Friday, September 28, 2012

Chip Simone

What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what have been some of the most important milestones in your career up until now?

I’ve been doing photography for about a half century and over the years many things inspired me. Television was probably my first real visual influence. In 1950, when I was five years old, we got the first TV set in our neighborhood. I grew up watching black and white images on a small glass screen. Today, deep into my sixth decade, I am still mesmerized by some of the things that I see on a small glass screen. 

I found a broken 1930’s camera that had a two piece pop-up viewfinder. I carried it with me everywhere and looked at everything through it. It quickly became my window onto a private world. By Junior High I was carrying a 35mm camera with me every day, working candidly by available light, imagining I was Alfred Eisenstaedt on assignment for LIFE. That was my first photo dream, along with owning a Leica.

As a high school student I apprenticed with a local commercial photographer who taught me basic photo-techniques and introduced me to the darkroom. I carried his equipment at weddings and watched from the wings while he made studio portraits on film that he retouched with a graphite pencil. He let me use his Super D Graflex, a 4x5 SLR from the late ‘40s. After school I used to proof his portraits on printing out paper in direct sunlight. A decade later I was using the same studio-proof paper to make elegant exhibition prints from my own 8x10 negatives by fixing the sun print with gold chloride solution. 

As a young boy I demonstrated an aptitude for the visual arts. In grade school I was given special opportunities to draw, paint and work with clay.  My high school actually waived most of my science classes so that I could spend additional time in studio art classes. They sent me to the Boston Museum School for special classes. Then in 1963 I was accepted at The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

The legendary freshman foundation program at RISD prepared me well for professional level study. It provided intensive training in drawing, two + three dimensional design, creative visualization, calligraphy and art history. I learned the tools and ways of the visual artist.  It also prepared me for something I didn’t see coming. In 1964, at age 19, I met the photographer Harry Callahan. I didn’t know who he was or anything about his considerable reputation. He was quiet and taciturn. Photography was his first language. He struggled to talk about pictures because he knew that the picture expressed itself best. He was totally dedicated to the pursuit of his vision. His motives were agnostic. There were many ways to do photography. Find one that suits you best; but find your own way; that was his core philosophy. Harry’s concerns were purely visual and poetic, never political or conceptual. He did photography most every day, not for money, but out of a passionate belief in the expressive power of the still photograph. He gave beginning students a series of exercises that acquainted them with the inherent properties of camera work and tonal control. He gave us exercises in seeing photographically, but he never told us what to photograph. He opened our eyes and encouraged us to see the world with passion. He never claimed it was easy to make a good picture. He never hid the struggle from us. Harry Callahan didn’t just teach basic photography, he taught basic photographer. Over the three years I was with him my ideas and beliefs about the power of photography were transformed into a quiet reverence for it. Photography became a verb, an ongoing act of existence and an expression of being. It gave form to my vision. Being with Harry Callahan at The Rhode Island School of Design in the mid-60s was the most important influence I could have ever had.  And the older I get the more I appreciate his silences… 

I was making informed photographs by the mid-1960s, just as the medium was emerging from the shadows. I first exhibited my work with other RISD photographers in 1966. At the time many in the art world, including galleries, museums and other artists, did not accept photography as a valid art form. When I was in art school there were only a few hundred photography students in the entire country. My schoolmates included Linda Conner, Jim Dow, Bill Burke, John McWilliams and Emmit Gowin. There were a small number of important teachers and role models to emulate. We studied the work of Minor White, Atget, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, HCB, Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Frederick Sommer, and some others. There was only one serious book: The History of Photography by Beaumont Newhall. The final image in the book was a double exposure by Harry Callahan. Creative photography was defined rather narrowly: emotionally sensitive images, intimately scaled B+W prints with dark brooding tones and dramatic silver highlights. We serious photographers took ourselves very seriously.

