Monthly Archives: February 2014

Vision Drawing (Oramagraphy) – A New Psychology of Photography: 6 Core Principles™

“Vision Drawing (Oramagraphy)” is a psychology of photography and a new way to consider the art of photography. What you do when you take a photograph with your camera is photography (light drawing); what you do and why before, during, and after you make the photograph is oramagraphy (vision drawing). In essence, it refers to a personal set of creative-expressive skills from previsualization (a culmination of personal experiences that translate the present moment into alignment with the photographer’s vision to fulfill new creative impulses) to a realized vision in photography and the psychological and motivational characteristics inherent in the entire process.  Upon reading from some of the masters of photography like Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson and delving into my concepts and background in psychology, it became clearer and clearer to me that vision drawing / oramagraphy is part of every photographer’s process but individualized based on their own psychology.  In essence, what and how we take a photograph becomes secondary to why we choose to make a photograph the way we do.   If we answer the why (the function / the narrative / the thematic intention/ the equivalent “why not”), we understand the psychology behind the photo and future inspirations much better.

3 Types of Vision

The camera is considered a tool to conceptualize, contextualize and complete your vision drawings by bridging your “physical vision” (central and peripheral systems, visual perception) and “psychological vision” (metaphorical, symbolic, autobiographical) to achieve your “photographic vision”.   For me, photographic vision is not a uniform style or stepwise formula but a psychological exploration, an emotional statement and an artistic experimentation of the many realities that we create when making a photograph. It is a way of “imprinting” who you are and who you will be in every photograph in your evolution as an artist. Notice from the graphic that there is a 2-way arrow.  This refers to how the shaping of photographic vision can act as a way to see the world differently based on an already transcribed vision.  Think of it as a template that you work with the next time you are presented with a similar scene that becomes enhanced by new experiences and new approaches that you try in your photography.

As a means of broadening the scope of the psychology involved in photography, I have created a dynamic and fluid hexagonal-like model of six core concepts or principles that are also applicable to the pursuit of other fine arts as such music, film, painting and architecture.  As with all forms of art, it is not just the artist’s psychology that matters but also the viewer’s psychology and the synergy between both to create interaction and impact. Each principle is a beginning and an end in the process. I have provided an example of this process using one of my latest photos in my “Prelude to Silence” series.

Vision Drawings - Oramagraphy - 6 Core Principles TM - JK

Prescience (Frame of Vision) – This principle refers to having foresight or the ability to sense and visualize something before it takes place (i.e., before the click of the camera). It is at the heart of photographic vision when a photographer stands before a scene and intimately defines the present moment (previsualization or simply visualization) and then allows the process of their vision to be fulfilled to it’s zenith (realized art). However, given the framework of the model, this idea of “prescience” can occur anywhere and at any time in the process, including in the digital darkroom after you have captured your photograph.

Vision for an artist can be a fluid process that is stimulated and shaped by other factors (namely the other core principles) before the photographic art is considered “complete” in the digital darkroom. Vision may also be re-imagined as part of a new and true vision (e.g., new post-processing). In many ways, photographic vision is like origami where you begin with a piece of paper (essence) and create a swan or anything else from it (substance).  Although photographic vision is often considered an ambiguous and ethereal notion, personal insight into the psychology involved in your photography requires you to be both meditative and decisive.

(Please also review: The 5 C’s of Photographic VISION with exercises)

Paradox (Frame of Change) – Many of us think of this term as a situation or statement that is made up of two opposite propositions that seem impossible and untrue but are actually possible and true. However, we may also consider this term as creation of art as contrary to your own expectations (e.g., becoming eclectic in your pursuits or creating out of your comfort zone) and a coexistence of common sense and uncommon sense when creating photographic art (e.g., abstracting abstract architecture or taking a photo of a building “upside down” in the frame).  For me, a personal originality or authenticity as an artist is born of such paradoxes.  The competition is with yourself as an artist where photography is viewed as a value and not always a goal. It is similar to the idea of a student becoming the master but in this case you are always the student and the master as an artist. In essence, it is a state of self-inspiration and counterintuition.  We learn about ourselves as much as we learn from others.  It is also the photographer living and acting on making the ordinary extraordinary and simplifying the complexity of beauty in stilled moments.

