Tag Archives: art photography

The MOMA Exhibit OBJECT:PHOTO

Recently I saw the photographic exhibit “OBJECT:PHOTO at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It is essentially the Thomas Walther Collection, a selection of 341 ”modern” photographs by 148 artists made from 1909–1949.

The prospectus says that the collection “represents the innovative vision of the 1920s and ’30s, a transformative period of modern photography and the foundation of our photo-based world.”

As presented by MOMA, it is much more.

Erich Salomon

Lore Feininger “Erich Solomon” 1929

In 2010, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave the Museum a grant to encourage deep scholarly study of the Walther Collection and to support publication of the results.

The MOMA coined the study “The Project” and spent several years developing new ways to relate to a collection of photographs. This exhibit is not a leisurely stroll through rooms of prints with arrogant captions written by the curator.

From the website: “Creating new standards for the consideration of photographs as original objects and of photography as an art form of unusually rich historical dimensions, the project affords both experts and those less familiar with its history new avenues for the appreciation of the medium.”

This is a turn-about from 1960, where as an example, in the United Kingdom photography was not recognized as a fine art. Dr. S.D. Jouhar said, when he formed the Photographic Fine Art Association at that time – “At the moment photography is not generally recognized as anything more than a craft.”.

The Thomas Walther collection consists of 347 photographs. Each photo contributes to an appreciation of the excitement that these 148 artists must have felt at the time. Loring Knoblauch at the Collector Daily (a great reference to locations and information on all current major photography exhibits) has this to say about the images in OBJECT:PHOTOGRAPHY:

Hebert Bayer

Herbert Bayer – “Humanly Impossible” 1932

“For those enamored with the burst of innovation we have recently seen with the digital revolution, the 1920s and 1930s were an equally exciting and disruptive time for photography. Those years saw the introduction of the hand held camera (and the flexibility it offered), the broadening of photojournalism (and the magazines that featured it), the growth of filmmaking, and the expansion of the avant garde. It was a time of intense experimentation both in Europe and America, with new technical developments quickly opening up new areas of artistic exploration and new visual vocabularies. Photographers from across the globe were connecting and cross pollinating in exhibitions, publications, and face to face meetings, taking advantage of their new found freedoms.”

Although the visceral quality of the images is the real way to see the art (why they are displayed in museums), many of you will not make it to the MOMA for this exhibit. However, all photographs are available on the OBJECT:PHOTO website. And there one can experience the Mellon Foundation study in many ways.

On the site there is a collection of essays on aspects of the exhibit, there is a section on Mapping the Photographs, on Comparing the Photographs, on Connecting the Artists and on Mapping the Artist’s Lives. All organized to enrich one’s appreciation of the Thomas Walther collection.

Artist Bernice Abbott

Mapping Artist Bernice Abbott

Here is a visualization mapping Bernice Abbott’s life to other artists. The website says,” This visualization illustrates the artists’ relationships with the various meeting points — influential exhibitions, publications, schools, studios, and industrial and cultural centers — that linked them in this era.”

So who is Thomas Walther? MOMA provides little information. I found a piece by Vince Aletti in the NYC Village Voice where he interviewed Walther.

“Walther, heir to a German machine-tool manufacturing fortune, is publicity-shy and evasive about the extent of his larger collection—he estimates its number at “somewhere between 1000 and 2000 pictures.

For now, the place he’s found is New York. Walther still describes himself as a Berliner, but he’s lived here since the early ’80s—he’s currently in a Soho loft—and feels at home the way he no longer does in Europe.

…he regularly adds rarities to what he calls his “core collection”—including a sublime, mid-19th-century daguerreotype of clouds by Southworth and Hawes that he snapped up at Sotheby’s last spring (1999) for $354,500…Speaking of his core collection, he says, “I was attracted to peculiar emanations of the human spirit,”

Thank you, Thomas for making your wonderful collection available to us.

 

Henri Cartier Bresson

My interpretation of museum print. George Hoyningen-Huene – “Henri Cartier Bresson” 1935

Henri Cartier-Bresson

George Platt Lynes – “Henri Cartier-Bresson” 1935

Local Knowledge Enhances Your Travel Photos

Many times when we are traveling we are in someone else’s control. This can be a good thing, as when we are on a vacation we are not interested in dealing with the minutia of our trip. On the other hand, if a tour is “prepackaged”, chances for unique photography are diminished.

Here is my take on packages. You pay an extra 15 to 20 % to have a company put together a tour for you. Normally, on this tour you will be with others that you do not know (sometimes, in the case of cruise ships, thousands that you do not know).

