Friday, August 02, 2013

Synesthetic Landscapes: Harmonies, Melodies, and Fugues


Addendum: (1) a recent review (in French) appears on the We Love Photo blogsite; (2) related images have appeared in Lenswork Extended DVD Edition #105; and (3) a selection of older images (that do not appear in the above book, but are from the same portfolio) and an accompanying essay will appear in the Winter 2013 issue of Stone Voices.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Appearance of Being


“In the evidence and the limit the
appearance of being.

To create the conditions:
The truth appears.

Photography:
Responses of the Real
to thoughts questioning.

The infinite and the frame:
The mind is the means,
The mind is the limit.

Levels of Reality.

Contingent and Infinite.

Interpretations of Being.” 

SILVIO WOLF (1952 - )
From "Photography," in Paradiso

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Escher, Paul Klee, and a Turtle, Oh My...

...to which the tagline can read: a snapshot of the corner shelf in the study of a photographer prone to a gentle madness (where the "madness" refers to the deep passion for books, and is part of the title of a book - not shown - that describes that passion). My home, much to wife's dismay, is filled with books; all kinds of books; a veritable (countable) infinity of books, though a demonstrably smaller infinity than, say, the infinity represented by the categories one can imagine by which these books can all be distinguished, and that they collectively represent an intertwined wisdom about. Short books, and long; dime-store paperbacks and coffee-table-sized hardcovers; textured papers and glossy; those with pictures and others with only text; books about history and culture; philosophy, art, religion and Zen; the collected works of Chekov, Ellery Queen, Stanislaw Lem, and Philip K. Dick (with scattered books and tapes by Alan Watts); travelogues about conquests of Everest, Antarctica, and Ayahuasca; biographies of Maxwell, Dirac, and Feynman, as well as Ansel, Cartier-Bresson, and two Westons (Edward and Brett); books on self-organized vortices of consciousness and anything else mused on by Hofstadter; Christopher Alexander's magnum opus; and more books on physics and photography than most dreams can conjure over a dozen or more nights!

Borges famously introduced a ridiculously wondrous taxonomy of all knowledge in his 1942 essay "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" (which he claims to have taken from an ancient Chinese encyclopedia, Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge). The categories of animals alone includes: 

"Those that belong to the emperor;
Embalmed ones;
Those that are trained;
Suckling pigs;
Mermaids (or Sirens);
Fabulous ones;
Stray dogs;
Those that are included in this classification;
Those that tremble as if they were mad;
Innumerable ones;
Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush;
Et cetera;
Those that have just broken the flower vase;
Those that, at a distance, resemble flies."

And to this whimsical classification I introduce another that leads directly to the title of this blog: an image of the books (and of whatever else might fall onto your camera's sensor) that sits directly in front of you as you work on your images on a computer. Arbitrary? To be sure. Meaningful? Only to the extent that it is a well-formed query that has a definite answer; it may even provide a glimpse of what "interests one" most, right now, as in "I need this and that reference to be by my side." If we are what we read (and eat, and see, and do, ...) then surely our most immediate literary/visual companions are what we are at this moment (so long as they assembled on the shelf by themselves).

So my soul, right now, evidently needs these 15 books to be within easy reach as I muse and ponder and tinker with tones and forms on my computer: 9 are related to photography, 3 to art, and 1 each to mathematics, physics, and an "uncategorizable" category onto itself (best defined by its title: The Art of Looking Sideways); well, these books and an image of an old, wise sea turtle who - like a Zen sage -  quietly reminds me of the transience of all categories and classifications, and that, eventually, even my desire to look sideways will drift into a timeless void.

What do you, kind reader, find on your easy-to-reach shelf of books and memorabilia?


Sunday, June 09, 2013

Authentic Wholes

"In following Goethe's approach to scientific knowledge, one finds that the wholeness of the phenomenon is intensive. The experience is one of entering into a dimension that is the phenomenon, not behind or beyond it, but which is not visible at first. It is perceived through the mind, when the mind functions as an organ of perception instead of the medium of logical thought. Whereas mathematical science begins by transforming the contents of sensory perception into quantitative values and establishing a relationship between them, Goethe looked for a relationship between the perceptual elements that left the contents of perception unchanged. He tried to see these elements themselves holistically instead of replacing them by a relationship analytically. A Ernst Cassirer said, 'the mathematical formula strives to make the phenomena calculable, that of Goethe to make them visible.'"

