New Jersey 9/11 Memorial

While photographing lower Manhattan from Liberty State Park in New Jersey, I came upon this memorial to the residents of New Jersey who died on 9/11 at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Their names are inscribed on the inner side of the two walls. What I found particularly moving was the siting. If you look down the walls you can see the location where the towers existed, and of course the ends of the walls replicate the outline of the towers.




































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The Photographer’s Vision: Understanding and Appreciating Great Photography by Michael Freeman

Folks who have read Michael Freeman’s books, “The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos” and “The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos” might well assume this is another well-conceived, how-to book. But it is so much more. It is in fact the entire story of photography, including history, aesthetics, criticism and technique.

The book is divided into three parts called “A Momentary Art”, “Understanding Purpose” and “Photography Skills” but the content is so interrelated that these headings seem almost irrelevant. Freeman does define what a photograph is; talks about the genres of photography; describes the different methods of presentation; explains the purpose of photographers (and editors and art directors); and mentions some issues like the methods that photographers use to pull us into their images. He outlines many of the issues in photography like whether an image should be printed in black-and white or in color. The book is profusely illustrated with images dating back to the nineteenth century and as current as the work of today’s critical darlings like Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall. Moreover, the book examines photographs not just from Europe and North America but the other continents, showing that so-called “western society” is not the only place where great images are created. All of this is written with great clarity, and even though one may infer where the author comes down on issues where opinion is divided, his presentation of both sides of conflicting opinions about photography issues is fair.

One might easily treat this as a history of photography, but it is one of the few books to really explain how to read a photograph critically. It should take its place alongside Szarkowski’s “The Photographer’s Eye” and Shore’s “The Nature of Photographs: A Primer“. Pleasantly enough, it doesn’t wander off into the field of photography theory for discussion of indexes or punctum or any of those ideas that seem so beloved of semioticians and so far removed from the reality of a photograph. On the other hand, Freeman is willing to give critics like Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried their due.

Although I was engrossed throughout the book, I particularly enjoyed the author’s analysis of photo essays by W. Eugene Smith and Larry Burrows. I was delighted by his quote of Carl Wolinsky’s efforts to capture the image of a half-shorn sheep.

Even though we are bombarded by images, few people are trained in visual literacy. Serious photographers may begin to understand the language, but without aid it can take many years to become truly conversant. This book is perhaps the best introduction to visual literacy I have encountered.

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LeHardys Rapids

I belong to the North American Nature Photographers’ Association which is a group consisting of professional and serious amateur nature photographers. Every year they hold a contest for the best images of the prior year. I’m pleased to announce that my picture below of a common merganser in LaHardys Rapids, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming was selected as one of the top ten photographs.


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Understanding Flash Photography: How to Shoot Great Photographs Using Electronic Flash by Bryan Peterson

I’d bet that the engineers at Canon and Nikon would be shaking their heads in wonder if they read this book. Even though thru-the-lens (TTL) flash has been around longer than digital cameras, Bryan Peterson is still advocating the exclusive use of manual flash.

Peterson’s advice is to set the flash to manual, determine the distance from the flash to the subject, set that distance in the flash readout and then set the aperture to that indicated in the flash readout. The settings that he recommends for other conditions are permutations of this formula. For example, if you have ambient light that you wish to preserve, Peterson recommends setting the aperture for that purpose, checking the readout for the recommended distance from flash to the subject and setting up your flash at that distance. Peterson’s recommendations are sound, but he essentially changes the electronics in the flash to an automated version of the chart that electronic-flash photographers used to carry around forty years ago. He recommends against using TTL flash.

Yet TTL flash does the same thing automatically. For TTL, in a period of time measured in ten thousandths of a second, before firing the main flash a small burst of light is fired at the subject, from which the flash calculates the proper settings and flash power for an image. This is the same process that Peterson recommends, except that it’s fully automated. That’s why today’s TTL flashes are expensive and internally sophisticated and yet so easy to use. In some cases TTL is far more accurate then flash used as Peterson recommends. For example in using bounce flash, a process wherein the flash in an interior setting is aimed at the ceiling to bounce the light back at the subject, defuse the light beam and provide softer lighting, Peterson recommends increasing the aperture by two stops to make up for the longer distance the light has to travel and then, if that’s not satisfactory adjusting the aperture up or down. I have taken thousands of pictures using bounce flash and TTL, and estimate 95% of the time the exposure was spot on, and in the remaining cases was so close to perfect that a small adjustment of levels in Photoshop was all that was necessary for correction. At a hectic event, like a kid’s birthday party, one doesn’t want to bother with the calculations required by the Peterson method. (Peterson apparently objects to the small preflash.)

