It’s Been Awhile

I’ve been somewhat dormant publishing new posts since I’ve abandoned my twice a month deadlines. The gallery showing of Portraiture of Cuba, a non-photo focused trip visiting my daughter in Israel & the fact I’m not a fan of winter photography are my best excuses for not doing much new with my camera.

Also taking up significant time has been learning the visual differences between digital platforms, software, screens & projectors. Maintaining consistent quality in the digital world is frustrating! File that under “I hate digital”. I’ll let that go for now. 

The past months have been a time to continue crawling up the Photoshop mountain. Without a doubt I’ve abandoned earlier inhibitions about “altering the reality” of my images. In fact, some of my favorite images over the winter have been oldies that I now can do post-production work I’ve learned in the past few years. File that under “I LOVE digital”.

It’s not like I haven’t pressed the shutter recently. The unpredictable snapshots I got visiting Tel Aviv & Jordon were good exercise for my eyes & my mind. I never thought I’d get a surfing picture or see a couple on a date using a fast electric scooter. The light, the colors & the textures in the Jordon Desert were completely unexpected with a Deja vu of Star Wars.

I have a new camera with astounding low light capabilities. The advantages of higher resolution/full frame are great. I’m getting used to the electronic viewfinder associated with mirror-less but I’m still a fan of optical thru the lens. As with most things in life not all change is an improvement. The EOS-R will be getting a workout in the months ahead.

I have a few photo sojourns planned for the upcoming months including a road trip west visiting family & reconnecting with valued friends. It’s nice to be able to blend a photo topic that has baffled me for many decades with renewing personal connections.

I have an east bound trip where I’ll visit a respected friend before continuing the elusive challenge of chasing sailboats. The 12 Meter Championships is an opportunity I’m excited about. It’s part of a workshop with sailboat photographer Onne van der Wal. The logistics & variables involved with this passion of mine is something I’ve come to accept. Last May, going after the Volvo boats was disappointing because of the weather. Yet, sails continue to dominate my mind’s eye.

Later in the summer, the Tall Ships in Erie PA will provide another opportunity for capturing a chapter of my photo dreams.  In doing my planning, I’ve discovered another avenue I may someday pursue to put myself in position to capture the beauty & power of these boats. For now, I’m just hopeful that I have no need for a rain-cover for my camera in either Newport or Erie.

Closer to Pittsburgh, the opportunity for a multi-layered collaboration involving a mixed media diptych is in the works. It will be a collaborative effort where “the light” was an inspiration to both. This will be another chance to explore creative motivation. The back-story is one of the more interesting/serendipitous preludes to a project that can best be described as a ‘burgh thing. It may be a 2 part blog posting. (When was the last time you read diptych & serendipitous in the same paragraph?)

If all goes well, this fall I will finally spend a few days in what some have called The Most Beautiful City in Europe. Prague has been on my list of places I’ve wanted to visit with my camera. The lure involves history, architecture, classical music & at least geographically, the home of Bohemian lifestyle. Capturing the appeal with still images will be a challenge. A big work in progress.

A subject I enjoy almost everywhere I go requiring no planning is people. Sometimes they just add a human perspective to the frame. Other times their expressions preface an interesting story. In the case of still images of musicians I’m convinced a 2 shot tells a deeper story.

I often see what appears to be a boring sight & realize I have an unorthodox perspective. For example, parked cars seems bland at best. However, when I considered the skill needed to parallel park in tight urban areas, 5 cars caught my eye. Maybe it was a parade at rest?

If nothing else, this blog gives me a better understanding of why I pick up my camera. I enjoy putting myself in situations where I need to visually explore the environment to find a frame that inspires my mind’s eye. Frequently patience is a needed tool. However, per-visualization of subjects & the planning involved with chasing those moments is another layer of my photography motivation.

Symbolic Portraiture

Michael Fratangelo creates a compelling style with his painting.

I was honored to be welcomed into the studio of an artist to discuss his process & document his technique. People who whet their skills, persistence, talent & technique to create art define their own space. It is a place to be respected. Alone in a building on the third floor the work Michael Fratangelo does in his studio is primarily at night. Maybe Quincy Jones was on to something when he said “The muse come out at night.”

I first saw his work at Ketchup City Creative.  This powerful series was recognized & exhibited in Europe. The subject of the paintings was the War in Iraq. The series reflected photos from the NYT. I was taken back by the size of the paintings some as large as 6’ by 8’. My eyes welcomed the pallet of colors.  His style is such that the oil-on-canvas is thick & chunky giving an added element of form.  I was intrigued by how he defines his Symbolic Portraits. I was preparing my own Portraiture themed gallery show & his work was an unexpected perspective into defining a portrait. Classic portraits of people are not what he produces. The work I saw in his brochure gave me new eyes. Boldly, I asked if I could visit his studio to document his work.

