Sunday, May 24, 2009

Matted & Framed Prints for Sale!

Although I have not written about it much on my blog, I have for the past nine months or so been a part of a new art cooperative in northern Virginia called the Lorton Arts Foundation (LAF). In particular, I was one of 14 inaugural juried members of LAF's Workhouse Photography Society (WPS). This group contains many fine and distinguished artists, with a wide diversity of backgrounds and styles. All are exceptionally talented photographers, and I am very honored to have had an opportunity to hang my work alongside theirs. Regrettably, however, because of other projects and time commitments, I have had to resign my WPS membership, effective at the end of June.

While I have other venues and options open to me to hang - and hopefully sell - my work, some friends recommended I try probing my blog readers' interest in acquiring some ready-to-hang fine-art photos. So, here is a first such offering.

The prints for sale are all (slightly warmly duotoned) digital prints - using Epson's archival pigment-based ink. I use Epson's 2400 printer and print on Epson's acid-free Ultrasmooth Fine-Art Paper (to assure colorfastness and longevity). All prints are roughly 17 inches long on the longest side, and are displayed using either an off-white (print 1 and 2) or light-gray (prints 3 and 4) matte-board fit into an 18" - by - 24" black metal frame. The prints are signed on the lower right of each print, sans "edition number" as I do not follow that practice (perhaps I'll post a blog entry on my thought process here).

The price of each matted/framed print is $240.00 + $15.95 for packing and shipping. Since this is an "experiment" (to see if there is sufficient on-line interest), payment is via check, to be made out to "Ilachinski Studios, Inc." All matted/framed prints are offered on a first-come-first-served basis, and will be shipped within five working days of my receiving a check (if impossible for whatever reason, I will inform the buyer via email of any delay). I will not cash any check until the buyer has confirmed receiving the print and has indicated complete satisfaction. If that is not the case, I ask that the matted/framed print please be returned (though here at the prospective buyer's expense; keeping the original shipping container will obviously save on return cost here), and I will destroy the uncashed check upon arrival (or send it back to the buyer, if he or she so chooses).

If interest is strong, I will periodically offer a few of my prints in this way, if only because it provides me an opportunity to expand a bit on my blog on how the images came to be. As is true of most photographers, each of my photos has a "story" to tell, beyond that of what they depict as merely physical objects.

So, without further adu, here are the first four prints I am offering for on-line sale (if interested in purchasing one or more of these prints, please email me at

1. Luminous Boundary

I have discussed this image recently in the context of the unconscious influence other artrists have on our own work. In this case, the image is an "unconscious" homage to a similar work by British photographer Fay Godwin. Although I was not thinking of Godwin, nor any other photographer (so far as I am aware), during the time I captured this image a few yeas ago at tropical park in Coral Gables, Florida, her characteristically soulful approach to her subject matter has certainly impressed itself on me in the years of studying her work. This is one of my favorite images from the last five years or so, and seems to always grab people's attention when they pass it hanging on a wall.

2. Tonal Rhythms

This image was captured on the same day as "Luminous Boundary." It is another of my favorites because it captures (and shows) "light" as much as form. Though it is hard to see in a web-sized picture, the print has a wonderfully subtle "glow," as if shining with an inner light; and has a beautiful organic texture that would look nice on (some otherwise drab painted) wall

3. Micro Worlds
This is an image from my "Micro Worlds" portfolio, which was published in Lenswork last year (Issue #76, May/June 2008; 16 images appeared in the print edition, 75 images + audio interview on the Extended DVD edition -(I also have a self-published book that contains many more images from the same series). It is a macro of a small thumbnail-sized portion of an acrylic candle holder. Apart from its aesthetic appeal, I like this image because it serves as powerful reminder that beauty truly lives everywhere, even in the seemingly "unlikeliest" of places. This print is matted on a light-gray matte board.

4. Mystic Flame

This is one of my favorite abstract images from last year. It is from my Mystic Flame portfolio, about which I wrote a blog entry. (I also have a self-published book that contains many more images.) While it may look like smoke, it is actually a reverse/negative image of a flame; and a relatively small one at that. The actual flame-size was between two and three inches. This print, like the Micro Worlds above, is matted on a light-gray matte board.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Fine-Art Photographer's Must-Have New Book on B&W Printing!

