Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Funny How Life Is- Abstracts

Funny how life is. Sometimes, after a long journey I arrive back at the beginning.
Greenwich Village in the late 60s and 70s was a Mecca for artists, who were pushing the boundaries of traditional painting.  Although "modern art" or abstracts had been evolving for some time, during the time (1968-72) I spent at NYU getting my Masters, there was a distinct emphasis on building upon traditional art to find "new" avenues of expression.  In other words, then I diverted from recreating a likeness of the subject and began to focus on unique aspects of the subject and how they could be combined, reverting to my childhood explorations in art: light, tonality, composition, hue, form.  I continued on my new path, working on large abstractions at the Art Students League.  There, I developed a technique in oils that mimicked my fascination with the watercolors I had painted with for years.  Oils as watercolors can inherently abstract as the mediums are so distinctly disparate, in my frame of reference.

Around this time, I also was a structural draftsman and a photographer of a variety of subjects, such as architecture, art, landscape.  In both of drafting and photography clarity, exactitude, perfect execution and the like were and may still be (especially in drafting!) essential to the final outcome.  Wavy lines on a blueprint or soft areas in a photograph were considered sloppy work at best.  It was an interesting juxtaposition: my painting style was extremely lose and my photography/architectural drawing tight. However, my dissimilar artistic endeavors helped me to learn that focus, literal and figurative, is critical when creating. 

Ultimately, I returned to representational painting and continued to create sharp photographs and clean and literal architectural drawings.  I was comfortable working in this way.  For a number of years.  However, sometimes comfort does not promote growth or improvement.  Along the way, I began to feel that my art was becoming formulaic.  I was repeating myself in my work, which for some may be desirable but not for me.  For me, self expression always involved learning, advancing, incorporating new ideas.  My creativity was slowing down, even though I was working harder and producing more than ever before.  However, I did not quite know how to fix it: my elusive aesthetic.

Then, quite by chance, as is often opportune, two things changed my perspective entirely.  Changed me.  I traveled to India, a place like no other I had experienced.  India exposed me to art forms that I could never have imagined and of course invigorated my aesthetic energy.  I fell in love with the fabulous designs, the fairy-tale architecture and the beauty of the landscape in India.  The people of India, I discovered, not only added to India's extraordinary allure but in actuality encompass the allure itself.  The second monumental eye opener for me was when I mistakenly yet fortuitously abstracted a photograph in post-production.  This distortion led me to abstract other photographs, which in turn presented an entirely distinct opportunity to explore my art.  The abstractions I am currently working on have much the same orientation as traditional photography/art.  They simply offer form, composition, values et. al. from a different angle.  It seems like abstracting has also honed my understanding of more traditional ways of creating representational art. Too, I am brought back to an earlier time in my life when creating abstracts seemed exciting and original.  It still does!  

Photography- Jagdish Temple: Udaipur, India

Echoes: Abstract Photgraphy

Passages: Abstract Photography

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Tips for Building A Photography Portfolio

A Photography or Art Portfolio is essentially a statement of your work.  The Portfolio represents who you are: the nature of your photography/art; how you express yourself and the medium(s) in which you choose to convey that self-expression.  The are other subtle aspects to the Portfolio; however, the main purpose of a Portfolio, your body of work, is to let viewers know your personal point of view through your work.

In creating a Portfolio, a body of your work, there are a myriad of details that should be included.  Here are but several of the most important components of building your Portfolio to consider:

1.   Who are you?
This may seem self evident; however, although you may understand your point of view, others may not.  And, the work included in your Portfolio must speak for itself as your representative. As you build your Portfolio carefully consider how others will perceive you through the images they see.

In the first place, decide who you are in terms of your work.  Are you a painter, photographer, architect, sculptor. graphic designer?  Or is your Portfolio a reflection of your multiple talents?  I personally would limit my own Portfolio to JUST ONE medium of expression.  It is possible to have various Portfolios or websites, each targeting one of your many forms of expression.  Or you may certainly build one site or Portfolio and divide it according to your specialties.

