Monday, October 22, 2012

"Side by Side" Can Film Survive Our Digital Future

I recently watched (2 times!) a documentary narrated by the actor, Keanu Reeves. The title of the film was "Side by Side." The question it asked was "can film survive our digital future?"

This film, in my opinion, is relevant for both still and cinematographers. Since the inception of movie-making, film has been the standard format for recording movie images. What has emerged in the past 20 years has been a totally new format of movie-making ... digital film-making. This has created a groundbreaking evolution in the film industry. This holds true for still photography as well.
Here is a link for the trailer: Side by Side ... The Movie.

I, for one, love film. I am still capturing all of my images on film. I like its grittiness and organic qualities. I especially like the way it records the dimension and latitude of light. During the past few years I have been playing with digital capture, but have not made the leap to "the dark side!" After seeing "Side by Side," I am a lot more open than ever to capturing my images digitally.

In the film "Side by Side," Keanu Reeves takes us on a tour of the past and future of film-making. He explores the development of cinema and the impact of the digital medium via in-depth interviews with Hollywood gurus, such as James Cameron, David Lynch, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and many more.  Profound ... that's all I can say! Rent it, buy it ... find a way to see it, but don't miss out seeing it. It will be the fastest 99 minutes you will ever spend.      

Saturday, June 23, 2012

We Are Spoiled!

Very funny ... what have we turned into!

Here is a snapshot of my friend, Jim Steele cursing at his printer because the paper did not feed correctly; necessitating approximately 20 more seconds to re-feed the paper! Has technology turned us into a bunch of impatient dolts or what! We both had a good chuckle after discussing how we used to work not so long ago ... are we spoiled!

Old school ... after shooting we would have to go into the darkroom and process (soup) the film, wait for it to dry and then make contact sheets ... expose the paper, submerge in developer for about 2 minutes, 30 seconds in the stop-bath and on to the fixer for another 1-3 minutes. From there, on to the wash for 30 minutes to 1 hour and off to the drying rack for several hours, or in some cases a heated print dryer that quickly fried your prints for 5 minutes until dry ... love those little yellow stains on the print and fixer stains on the apron of the print dryer! Better yet, use RC paper ... it develops quickly and drys fast. Thank goodness for instant gratification in the darkroom! 

After making a selection of what negatives to print, you had to make sure you had fresh chemicals. If not, you had to mix some new chemistry. If you were out of developer, you had to mix developer in hot water and wait for it to cool down or use bags of ice to help cool the chemistry to 68 - 70 degrees.

The next step was to clean the negative and insert it in the enlarger, crop, focus and expose a piece of photographic paper to make a test print. After arriving at the correct exposure and proper filtration for contrast, it was time to make the final print. This might take several hours or in my case an entire day working with a difficult negative.

After developing, stopping and fixing the final print it was off to a rinse in Perma Wash to help remove residual fixer before being washed in a print-washer for an hour. With the conclusion of washing the prints, it was time to selenium or sepia tone ... and then back to a final rinse for another 30 minutes to an hour.  Oh, forgot to mention that you hopefully made a few extra prints, because somewhere during the washing process a wet print would get dinged, scratched or destroyed in some way or another. What fun!

Once the prints were dry, which took several hours, it was time to spot out the dust marks and dry- mount the print for final presentation ... a labor or love or a pain-in-the-ass! It took a lot time and a lot of patients. What used to take many hours or even days, can now take a fraction of that time ... thanks to technology.

While technology has allowed us to speed up the entire picture-making process, there are many of us who still spend hours editing a single image in PhotoShop. There is still a group of individuals that profess that the hand-made gelatin silver print is "better" than a digital print. I would not say "better," I would say "different" ... two totally different mediums ... it's like the difference between chocolate and vanilla!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A New Direction?

A long time ago I used to photograph people. I have always had a affinity for faces and personalities. Without bragging, I was actually a pretty good portrait photographer. Anyway, life took over and my body of European work and my images of Washington, D.C. landmarks began to take off. Consequently, I spent the past 20+ years continuing to build those bodies of images and basically put portraiture on the back burner ... until recently.

I made this image of my wife, Lesley while in Venice in November 2011. It reminded me of Irving Penn's "corner portraits" made in the late 1940's of writers and various celebrities. Technically, the only difference was the background ... well, actually the big difference was the photographer! Penn used 2 white studio-flats (as illustrated below by the portrait of Truman Capote) and my image used 2 walls at a 45 degree angle covered with flocking wall paper.

