2023 Photography Workshops

Join me in 2023 for any or all of the following workshops. Two of them, Kyrgyzstan and Romania, will be with my friend Tim Vollmer. I will be adding some local Idaho workshops soon. If you’d like to keep up with my class and workshop schedule, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter in the right margin or via the newsletter link on my webpage header.

Go HERE for more information and to register for any workshop:
March 21-28 Central Oregon Coast
April 17-23 White Sands National Park, New Mexico
May 19-28 Iceland
Jun 2-14 Kyrgyzstan
Aug 23-Sep 1 Scotland: Isle of Skye
Sep 9-19 Italy: Dolomites & Venice
Sep 20-Oct 1 Romania
Oct 13-15 Annular Solar Eclipse, Nevada
Oct 19-29 Iceland

Photography vs Photograph, Part III

Part III

But for me photography is essentially not about art, society, or representation; I find seeing is essentially solitary, and photography is one of the emblems of that solitude
James Elkins, What Photography Is, 2011

The photograph is as complex a thing as the gesture of photography (as I’ve defined them in the previous two parts). The photograph, as Ansel Adams stated, is the performance, from the culmination of the preparation, practice, seeing, and imagination of the photographer. It is also the product of the use of the mechanical device of the camera recording the quality, quantity, and color of light reflected from, transmitted through, emanating from, and wrapped around the elements that lie before them. A photograph is a means of expression, artistically or otherwise, a way to communicate a concept, emotion, instruction, evidence, in a form and detail other types of communication lack. A photograph can be fact or entirely false or lie somewhere in between, can deceive, persuade, or inspire, but almost always serves as a prompt to memory, whether the memory is directly related to the content of the photograph or not. Photographs are part of our legacy, what we leave behind as our footprint marking our passage, A way for our descendants to know something about us when we can’t speak to them directly.

A photograph is both an image and a thing. As a thing, the photograph is part of the material culture of photography, something physical we hold in our hands, put in books and albums, burn, tear up, write on, send to loved ones, put in frames and hang on walls. When asked what possessions they would rescue from a burning home, one of the most frequent answers is photographs. We grieve when they are lost, as if part of our memory, our past, or our accomplishments has been taken. Most of the photographs made during the 19th Century have not survived to the present. Those that do still exist have acquired a value well beyond their original intent. Many of those surviving photographs have no more information to them than the image, no place, time, or name. Who are these orphaned people? What is their legacy?

In 2014, more photographs were made than in the 100 years of the 19th Century. In 2022, it’s estimated that 54,400 photographs were made worldwide EVERY SECOND, 196 million every hour, 172 TRILLION photographs in that year alone. These numbers are increasing. In 2014, the number of photographs made was a little over 1 trillion. It’s likely many of those photographs made in 2022 did not survive the year, and most will likely not survive another 20 years, never venturing beyond taking up space on a memory card or hard drive, lost during a power outage, hardware failure, or accidental hard drive formatting. The digital photograph is much more fragile than the analog photograph and film of history.

The photograph as image is the content representing the context in which the photograph was made, interpreted by the photographer and current culture, whether that is today or decades from now. The photographic image can be used differently than the physical print, especially in these days of electronic images. A physical print has a front where the image is and a back where information about the image can be placed. An electronic image may have meta data embedded into the file or in a separate location. If those parts, the image file and the associated sidecar .xml data file or other data file, for example, are separated, knowledge about that image is lost. I would argue that most digital photographs made today do not have embedded meta data, even information about who the photographer is. But it’s easy, and almost habit, to write something on the back of a printed photograph. An ongoing philosophy is a photograph is not a photograph until it has physical form as a print, which then begs to be shown and displayed. Though a physical print in a drawer is the same as a digital file on a hard drive. But a physical print also begs some other questions, such as how large should it be, what type of surface and display (mat, frame, paper, canvas, glass, metal, wood, fabric), where should it be displayed (wall, wallet, photo album/book, magazine) and the location (home, gallery, coffeeshop, pop-up, art show)? What is the appropriate way to showcase your photograph once you’ve created it?

The use of photographic images is also quite varied, from family memories to advertising, education to forensics, photojournalism to art. These days the distinctions are becoming more arbitrary, with the exception of forensic photography, perhaps. Though given enough time separation from their creation and use, even some forensic photographs could be used for commercial applications or art.

The use and meaning of a photograph changes with time as it moves from place to place and hand to hand. A family snapshot today is history tomorrow, or art. The camera in the hands of the photographer creates what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “a sort of visual chronicle.” Roland Barthes called the camera “clocks for seeing.”

The first (surviving) photograph is by Joseph Nicephore Niepce of rooftops seen from his upstairs window in France, in 1826 or 1827, although there is evidence others made photographs as early as 1800 (Thomas Wegdewood) or earlier, but they did not survive. Niepce’s photograph, as it is, must be kept in a light-tight box to keep it from turning black from exposure. Once photography reached the public, around 1839, it took off. Everything was fair game for the camera. A list of “firsts.”

1826-27 first surviving photograph, Joseph Nicephore Niepce
1839 first portrait, a selfie
1840 first hoax photo, Hippolyte Bayard photographed himself as a drowned man, reportedly in protest against the French Academy for failing to recognize his contribution to photography in preference to Daguerre. So, perhaps also the first protest photograph.
1840 first photo of the moon
1840 first nude portrait
1843 first photo of a US president (John Quincy Adams, after being in office). The first sitting president to be photographed was James Polk, 1848)
1843 first photo book, Anna Atkins cyanotypes of algae
1844 first commercially printed book illustrated with photographs, The Pencil of Nature, Henry Fox Talbot, calotypes
1845 first photo of the sun
1847 first war photograph, Mexican-American War, photographer unk
1848 first news photograph and first photo printed in a newspaper (not the same photos)
1860 first aerial photo
1878-1886 Edweard Muybridge pioneered the photographic study of animal and human locomotion and high speed photography (chronophotography)
1879 Edweard Muybridge invents the zoopraxiscope, precursor to the movie projector
1882 first photograph of lightning
1931 electronic flash invented by Harold Edgerton
1946 first photograph from space, camera aboard a V-2 rocket from 65 miles up
1957 first digital photo
1976 first photograph from Mars
1985 first personal video camera
1988 first digitally-manipulated photograph, by Thomas Knoll (inventor of Photoshop)
1995 digital videotape
1997 first camera phone photo
2000 Apple’s iMovie

Imagine, today, a world without photographs. It’s almost impossible. Photographs have become an integral part of human culture, although such a photo-less world existed for hundreds of thousands of years of human culture before the invention of the camera. Our current world is stuffed full with photographic images of all sorts and the convergence of audio-visual technology and the ability to nearly instantly transmit digital images around the planet to billions of people in the 20th Century fundamentally changed the importance and prevalence of photographs and how people record, interpret, and interact with the world. There are many important, inspirational, and influential photographs. Creating a list of them is a subjective exercise like Top Songs of History. Everyone has their favorites. Here is a list of 25 I’ve compiled, not necessarily in order of importance, or complete:

