Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Behind Inner Space

MICHAEL CROUSER: "I have spent quite a bit of time considering the concept of personal voice in photography and how it is developed. It is difficult to articulate, and many elements contribute to this end, but I believe that the ideal is to make pictures that feel like oneself. These are pictures that are a fair representation of what you're most comfortable looking at and putting out into the world as a representation of yourself - an extension of yourself and your voice. This comes from conscious and unconscious choices you make in lighting, media, equipment, perspective and choice of subject."

SUSAN SONTAG: "And while the tasks of connoisseurship in painting invariably presume the organic relation of a painting to an individual body of work with its own integrity, and to schools and iconographical traditions, in photography a large individual body of work does not necessarily have an inner stylistic coherence, and an individual photographer's relation to schools of photography is a much more superficial affair."

ALFRED HITCHCOCK: "Style is self-plagiarism."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The question addressed in the three quotes above continues to puzzle me as I review photos and prepare them for posting or for exhibit. It plays little part in my thinking as I shoot. However, it's clear that certain places and ways of seeing and of shooting hold an attraction for me which may be personal. You may recall seeing this facade in an earlier photo. One can often tell a Rembrandt portrait from a Hals portrait without help from the signature. The same may be true of certain portrait photographers, but after making the distinction I'm not certain we know as much about the passions of the photographers as we do about the passions of painters?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Waller Farm

EDOUARD BOUBAT: "Every photo is an adventure."

I believe in walking. My walks are adventures. On my walk this morning I learned the true name of this farmstead which, up until now, I've called, "Hollow Farm." Henceforth it will be, "Waller Farm."

I also learned that the place now commonly referred to as "The Hollow," was known always by old-timers as, "The Great Hollow." I love names like that - "The Great Hollow." If one were walking or riding a horse from here to there, one would certainly be able to spot, "The Great Hollow." Traveling in that way one must be in a place before being someplace else, sees the far hills to be climbed while on the near ones descending. By the time the valley is crossed one has taken its fit. Traveling by car, before we have a chance to be here, we are somewhere else, and our road is a trip through nowhere.

I started out along the same road last Friday. In my mind was a new four-and-a-half mile loop, but it was merely possibility. One mile out I was stopped. I spent the whole afternoon shooting at what I now know to be Waller Farm. Have I finally learned how to shoot there? Perhaps I simply stopped looking for what I wanted to see and slowed down to be there. Some of the results are already posted. This small yard lies between the great barn casting a shadow from the left and the string of smaller barns and backhouses to the right. A great crossing structure behind me ties them together. I'm drawn to this spot by the warp and color of the wood, by the hardware and by all the many textures here. As often as I've shot here, I've never quite seen it this way. - Every photo is an adventure.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Composition in the Form of a Hemiola

Those who read yesterday's TODAY'S may have suspected a bit of tongue-in-cheekiness in my choice of quote. It was a response to a dear friend. She implies I may be a closeted proponent of this rule in spite of my occasional protests to the contrary. I will continue to lobby for repeal of the Rule of Thirds, as I would for all "rules" of composition. Yet, I find a useful truth in the concept.

A rectangular canvas is a field of force. Any forms placed on that canvas effect the force field and are effected by it. Imagine an invisible tic-tac-toe grid on top of the canvas. The places where the grid lines cross are, "hot spots," or nodes in the force field. Forms placed near those crossings will take on the extra energy of the force field and forms placed on other nodes will begin to interact with them in special, leveraged ways. Look at the last three images posted to see how this works on very flat images. On images showing depth one might begin to imagine a kind of counterpoint between the principle of the force field on the surface of the canvas and the illusion of depth within the canvas.

Of course forms placed in the empty spots between the nodes will also change the force field, and may shift the nodes drastically. In this way the principle of thirds may give way to a binary form or to something else altogether. Furthermore, photographers don't place forms on a grid, they place the grid on an infinite field of vision. It has been widely argued that it was photography in the 19th century that led Degas and others to compose in very different ways. They revealed how creaky some of those old rules of composition were and what power could be achieved through throwing a composition out of balance. However, study of their works both supports the underlying principle of thirds and also demonstrates how powerful it can be to violate it.

As a matter of practice, when I shoot the principle of the nodes is as far from consciousness as yesterday's clouds. Rather, I pass like the bird, waiting for my attention to be drawn by something and then I follow the dictates of the moment. Every composition will define its own rules of being. Only after my intuitions have composed the scene do I sometimes ask myself if the image might be stronger if shifted to validate the principle of the four nodes.

