Every photograph tells a literal story.  The image itself is a story.  Then there is the story behind why the photographer took it — what was included in the image or left out, why it was taken, the lighting and mood.  And then, there is the story that is told because of the viewers’ response or what it means to someone looking at it.

In Henry Carroll’s book, “Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot,”  I was struck by this quote from Jason Fulford:

“When a person looks at a photograph you’ve taken,
they will always think of themselves” 

Henry Carroll in his commentary notes, “right after we interpret the literal aspects of the image…we enter into a second, much more personal meaning. The second reading is informed by elements such as our memories, personal experiences, tastes and cultural backgrounds…this second reading is unpredictable and entirely outside the photographer’s control.  For Fulford, this gap between what is pictured and what it might mean is where photographs come alive”

There is an image on my website whose owner told me it touches her deeply to the point of tears when she reflects on it. Another image has been described by its owner as “art that stirs the soul.”  For yet another owner, their print has an intimate feeling, and a nostalgic tone with a sense of timelessness.  It is these kinds of personal reflections that turn the literal stories behind the images into art that means something to you. That is what brings an image to life and gives it real meaning.

It is personal reflections like these that I value in delivering Limited and Personal Exclusive editions to you.  For example, these two images, “No More General Store” and “Guard to History”, became fine art Limited Edition prints as a result of direct discussions about the photographs with people who had seen them and wanted prints for their own reasons.  In the case of “Guard to History,” the backstory is this photograph is of the guard booth on the grounds of Mount Vernon near George Washington’s tomb. It is empty and even a little weathered. It was taken in the winter months…but there is a little light reflection on the bushes.  Perhaps the title should have a question mark after it?

“When you look at a photograph that is printed, you are free of distraction allowing you to really engage and experience all that it has to offer. The experience triggers an emotional response very different from simply seeing an image for a fleeting moment on a screen. The print is a finished product that engages the viewer. People want to move closer and even touch a print. Viewing a print encourages the viewer to travel into the frame imagining the experience of being in that place.” – Seth Resnick

Whether it is the social feeds and stories on Instagram or Facebook, the unorganized photo album on our phones, flipping a page in a magazine or book or the onslaught of visually enticing advertisements that we see every day, we are awash in a world of images.

However, photographic prints are not the same kind of fleeting and temporary experiences. Prints are tangible.  Prints bring scale to the image. A small print forces us to look more closely and a large print creates an immersive experience.  Prints bring details in the photograph to life.  Prints encourage us to view images in different ways — to reflect and to see more.

Photographers make lots of photographs. But we print the ones we think are best and most important. Prints bring our work out of the camera and digital work flow or dark room into the world where the image can be shared and experienced in a more complete way.

Prints are a demanding part of the process that take a photographer’s vision and bring it to completion.  Determining what kind of print to make is one part of the complexity. For example, prints can be made using processes like dye-sublimation on aluminum or pigment ink printing on archival paper or in traditional dark room processes or by making a negative of a digital photo in order to make platinum/palladium print.  Take a look at all the options.

Whatever process and size of print is chosen, the photographer then works hard to ensure that the light, tone, color and composition are coming to life the way they want.  For example, a print I wanted to do on clear aluminum did not work and so I had to change the media it was printed on.  Ansel Adams worked on printing “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” for 40 years making adjustments along the way.  Making prints is a complex part of bringing the vision of an image to realization.

Prints offer viewers the chance to consider not only what the photographers saw and how they saw it, but also the way it has been printed to be shared. The final print is the object and the carrier of the story.

 “A print is much more than a mere reproduction of an image.  It is the culmination of the inspiration and vision of the photographer.  It is the clearest, most direct and powerful form of the image and has the ability to move beyond words, ideas and concepts to touch and move the viewer”  — Christopher Burkett

or, as noted here, just start printing

“Our country is made for long trips”
American photographer Stephen Shore

Road trips are part of the fabric of America.  They inform, inspire and invigorate.

The American road trip has long been a signature adventure for families.  There must be thousands and thousands of family snapshots from summer vacations.  The open road and the vast land have also engaged artists.  Road trips are prominent in literature, with writings by Steinbeck and Kerouac for example, as well as in music, movies and photography.  The road trip is part of our culture.