In 1973 I took up the 8x10 camera and used it exclusively for ten years. The big view camera reemerged in the 70s as an artists’ tool. It was a wonderful way to reconnect with traditional photographic essentials; a simple camera, a good lens, a sturdy tripod, and time. Obscure processes were resurrected. It was a deliberate and ritualized way to work. I brought the 8x10 into the streets to render the urban experience with greater acuity and a formal perfection. Every picture was a study. In 1979 I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to photograph ‘Shrewsbury Street’, the blue-collar Italian-American neighborhood of Worcester, Mass. where I was born and raised. I did the project on 8”x10” negative in classic large format manner. I processed my prints by contact in Amidol water-bath developer using a variation on Edward Weston’s and Walker Evans’ formulas. Ninety-two prints from the project are in the permanent archive of the Worcester Historical Museum, the project’s sponsoring archive. In 1981 the museum exhibited 72 of the images. Hundreds of people I’d known since childhood came to the opening.  Relatives baked cookies like they normally do for an Italian wedding. 

In 1982 the NEA awarded me a fellowship. I made a radical jump from 8x10” negatives to Kodachrome slides; from the subtle grayscale of AZO paper to the saturated colors of K64. One way offered incredible control, the other virtually none. The slow color slide film had a narrow dynamic range which presented artistic challenges. I went back to the street where working with such an unforgiving film required technical discipline and a lot of experience. Working with K64 for a few years broadened my visual realm. Seeing in color was like lifting a veil from my eyes. At the time, however, there was no practical way to make a good and affordable print from Kodachrome, so after a few years I stopped using it.

In the 1990s I went back to 35mm B+W but after Kodachrome I found it unsatisfying. My pictures seemed to be pinned to the past. I began to feel that darkroom work was tedious, spending hours for one or two good prints. I was growing impatient. The process that I’d used for decades was feeling stale and restricting. At the same time I began to lose interest in exhibiting. A life in photography had to be more than a long list of shows. By 2000 my friends were encouraging me to try digital imaging, advice I stubbornly resisted. Finally I purchased an Olympus 5050, a little digital camera with a good lens. Working with a digital camera restored something that I hadn’t realized was missing from my work: fun and excitement. With the 5050 I did photography with the enthusiasm and abandon that I had as a kid. Simply seeing the picture on the small glass screen on the back of the camera lifted the burden of the wet process. The rituals of craft that hovered above every potential image were gone. Digital encouraged experimentation and it reminded me why I love photography in the first place: how I love having a sense of wonder about the visible world; about the human drama that plays out before my eyes every day; about the eccentric shadows and the unexpected epiphanies. I loved looking at all of it, the post cards as well as the discards.  At the start of the 21st century my old obsession felt new again.  

It took several generations of Photo Shop, plus improved printers, inks and papers, and as long as five years’ time, before I was able to get the quality I wanted from my image files. Through trial and error I developed an intuitive rapport with digital printing that intensified my vision. I eventually produced a stack of color prints that were as rich and expressive as any I’d done in monochrome. In 2009 I showed the prints to the Director of the Center for Creative Photography who was visiting my studio. She encouraged me to bring them to the curator at the High Museum of Art here in Atlanta. Her suggestion set in motion a remarkable chain of events. After looking through the prints HMA photo curator Julian Cox offered me an exhibition slated for mid-2011. I spent the next two years making more images and further refining my printmaking techniques. In June 2011 the High Museum opened the show called “The Resonant Image”. The exhibit of 64 images covered ten years of work and was up for five and a half months. It was the strongest and most sophisticated presentation of my work ever mounted. The Nazraeli Press published CHROMA, a beautifully produced companion book. Following the museum exhibit I showed at Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta’s foremost photography gallery. This show was followed in spring of 2012 by a 36 print exhibit at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district. Both Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta and the Steven Kasher gallery in NYC now represent my work.   

The last twelve years have been a remarkable period of personal growth. The move to digital rejuvenated my vision. Color provided an enormous emotional vocabulary to draw from. The nuanced control of digital color is stunning. I can do things I never dreamed possible. The years I spent building a rapport with digital imagery led to some of the most visually arresting pictures I’ve ever made. 

All of the things I’ve described here have, in some fashion, inspired me at different times and in different ways. The most important things are also among the most difficult: have confidence in your vision; find the patience to let your vision define itself over time. Make pictures often. Pay attention. You’ll see.

How do you approach editing your work, and what advice would you give to others about evaluating their photographs?

I asked Harry Callahan how long one should work on a project. He replied, “Until you get sick of it.” 

It may take decades for a picture to make sense to you. An image can move back and forth in time before it finds its place. You may have to grow wiser before you can fathom intellectually what your heart felt years earlier. It may take time to find the one image that will unlock the secrets of the others. 

