Scotland : Senses & Perception Kickstarter Project

Today I launched a Kickstarter project to create a photo book (and other rewards) about how our senses & perceptions influence our photography and art (not just for photographers), showcasing the stunning and mysterious landscape of Scotland, which I’ll be visiting this summer.

Rewards for backing this project range from postcards mailed from Scotland, photographic prints, one-on-one photography instruction time with me, an 80+ page signed and numbered limited edition hardcover book, to a 4-day Idaho photo trip.

Please have a look at the project and support it if you can, at whatever level. If you can pass it on to your friends and any others who would be interested, I would appreciate it. Thank you!

Project Backers to date

A thank you to the supporters of this project. Unfortunately, it did not get fully funded. I initiated a second round at Indiegogo.com, and set it up to receive all funds contributed. I’ve detailed that effort in another post.

Steve
Michael Rolig
Barbara McClain
James Bishop
Betty and Ken Rodgers
David Young
Robert Vestal and Jyl Hoyt
Ben and Marcia Cartledge
Michael D. Margulies
Linda Lantzy
Marcia Morris
Bader Alawadhi
Diane Ronayne
Shari Hart
James R Cummins
Connie Gibbons
Kathleen Fitzgerald
Clarence H King III
Leslie & Gary Green

Blue Planet Photography Apparel – t-shirts

I’d like to offer these fun and inspirational photography and art-related t-shirts you can wear to express your artistic sentiments. The shirts are high quality, 100% cotton for comfort. Great for gifts, too! Available for $23 plus tax (if required) and shipping (if needed) in men’s and women’s sizes, S, M, L, XL i t-shirt colors of heather/ash or white with blue or black text (XXL and XXXL large also available for slightly more).

You can see the entire line and order here: http://www.blueplanetphoto.com/dir/apparel.html

Art Is Rebellion t-shirt with brushes

Art Is Rebellion t-shirt with brushes

Good Day Sir! t-shirt, heather with blue text

Good Day Sir! t-shirt, heather with blue text

Don't Hurry Be Curious t-shirt, heather/ash with blue text and camera graphic

Don’t Hurry Be Curious t-shirt, heather/ash with blue text and camera graphic

Breaking Barriers to Creative Vision t-shirt, white with blue text

Breaking Barriers to Creative Vision t-shirt, white with blue text

Neighborhoods Supporting Artists

Art often gets a bum rap. Well, I should be more specific and say art making often gets a bum rap. Making art is often viewed as something done for fun, a diversion from the day-to-day responsibilities of job and family. Art is something we do in our spare time, like reading a book or gardening. Unless, of course, you’re actually making a living at making art, then it’s ok and you can go about your business as a respectable member of the community without being asked when you’re going to finally get that “real job.” The artist character in movies, television, and literature is often portrayed as the loveable and talented but nonetheless jobless, irresponsible freeloader who sleeps on the couch at a friend’s house. Some even say making art, and funding it, is a waste of time and money. I should also say I’m referring to art in the context of this article mostly as works created by an individual artist through his/her own passion, voice, and creativity, not commercial art created for a particular audience.

We occasionally attend plays, concerts and exhibits and watch artistic television and movies, saunter down to the local pub to hear the latest band, or purchase art from galleries and individual artists. Otherwise, as a society and as individuals we are generally not engaged with artists or making art on a regular basis. Our individual participation in the arts is minimal and from a distance: “We have become a society composed almost entirely of audience” (Ted Orland, artist & author). As a society, we relegate the responsibility of the support of the arts to the government as a common good, or to the consumer as a commodity. These two forms of validation leave out the majority of art makers who create works because they love it, not because they’re getting paid. And, in times of financial or political uncertainty the arts are usually the first to suffer because art is perceived as an elective rather than a necessity, as a hobby rather than a pathway to greater understanding, creativity, and innovation, as an after-school activity to keep kids occupied until parents get off work rather than a means to bridge cultural understanding.

But, according to the The Global Agenda Council on the Role of Arts in Society 2012

The arts exert a powerful influence on the development of societies. Artists often challenge commonly-held perspectives with innovative thinking, raise awareness of social issues, break down barriers to cross-cultural understanding and global dialogue, and inspire creative ideas.

If art is important to the development of societies, yet art funding is unpredictable and insufficient, and art is not viewed as an important pursuit, what encourages people to set aside time to doodle, write a poem, walk in the park, paint a picture, or photograph?

Artist and author Ted Orland, in his book The View from the Studio Door, brings it home when he writes

Art is not made by a special breed of people, but by ordinary people who have dedicated a piece of their lives to special work… Artists are regular people who work all the time, and lead real lives all the time as well… The need for more art in the community is not nearly so great as the need for more artists in the community. Every neighborhood should support a musician or two, a painter or two, a writer or two.