1. View from a Window, 1826/27 Joseph Nicephore Niepce
2. Earthrise, 1968, Astronaut William Anders, Apollo 8
3. Blue Marble, 1972, Astronaut Jack Schmitt, Apollo 17
4. Falling Man, 2001, Richard Drew
5. Man Jumping Puddle, 1930, Henri Cartier-Bresson
6. Clearing Winter Storm, 1937, Ansel Adams
7. Mushroom Cloud over Nagasaki, 1945, Lt. Charles Levy, Bombardier
8. Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, 1989, Jeff Widener
9. Pillars of Creation, 1995, NASA Hubble Telescope
10. Deep Field, 2022, James Webb Space Telescope
11. The Terror of War, 1972, Nick Ut
12. Pale Blue Dot, 1990, NASA Voyager 1
13. Woman & Child Falling from Fire Escape, 1975, Stanley Foreman
14. Child Coal Miners, 1908, Lewis Hine
15. Tutokanula Pass, Yosemite, ~1880, Carleton Watkins
16. Men on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin by Neil Armstrong, in reflection), 1969
17. Little Rock Central High School, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford
18. Nelson Mandela Becomes President of South Africa, 1994, Walter Dhladhla
19. Starving Child and Vulture, 1993, Kevin Carter
20. Shell & Rock Arrangement 15S, 1931, Edward Weston
21. Horse in Motion, 1878, Edweard Muybridge
22. Bullet Through Apple, 1964, Harold Edgerton
23. Atomic Bomb Explosion, 1952, Harold Edgerton
24. Cotton Mill Girl, 1908, Lewis Hine
25. Migrant Mother, 1936, Dorothea Lange
26. Bonus – Black Hole, M87, 2019, Event Horizon Telescope collaboration

When photography was first introduced, photographs were perceived as a perfect documentary medium because the detail recorded by the mechanical camera left no question about the “truth” of the subject depicted in the photograph. “No one”, writes philosopher Susan Sontag, “takes an easel painting to be in any sense co-substantial with its subject; it only represents or refers. But a photograph is not only like its subject, a homage to the subject, it is part of, an expansion of, that subject; and a potent means of acquiring it, of gaining control over it. Photographs do more than redefine the stuff of ordinary experience (people, things, events, whatever we see – albeit differently, often inattentively – with natural vision) and add vast amounts of material that we never see at all.” From the beginning, though, the perception that the camera doesn’t lie has been exploited by charlatans, propagandists, advertisers, and others to persuade and influence. In 1861, a jeweler named William H. Mumler, accidentally made a portrait photograph on a previously-exposed negative plate. The result was a ghostly, superimposed image of a previous client. The resulting photograph was passed around as a gag, but eventually found its way into the hands of someone at The Herald of Progress, a spiritualist journal, who printed the photograph in the journal, and “spirit photography” was born. Mumler latched onto the opportunity, perfected his double exposure technique, and embellished his marketing with spiritualist rhetoric. For nearly two years, Mumler was a very successful spirit photographer, making portraits of clients and capturing the “spirits” of lost loved ones looking over the living. Spiritualists caught up in the phenomenon claimed the photos were scientific evidence of their belief in the afterlife. Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, was a client of Mumler’s.

In 1863, a doctor (perhaps someone who should have known better, but representative of the popularity of the fad) sat for a Mumler portrait. However, when he received his photo he recognized the “spirit” as someone who was still quite alive. The doctor led a campaign to discredit Mumler. Mumler was also sued but was acquitted. By then his reputation was ruined. Other spirit photographers popped up all over the country, capitalizing on the belief by consumers the photographs were real.

Photographs today are much more easily manipulated than 140 years ago, yet photographs are still widely believed to be factual records, or disbelieved based on the perception they have been altered, regardless to what degree. The interpretation of the photograph, its subject, content, meaning, is almost entirely the responsibility of the viewer. Interpretation is formed by the viewer’s own knowledge, understanding, experience, prejudice, with the subject and content, just as it is in the creation of the photograph by the photographer. A portrait can be disbelieved by the sitter if they perceive, or wish themselves perceived, differently than the camera reveals, just as a photograph of a landscape or event (UFO sighting) can be disbelieved – or believed to be true – based on the expectations of the viewer.

Once a photograph is “released into the wild”, control by the photographer, how the photographer intended the photograph to be received and interpreted, is lost. The job of the photographer is to include in the photograph enough clues and information to solidify the intended meaning or message, whether it be factual or fanciful. Revealing the methodology used to make the photograph, especially in the fields of photojournalism and science/engineering/forensics, allows for “peer review” and assessment of the validity of the photography. Such a statement is also useful for differentiating the photograph as a type of art. Even manipulated artworks would benefit from a simple statement regarding the type of manipulation, such as sky replacement, composite, or element removal for clarity.

Obvious manipulations probably don’t need any such declaration, though there will always be someone who points out the manipulation or who thinks it’s real. Though what constitutes manipulation has also been debated since the beginning. Henri Cartier-Bresson went so far as to oppose the use of flash for a photograph, “if only out of respect for the actual light – even when there isn’t any of it. Unless a photographer observes such conditions as these, he may become an intolerably aggressive character.” László Moholy-Nagy, in 1923, expressed the problem and benefit with photography, photographers, and photographs: “The photograph enables us to experience space in new ways through an enlargement and sublimation of our appreciation of time and space and the perception of our surroundings, and its existence, with new eyes…The camera allowed for phenomena imperceptible to the human eye to be perceived, revealing aspects of existence never before seen or contemplated.” Edward Weston, in his Daybooks, Vol II, wrote in 1932, that “The variety of options available to the photographer for self-expression beyond the exact reproduction of subject/scene by the machine of the camera, give the photographer a myriad of possibilities for personal choice – one has far greater opportunity for self-expression through material opportunity than is granted the painter. The trouble has been with photographers, not photography!…for to produce work of any value in any line of creative endeavor, one must bore into the spirit of today. Old ideals are crashing on all sides, and the precise uncompromising camera vision is, and will be made so, a world force in the revaluation of life.”

The gesture of photography and the making of photographs provide one way for the discovery of oneself at the same time of exploring the world. The two processes are separate and interconnected, with intent and meaning, knowledge and experience important, even critical, components of both. Photography can mold us through the act and by viewing and discussing photographs. Photography, as I’ve described before, can be a Way of Life, not just professionally, but personally and experientially; a gateway to exploration and personal growth. Photography is a mode of specialized and personalized communication. Ansel Adams eloquently stated “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” The photographs left behind are a record of the time, a visual chronicle of a person’s experience and existence in the world, a view of the culture and associated events, and a story of each generation for future humans to view, interpret, and learn from. There is much more about photography and photographs, a treasure trove of information waiting to be learned, explored, and discovered. Review the history, read past and current interpretations, view photographs, explore and reflect on your own part in all this, and above all, engage in photography and make photographs.

