Cameras are like our memories: They preserve snapshots of they way things are at a unique point in time, creating links to places, people and events that we can no longer visit in person. The conflict between this sense we have of eternity, and yet being stuck in mortal bodies, provides a never-ending protagonist as we photographers tell stories by writing with light.
Today I came across this photo I made in 2013 of one of the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center. I was struck with a new connection to it, as this week part of the tower has been torn down to make way for the new Falcon 9 Heavy rocket made by SpaceX.
I took this photo on a pilgrimage of sorts. I love watching while history is being made. As a young photographer it fueled my desire to be a photojournalist. In high school, I was able to cover part of the 1988 Presidential race as Ronald Reagan and Michael Dukakis both visited my swing state of Ohio. Seeing people up close that I’d only watched on the evening news was an incredible rush to a 16-year-old.
Over time, I realized that I value a personal connection to places and events. It’s one thing to see a picture of something like Stonehenge, but until I stood before it, it wasn’t as real.
It’s with that motivation that I traveled to Kennedy Space Center in the spring of 2013. NASA was flying Space Shuttle Endeavour to Los Angeles, and I had secured VIP passes to be on the flight line the morning it flew out. I really wanted to see a space shuttle on the back of a 747, and this was my last chance because it was never going to happen again. I was also able to take a special tour of Launch Complex 39A...the site where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took flight to become the first men on the moon. This launch pad went on to serve the shuttle program with 82 shuttle launches. Because the pad was not in use for the first time in nearly 35 years, up-close tours were allowed in ways that hadn’t been before, and are no longer available, since it has become a main launch site for SpaceX.
It was a powerful moment for me to stand inside the fence at pad 39A and have a few brief minutes to examine and photograph a place I’d thought about since I was a small boy. This is a very personal photograph that represents far more than just the subject before the camera. And today, knowing that this scene is gone forever, I’m very glad I had the chance to make it.
If you are like me, there are certain restaurants you’ll go out your of your way to experience. I have my favorites, and I bet you can picture your favorite spot, and maybe even your favorite dish, right now.
So what’s the big deal? It’s just food. You can probably buy the same ingredients the chef uses, and cook them at home, right?
Not so much...
Part of dining out is experiencing the chef’s creativity and talent. That creativity intrigues us so much, there’s an entire TV network dedicated to food, with competitions where chefs showcase their training and talent. The shows always start out with a grand introduction, listing where the chefs studied, which chefs they worked under, and which restaurants they worked at, or own. They then open their mystery baskets and have to turn seemingly contradictory foods into something that will impress the distinguished panel of judges.
If I invited one of these chefs over and asked them to cook something from my pantry, it would be far better than anything I’ve ever cooked. Think about it. To become a talented chef, these people have studied at culinary school, worked for other top chefs at top restaurants where most of us will never eat, have tasted thousands upon thousands of recipes and ingredients, and probably prepare more meals in a day than we do in a month. It’s something they have poured their whole life into mastering. They are so practiced and skilled, they can combine all this experience and creativity into tastes and flavors I’d never dream of.
That’s the easiest way to explain what I do as a Fine Art Printmaker. I take people’s photographs and, using my years of study, skill, talent, and experience, I make a photograph look the best it can be. I make it into something that makes you feel happy about it, every time you look at it, so you can enjoy that photograph more.
It’s something every photograph, and everyone, can benefit from...so why don’t more people use a printmaker? After talking to my non-photographer friends, I discovered a number of reasons. The biggest one is that they simply didn’t know what a printmaker could do for them. Another was access; most printmakers today require ongoing work or large projects to work with. It isn’t easy to find a printmaker who will work on just one or two files. They typically want ongoing relationships with artists who will do a certain volume of work with them.
I’m out to change that, making printmaking more accessible for everyone. With my new “Printmakers Choice” service, I’ll take one of your photos and give you my take on it, as seen through my experience and taste, for just $35. Think of it as my food truck. I can give you the benefit of my 5-star restaurant experience at an incredible price because you just come to the counter, order, then trust my judgment. This setup streamlines my workflow, allowing me to offer a very high-end service without requiring any minimum orders. Want more collaboration? I can do that too...but it comes at a bit higher price.
My new order system makes it easy to order:
You can then use this file to order prints, canvas wraps, metal prints or whatever you choose (and I can help you find a good lab who will print your file well, if you’d like).
When you consider the cost of putting a picture on the wall...from the printing, to the framing...that it’s going to be a focal point of your room...and that it will be something your family will treasure for years to come...it’s easy to justify the $35 to make sure your photograph will look its best.
Hearing an opinion on the quality of a lens is easy, but finding a GOOD opinion is hard. You have to consider the source and their experience. I’ll admit, I’m very picky about whose opinion I’ll listen to when it’s time to part with my money. I tend to give the most weight to the working pros who I actually know because I’ve seen their work for myself, which validates their opinions.
Even with good sources and top-quality lenses, few pros have exhaustively tested all of the leading lenses in a given focal length. That’s when Lloyd Chambers’ diglloyd.com website becomes extremely useful.
Lloyd is relentless in testing every high-end lens and camera system he can get his hands on, and while it requires payment to access his in depth reviews, it’s a minimal investment compared to the thousands of dollars most photographers spend on glass.
