Richard Benson and Frank Cost discuss important recent transitions in photography at Parsons The New School for Design in NYC during a two day conference The Photographic Universe.
“Enjoy this collection of photographic books that have influenced me during some of my most formative years.”
– John Paul Caponigro
Paul Caponigro’s Megaliths.
Watching the production of this project from start to finish had a profound effect on me. The book was the culmination of decades of work on so many levels.
Alfred Stieglitz Portrait Of Georgia O’Keefe.
These portraits and nudes set the highest standards for me. Deep complex emotional connection. The variety of Stieglitz’ printing was eye opening. Meeting O’Keefe was interesting; I still wonder what it was like for her as an older woman to produce a book on her younger self.
Eliot Porter’s Nature’s Chaos.
Fortunate to see my mother design many of Porter’s books, this one confirmed my feeling that he saw a deeper order in nature before we more fully understood complexity in the sciences.
Christopher Burkett’s Intimations Of Paradise.
Formerly a Gnostic monk, Burkett renounced his vows of poverty so that he could afford film and continue to faithfully transcribe The Book Of Nature. There are so many ways to live life in a sacred way
Dune / Edward Weston And Brett Weston collects works, many never before printed, by father and son showing how similar and how different each artist’s vision was. Working with Kurt Markus to produce this book was eye-opening.
Ansel Adams / The Making Of 40 Photographs.
It’s wonderful to read how an artist works and even better to see them in action; I was lucky to do both. I do wish Adams wrote more about why he made each image and what it meant to him.
Jerry Uelsmann’s Process & Perception.
It demonstrates how process changes perception – and the process you engage is a personal choice. The inside is just as important as the outside.
Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes.
While Eliot Porter didn’t want to beautify trash through art Burtynsky turns an unflinching eye towards industrial impacts on land crafting a complex statement on land use and ultimately identity.
Minor White Manifestations Of The Spirit.
No other photographer is as articulate about the inner experience of making art. His essay in equivalence is seminal.
Wynn Bullock’s Revelations.
Bullock’s marriage of science/physics and art
became as much a philosophical statement as a celebration of beauty.
Kenro Izu’s Sacred Places.
Izu tries to photograph the spirit of ancient sacred places. When he talks about atmosphere he means more than weather.
Chris Rainier’s Keepers Of The Spirit.
If Edward Curtis met Joseph Campbell you’d get Rainier’s survey of spirituality in world cultures.
Sebastiao Salgado’s An Uncertain Grace.
Salgado sets the bar high by bringing out the dignity within his subjects no matter how undignified their circumstances.
Joyce Tenneson’s Transformations.
Tenneson’s images remind me of what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Arnold Newman’s One Mind’s Eye
Beautifully constructed portraits from the father of environmental portraiture.
The rest of his wrestlessly inventive work intrigued me but his deeply honest extended portrait of his wife set a standard I hope for in all others.
It’s minimalism that isnt shallow or evasive; the collection reinforces the concept, creating a context for itself. It asks so many questions? Enough? Not enough? Do all the world’s oceans look the same? Or is it just one ocean? Is it the camera or the artist who makes them look the same? Is it the way we look? How is it that by looking at them long enough I begin to see myself?
Richard Misrach’s The Sky Book
Pleasant as it is this minimalism ordinarily wouldn’t be enough for me. But then he adds the titles of time and places in many languages with a history. Together they grow stronger and placed within his life work as one of many Desert Cantos they grow stringer still. Rebecca Solnit’s accompanying essay is excellent. I learned a lot from looking at this – about art and myself.
I find Joel Peter Witkin’s work profoundly challenging. I can’t say I love it; I can’t say I hate it. I can say it continually crosses back and forth between self-indulgently expressing his individual perversions and courageously looking unflinchingly into a universal heart of darkness.
Michael Kenna’s Night Work
Kenna’s elegant minimalism is laced with a quiet spirituality that comes less from tradition and more from being in the moment, growing most emotional when he’s in the dark.
Huntington Witherill’s Orchestrating Icons
It’s musical for its flowing compositions and exquisite tonalities. Extraordinary separation in extreme highlights and shadows, no one prints quite like him in.
