Four images of a wheat field while the sun sets with the camera panning in motion with a long exposure.
A few days ago, I published a post on the work of Krista Wortendyke. In it, I explained I first saw her work in an email newsletter, and that it really "struck a chord." I didn't really elaborate on that in the post, because I wanted to focus on Krista's work. Today I'd like to talk about the way it affected and has already influenced me and my own photography.
I've mentioned in previous blog posts how the creative impulse has really taken hold of me again and I've begun sweeping the cobwebs out of the recesses of my mind that drove my creative thinking. It’s not that I quit exercising my creativity altogether—I just found different outlets, like tying flies and fly fishing, and I didn’t exercise photographically often at all. Or, I at least didn’t engage in it seriously, or with any real direction. It gradually fell pretty low on the list of priorities. It is true that I would occasionally think about a project that would help me get serious, but that’s as much work I put into it. Add to that the fact that after leaving grad school (the reasons for which I still haven’t ever fully addressed here), I haven’t really been part of a community to offer any valuable feedback or critiques beyond a “thumbs-up” or a “like” on Facebook or Instagram of any work I ever did do in the past several years. And that has been the hardest struggle.
So, as I’ve been going out around Cache Valley to photograph, and reading material to help get my brain in gear, I’ve been wondering and pondering on what to do for a project, and several ideas have popped up. I’ve always thought ever since moving here, about doing something with the Bear River. It’s a heavily exploited resource, so there’s lots I could say with it. But then I remember Craig Denton’s book “Bear River: Last Chance to Change Course” and shy away from a project of my own on the Bear River. That happens to me all the time: I think of a project or subject or process, then learn of or remember that someone else has done that exact thing or something very similar and I give up on whatever plans for a project I may have started to formulate. But I recently heard a quote from Mary Virginia Swanson who said (to paraphrase) that you should photograph the ideas or subjects that come from within. To photograph what you’re passionate about. She went on to say that after a while you will come into your own style. And then I later heard another paraphrased quote from Robert Adams: Art can’t awaken us if it merely copies what we already have. So, the first quote gave me some validation and encouragement to carry out a project that someone perhaps has already done. The second quote gave me the warning I need to not just copy. Which I’ve always had in mind when making photographs (though sometimes I’ve made photographs knowing full well it looks exactly like another photograph from someone who came before). In the Adams quote, he said something about taking what someone has already done (and this is where the real challenge lies) and to make it better. And he’s right. Every turn I take, it seems like I’ve seen something like it to varying degrees before. There’s little in the Arts that hasn’t been done before. Which can be debilitating, because I don’t want to copy. I just need to figure out how to improve upon work that has influenced me. That’s when a voice creeps in my head and says “How are you going to improve upon Mark Klett? or James Balog? or Peter Goin? and the list goes on.
Now let me discuss some thoughts on the project I have swimming around my mind, as well as what is an underlying element to all of my photography. I’ve always been fascinated at the way a photograph can freeze moments of time. Whether the length of that moment of time is only 1/500 of a second, or if three hours passed to make the exposure. My lumens, for example, are exposed anywhere between three hours and a week or more (I’ve done them as long as a month, but I feel like a day-long, or two-day-long exposure is sufficient for what I am trying to achieve). Within that time, the plants I use in the process die, along with any insects or other crawly things that are in the plants’ roots or leaves, and things begin to rot and decay fairly quickly, especially if it’s a hot summer day. The paper really changes from the intense UV light that is exposing it. The viewer may not know just how much time elapsed in the making each print, but the passage of time is a preeminent element in the creation of them. With my “camera photographs” (I use the term here to separate them from the camera-less photographs that lumen prints are), I almost always try to use as slow a shutter speed as possible. Within reason. I’m not usually interested in freezing motion in my photography. I aim to show motion—flowing water, tree branches swaying in the breeze, the streaks of headlights as cars drive by.