Photography vs Photograph, Part II

Part II

What makes photography a strange invention – with unforeseeable consequences – is that its primary raw materials are light and time. – John Berger

We can probably agree there are many different perceptions/concepts/philosophies about photography. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be having these discussions. Similar discussions to those that began in the 1800s and are renewed at each inflection point in the evolution of photography: the initial introduction of the technology, painting and drawing vs photography, realism vs pictorialism, digital vs analog, mirror vs mirrorless, and now the introduction of “artificial intelligence” in image making and image processing. We’re still trying to resolve, whether for ourselves as individual photographers or in an attempt to create a type of “general theory” of photography, the relationships between the photographer, the device (camera), and the photograph, in addition to the viewers and interpretations of photographs. In this Part II, I’ll discuss the act of photography and aspects of the relationship between the photographer and the camera. In Part III, I’ll address the photograph.

A photograph needs an audience. Or does it?” – Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door

As a reminder, I stated for simplicity in Part I, and to distinguish between the two parts of the title, photography is a process and the photograph is a thing. A somewhat controversial concept might be that a photograph isn’t even a required component of photography. The process of making the photographic exposure alone could be enough for the photographer to gain pleasure and personal growth. And, at least, showing your photographs to others isn’t a requirement to call yourself a photographer or to receive something from photography. An example is Vivian Maier, who photographed for years and never had her film developed. Not everyone will agree. Henri Cartier-Bresson even said “My passion has never been for photography ‘in itself,’ but for the possibility – through forgetting yourself – of recording in a fraction of a second the emotion of the subject, and the beauty of the form; that is, a geometry awakened by what’s offered.” For HCB, the process was a means to an end; the capture of the subject, like the capture of a prey. But this dichotomy of photography is different from most every other art form where the process nearly always results in something physical.

In most art forms the process and the product are inseparable. You can’t paint without making a painting or carve a piece of stone or wood without making a sculpture (quibbles over definitions of painting and sculpture aside). Painting, drawing, pottery, and carving are words describing both the action and the product. Photography, and photographing, are words describing an activity during which the photographer is doing something toward the eventual making of a photograph. This activity involves a wide range of things the photographer does, sometimes well before finger depresses shutter release: researching subjects, thinking about the subject, processing memories or life in general, exploring locations, observing the light, observing the subject and color, shadow, form, and texture, juxtaposition, balance, subject and compositional element relationships, etc., thinking about and reviewing past photographs and their strengths and weaknesses, reading, listening to music, talking with other photographers, friends, strangers, etc. All of these activities inform and influence the eventual photograph, whether the photographer is consciously thinking of these elements at the time of exposure or not. The process of photography doesn’t just happen when you have your camera in hand searching for something pretty or interesting or funny to snap. Regardless if I have my camera or not, when I’m looking I’m seeing photographs. As I’m scanning the environment I’m “cropping” various parts of the scenes in my mind, “zooming” in and out with an imaginary lens, examining arrangements, isolating, including, exploring relationships. This prepares me for when I do have my camera, searching for subjects to photograph and looking through the viewfinder. This process not only applies to photography, but also to every other art form, and to just being. Awareness and observation of your surroundings makes things more interesting than succumbing to sensory adaptation.

Photographers (and viewers) often think of photography and photographs as indistinguishable parts of the process; one cannot exist without the other. In a sense, this is true. But, the process of photography and the making of the photograph can be broken down into sets of discrete steps and, thus, separated from one another as distinct but interconnected processes. I’ve described the steps (phases) of photography in other texts; they are Exploration, Isolation, Organization, and Exposure. The steps involved in the photograph are Exposure/Ingestion (digital download), Edit, Process, Print, and Display.

The camera, the photographer’s primary tool for making photographs, and its operation, can also be addressed separately with a list of discrete steps for both photographer and camera and in which photography becomes a subset of the individual. Photography, for some, becomes a way of being, a way of interacting with the world. The steps in camera operation are, generally, Observe, Compose, Focus, Settings, Expose. There is overlap with the final step of camera operation, Expose, and the photography process. Exposure, the press of the shutter release, is the culmination of a number of factors leading to that particular moment that can take seconds or years to reach. Those factors are specific to the individual: Experience, Skill, Knowledge, Prejudice and Bias, Goals, and Intent (past, present, and future). All aspects of the processes of photography, photographer, camera, and photograph are interrelated, overlap, and the relationships between them are circular, or web-like. Rarely is the line from inspiration/conception/idea/influence to finished image a straight one. The camera (using the word as a catch-all including all other photographic equipment), different from tools of other art forms, has almost from the beginning of photography taken over the definition of photography. I’m not aware of any other art form other than digital illustration and some aspects of music, where the primary device for creating the art receives as much, and sometimes more, attention than the art or the artist, and for which an entire industry has been developed. Where are the paintbrush and typewriter websites, magazines and podcasts?

Well-known photographers Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Mary Ellen Mark, Man Ray, Yousuf Karsh, and many others, wrote and spoke about the photographer’s relationship with equipment. The general consensus among these photographers is the photographer makes the photograph, not the equipment. But the camera, its type/format, brand, capabilities, accessories, etc. is often at the forefront of many discussions and inquiries about photographs and photographers. Vilem Flusser (1920-1991), in his book Toward a Philosophy of Photography (1984), asks a question “is a human being in possession of a camera, or a camera in possession of a human being?” We see it in photography quite often, especially with questions from photographers and non-photographers alike when viewing photographs; what camera did you use?, what lens did you use?, what were your settings?, what software/action/preset did you use?, as if the equipment is the key to making the photograph interesting or beautiful and duplication in another time and place will produce the same result. We all know the photographer who is defined by their gear, who must have the latest and greatest equipment, but their photographs are maybe not up to par with their arsenal. But that’s not entirely what Flusser means when asking the question.

Our equipment does partially dictate what and how we photograph. In the act or gesture of photography the camera does the will of the photographer, but the photographer can only photograph what can be photographed given the capabilities of the camera and the light-sensitive medium the camera uses to record the energy from photons. Even if we have all the funds available at our disposal to acquire all the equipment we need, our photographs are still limited by the capabilities of the gear we hold in our hand at the time of making the exposure. We’re still limited by the field of view and depth of field of the lens, of the size of the image sensor or film stock, the noise and grain of sensor and film, the dynamic range of light recorded by sensor or film, the weight of camera equipment, the availability of accessories and the cost of cameras and accessories, etc., in addition to our own skill and knowledge to operate that equipment to the best of our ability.

