Tuesday, December 28, 2021

In the Manner of ....

 I am weary of the pandemic (what a shock!).  In addition to the obvious restrictions it has imposed I have been seriously constrained from my usual photographic practice -- wandering the streets, the sidewalk markets, the music and art festivals.  

I have spent a great deal of time combing through my 35000 or so negatives looking for ones that I did not (or could not) print when they were new.  I added perhaps 100 prints to my metaproject "Spying on a Memory".  But now I've done that.  

I have wandered the mostly empty streets in my neighborhood looking for "pandemic" pictures and I've found a few.  But my heart isn't in it.

One of my favorite photographers, Frank Horvat, did a series of photographs taken no more than 60 meters from his front door showing the dreary winter around his home.  (In my opinion he hedged his bet pretty seriously since he lived in an over 100 year old stone house in Provence.)  I tried that out but my negatives just look, well, dreary.

Poking through boxes of loose prints I found a portrait in which I consciously tried with, shall we say, modest success to duplicate the pose of Vermeer's Girl with a pearl earring. I intended this not to be a costume piece but to be "in the manner of" to help me understand the pose and the lighting.

Then I found a print I made while trying to understand how Gustave Caillebotte used multiple vanishing points to make his paintings so convincingly plausible. I sure as heck didn't expect my print to look like his painting but to be "in the manner of" to understand his use of perspective.  This is a composite of two negatives -- one looking down the street on the left and the other looking down the street on the right.  It is more "real" looking than a print made from a single negative looking at the corner of the building.

Ok, maybe I'm on to something to keep me busy until I can get back to my usual practice.

Norman Lundin is a Seattle painter who had a show at the Kucera gallery a couple of years ago.  His paintings knocked my socks off and the gallery manager was kind enough to give me a copy of the show catalog.  Lundin does landscapes -- unpopulated and often slightly spooky, even just a tad surreal.  He also does interiors -- simple arrangements of items found in his studio.  

Again, not to try to look like his paintings but "in the manner of" I did a couple of still life photographs (the first such in many a year -- I even had the camera on a tripod).  Neither of them look anything like a Lundin painting but they do seem to me be "in the manner of".

I just finished studying ("reading" is not an intense enough term) Andrew Wyeth -- retrospective. His iconic works are spectacular but I find his portraits even more so.  Hmmm.  Portraits are not very practical right now.  How about how he used the winter light of Chadd's Ford to illuminate an interior?

Part of the training of an easel painter is copying master works both to hone their skill with brush and palette and to solidify in their bones how the masters used light and composition to make their works sing.  I have often wondered why the training of a photographer does not include "copying" master works.  Well, "copying" isn't exactly practical but perhaps "in the manner of" is.  We have a north-facing window so there is raking light in the morning -- similar to that of Wyeth's Overflow.

I'm by no means sure where this is going (if anywhere) but I do seem to be learning from them and perhaps it can keep me busy for a while.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021


“The Dirty Sock Syndrome”

(I’ll get back to the title shortly.  Bear with me.)

Every now and again I’ll say “I have just got to tidy up my work area.” to which my wife usually responds with bit of a snort and “You spend as much time tidying up in there as you do working in there.”  Not quite true but close enough to be worthy of a snort.

I try to put tools and materials back where they belong as soon as I’m done with them (even for a minute) but I am not by nature a neat and orderly person.  As a consequence the cruft tends to build up – especially when I’m in the middle of, say, mounting and matting prints – until there isn’t enough vacant space on the work surface to put anything else down.  I guess the price of tidiness is eternal vigilance.  But that’s a short-term issue.

A longer-term issue is that of the dirty sock syndrome.  I read of it in (of all the unlikely places) a chapter on building maintenance in an excellent book on church governance*.  In it the author says that if you see a dirty sock on your bedroom floor you pick it up, put it in the laundry basket and forget about it.  Come laundry day it gets clean, you put it in a drawer and all is well.  If you don’t pick it up – leave it there for, say, three days, it becomes part of the décor and you stop seeing it.  It will stay there until your spouse (or whomever) picks it up.  Exasperated parents will instantly recognize this phenomenon in occasional visits to their child’s bedroom.  This, not seeing what is obvious to a stranger, is a longer-term issue.  Once in a while I have to spend some time picking up the dirty socks in my work area.  Looking around me as a write I see about eight – starting with an ink bottle containing maybe 2 ccs of ink standing proudly beside a full one and a small kitchen timer that stopped working even after I put a new battery in it.  I have no idea how long they’ve been there but now that I’ve noticed them they are gone.

Art on a wall works the same way.  After it’s been up for a while (a lot longer than three days) we stop seeing it.  Galleries and museums change their shows – why not our homes?  Chances are good that if you are reading this you have more artwork than wall space.  (If not, support your local artists, buy reproductions from museum shops, frame your own pieces.)

