"Awaiting the proper moment"

The words from this post's title come from Alfred Stieglitz in describing how he made Winter, Fifth Avenue. I read them this morning in On Photography by Susan Sontag. In the chapter "The Heroism of Vision," Sontag explains that "...Stieglitz proudly reports that he had stood three hours during a blizzard on February 22, 1893, 'awaiting the proper moment' to take his celebrated picture..." The next sentence carries an important lesson: "The proper moment is when one can see things (especially what everyone has already seen) in a fresh way."

I've spent the day thinking on those words. Finding the "proper moment" is something every photographer hopes to do, as is seeing things in a "fresh way." It's something I, in full honesty, struggle with. But, as I've been thinking about how to see things in a fresh way, I realized that that's why I keep returning to Benson, and Amalga, and Newton, and all the other places throughout Cache Valley.

I also wondered how true, or how literal Stieglitz's story is. Did he really stand in a blizzard for three hours? So, I did a quick Google search, and found this on The Art Story:

Winter, Fifth Avenue shows the busy New York street in the midst of a snowstorm. Stieglitz stalked Fifth Avenue for three frigid hours waiting for the perfect moment. He had to wait for the ideal composition - unlike a painter, who could manufacture it. Trails in the snow lead the eye up this vertical composition to its focal point - a dark horse and carriage that is swallowed by the snowy atmosphere. The snow blurs the details of the urban surroundings, lending the photo an Impressionistic appearance. This depiction of man - crudely mechanized - and pitted against the violence of the natural world, shows Stieglitz’s inheritance from nineteenth century Romanticism.

OK. So it's not a direct quote from Stieglitz, but it is another voice that corroborates his account. As I thought about Stieglitz standing in a blizzard for three hours, waiting for that "proper moment," I wondered if he got bored at all. Did he stray at all from from the spot where he made this photograph? Like Weston's peppers, did he make more than just the one exposure? Or did he only make the one after he felt like all the various elements had finally come together? How heavily trafficked was that street? Did he really have to wait three hours for that photograph?

Then I got to thinking: If I were to go stand in one spot for up to three hours or more, how would I handle it? Would I die of boredom first? I think the answer to that one is maybe, though my recent collage work has had me staying at the same location for longish periods of time. But if I weren't already used to that, what would I do? Would I spend time on my phone looking at Instagram or Facebook, thereby missing the "proper moment?"



Latest Work

The opening weeks of 2017 have been pretty wild, at least where the weather is concerned. We were hit with a few storms back to back, netting us almost two feet of snow. Then the snow turned to rain for a week last week and almost melted it all. I've been able to get out a few times and photograph, both before and after the rain. With so much snow melting so quickly, there's been flooding in town and the Bear River rose about three feet (disclosure: that measurement is just an eyeball measurement, not anything official from USGS flow data).

Hyrum Gibbons Mount Logan Park, Logan, Utah 2017

Hyrum Gibbons Mount Logan Park, Logan, Utah 2017

Snow Covered Field, Amalga, Utah 2017

Thirty Five Minutes in Amalga

South Logan Benson Canal, Utah 2017

25 Paces North and South Walked 10 Times

Private Property, Amalga, Utah 2017

Submerged Sprinkler, Utah 2017

First Works of 2017

We're almost three weeks into 2017. This new year holds a lot of potential for me as an artist. Two of my photographs have already been in two separate exhibitions, and there are still eleven months in the year to continue applying to shows and creating new work. I'm pretty excited about the direction my work took in the middle of last year, and I'm excited about the direction it has continued.

On that note, here are a few of my first pieces of 2017:

Ten Minutes at Lower Bear River Recreation Area

Ten Moments in Benson

Thirty One Minutes in Amalga

Forty Two Moments in Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

2016, The Year in Review

Two Thousand Sixteen has been a pretty significant year for me in many ways, the greatest of which was the birth of our baby boy in November. 