2.   What are you expressing through your photography?
A critical function of your Portfolio is to express yourself with a clear identity.  When someone looks at your Portfolio, that person should understand who you are as a photographer.
 Are you a floral or bridal photographer?  Are you a photographer who photographs many different subjects in black and white?  Do you do head shots for actors/models?  Portraits?  Sports?  Abstracts?

The moment someone opens your Portfolio, that viewer should understand your Photography Persona.  It is imperative that your audience, whether one person or many, have a clear understanding of your focus.  Build the Portfolio with that in mind.  If you have no specific focus or subject that is the singular theme of your work, and you just love to take pictures, you may become one of a legion of photo takers.  This is FINE.  In that case, lay out your best work and let the photographs speak for themselves.  However, if you are a serious photographer who wants to make a "name/reputation" for yourself in one discipline of photography/art , then it is my recommendation to select the area of photography in which you truly excel and build a Portfolio around that specialty.

3.   Which photographs do I include?
In the case of a photography Portfolio, of course you would want to highlight your best work.  Choose a Portfolio format, whether it be a physical folio or a website, to showcase your photographs.  Much of my photography is conceptualized in a portrait-style format, vertical or even square rather than the horizontal landscape format.  Therefore, my physical book Portfolio is vertical.  Most computer monitors accommodate horizontal or square imagery best and therefore my website is laid out horizontally (a few pages are more squarish); however, the verticals, squares and horizontals are grouped together on separate pages. This allows the viewer to recognize the image shape as a critical aspect of the composition of each photograph. Most of the time, I prefer to show same-theme images that are arranged in similar-size collections to emphasize the importance of subject through its dimensions.  The themes may be place, particular architecture, black and white photography or sepia or color, natural architecture and so forth.
You should consider choosing a style, size and groupings or solo image pages for your "book" and/or website that complement the themes and sizing of your photography. 

It is also important to select complementary photographs to be in proximity with each other.  If you are including many subjects and styles of photographs, place still life together, portraits within their own section, specific themes and so on.  This exhibits the care and thought you give your work.  If you are limiting your book to a speciality area of photography, lay out the images to support and create a dynamic feel as the pages of the Portfolio are turned by your audience.

4.  Finally, the Portfolio is a way to visually communicate with your viewer.  Infuse your passion for photography into your Portfolio.  Express to your viewer your love of the medium and your subject!

Black and White Photography Portfolio pages:
Black and White Photography: Architectural Shapes

Black and White Photography: Vintage Architectural and Details

Black and White Photography: Natural Architecture

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Those Boring Midtones?

Working in the monochromatic photographic medium of black and white or sepia can be challenging at times.  In color photography, the midtones, those between the velvet darks and the brilliant lights, can be emphasized with shadings of hue.  For example, a stretch of street in between the deep shadows of a doorway and the bright sunlight down a-ways, might be a cool medium blue/gray or a warm ochre/Naples yellow.  Mixing up some moderately dark/light tone will get the eye from one extreme to the other.  Actually, even if there is a powerful dark area and a searing light, there is a transition midtone between the two to make the realism credible.  Of course, I am excepting abstracts that have their own guidelines.

Shading in realism equates to creating depth and form.  There are a number of midtones that need to be included to create a 3-dimensional effect on a 2-dimensional surface.  The "fun part" is slamming in the darks and illuminating with the lights, but it is the mids that are the unsung heroes, adding space, structure and sparkle to the photograph.  Without the midtones, the darks are flat and the lights become blown out parts of the image.

Where are the midtones?  Actually, they exist everywhere in the image.  They add depth to the shadows and darks and they "pop" the whites. On every edge there is a midtone and all straight lines or curves have mids incorporated into them.  Otherwise, whatever you are presenting appears inanimate.  I learned this from experience and actually from life.  Years ago, I painted from life at the Salmagundi Club in NYC.  It was a small group that met on Saturday evenings to paint or draw from a three hour nude pose.  That way we artists could really study the forms. A good friend of mine and a mentor, the late and very great artist, Alex Fournier, told me that in order to create form, I needed a dark, a light and four different midtones mixed in between.  Try as I might, I could not see the mids.  I could easily recognize the shadow dark and the highlight and something in the middle.  But four distinct middle tones eluded me until one day when I was standing next to a young guy in the subway.  My fellow commuter was wearing a sleeveless tank top as it was summer.  On his muscular arm I saw the six specific tones.  I gasped at this epiphany, quite startling the guy.  Beat red, I apologized and made up some story to dispel the embarrassing (for me) situation. However, once I "got" the midtones, my work became more fluid and contextual.  My paintings and photographs had more depth and form.

