Monday, June 27, 2011

Natural Selection

Seven for Dinner 
(Brattleboro Retreat Petting Farm)

I promised to have photographic evidence of my weekend in Vermont, second home of my heart. I had a wonderful time there, hiking in the woods, eating fresh local food, visiting farm animals and touring waterways and quaint shop-lined streets in a lovely landscape overlooked by green mountains. But it turns out that I’m not very good at taking photographs while away on vacation, unless of course I’m spending time in my native New York, which is so well known to me that when I arrive it feels as if I never left and I can get right down to shooting. I’ve always known I’m not a good travel photographer; in a new place I am too busy absorbing everything around me to engage the kind of focus I require to recognize and frame a good composition. Nevertheless, I brought my camera to Brattleboro, and I shot one roll of film, and I admit that even the best of the group included in this post needed a little cleaning up to be presentable.  

 West River : a selective view

I’m very selective as a photographer. Even when out and about on a purposeful photo shoot, I rarely shoot more than one or two rolls. With camera in hand I am more of a hunter than a reaper. I am far more interested in waiting for and bringing home the right shot than gathering up quantities of images to be sifted through later. I am much less discriminating when I shoot digital, but compared to other photographers, I’m still very conservative.  Even so, for all the views I reject before even capturing them, there will still be many that make it onto film and then never make it any further than my image files.  Spanning the West River, a closeup of which you can see above, there is a beautiful covered bridge, the longest in Vermont. Unfortunately you will have to go there yourself to see it because my two panoramic but pedestrian shots of it will never be released to the public.

 Slow Train Coming

Every once in a while, thanks to everything aligning perfectly in the world outside and the world within, I bring home a roll of film that has a ridiculously high percentage of “keepers,”  good shots that look exactly as I first saw and felt them at point of capture, and are inarguably presentable to the world.  Among these there are sometimes a few great “divine intervention” shots that have all that and also somehow have acquired some added element I had not recognized or accounted for. It feels as if the camera itself must have read my thoughts and then taken a picture when I wasn’t looking. The image is in some ways BETTER than the scene it represents, and gives you the impression anytime you look at it, that seconds ago it was still in motion, and might resume whenever you look away. Any natural humility or modesty can justifiably be set aside as I nod and admit “wow, that’s REALLY good!”  This was not one of those times.  

 Ghost Rider

I like to think I am a good judge of my own work. I have the kind of high standards that can tell the difference between a respectable effort and a remarkable achievement. There is a fine line between feeling you can never be good enough and knowing you can do better. On one side you have the potential for crippling self-doubt, and on the other powerful self-motivation. I know a great photograph. I’ve seen plenty in museums and books that literally take my breath away. They are both entirely natural and somehow supernatural. I know exactly where my own work falls on the spectrum of photographic technique and artistry. I’m good. But there will always be those better than I am, to infuriate and inspire and instruct me, for which I am grateful.
 Sparkle and Shadow : a Study in Contrast

But when so many images fail to survive the cut of my exacting standards, the question then arises whether I should I be more inclusive and keep images that are clearly of some value, “good enough,” a kind of record of my journey as an artist, and therefore of some aesthetic or historic value? Or should I only release and share the best of the best, the ones that emerge from the shadows with undeniable sparkle? And then how can that be determined? I’ve often used images here that I would not deem worthy of display in a gallery setting, but which were the perfect image to illustrate and enlarge upon the text accompanying them.  A strong image is not always a great photograph. And among great photographs, there will always be those that reach me in undefinable ways that have nothing to do with technical expertise or aesthetic values. I wonder how many photographs my favorite artists judged inferior and left in boxes never to be shared with the world? And whether they were right to do so?

Packing Up

As my regular readers will recall, this week I am vacating the studio that has been my primary workplace for the past 4 months.  This space was the setting for some good creative doing and thinking, and I have certainly grown in the short time I was given perfect circumstances in which to do so. Now it is time to move on to other things. Fortunately the summer weather is conducive to outdoor shooting, and the corner of my livingroom I call my home office has plenty of room to sit in front of a computer and tend to the less glamorous business aspects of life as an artist as I embark on new marketing, outreach and online projects. Hopefully there will be good news to report here in upcoming weeks as the fruits of these new labors come forth. 

Thank you to all my followers, old and new, for your continued interest and kindness as I proceed on my journey; you are truly a sustaining force. And if you haven’t already, please check out my new flickr photostream, a link to which you can find at the right side of this page.  Thanks to my idiosyncratic selection process, some images appearing there will not be posted here, and vice versa.  Have a good week, all.


  1. Gabriella once again thank you for a wonderful text and truly beautiful images! It is good to hear your voice!

  2. Thank you so much, Luis! I've been very busy and this post was a few days late, but I am glad that you felt it was worth the wait! All the best to you, my friend.