- Henri Bortoft (1938 - 2012)
"Counterfeit and Authentic Wholes," 

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Edge of the Sea


"The shore is an ancient world, for as long as there has been an earth and sea there has been this place of the meeting of land and water. Yet it is a world that keeps alive the senses of continuing creation and of the relentless drive of life. Each time that I enter it, I gain some new awareness of its beauty and its deeper meanings, sensing that intricate fabric of life by which one creature is linked with another, and each with its surroundings...

There is a common thread that links these scenes and memories–the spectacle of life in all its varied manifestation as it appeared, evolved and sometimes died out. Underlying the beauty if the spectacle there is meaning and significance. It is the elusiveness of that meaning that haunts us, that sends us again and again into the natural world where the key to this riddle is hidden.

It sends us back to the edge of the sea, where the drama of life played its first scene on earth and perhaps even its prelude; where the forces of evolution are at work today, as they have been since the appearance of what we know as life, and where the spectacle of living creatures faced by the cosmic realities of their world is crystal clear." 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Simplicity, Beauty, Fearlessness


"Simplicity, Beauty, Fearlessness
so it is ordained!
Fearlessness is our guide.
Beauty is the ray of 
comprehension and upliftment.
Simplicity is the sesame to the gates
of the coming mystery." 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sea of Ignorance and Wonder


“We live on an island
surrounded by a sea of ignorance.
As our island of knowledge grows,
so does the shore of our ignorance.” 

"This oceanic feeling of wonder
is the common source of 
religious mysticism,
of pure science and
art for art's sake." 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Hallucinatory Landscapes


“Sometimes, when one is moving silently through such an utterly desolate landscape, an overwhelming hallucination can make one feel that oneself, as an individual human being, is slowly being unraveled. The surrounding space is so vast that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a balanced grip on one's own being. The mind swells out to fill the entire landscape, becoming so diffuse in the process that one loses the ability to keep it fastened to the physical self. The sun would rise from the eastern horizon, and cut it's way across the empty sky, and sink below the western horizon ... And in the movement of the sun, I felt something I hardly know how to name: some huge, cosmic love.” 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Left-Brain looks at what the Right-Brain has been doing for the last 10 years

"The great pleasure and feeling in my right brain is more than my left brain can find the words to tell you." - Roger Sperry


As readers of my blog must surely know by now, my "day job" consists of being a principal research scientist for a naval operations think tank. (Operational research - or "OR" for short - has a long and interesting history, some early days of which are wonderfully recounted in a recent biography of Patrick Blackett, who was a pioneer British OR pioneer in WWII; see Blackett's War: The Art of Warfare). So, being an OR analyst/physicist by day, fine-art photographer at all other hours, I am a veritable textbook exemplar of a broad class of creatures best described as quantum superpositions of their left and right brains. While my left brain is immersed in data, equations, computer code, and endless Powerpoint slides full of those d&#n military acronyms and nested lists of bullets (here is Richard Feynman's take on Powerpoint bullets in his autobiographical What Do You Care What Other People Think?, from the passage in the book in which he describes his role during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster: “Then we learn about 'bullets' - little black circles in front of phrases that were supposed to summarize things. There was one after another of these little goddamn bullets in our briefing books and on the slides.”), my right brain is looking forward to when it will next look through a camera viewfinder, work in Photoshop, and/or do some printing. Normally - actually, almost always - I deliberately keep my conscious self focused on either one or the other side, but never both at the same time, though I appreciate the inevitability of the "other" - inactive - side quietly lurking in some dark corner of my unconscious, never quite "letting go" completely. After all, human-crafted distinctions like "right brain" and "left brain" are crude categories at best and meaningless at worst, and next to useless in providing a genuine insight into who "we" are fundamentally. 

