Alignment XXXVI

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In all of my work, there’s a strong sense of abstraction. I want the foundations of my images to be suggestive and expressive. I want to create images that give us an opportunity to simultaneously look out into the world and into ourselves. By never losing sight of the fact that we are looking at a flat image of a deep world, the illusions it creates and the suspension of disbelief we enter into, we are reminded to look at ourselves looking. The psychic space created for greater awareness is the heart of my images.

I’m obsessed with the horizon and a majority of my images contain one but not these images. In my virtual petroglyphs, I want to be drawn into an even more intimate space, physically and emotionally.

In this image, Alignment XXXVI, there’s a strong correspondence between two kinds of flow; the flowing forms of the stone and the flowing lines of the petroglyph of subatomic particles scattering. Two qualities of space and time collide. One is a physical form that takes on abstract qualities when seen in a particular way; the other is an abstract image made by a particular way of seeing that takes on physical dimensions. These primordial patterns suggest an order of reality that we’re unaccustomed to but which is essential to our understanding of the nature of the universe and ourselves.

Like the photograph rendered by the camera, the pattern this petroglyph renders is made with another special device made for looking more deeply into the universe. Bubble chambers work by filling a device with liquid heated to just below its boiling point. The entire chamber is subject to a constant magnetic field that causes charged particles entering it to travel in helical paths (whose radius is determined by their velocities and mass), around which the liquid vaporizes, forming microscopic bubbles. Bubble densities around tracks are proportional to a particle’s energy loss. Bubbles grow in size as the chamber expands until they are large enough to be seen or photographed. The resolution of bubble chambers goes down to a few micrometers. Several cameras are mounted around it, allowing a three-dimensional image of an event to be captured. Invented in 1952 bubble chambers are outdated now but the images produced with them still shape our understanding of the structure of matter and the nature of the universe. In one sense, this is a photograph of a photograph. The marriage of two kinds of looking in one image highlights opportunities for looking in another way – inward with the mind’s eye.

This is the only petroglyph rendered from a photograph. Other petroglyphs in this series extend our ways of seeing by reproducing diagrams of reality rendered from theory, patterns that we are currently incapable of capturing mechanically (the orbits of our solar system’s planets, the shape of our Milky Way galaxy, the arrangement of starry super-clusters, etc) but which we extrapolate from our composite understanding of the universe. The series zooms through our understanding of the universe, from the subatomic to the whole of the known universe, never losing sight of the fact that our understanding continually changes, expanding and evolving, never more rapidly than today.

We create tools to extend our perception, like the camera. Each tool offers us one window into the universe. Of course, it’s limited. It sees in one way. So what’s been left out? And what are we missing? But it’s still able to produce at least one piece of the puzzle. It’s hard enough to use existing tools to learn to see in new ways. It’s even harder to use existing tools (or create new tools) to see things you can’t yet conceive of. But it’s worth a try. I can assure you, it’s a rewarding process.

Find out more about Alignment XXXVI here.

View more images in the series Alignment here.

View the video on Alignment XXXVI here.

View the video on the series Alignment here.

Read more of The Stories Behind The Images here.

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Revelation XXXV

In 1996 I completed a series of new images – Revelation. Impossible symmetries drawn forth from desert landscapes, they were unlike anything I’d seen before. Looking at these images, day after day, was like having a dream that never faded. They reminded me of the artifacts I liked so much from the sacred traditions of many primal cultures – totem poles, figurines, costumes, masks, and paintings – not just from the cultures I was exposed to as a boy growing up in New Mexico. The series was good and stood on its own, but I knew then that I still had much more work I wanted to do.

The series has been ongoing for more than twenty years. The series was on my mind when I first went to Antarctica in 2005; I started shooting deliberately for it on a return voyage in 2007; material slowly accumulated in subsequent voyages in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015; and then in 2016 it all came together. It wasn’t so much that the material I had gathered that year was just right, what really made the difference was the special point I had come to in my life and work.

These more recent images have an added quality, not solely because they were drawn from a different location, but also because of the passage of time and all the things that happened during it.

In part, this comes from sleeping on it; the subconscious offers many rich and fertile territories.