Flusser categorizes the camera’s possession of the photographer by defining two types of images, traditional and technical. Traditional images are symbols which come directly from observations of the real world, made by the “hand of the artist” from original and unique expressions of experience and interpretations “in the [artist’s] head”. Prehistoric cave painting is his example. I think modern painting, drawing, pottery, sculpting, and other art forms made directly by the hand of the artist would fit the definition of traditional images as well. Technical images are made by apparatuses (cameras, for our purpose of discussion) which are twice removed from the hand and mind of the artist through the programming, mechanics, and limitations of the camera. Technical images are also infinitely reproducible by apparatuses (printers or darkroom reproduction) where traditional images are one of a kind. Flusser views the camera only superficially analogous to artist tools like the paintbrush. The paintbrush or chisel and the resulting artwork is directly connected to the mind of the artist through the hand, whereas the complex programming, capabilities and limitations of the camera intervene between the artist and the photograph. In the photograph, we only indirectly see the hand and mind of the photographer because the photographer’s observation of the real world, the internal traditional image, is abstracted and controlled by the capabilities and limitations of the apparatus, the camera.

John Berger (1926-2017), in Understanding A Photograph, adds that the invention of the lightweight, automatic, camera changed the process of making photographs (and art, in a general sense) from a ritual (taking time to observe, set up, wait, expose) to a simple reflex – point and shoot. This resonates with me because when I was learning photography I wanted to photograph using medium and large format cameras, but didn’t have the funds for the equipment. So when I was learning the process of photography using 35mm, I treated the camera as if it was medium or large format, taking time to observe and set up the shot, to make the exposure count, rather than “spray and pray” then pick out the best and “fix it in Photoshop.” Make the photograph in the camera as much as possible. That has always been my philosophy and practice.

In what Flusser calls the gesture of photography, the act of making a photograph is a sequence of events during which the photographer overcomes several barriers or hurdles. At each barrier (what subject to choose, composition to select, settings to use, can my camera record this scene as I envision it, should I ask for permission?…) there is a hesitation. Each hesitation is an opportunity for doubt and an interruption of concentration, awareness, and flow. Photographing is a start-stop process, especially when first learning photography. Experience removes some of the doubt, some of the hesitation, but not all. At some point we have to make the decision when to press the shutter. Because of the multitude of choices available when selecting and composing a photograph, there is no real “decisive moment,” except in the mind and intent of the photographer. Cartier-Bresson even points out the photographer needs to stay with the moment, even after thinking the strongest image has been made; to keep shooting in case something else develops with that particular situation. But to avoid “shooting like a machine-gunner” which produces needless waste and exactness about the portrayal of the event, all the while remembering there are no do-overs.

The act of photographing, the gesture, is the experience, the journey, the discovery by the photographer in researching the subject, traveling (near or far), the personal growth inherent in exploring new places, meeting new people, encountering and working through challenges, fears, and biases, and the satisfaction of the learning process, whether you achieve your intent or not. I think we learn at least a little more from not meeting expectations than from our successes, though arguments can be made for the opposite. The process of photography, for me, is a mechanism to living a Way of Life, a way of experiencing the world and interpreting it; not necessarily interpreting it for you (which is something I once told people as a bit of a conceit and marketing ploy – as if I somehow had a better sense of what you needed to know or see better than you did) but interpreting the world for me. The journey, for me, is at least as important as the destination, because the destination is a moving target. I doubt I’ll ever reach it, or even discover what that destination is. My process of photographing, the way I think about it, approach making photographs, how I see the world, is different than yours. There might be similarities, but they aren’t exactly alike and can be very different. That’s great. Diversity makes life interesting. I like to share my journey and for those who want to come along, in person or through my photographs, I welcome you.

Photography vs Photograph, Part I

This is the first of a three part essay exploring the different aspects and understanding of the act, or gesture, of photography, the photographer, and the photograph. I use material from Vilem Flusser, John Berger, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Ted Orland, and others to describe and comment on the different ways photography and photographs are perceived. This is one way to look at it. You’re going to have something different to being to the discussion or you’ll learn something new. We’re learning all the time.

Part I

Photography, like any artistic practice, is a multi-faceted activity involving materials, equipment, process, learning, technique, philosophy, a few other things, and the making of physical or otherwise visual representations of the photons recorded by the camera which, whether on film or digital sensor, are at first not visible to anyone (reviews on the camera screen notwithstanding). In this and the next one or two newsletters, I’m going to write about some different philosophies or approaches to the concept of photography versus photograph; the interconnected but also separate ideas of the process of photography and the product of the photograph. As you might already know or guess, there are, and have been, several different ideas throughout history about photography, its purpose, how it should be done, presented, and thought about, as well as the impact, importance, and relevance to the society, culture, and technology of the day. It’s a pretty big bundle to unwrap.

I’m going to focus, or try to, on just the concepts of photography and the photograph. There is spillover into other aspects of both, and I’ll try to keep that to only directly relevant offshoots. First, definitions. Photography I’ll consider to be the process involved in most of the activities NOT related to the creation of a physical photograph. I define the photograph as the physical or visual representation of a photographic image, whether that is a darkroom print, digital print, digital display, or some other physical or visual representation. In general, to keep the concepts as separated as possible for clarity of discussion, I’ll treat the image of the photograph as different from the process of photography. But first, we might need to delve into a brief overview of the long history of photography.

In some ways, photography has come a long way since its recognizable beginnings in the early 19th Century, while in other ways it has remained much the same. The arguments for and against photography and photographs in the 1800s are much the same in the 2000s; technological advances haven’t changed those arguments much but, in some cases, it has amplified them. The pursuit of photographs came about as a means to accurately record what we were looking at. The camera obscura, the first rudimentary camera device, or pinhole camera, required an operator to trace an image projected onto glass or onto a surface in a darkened room. The accuracy of the illustration depended on the patience and skill of the individual making the drawing, the technology used to create the quality of the camera obscura image (bare pinhole versus lens), and environmental conditions: the sun had to be shining for a bright enough image to be projected on the tracing surface. The camera obscura was first built and used in 1100AD by Persian (now Iraq) polymath Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) and used after that by several others in their process of discovering the properties of light. But the principle of the camera obscura was known since it was first described in 400 BC in China (Mozi) and 350 BC in Greece (Aristotle) and again in more detail by Leonardo da Vinci in 1550. Artists caught on to the usefulness of the camera obscura in the 15th Century, using the device to make drawings and paintings of landscapes, cityscapes, and portraits. There is evidence, though, suggesting pinhole images were used by prehistoric humans to make art as far back as 15,000 years ago. Light sensitive substances, such as chlorophyll from plants and other chemicals, were explored in the 16th Century, but it wasn’t until 1614 that an Italian chemist named Angelo Sala showed that silver nitrate, when coated on paper, darkened in the light of the sun. But, even though the camera obscura was in wide use by then, the two were not brought together until the 19th Century. So, the use of light sensitive chemistry to accurately record scenes and objects from the visible world is relatively new compared to other art forms like painting and sculpture.

