Moment's Notice

Everything i do is about the moment. The moment i capture in photographs, the moment i act and react in a jazz improvisation, the moments i live through on a run. The moments i experience in my life every day. It is all connected and can and should be written and talked about.

Who you looking at? A Fine Art Marketing Approach

One of the most enerving questions I found I had to answer for myself was the question of how I was going to price my artwork. You can find a lot of answers on the internet because of course this question has been asked many times and will continue to be asked as long as artists create and publish. But of course, no resource on the net can actually name the price. The problem is that you'll have to find out for how much you will be offering your art.

So I studied a book about Fine Art Marketing by Alain Briot, which was quite interesting and after reading that I came up with a price for my prints. Which was still a bit under what I should have taken according to the calculation methods of the book, but here is the main problem. The Ego.

At that point, I wasn't sure people would want what I do. I wasn't even sure it was any good. The only reference I had were the opinions of family and friends and that, of course, is not enough. Today I am more confident about my work and I could ask more. But I won't. I think actually I'll ask less. Why?

I found some interesting lectures by Brooks Jensen, the publisher of LensWork magazine and in them, the question was asked, which market you were going for? Would you be trying to sell for a higher price to a few who could afford that or would you ask a lower price to reach more people? I must say that the second market agreed with me a whole lot more than I think the first one ever could. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't mind selling a print for a million bucks, but then again I always hated it when I heard that a vintage guitar was auctioned for a ridiculous amount of money because that meant that guitar would never be actually played again anymore. The same is true for prints sold at very high prices. We are talking investment here, not art to be framed and hung in walls.

But even if your art is not selling at investment prices (mine sure isn't), it is worth thinking about selling for a lower price or at least selling something for a lower price. If you are selling your prints for say 500 Euros, you would have to ask yourself what that means for other people. For some, it is a month's rent or food for two months or a quarter of their monthly income. For somebody else, these are the proverbial peanuts. The group of people for who 500 Euros are mere peanuts is probably a lot smaller than the other group, who would have a harder time shelling out that kind of money or more for our art.

So either you are trying to find those few that don't have a problem paying higher prices for art AND who do like your photography. Or you try to find the larger group of people who pay lower prices for art AND who do like your photography. Which is probably easier.

But it doesn't stop here. You don't have to just lower your prices. You can offer a range of products with lower to moderate to higher priced items and reach all of these people. I find this idea of reaching more people with my art by making it affordable for everyone very appealing.

To do this, I am looking into possibilities of publishing other than just the framed inkjet prints I am doing right now. Postcards, folios, zines, canvas prints books or digital publishing are all valid means to get your work out there and the customer can choose how much they are willing to pay for enjoying your art. It is not just "This is what I have - take it or leave it.". I like giving everybody a choice how much they can afford and/or are willing to pay. This way my artwork will be seen and hopefully enjoyed by more people, what at the end of the day might even just mean more profit.

And even though we are calling ourselves artists and insist that we'd do this anyway - profitable business or not (and I do claim this is true for all artists who consider themselves passionate and serious about their art) - profit is not a bad thing. Although the sales will never pay for all those years of studies, all the equipment, the travels, the creativity, and whatnot. And they shouldn't have to, this is not part of the actual costs. But even if your price is not a four- or even five-digit number for a 13 x 19 print, you will be making money, because the actual cost for paper and ink isn't even that high. Even if you factor in the time spent in post-processing, those high numbers are - again - an Ego problem. Are you only a serious artist, if your prices are very serious? As mentioned above, there might be a few people who can afford that AND who like your photography, but those are hard to find and you might even have quit printing and publishing before you have found them. So I think it is best to cater to people from all walks of life and with all kinds of income. You can increase your price at all times if you find your printing can't keep up with the demand, But until then why not sell for a lower gross margin and just see more of your images go out in the world where they can actually be enjoyed by real people?

Play, Write, Photograph - The Interaction Of Creative Endeavours

 Yours truly some 25 years ago jammin' away.

Yours truly some 25 years ago jammin' away.

In my blog post "The Narrative And The Photograph" I have written about how in my opinion stories and imagery are very much connected and this being said it doesn't surprise that many photographers are or have been writers. Be it to pen instructional books or more prosaic works as Edward Weston's Daybooks, which I can't seem to stop mentioning.

But of course, there are more creative disciplines and this here article deals with the interaction between those disciplines when a person devotes herself with more than one.

I will try and describe this for two disciplines that don't seem to connect that easily - music and photography. I have been playing the guitar off and on for 30 years and after Funk and Rock finally settled with Jazz, playing in a trio with a bassist and a saxophone player.

The output, of course, is very different in both cases. One creates a piece of music, the other a print or at least an image we can look at on a screen. In the creation of these, I play an instrument to produce the first and operate a camera and a computer for the second.

So how do these two interact? It is not in the most obvious way, it is about the attitude, about the way of thinking. And I think it provides a very good way to reflectt on what we are actually doing and how we do it.

As an example: A lot of Jazz musicians hum along when they are improvising. Both Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis (two old-school jazz guitarists) strongly recommend in their instructions to do the same. Is this something that I can use for photography?