Photography captures and shares perspectives of the landscapes, our communities and the roadside signs and symbols of American life. Photographers, including Walker Evans and Edward Weston, immortalized their travels through the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s America’s culture was documented in the famous book, The Americans, by Robert Frank (among my personal favorites).  In the 1970s Stephen Shore undertook his month long adventure resulting in the famous “American Surfaces” series.  In 2014, David Campany’s book and traveling exhibit, The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip explored the photographic road trip as a genre of its own.  He notes:

“the road trip confirmed our fascination, our horror,
our sense of possibility, of the sublime and the banal.
And forced us to confront the clichés in our heads and the clichés out there. I think that’s why most photographers go on the road.”

Road trips are what led to my Roadside America project which I continue to fine tune and evolve. These trips have:

  • explored the magnificent geography and desolation of West Texas;
  • made for peaceful mornings with the light of the sun and the sound of the ocean on the Outer Banks and the Eastern Shore;
  • chased the blues and the difficult history of the Mississippi Delta;
  • brought to life the awe across the western states, in the Rockies, Yellowstone and the Tetons;
  • made me think about the first pioneers (and what we now call “fly over country”) as I travel around the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains while listening to Bluegrass music; and,
  • my 2018 Americana Road Trip  featured “another time” along Route 66, while also following parts of the trail of civil rights, experiencing the gut wrenching Oklahoma memorial and listening to the vibrant roots of country, rock and roll, blues and soul music.  You can also find more from the 2019 trip here and here

My friend Geoff Livingston, who was featured here in a photography showcase, has a podcast (also available as video) called the “Show me podcast” where he chats with folks about iconic photos and why they work (or not).

We caught up to talk about Robert Frank’s book, The Americans.  And then we talked about the Roadside America project, Infrared photography and some of the thoughts behind PhotoNexus (at the 27 minute point) which I am organizing in Santa Fe, July 26 & 27.

Hope you can find the time to check out the podcast…and yes, a saxophone walks through it.

a few books about photographers, the photograph and the photographic art forum that are interesting gateways to new learnings & photographic appreciation.

Every Photograph Has a Story: The Photograph Itself, The Photographer’s and The Viewers’: Some of the prints available on the website include the story behind them.  For example,  “The Carnival Stopped” is from one of the “Roadside America” trips along Virginia’s eastern shore where I was regularly exiting the highway to check out the villages, sea marsh and fishing boats.  In Wachapreague, Virginia, population 230, the fishing boats were either all out at work or gone forever. I am not sure.  The docks and handling facilities appeared to be in a state of disrepair, worn out or shut down.  But there at the corner of Atlantic Rd. and Ice Plant Street, was the carnival. Not a soul to be seen.  But there it was…a carnival stopped – a place of fun and community gathering but a little eery and ghost-like.  Much like the fishing town itself.

In Henry Carroll’s new book, “Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot,”  I was struck by this quote:

“When a person looks at a photograph you’ve taken, they will always think of themselves”    Jason Fulford

Henry Carroll in is commentary notes, “right after we interpret the literal aspects of the image…we enter into a second, much personal meaning.  The second reading is informed by elements such as our memories, personal experiences, tastes and cultural backgrounds…this second reading is unpredictable and entirely outside the photographer’s control.  For Fulford, this gap between what is pictured and what it might mean is where photographs come alive”

There is an image on the website whose owner described it “art that stirs his soul.”  For yet another owner, their print has an intimate feeling, and a nostalgic tone with a sense of timelessness. It is their views that give the images meaning and excitement.

In a related story from Artsy about Keith Haring, they note,

“The quickest way to kill your art, according to Haring, is to rigidly define it. “There is no need for definition,” he wrote. “Definition can be the most dangerous, destructive tool the artist can use when he is making art for a society of individuals.” That’s not to say an artist can’t have certain concepts or themes in mind when creating an artwork. But the “artist’s ideas are not essential to the art as seen by the viewer.…The viewer does not have to be considered during the conception of the art, but should not be told, then, what to think or how to conceive it or what it means.”
This idea went hand in hand with his belief that artists should consider more than just the art world. “The viewer should be able to look at art and respond to it without wondering whether he ‘understands’ it. It does not aim to be understood! Who ‘understands’ any art?.…Nobody knows what the ultimate meaning of my work is because there is none.…It exists to be understood only as an individual response.”
 

Bringing Images to Life with Real Meaning: It is these kinds of personal reflections that turn the literal stories behind the images into your art.  That is what brings an image to life and gives it real meaning.