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2015 has been a lively year….one of visual and cultural extremes. Six weeks in SE Asia and four in the Outback of Montana. One experience of culture, the other of emotional beauty. Both so memorable where does one begin.
At the beginning, I suppose.
The Promise of Vietnam was exotic, a promise that had elements of hesitancy on my part as well as heightened expectations. We were returning to the war fields of the 60s and 70s, to a place where we lost so many young men, to a place where the war was lost. But where was Vietnam today?? Lots of stories about renewal and the embracing of Western culture without leaving their own behind. About the reunification of the country. So with my husband, a veteran of that long ago war, and our friends Mags and Allan, also a veteran who was based in Saigon, we set out to explore the New Vietnam. From the Mekong Delta to the mountains of Sapa we immersed ourselves in their cities, celebrating Tet in Hue along the Perfume River.
But before Saigon and southern Vietnam, we spent a week in Cambodia visiting the ruins of the Angkor Wat region. A photographer’s greatest challenge while traveling I have found is to capture the true essence of the area. In Cambodia I tried to capture the history and the grandeur of the numerous kingdoms from over a thousand years ago. My husband, Ellis, had visited Angkor Wat when he was in the army, and there were only the four of them walking the grounds which were heavily cloaked in the vines and trees of the forest. Today there are thousands of people from all over the world visiting, with busloads of tourists outside each ruin. So a bit of the mystery was lost and the imagination needed to be engaged. That and patience. I have found that patience is your best ally while traveling. Sitting and waiting and watching. I was able to get dozens of photographs of just the ruins because I had envisioned printing them using a technique that would make them look like the original photographs taken by the early French archeologist Henri Mouhot, who had uncovered the ruins back in the 1860s. It was a singular experience that has given me unique memories of a land that once not only thrived but dominated the entire region.
On to Saigon, the Mekong Delta, Na Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Sapa, by planes, trains and automobiles. The trains seemed to be vintage 1920s, the cars and planes modern. The average age of those we met was 25-35, so it is a very young nation with a lot of “can do” attitude. Up in the Highlands on the border with China where the Hmong, Yao and Tay live, the cultures are intact and thriving, seemingly untouched by the communist regime. And everyone speaks English. What war??
I returned home with over 2,000 photos taken on my Sony a-6000, the perfect travel camera. I found myself almost giggling at the end of the day, having had so much fun roaming the streets of a very different culture, small camera in hand….almost invisible. Now I need to figure out what to do with 2,000 photos, mostly street scenes of people going about their daily routines.
And then there was Montana…….
Last July we took off for a Road Trip to Montana, a 5,000 mile wandering of the mountains and wheat fields and river valleys. In search of nothing but hoping for deliverance. We had had a death in the family and I felt the need to wander without any time schedule or compass. Each day was something to be discovered and cherished, no agenda to adhere to, no goals to be met. Just drive and wander the Big Sky Country of my parents. I was hoping to find some magic in the skies, and what I found was wonder. Daily thunderstorms and early morning stillness. Sunshine and downpours, skies filled with streaked clouds high in the sky and horses running wild down below. The openness and untouched (except for the barbed wire) beauty of the vast landscapes was exactly what I was needing, and Montana never fails to live up to the hype. I will return for another 5,000 miles, making Montana my home away from home.
It has been a long time between posts, which means that life is good and photography is afoot. I finally received the Nikon d800 last June and have been busy ever since. It is a truly remarkable camera and has given me a new way to view the world. I have been a devoted 4×5 photographer since 1997 and have accomplished a large format portfolio that not only was an adventure to produce, but gave me great satisfaction to show. What I enjoyed the most was the personal conviction to each and every picture, since only one negative is exposed at a time. Black and white film to me was a open page to be filled with light enhanced silver. I painted with light and saw what I wanted to photograph and how I was going to develop and print it even before I opened the shutter. Each image was a statement.
I have taken that same approach to the newer and smaller format of the full frame 35mm digital camera. I still paint with light and I still compose each shot on a singular level. I look before I shoot, think about what I can do with the light once it has been pixelized. My computer has become my darkroom (which unfortunately now only breeds spiders). An image created with the Nikon d800 once developed can be several hundred megabytes, the same as one of my scanned 4×5 negatives. The image is unforgiving in what it captures. If the lens was not set right, or if there is any vibration, the image will show it. I have to know the “sweet spot” of each lens. The detail that the camera offers is stunning, and unlike all film, I can manage the grain to almost nothing. It then becomes all about the shot, the intent, the emotive image.
I’ve had a ball. On a sailboat in Barkley Sound in early June, on the California Coast, on the Olympic Peninsula, at the foot of Mt. Hood, it’s all been a joy to see through the new camera. The backpack still weighs a bit, but not as much as the 40 pounds when I carried the 4×5.
This January Bainbridge Arts and Crafts has generously given me a large exhibition to show my latest work. I have been working toward this show ever since I received the new camera. I wanted to see where the new format would take me. I’ve worked with an assortment of exposure techniques, from long singular exposures using neutral density filters, to HDR images that combine up to nine images of different exposures for incredible dynamic ranges. I’ve handheld some shots to play with motion when the light is dancing off water at my feet. Now that is something you cannot do with the 4×5, which is a much more static format.
I have posted under the gallery tab in the main menu all the images from this show for you to peruse. It has been a wonderful six months of photography. Of course not all that I took and enjoy are posted, there is only so much wall space. I have left out the Coastal California Redwoods, which I find humbling but difficult to convey. There’s a project, just how do you give homage to a thousand year old stand whose community stands silently, towering above even the birds.
If you are on Bainbridge Island any time during the next month, stop by the Gallery and have a look. I think you’ll enjoy the journey that I’ve presented. A hopefully come away treasuring our Northwest Wild Lands. They are still there……
I have been asked by several Islanders when my spring workshop will be….and that’s a good question. There is a need, I think, for a workshop for beginners because I think both Lightroom and Photoshop can be intimidating for the first timers. I’ve heard so many times from folks that to learn them appears to be a daunting task, and something that they just can’t do on their own. I agree on that. I’ve been using Photoshop for 15 years and feel pretty competent, but there is always more to learn.
My idea for beginners is to have two half day workshops. The first 4 hour day would be a hands on lesson on the fundamentals of the two programs. I’m assuming that participants of course have one or the other. Personally, if I were to have only one, it would be Lightroom, because it is the closest thing to the darkroom and designed just for photographers. There are some things that it cannot do, but for beginners, it has almost everything that you’ll need.
The first day will be an introduction on how to take your pictures….understanding your digital cameras and how to set them up for maximum postproduction effect. Then we will focus on the basic fundamentals of how to use the program. Using some of my pictures, I will show step by step how to take the initial image and make it into a photograph with impact/emotion. The task would then be for the participants to take some of their own pictures during the next week (or two), develop them and present them for a critique to the class on the following workshop. At this point, further discussion and “show and tells” would help with the fundamental understanding of these two powerful programs. I’ve always said, that whatever you can imagine, you can make it so.
Photoshop and Lightroom are programs that will actually make you giggle with glee. The basics are easy to learn. If you start with a good image and you understand the step by step method of development, you can make taking pictures a wonderfully enjoyable event.
So, if you are interested in a workshop, probably after May 1st, then let me know. The only requirements would be that you have a camera and hopefully a laptop computer with either Photoshop or Lightroom installed. The workshop will be held at my studio on Bainbridge Island. The cost for the two days will be $90.00.