Exploring Artistic Creativity

I’m intrigued at the diversity of artists and their inspiring works that bring creativity to life. My insight into anything done “LIVE” gets immediate respect. Capturing The Moment in dance photography was a challenge I wanted to explore as I left the world of video and began creating still images.  Those sources of motivation collided when I connected with Maria Caruso.

She has incorporated her talent and skills into 5 dance companies. Additionally, she leads educational programs in fitness, therapy, health, movement and is the Performing Arts Chair at La Roche College. Multitasking does not come close to describing her lifestyle.  The collective activities of her organization are known as the M Train. Managing all of this, she still is committed to performing herself. Her work ethic fuels her determination to always be doing something. I see these character attributes as part of the foundation of her creativity.

I truly appreciate Maria allowing me access to her company and performances in an attempt to capture images of the athleticism, grace and beauty of dance. Her critique of my photography is honest. I love that!  

The dynamics of what she presents on stage or into rehearsal involves integrating music, costumes, lighting, emotion and movement into the art of choreography. The process she goes thru in synthesizing these disciplines varies. Surprisingly to me, “music is often added after the routine is laid out”.  She also relies on her community of people she has gathered around her to inject ideas. In her dance studio creativity is fueled by collaboration.

The work of a painter can last for centuries as can the words of a poet. The performance of dance, or any stage production, is a brief moment of energy transformed into art that cannot be completely recreated. Choreographers and dancers, like other artists, frequently develop a legacy of style.  Ms. Caruso’s vision of any legacy she is forming revolves around bringing health and wellness into artistic outlets. As an artistic activist she is expanding the opportunities for those without waif like bodies to dance.

The rural roots for Maria began in a well-rounded childhood. Tennis, swimming and crafting were all part of her life. She proudly claims that she was “amazing in woodshop”. Even though she was becoming devoted to dance, her enthusiasm wasn’t always encouraged because of not having the stereotypical dancers’ body. She was determined not to let that stop her moving forward with a resolve that would foreshadow her career. Finishing High School simultaneously with her freshman year of college, she considered a medical career but was searching for opportunities to dance.

In college, the styles of classical ballet were seasoned with her exposure to modern and jazz. Still facing the challenge of not having the body type of a ballerina, she developed a philosophy that dancers shouldn’t be limited by the aesthetics of the body. The aesthetic of the technique gave her gratification.

Here, her vision and mine converge. Classic ballerina images where lighting, costume and form are sculpted onto the human form is indeed an art form. However, I am inspired by the diverse athletic form of dancers. I try to capture the bond of athleticism, emotion and art in my lens.

At 18, during an internship at The Dance Theater of Harlem, Maria found a space and place that felt like home. That connection with the company became a seed for her emerging career. Tempted to remain in NYC, she returned to finish college then went straight back to the city to explore collective opportunities. In an era when dancers were expected to choose a style, she chose diversity. Her inspiration came from Martha Graham, Darcey Bussell, Alvin Ailey, Jawole Zollar and others where the healthy feminine body was not frowned upon as in traditional Balanchine style of that time.

Finding a way to balance artistic objectives with economic survival she connected with people throughout the NYC dance environment teaching, freelancing and connecting with other dancers. Not knowing any better, she sold her car to finance her own show while she also learned about cash advance on a credit card. Financially, her efforts on that 1st touring show were not successful. The discovery of finding out what she loved to do was, as the saying goes…priceless.

The creative fusion of training, talent, interests, inspiration, experience and determination were all coming together. Although she dropped business in college, she realized she couldn’t afford to build her dream in New York and returned to Pittsburgh where she would define and create her space. The vision was locked in her mind.

Her influence from diverse styles allowed her to develop Bodiography, a dance company focused on technique aesthetics and healthy bodies. The support and opportunity for self-sufficiency was fueled by determination. It was now do-able. As her dreams were coming together, she did numerous jobs including hosting a late-night show on the Home Shopping Network.

When I first met Maria and found out her studio was the former studio of Gene Kelly I wondered if the space had creative spirits. For some artists, elusive mystical muses and sacred spaces are not something to dismiss. Her creative ideas are randomly conceived with inspiration from the desert, to dreams…from people she chooses to surround herself with to an inner force she follows without question. The window to the inner muse of her creativity is wide open.

