Favorite artists and homage # 1

I would have liked to paint but can't. I find the medium of 'painting with light' to be a fantastic substitute instead. Although there is fundamental difference, one is an additive process and other of subtraction, there are more commonalities. Second - it is also an excuse for me to be out there where the magic is happening.

This series of posts is to showcase my favorite artists from both the art forms and my homage to them.

Let's start with Alexey Titarenko

Begging Women - © Alexey Titarenko

His work is famous for introducing long exposure into street photography. The ghost-like images, particularly from the USSR, are haunting. I highly recommend his book - The City is a Novel. 

And here is my homage to this fantastic artist.

London. Westminster Bridge.

Interview with Bruce Percy

I’m pleased to announce the first installment of an informal chat or interview of sorts with my favorite artists. I know Bruce for past 6-7 years through chat, emails, forums, and his publications. He is one of the few who excels at landscape and people photography. He is also a fine teacher and has golden nuggets hidden in his articles and podcasts. If you have not done it yet, Rush!! Visit his blog, website and podcasts: The Light & the Land

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

Hi Bruce,
Thanks a lot for your time. Shall we start?

Please tell us about the Artists (not necessarily photographers) who have influenced you? and why?

The biggest influence was music originally. I’m a failed musician so this is really where my ‘creative’ side originated. I still find that music plays a big part in influencing me and I tend to like listening to people like Joni Mitchel, Lambchop, Classical, Electronic music. Anything that has a twist to it. I often find that music puts me in a place similar to the place that I go to in my head when I’m working on my photography.

For direct influences, Michael Kenna, although a black and white photographer only, has been very influential in how I go about image making. He has an almost religious way of working and it’s all about what is within, and not about what is in front of the camera.

Galen Rowell first spurred me on to take pictures of the natural world, but Kenna has allowed me to be brave and depart from reality as and when I choose to do so in my photography.

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

Any upcoming talent you have become fond of?

I do keep up to date with photographers but there tends to be so many that it’s hard to keep track. But I think when you’re committed to your own work, you tend to find yourself thinking and working on your own work rather than thinking about someone elses work. I think that’s what creates individuality….. I don’t feel I do things because I’ve seen or admired someone elses work. I do what I do because I’m driven to do it.

When I found your website about 5-6 years ago I instantly became a fan of your work and the philosophy behind the work. It was you who convinced me, in a way, that it’s not the camera that makes the image but the photographer. Ironically it was also partly your work (there were few others like Guy Tal, Darwin Wiggett etc.) which influenced my decision to purchase medium format equipment and eventually large format. Your thoughts?

It always surprises me how much of an effect or influence I’ve had on others. I think it’s great if someone can inspire you and I’ve certainly felt at times that I’ve done that for visitors to my web site. I’m glad you went Medium Format as you were clearly looking to improve your work. But I try to convince people that the gear isn’t important, and as much as they all tell me they understand that, they quickly follow it up with asking me what lenses and cameras I use as if it’s going to make their images the same as mine !

But I’m pleased I’ve given you some inspiration.

I know that you used to own 5D and were quite happy for some time at least. However you recently sold most of the EOS lenses and I think also the camera. Would you like to tell us about this decision?

I don’t think I was ever really happy with digital. I felt I had to keep giving it a go and thinking that a few months would not be enough time to give it justice. It’s rather complex my decisions to get rid of it, but I think the main point was that I felt I’d lost something that was present in my earlier images and I wanted to regain it. I also find it hard to work with too many cameras. Cutting the systems down so you don’t have an overlap and know what each are for, is a good thing. I found I was shooting film all the time and knew the digital wouldn’t be used. I’m particularly unhappy about the colours and plastic look of digital imagery.

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

I have always thought of cameras as ‘necessary evil – the cables’ in a good sound system. Have you ever thought this way?

Yes, a camera is an interface between what you saw and the final image. It should be as transparent and easy to use as possible. Anything that hinders, stops you or takes you out of the creative ‘zone’ that you might be in is a bad camera. That’s why getting to know your gear and working with it for a long time is beneficial. You get so used to it, it becomes second nature. People who buy new lenses and new systems all the time are always going to be impacting their photography and losing creativity because they’re unfamiliar with the gear.

Tell us more about your workshops you offer, is it more of 1 to 1 or are there many participants involved? What do you do after a typical photo shoot?

The workshops to date have been in South America. They’re really photo safaris where I take people to some special locations for the best times of the day. On a trip like that its hard to give any real solid tuition but everyone goes away happy because they’ve had an entire week of being immersed in making images. Lots of chatting and sharing thoughts and if we have time, some critiques. I do spend some time with everyone in the field and show them what I do. It’s up to you to decide if you like my way of working but I think people find they are more aware of composition, light, etc when they leave.

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

I know your passion for the light and from what I have gathered via your podcasts that you go beyond the obvious. Any interesting experiences to share about the adventures?

