It’s All Greek to Me!

Winter Tree 0682

I took this picture through the living room window just now. It surprised me. It looks just like what I wanted to shoot. I wanted an image for the kind of day we are having here in Indianapolis. The sky is amorphous gray, featureless so  the eye can latch on to nothing. The air is completely still. Outside, aside from the sky, there is nothing but more gray, a grayscale image going from black to white. No emotion.

But no, even when it’s all gray, there is emotion. As long as the scene is viewed by a human being there is emotion. Because emotion is not in the image, is not in the stimulus that triggers a sight, a sound, a taste, or a combination of sensations. Emotion is generated in the human mind. And to me art involves emotion.

That’s not what everybody believes about art. Artists in the Middle Ages certainly were not thinking of art as involving emotion. What art there was in Europe at the time was to teach unlettered people about Christian belief that they might be saved. In the Renaissance art still featured biblical subjects but the classic images of Greece and Rome began to filter in and artists began to theorize about beauty. Beauty was what they saw in classical art, but with a dollop from each artist’s own personality. Thus Michelangelo with his love for the masculine body would paint even angels and women with the muscularity of men. Art was beauty as the artist saw it, and only a little of what his patron was paying him to produce!

The subject matter of art changed with the times. In the decades following the mercantile success of Florence, other parts of Europe began to enjoy prosperity and wealth. Merchants were now the moneyed class, employing artists to immortalize their portraits, their homes, their ideas. Artists ever more free from canons dictated by church-sponsored works explored other ways of depicting beauty. Over time new canons took shape and became established as dogma. Until the impressionists came and the world of representational art broke into smithereens.  Beauty itself was now insecure. Art didn’t have to be beautiful. It still had to be “true” but what it was true to everybody no longer agreed. In Europe, North America and now in every part of the world, visual artists are seeking ways of expressing their inner visions through a multiplicity of media – oils, acrylics, wood, fabric, photographs and now pixels!

All of that is beyond me, impractical and so much useless chatter. What is it that I want to portray in a mixture of photographic captures and digital editing?

The human being brings a part of himself into the process of creating any work, whether we call it a skyscraper, a Filipino menudo, an Impressionist painting, or a jazz improvisation. His work shows his mark, what Herman Hesse called “the mark of Cain.” Most of us spend our lives becoming as similar to others as we can be. Or we spend our time trying to be the image of a man or woman we have in our heads. But some of us march to an even more essential drummer. The drum beat he hears is not of this world. To hear it he must let go his fears, his reliance on simple reason and his own puny resources. To hear the music of the spheres, he must take a leap of faith, jump off the known into the unknown.

Only when an artist can produce something the world has not seen before can he claim to be an artist. The work has to show its intimate relationship to the world as we “know” it but it must include something of the producing artist or it will be nothing but paint-by-numbers or generic art like the various salicylate products we can now buy without buying Bayer’s Aspirin.

Even as a child I was fascinated by the world around me. The world inside me was even more interesting. No wonder I gravitated to psychology, the study of mind. For 35 years I earned a living using doctrines of Western psychology to help others find a measure of peace or balance in their lives and relationships. But clinical psychology or its medical counterpart that I practiced was not where my passion lay. I did it because I had to.

I paid my dues. Now I can hone in closer to my desire. But do I even know what that desire is? And how do I go after it? Will I recognize it when it appears?

My mind is a jumble of ideas and images, of thoughts, memories and sensations. I am starting to think that none of these matters. Putting together a theory is useful but not to bring our life’s desire into view. Writing up theories is in itself a work of creation. It’s awesome when some part of it appears to work, when we see it work in our lives. But the nagging though remains: there is more.

In 1912, Oxford Professor, Gilbert Murray, wrote a short book called Four Stages of Greek Religion. In 1925 he revised the book by adding a fifth stage, his book now called Five Stages of Greek Religion. It is the 1951 edition of the book with Professor Murray‘s long Introduction to the Third Edition that came into my hands several years ago. One night this week when sleep was playing hide and seek with me I started to read the book again.