Choreographing for her company is a coming together process watching how her dancers adapt. Although she says she is not a good choreographer, she credits early training for her non-traditional routines. Often, for a personal performance, she doesn’t over rehearse. A plan is in place but details of the movements can be of-the-moment filled in by her spirit and soul. The physicality and technique are the driving motivation in her dance. She trusts her abilities and harnesses her self-confidence to drive creativity.

She does not easily relax. Time spent running, an average of 35 miles a week, is her alone time.  Performing a 50 minute solo show Metamorphosis, her conditioning was put to good use.  The artistic, athletic and emotional talents the performance demanded could only be done by someone as galvanized as Maria.

Surrounding herself with people she respects and loves is important personally and professionally. She quickly gives credit to those she works with that keep the train on the tracks.

The horizon is never very far off in Maria’s vision. Although massive lifestyle changes throughout society are occurring due to the Covid-19 Virus, I believe projects, performances and plans of the M Train will evolve. What happens with The Movement Factory will be an exciting project to watch develop. Her Off-Broadway show Rearview Mirror will happen. The premier of the digital magazine Arts Inclusive could become a co-op of diverse creative individuals. The potential for expanded mentor-ship could become a new garden of inspiration for anyone looking to grow their artistic talent.

Artists and creative individuals are as varied as the human race. Commitment and determination are common character traits of those that achieve their goals. Maria’s self-assurance does not have a trace of arrogance. On and off the stage, she has gratitude and a zest for people in her life. The creative community she surrounds herself with helps breed her artistic directions.

Motivated with new tools

A mantra I’ve often said is “I Love Digital I Hate Digital!” It’s as true today as when the phrase first entered my mind. (Click on any image to see full screen.)

One street lamp 40,000 ISO

If I capture something with my camera like my eyes saw I’m quite happy. Noise/grain that accompanies low light is a side effect of the digital settings necessary to capturing dark environments. Although I accept noise as part of the feel of that environment it’s a distraction I’d be glad to eliminate.  

Nicole Ivan REALLY?! Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Choreography Maria Caruso

Images from a production of the Bodiography Contemporary Ballet motivated me to do a test drive of noise reducing software. I was very happy with how the blacks surrounding Nicole’s form became transparent. The software did indeed reduce grain but added what I describe as a “painterly look.” I kinda liked it! Since I also like what 40,000 ISO can do, I recognized this software would allow me to experiment more in low light situations.

A preset “look” look dramatically improved the spectrum of blue.

After exploring the noise filter for a trial period. I added the entire Topaz collection to my editing toolbox to see what else I might use. As learning by trial & error will do, I found interesting tools.

A light touch softened the harsh elements that had overpowered the main subject.

Finding the images that benefit most from my new digital tools is a learning curve. I realized some filters have the ability to take “so-so” shots & improve the basics of form, light, color or texture. The right tool for the right job is where decision-making is important in achieving an image that correlates with my vision when I snapped the shutter. In doing this, I contemplate the Ansel Adams quote “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” I often wonder how he would embrace digital tools.

The result of digital manipulation added to my appreciation of the strength of the form.

This result, in my mind’s eye, crossed over into a different dimension. Not a photograph but not a painting. In some respects filters made elements more natural while making others bizarre. It seems like I found some handles on mood & emotion. I soon saw a use for these tools with some specific images in my archive.

My 1st reaction was a feeling of summer. (The sails are masked from the effect.)

In previous attempts at chasing sailboats with my camera I was less than thrilled with the results. I had a few not-to-bad images but weather had an impact, as did my learning curve on my overall satisfaction. I liked the form within many of the images but they just didn’t “pop.” Using Photoshop I removed some elements I wasn’t happy with but nothing reached a level of  “Nailed It!” These images became my guinea pigs for venturing into artificial intelligence in photo software.

My next step may be trying to remove all the sponsor text on the hull & sail.

As is often the case “Less is More.” A slight use of a “designed look” diminished the visual strength of the bridge in the background while giving energy to the boat. That is more like what I envisioned.

My”old school” roots make it easy to reject this & other effects.

