Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The short answer is "Holy Shit Yes" (and yes, indeed, that is the shortest possible answer, period). I'll start with Friday.
It had been nearly 7 years since we last saw each other, so the initial passing of life stories was of course in order. More than that, however, this introductory phase served as an easy mode test bed for a critical part of my business plan which emphasizes not passing through clients rapidly, but rather developing a comfortable, familiar relationship with the client first, something which is both conducive to the portrait shoot itself by merit of making the process feel casual and natural, but opens up future opportunity to work with the client again as a preferred photographer. Now, of course, working with Allyson was easier than trying the same with a complete stranger given our history, but with enough time having passed since our last face to face the need was still there to break into that zone of comfort prior to the engagement of the portrait shoot. And it worked out famously. We spoke of her college time, her plans in life of saving money and buying a house, family and relationship situations... we quickly made our way to frank, honest confessions to one another, and that is the critical point at which a portrait shoot has the utmost potential to ascend into genuine art, not simply forced expression.
To date I've only worked with perhaps a half dozen models who've connected on such a pertinent mental wavelength. Granted, most of the time, I don't go out of my way to establish that communion of mental states, however Allyson would be the first person I've ever attempted to establish that connection with very deliberately, and seeing the fruits of our collaboration in this portrait session, it is without a doubt the most critical facet to the success of an artistically considered portrait shoot. To that end, I thank Allyson for our session last Friday if for no other reason than for opening up that critical insight via hard, deliberate testing (although the portraits themselves are exceptionally gorgeous too, gotta say).
... Then Saturday happened.
Ren Garczynski, purveyor of Random Eye Candy Photography and owner of dedicated studio space at Baltimore's Graffiti Warehouse, a very, well, "Baltimorian" art studio venue that encourages rampant graffiti murals and all levels of high glamor studio photography, invited me to attend their holiday open house. The premise was simple enough - $20 for photographers, $5 for models, pay your way in and you have 6 hours in which to link up with models, utilize community backdrops, props and portrait lights, and go to town creating vogue photographic art. I walked into the place Saturday afternoon expecting a collection of the lost and confused wandering around afraid to mingle and network. Whew, was I wrong... instead I walked into a party.
One element really stood at the forefront of the separation of myself from all other photographers there, however. I would venture to guess that easily 90% of the photographers around me were shooting models with kit zooms, amateur (by which I mean sub-$1000) CaNikon DSLR bodies and direct, occasionally diffused shoe mounted flashes. In other words, the standardized, homogenous setup "expected" of all "serious" photographers. Meanwhile, I'm happily strutting along with my Micro Four Thirds Olympus E-P3 with a fast prime 45mm f/1.8 mounted on the front and no viewfinder to speak of barring a rear OLED LCD screen. It could be argued that I was the venue's iconic minimalist. And as hipster of me as it is to feel a sense of pride in that status... I don't know, I think my results with such minimalist gear stand up well on their own.
Perhaps it's time to take some courses...
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Photography, and what defines a photo of artistic-grade aesthetic value, is both fickle and maddeningly nebulous. It is the nature of a non-quantitative thing to be impossibly abstract and reluctant to be weighted down by something so mundane as "definition". Thus the selection process I employ when sifting through my photographs for the "keepers" buried amongst the snaps is... difficult.
My habits when sitting down at the computer at the end of a day of shooting are predictable and brutally consistent. Rip the photos onto the hard drive, pop open Adobe Bridge and peek through them one by one. What is horribly inconsistent, however, is what exactly I'm looking for. The night of a shoot I will have in my mind exactly what I'm excited to review and edit in post, the compositions I stopped to think out carefully on a venture with the direct intent to produce art. Eager to share them, I will punch through editing in a couple hours of miserable repetition and upload them to Flickr, distribute them into groups and sit back with the giddy "Look at me and what I did" anticipation of a toddler.
But then there's a phase that creeps up after.
Now, they aren't always pretty. Such fleeting moments require sloppy spur of the moment reaction, and the attempt to capture that moment isn't necessarily success. But if you're quick enough, if the planets align in that moment and the light is right and the camera is set and the camera is trained on the scene, sometimes that moment is captured beautifully. BUT, assuming the occurrence of a miracle allowed that passing moment to be captured, that memory photographically recorded... is it art?
I sit down with a couple glasses of vodka/rum/whiskey/what have you. Magic happens.
Not even my active conscious can deny them consideration anymore. I see relationships and shapes and lines and colors and tones and expressions and suddenly they are the most beautiful images I've ever seen, often embodying memories I'd cast aside for sake of the pursuit of "higher art". And in those moments I wonder what it is that defines the art-value to begin with. There are two sides to me, both with grossly different appeals but due appreciation for each other. The sobered, rigid, detail oriented clear mind and this spontaneous, flimsy yet emotionally intuitive mind. Which one is the artist here? And under what instinct does a snapshot meet the standards of "art" to this subconscious drive?
The answer is elusive. Maybe I need a drink to find it.
We met up early in the morning, on the brink of twilight just before sunrise would blanket the landscape with golden light. Our itinerary had only one specific location set firmly in stone, the rest of the trip being much more wishy-washy and open to spur of the moment ideas. Though an enjoyable and very much fruitful venture, I find myself wanting to take it again on the sooner rather than the later. It felt like a dry run, a first impression of the subject, and with knowledge now of what works and what doesn't, the second trip would be an assured tapping into a photographic gold mine.
On the subject of the "what works" elements I discovered in my dry run shooting, I actually tapped into something of a lost art that benefited my exterior shooting especially. Back when I was still sitting squarely in the Nikon camp (good lord, am I glad I'm done with those days of brand elitism), filter use seemed like an obvious route to go down. I was still in the habit of applying UV filters to all my lenses (again, so glad I'm not longer following antiquated practices), and every time I'd run to Ritz to pick up a new multi-coated piece of crappy glass I'd see what else was in their 52mm filter stock. My filter collection was pretty considerable by the time I realized I was never using the damn things, laden with starbursts and diffuse and neutral densities and polarizers. Ridiculous. Except for two - the NDs and the polarizers.
How I could forget how gorgeously polarizer use affects skies is beyond me. The effect is simply delicious, and with on-board bias of white balance favoring the warm, the exposures didn't suffer the ugly blue cast typical of all Quantaray filters (the cheapest of the cheap). Sharpness was unaffected because I wasn't forcing an image through a UV prior to the polarizer like I had done for years on my Nikon equipment (seriously, if you're using a UV, TAKE IT OFF). The skies, my god, the skies... they just looked... GOOD.
Some time down the road I would do well to purchase a polarizer and ND set from a more respectable filter maker, B&W of maybe Tiffen. But in the mean time, I'll deal with on-camera filter fault correction.