Thomas Wade Duncan

Thomas Wade Duncan

Like I mentioned in my last post, life has been a little upside down. With caring for a newborn baby, it's been difficult (read: almost impossible) to focus on art. I have, at times been able to work on post-processing and editing scans of negatives I made throughout the year after getting back into film photography. Ive also tried to keep my mind occupied with art and photography by reading my various photo books (I'm currently half-way through Vew Finder, a book about Mark Klett and his team's efforts in the Third View Rephotographic Project), and Instagram remains a good source of inspiration to me. The hardest thing to do in my creative pursuits has been getting out to create new work. I haven't minded for the most part, because A, I have a new baby to spend time with, and B, the aforementioned activities have done well in satiating my creative drive.

Another way this year has been significant, is I've been much more focused on creating art than I have for several years. As a result, I've seen a large improvement in my confidence as an artist. That confidence is a product of the time I've invested in creativity this year, as well as having a few very valuable critiques of the direction my work has taken this year. I've submitted to four shows this year, and been rejected by all of them, which was hard to take, but I've learned lessons there as well. 

As a sort of retrospective, I thought I'd share my top 10 favorite and/or what I feel are the most significant in my creative pursuits photographs from 2016: 

10. Cutler Marsh Near Benson Marina, Cache Valley, Utah, 2016

Cutler Marsh Near Benson Marina, Cache Valley, Utah, 2016

The sun had almost set below the mountains to the west of Cache Valley when I slammed on my brakes after seeing these three trees with a post laid in their branches. I rushed out of the car, set up my tripod in the middle of the road, composed the shot and made the exposure before the truck coming my direction got any closer. At the time, I was so hurried to get off the road that I didn't notice the beaver-chewed trunks of the trees. I don't know when that post was placed in the trees, or by whom or why, but I was intrigued and attracted to the geometric shape juxtaposed against the organized chaos of the branches of the trees and their trunks. It was still there when I drove past a few weeks later, but was gone after another few weeks.

9. Bear River, East Pass, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah 2016

Bear River, East Pass, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah, 2016

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is home to some very interesting natural and man-made features. Dikes and other structures provide water depths that the various species of birds require. There are mudflats, wetlands, marshes, open water, and canals. This photograph contains many of those features. I wanted to capture the expanse of the two large open bodies of water separated by another body of water—this one a flowing canal. The bridge was another feature that caught my eye. In fact, it was the first thing that I wanted to capture, but looking through my viewfinder, I knew that the scene I needed to record was much wider than just one frame could contain, so I made three photographs and then stitched them together in Lightroom.

8. Bear River, Benson, Utah 2016

Bear River, Benson, Utah, 2016

I'd driven past this area several times and never really given much pause until this day. I'd just gotten my medium format rangefinder, the Fuji GSW690iii, also known as the "Texas Leica," and I decided to come here to make my first exposures on film in almost eight years. The water in these lower parts of the Bear River is dirty and murky. Longer exposures like this one obscure just how disgusting the water through here can look, a dichotomy that I'm not sure how to reconcile. Maybe it's not so much not knowing how as it is not wanting to. This would be an entirely different photograph had the exposure been shorter. 

7. Wheat Field During Sunset #1

Wheat Field During Sunset #1

One late afternoon in June, I went back out to the Lower Bear River Recreation Area in Benson to photograph, but the wind was blowing so hard out there that it was causing all of my photographs to blur, which made me think to use intentional camera movement to breathe abstract images. This was the first of such images that I've been making this year. I'm not sure if anything big will ever come of them, but it's still a fun visual exercise. Some of these that I've done have the feel of the landscape rushing by as you drive down a freeway, or turn on the spot, changing your point of view. Others have an other worldly feel, as if features in the landscape are phasing in and out of parallel universes. Maybe there really is more to explore with these.

6. Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie, Washington 2016

Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie, Washington 2016

Gina and I went to Seattle for our first anniversary in July, and we went to Snoqualmie on one of the days we were there. We'd heard about Snoqualmie Falls, and seen the feature on our Instagram accounts, so we knew we had to add it to our itinerary, and we're glad we did. For this photograph I wanted to break away from my usual treatment of water, which is to get a longish exposure in order to get that nice cotton candy effect. But the falling water and billowing mist made so many nice patterns and shapes that I wanted to capture. I also wanted to include as much of the surrounding landscape as my lens would allow to provide some greater geological context to the waterfall.  

5. Beach Access, Alki Beach, Washington 2016

Beach Access, Alki Beach, Washington 2016

Alki Beach and Alki Point west of Seattle was another place on our itinerary on our anniversary trip. This staircase seemed sort of a monument, or one of a series of monuments, and sought a composition that would portray it as such, and knew that black and white would further emphasize that feeling. 

4. Stop Sign, Telephone Pole, Benson, Utah 2016

Stop Sign, Telephone Pole, Benson, Utah 2016

On my way back home after photographing at the Benson Marina, I approached this intersection, and, like the first photograph, was drawn to the straight telephone pole standing in the middle of the group of trees. It was a foggy and cold day, and the light all morning was mesmerizing. I parked the car a little ways down the road from the intersection, thinking of just photographing the trees and the pole, but all the elements of the stop sign, the trees, and the gas line post all came together perfectly. I set the tripod and the camera down and composed the photograph and made an exposure. I reviewed the photograph on the LCD screen, and then heard the approaching truck and knew that that was the one missing element in making this photograph even better. I waited, and as the truck entered the frame I tripped the shutter and came away with this resulting image.

3. One Month at Upper Bear River Recreation Area

One Month at Upper Bear River Recreation Area

At the beginning of the year, when I decided to get serious about making art again, I brainstormed quite often for ideas on a new project to keep me engaged. While I deliberated on something that excited me, I knew I had to just keep making images and keep my creative mind active, so I kept returning to Benson. Even if no project came to mind to specifically work on, maybe something would emerge from all the images I ended up making. I kept feeling like I needed to do something on the Bear River, but I didn't know what. The water from the Bear River and the Bear River Watershed is used extensively for many reasons: irrigation and agriculture being perhaps the biggest, as well as hydroelectricity. I thought a project could deal with one of those issues. But then, I remembered the work of James Balog, and his photographs of redwood trees, and I knew I had a direction in which to work. This piece isn't the first one I made working in this collage panorama format, but it is the one that kept me most excited. I returned to this place several times within a month and added the new photographs to the panorama. I've actually made many more trips to this very place, since the initial idea was to include images from all times of year in the single piece, but the more images I tried to add, the more chaotic and unorganized and messy it got. I'm still interested in having collages with all four seasons, but I think I need to start out with a simpler composition.

2. Twenty Minutes During Sunrise

Twenty Minutes During Sunrise

While out at the Benson Marina, I saw this tree, and made a traditional photograph of it and almost walked away, but decided to make a collage of it before I left. I'm glad I did. I began making exposures about eight minutes before the sun rose above the mountains, and ended making them about 12 minutes after. With this particular piece, I discovered that I like these closer images of a single subject, rather than including a wider scene, such as the previous image. I was quite pleased at the result. I like that there is different quality of light in just about every frame within this collage.

1. Eight Minutes at 0 Line Canal

Eight Minutes at 0 Line Canal

One thing that was suggested to me about this project was to have to have a hybrid of the seamless panoramic photograph and the collages I'd been doing. That is to say, have a seamless panoramic photograph composed of images made at different times and/or on different days. This particular one was one of the first collages I made after receiving that feedback. True, it isn't a completely faithful application of that feedback—I'm still trying, after three weeks, to edit a photograph that is faithful to it. It is still one that I'm pretty excited about, and just one more way to explore that idea of the passage of time.

Around Cache Valley

One month and two days ago, Gina and I welcomed our first child into the world, and ever since, life has been pretty upside down. I was finally able to get out and photograph for the first time this morning.