(Please also review: CPO Interview & International Interviews)

Parallels (Frame of Relations)– As photographers, we are often trying to depict ethereality about our experiences through our photography. Photography offers a parallel universe of possibilities from the all-too-real to the surreal, from the literal to the metaphorical and symbolic as part of our vision drawings. You are not only holding up a mirror to reality as we know and understand it, but also tilting the mirror to find unique perspectives and inspiration. It is not a “blank canvas” that we start with (as you are always starting with something and perhaps subtracting from it and even adding to it) nor perhaps an alternative or altered reality but a purposeful and relative realignment, a “deliteralization” of forms, shapes, spaces, time, contrast, patterns, light and shadows that is equivalent or related to our own photographic vision. The elements of a photograph come together in harmony to communicate an admiration of a subject, to provide an interpretable story in a stilled moment, and foster a relationship between the photographer and the viewers.

(Please also review: The LEICA Theory & G-Zone of BGW Photography).

Perception (Frame of Reference)– This principle refers to the identification, organization and integration of all sensory information to comprehend and represent the relationship between ourselves and our environment. Our perceptions shift based on our motivations and experiences but they also change based on how we learn and practice skills like photography. I said this in my introduction but it is worth repeating:  What and how we take a photograph becomes secondary to why we choose to make a photograph the way we do. Ask any photographer and they will tell you that they see photos waiting to be made all around them or they notice things that others do not notice. The way you perceive and sense beauty is the way you will translate it and reference it in your own photography. The “felt aesthetic” (that is part of my definition of fine art photography), in my opinion, is the ultimate perception in art.  It is also the currency of all authentic and powerful fine arts including music, film, and architecture.

(Please also review: Fine Art Photography Definition & The FEEL PRINCIPLE of Fine Art Photography – “Odyssey of Vision” Interview).

Personality (Frame of Mind)– The camera is an extension and projection of your own psychology. When I refer to personality, I am not only referring to qualities of character or a constellation of behaviours but a photographer’s distinctive story within the context of their social and cultural identity and their own personal philosophies and guiding principles.  It matters for any artist. The way we think, feel and act as photographers within the social environment is part of our psychology as photographers. Although photography offers a universal language, how we interpret that language says very much about who we are and what meaning a photograph has for us. There is a reason why I have chosen photography and photography has chosen me: I love what I do and what it offers me. As photographers, we understand the need for promotion and appreciation for what we do, but there is a fine line between promotion and braggadocio, attention and notoriety. You may offer few photos a year or be prolific (notice that rarity does not equate to quality as many famous painters were prolific), you may get many awards and publications one year and not the next, a huge amount of followers on one social media site and less on another, etc. Is that the sum of who you are as a photographer? I am not suggesting that these things do not matter in the art world, they do to an extent, what I am referring to is how engaged you are as a photographer and how passionate you are about your craft; confidence and commitment matters. There is something to be said about allowing your art to speak volumes and sharing an emotional and aesthetic experience between the artist and the observer of the art.  It is one of the many reasons that I feel that the final decider in photographic art is the actual physical print that you can enjoy and explore in all its splendour.

(Please also review: EAFA – “Eclectic Aesthetic Fine Art” & “Insight, Inspiration & The Ingenuity of Photography“)

Progression (Frame of Time)– Images can change the world as we know and understand it. All you have to do is open a National Geographic, a famous fine art book, or enter a gallery of famous photographs in history to immediately understand the power they have to convey a personal message but also to touch people’s lives. As avid photographers who want to make a difference, we strive for a personal evolution to create revolution and innovation in fine art photography. Not everyone will want to push boundaries nor want to agitate the sleep of orthodoxy and change the gravitational pull of certain photographic art movements, but understanding our own motivations and shaping our own photographic vision is a necessary exercise to progression in our own photography over time.

