Below are two photos made after a fresh snowfall in Cochrane while Samantha and I were walking our dog, Brando. These were shot with “Einstein” our glass lens Holga (which is our ‘sharp’ Holga). To see just how sharp, click on the photos for larger views. Thanks for looking!
Archive for art
I had never managed to photograph a fox. I have always been fascinated by his being cunning and reserved. I had met her sometimes, a look, a noise, an escape. Just enough time to take up the camera and the fox was already gone to safer places. So I decided to start a photographic safari, I only wanted to take her a picture with her “winter coat” in order to capture the wonderful figure with her most beautiful colors, when the harsh winter weather increases her hair and makes her look like a teddy bear. Early in the morning I put on her trail in the park of the Gran Paradiso. Finally, after six hours of walking, I can see her in the valley that goes back at her lair. I followed her, trying not to scare her. She sees me, but It seems not to have fears and she let me go with her. It was really exciting to share with her two hours, standing three meters away in complete harmony and with deep respect. As a used model lent herself to the objective of the camera and I could photograph her in all possible ways. Unfortunately the light was too direct, with the sun that drew her silhouette, making silver her features. This is why I chose to underexpose the photograph so that the features were the only visible part. When I returned home I only exacerbated the part in “black” in post-production getting this result. ~ Stefano Ronchi
This image of Adrina among the roots was made with my Canon 50D and 16-35 2.8 back in June of 2009. It was f8 at 1/100. Sounds great, right? Well, it’s also shot at 1600 ISO, because just prior to arriving at this location, the model and I had been trying to shoot in an abandoned space that was very dark. So I’d cranked up the ISO to try to get a workable shutter speed under those conditions — then forgot to adjust it back to my usual 160 or 320 before resuming outdoor shooting. For various reasons, a tripod was not practical for this location, so the high ISO actually worked out well. It did allow me to shoot at a an optimal aperture for sharpness and depth of field, plus a high enough shutter speed to get very good sharpness hand-held, so a little noise is a trade-off I can live with. I’ve exhibited a 16×20 inch print of this image and the noise does not detract in my opinion — being properly exposed and not having heavy shadow or solid areas makes noise less of an issue. Converting to monochrome in Lightroom, adding a little vignette, and some secret herbs and spices completed the picture. I frequently shoot RAW with monochrome picture style because it gives me a good preview of what the image will look like in B&W, which is pretty much my “native language” when it comes to photography. Of course, the RAW file gives me the option to use color when an image calls for it.
About the image, we were in pursuit of a purported waterfall in an area south of Dayton, Ohio, but I’d not had a chance to scout this location ahead of time. So it wasn’t until we were on the scene after a 20 minute walk into the woods that we saw the stream was nearly dry, and nothing even resembling falls in sight. But the roots of these two trees on the shore of the stream bed provided a lot of visual interest and possibilities. Adrina tried some poses in the little cubby hole on the right side of the trees — I like those shots, but finding the spot where she could stretch out among the roots was a clear winner. As serene as this image looks, she was contending with the usual spiders and insects, while still managing to look graceful. We worked the scene a bit more, as well as some other spots near there before we headed back to the car, but I was confident that this frame would be the standout from that location. ~ Gary Mitchell
Darwin: Michael, the ‘Orton Effect’ or ‘Orton Imagery’ is now in the lexicon of photography as a creative artistic technique (whether done the old fashioned way with film or now using digital tools). I hear that soon there will be an Orton Filter in Photoshop Elements. How does it feel to have a process you refined become so popularized?
Michael: To be honest, up until a couple years ago I had no idea how widespread the use of this technique had become. The opportunity to replicate the original approach digitally, rather than with a camera and zoom lens, increased its popularity . It certainly lifts my day when I hear from someone who is using this , and who also seems to “get it”, and by get it I mean the idea behind its conception (Imitating pen and ink / watercolour technique). As for Adobe , they contacted us and said they would like to use my name and the effect in this falls Photoshop Elements Version 10 . This exposure should bring our new website to an expanded audience. The website slideshow “Earth Symphony” (viewable 1080p full-screen) Is loaded with “Orton Effect” images from the beginning years to the present.