First I need to think about why the jazz musician would do the humming in the first place. It is a means to get out of the head and into the "real" world what the musician hears internally, as it is much easier to play what you actually hear than what you "only" have in your head. It almost sounds like you're humming along with the melody, but the humming ever so slightly happens before the actual plucking of the string (or whatever you do to produce the sound on your instrument), and it really helps to keep you from playing patterns and scales you visualize on the fretboard.

So it is about hearing what you will play before you actually play it. The next thing I will have to do is to figure out what the equivalent in photography might be. Which I think, would be visualization. According to Ansel Adams in "The Camera", it is a concept, that "... includes the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure, so that the procedures employed will contribute to achieving the desired result." Translated for jazz, this would read: " ... the ability to anticipate a sound before playing it so that the procedures employed will contribute to achieving the desired result."

Now you might ask, what does that do for your photography to know that there are these similarities? I think first it opens your mind so you don't just dismiss concepts or ideas from other disciplines as useless, to begin with just because they are based on sound or creating three-dimensional objects or stories or what have you.

I have been playing music much longer than I have been making photographs. So in transferring the truths, I found in music, I can maybe accelerate my development as a digital artist in photography. And as I am using concepts and ideas from my other disciplines (writing and music) and can embrace their interaction, I can think, feel and live neither as a writer, musician or photographer, but as an artist. And since my creativity flows in all of those three directions and they feed off each other, I not only amplify each but also make them more unique, more my own because they are also influenced by the two other components.

Are We There Yet? Photography As An Art Form

"And Miles To Go" by Holger Mischke

The other day I again watched the PBS' American Masters Special about Alfred Stieglitz and I realized that was being said about Mr. Stieglitz's struggle to have photography accepted as an art form is still true today, for photography or to take it a little further, for digital photography.

In "The Salon of 1859", first published in the Révue Francaise, Charles Baudelaire argued that "Photography has become the refuge of every would-be painter too ill-endowed and too lazy to complete his studies ... By invading the territory of art, photography has become art's most mortal enemy." An uncredited critic wrote: "The photographer has discovered a machine to make his masterpiece of art for him, by sticking his head into a black box and letting the machine do everything."

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the dominating style in photography was pictorialism. Those images were somehow manipulated by the photographer, so they were not just recorded, but created and interpreted. Which in itself wouldn't be a bad thing, but the editing was more often than not meant to make the image look more like a painting, drawing or etching as in those times only paintings were really considered art and a straightforward photograph would be nothing more than a representation of reality.

In 1888, George Eastman introduced the first handheld amateur camera, the Kodak camera. From then on, millions of images would be produced every year by professional photographers and amateurs alike.

So isn't the situation pretty much the same as today? The Kodak camera is gone, but the phone camera has the quality of pro or prosumer cameras of not so many years ago and is only limited by size. These cameras can now also take RAW images. And again, millions and millions of images are taken with these devices every year.

And we as photographers and digital artists are doing the same as pictorialists back then - we edit our images, sometimes to the point that they don't look like photographs anymore. A certain amount of editing is necessary as the RAW photo straight out of camera are not mostly not considered usable. But how are the reasons for editing now and then different? And why do I have to have that discussion about art again and again when I am telling someone the price of my prints and they go "Anyone could have taken that picture!"?

Why is everyone accepting that a painted picture is art although they didn't see how it was done and yet there is still doubt that digital prints can be art although they also didn't see me take the image, edit it in Photoshop etcetera and print it, meaning they have no idea how much effort and knowledge goes into that?

Is it all about what was in the Kodak-Eastman ads at the end of the 19th century: "Anybody can use it. No knowledge of photography is necessary."?

The English photographer Henry Peach Robinson wrote in 1869 about a technique he had been using for some 20 years by then combining individual elements from separate images into a new single image (not unlike blending multiple images in Photoshop) and considered the final outcome "art through photography" as the final image had only come about by him working on the images.

Other artists and critics shared the belief that straight photography was only representational and had no artistic interpretation whatsoever and that the "usually accepted limitations of photography had to be overcome if an equality of status was to be achieved".

Photography as an art form has sure come a long way, but with all the above in mind, I think there is still a lot to do for that "equality of status" to really happen. Still, the painters and sculptors are considered to be the somewhat more serious artists. With the tools (camera and software) being very affordable today, the flood of images is enormous and especially the up and coming artist has to prove himself time and time again. But the fact that this art form is a very young one is also reason to rejoice - there are so many things that haven't been tried or done and with technology developing at a breathtaking pace the possibilities seem endless. You just want to find your place in this development of digital art.


The Narrative And The Photograph

 A path between trees in Kaiserswerth, Germany

A path between trees in Kaiserswerth, Germany

"The greatest ride in my life was about to come up, a truck, with a flatboard at the back, with about six or seven boys sprawled out on it, and the drivers, two young blond farmers from Minnesota, were picking up every single soul they found on the road - the most smiling, cheerful couple of handsome bumpkins you could ever wish to see, both wearing cotton shirts and overalls, nothing else; both thick wristed and earnest, with broad howareyou smiles for anybody and anything that came across their path." And so begins Jack Kerouac's description of his ride from Gothenburg to Cheyenne in the summer of '47 on his way to Denver in my all-time favorite "On The Road". The two farmers and some of the characters riding with him - Montana Slim and Mississippi Gene, the stop in North Platte, the truck zooming over the plains and through the crossroads towns at night with the stars so pure and bright in the thin air and no trees obstructing low-level stars anywhere.
This always was and always will be one of my favorite pieces of writing because it made me feel a certain way. It conveyed the feeling of adventurous travel, of meeting real characters and feeling so darn alive doing all that. Just as I had felt on my travels. And all this left an image in my head.

 Roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama 1936 by Walker Evans

Roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama 1936 by Walker Evans

Then take any image you like, I for one happened to think for example of Walker Evans' picture of a roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama from 1936. There is a mood, there are stories. I think about the five-digit phone number of F. M. Pointer, about the boys out front and the girl inside the store and even the woman (which in my story is the mother) coming from the house behind the stand. What they offer and how sad the fish painted above the door looks. And then there are more details, thoughts, and feelings that make these stories mine.

The average human has about 60,000 thoughts on any given day, give or take. Now we could go on trying to define what exactly constitutes a thought, but let's not and just assume we do think a lot. Or actually, we are being thought as a majority of those are associations. These are thoughts that are triggered by principles of association as similarity, contiguity, and contrast (numerous other principles have been added in philosophy and psychology). So each and every one of us will have his personal story when viewing an image and an image when reading a story. You might not be totally aware of it all the time, but there is something going on in your head when you are presented with an image and/or story and I do believe that these two belong together. That an image will always start a story in our minds and a story will always create an image before our inner eye. So when you are a writer, photographer, painter or let's just call us storytelling artists you should be aware of this I think as it will be beneficial in the creative process knowing what you are going for and realizing for oneself what in your work can actually do that.

I once had a woman come into my studio and after she looked around, she came to me and said that she had looked at a print for quite some time, lost in thought. And that was the nicest thing she could have said about the photograph. When your photograph, your painting or your words are strong enough, it will cause a reaction the viewer/reader will actually feel and undeniably connect to your work. And that's really why I do this. I feel that this falls into the category "Why we came down from the trees in the first place.".

Photographing Reality

There was a time when everybody thought that if an event was captured in a photograph it was supposedly true. The photograph was the ultimate proof it really happened. Even the internet knows the saying "pics - or it didn't happen" and mind you, that stems from a time when Photoshop was already around.

I'd say that time is long gone, but still, it is very deeply rooted in people's mind that a photographic image represents the truth. Despite the fact that they know an image can be easily manipulated, anyone can do it on their phone. Despite the fact that the reality is three-dimensional. Despite the fact that Santorini doesn't look like the over-saturated HDR image everybody and their mother posts on the web.

So I think we can agree on this - a photographic image is an interpretation of the reality the photographer saw. Even without post-production. Already the choice of parameter settings, the choice of lens, the choice of from where to shoot the subject matter is an interpretation.

But here is something else, something the photographer/artist needs to think about as well, at least in my humble opinion - what is the reality?

Reality itself is not a set truth that is the same for all of us. I think reality can be interpreted, I myself am the only one to define reality for me. Let that sink in for a minute.

What I am saying is that what is real for you and me depends on our perception of things and of what we associate with these things. And then we might end up with more or less different realities.

It seemed to me, ‘said Wonko, the Sane, ‘that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.
— Douglas Adams

As an example: Just as Wonko, the Sane (what do you mean you don't know Douglas Adams?), I live in a place called "Outside of the Asylum". Out there, people clearly went section 8, meaning all-out nuts. We have built a reality that covers the earth with concrete and tarmac, houses and malls, parking lots and airports and join in groups called nations and think of our group as being superior to another and in general kill others and the planet we were given to live on.

I accept as real the trees and clouds, the deserts and oceans, animals and human beings, the greatness of a nature I cannot begin to understand and let alone explain and I think the only way to live right is in awe and respect of that nature of which I am a part. That, my friends, is REAL. And that is what I want to photograph and interpret and show over and over and over again, hoping you'll see what I see and find your own reality. In my images and out there, in the asylum ...

To Find Without Looking

"By My Color You Will Know Me" 2 sec at f/8, lens: Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, camera:Nikon D7100, Edited in Lightroom and Photohop

All good things come to those who wait.
— Violet Fane

The other day I sent the above image to my mentor as part of an assignment I had been doing for the last ten weeks. When his answer came, I was more than pleased.

The mail read that he thought I was "developing a distinctive "look" and approach of my own". I was simply blown away. This was better than the one time at this gas station in Norway where an American told me I had an upstate New York accent. Or that one time someone who heard me play guitar asked me whether I listened to Scofield a lot.

But all those times the feeling is the same. I found a voice. I had been hanging out with NYC bands enough to pick up an accent. I had hummed John Scofield's solos often enough so my phrasing reminded someone of him. And I had made enough photographs to find out what I like in an image and to know what I'd have to do to have that show in my pictures.

I do remember how I was thinking about how to find a style of my own because I did realize that's what you'd want to do. What you'd need to do. To have a unique voice, a unique vision. A distinctive look. But I had no clue how to actually do that. And then again what you have to do is kinda simple I think.

You just do. You don't look for it. You live. You go out. You use your camera. You develop your images. You look at other photographer's work. You look at painter's work. You talk to people. You travel. You look at the clouds. You sit by the ocean. You realize you are more than what is covered by your skin. You love. You cry. You giggle. You're wrong. You're right without even knowing. You do all that and more and you do it consciously and all of that will find a way into your art. Into what you feel and think.