As with any effect, it’s easy to get ridiculous. But I did find “looks” I thought added a layer of enrichment not just change.

The elements in this image never did balance to my liking.

From what I know about AI using that term seems to be more hype/marketing than actual operation. The “looks” I felt had the most impact on improving the images fell into one category…dead painters with names like Degas, Van Gogh, Monet & Renoir.  However, with some images no amount of important artists do more than make a mediocre image more mediocre.

Over saturation is a common technique to grab eyes. I prefer a powerful subject.

Not surprisingly adding a filter does not rescue a shot that really doesn’t have much going for it. An effect just for the sake of an effect is only a crutch supporting a problem.

In the “before” image on the left, Empire Sandy lacked wind in her sails making her look flat & lifeless. Running the image on the right thru a few “looks” gave me something a bit more interesting. In this case the software added a classical feeling to a subject with historic roots. This effect works with this image.

Re-cropping to 30% of image gave better balance to elements that caught my eye.

I’ve overcome my “journalistic” concerns about altering an image. Now, reducing/removing visual distractions or enhancing details are things I routinely do in Photoshop. I especially enjoy how a simply re-crop gives a shot more emphasis.

From a sophisticated perspective I would critique this as just yukky!

I find myself in digital conflict again. Some of these clicks in Topaz software take an image into an entirely different cosmos. These images are far from a painting & my eyes don’t see a photograph. Frequently, like the image above, results scream NO! It feels disconnected from what inspired me. Occasionally, I discover a layer of emotion or mood that’s in sync with my original motivation.

LOST POND by J

My visual perception has yet to fully integrate how all the aspects of digital editing can assist with realizing that vision. I am continuing to learn the appropriate situation of what & when to dig into my digital toolbox. To ensure I don’t go to far I went back to some of my favorite shots. LOST POND is one of my few landscape captures I really like.  Could I make it better? The results…different yes better no!

I’m sure Monet himself could do better.

I love much of Monet’s work & I thought simulating his style might take the image to a higher level. Nope! The good photo, with some enhancement in Photoshop, is much better than the “Monet look”. Learning what I don’t like is valuable to me. It gives me incentive to pursue the vision of my mind’s eye with new tools, new perspectives & new failures, at my fingertips.

Laissez faire motivation

Follow where your eyes take you!

FYI click or tap an image to view it full screen. Prague was the enticing destination on my recent trip. But Portugal & Vienna were bookends of our travels. The coastal cities of Lisbon & Porto are where most of our time was spent with one-night in Sintra & a day trip to the Douro Valley.

I didn’t have specific destinations or expectations for this part of our trip so I just had a photographic laissez faire approach to where we went. I let my eyes wander & tried to capture interesting details, characteristics of the culture & people. The churches, palaces & monasteries in these old world Europe cities are spectacular but kind of blend together. Something that grabbed my eyes in Lisbon was the beautiful tile work almost everywhere you looked. I also saw lots of street art aka graffiti. As always shadows attract my interest.

The topography of these 2 port cities made many of the hills of Pittsburgh look like gentle slopes. Within the crowded streets of Lisbon are 3 funiculars/inclines, which gave welcome relief to my knees. In addition, many of the streets & sidewalks are made from tiles & stones. While they provided unique artistic character to the cities, (Yes! The sidewalks are stunning works of craftsmanship!) at the end of the day the unevenness took a toll on my feet.

I had hoped to do a sailing trip out of Porto for an afternoon, but it ended up that we just motored along the coast & up the Douro River. A nice afternoon on the water but very disappointed the sails never went up. That means look for other boats that do have sheets to the wind!

Sintra offered an opportunity to visit a variety of castles. These structures have always fascinated me. I was anxious to see them. The Palace of Pena was interesting but seemed like a set from Universal Studios. The Castle of the Moors, built over 1100 years ago, is in surprisingly good shape providing spectacular views from atop the hill. The newest of the castles, Quinta da Regaleira, built in the last days of the Portugal monarchy, is the one that got my mind’s eye really motivated. This was indeed my highlight of Portugal, a place I could spend an entire day with my camera.

