Andre Cantelmo Photography
Come on in, I'm glad you are here. Within this blog I express my thoughts and opinions about the creative process, photography, and my artistic approach to navigating from day to day. I like to keep this medium on the conversational side, as if you and I are just sitting around talking. I am very interested in the creative process, as well as the mindset that goes into making a fine photograph. I make no claim to having "the" answer, this is just my answer. Those who know me, know how much I enjoy a good conversation, and this blog can be just that. Feel free to e mail me about any topic in my galleries, or blog. My photography, this website and blog are an expression of how I visually approach my art. You are all welcome here as are your opinions.
Sunlight supplies plants with the energy they need to make sugar. These sugars are turned into starches and supply energy to the animals that eat them. Plants turn light into food. Visible light is just one part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum extends from the low frequencies used for radio waves, to the high frequencies used by gamma rays. In the mix we find infrared, as well as x-ray. When we think of light, we think of the frequency of visible light, however, because humans are a clever bunch, we now have ways to “see” in frequencies that our eyes are unable to. In my view, this is magic. It is also very revealing. When a photographer creates a landscape in infrared light we are treated to a mystical other worldly piece of artwork. When scientists look into the Universe with infrared or x-ray they are treated to information previously unavailable.
As photographers, light is fundamental to our art. We time our images to the “Golden Hour”, that special short period of time when the Sun's light works its magic. I once stood atop Mt. Cadillac, in Acadia Pk. Maine, and watched a sunset along with a group of about seventy five others. It was a particularly dramatic show, and when it was over a round of applause was well deserved. The Universe did a good job that evening. This moment atop a mountain is the result of magic also. The light that washed over my face, and warmed it, and treated my eyes and camera to such drama began in the center of our Sun, ten million years ago. It took that long to work its way to the surface of the Sun, and when it broke free, another eight minutes to reach my face on the top of that mountain in Maine. I am overwhelmed by being so lucky to enjoy this magic.
Lets think about that sunset for just a moment. As the Sun touched the horizon and sat there for just a few seconds I was watching an event that was already eight minutes old. Also to be accurate, the Sun really does not set at all, the Earth is rotating. Another fact that we gloss over is that I am looking back eight minutes into the past. When the weather is clear, sunsets are a common occurrence in our lives. Lots of us don't even give them a second glance. There are those of use who’s awareness is strong, and from time to time they park by the side of the road where I live and sit and watch the Sun go down. They then calmly drive on to finish their day. Their day became just a bit more special, because of their awareness and willingness to enjoy the present moment.
We photographers capture special moments. Rather, we record reflected light that bounces off of those moments that demand a frame around them. Light enters the lens on our camera, is modified by all the glass inside the lens, and reaches the eye of the artist. Awareness and skill are necessary for the decision to press the shutter release button.
The skills necessary to be a creative photographer can be learned over time. The truth be told, you can learn 80% of what is necessary to be a photographer in a few years. The last 20% will take you the rest of your life. The creative skills that make our work special are another story. Creativity takes imagination and awareness. The skill of observing the flow of life, looking inward and observing our own emotional response to what is in the viewfinder requires concentration and patience. We cultivate the skill of being observers, and blocking out all the distractions that fill our day to day life. This is called being present in the current moment. The best of a long list of photographic artist are very good observers of the flow of life. They are imaginative, and creative. They have the skill to be so present, so in the moment, that they see things the unskilled are unable to, until a frame is placed around their work, and asks us to “here look at this”. Underlying and supporting this form of art is the visible light that so many of us take for granted. This is magic, a miracle, and should stop us in our tracks just for a brief moment to really see, and not just look.
Edward Steichen referred to Dorothea Lange as The greatest documentary photographer in the United States. Dorothea referred to her own art, “I just photograph things as they are”. She was a rebel in her time, worked spontaneously and in difficult conditions. She was inquisitive and sought to reveal the truth of how things were, she photographed the reality of her times.
Dorothea was born in New Jersey at the end of the 1800's, and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At an early age she became a very skilled observer of the rich life on the streets of New York. One skill she taught herself was to hide in plain sight, to be an observer without influencing a scene. Early on she was employed at the studio of Arnold Genthe, where she learned darkroom skills, and honed her early photographic style. After World War I, she began to travel and found herself in San Francisco, where she took a darkroom job with a Dry Goods store. Some connections with the photographic community surfaced and it was not long before Dorthea opened her own studio. In her studio days, she thrived on commissioned work, photographing families. It was at this time her style began to emerge. Imogen Cunningham was an early and important influence on her developing style.