In part, this is the result of a significant amount of conscious thought; studying craft and composition were only the beginnings for preparing this ground; related reading and viewing enriched me further; having more special experiences with land planted more seeds; digging into my deepest thoughts and feelings about the subject and my approach helped me cultivate them.

In part, this work waited so long is that there was other work to do, including a harvest of related bodies of work (Inhalation and Exhalation). Making that work influenced this work.

In part, this is the result of my inner state now; contrary to what some have suggested, I’ve found this isn’t something to overcome no matter what the current conditions but rather something to be nurtured. These images would have been different if I finished them earlier – because I was different.

While one needs to guard against procrastination, one also needs to guard against rushing through experiences and not developing the necessary depth to fully engage them and do your best work. To reach its full potential, a great wine needs time, neither too little nor too much.

So when is the best time to move forward? This is a question that is best approached with awareness and deep contemplation. Though there are repeatable patterns and common tendencies, there is no one definitive answer to this question for all situations. I’ve found some work gets produced very quickly, sometimes a whole series is made in one shoot, while some work gets produced very slowly, over decades. Ultimately, you have to go with your gut. This doesn’t rule out the possibility and potential benefits of a great deal of research and forethought before you do. The two working in concert together often yield the most powerful combination. However, the single most important ingredient is, not mere spontaneity, which can be short lived, but a true effervescence of spirit, and it’s particularly important to pay attention to this quality if it can be sustained over longer periods of time. You need to be alive to your work to make it come alive.

In our increasingly fast-paced societies, there is a tremendous pressure to produce more and produce it more quickly. This can create a pace that is unsustainable for most creatives, at least when it comes to releasing work with real depth. However well-crafted or clever, there often seems to be something missing in the final results. Good fully developed work takes time … because much like creating deeper relationships with people, it takes time to develop a deeper relationship with your work and your self. Make that time. Savor it. It can make all the difference in the world.

Questions

How many ways can you enrich yourself before you move forward?

At what point does preparation become procrastination?

What signs suggest that this is or isn’t the time?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more of The Stories Behind The Images here.

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Illumination XXXI, 2014

It was one of my best sessions.

I had come prepared.

I knew the location well. My father first brought me to the Point Lobos region when I was very young. Later, during my college years, I spent more time exploring the coast. Long after that, I visited many more times, including several visits to prepare for leading workshops where you have to orient yourself more objectively. This was one of those times.

I knew the subject well photographically. Photographing in the region had a long history and I knew the images and their creators, often first-hand. Adams, Bullock, Caponigro, Sexton, Weston(s), White, Witherill, Uelsmann (and so many others) – they’d all made images there. I’d revisited them all to prepare for this session.  I knew that if I made successful images, that it was inevitable that some comparison to other works would be made. I knew that their images had influenced my vision and that I needed to more fully digest that influence to be free enough to make my own images, in my own ways, and on my own terms. And, I’d failed many times before.

I knew how to work the situation well. I came before the light was best and stayed sometime after it had passed. I didn’t make just one image; I made many. I surveyed a variety of aspects of the subject; planes, peaks, valleys, boulders, grottos, cracks, pools, waterline, etc. I framed each composition deliberately, then asked how it could be improved, and made that image too.

I knew myself well. I’d taken stock of my history, my vision, my themes, my style, and my goals. My natural tendencies resurfaced; I approached the land as if it were a human body. Long-standing themes reemerged; birth, death, and rebirth. I was aware of what I was bringing to the table – personally.

I also knew that, despite all this preparation, this would become a purely intellectual affair if I didn’t respond associatively and emotionally. So I let this all well up, holding nothing back – and I was surprised by what I discovered.

Old memories resurfaced, specifically of my first wife, who I used to visit these places with and who died of cancer when our son was very young, leaving a great deal unresolved. Then more memories surfaced of the decision not to have children with my second wife, a cancer survivor, because of health concerns. And here I was turning stones into wombs. I was emotionally present, raw even – and moving forward. I kept this inner dialog alive as I continued to make images. I had to answer this call to greater depth. Doing this work and making these images had become extremely personal.

