13, April 2015 § Leave a comment
by Liz Carson
In both painting and photography the direction of the light that an artist chooses sets the intention of expression. Directional light with a raking effect from the side gives a graphic quality, flattening the form. It lends a graphic two dimensional quality to the work. On the other hand ambient light, which is generally overhead light, reduces contrasts and gives a sensuous rounding to form. It increases the three dimensional qualities and gives a sense of real space. This lighting direction brings the form more directly into the space you occupy and thereby brings a stronger personal reaction to the depiction, a sense of shared existence.
Edward Weston uses ambient light to bring a palpable sense of touch to the twists and turns of a pepper or a nude. His lighting brings out the soft edges of forms as they turn away from the light source. This light fills the voids and avoids black shadows. It can also bring out surface imperfections and textural areas. In contrast, a photographer like Ray Meztker often flattens the space into graphic sharp edges, reducing detail and pitting strong whites against strong darks.
A painter such as Degas has a comparable sensuous lighting technique which emphasizes rounded form, such as we see in his bathers series. Velasquez was also known as a “painter of the air” as he surrounded the figures he painted in an atmosphere of light.
A photographer chooses the subject carefully and then brings full attention to how the light direction depicts its qualities. The emphasis on edge, whether soft or hard, says as much about the artist’s idea as about the object.
16, October 2013 § 1 Comment
As another Italy session continues on Paros, I am still surprised to find myself a part of it. After a year away from the Aegean Center, I am back in the darkroom and digital darkroom with John Pack, putting together a final portfolio and helping out in the digital lab. A new semester means a new group of eager classmates and more time to focus on the technical aspects of fine art photography.
When the opportunity to return this semester came about during a difficult moment of transition for me, I felt my return to the Center was a necessary step before moving on with my education. It is not only the wisdom and passion of the teachers here that make this school so unique, but their desire to share it and to inspire their students in all aspects of art and life. My decision to return to Paros was not based on my love of the gentle Parian hillsides, the striking Greek light, or the Aegean Sea that shimmers and transforms itself endlessly, but instead on the Aegean Center community and the possibility of once again benefiting from the insight of the teachers and students here. Paros is an inspiring place but it is John, Jane, and the school that create a profound experience that the environment only enriches.
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.
19, March 2012 § 2 Comments
Paros is almost unrecognizable from three months ago. The overcast skies have departed and the sun shines down on the terraced landscape as the land is resaturated with bright greens and yellows and crisp white flowers. Despite a new apartment and a new group of students, it feels as though I never left. Classes are in full swing and my schedule is filled with photography, drawing, Greek lessons, art history, and the weekly Friday hikes. There will even be Greek cooking lessons on Saturdays.
This term I am excited to begin working with the school’s large format camera, a Wista 4×5. Over the past week, I familiarized myself with the camera and developed some test shots, and this weekend a few of us plan to drive to the nearby town of Lefkes to photograph the striking deserted windmills overlooking the area. In the meantime, I began developing a small series of photographs taken over the break in India. On Wednesday I went to my first-ever free draw. Though it was only the three returning students who showed up, we enjoyed the morning sunshine as we drew. Socks (formerly known as Maurice) and his new girlfriend, Muffin, showed up to distract us as they walked across the table and onto our laps, providing inspiration for drawing.
Another reason for my enthusiasm about the upcoming term: Over the break, John Pack took apart and repaired the digital lab’s Epson black and white printer so we will have an opportunity to learn about and experience Piezography (and rumor has it that Jon Cone, the pioneer of the process, will be visiting us in the near future). The paper we will be using is breathtaking and I cannot wait to begin printing.
This term promises to be both productive and rewarding, and the other students seem just as excited as I do to be here. While it feels strange to begin the session on Paros without first spending time at the Villa Rospigliosi, the extra time that we have on the island is much appreciated. The days are slowly becoming warmer and the light is more and more beautiful each day. Though my return for the spring session was prompted by many factors, the unparalleled beauty of this place is the one that I am reminded of every morning when I awaken to the gentle light coming through the white curtains of my bedroom, every evening when the sun dips quietly beyond the sea, and every moment in between.
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.