I’ve fallen into a crevasse in Patagonia once. That was a bit scarey and I knew this all happened because I was determined to get photos in a remote part of the world. There have been a few silly incident for me – often involving cliffs or places I shouldn’t have got myself into. I think sometimes it’s easy to go too far with photography to the point that you overstep safety at times.

You rarely see photographers doing ‘people/portrait’ and ‘landscape’ at the same time. In that sense you are one of the few who manages to come up with fantastic images of people and the land itself. How do you manage this?

I think it’s development. I love landscapes and I feel I want to convey a sense of atmosphere in my images of them. But I’m quite a people person too. I love communicating and love different cultures. I think when you become comfortable with photographing landscapes, it’s natural to want to graph that know-how onto other areas that you are interested in. I feel if I were just doing landscapes, that it would all be a bit one dimensional for me.

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

It is difficult, I know, to choose few favorites from a wonderful portfolio of yours. However if you decide to which ones will they be, and why?

When I used to write music, I tended to be very precious of my efforts. It’s strange, because my photography has had an impact on a lot of people and as much as I’m passionate about what I do, I find it very easy to distance myself from my work quickly and move on to the next thing.

So I tend to think that the images I like the best are often my most recent images, simply because they’re fresh for me.

© Bruce Percy Photography

© Bruce Percy Photography

I had a look at the new portfolio and must congratulate you. I’m looking forward like a kid in the candy store to the images from India.


PS: This entry was published in May 2009, however I managed to delete it from my blog. I have now recreated it. Hope you enjoy it.

Interview with Guy Tal

Dear Friends,
It is my pleasure to present the discussion I had with one of my favorite photographer/writer, Guy Tal. Ever since I know him he has been very approachable, always willing to help and inspire. He is one of the most eloquent person I know when it comes to the artistic discussions (check out his blog) and yet someone whose images need no explanation other than a mere title.

© Guy Tal Photography

© Guy Tal Photography

Hello Guy, Thank you for your time. It is my pleasure to have you as a guest on my blog.

I always wanted to know how you spent your childhood/adulthood? Were you also art-lover as a kid? Did anything/anyone in particular inspired you to take photography as profession?

I actually didn’t think in terms of “art” until much later in life. As a kid I spent much of my time out in the fields and orchards around my house. I remember always being fascinated by natural beauty. I read every guide book I could find, learned the names of every plant and critter I came across and could spend hours just examining and watching little things. As I grew up I started venturing farther and at some point decided to bring a camera along to share some of my findings. Those first few years didn’t yield much in terms of fine art but I loved the way the camera helped me explore and isolate become more aware of visual relationships.

© Guy Tal Photography

Many photographers I know are also Music lovers, themselves play one or the other instrument. What about you?

I wish I did. I love listening to music but never took the time to learn to play.

The very first question may people ask is which camera/lens do you use. What do you think is the reason for the assumption of creative responsibility transfer?

I think the answer is more complex than it may appear. Coming from fellow photographers it might mean they are fascinated by gear, which is understandable, but any serious photographer should be careful not
to get too carried away to a point where gear becomes more important than making images. I don’t mind answering such questions but generally try to lead the conversation towards images rather than

On a more general level, photography as art — as opposed to a documentary medium — is a relatively new concept. It doesn’t yet have the centuries of established notoriety and understanding behind it that other fine arts do. There is still a great need to educate the public about the role of the artist in conceiving and making artful images and in their value as objects in and of themselves, independent of the process that created them. It’s not the tools that make the art (see: this journal entry).

And that brings me to the a sub question with a newly coined verb – did you photoshop?

Every time.

I have always loved your intimate landscape photographs. How does one define it? How do you approach when you make them?

Great question! I was always attracted to images that capture details and patterns but never really thought of them as “intimate” until I was exposed to the work of Eliot Porter. I wouldn’t necessarily define intimate landscapes in tangible or measurable terms. To me an intimate landscape is one that expresses the photographer’s personal relationship with the subject, rather than a general representation of a scene. Intimate landscapes always have an order imposed by the photographer, frame only those elements that are necessary to draw attention to the specific characteristics and nuances that fascinated him/her, and are very often fleeting moments or arrangements that can never be re-created. These qualities, in my opinion, make intimate landscapes the most personal and expressive form of nature photography. Any number of people can make wonderful, identical images of famous scenes by following simple recipes, but an intimate landscape can usually be associated with one original artist and their own creative vision.

Any particular images which have brought extreme emotional response from you?

Quite a few. Those are really the ones that make it all worth doing. They are images I can look at and be immediately transported to that exact moment in time and experience it all over again.

© Guy Tal Photography

© Guy Tal Photography

© Guy Tal Photography

© Guy Tal Photography

Unfortunately there are a lot more stories still in my mind that need to be written one of these days.

You often hear comments these days: Oh, I have seen a similar photograph. Can you give any tips about how to impart your own vision on a scene when there are many photographers around you?

