Beach Scenes – a short walk, a meaningful image

On the fourth day (Thursday) of my workshop with Jay Maisel in 2012, after a morning spent the morning catching up on image critiques, we were taken for lunch to little whole in the wall place that served only two kinds of Chinese dim-sum – sesame bread pork sandwiches and something else. As usual, Jay told us what was best (his favorite) and gave us that look that said: “Hey, I just told you what was the best thing here, but you can make up your own mind.” After lunch we had maybe one-and-a-half hours before we were due back at “The Bank” (Jay’s home, and where we met for the workshop). Jay gave us this advice: “You are going to use this time to prove to yourself that you don’t need a lot of time to make meaningful images.”

Beginning last summer, I have made it a point to take short walks on at the near-by beaches (about 30 minutes away) to spend time with my husband and to see what kind of “meaningful images” I could make in that short time. Last weekend I came upon this scene showing the beach life reflected in the front glass of the new lifeguard stations at Leo Carrillo State Beach. The beach infrastructure was severely impacted by by the Woolsey Fire last summer and all of the historic wooden lifeguard stations have been replaced by these fiberglass pod-like structures. A couple of my all-time favorite images will never be able to be reproduced due to these changes. Another thing Jay taught us at the workshop: “Never assume you can go back.”

More about Jay and the Jay Myself movie

Jay Maisel is one of America’s master photographers and I was lucky enough to take a workshop with him at his infamous “Bank Building” in the Bowery NYC in May 2012. Jay is amazing: his photographic achievements, his approach to life, his creativity, his authenticity. In 2015, Jay sold the bank building and as he moved out, Stephen Wilkes made a documentary film, called Jay Myself, about Jay, his building, and the moving process . You can find some background and the bank building here, and more information about the movie Jay Myself show times at the Laemmle theatre page.  Jay Myself will be showing at Laemmle Royal in Santa Monica CA form August 16 – 22nd 

Hey, I’m the Featured Member for August 2015 – Los Angeles Center of Photography

Santa Monica, California

This month I am the featured member in the Member Gallery at the Los Angeles Center of Photography website. My gallery displays a 20-image portfolio of my street work from the past three years. As I choose this set of images, I was looking for those of which I was most proud of with a consistent feel. I was not looking for images from a single place or time, so it is all the more interesting to examine some of the characteristics of this set.

Of the 20 images, 10 are from Los Angeles taken on various trips to Downtown, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills. 5 of these are from a 3-day stretch of intensive shooting downtown that I did earlier this year for a book project with John Free.

Flowers and DogDowntown LA with John Free

2 images are from workshop intensives, with Jay Maisel and Sam Abell. During these workshops, you are challenged each day you to make 5 images for the next day’s workshop critique. These two images mark, for me, a breakthrough in thinking.

New York, NYNew York City with Jay Maisel

Whidbey Island, WAWhidbey Island with Sam Abell

The remaining 8 images are from the various travel trips I have started to do in the last few years. The images are from Havana Cuba, Oaxaca Mexico, Lisbon Portugal, and Dublin Ireland, but none of are particularly “travel” images.

Of the 20 images, all but 1, was taken with a micro-four-thirds mirror less camera as I ditched my dSLR sometime in late 2012.

One of the earliest images in the collection, from 2012, was taken in Beverly Hills. I was out for a couple hour photo walk with a good friend and my husband. It was a nothing special day with a nothing special agenda, but my mind had been freshly implanted with the teachings and matras from Jay Maisel’s: “you are responsible for every millimeter of the frame”, “show me the rip in the fabric”, “light-color-gesture”. This image was my only keeper of the day, but what a keeper it was. It will be a permanent member of my top 20 street photographs.

Beverly Hills, CABeverly Hills with Jerry Weber

The most recent images, one is featured at the top of this page, are from Santa Monica Beach and represents all that I am working to achieve now in my photography: walking into the scene to create deeply layered images capturing the full figure and the context behind while carefully managing the juxtapositions between the image elements.

Enjoy my portfolio gallery at the Los Angeles Center of Photography website. And I can’t help but plug and upcoming guest lecture workshop “Sharpening your Photographic Vision” with Sam Abell. The lecture is Dec 3, 2015with the workshop Dec 4–6, 2015.