Photography is a wonderful medium with which to explore the values of lights, darks and midtones.  Photography is the use of light to create a subject that reflects and/or communicates the photographer's conceptualization.  In effect, light conceives that which you are photographing.  However your use the midtones is always important.  Never boring, the wonderful midtones facilitate, encourage and provide the ability for the darks and lights to achieve their dynamism in the image.

Black and White Photography: Catskills, NY
The above photograph, taken in the Catskill region of New York State, shows distinct gray midtones that accentuate the dark foreground trees and the soft whites of the clouds.  The midtones take the eye around the image to give it depth and a pastoral feeling of space.

Black and White Photography: Harlem, NY
This photograph of a train station in Harlem is almost completely made up of gray midtones.  These really "pop" the black and white sign and the train's bright headlights.  The overall midtone composition makes a statement about the subject and also gives the photograph quite a bit of depth.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Homage to Leonard Cohen

The very beautiful lyrics by the genius poet Leonard Cohen in his song "Suzanne" had a profound effect on my visualizations of subjects.  In essence, I believe that Cohen was encouraging his listeners to look for beauty and/or relevance in all things.  It is inconsequential where one finds beauty, in what surroundings, medium or state; the beauty, in and of itself, exists.  At least that is what the song conveyed to me.  And this I have been doing all of my life: looking for the beauty and the relevance.  In any situation or visual I encounter there is relevance or beauty and often both.

Since my last year's trip to India, many people have asked me about conditions there.  Frankly, I saw beauty, history, art and a pervasive truth wherever I went in India.  "Oh," they say, "what about the poverty or the pollution?"  Well, everywhere you may find poverty and pollution if that is what you are looking for or predisposed towards.  I was on a quest for architecture and what I found was so much more.  The negatives will always exist.  It is the positive outlook that yields and yields and yields huge dividends in terms of photography and maybe life.

It should be clarified here that there are photographers whose focus IS the negative aspect of life, such as war, famine, squalor.  To these photojournalists there is fascination in those subjects.  In my lexicon, fascination equates beauty.  Truth is beauty and relevance.  The unbeauty is searching for one thing, such as architecture and turning the lens on a rotting pile of garbage next to an old ruin.  I specifically traveled to India to photograph the marvelous ruin and not a mound of discard that has no relevance for me.  And yes, I do remove the unwanted from my images in a variety of ways.

Ultimately, it's all about perception.  As Leonard Cohen poeticized, if you look, you will find flowers in the detritus.  It's all about seeing.

Temple: Khajuraho, India

In Khajuraho, a special place of temples and monuments, I asked to be taken to a temple that was not a tourist attraction, for there are many, many well-known sights in this small Indian city.  I was taken to an out of the way place in a village within Khajuraho to admire all that remains of a once practicing temple.  It is cordoned off by a wrought iron fence with No Trespassing signs posted everywhere, of course in Hindi.  Animals, weeds and people have overrun the small property despite the barriers.  However, very carefully, stepping through the rubble to get as close as I could get to this magnificent structure, I angled my camera lens through the fence.  The stunningly grand architecture was the focus; the monkeys were a bonus.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography: The Ephermeral Permanence of Sepia Photography

Sepia photography has an ephemeral permanence much like watercolor but different.  All in all, that is two oxymorons in one thought; however, there is a fleeting quality about sepia photography just as there is about watercolor.  And though the mediums are quite different, works executed in both watercolor and sepia photography have endured for years.  The sometimes "dreamy," for lack of a better word, quality of sepia connotes a more subtle aspect of time than, let's say black and white photography, whose tonalities appear more definite, more demanding on the eye. Black and white photographs often chronicle time and space, while sepia seems to spread out in more amorphous ways. Whether crisp or soft, black and white has a definite approach to a subject, while sepia appears to be considering the options.  By that I mean a black and white photograph reveals its intentions and sepia requires more examination of its subtly layered tonalities.  That is not to imply that a black and white photograph deserves but a "quick" study.  Not true by any means.  Man Ray's photographs, for example, are ever fascinating and inspiring for me.  I uncover his thoughts through his black and whites and go deeper into the imagination of an artist's creativity that is extraordinary.  And yet, the image is there: fixed.  Even the slightly earlier black and white photography of, let's say Steichen has a "this is it" quality, whether it be foggy NYC or a heavily shadowed portrait.