Darwin: Your new artistic direction involves motion blur with your camera. When I first heard about this I thought to myself that you would just be repeating the motion blur effects that Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant have made popular. But I was wrong! I am impressed by how you made a technique that is relatively simple and available to anyone into your own vision. To me that is like taking a C chord on the guitar and somehow making it your own. The lesson here is to take any technique and use it to express your inner vision. How did you motion studies evolve into their current form?
Michael: I have been using camera motion , along with many other photographers , since the late 80’s, so this is not new to me. There are several examples of these, used in different ways in the book “Photographing Creative Landscapes”. This last year while away I began to “play” again, and take this basic concept of moving the camera to a place I had not been. I had used some compound movements in the past but now I really began to explore and combine them. Things started to happen . It was as exciting to me as seeing that first “Orton Effect” years and years ago. Every day I seemed to discover another path , to the point where I was moving the camera in two or more directions and changing focal length or focus at the same time. I started to recognize potential in subject matter that a week before I would have walked right past. I had not been this pumped in years. When I saw these images on a monitor the colours and blending where simply amazing to me. I was hooked. Technology is great , but creativity does come first . The slideshow “Freedom” on our website is completely camera motion.
Darwin: This new motion work you are doing is so distinctive that I think we may have an ‘Orton Motion Effect’ Again I want to congratulate you on turning whatever technique you try into you own unique form of expression. What is it about your personality that so clearly brings out your voice (it isn’t those special BC mushrooms is it?).
Michael: Oddly enough I have actually asked myself this question these last few years. How did I get here? In my case I would say a real sense of curiosity and an inquisitive problem solving mindset. I am constantly questioning not only what I am seeing but what my choices are in response . This I call my inner or creative conversation and this was the basis of the ideas put forth in “Creative Landscapes”. In my world the tools of photography are far outweighed by the multitude of choices we have in using them . At this point what pushes me on is the need to create something that surprises me, to find what I haven’t seen or done in the past. Where it goes from here , we will see. I am just grateful to pick up a camera and make it happen. ( I do spend a lot of time in the rain-soaked woods , hmmm ! )
Darwin: You have been a successful stock photography and now you are entering the fine art print market. How different are the two disciplines and which do you prefer?
Michael: Stock has been a very good ride for Mary and I . It certainly changed our lives in the monetary sense. I tried to be as creative as possible and still produce marketable “concepts” which was no easy task. There is no doubt that this does change the way one creates imagery. With the recent swing in the stock world I have been given the freedom to return to my days of “play”, and just make images for myself. ( Is there a better reason? ) . Where the fine art work goes from here is something I cannot predict as the world economy is so precarious . So far we have had very encouraging responses to the new work, many saying they have not seen comparable imagery before and that these images are more visually exciting than the “effect” from years ago.. The prints done on canvas and watercolour paper in large sizes have some amazingly intricate colour blending . I cannot believe some of the hues made possible simply by blending existing colours. We will see what happens.
Michael: By the, funny that you should mention the C chord. Not being able to obtain / license the music / soundtracks I would have liked for the slideshows (Vangelis and Kitaro didn’t answer the phone!) I set about creating them myself last year. I used acoustic , and electric guitars, a synthesizer, and a multitrack recording studio to lay the tracks and then mixed down from these. Since the 80’s I have loved working with what I refer to as the “third image” , the one created as two slides blend in the dissolve, and when you add music to this it becomes magic for me. If I can share only one experience I would chose these slideshows. If you can find some time to watch them in a darkened quiet room , this is as close as I can come to recreating what photography feels like to me. ~ Michael
To see more of Michael”s new work and slideshows visit his website: www.michaelortonphotography.com
This month I’m excited to share the work of artist and photographer Xavier Nuez. Born in Montreal and now living in Chicago, Xavier’s work has been featured in both galleries and museums and is included in numerous corporate, public and private collections.
Darwin: I notice that many of what I consider the best photographers are also musicians or musically inclined and that these photographers have some of the most evocative visual compositions. What is it about music and photography that gel so well?
Xavier: I’ve never considered the relationship between my music and my photography, so this is a new puzzle. There is something very meditative about the two, both in the production of the art and also in the appreciation afterward. When I’m shooting or playing music I can focus so intensely that nothing else exists, while I find it hard to concentrate most any other time!
