Monday, July 26, 2010

Let's Put on a Show!

It’s fascinating to watch Rich develop the paintings he has posted here. I'm always asking Rich “How did you do that?” and seeing the paintings in various stages gives some idea of the techniques he used and the effort put forth.

As I look forward to the September show, I have different challenges as a photographer. Rich is looking to finish the works and increase the number of completed paintings. I’m largely done shooting, and am now in the post-capture phase. I need to pare down what I’ve shot to create the best possible exhibit.

This is a real struggle for me. I only want to present my best work, but often a series of photos tells a more complete story. There is a tyranny of vision if I only choose one or two images – that is all people get to see, and I can rarely tell a whole story with one or two images. That is why I’ve grown to really love this blog, as I can show more images and provide more information than I can at the gallery.

This exhibit is not a documentary, but rather a collection of fine art images around a theme. I do not therefore feel obligated to capture every interesting roadside attraction in New Jersey. I do feel obligated, however, to leave viewers with an overall impression of the some of the unusual and interesting things that make this state so unique.

When I mount an exhibition like this around a theme, I gather all the possible images on the computer to see how things look together. Sometimes I layout the images on a virtual wall, sometimes not. Last year Rich and I interspersed our work and it made for some very interesting juxtapositions. We will likely try this again this year.

Things get interesting when I have the images gathered and I see patterns and omissions. It’s not until this point that I get a sense of what the exhibit will really feel like. I may find, for example, that I have a lot of photos of buildings. Are they interesting enough? Too similar? Is it exhibit about the building or how it fits in the landscape? Are there people interacting with the building? Typically, when I’m shooting at a location, I’ve got close-ups, long shots, abstractions, and photos with people. The images I choose to tell a story determine what people feel.

I’m convinced the subject of the work is more important in photography than other mediums. It doesn’t matter so much if VanGogh paints a night sky or sunflower. Its how he paints it that people react to. But typically a photo of a night sky or a photo of a sunflower will first remind viewers of a night they spent outside or a sunflower in their grandmother’s garden before they react to the artistry. All photos start with light bouncing off a real object.

So, I believe the subject is important. And no subject is more fascinating than people. Photos of yourself are the most fascinating, followed by photos of those you know and then animals. Photos of people are so expected, in fact, that I find photo exhibits without a single person or even an animal to be rather stark, cold, and removed, although this is sometimes exactly the point.

Once I’ve settled on the images to include, I start to think about the final presentation. I don’t do a lot of after-capture manipulation, but I begin to think about how to crop the individual photos and whether I want them to be in black and white or color. And what kind of black and white and color? Bold colors, muted colors, sepia toned, stark black and white, or black and white with softer gray tones are all options. I usually have a very clear idea when I shoot, but sometimes change my mind when I look at a series of images later. It’s more about setting a mood or telling a story than it is about right or wrong.

I’m already struggling with one aspect of this exhibition, and that is the sense of time. I’ve got images that aren’t exactly timeless, but look like they could have been taken yesterday or fifty years ago. I’m trying to decide whether it’s more interesting to emphasize this by giving the images a timeless quality, or whether it’s more interesting to make them look modern and hope people see “that the more things change the more they stay the same”.

Finally, the subject of scale comes into play. I’m always amazed how some images just seem to look right or wrong at certain sizes. Sometimes the size is dictated by technical factors like sharpness or details in the shadows. Usually, however, I print to the size that has the kind of impact I'm looking for.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Progress on a Few Pieces

Posted by Rich- Crunch time is quickly approaching as I work on pieces for the New Jersey Blues Show. I have everything at least drawn out on paper or board now, and have been concentrating on the pieces for the triptych. Here is what the individual parts of the triptych look like now; I’ll post more as pictures as I get more accomplished…

I usually work in watercolor on paper, but I thought it would be nice to render this particular subject in acrylics on board. I've been working on them while I teach a summer course on animation, and acrylics dry fast and are durable enough to carry back and forth on the train to Philadelphia. I like shooting the progress pictures and seeing the changes that take place; sometimes it's kind of shocking to see how they look when I've just started to how they appear now, even just halfway finished.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Decisions, Decisions…

Posted by Rich-It’s been about 6 months since I began driving around New Jersey, taking reference photos, and working on sketches for the New Jersey Blues exhibition; now it’s time to get some of the artwork finished.

