The Eye of the Beholder exhibition is in its final week at BC Space Gallery. This combination of innovative camera obscuras by San Francisco photographer Jo Babcock combined with the whimsical drawings of Costa Mesa artist Bruce Barton challenge the age old debate of the camera vs. the mind’s eye as the source of artistic creation.
There will be a closing reception for the exhibition on Sunday, March 22, from 4-6 PM to be followed by a light repast and showing the documentary movie Tim’s Vermeer. This intriguing movie, produced by Penn and Teller, explores the possible use of a camera obscura by 17th Century painter Johannes Vermeer a century before light sensitive materials and photography as we know it, was discovered. Music will be provided by The Liquid Window Project with Vincent Mitchell on Bass, Dan Olney on drums, and Carras Paton on Sax.
The closing reception is free (yep, FREE) to the public, but donations are requested for dinner and the movie. Reservations are encouraged. For additional information on the film see: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140103-could-anyone-paint-a-vermeer
For other viewings of the exhibition and reservations for dinner and film, please contact BC Space at (949) 497-1880 or (preferable)firstname.lastname@example.org. A preview of the show may also be seen at www.bcspace.com.
An artist statement shouldn’t just sum up your intellect but also your emotions and feelings. Rather than summing your artistic beliefs up in a nice, neat little package, it should also talk about your weaknesses and your EXTREME beliefs, you know, the ones you’re too afraid to include in a “normal” artist statement.
One thing I’ve learned: A detour not taken is a world not explored. I’m not necessarily talking about a forced detour, I’m talking about all of the potential voluntary detours that we decide not to take because we’re so directly fixed upon our goals. It’s not always about the final piece of artwork, it’s about the life that you lead as you follow your path toward your artistic visions.
I once took a detour on a dry lake bed that led me into a saturated area which sucked my jeep right in. I Couldn’t move and it was getting dark. A lone house in the distance, who would I find there in the middle of the desert? Most likely crazy people. Nope, it was the elderly couple below who took me in for the night. I woke up early the next morning to dig the mud out from the front of my jeep and the elderly man used his tractor and a long piece of chain to finally pull my Jeep out.
That’s just one of the crazy incidents that have lead me to where I am today. Where that is, I can’t exactly say, but I can tell you that the road I have traveled on to get here has been a rocky one, though luckily the rocks have been relatively smooth. I can say with confidence that I don’t have a single answer about this whole art thing, and I can only travel along having fun with it all, and seeing how things play out. My own artist statement (below) was originally written to mock the classic, overly-intellectual artist statement. However, after having lived with it for a few years, I realize that it has become to me a TRUE artist statement in that it expresses nothing about my art and everything about my life. Thank you for putting up with me here for the past month, it has been a wild ride!
Photography allows me to communicate the ways in which I see the world to others. Through it, I also discover new ways to see the world.
Personally, photography is an extension of some of my beliefs about life, such as the importance of constant searching. I’ve always been a seeker, and I always will be a seeker. What am I seeking? Answers to nagging questions on the meaning of life? Am I trying to collect heavy, provocative data so that I can form some kind of philosophical treaty in my mind about the workings of the world around me? Partially I suppose.
In fact, when I am out searching, I never have a set idea of what it is I’m looking for. I simply seek, occasionally finding exactly what it is I WASN’T seeking. For me, that’s the time I learn something new about life: When I discover a new path, a new way of seeing, a new reason for continuing my search.
Certain things excite me: patterns and compositions which somehow come together to form a statement so complete and startling that they must be recognized; A knowledge that these patterns and compositions are ALWAYS present, everywhere; The hot sun, the barren desert, caffeine, loud music, wind blowing through my jeep as I drive very quickly, sometimes so quickly that I forget about my search. The Search? Maybe I don’t feel like searching just now, I think I’d rather kick back and relax a little. Maybe I don’t want to be reminded about my search, the pressure of it, I think I’ll just drive and see where this road takes me. This wind, this heat, this music is taking me to a place where finally, I can stop thinking. I can literally become one with whatever it is I’m supposed to become one with, not worry about life, just look at the shapes, those simple shapes, the shadows, the brightness, the blowing dust, the loudness of the smell and taste of everything around me. I think I’ll just let the 4Dness of this sensational overflow of emotion move me along or I’ll move into everything and shut my brain down for a while. Now, finally, I will be able to see.
I see a dry lakebed over there. Can I get to it somehow? Why would I want to, there’s nothing over there. Just a flat surface, what could possibly be worth looking at over there? And getting over there is going to be a hassle, no roads to lead me into it. Well, there is a small dirt road, but it’s full of rocks and brush. I can’t even be sure it leads to the lakebed, probably instead to some abandoned and completely uninteresting old house set up by a person crazy enough to have wanted to live in such an uninteresting spot on the earth.
But I take the road because it is the only road that leads to the area that I, for whatever reason, feel the need to explore. The road is rough, like life is rough, and I feel it, finally.
The feeling I have as I drive along is great, one I love, one I experience only when I drive along here, in this type of terrain, or maybe when I try to imagine what it’s like to be here. I’m empty of emotion, yet quite satisfied. Maybe “empty of emotion” is not the best way to describe the feeling. “Empty” is the word, but not empty in the sense of feeling nothing. I feel so much now, as I drive along. I guess “empty” in this case means I’m finally devoid of all the unnecessary thought patterns I normally have on a given day. Usually, those thoughts I have which clog my arteries are present, but now they are absent. Or I’m absent of them. Or I’ve pushed them away. Or the scenery has pushed them away. It is a time of extreme freedom.
I flow. That’s a good way to describe it. Sure, the scenery flows by. My Jeep flows down the road. I flow past fences and rocks and bushes. So yeah, I flow along. But no, what I mean is *I* flow. ME. I flow through life as I move along, like I’m moving through it at an accelerated rate, without obstacles. Like I’m moving through a different world. A new planet. A new solar system. A different galaxy. No, it’s more than that. This is not just a new world. This is a totally different life. Not mine, a totally new state of being. A new existence. A place I hope to be, a place I’m glad I’ve found. That’s where I am now, in the desert.
