Proud and excited to announce my upcoming artistic photography show in June and July at Carlton Cinema in Toronto.
I hope to see you there.
The Street Car on Lakeshore
Every so often you take a photograph and by doing so, you remove yourself from the creative process. If you’re not sure what that means, then consider this: Most of the time when it comes to a photograph, there are two people involved, namely the photographer and the person viewing the picture. But sometimes the picture creates itself – the moment presents itself to a person whom just happens to be holding a camera at the time. Streetcar on Lakeshore was one of those moments.
Of course, it is still up to the photographer to recognise these moments when they spontaneously arrive. I like to think that I have two kinds of vision. There’s the normal vision that almost all of us have that allows us to go about our daily business, but then there’s a very separate kind of vision that some of us seem to have. It’s an eye that allows us to spot spontaneous moments and recognise them as instances of time that deserve to be captured forever. It’s almost as if everything within the visible environment has worked together to compose something unique that deserves to be treasured forever.
It’s really a magical moment when this happens to me. Something seems to capture my attention, and that sense of inner vision takes over. It’s like there’s a tiny moment of realisation or dawning and I know that I have to capture that precise configuration before the composition is gone for good.
This is what happened to me one morning as I was walking down to Lakeshore Boulevard. I’d mistakenly ventured further that morning than I had intended and was heading home, feeling quite tired. I was crossing the streetcar tracks when I had one of those moments that I described above. I took a few seconds to compose my photograph, then took the picture, thinking little more about it as I continued my journey home.
It was only when I reviewed the photo in post-processing that the true nature of what I’d captured really came to me. I’ve always had a fondness for cityscapes, and turning what would typically be a somewhat boring everyday scene into something vibrant became my aim. I feel the colours match up with each other perfectly – the colours mainly being reds, yellows, oranges and golden browns. Because I love leading lines I also like the slight off-centre framing of the streetcar tracks as they hurry off into the distance before sneaking left. I positioned the streetcar tracks here because, although not obvious, the streetcar was moving and I had only a couple of seconds before it went out of my frame.
If I wanted proof that my “inner eye” was the one at work, I only had to look in the top left hand corner of the shot. I freely admit that I only noticed that the construction warning sign was upside down during post-processing. In fact I did a double-take when I did notice it, and for a split second thought I was imagining it. During my walk, and during the time I was composing, framing and finally taking the shot, I hadn’t noticed that the sign was upside down at all! I do wonder if, unconsciously, this “inner eye” noticed the sign and decided it would give my streetcar photograph a little extra nuance of character, whilst my normal vision disregarded it completely. A photographer friend said to me that you never quite know what you’ve captured until you review in post. I agree with her 100%.
As our famous photographic friend, Ansel Adams, once said:
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
Well, I certainly feel this was one shot my “inner eye” definitely made! As followers of my blog will know, I love art photographs that have a interesting story behind them. I’d like to think it helps the viewer understand the “why” of a particular photograph or art print. I know that every time I see this wonderful shot of the streetcar on Lakeshore, the distinctive circumstances regarding its composition will come flooding back to me, and that makes me very happy!
It’s difficult to put a precise finger on when photography became an art form. It’s commonly accepted that American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was the first photographer who attempted to establish photography as an accepted form of artistic expression rather than just as a means of recording images. Stieglitz was also a modern art promoter, and it was his efforts that really propelled photographs to become regarded as art.
For this blog post, however, I am going to concentrate on one of the most famous and influential photographers of all time, namely Emmanuel Radnitsky or, to give him his more familiar non de plume, Man Ray. Man Ray was an American artist, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, but he spent most of his life in Paris. He was born in Philadelphia in 1890, and displayed a keen artistic temperament from his earliest days, but mainly as a painter. In July 1921 Man Ray moved to Paris where he settled in the Montparnasse district, an area of France’s capital favoured by renowned artists such as Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp.
It was in Paris that Man Ray’s career as a visionary photographer really exploded. He explored imagery like no other photographer had done before him, being both enigmatic and playful. In one of his most famous works, “Le Violin d’Inges”, he had his lover, Kiki de Montparneasse, pose naked with black shapes matching those of the f-holes of a violin attached to her back. The shape of Kiki’s body perfectly mirrored the shape of a violin.
Man Ray was never the perfectionist, concentrating on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’. In one quotation he said:
"Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information."
