Archive for the photography Category

On Trying To Capture An Iconic Image

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , on August 26, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

The other night, my family and I were driving to the north end of Grand Teton National Park for dinner when the sky put on a show. “Jesus light,” my son called it, those cathedral shafts of heavenly luminance sweeping the ground below it.  Better than 15 years after first spending time in Jackson Hole in the summer, I seldom stop at the Snake River Overlook to take a picture — you know the spot because you’ve seen Ansel Adams’ iconic image of it 1000 times — but this time I did, because the light promised it would be worth it.

Snake River Overlook

Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

And it was worth it, stopping and taking a picture captured a million times or more by every photographer worth his salt who comes to this spot, slightly higher than where Adams set up his tripod back in the 1940s.  In fact, the very first image ever posted on this site was the above view, only taken on a freezing cold morning in 2008, when the bright sun highlighted the snow that had fallen on the Tetons.

Leica M8, 50mm Summilux

Last night, when processing my most recent picture of the Snake River Overlook, even referencing the iconic Ansel Adams photo for inspiration and comparison, my son saw what I was doing and, as only a 19-year old can do, laughed at his old man.  He’s reading White Noise by Don DeLillo, and he quickly found the riff about how we all take pictures of things that have been immortalized in photographs which, over time and multiple exposures, no longer are seen in their own right, but are viewed as “photographs.”  We take pictures of pictures, DeLillo says.  Which is true enough, when it comes to iconic images that we are drawn to photograph over and over again: the Half Dome in Yosemite, the Moulton Barn in Jackson Hole.

Spending time in Jackson Hole is both rewarding and frustrating for a photographer, because as a friend of ours once said, it’s hard not to take a good picture here.  But at the same time, with so many thousands of wonderful photographers having come before you, it’s hard to take an original photo, and harder still to take an iconic image.

There is a photographer named Ed Riddell whose work I urge readers to check out, because to me, his lovely photography of the Tetons comes closest to being truly iconic.  So much so that, like a lemming following DeLillo’s playbook, I found myself earlier this summer trying to imitate one of his best-known images, which you can see if you click on the link to his site.

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

I certainly found out where he’d taken the image from, which had always been a mystery.  And I came close (though no cigar) to recreating his angle of view.  His image is, of course, better, because of that wild kismet of his having found the right angle, the right lens to use, and because there were both rain clouds and bright sunshine to illuminate the shot. He was in the right place at the right time, with the skill to get the image — something to which photographers as disparate as Joel Sternfeld and Henri Cartier-Bresson can attest.

Still, going out in search of where he’d taken the image from, and yes, trying to imitate it, is as valuable an exercise as something I know writers other than me have tried doing: typing a paragraph or a sentence from a favorite novel, just to feel what it is like to have written, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”  When you do that, you aren’t Joyce — I’m neither Joyce nor Ed Riddell — but I am a better writer and photographer because I have reached for the greatness they inspired.

It dawned on me recently that — and I say this with the modesty of someone who has taken thousands of pictures in this valley, among which a handful have merit — I have taken an image or two that could be added to the Jackson Hole iconography.  Two years ago, I was in the Elk Refuge on a night when the clouds rolled in and the sun was shining, and I took this image:

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Leica Monochrom, Typ-246, and Vario-Elmarit-R 70-180

In my humble opinion, this is an image that, were it to have enough exposure, could help define the Sleeping Indian that sits across the valley from the Tetons as being at least the equal to the Grand Teton as an object of photographic interest.  The picture is original, which is to say, I don’t know others who had the same luck to be where I was, with the right tools in hand, and clouds behaving just as they did, the light so perfect.

But let’s go back to the other night as we were driving to dinner, and by chance, the Tetons were illuminated wondrously while I had a camera in the car and a patient driver (my wife), who let me exclaim, “Pull over here!” understanding that the light — and the opportunity — were special.

We first took the image that is at the top of this post, which I quite like.  But over the next few minutes we also took this:

Snake River Overlook-9

To us, this is as good an image as we rightly ever can expect to take here.  We can see it printed on a large scale, can visualize it on a wall.  It is our picture.  We didn’t take it in imitation of Ansel Adams or Ed Riddell.  We were blessed to have been in the right place at the right time with the right tool and opportunity.  It is a picture of a thing: the Tetons bathed in “Jesus light.” It is not a picture of a picture.  We humbly add it to our own roster, our own portfolio.

The search for an iconic image — a picture that defines something well known, but in a unique way — is a goal that can motivate a photographer surrounded by a multitude of photographers.  (Though if we are being honest, the first ingredient in making an iconic image is simply showing up, camera in hand, when something wondrous unfolds before you.  Garry Winogrand famously said that he liked taking pictures to see what things looked like as a picture; getting out of the house and going to where a good picture might be taken is at least equal in importance to having the skill to capture the image when you see it.) It is a pursuit that allows us to move forward even as we look at Instagram and, on a daily basis, have our breath taken away by the brilliance of so many others.

If you would like to see other such images of Jackson Hole in monochrome, here is a link to our black and white portfolio.  And if you would like to see our approach to color photography in the Tetons, perhaps you will go here.

 

 

 

At The Rolling Thunder Parade: Gallery Of Images

Posted in 50mm Apo Summicron Asph, Leica Images, Leica Monochrom, photography with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Memorial Day 2017 Rolling Thunder-17

All images Leica Monochrom (Typ-246) and 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Donald Trump may have gotten 4% of the vote in the District of Columbia, but in certain precincts over Memorial Day Weekend here in the Nation’s Capital, we’d bet his vote was higher.

One can’t help but be moved by some of those who come each year, many by motorcycle, to celebrate Memorial Day.  For everyone who comes for fellowship, a good ride, a fun weekend, there are others in possession of raw emotions, more than 40 years after the Vietnam War, and memories of their loved ones and earlier selves.  We came upon this fellow sitting by himself, a few yards from the Wall.

