For more years than you, dear reader, want to hear about, those of us who were practicioners of what we chose to call “fine Art photography” struggled in the wet darkroom to create images that had subtle black and white tonalities or pure colors and clearly defined, crisp edges: clean, sharp and not muddy! We poisoned our bodies with exotic chemicals and worked long hours in total darkness or in the glow of dark, red safelights. We spoke strange jargon. I remember some color chemistry that caused me to get up and puke on cue at 2:30 AM after using it. I quit using it because it didn’t work well and most likely would have continued to barf if it gave good photographic results (Yes, I am considered stubborn!).
Now, anyone who has a computer, camera and printer, and has taken the latest two day course from xxxxx can turn out sharp, saturated prints with accurate colors (If they have ACTUALLY taken the time to observe nature carefully to get the colors correct….many, many have not) Sooooo, sharp, saturated prints are now a given and when I asked members of a camera club that visited my gallery how many had sold a print, nearly every hand went up! The result is the public is more aware than they used to be and demand more. In fact, since now sharpness and saturation are a given, there is now a more sophisticated audience that has tried to do more with their cameras and are impressed when they see something that goes beyond the meat and potatoes of sharpness and saturation.
So let’s talk about seeing. Let’s talk about what I shall call “Abstract and Impressionistic Photography”
Palouse Pattern is typical of my best work today: while obviously still rooted in the natural world, it gives little factual information about the scene or the situation, yet the viewer has a sense of reality….of viewing something he/she could view if they went to the right spot at the right time, with the right attitude, looked in the right spot, etc. (which isn’t likely as it would be at Mount Rainier so gee whiz arn’t they glad I did go and seek this out and take this picture and print it and frame it to sell to to them to enhance their life, Huh???) No kidding, that is a big difference: They ALL THINK they will take that great picture of Mt. Rainier someday on their way to work. They have no illusions about a picture like Palouse Pattern. It is one of a kind, none repeatable and a result of my artistic mind. PERIOD!
Forty years ago, when I began selling my prints for a living, they were a novelty. People could barely believe their eyes when they saw one of my 24×30 or 30×40 inch prints. By today’s standard they were pretty bad. Today we make prints 96 inches long (I have printed Palouse Pattern to 60×24–could easily go to 8 feet!) that are tack sharp and have a 150 year minimum life span. The limit today is finding mounting material big enough to mount the prints. We currently limit ourselves to 8 feet for single pictures. Diptyches and triptyches can be MUCH larger for public buildings.
But how many literal, tack sharp, nature photgraphs do I need to put out?
Some of what I’m now doing is not as enigmatic as Palouse Pattern. In Palouse Farm the Farmhouse gives a sense of scale and distance but the compression from a long lens adds a sense of mystery and almost loses the farmhouse in vast spaces. Thus it becomes an IMPRESSION of space inherent to the Palouse country. I, personally, consider such a photograph to be IMPRESSIONISTIC art. You may disagree (even my son does, somewhat!), but I think we need to make distinctions when we depart from the literal rendition of spaces, distances, textures, colors, contrasts, size relationships, etc.
I think Palouse Mosaic is both IMPRESSIONISTIC and ABSTRACT because it plays with compression of distance and divides up space in such a manner that one could be convinced he/she is viewing a flat pattern rather than rolling hills stretching over several miles of distance. It does play havoc with preconceived notions of space…..yet you feel you are still in the real world!
No, I’m not trying to say this is an abstract photograph, but if you will look carefully you will see that there are only three basic tones: Black, Gray, and a White that is barely darker than the paper base. Once again, your emotional response is being elicited by letting you see what I wanted you to see: BY LETTING YOU SEE JUST THOSE TONES….the tones of a gray, cold winter day. So in a sense, I am doing the same thing as with an abstract photograph: selecting the information the viewer will see and how the viewer will see it!
Again! More to come later on this topic!!! Tune in again!!! Lee Mann