Art Wolfe’s Abstractions

Recently, in my weekly newsletter, I shared a video of photographer Art Wolfe giving a talk at Google. This video struck a chord with many.

Pointillism

Pointillism

Art Wolfe is a world-renowned travel and wildlife photographer, as well as art educator. Even so, he tells us that he’s not very technical. As a matter of fact, he may only know 4% of what his camera can do.
 

His point is that his strengths lie more in the composition and seeing aspects of photography.

“The hardest thing for a photographer is to find a compelling image in that 360 degree world we live in. What I try to teach is how to find your subject as you’re walking down the street in any location on the planet and pull out something that 99% of the rest of the population would never see.”

The entire video covers a wide range of subjects and is well worth watching. However, I was particularly drawn to his abstract work. Art Wolfe has a background in painting and he goes on to say that his greatest influences in photography have been painters.

He was first influenced by the Impressionists of the late 1800′s, particularly Georges Seurat, who painted everyday life in Paris in the pointillist style.

Wolfe goes on to show many examples he’s found in nature that reflect this style. The example, above right, is one of my images of this style. By the way, all images in this post are mine. You can see Art Wolfe’s wonderful examples in the video.

Another example he cites is Monet, a very well known impressionist, who used imprecise brush strokes. Wolfe began experimenting with longer shutter speeds or taking advantage of wind blowing or snow falling to create impressionistic images – something near and dear to my heart.

Impressionism

Impressionism

Van Gogh is another example of an impressionist painter, although his paintings are completely unique and surrealistic. Wolfe describes how reflections that distort reality can often look like a Van Gogh painting, something I find as well.

Pollock-Style

Pollock-Style

Wolfe goes on to show how he finds Picasso’s cubist-style in overturned boats and Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers in icebergs in the Antarctic.

At first, he didn’t understand the chaotic abstracts of Jackson Pollock, until “he saw a Jackson Pollock in a mud-spattered vehicle in southern China.”

In his early years, Wolfe became known as a wildlife photographer. Today he says,

“I’m shooting rusting cans in a gutter, to the grand landscapes and everything in-between. As an artist, and having a background in painting, and illustration, and graphic design, I shoot without prejudice. And, it just opens up the world. I never run out of ideas.”

I love that saying – to shoot without prejudice. It opens up so many possibilities.

 

Wolfe goes on in the conversation to explore composition (something he teaches), the value of leading lines and different lenses, as well as showing some of his newest work.

One project, called Migrations, is about animal migrations, but is really about patterns.

In another, he photographs cultures from above, creating abstract views of people.

“The trick and the challenge is to constantly come up with perspectives, points of view, that haven’t quite been done before. That’s what gets me out of bed, that’s what motivates me.”

 

You might also like:

 
Post: What do Abstract Expressionism and Graffiti have in common?

Post: The Fun of Abstract Photography

Urban Decay Series – Part 1 (Rust), Part 2 (Wabi-sabi and Wood), Part 3 (Walls and Roads)

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Inspired by … Sandra Favre-Byles

IMG_1522-bis (Custom)

Image with permission from Sandra Favre-Byles


 
Every time I finish a workshop, I marvel at the people who are a part of them – thoughtful and kind, as well as excellent photographers in their own right. They all seem to have a thirst to continue to grow and evolve, and to do it with others. We really do learn from each other.

So, I thought I would start to feature some of these wonderful people on this blog – to show you their work, and allow them to tell their photography story.

First up is Sandra Favre-Byles, who hails from Switzerland. Sandra has been a part of my Photo By Design, 50mm Project, Going Abstract, and Keeping It Simple workshops (sometimes multiple times).

Not only is she a stunning photographer, it is obvious that she is a contemplative at heart, and always a kind supporter of others. She makes my work in the groups easier with her beautiful examples and supportive comments.
 

Meet Sandra Favre-Byles

 
K: How and when did you get started in photography and what drew you to this medium?

S: In 2005, I bought my first point and shoot digital camera and that’s when I started really being interested in photography. Seeing photos on the big screen of my computer showed me the real beauty of the scenes I was capturing. I knew then that photography had entered my life on a whole new level, even with that first simple little camera: a Canon Digital IXUS 50 point and shoot.

Before then, my photography had been limited to taking pictures of family or on holiday or of my garden. It was more about recording memories and moments rather than an art form, which is what I consider it to be now.

K: Describe your evolution as a photographer. Who are your mentors?

S: When I decided to buy my first DSLR camera, I knew nothing about the settings and was even reluctant to look into that part of things! So, for nearly a year I was still in automatic mode! It was time to learn the basics.

I bought the book Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson, and also took an online group class to practice what I was learning and receive critiques from our teacher. Then, I had more control over how I wanted my images to look. I could feel at that point that the pictures I was taking were evolving, there was more depth and meaning to them; more emotion.

I took my first photo class with Kat Sloma. I learnt a lot from her and am grateful to her for helping me find my eye. She also gave me confidence to be who I am.

