Tag Archives | 4×5 photography

Gallery sitting…




It is quiet here on Paros.  The tourists are leaving in a steady flow.  French, English, Italian and Greek…For many of them next week is the beginning of the school year for their children.  Here at the Aegean Center, this is true as well.  The Autumn Term begins next week in Italy.  My show comes down in 11 days.  I am very pleased with the reception I have had.  I am still seeing about 25 people per night visiting the exhibition and have had many interesting conversations with tourists and locals alike.

The summer is winding down and I am about to experience my first September on Paros.  I have heard it is the best time of year, a reward for making it through the high season:  warm, sunny, quiet…

So I will ride my bike, swim in the sea, take care of some maintenance in the school darkroom, sweep the courtyard and water the plants.

Before I know it it will be September 25th and I will be in Athens, meeting up with the school and then returning here on the 28th.  To paraphrase Bukowski, time runs like wild horses over the hills…



The exhibition…

My solo exhibition opened Sunday evening.  It was a joyful relief to have it up an on its way.  I realized that I have been building this portrait project since October 2011 while also working on (and completing) several other portfolios in both photography and painting en route to this destination.  No small feat.  It feels as if this has been an overreaching arc representative of all my labors to date here on Paros.

I have had some interesting comments regarding the 22 photographs.  One on-line viewer remarked that I had created a community.  I can see that too: a small town.  I have a butcher, barber, teachers, students, potters, cafe owners, artists, farmers, families, etc…The portfolio could stand alone as a village almost anywhere.  A visitor to the exhibition last night said that I had captured the souls of these people.  I like to think I only borrowed them for a brief moment.

I was too busy to take any pictures of the opening, but I know others did.  When I have some of those, I’ll share them.

I think I will concentrate on portraiture for a while.  My other photography is good, solid work.  It is like doing push-ups or lifting weights–all preparation and training for the real event.   I will begin a second round of portraits in late September, once the light has shifted a bit and people’s schedules have settled down.

Thank you, once again, to all those who helped make this happen.  You know who you are.  Yes, I did the work, but without the support of the Aegean Center and the people of Paroikia this project would never have seen the gallery lights.



News from Paros…a journey of small bites…

Lupens blooming along the path to the monastery of Agios Kyriaki

Lupens blooming along the path to the monastery of Agios Kyriaki

The first week of the spring 2013 session at the Aegean Center has all but ended.  As I sit in Pebble’s Jazz Cafe, overlooking the bay of Paroikia, the sun begins a slow descent towards the faint outline of Sifnos to my west.  Since my return at the end of January the sunset has moved slowly north along the ridge of that island, the daylight has increased and the temperature has become warmer.  There have been welcome harbingers of a lovely spring: warm, breezy with high clouds and only sprinklings of rain, barely enough to dampen my laundry hung out to dry, birds singing in the bright morning…

My work for the next few months has been laid out for me, a buffet of grand proportions.  My own large-format portrait work, which I have written about before, takes priority if I wish to have the printing finished by the end of May and the work at the framers by June.  This is the beginning-of-the-end of a long-term project, the seeds of which I planted during  the winter of 2011/2012.  I have two or three more sittings to arrange and then I can begin crossing tasks off the list.

I am also teaching in the darkroom, guiding the bright and eager minds of our small cadre along the meditative paths of silver photography.  I have been impressed in this first week by their enthusiasm, previous experience and general attitude towards the idea of ‘slow photography’.  I can only hope that they, too, feel as if I am an able mentor for their journey.  There are two or three returning students working on the darkroom, which benefits everyone.

The third element is my return to oil painting.  I loved it the first time last spring and this time around seems no different.  Just today I was working on a piece and I was struck by how much I love oils: their malleability and fluidity, the ability to push them around on a properly prepared canvas…

The fourth menu item this session is a fascinating journey into the world of Johannes Vermeer, more precisely his use of the camera obscura in his work.  There are three of us working with Jane Pack and in the next few weeks we will construct a full-scale replica of the master painter’s  camera, discover how he applied it and use it ourselves to draw, and then paint, some still lives.

When I realized a few days ago the scope of the labors set before me, my heart and mind quaked.  I quickly spoke to an advisor which helped.  I know that I can accomplish all of these things, but like a plate of food at the above mentioned buffet, this kind of smorgasbord can seem impossible to consume.  Like any dinner, it starts with the first bite.   Before I know it will be the end of May and I will be ordering coffee and dessert.