They both seem to be art forms that require both left and right brain. In both cases you are channeling emotion through a mechanical instrument, an instrument that requires years and years of practice to master. And I must say here that I’m hardly a master with my guitar. I play just well enough to enjoy myself. There has always been a different level of passion and dedication to perfection with my photography.
It requires patience to master any instrument, and while I think most people understand that to be true with a musical instrument – that it takes years and years to develop the muscle memory and dexterity – I think most people underestimate the commitment required to master the technical skills required in photography, which includes not just the camera but the lighting equipment. So I guess another relationship is patience.
Lastly, creativity and expression are muscles that need to be exercised for you to be a good artist. Musical and visual art are just different muscles, and I do believe there are intangible benefits to my images, having more than one creative outlet.
Darwin: Besides being a fine photographer and musician, you do things like glaze and paint china and then make stunning detailed macro images of your work. I love the fact that you create art and then make additional art by photographing your first creation. What other art forms do you practice?
Xavier: Funny you should ask! For 15 years I was an avid sketch artist (mainly pencil) and occasional painter, but this passion has waned. Coincidently last week I bought a sketch pad because I miss drawing.
And for some years in my teens and twenty’s I loved writing short stories. I still enjoy writing but I haven’t written fiction in years.
I’ve always loved improv comedy and for a couple of years I studied with a group in Toronto. I wish this had been a bigger part of my life because it’s clear to me that through improv you smash down so many barriers to self expression.
Darwin: Your alleyway work is mind-blowing! What is the worst thing that has happened to you while making your forays in the dark and dangerous heart of the city? And what is the best thing that has happened to you while making alleyway photos?
Xavier: Well thank you very much! When I look at this series, it’s a little hard to believe how often I’ve put my life on the line. But the older I get the more cautious I become.
I just got back from Saint Louis where I just added a new image to the series. I spent hours during the day roaming through rundown areas, looking for something to shoot later at night. I had a long list of prospects, but I kept wondering if I should hire a cop for some of these – something I’ve never done. In the end I didn’t, but I did bring several friends with me, unlike just one the way I usually do.
I’ve had many heart-pumping moments, and I’ve come close to becoming a casualty too many times, but the worst and best story has to come from Compton, CA. First, its Compton – made famous by the dueling gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. While in the middle of a shoot, a gang – 12 guys in black hoodies – chase me and my 2 friends back to my van. We have time to throw the gear in and lock the doors but then the gang surrounds the van and tells us to get out. It’s surprising how organized they were – they were literally standing all around the van. I get the impression that if I try to leave, bullets will fly. Also, and this shows you how truly insane I can be, I’m holding out for the slim chance of actually going back to re-do the shot I was working on!!
It’s a Latino gang and I speak Spanish so I lower the window a crack and try to explain what I’m doing, emphasizing that I meant no disrespect. We have a tense conversation for several minutes, until the gang leader (the only one without a hoodie) asks me if I’m Luis, the friend of a friend. I say, “Yes! Of course I am!” He then starts waving to the gang saying, “I know this guy! He’s cool he’s cool!”
In an instant I go from being a target to being part of the family – it was just a mind-blowing turn of events. I step out of the van and half the gang hugs me. They tell me I can go back to taking pictures, and that I’m safe within certain streets – I’m beyond thrilled that I can return to my photograph. Several of the gang members including Jorge, the leader, decide to hang out with us and I set up again for the earlier photo.
Ten minutes later a cop car appears around the corner skidding to a halt. Two cops jump out with laser guided hand guns and because I’ve jumped in front of the camera to protect the shot, I find myself staring at a vibrating red dot on my chest.
A minute later, we’re all standing with our hands on the hood of the cop car. I’m waiting for the cops to relax before starting to explain what I’m doing, but Jorge jumps in and says “Do you officers know lieutenant Menendez? He’s a friend of mine.” The cops turn white and wide-eyed. They stare at each other and quickly return to their car, saying “We’re sorry we thought something was going on here. Have a nice day.” They get in the car and drive away and we never see them again. This gang has been paying off the lieutenant and you don’t mess with his revenue stream.
Jorge then comes up to me and says, “You’re not Luis, are you.” I say, no, I’m not, and we both laugh. I ended up getting 2 of my best shots that night.
