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Musing September 2017

Lessons from a Workshop

The simple truth about being a photo workshop teacher is this, I usually learn more from my students than they learn from me. I have come to realize that my job is primarily to find interesting places for people to make photographs, make the place accessible as possible, and provide a safe environment for them to work, and then get out of their way. Occasionally then need a piece or two of information, some inspiration and a true and honest response to the work they create. If I know more than they do it is because of two things, I have researched the location or been there previously, and that I have made more mistakes than they have so far.

For me, a classic example of this occurred during one of the first Olson House Workshops I taught about 10 years ago. Being a large format guy, naturally, I started off my introductions to the location by saying “Of course you should always use a tripod inside the house”. One of my students immediately said “I can’t and won’t work with a tripod. I just can’t do it”. Being a know it all teacher I gently and not so gently encouraged them “for my sake use a tripod, you will figure it out and make it your friend”. And at the first crit a day or so later they showed the tripod work. And it was awful. They knew it was awful and I knew it was awful. After looking at each other for a moment they said: “do you want to see what I shot without a tripod?” Of course, I did. And it was excellent. Clearly, this person saw better, worked better using the camera off the tripod, even hand holding it at slow shutter speeds. I ate my serving of humble pie right in front of the class with whipped cream on top!

Last month I was in Rugby, North Dakota at the North Dakota Workshop. It was my 8th workshop there with my friend Dan Smith. This year I wanted to work simply and with less gear. I took my digital kit and two 5×7 pinhole cameras and a monopod and a tripod.

Dan and I always go photographing for a couple of days before the workshop begins. This gives me a chance to make my images and to explore the new locations Dan has arranged for the week. I worked with my digital Fuji, usually on my monopod, inside and out. I remembered the student who made great images without a tripod. I thought I could work with just a monopod inside these old buildings. I felt like I could hold it steady enough. When I downloaded the images from the first few days of work on to my laptop, something was very wrong. The camera placement was fine in many images, but they were not sharp. I couldn’t hold the monopod as steady as I thought I could. I learned once again that when I am working inside use the tripod! I just can’t shoot without a tripod inside.

When I was working outside, exteriors of the buildings and photographing the farmers harvesting wheat and canola I tried shooting both on the monopod and hand holding the camera. By far the better images came when I was using the monopod rather than trying to handhold the camera.

This difference is seeing and using the equipment illustrated itself to me again in several ways on this workshop. One student brought in an image of a building I didn’t recognize. It looked beautiful, balanced, and nothing like any of the buildings we were shooting. When I asked where it was he told me it was one of the out buildings at the location so and so. I simply had not seen it as elegantly as he had.

In another location a hanging blind looked like it had exploded, it looked like a skeletal rib cage. I saw it and knew the image I wanted to make and knew the blind was going to become a classic of the location. And through out the week I did see variations of this rib cage blind. But I saw several images where it was included but not the primary element of the photograph. And at least one was made by someone hand holding a camera with no tripod or monopod. A terrific image and completely unlike anything I could or would have made.

I did shoot some pinhole images on this trip and have started processing them. So far I like what I see. The wooden tripod I took with me worked great for the pinhole but didn’t really work well for the digital camera. So I am going to have to look thru my equipment storeroom and see if I can find a small tripod that will be easily portable, lightweight, and work well with my Fuji cameras. I still have my 8×10, 5×12, and 5×7 and use them frequently. But traveling with them is getting harder and harder. So the digital is going with me to more and more locations. But this trip made it abundantly clear if I am going to make my images with a digital camera I have to use either and tripod for interiors or a monopod for outside.

So lesson learned, I need a tripod even if others don’t.

Tillman

Collectors Print Special August 2017

The images in the 2017 Collectors Print Specials are selected from my Olson House portfolio. Andrew Wyeth documented life on this isolated, saltwater farm. He painted Christina, Alvaro and their home as symbols of Maine. I photograph the Olson House because of the light pouring in from the oversized windows, bouncing off the hard surfaces of the rooms. Without the life and vitality of the Olsons, the house lost its appeal for Wyeth and he searched for new inspiration. For me, the inspiration continues as the spectral presence of the past weaves in and out of the light. Different artists… different muses.

The Olson House was gifted to the Farnsworth Museum in 1991. The contents of the house had been removed, including the stove, and the house stood worn and silent. I made Kitchen Doors, Olson House, Cushing, ME, (Structure, Pl. 34) in 1992. It was a very cold, clear winter day. The light from the window cast this beautiful shadow of the dried hanging plant in the window but I was as intrigued by the label left hanging from an old picture hook.