For more reading material, go to:
May 20, 2015 | 1 Comment |
In the summer of 2013 I had the fortune of travelling to Ladakh, India, a remote Himalayan kingdom that is now far Northwestern India, bordered by Pakistani controlled Kasmir and Chinese controlled Tibet. Ladakh’s high desert rises from valley floors at 12,000 feet to the mountain peaks at 20,000ft. Water from the Indus River is skillfully directed through lush fields then on to irrigate countless other valleys in India. The Ladakhis live in carefully organized communities of adobe homes where they maintain cattle and yak, pashmina goat herds, make mud bricks for export, hone their traditional crafts, keep cultural ways of life and practice an intense spirituality. It is a place where monasteries seem to float above military bases and vast expanses that shimmer in the intense, clear light. Translated as “The Land of High Passes” Ladakh is a region of sunshine and snow, of dark temples and bright spirits.
I happened to meet fellow photographer Christopher Michel in Delhi when he was doing what he does best, photographing people with his happy-go-lucky-how-could-you-say-no direct approach. We happened to have the same somewhat unusual camera and lens combo so I struck up a conversation. Little did I know we would be traveling to the same place and often shooting standing shoulder to shoulder with several thousand other people.
One hundred and fifty thousand ethnic Tibetans were gathering in Ladakh for the ancient Kalachakra ceremony, a two thousand year old ten-day teaching given by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. I went as a student of life, to see and experience with camera in hand but no specific assignment or shot list. It was not easy. The mid-summer heat of India was as hard on the equipment as it was on the attendees. It was difficult to breathe, move, and photograph in the dust, smoke, heat and an international crowd of so many, packed into a tight space and hurrying over long distances to get there. There were near mob-scene moments as well as times of great kindness that transcended language barriers. The intense sun cast deep shadows in the desert while the traditional adobe architecture had dark interiors often only illuminated with butter lamps and a single strong shaft of light. The experience was overwhelming and required great openness to each moment, the physical stamina to endure heat and altitude as well as the willingness to play well with others.
Every extra moment from sunrise to starry night was spent exploring the stupa fields, monasteries, city of Leh and village life with friends met along the way. Chris’ focus on the essence of each moment was an inspiration and his photographs reflect his incisive eye, whether the subject was people or place. During the two weeks in Ladakh we did not share work or even review our own images. There was limited electricity for anything beyond charging batteries. Several weeks later I happened to come across a blog article about Chris’ work in Ladakh and immediately suggested a collaborative show to benefit Tibetan culture at Tibet House US. Fortunately Chris agreed to my out-of-the-blue request and the curator of Tibet House US, Zola Nyambuu, was happy with the show we proposed. So began the coincidental collaboration of “Envisioning Ecstasy.”
The show has forty black and white photographic prints of landscape, portraits and details of Ladakh during the Kalachakra. These range from arid desertscapes to lush irrigated fields reflecting the mountains. There are images from the Kalachakra as well as incongruous graffiti overlooking the capitol city, Leh. Curious camels, luminous nightscapes and the famously painted Indian trucks balance the spiritual iconography. A traveling circus with a lotus-decorated ferris wheel loomed above the vast desert providing an unforgettable personal and photographic experience.
“Envisioning Ecstasy” also has a conceptual aspect in the form of eleven large-scale lumenographic prints based on illustration based photographs originally sketched during the Kalachakra. Two projected animations bring these drawings to life and complete the show. The story behind many of the documentary images was captured in Chas Curtis’ keen videograpy. Chas’ evocative timelapses and captivating clips from ceremony to circus were seamlessly edited into a luminous video interview by Kyle Ruddick. The video is a multi-media presentation of “Envisioning Ecstasy” and will be screened at the opening. The show is accompanied by a catalog, Envisioning Ecstasy and a clothbound book, 108 Visions : Ladakh During the Kalachakra, thoughtfully designed by Michael Motley, which offers glimpses of the journey from small details to sweeping vistas. Books and print sales benefit Tibet House US, which brings the concept of collaboration full circle.
