young photographer at the beach 1963 (photo by Broot)
I've tried a number of approaches to presentation of my wrestlings with Self-Discovery, none fully satisfactory. If you've clicked through to this page, you're at the top of the verbose variant. It's almost certainly Too Much Information for most potential readers. I'm not sure that the world needs a rambling text in reflection upon my photographic oeuvre, but it's not in my nature to just shut up and think through this Exercise. As I've observed before: how can I know what I think until I see what I say?, and Posterity is out there somewhere.
Photography has been an avocation for me for 55 years, ever since I bought the used Alpa in 1962 and began to live via images brought into focus on its ground glass. Its focal plane shutter broke long ago, and the mirror no longer returns to 45°, so I can't experience the looking-through magic anymore, but the physical experience of holding the camera and turning its controls is a visceral reminder of the early years of working out what to do with the camera. In fact I used it for only a couple of years, and it was succeeded by a Nikon S2 rangefinder camera which was my main tool for 15 years or so.
Most of my negatives are neatly filed away in numbered glassine sleeves, and I've done some digitizing of early work, which included
and this from early courting days, some 6 months later:
experiments and accidents were a vital element:
Quite a few of the pictures I did of people are still resonant, examples of a sort of engagement that I've mostly fallen out of the habit of.
They seem now to fit within Andy's first 3 Stages:
There were lots of excursions around Boston:
Stage 4 ("Recognition of the power of expression") accompanied the still photography course we took in 1963-64, and the beginnings of the serious study of the work of established photographers. I wish I could reconstruct the sequence of discovery, remember when I first encountered Edward Weston and Paul Strand and Walker Evans, and what I made of the engagement. I know that I became enthralled with Aperture (and thus with Minor White's definitions of the Photographic), and (though I blush to think it) fancied myself knowledgeable on the subject of photographic aesthetics.
There were other domains of life that eventually overlapped with photography. I was set on a course of becoming an anthropologist, and joined the Peace Corps to explore what it would mean to be professionally engaged with other cultures. When we went to Sarawak (1965-1967) my photography shifted in the direction of the ethnographic and documentary, but I didn't do nearly as much photography as I should have, and had no easy access to darkroom facilities. We spent a year making films, and I did a lot of (quite undistinguished) Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides. Here are some images from that time:
At this point in the chronology, about 1967, what I see in my archive is pretty much entirely descriptive, scarcely imaginative at all, and with very little that invoked Art Photography. The first four Stages Andy describes seem quite recognizable in my own evolution, but my own path seems to diverge from that described for the fifth stage. I've certainly known people who exemplify the "more effort and greater care is put into every single capture, and its attendant post-capture processing" approach, on the way to producing more technically accomplished and elegant prints to show. And the determination to create portfolios, described for the sixth stage, is also familiar and praiseworthy in others, but it hasn't been my path; I've rarely been inclined to seek audiences or public display beyond posting images to my Flickr photostream. I realize that I've taken the same light-under-bushel approach to music (I hate performing) and writing (I haven't done much to seek more readers for my blog, and as an academic I avoided publishing and paper-giving). What's that all about?
When we returned to the US in May 1967, it was to find that EVERYTHING seemed to have changed: the music, the clothes, the attitudes, the cultural landscape. We bought a VW, drove to California, plunged into graduate study at Stanford, and gradually worked out relatively comfortable niches for ourselves. We bought an enlarger and a 4x5 camera, started to explore the landscape of the west, and I did a lot of photographs of friends in what seem now to have been the Halcyon Days of talk and discovery. Heady times in the Bay Area, and the Whole Earth Catalog was just down the street. General Systems Theory and Ecology and Geography were my successive passions, all under the rubric of Anthropology.
We went to Death Valley:
explored along the shores of the Pacific, and did a trip to British Columbia. Betsy did the camera work for a film about a slightly mad sculptor (which had an early example of computer music as most of its soundtrack). This one came from his barn:
And our daughter Kate was born, setting off a tsunami of first-child photography.
And then in 1972 we packed everything up and drove off to 20 years in Nova Scotia.
