Monday, May 27, 2013

BELOW FROM ABOVE


Most cultures have revered trees as a symbol of prosperity, longevity, and the tenacity of life. This enigmatic image is one of a series of photographs I am producing that celebrate the joy and richness of life as exemplified in trees.  I call the series: "Trees of Life".

WATERS BELOW FROM
WATERS ABOVE
© Bill Brockmeier
This photograph makes great use of the unusual format of a vertical panorama, and spans nearly a full 360° vertical field of view. Imagine standing near the edge of San Pedro Springs, near downtown San Antonio, looking down towards your feet and then gazing upward along the trunk of a great cypress tree.  You look directly above you at the overhanging cypress boughs, then down behind you at trees beyond the springs and finally, down into the springs themselves.

I am fascinated by the connection of water, earth, and sky, and these three find their most profound and living relationship in the life-forms we call trees. The wonder, and the practical and aesthetic value of trees is inestimable.

God planned and planted the original Garden of perfection, in the center of which stood the Tree of Life. This Tree represented His perfect provision of life unending and abundant. A future reestablishment of such a Tree was revealed to the prophet Ezekiel, and centuries later, to the prophet John on the island of Patmos. Ezekiel described this Tree of Life (though not using that specific term) in the plural: "trees." John, writing much later about a very parallel vision, seems to lean back on the original description in Genesis as "the tree of life," but he adds an interesting twist by claiming that this "tree" (singular) exists on both sides of the river. One tree, but existing in more than one place at a time.

The Tree never withers, or lacks for water, its root penetrating deeply into the ground below, continually moistened by the River. The Tree, never dormant or inactive, produces fruit every month. And its leaves are sufficient for healing, even on a global scale.

Trees are marvelous wonders of the natural world. Their complex biology boggles the mind, and their astounding aesthetic design causes the imagination to soar.

If you haven't yet, plant a tree, and watch it grow as you do!

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This photograph is available in a Very Limited Edition of only 12 copies, printed and mounted archivally on special canvas. The full, framed size is 20 by 72 inches.    Call now to reserve yours— 210-241-6132.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

FIRMAMENT


Some time ago, I was traveling by commercial airlines from the San Antonio area to Boston. I am always fascinated by the ability to travel across the continent by air and I delight in the view from such an elevated platform. When the plane's wheels touch down on the runway at my destination, it always seems too soon.

This flight was just such an eye-full since nearly the entire trip we encountered various forms of exciting atmospheric conditions. This was a great time to try some of the photographic experiments that I like to play with when confronted with such great subjects: huge, towering thunderheads, long stretches of unbroken cloud cover, and unusual sunlit conditions. Often, these experiments are interesting but never materialize in usable photographs since the cabin windows so frequently are very poor in optical quality.

Things like age-crazing, general scratching and scuffing, and big gooey smears of hair gel take a huge toll on the ability to take decent photographs. On top of that, reflections of bright things in the cabin can dominate the view as well. To mitigate some of these issues, I usually try to bring with me micro-fiber cloths to clean the window, and it's also a good idea to wear as much dark clothing as possible to reduce reflections. This trip I was doubly-blessed with a high quality, clean window, and sunlight directions that minimized any reflections.

At one point in mid-flight we were flying near 30,000 feet (over 5 miles up) and traveling along between two layers of clouds: a very high layer of thin clouds, and a lower stratum of complete cloud cover (the earth's surface was entirely hidden behind it). The colors of the sky, where it could be seen, were absolutely entrancing– from a light cyan/turquoise near the surface of the earth (the normal sky-blue we see from down here) graduating to a much deeper and purer blue looking up above the horizon.  When gazing up as high as I could see out of the window, the sky was nearly black, but still discernibly blue (maybe a blue-black or "midnight blue").

FIRMAMENT, © Bill Brockmeier, all rights reserved

I tried some different techniques to capture some of this scene, which overwhelmed me with the vastness of the layering of the clouds, and the pure beauty of the unadulterated colors.

I didn't look at the photos until several weeks after the trip, and when I did I found quite a few semi-interesting shots, but nothing that really stood out to me...until I came across one that I took as we flew between the two layers of clouds.  The image really took me back to when I was observing and enjoying it in person.

