Sunday, February 9, 2020

Thoughts on Critiquing a Photograph

Really didn’t intend to write about this but I think I will. This is not on critiquing a photograph. It is about an specific aspect of critiquing a photograph from my point of view.

A few days ago a very good friend posted a photograph that prompted me to comment on line. My friend is a lay minister and the original photograph she posted came from a Christian organization. I have an innate interest in faith based photographs and have a tendency to possibly look more closely than I do at other genre.

I posted my comments and received somewhat favorable response. However, it is not this photograph that I specifically wish to comment on. It just brought up the subject of critiquing this aspect of photographs.
  
First, every element within the frame of a photograph either contributes to or distracts from the message of the photograph. Whether you are aware of that message; even whether or not you intend for there to be a message—there is one. Every time. There are numerous ways in which the photographer controls these elements: point of view, timing, focal length of lens, framing, juxtapositioning, hiding, concealing, and others.

Several years ago, I was in a home bound situation so to fill my spare time I critiqued photographs on PhotoNet and PhotSig. I enjoyed doing it and some found it helpful. Some of course, didn’t. There was one very notable situation where I made a female photographer extremely unhappy, actually very angry.

She had made a photograph of a couple who were her friends in their living room. In talking about the photograph she gushed on and on about how this photograph showed such a warm and happy relationship between these two people. It didn’t.

Unfortunately as amateur photographers we are never taught the language of a photograph. We get some of it intuitively but often what we see in a photograph is not the story the photograph tells but the story we know and project onto the photograph. Or the story we wish the photograph to tell.

Anyway, in this particular photograph there was a lady sitting on a couch in the lower right quadrant of the image. Up near the center top of the photograph the other member of this couple, the man, was standing with his back to the room looking out of the window. There was a physical distance of ten to fifteen feet between the two. The left two quadrants of the photograph were relatively dark and out of focus. You could identify the shapes of some furniture, among which there was what appeared to be a large dining table and what appeared to be possibly another adult leaning over the far left side of the dinning table, possibly attending to a baby, or at least a large object, that was on top of the table. In truth, the figure, the baby and even that end of the table was very dark and any indication of figures was mostly assumed from the shapes that appeared to be shadowy masses.

The woman on the couch was looking toward the shadowy shapes which gave them more authority to possibly be human. She was obviously not looking at the man. She was not in any way in the photograph interacting with the man. Nor was he looking toward or interacting with her. Now if this photograph had been taken five minutes earlier or five minutes later, they might have both been sitting on the couch, embracing, hugging, snuggling up together—relating to each other. But in the photograph, they were not.

It was very much a photographer letting their personal knowledge of the couple obscure what she had actually captured in the photograph. In truth, the relationship she depicted could much more easily have been read as adversarial.

The photographer knew this couple had a strong loving relationship. She wanted to capture that relationship with her camera. Photographs so often beguile us into: projecting our memory or prior knowledge onto the photograph so that we actually fail to see the photograph—the story the photograph is telling.

The frame of a photograph is like the covers of a book. What is inside may suggest other things but only what is within the frame or between the covers of the book is all that exists. The photographer’s knowledge of the relationship did not exist within the frame, within the covers of the story, therefore it does not exist. If it is going to be conveyed, that has to be done within the frame of the photograph.

The photographer so wanted to capture with her camera the relationship that she knew existed. An admirable undertaking, She wanted it so badly that she convinced herself that she had even though that was not the story she wrote in the photograph.

I pointed out that what she actually captured was a woman—not relating to the man—staring across the room and possibly relating to the shadowy figure. While the man stood at the window, his back to both the woman and the shadowy figure, in a stance that said more, “Oh Lord, how can I get out of here. Please some relief.”

When I pointed out the discrepancy between her writing about the photograph and what she actually captured, she got very angry.

The question is; did I help her with her photography, which truly was my intent. Many will say I didn’t. That’s okay. I did less harm to her abilities as a photographer than I would have by bolstering her version of the photograph. Maybe she couldn’t care less about content. And that is fine. But I would place money that the loving couple would agree with me—that the photograph does not convey the image of ‘loving couple which brings the subconscious into the equation--but that's another post.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Personal Dilemma


This is not directed at anyone. It is simply for my own edification, something I have to get out of my system, off my chest for awhile.

I am well known as the camera club member that has a passionate distaste for camera clubs. So why do I belong? Because I need an interaction with other photographers. There are people in the club that I greatly appreciate and enjoy as friends. Nevertheless, every year or two I simply have to drop out to recharge myself and I will do that again this year. I will continue to go to support Alcy but I will not be a member and therefore will not be able to compete.

I will not be going on competition nights. Last evening I asked Alcy for the car keys before the comments were complete on the first category. I just wanted to get out of there, to get some fresh air, but on the other hand I wanted to hear the comments on Alcy's work so I managed to stick it out. In the future, I will pick the program nights that I feel might be of some interest. I will likely go on many of the outings, again to support Alcy. But I don't want to be there on competition nights to see any potential talent destroyed by inane comments.