Still, every once in a while, it is an informative exercise to welcome the cooperation of both sides of one's brain. To wit, and while "in between" projects (a horrific euphemism for "I've just completed a major project and am in dire need of recharging my creative batteries!"), I've applied some very basic skills I use in my left-brain "day job" - namely, that of data collection and visualization - to help my right-brain better understand what it has been doing for the last 10 years. Note that I use the word "doing" here to embody only those qualities of a portfolio that potentially say something about the type of portfolios that have arisen during this time, in the self-defined context of other portfolios that came before and after a given one, and emphatically not - at least in this blog entry - anything about any aesthetic or philosophical concerns. That is to say, this exercise consists of using exclusively left-brain measures (about my portfolios: their number, subject matter, size, and so) to help my left-brain discover possible latent patterns in what my photographic body of work reveals about what my right-brain has been interested in over the last 10 years.

Toward this end, I've recently let my left brain examine my right brain's last decade's worth of photo portfolios - I count 21 major portfolios (I've left off a few that overlap with prior years), many of which have been published in various magazines - and cataloged the results according to where a given portfolio falls in each of five categories: (1) duration of time of actual shooting using a camera (= x-axis), (2) duration of time spent processing in Photoshop (= y-axis), (3) the size of the final portfolio, measured by total number of images that make up the given portfolio, not the number of raw images from which that final set was eventually distilled (= size of the "point" that is plotted; the overall scale is set by the 125 images that make up my "synesthetic landscape" portfolio), (4) the relative age of a portfolio (the lighter the shade of grey of the point being plotted, the older the given portfolio is), and (5) whether the portfolio has been published and/or (a significant portion has been) exhibited (indicated in red).

The "infographic" shown at the top of this blog entry summarizes my findings, which reveals a few interesting trends (the x and y axes are both expressed in years). First, the durations of my portfolios essentially span the entire 10 years period of my little experiment, with examples that range from literally a day (such as my Luray Caverns portfolio) to a perpetually ongoing series that, not so coincidentally, matches a core theme of my blog (namely "Tao"). Second, except for the Synesthetic Landscapes series, my most recent portfolios (denoted by "disks" that are nearly or close-to being opaque) are relatively short in duration - about a year or less in duration - but cover a wide span of processing times (from about a week to more than a year). For example, while my Scotland portfolio was - of necessity, of course - captured during the 3 week period my wife and I were in Scotland, it consumed significantly over a years' worth of time to process (and still provides many happy hours "reimagining" past shots now, years after our trip in 2009). The same can be said about my Tetons and Yellowstone portfolio. Third, neither the duration nor processing times have much correlation with whether or not a given portfolio was published, as there are representatives of the published set (highlighted in red) that span both sets of axes. Fourth, except for a few small (Megaliths - labeled "5" in the infographic, for no good reason other than it was the fifth portfolio I counted statistics for and its size is too small to permit the title to be shown - and Entropic Melodies) and large (Synesthetic Landscapes) sized outliers, essentially all of my portfolios contain between about 40 and 80 images.

Finally, two observations present themselves about portfolio publications. The first is an obvious but still amusing "insight" that the size of my portfolios has little if anything to do with whether it was published, as both small and large efforts have appeared in print, albeit the result is skewed by a number of publications in Lenswork magazine (whose editorial policy is to either accept a portfolio "as is" in terms of size - whatever the size - or not at all). I am glad to see that I've persevered in completing fairly large sized portfolios (e.g., "Trees" and Swirls, Whorls, and Tendrils) without the "reward" of publications (though, here again, the result is perhaps not all that surprising, given that that is rarely my goal as I work toward completing a given project).

The second observation, and more surprising insight, revealed itself only after digging a bit deeper into what the infographic shows directly. I noticed that each of my portfolios belongs to one of three general types of content, as made clear by their titles. The three types are place (Luray, Hawaii, Greece, Scotland, and Tetons), thing (Ciphers, GlyphsMegaliths, Flame, Portals, Swirls, and Water), and theme (Entropic Melodies, Metaphor, Micro Worlds, Spirit and LightSynesthetic LandscapesTao, and Geometry). What is surprising is that, of the 9 portfolios that have been published, 7 come from the themed portfolios set; indeed, all 7 in that category have been published! While my sample set of 10 years' worth of work and 21 portfolios is much too small to yield anything but the most rudimentary of observations, it is tempting to speculate that themes generally resonate deeper with viewers (and editors and curators) than do places and things.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Yesteryear Versions of Today's Magazines - Part 2

In my last post, I recommended a recently published book that collects some early articles and portfolios that appeared in Aperture Magazine while under the editorship of Minor White. All the articles appearing in the new book were first published between the years 1952 and 1976, and - as explained in the previous post - are very different in subject and content from what typically appears between the covers in the current incarnation of the magazine.  

