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Olaf Willoughby

The Creative Space, Part One

Imagine yourself in a favourite photo location. Maybe for you that is Street shooting in Bangkok or Brooklyn. Or for this post I’ve chosen a beautifully backlit waterfall in Iceland. You excitedly pull out your camera and start shooting. You already know that you’ll get at least some good images. You smile inside at the expectation of processing, posting and printing. Right. Job done. Where to next?

This is a well trodden path which produces some great images and good friendships. But this time let’s not rush off. Instead let’s pause, rewind and consider some alternative scenarios. Consider that location as an empty ‘creative space’ waiting to be filled with an interpretation.

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Now imagine a painter walks into that scene. How would she see the light, the movement and the colours? She has the advantage of being able to add and subtract elements on the spot whereas photographers can mostly only do that in post processing. Which elements might she accentuate and how?

Now rewind and imagine a poet enters the same creative space. He has more leeway to convey the full sensory impressions; the deafening sound of the waterfall and the delicate touch of the spray. The poet might consider how in Iceland it is easy to feel a deep connection to the elemental forces of nature. How trolls might live in the rocky recesses of the mist covered mountains. Is there a photographic equivalent to this kind of inspiration?

Finally, rewind again and imagine you are a composer entering the space. What kind of mood could you conjure up with the full complement of musical instruments at your disposal, ? How do you capture the majesty of a landscape? As Gustav Mahler said when a colleague enthused about the view of the lake and mountains from his cabin at Attersee in Austria, ‘Don’t bother looking at the view – I have already composed it’. How can we approach a fuller sense of the potential of the scenes in front of our cameras?

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You get the point. When we are in our personal photographic creative spaces we are seeing only one small part of the creative whole. A good analogy would be our eyesight where visible light is only a small part of the total electromagnetic spectrum, only one version of reality. There is more to be seen.

Similarly each of the artists above will interpret the magic of that creative space in very different ways. Whilst this is a simple point to understand intellectually, very few of us are skilled in a variety of artistic disciplines. So to expand into any of these spaces seems in practice almost impossible.

And this is one of the much debated issues in photography as an art form. The instrument itself is quite limited. Yes we can stray into impressionism with camera movement, into the surreal with multiple exposures and blend modes and into metaphor with ‘equivalents’ (http://www.moma.org/ collection/works/44200?locale=en)

But these are ‘technical’ solutions and only slightly change how we think about and see our images. So how can we bring some of that artistic inspiration available to other disciplines, back into photography? How can we enlarge the creative spaces we inhabit to energise our work?

There is a way that Eileen McCarney Muldoon and I have developed and teach in our workshop, ‘Visual Conversations’. The principles are covered in part two of this post to be published next weekend.

Meantime if you’d like more information on the workshop please check here:

Visual Conversations

July 10th – 16th, Maine Media College, Rockport, USA

Aug 23rd – 25th, Leica Studio, London, UK 

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After being featured in Lens Work magazine Jerry Grasso’s Moorish Influences goes on to be exhibit at Photosynthesis in Manchester, CT from March 12 – April 9, 2016. The opening reception is Saturday, March 12, 5–7 pm.

“Jerry Grasso’s photography depicts the progression of the Moorish architectural influences from the Great Mosque at Córdoba to the final grandeur of Islamic art in the Alhambra, the magnificent palace/fortress of Granada.  Ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns form the basis of the architectural influences of Moorish history in southern Spain.”

Find out more about Jerry Grasso here.

Explore more Alumni Success Stories here.

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Alumnus Michael J Quinn was recently interviewed and his work featured on Phoblographer.

Here’s an excerpt.

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“When you’re surrounded by so much awesome beauty from nature, how to do control yourself and not take pictures of everything?”

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“In the beginning, I did take pictures of everything. Not uncommon for me to shoot 10,000 images during a week trip, which is way too much. It makes editing and pairing down images almost impossible. The sorting process becomes daunting and thus does not get done. It is only after repeated trips and mentoring by both John Paul Caponigro and Seth Resnick, that I have begun to see better in the field. Make much fewer captures but at the same time increase the quality of the images that I am capturing. I am able to pre delete images before capture. That is to say that I can mentally edit.

Is this shutter click going to result in at least a 3 star image? If not, don’t click. This is a learned trait and must be practiced. I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress. During my recent 4 week trip to the Arctic, I shot less than 5,000 images. This makes the editing process much easier.

I have more confidence in my abilities which plays a role too. I have the confidence that I can capture the scene with enough depth of field, exposure and focus. Slowing the capture process helps as well. If there is time, taking a moment to really look deeply at a subject, interpret my emotional response to a scene and then make the capture. Having a plan also helps in the capture process. Plan out what type of story or stories that you have going and where the holes are in your story. Then when you are in the field you have a shot list of images that you are looking for. It makes it much easier to sort through the chaos in the field and find the gems. You have to be prepared for the new opportunities that arrises as well – like when a Polar Bear pops his head out around a rock, but having a plan will focus your attention. Reviewing while in the field is also a valuable tool. You can confirm that your technique is working. You can look for new patterns and themes in your images. Finding new stories to tell is always exciting.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

Learn more about Michael J Quinn here.