Recently, I decided to go back to that photograph and try it out in large scale on canvas. After the photograph had been printed, coated, mounted, and framed I sat the completed work up against the wall in my studio and was amazed at how it had come out. It looked to me, and had the feeling, much like the abstract paintings that I so admire. Then it hit me. Turning it upside-down, I thought "let's make it a little MORE abstract." This new composition, which placed the earth at the top of the canvas and the sky below it, was definitely superior to the conventional view.

The very dark blue of the highest atmosphere was now at the bottom of the image, giving it much more a sense of stability and solidity.  The light gray solid cloud cover was now a band of light towards the top, with the brilliant cyan/turquoise streaking between the two. The deep blue below, although actually a view of the high atmosphere appears to be almost water-like. But if it looks like water, where is the horizon, the distinction between the atmosphere and the ocean? The whole effect is a bit mystifying and one is reduced to the pure simplicity of enjoying the colors and the structure of the image, without being able to really ferret out what is going on.

The more I have looked at this image, the more it seems to me shrouded in the enigmatic mists of the original Creation itself.  Some of the opening phrases of Genesis ("Beginnings") say that "...God made the expanse (the firmament) and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse 'sky.' And there was evening and there was morning– the second Day."
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This photograph is available in an Extremely Limited Edition of only three copies, with just two remaining. The full, framed size is 20 by 72 inches.    Call now to reserve yours— 210-241-6132.

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Note: this article is the first in a weekly series that will showcase my Very Limited Edition photographs. For more information on these editions and how I produce them, click here or on the Very Limited Edition link in the upper right. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

A New Feature

Some of you may have stumbled upon my blog expositions of my Very Limited Edition photographs, but many have not. I will be changing that here by occasionally featuring one of these editions as a main blog article. As I post these edition articles I will remove their presence in the "Very Limited Editions" static page, currently linked to on the right sidebar of this blog.

Bill processes a Very Limited Edition canvas
The reason for doing this is due to the limited nature and number of static pages allowed in this blog. As I add to my limited editions I would eventually run out of my ability to add new ones as static pages. So after some consideration of this situation I have decided to post all limited edition photographs (both current and future) as main articles.

This will also allow you to easily search this blog for all "limited editions" and get a full categorization and listing of them, OR, you could simply click on the label "limited editions" which appears in the "tag cloud" down on the right sidebar. Then, you can easily click on an edition in the listed articles for a view of the actual photograph as well as an article describing the image and any other interesting tidbits that relate to it.

Thanks again for reading, and you can now be looking forward to articles on specific photographs.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Immersion


Hidden behind a viewfinder
("The Photojournalist,"
Andreas Feinenger's
portrait of  Dennis Stock)
Hiding behind a camera isolates a photographer from their subject, whatever that subject might be. There is a way to break through the isolation and though it should be obvious, many never try it.

It seems like forever since I last wrote concerning the mechanics of composition. And you may not remember that when I first approached the subject I said that there have historically been three main modes of accomplishing this. Well...I actually touched on only the first two: the groundglass and the viewfinder. Hmmmm...whatever happened to that missing third?...and what even was it, anyway?

Whether looking at a surrogate of the final photograph on a groundglass (or its modern digital counterpart), or at a limited view of the world through a viewfinder, a photographer is usually isolated to some degree from the world he hopes to image. However, there is a third way of composing the image that actually connects the artist to the subject and immerses them in the world.

Hidden behind a groundglass
In the 1920s and 1930s, cameras had sufficiently progressed technologically to where they were relatively portable, light-weight, and technically simple to operate. Smaller, faster photographic materials ("film") coupled with faster lens systems also had a major impact. These factors had the distinct effect of allowing the photographer to leave the studio behind and begin finding photographic adventure "on the street." It was a monumental leap for the photographic artist to see her art and craft as not simply that of portraiture and still-life in the studio or even of landscapes (if she dared venture out of doors). She could now join the rest of humanity where they lived much of their lives– in action and on the street. This was the beginning of what we would today call photojournalism.

