Critical Mass 2016 Finalist

Pine Study - Cary SF, from the series "Decoding the Infinite Forest"

Pine Study – Cary SF, from the series “Decoding the Infinite Forest”

I’m honored to be one of the 2016 Critical Mass Finalists for my new series “Decoding the Infinite Forest.” Many thanks to Photolucida who conducts this annual event and congrats to all on this distinguished list. Sometimes we just need a little assurance that we are on the right track…I’m grateful for the recognition.

Many of you who may not be familiar with this competition or what fine art photographers go through to promote their work. There are several international competitions held throughout the year by various organizations, often based on categories or themes. Artists submit a project (images + artist statement) and a juror (or jury) selects finalists or winners. These jurors are well known photographers, gallerists, curators, consultants, and publishers from all over the world.

Critical Mass is an annual online program conducted by Photolucida based in Portland OR. From over 800 submissions, 200 Finalists are selected. Then, a detailed review by over 200 jurors narrows the field to a Top 50 and a few top awards. Their biannual companion program is the Portfolio Reviews Festival, which I attended in 2015.

Why do we do this? There are few opportunities for an artist, say in Jacksonville FL, to have a New York gallery owner, Nat Geographic Photo Editor, or a museum curator, look at your project. Exposure and relationships are key elements in getting your work (and yourself) into the photographic community at large. In addition to having good work, you need to show up and participate to have even a remote chance of playing the game outside of your neighborhood.

What is very clear at this point in my career is that there is a lot of work left to do. Judging from the quality of the work I see in these competitions, I am inspired to keep going at it!

More information about my new series “Decoding the Infinite Forest” is in the works. I have taken the elements of my Forest re:Framed project and expanded it. More to come!

Freedom and “old growth”

UCascades-MtBaker_2016-0706-147

I wrote this after two weeks visiting Mt Rainier and the Upper Cascades National Parks and surrounding National Forests and State Parks. I love the Pacific Northwest filled with cloudy days and heavily forested land. But the natural history of these areas are fresh with recent memory and existing battles with timber companies and interests that put the last old growth forests at risk. It’s a continual war, and only through the diligence, tenacity, and sacrifice of concerned individuals do we have any forests left. For the general public has other priorities, and these battles are fought locally. I am indebted to all of those who are responsible for what is left and hope that there continues to be a future for these sacred lands.

7/24/16 – Making sense of the old growth

The northwest old growth forest stands in stark contrast to the southeast managed forests around my home. I was first taken by the overall sense of serenity, perhaps it was the quality of light, the temperature, the closed in feeling of the larger trees, or the different sounds of the birds and wind moving the branches. Early July meant that the leaves were fully out and that summer was in session, the trees were in full production and growth, the forest was alive. Large trees dotted the trails, enormous trunks heading straight up towards the sky. Walking amongst the foundations to these massive structures I felt insignificant. Often I reached out just to touch the bark and to try to feel the life force within. The forest floor was complex, filled with life and thick with vegetation, decaying limbs, stumps, and small trees all taking their turn at reaching for the sky. I was amazed at the diversity of growth and the sheer biomass of the scene. Primordial life as it has existed for centuries.

What occupied and interrupted my thoughts was the history of the place, and the thoughts about the old growth forests throughout our planet. These places are now very rare, less than 10% of what was, is still untouched. Is this a little or a lot? Who is to decide. The human race is consumptive, and I am an active participant in the depletion of the earth’s resources. How are we to recognize, reconcile, and rationalize what is happening to these places? What is evident for me is my awareness of what is happening, both here and in many other areas of our culture. The decisions about what gets cut, consumed, mined, polluted, extracted, and put at risk, are made by people who are primarily motivated by business. They strive for “balance,” which is all relative to where your center is. Capitalism is not self-regulating. It can become destructive by seeking goals that are not in the best interest of all…with all including non-human aspects of our planet. As I read more about the timber industry, and how trees have been (and continue to be) a pivotal factor in the economic wealth and security of nations, I realize how significant these forests are, and how drastically irresponsible we have been at even recognizing their existence.

Walking through these forests introduces the stark reality of what the forestry resource looks like. It’s like our use of water today. Each of us turns on the tap and lets the water run, because we have an infinite supply of fresh, clean water at our disposal. Why go to a lot of trouble being stingy and conserving a commodity that is cheap and abundant. Use it and focus your valuable time and effort on more important things, like watching TV and checking your social media feeds. Water is there and we have a right to it. When the Europeans landed in the New World it was the forests that completely overwhelmed their impressions. From a land whose forests had been decimated for centuries, this was a chance to start over again, to cut and cut and never have to worry about running out of timber. As they cut themselves across the country, when they reached the west coast, the timber exceeded any imagined possibility. Trees 300 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter filled the land for what seemed like forever. You could not possibly consume this much timber in several lifetimes, so cut they did. It was not until technology allowed the wholesale decimation of forests that we started to outpace these predictions. Just like our current consumption of water, we could not and would not stop.