I like this photo for its simple, elevation-like layout. However, it breaks a number of principles of composition. The parts of the composition that fall on the four nodes are probably the least important elements of the composition. As an architectural student I was told that a columned portico ought to have an even number of columns so no single column falls at the center. Photographers are often alarmed when small light areas touch & interrupt the perimeter frame. The two white building faces in this image fall where rules say they should not, dead center, and slipping off the edge. To my eye, however, the five key elements of the composition provide a kind of jazzy interplay, something of a surprise in an image otherwise so linear.

And so, is this composition in triple time or is it binary? Perhaps it is a hemiola.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Composition in Triple Time

1845 reference to J T Smith's illustrated book, published in 1797, defining a compositional "Rule of Thirds":

"Sir Joshua Reynolds has given it as a rule, that the proportion of warm to cold colour in a picture should be as two to one, although he has frequently deviated therefrom; and Smith in his 'Remarks on Rural Scenery,' would extend a like rule to all the proportions of a painting, begging for it the term, "the rule of thirds," according to which a landscape, having one third of land, should have two thirds of water, and these together forming about one third of the picture, the remaining two-thirds to be for air and sky; he applies the same rule to the crossing of line, etc."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Composition in Primary Colors

EDOUARD BOUBAT: "A photographer is like a bird."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Composition with Barnboard & Sheet Metal

FARMSTEAD PHOTOGRAPHY: Barns and backhouses are usually simple structures that lay bare the geometric shapes from which they are composed. One sees the gable side or the long side of a barn. Except when topography dictates differently, the buildings often reach out in rows or perpendicularly. As I move around a farmstead the gable ends pile up and move apart, grow thin like turrets and then spread the broad cheeks of a gable face. Silos and various hoppers add cylinders, cones, and semispheres, but especially they add verticality.

As one circles around these barn-clusters gables, broadsides, vertical thrusts and backgrounds are continuously recomposing themselves. With shorter lenses walls, fences, rooflines, and hillscapes lead the eye deeply into the photo illusion, and a really short "wide angle" lens will send the corners flying as the illusion goes deep. With a long lens at a fair distance the elements flatten like an architect's elevation diagram. The painter's palette is paint; the photographer's palette is objects in space.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Talking with the Sun

Fermenting grapes along the baccate wind,
Earth afloat on purple scent.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Farm Road

I'm standing in almost the same spot as yesterday's TODAY'S, but this shot was taken two days earlier, before the snowfall. It was one of those cold, gray afternoons when the light was "bad." There are no shadows, and the blue-gray atmosphere adds to the lonely feeling of the silent farm, once the hub of greatest activity in The Hollow. Behind the farm lie idle hay fields and behind those the swamp. It has gown greatly now that farming is no longer a major activity here.

On the other hand, when the farmers are gone, the beavers have free reign. This expansion of wetlands here in spring, summer, and fall makes the hollow thrive with wildlife. There's a special energy here which makes the birds sing and the insects buzz with special gusto. A little way down this farm road the fields and swamps are only sleeping. I grew up in the city and used to think nature only happens in the summer. I greatly fear too many of us have lost all remembrance of the kind of vitalizing force that can be breathed here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Owl Song

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl:
Tu-whit! Tu-who! -a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marion’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit! Tu-who! -a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

from Love's Labours Lost by William Shakespeare

After leaving Hollow Farm, I went a mile up the road to Beardsley Farm. The size of this farmstead makes clear it was once the largest dairy farm in the hollow, but it's been a long time since the breath of a cow steamed the air in the barnyard. The barns are in decay and all is quiet. Far to the right, at the foot of the distant mountain, are the intact remains of Straight Farm. As you can see above, the snow was still falling. There would be a few more hours of good shooting, but by this time I was getting hungry for breakfast and morning coffee.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


JOHN SZARKOWSKI: "To quote out of context is the essence of the photographer's craft. His central problem is a simple one: what shall he include, what shall he reject? The line of decision between in and out is the picture's edge. While the draughtsman starts with the middle of the sheet, the photographer starts with the frame."

These are the same barns as pictured in yesterday's TODAY'S; they were taken the same morning. I started shooting here at about 7 AM while the snow was still falling. By 9 AM I had circled around the barns and the house hidden behind them. I had reached a spot somewhere off in the field on the right. That's when I snapped the image posted yesterday. Are these polar opposites?

