Looking at Photo books

Introduction

This is the first of what I hope will become a series looking at photo books by photographers. I will not include surveys or compilation books as my interest is on how an artist presents his/her own work to the public. The books I’ll review are part of my own library some are from photographers I admire, others were suggested by friends. There will be a mix of genres.

I’m doing this as part of my continuing education about art and photography. I don’t profess to be an expert far from it. This is a learning exercise leading to the eventual publication of my on photo book.

Descendants – Norman Mauskopf
– A review and analysis

The main themes in this book are religion, history and survival. These drive  Mauskopf’s story about the people in this part of New Mexico and we can see this represented in the first image after the title page where we see the detailing on the side of a car. There is a subtext to the story that describes a strong, proud people, artistic in expression, who are spiritual and connected to their past. The men are passionate about cars although as I’ll explain later the love of cars may in fact be more about status and control.

For someone familiar with New Mexico it’s likely the opening panoramic shot of a desert and distant mountains may be very recognizable. For everyone else,  the location and who these people are isn’t fully revealed until the two thirds the way through the series when we learn this is New Mexico. By this point we have transitioned from a rural and poor setting to an urban one with a younger generation of men and women, the descendats., and they can afford material things. The source of the money isn’t known.

From the start and carried through the book the importance of religious faith is in many of the images no matter which generation we see. Grave markers, late night prayers, images of the virgin Mary and a simple cross on a chain are all used to show the presence of the church in this community.

As significant as religion is the story of survival in harsh conditions. The wooden structures, fences and private land (if there is such a thing) are in various states of decay. Car wrecks in a field are not uncommon. Nevertheless I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the homes and churches are kept as clean and tidy as they can. The older people in this town look as though they have endured as much erosion as has the land around them.

From the way they hold themselves, especially the younger generation, from the historic costumes used in ceremonies and reenactments to the clean shaven intimidating young men who take care to have clean pressed shirts and polished cars these are strong and proud people. There is a definite sense of self confidence in their faces.

I feel there is also a darker side to the story. The poster looking for a murderer, the painted message asking “who is your enemy” tell us there is anger, perhaps a struggle for power and control, we can’t be sure. There is a connection to past conflict in photos of soldiers and what seems to be a reenactment of some battle. Art is present as well. Wood carvings by an older generation, costumes perhaps telling of old legends, and the artwork on the vehicles and some walls all show a need to be visual speakers of their lives.

Cars and trucks are important to the younger generation. What isn’t on display is speed and power that one might assume would be associated with motor vehicles. For these men, control and beauty are what’s important. This seems evident from the controlled bouncing of the truck, the meticulous detailing of the cars and perhaps the women we see with the young men. And is this so different from the older men who may have shown equally impressive skills with horses, guns, and livestock. Perhaps not.

Design

This is a hard bound 12×9 inch book with a slip cover. There are 90 pages comprised of 49 images, 12 of these are on two-page full bleed spreads. The other 37 are on single pages, there is no more than one image per page. There are 20 blank pages, and 9 pages of text not including the acknowledgements and publishing details. All the images are black and white. Only 6 images use a portrait layout 4.75 x 7 inches, and 37 use a landscape aspect measuring 7 x 10.75 inches.

Lessons Learned

If I compare this book to Stephen Shore’s From Galilee to the Negev, which I reviewed las summer, both are successful in conveying the photographer’s connection to the people and place but are quite different in their approach. While Shore’s images are clean, carefully composed and full of detail which we might feel best represents his subject matter, Mauskopf’s have a grit and roughness that suits his subject matter just as perfectly. In Descendants the fact that we don’t always see what’s in the shadows, or the darkness of the night, reinforces the mystery about the hardships faced by the older generation. When he moves to the new generations the images often are as bold and in your face to match the confidence and strength of those men and women.

I don’t know if this awareness of the project is second nature to these photographers, or if they are drawn to stories/projects that match their own personal style. This isn’t something I’ve given much thought to – matching a style to the message. Perhaps the two go hand in hand.

Mauskopf, or his editor, use of blank pages has me thinking. Was it because the number of pictures was relatively low, would the images be less powerful if placed on facing pages? Shore had a lot of images, so many that he introduced mini-booklets within the the larger set (groups of smaller images laid out on one or two pages in a grid format). He was very sparing in the use of blank pages. As a reader, I find the blank page creates a stronger impact if used infrequently almost as a surprise. When they are almost every second page but not always in the same position, they lose their impact because a blank page is what we’re expecting. Initially I found it a little annoying how the blank was sometimes on the left and other times on the right.

In terms of sequencing, Mauskopf blends a geographical and a chronological approach. The series starts in a rural setting with mostly older subjects but also a few younger men and kids. As we move through the story, the city becomes more urban and this is where we find most of the adult men and women. The second transition happens with the poem which leads us to the outskirts with its decaying or abandoned houses and that part of the current generation that perhaps carries on more traditional ways. From a design perspective, the important lesson is that the series has to go somewhere in order to tell a story. Without that there’s a risk the series won’t hold anyone’s interest and possibly will feel incomplete.

