Saturday Evening Post #83 : Daring to Look- The Work of a Photographic Witness

“Daring to Look”, is a book of the some of the work of an American 1930s photographer named Dorothea Lange.

Many no doubt will have never heard of Dorothea, but chances are extremely high that you will have seen at least one, or two of her stunning photos. They are stunning not because of their gifted photographic skill and design, but rather of the compelling story that in encased (almost wrote enshrined) in the study.

One of them was used eventually as the image on a USP stamp.

Here is a link to see, “Migrant Mother,
Oh, you’ll say, I’ve seen that before.
And another to “White Angel Breadline

A quick Google will of course find many more, but here is a good selection.
Which also has a quick potted history of her work during the great depression and among Japanese internees during WWII.
The one thing the site doesn’t describe is her slowmoving train wreck family life, nor does it really emphasise the struggles she made to have her work recognised. But those details are well documented elesewhere.

She once said, “Every image you make, ever photograph you see, becomes in a sense a self-portrait. The portrait is made more meaningful by intimacy—an intimacy shared not only by the photographer with the subject, but by the audience.”

I’ve told the tale before, when as a little tacker with a library card I managed to get invited from the ‘junior’ section of the country library, into the mystic “adult section’. I have no idea who or why, but the photographic shelves had quite a number of portfolio size books, and I could pour over the works of the greats.
One of which was Dorothea Lange.

At the time, I had no idea of the ‘great’ depression, or the dust-bowl refugees, nor, can I say with some confidence did I register the social significance of Dorothea’s work. All I knew was that these photos said something imporant, and they had been placed in a folio selection, so, they must be good.

Better than my shots of ‘Blackie’ the cat on the verandah in the sunshine.

And somewhere in those musings on lazy weekend afternoons at the library, the concept of being able to use photography for more than just a record or a mindless selfie began to crystalise. What would emerge, a squishy blob (blog?) or a wonderful butterfly?

Later on I would learn that Dorothea also said, “It is no accident that the photographer becomes a photographer, any more, than the lion tamer becomes a lion tamer.”

She was once described as a “Photographic Witneses”. Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field, contains not only photographs from her work, but also previously unpublished field notes of her work for each photo.

Perhaps those folios in the library did not just get there by accident. How wonderful is the workings of the universe sometimes.

Saturday Evening Post #83 :Nothing in Art must look Accidental

Many years ago, a lifetime in cat years in-fact, I was visiting a friend who invited me to view a portfolio of photographic prints that he had been given.

“What do you think?” he asked.

When I look at someone else’s work, I like to take the time to ‘live’ with the images. To let the visuals ‘ooze’ down into me and see them with the intent of the maker.
Now these were substantial prints. The smallest would have been about 20×24″ (50x65cm).

So I began to turn them over. After three or four of them, I was struck with the singular feeling from each one.
They were all landscapes, and more ‘Land” than “Scape”.  Small details of rock, or tree, branch or pool, edge or small surface.
Let it be known, I’m a minimalist at the best of times, and such an approach to line, form, shape, tone, pattern are a preferred photo hunting ground from me.

Yet, as I continued to turn the prints over, it became clear to me, that what I was looking at were, if nothing else, simply technical exercises. No intent to involve the viewer. Just segments of something.

“So?” I was asked.

Taking a deep breath, I said, “I think there is very little of the maker to be seen in any of these shots.”  “Most are a jumble of visual elements that don’t hold in a cohesive way, allowing me as a viewer to be part of the experience.” “I can’t determine how the maker felt, did they like or dislike the scene, was it a happy time or a strain.”  “The maker certainly has put a lot of time into the making, and I’m not sure if they made the prints or had a lab produce them, so it is quite a time and monetary investment, but I’m struggling for the ‘Why”.

Freeman Patterson, once said at a seminar, “Nobody can ever hide behind the camera. Accept the fact that when you make a picture you are revealing a little about yourself. For us most subjects have a symbolic importance.”
And I guess that is what I missed in the portfolio, the symbolic importance.

I’ve worked a range of genre over the years.  Even spent a week as a horse photographer. But I moved on from that quickly when I discovered how smart horses are.

I also worked for awhile photographing classic cars for car-mags.  Having an inherent interest in the subject, I found that it was much more than a technical exercise of showing off the car, or the working parts.  Classics are put together, sometimes over many years by enthusiasts, and I enjoyed being able to find those special little touches the maker had put into the vehicle, and bringing those for others to share and delight in.

Content and style need to work together to covey feelings and ideas for the viewer to experience.

I really enjoy exploring buildings. Not so much the whole structure, but the little touches that either the builder, architect, or owner has put in to say, “This is what I enjoy”

Where-ever I’ve travelled, both in Australia, and overseas, looking for those little moments of bouncing light, or delicate colours or interesting arrangements of elements, that stimulates me to bring the camera to my eye and frame an extension of the makers original vision.

