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and a while

We are living in Ireland this year and there have been many steps to get here. It is strange to feel culture shock in a country where everyone speaks English; of course it is not just about language. And balancing the sense of things that ought to be familiar but are strange, are threads of memories from an Irish American childhood now connecting to their source.

My approach to pictures is the same, wander in the neighborhood, in our case Counties Galway and Mayo, around Castlebar.

Below, and on the home page of my web site for the time being, is one from northern County Galway that I like, from a volcanic crater lake called Lough Nafooey. A respected critic back in the U.S. thinks the skiff engaged head on in the picture is "too small". Is it? A positive way to put it is "minimalist". I like this description. The skiff is there; you know it. You know it is resting. The skiff to the right is only barely there, but you feel its presence too.

But I think this picture is about the lake, which stretches from the strangely sandy shore in such a gliding way that you feel you could just walk out on the water. To go more for that feeling, I think I will try some more with the skiffs even smaller. It is a magical place and I am making more trips there.

Since I last posted I have settled more comfortably into a mode of slightly abstracting using Photoshop tools. My aim at the moment is to achieve the effect at a level where it is not very noticeable. Is it here?

A set of images from Counties Mayo and Galway is available here.


Been a while

Yes it's been a while. I have been through March on the Cape and back to Budapest for April and May. Went to County Mayo, Ireland in April, and down to Tuscany in May for my annual pilgrimage to Florence. Only this time I decided to see what was the wonderful landscape of Val d'Orcia south of Siena all about. I have seen many beautiful images from here, and beautiful landscapes in "The English Patient" and "Gladiator" (Maximus' home) were set here.

I went, and extended my stay, so that this year's annual trip to Florence was really a trip to the Val d'Orcia. Did get to Florence though, and the highlight there was spending a day standing in the Uffizi arcade with the water color painters and the morocchini selling art prints and knockoff handbags, trying to sell some of my prints. Many compliments, no sales, lots of fun.

The Val d'Orcia was beautiful but gave me a strange feeling of taking pictures of what I have seen pictures of....not a very creative feeling. One day I saw a photo tour bus of photographers working on the famous stand of cypresses at Torrenieri. Their van had pulled off the highway that runs right past the spot, and I hope they did well, but it sort of reinforced the feeling of wondering where was my personal experience of this beautiful landscape.

I think it is emerging as I work through the images. Here are two from the day the sun really came out, the clouds blustered in spectacular fashion and I wandered wonderfully through the lands of San Giovanni d'Asso, as I moved from Montalcino to Pienza, by a very roundabout route.

I call the first one, "To Camprena" because just up the road and to the left is the turn to the monastery of Santa Anna in Camprena, which was the setting of "The English Patient" and some opening scenes of the movie were along this road I am sure.

The second one, "I Cipressini" is a revisit of the abstract look I started working on last winter. I like it, and am applying it to many of the Val d'Orcia pictures.

More images from the Val d'Orcia can be seen here


Culture Shock

Crossing the Atlantic went smoothly and jet lag has not been so bad. Culture shock at a fairly low level too.

It's a strange thing changing spots every two months. There are a lot of old habits to resume. For example I haven"t driven a car for two months, not a big deal, but the timing is off. I am not used to a swirl of vehicles going at 60 miles per hour. Have to think about it. And everyone is speaking English. Strange that that should be strange.

I have resumed work with color spaces. I have a lot to learn. And am worried each step of the way that I might lose my bearings. In Budapest I calibrated the monitor and put up all the images on this blog using recommended practice of embedding sRGB color space. Then I came back to the Cape, calibrated my monitor here, and found that all the newly done images with sRGB space embedded looked hypersaturated and contrasty. On the other hand, images put up in the past with no calibrated monitor and no embedded color space, look just fine. But I am getting used to the recalibrated monitor, am getting some idea of what the files do and where they go, and feel comfortable with all of my past files. They seem to be in the right color world.

Made my first print of the abstract winter bog image -- below.

