THRESHING: PHOTOGRAPHY IN PRAISE OF SLOW ART

11, April 2016 § 1 Comment

In the past I have written brief blog posts when Slow Art Day came around.  April  9th is here again, and by chance I have been discussing slow art in my Saturday morning classes.

Usually I illustrate my points with a famous photograph, but this time I have chosen one of my own photographs, which was on display at the Parian Farmers’ Union Visitor Center for several years.

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It is part of an extended sequence called Heroes of the Soil, in which I attempted several things. One was to record the old techniques and traditions of farming which, though not obvious to the casual glance, were still being practiced by some farmers old and young. Another was to honor them and their appreciation of their own skills and their respect for them.

In this photograph a farmer and his four mules are threshing wheat on a hilltop several kilometers from Paroikia. The farmers knew I was doing this work and approved of it, and frequently called me to alert me to be ready, as here.

In making slow art, first decide on your subject matter, then carefully observe the scene and decide what time of day the light would be most suitable to capture the essence. This picture was taken in late morning when the sun was nearly overhead. The composition I envisaged contained both very dark and very light material. So I had to decide which to emphasize. Next, if the scene contains elements in motion, carefully study them, since repetitive patterns will prove useful to you. And of course shutter speed depends on how fast or slow they move. All this requires time and patience and respect for your subjects.

Now you must decide on the correct angle of view. In this photograph, in order to emphasize the heroic quality which is basic to the whole sequence, I chose a sufficiently low angle of view so that the figures would break the horizon line.

The threshers are, I trust, honored by the finished image. When I was photographing, they were working with me, but in the darkroom, needless to say, I was alone.

By Liz Carson

Technology and the Painter’s Studio

15, January 2014 § Leave a comment

ipad-painting

by Jane Morris Pack

Technological advances have changed the world of photography in recent years and given its practitioners an incredible tool box of options. The history palette in Photoshop makes it possible to maintain a record of adjustments. Since every decision is reversible it enables the photographer to try out several versions, nuanced or radical, to enhance the photograph.

Painters haven’t been able to benefit from these advances but they can have something of the same convenience with an iPad or smartphone.  Taking pictures and recording the various stages of your work make it easy to see whether the latest application of paint was an improvement or not.  We can’t simply push the button to undo but at least we can wipe paint off.  But perhaps of equal interest is the editing tool within the photo program.  On the iPad you can choose a filter option at the bottom of the screen and turn any color painting into black and white. This tool gives you an instant readout of your tonal range; if you have neglected the mid tones, or the whites are too dim, it will tell you.  It would benefit beginning painters to take a snapshot of their subject and their painting and turn both into black and white studies and compare the two.  Finding the mid tones is often the most difficult task for the beginner painter.  With the ability to focus on various depths it is even possible to get your iPad to take an out of focus picture and this is a great device for seeing the overall blur of color range without detail.

I am not advocating turning the human eye and mind into a camera, which seems to be the goal of many of the super realists I see today.  I am more interested in the personal human vision with its quirkiness and ability to select and emphasize.  Even so, the attainment of clear tones with subtlety and range is a large part of the beauty of oil painting.

Mayme Donsker at the Aegean Center

10, March 2013 § Leave a comment

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Mayme Donsker

Painter and printmaker Mayme Donsker recently came to the Aegean Center to give a presentation of her work and process.  Mayme’s art bridges drawing, printmaking and photography to express a deeply personal unified vision.  Born in Minnesota, Mayme’s presentation began with a description of how her father’s creative approach as a photographer influenced her art over the years.  As an oil painting student in Rome, Mayme came to embrace her love of draughtsmanship setting a new direction in her pieces.  Many of the drawings displayed during the talk were from her series “Love songs,” poetic, semi-biographical images with references to her Minnesota past, life experiences, inspirations, and “dream studios.”  We sense that the “Love songs” say something specific for Mayme but we are free to draw from their meaning what we will, allowing the pieces to speak for themselves.