Perhaps the images from this session are not my very best pictures, but it was one of my very best performances. It became a milestone for me. It had exceptional intensity and depth. That’s a level I now try to get to more consistently – or exceed. And I know what it takes.

It’s wonderful to see someone bring their A game. It can even help you find your own. But, your A game may be very different than someone else’s A game. To know what your A game is, you first have to get there. Once you know what’s possible, what it feels like, and what it takes to get there – you can bring it.

Questions

What performance would you identify as your best performance to date?

How would you describe your best performance to date?

What criteria do you use to evaluate your performance?

What areas are you concentrating on to improve your performance?

What steps are you taking to improve your performance?

When is it useful to separate your evaluation of performance from results?

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

 

Incubation II

Incubation II, 2013 – Atacama Desert, Argentina

 With Incubation II, I got everything I wanted – and more.

I’ve been working on a line of thought for some time, planning to make a series to fully develop it. Make multiple exposures of the same subject from different angles and combine them seamlessly. It’s like Cubism without the artifacts. Show what’s hidden by one angle of view by combining many angles of view. Show many sides of the same object simultaneously. Show the background that an object hides. Make a visual experience that more powerfully presents the experience of moving around, in, and through a space.

Not knowing what I wanted to do ahead of time would have changed the way I made exposures. I would have selected angles that offered the best relationship between object and environment, often prioritizing one over the other if any compromises were necessary, instead of selecting the optimal angle for both in two or more exposures. I wouldn’t have made as many exposures nor would I have know which alternate exposures to make – and why. Despite my best plans, I never could have planned for this magnificent moment of light, where its shape, split by a crack, echoes the shapes of the two cracked halves of the rock below it.

On my first visit to Argentina’s Atacama Desert I was able to gather several exposures that once combined served as proof of concept. They results, not just for one image but for multiple images, were successful enough to show that this idea and approach had lasting value.

My initial concept didn’t work entirely as planned. I tried a solution that looked similar to double exposure and while I was (and still am) interested in the way this made the objects look like they were vibrating (a new idea), it was too busy and unclear for the effect I was looking for here. On impulse, while I was processing the images, I tried nesting the stones within themselves and it was immediately clear that this was a powerful new solution. The technique served more than a visual device. The psychological dimensions of the work were heightened. The work was challenging me to expand my vision.

Finishing the first few images brought both clarity and productivity while photographing the location for the second time. I was able to make many related images, aware of what was different and what was similar. I was even able to rephotograph several subjects. Now, in addition to single images displaying multiple angles of the same subject, multiple images in the series do the same. It’s surprising how different things look from different angles of view – sometimes they’re unrecognizable.

The questions arose “How many images will this solution hold for?” and “What other related solutions will I find?” One thing led to another. Along the way, duplication, reflection, and distortion were also used. So new questions were posed, “Is this one series or many?” and “Will one series title hold them all?” (The working title for the series is Incubation.)

I’m not sure all of these images belong in the same series. While they’re all from the same location and they look similar stylistically and are related thematically, they also explore different ideas. Some are diverging significantly enough to make the case for placing them in several interconnected series. What’s the answer? Right now, it’s a mystery. I simply have to do more work to find out more about it.

I’ve found that the best plans are clear enough to stimulate productivity and flexible enough to evolve.

See related Contact Sheets from 2012 and 2013 here.

Questions

What are the benefits of working without a plan?

What are the benefits of working with a plan?

How do you create a plan so that it is generative rather than restrictive?

What mindset do you need to approach plans with to maximize productivity and insight?

When should you abandon one plan in favor of another?

Read more The Stories Behind The Photographs here.

Condensation X - Prelude

Condensation X, 2002  

It’s not the most dramatic wave; it’s rather small in comparison to the enormous waves you find in the Pacific ocean. The ocean waters aren’t glassy smooth; the wave line isn’t fully continuous; the surrounding waves aren’t perfectly scalloped; and the foam in the foreground serves only as accents, indicating a previous passage, rather than forming a clear and present pattern. It’s not illuminated by the clearest light nor does it glow from within. Still, there’s an intensely quiet presence about this image (Condensation X), deceptively calm on the surface but potentially turbulent below, with an air of mystery (Where is it coming from and going to? What surrounds it?) that makes it powerfully expressive in a complex and unique way. It’s not obvious but it is rewarding. You might say it’s a sleeper, something you might not pay close attention to at first but the more you look at it the more it grows on you.