Another memorable experience was a drive into the Douro valley, home of Port wine. Although I don’t drink wine, getting there was a good day trip. The drive was one of the most scenic routes I’ve taken in a while. Driving a stick shift on the back-country roads was much more fun than the anxiety of reintroducing myself to a clutch on city hills.

I had VERY briefly visited Vienna on a 12 hour layover a few years ago so I had a taste of what this old yet cosmopolitan city was like. On this trip we took the time to visit the summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty. We were told, after we bought tickets, that no photography was allowed on the tour. With a silent shutter & stealth aiming of the camera I didn’t let rules stop me. This is the room where after the Bay of Pigs & before the Cuban Missile Crisis President Kennedy met with Soviet Premier Khrushchev. That meeting didn’t go well for JFK.

 I understand & usually respect restriction on photography. Some people, many with with cell phone cameras, cause problems with the flow of tourist traffic. And don’t get me started about selfie sticks! However, if this restriction is part of the policies, let people know before purchasing tickets. I almost always check in advance if non-flash no tripod photography is allowed when I anticipate taking pictures.

Enough of that rant, the gardens outside the palace have wonderful opportunities to take pictures, fewer crowds & was a more picturesque environment. Central Vienna was indeed worth exploring but the gardens of the palace & the district of Hietzing, where the palace is located, offered a  slower simpler taste of Austria. This was a welcome change of pace. Naturally they had the prerequisite historic churches.

In life I try to experience new things. However, I also understand what I like & what I don’t like. I enjoyed seeing the wonderful lobby/entrance to the Vienna Opera House. The only way to see it was waiting in line to buy SRO tickets for Madam Butterfly. Even though I love the symphony, theater, dance & especially musical theater I had never experienced opera. My instincts for avoiding it were correct. With no offense to talented performers, crew & fans of this historic art form, I doubt I will ever go to another opera. We respectfully left after the 1st act. OBTW the interior hall of both Heinz Hall & The Benedum are more impressive.

Finally PRAGUE

St Vitus on the hill in New Town

A destination dream was a worthwhile experience with a few blemishes. Prague has been an Eastern European city I have wanted to visit for a while. It has history, architecture, culture & is almost as pristine as before WWII. I had a few preconceived ideas in my head of what I hoped to photograph & looked forward to walking in the path of historic times.

Metamorphosis

I had read about the Statue of Kafka with rotating layers. The concept created by David Cereny fascinated me in that it reflected one of his best know books, Metamorphosis, in a unique way. Once I got to the small square I realized all 360 degrees of background were distracting. So I did tight shots of the 42 ton statue making it more abstract. I’d like to try my eye at capturing some images at night when neighboring buildings might not visually interfere as much. If I still did video, I’d want to do drone work around this kinetic sculpture.

Time passing the tourists

The biggest disappointment was the size of the crowds. I didn’t anticipate the number of visitors we would need to navigate thru. It was a weekend with wonderful weather that drew throngs of visitors in Disney World proportions. This “small” crowd was staring at the Astronomical Clock originally built in 1410 with many repairs & updates over its 600 year history. I wonder if any anything built today could last even 300 years.

Strahovsky Library

We hired a personal guide who enriched walking thru historic Wenceslas Square & many other parts of the city. However her best suggestion was a private tour of the Strahovsky Library. The frescoes, the baroque, the books, the paintings on the ceilings & the globes made me feel very small. The accumulated knowledge, creativity & effort it took to create all of this cannot help but make one humble.

Some associate Prague with the flavor of unconventional bohemians. This is reflected it the literature, art & spiritual roots of this city. When a friend recommended going to a gallery to see exhibits by Dali, Warhol & Mucha I knew it would be memorable. Immersed in the work of Dali I remembered how I felt as a teenager when I discovered his surreal work. The exhibit on Warhol also was enlightening. It didn’t just repeat what I’ve seen & learned of Pittsburgh’s native art icon. The contrast of modern cast sculpture vs classic carved stone statues provide diversity that keeps your eyes & mind alert.