So, what is it about this place? The absence of complexity, I think. Yeah, that’s what I mean. See, the desert is nothing but geography. Elevation with a thin skin. Nothing to obscure what’s real. Nothing to hide. “Nothing worth hiding”, I suppose some would say. Topography, something to navigate. A challenge of sorts, “can you make it through this harsh, barren wasteland”, to be cliche. No peach fuzz. Naked, neked, nonfat. Nothing to hide behind, nothing to lean against, no place to go to ask for advice. No fluff, no exaggerations, no timelines. Fractalization. Oh yeah, that’s a big one. Lots of Fractalization.
Fractalization. What the hell is that? That’s the biggest word on this page so far. Fun to say, too. Makes me sound important. I say it as I move along through paradise, “Fractalization!”. Paradise plus intellect equals ultimate high. Like I think I know what I’m talking about. Like I think I actually have the ability to express my ecstasy in large, fun-to-say words.
Ecstasy and intellect come in many forms. I really need to stop and take a pee. It’s adding up, the coffee. I’m on my 2nd “cup”, the 2nd of those large 16 OZers. The first one I got from home, the second, I picked up along the way. “I gotta pee me, I gotta pee me.” I pull over. I get out. I’m nowhere, so I need not worry about being seen. I pull’er out, let’er rip. My mind veers towards intellectual domains. The more relieved I become, the deeper my thoughts enter into a new world. The sound of a good pee is music. Even the slight splattering on my bare legs is a signal of accomplishment. Basically, I feel real good. And to think I thought I felt real good before.
Back in my Jeep, I’m moving along, the caffeine pumping, and the road is rougher now than it was before. I need to slow down, which I do, but only the minimal amount necessary to keep from getting one of those flat tires. I’ve heard those can be bad; can ruin your whole day. I don’t want anything to ruin any part of my day, and I’m sure nothing will, I’m an artist after all, and art has its way of breaking through in spite of the barriers which try to break it down.
The road up ahead is still rocky and I feel the rockiness pass under me and there are THOUSANDS of them and they fly by and I would count them if I thought I had a chance of keeping up with them and isn’t it odd how with so much moving past me in such commanding quantity the lake bed has not changed at all in shape or size. Looking back I cannot see the paved road I came from, and I’m sure I’ve traveled at least a few miles on this rocky road, which means, judging from the not-so-changing shape and size of the lake bed, I will need to drive over a deeply humbling number of rocks before I reach final flatness. And eventually I will have to drive back on this same road in the opposite direction, my tires meeting the opposite sides of all these rocks which are slowly communicating to me a desperate need to be elsewhere, somewhere familiar, with a cold beer. I do have a spare, but it’s a spare after all and there’s only one.
But I have the sound which I love of the wind and the dirt which is filling my ears and calming me down. I belong here, the sound PROVES that. It’s a rough sound, like this road, and it is welcome and I feel like I’m accomplishing everything I’ve ever set out to accomplish here and now and the beauty of this place is all that matters and the new sound, the hissing sound, is there now too and I’m aware of it but not yet letting it into my conscious mind because I don’t want anything destroying the perfection around me and there’s the wind and the heat and then the hissing sound is there more than it was before, not taking over the rough sound, not at all, but rather entering into my flow of thoughts so that I can no longer deny its presence and the road is rougher than before and there’s all the beauty around me and I no longer travel in a straight line but in short little arcs and I feel and hear a rhythmic pulse coming from behind and yet I feel like I’m floating and the light is bright and the shadows are long and black and the hissing, now VERY loud and I know, finally I know as I feel the heat and a huge rush of adrenaline that I can no longer deny that I have to stop…
…which, reluctantly, I do…
…and I turn off the engine and it dies…
…and there is only silence. Except for the wind which is still blowing and when it dies there’s only the hiss and I really love the sound of the wind and I wish that it would never die.
So that’s me, I was moving towards flatness and now I’m flat. I have a spare but no water. And I ask myself why I love to go out searching in the desert on extremely hot days. Alone. And yes, I get the spare on, and it does the job it was created for, and I make it back home, and life goes on, and even though I took not one single photo on this trip since I was too busy enjoying life and not in the mood to search for anything, I found something I suppose, though I won’t know what it is until I get further down my timeline, so I’m not going to worry about it now. I’m just going to look forward to my next desert trip and there’s really not much more I can tell you.
It’s one thing to talk about digital photography taking over film, and another to talk about mobile phones taking over digital photography. I think this is indeed happening. I also wonder if the digital age will take over the print.
Regarding film, it’s not weather film will disappear, it’s weather regular cameras that shoot film will disappear. I think that slowly-but-surely many photographers are beginning to believe that mobile phones can take some pretty fine pictures.
I have my mobile phone with me all the time, but it’s not my “Serious” camera. However, since I have it with me all the time, I shoot with it more often. I simply take more pictures with it. Maybe it is my “Serious” camera. Maybe I just don’t want to admit it.
For the most part the iPhone is my camera of convenient choice now, and if that makes me a lesser photographer, that would be a point of view that is changing. Many are accepting mobile phones as legitimate cameras. Many are using them and realizing how easy they are to use.
With all the filters available right on the phone it’s much easier to process your photos and get the look that you’re after quickly and easily. Even with the higher-end digital cameras you still need to wait until you can get your photo into Photoshop to process it. Not so with cellular cameras. And of course these photos can be instantaneously shown to the planet.
The gallery/museum world is more and more accepting of the digital camera, and now the mobile phone, and they are more often accepting pieces shot with these types of cameras into their exhibitions. I’ve had a number of my iPhone shots in numerous exhibitions, and have also curated many mobile photos into very large exhibitions at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. A couple examples of such exhibitions can be seen below. You will need to have the Silverlight Plugin installed to view these.
Regarding prints, I think the function of the print today is not as it was 50 years ago. Back then the print was a piece of art in itself. Today one large function of the print is to accurately portray what’s on the computer screen. It’s about getting the settings just right so that the print equals the pixels. In that respect is it possible that the purchasing of higher-end prints is slowly becoming outdated, with fewer and fewer people collecting them? And, what factors will make a valuable print in the future?
I think photography is becoming more about image and less about print. The ways in which these massive amounts of images are distributed has almost nothing to do with paper. After all, paper can degrade, whereas pixels do not. Once an image is uploaded, it is thought that it will stay online forever. Truly recording something demands that it be available forever. Can we really trust a print?
In the same way that we look at old prints of subjects from the past, in the future we might look at prints themselves as subjects of the past. We are already seeing images presented on iPads being displayed next to paper prints in galleries. Will we see fewer and fewer paper prints over time?