Cottonwoods by State Road 142, Amalga, Utah 2016

Dead Deer at Bear River Bottoms WMA, Utah, 2016


Flooded and Frozen Field, Amalga, Utah 2016

Eighteen Minutes in Amalga


As a photographer, I've always tried to show how Man interacts with the Earth. Well, not always. When I first began my formal training, it was my goal to show an untouched, unaltered landscape. I don't remember exactly when I realized that such a goal was almost impossible. Especially if you include the whole of Man's history on Earth. I think the realization occurred either in between my freshman and sophomore years in college, or very early in my sophomore year. I remember feeling a bit deflated. Not necessarily because I lamented the loss of untouched pristine nature, though that lamentation certainly did come. But mostly, because at that time, my goal (as is it still remains) was to capture Beauty. But my definition of Beauty in Nature excluded those places where Man had been. I've since realized that it's a bit like Schrödinger's Cat. Even if Man hadn't been in a spot I desired to photograph, or been in the scene I was composing, me being there had introduced Man in the land.

While out photographing the landscape, documenting and observing the changes that have occurred either via natural processes or Man's construction of all the various features to further civilization, several questions come to mind. Some are very easily or quickly answered, and some take some research. Some are more philosophical in nature.

Here is my list of many of the questions that I think about:

  • Why was this feature created?
  • When?
  • Who made the feature?
  • How was it done?
  • Is it necessary?
    • Was it necessary at the time it was created?
    • Is it necessary now?
      • If so, is there a way to improve it?
      • If not, how can it be removed?
      • If the thing is necessary, is this the best place for it?
    • What can we learn from the creation of the feature?
    • Can the feature be improved to make it more effective or efficient?

Whether a landscape photographer, street photographer, portrait photographer, what questions do you think of while you've got your camera in hand?

Nils Karlson

A couple months ago, the Film Shooters Collective Instagram feed featured Nils Karlson. It was "love at first sight." I tapped through to his feed, and followed him. Ever since, I've loved seeing his images come up while scrolling through my Instagram.

Karlson lives in Germany, and uses a mix of medium format cameras, and pinhole cameras, and shoots on a variety of color films.

I was immediately attracted to Karlson's aesthetic. The high-key tones, the soft color, selective focus in some images and the tell-tale softness and vignetting of a pinhole photograph in others, give his images an airy, dreamy quality. I feel as though I'm dreaming I'm on the beach, feeling the humid, salty air blow across my skin. In others, it's as though I've been shrunk down to the size of an insect.

He was recently featured and interviewed at the Pinholista, and you can find it here, and you can also see more of his work on his flickr page.


In a recent LensWork podcast, Brooks Jensen discussed the values of deadlines. He and a group of photographers have been in China, and six of them participated in a juried show. They each had three days to photograph, edit and select 20 images, and then have their work judged.

This got me thinking about imposing my own deadlines. Again. Jensen has discussed deadlines before, as well as Jeff Curto of the Camera Position Podcast, and I had many of the same thoughts during this episode as I have with many of the others before. But since this discussion was in the context of having only three days to go out and gather material, or make the photographs, then edit and cull their images down to a group of 20, and display them, I got to thinking about imposing that type of a deadline on myself.

What if I were to impose a deadline, where I have X amount of time to make Y amount of images of a certain topic, concept, place, or subject matter or idea. Maybe I could do this several times, so that I would end up with three or four or however many of these bodies of work. Then, would they all coalesce into one greater body of work? I suppose they could, if they all fell under a grander overarching theme. Or maybe the very fact that each body of work was done with the same guidelines or rules places them under one overarching theme.

The amount of time may dictate the amount of images to include in the final count, and vice versa: fewer images–less time in which to work; more images–more time. Also, the tools used (e.g., pinhole camera, digital camera, lumen print, etc...) would influence both time and scale.

Would an artist statement accompany each group? Would the writing of an artist statement be included in whatever timeframe I impose?

A large difference between what Jensen and the other five photographers did and what I’ll be doing, is the deadline for the contest was placed on them by a third party. My deadline is all self-imposed, and I can see myself making excuses for extending the deadline. Maybe I’ll just have to put my wife in charge of cracking the whip.