On the other hand, Atget's sepia street scenes of Paris seem fleeting.  The umber/ochre and sometimes madder colored pigments of sepia photography appear less permanent or tangible than would black/gray/white tones.  The soft, often yellowish lights of sepia are hazier, more downy than even the most luminescent of diffused whites. Many of the very early photographs are sepia-toned.  These seem vintage.  Their "yellowed" coloration from a distinctly different age, while the very early black and whites might be current.  A little more "noise," different clothes and hair styles, antiquated vehicles, but I have an ability to picture myself in the black and whites of C. R. Savage, which feel more substantial in their concreteness than his sepia images.  In all, sepia is also timeless, but its seemingly malleability to accommodate an enormous spectrum of yellow-brown tones is far lass discernible than the equally or even greater abundance of grays between the darkest blacks and most radiant whites.  Sepia is a monochrome like black and white, but its ephemeral qualities create an added component of pigmentation that gives sepia photography its distinctive uniqueness.  

Here are three examples of monochromatic photography, taken in India and remastered in my studio.  The first is a black and white photograph.  The second a type of "negative" effect of the first black and white architectural photograph.  The third is the same image translated into sepia.  The place is Mumbai, India and through the waves of heat, rising out of tropical vegetation are the spires and arches of Mumbai's architecturally elegant University.

Black and White Photography: Mumbai University, India

Black and White "Negative" Photography : Mumbai University, India

Sepia Photography: Mumbai University, India

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography: Light the Lights!

As I always maintained, my passion for photography, architecture, art is all about the light.  By nature the flip side, the rich, deep darks are also an essential part of my love of light.  This fascination with light all began early in my life.  Movies played a big part of it because they literally lit up the darkened screen and theater.  There on the lighted screen, wonderful visuals would unfold. I remember seeing Walt Disney's Fantasia for the first time. Fireflies, dew drops, moonbeams and snow flakes twinkled with light as delightful music counterpointed the scenes.  To an impressionable four-year-old, Fantasia was and very much still is an inspiration to impel me to create using light.

Too, I was raised in an older house, one that dated from the "gas-jet" lighting era that was well before my time.  The jets were electrified and the old fashioned fixtures remained.  Blossoming out of patinaed brass sconce arms, delicately crafted, hand-blown and fancifully etched glass globes were a  romantic source of light for narrow hallways and steep stairs.  Radiating from these vintage lamps, shadows of tracery decorated the walls and floors in designs that seemed magical.  And too, there was natural light with its influences.  My Brooklyn neighborhood was lush with trees.  My childhood bedroom window looked out onto nature's fretwork of branches and leaves.  The ever shifting lights and darks made a powerful impression on me.

As a youngster I drew and painted what I saw, especially architecture.  I photographed with my Brownie and relished the exploratory aspects of viewing subjects through the lens.  However, this passion for light was as yet undefined and not a conscious focus in my photography and painting.  The light subliminally found its way into my images to give form and depth to the subjects. Although I took art classes in high school and prepared a portfolio for college, I concentrated on composition, form, line, design and the other mandates of tradition. And other influences continually impacted my work as art evolved during the 1960s and 70s.  It was a time of change and there was a lot to focus on, as I believe that the "new" should be, at the very least, noted.  The light was always there, but its profound importance eluded me until one specific moment.