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The “Draftsman and the Ballad Writer”

Mayme then described how collaging images together from old photographs became a new guide and inspiration to find the feeling and ideas she was searching for.  Her collages are simple and seamless–it is striking how one image can convey a coherent sensibility assembled from many different sources. In Mayme’s work lies the notion of timelessness as opposed to nostalgia. In “Avalanche”, a clipping of an old photograph from a Beatles concert translates into something else, a statement of wild passion and ecstasy.

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“Avalanche”

Looking at Mayme’s drawings as projected on the wall left one desiring to see the originals, pieces which are built up in such a way where the collage and drawing are intertwined and layered with various shades of matte gray and sparkling black. Mayme described how the collages informed her drawings and through searching for the essence of an image, she aims to find the ‘composition within the composition.’   Magically, when cropped and isolated, a photo clipping can be more open and universal in its meaning. The image “Elbow to Elbow” is not about a specific love story, but about love in general open to each and every interpretation.

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“Elbow to Elbow”

The strength of Mayme’s work resides in how genuinely her art reflects her sensibility as a human being.  When listening to Mayme one gets the sense of an artist sensitively tuned to her own distinct vision of humanity.  Her artworks are windows into that vision regardless of the medium or subject.  In describing her pieces, Mayme said,  “We may want our children to grow up and become doctors or artists, but ultimately they become whoever they are meant to be and you love them all the same.”  An unconditional love for her work shines through in Mayme’s art.  It moves and inspires art students and artists alike to aspire to love what they create and in so doing to be true to themselves.

-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

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“A Hard Year”

Slow Photography at the Aegean Center

20, November 2012 § 1 Comment

Sunday’s large format class.  In Lisa Nam’s photo above, Emily Eberhart is adjusting to f 22 on our  sweet and plumbed 1958 Deardorff with Piera Bochner assisting; soon to be loaded with Ilford FP4 for a carefully pre-visualized and crafted Zone Exposure.

The students very quickly grasp the concept that working with a view camera is indeed slow photography and very much a practice of meditation compared to the click-whirr hand-held reality, especially when using a tripod mounted 8 x 10.

The Aegean Center continues to value and teach the gelatin silver process. Of course part of an in-depth understanding of silver based film photography is knowledge of its history, process, tools and equipment. I believe the experience with Slow Photography is enormously important and crucial to teaching the craft, more so now than ever in this digital age of 32+ gig memory cards and hyper-active digital capture.

I am not intending this to be a negative assessment of digital photography, (those of you who are familiar with the Aegean Center know we have an excellent digital course and state-of the-art digital lab) . I do, however, want to make the point that experience with Slow Photography is important to the true understanding of the aesthetics of photography in general.

John Pack

A snap by, Anvitha Pillai, of John adjusting for the challenging backlit portrait of  our faithful and smiling Hygou as John chants, “Place and fall…Place and fall…!”

The Aegean Center Digital Photography Summer Workshop

3, July 2012 § 1 Comment

The summer digital workshop was a transformative experience for the six of us who attended.  We all learned to see in new ways, to understand the technology of printing with the amazing inkjet process and to comprehend subtleties we didn’t know existed.

We worked for six  hours a day, six days a week  in the beautiful lab at the center.  Although we all felt overwhelmed by the information in the first days we soon sorted through it and began to feel more comfortable moving through the work spaces of Camera Raw and Photoshop.  The basics of computer handling aside, the programs we worked with were fairly intuitive and quickly gleaned by playing with the tools.  The hardest part was learning to see the color shifts, knowing when the image was too cyan or too magenta for instance.  We learned acronyms and abbreviations of all kinds from WYSIWYG and  SLR to  ICC profiles and HSL.  We began to speak the secret language of the digital world.

An exhibit of our work was held the last Friday and we were pleased to hear the compliments  and realize we had come so far.  It would be easy to forget the sequences and specifics of each printer and process but with time and practice I think we all feel ready to try on our own.