I suggest “artist” refers to anyone who makes art, dedicated individuals and “part-time artists” alike; adults and children. Many, if not all, neighborhoods have a local artist living there or at least nearby. They may not call themselves an artist, but it is someone who paints, draws, knits or quilts, makes scrapbooks, wood toys or builds kites. What if neighborhoods engaged with their local artist(s) to have them teach about their art, supported and encouraged their art making, and neighborhood residents became more active making their own art as a result? What if the neighborhood artist, supported by the neighborhood, inspired a neighborhood of artists?

What does neighborhood support of an artist look like? How about hiring the artist to lead after-school programs, to give demonstrations in the local park, neighborhood musicians getting together in the park or on a cul-de-sac for an evening concert or jam session. A neighborhood art show, play or outdoor movie night? And support doesn’t always mean money. “Artists need to feel they have the support of the community in their art making efforts; if not for what they have already achieved, then for the potential they represent” (Ted Orland). What about working with city and state arts organizations to engage neighborhood children in creating public art where they live? Could a neighborhood be inspired to support neighborhood artists? If a neighborhood doesn’t have a local artist nearby, arts organizations and clubs may have a list of artists you can contact.

In Toronto, Ontario, the Neighbourhood Arts Network works with communities to show

The arts are a powerful tool in building and sustaining successful neighbourhoods. Community-engaged art making is a unique and effective approach to community building that fosters relationships between artists and residents while producing exciting, unique art, and nurturing mentoring opportunities. The result is a dynamic explosion of creativity that changes how art is made, how communities are built, and how we live together.

In Lowell, Massachusetts a neighborhood created a public art piece that involved local children.

In Taos, New Mexico, the Harwood Museum of Art set up Neighborhood Arts Projects that went to neighborhoods to bring art to children and families during the summer months. There’s nothing stopping a neighborhood from doing something similar on its own with their local artist.

In Detroit, a neighborhood of abandoned homes was turned into an art gallery that changed the character of the area for the better.

Back to Toronto, a city that created Neighborhood Arts Hubs (NAHs) that act as catalysts for projects, link artists and residents, offer meeting and networking space, and generally promote the cultural activities in the neighborhood. NAHs are designed to act as a resource and to support a spectrum of arts activity, not compete with community art programs already happening. NAHs cooperate and complement the work of other NAHs including libraries, health centers, schools, and after-school programs.

How can this be done? Where will the funding come from? Your projects don’t need to be expensive. There are many art projects that can be done with items found around the house. Neighbors could collect materials from their own homes to provide for projects. There are many sources for funds that can be found working in collaboration with your artists. State, county, and city arts agencies provide grants, so do foundations like The Knight Foundation. Several outlets for crowd-sourcing funds are out there like www.kickstarter.com, http://crowdfunding.com/, www.indiegogo.com, and www.razoo.com. Neighborhoods can self-fund projects entirely or in part through their own fundraising efforts. Your local arts council/agency and community centers will be very happy to work with you and your artist(s) to help find sources, write grants, and build your neighborhood art community.

As an artist, explore the possibility with your neighbors. As a neighbor, explore the possibility with an artist you know. I’m pretty sure it’ll be fun, challenging, and beneficial to everyone who participates (and probably even to those who don’t).

When you make art, you are making the world a better place. Everything that happens afterwards, whether to you or to your art or to society, flows directly from that initial act” – Ted Orland

In Photography, Timing is [Almost] Everything

In photography classes, workshops, seminars, casual gatherings, magazine articles, blogs, Tweets, and Facebook posts there is much ado about the appearance of a photograph. We talk and debate on the merits of the use of a small aperture or large, this lens or that lens, Photoshop versus Gimp versus Lightroom, the use of this shutter speed or that one, color or black & white, right subject or wrong subject….the list goes on. Now and then, someone will make the comment “you were there at the right time.”

A photograph is formed by light. It’s the light and its direction, color, brightness, absorption and reflection that gives us the ability to see the things we see, and the colors, shapes, forms, and gesture make the photo appealing to our eyes and emotions. Overall, the photograph is an interpretation by the photographer of what was seen and/or felt emotionally at the time. When we look at a photograph the photographer hopes they’ve accomplished their task to allow us to see what they saw and maybe experience in some way a sense of “being there”. While the visual aspect of a photograph is important to the viewer, timing drives a successful or unsuccessful image.