The Stock Market Crash that began the great depression turned out to be another influence on her maturing style. From her studio, life in the Depression years of San Francisco offered up plenty of emotional subject matter. She created “White Angel Breadline” one of the most famous photographs of the Depression. Dorothea also perfected her work style in these years. She would start out, pick a direction, and without much planning look for her subjects. She would engage her subject in conversation, and as a result capture emotion as well as composition as she worked. Her Farm Security Administration photographs would become her most important work. Her composition “Migrant Mother” defined the Thirties, and in my opinion is her most important photograph. In Nipomo, California, at a campsite full of out-of-work pea pickers. The crop, destroyed by freezing rain; there was nothing to pick. Dorothea approached one of the idle pickers, a woman sitting in a tent, surrounded by her children, and asked if she could photograph them. Lange exposed six frames. One of them, Migrant Mother, became the icon of the Depression, and one of the most famous images of the 20th century. With her children cowering for protection, hiding their faces, the Migrant Mother gazes distractedly into the distance and perhaps the future that is so uncertain.
In 1965 Dorothea developed inoperable Cancer. This prompted her to review her life's work, and mount an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. She would spend precious time editing forty one years of photography. She believed her life's work was in fact an autobiography, and this exhibition completed her life's work.
If you are unfamiliar with Dorothea Lang's work you have missed the work of a great photographer. Her work is full of emotion, depth, and is well composed. In an era that produced a good share of excellent photographers, Dorothea stands out, and is a treasure. I was fortunate to see her work at an exhibition many years ago, and the rich tones, and impeccable composition are mesmerizing. Dorothea Lange is not only a photographic treasure, she belongs in that handful of most influential people of the 20th century.
Port Clyde, a small wonderful harbor, rests on the central coast of Maine, specifically on the St. George peninsula. In the 1800's Port Clyde was busy with timber, granite, and fish canning. If you are partial to Nautical scenery, Port Clyde is a gem of spot. This is a quiet place to slow down, and absorb the history and beautiful seascapes. There are plenty of wonderful subjects to photograph, however we'll get into that in just a bit. The best experience is had by quieting the mind, and opening up the senses. The sights, sounds, and even the aroma of the Atlantic set the stage. This wonderful spot that faces the Great Atlantic Ocean has been the residence of people like the Wyeth family, Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts, Steve Thomas, ("This Old House"), Kenneth Noland, (painter), and artist Greg Mort has a summer studio there
Nautical landscapes are plentiful here. The Marshall Point Lighthouse is a good spot to watch and photograph the sunset, however people who know Port Clyde know the best sunset views are from Turkey Cove. The Port Clyde General Store is picturesque and fun to visit, and if you are a boater it has most things you will need. Lately, I look for quiet places, with attractive light, a sense of history, and lots of good subject matter. You will not be disappointed with your visit. Here you'll find fishing shacks, docks, lobster boats, and classic New England fishing village architecture. A Photographer with a good eye, and the mental ability to self edit will come away with good shots. If not careful, your images might end up a bit on the cliche` side. That is why it's important to slow down and really look at what is in front of you. You already know that the best shots involve timing. That is as true here as everywhere else. Especially when it comes to the light. Coastal Maine can go from bright Sun to fog rather quickly. If you find a subject worth capturing, then it will be worth the wait to get the light just right. As I walk and explore the area some subjects seem to want to be color. I open up to these opportunities and even make notes on my phone for post processing later. Then there are subjects that seem to want to be Monochrome, my first love. Again, if you slow down, look with your emotions, and be patient, there are wonderful photographs to capture here.
The Village Ice Cream Shop and Bakery is in the heart of Port Clyde. Many people around my age have fond memories of "The Malt Shop" experience. In our youth we enjoyed Ice Cream Sodas or a Malt. Do not go to Port Clyde without having visited this old fashioned malt shop, you won't be sorry. There is no Walmart or McDonald's in Port Clyde. For many visitors, this is a step back to a simpler time. If you enjoy photographing people, and are polite, and patient, there are lots of great faces on the fisherman that work the waters off this coast. The Monhegan Boat Line dock is where you will find the Elizabeth Ann and Laura B. A day trip to Monhegan Island is a trip back in time to a fishing village/artist colony. There are very good reasons why this island treasure attracts so many artists, and you will fall in love with this place very quickly.
Port Clyde remains primarily a working harbor, filled with the rugged boats of local lobster men and fishermen. It is an excellent place to visit, that has avoided becoming touristy. The scenery and atmosphere is very intoxicating and photogenic. If you decide to spend some time here a great place to stay is the Seaside Inn, a twelve-guestroom inn, in an 1850 sea captain’s home overlooking Port Clyde Harbor and Muscongus Bay.
In recent blogs, I have talked about the value of snapshot photography, the unplanned capture of our personal story. This activity is practiced worldwide, without formal training, and is the personal record of our lives. Fine art photography is a little more difficult to define. Rather than attempting to produce a realistic rendition of a subject, fine art photography seeks to reveal the creative vision of the photographer, a more personal view if you will. The line that defines creative photography from scientific or commercial work is more of a zone than a border. One example of a scientific photograph that exists in both worlds is the famous photograph “Earth rise”. The photo of the earth in the distance, with the moonscape in the foreground. This wonderful photograph has changed the way we humans think about the planet we inhabit.