I’m wondering what might come next? Images displayed in 3D like a hologram without any physical limitations present to degrade the clarity? Images beamed directly to the brain, merging with the viewers thoughts to create unique interpretations. Images replaced by emotions, rendering the images themselves obsolete.
But for now, we’re stuck with physical, portable image recording devices which we call upon at almost any time, and very quickly, to record what is in front of us. In fact, there is so much of this going on that what we may end up with is not the recording of separate smaller moments, but the unintentional simultaneous recording of a single moment from many different locations. Maybe we will begin thinking in terms of massive databases shot by many different people simultaneously to create massive simul-records, recording the state of the entire planet at any given moment. Art, science, social-science, and history merge.
Prints are records. These databases of simul-records could be, in a sense, the new form of future printing. You wouldn’t print these on paper, but they would serve the same purpose as a traditional print. How would you display them? Somehow a computer would have to merge and organize the many simultaneous photos in a way that made sense. But there would be motion and interactivity involved as well. The print, in whatever form, would have to be digital.
I suppose we could still have traditional prints along for the ride. But they would most likely be thought of differently than they are today. They would be an artifact, perhaps an afterthought, of the new paradigm. They would become less of an art form unto themselves and more of the subset of a simul-record. Maybe we could still collect them, but what’s printed on the paper itself might be more important than whether or not it’s part of a numbered series or printed in a darkroom by a skilled individual.
Personally, the last thing I feel like doing when I take a photo is printing it out. I just want to look at it on my computer screen. Printing it makes it seem faded and less vital, with all of the vibrancy fading away. And once you print it the print begins to die.
To see some great mobile phone work, visit the sites below:
I had planned to write about the concept of over-worship, and how it’s possible to like an artist or photographer to such a degree that you try to emulate them and forget about who you are and your individuality. Well, the weekend was crazy, dealing with many artists picking up their work at OCCCA, the Oscars, maybe a little too much wine, and so I didn’t quite finish the article for today morning. So here are my notes from the article, taken mostly in dictation on my iPhone. Somehow I think maybe they’re more effective than a finished article anyway…
Don’t say why you like them, say how they’ve influenced your work. – more than just being good and inspiring you, they have REASONS for doing what they do. And you don’t necessarily have those reasons. And doing it because you like them is not a reason, it’s a copout.
When I grow up, I want to be just like him. NO YOU FUNKIN’ DON’T
It’s OK to be influenced, it’s OK to try out the ideas of someone else, it’s OK to acknowledge that someone has had an influence on you, but geez, you don’t want to be just like them, they have skeletons, and you have your own, and they won’t mix well together at all.
I realize that coming into your own can take time, and you might need a little help and guidance along the way.
Disperse the influences of other artists within yourself, thus blurring any indications as to where these influences came from in your own work.
Try imagining that you ARE a great photographer. One of the famous ones…and you’re walking around taking photographs. You have complete confidence in your abilities. You know that you have the skills to pull off a great shot. The shot that you take is going to become famous, and sell for quite a large sum. When you die, it will be auctioned off for an even larger OH FUCK! WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?? THE FAMOUS GUYS PROBABLY DIDN’T HAVE ANY MORE CONFIDENCE THAN YOU DO! THAT’S HALF THE BATTLE, OVERCOMING YOUR FEARS TO REACH YOUR GOALS! BUT YOU NEED TO DO IT YOURSELF, OTHERWISE YOU DON’T GET NO CANDY!
Yeah, OK just be yourself. Breathe through your own nose, see through your own eyes.
Don’t feel like you have to create in a certain style just because you know that style to be great or at least perceived to be great. Have faith that you have a point of view of your own.
Look! What I created here looks just like so-and-so’s work. Well that’s a great place to start but it’s only a beginning. Congratulations on having taken someone else’s journey without the journey part. You can’t reach a meaningful goal without first taking a meaningful journey. And as with any meaningful journey it may take a while to get there.
Linda brings some of her photos to class. She’s very proud of them. She shows them to the class and they love them. The teacher loves them. They look just like just like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the teacher says. Well he’s my favorite photographer, Linda states. I love his work, and you’ve given me such a huge compliment! I can’t thank you enough! Linda leaves the classroom completely satisfied. She goes home and celebrates. A few days later, she’s still very happy and satisfied. She decides to go out and take some photos. She walks along the street but everything looks the same, as if she’s seen if all before. She has a new perspective, one of peace and relaxation at having accomplished something real and true. She realizes that what she’s doing now is a bit of a waste of time, since she has no real desire to show any of her work to anyone anymore. She’s somewhat board. The challenge is gone. She reached her goal of being just like her hero. If she’s lucky she’ll find something else to occupy her time.
I place you on a high pedestal.
I don’t understand, why did you place be here?
Because I believe you can do no wrong. Everything I am, everything I want to be, is you.
Why the hell would you want to be me?
Because if I can be like you, I won’t have to worry about being me. I don’t have enough confidence in myself to be me.
Well, I didn’t have lots of confidence either. But I combined myself with other people and influences, but keeping myself in the front. I’m not so original or perfect.
But you seem so confident in yourself.
I’m really not as confident as I look. I just do what I do and hope for the best.
OK then get off that damn pedestal.
Why would anybody want to believe everything someone else says. Don’t take their word for it, form your own opinion.
If we want to advance as a society, we can’t think like everyone else. On the other hand, if everyone thought completely differently there would be chaos.
The more you worship another artist the less time you have to think for yourself.
The more you worship another artist the less you believe in yourself.
Replace worship with experimentation.
over-worship equals over acceptance of the way things have to be.
over-worship is like finding what you think is the answer without asking any questions.
It’s like blind faith.
over-worship is cheating.
Use the work of other artists as a guide, not as an ultimatum.
Andrei Tarkovsky was a movie director that has very much affected the way that I look at and think about many things, certainly the way I think about photography. He’s responsible for altering the way that I look at many of my subjects. What I would normally see as unimportant I now see as very important.
In movie making, I have a huge appreciation for intricate plot lines, fast paced editing, and mental saturation. Films with these attributes allow you to watch again a 2nd time or even a 10th time and notice things you didn’t notice before. This adds depth to what you’re seeing and lets your opinions and moods weigh in more heavily on interpreting the meaning.