(Please also review: Archistract Art: Theory & Types).

 

How to Use the 6 Core Principles to Answer the “Why” of Photography

Prelude To Silence II - JK - SZP

Prescience (Frame of Vision):   When I approach such a scene, I tend to see forms, shapes, patterns and impressionistic sketches of a scene that I contextualize against the whole and then slowly layer elements that I harmonize in the frame.  I wanted to create a flow given the fence, snow and landscape while providing a stillness with the composed elements.  I could have chosen to have the tree off to the right more but I think it balances the tree and barn with the distant background of faded trees.

Paradox (Frame of Change):   Snowscapes is something I have wanted to try for a long time now.  I did not read about how to take such photographs but went completely on instinct, exploration and experimentation  (e.g., I chose to explore on an overcast day to avoid reflections).  I enjoy that type of experience tremendously. I wanted to capture something quite different (the visual weight, flow and presence of elements in the frame).  I think my choice of composition speaks to a pursuit of a personal originality).   

Parallels (Frame of Relations):   I wanted the viewer to feel the serenity and silence of this beautiful scene.  I also wanted to give the viewer a sense of harmony as if they were immersed in this scene while creating an ethereal experience that would echo in their minds.

Perception (Frame of Reference):  When I first perceived and considered the elements of this scene (and others around me), I wanted to free the setting of any distractions.  The raw reality of my physical vision gave way to my psychological vision to create a cinematic scene. I also wanted the viewer to feel the beauty of the stilled moment like I experienced it. Part of my post-processing was to use a “less-is-more” approach (like I like to do) and ensure that the eyes were relaxed by the elements within the frame.

Personality (Frame of Mind):  I very much wanted to capture “the complexity of beauty in the simplest of moments” that I wrote about in my biography.  Although there is nothing wrong with simply giving the name of the subject as a title for the photo, I like to represent the meaning of the photo with an interesting title (while offering proper tags).  I think it speaks to the personality of the photographer when they can come up with a title as interesting as the photo.  I promote my work on many platforms like many photographers do but I am not looking for attention or accolades.   I am looking for an awareness of confidence and commitment as a passionate photographer.

Progression (Frame of Time):  I choose to continuously evolve as a photographer.  If you consider my earliest work, it was mostly colour abstract images.  I love those images but I have since enjoyed the many blessings and timeless qualities of black and white photography.  As part of my EAFA philosophy, I will continue to explore many facets of the photographic arts.  With every new photo and subject, I discover new things about my own need to stop and feel the world around me as much as possible. Vision drawing (oramagraphy) offers me a therapeutic mindfulness and forgetfulness at the same time.

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FAB Time CoNTRoL using the 4-8-16 Method™: A Guide for Long Exposure Photography

As there are many well written articles and videos on how to conduct long exposure (LE) photography in various forms, I have decided to offer a simple way for students of our workshops on architecture, landscapes, and seascapes, and those interested in reading about the photographic arts as it pertains to this type of photography, to remember the fundamental steps and equipment necessary for this type of photography.  I refer to this concept as  FAB Time CoNTRoL™ using the 4-8-16 Method™.  It’s a nice way to remember the ABC’s & 123’s of LE Photography.

When I teach students the skills of how to set-up and make (not just take) a long exposure photograph,  I use evidence-based teaching and learning methods in the field.  I am a strong believer in teaching and performing the skills and not just writing about them.  An inspirational teacher is priceless.  This is not an in-depth guide (nor is it the only way to conduct LE photography) but a simple way to consider what you need to get started in a rewarding and fabulous (pun intended) photographic style.

FAB Time refers to steps and exposure calculations using your equipment.