I am also very grateful to you, Kim, for having created photography workshops that correspond so well to my own aspirations. Your style speaks to my own way of interpreting what I see and feel. Your workshops push me to go further, delve deeper and develop and widen my visual capacities. Through you, I have been able to evolve into a simpler and more contemplative style which suits so well my inner philosophy and the way I like to see the world around me.

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Sandra Favre-Byles

K: Why do you photograph and what types of subjects are your favourites?

S: I take photographs because I am touched by something. It is often the mood of a scene which pulls me in, something which tells a story or the sheer beauty of something which takes my breath away.

My first love has always been about capturing nature, I also love doing macro very much and reflections have always held a deep fascination for me. Lighting is very important too and light and shade create a magic all of their own which I love to capture.

Since I have been doing your classes Kim, I have learned to enjoy street photography, abstracts, and especially simplicity. The simpler things are, the more they touch my heart and soul. The simplicity reveals the essence of the subject photographed. The subjects I choose and the way I like to capture them also reveal my own essence.

K: Do you sell your work? If so, where can we find it? Where do you most like to post your work online?

S: I have never sold my work, I’ve never thought about it so far! I mostly like to post on my own blog online. I also post on Flickr when I’m doing a workshop.

Thank you, Kim, for giving me the opportunity of speaking here. It’s been a pleasure to answer your questions and it has helped me define who I am as a photographer and allowed me to recognize certain aspects of myself which I hadn’t really considered before.

Photography has taught me to see and experience my life’s journey from many different angles; it has widened my horizons, lured me out of my comfort zones and I love the fact that I’m still learning and evolving and exploring different areas thanks to this art form which came into my life to give it new meaning.

K: I highly recommend that you take a look at Sandra’s blog, Reflections and Nature, where in each post, she takes you on a journey with her through her images.
 
Why not do this exercise and answer these questions for yourself? Like Sandra said, it might help you see your own evolution better.

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Learning to See

Seeing
 
This post was inspired by an article in The Philosopher’s Mail – Why you should stop taking pictures on your phone – and learn to draw.

Firstly, we’re likely to be so busy taking the pictures, we forget to look at the world whose beauty and interest prompted us to take a photograph in the first place. And secondly, because we feel the pictures are safely stored on our phones, we never get around to looking at them, so sure are we that we’ll get around to it one day. ~ The Philosopher’s Mail

I’ve written about this before (Photography, Drawing, and Seeing), but think it’s worth revisiting.

A friend (thank you, Sonnie) recommended that I take a drawing class to help me with my photography. I followed through on that recommendation and took a class based on the book – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.
 

I learned two important things.

 
1. Anyone can learn to draw decently (I’m living proof). All you have to do is draw what you see in front of you and not the image in your head.

2. I learned about Frederick Franck (Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing), a draw-er and sculptor, who became one of my mentors for seeing and life.

Franck agreed with the article cited above – specifically, that photography can get in the way of actually seeing what’s there.

Drawing can teach us to see: to notice properly rather than gaze absentmindedly. In the process of recreating with our own hand what lies before our eyes, we naturally move from a position of observing beauty in a loose way to one where we acquire a deep understanding of its parts. ~ The Philosopher’s Mail

However, I believe that those who practice contemplative photography use their cameras in a way that helps them to see what’s really there – just like drawing does. Through careful observation and exploring multiple perspectives, we come to a deep understanding of the parts and the whole.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera. ~ Dorothea Lange

 

Does the camera get in the way of your seeing? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

Further Reading

In her wonderful (and free) e-book, A Field Guide for the Contemplative Photographer, Patricia Turner guides us in spending time looking and sketching the landscape before photographing.

The Art of Seeing

Who is Frederick Franck?

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The Floating World

LilyPads

Image: Lotus flowers on pond at Naples Florida Botanical Garden (available to print at Imagekind)

While reading a book about the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright (Loving Frank), I came across a reference to “the floating world.”

Wright was a big fan of the Japanese artist, Hiroshige, who depicted this floating world (called ukiyo-e in Japan) in his woodblock prints. They were:

“pictures of common people living in the moment, floating like leaves on a river, not worrying about money, or what’s going to happen tomorrow.” ~ Loving Frank (p. 30)

 

I had to know more.

 
Ukiyo-e is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that originated in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries.

Coinciding with the rise of the merchant class, this type of art focused on play and hedonism – entertainment, flora and fauna, landscapes, and erotica. The art from this period came to define the Japanese style and influenced the early Impressionists (and Wright).

Below is a print by Hiroshige called “Catching Fireflies.”

Fireflies

Image: Major Genres: The Floating World of Ukiyo-e (Library of Congress)

“The term ukiyo-e is composed of three Japanese characters: The top character is read as uki, which means “floating,” “cheerful,” or “frivolous.” The second character reads yo, which means “world,” “generation,” “age,” “era,” or “reign.” The third character reads e and means “picture,” “drawing, ” “painting,” or “print.” Thus the standard translation of ukiyo-e is “Pictures of the Floating World.”