There are other problems with Peterson’s book. Besides positioning a flash in the Peterson method to a fixed distance to the subject that may be away from the camera, one may also want to move a flash off-camera for more attractive lighting. This can be done in a number of ways, including a cord from the camera to the flash, built-in infra-red or other non-wired communications between the camera and the flash, and separate radio-control devices. None of these is discussed in any great detail. Similarly, mention is made of diffusing the flash for a more attractive light, but there is no organized discussion of diffusers.

There is nothing wrong with using manual flash, and in a few special situations it may be the only way to get the illumination one wants. But to suggest that TTL flash should never be used is highly misleading. Most books teaching the use of flash will show all the methods. Peterson is the first modern photographer to recommend a return to the old methods. If you want to explore manual flash this book will prove helpful, but please don’t abandon all the more modern techniques that the engineers have created to make life easier for the flash photographer.

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Labor Day Weekend Photography

What with with barbecues, friends and families, Field Day and all, there wasn’t much time for photography on the Labor Day weekend. However. I did catch this green heron fishing at Cedar Beach, as well as an often seen but seldom photographed bird, the american crow. The final shot is of a little bandit who did not appear in the least bit intimidated by human beings.


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The Marsh at New Suffolk

Here is a picture of the Marsh on West Creek in the town of New Suffolk on the North Fork of Long Island. I’ve included a smaller thumbnail and you can click on the link below for an image to scroll through.

Click this link for a larger image: The Marsh at West Creek, New Suffolk

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Manet’s Modernism: or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s by Michael Fried

It has been said that images of Edouard Manet marked the beginning of modern painting. The great art critic and art historian Michael Fried explores the work of Manet and several contemporaries.

The book opens with the republication of an earlier article by Fried in which he suggested that the sources of many of Manet’s important works were in the art of earlier times and cultures and has a second chapter aimed at refuting the arguments against his thesis by other critics and historians. Fried concludes that Manet was trying to create some kind of universal art. To do so he refers to earlier pictures by artists from Rembrandt to Watteau which he maintains show the connections and derivations. In most case the similarity was usually as to the posing of certain figures in both Manet’s and the earlier works. While quite interesting, I was unconvinced since there was no evidence directly from Manet of his intentions. Moreover, it seemed to me that if one looked enough through the bodies of works of the earlier artists, one would be bound to find similar poses.

In the third chapter, the author addresses many of Manet’s contemporaries, including Millet, Fantin-Latour, Legros and Whistler. In this examination, Fried pays particular attention to a concern he has previously addressed, namely the opposition between absorption and theatricality. (To oversimplify, in images characterized by absorption, the subject appears not to be aware of his subjectness, while theatricality shows an awareness of the viewer.) In exploring the issue, Fried discusses the reactions of art critics of the time to the work of the artists, particularly their appraisal of the value of the images based upon their place on the absorption/theatricality continuum. The fourth chapter deals in the same way with Manet.

The fifth chapter is a strange one that deals primarily with self-portraits and the effect of the artist viewing himself in a mirror. There is a coda appended in which Fried summarizes what has gone before, and concludes that he is unable to have any final word on what Manet’s goals were with respect to absorption and theatricality. There are several appendices in French and English with the comments of critics of the time and 168 pages of notes.

Fried is both a critic and historian, and this book illustrates the distinction. He is concerned about the history of the art without drawing conclusions as to the quality of the work of the artists, and other than describing technique, gives us little clue as to how to appreciate the works. Indeed, I sometimes felt that he didn’t particularly care for the work of Manet and his contemporaries. For those who believe that art is a way to understand the culture and times in which the art is created this book will be interesting. On the other hand those who believe that the purpose of art is to transform our vision of the world will find less help in using Manet as an agent of transformation.

Posted in Aesthetics, Critical Theory and Philosophy, Book Review | Leave a comment