F = F-Stop (Aperture) – I typically use an F-Stop between F8 and F11 obtain sharp images.  I find this to be the “sweet spot” in LE photography.  Use the lowest possible ISO (e.g., ISO 100) and set the camera in RAW format (big files with a lot of malleable information for conversion and post-processing). I would also suggest turning off your in-camera “noise reduction” for long exposure photographs as it can prolong the recording time.  You can easily get rid of hot pixels and noise in post-production using software such as Topaz DeNoise or Nik Software’s D-Fine.  Lightroom offers a decent noise reduction feature as well but you can also erase or clone out the hot pixels in Photoshop.  Long exposure photography teaches you patience but you also need to get to the next shot : ). Compose your shot using your tripod the way you would like to take it. If you would like to explore strategies on how to hone your vision as a photographer feel free to check out The 5 C’s of Photography Vision.

Summary:  F8-11 setting – ISO 100 – RAW format – Disable LE Noise Reduction – Compose the shot.

A = Aperture Priority Mode (AV) – Cover your view finder with black tape (yes, black tape or anything else that will do the job!) to prevent light leaks when metering as it can throw off your readings a bit or a lot depending on the time of day.  Take a meter reading in AV Mode using an F-stop of 8 or 11 by pressing the shutter half-way down).  Record the shutter speed reading (e.g., 1/125).  Focus your shot to ensure that you highlight your subject(s).  (Tip:  You can also use the AF Button on the back of your camera to focus).

Summary:  AV Mode – F8-11 setting – Black Tape – Record Shutter Speed – Focus.

B = Bulb Mode – Switch your camera’s dial to “B” mode or Bulb mode in the “M” (manual) mode.   Use the same f-stop you used when you took a meter reading (e.g., F8 or F11).  Switch off the autofocus on your lens.  Slide or screw on your ND (Neutral Density) Filters and ensure that you still have that black tape on to prevent light leaks.

Summary:  Bulb Mode ON- Autofocus OFF – ND Filters ON – Black Tape ON

Time = Exposure Time – You can calculate the exposure time as long as you know your Aperture (e.g., F8), Shutter Speed (e.g., 1/125) , ISO (e.g., 100), and the amount of ND filtration you are using (e.g., 16 stops).

• Use apps!  Exposure Calculator for Android &  Longtime Exposure Calculator or With ND for Apple IOS.
• Use the shutter speed scale of 1/8000, 1/4000, 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, ¼, ½, 1s, 2s, 4s, 8s, 15s, 30s, 1m, 2m, 4m, 8 m, 16 m, etc. If the camera calculated a shutter reading of 1/500, and you are using 16 stops, you would move 16 places to the right, rendering an exposure time of 4 minutes.
•  A template is often provided to participants  where they can calculate an aperture, shutter speed and the amount of ND filtration to calculate exposure time (e.g.,   F/8 with a shutter speed reading of 1/250 with 16 stops of ND filtration to prolong the shutter speed = 4 min exposure).  But the above methods are quite easy to use on the spot.

 

Summary:  I am often guided by a personal “rule” of mine, the “4-8-16 Method™”, as a starting point (An average of / at least 4 minutes at an F8 exposure with 16 Stops of ND Filtration).  The exposure time and amount of filtration will vary based on the time of day).  This is not a hard and fast rule but a great starting point especially for daytime long exposure photography.  This method is based on a data analysis of my settings with many of my long exposure photographs.  I always shoot in RAW format for maximum control of adjustments across highlights, midtones and shadows in my images.
(Tip:  Your histogram is a gauge of the dynamic range of the captured image as a jpeg and not the RAW image.  If you feel that the image is too dark or there are blown-out portions when you take the shot, note that there is much greater dynamic range with the RAW image when you start processing it in Camera Raw or Lightroom.  The RAW file has much more information and greater stops in the dynamic range.).   

 

CoNTRoL refers to the equipment that you need to perform long exposure photography.  Set-up your camera with lens on your tripod and plug in the remote cable release.

C = Camera – A DSLR camera with a bulb function.  I have used both starter cameras such as the Canon T3i and full frame cameras like the Canon 6D with equally great results.  A camera with a live view display that can be tilted can go a long way to helping those who don’t always have the ability to contort so easily.