You can almost apply the rules of meditation here – start by clearing your mind of distractions. These may include preconceptions about subject matter, standard compositions, “best” light etc. If you leave your home with the mindset of “I’m going to Yosemite to get a shot of Gates of The Valley at Sunset,” you’re pretty much guaranteed to miss everything along the way until you get that one shot. You’re also guaranteed to be deeply disappointed if that one shot doesn’t materialize as you expected. If you leave the preconceptions behind your mind will be free to see an infinite array of possibilities in every tree, every flower, every creek and lake, patterns in rocks and hillsides… you may find so much you may to keep you occupied you may never even get to your original destination, but more importantly - you’ll be happy and creative and those images will be *yours*. You can always go back to the well-known spots another day. Don’t lock your mind into what you plan to come back with. Just be in the moment every moment and keep watching and you’ll never be disappointed, even if you come home with no images at all.

Almost every other person has got access to a decent camera and digital darkroom tools. Technology (tools like google map, internet sources) has turned many spots which were relatively unknown until few years back into semi-icon status. You see tons of similar images posted on websites such as flickr. Where do you think this is taking us to? What will happen to the professional photographers who earned their bread and butter via stock images?

Another excellent question and one I can only partially answer. I’m not a stock photographer myself so will concede there are many others who can offer a more educated view. My personal sense, seeing the explosion of Royalty Free imagery and the astounding quality of work posted on various sites every day, is that stock will never again be as lucrative as it used to. On the other hand – being financially successful with photography is only partly attributed to the quality of the work. Being a good business person is paramount and those who know how to market and sell will probably continue to thrive but may need to adapt their business model or add new revenue streams to remain viable (e.g. workshops, etc.)

As far as unknown locations – that’s a double-edged sword. In many cases sensitive places simply can’t sustain high traffic. On the other hand, if they are unknown they are in danger of being sacrificed for various extractive interests with no one to protest. I’ll avoid the politics though and say that from an artistic, creative, and spiritual standpoints I strongly discourage copying other artists’ personal compositions and ideas. I consider it unethical to pass someone else’s image as your own, and by image I mean the concept and visual arrangement rather than the physical file or film. Just because it’s captured on your memory card doesn’t make it your image. The vision belongs to the artist who conceived it.

I wrote about this quite extensively in the past. Here are a few relevant articles:

Thoughts on Original Work
Originality and Soul
The First Step Towards Personal Style

In my favorite (and I know it is your favorite too) book ‘Mountain Light’, Galen Rowell mentions a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars

Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.

When I read it my friend he responded in German which can be roughly translated as – He was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and interpreted as ‘You are either born or not as an artist‘. Your take?

I disagree with the interpretation. My view is more in line with the Confucian principles of Great Leaning — that every person has the inherent ability to become great. I have no doubt that much of a person’s future success and potential to realize their talent is dictated by their upbringing and socioeconomic background but great art can be found everywhere and cuts across all cultures and tiers of society. In fact I think at the core of producing great art is the belief in one’s self. I wrote about it in the Third Bullet of my article Six Silver Bullets.

What I believe Antoine de Saint-Exupéry meant was that people become set in their ways after the formative childhood period and it becomes harder and harder to adopt new perspectives and ideas as you get older. I think one of the most important exercises a person can go through at any point in their adult life is to take some time to tear down everything they believe in and that shapes their world views and question and re-examine it as objectively as they can. It takes a lot of courage to realize and admit it when your core beliefs (politics, religion, etc.) no longer align with your perception of reality and to be willing to rethink your life and be honest with yourself. I had to do it, and it was a painful experience but looking back I have no doubt I’m a better person for it.

© Guy Tal Photography

© Guy Tal Photography

Who is your hero when it comes to photography and why? Any upcoming talent that you are really become fond of?

There really are too many heroes to list. To me a hero is not just someone that makes great images but also a great role model in general. In that sense people like Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, Eliot Porter and others transcend the simple distinction of “great photographers”. They were also great thinkers and activists.

Same for upcoming talents. If you spend any amount of time on photography forums you will quickly recognize some incredible photographers, some of whom I’m also proud to have as personal friends. The ones I consider great are those that not only create beautiful work but are also passionate about their subject matter and work to promote their beliefs. I’ll stop short of naming individuals because I’m sure to miss someone.

© Guy Tal Photography

© Guy Tal Photography

You recently published two books. How was the experience of working with fellow photographers? and tell us more about your new book ‘Exposures’.

Working with the Mountain Trail team was a wonderful experience. Everyone brings to the table incredible talent and skill and we were able to put together a book with a richness and diversity of content that a single author simply couldn’t have. I hope we have more such projects in the future.

“Exposures” was more of an experiment. I used a print-on-demand service for it because honestly I didn’t know what kind of interest it would generate. To my surprise I sold quite a few copies, despite the high cost of print-on-demand publishing, and responses have been very favorable. It falls into the category I call “vanity books”. It’s really about what I’d like to say and hope people will care enough to be interested. I was very encouraged by the experience and plan to publish a few more similar titles.

Guy, I would like to thank you very much for your time and wish you all the best.

It is my pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity to share my view and my images!

Best regards,

All the images are copyrighted work of Guy Tal.