Am I an Artist?

I had a friend, now departed, called Paul. Once upon a time he was a well-known daytime TV star. When I first met him, he was 80 years old, but still very active. One of his activities was to periodically have lunch with a group of people who called themselves: “Writers, Artists, and Thinkers”. He encouraged me to come along to these gatherings. Although I did go to a few I was somewhat reluctant for two reasons: First, I’m a bit of a loner and don’t like to mix with people I don’t know; and second, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve never really thought of myself as belonging to any of these categories.

However, lately I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about art, creativity, imagination etc. So I’ve decided to give a bit more thought to the subject of whether or not I might be an artist.

I suppose the first thing to consider is how do you define art? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines art as:

“The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” The dictionary also defines a work of art as something that is “produced as an artistic effort or for decorative purposes.”

Another thing to consider might be: Is Photography even an Art? This question has been debated since the appearance of the first camera. It’s still being discussed today. I don’t want to get into the details of this discussion here, but I’m convinced that it has now been decided in favor of photography being an art. Photographs now appear on the walls of museums and prestigious galleries and often command large sums of money. Because of all the challenging creative decisions (e.g. regarding lighting, composition, subject, symbolism, lens choice, point of view, timing etc.) the photographer has to make in order to make a compelling picture, it’s not a stretch to see photography as an art.

Billions of photographs are taken every day. Should they all be considered art? Perhaps not. I think it all depends on the intent of the photographer. Many, probably most of billions of photographs don’t intend to be anything more than a simple record shot e.g. here’s a picture of mum and dad at the beach. I believe that to aspire to be an artist the photographer must go beyond the simple record shot, generally taking more time over the selection of a subject, looking at the the subject from all angles to find the best position, patiently waiting for the right light, pressing the shutter just the right moment etc.

“Put another way, a photographer’s art is the ability to capture a moment of reality and turn it into viewable image of interest and/or beauty…The process of judging whether photography is art, reminds us that neither painting nor sculpture is as pure an art form as is sometimes supposed. Bronze sculpture can be cast and recast in a large number of copies; and our knowledge of Greek sculpture comes not from original Greek statues but from Roman copies. Furthermore, it has been estimated that as many as 1 in 10 paintings that hang in the best art museums, are copies not originals. At the end of the day, a camera along with a dark room and its processing chemicals, is not so very different from a painter’s brushes and paints. It remains no more than a set of tools with which a photographer tries to create an image: an image to stir our soul, in the way that images do.” (Is Photography Art?).

Of course, none of the above addresses the issue of talent. I might be able to meet the standard of the definition, practice all the creative factors mentioned above and still produce mediocre (or worse) results).

Salieri in the movie “Amadeus” comes to mind. He had some talent (probably much more in reality than in the movie). His tragedy was that he had devoted himself whole-heartedly to God and his music and probably thought he was doing all right, but then came Mozart, and unlikeable person with who had much, much more musical talent and to whom composing remarkable music seemed to come easily. In the photography world (and in other creative endeavors) I imagine that there a many more Salieris than there are Mozarts.

So, in light of the above, am I an artist? I still feel that calling myself an artist feels a little pompous. However, I suspect that I probably am. I’m just a very mediocre (at best) one. I don’t think Vermeer has much to worry about.

In future I’ll refer to myself as an artist who uses a camera as a tool, rather than as a photographer, which seems to emphasize the technical aspects (F-Stops, Apertures, Shutter Speeds, ISO, burst rates etc.) over the more creative aspects. As I’ve discovered you can (and should) master the technical aspects, but even if you do this alone won’t necessarily make you a better photographer.

André Kertész of Paris and New York

I volunteer for our Local Historical Society: The Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society (BMSHS). The Society is housed in the Eileen O’Connor Weber Historical Center, which is on the lower level of Briarcliff Manor Library building.

The other day I had a few minutes to spare, and I fancied a change of scene, so I went into the library and browsed around the shelves and came across this volume: André Kertész of Paris and New York. It was designed to accompany a 1985 exhibition of his work in The Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. There’s a review of the book here. I started to read it and after a while I decided that I wanted to get a copy for myself. I managed to find a very good, and quite inexpensive copy on Ebay.