Darkroom work and questions…

In the past few weeks I have begun printing some of the images I made last summer during my island hopping following the spring 2012 session here at the Aegean Center.  For the most part, they are photographs of the stone walls that criss-cross the Kyklades landscapes like so many topographical scratches: property lines, terrace farming, some ancient, some new.  The proofs are working out fine, but I have begun to grow uneasy.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of ‘art’ and my photography.  True, I can compose within the format, be it square or rectangular, but am I an artist or am I simply a skilled documentarian?  The same applies to the portrait pieces I am photographing with my 4×5 and then using the scanner to render them into a digital format.  This is not my discussion alone, but one that has been on the table since photography began.  Is a photograph art?

I was told tonight by someone at a cafe that if a photograph ‘moves him’, creates an emotional response, then it is art.  I’ll buy that.  So what kind of emotional response is my ‘wall photography’ generating?  Nostalgia, loneliness, sadness…The scenes are desolate, full of ruins and, in some cases, the detritus of man.  Overturned ore carts, rotting and rusting in the harsh Aegean climate; volcanic chunks of stone piled two meters high to create the snake-like patterns running over hills one sees from the aft deck of the Blue Star ferry as they sail from Pireaus south.  There are no people in these images.  There are only the bones of ghosts.

The portrait work, on the other hand, is completely different.  I am trying to capture the essence of the person, or people, in their own environment.  Some are in studios, others at home.   In each case I have been able to catch a glimpse of something that reaffirms the great possibility of life.  The terrace farms may collapse due to misuse over the centuries, but these people will live on through the images I am creating.  I am creating.  I can create.  Perhaps that is as close a definition for ‘art’ as I will ever get.  Art is creation, a recognition of beauty and grace despite the ravages of time.  I can be a creator of something.   I can document with a deft hand, be mindful of the alchemical processes and thus reveal something to the world that I find beautiful.   There is a lazy part of me that wants this feeling to go away.  The realist in me understands that questioning is essential.  Without doubt and self-examination, how can I possibly progress?


Serifos, 2012


Andiparos, 2012


Sunny days, cooler nights…

The mid-term break here at the Aegean Center on Paros has drawn to a close.  The first day of the rest of the session begins tomorrow with our Monday morning meeting, and back to work we go.  As usual, most of the students went traveling, as they should, and many came back in time to knuckle down and get back into the swing of things before the final push begins: 31 days until the student exhibit and I, for one, have not done enough.  Granted, I have been shooting a lot of film and developing it, but my digital projects have slowed and I haven’t been printing as much as I should.  I am not worried, however, as I know what and how much I can do and how to accomplish these tasks, but the newer students are just now acclimating to the idea that they are here to work as well as explore.  First the push, then the crunch and before anyone knows it, it is time to say ‘farewell’ to Paros, unless they are lucky enough to return in the spring, a session that breathes at a different rate then the fall.

As I write this dispatch from Pebble’s Jazz Bar, overlooking the quiet bay of Paroikia, in America the election for the President slouches  towards the the doorsteps of millions, like a wary and red-eyed dog begging for greasy scraps. On Tuesday evening the tally will reveal the overall tenor for the next four years of that country’s leadership and how this beast will be fed.  Of course, this election will effect the whole world.  If Obama wins, I hope he will have a chance to do more than just clean up his predecessor’s terrible messes.  If Romney is chosen to succeed, I fear the world will see what kind of mess can be created by a man with a parochial world view, a medieval stance on civil rights, freedom of speech and a religious background that I, for one, must call cultish at best.  I imagine the worst.  For a good idea of what this could mean, please feel free to read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood.  To think that a military theocracy is impossible for the United States in this age is to bury your head in the sand.

The days have been warm and sunny.  There has been a shift in the breeze, from south to north, resulting in clearer skies and cooler nights.  I am hoping for more rain this week.  As the temperature slowly drops this becomes more likely, but the weather report doesn’t list this as a possibility.  More good news along with the weather is that the water in the darkroom has dropped to a lovely 21C.  This makes my life easier: small mercies for a possible bleak future.  I hope Yeats is wrong but poets seldom are.



Paros and Emerson…

My trip back to Greece was uneventful although the security in the large airport from which I departed the USA was tighter than usual.  As a wise man reminded me, “These are the signs of the times we live in.”  So true.  And yesterday we all said goodbye to another wise man, Gore Vidal–writer, critic and general thorn in the side of anyone he felt needed a sharp poke as a reminder of their mortality and insignificance.  I have a feeling that he and Marcus Aurelius would have been good friends, cynics both–grumblers concerning the state of the world–and brighter stars in what can often be a dull firmament.