The tour operators set an “all inclusive” agenda and include the major sites, but usually this means that you will be informed of where you will stay, when to get up, when the transportation leaves the hotel, when the transportation leaves the attraction, etc. You could customize the trip with the tour operators, but the cost may be prohibitive, as they are able to get “group rates” with larger numbers of tourists following the same itinerary. A guided tour is usually homogenized and abbreviated to fit what the tour operator feels is best for their clients, with little input from the client.

Many people think that Bed and Breakfasts are sub-par to hotels. Au contraire! They will help integrate you into the general community at the locale where you are staying. The proprietors will give you tips on places to eat, what cultural events are taking place, etc. Best of all, if you want them to, they will engage you at breakfast or in the evening to discuss history and local politics, problems in their country and the perceived differences between their county and yours. The conversation will also help break down the stereotypes that you may have about their city/country. Invigorating!

Look for Local Connections

“My daughter is in the Peace Corps in Bangwanaland, and loves it!” This comes from an acquaintance of yours. So, what is her email address? Would she mind if you contacted her about local conditions/customs? Does she know a local guide and/or a great place to stay?

A friend says, “I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago”. You say, I am going in October. Can I have lunch with you and find out some of the “dos and don’ts”? Perhaps you can stay with a friend that they know. Implicit in your request can be the possibility that they can stay with you while visiting your town.

Personal Examples

Following are several illustrations of how a local helped me in my quest for unique subject matter to photograph.

Tango

All Night Tango Dancing

We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast in Buenos Aires and during the course of the conversation with our host, we asked about a particular café that featured tango dancing. He said that he knew of the place, but it was a bit touristy. “Tonight, I am going to a community center where I am learning how to dance the milonga, and they also teach tango. Why don’t you ride the local bus with me and take a class? A tango band arrives at 11:00 PM and we dance until 4:00AM” Of course it was marvelous.

Lava tube

Suck ‘Em Up Lava Tube

I was on assignment in Hawaii and I needed to photograph a lava tube that entered the water. Ancient Hawaiians used these caves for rituals and burials. Where could I find a tube that had a somewhat restricted entrance but had plenty of light? My local contact said that I should check out the “Suck ‘Em Up” lava tube. Hmmm..Why do they call it that? Come to find out that if you are too close to the surface in a particular area of the tube, you get sucked out through the blowhole at the top! A fine image, but you had to know where to go.

Lion Cubs

Lion Cubs in the Serengeti

On a recent Photo Safari, we were watching a lioness and her cubs for nearly an hour. She started to lick them, one at a time. The guide from Duma Explorer, Wilson Shange, said that because of that behavior, she was either going to take them down to the river, or bring them over to lie in the shade of our truck. Within two minutes, she got up and took them to the river.

 

Blue Whale

Blue Whale Blowing

We were searching for blue whales in the Loreto Bay in Baja, Mexico. After some time, we found a male and moved near him, only to watch him sound. The boatman/guide immediately set his watch for 10 minutes. He then moved our small panga into the general area where he thought the whale would surface and killed the boat engine. After 9 and half minutes from when he set his watch, he started the engine. At the ten-minute mark, the whale surfaced nearby and we raced to the location for several minutes of photography until the whale sounded. The guide set his watch for 10 minutes, and we moved to where he thought the whale would surface.

Patagonian sunrise

Sunrise in Patagonia

In Patagonia, we were on the last day of the famous “W” hike in Torres del Paine National Park. The hutmaster said that we needed to get up at 4:30AM and he would have a cold breakfast set for us. Then we needed to climb about 2,500 feet to arrive at a viewpoint overlooking the mountain and a glacial pool. At 6:05 AM we completed the climb and five minutes later were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.

Many tourists who are succumbing to a package tour, or do not engage the locals are not able to capture images that are not hidden, but local knowledge is necessary for a stranger to find them.

Engage the population to enhance your travel photography experiences.

Star Light, Star Bright – How to Photograph Stars

Star photography has been a long-time enigma for photographers, and it still is for cinema-photographers. We can easily see a wonderful array of millions of celestial objects on clear nights,but photographing them has been difficult as they are pinpricks of light in a black sky and they are moving, so long time exposures are necessary.

There are four ways to shoot the stars, two have been around for a long time, and two are now possible with digital photography. They are: star trails; “one shot” star images; time-lapse photography and star tracking. I will address each technique, but there are a few consonants that are applicable to all four.

 

1. Altitude. It is not by chance that the major observatories of the world are at high altitudes. If you are at 10,000 feet, the atmosphere is less dense. The air is not “thinner”, but having less density in the atmosphere means that you can “see through it” better. Less humidity also helps, as there are fewer water particles to shoot through. This is why the desert areas of the American Southwest are favorite places for night sky photographers – 8,000 feet above sea level, clear and dry.