Bad puns aside, how glorious to experience this familiar place suddenly and momently so transformed!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Clarion Call

MARC RIBOUD: "The best photo strikes the eye as the right chord strikes the ear."

Readers of TODAY'S may recall my mentioning how difficult I've found it to get good shots of Hollow Farm. The barns have a stateliness and classic New England beauty that results, in part, from the way they have been able to stretch out in this broad, flat section of The Hollow. It always baffles me why I have not been satisfied by more of the shots I've taken here. However, the few I've thought good enough to put on TODAY'S include some of my favorites. "The Hollow" was the title shot for the second Camera's Eye exhibit, "Vanishing Farmsteads." Another shot, "Barn Dance" shows three of the four west-facing gables above but from a very different angle. Three of my favorite window shots were also taken there:
The Other Side
Peeking In
Inner Space

It's always about choosing. The painter paints; the photographer chooses and forever wonders about the reasons for his/her choices - tries to put words around a principle. Why this one over those dozen variations on the contact sheet? The photographer waits for that perfectly tuned chord to strike the ear.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Homage to Stanley Kubrick

I woke early this morning, the nor'easter was still blowing, and I bundled warmly to shoot blizzard. While those images simmer by the fire, here is another made yesterday at my visit to the Cold Stream time generator, officially known as: The Coldstream, Aerophocus, Kaleidographic, Exspectroscopic, Polyopticon Time Generation Maize Chamber.

The great hull of the maize chamber is made from finely galvinized metal. The precision optics system, a huge compound eye, consists of thousands of lenses, each about the size of a dime, that are mounted on the surround hull. Each lens is made of hand-ground, hand-polished, super-fertilized, country air. It is said that lenses so made can absorb millions of times their own weight in time. The floor is mud and cobb. All photos made in the maize chamber are mostly natural and minimally photoshopped (unless otherwise noted). In other words, this is pretty much what the camera saw. No, we don't see the way cameras see.

As to the nor'easter, it wasn't a bad snowfall, though nothing like what was predicted. However, the snow stuck to the trees thickly and has been long lasting so I could shoot at leisure, alone with the still-falling snow. Sometimes one doesn't need a time generator to expand time.

To better enjoy this image turn down nearby desk lights, and if possible view full-screen against a dark background. Special thanks to Brent, Carol & family for their permission to shoot photos inside the maize chamber and elsewhere on their farm.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Corn Crib Boogie Woogie

We are looking into the core of the Cold Stream Time Generator. It is at the core where time flows most rapidly. You can actually watch as moments of light elongate and then slither into oblivion.

I haven't had a light machine like this to play with since third grade when my friend Marc and I built our own planetarium in his parent's clothes closet. The project involved a lot of brown wrapping paper which we had in infinite quantities. My recollection is pretty much that we infested the closet for about a week. Our planetarium didn't do much since the stars were fixed in place - most any old place, I recall.

This one is solar powered and constantly rotating around the sun. No photoshop tricks have been used to produce this image.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Light Shift

MARTIN PURYEAR: "I value the referential quality of art, the fact that a work can allude to things or states of being without in any way representing them."

Before you toss this photograph aside thinking I accidentally sent the same image twice, please look again. If you come back thinking the differences are insignificant, that's fine. Redundancy properly resides in the eye of the beholder.

After taking yesterday's shot I turned and shot a totally different subject. The light was so spectacular one could almost shoot anything. Perhaps I have. In any case, I was also still thinking about the fence and wanted to take a shot that framed out everything above the pickets. Four minutes later the sun was four minutes further west, and I turned and composed and took this shot. To my eye those four minutes put a whole new light on things.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Good light and bad light - the how-to books of landscape photography almost always advise shooting around sunrise and sunset "to catch the good light," and I confess to having been in the past such a moralist of light. Light - "good," and, "bad"? It's not that I no longer love the sunrise hallelujahs and sunset hosannas. I don't think anything will take away the lift I get at golden hour when the low sun casts deep shadows - lights previously invisible textures - makes all surfaces glow orange. At such times I want to photograph every bark-wrinkled, leaf-dappled tree.

But, woe, my heathen ways lead me beyond orthodoxy!

Today on the internet I read, "There's no such thing as bad light, just misunderstood light." - I wondered, is a tornado just misunderstood wind. In spite of giggles, the profundity of light justifies the internet quote. The connections between feelings and qualities of light are very intimate and resonate deeply. The light of sunrise and sunset provides an emotional spectrum that is too narrow to light a horizon that begins inside us. In fact, when we understand more qualities of light, one can argue, we understand ourselves.