Read more Alumni Success Stories here.

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Alumni Doug Eng discusses his new exhibit Streaming South.

“Last spring, paddling a kayak became the first steps of my journey home. My birthplace and residence is Jacksonville, FL, on the St. Johns River, a 310 mile artery dotted with spring fed creeks. I often photographed a glimpse of a creek from a bridge or trail and always wondered what lay beyond what I saw.

“Streaming South” started as a desire to produce a series of intimate landscapes of individual creeks, depicting remote places in the style of early 19th century landscape painters who visited Florida and found an unspoiled paradise. Florida has changed dramatically since those times but I knew that a version of the “real” Florida may lay deep within these creeks and I wanted to find out.

Over the course of one year, I experienced the seasonal characteristics of the landscape in 33 visits to 12 creeks. I created thousands of images and started a blog, streamingsouth.com, to record each outing with comments and additional writings.

Once I began my explorations, my outward excitement about what I was seeing shifted to a personal introspection concerned with ethics, morality, respect, care, and gratitude. Not only was I given a gift of incredible beauty, peace, and solitude, but I was exposed to neglect, disrespect, and violations that stirred deep emotions. I always appreciated where I lived but never had an attachment to anything specific. I never cried when I saw trees being cut or became resentful of a dock or bulkhead on a riverbank. I never laughed at otters eyeing my passage or spent time collecting discarded bottles lodged in the roots of trees. I never witnessed the awe in a perfect reflection of over-arching trees forming a cathedral in the middle of a stream. Now things are different, I have changed.

When photographing the “environment” you make choices. Do you focus on beauty or despair or exactly what exists? It’s an easy decision for me. Beauty and peace connected me to my home. Not the plastic bottles, beer cans, old tires, and keep out signs. I believe that my advocacy for attention to these rare places must appeal to what is positive and good about our home. First connection, then care. That’s how it worked for me.

As a result of this project, I have developed a special connection to my Home. Connection is about participation, hands on experience, and being present. You must step out your door and cross the line. To really care about a place, to cherish it for what it does to our hearts and souls, to really connect with all that it is, creates the cognizance necessary for responsible, actionable stewardship. These are only pictures, but they represent in a very real way what is here and now and beautiful about our earth and where we live. This work is my advocacy. I am grateful for finding a glimmer of enlightenment through photography for myself and to share with others. The journey continues.”

Find out more about Streaming South here.

Find out more about Doug Eng here.

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Alumni Scott Tansey describes his recent feature on The Leica Camera Blog.

“I took these images on a Fall Color Workshop given by John Paul Caponigro at Acadia National Park. I had recently completed a huge five-year project taking panoramic images of Los Angeles (my home town). It was time for a change, and I needed a creative spark to do something different. As I mentioned previously I had attended a printing workshop given by John Paul Caponigro, which changed my photographic direction, and I thought his workshop would give me kick-start on my creativity. It did, but not in the way I intended. I was going to shoot the fall colors. Southern California is not as noted for its fall colors as Maine is. However, when I went to shoot the fall colors, they did little to inspire me. The light was lousy, and we missed the peak by a few days. On the second day of the workshop, after much frustration, I went to our last stop that was a rock pile. Oh, wow! The evening light and the colors and the patterns of the rocks spoke to me. For the rest of the trip I focused mainly on taking close-up images of rocks on the Maine coastline.”

Read more on The Leica Camera Blog.

Read a second feature on The Leica Camera Blog.

Find out more about my Maine Fall Foliage Workshop here.

Every year, during my Acadia Maine Fall Foliage Workshop my assistant Charles Adams and I explore making photographs  with our iPhones.

Charles talks about his experience.

“Making images with an iPhone can be a terrific creative exercise. If you regularly shoot with a DSLR, the iPhone can simplify things and offer a new experience. I find this to be the case during every fall foliage workshop. I leave my Canon in the car along with all of the photographic requirements and responsibilities that I usually attach to it. It’s a freeing experience. Suddenly the pressure to make the best photographs of my life is no longer there. I’m free to play.

Being able to process your images seconds after shooting them is also key to the iPhone experience. The many apps available make it possible to shoot, edit, share, and get feedback before even getting back in the car. In my case, apps have a direct effect on which pictures I chose to make. If I know I’m going to apply water color and oil painting filters to my images, I try to shoot accordingly. I set out to find good compositions with strong “bones” or solid structures that can benefit from the addition of dramatic effects.

The resulting images are fun to create. Changing the tools you use to make your images can offer new insights into your own photography. I strongly recommend allowing yourself to play.”

Visit Charles’ website here.

Find out about my Acadia Maine Fall Foliage workshop here.

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“I took this image on a workshop in Spruce Head, Maine, right after a breakup,” Graham says, “and only later realized that it represented smoothness and calmness on one side, tumult on the other, and a line of demarcation in between.” A pivotal image, it led to Graham’s evaluative question: What do I see?”