  3. 'I’m not a good travel photographer; in a new place I am too busy absorbing everything around me to engage the kind of focus I require to recognize and frame a good composition.' And in that sentence you perfectly express one of my bug bears. People in amazing settings who have their camera/video doing the looking and absorbing for them. And then brag about how many photos/rolls of film they shot.

    Your selectivity is part of what makes you a photographer and an artist. And only you can decide which ones have the magic you require.

  4. Oh, EC, so true what you say about those who let their cameras do the looking for them! The only thing worse is people supposedly having fun but so busy taking pictures of themselves and their friends having fun I wonder if they realize all they actually did was take pictures of each other all night -- that look exactly like the pictures they take on every other occasion? Many thanks my dear friend for being such a sympathetic soul!

  5. Dear Gabriella, just watched your photostream (good idea) it is nice to look at your work that way, a bit like an exhibition. It gives a very good impression of what your work is about, your very own style. The game of light and shadow, the linear aspect,complex and dazzling sometimes; solitude or perhaps that is the wrong word, rather seclusion. The photo-language you speak and show us, so very personal, intimate is touching, strong, sometimes funny or mysterious, there is that tension that makes me want to look again and again.
    I love it!!

    Wishing you a warm, sunny, creative summer and exciting new projects. X

  6. Renilde dear, thank you so much for taking the time to view my photostream! I'm pleased that all the images come across as living together in such harmony of expression. Your description is so wonderful it brings tears to my eyes! I'm humbled and honored. I suppose the photo-language I speak means nothing if there are not the right ears to hear it and understand it as you do. I am so happy to know your friendship and your work and it thrills me to think mine bring you pleasure as well. All the best to you -- in life and in art!

  7. G/TT - I agree with the need to absorb a new environment before documenting it - you waste too much time if you haven't got a feel for it. I haven't yet been to the flickr part, but Renilde's comment makes me want to head there soon! I wish you well as you dismantle the studio and bid it farewell and begin a new chapter, a new place, a new approach. I hope the next stages are rewarding and challenging - travel safe (look after yourself) and go well F

  8. TT- an end of one chapter but the beginning of another and given your talent and passion for imagery who knows what will open up. I know that F and I will continue the journey with you whether it be one step back, one step sideways, one step into a parallel universe. And whist you are at the cross roads don't forget to breath and slowly sip a soft red - as in wine. LOve the Ghost Rider. Go well. B

  9. Fiona - I am so grateful for Renilde's review of my photostream! I should hire her as my personal agent! I hope you do find time to visit it. I dumped a lot in there to begin with, to represent the best of my work of the past decades, but will try to be selective with new additions and make it as user friendly as possible. I don't want people to be put off by an image count that runs into the thousands! Thank you so much for your good wishes as I continue my journey. All the best to you!

  10. Barry - You are too kind. On the one hand I feel pretty chuffed when someone talks about my passion and talent so favorably - but part of me thinks "there must be some mistake- is he talking about ME??" I'm so happy to have you and F along on this journey- good friends make the hard work and doubts so much easier to endure! As does a soft red! As you and F say (I love this expression) - go well!

  11. Love "Ghost Rider" and "Hometown"! I'm very selective in what I photograph too. I know I should shoot lots of exposure at various angles, but somehow I feel like that's cheating (don't ask why, I don't know!). That's especially true of film though, you only have so many shots before you're done!

  12. Fantastic photos - particularly the last one, which has a sort of 70's feel to it, very nostalgic.

    I love, love, LOVE taking photographs - and I rarely take them while I'm on vacation either. Because then I'm not on vacation, you know? I'm working at something else! So I'd rather just have my memories :)

  13. TB - so glad you understand being selective and that you liked the Ghost Rider and Hometown shots! I'm trying to take some interesting shots of bicycles ever since the one I took of the bike in snow got such good feedback. It's a great subject! And I totally get feeling like you're "cheating" if you take too many shots! It somehow feels like an unnecessary indulgence, a "do-over," and if you're good enough you should be able to get it in the one and only shot! I mean, life doesn't always offer extra chances, right? All the best to you!

  14. Hi Phoenix! Thanks for stopping by. That last photo is kind of nostalgic - taken at least 15 or 20 years ago - and almost every view of and around the Brooklyn Bridge feels timeless to me. Thanks for getting that! It is so true that vacation is for enjoyment, not work and that taking photos, while it can be a joy in itself, requires a concentrated effort that feels a little bit too much like a job! Take care, you.

  15. Hey G! I'm just settling back into my studio groove catching up and I want to tell you first off, you photos are gorgeous and moving. Hometown has me awestruck!! I know your studio space served you well... But it's good to know when it's time for change!

    Happy summer!

  16. Hey D! Good to see you back here! Thanks so much for your kind words about my photos. As for the awesomeness of "Hometown" - views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the whole area around the Seaport are so photogenic it's hard to take a bad shot! Of course it's also hard to take an original shot too, so I'm happy with this one having a somewhat different perspective. Happy Summer to you too!