2. Light Pollution. More and more locations have extraneous light that “pollutes” the dark night sky and in turn “pollutes” your images. The atmosphere near cities literally glows on the horizon. The International Dark-Sky Association is fighting to preserve the night, but with more of us on earth it is an uphill battle. In addition, the airplanes flying though your frame near a city will not help to produce a “clean” image. To find the best locations for your photo of the stars, see Jonathan Tomshine’s Dark Sky Finder.
The moon will also affect your star images. The best star photography is done on a moonless, cloudless, still night.

3. Tripod. It may seem obvious, but a sturdy tripod is necessary. Set up the shot when there is still light, then come back to your tripod hours later with a headlamp or flashlight. Make sure the tripod is in a secure place, or your gear may walk.

Now for the four methods of taking star photographs.

Star Trails

Star Trails in Maine

Star Trails. These consist of concentric circles around the North Star (Polaris). They are almost always done with wide-angle lenses that capture the maximum amount of sky.
Prepare your camera for this type of photograph by going into the camera’s menu and turning off the LCD (saves battery power) and if you are NOT going to “stack” the final photograph (more on this later) turn the “high ISO noise reduction” feature on. Locate your eyepiece shutter. In some cases there is a manual one on your camera strap. If you do not have a remote release for the shutter, set the shutter release to a 2 second delay to eliminate shake. Set the shutter speed on “Bulb”. And make sure your camera battery is fully charged.
To take an image similar to David Harp’s Maine Coast photograph, locate Polaris and place it in your frame. If you want a terrestrial object in the foreground, make sure it is far enough away from the lens so that your focus will be on “infinity” regardless of the f-stop. Sharp tree leaves (as in David’s picture) are only accomplished on a calm night. Set the ISO on 400 and the aperture wide open (i.e. f2.8). Block the eyepiece and then open the shutter and leave it open for 30 seconds or so. Review the resultant image. Some stars will obviously leave a brighter trail than others. Look for the dimmer stars, as you want many tracks in this type of photograph. Make adjustments in the ISO and try another. If it is to your liking and you want longer tracks, decrease the ISO and lengthen the exposure.
Some photographers want longer tracks but not the long exposures that produce “noise” in their pictures. They take many shorter exposures (with the noise reduction camera software turned off) and then “stack” the images in Adobe After Effects or Photoshop.

The Chess Queen and the Milky Way

The Chess Queen and the Milky Way

One Shot. Higher ISOs on today’s digital cameras (Sony’s A7 has an ISO of 409600!) allow photographers to capture the night sky with very little movement in the stars. The more sophisticated cameras combine high ISOs with noise reduction to produce “grain-free” pictures The camera preparations are the same as for photographing Star Trails.
Here is how to make an image similar to the one of the Chess Queen and the Milky Way. It is almost imperative that the one shot star picture has a foreground subject. You can find one in the daylight, but the very best of this kind of image has the Milky Way in it, as this part of the night sky is very arresting in a “one shot”. The Milky Way is a look at the edge of our galaxy, where many, many stars are “stacked”. You need to see it to position it in the frame. Lighting terrestrial objects can be a challenge, especially if they are a distance from the camera. Also, very little light is needed to expose these objects, as your ISO and exposure will be set for the stars. For the Chess Queen, a flashlight with 3 layers of tissue over the light was used, and the formation was “painted” for only a part of the entire exposure.
Set your camera to 3200 or 6400 ISO with the aperture on your camera wide open. Take a 20 second time exposure painting the foreground. Sophisticated cameras will spend another 10 seconds or so to process out the noise. Check out the resultant picture. Too much light on the foreground object? Not enough stars? Adjust the length of the exposure, but try not to go beyond thirty seconds or you will get noticeable star movement.

Time Lapse Skies. Video has a difficult time with stars, because to capture motion the video cameras expose 30 frames a second. Eventually the ISOs and software will allow it, but for now time lapse is the way to go. I won’t spend much time on the technique in this blog, but with high-end digital 35mm cameras, tracking devices and post processing, a compelling moving video can be made. Dustin Ferrell has been a pioneer in this technology and he has shared his expertise in a web tutorial. The second part of the tutorial is a technical treatise on post processing the images, but the first part displays his results and they are spellbinding and worth watching.

