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.
“To kick off our new layout, this issue is dedicated to the line, light and shadow of non-colour. Within these 230 pages are portfolios and interviews with these incredible photographers: Jason Bradley, who discusses his extraordinary underwater work and the limitations, challenges, and thrills of it all; Carla Coulson, whose Paris fashion portraiture was borne from leaving her job, moving to France and becoming a published photographer within one year; the architectural style of Julia Anna Gospodarou, who explains how she sees sensual lines in concrete and steel structures; and the beauty of Chicago nights as illuminated by Satoki Nagata, who went from scientist to photographer with striking results.
Each of our regular contributors, John Paul Caponigro, Bruce Percy, Guy Tal, Chris Orwig, Martin Bailey, Piet Van den Eynde, Adam Blasberg, and David duChemin, have dedicated their articles to the art of black and white photography.”
My article Black & White Palettes discusses the many distinct styles you can find and craft to suit your vision within the arena of black and white photography.
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Jay Maisel’s new book New York In The ’50s offers a unique window into an iconic city by an iconic photographer. Know primarily for his color work this book offers a rare glimpse into his early black and white photography. Photographer Sean Kernan said it brilliantly, “It’s all the wit you’d expect from Jay with none of the color.”
Here’s what Jay says about New York In The ’50s.
“I have been shooting New York for over 60 years now. And though I have achieved age, I can safely say I have never made my way to maturity so I have never been jaded or bored. I think all this is due to the grittiness and hectic quality of the city, you never capture it, it captures you.” After studying painting and graphic design at Cooper Union and Yale, Jay Maisel began his career in photography in 1954. While his portfolio includes the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Miles Davis, he is perhaps best known for capturing the light, color, and gesture found in every day life. This unique vision kept him busy for over 40 years shooting annual reports, magazine covers, jazz albums, advertising and more for an array of clients worldwide. Recently, Maisel has gone back to his archive of early work, and put together a collection of black-and-white images he made as a young man in the 1950s, evidence of a lifetime’s pursuit of a craft and a special talent, one of the best-kept secrets in photographic history. “New York in the ‘50s” is a beautifully-produced monograph that will be equally appreciated by Jay Maisel’s followers, and anyone who has stepped inside his muse, New York City.”
“Wynn Bullock was one of the most significant photographers of the mid-twentieth century. A close friend of influential West Coast artists Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and a contemporary of Minor White and Frederick Sommer, Bullock created work marked by a distinct interest in experimentation, abstraction, and philosophical exploration. Bullock’s photography received early recognition in 1941, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art staged his first solo exhibition. His mature work appeared in one-man shows at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; the Royal Photographic Society, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other prestigious venues. Bullock’s pictures Let There Be Light and Child in Forest have become icons in the history of photography, following their prominent inclusion in The Family of Man, Edward Steichen’s landmark 1955 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.
Despite early acclaim, however, the true breadth and depth of Bullock’s career have remained largely in the shadows. Wynn Bullock: Revelations shines new light on this major photographer and offers the most comprehensive assessment of his career in nearly forty years. Produced by the High Museum of Art in partnership with the Center for Creative Photography this retrospective traces Bullock’s evolution, from his early experimental work of the 1940s through the mysterious black-and-white imagery of the 1950s and the color/light abstractions of the 1960s, and to his late metaphysical photographs of the 1970s. The book presents 110 images, including some from the Bullock Estate that have before never been published. An essay by the High’s curator of photography Brett Abbott explores the nuances of Bullock’s approach to photography and its fascinating relationship to the history of science and philosophy. The volume also includes an illustrated chronology, a bibliography, selected collections, an exhibitions history, a list of plates, and notes.”
Get the book here.
Find out about the exhibit here.
Read a collection of quotes by Wynn Bullock here.
Find out more about Wynn Bullock here.
Suffusion XV, Skogafoss, Iceland, 2012
To find what I was looking for, it took three visits to this waterfall.
On the first visit, I made conventional postcards surveying the site with a curious eye: cliffs, grass, moss, waterfall, pool, river, rock, vapor, rainbow, sun, clouds, rain, tourists, and horses. The images I made were competent – and nothing more.
On the second visit, I identified my primary focus – the fast-moving complex patterns the water made as it fell in waves through the air. Images that isolated these patterns contained a number of qualities that I was excited about, both something related to what I had been developing in other images and something new. I had found what I was looking for. But, when I evaluated the images I made and developed the material further (enhancing the patterns by combining them and adding new elements), it became clear that I needed more material to make a complete statement. During development, I made notes and sketches to chart my progress and refine my ideas.
On the third visit, I walked up to the waterfall and stood in front of it, silently watching for new patterns and making exposures for the better part of an hour. I was thrilled to be immersed in a magical moment, completely focused and undisturbed. At the end of this session, my good friend and colleague Arthur Meyerson asked, “Did you get anything?” “Yes,” I responded, “I got a body of work.”
With so many wonderful possibilities out there, why would you return to the same well more than once? Let me count the reasons.
1 You’ll get to spend more time with your favorite people, places, or things.
2 You’ll have an opportunity to make the images that almost worked or that you missed.
Make a list to learn from your mistakes and create a working plan.
3 You’ll have an opportunity to improve your images.
Practice makes perfect.
4 You’ll learn more about a place.
By increasing your understanding of the places you photograph, your photographs will become more interesting.
5 You’ll see changes in the place.
Time reveals new things, changing subjects and changing us.
6 You’ll see new things.
Having first found the images that come to you naturally, you’ll later find yourself challenged to look for other kinds of images, which will stimulate your creativity and increase your visual versatility.
7 You’ll learn more about yourself. You’ll be called to identify your habits, changes, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and purpose.
Just because we see new things doesn’t mean we will see in new ways. In fact, it’s often during times when we are engaged by a great deal of new information that we fall back on our habits. When we see the same things again, we are challenged to see in new ways and/or deepen the ways we see them.
What things would be most valuable for you to revisit?
How many new ways can you imagine approaching a subject?
What do you hope to accomplish when you revisit them?
What can you learn about yourself when you return – preferences, tendencies, habits, core strengths, areas for improvement, etc.?
This is a selection of my picks of my father’s top 12 images.
This doesn’t reflect sales, publication, or web views.
It simply reflects my opinion.
It’s challenging to choose so few images – but it’s insightful.
Try it with your own images or artists’ work that influences you.