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This ritual each year means a lot to our visitors who roll in from around the country.

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And some wars are never over.  (We see this guy here every year.)

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While some wait patiently for the Rolling Thunder motorcycles to come roaring by, others go into the pedestrian mall set up every year, to buy food and insignia, motorcycle gear, even holsters.

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And while few are still on active duty, some carry their rank with them wherever they go.

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While others carry the burden of their lives in the sadness of their eyes.

Memorial Day 2017 Rolling Thunder

On Why, Of All The Photographers Exhibited At The Photography Show, Evgenia Arbugaeva Was The Standout

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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At Pier 94 in New York this weekend, AIPAD’s The Photography Show brings together more than 100 of the world’s best galleries specializing in fine art photography.  It is a staggeringly impressive collection of first-tier gallerists showcasing their best work.

There are some amazing Robert Franks (alas, sold, and at a pretty penny) and a glorious image by Martin Munkacsi at The Howard Greenberg Gallery’s space. At the Throckmorton Fine Art booth, there’s a wonderful collection of mostly Mexican and Latin American photographers (Bravo, Iturbide, and a rare image from Salgado’s Other Americas.) We were amazed to see, for the first time as large prints, Dominque Tarlé’s images of Mick and Keith during the Exile recordings in Villefranche-sur-Mer, circa 1971, courtesy of La Gallerie De L’Instant.  At The Peter Fetterman Gallery, there’s a stunning Steve McCurry landscape from Japan, some wonderful images by Jeffrey Conley, and pieces by John Szarkowski that show him to have been a lovely photographer, not just the heroic curator who, in his years at MOMA, ushered photography — and color photography at that — into the front ranks. Gallery Fifty One brought from Antwerp some of those amazing images of Nigerian hairstyles taken by J.D. Okhai Ojeikere in the 1970s.

Throughout the show, you’ll find works by Cartier-Bresson, Saul Leiter, and others from the pantheon known to us, and with exhibitors from Brazil, India, and Switzerland, artists we’d never heard of.  So how is it that, among all these great photographers, the work that stuck with us on the train ride home was by the young Siberian visual storyteller, Evgenia Arbugaeva, whose presence at the show was the proximate cause of our journey there?

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Evgenia Arbugaeva grew up in Tiksi, a Siberian town above the Arctic Circle that is closer to Alaska than Moscow.  She speaks better English than we do, has proved to be every bit as intrepid in her journeys as Sebastiao Salgado, and her visual narratives are as richly detailed, poignant, and in many ways more emotionally resonant than a film by Wes Anderson or a novel by Garcia Marquez.

American audiences likely became aware of her when they came across this image in the pages of The New Yorker in late 2014.

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Weather Man is one of the stories that Arbugaeva tells through a compact series of images.  Even before we first saw it on her website, we’d been aware of her work through Tiksi, the connected series of images that garnered her in 2013 the prestigious Oskar Barnack Award, awarded each year by Leica.

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Tiksi is magical, a journey to Arbugaeva’s hometown in the north of Siberia, its story told through the eyes of a young girl who is a stand-in, certainly, for the artist.  There is something about the clear white snow and pale blue sky and the cast of characters we’re introduced to that takes her work from the realm of photography — though the photography is gorgeous — into something deeper, something that skirts the line between cinematography and novelistic non-fiction.  Her pictures in Tiksi get us to understand the vulnerability of characters living at the edge of the world in a post-Soviet era in which the newfound prosperity in Moscow, and even Vladivostok, is far, far away.

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This is Arctic Magical Realism, and its depiction continued when Arbugaeva released Weather Man one year later.

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The Photographer’s Gallery in London represents Arbugaeva, and yesterday at The Photography Show, they invited her to speak in their space.  They have a number of images from Weather Man exhibited, and even in a show with as many incredible works of art on display, Arbugaeva stands out.

Evgenia

What she told us about her work, and her approach to storytelling, was inspirational.  She originally met Slava, the weather man who lives alone with his bird in the far north, when she was traveling from outpost to outpost by ice breaker.  She talked to him him briefly, determined his was a story worth pursuing, and months later came back by helicopter.  He agreed to let her stay and take photographs — what if he hadn’t? — and she got to work.  Her observations go beyond what can be captured on the sensor of her Canon — for example, in the image that shows Slava looking at his canary, rather than the wild onion growing toward the light, it apparently grows toward him.  A novelist’s sense of detail.

In the months ahead, The Photographers Gallery is going to exhibit her most recent work, Amani.  It is as far from the work she’s previously exhibited as the tropics are from the Arctic.

Amani, 2015

Amani is set in Tanzania, at a semi-abandoned scientific research station she depicted late last year in National Geographic..  As with Weather Man, there is a solitary figure whose life Arbugaeva depicts in the most poignant, poetic manner.  Over the years, Nat Geo has employed a great many of the world’s best photographers, but we don’t think they’ve ever published images as resonant as these.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, well represented at The Photography Show, famously talked about the decisive moment, the street photographer’s capturing in 1/500th of a second an event that, a split second later, is over.  Evgenia Arbugaeva’s work is more like a decisive month, or what Daido Moriyama referred to as a “fossil of light and time.”  Arbugaeva studies places removed from time itself, capturing in the most amazing light and detail a life, as it is being lived, in the most vulnerable environment.

There are hundreds of great galleries and thousands of great artists exhibited at The Photography Show.  No one else’s work plied that line between narrative fiction, cinematic dreamscape, documentary photography, and pure beauty as Evgenia Arbugaeva.

Evgenia Arbugaeva is represented by The Photographers Gallery in London. 

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