One of my fav lenses for this sort of work is a 70-200mm zoom. The narrower angle forces me to be very specific and include only the absolute essentials.  I’ve often thought that if I had to only have one lens on a desert island, then the 70-200 would be my first choice.  Second would be a wonderful old 105mm macro – a manual focus lens.

While our group was doing the tourist thing a little while back BCV (Before Corona Virus), I took off to walk the side streets and enjoy the smorgasbord of shapes, colours and styles that the owners had on show.

“Nothing in Art must look Accidental” Edgar Degas

 

Little Visits: Grey on Grey

After about a week of really sunny pleasant weather to celebrate our release from restrictions, we were planning a Little Visit to Eynesbury Grey Box Forest.

And

As it turned out, so the weather turned.  So I pulled on my best grey jacket, and we set out under a grey, ashen, sky hoping that the sun might break through a little.

But

When we arrived at the forest, the weather had ‘lowered’ even further, and any chance of well lit photos had disappeared.  However we wanted to look to see if the Flame Robins were in good numbers and set off like adventurers along one of the maintained tracks.

It has been said, either kindly or unkindly, that I have Grey Box sap flowing in my veins.  There is something very soothing to me about stepping off the track and merging into the forest.  The grey might seem bland to some, but there are so many tones, so many rich shapes and such beautiful trees and that I find it a visually exciting environment.

One of the masters of the forest area at Eynesbury is Jacky Winter.

I find myself enamoured with these delightful little birds that seem both so well adapted and so well suited to the Grey Box area.  They don’t come in a wide range of flashy colours, they are somewhat small and inconspicuous, but they always to make the forest dance and sing when we come across them. Perhaps its their ‘tail wag’ with the leadining white edges of the tail flashing their presence.

We were fortunate enough to locate five pairs during the morning.

Perhaps the most interesting were a pair that had located quite a large grub and it took both of them to subdue it.  Once they had eaten it they were off to a tree for a rest for the awhile.

Enjoy

Brown Treecreeper

Not a resident of Eynesbury but a regular visitor. Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater

Saturday Evening Post #82: The Encounter

It’s interesting how as photographers we keep striving to make improvements to our vision or style. Finding a better way to approach a subject, explore new lighting options, wrestle with buying that ‘new’ lens that will give us a ‘better’ pictures or that new piece of software that will ‘uncover the hidden photograph in your collection’.

Many lightyears ago, in the days of filum, I was a member of a group of working photographers that would get together on an ad-hoc basis every other month or so, and generally we’d meet in a cafe in Lygon Street Fitzroy for a late Friday lunch, well it was a lunch that went late. Sometimes we’d bring along prints or tear-sheets for discussion. The last few times I remember taking the old iPad with a few pictures of recent making.

One of the house rules was it was a discussion on all things photography, from technique, to style, to equipment, processes, other people’s work, and future opportunities. Sometimes it was a bit like a parliamentary debate, other times more like a inspirational speakers session. Just depended on how much ‘red-ned’ was consumed during the course of the afternoon.

But one question, we all had to have an answer to was “Whatchabeendoin” What new image, vision, exploration or direction we had each been travelling in.

One of the group was oft to quote a verse from St. Matthew 6  “Behold, the birds of the air…. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin”
Gotta love that 1611 King Jimmie English.  “Behold”.  Not just make a glancing look or a peek, but drum roll, Behold!

He’d almost always bring it up when someone was lamenting the slow down of business, the ungratefulness of clients, or the problems of marketing a new product. His point was always the same, well, at least as I remember.
Bird’s don’t go to another lecture, another seminar on how to find clients for their song, they just sing. No bird has ever had to attend a month long session with a personal trainer on the benefits of correct nest building. No bird looks at its current situation and laments not having this or that opportunity to expand its business. They just do bird things.

No flower sits worrying about should it move overseas for a better market, change its colour or its style to match the ‘current trend’, nor does a flower seek out a self-help guru to improve its image.  They just continue to make the world a brighter place to live.

It is as Mike Johnson over on TOPS says, “Viewing an expressive photograph has the potential to be an occasion”
Most people see art as a static event. You go to a gallery, the sculpture is the same week in week out, the painting remains inert, the basket-weaving or quilted piece in unchanging. Ready to be reviewed, but never “Beheld”.

Yet as Mike goes on to explain, “It can also be an encounter. The potential to be an event in the viewer’s life”
We are so bombarded these days with visuals, sometimes very graphic visuals, that it all becomes a bit old hat.
Yet for someone who works behind the camera, takes the time to work through post-processing and ponders over the variations on a theme from a photoshot, the occasion of showing a finished piece is a gifting and the viewer’s response is part of that. It is an Encounter.

