Photography as Journey

Photography as Journey

Jessica Maleski

December 5, 2019

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

What little fog remained was quickly dissipating in the flat morning light. On the other side of the embankment you could hear the roaring of the Potomac over the falls. An occasional plane shot overhead as well but the loudest sound was the crunching of orange dried leaves under my feet as I walked along the bank of a side stream hunting for an interesting tree.

I had only the day before come up with the idea for this new project. It is still hazy and unformed in my mind – just the moment after conception nothing is fully formed. But since I was determined to make the project a reality, I jumped into the process and laid out all my equipment the night before.

The next morning, boots and gear on, I slid out of the truck and onto the path.

The first couple of frames are always awkward. No matter that I’ve been doing this for over two decades, my mind still goes blank and a tense panic rises in my heart, tightening my chest. “What if I can’t make a photograph…what if I don’t find anything good…what if I really am a fraud…” Forcing myself to take the warm-up photos, I began to loosen up — realizing they don’t look half bad.

Soon I lost myself in the camera and the world that it presented to me. Rocking back and forth in front of a grove of twiggy trees, experimenting again with intentional movement and the magical multiple exposure setting on my camera. At times, switching back to straight photography mode, I would lay almost flat out on the damp ground, focused on a tangle of roots.

I wish I could identify the trees. I realize how ignorant I am and it breaks my heart a little bit.

Continuing up the stream, I saw a great blue heron standing perfectly still, eyes focused with deadly precision on the water – or rather, below the water. His neck, arched so beautifully, mirrors the branch of a willow that he is standing just underneath. I can visualize the photo.

And I regretted, with deep-heart rending regret, that I did not have my telephoto lens with me. He stabbed at the water and ripples chased away my pity party. He was busy fishing for breakfast and I had interrupted.

I was the interlopper in his world and I had two choices. I could move closer to him and use my 60mm lens but risk him flying off and causing him to lose his chance breakfast or I could just sit back on the bank and observe him from a short distance.

I choose the later and it was beautiful. He gracefully waded further into the stream, eyes gazing downward the whole time. At a moment he would stop and stand with complete stillness but yet every muscle tensed — the tension visible and tactile. Quickly and expertly he stabbed at the water but pulled out empty-beaked. The fish had gotten away. I must have sat there for ten or fifteen minutes watching him hunt for his breakfast.

Why am I sharing this long story? Because without the camera, without the project, I would never have found myself in Great Falls park on a foggy morning watching the beautiful heron fish. I was able to experience the beauty and wonder of it all because photography has given me a new set of eyes with which to experience the world. This is my “why photograph?”.

Whether my art ever changes anyone or impacts anyone else’s life – it has changed mine and made me better. The journey has taught me to be more open to the life around me – to grace, to beauty, to gratitude, to wonder, to relationships. All of those graces begin to rub off the pride that blinds us. And once freed from our blindness, that same grace tends and nourishes the tiny seed of humility from which all true joy grows.

Epilogue

Several weeks ago, I came across a series of quotes by Steven J. Meyer from his 1987 book “On Seeing Nature.” The beautiful quotes were far richer than the book in which I found them. Tossing that book on the half-read pile, I immediately ordered the Meyer book. It came last night. I had to force myself to put it down after the first chapter — I want to take it in slowly. I can tell that this will be a book that is going to end up highlighted, marked and re-read for many years to come; proving once again, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

“Seeing nature is a process, partly, of replacing our arrogance with humility. When we respect the reality which fills the abyss of our ignorance, we begin to see.”

Curves and Shadows

Curves and Shadows

Jessica Maleski

August 5, 2019

Abstract photography is definitely an acquired appreciation. It’s difficult enough convincing people that abstract art can be beautiful and meaningful let alone work done by a camera. People expect photos to be straight-forward, no-nonsense representations of reality.

From the beginning though, I was drawn to the more abstract elements of photography. The colors, the forms that light and shadow create and the beauty that comes from the juxtaposition of those elements in contrast and unison with each other.

The photo of the calla lilies is a perfect example. The light ethereal blue in between the creamy white reminds me of lace curtains opening up to a cool spring sky. The beautiful s-curves of the petal structure accents the movement of the eye through the image. And the shadow of a neighboring calla lily onto the center of the image adds a depth that surprised me when I finally figured out what the dark area was.

