Michael Marks Inclusion in the 27th Annual Phillips Mill Photographic Exhibition

Michael Marks had two of his photographs selected to appear in the 27th Annual Phillips Mill Photographic Exhibition in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. One his photographs won the prestigious Spencer Saunders Award.  The exhibit was juried by Emmit Gowan.

Because of Covid-19, the exhibition is being held online and can be viewed at:

https://www.phillipsmillphoto.com/pmpe2020-exhibition

Intentions and Techniques

In twenty-four years of teaching intro to analog photography at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania my students and I have never been without the darkroom.  Fortunately they were able to leave campus with cameras in hand and the knowledge to use them.  I’m looking forward to the results when I process and proof their film.

Lacking the ability to critique their personal images on a class-by-class basis, and having to wait for the results is a challenge.  To keep them engaged and thinking I’ve been emailing a jpg or two of an image for them to write about; what do they see, how does it make them feel and why. Builder Levy’s photograph Osage Window, Scotts Run, Monongalia County, West Virginia, 1970 shown here is an example.  I’ve included a student’s response and his request.

“For this photography, in my understanding, photographer wants to depict a contrast between the reflection of the outside world and the three children’s smiling faces inside. And through the window, our sight can be limited by the frame and feel the contrast between inside and outside world. 

And if it’s possible, may I ask you to write your understanding of this photography. I just want to learn how to analyze a photograph like a professional.

My answer: The success of this photograph revolves around three beautiful pair of eyes and teeth.  The children and photographer did their jobs at just the right moment together.  But lets explore the different layers of the photograph beyond the smiles to see why it works.

First, the reflections because they seem to function on three separate levels or layers.  The glass creates the reflection but also allows us to see through and is a physical presence as well. The reflections provide clues to the surroundings but do not compete with what is inside because they are out of focus. The out of focus landscape alludes to a place and time for everyone.  The glass divides how we perceive the space inside and out but puts the distance between on an equal two-dimensional plane because that’s how photography works.  I think the tree branches make the kids look like Wilson the soccer ball from the movie Castaway, and the snow like Cheshire cats from Alice in Wonderland, for example.

The frame is as important as the subject, it defines limits and sets the stage, directs attention.  This photograph has more than one frame going for it.  The borders of the photograph are the first, the window is the second, but with two sash frames that makes three.  And then there is the framing of the house that holds the window in place, number four.  The point being that all parts of the whole work together to complete the experience.  Sometimes the frame can hold an attraction right up to the very edge but still keep you in.  Here they work together, with subtle details, to bring you back to the eyes and teeth.  Frame number five, maybe the most important, is the bright high contrast painted window trim that lights up like neon around the three smiles.  The actual print was gold toned to add warmth and richness, deepen the blacks and enhances the contrast.

When I was eight and lived at 411 North 23rd Street, just off the east side of campus, our neighbors at 413 included three girls around the same age as me.  Photographs can mean many things to many people.  Unlike putting pencil to paper, with film sometimes you only get a fraction of a second to record a universal experience.

I would hang this one in my kitchen next to the backdoor.

David Haas

So, You Want To Be A Writer?

Listening to a podcast the other day the host, who had apparently been asked by a listener for advice on “how to become a writer”, gave an answer first saying -and I’m paraphrasing this – “First we must ask ourselves a few other questions before we can answer that one.”

“Do you read a lot?  Do you read what you write?  Do you read what other people have written?”

This made me ask myself whether these questions can be applied to being a photographer?

Do you look at a lot of photographs?  Do you look at your own photographs?  Do you look at other people’s photographs?

These are fine questions; we all seem to be out making lots of exposures.  Some of my digital friends brag about making thousands of exposures in a day!  I’ve always had a hard time editing the few hundred exposures I make a year.

I would contend that with a thousand exposures a day there is no way to look at – and I mean really look at – all of them.  We see lots of imagery, it’s all around us, but do we really look at it?  One might argue successfully that maybe most of it is not really worth looking at, which is beside the point.

I looked up what the average time a person spends in front of a piece of art work at a museum.  According to Google, a study done in 2001 found that the average time was seventeen seconds.  Seventeen seconds!  And most of that time the person spent reading the writing on the wall next to the piece of art work.  I can only imagine what the average time someone spends swiping with their thumbs while diddling on their phones looking at digital imagery.

Here is an exercise I recommend; get a pile of your prints and an easel.  Set the easel in a well-lit area; pull up a stool and a beverage of choice.  Then put a print on the easel and start the timer on your phone for two minutes and look at each of your images for the duration of the time.  When the time is up, place the next image on the easel, hit the timer and start again.

Doing this for the first time was an eye opener for me, even though I’d spent hours looking at the image, while composing, exposing, processing, printing and mounting.  It seems once completed prints become invisible and there is so much that we can learn from carefully reading our own work.  Is the composition the best we could have done?  What about the lighting? What about the tones and values in the print?  Does the image still sing to you like it did the day you exposed it, or if you’re honest with yourself, is it a boring print, even if it was well made.  Only by sitting down with your work can you tell if you are speaking the truth with your prints.

After all, as visual artists how can we possibly expect others to spend more than a few seconds looking at our images if we ourselves can’t even look at our own work?

The host of the podcast argued that if we don’t read a lot, read our own work, and read the work of others, then we are not a writer but rather someone who likes to write.  A writer is someone who is reading a lot, reading what others are saying and wants to write to contribute to the conversation of the other writers.

So, are you a photographer?

James A. Kipfer

Paula Chamlee and Lodima Paper Update

Monalog has been in contact with Paula Chamlee and she informed us that she still has inventory of the Lodima silver chloride contact printing paper that she and Michael Smith had manufactured to replace Kodak’s Azo. She has been selling it rather regularly and is getting low on the grade 2, but has a large amount of the grade 4 still in stock. Information on availability and writings about the paper are on their web site, www.lodima.org.

Paula is in regular contact with the manufacturer in Germany and said they hope to give her a production forecast on the new grade 3 sometime this spring. With the worldwide disruptions from coronavirus, definite information is impossible just now.

Paula also continues to teach workshops at their studio in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, either in small groups or privately. If you are interested, contact her at paula@michaelandpaula.com.