We all fall in love with our most recent work, but it often turns out to be infatuation and lust. Be patient. Give your pictures time to gestate. Give yourself some time to get over them.  Put them away for a while and make more in the meantime. Then revisit them from time to time and see which ones stick to you. Which ones haunt you late at night?  Those are the images that often hold the important clues about what matters. Be very critical of your work. Consider every aspect of it. Demand a lot from it. Pay attention to everything you see. Surprises come to those who expect them. Take them very seriously. For some of us it’s our whole life.

How do you decide on new projects to work on?  Do you always shoot with a concept in mind or do you wait to be inspired as you go?

Choices about projects should be made as organically and intuitively as possible. Deciding on a project before any pictures are made will send you on a scavenger hunt for lifeless illustrations of a shallow idea. Find your pictures viscerally. Take chances. Be impulsive. Explore and discover. Photograph anything that feels like a picture. Accumulate a body of source images that trace your curiosities and echo your instincts. Look through the thumbnails to see what you’ve paid attention to. Look for patterns and subtexts. In time projects will form themselves, like gravity forms star dust into new planets. You are the gravitational force. Let the projects form from evidence of things that matter to you. Avoid cataloging things. Life isn’t academia. Of course, most of the pictures will fall short of your intentions and expectations. Learn to respect images that you dislike, especially when they’re your own.  Don’t see them as failures. See them as the sacrifices that you make in order to see photographically.  

Keep in mind that my suggestions may be seen by some curators, portfolio reviewers, critics and gallery owners as heresy. They prefer to see boxes of images with easy connections and obvious themes. But your job is not to make their job easier. Your ‘job’ is to get closer to understanding the nature of your creative vision and to make pictures your own way. The pictures you make are eccentric pieces of an unfinished mosaic. Each picture informs every other. If you’re lucky, this process will take a long time.

What ways have you found successful for promoting your work and finding a receptive audience for it?

I helped start a photography community in Atlanta forty years ago. In 1973 we opened NEXUS, the first photography gallery in the region. Thirteen of us rented a storefront and formed a photo collective. We had a show every month for about three years. In essence, we were creating our own audience for photography. Nexus has since evolved into an art center. Many galleries here now show photography. I have given talks at local galleries and at the museum (which now has 5000 prints in its collection). I hold a monthly critique at the Atlanta Photography Gallery for all levels. I also conduct a discussion group about photography, or do interviews with prominent members of the photo community (High Museum photo curator Brett Abbott; Jane Jackson, curator of the Sir Elton John Photography Collection). I have a high profile in the Atlanta photo community, in part, because I am now a senior member of it. 

Being part of a photo community has many political benefits. Networking is very important. Information is shared. Opportunities are posted. Organizations form for photographers with specialized interests. Make your interests known. Look for a group a bit above your level. Join and grow into it. 

There are so damn many websites to wade through, I sometimes question their value. But, let’s face it, you need a web presence. The photography audience has become more discerning. If you build a site to represent your creative work it better be strong, clean and intuitive with no time consuming special effects. The images must be exceptional, skillfuly rendered and tightly edited. Don’t rush to put your work out before the public. Be as certain as possible that your work is of high quality. If you look like a beginner you won’t get a second glance.  Find a mentor who will be blunt and truthful about where you are in the evolutionary process. Finally, self-publishing is a good way to get work out to galleries and curators. It’s easy to produce small inexpensive books to give away. I hear the Starn Twins made slick postcards which they sent each month to a select group in the art world.  It worked out well for them.

Man In Drag With Blonde Wig, 2012

 Vamp, Atlanta, 2005

 Tattoo Back, Worcester, 2010

Covered Couple, Chimping, 2010

 Hummingbird Corset, Atlanta, 2010

 Red Over Ten, Atlanta, 2009

 Dented Gutter, Worchester, 2010

 Yellow On Red, Atlanta, 2008

 Broken Arch, Atlanta, 2006

 Midway In The Rain, Atlanta, 2004

 White On White, Atlanta, 2008

 Blue Truck Bed, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2001

 Purple Phone, Atlanta, 2007

 Marilyn Monroe, Worchester, MA, 2007

Girl With Camera, 2009 

© copyright all images Chip Simone

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Karen Halverson

What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what have been some of the most important milestones in your career up until now?

