Friday, October 7, 2011

2011 Portfolio Challenge: Table for One

The Artist Statement
Sometimes a photograph is about what is not in the photograph. Such it is with this series.

The first Table for One photograph was taken November 1st 2010. Since then the series has evolved.  However, the theme holds true to that first photograph.

For the first twenty-seven years that Janet and I were married she simply refused to be in front of the camera. She relented in 2002 and for the next eight years I tried to make up for lost time. I took hundreds of photographs at home, in parks, even during her hospitalizations. 

She had Alzheimer’s and for the last couple of years eating out was one of the few things that she still seemed able to enjoy. I tried to take her out to eat a few times each week and I almost always took photographs of Janet at the restaurant. I called these photographs the McDonald’s Portraits because that is where the first eating out photograph was taken. Most were taken in Denny’s and others in local restaurants that we visited. I relish all the photographs I have of Janet but the McDonald’s Portraits seem special because they were taken at times when she seemed happier. She passed away late last year.

I still carry a camera and I still take photographs when I eat out. Even though the theme of these photographs may appear to be different from the photographs of Janet, to a great extent it is much the same. Instead of photographing Janet, I am photographing her absence in single cups of coffee, single orders, empty chairs, empty booths, books and other diversions I use to fill the time alone.

I know to almost everyone these will simply appear to be photographs of coffee cups and assorted dinnerware. They are. To me they are also much more than that.                

It’s over!!!! I got four very good very helpful reviews. First was Odin Clay but as usual Odin and I talked more about Janet than we did my photographs. He had worked at Southwestern Camera with Janet and they had a tremendous admiration for each other. When Odin left SWC and went into photo lab management, wherever Odin went is where Janet had her processing done. However, he seemed pleased with the concept and very complimentary on the execution of the photographs. Had very little negative to say. The tenth photograph he mentioned was “very uptown.” I did not inquire what he meant by that but I took it as a compliment. I was very apprehensive about having Odin review the photographs because I did not believe that he knew that Janet had passed away and I have difficulty breaking the news to friends. I had really planned on not selecting Odin to avoid any problems but I drew the very last place in selecting the reviewers and when I got to the board Odin was the only choice for the first review. I managed to get through it without difficulty by keeping it as light as possible.

The second review was Bill and Julie Nanni. They also seemed pleased with the concept and confirmed that I had achieved what I was attempting as far as content. Julie wanted to see me open up the shadows a little which is a standard comment I get on my photography. I do tend to go dark and to lose the detail in shadows so she had a very valid point and something that I will consider when I have the book done. Bill felt that the series needed to be opened up more, a little more variety and was pleased when I explained the four phases that the series has gone through so far. First was the cups and tableware only. Then I decided that to really carry the intent of the images I needed to include the empty chair, or empty booth to emphasize the absence of Janet. In the third phase I started to include environment beyond the immediate table, this included people. The ten photographs that I used in the portfolio were all from this phase. I explained that I especially enjoyed the photographs that I had taken of Janet that included people because it gave the impression of a more “normal” atmosphere and after all this series is intended to be an extension of the McDonald’s Portraits that I did when Janet and I ate out. The latest phase, the current phase, is moving to the Samsung point and shoot which I am doing in black and white. The Samsung focuses very close so I am working back toward the table items but in a very dark and somber way. Since I am still in the process of working this series of photographs there may be additional phases in the future, or I may just conclude that I have done everything that I wanted to do with the series. Bill seems pleased with that explanation of the project and was very encouraging to continue exploring the concept.

The third review was Frank and Raquel Kreipe. Raquel was much taken with and a little emotional after reading the artist statement which made me emotional. I was afraid that I would have difficulty with the emotional content during the reviews but this was the only one where I really choked up. Raquel gave me a hug after reading the artist statement and all the emotion took over.  Raquel is an artist, painter, and she approached the photographs from the point of view of being paintings. She was very complimentary and again confirmed that my message was coming across well in the photographs. She was very encouraging to continue the series since it continued a connection to Janet and I very much agree. Frank had an interesting assignment. He asked me to tell him which was the strongest and which was the weakest of my photographs. I selected the one shot in Denny’s at sunset (#7) as the strongest and one shot in Denny’s that only included the back of the booth (#2) as the weakest. He agreed with the strongest, but considered the one that had picked as the weakest to be one of the strongest. He felt that the ones that included people and especially the ones that included washed out windows (#5, 6, 8) were the weakest and on consideration I have to agree with that. Surprisingly, Frank seemed very pleased that the photographs were not mounted. Something that I was concerned about since the rules of the Challenge states that they must be mounted. I’m just not good at following rules.

The forth review was the toughest. Frank Wright teaches architectural photography at Rice University and Frank is a projectionist when it comes to the printing. Julie Nanni had mentioned that the paper that some of the prints were on seemed to be a warmer tone than others. I had not noticed that before but in laying them over each other it was clear that the paper was not all the same tone. Frank had two very important pieces of advice—one that I be more careful in getting the tones of all the photographs to be more consistent—matching the white balance throughout. I let some go very warm whereas most were on the cool side. Almost all of the photographs were done in mixed lighting.  He suggested that in the mixed light situations that I should use the Photovision calibration target that I usually carry in my bag and seldom take out—an excellent suggestion. In talking with Frank at dinner after the review it is evident that getting that absolutely correct print is a passion with him. His second piece of advice was very unusual—he said that in the current world of fine art photography that the artist statement was more important than the photographs. I am well aware that the artist statement is important from having visited galleries but I was not aware that being able to verbalize the concept carried that much importance. He was very complimentary of my artist statement which I appreciate. In a way it reminded me of the story of Minor White being as concerned about what happened between photographs in his sequences as he was in the photographs themselves. My way of thinking would put the photographs above all else but I am beginning to think that there is much more to photography than photography—okay, maybe I have at least felt that for some time. Interestingly, Frank almost echoed Frank and Raquel’s comment about the photographs not being mounted. According to him they should NOT be mounted. That they would be stacked face down and the reviewer would flip them over one at a time for viewing—only seeing a single photograph at a time—again something that was very surprising and contrary to everything I thought about presenting photographs to a gallery.

In all, every review brought something new to the table that was truly important. I have been sold on the Portfolio Challenge as the most important thing that I have ever involved myself in photographically and every year it just gets better. This is my forth year to participate in Portfolio Challenge. In the past I have had reviewers rearrange the sequence of my images, at least one or two, and they never agree with each other. This is the first year that no one suggested rearranging. I think this is due mostly to the help I got from Michael Young in selecting the ones to use at the  Challenge. A very good night, a very educational night.

If any one would care to see the ten photographs that I included in the portfolio for review they are in the 2011Portfolio Challenge set on Flickr.  

I have somewhere between fifty and a hundred of the Table for One photographs. When the series is complete I intend to do a 12x12 Blurb Book. I have done a “trial” book which can be seen on my Blurb site.


  1. Glad you were pleased with your 4th Portfolio Challenge. I'm not at all surprised you had 4 good reviews. You did very good work and that is what I expected to hear.

  2. Jan, thank you. They only had to open the second door to get my head through on the way out.

  3. This sounds awesome! I am so happy for you. I loved the reviews; I even learned something from them myself.

    Well done Gary; I'm very proud of you and your accomplishments!