6, April 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m sitting at a cafe on the harbor in Naoussa. The keen east winds rustle the palm fronds and the gulls float above. The fishing boats sway lazily on the quay, nets and ropes lie in neat piles and coils on the decks, having been retired for the day. People sit and chat in greek over coffee and cigarettes in the sun. Nobody works here in the afternoon.
I have been on Paros nearly a month now, the time seems to slip so quickly by here. The days are full, there are always projects to work on, and so many beautiful places to explore. I’m still learning to navigate the maze of winding, narrow stone streets of Paroikia. The only way to become familiar with these streets is to get lost in them and see where they take you until you begin to recognize the eccentricities of each street.
I’ve been asked which of the classes I’m taking is my favorite, and I don’t have an answer for that. They are all exciting, challenging, and engaging to me, each has its own qualities. The world of painting in oils has opened its doors to me, through the skilled guidance of Jun and Jane. Pictured above is a nearly finished still life I’ve been working on.
Figure Drawing has brought me so much farther in the ability to accurately represent the human body on paper than I could have imagined in this short month. I will continue to use the exercises and techniques I’ve already learned as long as I draw.
Learning to develop film and make prints is also new to me. This process is a subtle and delicately balanced combination of science and magic. This holds true for digital photography as well, the science being in the incredible plethora of powerful digital tools at your fingertips, and the magic being in what you produce using them. There are also the enthusiastic and lon-linear rants John Pack embarks on, covering an enormous amount of ground in the process, from light and color theory, to camera and editing technique, to the shortcomings of the “bankrupt American educational system”, to discussing the importance of the glorious poetry that is in a good photograph.
Printmaking is also a whole new discipline to me, one that I have been thoroughly enjoying as well. The moment when you turn the press and then lift your print and see the result of your careful labor of lines is a thrilling one. Sometimes it looks better than you had hoped, sometimes it just looks like a big ink smudge, and you get to work fixing it and trying again.
I’m so glad to be here; this is exactly what I was looking for. Direct, hands-on training in the arts, taught by a group of impassioned and engaged teachers who want you to come out of this with as many invaluable skills as you can pack into your mental toolbox, and to have a rich, lively, and transformative time throughout.
6, December 2010 § 2 Comments
When I first came to The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts, I had very clear ideas about who I was, what I liked to do, and what I was coming for. I was a writer. I loved to write. And I was coming to write.
Then, in the early days of the Italy adventure, Liz approached me and said, “I noticed you didn’t check photography on your application as something you are interested in.”
“It isn’t that I’m not interested,” I said. “But I thought I’d focus on art history, writing, and literature.” Again, I was a writer. I loved to write. And I was coming to write. After spending so much time trying to do anything except write, I had finally given in and mustered up the courage to go after my passion. Art history and literature would complement it. Everything else was a distraction.
“Well, if you like taking pictures, you should at least take the camera course,” she said. “It’ll help you take better pictures.”
I didn’t give her answer right away. I was so set on exactly what I was going to take and what my focus was going to be. Then, in my side discussions with other professors and students, I let it slip that I wished I could draw and take beautiful photographs. Soon I was hearing professors and students encouraging me. Just give it a try was a phrase I was beginning to hear a lot. And suddenly, I found myself attending the camera course, basic drawing, and watercolor.
Yet I was still hesitant. I had never done anything like this before. So I told myself that once on Paros, I would go back to my original plan of taking only art history, writing and literature.
However, once you try one new thing, it tends to open the door for other thing, and once on Paros, I found myself taking, in addition to the original plan, figure drawing and digital photography (even though I don’t have a digital camera). I also spent some time learning darkroom basics.
I have come to realize that no one is going to judge me or ridicule my artistic abilities. Being able to do something well doesn’t come without practice. Besides, this experience is about discovery, and no one expects anything out of me except the willingness to try something new. Maybe next semester I will try painting or printmaking….
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.
9, June 2010 § 2 Comments
We are halfway through our final week of the Spring semester and a productive hush has descended on the school. The painting studios are full with the final touches being applied to still lifes, portraits and landscapes, there is a gentle hum coming from the printers churning out images in the digital lab and there is an intense quiet in the dark room as final photographs are being meticulously spotted and matted.