Many photobooks have lots of pictures, but only limited text. I guess the logic is that the pictures should be able to stand by themselves and shouldn’t need the text to explain them. I’m not convinced that this is necessarily true even for captions and/or descriptions of individual photographs. But what I like is what this book has: substantial essays on various topics, in this case: “André Kertész: The Years in Paris” by Sandra S. Phillips; “Kertész and his Contemporaries in in Germany and France” by David Travis; “André Kertész: The Making of an American Photographer” by Weston J. Naef. With the Foreword, Acknowledgements and Preface these take up 95 pages! They are followed by 131 pages of plates, sections of the exhibitions catalogue, a bibliography and index.

There’s a lot of good stuff here and so far, I’ve only scratched the surface. I can’t wait to read the rest.

My Photography in 2023

Before I start to write about my photography in 2023, I think it would be good for me to talk more broadly about my photographic journey.

My interest in photography started in 1974 when my wife bought me my first serious camera: a Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII film camera, which I used extensively in the 1980s and 90s, along with a Canon AE-1, which I acquired several years later. At some point in the early-mid 2000s I switched to digital photograph, but somehow my interest in photography had waned. I didn’t feel like going out to take pictures and only took pictures of family vacations, family events etc.

Things changed in 2010. I had lost my primary digital camera. I later found it again but by that time I had purchased another one: A Panasonic Lumix LX-3. I loved this camera (still do). Somehow it reignited my love of photography, which was just as well because retirement was looming in 2012, and I needed to find something to do with myself.

After that I split my time between photography and doing things (plays, shows, meals out, travel etc.) with my wife. It was a good time.

This went on until late 2020 when my wife of 43 years unexpectedly passed away after a thankfully very brief illness (not COVID). This was a very tough time for me and I had to find something to keep me occupied, or I would have gone mad. Of course, that thing was photography and between late 2020 and late 2021 I was constantly out taking pictures.

Late in 2022 I volunteered to work for our local Historical Society. This was something I had been meaning to do for some time, but never gotten around to. Since then, I’ve been there virtually every workday from 9:00am-4:00pm. This doesn’t mean that I have given up photography. Far from it. I still take photographs, make photobooks and the occasional prints; collect old cameras and photobooks etc., just at a slightly diminished pace than before.

So photographically speaking this is what I’ve been doing during 2023.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Despite my commitments to the Historical Society, I’ve managed to get out on quite a few photowalks:

In addition to the above I walk a lot around the area where I live and take many pictures. All told I kept about 1,500 photographs in 2023. I took a lot more.

As in previous years I’ve created two year-end posts featuring my favorite photographs, one on favorite black and whites; and the other on favorite color photographs.

BLOG

I maintain and will continue to maintain this blog, which I started in 2012. In 2023 I made 366 Blog Posts. The total number of posts since I started the blog is 4,359.

WEB SITE

However, I have also become a little tired of the blog format. I will keep the blog as a kind of illustrated diary of what I’m up to, but in 2023 I created a more traditional website for myself. You can find it at hgdphotography.org.

NEW DIRECTIONS

In previous years I’ve tried some more experimental (for me) approaches e.g. Macro Photography, Street Photography etc. In 2023 I tried my hand at infrared photography. I enjoyed it and will probably do more. I also want to learn more about video. I have cameras that can shoot video, but I didn’t have software to edit the results. I’ve now acquired some. I haven’t done much with it in 2023 but anticipate doing more in 2024.

I like to see my photographs in print but have little wall space to display them. So instead, I’ve focused on creating photobooks (more precisely ‘Zines’) of my work. In 2023 I created (or substantially modified an earlier version of) the following:

  • Opus 40. A remarkable large environmental sculpture in Saugerties, New York,
  • Golden Anniversary. Documenting my friends Marc and Rozanne Prisaments’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.
  • >A Tree:(revised): Around the Neighborhood No. 1. A series of photographs taken at the same time of single nearby tree.
  • A Pond: Around the Neighborhood No. 2. A series of Photographs taken around a nearby pond, which was once the outdoor pool of a famous resort hotel now gone.
  • Infrared. My attempts at infrared photography.
  • Quinceañera (revised). Documenting a friend’s granddaughter’s celebration.
  • Rivertowns No. 1: Along Albany Post Road, Tarrytown (revised). Part of an ongoing series of photographs of towns along the Hudson River.
  • Rivertowns No. 2: Dobbs Ferry. Part of an ongoing series of photographs of towns along the Hudson River.

