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Painted Desert

Painted Desert. Arizona 2012. Copyright Joanne Mason 2014.

Painted Desert. Arizona 2012. Copyright Joanne Mason 2014.

This image, of the Painted Desert in Arizona, is another from the “Desert Series.” The Painted Desert, much of which is in Navajo lands in northeastern Arizona, includes some of what I think of as the most beautiful landscapes in the US. This black-and-white image presents an interesting study. Of all the striking characteristics of the Painted Desert, certainly the amazing colors – in constant flux with the changing sunlight  – are among the most beautiful. Why would we give up that color for a black-and-white depiction? The answer, for me, is that we don’t really “give up” the color, rather we see it in a new way. In the black-and-white image, we see the textures of the color. The landscape looks even more like an otherworldly scene. The subtle contours of the land are more clearly revealed. Artistically, I think it looks more like a fine pencil drawing, with highly detailed features as well as shading, than a photograph. In my view, this is one of the core “purposes” of photography as art, namely to make it possible for us to see things in new and different ways. (For the color version, see the image in the Desert Series.) (Both the original color image and the subsequent black-and-white version have been subject to a fair degree of manipulation and editing.) Click the above image for larger.

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Old Tree

Old Tree. Nikon D200. 22 mm. ISO 400. 1/400 sec at f/4.8.  Copyright Joanne Mason 2014.

Old Tree. Nikon D200. 22 mm. ISO 400. 1/400 sec at f/4.8. Copyright Joanne Mason 2014.

I am being driven these days to document the woods, the trees and other flora, and especially trees at different stages of their existence. John Muir said “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”  Neil Gaiman wrote in The Sandman, “Trees there were, old as trees can be, huge and grasping with hearts black as sin. Strange trees that some said walked in the night.” About the woods, Stephen Sondheim wrote in Into the Woods,

Into the woods–you have to grope,
But that’s the way you learn to cope.

 

The Exakta Camera

For some reason, I’ve been seeing numerous references to the Exakta camera lately. Most recently, I saw that the Exakta was one of Vivian Maier’s cameras (see my last blog post).

Ihagee Exacta Camera

The Ihagee Exakta was a series of cameras manufactured in Dresden, Germany, beginning in 1933 (and continuing in various versions into the 1970’s). The Exakta was the first 35 mm single-lens reflex camera manufactured.

The Exakta was also the first SLR I ever owned (not the 1933 version, though!). That camera served me very well. I still have it (somewhere!). I recall that it was smashed years ago in a fall in the New Hampshire mountains, although, held together with duct tape (the lens did not break), the camera continued to function admirably for a while thereafter. The Exakta was all manual. There was no autofocus. The lens did have an auto-diaghragm lever that would stop down the lens, and it was designed so that you could push that lever in the same action as triggering the shutter. But you still had to set the exposure, both aperture and shutter speed. The film advance lever was on the “wrong” side and the film essentially wound backwards. But it worked nicely.

I have not shot on film for years and, today, feel completely committed to digital imagemaking. But I think shooting film for many years, learning photography shooting film, and learning photography having to work in completely manual modes served me well in developing my photographic skill and sensibility. Once in a blue moon, I used a hand-held exposure meter, but usually not. More often than not today I’ll shoot with manual focus, and I will often use manual or aperture-priority exposure (and possibly changing ISO each image). When cameras first developed automation (or at least I could afford to begin buying cameras with automation), I would frequently try to “second-guess” the camera, predicting the exposure by eye and then looking to see what the camera wanted to set. That struck me as a valuable exercise and a good habit to get into. It’s still a good discipline.

I’m nostalgic for that Exakta camera.  More information about Exakta cameras here.

Update: Vivian Maier, Street Photographer

That is a trailer for the new documentary film, “Finding Vivian Maier.” A couple of years ago, I was visiting Santa Fe when I walked into a gallery off the square and discovered an exhibition of prints by Vivian Maier. I wrote a blog post about it here. At the time, Vivian Maier was only just beginning to be a phenomenon in the photography world; the exhibit I saw in Santa Fe was one of the earliest presentations of her work. In the two years since, interest in Vivian Maier has grown exponentially. More shows are being devoted to showing prints of her work, and her work is getting the critical attention it deserves.

From the Vivian Maier website:

An American of French and Austro-Hungarian extraction, Vivian bounced between Europe and the United States before coming back to New York City in 1951. Having picked up photography just two years earlier, she would comb the streets of the Big Apple refining her artistic craft. By 1956 Vivian left the East Coast for Chicago, where she’d spend most of the rest of her life working as a caregiver. In her leisure Vivian would shoot photos that she zealously hid from the eyes of others. Taking snapshots into the late 1990′s, Maier would leave behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives. Additionally Vivian’s passion for documenting extended to a series of homemade documentary films and audio recordings.

Produced and directed by John Maloof, who has been responsible for getting Maier’s work to the attention of the photo world, the new film, “Finding Vivian Maier”,  is now making the rounds of art house cinemas around the country, distributed by IFC Films. Here is the film website.

There are so many fascinating questions about Vivian Maier’s life and photography. Can work like Maier’s be appreciated or enjoyed apart from the story of her life? Well, yes, but I think so much is lost if we try and do that. Maier’s life and photography are of a whole, and her art encompasses both.

What I find most interesting – even more than the astounding quality and perceptiveness in Maier’s work – is that most of the over 100,000 images she made were never printed during her life. Did she intend for her photography to be seen? Did she expect that it would be? Was she only shooting images for herself? Her street photography developed her art and skill to such a high degree, almost redefining the nature of street photography. Is it art? Can a photographic image be art if it is not exhibited? For what purpose did Maier capture so many incredible scenes of urban life?

Fall Scene, New Canaan

Fall Pond Scene. Nikon D200. 38 mm. ISO 400. 1/500 sec at f/8. October 2013. Copyright Joanne Mason 2013.

Fall Pond Scene. Nikon D200. 38 mm. ISO 400. 1/500 sec at f/8. October 2013. Copyright Joanne Mason 2013.

Here is another nice Fall woods scene. This is in New Canaan, Connecticut. (Click image for larger.)

River Reflection

River Reflection. Fuji X100. 23 mm. ISO 400. 1/200 sec at f/4. October 2013. Copyright Joanne Mason 2013.

River Reflection. Fuji X100. 23 mm. ISO 400. 1/200 sec at f/4. October 2013. Copyright Joanne Mason 2013.

This is the Byram River just above the dam at Glenville (Greenwich) Connecticut. I like this image. I wish I could say I planned it this way, but, alas, no. I was shooting the fall foliage along the bank and the reflection in the water. The more I worked with the image, I realized the reflection in the water was what it should be. So I inverted the image and cropped. (Click image for larger.)