The following is the statement that really got me thinking about this seriously:

“The deadline of having to photograph and produce in 72 hours a group of 20 images to be photographed, not only resulted in some very interesting photographs, but some very interesting experiences for all of who put ourselves voluntarily into a little bit of a squeeze box that pushed us to find something creative and personal to say in this landscape. And as an event, I think it was incredibly successful.”

Even if these photographs don’t make it past being posted here on my blog, I can’t help but think that it would be of immense value to me as an artist, as Jensen discovered. I mean, it’s really kind of a no-brainer: deadlines are useful, no matter where they come from.

Now, to start brainstorming project ideas and parameters...Maybe I should set a deadline.


Pinhole Camera Construction

Back in high school, I made my first pinhole camera. I don't even remember what I made it out of. Maybe an empty bulk 35mm film can. Then, in college, I made another one. Or two or three. Then the one semester I taught as a grad student, I built another pinhole camera, and even made a pinhole "lens" for my D300, and shot a few digital pinholes. And as I type this, I'm feeling the urge to do it again. It was incredibly easy to do...

Now I've got the bug again, partly because of a few people I've begun following on Instagram, and have been scheming and planing cameras in my head. Last week I started construction on two cameras built out of two empty iPhone boxes. They should be capable of filling a 6x9 negative, but not quite a 6x12, though the interior of the box is big enough to hold a piece of film that size.

Here are some pictures documenting the process thus far:  

Center located and marked for opening to be cut out, exterior of box masked for painting the inside

Center located and marked for opening to be cut out, exterior of box masked for painting the inside

Center cut out for pinhole sheet placement, matte board glued to the inner perimeter of the box to set a 55mm "focal length" 

Center cut out for pinhole sheet placement, matte board glued to the inner perimeter of the box to set a 55mm "focal length" 

Matte board glued to inside of inner box to help create a baffle to prevent light leaks

Matte board glued to inside of inner box to help create a baffle to prevent light leaks

Interior of boxes being painted with matte black paint

Interior of boxes being painted with matte black paint

Pinhole drilled in 0.001" brass shim stock

Pinhole drilled in 0.001" brass shim stock

Pinhole mounted to matte board which is mounted to the box

Pinhole mounted to matte board which is mounted to the box

Testing the shutter

Testing the shutter

Both halves of the box put together to test fit

Both halves of the box put together to test fit

All that is left now in the build is to paint the shutters black, and then test for light leaks. Guess I'd better get some developer. 

i can't wait to start making images with these! 

Long Beach

Gina and I recently got to go to Long Beach, California, for a conference that she attended for work. While she was in the conference I got to play around a bit. I took advantage of my free time and went to the beach and walked around close to the hotel and photographed. I also went to the Long Beach Museum of Art, and saw the exhibit they have up right now, titled Vitality and Verve in the Third Dimension. It was an interesting exhibit, with murals, installations, a few of which were interactive, mixed media pieces, ceramics and other types of sculpture. My favorite piece was by Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian graffiti artist who recreated photographs of kids in, I think, Brooklynn as murals.

I'd never been to Long Beach, and it was a fun last trip for Gina and I before our baby comes in mid-November.

Belmont Pier, Long Beach, California 2016

Island White, Long Beach, California 2016

Storm Drain, Long Beach, California 2016

Island White

God  U, Long Beach, California 2016

Bluff Park, Long Beach, California 2016



Galaxy Towers


Convention Center Walkway, Long Beach, California 2016

E. Shoreline Drive, Long Beach, California 2016

Bench, Telescope, Long Beach, California 2016

Queensway Bay, Long Beach, California 2016

Lake Michigan

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Plymouth, Wisconsin on business for a training for a machine we have where I work. If you don't know where Plymouth is, it is about an hour north of Milwaukee, and about thirty minutes away from Sheboygan, which is on Lake Wisconsin. After the training sessions, I drove around Plymouth, Sheboygan Falls, and Sheboygan to see the landscape and the towns. I'd never seen any of the Great Lakes, so seeing Lake Michigan was a must. I ended up going to North Side Municipal Beach both evenings I had free. The first evening wasn't really planned, I just ended up there. The second evening, however, was planned: I saw on the weather forecast there would be bad winds out on the lake, causing large waves closer to shore, and sure enough, they were about 6 feet high, which drew out some surfers and jet skiers.

