Old New Work

Recently I acquired a couple of new(er) photography books. One is a history of Group f.64 by Mary Street Alinder, which proved to be a joy to read.  It chronicled, apparently for the first time comprehensively, the movement known by that label, Group f.64, which changed the way photography as art was done in this country.  Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange…names to conjure with in photographic history, and still today the names to look for when wanting to know what photographs can do.  I’ll do a longer review of it later in the Proximal Eye.

The other two are more straight picture books.  One is a used volume, the 75th Anniversary celebration of Leica cameras.  It includes some truly amazing work.  Then a new volume by Tom Ang, Photography: The Definitive Visual History.  Again, amazing work, beginning from the 1830s on into the digital age.  Ang knows his history and this is a beautiful book.

It sent me into a fit of nostalgia. So I’ve been revisiting old images and doing some new work on them.  For instance, this is one of my personal favorites:

Branch Over Rock and Water, b&w, September 1984This was taken in 1984, on a trip to Colorado with Donna.  The technical data is obsolete—Minolta cameras, Technical Pan film for finest grain and detail—but the image, reworked a bit in Photoshop, pops, and stands as one of my best pieces.

I spent over 35 years doing work in a darkroom, wet process.  For most of that time I loved it.  I have no guilt whatsoever in saying today that I’m glad I don’t have to do it that way anymore.

But the fact is, I must have close to fifty thousand negatives.  I’ve been taking pictures since I was 14.  I have always been visually-centered.  It has even been remarked that my writing is highly visual.

Recently, I’ve been toying with mounting an exhibition.  I have done remarkably few shows over the years.  Mostly out of reluctance to expose my work to criticism, which is silly, but there’s been more than a little laziness about it.  But I think I’ve got some good things and maybe I should put them out there.  Yes, I have the Zenfolio galleries, linked to this site, but I haven’t overseen them as carefully as I perhaps should.  I think I’m going to change that up this year.

But I’ve been, as I said, going over some of my old work.  Like this one, another favorite:

Ice On Window, b&w, 1985

Opportunistic art.  A wintry morning, too early.  We lived in an apartment as an intersection with a traffic light.  I went out to get the car started, to warm it up, and brought my camera, because I have no idea why, and the traffic light through the ice on the windshield did this.  I’ve improved it somewhat here, but it’s one of the few images I’ve made that required little more than some cropping.

Another one from the Colorado trip that I’ve always liked, sort of similar to the one above, but totally different at the same time:

Burnt Cedra 2, b&w, September 1984

One of my “Ansel Adams” imitations.  I love texture and this poor old barely-hanging-on trunk offered plenty.

Raising my lens from the ground to the sky then gave me this one:  Dead Cedars and Pine, b&w, September 1984

More f.64 Group pretension, but there is something primal and fascinating about looking at the world that way.

Occasionally, I get asked what kind of photography I do.  What kind?  As in portrait, landscape, abstract, and so forth, and the fact is I’ve done pretty much all of it.  My world isn’t limited to one way of seeing, one set of subjects, or one story to tell.  Maybe if I’d picked one and stuck with it to the exclusion of all else, I might have made more of a success out of it as a career, but that’s not how my brain works, so I just photograph what crosses my path, and I see differently day to day.  For instance, going through some old proof sheets this week, I stumbled on some images I never printed before, and found this one:

Old Tires, b&w, 1985

Now, sure, you could say that it shares something with landscape. Composition if nothing else.  Old tires as mountain range?  But it’s a different kind of story.  As is this one:

Takin' Out The Recycle, b&w, 1985

No, I haven’t titled it.  I generally don’t, at least not for public consumption.  I have them titled now for filing as digital files.  But I think it’s more fun to let people look and decide on the story implied for themselves.

Working on these old negatives in Photoshop has given yet another way of seeing them, and maybe in the next several months I’ll mine my archives for more, while I try to decide about that exhibit.  I don’t really know how to go about that, but at the moment I’m interested.  The question is, would anybody else be.