Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bruce Barnbaum’s “Seeing, Planning & Printing the Fine Photograph” A Great Success

Set in the Swan River Valley between the Mission Mountains to the west and the towering Swan Mountains to the east, Bruce Barnbaum's "Seeing, Planning and Printing the Fine Photograph" got off to a rousing start June 13 at the Photographers' Formulary in Condon, Montana.

Recently returned from Peru where he photographed the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, Barnbaum opened the workshop with an introductory session displaying and discussing some of his current and past work. Held in the spacious classroom area of the Formulary workshop, the talk gave students a hint of what was to come in the next five days of intensive lecture and hands-on activities.

Barnbaum set out to demonstrate by example what he hoped to teach his class. He invited each student to display their work, then to answer the question, "What were your goals,” or, “What are you trying to say” [with the photographs] and a short explanation of purpose. In this way he hoped to encourage planning and a conscious goal for any photograph before the film is exposed, rather than trying to develop a raison d'etre after the film is developed.

Barnbaum noted that in any workshop he has only a few days to help students develop their talents to see what makes a good photograph, then to capture that perceived image on film for development and printing in the darkroom. If there was a lesson to be taken from the workshop it was the success of the image begins before the film is exposed.

His first question to his students asked, "What is composition?" Easily posed, the question generated many different responses, ranging from "How the photograph is put together," to "The arrangement of elements within the framework of the print," to "What is included or excluded in the photograph to hold or direct the viewer's interest?"

Composition, Barnbaum said, requires the “derandomizing” of the viewer’s eye movement focusing on the image. Said another way, it is creating an image with a purpose, and guiding the viewer’s eye to the main focal point of the image.

Keep in mind, said Barnbaum, that the frame of the image is a confined space, with an infinite amount of image beyond the borders of the frame. The negative is a false border on what the viewer is capable of seeing.

Bruce put his students through their paces. From start to finish, he honed in on how to successfully plan and print a black and white photograph for greatest effect.

High on the list of discussion was Ansel Adams’ Zone System of exposing the negative. Barnbaum reduced the Zone System from a mysterious process to an evaluation of the quality and the intensity of light on a given portion of an image. It’s not enough to meter your subject and expose your film.

Remember that every light meter made computes an exposure equal to 18% gray, or Zone V. This means, he said, that metering a very bright or very dark subject would in both cases give you an exposure based on middle gray, and both would be incorrect.

The Zone System, Barnbaum explained, allows the photographer to correctly expose an image based on an adjustment of that middle gray reading, so that a bright white cloud can be printed as bright and white, while an important shadow area with significant detail can also be printed .

The Field Trip into the Woods

During an early morning field trip into the woods nearby the Formulary, Barnbaum demonstrated his techniques for evaluating light and “placing” the exposure on a specific area of the image. Morning light in a forest, filtered through the trees and softened by ghostly mist above the waters of a pond creates a near magical effect. The entire scene metered to middle gray, or Zone V, will result in a “record shot.” There will be little or no “life” or sparkle in the image unless the exposure is adjusted to take into account the varying amounts and quality of light in different areas of the image.

To properly expose the brightest areas requires an increase in the amount of light striking the film. This is achieved by either allowing more light into the camera by increasing the time or by creating a larger opening in the lens by choosing a larger ƒ/stop.

Conversely, to properly expose shadow areas with significant detail requires reducing the exposure by one stop and “placing” that area on Zone IV.

On a single negative you can make a single adjustment in the exposure. Choose what part of the photograph contains the most important information and make the appropriate adjustment in exposure. From that adjustment the rest of the image’s exposure is also adjusted up or down.
Once internalized none of this is rocket science, but it is at the base of the Zone System and to be ignored at the peril of the photographer. You’ll never take your own “Moonrise over Hernandez, NM” unless you understand and apply these simple principles.

Developing the Negative

With a field session behind them, Barnbaum’s students returned to the classroom for discussions of how to develop the film for more or less than the nominal time recommended by the film manufacturer. Barnbaum explained again what all had learned early: on a negative, density is the product of exposure and contrast is a product of development.

While it is possible to print an underexposed negative, you can never print what is not on the negative. At the other end of the scale, an overexposed negative will have all the information, but will be difficult to print because of the long times required in the enlarger.

Underexposure of the negative can be deliberate, as can overexposure. The density on the underexposed negative is low, but within limits a photographer can “push” film, or overdevelop it to increase its contrast. “Pushing” the development of film is also called “Plus” development, while underdeveloping film is called “Minus” development.