N = ND (Neutral Density) Filters – 16 stops of ND filtration (10+6 stop IRND filters from Formatt Hitech does the trick nicely).  They have a beautiful product that I highly recommend. B+W also has a great product.  You may also consider a grad filter or polarizing lens.

T – Tripod – a sturdy and well built tripod with a nice gear head is essential.  Gitzo, Manfrotto, and 3-Legged Thing are great products to get you started.

R = Remote / Cable Release – Essential to control the amount of exposure time above 30 seconds. The remote allows to you to keep the shutter open as long as you want based on your overall calculations.  If you love architectural photography, a right angle view finder is indispensable.

L = Lens – A wide angle lens (e.g., Canon EF 17-40 mm F/4 L USM Lens) is recommended.  I am not familiar with the Nikon or Sony recommended wide-angle lenses so I will leave that to the reader to research.

I hope you have found this simple but practical tutorial useful. We look forward to meeting you in our workshops!

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My CPO Interview

I am posting the entire interview in my blog post as the Canadian Photographers Online (CPO) link is no longer working.  It is an interview that I did in early 2013 where I  expounded further on some of fine art photography theory and photographic vision principles including my concept of “oramagraphy” (vision drawing).

Q~ John, there are two things that struck me when I first viewed your work: you have an unteachable sense of composition and, more interesting, a strong visual aesthetic. How is it that you approach these two, sometimes conflicting, practices when creating your art?

A~  First, I would like to thank you T. Gordon for the honour and opportunity to not only display some of my photography but the chance to elucidate some of my thoughts and theories about photography that have evolved with my own personal vision.

Let me start by stating that I do not believe in rules of photography in absolute terms. I believe in practical principles of photography that foster an authenticity, aesthetic, and affirmation in an artist’s photography which inevitably leads the photographer to discover this synaesthesia of vision and voice in the pursuit of their own fine art photography.  The way I practice my art is to focus on three synergistic and complimentary principles of photography:  composition, content, and context.  Although seemingly simple as concepts on the surface, they provide a complex framework for a personal treatise on creative-expressive skills and what may be classified as a “non-zero sum psychology” that involves a continuum of fine art photography from its preconception and process to its positive recognition between the photographer and the observer of the photographer’s art.

Many photographers, including myself, tend to gravitate towards the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, and even the diagonal method as a basis for composition when they first pick up a camera. Although I believe photography is a skill that develops and evolves with experience and time like any other skill, these rules of composition are helpful but they set limits for instinctual discovery and trajectories of ingenuity in photography. There are many geometric compositions, such as the Gamut or 1.5 Armature, that offer a more interesting balance to the eye when viewing a scene or photograph. However, if we were to imagine a tesseract composition, for example, where the inner cube of the cube focuses on the main subject(s) and the outer cube stretches to elements within the frame that compliment the position of the subject, we would be creating a more complex geometric perception that may work well (or not). In many ways, a resilient composition is the foundation of a strong visual aesthetic in photography because it balances and orders all elements within a minimalist or multi-layered scene into a flowing perspective with a pleasurable and powerful sensory and emotional impact. When a photograph offers resistance to true vision because it lacks a stimulating subject matter, perspective, or composition, it disavows the Rothkoesque notion of the felt aesthetic as an essential condition and content of all art.  In essence, a good composition, whether standard or idiosyncratic, instinctual or calculated, is the starting point for all photographers but it also becomes a tipping point for a natural and beautiful geometric harmony in the photograph that just looks and feels right.