I promised to introduce the second of two anthologies I've recently enjoyed of this type, to which we turn to now. The difference this time is that both the reprinted articles and the book itself are "old," the articles dating back to its inception through 1977 and the first (only, so far as I know) edition of book itself to 1979! The magazine is Popular Photography, and has been around since 1937. The anthology I'm recommending is called The Best of Popular Photography, edited by Harvey V. Fondiller, and available from Amazon in used form (which is the form I bought mine in) for as little as $0.85; new ones starting at $9. Barnes and Noble also lists "new" versions, but they seem needlessly expensive (running from $24 up to $130.00).

To say it has been a long time since I've done much else than inattentively flip through the heavily-laden-with-advertisements modern variant of this once-wonderful magazine at Barnes & Noble is an understatement. Rarely offering more than a few paragraphs that contain general musings (if you can find them in the thicket of adds!) - about how "one should not forget to take a tripod on a trip," or "here is yet another lens you absolutely need (that reads like the review of last month's lens-of-the-month, which reads like..," to "you too can become an Ansel Adams with a few easy steps " - the magazine IMHO contains effectively nothing of use to anyone even remotely interested in the art of photography.

But, alas, this was not always the case, as in the early decades of this once fine magazine some very memorable prose, reviews, insights - and even art! - found their way into its pages. The anthology contains 392 thick semi-gloss pages - which is good because a thick stock generally ensures that used copies will likely have stood the test of time and use (mine is old, but in very good condition) - is broken into 8 sections (that range from retrospectives, to personalities, to techniques (most of which are just as applicable to today's digital world as they are to the analog world they were spawned in), to photojournalism, to careers, to history. There are also short but interesting color and black&white portfolios.

There are articles by Margaret Bourke-White, Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith (on Dorothea Lange), and Beaumont Newhall; essays on Andre Kertesz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Robert Capa, Arnold Newman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Weegee (among a host of others); retrospectives on the early years of photojournalism; early "debates" on the differences between snapshots and "real" images, and speculations on "what makes a good photograph?" (that are typically deeper and more probing than many of today's sound-bit bits of "wisdom"); and essays on emerging technologies like holography (one article had the prescient audacity to ask, by its title, "Holography - Is It Art? ;-). To give you an idea of the loving detail most essays provide (in stark contrast to the "we'll give you all you need to know in a moment or less of your time" approach followed by most of today's glossy-magazine editors), an essay on Arnold Newman (first published in November 1973) runs 8 pages and contains 6 images (including a wonderful full-page reproduction of his famous portrait of Picasso); the essays on Alfreed Stieglitz (published in September 1946) and Cartier-Bresson (published in May 1967) run 8 pages each and contain 7 and 3 reproductions, respectively; and the one on Paul Strand that appeared in April 1972 runs a full 12 pages (with small type!) and contains 7 reproductions. A mini-course on portrait lighting - again, just as relevant today as in 1973 when first published - runs 11 pages and contains more useful information that most of today's magazines seem to publish collectively over the course of year.

An added bonus in this anthology is a sprinkling of pages in which yesteryear products and advertisements appear. You can read about what the Polaroid Land Camera cost in 1949 ($87.75), the "new Leningrad" SLR from Russia in 1958,  and the Polaroid SX-70 (introduced in 1972). The book concludes with a useful index of all authors and pages on which discussions about a particular photographer appear. Pages 91-103 contain the results of a 1958 international poll  (of 243 critics, teachers, editors, art directors, consultants, and photographers) on the world's "10 greatest photographers." I'd give away the results of this poll, but that would be spoil the fun;-)

This anthology is highly recommended, for reference, for consultation, or simple joy of reading with a warm drink in hand in your favorite easy chair on a cozy rainy Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Yesteryear Versions of Today's Magazines - Part 1

Continuing on with my recently started series of discussing / reviewing photography-related books that are a bit "off the beaten" path (i.e., not necessarily those that one would find on shelves at the neighborhood Barnes and Noble store but which would be of interest to the dedicated photographer), we introduce the first of two anthologies of magazines that are still around but containing articles once published a generation (or more) ago.