Penn's images are so distinctive ... so Penn. According to Mr. Penn, "the confinement seemed to comfort people, soothing them,” he once explained. “The walls were a surface to lean on or push against. For me the picture possibilities were interesting; limiting the subjects movements seemed to relieve me of part of the problem of holding onto them.”

Truman Capote by Irving Penn, 1948

To be perfectly honest, in some small way, I felt my image was a copy or rip-off of the "master." Everything in art it seems has been done before. I think most of us that are serious about our work will reinvent things we have either seen or have been influenced by at one time or another. I need to get over it!!!!!   

Anyway, I made a nice print, but never got around to framing it and bringing it home. It sat on top of my flat-files in my studio. A lot of visitors to my studio would ask about the image.  In January, a couple from California asked if it was for sale because they wanted to purchase it for their collection ... really, OK. Since January, two other collectors have purchased this image ... go figure!

I have to say, taking the photograph of my wife was not an accident. I must have made 8-10 exposures. Using the corner, she did all the work ... and she loved the portrait ... me too. I must say, aside from selling several prints, the feedback I have received from strangers and  friends has been great. It has really renewed my long time interest in making portraits. Ummmm, might this be
a new direction?


Saturday, May 19, 2012


Having a studio and gallery in a public venue (The Torpedo Factory Art Center) has really been a blessing. I know of no other venue where I could gain first hand knowledge of how people respond to my work. I thoroughly enjoy the interaction; be it with collectors, other photographers or just John Q public. It's quite gratifying. Much better than getting feedback from my uncle Morris, who thinks I am a genius and more talented than Picasso!  

Aside from the typical questions about what kind of camera I use and is it digital or film, (BTW: I'm still a film guy), many times people ask about my inspiration ... what led me to photograph certain subject matter? I often hear, "I've photographed the same thing, but mine looks nothing like that." Or, I've seen that before, but never quite like that." The conversation usually progresses to how I identify new subject matter. Images of Washington, D.C. landmarks and European architecture and landscapes abound in my work. Why, because I'm passionate about them. I love my city, DC, and I love the whole European thing too. I guess you could say I am passionate about my subject matter. My goal has always been to communicate this passion through my images. If I were not as passionate about my subject matter as I am, I am sure my imagery would show that lack of passion. I strongly believe that if we photograph something we have strong feelings about, those feelings and passion will shine through.

Most of us have begun our photographic journeys making images of landscapes, portraits, flowers and architecture. My friend, Jim Steele has always used the expression, "first we imitate, then we innovate." How true! We have all been there and done that. Once we get proficient at the technical and aesthetic aspect of photography, it's time to get serious. Keep in mind, there is a lot more to photography than cameras and Photoshop. Just like there is a lot more to painting than canvas and brushes. Start thinking in terms of concept and how to communicate your vision.  

Suggestion ... follow your gut. Ask yourself "what do I feel passionate about ... I mean, what is it that you are most drawn to?" Is it a person, a location, a game, a thing, or a concept? I think most of us can easily identify our passions. Next, go out and photograph it. I bet the images will be really good ... and you will be on the way to expressing yourself through photography.    


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Exhibits Under the Radar

@ The Federal Reserve Board

Every so often exhibits pop up that are totally under the radar. For whatever reason, these do not make the local news papers or get reviewed by art critics.

Earlier in the week I attended a luncheon and exhibit (Acquisitions: 2009-2011 & Arnold Newman: Famous Faces) at The United States Federal Reserve Board ... better known as "The Fed" or "The Federal Reserve Bank," a beautiful 1930s building at 20th & Constitution Avenue, NW. One of my images was acquired by "The Board" last year: U.S. Capitol from the Washington Sailing Marina.

Stephen Bennett Phillips is the curator and Fine Arts Program Director at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington. Prior to joining the Board, Stephen worked in the curatorial department at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. for almost 20 years. Stephen has written and lectured throughout the United States and has tremendous depth in his knowledge and love of fine art photography.

The Fine Arts Program at the Federal Reserve Board was established in 1975 by former Chairman Arthur F. Burns in response to a White House directive encouraging federal partnership with the arts.
Today, the Federal Reserve Board holds over 400 works of art donated by citizens and foundations. In his five short years at the Board, Stephen has substantially increased the the photographic collection. I am very proud to have my work included in their permanent collection.

The Board presents three exhibitions annually, which are displayed in the Eccles Building. Exhibitions are open to the public Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except federal holidays. Reservations are required at least five business days in advance. For reservations and further information, please call 202.452.3778. Definitely worth checking out.