You’ve probably heard or read the popular phrases “F8 and Be There” and “the Decisive Moment“, both terms coined back in the hey-day of photography. You probably understand their meaning, and maybe even used them to describe one of your photographs or a photograph you’ve looked at. These phrases embody one philosophy of photography almost to the exclusion of all other aspects of creating a photograph. If a picture is a little blurry or a bit too dark or too light, but captures an important occurrence or captivates the viewer in some way, we’re more forgiving than when the picture is of a more mundane subject rendered sharply. Of course, we will probably mutter “I wish it was in better focus”, but a photograph of an important moment at the right instant captures that moment forever and blurry or not people will probably still be impressed, and even more so if all the technical aspects are met. But even the technically perfect photo capturing the moment just before or just after the critical instant pales in comparison to the less-perfect one made “at the right time”.

“F8 and Be There” is believed to have been coined by the famous photojournalist and street photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig), though some say the source was photographer Allen Hopkins. We’ll probably never know for sure. The general philosophy behind “F8 and Be There” is by using an aperture of F8 (or thereabouts; in general, a small aperture) you’re likely to have a generous depth of field to ensure all the important elements are in focus. And you have to “be there” to get the shot. Photographer Jay Maisel also said, “If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.” Regardless of the technical details of camera settings, if you’re not “out there shooting” you won’t be there when things happen, you won’t get the (or any) shot, and you’ll only hear the stories from the people who were (and probably see their photographs, too).

The Decisive Moment is a term described by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson as “…the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.” The awareness of activity and moments surrounding us and the ability to predict (pre-visualize, in a sense) what will happen next, as well as preparedness in the face of pure dumb luck, is what helps create a good to great photograph. The photos below illustrate this concept. The first photo is the iconic Decisive Moment image by Cartier-Bresson called “Behind the Gare Saint Lazare”. Try to imagine the impact of this photograph if the man was more or less blurry. Think about the timing that went into the making of this photo, the prediction of when the man’s foot would enter the water and the near instantaneous calculation of the shutter delay between pressing the shutter release and the opening of the shutter. In most SLR (single lens reflex) photography in which the photographer looks into the viewfinder and through the lens, the photographer never sees the shot in the viewfinder. The view is always obscured by the mirror when it flips up away from the opening shutter (except in a very small number of pellicle mirror cameras). Cartier-Bresson used a rangefinder camera where the viewfinder is offset from the lens, not looking through it, allowing the photographer to see the action during the exposure. The use of the rangefinder camera gave Cartier-Bresson better advantage in capturing the decisive moment because he could watch events unfold through the viewfinder and more accurately predict when to press the shutter to capture the single exposure. Today, we have continuous motor drives shooting 8 – 14 frames per second and many photographers adopting the “spray and pray” method, hoping within the mass of exposures that they “got it.”

The next photo is “Fire Escape Collapse” by Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Stanley Forman. This photo is a prime example of “right place, right time” coupled with preparation and awareness. Forman, as he arrived on scene, was listening to what was going on and heard a call for a ladder truck because there were people trapped on the fire escape at the back of the building. He chose a position on top of the firetruck as the best position to view what was expected to be a routine rescue. But, as the rescue ladder was positioned, the fire escape gave way. Forman was able to shoot two exposures as the woman and child fell. The story of the fire escape collapse photograph is Here.

All the technical skill available is next to useless if you’re not “at the right place at the right time”; the coming together of light, subject, moment, viewpoint, and technique.

Being There can encompass many things:

* the time of day, season, or year/decade
* serendipity (simple luck)
* hard work, research, and preparation
* juxtaposition (the arrangement of elements in the photo)
* being aware enough to capture a gesture or emotion
* selecting a shutter speed to show or stop motion
* positioning yourself at a good viewpoint (to boost serendipity and juxtaposition)
* understanding what’s happening so you’re able to think ahead and anticipate what’s coming next, etc.

The right place and the right time may only last a second, so you have to be ready. Cartier-Bresson masterfully describes it:

The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box
and
Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on Earth which can make them come back again

We’ve all “partly been there”, when we’re in the right place but the wrong time, at the right time but the wrong place, or have selected the wrong camera settings for the situation. Bringing the primary conditions of “right place” and “right time” together takes work, knowledge, practice and patience, and experience teaches us to identify when that moment occurs or is about to. To put ourselves in a position to maximize our “luck” and Be There at the Decisive Moment we likely need to do some serious and in-depth research on our subject or subject matter, acquire special access and/or permits, learn new skills (photography and non-photography-related), hike or drive long distances, climb hills, cliffs, trees or buildings, stand, sit, or lie down for long periods of time, or generally spend hours, days, or longer waiting, waiting, waiting. Or, it can happen in front of us in nearly an instant. A good percentage of the time, however, “being there” is simply being aware of your surroundings because opportunities for good and great photographs happen all around us all the time. We have to be ready for the unexpected and prepared for the long haul. And, once the moment arrives we need to have the technical skills to accurately capture the moment the way we intend to interpret it.

