A couple of times when I knew what I was doing

As I have gotten more comfortable with photography, there are more times when I know, at the moment, that I’ve got something good. I see it in the viewfinder; most of these pictures do not need any cropping.  I see the elements that I like coming together and “know” that the print on the wall will be at least as impressive as what I’m looking at.  As we shall see, this does not necessarily mean other people will like the picture, especially customers and critics.  As far as what people buy is concerned, so far I’m about two for three; a third of what people buy consists of pictures that I think could have been taken by someone else.  I concede that that someone else may take better pictures than mine! This post is simply about what I like, and the extent to which I can achieve it.

First example: The Fair.

“The Fair.” Maine State Fair, Bangor, 2005

I was at a Maine Photographic workshop called “The Magic Moment,” taught by Constantine Manos.  Costa had sent us out this day with instructions to “get close to people” and “I want to see heads, big heads!”  I was just a couple of feet in front of the guy on the right.  I had a 35mm lens mounted.  This lens recurs a lot in my best pictures, because I’m close.  If necessary, as it was with The Evening, I can always straighten the perspective lines in Lightroom.

When I saw these people in the viewfinder, I thought “mission accomplished.” It is still one of my favorite two or three of my own pictures.  Some other photographers  like it.  It has not done so well with customers and critics.  The customers I can understand. To the extent that it’s just a picture of a bad-looking kid with a snarl on his face (the kind of gesture that I’m always after), who wants it in his living room?  There is always the unexpected objection, too.  Once, the person in charge of hanging a show of mine wondered if it would be acceptable to her clientele.  Can you guess why she was concerned?  If you are of a certain age and disposition, you have already noticed the cigarette behind the other young guy’s ear.  That was the problem.

On the other hand, here is a picture taken on Christmas Eve Day, when I was having lunch with my wife.  She reached out to stir her coffee, and I said “wait, wait! don’t move!” There was her hand’s reflection in the window, the gesture of the spoon toward the cup, the human forms in the background, and the sun blasting through the window and into the objects on the counter.

“Johnny’s.” Newton, Massachusetts, Christmas Eve Day, 2007.

This one, also, I felt was a good photograph from the moment I saw it. It did get recognition, at least from critics.  The first juried Cambridge Art Association show I entered, in 2008, was called “Interiors/Exteriors,” juried by James Hull. I thought, “ha! I have just the thing.”  I was not too surprised to get into the show, but quite surprised to be a Juror’s Choice. I don’t care that so far, nobody has bought this picture.  The whole experience gave me more confidence in what I was doing.

May 1, 2013: Johnny’s also will be showing at Danforth Art in Framingham this summer, and The Fair will be showing at the National Prize Show of the Cambridge Art Association.

The “Blue” Show at the Cambridge Art Association

The Cambridge Art Association has shows named “Red” and “Blue” in alternate years. This year is a Blue year. The show’s subtitle is “more than a color, metaphor, feeling, idea, or hue.”  More, yes, although each of us has at least one or two of those things in mind.

For me, the Red and Blue shows are like workshop assignments.  I have the two years in between Red shows to shoot that theme.  Sometimes I am doing that consciously.  This year I was thinking “blue” a lot when I went out, although not really on June 24, 2012, when I shot The Evening, which won First Prize in this year’s show.

“The Evening.” Gloucester, Massachusetts, June 2012.

I was out that day with my friend Ed Friedman and some of his photography students.  We ended up in the Gloucester harbor area and were still walking around at 8 p.m.  It was an evening when the light was beautiful and everything suddenly looked good.  The town’s Festival of St. Peter, patron saint of fishermen, was a few days away.  My usual style would have been to sneak around the corner and get the couple walking their dog, with at least some of these other elements in the picture, but as much as we talk about it, we can’t always be in the right spot at the right moment with the right lens, can we?  Next time.

When it was time to submit works for the Blue juror (this year it was Joseph Thompson of Mass MoCA), I submitted three: this one, one other from the same Gloucester evening (Non-Hazardous Industrial Wastewateri) and The Insect Barn, from an outing with my wife and daughter at the Los Angeles County Fair.

My thought at the time was that The Insect Barn was by far the most representative of my style, but I had a feeling the juror wouldn’t go for it. The Wastewater picture was even further off my style, but I was allowed to submit three pictures, so….

The Insect Barn is a good example of what I like to call “my style.”  There are many characteristic gestures in the picture.  I’m right in front of the people, but they don’t notice me.   I didn’t create the “insect barn” sign but don’t mind taking advantage of it.  Everybody is totally worn out (except maybe the boy) from having such a wonderful time at the County Fair.  I’ll bet the mother can hardly wait till next year.