Musing December 2017

A Project Evolves and an Obsession Ends

Back in 2009 I became interested in photographing the Erie Canal. As a project it offered history and historic structures in contemporary use, it covered a sizeable and varied topography and was within a day’s drive of home. The locks and dams on the Tennessee River where I grew up were huge and inaccessible but my first visit to the Erie Canal’s more human scaled locks hooked me in. I started my research and visited my friend, Dennis Stierer, to take a look at the historic flight of five locks giving Lockport it’s name. So began my seven-year obsession to find as many parts and pieces of the original (1825), the enlarged 1845 and new modern Barge canal system.

Dennis and I tracked down and photographed the remains of virtually every section of the canal that we could find. We led six workshops, several Photographers’ Retreats and made several trips a year in all seasons to work along the canal. This fall we closed a 100-platinum print exhibition at the Kenan Art Center in Lockport and finished our latest workshop along the lift bridge section moving west from Rochester. My digital files are downloaded and I am scanning the processed negatives from this last trip.

Walking through the exhibit, looking at the digital files and negatives it is clear to me that the obsessive photographing part of this project is nearing an end. I have photographed the entire length of the canal at least three times and certain locations more than that. I will continue to photograph along the canal for the images that can be made better, images made with newer insight, but the obsession has passed.

For me the Erie Canal is becoming like Scotland, a location I photographed intensely for years, researched and questioned, and although the obsession is ended will still return to seek a new photograph now and then.

The real question is what’s next for me? I have been working on a long-term project on Maine, the Maine that tourists and visitors don’t often see. I will continue this work but don’t feel a compulsion to work on it solely. I know there will be a “next” project that will consume my attention who’s questions will obsess me and the answers be revealed only as I work through the project. It will involve structures, history and require research because these three things seem to be the foundation of every project I undertake. I look forward to discovering what’s next for me.

I wish you all good progress on your own journeys in photography in the coming year.


November 2017 Collectors Print Special



Dear Friends,

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 Skiff, Olson House, Cushing ME in 2008. It was hanging in the rafters of the barn across from the house. The unique perspective gave me the feeling that the boat was flying over me.

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. This is the last print special for 2017.

If you purchased all four images in this year’s collection you bonus print will be shipped with this month’s print. .

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

All the best,



Newsletter October 2017

Newsletter October 2017

Dear Friends,

I am in Guilin (China) this month for the last workshop of 2017. What a wonderful way to end the year! Everything is great – the people (both in the workshop and in Guilin), the weather, the food and Guilin itself. C.L.I. (Chinese Language Institute) has gone out of their way to make this an outstanding experience for all of us and I can’t thank them enough. I look forward to their help in planning future workshops in 2019.

The 2018 workshop schedule is ready for registration on the website! There are four new workshops and several more sponsored through other organizations:


Registration through Tillman Crane

Portfolio Weekend      March 2-4     Camden ME

9th Annual Photographers’ Retreat     April 27-29     Johnstown NY

NEW! Spirit of Structure: Canyons, Waterfalls & Spring in the Park     April 29 – May 4     Letchworth State Park NY

NEW! A Portrait of a Community: Lincolnville ME     July 22-27     Lincolnville ME

NEW! Introduction to North Dakota     August 16-18     Rugby ND

Spirit of Structure: Celebrating North Dakota     August 19-24     Rugby ND


Registration through Peters Valley School of Craft

Spirit of Structure: Peters Valley School of Craft     June 22-26     Layton NJ


Registration through Maine Media Workshops

Spirit of Structure: Mid Coast Maine     September 9-14     Rockport ME

Advanced Platinum Printing     September 16-21     Rockport ME

Registration through Il Chiostro

NEW! Spirit of Structure: Tuscany, Italy     October 6-13     San Fedele Tuscany

Portfolio consultations, book projects, and private/semi-private tutorials in Platinum Printing and View Camera Technique scheduled by request. Focusing on you and your needs, tutorials are from two hours five days and the focus. It’s a great way to get what you need in a timeframe that works for you. Contact me for further details.

The registration process for workshops is simple: Fill out the on-line registration information. (Please register for all of my workshops through the website. This ensures against registrations being lost through missed emails.) No deposits are required on workshops. The moment we have the minimum to run a workshop we will contact you. Invoices will be sent out at that point. Every effort will be made to announce a workshop’s viability within two months of the start date.

Hope to see you at a workshop or the Photographers’ Retreat this year!


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.