My minds eye of a painter’s space is not what I found. From a photographers perspective the lighting was mixed & poorly distributed. Working at night the windows provided no source of naturally soft light. Mirror like, they only reflected glares. The primary light was florescent & he used 2 thrift-store-rejected pole lamps for the work in front of him. I quickly realized all Michael needed was illumination! The work was coming from his mind to his hands. Watching him work I began to understand his comment “Painting is stronger than me. It makes me do what it wants”. This is a place where the muse may visit.

 I’m not an art critic & lack their classic adjectives, adverbs & education to describe paintings. I can say that visually his paintings have strength. Since it is Michael’s work I accept his description of “using symbolism to create spiritually guided portraits”. Adjusting the viewer’s awareness to a different type of portrait resonated with me.

Some artists make sketches or drafts that play an important role in their work. For Michael, a critical step is interviewing & understand the person. What he learns becomes layers in the painting he creates. A common topic includes mentors & individuals that have inspired. Family snapshots showing decades of change in the person hang on the wall alongside of where he works. The favorite food in somebodies life can sneak into the symbolism coming from his brushes. The colors & forms Michael sees are a part of the spiritual aspects of the people he paints.

Allen Levine, who Michael has known for years, commissioned the project I photographed. Allen is an outgoing person with passion for sports. He hosts a local talk show calling himself the Talking Machine. The symbolism in his portrait reveals his character with forms & color from Michael.

Michael never started out to be an artist coming close to never recognizing his gift. As a student he was adrift. During our conversations he frequently discussed how John Bowman, one of his professors at Penn State, encouraged him to develop his own voice on the canvas using his intuitive sense of color. After that, he avoided academic probation & was on a path to understanding & developing his talent.

Michael has confidence he is where he needs to be with his art. His role as a Middle School teacher “inspiring his students to simply avoid being afraid to be creative” is part of his personality. He recognizes the value of ingenuity across all learning. Having found his talent he looks to help others discover theirs.  This provides motivation outside the studio. As a member of the board of Penn State’s College of Art & Architecture he gives back to the place where he found his gift.

I asked what artists inspired him. Of particular interest were sculptors Henry Moore from Britain & Michelangelo Buonarroti of Italy. I found it somewhat odd that sculptors influenced a painter working in a 2 dimensional medium until I researched their work. Both had a mystical view of their work, that the sculptors already lay in the marble they were uncovering. Michael considers himself more of a sculptor than a painter. Instead of using hammer chisel & stone, Michael has a similar belief he is uncovering his work like the sculptors but with brush, palette knife & oil paint.

 Michael daringly describes himself as a visionary artist. With early international recognition of his style, he now is earning commissions for his unique portraits. I do not doubt that his work may reach a new level. For now, he continues to produce his dynamic colorful symbolic portraits while trying to put a dent in the universe.

This new blog format I am using will allow you to click on the photographs to see them full frame. Feedback appreciated.


Take a Break from the Digital World

When I returned to still photography I had no plans on printing images.  However, a quote got stuck in my mind.

“The print is an idea made visible. For me it’s a tactile, sensual experience.” Tillman Crane

Last Summer I hung prints in the Mt. Lebanon Library. Seeing portraits “on the wall” was drastically different than viewing the images on a computer. A print inspired learning how matting & framing impact the viewer’s perception.

PORTRAITURE of CUBA Character & Emotions was motivation to “hang prints.” Observing the diversity of human character while standing in a room with over 2 dozen photographs is a more unifying experience than scrolling images on an electronic device.

Mt. Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 201

Sunday March 3rd 1:30-4:30  Opening

Saturday March 9th 3p-6p ish Reception w/Live Music

Friday March 15th 6:30-9:30  “Cuba, Photos & Framing a Story”

Ketchup City Creative 612 Main St. Sharpsburg, PA 15215

https://ketchupcity.com/

Mt Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 2017


It’s physical. It’s social. It’s an old school way to share my work.

Leave the digital world behind. Come to one of the 3 events at Ketchup City. Learn about people & a culture that for over 60 years has been nothing but chaos in the eyes of most Americans. See it for yourself!






Critique Reinforced a Change in Direction

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I recently went to a portfolio review hosted by Richard Kelly. Not only was it valuable to hear critique of my own images but the overall evening was insightful. The experience of seeing the work of other photographers while listening to the critique of their work motivated me in an unexpected way.