Andromeda

Jacob Ber’s Andromeda

Piggybacking on a Telescope. You can make a photograph by shooting through a telescope, but perhaps you are an astronomer creating an image rather than a photographer with a camera.
More sophisticated telescopes use motors and computers to track celestial objects. If you already have a telescope on an equatorial mounting and you know how to correctly polar align the mount, you can let the camera and lens ride piggyback on top of the telescope and shoot longer-exposure wide-field photos.
An equatorial mounting has one axis-aligned parallel to the axis of rotation of the Earth and is called the polar axis. The other axis is called the declination axis. This axis allows movement of the scope at right angles to the polar axis. Movements in these two axes together permit aiming the scope at any part of the sky. Once an object is found, both axes are locked down, and just the polar axis turns to track the object. Got it? If you are REALLY interested go here.
As primarily a still photographer, perhaps you can find an astronomer and ask him politely to piggyback your camera on his telescope.

Using a Remote Telescope. Many telescopes around the world allow you to buy “telescope time”. You can determine what part of the universe that you want to be photographed and what object. But how can you contact them?  Here is a link to the website Telescope Guide where you can learn how to contact observatories to capture your desired image. The website will guide your request so that you receive the best results. As a rule of thumb, most basic image requests using remote telescope operators will use 5 – 40 minutes of telescope time to capture your image. The observatory will give you a range of your costs when you specify the subject matter, but rarely will the charge exceed 30 USD..

Photos of outer space are fascinating! NASA has a website that features an “Image of the Day” gallery. On July 30, a high school student, Jacob Bers, took the Image of the Day -Andromeda, a “nearby” galaxy. It has hundreds of billions of stars. OK. Enough of having our minds boggled.

Experiment. A few nights ago, there was a moonless, still, clear night behind my house. I face 500+ acres of open space with no lights, so I set up to shoot the stars over an island. To my chagrin, when I went out in the middle of the night to photograph, clouds had moved in. Since I was already set to shoot, I went ahead. To my surprise, the island and clouds were illuminated by a distant marina (by the long exposure), but you can still see the stars!

Stars and Clouds over the Island

Stars and clouds over the island

I hope this blog will help you when you see the starry night and say, “I wonder how I can photograph this?’

Want to tap the expertise of a National Geographic photographer? Consider joining me on my upcoming workshop in the Serengeti. The cost has been reduced for last minute sign ups.

Better Pictures When Shooting the Moon

About once a month in the evening, barring clouds, a full moon appears in the Eastern sky. The sighting inspires poets, astronomers, lovers and photographers.

This blog is appropriate, as on July 12 we experienced a “Super Moon”, where the elliptical orbit of the moon brings it closest to earth and, according to NASA, a full moon at perigee (closest point) is up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than one at its farthest point, or apogee. We will have an even bigger Super Moon to photograph on August 10, 2014.

Here are some tips for shooting the moon:

Waves and Moon

Seascape in Outer Banks NC

1. The full moon is bright. For your camera exposure, use a similar one to what you would use when you photograph something on earth in bright sunlight. The natural color of the moon is a light grey and reflects sunlight very well.

2. Make sure you take your exposure setting off the moon, not the surroundings. If you don’t, the moon will appear as a white “hole” in the sky. Do not use auto exposure here!

3. Photograph the moon the night before the actual full moon. I call this night the “photographer’s moon”. The reason for doing this is that the moon looks full, but rises right after sunset, At this time, there is enough ambient light on “earth objects”, and the moon will be about the same exposure as these objects. Now the moon is located in a position showing where you are taking the picture. Note the seascape and mountains in the illustrations here. Don’t worry about the moon not being a full moon – it will look full in your photographs.

Mauna Loa Moon

500mm Lens – Hawaii

4. Long super telephoto lenses increase the relative size of the moon compared to the landscape and can add to dramatic effect. Make sure you have a small enough aperture (f stop) to have both the stuff on earth and the moon in focus. Obviously, the moon will be focused at “infinity”. You will need a sturdy tripod when using these lenses.

5. Make sure your shutter speed is at least a thirtieth of a second, preferably faster. The moon moves more quickly than you think, and with slower shutter speeds you will experience blurring moons in your pictures.

6. When it is on the horizon, the color of the moon varies. We refer to “harvest moons” or “red moons”, etc. This is because you are looking at the moon through much more atmosphere than when the moon is overhead. Dust in the air or just after a rain can affect the color of the moon dramatically.

iPhone Screen

Smart Phone App

7. So where will the moon rise? You can use apps or websites on your smart phone to figure this out. I use the app The Photographer’s Ephemeris, where I can designate my location and seen not only the latitude, longitude and elevation where I am at, but immediately see times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset and the compass directions of each.