I like to approach my own photography in same manner. When I see a photograph, I’m more interested in why the photograph was arrived at than the technicalities of how it was arrived at. For me, the interesting aspect is the story behind any particular art photograph. After all, there must be a reason why a photographer chose to take a particular shot at a particular time. And everyone has a story. We love hearing and telling stories. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I love to explain my thinking and stories behind any particular photograph, rather than go into any depth about the amount of exposure I used, which aperture I chose or the shutter speed I selected. They’re important but they pale in comparison to the inspiration behind a photograph or work of art. When you see a great painting, do you ask the artist which oils he used, how thick was his brush or whether he worked for hours at a time or worked in short spells with plenty of breaks?
Take my art photograph “Spadina Station”, for example. I hope people are interested in why I composed this shot, and not how. To me, this photograph displays the juxtaposition of what is manufactured and what is natural. Almost everywhere you look in the photograph you see the uniform and the regular. Straight lines upon straight lines, all parallel to one another. Not just the station itself, but the buildings behind it. It creates a fantastic grid of regularity and uniformity – this is how mankind tends to work. Just here and there are irregular blotches – the tree just visible from the side of the station, the odd patches of snow and the dampness on the station walls. This is how nature works – irregularly and randomly. I think it’s fascinating how the human mind makes perceptions as we can appreciate both uniformity (we associate beauty with symmetry, which is why good-looking people tend to have symmetrical faces) and the kind of variation you see in natural wonders.
As an art photographer, I can never be sure when inspiration is likely to strike, which is something that definitely appeals to me. Just like Man Ray, I think I have a curious nature. While I may go out with a particular art print in mind I like to be surprised, and never can be totally sure what kind of image my camera will capture next and what story will unfold. That’s just the way I like it!
For this blog post I’ve returned to one of my most favourite places to photograph – Sugar Beach here in Toronto – and I’ve returned to one of my most favourite themes – finding and capturing scenes of interest from the seemingly mundane.
In my black and white art photograph Waiting for Summer, I wanted to emphasize winter beauty and a certain expectation of something yet to arrive. At first, you’d probably think this was a relatively drab summer scene that conveys nothing special at all, other than an abandoned beach. But if you look closely enough, you’ll notice the fine powder on top of the parasols, which should lead you to the conclusion that the “sandy beach” is in fact a layer of snow. When you realize this, you’ll perhaps understand the impression I wanted to create.
I love the way the beach chairs have adopted different solutions to cope with the harsh winter. The three clustered around the nearest parasol have decided to hibernate, but the seven to the left of the photograph have taken a more hopeful stance. They’ve lined themselves up on the edge of the beach, as if gazing longingly over the harbour (by Lake Ontario) at the patch of sunlight that’s broken through the clouds. I imagined people sitting in the beach chairs gazing out over the water – in warmer weather of course. The shadows behind the chairs do show that they’ve managed to find a little bit of sun on what was actually an overcast cold day. And I can just imagine the joy in their hearts at this reminder that despite the severe winter we Torontonians have had this year, summer will eventually arrive.
The American photographer Elliott Erwitt once said:
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
This expresses to me another reason why I love photography. When you see things in real life, you only really see them as they are meant to be. When you see a beach chair, you see a beach chair. However, when you freeze a scene (as photography allows you to do) it gives you time to take stock, and you see so much more. With a little imagination, even the mundane can take on a wholly different and much more interesting perspective.
Erwitt was a very inventive photographer with a love of the absurd (and of dogs). He was also never shy of courting the controversial. One of his most famous art photographs is of a smiling boy in 1950s Pittsburgh holding a gun (hopefully a toy) to the side of his head, whilst another is of a child with their right eye lined up perfectly with a crack on a car window that looks like it could have been caused by a bullet. Erwitt brought a definite sense of humour to his work as well. Check out his “Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade 1988” photograph. Two young boys stare innocently out of a window unaware of the monstrous, mad-eyed panther that is approaching them menacingly from around the corner of their building. Even though that photograph is in black and white, you’ll be able to tell that the panther is definitely pink, straight away!
Back here in Toronto, there are signs that spring may be on its way. Temperatures of late have been reaching the sizzling heights of ten below zero. Although I love winter for the wonderful artistic photography opportunities it affords me, and I plan on capturing as many of those as I am able I – like those forlorn beach chairs – am really looking forward to summer arriving. I will definitely be returning to Sugar Beach to show how different it looks without the snow and gloom!
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