Sunday, September 28, 2014

At the blog hop! Ding-a-ling!

I have been asked by Uta Lenk to write something on my blog about my art and to request the same of three further blogging friends. This is known as a blog hop, she tells me. So I'll look for the best three bloggers to pass the torch to once I've warmed up to this task.
So here are the questions and the brief answers.

1. What am I working on?
Several things. Everything and nothing.
Several things: still life photography, our vacation photos, renewing my interest in street photography (long story, soon to appear on my other blog, "1000 Awful Things"), continuing my documentation of Stuttgart 21, monthly editorial work and cover photos for a magazine, various events as they come up, my portfolio, processing a batch of pictures I took in August 2013 in Richmond, gathering a selection of landscape photos for a show here in Stuttgart).
Everything: (see "Several things")
Nothing: Ever since taking down my last show in Freiburg, the fire under my butt has been more of a flicker - and I don't mean Flickr. I'm still looking for that burning inspiration to return. Right now I'm spending much more time practicing Chopin's D-flat Nocturne than working on my photography.

2. How does my art differ from other's work?
Look at my background. Look at yours. Look at that of other artists.
Every artist has a certain amount of individuality in what s/he creates. The fact that I don't consciously try to copy anyone else's work leads me to believe that there must be something different about mine.
What I photograph is usually based on personal impulses mixed with the randomness that accompanies my life as a working father of three. I like to cook. Recently, the mess on the cutting board suddenly sparked me to grab my macro and explore shadows and light before supper.

It wasn't the first time. My stir fry had me snapping away last year.

I have a certain amount of experience and a great number of interests. These all flow into my work. Coming from a family of artists and performers and athletes and lovers of beauty, I am consequently comfortable in a vast array of situations, which bodes well for my work. Being open to many things, I have found, helps me be aware of the connections among the disciplines. Metaphors open new areas for exploration, be it in photography, music, pottery, painting, dancing or writing. And the deeper we understand any of these disciplines, the more we can potentially learn about the others. Exploring photography has helped me gain insights into physics (the laws of light), architecture (I'd never appreciated it before I tried to make a building look good), meteorology (I know when the moon will rise and can predict when we will have a picturesque sky), sociology (street photography thrives on what people do...), psychology (...and why they do it), and others because I have learned to look closely at what I am photographing.

3. Why do I do it?
Because I can.
I've taken pictures for 40 years. Soon after I began, I was thrown into it head-first and saw hundreds of my photographs published in the school yearbooks by the time I was 18. All of those photos were accompanied by a caption or were used to illustrate a text, many of which I wrote. Text and picture. That's been my thing ever since. I do it professionally. I do it here on my blog. I have to do it.
When I was in a writing workshop eight years ago here in Stuttgart, I met a photographer who got me interested in pursuing digital photography more seriously than the occasional snapshot of my children. Back then I knew nothing about the elements that can make a photograph pleasing or even eye-catching. I was not interested in the history of photography or dead photographers. I didn't stop when I walked by a camera store.
That all changed when I met Jim Palik in the writing workshop. We both stopped going to that and began going on photo walks and showing our work in exhibitions together. He offered me well-founded critique of my early work, gave me advice about how to handle a camera and showed through his example how to shoot, print, frame and exhibit pictures.
The other friend who helped me get where I am today is a concert pianist but also the most enthusiastic photographer I know. We learned about photography together, but he always stayed a step or two ahead of me, and patiently helped me up to his level, be it in questions regarding gear, lighting, posing, interacting with people or processing pictures.
I enjoy sharing my knowledge with other people, so I have taught workshops, I write this blog and I instructed a college class in photography one semester.
It is difficult to explain to somebody who doesn't take pictures because most people think the result of a printed picture is the only reward. But for me, the joy of finding a moment to capture is what keeps me shooting. In a few instances - usually cases where the light and shadows were stunning - the picture itself was indeed an even greater source of joy (and perhaps pride).

4. How does my process work?
I make the best possible pictures of scenes that catch my eye and then I process them to meet my aesthetic criteria.
Since I nearly always have at least one camera with me (usually 2 or 3, including my phone), my eyes are continually focusing on motifs and evaluating the available light. When I prepare to make a picture, a few things happen: I usually imagine the scene as part of a story or vignette. Then the knowledge I've acquired over the past several years - usually about composition, direction of light, perspective, contrast and the technical side of things (holding steady, having the settings on the camera perfect for the situation) - flash through my mind. I may take another picture or a series if I think I can improve on the first shot. If I've got a unique motif before my lens, I'll try to shoot it from all angles in as many different manifestations as I can manage or imagine.

