My island is a dream,
and my dream is an island.
It’s a piece of the world that is surrounded by the world,
in a dream that is surrounded by dreams.
My island is a dream,
and my dream is an island.
It’s a piece of the world that is surrounded by the world,
in a dream that is surrounded by dreams.
It’s not the sun that rises, but it is you.
It’s not the water that is wet,
or dust dry,
or lemon bitter,
or the shrill of a cry.
It is you.
It’s not joy, or calm
It is you.
It’s not fear or love,
It is you.
It’s not early or late,
or without regard.
It is you.
It’s not hunger or tears,
or fits of laughter,
or viscous wounds.
It is you.
It’s not path or place,
near or far.
not clouds or valley,
or distant star.
It is you.
It’s not the sun that sets, but it is you.
After a bit of a hiatus it’s time to grab the Think Studios pull start cord and give it a yank…
I was out a couple of weeks ago having a walk with Petey and I found myself on the east side of Cap Sante looking toward March’s Point. On the water was not the usual 1 or 2 tankers waiting to offloading crude oil, but 4 of them. The scene gave me pause. I had recently been reading about a 40 million dollar fine given to Princess Cruise Lines for knowingly dumping oil out of their bilge into the ocean for a number of years on several of their ships. It was with a sense of irony that I considered that it was a distinct possibility that it was potentially ecologically cleaner to have tankers off of Cap Sante than cruise ships.
I posted the image and a brief observation on social media and it garnered responses that might be expected. Pro-refinery, anti-refinery, anti-oil, pro-oil. One person claimed that the presence of the takers was causing breast cancer on a neighboring island. So as a photographer I say, mission accomplished.
A good photograph is one that excites a feeling in the viewer, that may in turn, incite an emotion.
I have been photographing the refineries at March’s Point for a couple of years now. I have tried to represent them in a way that might catch one unawares, suspending immediate judgement by creating a contemplative space (albeit small) within the image. Some appreciate this, others do not. And others simply continue on. The goal is to bring the refineries out of the background where they have so easily settled into for most who live and work in Anacortes. If the refineries rise out of the background then the foreground gets littered with their spoils, good and bad.
If one can take step out beyond all of this then there is no background or foreground. There is no front or back of the planet. The whole world is always in front of you, right up to point it catches up to you. And it always does. It is impossible to hide in a community (refineries included) because there are no boundaries. There are no places more magical than anywhere else. There is only one community. Living like shipwrecked souls on this watery planet awaiting rescue by a person or job, or family or town, or social relic or church does nothing but perpetuate separateness.
The whole world is your oyster, every bit of it… including the tankers.
1 Tanker, 2 Tanker, 3 Tanker, 4…
Digital Archive Print, Matted and Framed
26x44 inches (38x54 finished)
Part of an ongoing series, “Refined Living”, by Thaddeus Hink
Displayed at Think Studios, Anacortes, Washington
In the spring of 2012 my youngest son Quillan and I headed south for spring break. We first went to Santa Cruz to visit friends. Despite being a bit warmer it rained nearly the entire time. The last day in the Cruz we had a small party as our host had other friends in town that day. Ready to find some warm dry weather Quillan and I left the following day for Barstow as a jumping off point for the Mojave and later Death Valley.
After wandering through the desert for several days it was time to start heading north. We headed out of Death Valley to pick 395 north to Reno. After reaching the highway we drove past a brown sign that said Manzanar 10 miles. I knew that name, though could not place it right at that moment. As we made those 10 miles north and then saw the guard tower west of the road the light bulb went off. It was one of the Japanese internment/concentration camps from the second world war and when I was in college I took a course that had a book on the reading list called “Farewell to Manazanar” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. We had to stop.
The camp had been acquired by the US Park Service and they had built an interpretive center on the site of the auditorium. After the camp was closed the buildings were deconstructed and removed. The stone guardhouse at the entrance still remains and the guard tower and two barracks have been rebuilt to show the living conditions. Even though the original building were gone the concrete and the gardens remain along with detritus of daily life for the more than the 10,000 that were interned there between 1942 and 1945.
I was immediately taken by the energy of this place. There was a type of quiet that makes one pause and listen. And in the quiet much could be heard. Quillan and I wandered through the buildings and then across the expanses, through what would have been the gardens, foundation slabs of latrines and warehouses. Under foot broken pieces of bottles and ceramic dishes, nails and barbed wire. We found our way to a memorial for those who had died in the camp. We stayed for the rest of the afternoon until the early sunset from the nearby Sierras. I was emotionally spent after my time there that day. I knew I needed to come back.