Maybe I read too much into these things — but the freedom to let your imagination run with the image is the freedom of abstract photography. The discipline is in creating an image that not only keeps your eyes in the frame but gives them a framework to follow around the image. It gives them a structure that your mind can begin to work on to puzzle out meaning.

But meaning is not the purpose. There is a truth to the image but it is a truth that is revealed in its adherence to its own integrity. In being true to itself, the clarity of the image is its own beauty. I’m badly paraphrasing Aquinas here — but I’m attempting to say that the work is its own good and in being true to the form of abstract photography it is beautiful.

Two guidelines are helpful here:

  1. A mystery is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be pondered.
  2. Never seek a visual answer for a verbal puzzle.
I don’t really recall the exact origin of the two quotes. The first one came from an Orthodox blog (I think?) but its religious truth is also at the heart of the more photography related second quote. As a visual person, it’s something that I get intuitively. Just allow the image to be. Just allow the moment to be. God, after all, is in the now. But that’s the harder truth to live.

Tying up loose ends

Tying up loose ends

Jessica Maleski

July 28, 2019

I hate to leave projects half-finished. I can’t bear the weight of the unfinished expectation laying there —pathetic and starving for attention. At the half-year mark, one project finished up, I now turn back to what was supposed to be my project for the year: making a weekly print of my work.

As part of my “summer of failure” adventure I thought I would bring back the blog. Why not? We are all sick of Instagram. There is no more way to grow on that platform and I don’t just mean follower count.

Photography is growing stale and I realize that it just my fault that I feel that way. If you only look at the same pictures day in and day out and create the same pictures everytime you lift the camera to your eye then the sameness will eventually freeze out your soul.

In an attempt to break out of that I have given myself free reign with the camera. No rules, no expectations. I lift the camera and snap. I play with blur and movement and multiple exposures. I play with light and color. I just take and take and take. Hoping the familiar process will discover something new or waken something inside or spark some new light.

And then, it did. There on the screen was the photo I’ve been wanting to make for a long time – since I first began to experiment with the ICM/ME images.

The idea that you can present multiple perspectives of an item within one frame — that you can see the whole at once in more depth by fracturing the single perspective into mulitple ones — that is what I want to explore. Picasso explained:

“If we think of an object, let us say a violin, it does not appear before the eye of our mind as we would see it with our bodily eyes. We can, and in fact do, think of its various aspects at the same time. Some of them stand out so clearly that we feel we can touch and handle them; others are somehow blurred. And yet this strange medley of images represents more of the ‘real’ violin than any single snapshot or meticulous painting could ever contain.” (Source)

Now, the print: it’s been atleast three months since I fired up the big printer and it costs me ink. All of my bottles are now close to empty. That’s the biggest issue with making these large prints. They are not cheap. I’m going to have to figure out how to make this printer pay for itself. If I were to offer prints for sale, would you be interested in purchasing?

Blogging again feels good. I may have too many sticks in the fire, but in some ways that keeps me honest and working to bring out what I want to do and say and live. I fired up my Feedly account recently and was surprised to see so many of my old favorite blogs still writing and publishing. I want to return to them. To the slower and greater depth involved in meeting people on their websites and not just through the small window of their Instagram accounts.

I’ve meandered through several topics but I hope it introduces the themes that I want to spend the rest of the time exploring in more depth. I’m happy to have you join along. Do you have a blog? Share the link in the comments so I can add you to my feedly list.

What’s wrong with my print? Why is my print so dark?

What’s wrong with my print? Why is my print so dark?

Jessica Maleski

Feb. 20, 2019
Lessons Learned

Last week I choose a photo of my 12 year old playing his father’s guitar as my print for the week. My husband has been teaching him to play and letting him use his 80s Charvel and it was a portrait that I thought he would like to keep in his music room.
I followed all the steps: calibrated the monitor, edited non-destructively in Lightroom, choose a nice semi-gloss paper for deep contrast since I had chosen to develop the shot as a high-contrast black and white, soft-proofed for the paper and hit print. As the print came through the feeder though I was disappointed. All that work and expense and the print was too dark. Tommy’s face was somewhere in the zone 3-4 range — not exactly skin tone range — or not exactly the type of mood I was attempting to create, at any rate. What went wrong?