@ The Torpedo Factory Art Center
Studio 9

Another exhibit I have been asked to participate in that is due to open May 10th (with a reception from 6:00-8:00) at The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town Alexandria, VA is: Diverging Mediums: Photography vs. iPhoneography. 

 The aim of the exhibition (sponsored by The Torpedo Factory's Art in Public Spaces Program) is to raise questions on the nature of defining art in the context of today's technology and phenomenon of artistic democracy. The curator, Hiji Nam, is an undergraduate Art History major at the University of Maryland in College Park. Her belief is that the distinction between the craft and the art of photography lies in the context of the photographer's wider oeuvre, vision and intent. The artist should be able to justify, through their photos, why that particular moment, event, or mood was chosen to be captured and why, more than any other, was and is relevant.

According to Ms. Nam, "The exhibition will be a commentary on the modern tendency of viewing oneself so easily as a creator, which I see as extremely detrimental for the standards of individuals and of art itself. When everyone believes they, too, can be an “artist,” that not only takes away from the truly talented, but also from the goals and standards set by individuals who are content with being just as good as everyone else, which is mediocrity. This complacency has created an age of instant gratification, in a generation of young people obsessed with being heard, instead of listening. Yes, creation is important—but creation is relevant only when thought and consideration precedes it.

The show is an interesting comparison of what I call, "straight photography compared to iPhone photography." I have to say, I feel like a bit of an 'old fart" when my work is viewed in the context of all these hyper-creative images. Many of the iPhone pieces were done by individuals that primarily work in iPhone. It might be interesting to have an exhibition of iPhoneography produced by non iPhoneographers ... traditionalists like me! Bottom line, check out this exhibition ... you won't be disappointed.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ooops, Mr. Eggleston!

Recently I wrote about the March 12th auction of William Eggleston's prints at Christie's in New York City and how important I thought the sale was to the validation of digital pigment prints. Eggleston's 1973 image of a child's tricycle sold for $578,500 ... a whopping price for a digital pigment print.

Yesterday I learned that a New York collector, Jonathon Sobel, had filed suit against Mr. Eggleston, his son, William Eggleston III and the Eggleston Artistic Trust. In his suit, Mr. Sobel claims that his collection of more than 190 Eggleston prints "has been devalued by the auction held at Christie's on March 12th and that the Trust had violated the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law." The suit further claims "fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel."

So, what is this all about? Mr. Eggleston produced another edition of his works in another medium (digital pigment prints). Most of Eggleston's previous prints were done in the dye transfer process. Mr. Sobel's lawsuit is based upon, in my opinion, the assumption that the works that he owns, are and will be the only representations ever produced. To date Mr. Eggleston, his son and the Trust have not responded to Mr. Sobel's suit.

To read an interview of Mr. Sobel by Photo District News (PDN) click here.

The New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law states that sellers must be clear about edition size and that they must state how many multiples are already in existence. There is no mention of works to be made in the future.

Fourteen states across the country ... Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Wisconsin ... all enacted print disclosure laws to protect consumers of limited edition graphic and photographic prints. In these laws, the sellers of prints are required to provide buyers with documentation that the artworks they had purchased are part of a limited edition, the number of copies in the edition and that no other editions of the same images exist. Important exceptions, however, are made for earlier limited editions that are of different sizes (a 8" x 10" photograph produced in a 4" x 5" format), different production techniques (a gelatin silver print produced as a platinum print or a photogravure) or different numbering.  

There is going to be a lot of opinions written about this specific case. Since the works that Mr. Sobel owns are vintage/original dye transfer prints; in my opinion, there value has been increased by the mere interest, dollar amount of the Christie's sale and demand. According to the art adviser, Allan Schwartzman: "As the market expands, value often does, too."  No doubt, the market for Eggleston's work will be on the move ... in which direction is anyone's guess.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thank You Christie's & William Eggleston!

Among photographers, art dealers and collectors there have always been some underlying question as to the legitimacy of digital prints vs the hand-pulled print made in the traditional darkroom. I have adamantly been a proponent of digital print-making and the editioning of digital prints. If you would like to read more of my comments on print editions, scroll down on this Blog to "Limited Edition Prints."

 While digital print-making has been around for almost 20 years, thanks to a recent sale (March 12, 2012) of William Eggleston's classic 1973 image of a child's tricycle at Christie's in New York, the digital print, in my opinion, has finally been legitimized ... yes!

 The 44" x 60" digital pigment print sold for $578,500. This was more than twice the previous record for an Eggleston print. The print was printed in an edition of 2 ... with a caveat that the 2nd print would not be sold for 3 years! Now that's a limited edition! Prior to the production of these particular digital prints, Eggleston's prints have been of the dye-transfer process ... a laborious and complex process known for it's clarity, color saturation and archivability.

