Despite my lack of posts here over the last few months, there hasn’t been a lack of photographs being made. Most of the work I’ve done has been in continuation of the Through Tommy’s Eyes project. Tommy’s really been giving us a run for our money lately, so it’s been harder to sneak away to photograph. We’ve tried to get out in the hills as much as possible, and I’ve photographed our little dude playing and tossing rocks every chance I’ve got. I’ve just loved watching him grow and learn, and even if nothing grand comes out of this project, I know I’ve got some great photographs documenting his childhood.
Wow. I didn’t mean to let over two months elapse without posting here.
Last weekend we went up to Island Park, and while we were there, we went out to Big Springs to let Tommy see and feed the fish, and so I could photograph. I made a few photographs that are pretty much exactly the same as photographs I’d made there before, but I just can’t resist making them over and over. But then serendipity struck. I’ll spare the details, but long story short, I ended up underexposing by over 2 stops, resulting in this image (with a few edits in Lightroom):
About a year ago I made a similar mistake at Hyrum Reservoir, though not quite as bad:
After that first serendipitous “mistake,” I remember wanting to work more in that vein, but never did. I hope this one from Big Springs gives me a boost to remember to be more purposeful in this style.
I’ve been to all of these places before and photographed them all, but in many ways, though these places are familiar, it feels like I’m coming to these places for the first time (sorry if you’ve now got Foreigner stuck in your head). It’s been good to reacquaint myself with a landscape I fell in love with years ago.
I started the day by heading out to Thousand Springs, and got there before the sun rose and the moon set.
On my way back to town I spotted a couple Magpies building a nest in a tree. Magpies aren’t my favorite bird, but it was interesting to watch them build a new nest.
We spent some time at Niagara Springs where Tommy ran and jumped off all those rocks (pictures of that are coming soon). I made some photographs I quite like.
We ended up going to a few other parks with playgrounds throughout the day so Tommy could play. I ended up photographing in parks more than I did at the places that drew me to this part of Idaho. I’m not complaining, mind you. I learned things about my creative process by visiting a variety of different places where the creative objectives are different.
We finished out the day with a quick visit to Twin Falls Hydroelectric Project. This now singular waterfall and its dammed twin comprise the two waterfalls for which the city of Twin Falls gets its name.
Sometimes I just need to get away from my normal photographic haunts as a bit of a palette cleanser, so we planned a tip out to Twin Falls, Idaho for me to do just that. We left Logan yesterday a little after noon, and after checking in to our Air B & B, we found a park so Tommy could run around after being in the car for almost three hours. I took advantage of the opportunity to gather some images for my parks project.
After dinner, we headed out to Shoshone Falls, and they sure didn’t disappoint.
I played around with a few different variations of this image before I made this one, and it’s my most favorite image from the trip and that I’ve made in a long time.
Tommy got super cranky, so we left earlier than I thought and hoped we would, but I couldn’t stay away from Perrine Falls, so I dropped Gina and Tommy off at the Air B & B, and headed over.
After I made a few images, I headed the rest of the way to the bottom of the canyon to Centennial Waterfront Park, and came back with some images I’m quite pleased with.
Something I've always known while working on my parks project is that I'd eventually need to include photographs of the playgrounds that exist in these parks. I've never done anything about it since I've been super self-conscious of the appearance of a strange, lone man in the park with a camera on a tripod photographing a playground full of kids running around. Even when using my large format gear (maybe especially, due to the size of the camera and laboriousness of using it) I still felt like people would think I was a creep and call the cops, and that was when I wasn't even near playground equipment. I think I'll still feel like that to a small degree even now that I'm a father and my kid will be one of the ones playing.