Both techniques are handy in working toward the Nirvana of an eye-popping fine art photograph.

The Formulary Darkrooms

An attraction of the Photographers’ Formulary is the availability of three darkrooms. One is a traditional “wet” darkroom. Another can be set up for developing films in all formats from 35 mm roll film to 8x10 sheet film. A third darkroom is used for alternative processes such as cyanotype, platinum/palladium and Van Dyke Brown.

For those students with film to develop, Barnbaum worked with them to explain and demonstrate how to apply “plus” or “minus” development to individual sheets of large format film. This was invaluable for students who had never considered altering the manufacturer’s recommended development time to achieve a negative better suited for printing the ephemeral fine art image bouncing around inside the mind of the photographer.

At the same time, over in the “wet” darkroom, up to ten students were able to use the Formulary’s ten Saunders LPL enlargers to make prints from negatives they brought with them or made at the Formulary.

Students printed from 35 mm, 6x6, 6x7 and 4x5 negatives. As each print made its way from the enlarger to developer, stop and fix, then out into the hallway for evaluation and discussion, Barnbaum was there to help.

When a print was lifeless Barnbaum explained to the student how to best burn, dodge or later to bleach to achieve the best possible result. With more than 12 hours of darkroom time each printing day, it was possible to get a massive amount of printing instruction, and Barnbaum stayed as long as students had a problem or a question.

Making the Print

As a first step in printing, Barnbaum advised making contact prints of every single negative, and making that contact under a consistent low contrast setting. This gives each negative the same predictable starting point.

Then, tossing aside the time honored test strip with multiple exposures two seconds apart, Barnbaum advised making a test print of the entire image. The test print is easily constructed, he said, by using the best estimated exposure as the midpoint, then computing an initial exposure of 50% less time, and a final exposure of 50% more time. This is the quickest way to get a good idea of where your ideal exposure lies.

Don’t move toward your optimum exposure in “baby steps.” After evaluating your original three panel test print, be bold and unafraid to give more or less exposure under the enlarger to move in the direction of the best possible exposure.

"If you are printing a negative, and improving it by making it either lighter or darker, more or less contrasty, etc. on successive prints, you'll never know if you've reached the best print until you overshoot the mark.", Barnbaum said, so don’t hesitate.

Do the same in evaluating the contrast of your print. If your print looks weak in the knees, give it plenty of contrast to see what happens. If the print improves, then give it even more contrast until you see your print losing essential detail. Then back off. With this method you will have made the best possible print of your negative. It may not be the dazzling print you thought was on that negative, but it will be the best print you can make off the negative you have in the enlarger.

Bleaching a Print

Advising his students to save any print that isn’t a final print for practice with bleaching. Barnbaum demonstrated on one of his own prints how to use potassium ferrocyanide, or bleach, to bring out detail in areas of shadow or bring out areas of white from areas of gray.
"Mix a few crystals of bleach in an ounce or two of water in a heavy glass or cup," (so it doesn't tip over easily!), Barnbaum explained, saying that most photographers mix the bleach too strong. Make it weak and use it with water running beneath its path to keep it from bleaching the wrong areas of the print.

Work from the bottom up, keeping the water running, and don’t let bleach stay on the print any longer than necessary. By working from the bottom of the print toward the top, always with water running on the workspace, fresh, undiluted bleach mixture cannot run down onto areas of the print unprotected by running water. Bleach by degrees, not all at once. Don’t be over aggressive with bleach.

Remember that bleach attacks the highlights or the lighter areas of the print first. It won’t do much to a dark area right away, but it will bring out the whites by immediately attacking the highlights.

By now the workshop had progressed from a discussion of composition, to a field trip, with a return to the darkroom to develop film and to make prints. Barnbaum had shown how to “bump up” the contrast in the print by using greater filtration, and how to use less filtration to “burn in” discreet areas of the image.

He cautioned his class to burn with restraint, saying that when someone comments you have done a good job of burning you have done too much. Good burning should affect the appearance of the image, but be undetectable to the viewer.

The workshop had come full circle. From opening remarks to a closing discussion of what is meant by “fine art photography,” Bruce Barnbaum had led his students up a sharp learning curve on how to plan and to print a fine art photograph.