The best of a series of pictures I took of this worker
My photo processing is also an important part of my artistic life. I select from the shoot the photos that I deem worthy of a second look. Depending on the day, that could be 50-70% of them. Then I go back through them and give the ones taht affect me emotionally one star. Those are ones I want to process first. Since I shoot in RAW - a digital negative being created in the camera - I must do some basic processing to "develop" the negative as in the old days in the dark room. But now I sit at the PC and use Adobe Lightroom for that work, reviving the colors, contrast and sharpness that were originally in my line of sight. I straighten and crop the pictures, if necessary, to optimize the viewer's experience.
Other times I'm just damned lucky.

The first person I thought about nominating to continue this blog hop hopping was my sister Susan, but she's too busy setting up a business and teaching art to do it. Check out her blog anyway.
But I'd like to introduce you now to Karin Rehm.

We met through a mutual friend and have been to several art-related events together. She is an all-around artist, a very pleasant person and a fun blogger to follow, whether for her professional, conceptual or political work.

I'll try to find two further bloggers who have the time and energy to write about what they do.
If you have any questions about this, or would like to join the blog hop, please just let me know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Opening night!

Photo by James Palik
I didn't know there was such a thing as post-show blues, but a friend sent me this blog post a few days after my show opened. Now that I've taken the exhibition down, yes, I do feel a bit blue.
However, the show was very well received and opening night was a blast. Friederike Schulte, the director of the Carl-Schurz-Haus, was very gracious in inviting me to show my work there. Her introduction on opening night pointed out my close association with the institute, where I taught for over a decade.

                                                                                                                                                                 Photo by James Palik
At the opening, many old friends were on hand to see the photographs and hear me introduce the topic from my perspective - what emotionally affected me about Stuttgart 21.

                                                                                                                                                                 Photo by James Palik
I explained there were three major points that made me put out the effort to put up the show:
First, the construction has scarred the face of the city I once used to love walking through and photographing.
Second, the divide that was wrought between proponents and protesters was so deep that it even caused us to think twice about which of our friends might not feel comfortable sitting at the table with others.

Photo by Uka Meissner-deRuiz
Finally, when we learned that one of the tunnels is supposed to be dug under our house, a shudder went down my back that returns every time I think about it.
I enjoyed discussing my art and my understanding of the project with visitors such as the Lückings, whose son Thomas is a star architect working on huge projects in Saudi Arabia.

Photo by James Palik
While I was taking a lunch break, I saw the Hebbekers walk past. He was one of my wife's favorite professors in Freiburg where we studied together. They were able to some to the opening and see Bianca again after many years.

Photo by James Palik

My daughter Julia made her own pictures of opening night, thanks to Uka lending her a camera.

Photo by Uka Meissner-deRuiz
The show was a nice opportunity to invite old friends whom I got to know while I lived in Freiburg. Sabine and Isabelle graced the vernissage with their presence.

Photo by Uka Meissner-deRuiz
Special friends came down from Stuttgart and even Berlin to be at the opening. Christel and Uwe drove in from Umkirch. Our families have had close ties for 20 years now.

Photo by James Palik
All in all, it seemed like many things had come full circle. The Lückings, whom I originally met through the Carl-Schurz-Haus, came to see my show and had a chance to meet many other wonderful people. They also came to Stuttgart to see my exhibition four years ago.

Photo by James Palik
From all reports, many visitors came to see the exhibition during the five weeks that is was up. I received emails from several people who posed questions or shared remarks about the photography they had seen. Putting on an exhibition provides an opportunity to create a dialog among people - not between the artist and the viewers, as I observed on opening night. There were also two long articles in the local papers about the show.

The 100 x 300cm collage afterward
Aside from a visitor's book, I also provided sticky notes for people to add their comments about the show and add to the collage I created from newspaper articles and information about the project. When the pictures are shown again, I'll update the information and perhaps even add some new photographs of the project's progress.
Although this first solo show will always hold a special place in my heart, I'm excited about upcoming shows and am looking forward to diving deeper into still life and landscape photography. I'm always open to new artistic adventures.

And since photography can help us freeze time, I'm going to add a final picture, one of my friend Christian helping me hang the show back in August. I couldn't have done it without him. Thank you!