George Dewolfe - photographer, teacher, workshop instructor and author - has just published one of the best books I have run across in a long, long time on the art and craft of fine-art B&W printing; called, naturally enough, B&W Printing.

Generally speaking, there are three basic types of digital-photography-related books on the market: (1) the beginner's guides, that walk the aspiring photographer / "camera user" through the steps necessary to take a picture, how to operate her camera, and how to download images to the computer and print them out on a small ink-jet printer; (2) the intermediate guides, that assume readers are already familiar with their camera but want to learn more about how to process their images for the web or prints; and are tailored to readers who are serious about their photography (certainly more so than casual "point and shooters," but do not invest more than a few hours on a weekend, say, or as "designated photographers" at family get-togethers and vacations; and (3) the advanced guides for affirmed afficionados of photography (who want to learn all of what Adobe's Photoshop has to offer, for example) and professional photographers (who may want to learn additional techniques or, if they are film-photographers, want to boot-strap themselves into digital photography). Each type of book is well represented on the market, of course, and there are many excellent books - classics even (the "advanced guides" by Martin Evening, Katrin Easemann, and Scott Kelby all come to mind).

But, thus far at least, the digital photography world has lacked a particular kind of voice that film photography has enjoyed for decades, simply because film photography has been around for so long. Namely, the voice of a seasoned fine-art photographer / printer writing about and dispensing with his years of experience as a photographer applied to the new, emerging digital imaging technologies. How many times have I picked up a book with a titles like, "Advanced Fine-Art Digital Imaging" by so and so, intrigued by the title and number of pages/examples, only to be disappointed to find either that the images in the book are at best serviceable as "fine art photographs" or, at worst, dismal examples of what "fine art" ought to be, or that the images are wonderful - perhaps even gallery-like in their presence - but that what I had hoped to learn by way of "digital craft" is nowhere to be seen, since the author is a fine photographer but less-than-gifted writer or Photoshop technician. The rarest kind of book of all is a book on fine-art photography - particularly black and white fine-art photography - that combines great pictures, great technical skill, and great writing. I have seen no finer example of this rare breed of book than B&W Printing, by George Dewolfe, published this month by Lark Books as part of their Digital Masters series.

As one can glean from his website, Mr. Dewolfe has been a photographer since 1964 and holds an MFA in Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He studied photography with both Ansel Adams and Minor White in the 1970s. He also studied perception with Dr. Richard Zakia (a fact I mention because Dr. Zakia's book, Perception and Imaging, is among my all-time favorite books on the subject). Mr. Dewolfe has taught photography at several universities (and continues to teach photography and master print classes), and conducts workshops throughout the country. His works have appeared in numerous one-man shows and galleries. He was part of the development team behind Adobe's Lightroom software. He also authored one of the first (and best) "advanced" books on the craft of digital printing I purchased for my personal library (and still frequently refer to): George DeWolfe's Digital Fine Print Workshop.

And so we get to Mr. Dewolfe's new book, B&W Printing. What immediately sets it apart from 95% of related books on the market is immediately apparent after even a quick perusal of its 200+ pages: its subtle, almost understated, elegance. It oozes with quality, and attention to detail.

The images - all examples of one technique or another (except for a small portfolio toward the end that exhibits some wonderful "final" prints) - are each carefully arranged to highlight a specific approach, and are all expertly crafted and presented. Indeed, I suspect many a reader will look at the first such example that a chapter starts with - an out-of-camera image that Mr. Dewolfe displays to show the "before" part of a specific workflow, and wonder, "What can one possibly do to improve such a beautiful image?" ("Beautiful" both as a technically brilliant print, and as a fine-art photograph). The answer to which, of course, after reading Mr. Dewolfe's elegant prose - full of finely honed and expertly distilled advice on why something needs to be done, when and how to do it, and how to tell when its "done" - is "quite a bit." As the "final" image is revealed at the end of most chapters, the reader marvels both at its innate, shear beauty - Mr. Dewolfe's images all have a preternatural "glow" to them; they are carefully crafted in such a way that their ostensibly two-dimensional forms leak into a third "magical" dimension - and the relatively "simple" steps by which the original image was converted into it. Of course, it is precisely Mr. Dewolfe's gifted ability to describe what goes into these "relatively simple" steps - done in such a way that even a novice Photoshop user (albeit one who is well versed with the basic of aesthetics and photographic "seeing") can easily follow them and apply them to her own workflow - that sets this apart from most others and elevates it to the level of an instant classic.