Last nights monthly competition sealed my fate. I was asked to comment on the photos. I begged off. I simply cannot, will not do that. I must live with a photograph to be able to understand what I see and how the photograph affects me before I am willing to offer advice, opinion, learning moment. I have a set of photographs taken in the 1960’s that as the result of a book I am working on I am still ‘discovering’. There seems to be a thought that you must comment or critique if you wish to enter the competitions. I will not be able to do that.

What is my objection to camera club competitions—camera clubs encourage making everyone’s photographs look like everyone else’s photographs. That is not art; that is homogenization.

Camera clubbers are not taught to see photographs. They are taught to see rules. As I wrote in my book, “they wouldn’t recognize a photograph if it bit them on their shinny red derriere.” They see rules. They see conventions. They see techniques. Then never ever see photographs. 

I doubt they have any concept of technique being the way we write the language of photography. Do they know that there is a language of photography, a language of the visual arts? You never hear it mentioned. Sure there are exceptions to these statements but they are few and far between.

At last night’s competition discussion every platitude in the book was pulled out to discuss the various photographs and I want to share one in particular. I have no idea who made this comment but it went all over me so I am going to write about it.

We have three categories at each competition. Last night it was Open, which can be anything you wish to enter; Assigned where you have to follow a set theme (New was the theme last evening); and Black and White, self-explanatory.

In the Black and White category, Alcy entered the following photograph. I only recall two of the comments, mainly because my hearing is bad and I do not hear a lot of what goes on. The first was that ‘it is flat.’ When I first heard it I thought someone had to be joking. I'm not sure they were. But the one that really got to me was someone said ‘that someone sitting in the chair would be looking out of the frame.’ There isn’t anyone sitting in the chair—that would be an entirely different photograph. Actually, most of the comments on all the photographs were about making the photograph into another photograph that is entirely different from the photograph being critiqued. All done without any input from the photographer as to why they had chosen to do it the way they did. Actually they were all made without any consideration of the photograph--they were simply applying rules, stifling rules and with regard only to rules. If the photographer had known why they chose to present the photograph the way they did, they would probably have understood how useless it would have been to explain that to someone who only sees rules. It is a do as I do commentary—not helpful, not how to develop your art, not how to improve as a photographer—but rather, how to do it as I do so that your photograph will look as if I took it. Homogenization.

Since this is Alcy’s photograph and I had time to establish what I thought of the photograph prior to the meeting, let me share what I see in this photograph—which obviously no one in the room but me saw. At least no one admitted to seeing it.


This is a photograph of a chair. It is a chair that someone saw in a furniture store and decided that it would look nice in their home. They paid good money to own this chair. They put it in their home, probably in a position where they could demonstrate their pride in owning such a beautiful chair. Their friends visited and admired the chair. The owner felt special when they sit in the chair. It was a prized and honored possession. But, as it is with this world, the chair out lived its purpose. Probably out lived the person who got so much enjoyment out of having this chair in their home. Its cover got dingy, possibly even worn through or torn in areas. It no longer holds that honored position in someone’s home. 

Now it is sitting beside the dumpster. Discarded, unadmired, unneeded. It is destined for the garbage dump, the land fill. It is a story of the fleeting nature of life. The chair still shines in Alcy’s photograph. Like a puppy, slurping and wagging its tail at the SPCA, it still seems to hope to attract the attention of someone who will put it in their trunk and carry it home or to the reupholsterer before it was carted away. It is display`                                                    ing its desire to once again regain is place as a loved possession in this world. The black and white conversion hides most of its decay. It seems to be putting on its best face, still longing for the days when it was admired. But its surroundings tell a different story; they are dark, dank and as dismal as its future. 

It is a wonderful photograph, well seen and well executed. Well emphasized. It is a photograph with a story of life and demise. Even a story of life and death. And yes, I realize that is a little overly anthropomorphic. Did anyone else see that. I guess not.

Did Alcy see this ‘story’ at the time of exposure? That I cannot say. However, much photography, when it is done correctly is done on a very subconscious level (see note above on the photographs I took almost a half century ago—very subconscious.) I do not care if Alcy saw the same story as I did. On some level she sensed a poignancy. She was touched by the hopeless state of this once beautiful object sitting beside the dumpster. That caused her to take the photograph. I am always thrilled when I see this working in another’s photography. It is this growth of an artist, as an artist, that camera clubs are dead set on killing at each and every opportunity.

And this is why I see no need to rejoin NWHPC It is more destructive than beneficial to be a member of a camera club.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Keith Carter, Fine Art Photographer



I am addicted to sharing new photography discoveries in spite of the fact that what I enjoy often is not shared by many other amateur photographers.

I recently discovered an outstanding fine art photographer living in Beaumont, Texas, and I would like to introduce you to, Keith Carter. His work and his thinking on photography really resonates with me although he will probably confuse many amateur photographers. If he does just tune out, it’s okay. For those of you who pursue photography as a form of art, you should get a lot out of Keith’s words and work. I could write several pages but instead I will try to keep this short, post some links and let you take it where you wish.

