Writing with Light (1)

Zooming abstraction of a brush pile
Brush Abstraction 1

A significant amount of photography attempts to capture the reality that we see around us, often in the best possible light.  As a result, most of the advances in photography have been aimed at achieving ever higher fidelity in capturing these images.  Recently, in digital photography, sensors have become more sensitive causing ISO ranges to expand, white balance is corrected ever more accurately and many other innovations have been programmed into the complex computers that we call digital cameras.

Of course, this is not a bad thing, as it has allowed many people to get much more satisfactory results in photographing all matter of subjects under a wide variety of conditions.  Moreover, today’s digital cameras provide their users with a sense of instant gratification well beyond that of even the near-instant output of Polaroid cameras.  The added bonus of being able to delete a poor image has brought the masses back to photography on a scale that dwarfs the success of even the legendary Kodak Brownie camera.

Butterfly uncovered in variegated ivy
Cryptomorphosis 1

One side effect of this renaissance of photography, is that the post-digital diluvium of imagery may give one the impression that everything ranging from the quotidian to the sublime has been recorded by someone somewhere.  How many times have you heard someone say, as you proudly show them your work, “I have a photo of that, let me show you!”, and they bring forth their smart-phone to show you their record of what you thought you were the first to see through your viewfinder?

I have to admit that there have been numerous times that I looked at a scene in front of me, weighing how I might want to photograph it, and felt the pressure to come up with a novel approach to creating the image.  Yes, each individual photographer views the world in their unique and personal fashion, but is it enough differentiation to satisfy our creative urge?  Personally, I have refrained from photographing certain scenes that might be considered over-photographed.  Nubble Lighthouse on Cape Neddick, ME, comes to mind; this may be the “most photographed” lighthouse on the East Coast of the US.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to photograph it, as I do have a vision in my mind’s eye of the lighthouse under a particular set of conditions; suffice it to say that I haven’t been there under those (very harsh) conditions.

Light painting of intersection scene
Connections

Rather than replicating the great work that has been done by many photographers before me, I started looking for an alternate take on the world around me.  Yes, I still photograph what all of us see around us in the standard manner of faithful reproduction of the scene.  However, from time to time, I have been doing some experimental photography to try and reveal some of the things that our eyes don’t see, but that are still there.  After a little more than a year of experimenting, and learning some new tricks that can be performed with a zoom lens or through camera motion and careful timing, I have started to pull things together into a more unified portfolio, titled “Abstractions”.

Rotated columns with night traffic
Portal

The goal of this portfolio is to show some of the layer underneath the immediately visible that I see, when I look at the world.  This view is exposed only when I manipulate the camera or the lens, and never through post-capture processing; also, no special camera software or firmware is used.  The images come to me when I am on location and are inspired by the sense of mystery that I derive from that location.  What first started as pure experimentation has evolved into a new set of skills that uncover previously hidden insights.  An image unfolds in front of me as I visualize it, and I plan an approach on how to capture it.  The success rate is not 100%, but the results are interesting and encouraging in exploring new avenues of creativity that may otherwise remain cryptic.

The subjects that I have approached with this experimental methodology have ranged from fire to flowers and urban landscapes.  Each set of subjects evokes their own, specific set of moments in the space-time continuum that ask to be recorded in a particular fashion; some have rendered surprises and few have been disappointing.  There have been times when several attempts were needed to find the right balance that extracts the correct alternate sense from the subject; each subject has a series of alternate views that can be uncovered through opening up to the flow of energy that emanates from it.  Many more await discovery.

In a sequel to this blog post, I will describe some of the details of the process that I use to create the images seen here and in the Abstractions portfolio.  That post will be published some time next week.  In the meantime, more images can be seen in the Abstractions album on the Frank Jansen Photography Facebook page.

A Senior Portrait Shoot

Chelsea strumming the guitar
Strumming the Guitar

When Chelsea’s mother approached me about doing a portrait shoot for Chelsea’s Senior Yearbook, she remarked that she had seen lots of wonderful photos done by me, but not a lot of people.  It certainly is true that people tend to know me either for my dog agility photography, my landscape photography or my HDR photography, but not many are familiar with the other sides of my photography.  Yes, I do enjoy portrait photography and have been known to capture the occasional portrait, and perform various other people photography, such as model shoots and documenting weddings.  In a future blog post, I will provide more detail on the range of my photographic services.

