I do believe that Norway is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The light is special. I am writing this from Provincetown – known for its gorgeous and spectacular light that Joel Meyerowitz so beautifully articulated in his book Cape Light. Norway’s light has a similar luminosity, and a clarity that makes me blink a lot. Being there a week before the summer solstice and therefor the “midnight sun” gave me almost 24 hours a day to enjoy it.
It was a long, long flight with occasional magical moments.
A stopover in Oslo gave us time to go to the Munch museum – one of my long time heroes. Here is an inspiring thought from him:
On to Inderoy and the lovely Nord Photography Workshops. The most spectacular part of the trip was not the light, fjords, and breathtaking landscapes – it was the people. For the second year I taught a workshop at Nord Photography in Inderoy and had, for the second year in a row, a group of wonderful students with a lovely combination of fun and seriousness.I thought shooting in water on our first day would be too much so Elisabeth, who can do anything, get anything etc, found us an empty pool!
We did advance to a pool with water for the last two days. Not just a pool, an infinity pool overlooking a fjord. Breathtaking view and breathtaking freezing cold water and air. But Norwegians are hardy stock as they express their pride in their Viking heritage.
Wearing a bag of rocks to keep her from floating, the intrepid Sheila Alnes pushes her vision!
Our goal was to learn to use the camera as a tool to discover new ways of looking at and interpreting the human form. The subject the human form, the nude, is the most popular subject throughout the history of art. I encourage an intuitive visual approach in photographing the body. This may sound simple but is extremely hard to do but each of my students embraced this notion. While everyone worked extremely hard, they managed to take a playful attitude towards their visual growth and development, photographing as a means to explore and enlighten.
I could not be more proud of the work my students did in this workshop!
As the exhibition at Y:ART approached, press and publicity was building and we seemed to be getting a lot of great media coverage. I was thrilled with so much of the attention we received in print, online, and even on public broadcast through MPT, all of which generated a lot of interest and attendance at the gallery. Perhaps the most thorough feature however came after the show had come off the walls…
When I was approached by Gabriella Souza of Baltimore Magazine, I expected an interview like most others, with all of the usual questions and answers. Gabriella’s approach, however, was anything but typical.
Gabriella was already familiar with my work before coming by for what would turn out to be only the initial studio visit. Her questions were not only in-depth, but had me thinking about my work and articulating my process to her in a way that only happens with people who have a genuine interest in the work and respond to it in very special, personal ways. Our conversations were instantly intriguing for both of us, and I looked forward to every one. Gabriella kept in touch throughout the process of organizing and arranging the exhibition, even visiting the gallery while we sequenced and hung the work. I loved sharing this part of the creative process with her while discussing the creation of the work itself.
I LOVE how the article came out!!! Gabriella’s writing is wonderful, and I was very impressed with how she managed to weave so many different elements into one piece. I also love the layout- I think it is graphically well done, the font they used for the title is very cool, and I’m very happy with the images they chose to include. I’m also thrilled with the portraits shot specifically for the piece. My longtime assistant, student, and dear friend Cory Donovan is a frequent contributor to Baltimore Magazine, and it was fitting that they gave him the assignment to photograph me for the article. Cory coordinated with the magazine’s art director Amanda White-Iseli and myself to come up with some very cool ideas for how to approach the shoot, and I think it all paid off in the end. They featured him on the “Contributor Page” (see below) for the piece, with a little blurb about the images:
“I wanted the materials she works with to become visual elements that echoed those of her mirror work”, he says. “She sits in front of the large mirror she photographs into, and you can see various details of the studio surrounding her”.
2016 ended with such a bang, it’s now February and I’m STILL working on a “Year in Review” blog post to try to summarize the immense creative growth, productivity, and excitement that came with it. Everything in the last year has motivated me to keep working, to continue pushing the envelope of the ever-evolving creative process, and to seek new discoveries in my work.
That said, 2017 is off to another fantastic “binge-shooting” start. I have been absolutely captive behind the lens. The new year encouraged me to overhaul and upgrade much of the studio I shoot the mirror work in, including working with lights that allow for increased color variations and great-big-giant-drop-clothes for different textures and backgrounds. (Don’t worry: we’re still using a pickup truck to break giant mirrors).
Embracing the experimental attitude that opened up so many new doors in 2016, I’ve continued with a more hands-on approach in working with the mirrors. I’m still responding to the visceral quality of the mirror shards themselves while incorporating mannequins with real human forms. In some of the latest images, it is being pushed to the extreme- taking a bare minimum of both body forms and blending them together in ways that, although are conceptually nonsensical, work on a visual level that still manages to identify them as “body”. In places, lines and shapes come together in the most elegant way, while in other areas the connection might be more imprecise, jarring, and/or disparate.
Squeezing in multiple shoots every day, I’ve once again found myself wonderfully buried in new images. I’m eager to continue exploring, and I’m excited for feedback on the new work – I would love to hear your thoughts on this image!