In 1975 I was living in New York City and working on a PhD in anthropology at Columbia University. I had been photographing for a few years and it held my attention, but somehow I couldn't yet think of it as a serious pursuit.   I thought I was supposed to be an intellectual. At some point, I realized that my attraction both to anthropology and to photography came from a need to observe and comment on the world. I considered how photography could be used in anthropological work, as Margaret Mead had done.  But then I realized I didn't want photography to be the handmaiden of something else. I wanted to make photographs as an end in themselves.  So I made the leap, quit graduate school and hit the streets with my Nikon F and my one lens, the 35 mm.    After working for a few months in the Garment District in New York, trying to make "good" pictures, I had a breakthrough.  The congestion and constant activity of the street freed me up, forced me to stop thinking, yield conscious control, and let the shooting happen, quickly and intuitively. I well remember the emotional high I felt while shooting on the street and again later seeing the results. I had found the beginnings of a new identity that came from within.   Nothing in my background explained it, but I trusted it.

When I started shooting, there were virtually no academic programs in photography.  So I am self-taught like most everybody else who was working back then. The advantage of being self-taught is that you learn things because you absolutely need to know them.  

I could chart milestones in any of several ways.  But even though I'm much more interested in photographic content and expression than in photographic technique, I decided to think about milestones in terms of photographic equipment and processes.

A change in equipment always stirs me up in a good way.  In the late 1970s I found a simple 5 x 7 view camera at a garage sale for $25. and bought it.  It was made by the Rochester Camera Company in 1898.  It has three shutter options:  time, bulb, and instantaneous.  It was a while before I could afford a Deardorff and even longer before I could manage a Red Dot Dagor lens to go with it.  In the meantime, using that simple 5 x 7, I developed a love for the purity of tone and clarity of detail a large sheet of film can yield. A large format camera has been an important part of my tool kit ever since.

Around 1980, I began shooting color negative film with the large format camera and making color prints.  I now know I am passionate about color, and that, in addition to subject, color is what I see first and forms the basis of how I organize pictorial space.    Color printing taught me to see and understand the color and the behavior of light.   I remember making a white building white, only to see that that threw everything else off.  I then realized that the white building was, in fact, not white, because of reflected light.

As a child, I was taken on an epic 3-month car trip through the American West.  That trip, I think, established  the strong connection to the West I've felt ever since. In 1984 I made my first of many photographic trips the West, bringing along my view camera and my camping gear. That trip was pivotal.  I was thrilled by the broad unobstructed vistas, largely unobstructed by trees.  In time, I became as intrigued by how people live in the West as by the land itself. I have been exploring various aspects of the cultural and natural landscape of the West ever since. 

In 1991, having moved from New York to Los Angeles, I bought the Fuji 6 x 17 panoramic camera because the broad mountainous landscape of the Los Angeles Basin begged for it.  I quickly became aware of the aspect ratio of the frame as a prominent compositional element.  Many photographers use the panoramic camera to emphasize linear space.   My response was the opposite. I worked to break up the linearity of the frame in order to encourage the eye to roam around the broad space.  Like the view camera, the Fuji 6 x 17 remains a piece of my basic equipment.

In the last five years, like so many other people, I have started doing my own high end scanning (with the Imacon scanner) and printing (with the Fuji 9880).  Having final control of the production process is instructive, rewarding and as it should be, even though it means more time at the computer than I would like.  

I just bought the Nikon D 800 DSLR. It is my first high-end digital camera.  It will make for a new learning curve, of course.  But I'm guessing it also will push me in a new direction.  I'm thinking it might even lead me back to the streets of New York all these years later.

How do you approach editing your work, and what advice would you give to others about evaluating their photographs?

Editing one's work is challenging. I think it helps to let the work sit for a while until after the first fervent rush.  Edit out anything you doubt, but revisit the rejects once in a while. Maybe you missed something. Let "accidents" inform you. Maybe they'll lead you in a new direction. On the other hand, you may find your first loves don't hold up with time. 

Reviewing your work also helps reveal what really interests you, both in terms of content and in terms of how you use light, color, the photographic frame, all of it. 

