Craft Matters

Granary, Chandon

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Granary: Chandon, Oregon

Following the annual gathering of the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), I took advantage of my location to drive up to the little towns of Chandon and Ione to explore photographing their resident granaries.

While nearly 11 am when I arrived in Chandon, the light was subdued by a thin blanket of clouds which proved beneficial in capturing what would’ve otherwise been an impossibly contrasty scene.

Hearing and Feeling Photographs

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A post to a Photography group on LinkedIn highlighted this enjoyable NY Times article on the career and philosphy of a master black and white printer, Chuck Kelton.

Naturally, if nauseatingly so, some comments gravitated to comparisons of traditional and digital photography (and printing). While I have strong opinions about the unique expressiveness of certain analog papers and processes, I’m equally opinionated about the tired staleness of the debate. It needs to stop. Education that facilities understanding the unique nature of each medium would be far more valuable to the culture of photography than debating perceived superiority. My comment to the discussion follows:

As photographers, we convey our experience and understanding of a scene. The deeper the understanding (through experience, familiarity, empathy and craft), the greater the potential for expression. Extraordinary images communicate an awareness beyond the 2D dimensional construct of the image (or print). They lift the veil and shine light (if briefly) into our shared humanities.

For the photographers/commenters still stuck in the digital/analog morass, I suggest rethinking the debate into a celebration of the inherent advantages (aesthetics) of each medium as tools of expression. On the surface they appear the same when, in fact, they are substantially different. This is a good thing! It’s the philosophy you bring to the chosen or preferred process that ultimately defines the nature and expressiveness of your work. Does anything else matter?

Mr. Kelton’s choice to remain committed to traditional silver prints represents an intimate understanding of the expressive nature of the medium he works in. There is nothing in digital printing that can effectively emulate the expressive characteristic of the well printed silver gelatin print. It’s a question of the material itself, its aesthetic and the process used to create it. It speaks uniquely. As it should.

I believe the key point made in the article, worth contemplating, relative to your own photographic development, is this:

“It’s really in that last 10 percent where the magnificence of the object lies.”

That philosophy, engrained into your own work, will transform it.


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This quote by William Hutchison Murray was given to me earlier today, the ideas of which I’ve encountered before, but not quite so eloquently:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen events, meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would have come their way.

The difference this time? These words, these ideas, these inspirations — I was ready to receive them.


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Saturn's Rings - NASA

The rings of Saturn courtesy the Cassini orbiter, a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 152 degrees. Image scale is 86 miles (138 kilometers) per pixel.

86 miles per pixel. Whoa.

Find more inspiration at NASA’s Photojournal.

Northbound 35

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Here, a live version of one of my favorite songs from the consummate singer/songwriter, Jeffrey Foucault. I wrote Jeffrey a few years back, a 3:30 am inspiration while creating this star trail image beneath Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. The image’s related lyrics:

And the sky spun around
With her diamonds on fire

Jeffrey eventually responded, offering thanks and then musing:

I sat on that song for a few years because it didn’t seem that good to me, but it’s been the one that resonated most with people so far.

Last September, I drove 6 hours to Spokane, Washington, to hear Jeffrey play. It was my only opportunity prior to leaving for two months to Zion. The night before, I’d emailed Jeffrey a request to play Northbound 35. Upon arrival (late), I was fortunate to snag a lone seat in the front row. The set list was right below me:

Jeffrey Foucault Set List

Sometimes you meet the artist and, sadly, they don’t measure up to their work.

Jeffrey Foucault is not one of those artists.

Irrigation Pipes

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Irrigation Pipes near Macdoel, California

Since moving to Bend, Oregon, road trips to California pass through some lovely farm country northeast of Mt. Shasta. Along a stretch, a field of old weathered irrigation pipes lay just off the highway. On a recent trip home, the late morning sun glowed softly behind a blanket of wintery gray clouds. The diffuse light bathed the landscape which reflected in rich pastels – ideal conditions.

What I though might be a 20-30 minute exercise turned into nearly 3 hours. I made numerous photographs (multiple times) as the light dimmed and brightened with the changing densities of the passing clouds. The image here, represents one of my initial favorites, highlighting the broad variation of texture and hue characteristic of these worn and weathered life-giving tools.

A Fuji Velvia Christmas

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Fuji Velvia 50 - Transparency Details

Christmas came early this week. AgX Imaging, one of the last (and best) of the E-6 film processors in the country, returned my film from the Zion National Park trip. I’m teasing, here, a cross-section of some promising transparencies which I plan to print in the darkroom once the holidays are over.