Murray’s book contained many ideas that found resonance with my own nearly 70 years of living. He held that what we studied as grade school and high school students as Greek Mythology was the ancient Greek’s religion, as much religion to them as Christianity or Islam or Hinduism is to contemporary men and women. I knew that from the 1980s when I started studying religions other than Christianity. I remember the moment when the insight hit me with a force of recognition that even today shakes my world. What we impute as mythology to our true religion is mythology to someone else, to a serious student of the phenomenon of religion.

Murray also held that the religion a person today believes in and practices contains within it elements of older religions. We throw away some elements irrelevant in our times  but there are elements we doggedly hold on to often without our consciously knowing we are doing this.

Carl Jung created the concept of the Collective Unconscious, some intangible creation of all the human beings who have come before us, a common collection of everything that has passed into the psyche through some person’s eyes or ears or touch or tongue to become Memory.

To Murray religion was about those realms of human activity outside of what we have studied or think we know. “All around us,” he wrote, “on every side there is an uncharted region, just fragments of the fringe of it explored, and those imperfectly; it is with this that religion deals.”

Art may be what religion was to people in our gradually vanishing past. Through their work artists remind others what else there is in the mind of man that moves him, fills him with something more than what the daily news elicit or what he experiences when he completes a deal on Wall Street or Makati Avenue. Art comprises all the works of man’s imagination that comes out of the depths of his being, like Minerva from her father’s head, full-grown and in full possession of the wisdom – literature, music, science, physics, philosophy itself, and theology. Art is the only thing perfect in our imperfect universe!

Murray held that the study of Greek mythology was crucial to understanding not only our own modern-day religions but understanding what it is to be human. From times immemorial (that is, beyond memory) other humans have attempted to understood themselves and the world they knew through their physical senses. Some humans wrought their understanding into objects we can still view today and view with a sense that we are seeing something true, so alive that those who participate in our act of creation see their own Big Bang in a dollop of paint, a page of inert words, a handful of pixels.

More theories.. The mind is relentless as it weaves thoughts and more thoughts. Even so I like this image of a Medusa of branches snaking against a colorless sky! It’s how I feel about this gray undistinguished winter day in Indiana 2013.

One Step Closer

Angelina 1917

I can’t believe it’s more than a week since I’ve posted here. And I cannot write for long tonight either. I’m doing an update.

I’ve decided to split my personal from my photography Facebook page. I’ve been working toward this goal for months now. This morning I pulled the plug. From now on I’ll post my “serious” photography work and what I am doing in photography and video on my Duende Arts Studio page and post personal comments and reflections on my personal page. It is convenient to be able to share files between the two while keeping them separate. Now at  least I have clarity about why I am on Facebook. On my personal page, I post to keep in touch with friends both near and distant and family; on my photography, I post processed images as well as what I am doing to improve my photography skills and production.

I am very happy with my decision to buy a year premium membership at 500px. I have yet to set up the market side of my account so the site can sell my photos. That’s one more thing I need to do soon. I also plan to renew my activity on other photography/art sites that sell your stuff like Red Bubble and Deviant Art. There are many other sites but I have to choose just a few or I won’t be able to keep up downloads. Moreoever, to really make the sites work I need to post, comment, rate the work of other members so they’ll do the same for me! Then there are the two model sites I need to change my portfolio at so it reflects the images I am creating today and the direction they will be taking in the future.

I want to think that by May 2013, five years after I began my sabbatical, I’ll have reached entry level for commercially viable photography! Then it’s more work after that but just to keep pushing my limits. First I need to get to the starting line and I think I can do that by May.

I may have to rethink the reason for being of this blog on photography. A photography blog is part of any Internet-based marketing strategy for the arts but I don’t have to do creative writing on this blog. Creative writing I’ll do on my Orlando Gustilo blog. There, another piece of the pie clarified.