For me, editing means not only selection, but also organizing one's work.  I usually create a sequence with a mind to establishing internal coherence, integrity, and the development of an idea or point of view.  Bodies of work interest me more than individual images. Images can build on and play off each other to suggest a larger meaning.

I also think writing about one's work is helpful in terms of clarifying what it is you're after and what you think holds a body of work together.  A few succinct paragraphs will do.

How do you decide on new projects to work on?  Do you always shoot with a concept in mind or do you wait to be inspired as you go?

I love to travel, especially to somewhere I've never been.  For me, photography is both an excuse to travel and a way to engage with what I find.  So it'd be fair to say that location occurs to me first.  I can't entirely anticipate how a place will strike me.   Since it's not practical to take a suitcase full of equipment to the other side of the world, I try to have some sort of plan in advance.  

In the early years of my shooting in the American West, I wandered around without itinerary, open to anything.  But as time went by and I became more familiar with and knowledgeable about the West, I focused on more specific subjects like the Colorado River and Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles.   In different ways, each of those two series has to do with water issues in the arid West. I read up on the issues relevant to where I'm shooting and I ask questions wherever I go.  What I learn along the way informs what and how I photograph. Content is very important to me.  I want my work to be about something, something that I care strongly about.  Now I always try to have at least some working concept or idea before embarking on a project, while also being open to what I discover along the way.

Last summer I went to the Dakotas because it was a part of the West I did not know. I knew the land would be flat.  Pretty quickly I saw that the land is divided up into sections. I knew this had to be a result of the Homestead Act of 1862 that made parcels of land available to settlers who agreed to "improve" them.    The result is that the land forms a kind of grid marked by north-south and east-west running roads, fences, lines of trees, etc.  So, to express that historical imprint on the land, I made square images with the horizon line in the center of the frame and often with some other centrally positioned element.  I emphasized anything that reinforced the geometry I was experiencing.   I think of the resulting photographs as parcels.  I had never worked so conceptually, or with such a tight compositional structure. I had arrived at a new approach to photographing the western landscape, one based on what I observed and on an understanding of history.

As with the West, I'd wanted to go to India since I was a child and read about Gandhi.   Before I went the first time, I decided I wanted to make fairly close-up, frontal, consensual portraits on the street.   I chose the Hasselblad because the square felt like a good portrait format.  I chose the 80mm lens because the 50 could make for distortion and the 150 mm would be awkward to hand hold.  Also, it would put me farther away from my subject than I wanted to be.  Even though I love color and I knew India would be colorful, I chose B/W because I wanted the emphasis to be on the face, not on somebody's hot pink turban. 

What ways have you found successful for promoting your work and finding a receptive audience for it?

That's a tough one. It's always important to bear in mind that, as an artist, you're working for yourself.  Only when you feel confident you have a body of work that represents you well and has internal integrity is it time to ask for the attention of someone other than your best friend.  Better to hold back until you're ready, because you may not get a second chance. Edit carefully.  They'll never miss what's not there. At this point, I think self-published books are a good way to show the work.    The production process itself forces you to carefully review, edit, and sequence your work. 

The Internet, of course, is a wonderful means of researching galleries, museums, art fairs, publishers, and other photographers' work.  There's no excuse not to be well informed about an institution or gallery before trying to make a connection.  It's important to be able to say why you think your work might be right for this particular venue. 

In my experience, I have generally found it easier to get an appointment when I’m from elsewhere.  Maybe it creates a sense of importance or urgency to be able to say you're in town for a few days and would like to show work while you're there. 

It goes without saying that it helps to have a tough skin when pursuing a career in the arts.  Rejection is part of the deal.  Often you can learn something or get ideas from people's response to the work, whether you agree with them or not.  It's all grist for the mill. 

 Pyramid Lake, Nevada

Route #190 near Keeler, California

 Independence, California

 Lodore Canyon, Colorado

 Lake Powell, Utah

 Palo Verde, California

 Mulholland, Los Angeles, California

  Mulholland Los Angeles, California

  Mulholland, Los Angeles, California

 Dickinson, North Dakota

 Onida, South Dakota

Scenic, South Dakota

© copyright all images Karen Halverson

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

David Husom

What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what have been some of the most important milestones in your career up until now?