It was a pleasure and a relief to arrive back in Greece even though I have had to leave dear friends and family behind.  Such is my current path.  PAGE Literary and Art Journal is going to print and the files have been sent to the printers.  The only remaining task is to choose the paper stock for the cover and interior pages.  This is a hands-on job so I will not be taking care of that responsibility.  It is a very pretty publication, with relevant articles, both new and republished, and interesting work from the artists in that microcosm of the Northeast.  With that behind me I have returned to Paros and I am happy to be back.  My visit to the USA was so short it feels surreal to walk down the narrow streets of this port town, now more crowded with tourists, feel the heat of the Greek sun and hear the ancient familiar music of the Greek language.  It is as if I had never left, yet I have the jetlag to prove it.  I have work to do here before I leave for Italy in a few weeks so I will be busy and I am looking forward to that.  For me idle hands are the devil’s playground.  In short, I need to have work to do and some structure to my life, a schedule of some kind.  People to see, places to go, things to do.  Then I can rest.

Today’s (2 August) reading from ‘ A Year with Emerson’  is appropriate since I am back here and in contact with my teachers, mentors and those who would guide me.  When he was thirty years old Ralph wrote a letter to his Aunt Mary and gave a description of his ideal teacher. He wrote, “God’s greatest gift is a teacher & when will he send me one, full of truth & boundless benevolence & heroic sentiments.  I can describe the man, & have done so already in prose and verse.  I know the idea well, but where is its real blood warm counterpart…I may as well set down what our stern experience replies with the tongue of all its days. Son of man, it saith, all giving & receiving is reciprocal; you entertain angels unawares, but they cannot impart more or higher things than you are in a state to receive.  But every step of your progress affects the intercourse you hold with all others; elevates its tone, deepens its meaning, sanctifies its spirit, and when time & suffering & selfdenial [sic] shall have transformed and glorified this spotted self, you shall find your fellows also transformed & their faces shall shine upon you with the light of wisdom & the beauty of holiness.”

“You entertain angels unawares…”  How lovely.  We are only ready to receive that which we are ready to understand.  In a way he is reminding me to remain open to the ideas around me, to not shut myself off from the “sunlight of the spirit” and to look keenly into the eyes of those who know.  I must admit that I cannot say much else after that.  That’s alright.   I think Emerson, Vidal and Old Aurelius would agree.  As a parting shot I would like to introduce a circular idea I have been mulling for the past few months: learn, practice, teach.



The Big Push…for me at least…

The spring break is over.  I was able to have some time in Athens visiting friends and the teacher from school who is in a very positive recovery from her stroke.  All seems well with her and we all hope to see her back on the island soon.  I have been expanding, albeit slowly, my 4×5 portraits and will be developing some sheet film tonight.  These are family photos of a wonderful homesteading family here on the island, an English couple who raise their own chickens for eggs and bees for honey.  In return I received  a half-dozen fresh eggs.  I’ll take that as a solid barter.

We have less than 40 days until the show and even les for me since I will be off the island for a long weekend so that leaves about a month to do what I need to do and still have two or three days of free time before the show.  That is a lot of work for me.  I am focusing on quality rather than quantity but there is still a quota I need to fill.  I think ten large-format scans from the digital lab and 15 silver pieces.  This, of course, doesn’t count the paintings.  I think there will be 8 to 10 of those as well.  Those have to be finished by the week before the show so that the paint can dry fully.  I have my work cut out for me.

The weather has turned to spring/summer warmth, sun and the kind of light that begs for early morning photography.  It also seduces the less fortunate into spending time at the beach rather than in the studio.  So be it.  This is not my problem.  The phrase ‘youth is wasted on the young’ is apt here as always.  So much energy and so poorly used.  It is interesting to see how young kids blow off huge amounts of energy too soon and then have none for the rest of the day.  They are naturally out of balance.  This changes in the future as they age and learn how to manage time.  I think so anyway.

More to come…



Here at Mikro Cafe…

“Latte, please,” JDCM said.  Colin stands behind the bar, talking of his love of chewing on coffee beans.  Fresh from his bi-athalon on Naxos, he is feeling sprightly and full of energy.  He was able to shave off 6 seconds from the last event of this type so that’s a win and new personal best…Bravo Colin!