An 8x12 inch on William Turner paper from Hahnemuehle. It has some texture, which goes well with the abstraction. Am looking forward to varnishing it.


From Budapest to Cape Cod

I will be heading back to Cape Cod tomorrow, after almost two months in Budapest. It has been a quiet midwinter time, doing some scans, thinking about what images to print, experimenting with this blog, and enjoying family.

Have been doing some looking into Val d'Orcia, which seems to be the site of iconic Tuscan landscapes, at least the gently rolling kind, and wondering whether to include it on my Spring trip to Florence. Might be easy to fly to Rome, rent a car there and drive up to Florence. Only problem is, I might never make it to Florence, this countryside is so beautiful.

The "season" will be starting on Cape Cod, and back in my studio, will be working on lots of prints for stores and galleries. I am excited to begin an affiliation with the Jan Collins Selman Fine Art Gallery. Jan is someone whose work and person I have a lot of respect and enthusiasm for, so I hope this will be a good relationship.

May have found a stock agency or two to work with. A different world from fine art prints, but the question is how different, or how much chance for an interesection of the two sets. When I work with an image I am thinking of how it would look on a wall, but what is to say that would not look good in print as well. We will see.

An image from Budapest last Fall.....there are no cafe tables on the streets right now.


What is art ?

A couple of painter friends and I meet for coffee every week on the Cape to talk about our work and big questions like what is art. My contribution comes from the period when I was first entering shows and confronting exclusions that suggested that photographs might not be considered art. I wanted to know what terms could be used to enter a rebuttal discussion.

Also, as I was making inkjet prints on watercolor paper from digital files created from scanned negatives, I got myself into the question of just what is a photograph and how to call what I did....what to put on that little line of the entry card that said "medium".

This is what I came up with and have been working by.

First, I would hesitate to call this a definition of art...maybe elements.


1. the artist or subject.

2. the object...something the artist/subject engages with or reacts to. might be the artist him/herself. The easy example to imagine is a painter looking at an inspiring scene. We have subject and object.

3. the medium. what stuff is the subject going to use to convey something about the engagement with the object? Oil on canvas? Clay? Ink on paper? Sounds on a flute? Body motions?

4. the method. highly related to medium, but not the same. paper is a medium. painting on it is a method. printing on it using an engraved plate is another method. drawing on it is another method.

5. the art. this is the hardest part. something intangible that results from the artists engagement with the object and takes form in their application of method to the medium and elicits a reaction in the viewer/audience.

6. the audience. art is not complete without an audience. maybe art does not exist without an audience. if a tree falls in the forest and there is noone to see the painting I made of it, is the painting art? But this is a little sterile. It is not just the existence of the audience, but what happens in the soul of the audience when confronted with the art. Is it shocked? Stimulated? Pleased? Inspired? Amused? Turned on? Made thoughtful?

What is more important....what Leonardo did to make the Mona Lisa, or what the Mona Lisa does to us? Not sure, but if there were no "us" there might be a Mona Lisa, but it wouldn't be art.


Boat Club in a Time of War

Cape Cod seems such a marvelous escape. Anyone who can be there in "the offseason" is able to wander wide spaces of beach under big skies, or poke into quiet coves undisturbed. Anyone who can be there in the summer is on vacation, away from job or rest of life, with family in an intense and happy way, constructing memories to last a life, or indulging a life of memories.

It is peace, it is beauty, it is good.

But of course the world has some other dimensions, and they intrude on this idyll. Jets thunder out of Otis into the skies over Buzzards Bay, and even on the most pleasant beach day it is easy to remember that we are at war, even if we are here to forget things like that.

This picture I have been working on is about the intrusion of some of those other realities on this idyll.

It shows the West Falmouth Boat Club, scene of many happy outings, center of a fleet of vacation craft, and iconic setting of many pictures about the pleasant summer memories.