There is an elation, a love really, viewing these images on the light table. Their luminous beauty, and the eventual photographic prints they herald, affirms my commitment to the medium of film. That film, Fuji Velvia 50 (4×5), is now only available from Japan, extremely expensive, and will eventually be discontinued. Fortunately, I have enough frozen stock (about 500 sheets) to continue making images for 2-3 years. This purposely coincides with my 4-year inventory of Ilfochrome paper and chemistry.

While bittersweet, it’s comforting to know Velvia, my light table, and I will enjoy a few more Christmases together.


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Two weeks ago. 4:00 a.m. wake up. Final items packed in the truck. A deep bow to Mukuntuweap, my home and muse for the last two months.

On the road. I-215 south to Vegas. Coffee-fueled. I’ve just finished the audiobook Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I’m contemplative, entranced by spoken words, the hypnotic buzz of the road, and the vast landscape moving around me.

Well northeast of Las Vegas, in the middle of nowhere, nature calls. I pull off, step out into the rain-clarified pre-dawn air, and take care of business. I take some conscious, meditatively deep breaths. Then, turning back to the truck, I notice these lines in the earth:

Paint Lines along HWY 215 - Nevada

It seems Nevada DOT felt the urge to test their road painting equipment here along this dirt pull out. This is picture worthy, I decide, and grab my iPhone from the truck. I snap the photograph seen here and look at the result on the screen. This perspective has the lines moving away from me, coming to an abrupt halt. The end of the road, so to speak.

This gives me pause. I am not at the end of the road, am I? I wonder about this. I’m 18 months into a life-changing move to Bend, Oregon. I’m heading towards a fundamental change in the focus and structure of my life. I’m simulatneously exhilirated and scared as hell. And I know, to succeed, there are personal challenges of openess, trust, and receptivity I’m going to have to overcome. A quote from the beginning of Art and Fear:

“Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward.”

Exactly. And, begrudgingly, I must admit that’s not something I’m very good at. At all. I’ve spent my life working for others, abiding in the safety of proving my worth to someone else’s needs and vision. Now it’s time to prove my worth to myself and my own vision. Maybe this photograph is symbolic, symbolic of a past I’m in the process of letting go of.

I snap back into the moment. How long have I been standing here deep in these thoughts? The sun is poking rays of light through a patchwork of clouds to the east.

I can go now. But, before I climb back into the truck, I make a different, considered photograph — one symbolic of my path forward:

Paint Lines along HWY 215 - Nevada

A testament to a brief but significant moment in the middle of nowhere.


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Breakthrough - Zion National Park

There are moments. Very personal, resonate moments. Moments you hesitate to write about for fear of diminishing their significance. Because, despite their gravity, they are ephemeral, they float in the outer edge of awareness, in spirit. To put words to the experience risks obscuring the essence of what you feel compelled to communicate.

In such moments of hesitation, I draw on the words of Mary Oliver:

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

So, I will.

In my artistic pursuits, I had a breakthrough. It occurred up Zion Canyon, along a cliff-protected slope of stately trees I’d visited many times before. It was near dusk. My intent was to make a photograph framing a tall regal maple, its leaves gloriously carmine and crimson, sheltered high up at the base of the towering cliff. But everywhere I could manage an angle of view to the tree, the composition failed.

As I moved, and emotionally let go of my original intent, my attention was drawn to an opening of grass and flowers harboring a single tree with lustrous leaves of lemon and gold. The sun, now setting, lit a thin veil of stratus creating a soft box of white ambient light. The wind, gusting earlier, had settled, and with it, a peaceful air enveloped the space around me. The white flowers glowed like suspended snowflakes. The grass shown a rainbow of green. I transfixed to the scene before me and felt a slow rising tide of awareness. The elements of grass, flowers, tree, slope, background, texture, color, and light, all taken together made sense to me in a way I had previously not understood.

I bloomed with elation. And, simulatenously, felt a flowering of doubt. The doubt is important. It is, I believe, a uniquely human questioning rooted in a need for affirmation that an idea, feeling, or experience is essential and good. Its presence, accepted with grace, affirms the elation and empowers you to move forward.

So, I did.

Intently, intimately, I moved through the scene, honing into what I perceived to be the best composition expressing this new awareness. In the end, the placement of my view camera to make the photograph was precisely where the scene had revealed itself, a rarity for me.

The image may ultimately be a failure. I haven’t received the processed film back and I’m well versed in the fact that inspiration and execution don’t always agree. But the iPhone image that accompanies this post encouraged me to write while the ideas were fresh in memory and feeling. And, even if the film image isn’t successful, something essential was affirmed — a breakthrough in my photographic continuum along a path of elation and doubt that never fails to astonish me.