All of this work was greatly enhanced by John Paul and Seth’s dynamic duo Art of Processing and Art of Creativity. The workshops are an intense immersive experience for honing artistic vision, voice and direction. And of course any workshop with JP and Seth is a lesson in that all important art of playing well with others, one of my favorite photographic mantras. Photography is often seen as a solitary pursuit and though it has it’s quiet moments, communal creativity widens the collective perspective. This golden rule underpins the entire show of “Envisioning Ecstasy.”
“Envisioning Ecstasy” opens at Tibet House US, New York, May 20 from 6-8pm and is on exhibit until June 26. Two publications will be released for the show: a catalog, “Envisioning Ecstasy,” and a hardcover book, 108 Visions: Ladakh During the Kalachakra. Please contact Tibet House US regarding show information and books.
December 22, 2014 | Leave a Comment |
Photographer Jay Maisel’s book Light, Gesture & Color is full of pithy wisdom about the art of seeing.
Here’s a selection of highlights.
“If you’re not your own severest critic, you are your own worst enemy.” – Jay Maisel
“The whole world is there for you. Gifts will happen, but only if you are patient with life itself, the shooting process, and your own limitations.” – Jay Maisel
“There is no bad light. There is spectacular light and difficult light. It’s up to you to use the light you have.” – Jay Maisel
“The drama of light exists not only in what is in the light, but also in what is left dark. If the light is everywhere, the drama is gone.” – Jay Maisel
“Gesture will survive whatever kind of light you have. Gesture can triumph over anything because of its narrative content.” – Jay Maisel
“We have always wanted to find the ‘it-ness’ of anything we shoot. We want to get as deep into the subject as we can.” – Jay Maisel
“You will, in time, see and show others not just the superficial, but the details, the meanings, and the implications of all that you look at …” – Jay Maisel
“One color alone means nothing. I acts as in a vacuum, with no other colors to relate to. It is only when colors relate to other colors that the fun begins.” – Jay Maisel
“Color is seductive. It changes as it interacts with other colors, it changes because of the light falling upon it, and it changes as it becomes larger in size.” – Jay Maisel
“You cannot accurately remember color …” – Jay Maisel
“’Color’ is quite different from ‘colors.’ In an image with many colors, we find that all the colors compete with each other rather than interacting with each other. The results” colors.” – Jay Maisel
“There really isn’t anything that you could call ‘bad’ color. It all has to do with the amount of color you use and in what context it appears.” – Jay Maisel
“Some have said that if you take a great picture in color and take away the color, you’ll have a great black-and-white picture. But if you’re shooting something about color and you take away the color, you’ll have nothing.” – Jay Maisel
“What you’re shooting at doesn’t matter, the real question is: ‘Does it give you joy?’” – Jay Maisel
“Always shoot it now. It won’t be the same when you go back.” – Jay Maisel
“You must not think of yourself as looking at the stage from the audience. You must think of it as theatre in the round and look at it from all sides.” – Jay Maisel
“We don’t experience light, color, and gesture in a vacuum. We experience it in contexts.” – Jay Maisel
“If you don’t have a camera, the best thing you can do is describe how great it looked.” – Jay Maisel
“It’s a lot easier to take pictures if you always have the camera with you.” – Jay Maisel
“There is no one solution to all problems. It’s the problem itself that can lead to the solution.” – Jay Maisel
“It’s not just when you shoot, or what you shot, or where you shoot, it’s the combination of the three.” – Jay Maisel
“The more light you have in an image, the less drama you get. The details start taking over; the mystery is all gone.” – Jay Maisel
“I love when pictures ask questions or make others ask questions.” – Jay Maisel
“The pictures are everywhere. If you’re open, they will find you.” – Jay Maisel
“Sometimes without shooting a picture germinates in your head. Other times, you keep taking pictures of the same thing and watch the images mature and grow.” – Jay Maisel
“As you see something that yo want to shot and it’s bearing down on you, it’s important to start framing long before the subject gets close to you. The light will reveal itself possibly long before you want to take the image, but you have to wait until the picture comes to you, and if you’ve been anticipating carefully when the subject will be in position, the background will have been figured out in advance.” – Jay Maisel
“Since the background is as important as the subject, you mustn’t let it default by chance. You must control not only vertical and horizontal, you must be aware of the depth of field (or lack of it) that you want in the background.” – Jay Maisel