In the case of Andrei Tarkovsky, we have the very same kind of depth going on, but the pace is much slower and you might at first be feeling that there’s nothing going on at all. Yet this slower pace forces you to notice more within a smaller boundary of consciousness. You’re presented with less over a longer period of time, so you’re given extra time to notice what you might ordinarily miss.
Tarkovsky had the bravery to slow way down. He wasn’t trying to be tricky or overly-clever. He was simply following the path of his vision. He was never presented with a huge film-making budget to work with and he made only seven films. You won’t find any special effects in these films, he didn’t have any use for them.
Isn’t it logical that if you slow down you’ll see more of what is right in front of you? Do you really need to purchase expensive equipment or visit far away locations to see something worthwhile or to discover what it is you’re after? I think there is something to be said for doing a lot with a little. As photographers, we could certainly benefit from this line of thinking. Training our minds to see what is right in front of us is both practically and aesthetically rewarding.
The result of Tarkovsky concentrating on smaller details over longer periods of time is that the seemingly unimportant becomes very important. We zoom into the fractal and those seemingly small or even unseen details become magnified. What we never thought was worth noticing is now commanding our attention.
I’m inspired by the fact that Tarkovsky was brave enough to follow his vision knowing that it was against the flow. He knew that his movies would most likely lose money in the theater, yet he followed his vision anyway. Many artists do this as well at times, out of necessity and lack of money. But Tarkovsky had the weight of movie studios, actors, and all of the crew and critics on his shoulders. He somehow convinced them all that his vision was worth pursuing and watching.
Assuming you’re talking in terms of plot, very little seemingly transpires during a Tarkovsky movie, yet so much transpires in terms of emotion and vision. I think we can all learn something from this, or at least contemplate the nature of it. We can certainly add these aesthetics to our bag of artistic tools, and bring them out when we need them.
Below are a few great contemplative Tarkovsky sequences.
Here we have a sequence of three men riding a train, from the movie “Stalker”. We hear the sound of the train in the background and we note their individual expressions and emotions.
Here is a sequence from the movie, “Nostalghia”, a transition into a dream sequence:
This sequence is again from the movie “Nostalgia.” A man must light a candle and walk the entire length of a pool and when he reaches the other end he will die. The wind blows the candle out multiple times and he must return to the other end of the pool to relight it. The sequence goes on for nine minutes.
I was inspired by Tarkovsky to create the movie below that utilizes my own visions and techniques towards scale, but plays upon Tarkovsky’s aesthetic for bringing the insignificant to prominence. It was mostly shot in the farmland near where I work during my half hour-long breaks each day. I call it “One of Tarkovsky’s Dreams”, as if it were a dream that Tarkovsky might have had. I suppose you could say not much happens during this movie. Yet depending on your point of view there’s also an entire universe here.
I hope these Tarkovsky sequences inspire you the way they inspired me. If you haven’t seen a Tarkovsky movie from start to finish, I would highly recommend doing so. You might discover the power of the seemingly insignificant.
I’ve often pondered the difference between shooting a series of images and a single image. Does taking a series of photos heighten the meaning and understandability of what a photographer is trying to say? It would seem that this is the case, especially when considering that most photography books published today deal with a series of images based on a single idea, rather than a random series of images. It would also seem that most of the photographers being represented by many of the major photography galleries around the world shoot with very specific ideas in mind and have a series of images which support those ideas.
I’m wondering however whether this entire realm of belief is nurtured and promoted based less on personal or aesthetic reasons and more on a need to cater to a viewing public who need to be spoon-fed something more obvious, especially when based on the fact that we’re living in a very sound- and visual-bite-oriented society. We’re used to having many images thrust upon us without our permission, and those images that are thrown at us are done so with such vigor, especially where advertising is concerned, that we’re made to believe that those particular images are golden. What does that do to the part of our brain that should be left to making up its own mind? Doesn’t this make it more difficult for us to decide for ourselves what is worth seeing and what is not? Hmm.
Ahh, but back to the series thing. Oh but wait, an aside: Can’t the input into our eyes when turning our heads from left to right be thought of as a series of images as well? True, the brain does not have to process each of those images individually, in fact I would say only the first and last images in a single head turn, and especially the last one, we’ll call it the “goal image”, the image which caused you to turn your head in the first place, is the one worth processing. But everything we see is in fact a series of images. Obviously it’s safe to say that the images “in the middle” are not as important.
So, maybe the images “in the middle” of a series of photographs do not in fact need to be as strong. Maybe we’re wasting our time shooting those middle images. A good starting “gotcha” image and a strong finishing image might be enough to do the trick. The middle stuff can be ho-hum.
I think it might be true to say that the general public often has difficulty determining what is good and what is not, especially considering how much is visually thrust into their conscious on a given day. Seriously, to stop and look at something, while still within the realm of their control to do so, is perhaps in fact counter to what they actually feel like doing, or are, as of late, being programmed to do. People would rather move, not stop. Who has time to stop?
A series of photographs: It almost alludes to stupidity, as if we need multiple examples of the same thing. Isn’t it like we’re thinking, “I don’t understand what you’re saying, I need another example.” Alright fine, here’s another one. “I still don’t understand what you’re saying, I need another example!” And on and on.
Or maybe it’s the photographers way of saying, “I can’t take a decent image of this subject, so I’m going to take a bunch of these and maybe I’ll get lucky.” So you try and try, and eventually, yeah, you do get lucky. Good job.
In a series of images it seems that the emphasis is on the idea. In a single image, it would seem that the emphasis is on the image itself. How does this affect the way in which we shoot these photos? Well I guess you could say taking a single photo…takes a lot less time.
Now don’t get me wrong I enjoy taking series of images also. I began doing it about 10 years ago, after someone asked me, “Why don’t you take a series of images?” I obliged and I was happy with the result. But I can’t help but wonder if this has caused me to be lazy in some way.
And I suppose you could zoom out and take a broader look at that big fractal. For example even if I’m not taking a series of images of one subject, if I am taking a lot of random landscapes, you could certainly call that a series of landscapes. Come to think of it, is it even possible to avoid taking a series of images in the first place? Pretty much any image you take on planet Earth could be considered to be a series about, well planet Earth, eh? And don’t even get me started on the universe.