Two days could not be more different than Tuesday, when I took the previous, "gray," photo and Wednesday when this image was made. Midmorning on Wednesday big clouds blew through, and dry, clear air made the sky intensely blue. It was just the light I wanted for another go at the Kallstrom corn crib. I spent most of the afternoon inside it shooting light rays and shadow patterns. Part of me wanted to be outside seeing what could be made of the precious sunlight, but I stayed in the crib. When I finally came out the sun was just reaching that golden hour, and I decided to walk to Johnson farm to see what the sun was doing there. On the way back to my car I spotted this old picket fence catching shadow play from an odd angle.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Pighouse in Gray

Yesterday was a gray day without shadows. The fields of the hollow were restlessly somber, and the thaw was making mud. On such days I have little urge to shoot, and I expected no trouble hiking the full four-and-a-half mile loop that has become this winter's regimen. Since I wasn't expecting to shoot much I meandered, and the more I meandered, the more the gray of the woods and the barns and the houses became one and closed around me like a soft blanket. It made the anxious afternoon strangely comfortable as, with my longest lens, I began exploring the surface of the grayness. My naked eye saw only a hint of the red pighouse way on the other side of the hollow, but through my long lens it was swallowed in hollow.

Previous posts of The Pighouse:
Pighouse in Snow, 2007
Rolling Straight at Sunrise #3

Monday, January 7, 2008


JOHN SZARKOWSKI: "Honoré Daumier said that photography described everything and explained nothing. This is often true. In some cases it is perhaps an improvement over the habit of traditional painting, which often explained everything and described nothing."

Whatever the case, two companions of this photo have already been included in TODAY'S. They are, "Plowshares," and "Sunset Ridge Farm at Sunrise."

If you zoom in close you'll better understand the title. The explanation is entirely up to you.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Fallow Crib

Thanks to all those who wrote in to help me resolve my questions regarding the tonality of my new monitor.

Yesterday's photo was finicky in its need for good monitor consistency. Today's photo is much more forgiving. Enjoy! Of course those with well-tuned monitors will see much texture in the dark areas of this photo. For the photo to work as a print, that texture needs to be visible.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


I will be most grateful for viewers of TODAY'S who write back and provide a bit of guidance to help me understand how closely the image on your computer screen resembles what I sent from mine. Of course, before you read further, I hope you'll take a moment to look at the image without worrying about my technical needs.

This image is intended to be dark. HOWEVER, the broad dark patch that runs obliquely across the middle of the image from top to bottom should not be murky. It may help to turn down the lights immediately around your screen, and it is best viewed as close to full screen as possible. On my monitor there are gray-blue scrappy areas as the light on either side of this dark band shades to black. There should also be islands of that blue-gray in places through the center top and bottom. Finally, as my eye adjusts I can also make out hints of rust deep in the recesses of some of the blue-grey shadow. Thanks in advance for your help.

Some of you, by now, will be reasonably wondering why anyone should care about such an image. Others will begin to think about how insubstantial photography is as an art form. Where is the real photo? Photos have always looked great on a light box, but when light boxes are everywhere and tethered to the internet, where's the original. One can possess a painting, but photographs keep slipping from our grasp.

In any case, I find it curious that as I was working Encribbed tonight I kept thinking of this image.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Edge of Winter

I awoke to snow and a commitment clean up after the annual New Year's Eve frolic. Just get the dishwasher unloaded and reloaded, run em-urgency coffee to Jane, gather my kit, and hopefully the snow would still be luxuriating. This was one of those snows that hugged the edge between snow and rain, and heading south I saw more rain. Turning and heading north I saw more ice. Some things are not meant to be. Later in the afternoon I walked down the road across from my house and shot for a few hours as the fog began to settle into the valley.

CLICK - it was there, and 141 others - disposable, like all photos - not, as a painting would be, toiled and fussed over until the painters sweat was in the mix. Do any photographers have a style, really, or do they just have preferred subject matter?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

On Light

...and another distinction between photography and painting:

No matter how much painters tell us their painting is about light, it is first and last about brush strokes.

No matter how much I look for textures to give my photographs a painterly feel, they are first and last about light.

Does this distinction mean that painters can't play on photographers' turf and photographers can't shoot on painters' courts, or does it help define a line of tension across which photographers and painters play their sport? Just wondering.