The content of a photograph is equally important but is not limited to one subject or style of photography.  Although there is a strong association with fine art photography being “black and white” and sometimes “long exposure” for landscapes, waterscapes, architecture, abstracts, portraits, and artistic nudes, colour is just as valid and can be just as timeless.  It is one of the main reasons I espouse and promote an “eclectic aesthetic fine art” (EAFA) philosophy of photography.  I think the main mission of any great photographer, in my estimations, is to explore and capture the complexity of beauty in the simplest of moments while offering a reflective psychological and emotive experience based on the artist’s self-expression or vision. Originality in content is not a prerequisite for mastery of one or more subject matters in photography. It may be said that “originality” has been done before. It is one of the reasons that I also ocus on something I refer to as “oramagraphy” (literally translated from the Greek as “vision drawing” – photography based on a meaningful pursuit of an artist’s own realized vision) to obtain a personal originality. However, I do believe we should strive for true innovation as photographers and try to distinguish our own work from others while pleasing ourselves first and foremost. As you can imagine, innovation is much harder in the digital age even if we try to take up the worthy notion of “photographic celibacy” promulgated by the accomplished American photographer, Cole Thompson, and not ask or observe what others think about our work. Inevitably, promotion of our own work on social media, for example, may take away our second and third virginity. Fine art photography is about the communication and contemplation of a revealed aesthetic meant to awaken something within us. There is vast but precarious agreement about what is beautiful as a subject in fine art based on masterful works and our own learning about what beauty is and means as individuals. I may find architecture as a striking subject for artistic expression but you may disagree. However, the aesthetic content of photographic art matters in so much as it can be contextualized as part of the artist’s personal vision.

Context is perhaps the most important principle of photography of the three because it is intimately linked to the photographer’s vision and voice and the possibility of avant-garde photography. In many ways, context is everything in photography simply because it sets the mood, it tells a story, and leads to discourse about the function of beauty through the artist’s visual interpretation and “final” statement about the world around them. In the simplest of terms, context is the way a photographer uses photographic and post-processing techniques to realize their own vision of beauty based on content and composition. Photography as art does not occur magically in a vacuum but happens within the context of the photographer’s personal statement and vision as they look through the lens of the self to look through the lens of the camera and back again. We evolve as photographers when we understand how to liberate beauty and make it profound. For the photographer, it becomes a phenomenological experience, a mindful praxis, and a continuous liveable moment prior to taking the photograph until the photographer makes the photograph, as Ansel Adams famously said, into something both real and unreal at the same time. Context also involves the observer of the photographer’s art. Individuals can relate to the photographer’s vision in ideographic ways, on a more personal level, or in nomothetic ways, within a more generalized aesthetic culture common to all individuals that leads to dialectics about the artwork in relation to humankind, nature, and society as in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. I think it is one of the main reasons that photography can offer a potent psychological reactivity, emotional resonance, and associative or relational qualities for both the photographer and the observer of the photographer’s art.  Overall, good photography offers personal milestones in technical prowess where a rose becomes a rose; exceptional photography reaches the status of fine art when the artist can create visual poetry through an innovative unification of philosophy (e.g., existentialism) and psychology (e.g., perception and sensation), where a rose becomes more than just a rose but a contextualized object of art.

Q~ Patterns, both natural and man-made, dominate some of your images. At times, your focus on these designs creates photographs that become abstract as a result. But, to my surprise, your depictions retain a warmth that is rare considering the one dimensional subject matter. Are you naturally drawn to find patterns in nature and design elements in architecture? And, do you find difficulty in bringing life to them?

A~ I appreciate your insightful analysis of my work. I am naturally drawn to finding enlightenment in my photography where I least expect it.  There is something so satisfying about treading where others have tread only to find something that is uniquely your own.  Photography is a passionate and romantic pursuit for me. I strive to hold the cold mirror of reality up against the world to create warm memories of indelible moments and mold them further into art using photography as a medium of discovery. I also endeavour to liberate subjects from literal translations, similar to what Steiglitz accomplished with his Equivalents series of clouds, by utilizing patterns for impressionistic works, intricate or minimalist abstractions, or as part of a portrait.  There is an inherent aesthetic sensitivity and sensory prioritization when observing patterns in nature and man-made objects that draws us in as photographers. I often immerse myself in a quiet contemplation within the kinetic geometry and opposing symmetries of elements within the ecology of any space.  I attempt to find something distinctive in the interplay of subjects in my compositions, a fleeting instinctual and emotive formula that Henri Cartier Bresson called a “definitive moment”, and a contextual and psychological fit to my own vision and voice as a photographer.  Perhaps that is my way of instilling “soul” into a scene that feeds my own soul.  It has not always been easy for me to bring a subject to life with palpable warmth and vibrating patterns but when it happens, it is quite rewarding. One of the other ways that I also infuse personality into my abstract work is to give my photo an interesting title. Many photographers are reluctant to provide titles or labels to their work other than to describe the subject and scene.  However, I believe that stimulating and thought-provoking titles and labels can provide a personal human touch without circumscribing or constraining the interpretation of the image by the observer.