Could we apply and learn the lessons from our old growth forests to conditions we have today? Sadly, no. As we speak the forests are being cut, and even more striking is the spread of insect infestations due to climate change taking down forests faster than the saws. Nature may be outpacing us and soon there may be no more forests to worry about.

These issues deeply concern me and draw me deeper into understanding a place where human beings have not managed to affect the natural flow of things. This is also true in the deserts of the Colorado Plateau, the boreal forests of Alaska, and in other sparsely populated areas like Death Valley. There is a certain attraction, curiosity, and connection to these remote places. The forests though, are very much alive, and it is this fragility that is so vulnerable to our intervention.

Considering that “man” has altered every other square inch of the earth makes me uncomfortable. It means that I am living in an artificial world, which is the reality of life, but something I haven’t really thought about. We always like to think that we are free beings, with the freedom of thought and existence particularly attractive, especially as Americans. But to know that we have created an artificial world, specifically to support the capitalistic “machine,” is disheartening. We cannot escape it, and running into the woods or desert is one of the few ways we can find a small glimpse of perhaps the last bit of real freedom in a real sense. Even going out on an established trail into these woods surrenders you to the fact that someone has established a path for you, one that you must take (“please stay on the trail”), but at least you can see beyond the trail and envision yourself in a place that is unique to you.

That is the attraction of these places for me. It is a reprieve and exercise of freedom in a visual sense to see nature unaltered by man. It is a necessary respite for all of us and re-establishes our existence as free individuals.

Back on the County Dock

Rain Watch - The County Dock, Mandarin FL

Rain Watch – The County Dock, Mandarin FL

As most of you know, the County Dock off Mandarin Road is one of my favorite places for an end of day experience, and when the weather looks threatening, it is the place to be. Today as I left the gym, I saw some huge clouds to the west and knew that the dock would have a show tonight. So after a few shots from the parking lot, I headed straight over. When I arrived, the rain clouds and pouring rain could be seen on the far shore over Orange Park. I did not bring my tripod (tsk, tsk), confident that I could handle anything put my way this evening. I saw two other photographers already in position, with their tripods and cameras ready to shoot.

Looks like Rain - The County Dock, Mandarin FL

Looks like Rain – The County Dock, Mandarin FL

As I made some exposures and waited for the weather to unfold, I thought about the timeless sequence of  weather, sunrise, sunset, and all the events in between, that occur time and time again. This grounds my anxiousness and allows me to just watch and listen. The wind was blowing and there was anticipation that we would get hit by the rain, but it appeared that for now, the lightening and rain clouds stayed at a safe distance.

The sky darkened and the sun set, leaving an orange sky and dark blue clouds. My desire to have my tripod accentuated as the light diminished and I increased my ISO setting. At a certain point you realize that it’s over, even though color still lingered in the sky and there was a spiritual need to stay until the end.

Candy Clouds - The County Dock, Mandarin FL

Candy Clouds – The County Dock, Mandarin FL

Congaree National Park

 

CongareeNP_2016-0506-067

I made a quick reconnaissance trip to Congaree National Park near Columbia, SC, knowing that I needed to return with my kayak and more time. This is a fascinating place and one of the last old growth cypress forests in the south. My interest in old-growth has increased and as I learn more I become more curious about my reactions to being in these areas that have never been disturbed by man. I have a sense about them but can’t seem to describe it, and visually, there is a different kind of randomness present. The park is not very large, but most of the area is only accessible by kayak. I’m always taken by the magnificence of these expanses of growth and habitat and how we have managed to destroy most of these areas through development.

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White Mountain National Forest

 

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Visiting New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest in late April put me about 2 weeks ahead of the early spring growth ready to explode on the trees. Bright sun and warm temperatures made for beautiful weather for driving around, but I was looking hard for landscapes. I drove the famous Kancamagus Highway and did the big loop through Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch. I met my good buddy Craig Goss who drove in from Vermont for 2 days of fooling around. Unfortunately I think the weather was not going to cooperate. Stopping at a ranger station we spoke to a park service guide about the absence of old growth in the area. He interestingly remarked that the clearcutting of the forest allowed the secondary deciduous forest to come in giving the fantastic fall colors and a boom to the local economy. Hmmm, justification for the horrors of decimating the forest. You have to remember that the US government basically purchased all the lands throughout the country that were raped and clear cut and turned it into the National Forest system. So very rarely would you find any old growth in a National Forest. Ok, this makes sense, a positive spin on things.

WhiteMountains_2016-0501-211

WhiteMountains_2016-0501-155My ultimate destination was a small patch of rare old growth located in a place called The Bowl Natural Research Area off the Dicey’s Mill Trail which we attempted on Day 2. It was a rough hike (for me) uphill and I think we must have missed a turn somewhere because we never really think we saw an old growth forest, even though Craig, my guide, told me that NH “old growth” probably looks like your typical growth. Maybe we walked through it and never noticed. It started to rain and we wimped out after about 2 hours of hiking in. The camera gear was getting very heavy. At least we had a good workout, and a memorable story about the elusive old growth forest that we never found.