 

 

Moments: The Little Warrior

This series was shot a couple of years back.
EE and I had been working with a pair of Black-shouldered Kites for over a year, and they had managed two successful nestings.

The nest was at the very top of a small pine tree inside a farm paddock, the birds would often fly out over the roadway where we were parked.

Just about fledging time a troupe of Black Kites moved into the area and took great interest in the young ones sitting high-up out in the open.  This resulted in some great aerial battles by Mum and Dad, yet the Blacks persisted in coming back and getting closer.
Of the three young in the nest, one was obviously a few days ahead of its siblings, and while not a great aeronaut yet, it could fly well enough to look after itself.

On this morning the Black Kites were even more intense on their attack, and swooped right over the remaining nestlings.

Mum and Dad flew frantic missions to see them off, but were not having much success.
It must have gotten all to much for the Little Warrior, as it burst out of the trees and joined in the foray.  Dad then had a new problem, and that was to hunt the young one away from the far more skillful Black Kites.

However the young warrior was not having a bar of that and continued to press attacks against the larger birds. What the big birds thought of it would have been interesting.  But it tired quickly, and needed to drop down on to the tree for a rest, followed very closely by one aggressive Black Kite. Fortunately nothing came of the attack, and the bigger birds became bored and like teenagers in a shopping mall, moved on to see what else they could find.

Dad flew out and caught a mouse, and quickly returned to reward his Little Warrior.

Black Kite over the nest.

Leave my family alone.

The big birds would not take NO for an answer.

Dad doing his best to keep the young one away from the bigger birds

Swinging in past Dad, and heading for an attack

Well if noise was enough to intimidate the Blacks, the young one certainly gave its best shot.

Defending upside down and Dad watches for other danger.

After a few minutes in the air, the young Warrior needed a rest, but the big birds did not stop their pursuit.

As a reward Dad arrived with a nice fresh snack to reward his Little Warrior.

Saturday Evening Post #81 : On Stranger Tides

“In the rush to return to normal,
use this time to consider
which parts of normal
are worth rushing back to.” – Dave Hollis

Greetings from, The Doona Hermit Headquarters.

Title is a take from a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. (Tells you I’ve had little to do with my Lock-Down time;-) )

We all sit twiddling our self-isolated thumbs awaiting our fate. 
Mind, just as well today, as we literally have had about 10 seasons in the one day.  I walked early, and got wet, then the sun came out. Then it rained. And, as I write, the rain is pelting down on the patio, looks more like small hail as it scatters over the tiles. It must be bad, as Tai Chi pigeon, and friend, are sitting under the patio table to keep out of the wind and the rain.  EE and I often measure the severity of the weather by how many doves fit under the table.  “Oh, it’s a real three pigeon-under-the-table storm out there.” etc.

I have, it seems just about run out of current photos for sharing. I’m sure someone is going to say, “If I see another Black-shouldered Kite with mouse shot…”

In a bid of desperation, and to find something to do, I went on-line and purchased a new iPad Air the other week. My old, old, old, version 1 model 1 iPad hasn’t been able to keep up with the technology changes for several years, and I had sort of retired it to reading magazines, books and checking the weather.
I remember well the day, as I proudly opened the package, when it first arrived. 
I’d ordered one as soon as they were announced way back in 2010, BCV   (Before Corona Virus)
Mind, I had been sold on the idea since a keynote speech Steve Jobs had delivered nearly 10 years before, saying, :

What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes … and we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything and you’re in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers.” 

You’d have loved to have had the frequent flyer points my little iPad racked up.  EE used it for client presentations to magazine editors, I even wrote a few articles with it, I used it to teach at Box Hill TAFE for awhile, and it even at one stage using an app called ImageSmith, talked to the Lightroom database to access images. But, technology moved on, and without the bells and bluetooth whistles, it will now be another paperweight on an already crowded desk.
I started this blog on the new Air, and then moved back to the desktop to retrieve the Falcon shot. Haven’t had time to set it all up to sync properly yet.  More to do.

A few exciting reports have come in from people who’ve had good views of Flame and Scarlet Robins in various places, so it might be that the bush birds have indeed had a good summer breeding session and we might have some opportunities soon to get to know them.  The fine wet weather will have enriched the favoured moss beds which should be in good condition and well stocked with food I expect. Also prolific this year seems to be a small salt-bush that has rich red berries.   The insects feeding on the carotene laden fruit will no doubt provide plenty of bright red feather material for the robins.

So, we wait for what shall indeed seem “Stranger Tides”, to take us back into the field.