Darwin: You make fine art images and you do assignment work, which do your prefer or do you like both for different reasons?
Xavier: Assignment work was 90% of my income for 20 years. I haven’t done a commercial gig in a long time – I’m not opposed to it but my art keeps me very busy. I’m thrilled that I can thrive by creating the images I’m truly passionate about. It’s no longer something I have to squeeze in at the end of the day.
I enjoyed being a commercial photographer – being paid to create photographs was a dream come true. Shooting architectural interiors for magazines and interior designers was the bulk of my work, with fashion, industrial and product filling in the rest.
Box is a collective project by Kevin Laloux and Maxime Delvaux. It’s a series of pictures made with cardboard and miniature furniture. The project represents several scenes that we created following our inspirations. The people in the pictures are shot in our studio and integrated by computer. ~ 354 photographers
Darwin: Congratulations on a fine looking website. I love the elegant, classic and simple design which really accents you spacious and experiential photography. Did you design your website, or did you use a customized template or hire a designer?
Michael: Thank you, I worked closely with a designer and programmer on the site. I had a number of ideas that I wanted incorporated into the site and it was suggested to me that I start from ground up. It’s still a work in progress with some interesting interactive elements being added soon, including a zoom feature to see the detail. I think the majority of people that view my work see it on the web and I wanted the viewer to have a more personal experience. I’ve included outtakes and videos of some of my better known images and I think this helps better connect with my audience . What I’m most proud of is the newest video “Ki” that Brad Kremer shot while we were in Japan earlier this year. I think he did a fantastic job and we’re working together on other projects now.
Darwin: You are also a talented musician. I know several other photographers who are musicians and each one of them has a simplicity and ethereal feel to their work. What is it about being trained at music that leads photographers to be more personally expressionistic and less documentary?
Michael: “Talented” is a little to generous! I was always interested in rhythm guitar and that’s what initially attracted me to the flamenco guitar. It was the subtleties and dynamic qualities of the music that helped inform me on how to approach photography. When I first picked up the camera in 2003 I realized that capturing simple and sparse imagery would not be as easy as it looked, it would require a commitment to evoke that same feeling that I enjoyed with music. Just as in music you practice all the time to pull off the one great performance and photography would be the same. Using long exposures also helps transform a scene from the literal into something more and this opens the image up for a more personal expression.
Darwin: Many fine art photographers seem to gravitate to shooting themes or projects yet you cover a variety of topics yet still keep the ‘look’ or ‘style’ of your work consistent. It seems that you work is more about what you feel and less about the subject. Is this ability to capture your emotions the key to developing personal style?
Michael: That’s completely what photography is about for me: being in a given space and capturing the emotion of the scene. Of course I don’t think this way when I’m out shooting, I’m just enjoying the places I visit. I think my images may have a similar look because of the effects of long exposures and I gravitate towards “clean spaces”. It seems my eye just extracts these elements from the scene and as I continue to practice I’m able to find it in more diverse locations.
Darwin: Water, sky and earth feature prominently in your work. Often these elements are simple graphical elements that are reduced to mere line and form. How do you reduce the busy, chaotic real world into such pure forms of expression?
Michael: Photography is a great way to see a country and I prefer the smaller villages and quiet moments, it’s here where I think my best images come from. Setting up a large format camera requires that you slow down and really consider the scene and I tend to have the most clarity at this point. Having grown up on the Prairies I have an affinity for open spaces and that idea of space has always played a role in my images. The challenge is making a singular object balance with the sky and water and it happens much less than I’d like.
Darwin: Of course because photographers are so tool-centric, we all want to know what your ‘brushes’ of choice are; what camera and medium do you use to create your work?
Michael: My camera gear has really been all over the place these last couple of years. I started out with medium format and then moved to 4×5 and 8×10. I scan everything on a Imacon 848 scanner and have the 8×10 negs drummed scanned. At the beginning of 2011 I finally went digital with the Hasselblad H4D. I do all my printing in my studio on the Epson 11880 and primarily use Epson/Hahnemuhle papers.
To see more of Michael Levin’s work, please visit his website. In October, Michael is teaching a “Art of Black and White Landscape” Master Series Workshop in Victoria, BC. There are still a few spots left!