Anyway, this has got me thinking about these playgrounds (what I grew up calling "Jungle Gyms") and how they've changed over the years since I was a child, and beyond even that time. Frederick Law Olmsted, when designing New York's Central Park, included plans for a place for children to play, an area he called the "Kinderberg" or "Children's Mountain." Parks and playgrounds grew more prolific in the late 1800's to early 1900's, and where a park couldn't be created, schoolyards were opened up for year-round use, and vacant lots were temporarily re-purposed for children's recreational use. This explosion of public parks and playgrounds in the late 1800's and early 1900's was a fueled by the large influx of immigrants in that same time period. But the first playgrounds weren't as we now know playgrounds. There was playground equipment, but the playground wasn't an area for "unstructured" or "free-form play." Often there was a leader who led the children (most of the texts I've read so far mainly mentions only boys) in marches, singing, saluting the flag, drills, and "occupation work" (think "arts and crafts").
I now think that this project has just become related and perhaps intertwined with the photographs I've been making of Thomas as he explores and learns and plays out in nature. Not that the two projects need to merge somehow. I just bring the relation up because I'm now seeing some patterns emerge in my work, and it may lead me down new paths for at least these two projects.
After writing all this, I'm now pretty anxious to get out and photograph some parks again!
Let me introduce this post by saying: find some place to be alone for 10 minutes. 10 minutes 14 seconds to be exact. This song, The Ride by Amanda Palmer is bound to bring some pretty powerful emotions to the surface. So go find a corner, maybe bring a box of tissues, and hit play: (a quick word of warning: She drops the F-bomb at 6:20, so hit mute for a second if you're averse to such language)
This song was featured on NPR's All Songs Considered podcast on February 12. When I heard it that day, I had the thought "That was a good song, and I'm glad I heard it and had that experience, but it's not a song I need in my library, but I'm glad I heard it." But the song just wouldn’t leave me alone. It's become an ear worm in the last 10 days, but in such a good way, and I had to write something about it.
The song is all about fear, and the ups and downs in life we all experience using a roller coaster ride as a metaphor to express the idea. The music perfectly reflects this in a waltz with an ascending and descending scale. Before she wrote the song, Amanda asked her fans on her Patreon website to tell her something they were afraid of in 50 words or less. They responded with 1,183 comments. On the list are things like the fear of dying, parents dying, inability to have children, losing a child, breaking up, finding new love. She wrote the song in 36 hours after reading those comments (which itself took her 3 hours) posted in response to her request. She told the NPR hosts in an interview about the experience:
What she came up with is something so mind-blowingly powerful. And ultimately, I feel, so full of hope and comfort. One of my favorite lines, which consistently puts a lump in my throat, goes "I wish you could think of me sitting and singing beside you." I just love how badly she wants to sit next to these fans of hers that told her so many heartbreaking stories and put her arm around them to comfort them. Another favorite line goes "Isn't it nice when we're all afraid at the same time?" and later a variation of the same: "Isn't it nice when we all can cry at the same time?" We've all gone through tough times in our lives, so we should all be able to sympathize and empathize with each other, and be afraid or cry with each other.
So if you're struggling, remember "it's just a ride." And I join Amanda in her wish that you "could think of me sitting and singing [or] riding beside you."
I love music.
I know I’m not unique in this aspect, so why bring it up? Why devote a post on my photography blog about my love of music?
There was a recent period in my life when I wasn’t the voracious music listener I was before and after. The only time I listened to music in any degree was while I was driving. But last year I gradually paying more attention to my iTunes library, and one of my resolutions for 2019 is to really get back into music.
I’m going to make perhaps a long-winded correlation, but hear me out: In the past 12 to maybe 18 months I’ve felt a resurgence in my confidence as a photographer (this whole topic of confidence deserves its own blog post, which I may or may not write), and I feel like my return to searching for new music and listening more often has been a big contributor to that change I’ve seen in my creatively, especially over the last month and a half. It was in early- to mid-2014 that I stopped searching out new music and listening so much, and it was around that same time that I felt a decline in my confidence level.
Music has always been one of my favorite things. I love the memories that certain songs can bring to the surface; I love the excitement of hearing an old favorite I may have neglected or ignored for a long time; I love the thrill of hearing a brand new song that stirs up emotion in whatever way, be it happiness, or sadness, or rowdy, or hopeful.
And while I’m on this topic of music, and its impact on my creativity, music has been a part of my photography. I’ve often thought of what a soundtrack for projects or individual photographs would sound like: what style of music would it be? would it be a score? who would compose it? what artists and songs would be on it? During the years of 2015-2017 and part of 2018, whenever I went out photographing I played music in the car that had an impact on me when I was in college or during my time in grad school. Artists like Interpol, Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, The New Pornographers, and Elliott Smith. My thinking was that that music inspired me and helped channel my creativity back then, so it should inspire me now. I felt my work was strong then, so listening to that same music should help me make strong work now. Right? I even made a playlist with all of those old favorite songs and albums.
Looking back on that period, I feel like I was making work that was trying to by like the work I was making during college. I feel like I was trying to make that old music inform my present-day creativity. In mid-2018 I realized this, and thought “it’s 2018. I’m not in my early or late twenties. I need to be making work that is more authentic to my 2018 self. Why not update my music?” And once I did that, once I started playing the music that was inspiring me currently, today, I think that was when my confidence began to really return. I had, without stating specifically, decided to live in the present and look to the future as an artist, and turn to those things that are currently inspiring, informing, and influencing me. I’m not trying to make the music I listen to be responsible for my success or failures, or ups or downs as an artist. I just mention all this to illustrate the music’s power to influence me.
The lesson I’ve learned (and maybe it’s still sinking in) is that I’m not the same person I was when I was in college. I’m not the same artist I was then, or in 2008. I’m not the same artist I was a month ago, nor am I, I think it would be safe to say, even the same artist I was yesterday. We’re all progressing—or, god forbid, digressing—and we need to embrace that progression, grow with it, and learn from it. It might do us good to take a minute periodically and identify (if it’s not obvious) what is causing that growth.
In my last blog post I wrote about some of the goals I have for 2019, and that I wanted to begin a project I’ve been thinking about for 10 years. That project being about walking and hiking. A tentative title for it has been 10,000 Steps. And when I say I plan on beginning the project, I mean I’m going to undertake the project more earnestly. Because the truth is, over the years I have made the occasional image while hiking in the mountains surrounding Cache Valley with the intention of developing the idea. In fact, I’ve blogged about it before, twice in 2013, and again in August of last year.
This project, I feel, has so much potential, and there are so many directions I can take it. Or that it can take me, which will probably be more accurate, both creatively and geographically.
The following image, a 360° panorama, is the first I deliberately made nearly 6 years ago, and it more closely resembles what I then imagined the images to be. Now, in 2019, I’m not so sure of the format of the images.
I like that you can see the trail leading both to the North and to the South in the same image, and this is one direction the project could go. We’ll see. I just need winter to come to an end so I can start making images. And since it’s mid-February, I’ve got a long wait ahead of me…
Here it is mid-February, and I’m just now thinking of and setting goals for myself as an artist for 2019. Actually, I’d set a few of these in early January, so this is me finally recording them and making my declaration of what I wish to do and achieve this year:
Figure out how to display my woven pieces. This has always been at the back of my mind over the course of my working on this project; it’s now time to bring it to the front of my mind more consistently.
Complete the woven body of work, or, at least by the end of the year, have 15-20 pieces that I can declare being Finished
Begin a project I’ve had bouncing around my head for 10 years now, dealing with walking. The concept revolves around 10,000 steps, or the recommended daily amount of steps to take in order to maintain good health. It also deals (maybe even more so than the first point) with walking in the mountains, or, hiking, and why hiking is such an important passion.
Continue my Through Tommy’s Eyes project. This includes coming up with a better title. Though I suppose that might come organically as the project matures. There may also be different phases to this project.
Revive my Parks project. I still feel like this project, which began 14 years ago as my BFA project, has so much more life in it, and there are new things I wish to articulate within the bounds of the project.
Read, read, read.
And lastly, generally photograph like mad! Part of that comes from a desire to revive this blog and post as frequently as I did when it first began so many years ago.
In the interest of full disclosure, there are a few more goals that I won’t list here, mainly due to them being more personal in nature. But these are the big ones I’m working towards in 2019.
What goals have you set for yourself to improve as an artist in 2019?
A few weeks ago I ran a few prints off my Epson P800 that is now a little over two years old, and saw that it left the dreaded “pizza wheel” marks in the surface of the print that seems to plague many Epson printers. I then spent all my free time reading forums and watching YouTube videos on how to fix the issue, and went back and forth with Epson tech support via email, and then finally spent over an hour on the phone with them. In the end, Epson had nothing helpful to offer, other than contact info for a local service center, who likewise said nothing helpful except to bring it in for them to run diagnostics, and a repair estimate of $90-$900.
What are Epson pizza wheel marks?
These “pizza wheel” marks are made by some rollers about 10mm in diameter, and are there to keep the print flat in the printer, and these rollers look like a little serrated pizza cutter. For the unfortunate owners who get inflicted with this particular issue seemingly at random, their prints get little pin pricks along the length of the print, as seen below in my test print:
A video I watched suggested dousing the rollers and the springs that hold them in place in a print head cleaning solution and running a thick card under them back and forth a dozen times. This is supposed to break up any dried over sprayed ink that might have been deposited in the springs, thus returning the spring and flexibility to the springs. But that didn’t work, and it seemed like the most promising solution. Other videos were far less helpful. They showed the owners bashing the printer with sledgehammers, or blasting them with shotguns.
One of the people in a forum post I’d read said they completely removed the springs and rollers altogether, and that is what I ended up doing. And if I only printed on plastic based media, such as Epson’s Premium Luster paper, or Pictorico’s transparency media, I think that would have been a decent work around. But I don’t only print on plastic based media. I print quite a bit on baryta fiber based paper, and without those rollers to keep the paper flat in the printer, the ink load is such that the paper swells and rises into the print head, and instead of the rollers making marks, it’s the head that scratches the print. Don’t ask how I know this...
It didn’t take long for me to see that the rollers and springs were necessary for my process. But after the failure of the first solution, I thought maybe a deeper cleaning of the springs and rollers might help. They were already out of the printer, so I put them in an ultrasonic cleaner with first, a 10% solution 70% IPA and water, and then a 5% solution of Windex and water, rinsing the parts off in between cleanings. I went with the cleaning with Windex, because the alcohol didn’t quite do the trick. People use Windex to unclog severely clogged printheads, as the ammonia breaks up the dried ink, so I figured that might help finish off what the IPA left behind, and sure enough, after a cycle the parts came out sparkling clean.
Reinstalling the rollers is quite the pain. The parts are tiny, and you have only a few inches of room in which to work. I installed three of the rollers, and ran a test print, and prayed. I think I heard the Hallelujah Chorus being sung as the print exited the printer, free of those cursed marks! I’ve now run a few more prints off after installing a few more of the rollers, and they continue to come out clean and undamaged.
This procedure isn’t for the faint of heart, and it really helps to have some needle point tweezers. Head lamps and bright flashlights are also quite useful in illuminating the inside of the printer.
I’ve never posted any how-to’s here. At least none that I can remember, and I’m too lazy to dig through the archives to see if I have. Anyway...I felt I’d share my experience here in case anyone who comes across this post that is suffering from this issue needs some hope that a huge bill from a repair shop isn’t their only option. Nor do they need to resort to destroying the printer in a showy fashion.
Sometimes some of those memories seem more dream than a remembered reality. But I know they happened because I have at least three cohorts that share the same memory, and the occasional journal entry. It is now one of my favorite things to sit and reminisce with all my siblings about all of our experiences in that backyard.
Wandering through the backyard of my childhood during the Thanksgiving holiday brought to mind Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, and how the tree invited the boy to climb it on each subsequent visit the boy made as he grew older. But each time the boy declined because he was too big, or too busy, or too old. Finally, all that remains of the tree is a stump, after having given its wood to the boy to build a boat.
The final sentence of the book, as the boy, now an old man, sits on the stump, keeps ringing in my ear: “And the tree was happy.”