In addition to my devotion to photography and other arts, I have always found the sciences deeply appealing, in particular the natural sciences. Shorelines, forests, fields, mountains provide an infinite number of resources for the photographer.  Whatever architecture humans create, however unique and exquisite in design, nature's architecture is unsurpassed for the majestically imperial that at once seems quite possible.  With this mindset I took a geology class in college.  On a field trip to a cave that was known for unusual rock formations, I saw something so personally important that I am forever indebted to Geology 101.  The cave was dark and musty.  At one point I stepped into a puddle that spilled water into my sneaker.  As a natural reaction I looked up to locate the source of the wet.  Through a small slit in the rock ceiling of the cave fell a single sunlit drop. A tiny brilliance in the dark. The sight of this magical illumination caused me to consider light in an entirely different way. The light made all the difference.

I now use light as the most critical part of my work.  Light defines, forms, describes.  Its properties are one of the single most important parts of a photograph or artwork.  The pictures I took on my travels in India use light in disparate ways.  Some are of diffused, soft light to complement the antiquity of a work of architecture or monument.  Some are full of hard-light contrasts to emphasize stone carvings or cavernous structures.  In all my photography my use of light expresses my aesthetic feelings about my subject.  Creating with light calls to mind the droplet of brilliance in the cave that gave light a whole new meaning for me.

Creating with light: black and white architectural photography from my upcoming book about my trip to India.  In each black and white photograph, my feeling about the specific work of architecture is expressed through the lens of light.

Afghan Church: Mumbai, India  

Nagda Temple: Udaipur, India

Jama Masjid: Agra, India
Temple Interior: Khajuraho, India

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography: Sharing the Passion

From a personal perspective, I always thought that a passion is something to be shared rather than kept to one's self.  When my children were small, I used to take them to the NYC places I was passionate about and, with a captive audience, I would share my delight in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, the Metropolitan Museum, Central Park and the architectural wonders I love around the city.  Going to Rockefeller Center to see the Art Deco buildings, the powerful Atlas statue and the very beautiful Deco building ornamentations was always a high point for me, as was introducing my children to other marvels.  Sharing my passions about photography, architecture and art with my young children was a wonderful way to express myself to them.  And we still enjoy outings to share; often now that they are adults, I am happy to be included in what my children are passionate about as well as my grandchildren's excitement over their special interests.  New, dynamic and fascinating worlds open up for me as they share their passion for Lego, Minecraft and Skylanders, tennis, ever evolving animation in film, Rainbow Loom art and craft and so many other pursuits.

Years ago I painted from life with a small group in Greenwich Village.  The feeling of sharing our passion for painting during the three hour poses was definitely one of my most significant inspirations.  The sharing of ideas about form, design, composition, color, technique at the level of passion artists come together over a subject is a rare feeling: a tangible expression of ardor towards a shared goal of creating.  Each week we convened to paint a new model with the excitement that had built up for the next pose, the next subject, the next masterpiece we might produce.  Since those days, I have joined other groups of those who are passionate about photography, architecture and art.  The sharing of passions continues and brings me energy and enthusiasm when my own projects seem to need some inspiration.  I come away from a meeting of shared passions and my batteries are recharged: I am inspired to create and renew my work with even more investment of self expression.

Throughout my recent travels in India, I was able to share my passion for photography with people whom I had never previously met but came into contact with in that extraordinarily beautiful country.  The guides and drivers on the trip were excited to show me the places I had determined before I arrived in each new place.  We shared a fervor for each new sight and often guides would use their cell phones to shoot an image to show me how they thought a shot should be taken, a subjected pictured, a focus of a monument or building.  I deeply appreciated these insights because I was learning a cultural point of view: one with which I was unfamiliar.  Too, I met other photographers in India, from Brazil, China, Portugal and, naturally, India.  Conversations flowed easily for we share the passion for photography, of capturing that which we see to each express it in our own way. The shared passion of photography vanquished cultural, language and all other barriers that might have stood in the way of immediate friendships.  We were all immersed in the marvels of India and all experiencing the joy of expressing, through photography, our wonder at the architecture, art, landscape, colors, design and above all the Indian people, who personify centuries of exquisite tradition.

I am delighted to share my passion for architectural and travel photography at Berger Bros. in Huntington, Long Island on January 18, 2017.  I hope you will join me to share your own passion for photography!

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