When we moved to our current house three years ago one of my smarter ideas was to put hanging rails on a lot of the walls, making it easy to change our “show”.  I walk past it 20 times a day and as soon as I don’t occasionally stop to smile and say to myself “George Tice certainly makes beautiful prints!” it’s time to change the show – roughly three months.  Only a few of our particular favorite pieces are on “permanent display” but even they move from place to place so they will stay fresh.  

The hanging rails are really helpful but it isn't that big a deal to add or subtract a few picture hooks.  With a bit of forethought the new piece will hide the pinhole left by the former hook.  In our previous house I kept a small jar of filler and another of touch-up paint at the ready.


* “Moving on from Church Folly Lane”, Robert Latham, Wheatmark Press 2006

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

How to Respond.



This is a bit heavier than my usual blog post content but this has been on my mind a lot.

 Philip, a photographer friend, and I were talking (virtually of course) about how we as photographers could/should/might work in response to the pandemic, the political upheaval, social unrest ….

 Both of us had been carrying a camera while walking around our respective neighborhoods. Photographs illustrating isolation, “social distancing” … are a dime a dozen. What are we not photographing? How are we not photographing.

 Certain photographs, like the recent photograph of the nude woman facing down a wall of heavily armed and armored officers in Portland, will become icons -- much like the photograph of the single protestor in Tiananmen Square facing down a line of tanks – or of the sweet faced young woman putting a flower into the muzzle of a rifle at Kent State – or the horribly burned child fleeing from her napalmed village in Viet Nam. They each record a powerful, moving incident in a specific dangerous, chaotic time and place. Not knowing the time and place would be likely to make me ask “what was going on here?”

 David Douglas Duncan’s “Captain Ike Fenton” does a bit more. Its anti-war message does not require you to know that it was Korea, 1950, that the company he commanded was low on ammunition, pinned down by artillery fire, and could not expect immediate help. But you know that something terrible has happened – is happening – and that this is the face of a man who has stood at the edge of the pit, looked in, and cannot turn around. It gives you enough visual cues to imagine a time and place – or maybe the specific time and place don’t matter.

 But Philip was thinking more along the lines of Picasso’s “Guernica”, works that are conceived from the get-go to comment or express the artist’s response to what’s happening in the world. I would add the likes of John Heartfield’s pre-WWII anti-Nazi posters and illustrations (which resulted in him departing through a window as the Gestapo came up the stairs to his studio).

 Philip’s question was what can we photographers do apart from photojournalism -- if we are not (choose to be not) eye witness to momentous events.

 But that question bumps us up against one of the basic facts about photography. Photographs are spectacularly good at showing what something or someone looked like at a specific time and place but are seldom spectacularly good at showing “about”. How do photographs translate from “images of:” to “images about”?

The great Henri Cartier-Bresson, during World War II, said “The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are still photographing rocks.”

 Photography is not good at allegory – as evidenced by Henry Peach Robinson’s “Fading Away” -- or historical or literary references – as evidenced by Gertrude Käsebier’s “Blessed Art Thou Among Women”. George Bernard Shaw, a photographer himself, noted that “The painter gets hold of a pretty model, paints her as well as he can, calls her Juliet, and puts a nice verse from Shakespeare underneath, and the picture is admired beyond measure. The photographer finds the same pretty girl, he dresses her up and photographs her, and calls her Juliet, but somehow it is no good — it is still Miss Wilkins, the model. It is too true to be Juliet.”

 I don’t have a clue how to conceive of a photograph from the get-go to comment on the pandemic, to comment on the disruptions in our cities, to comment on the apparent crumbling of our own government.


Monday, February 8, 2021

I Hate Zoom


I hate Zoom.

This nonsense of sitting in front of a computer and staring at artwork on a screen instead of staring at the real artwork is getting pretty old.

While I’m at it, I hate sitting in front of a computer looking at a face in a little box instead of looking at a real face .

Moreover I hate looking at art on a screen, Zoom or not.

One of the pundits said that the history of art as you see it in a textbook is really the history of artwork that will reproduce well in a quarter-page illustration.  Michelangelo's David is the same size as a Japanese netsuke.  My addition to that is that all artwork looks the same represented by a 1024x960 pixel jpeg created on a computer screen with unknown color balance and viewed on another computer screen with a different unknown color balance.

A friend was the judge for a show at a not-quite-local gallery.  He chose about 125 prints out of the 2000 or so that were submitted -- by jpeg -- from all over the country.  He told me that when the actual prints arrived about 20 of them were so different from the jpeg (and not better) that he didn't want to hang them.

All that said, just today I watched a lecture by Todd Hido (photographer in the Bay area) arranged by the art gallery of the University of Kentucky.  About 100 people attended from all over the western world.  I regularly attend a critique hosted by a Portland (Oregon) photographer — with attendees from upstate New York, Tennessee, Burnaby BC, northern California, Chicago, Calgary. 

Tonight I have a Zoom meeting with a local group of photographers with whom I have met in person for about 20 years -- sitting around a table with actual prints strewn over it, looking at them and at each other.  

I guess that Zoom and it’s ilk have a place, an important place.  But, dang!  It’s not the only place.

Back to the real world ASAP