The first is Aperture Magazine Anthology: The Minor White Years, 1952-1976, edited by Peter C. Bunnell and published by Aperture (the second will be revealed in my next post). As the title suggests, Aperture was founded in 1952, and counted among its founders such luminaries as Minor White, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Barbara Morgan, Dody Weston Thompson, Nancy Newhall and Beaumont Newhall. Inspired, at the time, by the memory of Alfred Steiglitz's long defunct Camera Work (published by Stieglitz from 1903 to 1917), the original incarnation of Aperture continued Camera Work's devotion to quality reproductions, and added a generous bounty of thoughtful essays, commentaries, and reviews. Aperture's appearance coincided with an important crossroad at which fine-art photography found itself at that time, which in a sense mirrored a similar crossroad met head-on by Camera Work. Camera Work was conceived as a publishing vehicle to establish - and promote - photography as something more than "just" a mechanical means to mechanical means of reproducing "images out there, in front of a lens" (see Photo Secession); i.e. it sought nothing less than to establish photography as a fine art. Arguably, and in almost all important respects, it succeeded laudably in this goal. 

When Aperture arrived, some 35 years later, the "fine art" of photography had again come under assault. But this time - ironically - not because people did not accept photography as a bona-fide art form (the efforts of Stieglitz, Adams, Weston, and others had made sure of that!), but rather because so many simultaneous channels of expression had arisen in the intervening years - from the social-documentary-style that came into vogue in the 1930s to the new photojournalism introduced by Life in the 1940s to a new breed of photography that is now called "street photography" and honed to early perfection by Henri Cartier-Bresson - that the focus on "fine art" photography, for its own sake, had started to wane. And so, by the time Aperture arrived in 1952, the photographic world was ripe for a renewed discussion of photography as art.

Under White's editorship, all of the important fundamental questions one might expect to be asked of a still nascent "fine art" medium were asked and discussed, at length, by some of that bygone era's greatest masters. What is the creative potential of photography? What is the relationship between photography and art? What is the relationship between text and image? Is fine-art photography something that can be taught, and, if so, what is the best way to do so? What is the role of criticism? And so on.

Included in the 40 reprinted essays (by such masters as Adams, Newhall, Wynn Bullock, Aaron Siskind, Carl Chiarenza, and Frederick Sommer, among others) are 14 essays by White himself, making this an indispensable resource for admirers of Minor White and his philosophy of photography as a spiritually infused creative medium (a group to which I unabashedly admit my membership). The collection also includes a complete index of articles appearing in Aperture magazine from 1952 to 1976. Since (IMHO, and as I've written a few words about before) later versions of Aperture - beginning with perhaps the very first issue published after White's departure (he died in 1976), and including the run through the most recent issues - took the magazine onto a vastly different - dissonant even - path from the one it would have likely followed had it still been under White's leadership, those readers and photographers who - like me - feel a certain revulsion to the "shock element" that characterizes so much of today's "art photography," will cherish the timeless wisdom of a bygone era contained in this book. My only lament is that this anthology is not (yet?) available as an eBook.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Perception and Imaging

"My earlier writings dealt with some of the technical aspects of photography. Recent writing attempts to integrate information from other disciplines and relate it directly to the understanding of photographs in particular and to pictures in general. Each discipline has its own vocabulary in dealing with philosophical issues such as truth, reality, and values . . . my interest is to build conceptual linkages among various disciplines by utilizing pictures . . . What is the visual equivalent of linguistic terms such as metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche?" - Richard Zakia (1925 - 2012)

I mentioned in my blog entry that I'd like to devote some attention to discussing / reviewing some photography-related books that are a bit "off the beaten" path; i.e., books that are not necessarily something one would find on shelves at the the soon-to-be-closed Barnes and Noble store but which would be of interest to the dedicated photographer.