It is always hard to decide exactly which images I want to pour my blood, sweat, and tears into… and the past few days it has been mostly sweat, with the temperature getting close to 100 degrees and no rain for a few weeks…

I have to make some hard decisions, stop visiting locales in The Garden State, and work in my studio ( near the air conditioner!) . The biggest problem is making a commitment to an image that I want to finish without getting distracted by other subjects, so a self-placed moratorium on getting new pictures is now in effect.

I hope I will not get “inspired” by an entirely new subject between now and September 1st, so I am leaving my camera at home and keeping my short attention span focused on what I have in my studio.

From my various reference pictures, I have it narrowed down to about 15 images I hope to get finished. The pieces I am working on for the exhibition are mostly watercolors, with many of the images already penciled faintly onto watercolor paper, waiting to be stretched. I am also working on a triptych using acrylics on board.

I like working with acrylics because they dry fast. The quick drying time of the medium irritates many artists who prefer the slower drying of oil paints, but the speedy drying time allows for portability of the work and lessens the chance that I will rest my elbow on a still-wet oil painting while working on it. I am teaching classes while working on these pieces, and often carry them back and forth on the train to Philadelphia with me; I think my fellow passengers may appreciate the fact that they also won’t risk resting their elbows on a slow drying oil painting as well.

The three works shown are the starts of the “Trenton Triptych” based on photos I took over time while riding the New Jersey Transit line to New York City. I am fascinated not only by the large structures that remain as a vestige of industry in the Rustbelt of the Northeast, but also by the houses and neighborhoods that surround them. I think of what it must have been like to grow up in a house that was one or two blocks away from a working factory; from what I have seen of the remains of these old neighborhoods, it appears that there were often several factories and industrial sites interspersed among the residential houses. I also wonder what it must be like presently living with a large, decaying structure like this on your street, or just a few blocks away. Is there a hope that it will someday soon be demolished, or perhaps revived into a working factory once again? Perhaps these buildings remain standing and await gentrification and repurposing in the future. It wasn’t too long ago when you could not imagine parts of New York City as safe residential and shopping areas, but some of those same sections are now quite chic and prohibitively expensive to live in. Hopefully, some of these old factory buildings will survive long enough to see another life as well.

Actually got the sky painted in on this one...

Lost and Found

In South Jersey, I came across a complex of warehouses that had some unusual writing on them. They were covered in folksy sayings like "A friend is one who comes to you when all others leave" and "Some people give and forgive others get and forget" Another building says "May you live all the days of your life" and "The door to the human heart can only be opened from the inside" One of my favorites is "A friend is one who knows all about you and still likes you".
I have no idea what they are doing here. We've been writing on our living spaces since we were cavemen, and it still serves the same purpose - to share what we think is important, and to convince others that they should consider it important too. In a time when we are bombarded with advertising messages, it seemed pretty wonderful to me that someone decided to put these on the side of their buildings.
This graffiti is worn and faded, but it was clearly applied with care and a sense of design. There is a Pennsylvania German feel to the lettering, in a kind of fraktur script. There is a recurring star design that serves as a visual anchor.
To me, this is no different than any spray painted graffiti one sees alongside the highway or railway. They are both attempts to change how people look at the world, and a scream that says "I was here, and this is the way I think the world should be" They are very much a protest against the status quo. A lot of thought went into the message and the execution.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

NJ: Where the Buffalo Roam

Last weekend I witnessed the buffalo herds crossing the mighty plains of Flemington. Readington River Buffalo Company has a small herd and sells buffalo meat here throughout the year. You can also get it at restaurants around the state.

The buffalo (or bison, if you prefer) are actually a bit skittish and ran away from me. I didn't think they were paying much attention once they were a safe distance away. But looking at the photos, I could see that most of them were keeping an eye on me.