That being sad it is obvious that this is a neverending process. Of course a style can change and I am neither lazy or arrogant enough to say that I'm done now. As much as you are never done evolving as a human being you are never done refining yourself as an artist. Those things are very much connected. You cannot be an artist without being a human being. And any change in one aspect will require one in the other as well.

And because all of that can be done the way you do it by you and you only this will eventually shape your style, your "look". Just don't look for it. Live with all you got and find things that need to be said and ways to say it. It is all there, it always was. And it will find you.

You And Your Images Might Be Better Than You Think

"Birth Of The Tone" Camera: GoPro Hero 3, edited in Lightroom and Photoshop

In my last blog post, I wrote about how your images might just speak to you. As a consequence, you just might overrate your images and I also wrote about you'd have to disconnect from your images to avoid that.

Judging your images also works the other way - you might not realize how good your images really are. You might not see them for what they are and not totally appreciate their emotional depth.

But maybe all you'd have to stop doing is what you may have needed doing when you were overrating. Compare.

I did realize this doing a mindfulness exercise. All I was doing was trying to be in the moment and just thinking about the things I was doing or experiencing right then. Without judging.

But it was only this last time I was doing the exercise that I realized not to judge also meant not to compare, meaning putting it into relation to something else.

In my case, it was the image above. I had the idea and so I went and put a GoPro and two battery-powered bike lights in a classical guitar. I could see the composition and finally take the shot using the GoPro app on my iPhone.

Of course, the camera was too close to the sound hole and the strings and so they were not in focus. And the GoPro could only shoot in JPEG so I didn't have the data to work with had I been able to shoot in RAW.

Anyways when I took the images to Lightroom and developed the best one using Lightroom and Photoshop, I came up with something decent that had a certain charm.

But as this was a part of an assignment, I felt that on delivery I had to explain that this would be just a proof of concept and not "the real image". I also showed this to a friend whose opinion I really value and he also said that though he liked the idea, it was less than perfect and he'd loved to see me work further on the idea. So I thought I had been right to not fully back up my image when I delivered it.

I was surprised to hear the reaction to my delivery - the image was described as interesting, remarkable and creative in its own right. Maybe I hadn't been wrong liking it after all.

The thing is that I shouldn't have compared it. Not to anything I'd done before or anything else. I had an idea and as technically imperfect as the image is - it is interesting indeed. The way I went about to take it was creative as the idea itself was, to begin with. All I had to do was look at it and what I had done and to see just that. Doing that I would have found out that I liked the image and the process of making it. And that what it conveyed, the emotional impact it had was more significant than the lack of technical perfection.

That doesn't mean my friend was wrong. I already thought of a way to take this image with my DSLR, shoot in RAW, have it in focus and all the good stuff. But although I know I will probably like this image I have yet to take, it will be different not only from a technical point of view. It will set a different mood, will tell a different story. And most important of all - it will not replace this image.


When Your Image Speaks Only To You

We hadn't seen each other for months. My soon-to-be wife and I got together the night before I had to leave for a job in Greece that would take almost six months. And then we were sitting there at the shore on the island of Paros and I looked at her observing the sun go down. And that is when I took the picture. The one above this article.
You didn't know that. And even now that you do, does this change the way you feel looking at it?

I think this is a decent photo. I like the colors, her face is in focus, the cheek and eye area backlit and I like how the hair is reaching into the middle part of the image. Technically, it is not that bad.
But this is nothing that I would even consider selling. Because it has no meaning to others. It wouldn't speak to them. I have nothing to convey in this picture, it is for my wife and me. Period. Oh well - and it serves as an example for this.

I think with every picture you have to take a step back and try to look at it like you weren't the photographer. This is especially true for any photograph you are very happy with so you won't be disappointed when you don't get the reactions you thought this one deserved.

You obviously can't trust your spouse, family, and friends to judge your images because more often than not they will either try and not hurt your feelings or they might just really plain like it. But it has more to do with the fact that you took the photo than its actually being good.

You would think that you'd need someone you're not connected to in that way, someone who would be friendly, but honest. Well, even if you find such a person, would you really want to rely on someone else judging the quality of your images for the rest of your life?

Eventually, you'd have to figure out for yourself what a good image is. And not only in technical terms. Which of course is an important aspect of a photo's quality. But as Harold Davis said (and I've heard similar things from other photographers and artists I respect): "An imperfect image that conveys strong emotion will beat a technically “perfect” photo every time."

So the emotion an image conveys, the story it tells, the mood it sets is the more important part you should concentrate on and that you need to find in your images. And this is what you have to judge - whether this emotion - if it is there - can be understood by others. If you have to explain it like I had to at the beginning of this article, it is like a joke that didn't work.

It seems kind of hard to separate yourself from your own feelings connected with the image and the part you played in the making of the image you are looking at, like everything it needs practice and I think you will have to develop a certain mindset, a willingness to try new old things and to not be afraid to find out things about yourself.

I think this approach is very well described in Harold Davis' book "Achieving Your Potential As A Photographer", which discusses this and other aspects of growing as a photographer and artist. Highly recommended.