One of the things that enticed me to visit Prague was the Old Europe architecture. It can be an aesthetic overload. Thankful the destruction many cities experienced during WWII escaped this town on the Vltava river. Somehow the diverse styles of Baroque, Gothic & Roman including a few Moorish & Art Nouvea buildings do not conflict with each other. Sprinkled throughout are ornate details almost all modern buildings are void of. I did not see it all the city had to offer, which is a good reason to return. My ability to capture good architectural images is poor at best. However, experiencing these classic structures with my eyes was rewarding enough.

A common element in almost all tourist destinations is the sound of street musicians. On the streets & bridges of Prague they added a layer of atmosphere to the background defining a sense of place. Slowing down to listen to the soundtrack accompanying the sights was a true joy. As with much of the culture of Prague, the medley of styles was a pleasant encounter.

Never pass up the opportunity to put red in the frame,

The sense of history in Wenceslas Square was transformative. In my lifetime it has witnessed Soviet tanks & demonstrations leading to the Velvet Revolution. While I was there a gathering of activists were educating people about climate change. I’m not sure if this woman was associated with that message or not. But the saying of “never pass up an opportunity to capture red in the frame” compelled me to snap this image.

In St Giles church listening to an ensemble play Vivaldi, Mozart & Ravel I closed my eyes & drifted back in time. For me music can do that.  After a day wandering around this historic city it was one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Prague.

The one image I’m most thrilled about I was able to capture then manipulate in PS to what I had seen in my mind’s eye. As a photographer that is a very rewarding experience. I love the low light capabilities of my camera & continue to discover more techniques in PS that allow me to create the images I want. Overall Prague didn’t give me the photo opportunities I had hoped for. However, it stimulated my senses in a way that few other places have ever done.

Challenges and Rewards

Empire Sandy

Capturing images of sailboats has many frustrations but also provides a level of enjoyment I find worthy of pursing. Geography in relationship to the ocean does limit my opportunities for capturing these classic boats. However, Tall Ships Challenge on the Great Lakes was not going to be a missed opportunity.  A stop of the tour in Erie PA in August was on my calendar for over 6 months.

Prior to the Parade of Sail at Presque Isle, I got a chance for one of my “Mind’s Eye” images. With nothing but sky, clouds & water, Empire Sandy is alone with her elements. The red Canadian Flag is an added bonus with the horizon line being about as unobtrusive as possible.  The one element lacking is sails full of wind. I’d like to duplicate this framing with a boat this size in 15-20 knot winds. The challenge continues with the reward of planning another day on the water!

Floating Photogs

I’m not usually the type of photog that participates in group shoots. However, to dilute the cost I reached out & found others that shared my exuberance for sailboat photography & chartered a fishing boat. This allowed us to get into a position with some control over background & lighting. It was an added bonus to be able to talk photography with a crew of wonderful enthusiasts. Of the 4 that reported, we shot a total of 1815 shots. I was the most conservative with only 281 snaps.

Flagship Niagara led the parade into her home-port. She served during the war of 1812 & is a wonderful example of the dedication to preserving a working example of history. Like many her age she had some nautical facelifts & now is a centerpiece of the Port of Erie.

For those who appreciate flag protocol, the flag on her stern is the only US Flag with 15 stripes & 15 stars. This version of old glory inspired Francis Scott Key. It replaced the 13 stars/stripes version in 1794 & was replaced in 1818 with 13 stripes & 1 star for every state format.

Appledore V

Appledore V is a sailing classroom with a homeport of Bay City, MI. As one of the smaller boats the light winds had more influence on her cutting thru the water. The wind shaping the jib with the shadows along the pleats of the sail is one of the many details of sailboat photography I love. My limited knowledge of the rigging on schooners makes me wonder if the name flag is on an extension of the main mast. I like the flag but question why it is so far above the top of the main.

Physics & Geometry

Far from pristine, this CU of the 2 jibs, the staysail & the foresail in the background highlight the complex fractal forms involved in capturing the wind. No mater the size of the sailboat the forces of physics on the geometric design can be seen in the fluid tension of the sails.

Picton Castle

The Picton Castle is not just a showpiece. Prior to the Great Lakes Challenge she was in the south Pacific. This 3 masted barque sails the oceans for training & educational voyages.

Look behind you!