All Collectors Print Specials are approximately 5” x7” platinum prints, in editions of 25. The special price of $225.00 is available ONLY during the month of offer and reflects a 45% savings. (Full retail pricing of $500.00 + shipping reinstates on the first day of the following month.) Shipping costs within the continental U.S. is included but prorated to other locations and ME sales tax applies for ME residents. Your print arrives signed, numbered and un-matted – within 30 days of the end of this offer. The last Collectors Print Special for 2017 will be available in November.

A bonus 5thimage is yours when you purchase all four images in this year’s collection. You can order all four images in this series when you order the February print special. We can keep a credit card number on file for the year or you can be invoiced and pay by check. Prints will be sent individually each quarter.

 Please return the order form to me by August 30, 2017 to reserve your copy of this month’s Collectors Print Special (XXXI). Thank you for your order!

All the best

Tillman

Musing June 2017

Big Dreams Make Photographers Great

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” raises the question in my mind of “When was America great?” I think it’s a valuable question to mull on.

For me, America was great when we dreamed big. In driving to my Virginia workshop I was primarily on the Interstate system of roads. The Interstate system was a big dream, which provided easy transportation for everyone with a car to travel around this country. On the road I listened to “Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon”. In less than a decade, America set out to land a man on the moon and did so! While driving I crossed over and under many rail lines. More than 150 years ago intrepid Americans dreamed of building a railroad from one side of the nation to the other and, again, it was competed in less than a decade. For the last eight years I have photographed a project along the Erie Canal. Two hundred years ago the Erie Canal was known as Clinton’s ditch. It was first derided as a folly yet the project successfully paid back its loans early and opened trade and transportation to the American West.

These things were built and accomplished because somebody dared to dream big. None of these projects were easy to begin, all had their critics, all were expensive, and all overcame unexpected problems and crises. For success each demanded new ways of thinking and discovery to solve the problems.

So what does all this have to do with photography? It is simple. We photographers need to dream, and dream big, about the work we do, the projects we take on and the continuous practice it takes to make our voices heard through our photographs. It doesn’t matter what you choose to dream but that you do so. Following it will be demanding. There will be doubters, there will be critics and there will be those that on the surface seem to support your dream but actually throw up roadblocks.

This is a great time to be a photographer. We have the means to make images using any process or format from Daguerreotype to cell phone. We can produce books, exhibitions, installations and share work using the web in a multitude of ways. Yes, there are millions (if not billions) of photographs being made every day. What’s going to set your images apart from the rest and make them notable?

Start by dreaming big. Big dreams make demands; they require time, expense and creative problem solving. Dreams demand sacrifices but also provide larger than expected rewards. Following your dreams will be harder than you can imagine. They will make demands that you can’t see coming. They will take you to places you never expect to go. Big dreams make you think about what you are doing, question why and how you are doing it and lead you to better understand yourself. Big dreams make you take chances, try new things and meet new experiences head on. Big dreams enrich your experience of life.

Failure is not falling short of accomplishing your dreams. Failure is a lack of dreaming in the first place.

Tillman

June 2017

Collectors Print Special XXX

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The images in the 2017 Collectors Print Specials are selected from my Olson House portfolio. Andrew Wyeth documented life on this isolated, saltwater farm. He painted Christina, Alvaro and their home as symbols of Maine. I photograph the Olson House because of the light pouring in from the oversized windows, bouncing off the hard surfaces of the rooms. Without the life and vitality of the Olsons, the house lost its appeal for Wyeth and he searched for new inspiration. For me, the inspiration continues as the spectral presence of the past weaves in and out of the light. Different artists… different muses.

The Olson House was gifted to the Farnsworth Museum in 1991. The contents of the house had been removed, including the stove, and the house stood worn and silent. I made Mangle, Olson House, Cushing, ME in 1993. This sink was out in the attached barn. The soft, early morning light created a work of beauty from this simple, utilitarian tool.

All Collectors Print Specials are approximately 5” x7” platinum prints, in editions of 25. The special price of $225.00 is available ONLY during the month of offer and reflects a 45% savings. (Full retail pricing of $500.00 + shipping reinstates on the first day of the following month.) Shipping costs within the continental U.S. is included but prorated to other locations and ME sales tax applies for ME residents. Your print arrives signed, numbered and un-matted – within 30 days of the end of this offer. The next special will be available in August.

A bonus 5thimage is yours when you purchase all four images in this year’s collection. Prints will be sent individually each quarter.

 Please return the following information to me by May 31, 2017 to reserve your copy of this month’s Collectors Print Special. Thank you for your order!

 

Tillman