Don't Forget The Heritage

The 1950s Kodak Retina II as seen through a 2016 Nikon D7100

Today I was taking some images of my Kodak Retina II which friends gave to me some 25 years ago. At the time I was sharing an apartment with Jörg Wüstkamp, who got me started on photography. He was doing film photography then and I guess they thought I might be interested too. And I did take some pictures with the Kodak, but the whole darkroom business wasn't for me really. It was only later when it all went digital, that I got interested.

But although I am very aware of the history of photography as you can tell by my admiration for Steglitz, Adams, Weston, Evans, and others, I don't feel like I have to pay my dues by doing film photography. Even when I am doing exclusively digital photography, it doesn't mean I betrayed the heritage of analog photography. Just as I can think of the Nikon DSLR in this picture as a beautiful thing in its own right just as the Kodak.

I don't have to compare them, rank them or judge them. I just have to acknowledge both of them. The cameras and the art forms.

Letting Go And Becoming An Artist

I heard a recording of an excerpt from an Alan Watts lecture called "This is why you're not happy." and it started with the questions "What do you desire? What makes you itch?"

That alone is a question that at least for some of us is not easy to answer. I always admired and envied those who seemed to know early on what it is they wanted in life and pursued this with a passion. But I think we also struggle to answer this because we seem to feel the need to limit our answers to those which are not frowned upon and will first and foremost pay the bills.

So when Mr. Watts asked his students which were confused about what to do after college "What would you like to do if money was no object?" and he felt that it was amazing that as a result of our kind of educational system, many of the students answered that they'd like to be painters, poets or writers, "but as anybody knows, you can't earn any money that way."

But I think if you feel that urge in you to express yourself creatively as an artist, there really is no choice and what you need to do is let go of the fear that you might not "make it" and never make any "real money" doing this, whatever that means. The real gift is to be able to do it and the reward lies in the painting you painted, the poem you wrote and the photograph you made.

To go on spending your life just making money doing something you don't really feel like doing is a complete waste of time.

Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.
— Alan Watts

Once you committed to really be with whatever it is you feel like doing, you will inevitably become a master of it, because that is the only way anyway. And, like Mr. Watts says "then you will be able to get a good fee for it."

So the money might eventually come, I wouldn't even care if it didn't and I think it is important to see it that way. Although money will make it easier, it must not be the reason to do something, to begin with.

To be able to think like this one has to let go of something else and that is the need to control everything. The need to live a life with a predictable future and an all-encompassing feeling of security, which would be an illusion anyway. And in order to do that, to let go of those needs and bring real change to one's life, you'll have to accept that there are ups and downs, that the pleasant surprises come with unpleasant surprises. That there is a white for every black.

Beneath and beyond all those thoughts is the letting go of everything, the acceptance that everything is changing all the time and that there will be an end to everything that ever started. And how all of this is a good thing and will free you to do exactly what it is you want to do.

And Then There Was Nothing

"Bricked Up" Shot with the LENKA app on iPhone, no further editing

As I mentioned in my post from yesterday, I am putting together sets of images for an assignment so I was out again today with my camera and our dog Ben. We went to the same forest as we did yesterday because that is the only one in walking distance and our car was not available today.

The weather was still the same - overcast and very little sun. But as I was shooting with the 35mm only yesterday (not on purpose, it just happened that way) I thought I'd use the 50mm today and just get closer, for which the even light of an overcast day might be okay.

So again we walked all over the place and a few times I saw something, but it never really talked to me. So before I got really frustrated I thought why this was happening. I couldn't believe there were no images in the forest that day. And I also couldn't say that on my second day out for that assignment I'd be all stressed out already (I got at least two months for doing this). So why didn't I see anything?

The day before it was totally different. Both Ben and I were very enthusiastic and walked through nature looking left and right, up and back all the time. And I found at least two things I liked, photographed and published. But today - nada. Zilch. Niente. Nothing.

And at some point, I thought it just had to be me. That somehow I wasn't open to views that day. Maybe the mostly overcast skies of the past few weeks got to me, a cold that was neither really there nor done with. Whatever. But most importantly I thought that I shouldn't beat myself up over it.

You can't force art. And for something like this you certainly need to be in the mood. Usually, I am thinking about life and art and all the good stuff most of my waking hours. But sometimes the magic just doesn't happen and all you bring home is a picture of a bricked up window on your way home.

Looking Back Over My Shoulder

Out in the woods near where I live, Ben is waiting more or less patiently while I am photographing.

This morning I got up pretty late considering all I had to do was go out in the woods and take pictures. But the days are pretty overcast recently and today was no exception, so it made no sense at all to go for a sunrise. That one was happening behind the clouds.

So around 8:30 I grabbed my backpack and the tripod and our dog Ben and me went out. Christina and our other dog Leah were gone all day for a seminar with the "dog whisperer of Mallorca" José Arce, so it was just us today.

I was out on an assignment to collect images for a suite of up to a dozen with the theme "woodland". To go out with a feeling that you "have" to come up with something is a challenge for one's mindfulness. If I just take the camera and wander around, I might get lost in thought and miss some opportunities and that's okay. But this time I was really looking for something. So I looked at things in another way.

And I was not only looking for images. I was looking for thoughts, for ideas, for concepts. Walking in nature makes me think differently than say driving in our car or being on a train for example. I can think there too, but in nature, it is still different. Maybe because that's where we belong.

One thing that stuck with me was "looking back over my shoulder". Ben and I were walking on a horseback trail and every now and then I was looking up and back and it was there and then that I thought how that applies to everything.