This image has all the elements of boat club icon -- the bright sunny day, the gentle breeze, the dinghies at the dock -- but I think it has a more sober mood. The water is still, the dinghy is empty, the flag is ambivalent in its curl, the bare rocks emerge from the tide like a half-hidden graveyard, and the sun is harsh. You might not want to be out in it.



Knotting a Persian Rug
For a few years I have resisted using any of the effects filters in Photoshop - actually I have just been using Photoshop Elements so far - but I have been working on ground where it might make sense at some point. I like to work with abstracting in my images. Hard to say what that means in any specific or differentiating way as it's hard to think of a great image that does not abstract. I do know that I am not looking to max out the resolving capabilities of lens or image receptive medium; this is just not important to me. I am also interested in the common ground between paintings and photographs.

One of my favorite images - "Knotting a Persian Rug" - often gets the compliment that it reminds people of a Flemish primitive painting, specifically of a Vermeer. This is an incredible compliment to get, and I realized this more after I really dove into Vermeer courtesy of a great website that seems to have everything anyone one could ever want to know about him, including superb high resolution reproductions of his paintings. Here is a link to the "The Essential Vermeer".

Tired Maid
Getting wrapped up in Vermeer led me to make a picture which consciously appreciated his setting and lighting and subject. This image - "Tired Maid" - was captured in my room in the Pensione Sorelle Bandini, where I have stayed on my visits to Florence each of the last three years. I really like this setup and I hope to do a series of portraits in this spot when, and if, I get back to Florence and the Bandini this Spring.

I made a 12x18 inch varnished print of "Tired Maid" for my show at the Vagabond Gallery last summer (August, 2005), mounted in a black floater. In December, I made a smaller, 8x12 inch varnished print, and put this one in a subdued gold frame with a Florentine profile. I just found out on Friday that it was accepted in the Falmouth Artists Guild annual juried photography show.

I am glad of that, and eager to see the show when I get back to Cape Cod (am in Budapest now), but I am also waiting and hoping for the Falmouth Artists Guild to open their main, summer juried show to photography. I have been urging this idea for a number of years as I think it would be very exciting for me creatively and hopefully for the larger community to have photographs hung side by side with paintings. I have seen interactions between photographers and painters grow at the Guild in the last few years, and the number of shows excluding photography has happily shrunk.

The Cape Cod Art Association just took this step in 2005, opening up all of their juried shows to photographers, and photography to their juried membership categories. The Association has created a very active photography program, with courses, workshops, and a photography club.

I taught courses at both the Guild and the Art Association last summer, as well as at the Cataumet Arts Center. I enjoyed everybody, and the work, and became persuaded of the excitement of class photo shoots, securing my favorite image of the summer on an outing to Nobska Light. Its title is "Beach Chat in the Late Afternoon".

I used Photoshop (i.e. Elements) on this image to remove one of the photo shoot participants from the middle ground of the beach. I don't think anyone can object to this, especially if they understand that my purpose with this image is to convey something of the excitement and romance and beauty of this spot on a late summer day, something other artists, such as painters do as well, routinely adding and removing elements to support the composition and their desired impact.

I think the key is that my purpose, clearly conveyed, is to do art, not to document or report. If this image were appearing in a newspaper, as news, or as documentation of what the scene was like at Nobska on a certain day in August, 2005, then I and the newspaper would be under an obligation to communicate that this photographic image had been changed, and a person removed. But, in an art gallery, or on a web site of "fine art", I don't feel that I am under any obligation to state that, although I am aware that people may have a lingering expectation for a photograph to be of something that was "really there". Actually everything you see here was "really there" but some more was there that you don't see. And that is in fact true of any photograph, isn't it??

I worked through this question of modifying images a few years ago when I first encountered the tools that made this possible. The result of that "thinking through" was the essay What is a Photograph ?



This is the start of another writing effort. My idea is to record a trail of my thoughts as I work on my photographs. You can see my images at, and when I understand more about the blog process, I will move this blog over to my website.

Here is an image I have been working on recently. It is interesting to me because it is the first time I have used the abstraction tools in Photoshop to give a result that I might actually print and show.