There are two stories that occur in more than one of the links on You Tube, but I would like to briefly recount one of them here because I feel it is very important advice. It is about Keith first meeting Horton Foote. Horton is a playwright that grew up in Wharton, Texas. His most familiar work for those that do not follow playwrights would be the screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Keith attended a screening and lecture by Horton Foote at the 1894 Opera House in Galveston. Horton told a story from his boyhood that I feel has a lot of good advice for photographers that wish to produce art. Horton recounts telling one of his high school teachers that he wanted to be an actor and an artist. The teacher’s advice was priceless. First, he reminded Horton that he was living in an agricultural community that didn’t place a great value on art, so becoming an artist was going to be difficult for him. The teacher also told Horton that there were three things that you must do if you want to pursue art. You have to know the history of your own medium. You have to be a product of your own time; you have to make art in your own generational way. You have to belong to a place. Horton went on to some success in Hollywood and New York but it wasn’t satisfying and he discovered the reason was his lack of place. He decided to concentrate his work on places like Wharton, small, rural, agricultural communities and the stories that are found there. He became a very successful playwright.

Keith was inspired by Horton Foote’s story and went back to Beaumont determined to make his art about his place, Beaumont, and places like Beaumont He has had a very successful career commercially but mostly as an fine art photographer.

A couple of times Keith mentions the word transcendental. I am very much a Transcendentalist and one of my personal favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson is, If you cannot find art outside your door, you will never find art. This story told by Horton Foote seems to say much the same thing. Your own front door, or doors, your past is who you become as a person and becomes a part of any art you will ever accomplish. Otherwise what you do with a camera becomes simply a retelling of someone else’s life.

There is also a story told by the photographer Frederick Sommer where he says that we never really see anything new. Regardless of where we go, no matter how splendid or how exotic—we do not see anything new. We take with us the same vision we started with.  That is a very interesting concept but from looking at the photographs of friends that are able to travel the world I feel there is a great deal of truth in that statement.

The other good story Keith tells is about his book, Uncertain to Blue. He and his wife, Pat, picked out 100 small Texas towns that had esoteric names like Uncertain, Blue, Art, Poetry, Ding Dong, Dime Box. Keith set himself a goal of taking one photograph in each of these towns that defined the town to him but would not be about the name. They spent three years on this project which became his first book. He didn’t seem to find a lot of my favorites, Muleshoe, Bacon Switch, Gun Barrel City.

A few quotes from Keith’s lectures and interviews that strongly resonate with me

Your projects follow your life, in some respects. Or at least they do in my case. Sometimes you just stand mute in front of the mystery of your own life.  Or of those who you love. –Keith Carter   [Isn’t that a marvelous statement—sometimes you just stand mute in front of the mystery of your own life?]

The thing about art is, at least in my world, art changes as life changes. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over. I don’t want to make photographs like I did back then. I can’t make that anymore. I’m not that same person.  –Keith Carter

You don’t deconstruct it (the photograph) as you go along. You just know there is something significant going on and you make the picture. Just make the picture. You have the rest of your life to figure out what it means. –Keith Carter

No rules. In the creative arts, rules are the pejorative term. No rules. –Keith Carter

If your goal is to make art you had better make uncertainty your friend rather than some kind of nemesis because she will always be whispering in your ear. –Keith Carter

If you are an artist and you have idiosyncrasies or obsessions it probably is a good thing to let them hang out to dry, to believe in them. If people want to laugh or whatever, let them, because that is part and parcel of what defines you. –Keith Carter

Here is a link to Keith Carter, The Artist Series by Ted Forbes. If you find it of value, search Keith Carter on You Tube there are several links. If you are inclined toward photography as an art, Keith is very much worth following.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjuWESzRhWo

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Not the Response I Had Planned


It has been several days since I posted the video asking whether or not the photographs discussed were cheating. So, since I have nothing to rebut or discuss, I don’t have much to say. I have been publishing my opinion on the subject for years so everyone already knows how I feel about the photographs.

I did learn about Robert Frank compositing the elevator photograph. I always considered Frank’s work to be more journalistic and therefore without manipulation. I was already aware of Adam’s work on Moonrise Over Hernandez.

I love the people that say, “Oh, that was before Photoshop.” Henry Peach Robertson who did in 1901 was a master of the combination print. I am not sure if it was Robertson or one of his contemporaries that did a composite that used over one hundred negatives. And, of course there is the story of the photographer that visited Yosemite and wrote back to Adams how disappointed he was the Yosemite did not look anything like it did in Adams photographs.

The simple act of taking a photograph is an act of manipulation as is pointed out in the video. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Jamie Windson's, Are These Photographs Cheating?