The book consists of three main sections, and a portfolio at the end. A glossary and index are also provided. The first section discusses fine-art black and white photography in broad - but philosophically deep - terms. Great attention is given to the nature of "seeing" (by both camera and photographer), and the most important qualities that make up a photograph (tone, luminosity, luminance, sharpness, and so on). Though this may sound like so many other dry incantations of "obvious" material, perhaps done to death in other volumes, even here, in only the introductory parts of the book, Mr. Dewolfe provides something special. Using the way in which humans process visual information, Mr. Dewolfe astutely distinguishes between "luminance" (a combination of reflection and illumination, and which is essentially what both camera and retina "see" in any image) and "luminosity" (which is what we, as observers, "see" - or the way in which we interpret - luminance. It is the apparent luminosity of an image that gives the images its strength, its character, and ultimately, if the image is to express the artist's vision, its meaning. The best photographers are those that are able to expertly manipulate the raw luminance of their images into something that communicates how they "see" (and feel about) the world. This is a deep discussion of fundamental truths of the art of photography; but is not overbearing in any way; the typical reader will probably not even recognize that she has been treated to a master discussion of the very core of what defines fine-art photography. Needless to say, few if any books provide half the wisdom waiting to be plumbed in the first 60 pages of this magnificent book.

The heart of the book lies in the second section, and spans about 130 pages. Here you will read about designing a workflow, how to choose and setup your software, how to input your images (the author uses Adobe's Lightroom), how to make global and local adjustments to an image, how to fine-tune an image, and, finally, how to make the best use of your printing tools and methods. Each example is meticulously and lovingly presented, with each step described in both words and illustrated with screenshots (of workflow) and the effects interim steps have on a particular image. As a bonus, each chapter also includes sample workflows by featured artists (some of whose work I knew about before, but others were new to me and compel me to look up their work).

The third section contains some musings on the nature of photography, how to hone your skills as a photographer, and the art of mindfulness in art in general. The small, self-contained section on mindfulness perfectly illustrates Mr. Dwewolfe's best gifts as a teacher. In what amounts to no more than a page, Mr. Dewolfe provides - in sparse but artful, Haiku-like prose - a natural gateway toward applying meditation techniques to creating meaningful photographs; punctuated, in the end, by yet another beautiful, luminous image.

Mr. DeWolfe begins his book with the question, "What is a masterpiece?" By the end of the book, the reader will have seen a fair share of masterpieces created and crafted by Mr. Dewolfe's refined eye and skill. And the reader will leave the book behind (though no-doubt leaving it within easy reach to refer back to when necessary) knowing that she is now prepared to craft masterpieces of her own. Mr. Dewolfe has written a truly sensational book on the art of B&W printing, and one that is destined to become a classic in its class.

The only mild criticism I can make with regard to the book - though not of the material that appears in it per se - is that Mr. Dewolfe does not provide a discount code for readers of his book to use to purchase his PercepTool plug-in for Photoshop (which is an integral part of the workflow described in the book, and encapsulates much of what Mr. Dewolfe has learned during a lifetime of "seeing" as a photographer and as a student of human perception). I have seen other authors provide discounts for software in their books, but for software nowhere near as rich and far-reaching as PercepTool. I would encourage Mr. Dewolfe to do the same. But I make this criticism only in hopes of getting Mr. Dewolfe to reach an even larger audience with his teachings. Perhaps in the second edition?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lionel Dobie's Artistic Admonition

"Why do photography?" Or, more generally, "Why do art?" This seemingly "obvious" question is anything but obvious; it is also infinitely far from "simple." Indeed, I would hope that most artists never consciously ask it (of themselves); and never use words alone if forced to answer it by others. For (quickly jumping to the conclusion of this short entry) their life's work is by itself a never-ending, silent but engaged, "answer" to (what ought to be an) unspoken question best left to others - those other than the artist - to ask. What can any artist (apart, from - maybe - one whose art is oratory) possibly say in answer to such a question?