And this maybe is the raison d’etre to blog: at once to keep track of the process we undertake to make our work commercial-grade and meet our own artistic standards which should be, if we’re serious in what we do, constantly moving higher!

Learning Is Exciting!

Winter Pond Vignette P1040884

My nephew, a painter, narrated to me how going to a Connecticut artist residency was what pushed the quality of his work to the point where his confidence in himself came to fruition. Living and working with other artists he found himself reaching into himself for what until then he only hoped he had in him to turn himself into a painter.

Going to school to train to become a painter, a filmmaker, even a writer is perhaps the most important step that a young person can take. Not only that school teaches him what he needs to learn to best employ his native genius but that school gives him entrée to the community he wants to be part of. He meets mentors and colleagues. He learns from other people as much if not more from what he learns in the library or classroom.

I am too old to go to school. Or, I feel I don’t have time anymore to spare. I have a lifetime of experiences. I just need to buckle down and use all those as raw materials. I am hoping against hope I have what it takes to push myself into a whole new realm, that of being an artist.

At this point I am not sure I am not deluding myself but looking back to May 2008 and what I was doing with photography I can frankly say I’ve come a long way! I’ve learned to use the camera. I’ve learned what to look for in a camera and have bought one that can take me far – though I may need another camera to take me to the furthest shore I can reach! I’ve learned to use backgrounds and more recently use available light after learning to use continuous lighting then strobes. I’ve learned how to use models to make better photos for them and for me. And I’ve learned a bunch of skills using imaging software to fine-tune my images.

Joining 500px might very well be the turning point for me. I have finally mustered the courage to post my images in a community of exceptional photographers. I find some of my images as good as any I’ve seen even as I catch glimpses of where I need to take my images so I can confidently say I’ve arrived.

Having a steady supply of extraordinary images to survey daily I can shape my own sensibility.  I can learn more about the technicalities of a DSLR; I can learn more about lighting and camera settings; I can be more diligent taking spectacular pictures; but the task I see that I must now accomplish is to capture images that I can process in the incredibly alluring ways I see the photographers I admire using on their own images.

I feel validated. Shadows are treasures to mine for in images but now I am seeing how light and blur can also add that special element to an image. Color I’ve always loved but color can come in so many ways. They don’t have to be so aggressive or obvious.

Today I find myself thinking: yes, maybe yes, I am an artist! I may not have the genius some people seem to have and to recognize from early in life but slowly I see myself acquiring an artist’s eye. It’s all about sensibility. This may be, more than talent or skill, what makes for genius! It’s not logic or the clear lines or shapes of reason but what I used to call the “interstices” of thought that contains the promise I now know I must meet.

Creating Products with Real Value

 

I am not happy with what I am able to do. Before I even think of offering services to the public I need to reach a higher level of quality. I want to use lenses and lighting better and be able to output a wider variety of print and digital products.
This link is to AMEX‘s Open Forum article on community-based marketing.