So please don’t ask me to shoot a series when I’m already doing it. Don’t tell me I need to hone in on one single idea. Let’s face it, even images that seem totally opposite of one another are still part of a series: Images shot using light in some way. Images shot using a camera in some way. Images that I myself have taken. Images that are less than satisfactory.
About the only way it’s possible to successfully take a single image is to only have shot one image in your entire lifetime. And there’s a pretty good chance that this image is going to suck. But thankfully, no one will be able to tell the difference.
One of my favorite techniques in photography is to play with scale. Or more specifically, making it difficult to tell how big or small something is. I want the viewer to look at a photo, do a double-take, and wonder, “Just what the heck IS that?” They’ll accept certain aspects of it, but something will seem “off” about it. Why do I want them to react this way? It has to do with an internal dialogue that I have going on in my head almost constantly having to do with the fact that everything deserves to have a chance to be looked at. Why can’t I just leave these objects at their regular scale? Well, sometimes in order to appreciate something that might be overlooked I think you need to present it from a slightly different perspective than for which reality allows!
In adding a tilt-shift focus in many images, which I create in Photoshop. I’m using it differently than usual, however. In most cases with tilt-shift you see something huge being turned into something much smaller, such as a cityscape being turned into what looks like a hand-made model. In my case I’m doing just the opposite: making smaller objects appear to be larger. Some examples can be found below.
Here we have something that appears to be a mountain but which is only about 8 feet high. It is a mud volcano found at the Salton Sea. These small volcanoes spurt mud at constant time intervals. There are about 20 of them in the field and each one spurts mud at a different rate.
I came across this structure at the Salton Sea while hiking around. To this day I have no idea what it is. Was it something new that was being constructed or something old that was decaying? It’s about 30 feet long. The pieces of wood are each about two feet high. I really need to revisit the area to see if it’s still there!
This wave is only about six inches high, but placing my camera down very low on the surface of the water made it appear to be much larger. The wave was about two feet away from the camera in this shot. It was not a waterproof camera, so I had to lift it up at the very last minute.
This appears to be an organic creature of some kind. It is actually a decomposing waste barrel. This was found about 50 feet from the mud volcanoes. The barrel itself had totally disintegrated, but the metal rings on the top and bottom of the barrel were still in tact, although totally warped out of shape.
This shot of downtown Los Angeles was taken from Echo Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains. I love the way downtown Los Angeles is represented by something incredibly small, a few rectangular blocks at the bottom of the image. It was a very noisy image to begin with, as it was a very smoggy day, and blurring the image further sank the buildings into the murkiness.
On the day before a number of the mobile homes along the beach in Laguna Beach were going to be removed forever, I took a walk in the area. I came across these cement structures sticking out of the sane. They resembled large pyramids, especially with the long shadows, but are actually only about three feet long.
I was the cinematographer on an independent movie and one of our destinations was Coyote Dry Lake in the California desert. We traveled the lake bed in search of large, natural “pits” that can be found in the surface. Near one of those pits I found this small “tree”, about 8 inches high. I took a shot right from the ground. Many of these small bushes can be found, but this one had a particularly tree-like appearance.
Here is what appears to be a huge Canyon but is actually only a trench about 5 feet high. I crawled down inside with my camera. I first threw some dust in the air to give it more atmosphere which gave it a depth cue and made it appear even larger.
In my first year of digital photography, I visited many construction sites. I found the shapes fascinating, though I often had to find ways to sneak in. They were usually abandoned on the weekends. In this case I came across two small pieces of wood on cement right after it had rained. Though it’s obvious to me that these are two small pieces of wood, almost everyone who saw this thought that I must have shot it from a plane.
This dust devil was shot at El Mirage Dry Lake in California. I’ve been chasing dust devils for years, as they are so often very similar to tornadoes in structure but are of course much safer. In this case I darkened the shot quite a bit to take out the foreground details, which would give clues as to the actual size of the dust devil. With those details missing, the size becomes questionable.
There is a huge field of mud flows near Trona Pinnacles in California. I took a drive out there but on the day of my trip I was just getting over a cold and had quite a headache. I didn’t stay for very long but captured about 50 shots of the mud flows of which this was my favorite. Some very subtle tilt-shift focus warped the scale enough to make it appear the it might have been shot from a plane.
I came across an outcropping of red sandstone in Fish Creek at Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Processing it in black and white gave it the appearance of a mountain top covered with snow. I love the way that one formation in nature imitates another in this case!
In the past I’ve spent many hours in the darkroom. Unfortunately I have very few photographs in my portfolio to show for it. In fact I have none at all. All of that darkroom work is a big part of the reason that I became a digital photographer, and not a traditional film photographer.
From 1986 to 1993 I worked on the Planet Crossing Asteroid Search project at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Headed by planetary scientist Eleanor F. Helin, the project was created to increase our knowledge of the asteroid population in the solar system, and to hunt specifically for Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), or asteroids that could potentially strike the Earth.
The telescope that we used at Palomar Observatory was in fact not a telescope at all, but a Schmidt Camera. Always referred to as a telescope, the 18” Schmidt camera, pictured below, was built in 1936, and was in use until 2010. Its primary users were our group from JPL and another one headed by Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy, who were considered to be our competitors.
Photographs of the sky were shot with the 18” Schmidt on Kodak 4415 film. The film was first “hypersensitized”, making it more sensitive to light, by baking it in hydrogen gas for 8 hours in metal canisters. We would generally take 6 minute exposures, opening the huge shutter at the end of the telescope, and tracking on a guide star while the exposure was taken. The telescope tracking was excellent, but we would have to correct for smaller movements in the telescope by attempting to keep the guide star centered on crosshairs while viewing it through a smaller guide scope attached to the main telescope. Without doing this, our pinpoint star images would look more like streaks, and any very faint asteroids would not be seen on the films.
The films themselves were cut into circular pieces via a “cookie cutter”, and were loaded into a circular film holder that had to be loaded into the telescope. This could be tricky, as the holder was heavy and had to be loaded in complete darkness. Dropping the holder while loading it would be disastrous, as only a few feet below was the primary reflector mirror. If the holder was dropped and the mirror was damaged, we would be out of business for a while. Amazingly, this never happened during my time there.
The field of view of the telescope was very wide, and could be estimated by holding your fist up to the sky at arms length. This wide field of view allowed us to shoot photos of a large amount of sky in a single night, which is what was needed in order to be the first to discover an asteroid or, much rarer, a comet. It was all a race against time.
