HAWTHORNE BLUE HOUR - IN BLACK AND WHITE!
This week I would like to wish you all a happy new year, and to continue my survey of what I consider my best images of this past year. Last week I concentrated on images that I captured last year; this week I will explore the images that I "recaptured" through various post processing strategies. I feel that these transformations resulted in images closer to my intentions for both the individual images and my overall values as an artist. I will also through in some final thoughts on my commercial struggles and strategies for the future.
The season at Saturday Market was pretty dismal, and it took a lot of discipline to not feel that it was all my fault as I sat there trying to stay awake. Most of it was clearly not my fault, and my fellow vendors and the half-dozen fellow photographers still at the market did not appear to be doing appreciably better than I was. But I do have to admit that my desire to exhibit new work, and work unrelated to Portland, was wildly unsuccessful. What is interesting is that for the first time I generally controlled myself in introducing two new formats, so that all in all I haven't invested too much money in a losing cause. Most of the negative effects of these efforts must be characterized as "opportunity" costs, since the display of these items took up space in the booth that could have been used to show other things that might have sold better. In my quest to show other images, I neglected to realize that my customers were just not interested in buying these photographs, no matter how much they seemed to admire them.
I came up with a new format that could allow for a lower price point than my metal prints. I adapted my lamination process I use for my coasters to a larger image size, mounted on masonite panels with surplus wood panels (they hadn't sold either) to lift them off the wall. These 9" x !2" prints looked great, and the customers said so, but I spent the year looking at them and did not sell any at all. In the end, even I had to admit defeat, and I will drastically reduce how many I show in the booth. I will convert any I do actually sell into another format. While that format, a larger 11" x 17" poster , also did not show much success, it is a lot easier to produce and offers a higher profit at a lower price. We'll see.
Artistically, a lot of these "best" images were the ones that did not sell at all, so my opinion as a critic was not matched by my dismal record as a businessman. What it tells me, which is not what I want to hear, is that an image which might work very well in a blog post, or on social media, will not translate into sales in my gallery. I must once again recognize that what I might see as an advance in my art will not be reflected in my sales as an artist.
ROSS ISLAND BRIDGE PANORAMA, WITH A TIMELY SAILBOAT
BRITISH MUSEUM CHARM
These first four images are examples of my continued exploration of black and white conversion techniques that, at least to my eye, result in images closer to my reality than the color snapshots that they started as years before. The amount of detail and the exposure manipulations possible in black and white allow me to interpret these scenes in different ways than their originals. I have found that even a very fine color image, like the Hawthorne Bridge's beautiful colorful city lights and reflections, can work well as a black and white image with a completely different mood.
"THE TREE" PANORAMA IN BLACK AND WHITE
Another technique that can transform an older image is a new distinctive crop. Since a big part of photo composition is framing, adjusting the framing can result in a new way of looking at an image, even for the photographer. I first converted this image of "The Tree", the famous maple in the Japanese Garden, into black and white because I had captured it at least a week after peak color, so that it was clearly inferior to the other million photographs of the same subject exhibited around the world. But it really sang, (at least to me) when I radically cropped it into a panorama that left out almost the entire context and converted the tree into a kind of black snake crawling across the image.
CROWN POINT PANORAMA
This image has always been a popular one. It's mine because this retired architect is really most concerned with the only man-made part of the scene. Vista House is a very glorified bathroom with one of the greatest sites of any piece of architecture in the entire world. What I enjoy is that just like the Golden Gate, the scene now seems absolutely incomplete without man's intervention - this would be "just" another beautiful bend in the Columbia without it. I think my original square crop has now gotten even stronger as a panorama. Vista House clearly is balanced by Beacon rock across the way, the course of the river is heightened, and I finally solved the terrible forest fire cloud ridden sky by just getting rid of it entirely.
SPACE NEEDLE DETAIL
I cropped this already tight shot of the underside of the Space Needle, removing any context in the original and furthering my intent through exposure manipulation and black and white conversion to transform a throwaway snapshot into a graphic exploration. You could forgive anyone but a Northwest resident for not knowing what the hell they were looking at.
GRAPHIC RED UMBRELLA
Which brings to mind two other images which allowed me to "trust the graphics" to hold the image together without a compelling subject. Of course everyone loves a bright saturated red, but it is the umbrella's structure which makes this image.
NORTH CAROLINA BEACH ABSTRACT
And while I like yellow more than most, this example of intentional camera movement converts this ordinary beach panorama into an intriguing image. There is just enough sharpness to ensure that the viewer is looking at the beach, even though it is unclear why the waves seem to be moving horizontally instead of towards the shore. Why everything is yellow instead of blue only adds to the mystery. WHITE HOUSE RUINS, CANYON DE CHELLY
In some cases new software advances allowed me to revisit older images and make an impact. This image of the White House ruins in Canyon de Chelly was transformed through judicious use of Lightroom's new "Dehaze" tool, which finally sharpened the details decades after I took the shot. "Dehaze" was not designed at all for an image like this, but it finally did the trick after other basic sharpening techniques had failed on this image. What's funny is that another new tool, "Textures", didn't work as well at all.
Black and white conversion relieved this image of most of the anarchy of the color version, but some improved masking in Lightroom allowed me to really emphasize the anarchy that I was actually interested in. Drastic exposure changes, as well as reducing the sharpness of the background, made it possible to heighten the drama of the confusing and contradictory street signs at this one New York intersection.
Improved Lightroom controls, or maybe just my improved technique, allowed me to achieve an interesting high key black and white image out of an ordinary confused woodland scene. The two foreground trees and their spindly branches emerge from a too-colorful snapshot. It is often intriguing to me how a black and white conversion can appear more realistic than the original color version.
MOONLIT SAN JUANS
I've worked on this image for years, and I have never convinced myself that the colors were right even though my computer assured me they were. Part of the problem was that this long exposure was taken long after the sun had gone down, so that moonlight was the light and color source. Only the camera could truly reveal all of the shades of blue, even though my eyes at the time knew that the dark scene was truly blue. Better selection tools allowed me to eliminate the blue color cast on the weathered gray canning facility while leaving the blue and purple bay and sky alone. I think I'm finally almost getting there.
THE BLUE BRIDGE
And part of the problem is adjusting memory to reality. this image was truly a find, since I had ignored it for more than fifteen years. It was only when I realized that this was the famous "Blue Bridge" in Regent's Park in London that the image came into its own. I selectively added saturation to the arched blue bridge beam that had appeared so dull on an unusually dull day, so that I, the viewer, and the duck could finally notice how special the bridge actually was, and still is.
TWO BROTHERS ONE DAY AT THE BIG SHEA MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS AGO
The last image of the year is one of my oldest images, at least that I can find in my haphazard archives. I have had an enjoyable time this past year experimenting with scanning some of my old color slides. This image is over fifty years old. The camera that took it is a non-functional paperweight in my basement. I don't even know where I could purchase a slide projector. Shea Stadium, the pit that Met fans called home, is long gone. This "new" digital version allowed me to both darken the stadium background and lighten the human foreground, rendering details in both areas that a viewer could never see in the slide. One can only hope that these two brothers are now also grandfathers like me.
I hope you've enjoyed this tour the past two weeks through my personal best of this past year. Over the past three years my website's analytics insist that over time an average of more than 300 people eventually read these essays, which is amazing and gratifying and mysterious, since I actually know very few of my readers. As a way of saying thanks for your readership, I am offering my readers 20% off my standard prices for prints of any of these "Best of 2023" images during January and February of 2024. Since I know that you are reading this on my website, please take a look at the formats available. Please just contact me and we will work out the details. Happy new year, and thanks again for your interest.