The workshop was over almost before it began. Five days had passed in the blink of an eye as students exchanged prints and said their goodbyes.
Mission accomplished.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Linda Morrell: Blending the Traditional and Digital Processes

A Bit of Background:

When I set off for college in the mid-seventies, I had no idea that photography would be my focus. My skills and potential as an artist were in drawing and painting. However, during my first year at the Rhode Island School of Design, (RISD) which was a foundation year, I chose to take a Photography course as an elective. I loved it. I even loved the smell of the chemicals. In some way, I suppose, the fact that I loved chemistry and science as well as art had something to do with my intrigue with the medium. It was like “controlled magic” when I saw that image emerge from the developer.

While at RISD I had the opportunity to study with photographers such as Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind and was surrounded by a multitude of talent and energy. I continued on to graduate school at George Washington University in Washington DC and began teaching soon after I graduated.

I have practiced the photographic arts for over twenty-five years as an artist and as an educator. My initial infatuation and continued love of the medium stems from its unique ability to represent the qualities of light and form. Photography’s unique characteristics, unlike any medium that came before, serve as an extension of our vision to record human experiences.
In my imagery I seek to enhance the tactile sense of light and to emphasize the importance of the subject’s color or tone in our awareness of its surface. This sense of light, intrinsic to the medium of photography, becomes integral to the concepts within my imagery.

My approach to the image-making process is most often initiated by a spontaneous response to the world around me. Each composition becomes a personal response both emotionally and psychologically. Thematic concepts become evident and the image –making process moves to a more conceptual level.

Ultimately I want the audience to connect in their own way with my photographic imagery. Their response, for all artists, is the completion of the cycle.

The Inside - Out series.

Having come from a fine arts background I have always seen the exciting possibilities in manipulating a photographic image. Much of my recent work is digital or a combination of traditional and digital processe.

A couple of years ago I started a series of images entitled “Inside-Out”. The idea behind this project began with my exploration of scanograms.

After seeing some images of scanned objects I began experimenting with the flatbed scanner at school. The clarity the scanner provided was amazing. So I started scanning mostly flat objects; some leaves, cloth and tissue paper.

I found myself building a digital library of textures, colors, and forms. Soon I constructed a black box to sit on top of the scanner to allow me to scan three-dimensional objects as well. My first scanograms consisted only of the objects themselves without any camera images.

At the same time I was exploring scanograms I was also playing with a 7.5 mm Canon Lens that I collected years ago. It was not in great shape but created perfectly circular imagery along with all the interesting distortion. When I printed the contact sheet, it looked like some type of eye chart from the ophthalmologist. The image surrounded by black gave a feeling of looking through a peep hole…..from the inside out. Because the lens was not in great shape it produced a somewhat soft, low contrast negative. So I scanned the negatives into the computer and enhanced the contrast and sharpness. 
Some of this imagery worked great as is but I decided to play with the three-dimensional quality by having a piece of the image interact with the circle form. This is where my scanograms came in.

I decided to scan actual objects that might be represented in the circular area of the image. I then pieced the composition together. The softness produced by the quality of the lens together with the incredible sharpness of the scan produced an interesting composite.

As a result this series incorporates the effects of circular observation from both sides of a perceived spatial plane. While my initial approach was a spontaneous, playful response to the circular distortion of the everyday world around me, some of the images quickly began to mimic a voyeuristic view of my subject matter. Hopefully the viewer is enticed into moving inside and out of the picture plane.

Photo Encaustic

A few years ago I went to an exhibition at the Samuel Dorsky Museum at the State University of New Paltz in New York. The exhibition was a selective survey of contemporary works using encaustics and consisted of photo-encaustic, collage, drawing, painting and sculpture. I was immediately drawn to the translucent quality of the wax over the image, the use of color and the textures created by embedded objects within the surface of the art work.

It was not until after I traveled to Italy in 2007, however, that I decided to try working with this medium. I was a Visiting Professor for the University of Georgia’s study abroad program where I lived and taught in Cortona, an ancient Etruscan walled city. Having the opportunity to see actual Greco-Roman encaustic techniques fueled my interest in contemporary encaustic imagery. I decided to incorporate the use of this medium with certain of my photographs because I wanted the surface quality to give the images a sense of tactile reality. Similar to my interest in the quality of scanned objects I am drawn to this technique because of the sense of depth and surface it gives to a photographic image.

The word Encaustic, from the ancient Greek enkaustikos, means to heat or burn. Noted references as far back as 800 B.C. talk about the Greeks using this medium to waterproof the hulls of their ships. Egyptians painted portrait panels on the caskets holding their mummies. Encaustic is made up of beeswax melted with a small amount of resin to impart hardness When pigments were added it was used as a painting medium.