After we got home I was talking to my friend in Santa Cruz and she asked about the rest of my trip. I told her about finding Manzanar and how taken I was by it. She laughed a moment and then said that the guy named Josh at the little party we had before Quillan and I had left their home, that his mother had written “Farewell to Manzanar”. Yes, a week before stumbling into the camp I had unknowingly been drinking beer with Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s son.
I was completely taken by my afternoon at Manzanar. There was a very sad, quiet energy there. A graveyard has a sense of finality and a the feeling of impermanence. But Manzanar lacked that kind of finality and instead murmured stories of confusion and transience, of stoic anger and disdain. I touched the stones in the gardens and felt those who were forced to be there. I returned to Manazar six months later for another day of photographing. In the end there would be a suite of 12 prints that represented those two visits.
The backbone of this extradition and the interment camps was created when Franklin D. Roosevelt sign Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. By defining certain areas as “military zones” FDR authorized the Secretary of War to relocate anyone deemed as a potential threat. This was interpreted as basically any of the populated areas of the west coast. The ironic thing was while the army was rounding up those of Japanese ancestry up and down the west coast (nearly 122,000 in all) somehow on a few were detain in Hawaii where those of Japanese decent made up 40% of the population.
Here is the most egregious part: Of the 122,000 forcibly interned 70% (over 85,000) were US born and bonafide citizens of the United States. Let’s repeat this. The US War Department under the direction of Franklin D Roosevelt put 85,000 US citizens in concentration camps for three years after dislocating from their homes and businesses. This was ordered and signed by, who some consider, the champion of the modern democratic party, FDR. It wasn’t until Feb 19, 1976 that President Gerald Ford officially rescinded EO 9066.
In 1942 Fred Korematsu challenged EO 9066 by refusing to voluntarily allow himself to be sent to a concentration camp and was later arrested, not for subversion or treason but found guilty of violation of public law 503 which criminalized violations of EO 9066. So Fred and his family were sent to the Topaz, Utah concentration camp, not for treason, but because when he asked for due process the court simply said no and sent him to the camp for violating the order that denied him due process.
After making these 12 prints (not the ones in this blog post, but they are on the front page of this website) I hung them in my studio for several months and then they spent about three months at the UW Medical Center in Seattle. They have since been boxed up. Fred Korematsu spent the rest of his life fighting the unjust incarceration without due process that he and his family suffered under FDR’s EO 9066. Fred Korematsu day is celebrated on Jan 30th, Fred’s birthday, and in honor Fred Korematsu I will rehang the Manzanar prints for the February 3rd Artwalk at my studio in Anacortes.
I’ve been shooting some video clips lately and in editing I am always amazed at the things that get recorded on the audio track that I don’t remember hearing at the time. Being within 30 miles of two airports that can handle heavy aircraft and also a Naval Air station, the noise from aircraft alone is nearly inescapable. One friend describe this as noise pollution, and I’m inclined to agree with her.
As I listen to the mid afternoon din from my home I can hear traffic and backup alarms, train noises and the sounds of industry. And when things settle a bit, the heavy breath of my dog and his tip tap toes nails, leaves rustling in the warm autumn breeze and the chirps and whistles of birds. Visually I can only imagine what I hear would be akin to suddenly being able to see radio waves, a true cacophony.
I think about the role of sound in still photography. There is always the environmental sounds when shooting a photograph. Is it loud? Does that loudness read in the image and vise versa? Can you photograph the quietness of a flower while a jackhammer gnaws away behind you? What affect does it have on the image? Is the water from the quiet pond and crashing seashore treated and recorded as twins or distant cousins? If I change the title of an image from something quiet to something noisy is it jarring because of what you see in your mind’s eye or what you hear in your minds’s ear?
When I am shooting I find that I commonly talk to my subjects whether they have ears or not. I may question the wind as to why now? Or I may tell the landscape that I will give it a little more light or reassure a tree that I will return in an hour when the our star decides to turn the volume down. Do they hear me, and do they respond when I press the shutter?
I think they do.
I have two favorite sounds. The first is rustle of bamboo leaves in a light breeze. The second is the combination of a light rain on the cabin of a sailboat at anchor coupled with ringing of a halyard against the mast. I’ve never tried to photography those sounds, but I think of them often and relish the time I get to spend with them so I am sure they play a role in my image-making on some level.