Untitled, 1973 by William Eggleston

According to Ctein, a master dye-transfer print maker, "they are simply without peer." Dye-transfers today are made by only a handful of individuals. Due to the rarity of available materials and the complexity of the process, they are VERY expensive! Kodak no longer manufacturers the film material used in the dye-transfer process.  What materials were available have been purchased and stockpiled. It is my guess that in a very short period of time this process will be gone forever. 

According to an article in PDN (Photo District News), the Eggleston print auction at Christie's was a benefit for the Eggleston Artistic Trust. The article also references Joshua Holdeman, International Director of Christie's photography department, who states that "the sale was to establish a new market for Eggleston's photography in the contemporary art world." "Eggleston has been kind of stuck in the old school world of the photography collectors for a long time, whose primary concerns are about process, print type, print date, etcetera," says Holdeman. This is a "huge deal," for photography collectors, Holdeman says. "For contemporary art collectors it's much more about the object itself - they couldn't care if it's a dye-transfer or a pigment print or whatever, as long as the object itself is totally amazing, that's what they care about."

This is not only a big deal for collectors, it is also a VERY BIG DEAL for photographers and art dealers alike. Thank you Christie's and thank you Mr. Eggleston for finally giving legitimacy to the digital print. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The eBook Phenomena

There is a quiet revolution taking place in the book publishing world ... eBooks. All of us know that we can purchase electronic versions of just about any title and read them on your iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle. Before I left for Venice in November, I purchased the Steve Jobs biography and read the entire 571 pages on my iPhone. It sounds like quite a feat, but not really ... it was quite enjoyable.

That brings me to my current eBook project with respect to my images of Venice. Having investigated the costs of printing a hard-copy fine art coffee table book,  I came to the conclusion that the benefit of eBook publishing far outweighed the expense of off-set printing a coffee table fine art book. Finding a publisher with distribution capabilities was daunting to say the least. With photography being a mainstream art form, publishers are inundated with proposals and my goal was to get something completed by the end of 2012.

Several weeks ago I learned of a 26 year old woman named Amanda Hocking. Apparently she had contacted EVERYONE in the book publishing business trying to get her young adult urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels published. No luck! So she gave self-publishing a try and voila ... success!

Amanda is already a millionaire author. She probably hasn’t written something you’ve seen at Barnes & Noble. She’s made her millions by self-publishing Kindle eBooks, which she claims have sold over 900,000 copies since April of last year; and with Amazon’s generous commission policies, she gets to keep 70% of the profit. Her selling strategy is that her eBooks cost anywhere from $0.99 to $2.99, prices low enough that many people probably wouldn’t hesitate making such an impulse purchase ... which obviously they have not! In fact, she is going to be featured in Elle Magazine's April issue.

While I am not looking to match Amanda's success, I am hoping to expose my work to more collectors and lovers of Venice. I not only plan on showing images, I also plan on writing about photographing in Venice ... from special locations to the technical aspect of my work.

I do not think the fine art coffee table book is going away any time soon, but I hope there are more photographers like myself willing to look at non traditional means of showing and distributing their art.

If you would like to be included in my eBook mailing list, click here to send me your email address. As soon as my eBook is completed, I will include you in my announcement. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Back to La Serenissima ... Getting Excited!

I leave for my beloved Venice on March 19th with the hope of coming to closure on my Venetian body of work and begin the process of designing my eBook.

Out of all the places I have photographed, Venice has always had a special appeal. Venice is not for everyone.  Some people spend 2-3 days and are overwhelmed by the crowds or the hot weather if visiting in the summer months ... Venice can get pretty steamy ... and smelly. While I have visited Venice on numerous occasions, I have only journeyed there during the winter months ... November, December and January. Venice in winter is special. Warm days lead to chilly nights which culminate in early morning fog and mist. It is not unusual for a fog to roll in during the day turning Venice into a veiled renaissance movie set.

Every visit to Venice produces new images. Each time I try to go beyond the typical views we are all familiar with and try to show the romance, the light, the silence and a sense of being there. I try to show the familiar in unfamiliar ways.

Every well known artist and writer has experienced the extraordinary beauty of Venice. La Serenissima most always leaves an impression. Truman Capote wrote in The London Observer in 1961, "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one go." The author, Fran Lebowitz wrote, "If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you've imagined. Venice is ... Venice is better." I could not agree more!

 So, wish me well on my journey and may the photo-gods be with me!!!!