Life without Lightroom

 

Late in 2017 Adobe announced perpetual licenses for LR7 and beyond would not be offered. I’m not interested in subscription prices to use a software I’d normally only update every 3-4 years depending on what new features were offered. So I began a search for an alternative. While it didn’t take long to find a RAW processor that suits my needs, dealing with the lack of integration between the Library, Develop and Print modules is proving to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated.

The first thing I did was to look for an alternative to LR5s Develop module. Contenders were ON1 Photo RAW, Luminar 2018, Affinity and DxO PhotoLab. My first choice was Luminar 2018; I was excited about the promised new features and preordered the program. Unfortunately the company decided to release there first ever Windows version and I think underestimated how popular the two products would be. Their support team and process was just not up to the challenge of introducing a new platform and two product releases at the one time. After a few weeks I requested a refund, which I received immediately, and moved on to DxO PhotoLab.

DxO formerly offered DxO Optics 10 which is a powerful plugin for LR but lacked the ability to make local adjustments on an image. The new product DxO PhotoLab incorporated local adjustments and other features making it able to work independently as a RAW processor. Unlike other LR alternatives that rely heavily on applying filters to an image, PhotoLab continues the traditional approach of letting the photographer decide what adjustments are needed, an approach that suits me really well. The image on this post is one of my first processed in DxO PhotoLab. As you can see, I haven’t quite figured out how to export the image size I want.

Replacing the Library module is the next challenge. More accurately, file management is the next challenge. With LR5 I developed a detailed file structure that while a bit complex works well for me. But, if I’m leaving LR I have to find an alternative. My first trial was with ACDSee but I realized in just 15 mins that it would not work for my workflow. I need to be able to look at multiple images at the same time. I couldn’t find a way to do that with ACDSee. My next trial is with Photo Supreme. So far I like the program. I have just under a month to make a final decision.

My “takeaway” from this exercise is that leaving LR is much, much more than finding a RAW processor. My images folders now have .dxo and .xmp sidecars and for some reason I’m no longer able to get a preview of an image in Finder. Backups of RAW images won’t be automatic as it is with LR and getting a quick copy of a file isn’t as straight forward. I’ll figure all this out eventually but it will take time.

Ken

Faceless

Ocean Five Hotel

 

I tend not to include faces in my images. More often than not this leads to the observation that it would be nice to see the face, or why is everyone seen from behind?

I was reminded of this while spending time with The Art Book, Phaidon press, which contrasts the work of painters and photographers. Of course there are many examples that include faces, but there are also more than a few where the faces are obscured or turned away from the viewer. Eugene Boudin’s The beach at Trouville, Gustave Caillebotte’s Young Man at his Window, and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Juvisy, France are examples where faces were not necessary to convey what the artists wanted to say. In fact, including the faces would significantly change what the image is all about.

We are hard-wired to look for faces. Take any image and if there’s a face, you’re most likely going to see it first, and it likely will be what the image is about. Obscure the face and your interest shifts elsewhere perhaps where the person seems to be looking. Caravaggio’s  Doubting Thomas, for example, we don’t see the faces but we know where everyone is looking and that’s what grabs our attention.

I explore spaces that are mostly empty. Sometimes I’ll include a person or two but seldom any faces and that’s because I don’t want the individual to become the story. Instead, the person becomes part of the landscape, maybe even a design element. I’ll be honest and admit in the beginning I didn’t include faces more for privacy concerns, their’s and my own as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Over time however I came to see the value of excluding faces. Not everyone agrees with this and that’s okay.  I know what I wanted to say and why I present things the way I do. I used to feel I was doing something wrong. Knowing what I wanted when I took the picture, i.e. shooting with a specific purpose in mind, makes all the difference.

 

Ken

Some news

This is a quick note for anyone who has been checking this site and wondering why nothing has changed.

I will be making some design changes to this site. The blog will will play a smaller role but I will try to update the section at least each month. The galleries will be restructured, possibly using The Turning Gate (TTG) plug-in for Lightroom. A projects section will be introduced (possibly replacing the current stories section) and I’ll have two new projects to write about. The one I’m most excited about concerns a major road trip that starts next month.

My most recent work can now be found on 500px at this link

Kenneth photography on 500px

I am also thinking of adding an instructional section initially for new or intermediate photographers. Let me know in the comments section if this is something any of you would be interested in.

 

Cheers. Ken

The best workshop is….


five

The best workshops are the ones where you forget you are in one.

Last week I spent six days taking pictures with my friends. We were in New Orleans La. sharing a wonderfully old house next to the Garden District. Five of us were working on a photo essay that we agreed would be finished by Friday. Two of us were experts on photography and photo essays. They provided valuable insight by sharing stories about past projects as well as their on-going work. They provided guidance in the form of honest and fair critiques, suggestions and examples to illustrate something important. Each day we would spend three hours looking at a selection of our pictures taken the previous day and the process of photography. This was followed by 4-5 hours working on our projects (i.e. taking pictures). We shared dinners together and later either edited the day’s pictures or talked more, but usually both. By Friday we had completed five individual essays about music, work and life in New Orleans;  these were given a public showing on Saturday just before William Albert Allard, highly respected long time photographer for the National Geographic magazine, gave a talk about his current book Five decades.   Continue reading “The best workshop is….”