At thirty I never thought that I would return to school. I left England at the age of twenty with dreams of travelling and I never quite seemed to get around to settling down and taking the time for tertiary education. As I spent the next decade wandering the world my love of art lay dormant and surfaced only at times when visiting art galleries or trying to capture photographs of the places I visited. I had neither taken up pencil nor paint brush since leaving school but always yearned to be able to sit and paint the beautiful things around me. When the idea of taking time out from work to go on an art course first came to me I started scanning the net for possibilities and by pure chance I came across the Aegean Center. It took me a full year to actually gather enough courage to apply as I was well aware of my artistic abilities and was quite sure my application would be rejected on the basis that I really had forgotten everything I had ever learnt. I was wrong, I knew my desire to learn was there and after corresponding with John I felt so comforted in the knowledge that my beginner status would not be an issue at all I was impatient for the months to pass so I could be on my way to the school.
I arrived in Pistoia in the Fall session of 2009. Before I so much as left the train station the local taxi drivers had me figured for a student and barely needed to be told to take me to the Villa Rospigliosi. Heading up the gravel drive surrounded by olive trees it was hard to imagine that this beautiful old villa would be my home for the next three weeks. I remember being the last to arrive so had no time to meet anyone before the evening meal and the first night celebrations were held so I was quite surprised when I walked in and found that everyone was younger than me. I remember thinking that first night that maybe I had made a big mistake, everyone was so young, so talented and I was quite out of my depth. Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong, socially it was the most wonderful diverse group of people and artistically everyone was at so many different stages of development acceptance and understanding was immediate. Those first few weeks passed by in a whirlwind of museums, cathedrals, train rides, bus rides, gelato, pizza and pasta all shared with new people, excited as I was to learn all about Italy. After so many years of seeing famous masterpieces in books and on film it was so different to see them in their proper homes or in museums and after such a short time I was amazed at how much information I retained. This complete immersion in the Renaissance really was the only way to truly begin to understand the magnificent pieces of art, paintings, sculpture, frescoes, architecture and music. With most of our days taken up by tours with Jeffrey and Liz our practical work time was limited to a few days at the villa. These were moments to enjoy our surroundings and get our first feelings as to what our studio studies would be like when we went to Greece. As somewhat of an indecisive person I found it hard to choose what course to study so found myself attending all the lectures in the hope that I could narrow my field of interest. My initial idea was to study painting and drawing, however when John started to talk about the digital process I found it too hard to resist so as we headed to Paros I was taking the majority of the courses.
The rest of the semester was quite different, Paros gave us the opportunity to unwind from the hectic schedule that Italy had provided us with and begin proper our studies. With each of us moving into our separate apartments and studios we had time to gather our thoughts from all we had experienced and there was an exited air and a new appreciation to the arts.
Paros became quieter as winter approached and our small group enjoyed classes and hikes, pot lucks and movie nights. The semester break allowed people to travel to other European countries and explore some of the other Greek Islands. On return work continued and I decided that one semester was just not enough time for me to achieve everything I had set out to do. So it was in that first week back from the break that I decided to come back for another three months in the Spring.
So spring arrived and I headed back to Greece, a new semester with new goals. Again I had the trouble of being completely indecisive so signed up not only for painting, drawing and digital photography but this semester I would also study print making, a completely new medium for me.
Three months can pass by extremely quickly, Paros has changed greatly from the quiet cool of winter and spring came suddenly with Easter, the island waking up as we headed towards a hot summer.
The dynamics have changed slightly this semester as there are a number of mature students attending the school. This has been a great change and it made me realize that there is no ‘standard’ Aegean Center student, if someone has motivation and drive then they will fit in.
I wanted to share some of my work as I believe that I have come a long way from those first days of basic drawing where my ‘straight’ lines were quite wobbly and my figure drawings looked like something more suited to a horror film. I believe that I now have a solid background and knowledge in all the fields I studied and I’m happy that I chose to do so many subjects. Art continually evolves and I think one of the greatest lessons learnt whilst studying in Greece was patience. Patience to sit for a few hours purely to draw, patience to work through problems encountered in Photoshop and probably the hardest to learn but with the best results patience with layering, scumbles and glazes in oil painting.
I cannot claim that I’m ready for the commercial art world, neither do I want to be; this course for me has been a purely personal desire to be able to fulfill a long standing dream. I I feel that now I can go out into the world, continue my travels and this time I will be able to have the confidence to paint the places I see.