An interview with Ted Orland, co-author of Art & Fear

Ted Orland is also the author of The View from the Studio Door, a kind of sequel to Art & Fear (but not really).

In this online 2006 interview, found at The Well, Mr. Orland talks about his early years as a budding photographer and artist attending Ansell Adams workshops, studying the photographic history of Yosemite, his association with photographers such as Sally Mann, David Bayles, Chris Johnson, Robert Langham and Boone Morrison, among others. Also discussed is the philosophy behind the new book, The View from the Studio Door.

There are multiple pages to this interview, but well worth the time to read.

The passing of an artform: SX-70 Manipulation

And The Angels Bled
Polaroid SX-70 manipulation by Mike Shipman

I knew it was inevitable. A 30-yr old film generally hanging on by a
thread from the beginning, in terms of its “flaw”, then being
championed by artists all over the world, creating the market so
Polaroid would keep the “flaw” intact (for the most part) and artists
could exploit it for decades. Now, Polaroid has said they will end
production of Time Zero film in the first quarter of 2006.

You can read the notice below, which I lifted from the Polaroid website at
www.polaroid.com/sx70/en/index.html

***
Please be advised that Polaroid will be discontinuing the manufacture
of its SX-70 / Time-Zero film within the first 3 months of 2006 due
to the phasing out of components used in the production of this film.

We realise that this is disappointing news for our loyal SX-70 users
and we would like to underline that, although the circumstances made
it inevitable, it was not an easy decision.

We are very sorry for the inconvenience.

For customers who would like to continue using their SX-70 camera, we
can offer some film alternatives below. However, we do appreciate
that these films do not offer the same characteristics as SX-70 /
Time-Zero film.
***

SX-70 film, now called Time Zero film, came out in 1972 with the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera, a folding Polaroid that, for its day, was the most advanced camera on the market. The film had one “flaw”. The emulsion did not harden as quickly as it was supposed to, allowing artists using various tools to push and smear the dye and base layers around to create impressionistic-looking, or “painterly” images. Sometimes called SX-70 manipulation (a long term), altered SX-70, painterly photography, or a variety of other terms, the essential description is that it is done by hand. Some people continue the process through digital manipulation or painting/drawing over the Mylar cover with oils, acrylics, or inks, or otherwise embellishing the image. I tend to prefer the straight altered image. I do scan the originals and enlarge them for printing, but I don’t do any further manipulation.

Since the original film has depth (in that the emulsion is composed of several layers) the altered image also has depth, which can accentuate the feeling of depth in the image and also be apparent under certain lighting conditions and viewing angles. A print, although striking when enlarged, lacks this dimensional component.

Being only 3″ x 3 1/8″, the film has a small working area, so tools and timing are important in creating the effects desired. However, in reality you’re not ever really sure what you’ll end up with once you start bacause the work is done in real time, you create more or less on the fly. Environmental conditions, mental and emotional state, relationship to the subject, tools used, among others, all play a role in how the final piece turns out.

Blue
Polaroid SX-70 manipulation by Mike Shipman

The process starts once the exposure is made and the film is passed through the rollers, squeezing the developer across the film. The development can be arrested by putting the film at that point into the freezer, but I like working on the image “live”, at the moment. I have a “toolkit” of manipulators that I carry with me, but I will also use found items on site. Sometimes, I will use only found items, then discard them once the image is done, thereby preserving the effect on the original.

I create 2 types of original SX-70 manipulation. By original I mean that the manipulations done are different for each image created, no two being the same. Much like 2 paintings of the same subject.

The first original is created with the Polaroid SX-70 camera. This results in a “true original” in that the image cannot generally be repeated. The image is shot with the camera, the film is processed on the spot following the exposure, and the manipulation of the image is done at that same point in time.

The second original is done using 35mm slide film and a slide printer (Daylab). For this I am using a 35mm transparency and exposing the SX-70 film with that image, similar to how a print is made in a darkroom using a negative and enlarger. The image is then altered after the film is exposed. In this case, several different original “versions” of the same image can be made; originals in that each separate image is manipulated using different techniques, pressures, emphasis, etc. Using the 35mm (now digital) camera allows for more flexibility in lens choice, lighting options, shooting conditions, etc. To effectively work the emulsion on the Polaroid film, the temperature of the film needs to be above 80 degrees (F), so wintertime manipulations are tricky at best. Enterprising artists have come up with ingenious mobile heating devices to allow for manipulations to be done in less than optimal conditions.

So, this art form will be disappearing (new creations anyway) in 2006. Unless another lab can replicate or purchase the “recipe” from Polaroid to continue production. I’ve been buying as much film as I can to build up my library of SX-70 work. I’ll definitely miss it.

To see more of my SX-70 work, go to