“When your print is too dark, your monitor is too bright.” according to Daniel Gregory.

The answer came out of the blue while I wasn’t even really looking for it. I had put the print aside and was going to spend the evening researching all the possible causes. But I was still at work. I was only half listening to the Creative Live show as I was finishing up grading papers and putting things away for the afternoon when the answer seemed to come out of the blue. Was it true? Was my monitor too bright?

 

Ah, yes it was! When I did the monitor calibration on my laptop, I skipped the brightness test. I couldn’t decipher the keyboard shortcut for raising and lowering the brightness level, my ADD kicked in and I got distracted and wandered on to the next step. Well, that came back to bite me. One wasted paper and a bit of wasted black ink (which was already running low) and now I’ve got to rip up that print (ouch!!) and make another.

Lesson learned: printing requires — no, demands — that you be methodical and precise. Not exactly my strong suite so I am being challenged to grow.

Next week: why is my print so blue? I thought I was printing a black and white…

 

Printing Photos at Home: Video Tutorials

Printing Photos at Home: Video Tutorials

Jessica Maleski

Feb. 20, 2019
Resource Guide
As I’ve been exploring the technical aspects of learning to make a good photographic print at home, I thought I’d share some of the amazing resources that have helped me. I will be sharing these resources on a regular basis here on Commit to Print.
Today, I ‘m focusing on video content. Did you know that YouTube is the second largest search engine – bigger than Bing and Yahoo combined? I know I tend to search there first when I’m looking for “how to” type info. I guess I’m not alone.

Here are four videos that I found inspirational and/or useful when I was first dipping my toes in the print world. Some of them give a great overview of the whole process and some are very inspirational – why you should even want to print in the first place.

Printing your Photos: Video Tutorials

My Printing Workflow from Start to Finish

Informative and interesting, British photographer Thomas Heaton covers all the basics in this 20 minute video. He walks through the steps, from selecting the image to print to packaging it up for mailing. A great place to start to see an overview of the entire process.

How and Why I Print My Photographs

British landscape photographer Simon Baxter offers a overview of his Photoshop-based print workflow. He also discusses how printing makes you a better photographer and shows off some of his incredible work.

DIY Fine Art Printing

In the B & H Event Space talk, Evan Parker, presenting on behalf of Moab papers, teaches about printing with archival inks on a variety of substrates and how it can be a creative extensions of your photographic work. He also gets into more creative techniques in the print workflow and how they can open your projects to new possibilities.

Advice on Printing Your Images

Another British photographer (they seem to have a corner on printing videos on YouTube), Sean Tucker, appeals to authority for advice on making the best prints of your work. In his interview with a professional printer at a London print lab, he touches on some of pre-print tips while explaining some of the print jargon in a way that is clear and easy to understand.

I could go on. There are so many tutorials and so many well made ones that are genuinely helpful and inspirational. Do you find yourself turning to YouTube for learning new skills? What channels do you find useful? Did I overlook a great printer that is sharing lots of stuff? Let me know in the comments below. While your commenting, why not go ahead and sign up for the commit2print reminder. Join me for a year of making prints.

Capturing Memories in Print

Capturing Memories in Print

Jessica Maleski

Feb. 14, 2019

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today let’s talk about honoring your loved ones with a beautiful print. If you are like me, you have hundreds of pictures of your children stored away on hard drives. I thought today would be a good day to find a special photograph to print.

Flipping through my Lightroom catalog, I was looking for a picture that would have a colorful and vibrant print. I needed a well exposed photo with an interesting deep color palette for the paper I planned on using, Canson Platine Fibre Rag. It’s a smooth glossy white paper that does not have any optical brighteners in it. What does that mean in English?

There is some controversy over whether optical brighteners actually cause the image to degrade over time or not but it does act to make the paper appear whiter to our eyes. Without the brighteners, the paper can appear more yellowish or cream colored.

For a portrait though, the warmer base of the paper is a nice thing. And so I thought it would be a good fit for the sleeping baby photo of Danny, my youngest. In the printed photo, he is about 4 months old. He’s now a big 7 year old.