I was reminded of its unintentional absurdity while watching an old (~ 20 yo) film called New York Stories. Or more precisely, while watching the first of three "shorts" that comprise this film called Life Lessons, and starring Nick Nolte (as abstract artist Lionel Dobie) and Rosanna Arquette (as aspiring artist Paulette). Paulette is Lionel's former lover, but moves in with Lionel in the hopes of learning art from him. The movie mostly explores how Lionel's creativity is coupled with the fits of jealousy he suffers through while Paulette dates other men. Paulette eventually leaves, but not before Lionel has gone through enough jealousy to fuel the completion of the art he needs to open a new exhibit. As the movie ends, another aspiring female artist moves in and we are left with the strong impression that this "new relationship - broken relationship - jealousy - creativity" cycle is the meta-pattern that defines Lionel's world and life.

All of which is, for my purposes here, utterly irrelevant and inconsequential (though is a fair summary of the short film for those who have not seen it; it is certainly entertaining enough to watch and enjoy). To me, the one shining moment in the film happens near the end, right before Paulette leaves for good. We are in Lionel's loft studio (where most all of the film takes place), with Lionel listening to some loud music and painting like a madman - very much in the "Zone." The canvas is huge (it looks like to be at least twenty feet on the side), paint is being splattered everywhere, and Lionel is - as any artist can confirm while painting / creating - oblivious to everything around him except his inner state. In walks Paulette, who has been patiently waiting - yearning, begging - for some advice from Lionel, but has yet to receive anything of value. Heck, she is not even sure if she any good as an artist, much less what to do about it. So she confronts him. Then and there.

"Am I any good?" she asks. Lionel's reaction is the best self-contained "answer" to that question I have seen; certainly on film, possibly ever, in any context, and serves as a thought-provoking - even soul-searching - admonition to all artists, aspiring and accomplished alike. (I may have forgotten the exact details of what happens next, but...) Lionel throws down his brushes with an Eastwood-like "Dirty Harry" fury - veins at his temples flaring and throbbing - phlegm unashamedly spewing - frothing - out his mouth as he screams, "Good?!? What the f*** difference does it make whether you're good or not?!? You paint because you need to!"

What a beautifully transcendent moment. They are "merely" actors, and Nolte is not "really" an artist (or is an artist of a different kind, stage-playing an artist). That does not matter. Though I prefer answering questions - even this one - in a slightly more civilized manner than Nolte's character, I confess that I cannot imagine a better, more perfect, response. It summarizes exactly my own sentiments.

Why do I do photography? Is it because I like taking pictures with a camera; reveling in the tactile feel of cold magnesium and pushing buttons? Because I'm shy in public and prefer to hide myself behind a box with lenses? Because I'm really a conventional artist at heart but know I have no talent for drawing or painting and so must make do with an "easier" art? Because I'm a narcissist who thrives on hanging my work in public? Because I yearn for attention and recognition from my artistic peers? Because I am in a perpetual search for the "perfect picture"? Because I'm trying to find a way to express my "artistic vision"? None of these are true, in the purest sense (though some may contain hints of banal, and fundamentally meaningless, truths).

I do photography because it is who I am. As surely as my laughing at Monty-Python; my relishing my wife's cooking; my joy at playing with my sons; my absorption with physics equations and computer code; my night-time ritual of re-reading, for the umpteenth time, some story by Borges; or my fascination with abstract art - none of which I can explain the "reason" for that adds anything to the simple fact that they are all things I happen to love to do, so too I can say the same about my photography. All of these things are their own reason and explanation. Life and work and play and joy and love and ... everything else that makes up my life and gives it meaning, is a self-contained, self-referential soup of nested cause and effect, and experience. And they are all, ultimately and collectively, the only meaningful expressions of who I really am. I do photography because it is who I am. And when I stop, I cease to be. Until I start again...

"All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness."