Monday, December 14, 2009

AT11.2 - The Karsh Exhibit

We were quite excited to have the opportunity to see the Yousuf Karsh exhibition, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, recently. I was familiar with several of Karsh's portraits, but wasn't prepared for the huge number of images that were on display that afternoon! As we've progressed through our first term on black and white film printing, I was anxious to see what techniques I could recognize from Karsh's work.

After reading the info cards on the first 10 or 15 images, I changed my approach a little for this assignment. I slowly scanned all the photos on display, making notes on the ones that "jumped out" at me as I passed by. From there, I narrowed down my choice to one photo that seemed to hold my attention and that demonstrated, to me, the widest range of use of darkroom voodoo, that we've started to perform on our own prints at school. My choice was the portrait of George Bernard Shaw.

I knew a bit about Shaw from school and television, but was immediately impressed how Karsh managed to portray Shaw's professional attributes in a single image. There are many technical and compositional aspects to this image that caught my attention. Among them were:

1. The way the subject has been lit, overall, draws you into the image right away. There is a flow to the layout that leads the viewer directly to the subject's face. It is in this area where we see that Karsh has taken great care to give us the highest range of tones, culminating on the subjects dark eyes, peering out from under that tangled nest of white eyebrows. I think this treatment adds to the wry and whimsical nature of the subject's character.

2. In general, Karsh's work is usually dark and moody. This does not come across as mysterious or dangerous, but rather, it allows Karsh to control and reveal specific traits about his subjects to the viewer.
I appreciate the way Karsh dodges and burns certain areas of his subject and their surrounding environment. Shaw's tweed jacket is separated from the dark background above his left shoulder by a halo of light, giving more dimension to his subject and support to his position in the chair. There's even a small bright area running along the top of his right shoulder which further adds to this separation.

3. The arm of the chair has been treated to additional dodging which emphasizes the contrast between the top edge detail and the darker front/side view, which has been burnt in so that this area drops off completely, blending into the black background. This provides a solid base on which to support Shaw's left arm and elbow. This seating position creates a dynamic tension as Shaw places his body weight on the arm of the chair. This position is further emphasized by his leaning back into the chair, almost pushing himself into the back. His elbow extending beyond the 2 dimensional chair arm adds an almost 3D effect to the image.

4. I imagine that Karsh decided to tone down Shaw's suit, overall, which resulted in the viewer's eye being drawn to the brighter and more contrasty face of Shaw. Karsh has protected the highlighted areas of Shaw's forehead, nose, cheeks and beard for this purpose. Shaw, in turn, locks onto the viewer's gaze with his piercing eyes, in return.

5. Shaw's hands appear to have been dodged by Karsh as well. Since Shaw is a writer, it seems appropriate that these "tools of the trade" be more emphasized to tell a bit more about the subject.

6. There is a nice balance between the darkened background in the upper left hand corner of the photo, and in the opposite bottom, right hand corner. This angle of darkness dovetails nicely with the angle at which Shaw is reclining in his chair. There is a gentle "S" curve which runs from the front corner of the chair arm, up Shaw's arm, around to his shoulder and points us to Shaw's face with an implied line.

7. I have previously noted the special attention given to highlighting Shaw's hands and face in this portrait. Compositionally, I appreciate Karsh's method of connecting these two inseparable features of Shaw's talents as an insightful writer by positioning his spectacles in his right hand, yet connecting them with a strong leading line of the rope/chain attached to the spectacles and his torso (close to his heart, perhaps).

8. Karsh's positioning of Shaw in the chair also closely follows the classic Rule of Thirds, by placing his hands in the lower left quadrant and balancing that with the placement of Shaw's head in the upper right hand quadrant. These two elements remind the viewer of Shaw's ability to see/observe his world around him, to analyze and conceive his ideas for writing , with his ability to write out these ideas and concepts with his own twist on the situations.

9. I do have one question regarding Karsh's decision in how this photo is laid out. With his ability to lighten and darken many features throughout almost any image, I don't understand why he left that lone vertical line in the scene that runs from slightly behind Shaw's left shoulder, up to the top of the image, and beyond. I don't feel that it is connecting to or adding to any other part of the story of this photo, but rather it seems to cut a strip off the right side of the image and create an unecessary distraction for the viewer. Just part of the observation process.

I found this exhibition to be very inspiring and left me wanting to try some of Karsh's techniques in my own work. Perhaps we'll be able to get our hands on some fibre-based paper in the new year . . . (wink, wink, nudge, nudege!)


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Color Block in Creative Imaging

Color... The final frontier. Sorry 'bout that. Color! The reason I get up every morning. I don't know what it is, but, whenever I raise my camera to my eye, I see shapes and COLOR. It's fantastic! My eye is drawn to those splashes of bright, powerful hues that demand my attention. Each color has its own voice and tone.

Some speak softly and quietly like the blue hallway in my collection. While setting up my tripod and camera there, I felt cool and calm. The painted walls were glossy smooth and it felt as though I was inside a cloud where everything was quiet and serene.

Other colors virtually scream for someone to see them, such as the bright red roof over the Scotia Bank bandstand at the Forks. Red is my favorite color, and it doesn't take much to make a statement. While walking through the Forks grounds, I cut through the Scotia Bank grandstand, intending to make my way over to the bridge from the parking lot. When I got under the roof, the morning sun lit up the rafters and sheeting like it was a forest fire! It was over the top!

I find it easier to notice more primary or pure colors when I'm out and about. My goal is to learn to see more muted and subtle color combinations, which should be easier as we move from fall into winter. My other challenge is to develop my images of muted colors with a softer touch. It's easy to punch up the brighter colors so that they're almost talking to you, but I think the real challenge is to convey the quiet, confident blending of more subtle tones and hues, and not over-do the processing. These more subtle tones can be just as powerful as the bright colors, and have to power to stop the viewer in their tracks and, "take a break", and relax in the quiet compositions.

Bright colors are the "big sticks" in the visual world, but subtle hues and tones are the velvet touch that can carry just as much weight with the viewer and maybe help them to ponder on life for just a few minutes. It's all good.

Hope you enjoy my Color Block Collection.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sarah's ZOO Field Trip

"Shooting for fun"?!! I haven't heard that offer for a while.! At first, I had visions of tramping around the zoo in the rain and snow, but luckily, we were spared the weather drama and it stayed cold and windy instead. The class quickly split into groups as we wound our way through all the paths and back "alleys" in the park. Every so often we would come across a building that we could go into, get warmed up, AND shoot! What a treat!

Without having a specific list of subjects to catch, we were free to shoot whatever caught our attention, including animals. We were sharing ideas with each other, and that just fed the creativity amongst the group. It would be interesting to see a collective slideshow where everyone got to contribute their best 5 or 6 shots for the whole class to enjoy. (hint, hint).

Everyone seemed to enjoy their "time out" and the freedom that the assignment outlined. It was also a chance to try to utilize some of the tricks and lessons learned over the past few weeks in a more casual atmosphere. Thanks, Sarah, for this special field trip! Hope you're resting up this weekend!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Analogue Technique 6.2: Photographic Hero

My photographic hero is Sandro Miller, or just Sandro. Born in Chicago in 1958, Sandro was given his first camera when he was 17. After finishing high school, he began working for photography studios in and around suburban Chicago. Being self-taught, Sandro learned his trade through reading books on photography and dissecting the various lighting techniques used by the photographers in capturing the moods and themes of their images. His greatest influences came from Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
His big break came when he worked under David Deahl, whose tabletop photography taught Sandro the importance of details in the setup and the lighting used in his clients' shots. Over his career of 30 + years, Sandro has worked all over the world for such clients as Nike, Pepsi, Microsoft, BMW, Amex, Gatorade and the US Army. His photos have been published in many countries for GQ, Esquire, Newsweek, New Yorker, Communication Arts and Graphis, to name a few. Equipment-wise, Sandro shoots mainly with Nikon cameras, including the F5 35mm film camera as well as the D2X digital cameras.
Sandro has also published a number of books of his work. The accompanying photos were taken from these books and have been chosen for my investigations.

"American Bikers" - A collection of portraits taken at the Sturgis Bike Rallly, this work is a culmination of months spent with biker gangs and clubs, getting to know and understand their culture. This photo was selected for the cover, and is representative of the photographic style Sandro uses to present his subjects. Tightly cropped and brightly lit, in a slightly harsh way, his technique is quite revealing of his subjects. In this case, most of the bikers looked directly into the camera, revealing a vulnerable or intimate side of their persona that the public does not often observe. His lighting seems very basic; one main light, a reflector to fill in shadows, and a back light to help separate his subjects from the background. Tonal range is high, with deep blacks, clean whites but not overly harsh. It seems to suit his subjects. Grain structure for this publication is fairly rough, again, to suit his subjects. I love the range of lighting used in this book. The setup seems intimate, and the lighting is "revealing". For the type of subjects being photographed, the lighting is what catches your eye right away. It's a kinder quality of light, reminiscent of older "parlor" style setting ups. It's clean, yet it's rough around the edges, just like his subjects.

"I Can't Accept Not Trying" - This book is one of two collaborations with Michael Jordon that began with Sandro's work on the Nike account. An intimate look into the comeback plans of Michael Jordon, Sandro was able to capture an insider's look into Michael Jordon's personal goals and challenges. The photos in the book reveala a side of Michael that runs the gamat of emotions with powerful lighting techniques mixed with a softer style that blends in well with the vulnerability that these images portray.

"Verona Figure E Ritratti" - A collection of images of dancers, nudes, and cancer survivors, this publication is a strange brew of various styles and techniques. The image of one of the dancers is included here. The style is very different, more of an action shot than a studio setup. Lighting is high contrast and the subjects are shot against a white background, giving them a sense of flight. I was impressed with how the lighting scalloped the dancers bodies and showed off their sinewy limbs. In some cases, you have to look at the photo for a few seconds to let the pose sink in, and then recognize it as a person. This style almost loses the personal attachment to these dancers, and the images take on a look of shape and motion instead of an individual's portrait. But in this case, Sandro is presenting what this person is all about, not who they are as a personality. In this series, he gives his subjects room to fly through the frame, rather than be "trapped" inside the tight confines of the regular studio setup. Contrast is high again, but manages to contain all the tonal range required across the subject.

In general, Sandro has a style of showing his subject within a high contrast tonal range that keeps the images crisp and bright. He seems to be able to move right up inside the very fabric of who his subjects really are, in an intimate way, but treats this closeness with respect. In photos where the subject is looking directly into the camera, their eyes are riveting, and hold the viewer's attention til they feel that they are looking deep into the soul of the subject. A tough goal to achieve, but one that has made Sandro one of the top photographers in the world.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Composition at Home

This assignment seemed familiar as Sarah handed out the Assignment sheets. We have shot for these design elements before, and I expected that it would easy to shoot again, but . . . this time we had to shoot inside our own homes. That made it a whole different game.

There were a few shots that came to mind right away, but I found that I had to really think of additional subjects and locations inside my house to shoot. The problem that I had was not leaving them where I found them but, setting them up in a way that showed their best qualities under the several headings that we were working on.

New ideas came in spurts, and sometimes it was quite difficult to come up with something fresh. But that's what keeps us growing. It's probably just a photographer's growing pain. Ouch.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Unit 1 - Practical Quiz - Jill Brown's Street Portraits

This was my first portrait assignment.
Jill was as nervous as I was regarding how we should pose, but after a few shots we both seemed to feel easier with the idea. After a while, it actually became a bit of a game and the more we goofed around the easier it became. The overcast sky also helped provide a softer light to work with.
All in all, it turned out pretty good. Now if I can just raise enough cash to buy back the memory card out of Jill's camera, no one else will ever see these off-the-wall shots. :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Working the Subject - 100 Creative Ways

Now here's a challenging assignment! Shoot 100 images of a 3 item still life. How tough can THAT be?
It would have helped if the three items I had chosen weren't all black. It was hard enough to shoot the initial setup in my basement, with several lights on the "still life" just to bring out some texture and depth to the scene.
When it came time to shoot the 100 images, I tried to set things up in the kitchen, with lots of natural light coming through from the window, but it created a huge reflection on the helmet's visor. Next step, take it outside so that the lighting levels will be higher; just set it up in the shade to take away the reflections. No such luck. Now I was getting reflections of the sky, overhead telephone lines, and the side of the house, off the entire helmet. Brainwave! Take all three items down to the community centre at the end of the block. Lay them out again on the grey asphalt, in the shade of the tree on the corner of the lot, and voila!, much improved lighting and more appropriate "backdrop".
After about 50 images, things were starting to get a little desperate. Maybe a closeup of the zipper on my riding jacket, perhaps a creative angle on the curve of my riding boot, the logo perhaps. By the time I got to 70 images, my time was running out.
I was scheduled to participate in the Nygard Fashion Show at 5:00 p.m. and it was already going on 4:00! I still had to upload all my images, create a Picasa album, and submit it to Sarah in 30 minutes!
I didn't leave the house until 5:00 p.m., and then had to drive across to the other side of town, in 5:00 traffic. I ended up at Nygard 30 minutes, but they let me in anyway. I am still haunted by the fact that I still needed to shoot ANOTHER 30 images of this still life to complete the assignment properly. I was really finding it hard to come up with different angles and ideas for this shoot. I found myself approaching creative exhaustion with this one. It was a good lesson to learn. Next time I'll choose my items with a little more forethought.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"LINE 'em up!"

After having completed this shoot once, I was temporarily traumatized when my whole assignment got "lost in translation", as the files were transferred to me from another location.

So, after reshooting this assignment again, it is finally ready to be viewed. Most of my shots were made around The Forks area, with a few more taken along Broadway Avenue, for a bit of variety.

Going on this "walkabout" in search for "lines" caused me to look at things quite differently than I normally would. Instead of walking along, ignoring most things and concentrating on what was on my mind at the time, I found myself looking for shapes, colors, contrasts, shadows and any other natural phenomena that showed itself as lines.

Even after the assignment was over, I was still searching for more lines, or maybe I just couldn't turn it off. Anyway, I had a great time wandering around looking for the simplest things that expressed themselves in lines.

Please have a peek at my Picasa slide show, and let me know what your thoughts are. Thanks!

Monday, September 14, 2009


My favourite genre of photography is Architectural. I like to find design themes or shapes within an image, something that throws off your natural perspective and vision.
I hope to learn more about the computer side of photography so that I can catalogue, touchup and communicate my images to others.
While looking through some old photos that I had taken years ago, I was struck by the importance of our work as recorders of people and events. In many cases, the only things we have left to remind us of our past are the images that "someone" has taken. WE are that "someone".

DT2.1 "Lines"

This blog post will be published tomorrow.
Hey there!