Of course, it should be a habit for every photographer (and anyone out in nature for that matter) to look up and back to not miss out on things we might not see if we just keep pushing forward. And it's like that with everything in life.

Looking back, seeing the flip side of things, might actually be a good thing. If it is something that happens every now and then. Not so much that you end up living in the past, always looking back and not realizing where you are going. But so you do not forget where you came from because that might mean you'll eventually get lost.

And the best thing is when you manage to stop every time you feel like it. To look back on your path and up on to where you are headed and realize that that spot you are at right then, that moment, is all that really matters.

The Making Of: "All You Could Ever Ask For"

"All You Could Ever Ask For" 35mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 280, Lens: Nikon 35mm f1.8, Camera: Nikon D7100, edited in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro

While we were visiting Mallorca in October I went to see Robert Graves house in Deia, as I have written about here. I already said that the kitchen and Mr. Graves' study were the most impressive rooms in this very lovely house, but there was at least one more sight that I really liked and that was the small table in front at the window in the room with the printing press.

On the table was a Smith & Corona Standard typewriter which I figure to be some 80 years old and although mine was not that antique, I do remember how different writing was on a typewriter. It was like you had to be writing as if you really meant it.

And I think of this as the equivalent of what we call "distraction-free writing" today, meaning the software will just go to full screen, eliminate all menu bars and such and all you got is your words and a blinking cursor

In those days it meant a clean desktop to which you would just bring some paper. And maybe a cup of coffee, maybe tea in the case of Mr. Graves. And that would be all. The typewriter and your thoughts. Those already on paper and those still in your head. And the window would be so important. So that when you sat back for a moment you wouldn't just look at a wall, which is probably one of the dumber things man came up with. Always sit somewhere where it makes sense that you have eyes.

All you could ever ask for was this place. Where you could sit all day and everybody in the house was used to you typing away on that old Smith & Corona and when the words wouldn’t come you’d look up and out in the garden or to the trees beyond the road, feeling the sea behind all that. And at some point the muse would touch your shoulder, kiss your neck and remind you of dinner. Bliss.
— Holger MIschke

Anyways I was in the house and although I was alone for the better part of my visit, I didn't use a tripod. I didn't even bring one because I wasn't even sure I would be allowed to photograph in the house (which I was told would be perfectly alright) and out of respect for the house I didn't feel good about setting up a tripod in there. So ISO it was, but this room was so bright, that I didn't even have to go to extremes.

Still, the window was pretty bright and I had to bring down the exposure a bit to bring back the trees and plants outside the window. I thought of Multi-RAW processing, but bringing down the Whites and Highlights in Lightroom was good enough. I had to remove chromatic aberration manually and apply the lens correction, but that was pretty much it in Lightroom and I exported the image to Silver Efex Pro for black and white conversion.

Starting out with the Full Contrast preset, I used a red filter and lowered the contrast a little bit until I liked the tones in the image and had some detail in the darker areas of the chair and desk. I still had to place a control point on the upper part of the window frame to brighten it up just a touch. I burned the edges to somewhat "frame" the image and I was done. I like experimenting with layers and filters in Photoshop and I thought because of the bright light coming in through the window this would be a problematic image, but this time I think this simple approach worked well.

The Making Of: "The Future Is Behind Me"

"The Future Is Behind Me" 7 exposures ranging from 1/3 sec to 30 sec, f/8, ISO 100, tripod mounted, merged in Lightroom, edited in Photoshop using Nik Color Efex Pro and Nik Silver Efex Pro. Lens: Nikon 35mm, f/1.8G, Camera: Nikon D7100

But the present I look upon, seems to be confusing, so many lines in the sand, reflections on the surface and shadows in the corners and it all leaves a darkness in my past that leaves me afraid to turn around.

On an evening like any other, I walked through the living room and as I looked at the dinner table with the chairs and the arc light overhead and I saw this image. I sat down with my tripod and camera about two meters away and took the exposures I needed as I wanted this to be not really just a silhouette without featureless black, but to be rather dark on the top and bright enough at the bottom to not lose the reflections on the ground.

The table had been there for more than a year now and the lamp for a couple of months, so I see this setup pretty much every night. But it takes not only looking at it but maybe a mood, maybe something one was thinking about that day or in that moment, it all has to come together for this to be the moment for this image to be recorded.

As usual, I wanted to add some words to it and sometimes when I do this, I have to sit there and look at the image and wait for the feeling I have to manifest and then let the words come. And with these words, I don't try to set a meaning or a feeling that I'd think the viewer has to understand or feel for themselves. It is just what I feel or what I see in this image.

And so as I was looking at the image the next day, the metaphor this picture is for me, struck me all of a sudden and it seemed perfectly clear to me. I am curious as to what people looking at this image feel.

The Making Of: "Child's Play"

"Child's Play", 4.6mm, f/8, 1/200 sec, ISO 80, Camera: Nikon Coolpix L27

In 2013, I stayed on Madagascar for an entire month, working as a bike and tour guide. One of the trips was from the capital Antananarivo ("Tana" for short) to Toamasina on the east coast. More than 350k on the bike. After we stayed on the beaches of the Indian Ocean for a couple of days, we flew back to Tana. We stayed at the Hotel Tana-Jacaranda on Arabe Rainitsarovy, with a great view of the haute ville in the area of Andolaho.