In the darkroom it was all very procedural. Nothing artistic going on here. The films were loaded into racks, 8 to 10 at a time, and lowered into the D-19 developer for six minutes. They were taken out and lowered into the stop bath for 30 seconds, and after that into the fixer for four minutes. Then a 30 second wash in “Photo Flow”, to clean off the chemicals. The films were then hung to dry. As negatives, they were almost never printed, and we used them as negatives, with black stars and white backgrounds. I spent many hours in this darkroom, listening to music while developing, and it’s here that I really learned to dislike the darkroom process.
Each area of sky was shot twice, with roughly a 40 minute separation. The two films, with identical star patterns, were then loaded into a stereo microscope. It is here that all of the asteroid discoveries could be made. When viewing the films through the microscope, all of the stars in the two negatives would appear to be flat, since they hadn’t moved over the 40 minute separation due to the telescope tracking along with the sky. However, an asteroid would be moving differently, and its motion could be detected by its appearing to hover above or below the plane of the stars, depending on its direction of motion. This 3-D appearance either signaled the discovery of a new asteroid, or a known asteroid.
We would discover many new asteroids on a single ‘dark run’ of six nights, and if we were lucky we would find one or two near earth asteroids. Occasionally we would discover a comet as well. I spent many hours scanning and re-scanning those films, occasionally finding objects that we missed the first time. At one point, we did miss something truly amazing: On our films, we had a comet which later became known as Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, the comet that crashed into Jupiter in 1994. To our credit I suppose, it didn’t look anything like a comet at the time we recorded it.
As advanced techniques for discovery later became available, such as CCD cameras and automated data gathering and detection, our method for discovering asteroids became obsolete. Machines were taking over and they could discover objects with much more frequency and precision than humans. The discovery rate began to increase and our old telescope was used less and less. It was finally retired in 2010.
When I left the job at JPL, I found I needed something to replace the feeling of discovery that I was now missing. I began hiking in the desert, especially in unknown areas, to see what I could discover there. I bought my first digital camera, A Kodak DC-280, in 2000 to document my hikes in the desert. Before I knew it I was bringing back all sorts of strange photos from out there.
During all of that time scanning hundreds of films at JPL, it had begun to occur to me that what we saw on our films, these tiny little pinpoint images, were in fact representative of something staggeringly huge, and that when we made an important discovery of an asteroid which could potentially collide with the Earth, I could always trace it back to those tiny little black dots which required a microscope to resolve. This paradox tickled my brain and got me realizing early on that all things are of equal importance, large or small. Or at least all things deserve equal attention, regardless of size. In other words, when I come across something that is incredibly small or seemingly insignificant while I’m out photographing, I have no problem assigning it huge importance.
In my own adventures as a photographer this philosophy and spirit of discovery is key. It drives me to move forward and continue the search. When I am out searching, I never have a set idea of what it is I’m looking for. I simply seek, occasionally finding exactly what it is I WASN’T seeking. For me, that’s the time I learn something new about life: When I discover a new path, a new way of seeing, a new reason for continuing my search.
A bottle of wine flies across the room and I see some kind of orange substance ground into the floor near the bar. There are multiple, quiet conversations taking place, none of which I can resolve, nor which I care about, though I swear that I hear someone say, “boring”. A woman approaches and asks me about something. I’m sure I can hear her but nothing is making sense. Something about intent. There are too many lights and they are bright and distracting. There are numerous people who appear to be staring at me. They each have jiggling glasses of wine and I can smell them. The floor below me feels soggy. I see the bar, and the bartender is staring at me as well, but his eyes are more compassionate. Through the window looking outside, I see many white lights quickly moving by. Then there are bright red lights which move by much more frantically, and there is a loud sound.
The sound of the siren is excruciating and it sends me through some kind of barrier. It awakens me. I’m aware of a woman standing next to me and she is smiling. She appears to be waiting for me to respond. As I’ve learned to do, I apologize to her and ask her to repeat the question. She asks me what my intent was when I took this photo. She points, and I turn and look at the photo on the wall in the frame and I see a black and white representation of a crack in the ground with a pylon next to it. Did I take that photo? I think I would love to jump into it. Something about it makes me want to scream for joy. As to my intent, I recall the crack and the pylon asking me if I would please take their photo before they vanish, and I obeyed. But I cannot say this to the woman. I look back to the bartender for pointers and in hopes that he will send me a few words to play with but he is talking and pouring wine. As a last resort, I think of something I’ve rehearsed and spit it out: ‘The shapes are what intrigued me here.’ Then I pause. In my nervousness I cannot remember the next part, and she stares at me but I give her my ‘final face’ so she’ll have to be satisfied. ‘I see’, she says and then she quietly walks away. My heart is pounding. Flustered, I attempt to move toward the bar.
My journey there will not be an easy one. There will be interruptions and mishaps along the way. It’s possible that I will walk into someone and cause them to spill their wine. They will question me about my photos and I’ll be forced to speak with them and will most likely spit out a rehearsed response. Each step that I take increases my chances for an embarrassing encounter. Someone reaches out and grabs my arm. ‘Your work is beautiful’, they say. I spit out a ‘thank you’ and continue toward the bar. Someone else turns and faces me directly with a sad expression on their face, and utters, ‘Your work makes me feel so sad’. I spit out an ‘I’m sorry’ and they smile, turning away. I continue on but before I can move very far I trip over someone’s leg and fall forward, spilling their wine. My hand lands in the puddle and arms grab at me to lift me up. “I’m sorry”, I spit out, turning red as they lift me, and everyone is smiling. As if nothing has happened, the conversations continue, though I still can’t resolve them. I do hear someone say, ‘very trite’, however. I try to stand back up straight but it’s difficult. The room is so bright and confusing. I continue forward and can see that the bar is now within my grasp. There is the bartender with his compassionate eyes looking at me. Behind him on the white wall I can see writing in black: ‘Photography by’ and then my own name in cursive.