Here’s an excerpt of alumnus Jim Graham’s feature in Shutterbug.

“We assumed the first thing Jim Graham does in order to create his elegant landscape images is decide how to isolate his subjects from distracting backgrounds to achieve the always-desired single subject, clearly defined.

We were wrong. The first thing he does is ask himself: What do I see? Then he asks: How do I use the camera to communicate the feeling I have about what I see?

The answers, coupled with his skill at the striking use of color, form, and light within the frame, often result in symbolic representations of personal stories and feelings far beyond the literal subject in the frame.

Simply put, Jim Graham is out to say a lot more than ‘Isn’t this a pretty picture?'” …

Read the rest here.

Find out more about Jim Graham here.

Read more Alumni Success Stories here.

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Sam Krisch opens his second solo exhibit of the year “Above Zero: Photographs From The Polar Region”  Sunday, June 14 at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania.

In this post, Sam shares what he learned on his journey to creative success. You’ll find it inspiring and helpful.

Here are a few highlights.

“John Paul’s mentorship as well as the inspiration and encouragement of countless others led me to work harder, to dig deeper, to find new places: physical locations, internal emotions, and fresh ways of seeing. Hard work and constant study added to my skills. Through the fellowship of an international group of artists I found community and stimulation: a vast ocean of knowledge and inspiration.”

“Each particular curator sees an artist’s work in a particular way, interprets it, and often brings out a way of seeing the work that the artist hadn’t considered. A great pleasure for me is working with professionals who approach the presentation of my work in a different way. They ask probing questions for the lectures, gallery guides, and docent training. I always learn something from exhibiting my work and I am often surprised by people’s reaction to it. Some are emotionally moved, some want to know technical details, some may not like it. It’s the risk you take when you exhibit.”

Read more

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I have been honing my photographic skills over the last several years. Making strides in composition, story telling and mechanics of photography, I still lacked some finer processing skills and the art of printing. I decided that a Print is the ultimate goal of a photographer. There is just something very tangible, very permanent about a print. Anybody can flick though a series of images on an electronic device. But actually taking the time to make a print, matting, framing ,hung on wall and lit well -takes considerable more effort. It also then requires more contemplation by the audience. I think they place more weight and value on the print than in electronic form. They are more willing to commit more time with the print.

During the span of a year, I completed both of John Paul’s Intermediate and Advance printing classes. At that point I believed that I had achieved the skills required to attempt my own Print Portfolio.

There is just something substantial about the physical print. Let’s face it, we can casually look through ton’s of images on our electronic devices. They are there and then gone. But having a book full of prints is something completely different. You engage two more of your senses, touch and smell. Every book has a certain feel and personal experience to it. It evokes more of an emotional response than the electronic equivalent.

So my goal with this project was several fold.

1. Create a body of work of 24 images
2. Improve my image processing
3. Improve my print quality / skills
4. Share with as many people as I can

A decision had to be made on the format of the book. Landscape, Portrait or Square. I deiced that the square format was the most versatile of the three. With a square book I could print any aspect ratio that I wanted and not feel constrained to a particular style. Since I knew this book was going to be a work in progress and may change over time, I thought being versatile was a good trade off versus being locked into a portrait or landscape format.

The next decision that I had to make was the size of the book. I based this partly on common size of paper available. The other influence was what kind of reaction I wanted from people when they viewed the book. I made 5 prints on 13×14 inch and 17×18 inch papers and then just stapled them together to simulate the two sizes of the book I was considering. I printed horizontal, vertical and square images. I had my own opinion and then solicited several peoples opinions. The larger size won hands down. You would not think that 4 extra inches would make that dramatic of a difference but it really did. It took the scale of the book from something casual to something cherished. The larger size was just so much more engaging.

The paper choice for my Epson 9900 printer, (after some experimentation) Epson Ultrasmooth. It brought an extra dimension of depth to my ice images. The warmth of the paper gave an extra separation to the printed images. I decided that the easiest form factor would be to use 17″ wide roll paper. Then I would just allow the printer to cut the sheets to a length of 18″. This way I would not have to do any post printing trimming of the prints.

For the physical book, I had a custom binding post book and slip cover made. I choose the binding post style so that it would be easy to replace prints and so that I could completely change the theme of the book if I desired. For materials I choose Black on Black on Black. This might be generic, or called corporate, but I liked the neutrality of it and its future potential. Each of the three surfaces were a different material, so that added a subtle variation to the book. I added just a splash of Red into my debossed logo. The inner front and back sheets are sanded mylar. This essentially adds an end sheet to the book and enhances the experience when opening the book.

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I learned a lot through this process. It was a great growth experience. Having a project focuses your mind and creativity. Completing a project gives you a sense of accomplishment. Sharing the experience – I hope I can inspire all of you to do something wonderful.

Find out more about Michael Quinn here.

Read more Alumni Success Stories here.


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