On one of the walks around the area, which usually led down to Lac Anosy, the lake with the "Anjely Mainty" (Black Angel) memorial on an island in the center, honoring the soldiers lost fighting for France in the first World War. I think it was where Rue Rakotonirina turns west, where I saw those two kids.

I noticed them playing with a ball made of plastic bags. And although there was a sad dumpster just a few feet to the right of the image where they apparently lived, those kids as all the kids I met on the bike tours, walking the cities or later in the remote villages along the Tsiribihina river, were happy. Genuinely happy to be alive. It is far from romantic to be poor (and most of the families living outside the cities live on something like two bucks a day), but I am far more sympathetic to a poor man's take on life and what really matters.

And still, as I was standing there, taking the picture on the Point-And-Shoot Nikon Coolpix L27, I kind of felt ashamed. I should have at least shown them the picture. Because that was something those children loved. To see themselves on the screen on the back of the camera. And as I saw the pure joy in their eyes and heard the laughter I loved it too.

The Making Of: "A Wound That Would Never Heal"

"A Wound That Would Never Heal", 35mm, f/4.0, 1/200s, ISO 100. Lens: 35mm f/1.8, Camera: Nikon D3200

As I came back to Piraeus, I found your parents’ house locked up and abandoned. You left no word where you had gone. The word had been said, the promise broken. The door is shut and nothing anybody could do would ever make things right again.

This photo was taken three years ago in Athen's harbor Piraeus, southwest of Greece's ancient capital. I usually got there by bus after I flew into Athens, to catch a ferry to Paros or any of the other islands. Things would change often and I was never too sure how I would get to my destination on one of the Greek islands in the Aegean. I always stayed at Faros hotel on Notara although it was a rundown neighborhood with abandoned houses, discos and strip clubs. There was a certain sadness about that place that had everything to do with me coming and going and not staying long enough in one place to have any relationship that mattered. It was something I wanted and despised.

I didn't walk the streets too much, but I took pictures of some of the abandoned houses, defunct clubs, and cafes with old men. I wondered who had lived there and what had happened to those people and why they had to leave. And what would happen to Piraeus?

I did some basic adjustments in Lightroom, then adjusted contrast and temperature as a Nik Color Efex layer in Photoshop, then highlighted the brighter areas around the door in Nik Viveza and sharpened the metal on the door using selective LAB sharpening. I finally converted the image to black and white with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

The Making Of: "I Hated You"

"I Hated You", 35mm, f/5.6, 1/4000s, ISO 100. Lens: 35mm f/1.8, Camera: Nikon D3200

The photo was taken in September of 2014 on the island of Santorini, Greece. I was there working as a tour guide which meant I was traveling back and forth between Athens and the islands Paros, Naxos, Samos, Ikaria, and Santorini. On tiny planes or sometimes almost ancient ferries. On Santorini I all I usually had to do was take the group from Thira to Oia along the caldera's edge.

Oia is that place that everybody knows and it has been "shot to death". If you want that famous view that you will recognize the moment you get there, here is what you do: Go to the Ekklisia Panagia Platsani. It's a small square a couple of minutes walking from the bus terminal. Go west on the alley on the south end of the square. After about 50 yards take the alley to the left and walk down to the end, which is another 50 yards. Turn southwest and you'll see it.

Anyways, on that day I had left Thira already with the group and we were taking the alleys with what always feels like thousands of steps. If you want to make it even worse, you can walk down to the old harbor in Thira, which is supposed to be 600 steps. I never bothered walking down there. The hike up to Oia was long enough.

After you leave the houses of Thira behind, it is only about 100 yards to the village of Imerovigli and if you stay on the path that is closest to the caldera's edge, you'll inevitably come to Agios Georgios church.

It's your typical greek church, very white and usually it is surrounded by a very blue sky. Or if you get the angle, you'll see the very blue sea. I didn't want that kind of Santorini shot everybody had. So I went for black and white and forgot all about the very blue all around me.

I didn't have too much time as I had the group with me, but at least they were taking pictures too so I had a few minutes. When we walked through the gate onto the platform where the church was located, I had already seen what I wanted.

Standing outside the gate the image had four layers, giving it a quite some depth: The wall on the right with the lamp attached to it in the foreground, after that the gate with the cross on top, then the church itself and finally the sky with the clouds.

There is also a lot of texture in the image, rougher on the foreground wall and the gate, a lot smoother on the church in the distance.

The eyes are drawn to the bright roof of the church and the cross on top of the bells, which contrasts nicely with the darker sky and clouds. Once the eye has focussed on the white cross against the darker sky, there is this connection to the darker cross on the gate against the brighter church building, so the view goes to the gate in the foreground. I think there is a strong axis between those two crosses.

This was the first year with a DSLR, so I must admit at the time I wasn't really sure what I was doing and I simply got lucky I guess. I wouldn't have been able to explain as I am now, but at least at that point, it wasn't necessary. I saw something and took the picture.

I took the image with my first DSLR, a Nikon D3200. Luckily I didn't just stick with the kit lens, an 18-55, but I got a 35mm prime lens, which I am still using a lot. The file was developed in Lightroom and converte to black and white using Silver Efex Pro.

