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