Among others, I found this worth remembering when setting up business, especially online business:
“consider a model that offers an experience that includes training, teaching, and sharing with other members of the community no matter what industry or product.”
Here’s another:
“To take advantage of the inherent benefits that this strategy offers you must begin to view your own business as a network instead of a sales organization.” This seems to me right along there with your idea of including models among the business proprietors. The idea could even be extended beyond this. The whole article is really worth reading.
The article also suggested subscription as a valuable feature, something Clayton or Jay mentioned.  But I still think we need to come up with our own unique product set, not just offer downloadable and/or streaming video or photo sets. If our products are truly standouts we can rely just on the quality for them to sell but I rather like the idea of architecturally structuring a product that is elegant both in content as well as attendant web-packaging for instance, what else can consumers get purchasing still photographs. Once people like something they are likely wanting extras and pennies for options often provide more profit. I read today, for example, that gas stations make more profit from beverages and snacks they sell than from gasoline! At Wal-Mart and other stores, those product shelves along the way to the cashier are an example of marketing. I am not into making a profit as much as offering products with real value to consumers. What I have not figured out to my satisfaction is just what real value is.
Helicopter shots are great but not necessary. I think as photographers our main advantage is our experience with framing, lighting and the creation of beautiful, emotionally riveting images. I did the workshop with Vincent LaForet on HDDSLR filmmaking over the weekend. He and Chase Jarvis are doing a greater percent of their work in filmmaking, which paradoxically has refreshed their take on still photography! I suspect the day is not far in the future when still photographers are also video photographers. The medium is coming together in the use of DSLRs.
I am interested in creating videos with models but I’m not interested in infomercials. I want my videos and films to be works of art, to be primarily aesthetically pleasing if not enthralling! So, if we’re going to produce wrestling videos, make wrestling videos that stand out for their aesthetic and dramatic effect. To do anything less is not worth it for me. There are way too many wrestling products out there. How to differentiate our products from the masses is the issue.
The natural progression of a still photographer into filmmaking (videos are falling by the wayside, relegated to people not as invested in producing superior quality products) is to becoming Directors of Photography (DPs) and art directors. For me I want to go all the way to becoming a director.

 

 

Travel, History and Culture

 

Menaggio looking south on Lake Como

Setting aside the belief of many Catholics (I know many who do not hold this view) that everyone who is not (Roman) Catholic is unfortunate, doomed to go a terrible place after they die and that it is the duty of good Catholics to save these unwitting fools among even their friends, one cannot disregard the great influence that Christianity and the Roman Catholic religion have wrought among people through the centuries. There are the many wonderful innovations that in the West we collectively call civilization that many of us today enjoy.
Traveling through Western Europe rewards the traveler who appreciates culture, history and art and much of what he or she sees and admires has some connection with Christianity. In the southern countries that I especially enjoy visiting, the predominant religion since the fourth century of the Common Era has been Roman Catholic, Christianity as determined by the Bishop of Rome (no matter where he lived, which was not always Rome).
I am continuing to work on the photos I took during my travels to Europe. I always thought that I would look over these pictures and put together not only the memories of my visits but also somehow to connect with the history and culture of these places. Yet, every time I come home, I stow away the suitcases and shelve the books and mementos of the trip and hardly look at them again. Someday, I would think to myself, I’ll have the luxury of time to look at this. Someday I’ll have the time to put all the ideas and insights together, read my books and let imagination and reason roam through my whole life. I didn’t take into account how memory fails!
The area of Lake Como in Northern Italy, just miles from its boundary with Austria, was scene of much fighting through the centuries. The Romans called the area Lacus Larius (hence, the name of our hotel, Hotel Laria). It was after the powerful archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, appointed Bishop Felix at Como that evangelization took root steadily. This is the same Ambrose who was a major influence on an African-born Manichaean, Augustine of Hippo (now Islamic Algeria), whom he succeeded in converting and baptizing at Easter Vigils in 387. The two are also two of the four original Doctors of the Church as declared in 1928. The others were St. Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate, and Pope Gregory I better known as Gregory the Great (540-604).
This is the same Gregory who wrote the earliest biography of Benedict of Nursia, whose Rule became the foundation for many Roman Catholic orders today. (The Carmelites with whom I had much beneficial contact in the 1980s and 1990s followed a Rule formulated by St. Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem. The Carmelites started on Mt. Carmel in Northern Israel.)  The Sixth Century in Western Europe were heady times. So much of what we take for granted today originated at this time.
I’ll end with a vignette about St. Ambrose. He was a politician and governor of the Roman province that included Milan. When that powerful city’s bishop died, he went to the church where succession was being debated among Catholics and Arians to prevent the breakout of violence. Instead the people there acclaimed him as the next bishop. At the time Ambrose was not even a priest! He dodged the crowd and hid at a friend’s house. When the emperor himself supported his election, he relented. He adopted an ascetic lifestyle, gave his money to the poor, donated his lands and asked his brother to take over the care of his family. Some like Paul (then called Saul) and Augustine of Hippo, come to conversion through mystical experiences; others through circumstances beyond their control, which I suppose can be the same thing.