Wave Breaker, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan, Wisconsin 2016

Lake Michigan, Sheboygan, Wisconsin 2016

Lake Michigan, Sheboygan, Wisconsin 2016

Breaking Waves on Lake Michigan

Jake Weigel

At this point in time, I can't remember how I came across the work of Jake Weigel, but I think I must have been looking for more work similar to James Balog and Krista Wortendyke and David Hockney. Nor can I remember exactly when it was, but I think it was towards the end of June. Not that that's really important.

However it was that I came across Jake’s website, I do remember the first image I saw:

Part of his Reconstruction series, Woods gives the viewer the sense of lying on their back, gazing up into the cloudy sky, wondering if the clouds overhead will finally let go of the moisture they are carrying, and nervous that the bare trees will offer no protection should rain begin to fall.

This "photographic collage," as Jake calls it (I myself, don't know whether to call pieces like this collages or mosaics), was different than almost any other I'd seen before. It is from a different perspective than the others, and the photograph is more about story than it is about seeing a forest in a different way.

The concept is pushed even further by using apparently the same image repeatedly to create a whole new composition in itself as in Spiral:

I think this sort of piece requires just the right photograph as a starting point. The way the cables from the pole arc and then “connect” to themselves again in each subsequent frame is what creates the spiral. Another photograph may dictate different treatment, a different pattern.

Head over to his website. He has a very extensive body of work, ranging from medium format film photography to sculpture.

Bear Lake 2016

Two weeks ago my family went to Bear Lake for a few days. Most of the photographs I made while at the lake were the "motion" photographs that I included in my last post. I made a few of my traditional style photographs with my digital camera, and even more on film, which aren't developed and scanned yet. Once I get them done, I'll be posting a lot of what I've done over the last few months since I got back into film. 

Sunset After A Clearing Storm, Bear Lake, Utah 2016

Picnic Bench, Bear Lake, Utah 2016

Motion #2

A few months ago, I was out photographing and the wind was blowing too hard to make the photographs I wanted to make; the photographs were blurry from camera shake. So, I decided to really exaggerate the camera movement and panned the camera from right to left, and left to right, and up and down and came away with some very pleasing results. Ever since then, I've made more of these "motion studies" whenever I've gone out to photograph. I'm thinking there are some real possibilities for a strong portfolio in this process.

Washington Lake

Walking Path, Chism Park

Dock, Lake Washington

Alki Point

Snoqualmie River

Near Kennewick, Washington

Guardrail Along I-82 Near Kennewick, Washington

Approaching the Washington-Oregon Border on I-82

Approaching the Washington-Oregon Border on I-82

Approaching Pendleton, Oregon

Sunset Over Bear Lake at Rendezvous Beach

Sunset Over Bear Lake at Rendezvous Beach

Sunrise Over Bear Lake at Rendezvous Beach

Rendezvous Beach Campground

These next few images were made by rotating the camera during exposure, rather than panning, and the last two were made while panning and rotating the camera. 

Rendezvous Beach

Sunrise Over Bear Lake

Sunrise Over Bear Lake

Sunrise Over Bear Lake

I love how serendipitous this process is. Serendipity is the main reason why I'm so passionate about the lumen process. I discovered that particular process towards the end of my education at BYU Idaho, and it was a nice and needed change from the exactness of working with the Zone System.

I'm really drawn to the way these photographs in motion erase the details of the landscape and reduce it down to its most basic elements. Deep shadows are erased and colors become more pastel in some cases, and even more saturated in others. Shapes emerge that are only revealed, or that are plainly created by the camera's movement. 

This is a process that I'll surely be pursuing.