Depth of Spirit

December 1, 2019. This will be my first blog post on my new, and I hope improved, website. My goal is to write at least monthly about topics that are important to me in photography, and hopefully shed some light and spark discussion. By way of introduction, I began my photographic career while still in art school. I was taking courses that would, hopefully, prepare me for a career in graphic design and commercial art. At that time it was called simply commercial art, meaning that we would do art of literally anything a client wanted whether it was an illustration for a new and improved toilet seat (that one was a challenge) or a new Porsche, or even an illustration for a movie poster. With the tools available at the time, usually tempera paint or gauche on an illustration board, and always on a very tight deadline we created paintings and illustrations to tell the clients story. While I was in art school, as a required class, I took a course in basic photography. Of course, at that time, it was done using film and photographic paper in a wet photography darkroom. When I saw the first photograph emerge on that piece of Kodak Medalist single weight fiber based paper under the soft glow of a safelight I was hooked. No longer would I be a board (bored) illustrator. I would make photographs! And since that time I have made photographs.


In my career as a photographer I have photographed almost anything you could imagine from cars and motorcycles to Christmas ornaments, numerous kinds of food, fashion work, some forensic work and tens of thousands of portraits, and even an occasional wedding.  It is that background that I bring to what I have really been in love with all along; the landscape. Whether it is in the mountains, the desert or near the ocean, my favorite place to be has always been outdoors. I have been blessed by God to be able to do what I love to do, full time, and to spend a lot of time exploring this beautiful gorgeous blue green planet that God called Eden. For me it truly is like the Garden of Eden.In fact I often refer to it as God’s Garden.

The term “Depth of Spirit” came from a photographer I used to know (since passed to his reward). He did the most penetrating portraits I have ever seen. He said that a truly great photograph came out of the depth of the human spirit, and it was more important to have “depth of spirit” than it was to have depth of field. I believe he was right. Although I do want to have great depth of field as well.

The Darkroom, that's where the magic happens!

My workspace

This is my enlarging station, and frankly, where the magic happens.  The question invariably comes up among denizens of the darkroom, what enlarger do you use.  That's a good question.  At this time I am using an old ZBE Starlite 55 head on a Super Omega D-5 chassis.

My Darkroom

 Starlite enlargers were made for commercial use in high production photo labs.  The enlarging head, lamphouse, has 1,000 watts of light output.  It has a computer controlled key pad so that the light output is consistently the same quantity and quality over the life of the bulbs.  Contrast filtration can be dialed in using the key pad as well as the exposure time and light output.  I purchased this years ago when I printed a lot of Ilfochrome, which is no longer made.  It gave me the advantage of two stops more light output, from a more effcient light box, than the Super Chromega DII (EII actually) that I had been using.  My present day wish list is either to get two more of these lamphouses, or to convert my other two Omega chassis to an LED light source.

After the paper is is exposed using the enlarger it is then moved to a sink line for processing.  The print developer is the first tray on the left side, then then the stop bath, fixer and the last trays, at the far end, are a water bath, or holding tray where the photographs are kept until it's time to dry them for storage until a fair amount of them are accumulated. When that happens the prints are re-wet, refixed, toned - if toning is to be done, given a final wash and then dried for dry mounting on acid free, lignin free archival board and prepared for presentation.

 December 2019
The Evolution of an Image

My photographs are hardly ever representative of objective reality, but they are representative of my reality, my artistic interpretation of the scene.  In this series I will talk about why I made a particular photograph, what was done in the camera and then what I did in the darkroom to realize the finished image, or at least the image as it is right now, realizing that I hardly ever reach a final conclusion on a photograph, especially when i am working on it in my wet, traditional, darkroom.

The original exposure for this photograph, "Forest over McDonald Creek" was made when I was in Glacier National Park, Montana in September of 2018.  When we arrived in Kalisell, Montana a large portion of Glacier National Park was closed due to fires that were burning out of control.  The worst of it was near McDonald Creek on the western side of the park.  Parts of the lower Going to the Sun Road were accessible but not all the way through to Logan Pass and the eastern parts of the park.  When Going to the Sun Road was opened I then had full access to McDonald Creek.  I parked my truck and was attempting to walk along McDonald Creek, I say attempting because it's a very difficult, and in places impossible, hike, when I came to this spot.  I say impossible because there are numerous places that would require a difficult climb, or the ability to walk on water, which I do not possess.

As I moved back up the embankment the pattern of the water and rocks in front of me began to make sense and I was able to build what I thought would be a nice composition incorporating the rocks in the creek (really it's a pretty substantial river, but they call it a creek, so who am I to argue?!) and the forest on the far side of the creek, river, whatever it's called. 


December 20, 2019

Compositionally Correct

 When I began my career in art many years ago some of the most common things taught to us were the "rules of composition".  As if art has any hard and fast rules that must be obeyed.  And yet there they were, as immutable as the traffic laws all of us are expected to abide by.  But exactly where did those rules come from?  And who said that there were rules at all and that they must be obeyed always, and if I choose to no obey them will I get a ticket for my refusal to adhere? No one wanted to find out because breaking those rules, especially in color and composition class (an actual class I was required to complete for my degree) because breaking one or more of them would surely result in a marked down grade.


Composition is a way of seeing, strong or weak according to the individual

"No one can teach another to see, if composition could be taught anyone might become an artist. Composition is a way of seeing, strong or weak, according to the individual.  Rules of composition are derived from the work of great masters and used by weak imitators to create nothing." Edward Weston

When I first heard that statement many years ago it was so liberating to me artistically.  Up to that point everyone that I knew that was involved in art exercised, and lived by, the "Rules of Composition".  No one understood where they came from, and no one could explain why they worked, or didn't work, and why it was that we had to conform to them.  So while artists are historically, and classically, non conformist, these rules were so sacrosanct that no one was willing to breach them.

Liquid in Motion

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"There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about."  Helen Frankenthaler

So, if there are no rules of composition, how do we build effective compositions?  Compositions that tell the story we want to tell? That will be covered in the next iteration of this blog.  Thanks for reading, come back soon, and have a very Merry Christmas!

I was selected to serve as Artist in Residence at Bighorn National Forest.  Here is a video from that experience.
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