As our boat was entering the harbor to find a good position to capture boats entering the bay I noticed 3 of the photogs on the boat with cameras pointing towards the shore. Keeping your head on a swivel can result in unexpected surprises.

Bluenose II

One of the aspects of sailboat photography I find compelling is that no matter the position of the subject or the sun you can find an interesting shot. As Bluenose II is headed to her berth, the view of her stern with the sun on her starboard bow creates a silhouette.

Lettie G Howard

Like many classic yachts the Lettie G Howard has been around. Built in 1893 as a fishing schooner in Essex, MA her home is now at the docks at the South Street Seaport In NYC. Believed to be the last remain ship of her type she is now a floating museum & a National Historic Landmark.

St. Lawrence II

One of the youngsters in the parade, St. Lawrence II built in 1953 primarily as a training vessel for those under 18. As one of 35 registered Tall Ships in Canada she spends most of her time in the fresh water of the great lakes. 

Dreamer

After a Coast Guard boat confirmed all of the parade had passed I saw another beauty following behind. Dreamer, from the Erie Yacht Club, decided to crash the party! The independent streak in me loves the fact that uninvited she joined the festivities. Maybe it was my mind’s eye reacting to the different rigging or the name but this boat may indeed be my the reward the day. She also inspires me to continue the quest for capturing these boats under full sail!

A Seed of Motivation

I can remember specifically the image I saw in 1977 that made me look at sailboats in a completely different perspective. It was a crossing of two 12 meter sailboats during the Americas Cup. The shot captured the perfection of the wind pushing the most elegant design of sails & boat I had ever seen. I have looked at a lot of sailboats since then. I’ve see many I like. For racing, catamarans are faster & foils make them look slow. However, 12 meter sailboats dance with the water & wind with a harmony not seen in other class of boats.

With a camera in my hand, the element of water adds a tremendous amount of opportunity for an image. The texture and the color have many variables to work with. When a sailboat is put on water I look for that elusive background with nothing but water and sky.

The primary draw of my eye is to the form of this subject.  The wide shot with multiple boats shows both symmetry & distinction. I like the idea of no logos on the sails but black isn’t my favorite hue. I learned the reason is the material…carbon fiber. Old school sails are better for the eye. Speed isn’t everything.

The hard diagonal of the mast is relative to the soft curves of the sails. To my eye this juxtaposition of forms indicates power. The power is reinforced as the bow slices the waves.

Having spent brief moments on a sailboat provides a respect for the crews of these boats. The grinders to the navigator the bowman to the tailers the skipper to the pitman must work with harmony in moments of near chaos all while bouncing along the ocean. I love the no-slip material sewn onto the butt of the pants. Function not fashion!

I met the uncle of the Captain of Onawa who asked me to try and get some pics of his niece Barbara Krasinski at the helm of the oldest 12 meter in the fleet. What an honor. Built in 1928 and still competing in the Vintage Division. By sheer luck it is one of my select images was of Onawa. I did get a better image of her at the helm leaving the dock, which her uncle loved.

Although the weather was  much much better than last years trip to Newport, The haze was a disappointment. However, I found that exploring more with my B/W knowledge I found some solutions to the haze with results I’m getting more content with. Tell me if you like the image in BW above or in color below.

From the bow to the stern interesting angles can be found. It truly is a 360 degree subject with many opportunities. Relative to the sun, when you are in a powerboat positions go from heavy back light to flat and everything in between. A shot that was just OK 15 seconds ago is now spectacular with the shadows of the sails and clouds. For someone like me that loves being around boats chasing these opportunities is indeed a challenge I have always wanted to do with my camera. The workshop by Onne Van Der Wal was indeed one of the most worthwhile opportunities I experienced.

One of those boats in the picture that inspired me in 1977 was Courageous. Seeing her on the water gave me pause to reflect on the influence one particular image had on me.  My tastes and interests are still evolving but the long ago seed planted by this elegant floating sculpture has grown to  fruition.  This year Courageous took 3rd of 8 boats in the modern division. In 1977 Ted Turner skippered her to win the America’s Cup. Each of us has gotten a bit slower in the 40 plus years.

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.


Critique Reinforced a Change in Direction

01 copy

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.

01

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.

02

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.

Shadows

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.

04

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.