My father was an amateur photographer with a darkroom in the basement. I joined a camera club in junior high school, but I never saw photography as a possible career. I was interested in electronics and radio so I started college in engineering. I quickly realized that engineering was not what I thought it was going to be, so I switched majors to architecture.

I loved the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, however all my teachers preached Phillip Johnson’s modernism. Feeling lost in college I signed up for a photography course, thinking it would be a break while I decided what to do with myself. What I quickly realized was that I had found my home. But ironically my early interests in technology and human scale architecture has informed much of my work ever since.

I primarily studied with Jerome Liebling who had come out of the Photo League in New York. He was always very supportive of my work, even though it was very different than his. He had a way of saying “phoo-TOOG-raa-phyyy” that made it seem so important and honorable. He left about the time I graduated and moved back East to teach at a small college. There he became filmmaker Ken Burns’ mentor.

I lasted one day in a job as a janitor so I decided to go to graduate school almost immediately after finishing my undergraduate studies. There I worked in non-silver photography and pictoralism. It was only after seeing a Walker Evans show a few years later that it clicked that I wanted to shoot large format documentary, but in color. My first major work that got attention was a series on county fairgrounds in Minnesota. The photographs were published in an architecture magazine and then in Aperture Magazine. It has been in two J. Paul Getty Museum shows, including the show and book Where We Live. A work from the series is currently hanging in the Governor’s mansion in Minnesota.

How do you decide on new projects to work on?  Do you always shoot with a concept in mind or do you wait to be inspired as you go?

I think it is very important to work on a series or project. Yet I do seem to fall into a project and let it define itself as I get deeper into it. I got interested in buildings built by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression in the 1930s. Some of the first photos I did were on a fairgrounds in Hibbing Minnesota, where Bob Dylan grew up. I quickly realized that the WPA was not the subject, but the fairgrounds were. I also knew I had found what I was looking for—a subject that would take me to every corner of the state (and eventually across the US) and allow me to explore theme and variation in these public structures.

I moved to rural Wisconsin 12 years ago, but at that time I was primarily using digital cameras for Web and screen based projects. But when the Mississippi River had major flooding near by, I returned to film and picked up my 4X5 camera again. When the water receded I continued to photograph the towns and vernacular architecture along the river. I never set out to photograph churches, one room schools and small town bars. But as I explored the towns along the river, that is what I was drawn to photograph.

Two years ago I came across a magazine in a Japanese bookstore that contained a kit to build a fully functional 35mm plastic twin lens reflex camera called a “Gakkenflex.” I really had no interest in plastic lens cameras. However when I tried the camera it became apparent that since it took vertical pictures, it would be an ideal camera for a series of images in a magazine format. I spent the next year photographing extensively with the Gakkenflex.

What ways have you found successful for promoting your work and finding a receptive audience for it?

When I was a student there was an attitude that to promote yourself was beneath a true artist; that somehow good work would be discovered by itself. On the other hand I had some friends who were driven to be famous in the art world. They got into major museum shows and had important galleries carrying their work while they were still quite young. The problem was that every one of them was miserable with relationship problems. Since their success was so dependent on what was popular at the time, they were terribly insecure about their own work as well.

I learned that in the end it is important that you enjoy the work you do and that you believe in it. But you have to work for yourself above anything else. I was lucky in that I could drop in on people and show my work. However there are now great portfolio reviews where you can show your work to curators, gallery directors and editors in one place. As important as the reviews are, you also meet other photographers to share your work with.

I have always been a big fan of postcards. For almost any show I am in I will have postcards made and send them out. I also have done Lulu books, but recently I have gotten into magazines. I always liked to shoot 35mm slides when I traveled. My wife, photographer Ann-Marie Rose and I did slide shows of our travel/street photography including one for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Instead I now do magazines from MagCloud. The magazines are so inexpensive, twenty cents a page or less, that you can give them out to people who are interested in your work, or make your work available at a very reasonable cost. I now find that I really enjoy the whole process of designing and laying out a series of photos in a magazine format.

How do you approach editing your work, and what advice would you give to others about evaluating their photographs?

I remember hearing Ansel Adams’ son say that his father “knew exactly what a picture would look like when he pushed the shutter.” Any photographer who has worked a while knows their materials; Adams was a master at that. But the joy of photography is that in the end you do not know exactly what the images will look like. I think of Gary Winogrand’s quote “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.” That is the wonder and excitement of first seeing the contact prints, or these days seeing them on the computer screen.