A River Speaks – UNF Lufrano Gallery

A River Speaks

“A River Speaks” is the current exhibition at the Lufrano Intercultural Gallery at the University of North Florida. The show was organized by artist Jim Draper and features work by Jim, Paul Ladnier, Allison Watcon and me. I developed a piece called “Sky-River” from a selection of photographs taken at the County Dock in Mandarin, a few miles from my home. I stop there now and then to catch a sunset or watch the weather change. It never disappoints.

“Sky-River” contains nine 24 x 24 images printed on satin photo paper and laminated to Sintra. I also allied an overlaminate for protection. I wanted to provide a clean “frameless” look to the pieces, and was happy with the results. I’ve been experimenting with various mounting techniques. It’s hard to beat the classic matted photographic print under glass, but admittedly, this treatment is expensive and limited in its presentation. I feel that we should take the liberty to express another dimension to an exhibit of photographs, even if it diminishes the “fine art print” aspect of an individual piece. An individual photograph can exist as part of a installation that has a life of its own. I hope to be exploring this further.

Sky-River

“Sky-River” – The County Dock, Mandarin FL

The Lufrano exhibit is simple and straightforward, which is becoming rare. It is easy to understand and beautiful to see. Being in the company of like-minded artists is a privilege and pleasure. The exhibit is open through March 11, 2016.

A River Speaks Text

The Talbots

Big Talbot Island - Oaks

Little Talbot and Big Talbot Islands are two of my favorite places for photography and for just getting away. I try to visit several times during the year. I got a late start and the overcast conditions were disappearing fast. But I’ve grown to accept “what is” in terms of the weather (and other things too!) so was perfectly ok if this turned into a reconnaissance trip and a chance to renew my annual Florida State Park pass. There is construction along Heckscher Drive with a new bridge over Sisters Creek. The drive is not quite as peaceful as it was when my dad used to take my brother and I out to fish at Little Talbot. I arrived at around 10 am, renewed my pass, and proceeded to the west beach. There were two cars in the parking lot. After a quick stroll along the beach I headed out to Big Talbot, crossing Simpsons Creek where it seemed like a lot of fishing was going on. I pulled off at the trailhead for Big Pine Trail which is the start of the new East Coast Greenway bike trail. The hike on Big Pine is always pleasant but the mosquitoes were still quite active. Next time I’m going to bring along my bike to experience the paved trail which is really nice. They will soon have the section completed that connects up through Amelia Island.

Big Talbot Oaks

Some of the best photography for the coastal live oaks is in the parking lot at The Bluffs. The lighting here is always sublime and there is an assortment of twisted and gnarled branches within easy access. I’ve photographed these trees several times already, but each time I’m here I feel as if there is something new I can capture. This area also gives you access to the beach and the driftwood along the shore (the boneyard). So what is it about these trees that holds my fascination? I am drawn to visually complex compositions. I try to make some sense out of them  by somehow understanding their inherent nature. There is a complex nature to each of us and often it is very beautiful. When we can reduce something complex into its fundamental structures, complex becomes simple and minimal, and the real beauty is revealed.

Big Talbot Oaks

Streaming South at Slow Exposures

SlowBannerFinalWe had the pleasure of exhibiting most of the Streaming South project at the Slow Exposures photo festival in Zebulon GA this weekend as part of the “Pop-up” Gallery tour. We were selected by Richard McCabe, photography curator at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Slow Exposures is know for its laid back atmosphere, filled with meaningful photography and lots of time for discussion, cook outs, and networking. I thought we chose the best venue, a small brick building that was the original telephone operator’s switch house. Basically, one room with a window unit, sink, and toilet. We brought our own “scaffold” hanging system to preserve the walls and filled the place with photos fresh from the exhibit at the Wilson Art Center. Zebulon is roughly a 6 hour drive from Jacksonville, and we had everything up within a few hours.

A nice visit with jurors Richard McCabe, Jerry Atnip, and John Bennette

A nice visit with jurors Richard McCabe, Jerry Atnip, and John Bennette

Our Pop-up Tour exhibit

Our Pop-up Tour exhibit

Our experience was extraordinary. Plenty of visitors dropped by and we made lots of new friends. The photography at the main exhibit was excellent as were all the commentaries and discussions. Zebulon and the adjoining small towns all turn out with some fantastic volunteers and lots of Southern hospitality. If you haven’t made it to Slow Exposures put it on your calendar and try it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Lenscratch.com featuring Streaming South

For any photographer, it’s a great honor being featured on Aline Smithson’s blog, Lenscratch.com. I had the pleasure of having Aline as a reviewer at the Photolucida Portfolio Reviews in Portland earlier this year. She is a very generous and thorough reviewer and offered many comments and suggestions on my project, especially on the writing. Aline is truly a great resource and inspiration for contemporary photography, both as a fine art photographer and an industry expert. Take every opportunity to have Aline review your work, it will be worth every minute. Thank you Aline for all that you do and for your support of the photographic community.

lenscratch.com