For my photographer friends: I would be interested in your thoughts on this video Are These Photographs Cheating?, by Jamie Windson. It is a little over ten minutes long. I would like to point out that two of the photographs discussed, one by Robert Frank from his iconic book The Americans and one by Ancel Adams, Moonrise Over Hernandez, are from the film days. Frank’s is a composite; Adams’ is highly manipulated. So for the SOOC crowd, even the best of the best were manipulating images long before digital.


I am posting a notice to Facebook hoping to get some feedback. In the meantime, I will work up a piece with my thoughts and post it in a day or two.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Revisiting Creative Authenticity


Some years ago I had a small limited participation blog. We discussed many things that I thought was important about photography. Obviously didn’t change many minds but I did try.

Back in about 2002 I wrote down five personal tenets of photography; one being that the object photographed is not the subject of the photograph. The object photographed is the subject matter, the subject of the photograph is the story the photograph tells. That seems very simple and very straight forward to me but it was not a concept that I seemed to be able to get across to other people.

Tonight, I was out at dinner but since I had eaten at home I took one of the many books that we had discussed on the aforementioned blog, Ian Robert’s Creative Authenticity. Ian is a painter but every time he uses the word painter in the book you can substitute photographer and the meaning rings just as true.

On page 158 is a truth that I feel is very important, one of the many truths Roberts discusses. “
“Paint Photograph compositions, not subjects. The picturesque detracts from meaning. Affectations of beauty and showiness will only distract from the power of the poetry.” That is a very powerful statement. Let it sink in for just a minute—photograph compositions, not subjects (here he is using the word subjects to mean what I call subject matter).

On page 160, Roberts adds some detail. Although here I am going to rephrase a part of what he says because he goes Minor White on me and gets a little confusing.

“When looking at a painting photograph, most people are distracted by subject matter. But subject matter is really just an armature on which an artist hangs the composition of abstract shapes.”

According to Minor a photograph is a flat sheet of paper with smudges. According to David DuChemin it is simply lines, shapes, tones, and sometimes color. According to me, it is a new entity, totally separate of the subject matter, which has the potential of being a piece of art.

I do not care what something looks like, whether the tones or hues of the subject matter are correct. What I want the viewer to see is how I see the subject matter. As Minor White said, “Photograph an object not only for what it is but also for what else it is.”

In drawing a distinction between the documentarian and the artist (poetic) photographer, Minor wrote, “The documentarian would say, if you had stood where I stood when I took this photograph, we both would have seen what we both can see in this photograph. The poetic photographer would say, if you had stood where I stood when I took this photograph, neither of us would have seen what we both can see in this photograph.” I know I use this quote a lot but it is an extremely important statement.

It all comes down to looking AT a photograph or looking THROUGH a photograph. I will always believe that to be anything more than a picture taker with an expensive camera you have to be able to see a photograph and most amateur photographers are unable to do that—they see subject matter, they see technique, they see rules.

You will not be anything more than a technical photographer until you are able to discuss photographic technique as a means of writing the language of photography and not as rules or a skill set.

[added note] At the time of writing the above I could not remember the exact term Minor White used so I went with Documentarian. The exact term was Interpretative Documentarian. I believe that adding the Interpretative suggests that what Minor is talking about is not simply documenting--showing the viewer what the photographer saw. It does suggest that the photographer put more intellectual effort into capturing the essence of the object/objects photograph. This is the level, in my not so humble opinion, that most upper tier amateur photographers achieve. And in most cases, the highest level that they aspire to achieve. In other words, something on a higher plane than simply a snapshot but not reaching the level of truly art because their effort is directed toward the techniques of photography rather than an understanding of how technique allows a sharing of a personal vision.  

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Using the Square Format+


At the last North Houston Photography Club meeting I was asked my opinion on the upcoming competition: Square Format. As usual I have a few. I promised to locate a few links. 

You can crop any image to a square. But unless you understand the square format you have most likely only created a crappy square image. There is a great deal more to making an effective, successful image in a square format beyond simply chopping off the ends. When you talk about square photographs you are basically talking about format or aspect ratio. 

Photography is a language and aspect ratio is one of the ways that language is expressed

So to start: format governs how we look at a photograph. A horizontal format is seen from left to right. It emphasis the horizontal lines or aspects of the subject matter. The vertical format is read top to bottom and emphasis the vertical aspects. The square is read from the center. Neither the horizontal or vertical is given more importance. This is one of the reasons that the square format works probably best when the subject is centered. Symmetrical composition work exceptionally well. Shapes are emphasized in square format—look for squares, triangles, circles. Repetition of pattern and frame in frame work well. And on top of that, bless my pointed little head, it makes the rule of thirds totally irrelevant and usually a detriment. 

I bought my first Rolliflex in 1959 (60 years ago and I still have the first photograph I took with it). I love the square format. Here are  five excellent articles on using the square format.






And here is a general discussion of format or aspect ratio that is well worth the read.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Thoughts from the book Zen Camera by David Ulrich


As most who know me realize that I am not much into Eastern Philosophy. I have enough difficulty with Western Philosophy. Recently Michael Cruso loaned me book, Zen Camera by David Ulrich that I would like to quote from.