PHOTOBOOKS

In 2023 I continued to add to my collection of Photobooks by and about renowned photographers with the following:

  • Dream Street. W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project by Sam Stephenson.
  • Looking at Images. A deeper look at selected photographs by Brooks Jensen.
  • Dido Moriyama by Bruna Dantas Lobato.
  • The Americans by Robert Frank.
  • Infrared Photography: Digital Techniques for Brilliant Images by Laurie Clein et al.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.
  • Richard Misrach on Landscape and Meaning.
  • Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment.
  • Graciela Iturbide on Dreams, Symbols, and Imagination.
  • Peter Lindbergh on Fashion Photography.
  • Then: Photographs 1925-1995. By Alexander Liberman.
  • Larry Fink on Composition and Improvisation.
  • Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors and the Nude.
  • Time in New England by Paul Strand.
  • Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams.
  • The Portfolios of Ansel Adams. By Ansel Adams.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Duane Michals. The Photographic Illusion: Using the Mind’s Eye to Created Photos for Collectors and Clients.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Art Kane. The Persuasive Image: How a Portraitist and Storyteller Illuminates our Changing Culture.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Elliott Erwitt. The Private Experience: Personal Insights of a Professional Photographer.
  • Let us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans.
  • Eudora Welty. Photographs by Eudora Welty and Reynolds Price.
  • Josef Koudelka: The Making of Exiles by Josef Koudelka.
  • Ansel Adams. An Autobiography. By Ansel Adams.
  • Atget. By John Szarkowski.
  • The Living Sea. By Hussain Aga Khan.

CAMERAS

I’ve added a few new (to me) cameras to my collection of old/inexpensive cameras. My current focus is on medium format and older digital cameras:
Of late I’ve focused on medium format, and older digital cameras and added a few new cameras to my collection of old/inexpensive cameras:

  • Canon PowerShot Pro 1.
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-R1.
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-F828
  • Pentax K10D
  • Yashica Mat-124G
  • Petri RF
  • Kodak Art Deco Six-20
  • That’s about it other than for me to with anyone reading this a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

    Ansel Adams. Examples. The Making of 40 Photographs

    I bought this book a long time ago and loved it. Unfortunately, we had a seriously water leak in the house and this was one of the items that was destroyed during the flood. When this happened, I vowed to replace it quicky. And them promptly forgot.

    Recently, while looking for something else on eBay I came across a used copy of the book in very good condition and at a very reasonable price. It didn’t take me long to place the order.

    Amazon describes it as follows:

    A MASTER CLASS WITH AMERICA’S MOST CELEBRATED PHOTOGRAPHER

    “How did you make this photograph?”

    This is a question that Ansel Adams was asked repeatedly throughout his lifetime. In Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, Adams shares the circumstances surrounding the creation of many of his most celebrated images. Each classic photograph is superbly reproduced and accompanied by an entertaining and informative narrative that combines his own reminiscences of people and places with precise recall of technical details and aesthetic considerations.

    Readers will be fascinated by the personal side of the text, which includes a great deal of history and anecdote, including appearances by Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Weston, and other notable figures such as Edwin Land of Polaroid. Pondering these essays conjures the sense of standing by Adams’ side during some of the most pivotal and profound creative moments of his life in photography—a master class with the legendary artist.

    The specific technical information on camera and lens, filters, exposure times, developing, and printing provided in each example illustrates his approach and methods, and will help amateurs and professionals alike to advance their photography. Through this case study approach, Adams’ philosophy of craft and creativity unfolds; his credos of visualization, image management, and the Zone System are demonstrated; and the colorful story of a lifetime devoted to photography is revealed.

    I couldn’t agree more. At times, when it gets into technical commentary on the zone system I was a bit at a loss. But, it’s great to get some insight it what’s going on in the mind of a famous photographer when a great photograph is being taken.