Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Visit to the Portrait Gallery

This week I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London to visit the Annie Leibovitz - A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005 Exhibit. (It ends February 1st). Unfortunately, it did not impress me.

The images represented included her professional assignment work which deals with many celebrities and public figures - often for magazine covers like Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue. These images are interwoven with personal "snapshots" of her family, children, and lover. Also on display are some images from commissioned work for a travel magazine.

This eclectic mix of photographs felt a bit disjointed.

I feel I approached the exhibit a bit critical to begin with. The overexposure of Annie Leibovitz has made me somewhat cynical about her work. This period of her work - 1990 and beyond appears to have changed from her earlier creations.

I loved what made her famous. The conceptual images she created for each of her celebrity portraits. John Lennon and Yoko Ono (taken hours before he was shot), Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk, Steve Martin in an abstract painting, (and even though this was printed in 1991) Demi Moore's pregnancy shoot. Wow, those were innovative - photographing a subject that has been captured in every conceivable way and finding something fresh or unique for the viewer to see. Now that's a challenge.

Now a days, Team Leibovitz comes with an entourage of creative and technical assistants, beautiful posers that know how to play for the camera, unlimited funds, and adoring fans. The magic is somehow lost with all that. Is it the cult of celebrity? Is her edge gone? She's already at the top of her game, why should she push it the envelope?

Last year, a group of photographers and myself decided to take on a challenge. Create a Vanity Fair cover. It was very fun. First I had to think about what Vanity Fair covers were all about - celebrity portraits, style and artistic expression. Now I had to find a celebrity - unfortunately I don't have any on my speed dial. So a look alike will do.

Haven't you had someone say....."Did anyone ever tell you, you look like________"

Okay, so there - I found someone that I thought (and had been told on occasion) they resemble Jamie Lee Curtis. And fortunately I found someone who is a natural in front of the camera too! We did the shoot - used a template for a magazine cover and Ta Da....................... My first cover shoot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mystifying Cathedrals

My adventure in Northern Italy brought me to several majestic cathedrals - most notably the elaborate gothic Duomo di Milano. This imposing structure is placed in the Main Square of Milan. It is the second largest "cathedral" in the world.

It's impressive facade leads you into it's dark and gloomy interior. The vast expanse of space was overwhelming.

You found yourself wandering around from sectioned off areas of meditative worship - to the openness and expanse of the nave and transept.

The feelings evoked were anything but warm and fuzzy - more like awesome, confusion, and wonderment.

One of my favorite encounters was the unlikely discovery of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.
While standing in front of this great cathedral - we were unsure of it's entrance.
We wandered into a large wooden (unmarked) doorway, only to discover that we have walked into what some must image their 'heaven' to be like ( some ).

It was quite beautiful, astounding.
With every turn I was surrounded by vibrant paintings, sculptures, colorful frescos, tapestries, and all kinds of gilded decorations.
I was even tempted to lay down on the cold marble floor and study all the staggering art and architecture above me.

But was this cathedral warm and fuzzy?

Not really, but you could feel the energy within.
It was vibrant and quite alive.

I love the way the camera captures the mystery and the grandeur of the space. The dark corners remain hidden while the light illuminates producing a beautiful glow.
Compelling, entrancing, and mesmerizing - the allure and mystery of the Cathedral .

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Walk Back in Time.............

Europe in January is cold, damp and at times uninviting. But this can also lend itself to some wonderful photo opportunities.

I recently discovered an enchanting town in Northern Italy called Bergamo. An hour train ride from Milan, Italy - Bergamo is located in the foothills of the Italian Alps.
Divided into two city centers, a lower part (citta Bassa) and the upper city (Alta) - which can be reach by a funicular railway.
The gentle ride up to the hilltop medieval town, surrounded by 17th century defensive walls, is a beautiful way to see the surrounding gardens and vegetation.

Once we reached the top we also took a step back in time. Cobble stone streets, medieval architecture, immense cathedrals, open piazza's, well let's just say its a magical place.

I will try to give you a feel of the town and the amazing views and unique discoveries around every corner with my captured images.

Because it is off season, and raining - the streets have become my own! I have stepped into a photographers dream. Everywhere I look I long to capture, interpret, remember, feel.
So I did.