The groundglass obviously became a totally useless antiquity in this new setting. And even though most cameras still contained a viewfinder, those who looked for the real breath of life on the street (and wherever life happened) couldn't be confined behind the optical system of a viewfinder. They preferred to walk among their people, maybe with the camera held at their waist instead of raised to their eye, looking their subjects directly in the eye– eye to eye.

This visual communication allowed the artist to be in real human relationship with their subject, however brief that might be. The subject now saw the photographer as another human being rather than some kind of bio-opto-mechanical-hybrid monster. And the photographer could now see their subject as not simply some image to be composed within a little rectangular frame, but as a real, living and breathing person who existed within a larger environment.

This alternative mode of composing an image abandons the precision of framing and composition that is offered by the groundglass and the viewfinder, but it definitely makes up for this deficit with increased intimacy and immediacy with the subject. This mode takes some practice to get right, but muscle-memory will eventually take over and make "aiming from the hip" second nature.

Try taking photographs with your camera at waist level— don't worry, with modern cameras "film" is cheap, no, FREE! Take as many as you like, attempting to frame the image you desire. When your practice sessions are over you can easily discard your attempts. Do this often, over a period of weeks and months, and you will see a steadily improving ability to point your camera from waist-level at anything you are looking at and capture an image that accurately frames the one you imagined.

A side benefit of all this is that you can also gain a deepening aesthetic sense that can free you from overly depending upon precision and analysis. Enjoy your new-found freedom!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pumping Blood and Pushing Daisies


Some art strikes its recipients with thunder and lightning. Other art yields its secrets much more slowly and slyly.

At the recent Parade of Artists in Boerne I had wonderful extended periods of time to talk with some of my fellow artists as well as with the art lovers who came to visit. In talking with my brother-in-the-arts, Harold Teel, I asked him to give me a little insight into how he approaches his work, and some of the little things he does to make his art unique.

Many of the significant details that he weaves into his paintings may be missed by the casual observer. Harold pointed some of them out to me in his painting SPRING ROUNDUP and I will try to recall his tour here.

SPRING ROUNDUP, © Harold Teel, all rights reserved by the artist
On the surface, the watercolor painting is composed mainly of two human legs, both clad in chaps, boots, and spurs. The one on the left is the left leg of a cowboy and on the right is the right leg of a cowgirl. There is clearly a romantic involvement here as the legs are closely spaced and the boots are nearly touching.  Moreover, the cowboy's gloved hand clasps the corresponding one of the cowgirl as he extends to her an offering of freshly picked daisies.

A subtle detail missed by many is the tiny heart-shape embossed in the center of the cowboy's spur rowel— evidence of the cowboy's intent.

Heart in the spur's rowel
As I am looking here at the painting, I notice some other parallel details: the half a heart-shape shadow on the lady's chaps, the heart-shape formed by the blue sky (seen beyond the nearly touching legs) and the two clasped hands above, and the near-heart-shape formed by the lady's boot shadow and the dark toe-end of her boot.  I also notice several (three, four, maybe a half-dozen) other hinted-at heart shapes in the image which may be conscious, unconscious, or even subconscious— but perhaps, accidental and serendipitous.

It's also interesting how the heart-shape itself, a purely abstract contemporary icon for "love" (it really doesn't look much at all like our blood pumps), is composed of two symmetric pieces, joined together in the center— what a great graphic device for two joined by love! And the tension between the heart's pointy-end below and the very rounded-end above seems to mirror the tension that exists in real love between its sharp/compelling aspects on one hand and the comfortable/relaxed freedoms on the other.

Eye of the daisy
And then there is the reverberating device in the form of a daisy: the obvious botanical daisies themselves, their shadows, and the profiles of the two spur rowels...with their corresponding two shadows.  And don't miss the detail of the lady's spur rowel with a yellow center, just like the real daisies above. Then, unseen, and above and beyond the image's border, is the daisy-like profile of the sun itself which is obviously and brightly illuminating the entire scene.

Of course there is even much more to see in the image than what I have stated here, but you get the idea. Take your time when observing art. Look beyond the immediate and the obvious. And even look beyond the subtly designed details. Learn to appreciate each piece for what it is, and it may yield up some surprising secrets.

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