On other notes my portrait sessions have begun and I have photographed one student, the artist Jackie Massari and one of the instructors, the painter Jun-Pierre Shiozawa.  I hope to work with Colin Brown and his wife Stella later this week, perhaps Wednesday afternoon.  Couples are more difficult than single subjects, but I hope to work this out.  I’ll do some research on the subject so I can get some ideas first.

Other students are using the studio as well which is a good thing, and I am eager to see their work.  My painting is moving along and I am getting the hang of glazing, scumbling and the balance of colors.  We are still using a limited pallet and I understand why.  I am champing at the bit, however, to open up the brighter, more vibrant hues and work them in.  This will come with time.

Weather still fine, cool at night, etc…



Painting, portraits and 4×5 photography…

The Fayum portrait I am copying

I have discovered an excitement and love of painting.  That is the only way to describe how I feel.  Using this medium to see light as opposed to the photographic process is a joy.  Although I tend to be a ‘fast’ painter, the inevitability of having to let paint dry keeps me from getting to far ahead of myself.  We are still engaged in tonal studies, but have branched out into some color variations based on ‘hot’ and ‘cool’.  Very interesting.   We have also begun the ‘Fayum’ process as well and using the tetrachromy is a challenging form that dates back to the beginnings of the Common Era (30 ACE to the 3rd century).  Art historians believe that these colors are actually the four used by the Greeks in the 4th an 5th centuries BCE and reference the four elements.  The spiritual aspect of this intrigues me.  The Fayum portraits themselves seem to have survived purely by chance while only written descriptions exist of the height of Greek painting from the classical age.  As a student of history I am happy to be looking at this course from both an artistic and academic point of view.

This afternoon I cleaned up the light studio and set up the four studio lights and scrims we use here at the Aegean Center.  This means that I can begin my portrait work this week, I hope.  I will use my 4×5 camera and produce images similar to the portraits made in the late 19th century.  The lighting will be dramatic and raking, borrowing  more from the style of Rembrandt than anything else.  My subjects will be students and locals and will be both an important part of my portfolio and my learning curve.  This vision may change, of course and I may find I like the open studio light concept better than the drama.  The composition will be head and shoulders only, 3/4 view or something like that.  We shall see…




Counting down and mailing out…

I depart for Europe in about 40 days.  By 1 March I will be back on Paros and in my apartment.  I am looking forward to the next phase of my life, but I am nervous.  Perhaps this will never go away.  I have faith that if I show up, do the work I am assigned and participate in the human experience around me I will do well, and probably better than that.  I am just nervous because for the first time in 10 years I am branching away from my biological family again and taking on the mantle of an adult, a garment I do not always wear well or properly.

I have heard that due to the economic crisis and possible political instability (from a US standpoint of course ) there may be a drop in enrollment this spring.  This is believable in this day and age and perhaps this is one curse of the electronic info-era we currently live in.  There has always been and always will be economic woes and political upheavals.  The media has blown so much of this out of proportion that it feeds the fears of those who stay glued to their TV sets and believe everything they see and hear from that medium.  As a student of history I am thrilled to be living through and in this period of time.  Once again we are perched on the brink of change,  imminent growth and cultural wisdom, but only if we take a helpful and positive track.  Hiding in the shadows helps no one.  As a species we are slowly overcoming many of the angers and fears that have directed our thinking for millennia.  The currents flowing down the river of change are paced by the fierce creatures that run along its muddy banks.  They wave crude spears and dark banners, shout slogans designed to divide and alienate and try in vain to alter the water’s course. But water always seeks its own level and these creatures have historically been left behind, rendered hoarse and obsolete by time.   All of this is out of my hands.  I am grateful for that.

I have mailed 5 boxes to Greece so far.  1 today and 4 last week.  The first 4 have arrived and are being inspected by customs.  If I have to pay fees for these I will, but I hope not.  They are not consumer goods, but rather goods I have purchased for my own use at the Aegean Center.  Most of it is used gear anyway.  The rest are books–a small library consisting of some collections: Hemingway, Chekhov, Callahan, Kertesz, Frank, Ashbury, Oliver…the list goes on.  To be honest I chose the best of my personal library and then weeded that out some more. Ex Libris Paros…

I have my painting supplies and will be carrying them in my checked baggage during the flight. There are  no caustic materials and I am already in love with many of the names on the list…Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Payne’s Grey.  Soon I will be an undeniable beginner again, a place I enjoy of only for its foolish zest and unknown questions.  I will be asking for a lot of help in the next few months.