Bringing Creativity back to the Local Camera Club

About 4 years ago I became seriously involved in my local camera club. I joined for the camaraderie and exposure to the local professional photographers that the club would bring in for our monthly critiques. I surely learned a lot from these sessions but as I became bolder in my own personal expression, I also became increasingly discontented with small-world views surrounding our critique and competition.

Photography clubs are notorious for their preoccupation with competition. Anonymous competition, often thinly veiled as critique, is attractive to clubs because it provides a quantitative method to evaluate, and therefore rank, a large set of images across disparate genres in a very short amount of time. Members feel good when validated with a high score and no harm done for those nameless photographers whose images don’t fare so well. Consistently, photographers who play it safe with eye-pleasing landscapes, horizons aligned to the rule of thirds, or perfect floral specimens, are rewarded with top honors. Those who present unusual images which challenge the norms or present uncomfortable subjects are often dismissed.

For anyone who knows me, following the norm is not my comfort zone. I’m more comfortable with challenging images of decay and issolation at the Salton Sea or a triptych of well worn inner-city pay phones with directions for calling home to Mexica. Yes, my discontentment was due to that fact that it was my images that were so often dismissed. My images that presented a different view of world and were outside the comfort zone of the standard “rules” for photography. It was my images that could not find a charitable home in the hearts or heads of our local portrait and landscape photographers, who themselves are judged by producing work that sells and wins their own competitions.

So I set out to broaden my inputs by working with some of the great photographers of our time. Either I would learn that my photography truly sucked or I would find out that is was my audience that needed some education.

My journey started by dipping my toe into the warm waters and attending a 3-day workshop with Sam Abell, a 30 year National Geographic photographer. Sam’s documentary work is exemplary and he has not one, but two, images in National Geographic’s top 100 images collection. Sam’s approach emphasizes composition and layering – “compose and wait”. His concept of layering are the basis of every single image he makes. Even with all his emphasis on composition, not once during the 3 days did Sam ever mention anything about any typical “compositional rules” I’d heard at the club.

If my first step was a dip of the toe, my next step was a dive into the deep end spending a week with Jay Maisel in New York. Jay is one of the most generous, most confident, most unabashedly honest men you will ever meet. Jay’s workshop revolves around lecture, shooting, critique, and food. This week is about teaching you to be a photographer. Each day you turn in five images from the day before. Each day you get your chance to show your command over “every millimeter of the frame”. Jay evaluates your image based on the journey it takes him on. Sometimes you fail: “This image takes me on a journey that I could care less about.” Other times you succeed: “Did you realize it was good when you took this?” Rule of thirds, leading lines – he couldn’t care less.

My most recent stop was attending a “Vancouver Gathering” with David DuChemin. David has been digging deep, teaching and writing on the concepts surrounding photographic vision for years. In addition, David has an approach for reading an image which forces you to really look into how an image is put together to determine how it tells its story. He calls it Photographically Speaking and you can get his book by the same name. With three days of talking about photography you would think we would discuss the “rules” – nope!

It is now 12 months later. My year consisted of three workshops, 20,000 images, and the study of at least 20 photography monographs. No doubt, my head is a-jumble with ideas that will take years for me to master. My conclusion, however, is that my photography is coming along just fine but my environment for evaluation needs to change. I am at a fork in the road. Do I dump my local camera club or do I set out to change it?

At this point in my story, I must disclose that I am the President of that local camera club that has so disillusioned me. So it is my work to start the change, to move the needle, to instill a drive for creativity over conformance. Late last week my new ideas for the club the were presented to the general membership and all indications are that they will be approved at our next meeting.

Although the new format still includes competition (three per year), in between we will focus on creativity, sharing, and each of us building up our own set of photographic discriminators. Anonymous critique will be replaced with dialog between the local professional and the photographer. The professionals will be banned from saying whether they “like” or “dislike” an image. This will make some uncomfortable, both the invited professional and the member, as they will be forced to find the words to explore the image rather than their emotional reaction to it. “Assigned topics” will be replaced with “Creative Play” to be shared without the thread of criticism or critique. I will measure my success by the number of Creative Play entries, the depth of images entered into the Competition meetings, and the quality of discussion.

