May 26, 2019
It's that time of the year again, when the crocuses are blooming, the elk are booming, and the moon is bluing. And since I don't know if any of those are actually true, I'm just gonna say they are. Or, rather, it is. That…time of year, I mean. Whatever time of year it is, wherever you are, what is indisputable is: it is time for episode forty. Rejoice!
Look Back in Threesomes
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, a name that rolls off the tongue like oatmeal off a wooden spoon, was a photographer tasked by Tsar Nicholas II to travel and photograph the expanse of the Russian empire, a project that ran from 1909 to 1915, during which Russia went to war beyond and within its borders, eventually resulting in the end of the run for the Tsar in 1918. (That sentence was as long as a Grateful Dead guitar solo on a good (or, worse, a bad) night.)
Gorskii's photos were some of the earliest in color, requiring a complex process of shooting and showing, and are probably the earliest large collection of related color imagery. He traveled in a train especially equipped for his process and made thousands of images.
Meet Alim Khan, Emir of Bukhara, the subject of one of Gorskii's better known photographs. The image was made three times in black and white, each time through a different colored filter then, when the three images are projected, each through the appropriate filter, a full-color image is produced. Photo by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii.
After the Russian revolution Gorskii emigrated, eventually settling in Paris, and after his death in 1944 his estate sold the bulk of his collected images to the U.S. Library of Congress. You can view them, and the black-and-white originals from which the color images were created, at www.loc.gov. You can also read about Gorskii in Wikipedia, where they spell his name Gorsky.
A view of the front of the Basilica di San Marco, Venezia, Italia, from 1905, predating the Russian expedition but using the same techniques he would employ for the Tsar. Photo by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii.
Adventures in Making Pictures
I sat down with Dawn Kish in her Flagstaff, Arizona, home office to hear her story of art, photography, adventure, and shooting for some of the biggest names in publishing. Listen in to learn the biggest title on her list — I won't name it here, but it rhymes with Flashional Beografic. You can see more of her work at www.dawnkishphotography.com or just hunt for her name on the web.
Here's Dawn hiding, rather inexpertly, among the flowers. Photo by John Sherman.
Love, Slab, Hand. Photo by Dawn Kish.
Mohawk Harold Morgan, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by Dawn Kish.
Scooter, Vietnam. Photo by Dawn Kish.
Dawn riding in the back of an ultralight aircraft in the Sky Gypsy Complex of New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Kish.
Middle of the Pack, I mean, Middle of the Pic
Much guidance for interesting compositions entails or results in having the subject of an image not in the center of the frame. There is much to be said for such guidance, but sometimes putting the subject in the center is right where you want them. Centering, in one or more axes, forcefully signals the viewer that the subject is definitely the subject. Also, more importantly — and the reason for choosing to center the subject — it reduces the importance of the surrounding area, putting the subject in the center of their world, the center of the universe, as it were, and all other objects or scenery or actions are secondary to the subject of this one image.
It can be formal and regal — think high faultin' oil painting portraits of kings of England and barons of industry — or it can signal isolation. Do you recall ever seeing such a composition, where a regal person was placed in the middle. No? How about the Alim Kham, above in the Prokudin-Gorskii segment?
Here are some samples by me, and I encourage you to go create your own. You may find it difficult, at first, to break your habit of non-centering the subject, but once you get the hang of the technique (as simple as it is) and learn to see the why, and thus the when, of using it, you'll have added a surprisingly easy technique to your repertoire.
The first two images are the same subject shot two different ways. You are free to prefer one over the other, but at least observe and acknowledge how they differ emotionally, in my estimation quite a bit, due solely to the composition.
The others, following, treat their subject to a central role with the result being mostly sedate, though sometimes mildly uplifting and other times mildly downlifting.
He Said Then He Said
Ansel Adams was a master of photography and a fount of wisdom, which he dispensed in many quotable aphorisms. One of his more popular ones is, "You don't take a photograph, you make it." And despite the naysayer airbrush artist I came upon, on the web a few years ago, photography is an art form and great photography doesn't just fall in your camera. It can take effort, time, skill, and education in technology, techniques and tautology to bring home the makings of a great photo.
Adams also opined that, "The negative is the score, and the print is the performance." Indeed, rare is the score, nowadays mostly referring to the initial digital capture in the camera, that is suitable for distribution just as it fell into your camera, which I already pointed out it doesn't do. The digital capture can almost always be improved on its way to viewing, and there is nothing wrong, nothing anti-art, about making those improvements. (If you are a news photographer, that's a different story, but that's not what we're considering right now.)
Ansel Adams, circa 1950, in a totally candid, non-posed, pose as captured by his photographer friend, J. Malcolm Greany.
An adjunct to Adams' score/performance contention is this bit of wisdom from famed nature photographer and filmmaker Timothy Allen, "It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get." I don't need to explain that, so take it to heart, please.
Timothy Allen. Publicity photo issued by BBC Earth, with the Author attributed in Wikipedia as JaneBBBBBBB.