Saturday, February 27, 2016

Curating a Photography Exhibition/Judging a Photography Competition

In this post I take a different direction from my usual, which is analyzing photography and art concepts in terms of my own photography.  The work of other photographers and visual artists also has an impact on my work.  And, in this vein, it is my privilege to judge and curate photography and art exhibitions as well as competitions. Further, I have advised photographers and artists through the process of portfolio reviews and resumes/statements, which also require constructive critiques.  I have often been asked about the criteria I use to guide me through the process of curating or judging other artists' work.  I have several standards that are a great help to me and I thought I would share these.

I always step back from my own art when judging another artist's work.  I am an architectural photographer whose images, both commercial and fine art are very specific and recognizable.  I set the principles I use for my own photography completely aside and look at the images of others with fresh eyes.  Just what does that mean?  If I am curating or judging floral photographs, I cannot expect these to imitate architecture.  I see them for what they are: photographs of flowers or whatever the subject may be.  Typically, my fine art photography is monochromatic, black and white or sepia.  When curating and judging, I appreciate the use of color in works to which color applies.

However, as much as I detach myself from my photography in critiquing other photographers' and artists' work there are fundamentals that always apply to all images:

Values (light and dark)
Presentation, which includes appropriate framing and matting
Style or personal relationship of artist/photographer to the subject

There are other criteria, but I have targeted the most important for me, as a curator and judge.  First and foremost, it is critical that certain principles of aesthetics be followed by the photographer/artist.  There may be one line on the page or canvas, but the placement, quality, form, shading and texture of that line will determine whether the work is merely a line on a page or a work of art.  The composition, form, light and dark, and technique used can make one line a masterpiece or an amateurish creation. Abstract photography and art are rooted in knowledge of fundamentals that have been successfully used as framework for images for centuries.  Therefore, the same principles that are applied to representational photography and art are the underpinnings of abstraction.

Presentation of a photograph or art work is also very important.  A sloppily framed piece with no mat or an unevenly cut mat will surely detract from a work.  Presentation of an image can either enhance or detract from its appeal.

The uniqueness of a photograph or artwork is important.  The Mons Lisa was painted once.  The photograph of the sailor dipping the nurse while kissing her is another famous work.  These are iconic works that have been copied many times, but never surpassed in their unique quality.  A photograph or artwork can be unique simply by telling the artist's/photographer's story.  Recently I advised a photographer to shoot a well-known monument from an angle that is not common.  Frequently, I judge a work because it attempts to present a different perspective than simply copying the many recognizable images on Google.

The photographer's or artist's style should be associated with his/her body of work over a period of time.  Even young artists should try to develop a style characteristic of their relationship to subject and the story they are telling.  One can easily pick out a Picasso painting in a gallery or a Karsh portrait.  Their styles are distinctive and closely relates to subject.  Further, style imparts the story of the photograph.  A wintry scene that is blindingly while with a small red bird in the foreground definitely tells a story.  The same scene without the brightly colored bird may be just another snow scene.  The image that draws the viewer in truly stands out among the competition.

These are some of the qualities I look for when judging or curating.  Perhaps there same characteristics may be measures of works in museums, galleries, printed materials or on the walls of homes.   


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography 2-16-2016

The romance of Valentines Day was as overwhelming as it was charming.  Tweets, blogs, cards, chocolates, champagne, roses and all the sentimental harts and flowers are lovely and, to some, very meaningful.  At least for one day of the year, love was definitely at the top of the list across the media and perhaps for most of the world.  I remember Valentines Day fondly from my days of growing up in Brooklyn.  In those years, there was not the commercial frenzy that exists today, but Valentines Day was decidedly a commercial affair even then.  It was also my Mother's birthday so we celebrated both occasions with many desserts, prettily painted heart shaped boxes of confections and flowers. Since those days, Valentines Day has somewhat shifted away from painted valentines and into photographs of all things romantic to purchase for a loved one.  Commercialism.  That's OK, but I still like romance for the sake of romance.

Romantic photography is a rather tricky affair.  In order to create romantic images, there is a fine line that separates the truly evocative love photographs and the saccharine commercial pictures.  I very much admire wedding photographers, that group of sometimes under-rated, always hard working and ever commercialized segment of photographers who are by and large extremely skilled at their craft and, in the majority, manage to get the love theme into pictures while documenting a singularly important event.  Some food photographers also create deliciously sentimental portraits of the foods, especially those connected with Valentines Day, such as heart shaped cookies, oysters or chocolate cakes: all around a romantic theme.  Numerous photography themes target the subject of romance, as do other forms of art, such as painting and sculpture.  The creation of these arts do not necessarily have to involve a specific event or day, but the images should convey aesthetically subtle feelings.  Subtlety is often the difference between artistic works and commercially crafted material.

Mood can be infused into a photograph through subject, color, tone, composition and form.  Traditionally I use monochrome as a medium for my architectural photography.  Once in a while, the romance of color appeals to me.  The allure of sunrise on Lake Pichola as it illuminates Udaipur's magnificent City Palace inspired me to take this photograph.  It is a romantic scene of sensual color, composition and back-lighting that spotlights the architecture I photograph.  The Lake Palace Hotel, built in the middle of Lake Pichola, is the ultimate romantic setting.  This view out of my hotel window at an unparalleled architectural setting will remain a lovely memory of the beauty Udaipur offers. 

Architectural Photography: View of Udaipur City Palace and Lake Pichola from the Lake Palace Hotel

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography 2-6-2016

There is a magic component to any art form, in my opinion.  There is the skill of getting on pointe for the dancer or drawing a head conceived by the portraitist or taking a photograph that depicts what the photographer wants to convey.  But to lift the skilled to a level of genius there is an often undefined magic that the artist adds to the work to elevate it above all others.  This fantastic quality greatly appeals to me.  As far back as I can remember, the magic that was combined with skill became the reality of the art.  The intangible ingredient that heightens the truly great from the good (By the way, being a "good" artist is no easy task: many never achieve that status!) is, perhaps, instinctual for the genius who can bring it to life.

When I was a small child, Walt Disney's Fantasia had a profound effect on me.  It actually characterized the magic in art for my young, evolving aesthetic.  Today I see some fantastic images through my lens and I usually file them away for my own enjoyment.  Once in a while, the architecture of a place, its mood and this special ingredient intersect to create the feelings about art that began when I was a child in a darkened theater watching flowers dance on dew drops.  Having dinner recently in the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, I gazed out into the night and saw, in effect, a fantasy double exposure by way of reflections.  The lights, table's candle and arches of the restaurant were superimposed on the dark, light rippled water, while the City Palace glowed across the lake: magic.

Architectural Photography: Udaipur, India