Even though I am just a fledgling myself, I have taken the challenge to invite those around me to explore their own creative flight. I have proven to myself many times over that teaching is the best path to learning. Wish me luck. I’ll keep you all posted.

Jay Maisel Day 5 – “Trust your intuition”

This is the ceiling of one room in Jay’s building. The ceiling is peeling because after a house guest painted it black, repainting it white produced the current situatioin. Jay laughs about this ceiling and won’t repair it, in fact he saves the chips that fall off.

Just as I didn’t want to end the week, it is difficult for me to end my description of the workshop. Friday was two days in one. The morning was business as usual. I was up with the sun as I was not sure I had my images from the short amount of time we had to shoot on Thursday. We had to turn in 10. The morning with Jay started with a lecture discussion on color. How colors interact and the optical illusion you can create with color. Did you know that colors vibrate?

Then on to critique. Critiques were brief, not because we had gotten lazy or tired or were running out of time, but because we could do them almost in shorthand. “Didn’t you see this here?” “Yes, gesture over graphic.”, “You are still having problems with sharpness, let’s review the data”. This was actually the first time that we actually looked at the meta-data from our images during the critique. “See, you are at f/22 – why are you at f/22?”. “Good – see how sharp this is at f/5.6 because you are shooting at 1/1000th”. If someone says that there is not technical discussion at the workshop, they would be mistaken. Technique fits in right where it should, as a means to create an end. If the end isn’t right we first examined the seeing. If the seeing was good, then we would examine the technique. But always the message that failure is ok, dare to fail, and trust your intuition.

We saw a slide show of Jay’s trip to Paris with Scott Kelby that he took the week before. They were making the next Kelby interview which will be entitled “A week with Jay Maisel in Paris”. And we saw a slide show of Jay’s pictorial biography of his daughter Amanda. It was beautiful in graphic and sentiment. We finished with a tour of the building, dinner on the roof, and 2 hours of shooting the breeze in his kitchen. Jay’s office, gallery, workshop, and home are a full expression of his curiosity and playfulness. The workshop is worth every dollar and every minute.

“Shoot what excites you” – Jay Maisel

At lunch on Thursday Jay gave us the following suggestion: “Go out for 45 minutes and just shoot what you love. Shoot what excites you”. I got three of my favorite shots of the week from these two short sessions. The learning was seeping in. Was I seeing better? Was I was digging deeper? Was I beginning to discard my preconceptions and shooting (and editing) only that which truly excited me?

On Wednesday, I explicitly remember going through a phase of shooting doors and door knobs in a desperate attempt to clean up my framing. These shots will be hidden away forever, they are studies. I also shot some recipe shots of people playing cards at the park. For these I received the critique, “You don’t look like you are enjoying yourself.” This critique was devastating but psychologically strategic. When I arrived at the workshop I was shooting intuitively. After some instruction, my photography became more inhibited and restrained. This critique (and I understand it is a common zinger), reminded me to maintain a heightened awareness of frame but not to loose the excitement.

Thursday afternoon I was out shooting with two other workshop participants. We had about 20 minutes until we would meet for dinner and were near a local park. We notices some interesting activity of two Greek men playing chess and they agreed to allow us to photograph their game. Amazingly we didn’t seem to bother them in the least.

Most of the time I spent doing portraits of one or the other of the two players. I played with moving around the depth of field on their faces, their hands, and the pieces. Two things, however, were bothering me. There was too much distraction in the background and the timer they were using for the game was really ugly and had writing on the front. Jay would crucify you for including text if it wasn’t part of the story. So I began to look for an angle to minimize the timer, As I moved around to my left I noticed the sun streaming in across the table and through the white captured pieces on the edge of the table. I then honed in on the players actions and saw the repeated action of him hitting the top of the timer to reset the clock. The placement of the white rook and black king was icing on the cake.

This was the last image I showed on Friday’s critique. Silence. Jay looked up, grinned, and said in an undertone, “did you know this was good when you took it?” “Yea”, I replied in the same undertone.

This image is printed as a small 8×10 on my wall in my office with a few others from the week. Everyone who comes into my office comments on my photography and invariable I hear, “I really like that chess one”.