I am also drawn to the notion that photography becomes fine art when a courtship leads to a marriage of art and science.  Photographers are neuroscientists. art historians, and futurists at the same time. We are also sculptors of perception, painters of light and forms, and poets that use the language of math and physics (e.g., motion). As a scientist-practitioner and educator in the behavioural sciences, it comes naturally for me to interpret the experience of art as a “biopsychosocial” phenomenon.  Our brains search for patterns to make sense of things, to connect dots even though they may be invisible at times.  We learn from our experience to make those dots visible.  We invest in neuroesthetic principles (e.g., symmetry) while producing something almost ethereal – the unique and evocative signature of the artist – whether we are aware of it or not.  Although architecture itself, for example, can be seen as art, it is a worthy challenge for us as photographers to make uncommon sense of architecture and offer a new interpretation based on our own vision.  When I photograph architecture, like many other subjects, it is a beautiful and almost musical distraction for me.  This is one of the reasons why I sometimes refer to architecture as “Euclidean jazz”, a play on Goethe’s notion of architecture as “frozen music”.  It is also the reason why I focus on promoting a functional definition and practical philosophy of photography known as “Archistract”:

“A concept, philosophy, and classification of fine art photography that focuses on the abstract qualities of various architectural styles and subjects using monochrome or colour compositions while highlighting patterns, forms, geometry, and gradations of light and shadows across various exposures. It is a portmanteau of the words “architecture” and “abstract”. It is a style of abstract and architectural photography that has recently evolved into a cohesive and functional vision combining elements and traditions found in abstract art, architecture, and photography as a whole.”

Although the word itself is not my own, any more than the word “abstract” or its variations are my own, it is one of the ways I am able to explore patterns in many creative ways as part of my vision.

Q~I understand that you are a resident of Toronto, one very beautiful city that abounds in architecture and diversity. As a photographer who shoots interior and exterior architecture, without the physical presence of people, how do you work in town of millions without having them seep into your images?

A~ Every great city has something to offer the photographer.  Toronto has boundless opportunities for any type of photography (e.g., street, architecture, waterscapes) similar to its diversity. I sometimes act as if I am a tourist in my own city so that I can explore and feel the urban pulse with a sense of wonder.  It is challenging to get the shots I want without people in them.  This is where patience is a virtue and planning becomes a necessary vice.  I will literally wait for 10-20 minutes at times to take a shot or more! I tend to trek downtown on a Sunday morning where I know the numbers dwindle.  It would be easy to photoshop away people in a photo, but the purist in me tries to avoid that as much as possible. I also use long exposure techniques to essentially erase people out of the photo although this technique can also provide “ghosts” that offer fascinating images.   Besides planning and having a lot of patience, I simply look up a lot to take photos.  That sounds simplistic, but architecture and the celestial beyond always captivate me.

 

Q~As a photographer who is interested in finding the inherent beauty in your surroundings, I am interested in how you view the current state of photography. Specifically, do you feel that the recent rise in self documentation photography with camera phones, and the application of filter software to artificially add emotional depth and nostalgia, is one that aligns with the search for beauty in the mundane? Or, do you believe that the continuous flood of these types of photographs lessen the value of the medium and, inevitably, the message it carries? What are your thoughts? 