Spring Student Exhibition – Friday 3 June 19:30

1, June 2011 § Leave a comment

Entasi by John Masters

4, May 2011 § Leave a comment



I find myself at the crossroads.  I have been here before.  These moments of quiet decision, where I weigh my options and take inventory of my emotional and intellectual belongings, never cease to surprise or even baffle me.  At times there is a great deal of traffic: fears, dreams, possible futures disastrous and sublime, assorted vehicles whizzing through my busy cerebral motorway.  In other instances life’s intersections seem all but deserted: two dusty rural roads running perpendicular in the baking noonday sun, cicadas buzzing in the heat.  Still, I sit listening to the winds for small, almost imperceptible, shifts.

My work and role in America has evolved over the past year.  My physical presence at home has become less important and this aspect informs me that it is time to move along.  All the other guideposts confirm it.  Then what of my art?   Have I refined my eye since my last missive in the spring of 2010?  Last year John Pack pushed me into an abstract space of colorful and textural photography, a giant’s leap from the bearing with which I had grown accustomed.  I had become lost in a dense and painful bramble of artistic faith and he had guided me out into something new and exciting, but something that was, for me, uncertain and uncomfortable.  Upon returning to my little village in the Hudson Valley I continued on this orientation, tilling abstract soil, using skills I had learned, reaping a solid harvest of accessible and novel work.  I built a small darkroom in which to pursue my black and white silver work as I crafted my digital images on my iMac in Camera RAW and PhotoShop CS4.  I began using a Mamiya c330 medium format TLR and an old Graphlex Crowne 4×5 press camera. I followed the same procedures I had learned from Liz Carson.  The black and white silver work began to occupy more of my time.  It was more satisfying than the digital images which I came to see as being less evocative of my own journey.  I was grateful for this shift in perspectives.  I am now more aware of the abstract nature of black and white silver emulsion but also how both formats can exist and inform each other.

Another signpost of the inevitability of change has been a sense of artistic self-confidence, a quality I did not possess before the spring of 2010.  I was unsure of my artistic self-worth then, but when I returned to New York I found myself welcomed as a member of a small arts group in my area.  Since August of 2010 my work has been displayed in several group shows and I have sold a few pieces.  I measure this as a success both for myself and for those who have guided me. My mentors handed me a new and different compass with which to plot my artistic course.  That device has brought me full circle and, as I stated earlier, I find myself at a crossroads, albeit with a measure more wisdom than before.

This session, besides the two photography courses and numerous lectures, I am also working with Jane Pack and Jun-Pierre Shiozawa in Figure Drawing and Basic Drawing, respectively.  I now have some more tools in my visual kitbag: perspective, foreshortening, form and mass, and the powerful negative space.  I will not pretend to be a painter or draughtsman but these tools are shifting my eye from the two-dimensional abstracts of 2010 to a richer three-dimensional view of light, shadow and the human form.  In using this pre-visualization I have begun studio sessions with several models in both medium format silver and digital photography.  This is a challenge for me.  The artistic intimacy required is daunting; the level of professionalism towering; the integrity of the imagery both paramount and well-founded.  In these figure studies I envision a potent, almost mythological feminine presence.  I strive for ‘entasi‘, that they might better illustrate a paradigm I feel is lost in today’s modern culture: beauty, grace and the power of a substantive Earth.   These artistic choices are new for me, but I am traveling a well blazed trail, a journey many have taken.  In my heart I feel that they, too, must have arrived at a crossroads.  Perhaps the milieu is not original, but my perspective and philosophy is at least unique.

Working in the studio has also increased my technical skill and craft, which brings to mind the poet and philosopher Peter Abbs’ ‘Axis of Creativity’:  as my technical skills and knowledge increases so do the creative abilities inspired by my dreams and the unconscious.  With this I can create a solid body of work, or perhaps several while I am here.  My thinking is freed by my distance from New York and all that that means.  The light of Paros fills my eyes with shimmering tonal varieties and the Aegean Center grants me a haven where I can explore these creative emotional possibilities.   All of these principles allow a clearer vision at the crossroads, diminishing the haze and dust of indecision.  The answers will come if I sit patiently, listening and dreaming.  While I am sitting, listening and dreaming I will work.

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