So, to start off this series, I enthusiastically point kind readers to a new edition of Richard Zakia's Perception and Imaging (scheduled to be released on March 22, though this last edition does not appear to be much different from the previous one, at least judging by page count and the available description. But whichever edition is the object of focus, this is certainly a book that anyone interested in exploring the visual, psychological, and philosophcial dimensions of photography will want to spend some time with. The second edition (from 2001) is available for less than $10! Indeed, even the earliest available version from 1975, which I own and still treasure, is a treat despite measuring in at less than half the size of its latest incarnation (and is also available on Amazon for 3!). Sadly, since Mr. Zakia died in 2012, this will be the last edition (at least authored solely by him) to appear in print.

Richard (born Rashid Elisha) Zakia is considered by many to be one of the great photography teachers of his generation in the United States. Having graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 1956 - and enjoying classmates such as Carl Chiarenza, Peter Bunnell, Bruce Davidson, Ken Josephson, Pete Turner, and Jerry Uelsmann (along with Minor White and Beaumont Newhall as teachers) - Zakia began his career as an engineer at Eastman Kodak before returning to RIT where he stayed on as professor for 34 years. At one time or another, he was Director of Instructional Research and Development, Chair of the Fine Art Photography Department and graduate program in Imaging Arts, and, in later years, professor Emeritus. In all, he authored and co-authored thirteen books on photography and perception, co-edited (along with Leslie Stroebel) the third (1993) edition of The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography (and contributed to the fourth edition in 2007, my review of which appeared shortly after it was released), and, immediately prior to completing his last book, co-authored a book on Teaching Photography with Dr. Glen Rand.

While all of Zakia's books are worth reading and studying, it is his Perception and Imaging that I come back to again and again. Partly to relearn some fascinating theories and approaches, partly to just marvel at this extraordinary encyclopedic cornucopia of wisdom; and partly to just be inspired by the collection of quotes and insights so lovingly chosen and inserted in the margins to accompany the main text.

A mere list of chapter headings indicates the sweeping breadth of subject matter, though hardly does justice to the depth of coverage or the elegance of presentation: figure-ground theory; gestalt; memory and association; space, time, and color; contours; illusion and ambiguity; morphics; personality; subliminals; critiquing photographs; and rhetoric. This is not a "poetic" book on photography - that is, it spends little or no time on describing or probing Minor-White-like "Zen" musings about photography (though it does provide a great introductory discussion of Stielitz's and White's "equivalents" and even has more than a few cogent words to say about synesthesia, a subject close to my own heart! - rather, Zakia's book is mainly about what its title says, perception and imaging. 

It teaches you all about how to better see the world, how to better understand how you see, and how to exploit how the world appears to us in designing ways to communicate what we see to others. It also fosters a deep appreciation of the myriad layers of perceptual meaning and ambiguity. Strictly speaking, it cannot even be said that the book is "about" photography at all, since it touches on so many different aspects of art, composition, design, and presentation. But to all those photographers who like to both feel and think about their art - and are interested in exploring ways to take their photographic "eye" to a higher level of appreciation and understanding - this is a book to treasure! Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reconnecting With "Older" Wisdom in a World of eBooks

For years, dating back to the early 90s, a good friend of mine (a co-worker on my "day job," fellow physicist, and part-time artist) and I have enjoyed a weekly lunch followed by a short sojourn to a neighborhood Borders book store (now defunct of course) or one of a few local Barnes and Nobles. Now, unfortunately (at least for us "oldies" who were weaned on the feel and smell of a good book), the writing seems on the wall for Barnes and Nobles to follow Borders' lead: recent reports indicate that the lone remaining brick & mortar national bookstore chain is about to embark on a plan that will close 100s of its stores. 

Though hardly a surprise, with Kindles and Nooks nearly as ubiquitous as smart phones these days, I must admit a profound sadness at the prospect of living in a physical-bookstore-less world. (I can only imagine the tragic depths of melancholy Borges would have been forced to endure in this "new" bookless world, had he lived this long - though, with an inevitable touch of irony, since the great conjurer of the infinite multiverse of libraries  himself possessed only a humble little bookshelf of books). 