Chelsea looking out through one of the windows of the Old Stone Church
Contemplation at the Old Stone Church

I sat down with Chelsea and her family to discuss my ideas for doing a senior portrait shoot, which diverge from the standard studio shots approach that is done by many school and senior portrait photographers.  I suggested that we use some outdoor locations that would either be meaningful to Chelsea or provide an environment that she really enjoys.  I explained that what I want to achieve in a portrait photo shoot is to have the images tell something meaningful about the subject.  We looked at a number of images to come up with some inspirations for this shoot.  The ideas of bringing a book and guitar into the shoot were generated, as well as using the Old Stone Church on the shore of the Wachusett Reservoir in West Boylston as one of the sites.  We agreed to hold off until weather started getting a little better, as it was early April.

Chelsea photographed in Purgatory Chasm
Chelsea in Purgatory Chasm on a Beautiful Day

Over the next number of weeks, we also added Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, MA, to the list of sites and I was still hunting for a third site that would work well.  A friend suggested that I check out Waters Farm in Sutton, MA, as a possible site.  As the weather started getting better, I checked the light conditions in Purgatory Chasm, which is rather deep and required mid-day sun to get light in.  While there, I went over to Waters Farm and was blown away by the wonderful possibilities of the site.

Over Memorial Day weekend, we did the shoot in just over two hours in all three locations.  Chelsea’s mother and her cousin helped out during the shoot keeping an eye on Chelsea’s hair and holding a reflector for me to get the light just right.  Everyone had a great time and we couldn’t help but produce a fantastic set of images to choose from for the yearbook photo and many more for the family and relatives!  More images can be seen in the album on the Frank Jansen Photography FB page.

An Apple Orchard (part 1)

Storm clouds gather over Ball Hill.
Storm clouds over Ball Hill

Apple orchards are an integral part of the New England landscape and give a sense of communicating part of the psyche of region. The gnarled, almost grotesque shapes of the apple trees convey a struggle against the elements, with which many New Englanders are familiar. There are moments of beauty that are short-lived followed by a lengthy, quiet production of a fruit that is not flashy, but whose taste is pure, refreshing and satisfying. While there may be more visually appealing apples from other parts of the globe, nothing compares to biting into a New England apple and relishing that first taste as it invades the senses.

Ice glistens on the branches of apple trees.
Ice glistens on the branches

As I enjoy photographing the New England landscape, apple trees and orchards have always held a special draw for me. The rugged trees give a feeling of strength and indomitability as they are contrasted with the forces of nature around them; as such, they represent hope and permanence in a world that rapidly changes around us. Incorporating the wondrous, sometimes almost other-worldly shapes presented by apple trees in my photography has given these trees a special place in my heart, as I try to establish a connection between the trees and their surroundings in each image.

Apple blossoms in various stages of development
Apple blossoms in various stages of development

This year, I have decided to extend my photography of apple trees beyond merely incorporating them into my work, but rather to document their life. From the beginning of the year, I have started tracking the trees in a single orchard in Harvard, Massachusetts. Thus far, the trees have come out of the winter and developed their leaves and blossoms, which are now fading fast. The next phase to track is that steady growth of those delicious apples.

Every month or so, I will post an update on this project and share some of the images from it. I hope you enjoy the images and think ahead toward those delicious apples at the end of the process.

Unguarded in Portland, ME

Teegan stand before her photo for the "Test It, Break It, Fix It" collection.
Test It, Break It, Fix It

This Thursday, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Teegan’s photography at the opening of an exhibit titled Unguarded held at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. The exhibit covers the work of the photography, written word, audio and multimedia created by the students at Salt during the past semester. It is the culmination of 15 intensive weeks of work going out into Maine to document various projects and people. Teegan’s projects included documenting a team of high school students competing in Maine’s Science Olympiad, students working the oyster hatchery at the Herring Gut Learning Center and a working goat farm.

The opening included multimedia presentations of the work done by a number of the students; these presentations were collaborations between the audio and visual branches of Salt’s students, where the visual is videography or photography. Each of these presentations was a short documentary on the topic that they covered, which ranged from a mustache pageant to a jazz singer and pigeon racing. It was delightful to see the quality of the work produced by all the students in such a short timeframe.

The exhibit will run through July 15 and can be seen at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, 561 Congress Street, Portland, ME; gallery hours are 12-4:30 Tuesday – Friday.