Then there is role of music, how it might influence a studio shoot or during post processing images. The last time I was pulling darkroom prints I had the music so loud, and dancing around the darkroom that I couldn’t get a sharp print. It humors me to think those silver gelatin prints have a fuzzy layer of Macklemore in them.
I saw a quote the other day that one has conversations in the darkroom that you would have no where else. I really wonder about how those conversations and their vibrations find themselves into the prints.
And finally there is the quietness or lack of quietness when looking at a photograph. Much like the imagined experience of reading a novel, seeing the described environment, the emotion and characters that reside in the words on the printed page. When I sit with a print in my studio late at night is much different than at the museum and it’s sounds of the institution, or the gallery and it’s sound of bustle and commerce. Each one adds flavor to experience of what I imagine hearing in the image while I look at it. Sometimes appropriate, other times distracting.
These are some wonderful things to think about, how sounds influence and live in our images. Maybe try this the next time you are composing a shot: Get everything set, then close your eyes and listen for at least 30 seconds and see if you can find the continuity of the moment, open your eyes and then press the shutter. You might be surprised at what you get.
I’ve been thinking about influences and inspiration lately and how it has affected my work and aesthetics. I am curious about why certain things stick with me and why. And furthermore, if inspiration is simply picking up the torch and continuing on. I’m curious about the importance of that particular torch. I came to photography from a black and white darkroom environment and I still enjoy both making and viewing black and white prints. I was thinking about how I approach color, specifically how I approach using color in the landscape and why I am drawn to certain locations, times of day, qualities of light and perspectives.
I spent a week camping on the Oregon coast with my son Griffin. We managed to camp on the beach several nights and though this was a father son camping trip and not about photography, I did take (for me) a few photos. An interesting thing happened when we got near the end of the day and the light (according to me) would start shaping up. I would stop and survey, looking to and fro for what might be compositionally interesting. Griffin would simply and very patiently ask, “Do you see your picture?” Most of the time it would be “No” or “If we could get over there” or “Not for another hour, then maybe”.
And then I would say, “There… not there, but there…” and I would spend ten minutes or so capturing what I saw. I would spend time using my abilities to capture and create an image that was not only born out of my eyes but from some kind of of inner inspiration as well.
Where did this inspiration come from?
I thought back to why and what I was looking for and who inspired me. In the case of shooting this particular color landscape I acknowledged being influenced by Joel Meyerowitz. His handling of color in his Cape Light images had made an impression on me, and not recently, but when I shot only black and white film in my early 20’s. It was also at a time when, in my own work, I was very concerned about making images with large amounts of contrast, not subtle color and low contrast atmospheres.
So 30 years later here I am standing on the beach subconsciously considering my scene based on the subtleties of hues, tones and subdued light and contrast through the eyes of Meyerowitz, though not really thinking about him at particular at that moment, but as an afterthought. I questioned how I was inspired. Similarly many of my landscape’s low horizons and expansive atmospheres are influenced by a Robert Mapplethorpe image he took of the aircraft carrier, The Coral Sea, in the fog. Mapplethorpe isn’t known for his landscapes, nor his images of aircraft carriers, it’s about showing what’s in an image by where it isn’t. I love the social street photography of Robert Frank and think of his work often, though not Meyerowitz, even though his street photography is renown more so than his seascapes. My inspiration continues from the fashion images and sensual work of Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts and Bob Carlos Clarke, and then Clarke’s darkroom manipulations lead to Uelsmann masterpieces made long before photoshop. From there to manipulations by contemporary Brooke Shaden, and the list goes on… all influences and inspirations.
Is there a way to make sense of all of this, these inspirations? How is it that someone else’s punch to the gut becomes my punch to the gut? The etymology from middle english concerning inspiration is “breath or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.”
I believe we are born as solid artistic beings, imbued with desire to make and create, until, for most, a parent or teacher degrades us into thinking that either we are not worthy to be an artist or that life as an artist is sure way to manifest folly. After being tricked into believing this, many of us lay creatively unconscious and near death. Some remain in their grave for the rest of this life, others desire to sputter back to a creative life.
In a subjective way inspiration is kind of a creative resuscitation. A series of open mouth breaths and bone breaking strikes to the heart, until our creative pulse begins beating on it’s own again. In the end there is something about inspiration that is completely familiar, whether subtle or overt, how could one not be inspired by a certain artist's images, paintings, piece of music, or the wryness from the playwright or film maker, for it can’t help but be realized in one's work.
