Just about everywhere I go to photograph, hike, fish, or camp, there's always some sort of litter, and almost always, there's a beer can or bottle to be found. I try to practice what I learned as a Scout to "pack it in, pack it out," and "leave a place better than I found it." Lately, I've been using the litter I see as visual exercises to make found still life photographs before I pick it up. I don't know if anything major will come of all these photographs but I feel they're still important in my image making.
"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."Read More
A little while ago LensCulture announced their 2017 Exposure Award winners. Among the superb photographers represented were a pair who, for the last 12 years, have been working collaboratively. Ground Truth: Corona Landmarks by Julie Anand and Damon Sauer immediately resonated deeply in me, and the images and concepts behind this body of work have been bouncing around my mind ever since.
I admit to feeling a small amount of jealousy when I first saw the photographs. It was another of those "I wish I'd thought of that!" moments. But I'm glad those moments occur, because they are, in the end, motivating. They make me think about my own work in new ways; how to look at the world in new ways.
I emailed the artists with several questions about the Ground Truth work, and I was pleased to receive a quick response from Julie. Here is our exchange:
Andy Duncan: Can you explain a little about the origins and inspiration for this project and how it came to be?
Julie Anand: Damon read an article conjecturing about strange marks in the Gobi desert hypothesized to be used for satellites and it linked to a single site in the Arizona desert. We made a field trip and eventually found more and eventually Damon mapped the entire system using Google Earth. Meanwhile we did research and found that in 2004 a pilot had discovered them from above and linked them to the Corona project. So we started exploring them photographically. Eventually we started using a 16ft boom. At first they were pretty straight documents and we went around photographing markers that way. Then we got a grant for a new camera and had to redo all our work, so we rethought it and turned them into vertical landscapes. We did that for a while. Finally, we added the layer of looking at what satellites are present now. It took a couple of years for us to develop this methodology. It wasn’t our first draft by any means.
AD: How long have you been working on the project, and how much longer do you think it'll take before you consider it to be finished?
JA: We’ve been working on it for about three years, and as I mentioned above, we went through several different versions of how to explore these markers. Our website isn’t up to date (we have a fresh batch of images in progress right now), and we’re still negotiating what it will mean to be finished.
AD: How do the paths of the satellites influence the composition of the photograph? And visa versa? Or do they?
JA: The satellite paths are a chance operation with respect to the photographs. We have no idea what they will look like when we make our images.
AD: Do you make the photograph and then look up and superimpose the satellite paths, or look at the paths first in your tracking software and then make a photograph with the satellites' paths in mind for the composition?
JA: The photograph comes first and that gives us the data for plugging into the software to determine the satellite paths.
AD: How many photographs do you make at each marker?
JA: We usually walk around and decide what would make the most interesting vantage and make a couple of different versions. Each final image we make is stitched from about 5 images. It’s a fairly big set up with two tripods, sandbags, 16ft boom, tethered laptop etc…precisely measured…so we’re not very “casual” about moving around, but we know that getting to the sites takes a lot of resources and energy so we try to give ourselves options in the field.
AD: How many markers have you photographed so far? Are they all still extant? Looking at the map on the website, I see some blue marks and some green marks. Can you explain the significance of the two? Am I correct in assuming that the green marks indicate the marker at that location is missing for whatever reason?
JA: We have a fresh batch we’re working on right now. When we are through with those, we should be at around 40 completed images. The map is an important part of the project that represents significant research. We plan to show the map in the exhibitions with our images. The map has several layers of things going on. Green marks are ones in which there is no photographic record of any kind available for the site. Otherwise, light colored crosses reveal our images, or dark blue crosses have embedded color Google Earth historic images or black and white aerial images that Damon researched if it wasn’t on Google Earth at all. But just because we’ve researched a historic aerial or historic Google Earth image doesn’t mean the marker is there today. I created a spreadsheet of all the sites and about 100 markers have been removed.
AD: Are there any markers that you've decided to not photograph because of lack of visual interest? Or has there been an additional purpose of cataloging each marker?
JA: We haven’t edited out sites at this point because we’re never quite sure what they will look like once the satellite map is created. Since that’s a chance operation, sometimes even very plain ground views produce stunning line drawings. We’re still deciding about what we think “complete” should mean for this project. But intuitively we feel we’re not finished, so we keep working. We have other things we want to try as a parallel practice to the photographic typology.
