17, October 2014 § 1 Comment
by Steven Kosovac
Three years have passed since I found myself in a taxi driving through olive groves just outside of the Italian city of Pistoia. Three years since I first attended the Aegean Center Fall Semester – the start of a profoundly formative journey that has drawn me to the tiny marble island of Paros time and again.
This past summer I returned once more to Paros, not as a student but as assistant to John Pack in the printing of The Greater Journey. A two-tome collection of photographs by John and poetry by Peter Abbs, the book was printed in a limited run of 121 handcrafted books. I arrived to find Peter’s poetry, already printed by letterpress on Hahnemühle fine art paper, resting on the shelf. My job then was to transform the reams of virgin paper and litres of Piezography printer ink resting nearby into the 21-image portfolios that accompany each book of poetry.
After a leisurely few weeks spent on the island (my arrival was premature, as the spring semester was still in session), I abruptly transformed into a machine, printing more than 2,500 images over a period of six weeks. In the air-conditioned oasis of the Center’s digital lab I methodically loaded Hahnemühle’s soft and warm bamboo digital photography paper into an Epson 4800 printer modified to take Piezography monochromatic inks.
The unique ink blends required continual minor adjustments to the contrast and midtones, but apart from a few minor setbacks and one near-catastrophe – solved after many hours of determined problem solving with John – the images printed without trouble.
Though much of the work was mechanical and repetitious, the time spent looking at the photographs and understanding John’s sensitive photographic eye has contributed to my own visual sensibilities. And that is to say nothing of the invaluable hours passed beside a great and determined mind.
Now with the job done and a new school year starting again, I’ve left Paros one more time, and my own journey continues.
The Greater Journey is to be presented to donors who make a substantial contribution to the Aegean Center Endowment Fund or otherwise significantly support the Center’s mission and various development projects. For more information please contact John Pack directly via email or phone 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.
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.
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.
15, July 2010 § 4 Comments
I attended the The Craft of Fine Digital Photography, a two week seminar in June led by John Pack, the digital photography professor and director of the Aegean Center. As I have only studied darkroom photography in the past (under Elizabeth Carson, the Aegean Center darkroom photography professor) I was very excited and curious to learn about the methodology and approach to making a digital print. John stated that his course was a poetry class — we were to discover how to become eloquent in the language of digital photography. Personally, I was just hopeful to string together a coherent sentence.
The workshop encompassed all attributes of the digital photo workflow. With the creation of an image every various aspect of its development was considered. From taking a photograph and setting up the proper work conditions in the digital lab, to working on the image in Camera RAW and Photoshop in order to make adjustments to the image. Then there are the test strips, followed by the test prints of the image. Finally, after much contemplation and consultation with John and the fellow workshop members, we get a result: the final print. The students were left with an understanding of how to deal with taking an image from the camera, to the computer screen and to the final print while maintaining the most control over the different conditions. Every day we worked in the digital lab, and in the evenings we took photographs and visited areas around the Paros.
When you’re working hard, enjoying what you’re doing in the company of good people in a beautiful place like Paros, time flies by at warp speed. Yet though it felt so quick, the amount of information, experience and growth which occurred in those two weeks was worthy of months of learning, perhaps more. We had plenty to show from the space of time: great memories, new friendships, fresh ideas and most importantly, finished works. Our prints showed that in two weeks time we were able to be articulate and express ourselves in the new and vibrant language of fine digital photography.
28, May 2010 § 1 Comment
Tonight the breeze has kicked up. With the chill in the air you wouldn’t know that it was late April in Greece. From the harbor I hear the rumbling of a ferry coming in to port, the hydraulic ramp lowers and the announcement to disembark echoes through the winding streets of Paroikia: “Kyríes kai Kyrioi…” It will be sunny tomorrow, and while warm in the sunshine, the shadows will retain a cold element unrelated to the bright light of day. I have been here on Paros since early March studying photography, my photographic journey having taken me through the world and back several times. Throughout this time I have been documenting my life and travels with my camera and, if French surrealist Jean Cocteau is correct and my camera is an extension of my mind’s eye, then the images have been indicative of my state of being.
Since 2004 I have taken my photography more seriously. This has been an enlightening path and I have sought out mentors and peers in a quest for more knowledge and community. Like any journey, I have gleaned myriad experiences and mixed results. In the summer of 2009, for instance, I took part in three workshop weekends hosted by the Woodstock Center for Photography, near where I live. Although educational, I found the celebrity quality of some of these sessions disturbing, as they focused more on some vague notion of artistry and industry connections rather than skills or craft. But I still came away understanding more than when I arrived, if only to avoid the fad-driven sycophantic consumerism that feeds stardom.