So you do look analytically—looking at exposure, lighting, focus, depth of field, highlight-shadow detail etc. But in the end, editing is such an intuitive process. For over 12 years now I have done digital soft proofing. When shooting film I scan the negatives and view them on a computer first. With a digital camera, like my current Highway 35 project, you get so many images because it is so easy to take photos. You have to be a brutal editor and really study the works. Therefore, I always make large prints. I need to see them big laying on the floor or pinned to the wall. Even the Gakkenflex images, that I knew would only be 8.5X11 in a magazine, were printed at 24X36 as inkjet prints.

When it works you know you got it. I have learned that if something seems not quite right, even something small or seemingly insignificant, I reject it. If that voice is telling you it is not right, forget about the image and move on to the next. It is always that next photograph that keeps you going.

Brown County Fairgrounds, 1978 

 Central Wisconsin Fairgrounds, 1995

 House of Beauty - Durand Wisconsin, 2004

 Full Gospel - Kenosha Wisconsin, 2005

 Miles City Montana Fairgrounds, 1983

 Amusement Park - Denver, 2007

 Hwy 35 Bay City Wisconsin, 2011

 Hwy 35 Hager City Wisconsin, 2012

 Lock and Dam - Alma Wisconsin, 2011

 Oak Grove Wisconsin Town Hall, 2003

River Road - Minneapolis, 2011

Skate Park - Bemidji Minnesota, 2011

© copyright all images David Husom

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Frank Yamrus

What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what have been some of the most important milestones in your career up until now?

One of my favorite childhood Christmas gifts was a photography developing kit from my parents. I have this distinct memory of going in my bedroom closet and making it light tight by stuffing clothing around the door to load film into a developing tank. I’m not quite sure why my parents bought me this present since photography was not much a part of our life outside of the usual family snapshots for holidays, vacation and special events. I attribute much of my fascination with photography to this memory. I played with photography for many years but it was not until I moved to San Francisco in 1989 that my relationship with photography truly started to crystallize. Moving from the East Coast to the West Coast I left behind many things, but also viewed this fresh, yet complicated, start as an opportunity. My professional photography career started in San Francisco as I explored the “beautiful city by the bay” with my camera. 

When I first started working with photography I studied with two photographers, Frank Espada and Cay Lang. These teachers / mentors were tremendous influences and would not be where I am today without them. In 1992, Cortland Jessup gave me my first exhibition. This validation was a huge break for me and gave me great street credibility in Provincetown. It also inspired me and gave me the confidence to undertake my next project - Primitive Behavior series which dealt with the loss of many friends to HIV/AIDS. Finishing this six-year project was also a huge milestone. (In all honesty, anytime I finish a project it feels like a milestone!) One of the Primitive Behavior images was my first museum acquisition by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1995/1996. This is definitely one of my favorite all-time milestones. This event and an exhibition at Houston Center for Photography around that same time really helped me carve out a place in the photography community in Houston. This bond with Houston is near and dear to my heart.  My first New York City one-person exhibition came about in 1996 at the Sarah Morthland Gallery. This was the beginning of a terrific relationship, and although Sarah does not have a gallery today, our friendship continues. When Sarah closed her doors in 2005, I moved to ClampArt and started a new relationship with Brian Clamp which has been as successful and rewarding.  Both of these relationships represent significant steps in my career. Another significant body of work, Rapture, has the honor of being housed as a complete series in the public collection at the Kinsey Institute, and is displayed in total by a private collection in New York City. One of my favorite accomplishments is an artist book that I designed for my Bared and Bended series, a simple, delicate and quiet body of work that truly captures my first and only winter on Cape Cod. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention my latest work, I Feel Lucky. Another six-year project, after a break of sorts, this project documents my struggle with approaching 50 years old and beyond. The exhibition opened this past February at ClampArt along with the publication of my book under the same title. The pride and joy, and the sense of accomplishment I felt from this exhibition, the book, the great press and all the enthusiastic support is very overwhelming. 

How do you approach editing your work, and what advice would you give to others about evaluating their photographs?