“Through photography we cannot help but become more attentive to and conscious of both the dynamics of self and the realities of life. Photography demands that we look inward and outward simultaneously. The degree of which we can delve within ourselves—to witness and know our very personal characteristic and those we share with all others—is the degree to which we can see and know the world. We cannot adequately know the world without first becoming self-conscious. Photography helps you discover your authentic self, the nature of your conditioning, and how you relate to others and the world itself. You see all of this directly reflected in your imagery if you care enough to look with an impartial eye. You cannot empathize with the conditions of others without first knowing your own humanity: your potentials, flaws, and deep contradictions.”

There are two statements in this paragraph that I have tried to convey to other amateur photographers with little success because I am not as eloquent in expressing my ideas.

“Photography demands that we look inward and outward simultaneously.”  

“Photography helps you discover your authentic self, the nature of your conditioning and how you relate to others and the world itself.”

Art, and many of my amateur photographer friends think of their photography as their form of artistic expression, comes in my not so humble opinion from within yourself. If you are going to create art you must show in your photograph the way you inwardly see and are affected by what is in front of your camera. Otherwise it is simply documentation--a copy. 

You cannot be an artist by following ‘rules’. You cannot be an artist by mimicking the work of others. Yet, this is the thrust of almost all amateur photography. And, sadly I must admit, way too much of my own thrust. It is extremely difficult to break that cycle, especially when you are a member of a camera club.

I would love to go into a discussion of Minor White's Mirrors, Messages and Manifestations or his description of the difference between the photographer as an Interpretative Documentation and an Poet Photographer because it all ties into this same idea. But maybe another day.

BTW, Ulrich's statement, "You see all of this (meaning your inner character) directly reflected in your imagery if you care enough to look with an impartial eye." The scary part my friends is that he is so correct. It is all there whether or not you chose "...to look with an impartial eye." That is why rules and mimicry are so prevalent in amateur photography. What does your photography say about you?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Discussion of What is a Portrait or Self Portrait

I want to address my long held opinions on portraits and self-portraits because I hold some opinions which may not be in line with the majority.


Is It a Portrait? I just finished watching a You Tube video by Gavin Hoey where he examines the premise of a portrait. It was built on a conversation with a friend of his that was adamant that if you cover the eyes of the subject you lose the emotional contact with the subject and therefore the photograph would not qualify as a portrait. Gavin argued that it would still be a portrait. In order to examine his own feelings he set up a shoot where first he did a full face uncovered shot. Second, he covered the lower portion of the models face with a book, leaving the eyes showing. Third, he had the model pull a stocking hat down over the eyes leaving the lower nose and mouth visible. In this last shoot the model made several faces which did give a hint of personality.


After processing the images he still agreed that each was a portrait even though a portion of the face is not visible.


Before I go into my thoughts on portraits, what do you consider a portrait to be? Give it some thought before you continue.


Since people pictures is my thing, I have given this much thought for a very long time. Basically it boils down to a few simple philosophies…


All photographs of people are not portraits—even when they are the standard head and shoulders shots. For me to classify a photograph as a portrait it needs to tell me more about the person than simply their physical appearance. I require more for a picture of a person to be considered a ‘portrait’.


A large percentage of people pictures do not add any knowledge of the person beyond how they look. Those photographs I frankly do not consider to be portraits. They are simply pictures of people. Most now days are simply technical or lighting exercises. They are as much or more about the photographer than they are about the person in front of the camera. Distinguishing what I consider a portrait is not always easy, but I do insist that there be some added knowledge about the sitter.


To understand my thinking on this study the environmental portraits of Arnold Newman, Avedon's western portraits, Michelangelo's figure studies.

A portrait, in my not so humble opinion, does not actually require that an image of the person be visible in the photograph. That seems an oxymoron but let me tell where I developed this opinion.


When I was critiquing on PhotoNet there was a young man, mid to late thirties, Jerry Hazard, who posted many self-portraits for critique. I always enjoyed Jerry’s work because self-portraits are my favorite genre of people picture. Jerry’s were often pretty far out, very different. I like far out and different because they add a mental curiosity component to the photograph.


Many of Jerry’s self-portraits were nude. But one he posted really caught my attention because it was only his clothing spread out on the floor somewhat in the arrangement they would appear on his body were he wearing them. The arrangement was organized but appeared unorganized, as though they had been casually dropped there as he undressed. Jerry identified it as a self-portrait.


This strange photograph got me to thinking about what exactly is a portrait. I realized that Jerry’s arrangement of clothing, added to what I already knew of Jerry from his previous posts was very much a statement about himself and thus fell into my classification of portrait. We are frequently judged by our choice of clothing. In Jerry's case it was a pair of frayed bottom cutoff jeans and a tank top. Very much what you expect Jerry to wear. Even though you did not see Jerry, his presence as the naked guy in the room was much in evidence.