As I polish and practice my craft I don’t think about inspiration in the moment anymore than I would think about how my chain glides smoothly into the crank sprocket of my bike as I peddle down the path. But as I stand at my destination I do appreciate the gift given to me by those who came before. And with a sense of responsibility I hope I can repay the honor to them by touching the heart strings of those who come after me. Acknowledge and give thanks for those who have inspired you, and give inspiration freely to all those around you, your contemporaries and those who will come after you by creating with thoughtful intention.
During artwalk at the studio I had a conversation with a couple of young military people about my work. They were initially taken by some of larger prints and the question that bristles most photographers comes up, “What kind of camera do you use?” I usually hesitate a moment to decide how to answer and ask if they are familiar with full frame dslrs. If so then we can have a more technical conversation about gear, something photographers seem to enjoy. But if not, it gets a little trickier. After a brief explanation regarding sensor sizes I tell them I shoot a Canon 5D. One of them pulls out their phone and does a search, I smile and say “They don’t give them away do they.”
This is a delicate point because there is a palatable interest in the art form of photography. I don’t want to dissuade any aspirations they may have because of the price tag of a particular piece of equipment. At this point I usually repeat something that I heard Chase Jarvis say, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I honestly believe this to be true and I tell them it really doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use in as much that you have a camera with you and you can make it bend to your artistic will.
I view cameras as simply a lightproof box and go from there. I’m thankful for auto focus as my eyesight continues to age without grace but after that a reliable shutter and some fast glass is all I require, I will take care of the rest. I tell them I chose that particular camera and lenses because they can keep up with me. I ask a lot from my gear and the environments I use them in.
I point to a framed photo that I took with my iPhone and then to the Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 camera that I cut my sheet film teeth on nearly 25 years ago. And without having to say it, they start to understand that it doesn’t have anything to do with what kind of camera is used.
As a photographer we are light writers, literally. The magic is how we see and collect light and put it in our little dark boxes. Whether it’s a scribble or a well thought out essay, our light writing is our craft, our art.
So as we get past that hurdle we start talking about how to make a good photograph (lot’s of practice) and the importance of doing contiguous projects and creating a body of work. I am at a point that I consider myself doing well if I can make a dozen exceptional images a year. I try to demystify the process and tell them to go shoot what they love, and keep at it. And at some point, after keeping at it there will an image that stands above and goes further than the rest. It’ll be an image that they will almost not believe that they made. But that’s the image they need to chase, to feel. That will be an image that has something to say and that it will be your voice speaking through it that you hear, and others will hear your voice through it as well.
At this point one of them is deeply inspired and realizes that there is nothing standing between her and her role as a creator. I smile and tell her everything she needs is available in the phone she is holding in the palm of her hand.
Buoyed, they leave my little studio, full of energy and inspiration. My heart swells knowing that another light writer just found their feet. Soon they will be collecting their own light in their own little dark box so they can write to the world their very own magnum opus!
One of the golden rules in photography is the focal point of an image is dependent on two things: Sharpness and Highlights. The highlight part is pretty self explanatory, the brightest spot commands your visual processing first.
Sharpness is a little more tricky. There is two kinds of sharpness. Sharpness control through process such is the quality of your glass or stability or shutter speed. Secondly, sharpness controlled through contrast. This was accomplished in the darkroom with variable contrast filters or graded papers or with creating a traditional unsharp mask. In digital there are a plethora of post processing filters and techniques for increasing contrast. When we put a light pixel or piece of silver next dark one the images appears “sharper”. In reality the images is no sharper, your brain just perceives it as such.
In general we seem obsessed with “sharp” images. As an art photographer you can command a certain amount of attention and impact in your images with contrast. In the right hands it can be a truly orchestrated masterpiece and in the wrong hands a cheap parlor trick that feels like the gawkers that slow down to look at a traffic accident and then abruptly forget it a mile down the road.
A good photograph should not force the viewer to do anything. Highlights and sharpness can be a wonderful point of departure but if they are not complimented with composition and intention then they really lead nowhere, visual junk food.
As an art photographer it is to your advantage to find your feet in recognizing and understanding the role of sharpness in your work and I recommend exploring from one extreme to another. Look for pleasing effects in blurry or unfocused images and the richness of subtlety that hides in a good photograph that does not heavily rely on sharpness.