BmoreArt, the award-winning Baltimore online journal, has done a wonderful job documenting the art community and evolved to engage a broad local and global audience.
As Baltimore’s cultural scene has grown and gained momentum, they launched a podcast series in 2015 to dive further into the arts community. “Conversations” brings insightful and in depth audio interviews with local artists and creative leaders to their already extensive coverage. Every episode has a corresponding blog post on the Conversations page of the BmoreArt website, adding visual content that fleshes out each installment and offers an even deeper look into each interview.
To coincide with the retrospective exhibition at Y:ART Gallery, I was honored to be interviewed by Liz Donadio for Episode 15 of the series, which just launched today. Liz’s questions allowed us to explore all of my favorite topics on the creative process, including intuition, mythology, discovery, and deeper connections to one another through the power of art. We also discussed my work with the William G Baker Jr. Memorial Fund, the Baker Artist Awards, and the amazing arts community we have here in Baltimore.
Last Thursday, MPT ArtWorks aired Episode 507, highlighting their theme on “Photographers”. I could not be more thrilled with their segment on yours truly, which featured an in-studio visit and interview with my dear friend Rhea Feikin. I thought the images looked great, and Rhea’s thoughtful questions focused on core aspects of my work and process that I was eager to share.
Standing in front of the Rembrandt’s Night Watch in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum was beyond stunning. He was a true master of so many things – If I were a painter I would be mesmerized by the variety of his brushstrokes. Often he will use what can only be imaged as a tiny, miniscule brush to get the splendid detail so characteristic of his paintings, while at other times he seems to use a pallet knife in a sweeping gesture ala the 20th century British painter, Francis Bacon.
Nothing, however, captivates a photographer like light. And Rembrandt’s light is nothing short of brilliant. A basic photography class, or any photography class, should be required to study this painting to understand how light defines form and creates a sense of dimension, as well as defining space and depth in an environment. In addition, Rembrandt uses light to draw our attention to different parts of the canvas as well to tell us the level of importance of the figures. The most important figures are lit the brightest to show us their glowing significance. As the intensity of the light fades, we realize, so do the status of the figures. As they become darker and darker the figures become less prominent in the painting until they are barely distinguishable from the shadows. The light itself tells a story, as it highlights “moments”, a discussion between two aristocrats, a little girl watching them with a distressed look and the men in background loading rifles, beating drums. It is the light that creates this electric atmosphere full of intrigue and mystery.
After a while, perhaps twenty minutes or so, I turned from the painting, the only Rembrandt in the room, and was struck by the dullness of every other painting. As if they were all painted in mud. And flat – no depth at all. Just as suddenly I felt a gripping need to breathe fresh air. I had to get outside. I craved a Coke. It was as if I had a sudden heaviness in my head that felt a little like having a cold and fever. Once Patricia and I were sitting outside, I was gulping a Coke, sucking sugar and caffeine as fast as possible while she poured cold water just as quickly down her throat, and we talked about the experience. She had felt it too. Immediately overwhelmed and immediately exhausted.
We had become afflicted by the Stendhal Syndrome – also known as the art disease, the Florence Syndrome or the “hyperkulturemia.” The cause is exposure to a concentration of overwhelming beauty – such as is found in a museum. It is a documented disease with a wide range of symptoms including anxiety, confusion, and disorientation. The effects don’t last long and don’t require medical attention. They are clearly real, however, and can’t be ignored.
This syndrome was named after Stendhal, the pen name for the 19th century French author, Henri-Marie Beyle during a visit to Florence. In his book titled Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio (1817) he described his experience:
“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty…I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations … Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”
Being overwhelmed by emotion is more commonly recognized in other areas, such as sports. I admit, I was an Olympic addict this summer, watching as often as possible. Indulging in women’s wrestling, dressage, mountain biking, archery, field hockey, fencing as well as the traditional swimming, diving, track and gymnastics. Many times, as an athlete won an event he or she was so overwhelmed (with joy? excitement? relief? the undefinable?), they would break down sobbing. Is it that the emotions at that moment are too intense or poignant to actually experience?
When my nephew and his fiancé asked if Patricia and I would officiate their wedding I burst into tears. I had no choice. It was immediate. I was thrilled beyond what I could feel at the moment. What all these situations have in common is the ineffable quality of being emotionally overwhelmed.
During my time with the Night Watch I was held captive, engaged with the mastery of Rembrandt’s technique on one level, but clearly, on another level, I was experiencing the profound and acute power of true beauty. The Stendhal Syndrome does not come on slowly, giving hints as to what is about to happen. It comes on immediately and takes control.
I now understand what Thomas Mann meant when he said “Beauty can pierce one like a pain.” (published by Buddenbrooks, 1900, by Thomas Mann).