I stumble into the bar and without diverting his gaze away from me the bartender moves to brace a few bottles of wine setting there. I spit out, ‘I’m sorry” and he grins, and lifts up a brown bowl full of orange objects. ‘Not to worry, have a cheese puff’, he offers. There are numerous bowls filled with orange objects along the bar. I look at them and then look back at the bowl he is holding. I move to reach for one but am interrupted by a crash as someone drops a glass of wine behind me. I look back but can’t see any broken glass and no one is reacting. I turn back to the bowl of orange objects and touch one. They feel soft and gritty. ‘His work is somewhat derivative’, I make out from a random direction as I taste the saltiness of the puff and look to the bartender for approval. Still grinning, he lowers the bowl. ‘You’re having quite a time today.’ he says, and then, ‘My name is Benny. Benny the bartender. And how are you, Mr. Jeff?’ He points to the wall behind him without turning away from me just as I begin to ask how he knows my name. ‘You’re the star today, Mr. Jeff. Everyone knows your name, a name worth knowing’. He grins another grin and offers up the bowl again. I shake my head and from another direction I think I hear someone say, ‘Photoshop? Figures.’
A person approaches from the left, grabs my arm, and yells at me in a very high voice, ‘Your work reminds me of certain scenes from my childhood!’ It jolts me and in my reaction, I knock a bottle of wine off the bar which Benny matter-of-factly catches before it hits the ground. I look to my left and a large male body builder type is there, waiting for my response. I spit out, ‘thank you’. The body builder nods, slaps my back with vigor, and quickly walks away. I look to Benny who has his hand over his mouth, shoulders bouncing. He takes his hand away and shrugs. ‘Well, it would seem that many people admire you work.’, he says. I nod and take another cheese puff, this one damp with wine. From a direction perpendicular to the bar I hear, “Not much talent here. I could do that.”
‘Benny’, I whisper, ‘believe it or not, I’m not having a good time here at all. In fact I’m feeling very misunderstood’. Benny, looking at me with those understanding eyes, says, ‘You know, I’m an artist too. No, really! You wouldn’t know it I realize, I mean, I’m the bartender here, but I do have to make a living. I never feel misunderstood because I try to communicate my intentions through my art in a way that is so obvious that no one could possibly misunderstand.’ I think about this and I wonder if it’s even possible for art to communicate so directly. I know for sure that my own art doesn’t communicate that way. So I ask Benny, ‘What would you do if your art didn’t communicate directly, and there was so much left to interpretation that your audience couldn’t possibly know your intentions?’ Benny thought about this for a moment, and then answered, ‘Well, I suppose I would have to let them know through some other outlet’.
I think about this as I glance up and again notice my name on the wall. Seeing it up there is somewhat reassuring, and I suddenly feel the need to boldly express myself in words, so I blurt out very loudly, “This entire exhibition is a waste of fuckin’ time! It doesn’t at all represent how I feel or who I am or what I do! When I’m out taking pictures, there’s HEAT, there’s DIRT, there’s NOISE, there’s EXCITEMENT! But here, what do we have? A clean, air conditioned room with wine and cheese puffs and uninformed people and my photos hanging nicely in neat little rows and in perfect little frames! It’s all so completely counter to my mindset as an artist and even as a human being! You know what I think the perfect exhibition would be? I would take my photos and attach them to my Jeep and drive at least 100 miles per hour, and force you mother fuckers to drive along side of me to see my work! Then maybe you would understand my mindset and who I am and just who the fuck it is you’re dealing with!”
After I finish, there is a silence the likes of which I’ve not heard since before I was conceived and I look at Benny who has eyes bigger and wider than any I have ever imagined. Benny being Benny, he quickly recovers and says, ‘I think that came off very well. Consider yourself understood!” We mutually smile at one another at which point it all rushes back to me, the nervousness, the unconfident feelings, the feeling that I’m once again alone on a planet in another solar system and I am caught wearing unmatching socks. Benny immediately understands of course, and shoots me a look of sympathy, as a monster approaches from the right and says in a whiney voice, “You know, I really liked your speech. It brought back to me subtle feelings of my last family vacation to Las Vegas. But your photos do need a little work.’ I look back at Benny in disbelief and in a moment of weakness he can only hold up another brown bowl and mutter, ‘Cheese puff Mr. Jeff?’
I shudder. Having reached a limit of sorts, I jerk quickly to the left and knock two bowls of cheese puffs into the air with such force that even Benny cannot catch them in time. The cheese puffs fly upward, and when they land they are squished into the floor by my own shoes as I attempt to flee. I find that I am immediately blocked by lovers of my work and so am forced to stop short, and adopting a false smile, I again slowly attempt to work my way through the crowd. Along my journey, I am asked questions and receive many compliments, the most poignant of which is, “Your work makes me feel like I already know you, kind of like I AM you, which really pisses me off, because I mean, why the hell would I want to know you, let alone BE you?” I continue slowly moving forward, until I finally make my way through the chilled room, out the front door and into the warm night, a few lingering admirers still trying to grab at me for punctuation.
I see many lights quickly moving by, and there are sounds that are immediately relaxing to me. I take multiple deep breaths, and begin to gain my senses back. It feels great to feel less insane. I hear in the far distance the sounds of a marching band, there must be a parade somewhere. I concentrate on the passing cars and they ground me. The full moon is lighting everything just enough so that I can hear what I see. The music from the band is growing louder and I’m beginning to feel its vibrations. I look to my right and in the moonlight I can see dancing reflections along the sidewalk. They pulsate to the rhythm of the music. As they approach, I consider my current position in life and fear that I have a long way to go. I realize that it doesn’t matter what others think, but it also doesn’t matter what I think. I wonder if it’s possible to figure anything out but I also understand that it’s best not to worry about it. The vibrations become critical and the marching band is right in front of me and there are tubas, trombones, trumpets, accordions, and a bass and snare drum. They begin to circle around me on the narrow sidewalk. They are playing very loudly and aggressively in tones and rhythms that are foreign to me. Each band member is wearing a T-shirt with an imprint in large, red lettering that says, “None of this has to be how it is.” Out of fear, I consider escaping back into the gallery and visiting with my admirers, but the music doesn’t allow for it. I can hear each player playing individually as they move past me and it’s hypnotic. Each instrument sounds unique but they all seem to be speaking with one voice in a unified chant which I take to be singing my praises. I realize that I’ve been successful here today. Everyone is here for me. They all came for me. Maybe it shouldn’t matter that they don’t understand me.