Through a close friend I had been introduced to a small fine arts center on the island of Paros, in the Cycladis Archipelago. I had visited the school in late May 2009 and filled out the on-line application a few days later at a cyber-café 25 meters from the front doors. By November 2009 I had been accepted to the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts. My head swam with possibilities and options. As my departure drew closer, I became more nervous. What if I don’t measure up? What if it doesn’t work out? Indeed, what if…
When I arrived on Paros I was thrilled but terrified. There were painters, writers, photographers and vocalists-19 students in all and about half returning for a second or even third term. The majority were half my age. School began on March 8th and for the first time in many years I felt like the new kid, awkward and obvious. My first class would be Silver Photography, a black and white darkroom course taught by Liz Carson. I had had a fair amount of instruction in that genre and during the past year had been working in my own darkroom at home. This course would smooth off my rough edges and introduce me to the communal darkroom concept, a daunting prospect for a late-night loner such as myself. The second avenue was the reason I had initially applied. Digital Printing, taught by John Pack, the school’s director, would become, in the next few weeks, the most rewarding, demanding and emotionally painful experience I had experienced in many years.
John is a gentle taskmaster. He is a bright soul. He wants us all to succeed, to love artistic creation, growing continuously, both inwardly and outwardly. He wants us all to be poets. I use that term in the broader sense for I feel that his Weltanschauung applies to the whole of the student body, not just those interested in photography or the digital process. With this in mind he began by giving us a basic digital toolbox. This made us all hungry for more but he pulled us back, guiding us rather than letting us run wild. His first koan was “To play-just play”, he said. “Practice. Make mistakes.” His academic philosophy is perceptive and passionate, namely that too many colleges and universities worldwide push students through an academic meat-grinder, producing uniform post-modern drones. He hopes to introduce us to a life-long artistic substance that will have meaning and value beyond the commercial or popular. This is an enriching and painful experience, a satori from which I shall never return. But I digress. First came the pain.
When I arrived here on Paros and began to use my digital camera, I was dismayed to realize that for years I had been taking the same type of picture. My old images failed to excite me. There was no life in their shadows, no warmth in their light. I tried the old ways of seeing, but my eyes, it seemed, had dimmed. Thankfully my silver work did not suffer this dilemma, in part due to the complex ritual and practical restraints inherent in that particular format. My mood became despondent. I searched for answers, but there were none, or perhaps my ears didn’t hear them. I spoke openly with other students about this and other feelings. My psyche was in turmoil and as the days turned into weeks, my inner crisis grew. This sense of failure intensified as spring break approached. All I could envision were my empty portfolios at the end of the term and the lonely ferry ride back to Athens. One day John took me aside and said, “I have an assignment for you. I don’t know what it is yet, but I will tell you soon…” I waited expectantly. A few days later he had my answer. “I want you to take pictures of negative space. Take only 36 images. Pretend you have a roll of film in your digital camera, not a card that holds hundreds.” I felt a weight lifting. In a deep part of my being lies the need for direction, for tight structure within which I find the freedom for work. Without this architecture my conception becomes formless and vague. He had given me a task. So I rented a little car and spent the day driving around the island. I came back and showed him my work. I was happy, but he was happier. He showed me something I had never seen in my work or myself. For years I had always been taking pictures of what drew me, but always from a distance, or at least disconnected in isolated empty space. He said, “You are good at this, but you are also in a very safe photographic place. I am pushing you out of that.” My new assignment was to find what I loved and then discover in that larger space what initially drew me to the image. “Get in close”, he said. “As close as your lens will allow. Take that picture, then come back and show me what you’ve done.” The fog lifted and my eyes cleared. Fear had kept me safely at a distance all these years but fear of what? Personal expression? Art? Myself the artist? Intimacy?
He wants us to be poets. He wants us to find in the visual world not just our voice, but the means of expressing it as well. He wants us to know the craft and the machinery, and then we can make our own decisions and use the best of what any tool has to offer. He wants us to play and practice. The guitarist Robert Fripp speaks of ‘the craft of guitar playing’. After almost 45 years of innovative musicianship, all of it professionally, he still sits down every day and plays scales for at least an hour. He must practice the craft of guitar playing, just as I must practice my craft of seeing and working with light and shadow. The more I practice, the more I learn and the more I learn the more I want to practice with different tools. Only then can my vision flourish.
I am not the same person who arrived here in March. I have left that man behind me, like a snake leaving its skin on a shadowy forest floor. The results of my punabbhava, my “becoming again”, are new to me and exciting and not always comfortable. A vision calls to me, a need to see light, shape, texture and movement as a single event. There is no need for explanation. My work sings and focus measures time in meters. The shadows are bright. The light is warm.
–John D. C. Masters Paros, Spring 2010
24, March 2010 § Leave a comment
Waking up in Greece was something I had planned to do for years, but doing it every day for three months seemed out of the question. When I found the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts, and read letters that past students had written about how the experience had changed their lives, I knew it was my immediate goal to get here. Studying with such finely tuned artists and having their personal guidance is what makes the school so unique.