The word photography was coined by Sir John Herschel, in 1839, from the Greek words photos, meaning “light”, and graphe, meaning “to draw or write”. As soon as the first permanent (more or less) image was made in 1839 (the date and maker of the first photograph is still debated today), photography became a much-argued technology. It continues to be debated today, regarding what constitutes photography or a photograph, and whether a photograph is actually art. For me, photography and the photograph are interconnected as part of a whole, an integrated process that includes both philosophy and practice, the metaphysical and the physical. But each can also stand on its own, separate from the other; photography doesn’t need to conclude as a photograph, and the photograph can be devoid of all but the technical and mechanical aspects of photography. Photography, capital P, is both art and science and can be a Way of life (in a Zen sense, as I describe in my podcast from a few years ago), or as Brooks Jensen, editor of Lenswork, describes in his podcast; a way of “living the Art life.”

This should provide a good foundation so far. I think this will be a three part essay. The general format will be to give an overview of the ideas of two or more individual’s thoughts on both the process of photography and the object of the photograph. These individuals will be photographers and non-photographers and will hopefully offer a broad look at how photography and photographs have been, and continue to be viewed in the world’s society. I’ll begin next time with philosopher Vilem Flusser (1920-1991) from his 1984 book, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, and critic, novelist and poet John Berger (1926-2017) from the 2013 book of his essays edited by Geoff Dyer, Understanding A Photograph. The remaining parts of this series will explore the thoughts of Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Ted Orland, David Bayles, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Minor White, Gary Winogrand, Jay Maisel, John Paul Caponigro, Jerry Uelsmann, and others. In the end, I hope you might have an appreciation of photography in a different way than you may now, and maybe a deeper understanding of the history of photography as well as something to think about regarding your own exploration of this art form and practice.

2022 Washington Coast Photography Workshop

Washington Coast Photography Workshop, Oct 11-17, 2022

Join myself and my good friend Lalit Deshmukh for 7 days, 5 full days of photographing, on the Washington Coast of the Pacific Northwest. We’ll visit waterfalls, amazing beaches, and primordial rainforest, exploring and experimenting and becoming better photographers through awareness, seeing, and contemplation.

The coast of Washington State in the Pacific Northwest is the longest undeveloped coastline in the United States. The rugged, rocky shore exposes the remnants of the ancient North American coastline as ragged sea stacks that have withstood millennia of the relentless pounding of storms thrown at it from the Pacific Ocean. One of the largest and last remaining temperate rainforests in the world, with its lush green canopy of giant Sitka spruce and Western hemlock, takes you back in time with a bit of a Primordial essence. This workshop is conducted at a ‘photographer’s pace’ to allow for as much immersion into the environment as possible, using our senses and perception along with camera technique to make better photographs and to both experience as well as photograph amazing landscapes, abstracts, and intimate nature imagery.

Please go HERE for more information, photos, and registration.

The Astrophotographer’s Log Book

Astrophotography involves many important steps, from choosing equipment, planning the object to photograph, setting up and taking down equipment, and processing image data, to data storage and presentation of your astrophotographs. The process of creating astrophotography images is a lengthy, long-term project, although excellent images can be made either singly or over a short period of time. However long it takes, though, it’s difficult keeping all the necessary data in your head, especially over multiple sessions and targets, different equipment and, not to mention, years. You could enter the data on your computer or reference your online posts, but an analog copy will long outlast any digital journal you may use.

The Astrophotographer’s Log Book arose from documenting my own imaging sessions, but rewriting the same information over and over in a blank notebook. Doing it by memory each time, it was easy to miss adding a line of data, or write it in another place for that session, or flip back and forth between pages to make sure I had it all written down correctly and in order. So, the notebook became, over time, a less-organized and incomplete record of my imaging sessions. In the paragraphs I wrote, it was difficult to consistently find the information I needed for planning follow-up sessions and time consuming to search the pages for it. I looked for a journal or format to meet my needs and discovered there were many different versions of observer’s logs, but almost no journal books for astrophotographers. And, those that did exist, seemed very open-ended and more like the blank book I was already using. So I compiled this set of pages I hope will also fit your needs and help you have more productive and repeatable imaging sessions, and provide a detailed memory you can look back on in the future.

This log book is for astrophotographers who want to record as much data for each session as they like, or at least have the available place for it when they do. It’s for beginners to help establish good imaging session habits early on, for the advanced astrophotographer who wants and needs a consistent place to record and find the data they worked hard to collect, and for the astrophotographer who likes to look back on old records and reminisce about those special sessions.

The Astrophotographer’s Log Book, at 6″ x 9″, is sized to fit easily into your astrophotography gear bag. The front and back covers are laminated 2mm book board for a solid writing surface on your imaging table or your lap. The thick covers also make it sturdy and durable under the varied conditions you might experience, whether at home or at a remote dark site. A built-in bookmark makes it easy to locate where you left off. The front and back covers are designed by the author. The end papers are also handmade by the author and each set is unique. The Log Book is wire-bound and opens flat or a full 360 degrees.

More information and to purchase at blueplanetphoto.com/product/the-astrophotographers-log-book-25-sessions/:

The Astrophotographer's Log Book front cover
APLB-session page-1000

Review: USB Memory Direct Branded Flash Drives

Blue Planet Photography USB drive from USB Memory Direct
Back in April, I was contacted by Patrick Whitener, the partnership coordinator at USB Memory Direct (https://www.usbmemorydirect.com), maker of custom and branded flash drives. He wanted to know if I’d like to partner with them, try out their product, and write up a blog post about my impressions. I’d been thinking about a ‘giveaway’ for my workshops and classes, something like a USB drive loaded with lesson materials for my classes, writings and other materials for my workshops. Since it wasn’t going to cost me anything other than a review of the product (which I would likely be doing even if I purchased it), I agreed.

He contacted me on April 2 and I spent a few days thinking about it, whether I wanted to get involved or trust this offer. I did some research on USB Memory Direct and discovered they have a pretty good reputation. I’ve dealt with other promotional product companies before that were less than desirable. In the meantime, Patrick sent me a couple emails asking me if I was still interested. Not pushy, just checking in. I appreciated that. No hard sell, no stupid jokes. Just email, too, no phone calls.

I chose the type of USB drive from the offered selection, the Tower style. Made of wood (the description says “pine.”), the cap is attached by a couple magnets which are strong. Personally, I’d prefer an integrated cover, like their Ninja model, because a separate cap without a lanyard or other means of attachment is just going to get lost eventually, but that one wasn’t available for the promotion. I like the natural wood look. It goes with my business name and “nature” theme.

USB drive showing magnetic cap attachment

I had to tweak my logo to fit the dimensions of the drive space available for printing (but they will do that for you if you wish) and sent Patrick the file. I asked if he could print my website on the back and he replied, no problem.