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Sue Abramson was the artist doing the reviews. Prior to her individual review of the each photographers work, she gave a presentation of her book “A Woodlands Journal”. Her imagery was captivating. But most impressive to me was her commitment to the subject for 4 decades. It reinforced how much I just bounce around with my camera.

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I was torn between the styles of presentation of her review. The projected digital images allowed the entire group to see in a theater setting. However, all of the bumps associated with electronic presentation were there.

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I do enjoy looking at a print & this method of review allowed a broader critique of the images as well as the perspective of examining the story/style. The downside was that it’s hard for a group of people to gather around a table to engage with what she was saying & demonstrating. The options for sharing our work are numerous & should be molded to the venue and the viewer.

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Most of the work of the other photogs at the review had some sort of underlying nucleus. It was inspiring to see & learn about the vision of talented local photographers who have, or are exploring, a personal style in their artistic endeavors.

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During all of her critiques it wasn’t so much the specific comments she gave that resonated with me. It was her overall perspective looking at the collections of the images of the other photographers that opened a new vista for me.

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My “portfolio of images” had no theme & is best described as eclectic without foundation. I doubt my motivation in photography will ever become focused on one genre. I believe I am destined to be a generalist. I have recognized this for a while & embrace the diversity. However, the next review session I take part in I will put together a theme of images, which I believe will result in a more valuable feedback.

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Critiquing my images Ms. Abramson encouraged me to pursue subjects I mentioned I enjoy like dance & sailboats while giving relevant critique on some of my other images. I realized that on this blog the written support is the strength of my style of story telling. While my images on any particular posting have some commonality, the visual theme usually is linked by the text. I’ve put more emphasis on prose than image continuity in an effort to improve my writing.

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As you can see by the images in this posting, the subjects of my photography are diverse. I like the challenge of some subjects. I believe it’s important to document the human condition. Often something will just catch my eye. People have so many varied activities I am motivated to capture candid moments. The beauty in the natural world is an inspiring subject. I’ve gotten better at tuning my eyes to light & shadow. I also have become comfortable with Photoshop to enhance or occasionally modify an image. I’ve even ventured into the challenges of Black & White. The title of the Scorsese film about Dylan No Direction Home resonates.

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I can not ignore the inspiration I got in my youth from photojournalism. I will still attempt to capture moments that resonate ideas. However, the ability of using photography to expand & explore creative points of view is something I will try to embrace.

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My take away from the evening motivated me to change my publishing schedule for this blog from twice a month to a more relaxed “whenever I have something to say” deadline. I had been feeling some self-inflicted pressure to do the 2-blog postings a month I’ve done since 11/15. I’m now motivated to explore a more visually dominate approach to story telling. I’ve proven to myself the writing of stories to accompany my photos in the style of “show & tell” is something I can do.

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I will be interested to see where this leads. Comments & suggestions are always welcome. After 73 blogs that began over 3 years ago using over 58 thousand words I no longer find value in a self-imposed deadline. Spelling… always a work in progress.

Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.

Motivated by Loss

Death may not seem like a topic for motivation. However, the emotions we experience with the loss of someone in our family a friend or just someone we spent time with are powerful currents of perception. We can’t avoid the loss of people in our lives just as we cannot escape our own departure. It is a shared perspective, but a truly unique, experience. It is an emotional cocktail of grief & relief when we say Rest in Peace.

For me, imagery plays an important part in that grieving process. When I look at the world around me I see transitions that I can relate to the cycle of life. The Natural World provides some comfort when I see all around me the passing of one phase of life leading to a new beginning.

 It doesn’t matter if it is natural or tragic, sudden or prolonged, in another part of the world or on our street; when we hear the news of the passing of someone that was a part of our lives we react to a new reality. Our lives do go on but with something missing.What remains are memories. We look to our past experiences thru a curtain of loss while remembering the moments we shared.

I find solace in water.Constantly in motion, rain, clouds & streams evolve as they journey to the sea. The diversity is amazing just like the experiences in our lives &those we shared those times with. There is no returning to the moments of life that have drifted by.

After hearing a National Park Ranger say “Water Always Wins” I have often found myself repeating it. It is also a metaphor for the fact that death is an inevitable part of life. I see each of our lives flowing downstream into something larger than itself.

Some find comfort in the dogma of religion. It offers a path to understanding questions, which have no answer. Our grief is enveloped with families & friends in a communal ritual of customs to honor the life of the deceased. Time does not heal all wounds. The new reality has a scar we can’t ignore.