When information is being communicated to an target audience, it is most effective when accompanied by photographs. Dimension and validity are enhanced by the addition of photographs. Advertising most effectively uses images to create desire for a product. The general public is well aware that often the live product does not match the product image. Enhanced color, texture, tone and angle add sex appeal to everything from food to political candidates. Scientific photographs bring us to places we might never have access to. We glance at a photo and are at the peak of Everest, the great Barrier Reef, or the surface of Mars.
Fine Art Photography involves the artistic vision and emotion. When a successful photograph is produced, the viewer is connected to the artist by shared emotional experience. This shared experience may seek to motivate the viewer towards conservation, for example. This was the case in the work of Ansel Adams. Ansel's work was very deliberate, very well executed, and very emotional. His technique was key in helping to communicate his message.
Fine Art Photographers make choices about what my subject will be, what is in the viewfinder, and other creative decisions. Later in the editing process decisions are made on which frame best conveys my message. In the photo editing software, decisions about brightness, tone, and other visuals are determined and effect what the print will look like. The photographer uses common objects to communicate an emotional point. The casual viewer looks and sees a photo of an old abandoned barn for instance. The educated viewer might see a human story of hope and dreams turned to personal tragedy, and briefly share the emotion of whomever inhabited that space. When we spend time really looking into an Adams print of Yosemite Valley. This breathtaking photograph fills us with feelings of awe and peace. It might even motivate us towards conservation.
Photography is very democratic. Most people today have the ability to produce photographs. Camera manufactures promote the idea that the gear is responsible for the work. The casual enthusiast might purchase a camera and dabble at creative photography. When in time it becomes clear that talent, knowledge, and vision are a rare commodity, then the brief romance with creative photography wanes. You would think this would increase the value of the fine art photography market. It has not had that effect. The mindset is that if only I had professional gear, I could produce the same photograph, so why should I pay good money to purchase a photograph? The camera manufactures use this belief to market their product line. I personally know photographers that I refer to as gear heads. They chase after every upgrade, thinking there must be an advantage to owning the latest model. The truth is that the creative process is personal and introspective. The Fine Art Photographers first look is inward. It is a process pursued alone in our own heads. The subjects that we frame are devices to communicate thoughts and emotions. It has been said that when you look at the body of a photographers work, it is all autobiographical.
Critique, the word inspires all sorts of emotions. Creative people love and hate that word. In the interest of keeping this blog entry on point, my comments are centered around photography, however I am sure there is universal appeal to the points I'll make. Each of us approaches our creative process differently, and with different goals in mind. Right now I will confine this discussion to Fine Art Photography. This process begins with the photographer looking inward, and examining his or her emotions that are triggered by what is in front of their lens. Here it is important to slow down and get an accurate read on how you feel about the subject directly in front of your camera. If you react significantly then technique takes over and the process of composition, design, and analysis begins. As an experienced photographer, you know to capture many angles and perspectives for the editing process back at your studio.
Post processing begins on a light box, perhaps in Adobe Lightroom. Your whole shoot sits before you on screen. The evaluation process should be methodical and true to your original emotional vision. Your inner critic surfaces and takes over. The easy stuff comes first, exposure, sharpness, and other technical standards are easy to judge and correct or reject. Once the shoot is winnowed down, the second tier of editing begins. You begin to look for the frame that echos the emotion you experienced at the moment you pressed the shutter button. It's quite difficult to be objective with our own work. We are literally emotionally attached to it and are not neutral. There is a tendency for us to like most of the work we produce. Logic tells us that great photographs are a lot less common than the good, fair, or poor ones.
Success requires us to slow down and look, “see” into our selected keepers at a much deeper level. This process could go in a few different directions. If we have a strong well developed inner critic we tend to find stuff few others will even notice. This is positive to the end user that is most important, ourselves. Our work should be exactly the way we want it to be. It's at this point we begin to notice small details that are just a bit off. An awkward reflection, or a tree branch where we don't want it, weird shadow effects, and other more subtle elements of our composition. Some or most of these unwanted details can be dealt with in our photographic editing software.
So now we reach the point where we want a physical print from the capture we just spent a good amount of time editing. Either we print it ourselves or send it to a professional lab service. Before we do that more decisions are needed. Decisions about paper surface, contrast, size, frame or no frame, and if we want to mat it or leave it without mat or frame. When we decide to print our own work, then a test print is just the start. Our calibrated monitor and printer has to give us exactly what we envision. Sending our capture file to a professional lab requires we previously set up printing defaults and even ordering some test calibration prints so we can judge what differences there are between our printers output and the pro labs output. At each point in this process, from the first moment we select our subject and look through the viewfinder, through each step, and on to the finished work, we have to deal with that inner critic that lives in our heads. This sometimes friend and sometimes foe guides us to make wise choices that affect how our work will look. Our first obligation is for our work to be exactly as our vision wanted it to be. When we get to showing our work, either in a gallery, or some other exhibition space then the public viewer gets to be the critic. We all know that can go in any critical direction. This is fine. Why? Because the first critic, (ourselves) is content with our piece and can rest with any comments that might come our way.
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