Leo Tolstoy said that an artist “must have such mastery of his craft that when working he will think as little about the rules of that craft as a man when walking thinks of the laws of motion.” The instructor in my Camera workshop and Documentary Photography class, Elizabeth Carson (who has a cinema background as well), is endlessly patient and insightful in helping the students know our tools so that finding our voice through the work comes naturally.
I am learning new details about not only the camera and composition, but also working with the digital information that I capture so that the print will reflect my vision. According to John Pack, the instructor, “Photography is poetry,” and his portfolio shows the poetry in full verse. Having a mentor like John is a gift many artists never get the chance at.
While on the island of Paros, I wanted to learn as much as possible about Greek history and art. Jeffrey Carson, who has published books and lectures frequently on the subject, makes Art History a lively and invigorating class. An accomplished writer, Jeffrey also oversees the Creative Writing workshop where student writers come together to read and critique each other’s work in poetry and prose. His insights are meticulous.
Surrounded by the culture, history, architecture and the overall texture of Greece enhances the learning experience in ways that I could only imagine before. The intimacy of each classroom adds to the richness and fosters a sense of family, where each member is invested in helping the others.
Barbi Veitch is a photography student here at the Aegean Center.
2, August 2009 § Leave a comment
Intensive Digital Studies / The Art of the Digital Print
July is usually a quiet month at the Center. This year was an exception. John Pack lead a two week intensive course in The Art of the Digital Photograph.
Many photographers share the idea that the print is the final rendering of the artist’s intent, and this demands an extensive and deep working knowledge of the tools and process of the medium. Using digital tools to produce that important manifestation of the idea in a print has become too dependent on the tricks of the equipment rather than the skill and judgment of the photographer. In two weeks of exciting and intensive learning John guided a small group – eight participants – through the intricacies of the entire digital workflow with specific attention to Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4 as photographic tools to an understanding of how to bring the image to the concluding expressive print that emerges from the printer.
John’s extensive knowledge gave us a broad understanding of the possibilities, which he then attempted to scale down to workable tools we could master in the time given. Time was a major factor. We worked 6, 8 and even 12 hours a day for 13 days. Yes, we did take one Sunday holiday.
After the first few days of deluge, the group rose to the challenge of learning myriad details while constantly reassessing its understanding of what the results would be. A list of the Photoshop and Printer techniques we studied would include extensive colour management, monitor calibration, tools, layers, masks, ICC colour profiling (building our own profiles), and much more; this would be only an outline of the wide scope of knowledge we acquired on how to see and feel the images as they progressed.
John’s enthusiasm for the digital medium, coupled with his deep respect for every detail, carried us through to a collection of photographic prints which were a great satisfaction to each of us. We all shared knowledge and ideas. The group, working together, became an important part of our learning, as John had intended. We concluded with a very stimulating sense of new knowledge and the ability to carry this forward to create the quality of photograph that was our goal.
1, April 2009 § 1 Comment
Adrian Eisenhower recently sent us the following update about his new exhibition of photographs from the inauguration, now showing at the bau gallery in Beacon, NY:
On January 18th, two days before the inauguration, I went down to DC with a friend and videographer, Vincent Galgano. I went to make a photographic essay of the event. I brought with me three cameras: a Rollieflex, a Leica, and a digital Nikon. After walking around the mall on the 19th, I chose to use only the Rollie. The day of the inauguration, the 20th, was hectic. Even with an early start we had to throw ourselves onto the metro train. When I was at the mall I photographed alone.
After processing the Plus X with Edwal’s FG-7 and 9% sodium sulfide solution, I scanned the negatives on an Epson Perfection 4490 with Silverfast software. I was able to print at the Masters School in NY, late night hours when the students were not around. The prints were made on Hahnemuhle paper with an Epson Stylus 4000 and K3 inks. The facilities were not quite as WYSISYG or controlled as those at the Center and required some getting used to. After some fumbling they proved to be adequate.
The images are currently a part of the show at a gallery in Beacon, NY called bau. The show, called XLIV, opened on the second Saturday of March. It was a festive evening, spared not of police, milkshakes and a Ukulele. Shirin Borthwick, an alumna of the Center and graduate student of writing at Columbia (pictured above with me and Vincent), was able to attend.
8, October 2008 § Leave a comment
The Aegean Center is back on Paros and well into our first week of classes, having just returned from an exhilarating month in Italy. Curious about what we do there? Read Jeffrey Carson’s article in the September Paros Life. Pictured above is drawing and painting student Silina Pandelidou trying her hand at glass blowing at a workshop in Murano.
In other news, this semester’s digital photography students are the first to enjoy our brand new Piezography Lab. Set in a beautifully illuminated space just around the corner from our main building, the lab is equipped with state of the art systems for image processing and printing. Thanks to the generosity of Jon Cone, we are able to supply our students with the very best ink available for producing black and white images of the highest quality and permanence. For more information on Jon Cone and Piezography, click here.