My favorite ‘self-portrait’ of myself is actually a composite of a piece of writing I did about myself along with the first photograph I ever took on my own; photographs I did of myself before and during my first marriage; highly manipulated photographs of a photograph I did of myself dressed in the shower toward the end of my first marriage; photographs Janet took of me nude; photographs of me on our sail boat; and a photograph I took of myself after Janet passed away. These images covered a period from the early 1960’s through probably 2011--a half century. Some of the photographs were presented with the snapshot borders popular when I was a kid, some were in slide mounts and some were presented as negatives. In all, it is of not only who I am—the person that assembled the images—but the images also talked about who I had been--how I appeared, what my interests were, things I found joy in. It is still an image that I am very pleased with. Even though it shows me at various stages of my life there is no one ‘portrait’ image—still to me it is very much a self-portrait.


Now I do not know what other people consider to define a self-portrait. We live in a ‘selfie’ world. You cannot go anywhere that you do not see people with selfie-sticks recording on their phones their presence in the world.


Also on PhotoNet I developed the following requirement for considering a photograph a self-portrait. I would suppose that saying self-portrait means that the photograph was taken by the person in the photograph. I do not hold to that strict of a requirement.


If an image is presented by the person shown in the photograph as a self-portrait, then under my definition, it is a self-portrait whether or not they themselves actually took the photograph. The assumption that I make here is that did the person in the photograph not consider the photograph to be a good and possibly accurate representation of themselves I doubt that they would present the photograph as a self-portrait. 

On the other hand, just because a person presents a photograph of themselves does not make it a self-portrait. If the photograph is presented as a photograph taken by someone else, then it is simply that—a picture of me that so-and-so took. It is in how the image is presented to an audience. Presented as a self-portrait equates to being a self-portrait.


The photographs that Janet took of me, both dressed and undressed, were very much collaborations. Regardless of which of us came up with the location, the poses, the theme; I consider those photographs to be self-portraits whether or not I was the one that tripped the shutter.


I am sure that many will disagree with my personal definitions of portrait and self-portrait. That is fine. They are definitions at work well for me.

Monday, November 12, 2018



Party Clown

This was a temporary post for a cousin in Kansas. It has been deleted.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Coloring Outside the Lines


I am one of those people that has a great deal of difficulty coloring outside the lines. Things are very specific to me and lines are boundaries to be respected. The problem is that I greatly admire those that can and do color outside the lines.

I know some people do not need to color outside the lines and that is fine. I just need something more than the box that life put me into and this is my way of finding that something.

Many years ago I owned a book on modern art that explained that modern art was the result of destroying and reconstructing. I found that concept very interesting. Actual to a degree I found it liberating because it gave me an acceptable justification for expressing my deep desires to color outside the lines which I greatly needed.

It took a very long time and even now I have difficulties. However, I have discovered digital software that will assist me and I have taken advantage of that software for some sixteen years.

The first program was Photo Draw 2000 which I believe was published by Microsoft. I started with pretty simple abstract images, what I would now call color field work.  It became a matter not of controlling but possibly guiding the process. I had lots of successes and even more failures. Then I tried my hand at including the human image and life got even better. I put together two portfolios that I really liked; Friends, Romans and Fellow Countrymen and Into That Locus of the Last Lost Souls. Both portfolios included abstracted images of people combined with words.

At the time I was using Photo Draw 2000 I wasn’t sharing my work with but one person other than Janet, Robbie Britt, a creative writing instructor at Tarrant Community College in Fort Worth. Robbie was very encouraging but I thought the work was too personal to share with others. They both came from a very difficult time in my life. Finally this past year I shared eight of the images from Lost Souls with the curator of the Katy Contemporary Art Museum. Anna blew me away with her comments. We both agreed that the images were not salable because I had started with photographs that were not mine but she was very encouraging to begin again with my own photographs. 

I doubt that I will do that because I hope never to return to that dark place that had inspired the images.

I have continued to upgrade the software to programs like Nik and Topaz and tried several others that I have dropped along the way. Each new upgrade has given me new approaches. The farther I go the more I enjoy coloring outside the lines.

I still do straight photography, but more and more I am seeing photographs as simply starting points and trying to discover new direction for my images. I do not make records of the steps; I simply keep working and being inspired by the possibility of the next step. I still lead the process and often I abort and start over or even abandon an image as not going where I need it to go. I may do several images of a photograph before I feel that it is what I want. And even then I may come back to it days or weeks later because I feel there is more that could be done.

I have recently posted to Facebook some of my images of fireworks. The manipulated images have much more excitement than the straight photographs from which they were made. I just ordered 25 16x20 prints of mostly manipulated images to hang in the studio for the next open house.

The attached photo was taken of a life sized crucifix in a Catholic Cemetery in Galveston. I have photographed the crucifix on a number of occasions and have done dozens of manipulated images from the photographs. This one was mostly done in Topaz Studio using a new technique of layering and using masking to more accurately control the image. Not really a new technique, just one that I had not been using with my manipulations. Every step gives me a completely different image, a different feel to the image. The goal of all is to depict the suffering of Christ. They just all do it differently. 