Four tubas stop in front of me and face me. I can feel their vibrations very strongly. They slowly move closer and closer. The band which is now playing at fever pitch suddenly stops and there is silence. I can only hear the cars passing by. The tuba players slowly begin to lean back and inhale as deeply as possible and when they’ve reached capacity they pause, looking at me with eyes of warning. I pray that they won’t, but I know otherwise. They lean forward quickly and exhale through their instruments with such force that all of the gallery windows shatter completely.
The sound of the tubas are excruciating and they send me through some kind of barrier. They awaken me. I look around and the band is gone. My ears are ringing. I turn and walk back inside the gallery. Everything is cold and pristine and the room is empty. I can hear the air conditioner. Benny is there and I look at him and there are the bottles of wine on the bar and he stares back at me blankly. ‘Benny, do you think anyone will come to my opening?’, I ask. ‘Who the fuck is Benny?’ he yells as he grabs up one of the bottles from the bar and with an off-putting glare, launches it across the room.
A few years back, I did something that wasn’t very smart. I decided to place myself in a position of personal risk. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, and I didn’t realize how educational it would be. I knew there was potential for rioting if the Los Angeles Lakers won the championship in 2010 against the Boston Celtics since there had been riots in previous years. At the time I lived only a few blocks away from the area, so I decided to walk over with my video camera to see what would happen.
I placed myself at the corner of Olympic and Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles, right near the potential center of the action. I began filming about one minute before the end of the game. Just as the game ended and the Lakers won the championship, the crowd became very excited. Everything was OK for about two minutes. After that, things began to change.
The area where I was standing at the edge of the street became overly crowded. A police line had begun to form, keeping pedestrians from walking into the street. Tensions began to increase as the spectators taunted the police. The police had shields and sticks. They were doing their very best to keep things in check. At one point during this build up I was pushed over and buried underneath the crowd. I figured I would be injured, or worse. To my amazement, rather than being trampled upon, I was quickly pulled up by those standing around me. It was obvious that I was on their side. We were one and it seemed to be us against the police.
There was now a very huge crowd and many police cars were in the streets. I decided it was time to move on. I headed north on Figueroa. The crowd was so compressed that it was difficult to move. After a moment I came to an opening. To my left, a large group of people were attempting to overturn a very heavy motorized construction sign by rocking it back and fourth. To my right, another group was attempting to kick over a metal newspaper dispenser which was bolted to the ground while they were waving flags. Those on the left finally succeeded while those on the right did not. The police began to appear with guns. They were incredibly calm, even as the situation was beginning to unravel in front of them.
The police line was now very slowly moving north on Figueroa, forcing everyone to move in that direction. Along this route there were car alarms going off, cars with windows broken in, and small, patchy fires burning on the ground. A few fights began to break out. In those cases, to my amazement, the fights were broken up by the rioters themselves. Order within the chaos. It would seem that their intention was to be destructive without causing bodily harm.
I developed a filming technique based on fear. Not thinking it was a good idea to let anyone know that I was filming them, I would turn the camera away just as I saw someone beginning to look in my direction. Because of this, I was moving the camera almost constantly, attempting to anticipate their motions. In a strange way it added to the drama of the final filming, but also meant that I was almost never pointing the camera in one direction or at one subject for an extended period of time.
The police line was now more organized and police on horseback were appearing. They began to order people to move in specific directions. They began to deploy. Police helicopters started to appear as well. The rioters began to look unsettled. A huge line of police on horseback was forming. They pushed the crowd east on 9th Street. There were still rioters who were taunting them. The police begin to fire rubber bullets. People began to run. We ran out of range and things quieted down.
Strangely, I realized that I was beginning to feel more relaxed. I realized that I was not being threatened by the rioters. These were riots but they were riots of joy. These were people who were celebrating. These were people who were enjoying themselves. These were people looking for an excuse to destroy. They were not out to harm one another. This was a big party. A huge, destructive party. Now, even my filming seemed to be non-threatening to them. They were eager to let the world know that they were happy to be destructive.
I walked down through a quieter area and came to the backside of a police line. One of the officers saw me and ordered, “Go this way”, to the left. A few others turned around, shields, sticks, and guns, and made sure I followed those orders. They had no way of knowing if I had recently destroyed something or if I was just a guy with a cheap video camera. I quietly slipped past them.
I continued further. Around a corner they were drawing on a taxicab with ink pens. They were writing words I couldn’t read, possibly graffiti. Further down I could see rioters dancing on top of taxicabs. They attempted to turn the cabs over. They were rocking them back and forth. There was a driver inside one of the cabs. They tried to turn his cab over. They tried harder and harder but could not overturn it. The cab driver escaped. A skateboarder approached and slammed the cab window with his skateboard, shattering the glass. Another rioter took a match and threw it inside the taxicab through the shattered window. Everyone began to quasi-chant. Slowly the interior of the taxicab begin to catch fire. The Rioters backed off. As they moved away the flames grew higher and brighter. There were loud bangs. Someone yelled out, “They’re shooting, they’re shooting!”, as the police fired off more rubber bullets. We ran down the street. I looked back and could see flames engulfing the taxicab. We ran further until we turned around a corner.
We ran through traffic to cross the street, an officer on a bicycle attempting to stop us. We dispersed into the crowd and into the night. In this area, things were beginning to calm down, with only smaller incidents taking place in the distance. The batteries were beginning to run low on my camera, so it was time to head home. I only had a four block walk to get there. It was hard to believe that all of this was taking place so near to my residence.
As I was walking home and just before my camera died, one of the rioters shouted out, “I don’t want to be a victim! I don’t want to be a victim! I don’t care! I want to get the fuck out of here!” Suddenly the guilty man was the innocent man. It’s all a matter of perspective I suppose.
I sometimes feel as if all of this was a strange dream. Growing up within protective suburbia, it was a unique experience. It left me with the feeling that everyone has a violent side that they would love to unleash, they just need a good reason to do so. Or even a bad reason. We’ve all lost our temper, maybe there’s proof in that alone. Maybe there are everyday versions of this, such as pounding a nail into the wall, or sawing a tree trunk.
I must say the the actions of the police were commendable. They were always incredibly calm, and highly successful in moving the crowd along using their slow and patient yet continually relentless techniques. Not once did I see an incident of police brutality or abuse of the kind amplified in the media today.
Below you can view the film. I apologize ahead of time for my roller-coaster camera work. If you have motion sickness, you may want to skip this one. I would suggest full screen, high volume, for best effect.