A~ Picasso infamously declared the death of art and all learning as an artist with the advent of photography.  It is widely acknowledged and quite obvious that his pronouncement was not only impulsive but went against the dawn of a new zeitgeist in shaping the art world. To me, photography is a type of written autobiography where the ink is the light that captures beautiful moments. Not every autobiography is profound and worthy of the status of art. When you consider the history of photography, the earliest photos depict people in portraits or in their travels. In many ways, the obsession with documenting memories and life events will never change.  Technology and social media have made it much easier to do so without reflection. It is true to say that the rise in self documentation photography has diminished photography as an art form, but on the other hand, it has also created a much greater interest in photography as a form of self-expression. I am not a pessimist about the state of photography. Not everyone will pursue photography as a fine art form to the nth degree. You have to ask yourself why you picked up a camera in the first place and what do you want to do with it. What is its value to you?  If the camera is a means to an end, then it is just a machine with a narrow purpose; if it is a natural extension of you, then it may offer limitless capital for “oramagraphic” creativity. With photography, I am often lost and found in its value and pursuits as an art form. I don’t believe that authentic art comes from some level of existential angst or raw emotion, although that can be a motivator. I believe in the endless journey of capturing an exquisite and timeless aesthetic. I also strongly believe that it is not the camera, but the person that makes a great photo. Some of my most popular photos were taken with a relatively cheap point and shoot camera and not a DSLR.  When you can go beyond the “auto” functions of a camera and one-click post-processing, then you start to appreciate its creative value as something much greater. Many, if not all photographers use some level of post-processing in their work to mold reality into their own version of reality.  When a photo can make an indelible impression on you, regardless of how you captured or created it, it is priceless.  We are bombarded by images that flood our screens and often desensitize us but when an individual can appreciate and hone the art of seeing, photography has taught them to see the world with nascent eyes. It becomes an evolution to a new natural state of seeing and being.   When photography, like all great art, can offer a sense of forgetfulness and mindfulness at the same time, an almost “zen of zen” peaceful state, then perhaps we have understood its potential as a fine art rather than as a mindless medium for archiving every moment in our lives. In this way, photography can never be devalued as a potential art form.  Art can be just as valuable in pixels as it is in paint. As photographers, we need to advocate more for photography as an art form worthy of great museums such as the Louvre while educating others about the intricate psychology and philosophy of photography.

Q~ Finally, I am very interested in how you found your voice in this medium. Was there a moment where you felt it was important to pursue as an art form. And, further to this, are there any Canadian photographers who have inspired you?

I come from a very artistic family. My sister is a painter and interior designer and my brother is a graphic computer artist. I used to draw, write, and paint when I was young. I still write, but I definitely found my voice with photography in the last five years or so.  When I first picked up a camera for purely artistic purposes, I envisioned a way to photograph the world as if I was trying to discover its secret wisdom and graceful beauty. When I realized that a camera was more than a camera but a way to express myself as an artist, I was completely hooked by its promise to offer me a deep exploration and a sense of wonder about the world.  I tend to be quite observant of the world around me so I sometimes notice things that perhaps others may take for granted.  As photographers, we have a sixth sense when it comes to finding subjects worthy of our time and effort even if it means traveling the road less traveled and becoming strangers in a strange land.

As for influences, there are several Canadian photographers who have inspired me.  Although I have not delved deeply into portrait work, I absolutely admire the works of Yousuf Karsh for his immortalizing silver portraits of many well known figures in history and Christopher Wahl for his whimsical and honest nature and moving pictures concept.  I also admire the long-exposure photography of Michael Levin. His work left me with the need to discover harmony in my own photography. I also find Freeman Patterson’s impressionistic landscape work to be some of the finest around. My newest photography hero happens to be Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who is currently in space conducting science experiments while taking breath-taking, poetic images of our planet.  He has produced some of the most compelling photographs ever known to mankind.  I dare say that they meet the requirements of eclectic aesthetic fine art!

Thank you for an inspired interview!

John

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