Life is simply very, very good when I can color outside the lines.










Sunday, July 8, 2018

Christ/Cross at Ecclesia Houston Church



A friend, Debi Beauregard, took this photograph of, well, is it a cross or is it a crucifix? Doesn’t matter.

I am always thrilled when my photography finds inspiration outside of photography. Then I know I am not mimicking the work of others. Call it cross pollination. Call it inspiration. Everwhat. This piece of art is truly as inspiring as it is beautiful; not that I wish to try to duplicate it photographically but that I wish to be able to absorb it’s context because that is what I feel is so important to do with personal photography. It is what is important to do with art.

There are a number of churches in Houston that attempt to tie art in with their spiritual message. This photograph was taken at one such church, Ecclesia Houston, located on Elder Street across from the old Jeff Davis Hospital. I became aware of Ecclesia several years ago when they were located on Taft Street in the Montrose area. At that time their sanctuary was connected to an art gallery/coffee shop. Janet and I would frequently go over to see what was new and enjoy a coffee. Since they moved to Elder it does not appear that there is a gallery so I have not been in even though I have photographed around the church a number of times.

In my five tenants of photography that I penned back around 2002 is one that I often have difficulty explaining: “the subject of the photograph is not the object shown in the photograph”. What I mean by that is that the subject matter is like the technique used in executing the photograph—it is a “means”, that is used to achieve the meaning, the “end”, which is conveyed in the photograph. I have used dead fish to talk about our last gasp of breath in this life; parking area lighting to talk about totems; minutia from my garage to talk about the pivotal moments we experience that changes life irrevocably.

You can call it context, meaning, story. I think of it as metaphor. This object of art is full of metaphor—the kind of metaphor that I want to achieve in my photography.

I cannot tell you what the artist wants me to understand or feel from this object. I can only tell you what I ‘get’ from the piece.

Being a Baptist, a protestant, my church dogma replaces the crucifix with the cross. I have heard varying explanations for that but in truth, I think it has more to do with a rejection of or setting apart from Catholicism than anything else, and that is okay. When I do photographs about my faith I do turn to the crucifix because I want to examine the suffering of Christ on the cross for my sins. I do not get that same human connection from the cross alone.

In this piece, Christ and the cross have become one. Eli Siegel’s Aesthetic Realism explains that “Beauty is the making one of opposites” Here we have animate and inanimate, the living Christ and lifeless wood becoming one.

Without going too deeply into the subject, what is the artist saying? Is it about Christ becoming the cross, the cross taking on the meaning of the crucifixion—more in line with the Protestant point of view? Is it about Christ reaching out from the cross to the believers or welcoming the non-believers? There does not appear to be any scars from the nails in the hands so this is a plausible reading. Truthfully, I can read it either way. Conversely it could be about the living Christ being forced into the inanimate cross by the act of the crucifixion.

To me it doesn’t matter. It is a thought provoking piece of art. It has context that goes well beyond the object or objects used in its creation. It goes well beyond simply the acceptance of or creation of an object of beauty. As such, it speaks about what I wish to achieve with my photography.

Thank you Debi for sharing. And thanks to the artist unknown for creating this phenomenal piece of art.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Museum of Natural Science Pixel Party June 2018

Shot at the Museum of Natural Science Pixel Party last Saturday evening. The shoot was the exhibit on Sherlock Holmes which offered the opportunity for a number of table top set ups. Possibly would have done better using a tripod but maneuvering a tripod with the walker was more than I wanted to tackle. Here are a few examples of what I got...

















Thursday, October 27, 2016

Maybe getting back in the groove...


There is much I would like to write. I have been doing photography once again. It started rough but the last couple of shoots have been encouraging. The biggest events have been the two Portfolio Reviews, one at NWHPC and one with the Katy group.

I showed, Observations and Reflections, photos from a shoot at Via Colori last year. I had planned on doing Small Manifestations, photographs I have taken in the last year or two in cemeteries. I am fascinated with the artifacts left behind at grave sites. But in the process of getting the images together I saw something I had overlooked in the Via Colori folder. I realized that I had taken a lot of images where I included an artist drawing a human face or figure. It was a cold rainy day and all were wearing hoodies, mostly black. In all the images the artist was very secondary to the drawn image and the image seem more alive and seemed to be observing the artist or the spectators viewing the artist working. I immediately knew that was going to be my portfolio. I am pleased because it got very good reviews.

I planned on using the same portfolio at Katy. However, I knew one of the reviewers at NWHPC would also be there so I was looking for a different portfolio for him to review. This is where it gets a little tricky.