USB drive showing front logo and back website address printing

On April 21, I received a pre-production image of a drive they had made up for me to review. It looked great, except for some reason my logo had been shifted slightly and “photography” had been re-typed and misspelled as “photogrphy”. I let Patrick know and it was corrected without fuss. Patrick asked me if there was any content I wanted them to pre-load to the drives for me. I hadn’t decided what content I was going to put on the drives, so declined the offer. This is a service they offer, though, free of charge, as far as I know. So, if you are ordering a bunch of drives (even 25) having them add the content saves me/you a ton of time. Loading 25 drives from a single or double USB port would take a decent amount of time that I could be spending doing something more productive. But, having a blank drive gives me the freedom to customize how many drives receive what content, whenever I get that figured out.

The 25 8GB drives were shipped on April 24 and I received them on May 5, 7 business days (12 calendar days) later. Their estimate for shipping is 5-7 days once the drives are ready. The drives came individually wrapped in plastic envelopes, like a plastic sleeve for a greeting card or matted photo, rubber-banded in groups of 5, then wound with bubble wrap. There were no additional papers (that I remember) in the typical plain brown box. Though, I think there must have been an inventory sheet. The full color printing is crisp, the color accurate, and appears to be quite durable. I’ve had a couple other promotional items where the printing flaked or peeled off after a short time. This printing looks and feels like it will last longer than the average bear.

Being the cautious type, I ran a couple of the drives through a virus scan and they came up clean. Of course, a company selling promotional USB drives wouldn’t want to send off products infected with a virus or malware, but I had never dealt with this company before and, despite the great reviews, it never hurts to check.

This style of drive, the Tower, fits nicely on my desktop machine and my Surface, and doesn’t impede adding a second USB drive where there are multiple ports. I have another novelty USB drive I received at a conference that’s shaped like a rabbit, and it takes up all the space to either side of the port, so it’s nice to have a thin drive in case I need to transfer from one drive to another or grab files from a second drive without removing the first. My logo is clearly presented, also, which is good promotion for me.

Single drive in USB port on desktop
Single drive in USB port
USB drives in adjacent ports
USB drives in adjacent ports

Next came the big question. If I ordered these drives without the promotion, how much would they cost? The Tower 8GB drives are USB SLC (Single Level Cell) which are faster and more reliable than typical consumer type USB drives. The drives I received are USB-A, but there are USB-C styles and also dual USB-A/C, like the Ninja model I referred to earlier. So, the price for the tower drive, as of around mid-May, 2020, in a quantity of 25, is $9.75 per unit, or $244 total. Increasing the quantity to 50 reduces the per unit cost to $8.00 each. The Ninja, all metal integrated construction, USB A/C, is $15 each, or $374.50 for 25. An order of 50 reduces the per unit cost to a little over $13. Capacity up to 64GB is available, priced accordingly.

With that price, comes free printing, free data loading (check that to be sure), lifetime warranty, and a price match guarantee.

The drives I received are fast-loading. I haven’t tested them all to check that they all work, but the two random ones I grabbed do. If that changes, I’ll post that additional information here. I will assume they are all fine. Overall, I’m pleased with the experience and the product from USB Memory Direct. This is the first promotional item like this I’ve tried and once I figure out exactly how I’m going to incorporate these drives in my classes/workshops and other promotions I’ll likely go back to Patrick for more. Since I let Patrick know I received the drives, I have not heard from him. No pestering about whether I wanted to buy more, when was I going to get my review up on my blog, etc. No hard selling, which I really like. It makes me more comfortable to go back to USB Memory Direct when and if I decide this is a promotional item I would like to incorporate, without dreading the follow up. I appreciate that.

The one thing I might change is to put the web address on the front, so it’s more visible (promotion, you know). However, I like the simple logo front.

Point Lobos Dreaming – limited edition handmade book

Indiegogo campaign
Please help support my project to learn bookbinding and create a limited edition handmade book for you

I’ve been learning bookbinding on my own for the past 3 months or so and have decided it’s time to learn from someone who knows more than I do. I’ve started an Indiegogo campaign to help me attend a week-long bookbinding workshop at the San Francisco Center for the Book, and to create photographs to include in a handmade, signed, limited edition book (20) in its own handmade slipcase, titled “Point Lobos Dreaming”.

For more information, and to help support this project please go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/point-lobos-dreaming-ltd-edition-handmade-book#/:

10% after 4 days! Thank you! Thank you for your continued support! I’m really excited about this project.

What is an artist book, or artists’ book, or artistic book? There are many ways to label it and many more types of artist/artists’/artistic books, which makes this type of book difficult to define. The type of book is recognizable, for the most part: hand made, looks different than the ‘typical’ mass-produced book, can use non-traditional material, and may even not look like a “book” at all. I’ll use the term artists’ book just to keep the typing to a minimum and to refer to the book as “artist owned”, meaning the artist took ownership in its creation by being the maker of all or nearly all of the book’s components; structure, design, content, appearance, from determining the size to cutting the paper to making the cover and hand-stitching the spine.

One predominant aspect of the artists’ book is this type of book tends to cross boundaries and preconceptions and definitions of what a book is, often using cross-disciplinary media and various modes of construction. Instead of the book being about art, or containing something artful, the book itself is an artwork. The book maker has total freedom and control in its production (which creates a bit of anxiety and fear as well as excitement in the artist, especially if the artist hasn’t explored this mode of artmaking before). One thing commonly agreed on; the artists’ book is not simply a book of artwork or a representation of an artist’s body of work, not a diary or sketchbook or blank book, even if it is handmade. Artist’s books are made to be interacted with, the same as with any other book form. Artists’ books are more often than not made in very limited editions compared to machine-printed books or even other limited edition artworks.

The artists’ book can be more deeply or expansively personal than other types of art because of the opportunity to include different media types, from the obvious writing to painting and drawing, photography, collage, augmented reality, even carving and sculpture. Any type of media can be incorporated into the artists’ book form and be used as an appropriate means of expression, as the artist demands. “Artists’ books exist at the intersection of printmaking, photography, poetry, experimental narrative, visual arts, graphic design, and publishing.” (https://blog.library.si.edu/blog/2012/06/01/what-is-an-artists-book/).

While book form has been around for centuries (3500 BC or so), the machine-printed book arrived in 1475 with the Gutenberg press, and artists’ book didn’t really come into being until the 1950s when European artists began experimenting with and exploring the book form. The artists’ book, like sculpture, printmaking, and photography before it, is having a tough time being accepted as a valid form of fine art, and many people have no idea this form of art even exists.

The books I will be making are not artists’ books according to that definition. They are handmade books, for sure, and there will be artistic aspects to them. But each type of book I make for this project are essentially the traditional book form. There may be a time, likely will be, that as I become more experienced with assembling the book form I will explore and experiment with an artists’ book. And it may be sooner than you or I think. I already have a concept for an artists’ book that I may try in the near future based on some photographs I made in the Redwoods of California, with the concept of landscape ecology, fire ecology, and a land ethic (a la Aldo Leopold).

Overall, the hand made book, the artists’ book, is another form of artistic expression and communication based on the artist’s experiences with the world. It’s a way to make the abstract visible or the visible abstract or to be completely and unambiguously literal.