Editing can make or break a project, so I strongly suggest honing this skill set as much as your shooting skills. Personally, I like to shoot as much as I can especially now that I shoot digitally, but of course within the constraints of time, location, subject matter, budget, etc. The I Feel Lucky series was one of the first projects I shot with a digital camera. Quite frankly, I’m not sure the series would be as successful as it is if this was attempted on film or by some other method. Since I was in front of the camera as well as behind it, shooting digitally allowed me to refine the imagery that was captured in ways that the financial constraints of shooting film would have prohibited.  Ultimately, I had very nuanced differences between frames which allowed for a more accurate depiction of my desired effect. 

When I’m editing, very often one or two images immediately catch my eye. I must admit that I pay close attention to this gut reaction but also I make it a point, although sometimes an excruciating exercise, to look at all the frames that I shot. This step is an important part of the process of living with the work. Not only does it validate your choice of frames but it may provide some clarity within the piece. For me the process of creating does not begin and end with one shoot as sometimes one shoot will lead to a reshoot and /or inspire a completely new image. Although I have very specific ideas when I set out to make an image, I allow the process to unfold organically and have the confidence that my editing skills will lead me to “the” image. I used to always tell my students that if you have a doubt about an image in your portfolio, more than likely it doesn’t belong. Extricating images from your portfolio can be painful but often creates a stronger body of work.

How do you decide on new projects to work on?  Do you always shoot with a concept in mind or do you wait to be inspired as you go?

Generally I have a concept in mind when I initiate a new project; however, often it’s my casual, everyday shooting that leads to the concept. Once an idea begins to take hold, I make some images and attempt to define the project with words. This part of the creative process is intoxicating as anything and everything is fair game. I strongly encourage all artists to take advantage of this initial stage of a project. Everything you do, every image you make, every word you write informs the project, lays its foundation, and helps to define its parameters. Since I generally work a few years on each series, this time spent getting to know the project is very important as it helps me gauge my interest and my passion for the idea. If I don’t believe I can sustain the same level of interest and passion for the work over the long term, I won’t undertake it. However if my enthusiasm persists, it’s generally a good indicator that I’ll see a project through. I also find that a good project will inspire itself – often one image will lead to the next and the story begins to write itself. Again, let this flow and rely on your editing skills to make the work tight and powerful. 

What ways have you found successful for promoting your work and finding a receptive audience for it?

For many of us, this is usually the more difficult part of being an artist. First, let me say this, your work needs to be good! I cannot emphasize this enough. Please take the time to create a solid body of work, let it “bake” for awhile, get supportive feedback from your family and friends but also get critical feedback from colleagues and professionals before you start promoting yourself or the work. When I first started out back in the mid-1990s, the most effective vehicle for marketing my work was developing professional relationships within the industry which I did by attending the Meeting Place at Fotofest in Houston, Texas. I cannot begin to name the number of curators, museum directors, collectors, gallery owners, publishers and other photographers I met at this event. Several of these folks are still integral to my work and career and I have the privilege of calling many of them friends.  For example, I met Bill Hunt and Sunil Gupta  in 1996 at The Meeting Place when I was showing my Primitive Behavior series. Both have followed my career and when I needed writers for “I Feel Lucky,” they were my first choices, not only because I respect what they do, but also because they had an intimate knowledge and greater understanding of me and my work. These professional relationships are a huge part of your audience and are key to successfully finding new audience members. 

Kurt (Muse), from the series Primitive Behavior

Laura (Veil), from the series Primitive Behavior

Steve (Ritural), from the series Primitive Behavior

Untitled (Dede), from the series Rapture

Untitled (Paul), from the series Rapture

Untitled (Cemetery), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Float), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Nap), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Kitty), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Brooke), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Cross), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Fountain), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Playground), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Kiss), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Disappear), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Cake), from the series I Feel Lucky

© Copyright all images Frank Yamrus

About this Blog

Two Way Lens is a project designed to inform and inspire emerging photographers wanting to focus their creative output in a way that enhances their chances of finding an audience, being included in exhibitions and ultimately achieving gallery representation. The journey from inspired artist to successful artist is one that is often difficult to negotiate and hard to control. On these pages, I will feature the experiences and opinions of other photographers who I have found inspiring, and hopefully the knowledge they have built in their own experiences will be valuable to all of us finding our own way to sharing our creativity with the wider world.