Here is one of the last views we had of the young Brown Falcon from Cassia-of Cinnamon’s clutch.
It had been sitting on the fence in the open, and flew up the fenceline among the surrounding bracken, to find a thermal that was rising from an open sandy area.—I don’t think it was an accidental discovery, I’m sure it knew exactly where the air was rising.

It swung round, picked up speed and gradually began to rise. 

This might look like a tight hardworking turn, but in reality its probably not using any energy at all, as the thermal is doing all the work over the wings.
I waited until it made the circle, and then turned in my direction, I wanted the sunlight running over the face and the body, and it straightened out just a little at the right moment.
It gained height very quickly and then sailed away across the paddock to disappear in the distance.

Time will tell if it is still hunting in the area.

I hope you’ve all been safe over the past few weeks. Also hope that the time has given you a chance to refuel the creative batteries and as D Hollis suggests, are ready to ‘rush back to things worthwhile.’

Remain

One of Scomo’s Donna Hermits.

For the technically ept, this was shot on the D500 with the Auto-Area autofocus selected. Canon—Automatic AF Point Selection. It’s the “point and shoot” mode really.  Mostly ignored by those of us with scorn for such things automatic.
I’d been messing with the setting a few times the past few trips, and find that it can indeed pick out an inflight bird against the sky first time, everytime.  Not so hot among the scrub and trees, but, I was working on that.

 

 

 

Saturday Evening Post #80: We Bounce

Greetings all my Fellow Scomo Doona Hermits!

Been cold, wet and utterly miserable weather here today, and probably has has some impact on my approach to life in general. Too cold to go out, and no where to go anyway. 🙂

“We Bounce”, is a term, that a mentor, David DuChemin coined after an accident sidelined him for 18 months or so back in 2011.
He was leading photo-tour in Italy, and was standing on a 12m high wall explaining the variations of light, form, tone, texture, viewpoint, lens selection and vision, when he misplaced a foot, and fell to the bottom of the wall. Legs, ankles and pelvis were broken, and required much surgery to repair, and even more to get right. As David tells, he was fortunate; as three or four people had fallen from the same wall the previous year, and all had died.

A year on, and he was able to walk, mostly with the aid of a cane. “The human spirit is a remarkable force,” he says.

We can’t all have perfect health, perfect bodies, perfect lives, and perfect photos… But we can chose to endure, to perservere, to take the courage to keep going, to sleep off the venom, (a reference to Honeybadgers—part of his post) to Bounce Back.

And, when bouncing isn’t enough, as David remarks, the truly blessed also have friends. And he then goes on to give thanks for all those who followed his trials that year.

So, this, is a post to say, “Thanks, Thank you to all who’ve been following along the ramblings of a Saturday evening, when we both could be wasting time watching tv, or out and about with family and friends.”
“Thank You, to all those who have tirelessly worked to bring us some stability in the dreadful condition we find ourselves embroilled, so many risking so much for so many.”

“Thank you” to our governement leaders for their forthright and determined decisions that have given us a glimmer of hope for some relief.  I only have to look at the world sats to see how fortunate we have been. Tough, yes, but we’ll Bounce Back.
It turned my head to realise that the United States now have lost more people in three months than battle casualites during the Vietnam Conflict. (58,220  1964-1975)

One good thing from being at home is that many tutors, trainers and artists have setup online access to some of their materials.
I’ve mentioned Jon Young and his “What the Robin Knows”, book before, and he has an hour or so long seminar Discover the Hidden World of the Animal Through Bird Language. In the webinar, Jon, Kristi, and Dan shared some truly fun stories and tips today that can help you tune into Nature through the voices of the birds.  It was 5:00am here, but a replay is much more convenient.
PS, its long and rambling as these sort of discussions are, so make sure you’ve a cup of the Earl’s finest, or whatever takes your fancy, if you settle to watch it. But the Nuggets fall quickly and are worth searching out.

You can view the webinar replay here.

And my  Wordpress Friend, Ashley, over at Aussiebirder.com, his blog is here
Ashley has just published a new Edition of his book What Birds Teach Us   so good luck with the publication.

For over six months, we had the opportunity to work with a single Grey Butcherbird, it has become quite confident at our presence. Now, I know that anyone who has Butcherbirds in their local patch will find that pretty ordinary, as Butcherbirds quickly assimilate.
However the last few sessions we had, Butch came out into our area on its own accord.  The featured two shots, are a result of the bird flying directly over my shoulder. Close encounter.
Had to do vertical, as I couldn’t fit it all in on horizontal. Just about full frame. Close.
Jon talks about such encounters as   Connection, Not Conflict     As awareness grows, so appreciation grows, so, empathy grows.

We bounce, but its usually a matter of choice, in life, in art, in photography.

Keep takin’ pictures, we do.

 

Remain

 

Davyyd.