Category: painting and photography

August 10, 2015

The Justice of Photography

Filed under: painting and photography,Uncategorized — mas @ 12:45 pm

In response to an article by David Schonauer,, raising questions about “street photography,” this subject has bugged me for awhile. It seems the term, “street photography” was coined by art critics and gallerists, who misapplied it to the photographic act in an attempt to define all photography done outside the studio.

Pinpointing what aspect of the term bothers me has been difficult. One possibility is the trouble with definitions. They are labels that become definitions that become rallying flags for trends and false movements.  Street photography – really? Of course photographers spend time on the streets.  Unless we’re on the oceans, savannas, or tundras, we get around on the street, and we make photographs where we are.

I made photographs 3 years in a row in the Arctic.  Does that make me an Arctic photographer, therefore creating an entire genre of photography? I worked for several years on an Indian reservation.  OK, reservation photography. Should I go on? Nah.

Photography is, by far, the best medium for capturing the moment, or the fraction of a second. It captures the combination of shape, position, and light in a selected area at a specific moment. (I’ll use this statement in other articles.) That’s why the medium was invented, and that’s what it does.  It is, therefore, just, that we use photography for that very purpose.  It’s like using a chair to sit in or a pen to write with.

Probably, the most difficult kind of photograph to make is the one involving rapidly changing position. It also provides the greatest opportunity for just the right shot. It is not surprising, or even remarkable, then, that photographers  would spend their time in situations where people are moving around in relation to each other and to fixed objects.  Maybe we should define pens as paper pens.

July 25, 2015

How Vashon, WA. is related to Edinburgh, UK.










July 16, 2012

Visual Literacy: Intentional Fallacy

In looking for parallels between photography and other types of art, I find a photo to be most equivalent to a poem. The elements of the photo would be the words in the poem. It’s a simple comparison that brings up a complicated issue; why are readers of poems responsible for their own understanding of the work, while photographers are responsible for providing viewers with captions as well as statements of intent?

If photos were inherently more abstract than poems, there might be a reason for helping the viewer along, but since the written word is many levels further removed from reality than a photo, the question is still on the table.

In addition, the matter of intention is completely set on its ear. With poetry, readers, especially critics commit the intentional fallacy of trying to psychoanalyze the artist through his work, while with photography the curators and editors want the artist to psychoanalyze herself through her work. In either case, the intentional fallacy is being committed.

December 23, 2010

Kandinsky, McLuhan, and Fractals

Wassily Kandinsky, one of the first recognized abstract expressionist painters, played with the relationships between shapes-shapes and shapes, shapes and color, and shapes and size. He was constantly exploring how visual elements fit together.

Marshall McLuhan was the author of the phrase, “The medium is the message,” which I’ve always interpreted as the elements of information are connected to the meaning of the information, itself. McLuhan was always exploring the elements of communication and their effect on the audience.

Fractals is a relatively newly defined branch of mathematics. In its strictest sense, it deals with a particular pattern that is repeated in nature. In a slightly broader sense, the theory of Fractals is an exploration into and discovery of patterns that repeat themselves in the tiniest microscopic pieces to the largest universal entities.

Kandinsky, McLuhan, and Benoît Mandelbrot, the mathematician who first coined the term, “fractals,” explored separate elements of their world. They explored without preconception, and as they encountered various elements, they looked to see what, if any, connections existed between those elements. Kandinsky explored through painting, McLuhan through his use of mass media, and Mandelbrot through mathematical equations. All three used observation and experimentation.

In writing this little piece, I have found a pattern of exploration of patterns through observation and experimentation. There is a connection between the 3 people mentioned, and further observation and exploration by others might someday unearth the universal secret that will make that connection obvious. These explorers and their work resonate with me, because their mindset resembles mine. I photograph to learn how the world means. (newest work) Until then, “42.”

September 9, 2007

Black & White or Color

Filed under: painting and photography,Work in Progress — mas @ 4:06 pm

Until Recently, I swore I’d always shoot in black and white. Then I started shooting with a digital camera, and an older artist friend of mine started looking at the color captures and commenting on how nice the color worked in various photographs.

I’d already been thinking how nice it was to have the choice of color or b&w without having to decide when I took the shot. I tried some pure color and came to grips with color being ok when it has a reason for being.
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I began to see that sometimes it’s the color that prompts me to take the picture; other times it’s the geometry or the action. Often, when different colors have similar values, black and white just won’t work, because there isn’t enough contrast.

I wondered (and still do) what color’s place is in the different genres of photography; fine art, photojournalism, street shooting. I’ve come to some working solutions for myself, but they’re only tentative, and they don’t really matter. The one problem I run into, though, is whether a given photo should be color or b&w.070908090.JPG 070908090bw.JPG

What I have figured out is that some images look better in color and some in black and white and that there is no reason not to include both color and black and white images in a book or exhibition.

I do think that color is a powerful ingredient or tool and should be used intentionally, a little here, a little there.


September 7, 2007

The Problem with Photography as Art

As I look around at what has been happening in the art photography world, I see some confusion. (or maybe I feel it – there’s a big difference with confusion) In the early days of small format photography, there was no such thing as a “series.” There were photographs. The two great Magnum photographers to whom I best relate, Bresson and Erwitt, made photographs and except for a personal style, there was nothing the same about separate photographs. The men found photographs they wanted to take and took them. Then they moved on.

Now, everything has to be a “series.” Everything has to be new and groundbreaking. Guys, there’s only so much ground to break and still make photography. I’m not talking about art using light as a medium to paint with; I’m talking about capturing the moment, the one thing that photography can do that nothing else can.

So what about new and innovative? Here’s what Bresson, the publically acclaimed master, said, “Photography is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It’s a way of life.”

I’m not saying I don’t or won’t shoot series, because I do, but often I’m shooting whatever captures my attention. Does this mean that photograph is not worth hanging, because there aren’t 24 more just like it? If the gallery wants unique, it would seem that one such photo would do a better job of meeting their requirements than 25.



Oh, and by the way, here are some from the same evening.



Perhaps we could serialize and call them, “Falling Behind.”



October 16, 2006

Chiaroscuro at MIA

Filed under: exhibits,museums,painting and photography — mas @ 4:58 pm

The Minneapolis Institute of Art has an exhibition of paintings, including work from 16th century Italy. Those works are some of my favorite because of the spectacular quality of light achieved by the artists. It appears that there is an external spotlight, but since there is not, it appears as if the paint itself is emanating light.

The reason I like this, besides its aesthetic quality, is that it is one of the major objectives of photography. Photography is often defined as “painting with light,” but one of the techniques, chiaroscuro, meaning bright and dark, was actually developed by painters, not photographers. Or were they? If photography is painting with light, and these early Italian painters used material in their paint which actually creates light, maybe they were actually photographers.

All wild speculation aside, this should be a great show.

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