Being sensitive to times when less is more and more is less will help you get it just right. In today’s constantly competitive culture, it’s hard not to over achieve. But sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do. Sometimes what you really need is to get it just right – and nothing more.

I like to do my very best. I like to try to do it better every time. Sometimes I try too hard and do too much. I’ve wasted hours, days even, trying to perfect something only to find out that along the way the life had gone out of it. I’ve found that things that I thought were distractions were really things that made something richer and more complex, after removing them. I’ve come to the realization that what I thought were flaws made something perfectly imperfect. This is not to say that I don’t still try to make things as good as I can and even to up my game. It is to say that the answers I’m looking for transcend technical perfection and sometimes are better for less of it.

In the world of photography it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture for all of the details. We have an extensive list of physical characteristics to evaluate the quality of photographs – focus, depth of field, frozen motion (or extreme motion blur, but nothing in between), low noise, detail in highlights and shadows, contrast, credible color casts, believable levels of saturation, no lens artifacts, the list goes on – yet we are much more challenged to describe the quality of photographs on the levels of perception and content, which are more important. There are times when technical perfection can be distracting or worse a cover up for what’s lacking. Photographer Ansel Adams remarked that, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

It’s a matter of appropriate means. You don’t want to create dynamic images to portray quiet, tender moments. You don’t want to retouch portraits of victims of war, famine, or pestilence. You don’t want to reenact the truth to make it picture perfect.

There are many times when things seem more authentic if they’re not perfect.

Besides, the more perfect your presentation becomes the more attention you call to the delivery. When you want to call more attention to the content perfect presentation may not be perfect for the purpose. Make your delivery effective. Sometimes it’s more effective to deliver just enough, not more, not less. It’s part of getting it just right.

Questions

What isn’t good enough? How do you know?

What is good enough? How do you know?

What is too much?

What is perfectly imperfect?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Photographs here.

Null

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of two icebergs passing by outside the window of our ship. I seized my camera and ran to the back of the ship. The pair glistened and glinted in a glowing haze of diffuse fog. I check the first few frames. Perfect exposures. And I continued shooting until they disappeared.

Thrilled, I returned to my cabin to download these beautiful new images. I opened the camera and found there was no card in it. To fix a recently developed quirk, I had reset all the settings on my camera to their defaults, which was to fire without a card, a behavior I disliked before and loathed now.

Yet again, I was forced to learn from my mistakes. The pain and frustration of what was lost drove this lesson home deeply. I redoubled my efforts to keep my systems streamlined and my habits well maintained – plus periodically check them.

It’s only a small comfort that Thomas Edison, one of the most innovative men in history, set a monthly quota for making mistakes; he felt that if he wasn’t making a certain number of mistakes, he wasn’t pushing the envelope enough. Easier said than done, the trick is not to make the same mistake twice. I had made this mistake before. It was already on my checklist – Mistakes I’ve Made.

A black cat mysteriously failed to appear in exposures I made as a small child with my mother. No one had a camera the day we released a magnificent rehabilitated golden eagle. On close inspection, exposures from the Scottish highlands were found to be out of focus. A dozen sheets of film used inside Chartes Cathedral were re-exposed to light before being processed. A roll of film shot in Death Valley’s Golden Canyon was improperly processed. A camera shutter failed to open despite making its customary noise at Point Lobos, California. Files made in Chile’s altiplano were deleted from a hard drive. A camera fell to the bottom of the ocean in a Maine harbor. The list goes on. I keep looking for the book people refer to when they use the phrase “every mistake in the book” – but until I find it, I’ll continue writing my own.

To this day, I can see these images in my mind as clearly as if they were made yesterday. But you can’t. They’re the ones that got away. In their place, I have lessons learned.

Questions

What can you learn from your mistakes?

How many lessons can you learn from a single mistake?

What can you do to try not to make the same mistake twice?

How can you learn from other’s mistakes?

What can others learn from your mistakes?

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.


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