Anyone can tell you that the Sigma Art lenses and Zeiss lenses produce phenomenal resolution. But at diglloyd.com, I can actually see carefully crafted high-resolution files from different camera and lens setups, along with Lloyd’s observations. How a lens performs in the real world is far more valuable to a photographer than benchmark testing or MTF charts.
This is what makes Lloyd’s reviews so valuable. He actually shows you what is right and wrong about a lens so you can form your own opinion.
My trust for Lloyd’s pursuit of quality was cemented after getting to know him on one of my workshops. He was using 8x10 film at that time (8x10 being a benchmark in quality equivalent to about 400mp) and was frustrated that it wasn’t sharper. I looked at his chromes and told them they were as tight as the best chromes I had seen from photographers Jack Dykinga and Christopher Burkett, and that he should be very happy with them because not only were they technically perfect, but they were beautiful as well. Lloyd told me that they should be able to be sharper, and then rattled off some deep technical details that they should be achieving. While many people can talk the talk, Lloyd actually knows how to walk the walk .
It’s one of the blogs I read almost every day, and it doesn’t hurt that his “test” images are beautiful real-world photographs taken in my beloved Eastern Sierra. Short of buying thousands of dollars in lenses and testing them myself, it’s the best evaluation of lens quality I’ve ever found.
On January 7th of this year, Yosemite National Park was evacuated due to the risk of flooding from an atmospheric river with only emergency personnel allowed to stay. The same thing happened twenty years ago (almost to the day) after one of Yosemite's largest floods in modern history. I was one of the few allowed to stay during that flood in 1997 because I was hired by the National Park Service to photograph the damage for their archives. The tale of the 1997 flood and my experiences were documented in Calumet’s Newsletter for Photographic Artists by Richard Newman.
For twenty years I’ve been fortunate enough to work with William Neill. He was one of my very first clients when I launched my printmaking business in Yosemite, and has been a client, mentor, friend, neighbor, and inspiration for all those years. Check out his book, and see more of his work at williamneill.com.
A root-bound plant is an interesting thing. The roots have grown so much that they take up every bit of available soil, binding it, and taking on the shape of its container. When gardening, I still feel a sense of wonder as I observe how the roots have taken on the popsicle-like shape of the nursery tray. It’s such a visual expression of how the plant, no matter how beautiful, has grown as much as it can in the space provided. The nursery tray has a job to do, but it only lets the plant grow so far. So there is an excitement in planting, knowing that that the roots can finally spread, the plant can grow, and the once small, beautiful plant, can start growing more blossoms and more fruit.
Life has a way of making us root-bound too, filling up our containers and not leaving us enough room for all the directions we want to grow. It’s a good thing to be repotted from time to time.
For the last twenty-two years I have lived and photographed in and around Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada. For three of those years I lived right in Yosemite Valley, at a little house that Ansel Adams lived in. That was just one of the perks of working at The Ansel Adams Gallery, where I was able to meet some of the most talented landscape photographers in the world (sometimes by accident, like the time I tried to kick Galen Rowell out of our staff parking lot). It also afforded me the chance to carefully study the most carefully crafted and expressive photographic prints from masters like Ansel Adams, Christopher Burkett, Charlie Cramer, and a host of others.
My passion is and will always be for finely crafted (fine art) photographic prints, which led me to leave Yosemite in 1998 to start a printmaking studio dedicated to making the finest quality digital prints, at a time when digital printing was in its infancy. The early years were a very exciting time for this because I was able to print the first digital show for Galen Rowell (100 pieces!), museum shows for grand masters like Jack Dykinga, gallery prints for Robert Glenn Ketchum, a book for Frans Lanting, build the first website for William Neill, and the first digital prints for more artists than I can recount. As the studio grew and added other talented staff, we completed thousands of amazing projects. As I write this, prints made by my studio are hanging in the Smithsonian, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Parks.
As great as owning a printmaking studio was, time, and life, made me root-bound. My role changed from printmaker to business owner and all the responsibilities that entails. Kids, cancer, and the great recession all changed the formula, and the time to do the photography I loved disappeared. It was time for repotting but I didn’t know how to do it…so life did it for me.
I started 2016 with our print studio at its peak, making the best prints in our history, six years of consistent growth under our belt, and expectations for continued growth. But the fine art segment took a hit in 2016, and talking to several other lab owners, it was industry wide. I was positioned for growth, not for pulling back. A year of fighting the sales drop left my pockets empty. I couldn’t go forward any more, so I sold the business to another highly respected lab who could continue to serve my customers.
It was a painful process, but being uprooted is turning into a blessing in disguise. Yanked out of my pot I decided to transplant to the Nashville area. It’s as different from Yosemite as you can imagine, but the concentration of talent and creativity created by the Nashville music industry has fostered one of the richest artistic communities in the country. Couple that with a beautiful countryside, and it’s a great place replant.
Now it’s time for these bound-up roots to grow, and to thrive again as a photographer. It’s time to continue to make new photographs, show my prints, and share with others all I’ve been able to learn by working with the best of the best photographers for the last twenty-two years. It’s a journey I look forward to sharing with you on this blog.