Summer is like a toddler, carefree and full of amazement, and short.
The bounty of stores begins as sown seeds have been realized.
Calm warmth brings gentle rain to the outside of a mint julep while a lazy dog pants out dreams of chasing cats as he enjoys his shadow blanket.
It’s warm breath blows kindly through the trees, rustling leaves and healing goose pimples of reemerging swimmers.
And in all this soul warming heat we visit the river. Cool water skimming over slippery rocks, keeping the trees at bay. This river runs by, whispering it’s mountain secrets to us, rejoicing it’s freedom from jailbroken ice. This river swirls around us in summer’s cradle as angels smile over us, envious of our wetness.
We laugh and float and explore. We share and love and give thanks for the grace that runs around us, through us. We are childlike in this summer, this river.
I can’t imagine a summer without a river, and the river whispers back that it was nice to hold us up for a while but he has to run. We finish our visit and let the moment give way to longing.
Smiling, summer helps us bid the river farewell. We skip down the forest trail, over roots, trying not to fall.
I’ve been contemplating the idea of living in the present; over thinking it I’m sure, along with rationalizing the roles of things like choice and worry. So the future is only realized as it's experienced in the present moment. The past, becomes the past by not being the present, fading and only exists as the first word of a sentence that was just spoken.
The present is not a moment either. It seems to be more like a wave or a breath. I keep thinking of a fountain, the water moving upwards as the future, the water falling away, the past. And the place (I’m refraining from saying “moment”) between up and down is the present. And for more noodle cooking take a step back and suddenly the past, present and future come into the same field of view. Oops... wait a minute...???
So what about making these things called photographs? Many of them seem a bit slippery, a recorded moment that refers to a point in the past. Seems like it could be a dangerous obsession. And for me, for part of the time, it has been. But photographs really aren’t moments inasmuch as they are more of a blot, smear or smudge. They are a test of personality for the viewer and litmus for their state of now. A Curtis photograph of a Civil war battlefield strewn with corpses isn’t about then, it’s about now and if you can’t look at it in a state of now through who it is you are, then there’s no point. It becomes wallpaper.
So these images we make, these are smudges, inkblots with a bit of resolution in them. They can hold a great deal of meaning and purpose or they can be empty shells lacking intent and visual responsibility. As fine art photographers we need to take the time and consideration that the painter takes to develop a canvas. Thinking about what it is we are creating, why we need to record this particular smudge. Otherwise we're just drinking from a fountain without regard to thirst and desire.
I was part of conversation the other night with some of my compatriots and the question of the role how "landscape” impacted or fit into one’s body of work came up.
This inspired a discussion about “Landscape” vs “The Landscape”.
I pondered the thought out-loud:
"Landscape" is the vista, "The Landscape" is, in my mind, the vehicle to the mood. It's what timbre is to voice. In a photograph it's color or lack there of, it's about light and the lack of light. The Landscape is what stirs you to look closer and think further away. It's the forest in the iris and the horizon of a thought...
On further thought they aren’t mutually exclusive either. Realistically a landscape without “The Landscape” is plain and emotionless. It can be pretty and even possibly beautiful, but a lazy image. And there’s a ton on them out there, some of which I’ve made. They can be stepping stones to a more refined way of looking at content and composition. Or they can be a trap of mediocrity.
Conversely, if you take “Landscape” out of the image and just leave “The Landscape” orphaned on it’s own you might have a nice piece of conceptual art that can’t escape the ethos of it’s own thinking. Photographer and sculpture artist James Lapp remarked to me once regarding this in both art and music:
”That kind of stuff was mentally interesting because I found with a lot of the [conceptual] music you listen to and no, it’s just not working. You could mentally get a grip on it but it was like a lot of art then, when I first saw I was like, that’s not right. But when I started getting interested in art, it was like an intellectual process and I became convinced it was really interesting. But it’s like, I like some music with my music, just like I like some organization with my art, any art.”
If you’re making a landscape photograph ask yourself where “the landscape” is. If you’re making a portrait ask yourself the same question. If you’re making conceptual work is there a “landscape” present? Is there a road map for the concept?
Friday October 4th we will be showing prints made during the June Keith Carter workshop that was held in Coupeville at the Pacific Northwest Art School. It was a fabulous week in Imaging Paradise.
1st Friday ArtWalk - Downtown Anacortes WA
1010 5th Street #320
Anacortes WA 98221
360.770.4528 for more info