Which brings me back around to the photography of Krista Wortendyke, and the chord that was struck. In the blog post I did on her work, I explained (actually, I quoted her artist statement) that her photographs are composed of multi-frame images taken from video games, and photographs found on the internet to make a composite image that blurs the line between what is real, and what is fiction. Upon seeing that photograph in the email newsletter, I knew I had a direction I could take in a project on the Bear River. By making each photograph up of a composite of many photographs, I can show the passage of time in each individual photograph that makes up the whole, as well as the passage of time measured in days, weeks, months or even years, showing the effects of time and changes of seasons of a scene in a single photograph. Any changes in water levels of rivers and streams, the sprouting and death of leaves on trees, and any changes that Man might make on the landscape could all be observed in one image. That email arrived in my inbox at about nine a.m., and I wasn’t able to sit still or concentrate for the rest of the day. My mind was exploding with new ideas and locations to photograph and methods of display. In that post, I explained it wasn’t the first time I’d seen work done the way Krista created her photographs, and that I was familiar with James Balog. Even before I knew of Balog, Tyler Hopkins, a friend from college was doing mosaic-, multi-frame photographs. And since I came across Krista’s work, I’ve discovered a few more photographers working in this similar vein, such as Jake Weigel.
Over the past two or three weeks, I've been out a handful of times to start gathering photographs for finished pieces. I've returned to a few locations on different days, so that the larger photograph has photographs made on two different days.
Here is the first one I started working on, with photos made on two different days, and is by no means finished:
These pieces, as I mentioned above, may not be complete for up to, and maybe even more than, a year, since my goal currently is to include frames from all four seasons, from different times of day, under various weather conditions.
It had been a very long time since a project hit me and got me so excited as this one has made me. Stay tuned for more updates!
About eight or nine years ago, I created a blog titled 52 Photographers, where I would feature one photographer each week of the year. I don’t remember now just how many posts I made on the blog, but I know I didn’t make it a whole year. The purpose of the blog was to help me seek out photographers I hadn’t seen before to keep the creative juices flowing.
I recently had the thought of resurrecting that blog, but I don’t have the time to make it a weekly thing. So, I’ll make it as much of a regular thing that I post about on this, the Departures Blog. And so, with no further ado, I’ll introduce the first photographer I’ll be featuring: Krista Wortendyke.
It wasn’t the content of the photograph that grabbed my attention so immediately and completely. It was the way she had pieced multiple images together in a multi-frame mosaic. I had seen seen work in this same approach before though—I have been aware of James Balog’s photographs published in a book titled Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest. But it had been so long since I'd seen or thought of Balog's work, that I'd nearly forgotten all about it, so it was if I were seeing work done like this before, not in terms of content—in this case, a fireball in an unnamed or even unknown desert, presumably from an explosion, and a large, black and gray plume of smoke rising into the sky—but in technique.
The body of work "is an exploration of the way imagery and information from movies, videogames, newspapers, and the Internet come together to form our perception of war." She goes on to explain: "Explosions are war’s most universal and most spectacular signifiers. We are never falling short of this imagery. I have made use of these magnetizing images to show not only how the lines between fiction and non-fiction blur, but also to show how a mediated experience can become indecipherable from a real experience." I find the concept intriguing, and the implementation is quite apropos to the subject matter.
I love coming back to these photographs. There are so many things that go unnoticed on a first look because there are is so much imagery to take in in each piece. And with so much of war and violence in the news, the imagery of war has become so commonplace and mundane, and with the quality of graphics and the immersiveness of war video games, it is easy to confuse reality with fiction.
Take a look at Krista's website and other projects here.
*All images used by permission of the artist.
I've gone out several times over the past weeks, around Benson, and the Cutler Marsh, and I'm feeling like I'm really getting to know the Bear River and Cache Valley on a deeper level, though there's still so much more to discover.
I also bought a 6x9 medium format rangefinder recently, and it's been fun getting back into film photography, even though I haven't gotten any of the film developed yet. It's been nice to have to slow down and not take the "shotgun approach" that digital can allow you to take. I've noticed I approach the photographed scene just slightly differently with film. I'm sure the focal length of the lens and the fact that it's a rangefinder with no light meter has something to do with this change.
Here are some photos from the last few outings.