Maybe I’ll give in to my inner child a bit more and climb those old branches. It might just make the tree happy.
The trees I used to climb are aging. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, one willow is dead. The other is not what it once was. The harsh Idaho winds and winters have taken their toll. Not to mention the toll that we took, though we never drove nails in that one. Some of my favorite branches have succumbed to the elements, and are no longer there, making my mind and faded memory attempt to fill in the gaps that exist when I look up.
There was one branch I regarded as the “Holy Grail.” I never was brave enough to venture up to that branch, but at least one of my brothers was: Jesse. I was always a little jealous of him for being braver than I.
Us four older siblings (I’m the oldest of eight) are now in our thirties. I myself am nearing 40. We haven’t played back there as children play for many years, but we, along with the younger four siblings, still gather back there in the summer, and it is now our children that play there. Many of them are still too little to be climbing trees, but in a few years they’ll be purposing those old willows and apple trees to fit their own wild imaginations.
We went to my parents for Thanksgiving in Idaho Falls this year. During the drive up, my thoughts were occupied by memories of the countless hours spent in the backyard while growing up. Here, my younger brothers and I re-enacted movies, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Jurassic Park. We dug holes, most, or maybe all, of which we filled with water to play in the mud. We had hundreds of campfires. We did our schoolwork in the treehouse we built out of old pallets and scrap lumber we scrounged from construction sites. And we climbed every tree. We spent just as much time scrambling through their limbs as we spent on the ground. Those trees weren’t just trees to us. They were houses, office buildings, spaceships—anything our imaginations required them to be.
Over the course of our stay, I spent some time photographing those trees, one of which has died. Most likely from all the nails we drove into it building our tree house. These are just a few of the photographs I made.
Today I was thumbing through my library copy of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, and came across this list:
Fishing Tips for Parents from Matthew Louv (age 12):
Fish with your kid.
Let your kids go fishing, even if you don’t want to take them.
Let your kids buy supplies and tackle. That’s half the fun of fishing.
If your kids are young, take them to a place where fish are easy to catch and are small.
Let kids fish as long as they want. Let them get obsessed.
Let the kids go off and do their own thing. It can get to be incredibly annoying and/or frustrating if there’s an adult standing over them barking orders.
At least pretend to act excited when your kid catches a fish. It can quickly ruin a day of fishing if the kid feels you don’t want to be there, and he’s just dragging you down.
If you know how to fish, don’t give your kid too much unsolicited advice, although it can be helpful if the kid is young.
Let your kid teach you how to fish; participate in the fishing. This can be quality bonding time.
Remember that fishing and spending time with family is just as, or more important than, homework.
Have fun; that’s the entire point of going fishing in the first place.
And whatever you do, DON’T LET YOUR KID THROW ROCKS IN THE WATER!
I’m including this list for two reasons: 1) I simply think it’s great advice, and 2) I think it’s relevant information to my project with Tommy. Though, it’s going to be hard to teach Tommy that last rule. If there’s water and a single rock to found, no matter the size, he’s going to throw it in.
I'm reading Beauty in Photography by Robert Adams again. It's one of my go-tos when I need to figure things out, whether it be where to go with an entire project, or help me clarify my thoughts on things. Adams' book, Why People Photograph is another resource I turn to often.
In the essay, "Making Art New," Adams tackles that gremlin artists face to keep their work fresh, keep improving, and perhaps even reinventing themselves.
A section of the essay begins, "The question, 'what is new?' implies a more hopeful question, 'what is better?'" (WPP 79) Then goes on to ask by what mark we measure progress, and offers "more Truth and/or Beauty" as a measure, but then points out the challenge this can be, and says he is "unacquainted with any first-rate painter or photographers who believe that their pictures will be more beautiful than those of Rembrandt." But Adams acknowledges that sometimes our predecessors were wrong, or at least viewed to be wrong, by those influenced by them. Though seen to be wrong, we are never free from their influence: "...as long as we respond to our forebears, they are with us."
It is my belief that we are influenced by our predecessors always, whether we respond directly to them or not, for it is that response to an influence or denial or divorce from it that shapes us, informs our current work, and guides us in our quest to improve.
“Isn’t it necessary for [art] to be…different from what has gone before?” Adams asks. Then begins to answer with this gem:
...All art comes out of a background of convention established by one's predecessors. Every serious artist borrows not only from those conventions, but from the particular insights of individuals he admires. This is unavoidable because, as the painter Mark Tobey observed, "No young artist can grow unless he emulates someone bigger than himself"—we all start small. Thus, Cézanne, for example, borrowed from Delacroix, and Matisse from Cézanne and Delacroix. It sometimes even seems as if the greatest artists borrow most. Certainly none of those just mentioned ever tried to hide his dependence on his sources; each, great as he was, understood that creations out of nothing are possible only for God. We seem in the end to be left with a series of revivals. (WPP 81)
In order for us to grow, in order for us to even begin learning, it is necessary to emulate and borrow. But, as Adams later states, “No serious artist would…ever set out simply to repeat another.” Sooner or later, we must be as Matisse who said “I have accepted influences but I think I have always known how to dominate them.”
Last night I stumbled upon my original Departures Blog that I had hosted on Blogger that I started in 2005. It’s been both good and a little depressing going through those old posts (most of which I’ve transferred here to this Squarespace hosted blog). Those posts from 2005 and 2006 were right at the end of my BFA project on public parks and right at the inception of my lumens. There are some musings on where to take both projects as well as explorations into other projects that never really became of anything. It’s saddening that I let things die, but I’m glad I found those posts. Now I can use them to inform my current work as well as pick up now where I left off 11-12 years ago.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d list some projects that I’m most interested in taking on:
- Resuming the Parks Project. I’d really like to follow through on an idea I had way back when to obtain historical photographs of the older/oldest parks in certain cities and incorporate them into the overall body of work, including but not limited to rephotographs.
- Fire pits. There’s a lot of ground to explore with this one.
- Lumens. I’ve not yet said what I need to say with the lumens.
- Construction photographs. These were excellent exercises in seeing and design.
- The 10,000 steps idea I’ve had since my stint in grad school. I think this one occupies my thoughts most of any potential project.
- Weaves/collages. There’s so much potential in this project and I haven’t even scratched the surface.
- Through Tommy’s Eyes. Not the official title, but it’s what I’m calling it right now. I still feel I have to make this work.
I also want to be more active on this blog, and I’ve got a few ideas to help me do that. It basically just comes down to prioritizing the right things.
Several weeks ago I went out to Hyrum Reservoir to photograph, and in addition to my digital camera, I wanted to bring the 5x7 with me. I parked my car, gathered my gear, put the 5x7 on the tripod, which I then hoisted on my shoulder and started walking. After a few steps down the trail, I felt a sudden lightening of the load on my shoulder followed by a crash. I knew immediately that it was the camera that had fallen, but I didn’t know how or why. Turns out I’d pushed the limits of my tripod head too and the weight of the camera popped the plate right out of the head.
I whipped around, expecting to see bits of shattered ground glass, the lens to be in pieces, and the wood reduced to splinters, but was utterly surprised and relieved to see that everything was still in tact. Though it hadn’t exploded on the rocks, it had still sustained enough damage that it wouldn’t be usable until some repairs had been made.
Once I got home, I was able to survey the damage a bit better. Some of the wood did get scratched and dented, and the brackets connecting the front standard to the bed got bent, which took quite a lot of force.
I had it in my mind to restore the camera sometime, and this just accelerated and necessitated those plans. So I got down to work disassembling the camera.
After hours and hours of sanding and several sheets of sandpaper, I finally finished.
Then came the stain, then the clear coat.
After four coats of clear coat, with light sanding in between each coat, I was finally able to start reassembling.
A few hours of turning a screwdriver and referring back to reference photos, I’d got it all back together! Here it is with freshly polished brass.
Now that this project is done, maybe I can turn my attention back to making all the pinhole cameras I want to make.