Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I’m pretty sure this is a digital collage. (The easiest way to tell is to look at the top of the woman who hugging the tree’s right thigh–there’s a seam between her and the background. From there you can see that the light falling on the background is coming from a different angle as the light that is falling on the couple vs the light on the woman up the tree. In the case of the background the light is lower in the sky and you would almost certainly have the sun in frame if this framing was panned so that the left frame edge started where the current right most frame edge is. The sun on the couple is higher in the sky–probably roughly early afternoon; it’s still coming from beyond frame right at least. The woman hugging the tree, however, has light that would be coming from the opposite direction as the couple.)

There’s also some small issues with scale. The woman up the tree is further back and therefore should appear smaller but she’s easily head and shoulders taller than the boy.

I’m not sure this completely works as a composition but the Photoshopping is surprisingly clever–even if it doesn’t completely work. I’d be curious to know who made this originally.

Lastly, several of my dude preferring women friends refer to guys they find hot by saying: I’d climb that like a tree.

R. Michael WalkerMelissa Undressing, Red River Gorge, KY (1979)

Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in any discipline has–by now–been thoroughly debunked. Simply from that standpoint of stifling elitism, I consider the kibosh that’s been put on this a tender mercy. Except…

I don’t think the notion that it takes time to hone your craft is actually–in any way–bad advice. If a young photographer/image maker came to me and asked what advice I have for them as far as achieving their dream, my response would probably be inline with what I was told when I first started making photos: lock yourself in your room and read until your eyes burn and don’t touch a camera for five years.

Or, that’s how I would’ve put it until recently. I think there’s a balance between doing and fueling the doing. And the 10,000 hours probably have less to do with conditioning and more to do with forcing you into a give and take relationship with your craft where you realize that sometimes you do it when you don’t feel like it and sometimes doing it when you don’t feel like it is detrimental to the doing. It’s only through trial and error that you figure it out.

Also, fueling your doing is less fulfilling but it’s easier to learn things that may take you much longer to address in your own work.

For example: the above image has crystallized for me a number of things I’ve been grappling with in my own work.

Long story, Cliff’s Notes ™ version–it’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve begun to see photos as dimensional. And by that I mean more than just the separation between foreground, mid-ground and background. It’s more than a little like Lotte Reinger’s multiplane camera–except expanding so the entire space in the frame is represented by distinct planes.

The experience of seeing space as constructed of layers has actually slowly shifted the way I think about composition. It’s still at a point where I’m not so great at articulate it but there’s a very clear feeling of it.

My notion of seeing space as layers of planes relates to depth of field. And generally depth of field has very proscribed uses. The majority of photographers/images makers think of bokeh as a means of emphasizing the subject while still conveying a sense of the subject in space without all the decontextualization that comes from staging things in a studio space. (In fact, it’s arguable that the quality of bokeh is usual measured across cameras and lenses by giving consideration to the bokeh offered by the fastest lenses available in an 85mm–or equivalent–focal length.)

(As a brief digression: if you’ve read anything written by folks who have worked as cinematographers for several decades, you’ll hear them talk about how different lenses are best suited for shots of a particular scale. I’m increasingly realizing that there is actually a good bit of truth to those claims.)

But the point is there’s a tendency to either go for the shallowest depth of field possible–the reason why fast 85mm lenses are considered the bokeh gold standard because they tend to support the shallowest DoF; or, for deep focus a la Group F/64 or Gregg Toland’s work on Citizen Kane.

In my own work, I favor a shallower depth of field but as I’m frequently working in medium or specialty formats, I’m limited by lenses that by and large are only considered fast in large format.

Really, your DoF should be used as a tool to help the viewer know how to read the frame you’re presenting them. The photo above for example: was most likely faster film shot in low-ish light with a mid-range aperture. Note how all the foreground is in focus and the focus starts to go soft at the rear of the tree directly behind Melissa. Note how this forms a compositional wedge from the lower corners through Melissa to the tree. The subject is pulled forward whereas the forest is pushed backwards. (Yes, digital devotees, you can capture your images in raw with everything in focus and then selectively unsharpen in post but it’s never going to look as organic as the above.)

Point is: I don’t think I’ve ever seen DoF used to quite this effect and I like it rather a lot.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (201X)

It’s a damn shame this is floating around uncredited since it’s especially thoughtfully presented.

The fallen tree splits the frame diagonally–imposing parallel right triangles. The upper boundary of the wood forms the hypotenuse of the lower triangle. This decision serves the composition well.

The portion of the trunk in the lower left corner is the closest thing in the frame to the camera and is evenly illuminated–as such, it anchors the foreground; the portion of the trunk in the upper right corner is only partially illuminated–as if it is being slowly consumed by an approaching shadow tide; this bit of the trunk anchors the background.

It would be a clever compositional coup on it’s own but the depth of field runs closely parallel–the lower left corner appears in focus as does the upper right corner. (The indication of thicker woods behind the trunk in the upper right corner, go a bit bokeh blurry, which also adds nicely to the frame.)

Across this diagonal divide, there’s also a balance between positive and negative space. The upper triangle is negative space interspersed with small plant leaves and tendrils; while the lower triangle contains the majority of the structured, non-amorphous, subjective content.

The position of the man is also just about perfect. His pose creates a third triangle–this one more equilateral than the other two. He is positioned a bit off center–situating him within the frames positive space; but the arm raised to cover his face reaches into the negative space and creates a flowing interplay between positive and negative, light and dark, human and nature.

Yet, the thing I’m most impressed with is the where the top and bottom of the frame lay. In my own work, I try to perfectly balance the space between the top of my subject’s head to the upper edge of the frame with the space between the bottom of their feet and the lower edge of the frame.