 

 

A Good Image Plus Post-Production


Producing a good photograph results from two learning two crafts: the technicalities of using a camera, lenses, settings, and lighting and the aesthetics of appealing composition, structure, color, and emotionality.

Producing a good image results in turn from learning two crafts: producing a good photograph and learning post-production!

Nowadays, in an age where digital photography has clearly won the field, post-production is almost de rigueur. Just a year ago, professional photographers all chorused their deprecating remarks about using Photoshop to enhance their images. Now more and more of these professional photographers are coming out of the closet: post-production is becoming essential to make their images stand out in the crowd.

No doubt an image is only as good as the photograph taken by the photographers with his camera but post-production has a lot to say about what images finally look like. It’s the details that make or break a good product.

Again no doubt about it I am still on this learning curve, learning the tri-fold craft of creating a technically good photography, learning the aesthetics that goes hand in hand with learning the post-production to create the final image.

To top it all off, the greatest teacher is experience or the time I take to actually do the work. There are manuals and workshops to take, of course, and they are instrumental but nothing takes the place of what one learns simply by doing, and doing is risking. It’s all about trying, failing and learning from both trying and failing, and celebrating when somehow I get it!

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How My Photograpy Evolved from Minolta SLR, the Sony Mavica, to Canon DSLRs

 

Walking the Harbor at Mykonos at Sunset

 

My interest in photography first appeared when I bought a Minolta Maxxum 7000 in the mid-1980s. I took on a car trip to the Southwest and spent the time taking pictures of architectural details and flowers. To this day my memories of New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada are rooted in those pictures. When I showed them to my family, the universal question was: where are the people?

The next trigger came when Sony released the first commercial electronic still camera, the Mavica. When it started using the 3.5” 1.4 floppy drives that my Macintosh Computer also used I joined the bandwagon. The CCD sensor produced analog signals so this was not a digital camera but I was entranced how turning the camera just degrees I could monitor the image on its LCD and capture images lit just so by natural light.

Digital photography really happened for me when Canon released the Digital Rebel, a consumer-level DSLR with interchangeable lenses, in 1990. The APS-C sized sensor was small but I felt like a professional taking pictures with my one zoom lens. I took that camera to NYC where I promptly short-circuited the lens mount when I threw in a ripe banana with the camera in my backpack. But I was already hooked to a big camera with manual capabilities although I still shot auto focus.

I used the Canon Rebel and a subsequent newer version on it on trips to Europe. It was producing JPG images and even when Camera Raw became available I still shot JPGs through 2008. In those early years I was usually the only one in the group shooting on digital cameras as we visited Spain, France, and Italy. My tour mates were all in awe of my photography although I was not using the full potential of manually setting the cameras. The chief advantage was being able to shoot dozens of pictures because I didn’t have to buy film!

Professional photography really became a reachable, desirable goal when I shot my first model in May 2008. Crouching on the floor to shoot Kaleb against the brand-new white vinyl background in my living room I thought to myself: this is what I want to do. For the first time ever in my life, and I dramatize only slightly, I was doing something that made electricity flow through my brain, hair stand on my body, and visions of finally coming to my own filling my overwrought mind.

2010 brought other innovations. I started shooting in Camera Raw in 2009 and in 2010 started shooting exclusively in manual mode. I bought my first Alien Bees and radio triggers and discovered shooting with natural light and without the elegant white background. This fall I shot outdoors with surprisingly good images. I’ve been watching CreativeLive workshops on photography which has immensely added to technical and creative savvy.

I think 2011 is the year I’ll break into commercial operation. We’ll just have to see. I still have much to learn about photography. I can finetune my choice of lens and lighting is always a great challenge. There are also tricks of trade such as those that Jeremy Cowert demonstrated that he used for creating album covers for bands. The possibilities continue to grow.