“Remember that most people (those who are not photographers) don’t even see the things that you missed. Many don’t even look. Ergo, you are way ahead of the game.” – Jay Maisel
“Gesture is not always action.” – Jay Maisel
“It’s my obligation to take out all the ‘wrong’ pictures.” – Jay Maisel
“You have to pick the right tool for the point you’re trying to make and there is no one solution.” – Jay Maisel
“The problem suggests the solution.” – Jay Maisel
“Sometimes as you work, you find that you are learning things about your own perceptions and motivations that are way below you consciousness. If you get lucky, you recognize what you are doing, but all too often we don’t find the connection between our work and our own motivations.” – Jay Maisel
“The awareness of the quality of space in out photos is akin to our awareness of the very air in our photos, the atmosphere that pervades every square inch of our image and yet is often invisible to the photographer.” – Jay Maisel
“When we are given gifts, we must be quick and able to accept them.” – Jay Maisel
“I try not to tell students where to shoot, when to shoot, or what to shoot. I feel finding the picture is the most important part of being a photographer. The actual shooting is of lesser importance.” – Jay Maisel
“You need minimum color for maximum effect.” – Jay Maisel
“Always wait for the trigger. The trigger is the final part of the puzzle, the reason you want to shoot.” – Jay Maisel
“Color really doesn’t have interaction if it’s full of colors. It’s the interaction or relationship among or between colors that makes a color image. This usually happens with a few colors, not a glut of them.” – Jay Maisel
“Forget what it was. Look at what it is.” – Jay Maisel
“You have to learn not only from your failures. You must also learn from your successes.” – Jay Maisel
“You have to let the past successes go, or you’ll never be able to see anew.” – Jay Maisel
“Don’t overthink things in front of you. I fit moves you, shoot it. If it’s fun, shoot it. If you’ve never seen it before, shoot it.” – Jay Maisel
“Had I not been told to look, I would have quite, ignorant of what was really there, because I had ‘made plans’ and was wearing visual and emotional blinders that limited my perceptions and my vision.” – Jay Maisel
“All these factors are only valuable if you’re curious. But in any case, the more knowledge you have, the more things are open and available to you.” – Jay Maisel
“You sort of have to be always aware, even when you’re not thinking of shooting. That’s when the best stuff happens.” – Jay Maisel
“When you shoot, that is opportunity number one to make a statement. When you edit, you have opportunity number two to make your statement. It could be an affirmation of your first choice or could go off in another direction.” – Jay Maisel
“Keep your mind open. You may very well learn something new about yourself and your pictures.” – Jay Maisel
“You must be open to what otherwise may seem to be a detriment to your ‘plans’.” – Jay Maisel
“You always end up with too many pictures to edit and too few that you feel ‘got it’.” – Jay Maisel
“It’s important to realize that the images are everywhere, not just where you want or expect them to be.” – Jay Maisel
“You can’t just turn on when something happens, you have to be turned on all the time. Then things happen.” – Jay Maisel
“Money and fame that photography can bring you are wonderful, but nothing can compare to the joy of seeing something new.” – Jay Maisel
Of course, all of these insights are made even better when paired with his images.
You might be tempted to think less of this book because it’s not hard cover, because the reproduction is fine but not stellar, because of the typography is extraordinarily average, or because despite that fact that the title is the stock phrase Jay that is most known for and the selection of images is not definitive. But you’d be missing the point. Light Gesture & Color is one of Jay Maisel’s best books.
Light Gesture & Color is like having an intimate conversation with a master photographer about his enduring passion. Short and sweet. Direct. Pithy. That’s how Jay Maisel serves up a lifetime of hard-earned wisdom. Most of the pages with text have half a dozen lines. One has two – and it’s enough. Better still, each page builds on the other.
You could read this book in a single sitting. I did. I recommend the experience. But I also recommend you read it again – and again. Mark the pages you want to return to for in a few simple lines there are life lessons to be found and refound. It is not that you have to think long and hard to figure out what he’s saying; Jay’s already done that work for you. It is that you’ll need more time to truly internalize what he has found and shared, until it is deeply felt; he did. Do this and you will be a better photographer. You’ll learn to see more. What could be more important?
Here’s an example of Jay at his best.
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