In my fieldwork (on agricultural change in a regional system) I used aerial photography to analyze the evolving landscape, and photographed barns and other human landscape features, though not as systematically as I should have. I also bought thousands of photos of Abandoned Ancestors in junk stores, and began to study them as evidence of migration and social organization. That Nova Scotia Faces project was surely an example of Andy's Stage 6 (Need to tell a story), and eventually (many years later) became Bluenose Physiognomy, the first of my Blurb books. I also took a lot of pictures of people who passed though our house, and of Betsy and Kate as well.
I started teaching at Acadia University in 1973, and almost immediately started to use images as an integral part of my classes. I struggled with an epidiascope, then bought a Nikon and macro lens and used a copy stand to make hundreds of teaching slides from books, which a not-so-admiring colleague referred to as my "magic lantern slides from the Holy Land" but I saw as a means to implant memorable visual examples in my students' minds. It sometimes worked.
This seems a long way from Art Photography, to which I didn't return until making the plunge into digital in the early 2000s. Almost entirely missing from the photographic archives is the 11-year project of hiking the Appalachian Trail (1992-2003, all day-hikes, thousands of miles of driving to trailheads) and there's no trace of my 13 years as Science Librarian at Washington & Lee University in Virginia. During those years I did vast amounts of World Wide Web work, and started to scan and make available on the Web some of my archive of images from earlier years, which I wrangled into and out of Photoshop; and I continued to study photobooks that flowed through the W&L library. I began to use Flickr in 2004, and it has been my primary distribution and storage medium ever since.
I have always been a collector—images, books, music, instruments, tools, objets and, well, stuff—so it is always comforting to discover that others have the same proclivities. I snagged this passage from a biography of Walker Evans:
I retired in 2005 and we moved to midcoast Maine. Almost immediately I started to digitize the Nova Scotia faces images, and started on my own negative archive as well. We bought a Nikon D40 in 2008, and ever since have enjoyed the slippery slope into a reengagement with photography—working together, more cameras, new lenses, ancillary equipment. We processed images in Aperture for the first 5 years or so and have been gradually switching to Lightroom. Betsy's long-run interest in macrophotography blossomed magnificently and she joined a cooperative gallery and worked with a giclée printer, and has had a long series of shows in midcoast locales. A Nikon D5000 broadened the scope, and a D800 followed for Betsy and a D610 for me. The D5000 was converted to infrared:
And we both started using iPhones to fill in around the edges. We've both done several workshops at the nearby Maine Media Center, and John Paul Caponigro lives only half an hour south, so the possibilities for courses are wide and deep.
So what's next? Where does the Augmented Eye turn, and for what purposes? For me, individual photographs are little worlds, rather like Cornell boxes: ephemeralities captured and curated, perhaps appreciated for their bijou qualities and their representational elegance or eloquence, but really gaining significance as they are woven into emerging narratives. My photography seems to spawn projects which take on lives of their own, often beginning as Flickr Albums and sometimes evolving into Blurb books.
There's always plenty to do in technical realms, and lots of tools that could further extend the RAW into more refined images. I'm scarcely in control of Lightroom, largely ignorant of Photoshop's powers, only beginning with InDesign, and haven't yet touched Illustrator. More powerful computing equipment, more storage, better organization...
The midcoast of Maine is a photographic paradise. Well, maybe everywhere is a photographic paradise once one's eyes become attuned to indigenous idioms and rhythms, and one learns sensitivity to light and pattern and denizens of the place. We've swarmed all over the landscape, often returning to the same places and still finding new wonders to discover in rocks and trees and shoreline. Our strategies are quite different, Betsy being much more careful and deliberate than I generally am, and she generally prefers the macro viewpoint. I've been in awe of her talents for a long time, and am surprised almost daily by what she discovers and creates.
We visit Nova Scotia and Bay Area California every year. In 2013 we did a week-long Food Photography and Turkish Cooking workshop in Turkey. And in spring 2014, 2015, and 2016 we were in Brittany and Paris; in 2017 we made a 6-week driving trip to California and back. We talk of going to Iceland, to Cornwall and Devon, and to the American southwest.
This workshop has inspired weeks of almost daily photographic expeditions, the purchase of a heap of photobooks, a lot of thinking and writing, and the conviction that the only sensible treatment for the affliction is more of same. We are enormously grateful to Andy for his inspiration and the energies he has put into these six weeks.
whois page, including links to Blurb books
my postings for the workshop
my blog and a subset of photography posts