“When we make something with our hands it changes the way we feel. The way we feel changes the way we think. The way we think changes the way we act.” — Carl Wilkens

Creativity

Being creative is one of the most multidisciplinary things a person can do. When making a photograph, you don’t just wave the camera around, randomly pressing the shutter release. Admittedly, you could do that if your intent was making abstract images. But, that’s not the usual practice. For all the parts involved in making a photograph to come together, even a mediocre photograph (a “snapshot” in the opinion of some), the photographer consciously and unconsciously dips into their internal resource of knowledge and experience, pulling inspiration from education and practice, other interests, from family, culture, and from occupations. The photographer actively and purposefully selects the subject, elements, arrangement of those elements in a pleasing and/or meaningful composition, and sets an exposure to achieve the result visualized in their mind. From the relative chaos of our surroundings photographers create the appearance of a selective world, define a visual space with boundaries in which we decide what is relevant, what is worthy of our attention, and what we want to bring to the attention of others. We select the elements of the story we want to tell and the meaning important to our intent.

Around 2500 years ago, philosophers began trying to answer the question “what is creativity?” Well, they’re still at it. And in the last 60 years or so the philosophers have been joined by neuroscientists who are attempting to tease creativity out of the cells of our brain and the wiring of our body. In all that time, there is still no agreement as to where creativity comes from or how it’s generated or a single definition of creativity. There are even different aspects of creativity: general creativity (as defined several ways), the creative person (who is a maker and/or thinker), the creative process (the process/steps in being creative), creative thinking (solving intellectual puzzles), and the creative object (which can be creative in and of itself in addition to being a created thing). What is, though, the essence of creativity? In this article I’ll be describing a definition of creativity, characteristics of the creative person, and the creative process.

In my research and through a bit of thinking on this question, a common denominator seems to form the foundation of creativity, in both humans and other animals: curiosity. The act of curious investigation involves a recognition and comprehension of things inside and outside our mind and body. The simplest definition of curiosity is exploratory behavior, the recognition that knowledge about something is missing which creates a desire to know and understand that missing information. Curiosity is seeking the answer to the question, “why, how, what?” and answering that question often relies on non-standard ways of finding out the answer; relies on the making of devices or formulas or ways of thinking or processes that previously didn’t exist. And humans are not alone in their quest for the answers to curiosity.

It’s a fact that the once held belief humans were advanced above other animals because we used tools and communicated has been debunked. We have to choose another criteria because in the last century we’ve discovered that birds, other primates, marine mammals, fish, and even invertebrates use tools, and often in a creative and innovative way once reserved strictly for us. The male bower bird of Australia builds an elaborate performance arena from grass and sticks, clearing an open “dance floor” then decorates his construction with specifically-colored items to attract females. Crows, ravens, and jays have been shown to possess advanced puzzle-solving skills equivalent to that of a 5-yr-old human child and even invent tools on the spot to solve those puzzles. Herring gulls and some hawk species drop hard-shelled prey onto hard surfaces to crack them open. Chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas use tools to get food from hard to reach places, use stones and sharp sticks as weapons, and leaves to make noises to warn of predators. Octopus have been observed using coconuts as “armor” against predators and for camouflage and their skill in figuring out how to escape enclosures is well known. Humpback whales expel air while rising from the deep in a circle to create nets of bubbles trapping fish they scoop up at the surface. So, curiosity leads to novel solutions to discovered “problems”. I put problems in quotes to refer to the general idea of solving puzzles or finding solutions, like how to get a termite out of its home, to eat, without destroying it so more termites will be available later, to eat, in the same place.

I mentioned earlier how creativity is more than a single thing, that creativity applies to people, processes, things, and thoughts. The definition of creativity is somewhat separate from the creative person, the conditions for creativity, and somewhat separate from the creative process, but let’s see if we can narrow down a definition of creativity to start with. Almost every definition agrees that creativity is the ability to bring various elements together that previously were related, unrelated, or believed to be unrelated to form something new or innovative, involving an agent (person), a process, and a product. Newness and innovation are important criteria in all the definitions I’m aware of. “Original” pops in now and then, too, but there’s a different discussion about originality, and a person, thing, or process can be creative without being original. Another aspect of creativity is the product must be of some value. The thing has to have some utility, which I think is meant to differentiate actual innovative creativity from things that are made for no other purpose than simply to be weird or shocking, or otherwise generally useless.

The creative person can refer to a person who devises or makes innovative and new things, or a person who lives a life outside of convention, conformity, and habit. These two characteristics are not exclusive to creatives, though many creative people, as I’m sure you’re aware, live lives somewhat different from the “norm”. There are four or five components to the creative person, as determined by observation and psychological study:

1) Openness to experience, the ability to recognize novelty and to seek out novelty. It’s the way the creative person views the world and the various situations that make up a given experience. It’s an awareness of how things are in an open, nonjudgmental way that allows for connections, juxtapositions, and nontraditional associations to be examined and explored. This is called observational learning by some authors working on the theory of creativity. Novelty and seeking out novelty has a significant impact on the brain and how we feel, both releasing amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine into our system, which makes us feel good. Our brain and body, once it tastes the “high” of dopamine can, in some people, enforce what we might call risky behavior like rock climbing or BASE jumping or car racing. For most of us, we don’t directly notice a sudden flood of euphoria but, when we make or do something that makes us happy, dopamine is one of the primary motivators to “encourage” us to try again.

2) An internal source of evaluation. The creative person values the creation based on internal criteria; Is this creation satisfying to me? Does it accurately express a part of me – my emotion(s), thoughts, interpretation of my experience and knowledge? The value of the creation isn’t based on external praise, validation, and criticism by others, by acceptance or rejection to one show or another, by sales numbers or mentions in the news, and not by likes and numbers of followers on social media. There’s an old saying that the harshest critic is yourself (or should be, though I’m not 100% behind that part, because as the harshest critic you could also be the worst). Self-evaluation is important to your growth as an artist, and there is an external component to that evaluation, to be sure. The primary self evaluation is “have I created something I intended, that meets the standards I set for myself, that has meaning to me and my experience with the world?” rather than “have I created something of value others have requested or others have told me I should be doing?”

3) Innovative behavior. The ability to see beyond form and function, beyond labels and categorizations, to be able to play spontaneously with ideas, colors, shapes, relationships, combining elements into impossible or previously unconsidered juxtapositions, to shape wild hypotheses and express the ridiculous (Albert Einstein once said “If at first the idea us not absurd, then there is no hope for it”), and to translate from one form to another the wild, nonjudgmental exploration of what if? Creativity is, in many ways, problem solving. Creative, innovative, behavior is risky. But without pushing boundaries we never know where that boundary lies or what potential lies beyond. History is full of individuals, partnerships, and groups who thought to themselves, “that’s interesting, what if…?” or “there’s got to be more to it than that…” I’m sure you can name several off the top of your head right now.