On Saturday evening we drove out to Benson again so I could photograph. Here are a some of the evening's fruits:
The day after I went out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, which was also Easter Sunday, Gina and I headed up to Grace, Idaho to photograph. It's only an hour and fifteen minutes away, and in all my 8 years of living here in Logan, I'd never made the drive to visit the place—it was my first time there since 2007 when my friend Jon Long and I made a trip down there. But a little while before this most recent trip, I knew I needed to return again, and Gina and I made plans to do so.
A couple weeks ago, I went out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, accompanied by my father-in-law while Gina watched the LDS General Women's Conference broadcast.
As I mentioned in my last post, Gina and I went out there on our third date. It was my first time ever going there, and I knew that the place had a lot of potential for some really great photographs. The way the land has been altered, and the way the Bear River has been diverted and channelled really draws me in. Since around my time in college, I've been intrigued as to how we humans interact and change the land around us, for better or worse. And as I've been out photographing periodically over the last three or four weeks, I've ended up along the Bear River. Most of the time it's been intentional; I love to photograph water—I always have, ever since I first started learning how to really operate a camera and control exposure. There is a part of me that is concerned that that subject matter is low hanging fruit for me, creatively. It's pretty easy to make a good photograph of water. The land around Cache Valley still remains a challenge to me. Back in 2013, I discussed some of the challenges I faced in dealing with the landscape of Cache Valley, and I think I still struggle with it a little. At least when it comes to subjects of photographs that aren't rivers or streams or other bodies of water. One side of me says to not worry about it and to just stick with what I'm good at. And there's nothing really bad about that. I think it's a valid argument. But there's also part of me—a large part—that realizes that there's no growth in doing only what you're comfortable with.
But, I'll stop rambling for now, and get on with the photographs:
A little over a year ago, Gina and I went on our third date out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge west of Brigham City. While driving around after we had walked around for a bit, I stopped a few times to make a few photographs. This is the best one:
Sunday, I was in the mood to go out and photograph after church, so Gina and I loaded the car and headed out. I had in mind to end up in the Preston area, but in a roundabout way. We headed out to Benson, and then turned the car north towards Idaho. We went through Amalga, and Trenton, and through the Bear River Bottoms Wildlife Management Area, and on through Cornish and then Preston. I'm starting to get a few more ideas for a project bouncing around in my head, and I feel like I'm getting a good amount of images to use as a foundation to whatever I decide to do.
In my last post, I lamented how I felt I'd turned my back on my photographic education and friends and mentors I made and gained along the way, and I said I wanted to change that. I also mentioned that I went out last Saturday with the sole purpose of making photographs. Here are my two favorites from that evening:
Last night Gina and I loaded up the car and headed back out to Benson, which is only about 10 minutes away. Instead of taking the tactic from last Saturday and drive from one spot to another, I decided to just go to one spot and stay there the entire evening. I think the exercise was fruitful. And even after about an hour of photographing there, I know there are many more hours of photographing to do just at that one location. Edward Weston spent much of his life photographing Point Lobos; he made 29 other photographs of peppers until he finally made Pepper No. 30 (part of me wonders if he finally thought "Eureka!" or if he continued with Peppers No. 31, 32, 33, etc...). Ansel Adams did the same with Yosemite. After years and years in those same places, they still continued to find new photographs to express the way they felt about those places. Back in college when I was living in Rexburg, Idaho, I returned time after time to Texas Slough. Something about that little body of water spoke to my soul. This is my favorite photograph from 2004:
It was so cold, and my fingers fumbled around trying to work my new 5x7 camera, and I stood shivering as I focused, took a light meter reading, and then waited the couple minutes while the film was exposed.
Like I said, I felt pretty successful last night. I took some of the lessons learned from Saturday's outing, and came away with stronger images. At least, I feel more confident in them.
I think I've found my "pepper" in this next photograph. That huge limb that's lying just above the water really drew me in, but this photograph (while I like it quite a lot) doesn't really emphasize that limb the way I'd hoped. I guess I'll have to go back and keep trying however many times it takes to get it right.