I will remember and keep this afternoon in Bergamo for quite some time. It is a place I never want to forget and I can assure you I will return - hopefully this time I may even get a glimpse of the Alps which lie a short distance away.
I close my eyes and feel the mist in the air.
Don't let opportunities pass you by - you never know what treasures you will discover!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Reminiscing - 1990's Portraits

An art show I am participating in is called "Past and Present". The theme of the exhibit is to submit something from your past and a piece from the present - portraying the progression of your work over the years.

This project made me feel a little reminiscent of a project I did in the 1990's documenting the trend of facial piercings. The work consisted of studio portraits with an edgy, high contrast feel. I used my favorite camera at the time - The Mamiya RZ67. (I loved that camera ) Annie Leibovitz used this equipment for her famous celebrity portraiture. It taught me allot about working in the studio and methodically testing exposures.

The project itself was inspired by many creative photographers from this era. Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe to name a few. And various exhibits during this time including Jim Goldberg's "Raised by Wolves". Goldberg's work incorporated a multimedia project about the street children he followed, documented, and eventually told their story through images, text, and audio.

I was moved by the storytelling Mr Goldberg presented in this exhibit by getting the viewer involved in the individual stories by reading, observing, studying and listening. I, too, wanted to involve viewers when presenting my images.

The piercing project not only included 16x20 black and white images, but an audio loop of the interviews I did with each of my subjects. They told of their piercings, the importance and how it determined their individuality, character, and statement to society. When viewing the images, you can listen to each models story and read statements randomly presented with the exhibited images.

I feel the theme that has stayed with me over the years is the value of knowing the story behind the images. I like when a photograph is given a voice - a chance to speak to the viewer. Sometimes if you look really hard and listen..... you can hear it.

------------------- ------- -------- Can you hear it????

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Color vs Black and White Photography

Converting a color image to black and white can be achieved quite easily through the magic of Photoshop. There are many methods to do this, but your ultimate goal is to ensure the image has a variety of tonal ranges.
By stripping away the color of an image, the viewer primarily focuses on the mood and feeling portrayed - (especially in portraiture). Form and shape also becomes an important piece of the composition.

Some images do not convert well. If a color photograph contains a very even tonal range, the resulting monochromatic image becomes very flat and gray without any distinct blacks or whites. Often looking very uninteresting, boring.

Tonal range is the key. Contrast in an image will boldly convert to black and white, and definitely make a statement.

So what do you think?
My example model looks beautiful in both color or black and white, is one better than the other?
Or does it fall on ones' own personal preference and artistic style?
You decide.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year!! A view from Japan.

Narita, Japan: Narita-san is a Shingon Buddhist temple located in Cental Narita City. Usually a quiet, peaceful place for meditation and reflection. However, during theNew Year period, called O-shogatu, over 2 million visitors come to the temple during the first 5 days of the New Year for a type of spiritual "house cleaning"!

Visitors offer up all the old amulets and charms from the previous year to be burnt as offerings, and then buy replacements for the new year. People from all across the area come to pray at the temple.

Purification water is place outside many temples found throughout the complex to cleanse ones' mouth and hands before entering the temple for prayer.

Niomon Gate, greets the visitors as their entrance to the Temple.

The picturesque Buddhist temple complex and adjoining Japanese garden gives the visitor a glimpse into the Japanese Buddhist culture. Fudomyoo is the Naritasan's Temple's Buddist deity. Found to have Indian Buddhist design, you will definitely experience distinct Japanese impression throughout your visit.

Fire and the burning of incense during the visit to the temple, symbolizes the wisdom of the Buddhist deity.
With the many purification incense urns found throughout the temple, visitors often gather large clouds of inense smoke into their hands and focus the haze to areas of their body where they had aches and pains.

Narita's main street is Ometesando, which is lined with many traditional Japanese shops selling crafts, foods, sweets, bamboo, trinkets and fish.

This city is famous for it's river eel known as unagi.
The preparing of the eel is often done outside the restaurant and is quite the delicacy!

My visit also coincided with the commencement of a school day. Followed by uniformed students surrying home from a full day of studies.

One last scene on the streets of Narita is the presences of face masks. Many Japanese wear these masks especially during the cold and flu season to prevent the spread of germs to people you may encounter throughout your daily travels.

How conciderate is that?


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