In its usual sense ukiyo suggested “transitory world,” but it also had such connotations as “everyday world,” “present reality,” or “world of the here and now.” In ukiyo-e prints and paintings there was a special, formalized reality, a combination of stylized artistic conventions shared by most artists and the personal reality of the individual artist, which constituted imaginative retellings of life in the Floating World.” (Viewing Japanese Prints: Ukiyo)

I love the emphasis on showing the playful and, at the same time, the transitory world.
 

A precursor to contemplative photography?

 

Related Reading & Viewing

The Woodblock Prints of Ando Hiroshige
My Floating World – a 26 minute documentary of Japanase/Quebecois painter Miyuki Tanobe based on her colourful paintings of the working class areas of Montreal.

 

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Mining my Childhood – Part 2

This is the second in a three-part series of articles on discovering who you are and what you love. I’ve been thinking about my childhood lately, mining it for clues that resonate with what I do today. Part 1 was on process, this one is on curation, and the final instalment will be about adventure.
 
Curation Radiates
 

Focus on Curation

 
In Part 1 of this series, I told you about my obsessive love for figure skating.

Not only did I love to skate, I wanted to know everything about it. My five scrapbooks from over the years were 90% filled with skating articles, ribbons, and other mementos. I scoured the newspapers for any mention of the sport (almost daily in Canada), cut out everything I found and lovingly placed it in my scrapbooks. They were a curated collection of information about the sport from my particular lens.

What is curation?

The ethos at the core of curation — a drive to find the interesting, meaningful, and relevant amidst the vast maze of overabundant information, creating a framework for what matters in the world and why — is an increasingly valuable form of creative and intellectual labor, a form of authorship that warrants thought. ~ Brain Pickings


What is Curation? from Percolate on Vimeo.

 
I’ve always had collections of things that I cared about – books, CD’s, quotes, even turtles. Curation goes beyond collecting in that its goal is to narrow the field to the most “interesting, meaningful, and relevant.”

The photo albums and journals I put together when my kids were small were a form of curation. I also started an old-style newsletter called The Parents Network, where I collected and categorized information about things to do with kids in the area. I had a mailing list of over 200 parents and printed out my newsletter every month, sending it out by snail mail.

In 2005, I joined Flickr and started sharing and organizing my photos (now over 3,000 strong).

In 2009, I joined Squidoo, and wrote articles about what inspired me, from musicians to photographers to environmental issues.

Blogging and social media are a form of curation. Today, my Facebook page – Adventures in Seeing – and Pinterest pages are my scrapbooks. On this blog and in my weekly letter, I share what’s inspiring me lately.
 

We’re all unique curators of what matters to us, whether it’s recipes, plants, or trivia.

 
What do you curate (or collect) and how do you share it? Have you been doing this since you were a child?

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Taking Your Photography to the Next Level

indianapolis buildingA recent participant in one of my workshops asked me for suggestions on how to take his photography to the next level.

Now, that question could mean different things to different people and I answered him as best as I could according to what I knew about him and my own thoughts on the subject.
 

My short answer would be – practice and learn every day and trust your instincts.

 
Below are six more ways to take your photography to the next level.

1. Review your images from the past year. Pick your 10 favourites and decide what makes them work.

Is the subject clear? How does the composition – lines, light, shapes, texture, perspective – contribute to its success? How is the eye drawn around the image? Does it tell a story or evoke an emotion?

Just by identifying these things in your mind, you’re training yourself to see better when out photographing.

2. Know your camera.

The great thing about the Internet is that you can usually find the answer to any technical question you have (and for free). Digital Photography School is a valuable resource I would recommend and they also offer weekly challenges.

3. Photograph daily (or as much as possible) with a contemplative mindset.

This means, don’t photograph with any agenda in mind or subject to photograph. Experience your day, pay attention, and notice what draws you. Then, don’t judge what you see or worry whether anyone else will find it interesting. Trust your instincts. This will help you find your own vision.

A 365-day project is a great way to develop this daily photography habit.

4. Download an e-book from Craft & Vision (or somewhere else).

I have many of the Craft & Vision e-books. They are an incredible value and always teach me something new; especially useful if you actually DO the exercises suggested.

5. Attend a weekend or week-long workshop.

My photography seems to leap forward when I do this and there’s nothing like spending focused time on photography with other photographers. I highly recommend Freeman Patterson’s workshops, as well as Santa Fe workshops.

Of course, I’d love for you to join me for an in-person workshop as well. I have three coming up this year.

6. Study the masters.

Which photographers inspire you the most? Study their work and their lives. I think you’ll find that some of the qualities you admire in them, you also have in you. I’ve written about several of my favourites on this blog – Minor White, Robert Frank, and Tina Modotti, to name three.

Before taking my first photography class, I read about the life of Ansel Adams. I was drawn to his black and white images of wilderness areas – yes – but more importantly, the way he lived his life with passion and integrity. He was a photographer, musician, writer, and activist, but most of all he was a communicator.
 

How do you take your photography to the next level?

 

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