4) Interest. This is a characteristic I haven’t seen in the literature I’ve read so far, but one I feel is as important as the others. A person might be extremely talented, but what if they don’t have any interest to pursue or apply that talent in any way? We read about talented individuals who “just had to do it” as if compelled by some unseen force or internal mission. How many piano concertos or computer systems or architectural designs or theories of everything have never been made because the individual had the capability, but was more interested in something else? A couple relevant examples that come to mind is Ansel Adams, who was an accomplished, trained, concert pianist, but chose photography instead, and Henri Cartier-Bresson was an accomplished painter before switching to photography. What if Elon Musk wasn’t fascinated by transportation?

5) Dexterity. This is another characteristic not addressed in the literature. Is dexterity a characteristic or requirement for creativity? Must we be a Michael Jordan or Alex Honnold or Picasso or Beethoven to be considered creative? Certainly, some creative endeavors do require some physical skill and coordination; dance, rock climbing, basketball, playing the piano. But there is mental dexterity and dexterity of leadership; Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln. Included in this group are those with savant syndrome, who can solve complex equations in their head or play impromptu original musical scores without training, but not tie their shoes or tell you how much to pay for a hamburger. These people are no less creative, in my mind.

6) Knowledge/Experience. What you know and what you’ve experienced play a big role in being creative. Sometimes, not knowing anything can produce innovative results by not being caught up in the rut of “we’ve always done it that way”. I’ve had a couple jobs that I wasn’t as experienced as someone else might have been in that position, but being able to see processes from an outside perspective allowed me to make suggestions and change procedures to make improvements. But, in general, the wider your experience and knowledge the more likely you’ll be able to make those unconventional associations between unrelated or related elements. Throughout history, many of the most creative individuals had interest, experience, knowledge, in a broad range of subjects. Called polymaths, these people were (and are) philosophers, scientists, musicians, painters, chemists, mathematicians, all rolled into one, and through this broad range of exposure to different things were able to make connections that were unseen by specialists.

Being creative also involves some type of process, not just in the making or creation of the thing, but in the period of time leading up to and after. Nearly every study of the creative process concludes the same way: there are four stages to the creative process. They might use different terms to define the stages and slightly different descriptions of what happens in each stage, but they are essentially the same.

1) Inception/preparation/exploration. This is the stage where wild ideas are born. This is usually the point in the process that inspiration strikes you in the face, when you suddenly have an insight into associations you may never have consciously considered before. And, often, you’re not consciously aware of the mixing and thinking that goes on in your brain behind the scenes, putting things together like a puzzle with no picture to follow…..does this fit here? What about there? This process involves what has recently been discovered as the default mode network, the unconscious or subconscious brain processing that sometimes comes to our awareness when we’re not occupied thinking of other things or concentrating on an activity – like when we’re in the shower or taking a walk, watching television, or in the moments right before we wake up (or makes us sit up in bed in the middle of the night – better write it down or you’ll forget it!). We may also be inspired by a news report or movie or event we’ve witnessed, and this puts us on track to see where that inspiration leads. Sometimes we can visualize the end product, other times we’re heading down a blind alley. But there is always an initial idea or concept that propels us forward and keeps us moving.

2) Incubation/illumination/development/selection. This stage potentially incorporates separate, but related, processes. Each of the stages in the creative process are interactive in many ways, it’s seldom a linear path from beginning to end. Here is where we ask “will it work?” and “can I do it?” Do I have the skills to pull it off, can I learn these skills? do I have access to equipment needed? How much will it cost and where will I get the funds? It’s in this stage we sift through the various ideas and select the one we’d like to pursue. Maybe it’s the most interesting, or most challenging, the one we’re most prepared for and able to complete, or the one we’re finally at the stage of experience and knowledge to do it justice, to bring out the essence. It’s also the stage at which we’re most likely to quit. Answering our questions may reveal we’re not prepared, and self-doubt can creep in. We begin to feel isolated, anxious perhaps, about embarking on a new project. We tell ourselves, “nobody has done this before, maybe for good reason”, or “this has been done before, and much better”, “I’m foolish to pursue this, nobody will be interested”, “I’m not good enough to do it justice”, “I don’t have time.” These are strong thoughts and anxieties to overcome, but everyone has them, whether they admit to it or not. Most often what overcomes this anxiousness is the desire to communicate your idea or concept, especially to others who share your idea (even if the creator has to also create or imagine such a group).

3) Completion/verification. Completing the project depends on your personal evaluation: is it done? Has it answered the questions you intended to answer or asked the questions you wanted others to consider? Is it of the quality you envisioned? Will this be put out for others to see or is it only a stepping stone to something else and will be kept private? This is where external validation/feedback can come into play (also during the incubation stage), where you find out if your efforts translate to others the way you intended. While your creativity should primarily engage your own enjoyment (photographer Vivian Maier, is perhaps a recent example), there might be interest by others in your work that inspires you to keep expressing your creativity, and provide the funds to do so.

Creativity is complex. It can be argued that creativity is more highly developed in humans, yet other animal species exhibit profound creativity where it was once thought not to exist. There is in creative development a beginning, middle, and end, like any good story. We have to start somewhere on that journey, and each step forward adds something new, which may change the project entirely or improve it beyond previous imagination. That step forward always holds the potential for making things worse, too. And we either go back and try again, give up, or transform it into something else. The creative process, if I now include the creative person, the process, and the thing, is a contiguous process, each stage is connected to the previous and following stage. All along the way, elements are connected, discarded, discovered, often by their appearance, familiarity, placement, and perception of the element in space and time. Elements, like words in a poem, are associated by their similarity and by their structure – rhyme, rhythm – and other elements become contiguous because of common elements, like mathematical or chemical symbols. Anytime otherwise remotely related or unrelated ideas become related, a creative solution can be formed.

Blue Planet Photography 2019 Workshops

Here is my current line up of workshops for 2019. I will be adding maybe 2-3 more for 2019 as they become finalized and workshops for 2020. You can also stay current with my workshop and class offerings on my workshop page and by signing up for my monthly newsletter. Your subscription is only for the newsletter(s) you select and you will only receive communications from me via your selected newsletters. Links open in a new window.

White Sands National Monument photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

March 20-26
October 26-November 1

South Oregon Coast photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
South Oregon Coast

April 9-14

Monterey & Point Lobos photography workshop
Monterey & Point Lobos, California

April 15-20
August 18-23

Scotland, Isle of Skye photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Scotland, Isle of Skye

April 27-May 4

Iceland photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Iceland: Voyage to Another Planet

May 13-26
November 5-13

Dolomites, Italy, photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Dolomites, Italy

June 9-18
October 3-10

Tallgrass Prairie photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Tallgrass Prairie, Kansas

September 6-11

Acadia National Park, Maine photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Acadia National Park, Maine

September 25-October 1