Oh, I know all the familiar counterarguments, from, "Mom and Pop bookstores will never die"  to "second-hand bookstores will only grow" as the market for such "relics" inevitably expands (at least for a generation, like mine, that will always need a tactile reminder or two of a bygone era). There is also the happy reality that books - as literal purveyors of information - will truly never cease to be, but be merely transformed into something magical (as is already happening with a proliferation of "Borgesian" interactive hybrids of words, images, and videos). eBooks are a kind of living, self-transforming, digital palimpsests of their older tactile, static, cousins. Still, my innate desire to finger through some old dusty, moldy copy of some first edition will never wane.

Which brings me to how these general laments and musings bear on the subject of photography, and the real subject of this blog entry. To wit: I fear that our new eBook era makes it all too easy for young photographers to at best be ignorant of, and at worst, simply ignore, the "dated and / or irrelevant" photographic wisdom of past masters. Brooks Jensen, editor of Lenswork, recently posted a sad story (sad to me) about how a recent MFA photography graduate had no idea who Edward Weston was! 

Debates aside about whether this loss of awareness is real or illusory, or about how really "important" it is for one to be aware of the history of one's craft, whatever that craft, my perception is that the photography eBooks being published nowadays are rarely reprints of "older classics" (by and /or about past masters). For example, there are no eBook versions - that I am aware of - of any of Ansel Adams' classic texts (The Camera, The Negative, The Print); or of Weston's Daybooks; or even of, say, a relatively modern biography of an old master, such as, say, Alfred Steiglitz (written by Stieglitz's grand-neice, Sue Davidson Lowe).

Still, there is hope, and some notable exceptions. One is a magnificent recent book by Andrea Stillman that provides the behind-the-scenes stories of 20 of Adams' most significant images (Stillman was Ansel Adams' assistant in the 1970s): Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man. Although published in hardcover (with great reproductions, including comparisons of how Adams' printing "eye" and aesthetics evolved over the years), Stillman's book is arguably even better in eBook form - available as an iBook for iPads and iPhones. The eBook provides audio, video, and links to additional material that only enhances the readers enjoyment of what is already a fine book. Kudos to Little, Brown and Company (the publishers) for bringing such a wonderful volume on Adams' work into the eBook age.

Another kudos goes to Allworth Press, which published in 2006 a wonderful collection of essays by and about "classic" photographers (already an anachronism for modern-day MFA students;-) called The Education of a Photographer; and who, more recently, released an eBook version of the book for the Kindle. I recommend it highly for students of photography (as well as to established modern photographers who want to discover or reacquaint themselves with the wisdom of past masters).

A third great book (albeit by more of a latter-day-master than a Weston or Adams era master) that now appears in both physical and iBook form is The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression by Bruce Barnbaum (one of our generation's most gifted photographers and printers). I still have a dogeared version of the book from back when its first or second version  appeared in the 80s. It is a stapled mess (I say that affectionately), contains no pictures, but is filled to the brim with timeless wisdom about the art and craft of photography. Barnbaum's deep insights into photography have now been brought more-or-less up-to-date (including a chapter or two on Photoshop, though these have the feel of "let's tag  this on for analog / darkroom veterans who want to whet their feet just a bit") and are a veritable steal at $12!

As I refocus my attention on my blog over the coming weeks and months (I have been "away" since Dec of last year completing the Russian edition of my dad's biography - multiple copies of which are on their way to the Taganrog museum in Taganrog, Russia as I type, to which my mom and I bequeathed 35 of my dad's works -  and completing my Synesthetic Landscapes portfolio, which I am happy to report will be published in the extended DVD edition of Lenswork #105 in the next month or so), I plan on devoting some time to reviewing / discussing several photography-related books that are a bit "off the beaten" path; i.e., books that are not necessarily something one would find on shelves at the the soon-to-be-closed Barnes and Noble store but which would be of interest to the dedicated photographer. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Portfolio Sampler Published


I have just made available a fine-art photography portfolio "sampler" (including a low cost Adobe PDF version).

Designed as a promotion brochure to give out to prospective curators, galleries and customers, this book contains 14 sample portfolios (including two in color), with accompanying information that includes when and where a given portfolio was published, and how many total images it contains. Each portfolio contains one large sample, and four smaller representative images. Works include those that have appeared in juried solo and group exhibits, Lenswork magazine, B&W magazine, B&W Spider Awards, and private collections.