In this case, the lower edge of teh frame actually cuts off just a sliver of his shins/feet, whereas there’s a wee bit of breathing room at the top. (Functionally, the angle of the trunk draws the eye from lower left to upper right, drawing attention to the otherwise implicit depth of field. The slight imbalance between the relationship of the subject to the bottom and top of the frame, respectively, gives a slight sense of upward momentum–which also helps to balance the slightly less pronounced negative space against the heavier positive space.

Marit Beer – [↖] woodchild III (2013); [↑] Title unknown (2013); [↗] \ (2014); [←] wald (2013); [+] woodchild IV (2013); [→] Title Unknown (2013); [↙] wald (2013); [] woodchild (2013); [↘] wald (2013)

Goddamn but if Beer’s work isn’t just breathtakingly fucking fantastic (and illustrative of the point that if you’re interested in making B&W images, you absolutely have no business whatsoever doing so digitally).

I’m especially enamored with these photos because although you can explore the far ranging influence of Francesca Woodman on them, what they showed me almost immediately is what I loathe about Laura Makabresku’s work–namely the loose consensus on the purpose that dreams serve is that they process or digest the surfeit of stimulus our minds absorb. Both Beer and Makabresku are interested in oneric scenes. Yet whereas Makabresku emphasizes the contrivance of her mise-en-scene with diptychs and animals, Beer improvises using readily available materials.

By contrast, the emotive response Makabresku seeks to elicit from her audience never escapes the fact that it’s call and response transaction-ness; Beer’s photos are closer to open ended questions.

In other words, there’s a presentation of all the authentic elements of a nightmarish fever dream. But it’s a surrealism that requires imagination arising from sustained energy and engagement. Makabresku wants merely to run up and kick the viewer in the shins before running off to gloat at her ability to make the audience feel something.

Beer’s work is excellent all around and IMHO you’d do well to check it out.

Christian Schnalzger Untitled (201X)

I’m posting this less as an endorsement of the artist–alright not as an endorsement of the artist at all (I mean he has some okay ideas, but his technique just is not anywhere near where it needs to be)–but more because this isn’t cropped. The image is actually that wide.

I’m verklimt–talk amongst yourselves. Here’s a topic: the Holy Roman Empire was neither ‘holy’, ‘Roman’ or an ‘empire’. Discuss.

Seriously though, I found out about this format on Wednesday. It’s depending on where the camera originated either the Hasselblad Xpan i/ii or the Fuji TX-1. It uses regular 35mm film and fits 21 shots per roll and features an aspect ratio equivalent to Ultra Panavision 70mm. (Think Ben-Hur or Tarantino’s forthcoming The Hateful Eight.)

The cameras are extremely rare and exorbitantly priced. It would also solve a half dozen different problems I’ve been struggling with in my own work for the last three years.

Really, someone out there has to love my blog enough to get me one. You don’t understand. I need this camera like woah…I can’t even.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

When an image is founded upon a solid idea, it’ll with stand a great deal in the way of poor execution without losing efficacy.

This is total #skinnyframebullshit and the production design was clearly meant to be Botticelli-esque but ends up looking half-assed. Further, even though equipment limitations probably resulted in both boys being decapitated by the frame and I’m guessing preserving anonymity was important, lopping off their heads is just ugly.

What I like is the intimacy of it even though it is very much in public. But what really flows like an electrical current through this image is the way they are both almost grasping each other. :::shivers:::

Mariya Kozhanova Untitled from Prussian Brides series (201X)

There are so many things this does well–the tree trunk twists up and stretches away  into the background, the young woman leans every so slightly toward the camera to counterbalance this retreat (it’s rare to see such shallow depth of field used to interesting, thoughtful effect); not to mention the effing lovely cinematic bokeh…

I don’t have any quarrel with this photograph in and of itself. In fact, I’m rather fond of it. The thing that baffles me is the rest of Kozhanova’s Prussian Brides series. I don’t understand the use of eye contact with the camera, POV shots, not to mention her homage to Jock Sturges and startling similar ways her shooting windows is reminiscent of Michelle Arcila.

The statement of purpose accompanying this body of work–contributed by Russian curator Irina Cmyreva– (unfortunately) further muddies the matter. After localizing the work in the history and tradition of Prussia (now Kaliningrad), she connects to work with the ‘original Prussian legend’ where:

[A] dead bride in ancient times whose tomb was opened and it was discovered that she had disappeared. The Prussian Bride is a kind of
film or literary narrative about a girl’s dream of an old house within
an ancient estate in the forests. The month of May is the time when
nature awakes again and is reborn. It is the time of the ancient legends
and the folk celebrations of the “May Bride”. In her re-telling of the
legend of the May Bride, Kozhanova incorporates Prussian culture in the
blond beauty of the girls, the old style of the dresses they wear and
the architecture of the house itself.

It speaks to how much better the above photograph is than the rest of the project that verbal diarrhea such as this actually serves the work. But it detracts a great deal from the rest of the images in the series.

The images are not a stand-in for ‘a kind of film’ or a literary narrative. They might be a bit of a dream–that would alleviate some of my more pressing concerns. However, in point of fact, it’s not. The work is precocious portraiture, edgy editorial or oneiric look book. By trying to be all those things at once, it ends up being none of them.

Kozhanova is still a teenager–a clearly clever and talented teenage. So I’m willing to give her some credit. There’s a chance a 6×6 camera is all she has and another chance that it was less her notion to tie her work together with a pat mythological reference. And even if she was directly responsible for both decisions, her work is sharper than a great bit of what’s out there.