.jpg

One of my friends from long ago -- an artist -- did a series of drawings exploring the frame, that is the boundary around the work.  It was a wonderful series and it pointed out how much we don't see the edges, how much the frame is like water to a fish.  In photography it is a large part of what we have to work with.  What's out is equally important -- sometimes more so --  than what's in.  I was playing with that idea a bit as I edited images from a recent studio shoot with Alexandra Keen -- a terrific dancer who I had the pleasure of working with a couple of weeks ago.  I was shooting wide in order to capture Alexandra's graceful leaps with the result being that many of the images included pieces of the studio environment.  In this one, I captured Alexandra in a wonderful jump but also caught the strobe light and umbrella that were lighting the back wall to get the white background.  My first instinct was to crop the light out . . . and you can see that image in square format.  I think it creates a sense of intimacy with Alexandra and the physicality and exhilaration of her movement.  But as I passed back through the images from the shoot later, the original, uncropped frame caught my eye.  Was there something to be gained by including the context of the work?  I re-worked the image and found that it appealed to me.  Why?  What does the "behind-the-scenes" look contribute?  

In part, it satisfies our curiosity about how the image came to be.  "How did you do that?" is a perennial question.  But I think there's more.  Expanding the frame gives context and it reminds us of the edges, that if we draw them close enough, we can make the world feel pure . . . when  it really isn't. We sometimes have to leave a lot out to make the world seem so orderly.  In this shot, were we to pull back even further, we'd see cords snaking to the lights, the canvas drop cloth protecting part of the floor, and the fan that's blowing Alexandra's hair. It is amazing to me that, along with my model friends, we can create such beauty in a nearly empty studio, strewn with equipment, and with no audience present but ourselves.   So I think I like the wider image because it reminds us that beauty happens in a context, sometimes a messy context, but that makes what's beautiful more powerful, more amazing.  

There is room for both images, I think.  We need moments of purity just as we need reminders that there is a world beyond the edges of those images.  Is one more true than the other?  I don't think so.  In Buddhism, there is the concept of the two truths . . . One of my meditation teachers put it this way, "All things are not as they seem . . . nor are they otherwise."  There is a truth in everything . . . it just may not be the same truth.

Alexandra Context.jpg