Photography And The Truth

You Can't Go Home Again

In the 1800s, newspapers were featuring drawings as a means to illustrate stories and even though photography was invented around that time (the earliest surviving camera photograph is "View from the Window at Le Gras" by Nicéphore Niépce from 1827), it wasn't until the 1890s when halftone printing was perfected that photographs appeared in newspapers. By the beginning of the 20th century, drawings were completely replaced by photos.

I believe it is this connection of photographs and news that ultimately led to the "pics or it didn't happen" attitude of today. Pictures taken by a camera were supposedly showing how it really happened, what it really looked like. Mostly because it is more expensive to print in color, most newspapers kept printing photos in black and white until the early 1980s (the New York Times and The Washington Post even remained in monochrome until the 1990s. Even though a black and white photograph seems to be even further from reality, from the truth.

I say "seems", because at this point you have to ask yourself what reality and truth really are if you want to discuss whether a photograph can really represent them. Growing up we were lead to believe that there can only be one truth. That it is (as the dictionary says)  "the body of real things, events and facts". But if you wouldn't stop at that and doubted that "real things" or "facts" were just as "the truth" nothing you could really rely on, you were in trouble. Or about to free yourself.

To be open-minded (among other things) means to be able to accept the possibility of things to happen although they shouldn't happen. Because science says so. Or religion. Or your parents. You could even go as far as to say IF you consider an outcome as at least possible, as far-fetched as it may seem, the probability of it actually happening, increases.

We must also keep in mind what an impact one's own perception of the world around us has on what one considers to be real/true. And this perception is, of course, a mosaic composed of everything we ever did, felt, heard, saw and experienced. So I guess it is safe to say that everyone has to some degree a reality of his own.

So even though photos have been considered "the truth" for so long, I find it important to realize they really aren't. Even if I try to reproduce the scene I saw as true to reality in terms of color, light, depth of field and distortion as possible, it will not be the same to all, we will all see it differently.

So should this frustrate me? That I can't get the same message across to every single person that views my images? Absolutely not.

I do write some lines for each of my photos and publish those along with them. Which doesn't mean that I want what I feel looking at the scene or at the image and writing the words to be what the viewer feels. And not only because it is not possible, to begin with.

The photograph must find a viewer who is touched by something in my printed photograph. The viewer and the photograph have to find each other. And in a way, this viewer who feels something looking at my work and I share something on a level of intimacy that mostly will not be acted on, will not be a part of the real world. But will nevertheless be true.


FORKS - 50 mm, f/8 at 1/4 sec, ISO 100. Basic adjustments using Adobe Lightroom, black and white conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro

All it really took was some white cardboard and four forks and I had something to work with. And it didn't depend on weather or time of day. I placed cardboard and forks on the dining room table and rearranged the arc lamp overhead until I liked the shadows.

Yesterday Wasn't Bad If Tomorrow Is Promising

I had a lot of input over the last weeks. More concentrated and more significant than ever before. One thing it changes it the way I look at my work so far.

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.
— Henri Cartier-Bresson

When Cartier-Bresson said that, that meant by the time you had used up 300 rolls of film, today it depends on the resolution of your DSLR, but a couple of memory cards will hold these. Be it as it may, what he meant was that by the time you have taken all these exposures you should have learned the basics. And that you could have already created a foundation for what someday could become a unique style of your own.

It might take you a couple more or less, but eventually, you should not worry so much anymore about technical questions. You should know when to use which aperture, what to do in post and on which paper you'll print that pano of the mountain range.

But what I found now (and I totally am beyond that 10,000 image mark) is that I start asking myself questions which I either have no answer to or the answers don't satisfy me.

One book I have read was "The War Of Art" by Steven Pressfield, which is a definite must-read for everyone who is doing something creative and artistic. One might not agree with the connection to the divine he makes in the final part of the book, but there is much to learn about what holds you back. And that most of that holding back is done by yourself.

So far, so good. No awkward questions there, although I asked myself how I could not have seen that myself. Why I didn't start really fighting that without someone having to explain that to me.

But the frustration that I feel now really started when I started to read "The Photographer's Black & White Handbook" by Harold Davis. Of course, it is not the intention of this book, which is a wonderful source and a beautiful book no doubt, to frustrate the reader. But it is now that I gain more knowledge about black and white composition, using negative space, framing, patterns, contrast and shades of gray, that I realize that I have done what I have done without knowing in depth about all this and so much more (Another Davis book, Walker Evans' American Photographs and the first part of Edward Westons Daybooks are sitting on the shelf waiting for me).

So for a moment, a long moment even I felt frustrated today. Like I had wasted my time. I felt bad that my images had not been better. But then I thought that they weren't bad at all. And that I wouldn't like them less because now I knew more. Instead, this should make me feel better because eventually when this knowledge sinks in and becomes second nature, my images will be better.

What I will do now and since I have been reading and reflecting on what I read (and will continue to do so) I will have the necessary tools, is to reevaluate my own work. Respecting that they represent my knowledge, craftsmanship and artistic level at the time, but defining what needs to be done to make me a better photographer and a more meaningful artist. And just as when being confronted with the changes one has to make to become a better person, these changes will also cause resistance, fear, and frustration.

Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I ‘m going to take tomorrow.
— Imogen Cunningham

But as long as there is momentum, as long as I keep growing as a photographer, as an artist, and as a human being, I don't have to worry about anything.