Then I use the compass in my smart phone to visually locate where on the horizon the moon will rise on that particular evening. I look through the camera and move back and forth, right and left, so that the spot on the horizon where moonrise will happen is composed within my “earth” frame. I’m ready! Also note that the moonrise on each successive night is quite a few compass points away from the previous one.

8. What if your foreground subject is facing to the west? Look at your moonset direction and get up early in the morning and photograph the moonset at dawn.

Want to have a hands-on photographic experience? Join me on one of my international photography tours. Go here, or back to the menu bar and select “Workshops”.

Smith Island Moonscape

Smith Island Maryland

 

Photo Contests and Museum Submissions

Recently, I have had some success with several photo contests and acceptances for museum exhibits. Besides the price of the entry fee, entering these venues involves a bit of effort. Whether it is a contest or a submission, it is important to read the rules. Then read them again.
Here is my take on contests and museums.

Photo Contests

Ward Museum

Best in Division, Ward Museum Photo Festival

There are many photo contests held by diverse groups that have a vested interest in the contest — communities, organizations, businesses, art associations, etc. Generally these contests have categories and within the categories a first, second, third and honorable mentions. And a “best of show” is generally given.

When entering any photo contest, it is very important to understand the intellectual property issues. Almost all contests declare that the submitter of the image owns the copyright (assuming that they created the picture).

The rub comes in the terms of entry. Most contests require the submitter to agree to allow the owners of the contest to license the image. Upon reading the restrictions of the license, you may be amazed. As an example, following is the National Wildlife Federation’s contestant entry agreement:

“Entrants retain ownership and all other rights to future use of the photographs they enter except for the following: Your entry to the contest constitutes your agreement to allow your entered photographs—and your name, occupation, city, state, country of residence and Entry Information. … you grant to NWF and its licensees the perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, display and create derivative works of the

KIFA first place

First Place, Portrait, KIFA

entry (along with a name credit) in connection with the NWPC and promotion for the NWPC, in any media now or hereafter known. Entrants also agree to the use oftheir entered photos in the National Wildlife magazine’s online Photo of the Week and Caption Contest features.”

Note that they do not discriminate the winners from the entrants. All entries have these restrictions.

Some contests have more egregious rules. Many want that “ perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, display and create derivative works of the entry… in any media now or hereafter known” to be applied to any usage – in effect collecting images that they do not have to pay for. These pictures then become a repository that they are free to use- any way they want to with impunity.

Read these terms for all of your contest entries, just so you know where you stand.

Museums

Juried exhibits are the way the best museums amass a collective show, in contrast to a one-person show. These exhibits are usually themed (e.g. realism, abstraction, politics, landscapes, etc.)

Hand Stand

MFA Gallery, Focal Point Photography

Submissions are similar to photo contests, with entry fees; rules of size; signed and numbered; etc. There are three major differences from photo contests: 1) The juror determines the show; 2) the museum honors your copyright and at most asks for permission to use the photo only to publicize the show; and 3) the awards are “Certificates of Distinction” and perhaps a best of show. All are “winners” and they are not ranked against one another.

Interestingly, I have found that in submitting to museums or entering photo contests, the value of my work depended on the juror or, in the case of photo contests, the judge. They have biases in art as do we all. Scoping out the judge before you enter is not a superfluous thing to do. It is imperative that you understand where they are coming from. In my experience, many museum jurors are experts in painting mediums but do not understand photographic art and consequently make some clichéd selections.

Some contests are erratic. Deal with it. I entered the plane crash picture that is featured on my homepage in the “Magazine Photographer of the Year” contest. It was thrown out because it was the only one in the “Spot News” category.

Winged Reflection

Mitchell Gallery, Less is More

Presentation is important . If the entry rules state that you should enter a jpg, make sure that it is in RGB and the resolution is 96 dpi or slightly more. Remember, this is where your piece will be judged.

The real value of these contests for you, the photographer, is recognition; and better than that, a pause in your photographic pursuits where you discover the images that you are proud of.

Madden Print Accepted for Prestigous Gallery

Recently the Mitchell Gallery in Annapolis, Maryland accepted one of my photographs for the exhibit “Image and Imagination”. It is a juried show. The exhibit opens May 24 and the show is up until June 12, 2012 . My photograph is titled Cloud Gate — Under the Bean, taken in Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois.

As a working photojournalist, it is always gratifying when one of your images is accepted as art. As a Tom Kennedy, the former Director of Photography at National Geographic said once, “Photojournalism at National Geographic is like the photographer riding a bicycle down a line between art and information. The rider can’t veer too far to one side or the other.” In other words, the resultant photograph has to be understandable, yet not trite.

Come see the exhibit if you are in Annapolis.