AD: Are these markers still used by the Air Force and CIA? If there are some missing, I can't think that they are still used, otherwise they would be better maintained. Also, if some are missing, and this grid is no longer used for satellite calibration, how are satellites calibrated today? Is there a new grid of markers somewhere to serve this purpose? Or is that information possibly classified?
JA: The project was decommissioned in 1972 and the markers have been decaying in the desert ever since. The Corona project was declassified in the 1990’s. We have an appointment to talk with a satellite scientist to find out more about how these were used, to help us interpret patterns in our sky maps we are creating, and to learn more about contemporary calibration systems.
AD: How did the government acquire the land, with the Corona Project being a secret joint program? Was the land bought from the then owners of that land?
JA: The Army Map Service leased the land in 100 foot parcels from land owners...There is a lot of speculative stuff online and we need an actual historian to do some work on this field. We are looking for a historian collaborator.
I'd like to thank Julie here on the blog for taking the time to answer my questions. After reading her answers, I was even more excited about her and Damon's project! I can't wait to see how it progresses! Head on over to their web site at 2cirlcles.org to see the whole collections of photographs. Read their statement. Check out the map, and don't miss the Process video! I love seeing the "behind the scenes" of how artists make their work, and this video really shows how much work goes into making just a single photograph of these landmarks.
I found a Youtube video of a presentation Julie gave in 2015 at WSU. It's worth watching if you've got a little extra time to spare. You can also check out an article about the Julie and Damon's work on Wired Magazine: These Concrete Relics in Arizona Helped Satellites Spy on the Soviets—Wired Magazine
It's been a while since I posted here; I've tried to post at least once a month beginning in 2016, but I let April slip by. That doesn't mean I haven't gone out photographing since my last post. I've been to the Bird Refuge west of Brigham City a few times, to Grace, Idaho twice, and around Cache Valley quite a bit. Here are some of my favorites:
I've been trying to get out along the Bear River and some of its tributaries as much as possible. The rivers have all been running really high in the Bear River watershed from the rain that melted the snow off so quickly here in the valley, as well as the natural spring run-off. And this last week has brought warmer than usual weather which has really made the rivers run high.
Just after the rain that melted all the snow, Gina and I took a drive out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. We were really out on a date on the 2nd anniversary of our first date, and we figured we'd go take a look. We ended up not being able to go very far, since the high water had flooded a lot of the roads there, and the main gate to the refuge was closed. A few weeks later, I headed out to see what things were like with so much water flowing through.
All through the refuge were piles of logs and other debris that had been pulled out of the river and canals to prevent damage to the head gates and prevent further flooding.
Seeing all the water flowing through the lower reaches of the Bear River made me want to get further upstream to photograph what was happening there, so I headed up to Grace as soon as I could fit it in to my schedule. On April 1 I got up early enough to be in Grace before sunrise. The dam just north of town had more water flowing over it than I'd ever seen.
Lately I've been playing around with in-camera multiple exposures, and walking past, or around an object in the landscape. This one is 10 exposures, walking 5 paces between each exposure.
A few weeks ago I went back up to Grace. I searched out the location of the Cove Dam on the Bear River that was removed in 2006. I feel like there's a budding project on the Bear River watershed.
My work with the collages continues on. Earlier this year, I made a collage of the tree in the winter (Thirty Five Minutes in Amalga) with what I've been calling "bubbles" in my head—photographs made long after the initial establishment of a scene. When I first made the photograph, I felt pretty excited about it, but after spending some time with the image, and a subsequent critique, the piece isn't as successful as I first thought. Part of it has to do with the time frame in which each frame and bubble in the photograph was made. Only thirty five minutes had elapsed, and in that time there was no change in the lighting conditions at all, despite some movement in the clouds that made me think the sun might break through.
Despite that unsuccessful attempt, the idea of these bubbles of time kept swimming in my head. Then I ended up out on the Cutler Marsh at Benson Marina in front of a large tree. There was a slight breeze, with an occasional strongish gust that really stirred the branches and disturbed the surface of the water behind the tree. Clouds moved in the sky, lighting the tree up for a few seconds before covering the sun again for another short period of time. That's when I started making my bubbles after I'd made an initial photograph. The resulting photograph is below. After I got home, I made one print to provide a base, and context to the bubbles, which were made over the course of an hour. I then printed each bubble and cut them out, then placed them on the print with a pin. They each stand off the print about an inch. I'm really excited about this new direction my work has taken. There are so many possibilities and directions I can go from here...
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:
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?"
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).
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
The project with the collages continues. Here are some of my latest efforts:
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?
- 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?
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.