The inspiration I get from death does not have a direct impact on my photography. It has more of an impact on how I will try to use the days ahead of me with the memories of people I have lost.  I try to see things in ways others may ignore. With my camera, which is an extension of my mind’s eye, I try to capture images that show the world I am living in. It can make my life seem fuller. Calm waters.


Revisiting Motivation

I’ve taken shots that caught me eye with no real idea why I snapped the shutter. Examining these shots I’ve not looked at for a few years was an interesting self-critique.  The close ups, details & perspectives are examples of my evolution with a still camera giving me clues to understanding my personal vision.

01By reviewing this shot I realized the fractal forms on this rooftop is what originally grabbed my eye. Recognizing my attraction to the pattern of the subject created an inspiration to explore the world of “Digital Art” Although this isn’t a genre I wish to spend much time with I did realize more about my initial attraction to the subject. This modification retains the strong structure while the added color & highlights have added a dimension non-existent in the original.

02 Bubbles.2I’ve always liked this shot as just a snapshot. The abstract quality disappears when your mind interprets what you see. The ½ sphere shapes are clues to realizing you are looking at bubbles on the surface of water. My latent photojournalist ethics of Photoshop no longer keep me from modifying an image. Enhancing the red & blue reflections added a separation creating a subtle juxtaposition while emphasizing the forms.

03How close is to close? Originally I was looking at the bees as the subject. But, as I was slowly approaching this nest to get my shot I was fascinated with the detail of the hive. Realizing that I didn’t want to be close for an extended amount of time I recognized a medium close up showing the bees & the contours of the structure they created was a more interesting image than just isolating the hole with the bees.  I’m slowly realizing a wider shot can be better story. I admire the collective ability & dedication of these sometime annoying creatures.

04 old oakUnless you are aware of the Fibonacci Equation or The Golden Spiral, this image of a 600 year old oak log is not all that interesting. Wandering thru the boatyard at Mystic Seaport the form in this cutaway screamed at me. If you take the time to look you can see some amazing things created by nature.

05 iron workHuman beings can also do some amazing things. The smelting of metals is ancient. Centuries ago the structural strength of iron was formed into security for doors & windows. Past generations have enjoyed the artistic as well as the pragmatic function of this medium. I suppose that somewhere a 3D printer is in the process of producing 21st century wrought iron railing. I’m not usually a fan of symmetry but this work is an exception because of the seemingly soft details on a hard material.

06North MeadowThe most challenging previsualization for me to grasp is with my wide-angle zoom. A close-up/wide shot is not something my mind’s eye can easily envision. This is one of the few times I did indeed make the most out of the optics. Lying on the ground in the North Meadow of Yosemite I was thrilled to find this back-lit flower & create an image I had seen in my mind. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the distant mountains softly out of focus since I was shooting at f16.

07 coat of arms montenegroThis 2-headed eagle is a symbol of Montenegro on their flag & coat of arms. We mostly think of crests like this being from centuries ago. It is an ancient visual representing  power & dominance. This version was formally approved by this Balkan nation in 2007. The 2 eagles holding religious symbols in their talons symbolize the close connections between church & state. The detail of the work enhances the power of the image.

08 rails londonAs a visual metaphor, train tracks have a history as an example of A Vanishing Point as well as Leading Lines. In my mind, the curving merger of 2 primary tracks is not as cliche. My initial reaction was the foreground flora interfered with this somewhat distinct view of a common subject. However, the color & the organic structure are a juxtaposition to steel rails which I now feel are an important part of the image.

09 Blood ChainI have seen a lot of rust which has interesting texture with deep brown blended with dark orange. This “Blood Rust” chain I saw really caught my attention. Could it be minerals in the rocks or salt from the ocean or a combination of both created this uncommon color in the old chain? Or is it because of the chemical make up of the steel that gives it a unique hue? It was with further examination I understood it was the hue that drew me to snap the shutter.

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In my opinion, the challenge of getting a close-up or macro shots of insects usually is not worth the effort. When I saw the grasshopper on the stark background I was motivated to try.  It was also convenient that I had my 100-400 on the camera.It also is a reinforcement of the need to look down at the ground for interesting subjects & angles.

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I was on a location scout for a possible documentary about a historic Federal style home. It would have been a nice project but never moved forward. Initially, I was just looking for window lighting & backdrops for interviews. Then I noticed the wallpaper.  Alice in Wonderland gave a clue to the last time this room had been redecorated becoming a visual part of the historic story of this home. Details can be enlightening.