Over ten years ago I was doing a lot of photo manipulation using different software, different approaches and techniques. Well, I have a portfolio that I titled The Locus of the Last Lost Souls. It was a very dark time in my life and I was having horrific nightmares almost nightly. I love my nightmares. I find them fascinating. Many times after waking from a nightmare I would lie there partially awake, partially asleep, for what seemed like hours going over the details and attempting to rewrite it to a more favorable conclusion. I seldom have nightmares anymore. Scarcely can even remember if I dreamed.

The Locus was basically about my nightmares. I would layer images, using only the parts of each that I wanted. I would then manipulate the images, the colors, whatever I felt was needed then I would draw over the images freehand with a mouse. The lack of precision gave the images a very crude appearance. Some came out very good, some not so good. In all there were about thirty images. Of that I only have eight left and those only because I printed them out. The rest of the series is gone. The software would only write very small files and almost all of the images I used were scarfed from the Internet because I was not able to go out and shoot what was needed. Some, because I needed nudes, came from porn sites. I had written a few lines to go with each of the images. This was a time when I was doing a lot of very personal writing—examine my life, my fears, the world. I wrote short stories that were fictionalized from my life experiences—not stuff to be showing anybody, but just getting it down on paper because when it is on paper I seem to understand it better.

I shared a few of the images with a friend I met on the Internet who was teaching creative writing at Tarrant County College. Robbie was always encouraging but the images were very private so I had not shown the images again until the last few days when I was thinking about using them at Katy. Everyone seemed to like them and seemed to be able to overlook the fact that they were a little perverted.

In looking back I did frame them and hung them at the studio for one of the open house events. They didn’t get any comments. I felt safe there because studios are a little weird anyway.

Anyway, I took them, but I also took Via Colori—I used Via Colori except for the one reviewer, Rudy Hernandez. My last reviewer was the director of the museum at Katy. Anna always intimidates me so I am greatly surprised that I had the nerve to pull them out and ask her opinion.

She read through my statement several times then asked me to spread the photographs out on the floor. I did. She walked back and forth viewing the photographs and then sit down on the floor and carefully read and studied the images. She asked lots of questions and we discussed how the images being procured from the Internet prevented them from hanging in a show or being sold. I understood that and was fine with it because neither was my intention. Then she said something that thank goodness I was in a public place, otherwise I would have broken down. She said, “ I’m surprised I didn’t know this. You are not a photographer. You are a poet.” She encouraged me to start again with my own images. Wow. If I never ever get another review I am happy.

I am not likely to redo The Locus because my life has changed. I am not sure I can make contact with that darkness again and I will have to find something else to do. Thank you Anna.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Portfolio Review 2016

The world has moved in strange directions lately. Little photography accomplished, a planned trip to photograph the plantation homes along the Cane River in Louisiana got canceled. But life is good, actually much better but that is a another very long story.

Tomorrow night is Northwest Houston Photo Clubs annual Portfolio Review. Participating members will have their portfolios reviewed by members of the professional photographic community. It is always a great learning experience.

What follows is my artist statement and photos being submitted this year.

Observation and Reflection
I have been involved in photography for over half a century. When I was first exposed to the idea that photographs had the ability to reveal my subconscious, I almost gave it up. For a very long time I resorted to what I believe a lot of photographers do when they become aware that they are showing themselves in their photographs, hiding in safe zones of technique and mimicry. That held little enjoyment so I decided to do photography my way because frankly few would understand that the photographs were about me and not the subject matter.

Art creates an interaction between the artist and the subject matter as well as between the viewer and the created artwork. These photographs, taken during Houston’s Via Color, suggest a third type of interaction, that between the subject matter of the artwork—in this case, an inanimate, emotionally devoid figure drawn in chalk on course concrete—with the artist, the viewer or an adjacent work.

In these photographs, the subject matter, the inanimate figures, are more alive than either the artist or the photographer observing the artist working. They become metaphorically a mirror reflecting back my observations of my world at that point in time. 


                                        Gary Woodard 2016






Jeeze I wish someone would develop a blog site that would work for photos. This is a real struggle and one of the images is not here. Anyway...

I am a firm believer in letting the subconscious do it's thing within your photography. Yes I know that is a throwback to the Seventies but that's okay. The vast majority of my photography that I enjoy comes from that viewpoint. This portfolio was not planned. I simply examined the photographs that I had taken that day and 'discovered' a theme that at the time of the shoot I was not aware I was in anyway consciously perusing. I almost always take such a discovery as being of some importance. You might think of that as the opposite of previsualization. I don't see it that way. I see it more as letting something not totally under my control influence the photographs that I take. It is not random shooting; the shots were planned, seen at the time but I was not aware of how I was seeing the resulting images until after the fact. I was not aware that I was taking so many photograph in such a similar way. I take that as being of some importance to me even if I may not at the present fully understand what that importance is.

I processed the images to put the emphasis on the inanimate figures, downplaying the artist. The day was cold and many of the artists were wearing dark hoodies or coats. That made it very easy to place the emphasis on the figures. As many photographers have written, including the revered Ancel Adams, every photograph is about the photographer as well as te subject matter. That is what I see happening with these images.