Last month, I had the opportunity to teach a workshop in Norway with NORDphotography entitled “The Nude As Form”, and I loved every minute of it. Upon arriving, my dear friend Jill Enfield was on her way out after teaching a workshop the week before mine. We arranged to meet up for coffee at the airport for a quick visit between intersecting flights, and it set the tone for a wonderful trip.
I found the Norwegian people to be warm and welcoming, and was immediately comfortable from the start. I also found it to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The light was simply spectacular, especially in Inderøy, which is where the workshop took place. Norway is one of several regions that plays witness to a natural phenomenon called the midnight sun, in which the sun is still visible at midnight. Besides making it daylight at an absurd hour, it contributes to magnificent natural light throughout the day. Although we missed the midnight sun on our first night due to rain, my students and I eventually managed to stay awake, – albeit hopped up on wine – to catch it another night and it was truly a bizarre but stunning sight.
Here’s some of us after our successful attempt at catching the midnight sun- taken at midnight in broad daylight:
The workshop took place at SAGA in Inderøy, which is built over a fjord – a deep valley or inlet created by glacial erosion. The founder of NORDphotography, Elisabeth Aanes, converted an old sawmill into a workshop center, complete with a photography studio, fine art gallery, and accommodations. When it is not acting as a workshop center, SAGA is a hotel. This enabled all of us to stay in the same place, eating family-style breakfast and lunch at a large table. Elisabeth proved to be the perfect host- despite being upset with my aversion to eating fish, she managed to cook exquisite meals and meet everyone’s dietary needs. Every evening, the students and I would walk into town to eat at the local pub, sitting on a deck that overlooked the fjord.
My students were wonderful and a delight to work with. As with my other workshops in photographing the nude, our goal was to learn to use the camera as a tool to discover new ways of looking at and interpreting the human form. I encourage an intuitive visual approach in photographing the body, and each of my students embraced this notion. While everyone worked extremely hard, they managed to take a playful attitude towards their visual growth and development, photographing as a means to explore and enlighten.
The images they produced were breathtaking and pushed their work to entirely new levels, and I could not be happier with how far each of them progressed in our short time together. NORDphotography put together an excellent slideshow of all the students work, and I’m happy to share it here:
Thanks again to NORDphotography and to Elisabeth Aanes’ hospitality! I look forward to returning to beautiful Norway next year!
On Sunday, May 22, Juniper Workshops featured a webinar with Ben Long and myself using WebEx conferencing technology to create a virtual classroom for hosting an in depth photo critique session. Although I’ve previously tutored students one-on-one using FaceTime, Skype, and Dropbox, this was the first time I’ve met with a group over the internet to offer feedback, and I found it to be extremely effective.
There were 8 participants total, consisting of 5 students, Ben and myself, and Joanna, a moderator from Juniper Workshops. We began the webinar using a Keynote to introduce and discuss the nature and purpose of critiques. Starting off by declaring that they are first and foremost nothing to be afraid of, I found a wonderfully effective font to use to be sure to get this point across…
All joking aside, we explained how the critique is NOT a place for value judgements, but rather a method for acquiring feedback to build visual awareness, discover potential directions, and enhance understanding of your images. This kind of feedback is crucial to your development as an artist, but can often be difficult to find- while words of encouragement from friends and family may be intended to support you, they rarely provide concrete information about your images and your work. The value of an in depth critique can show you not only how to resolve an image, but area’s to improve and where to go next in your creative process.
Seeing another artist being critiqued can also be a valuable and insightful experience in and of itself. On Sunday, students could observe everyone else’s critique, although Ben and I engaged everyone individually. One of the things I appreciate most about working with Ben is that while we agree on a lot of things, we often have different attitudes and approaches in resolving an image, which provides students with different levels of understanding and options for moving forward. Each student presented 2 images, and we spent about 5-10 mins thoroughly discussing each image. Through the WebEx platform, we were able to be very precise in pointing things out to show what we were talking about, and I found it to be a wonderful way to communicate.
I was so pleased with how the online critique turned out. Everyone seemed to find it very productive and to come out of the experience with greater enthusiasm and comprehension of their work. We have already begun planning for the next webinar session, and will keep everyone posted on details as they develop!
In a recent blog post, I introduced some of my latest images, which include working with some brand new broken mirror shards. Over the years, the process of generating new and interesting shapes of these mirror fragments has evolved. My first attempt involved bending an 8′ plexiglass mirror back on itself until it exploded, dangerously blasting reflective projectiles across the studio in a thunderous CRACK. Since then, however, I’ve developed a much more elegant technique that is not only safer, but produces gorgeous fragments.
Without further ado, the refined process of creating interesting mirror shards:
Large plexiglass mirror
One large, nicely shaped, preferably round rock
Someone to direct the model/truck driver
One extremely handsome assistant to record the event on his iPhone
A hat and gloves- if it happens to be 20 degrees in the middle of winter.