Encaustic is distinctive because of the nature of its application and the unique surface quality attained from the build up of wax layers. The medium must be applied to a surface when melted and almost immediately after it touches a surface it begins to harden. Therefore in order to paint or sculpt images, you must work fast and continually fuse one layer to the next. You do this with the use of a heat source such as a heat gun or a small torch.

The medium must be kept hot on top of some type of heating element such as a griddle or an electric frying pan. R&F Handmade Encaustic Paints in Kingston, NY sells a aluminum palette which provides a sturdy, easy to clean work surface. The paints are warmed by using an electric heating element below the palette. Any brushes and tools that are used also must be kept warm to manipulate the surface texture.

The dammar resin does produce toxic fumes above a certain temperature. Set up should include some type of thermometer to keep the temperature regulated not to exceed 200 degrees. The working space should also have a good ventilation system .

Photo-encaustic uses photographic imagery in combination with the medium. Once an image is adhered to a non-porous surface, it is coated with the encaustic medium. This first layer must then be fused with a heat gun to the mounted image. Careful technique with the heat source will create a smooth base coating. Additional layers with color or textures can be added, however each must be fused to the previous for permanence.

Article by Linda Morrell

Monday, March 15, 2010

Torrey Pines at Sunset ©Bill Evarts

April 2010 Newsletter
Bill Evarts: Showcasing Torrey Pines State Reserve

Self-taught in photography, Bill Evarts focuses on landscapes, deserts and the environment. A native San Diegan, educated in the Classics at Stanford, Evarts spent the first ten years after college in conventional photography as he worked the rounds of weddings, Little League teams, school proms and graduations.
As his work became routine Bill turned to his childhood experiences of traveling the Great Southwest with a father who found it almost impossible to pass up a historical landmark or desert waterhole, no matter how remote or obscure. Bill had already developed considerable expertise with black and white photography, and found increasing satisfaction using color transparency film to capture the broad landscapes and details of his native state with his 4X5 view camera.
In 1984 he took the plunge and decided to leave the madding crowds behind, preferring the solitude of the landscape photographer. His beard and his plaid flannel shirt, he says, seem to be the badges that mark him as a follower or at least an admirer of the Ansel Adams school. His quiet and patient manner make it easy for him to wander off the beaten path, out of sight of the nearest MacDonald’s, Wendy’s or Jack in the Box; far enough that he no longer has to carefully crop in camera to avoid the latest and greatest neon sign. He still backpacks in the Sierra Nevada each year.
Evarts comes from a family tradition of historians and environmental writers. Both his grandfathers and father were nationally prominent authors and naturalists. His sister writes nature themed books for young readers, and his brother publishes award winning books on natural history subjects. For seven years in the 1980’s Evarts worked on a portfolio of photographic work of the Torrey Pines State Reserve, then wrote the text to accompany the striking color photographs in the 1994 volume.
The Torrey Pines State Reserve is home to one of the rarest trees on the planet. First identified by physician-naturalist Charles C. Parry in 1850, the Torrey Pine lives in only two small groves totaling less than 2000 trees. The more famous of the two groves is in the reserve; while a second grove survives on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California.
Named by Parry for his mentor, Dr. John Torrey, the Pinus torreyana has clusters of five needles on a long slender cone. The trees of the Reserve live on a sandstone bluff high above the beach on the California coastline about ten miles north of the downtown area of San Diego. Because the climate is semi-arid and annual rainfall is less than a foot a year, Torrey Pines in the wild are slow growing and tend to be fairly short.
Parry had been looking for coal deposits rumored to be in the cliffs just south of what was then known as Soledad Valley. Soledad, meaning solitude or alone, was an apt name for a valley well isolated from the tiny city of San Diego which then boasted of only a few thousand inhabitants.
While Parry found no coal, he recognized the unique nature of the tree and began a campaign to preserve it from wood cutters and gatherers. Ultimately successful, Parry was probably one of the original “tree huggers.” In 1899 the City of San Diego established a small park of 369 acres to encompass at least some of the rare trees. Ellen Browning Scripps, a local philanthropist, joined the effort, buying up adjoining properties and protecting additional trees. But it wasn’t until 1959 that the park was finally transferred to the State of California to become the Torrey Pines State Reserve. In 1970 the Reserve reached its present size of approximately 1750 acres.
The Reserve is a fraction of Yosemite’s 1200 square miles, and portions of it abut developed parcels, making its preservation highly unusual in an otherwise crowded piece of extremely valuable land. The small land area, surrounded by some two million people, however, contains one of California’s largest undeveloped wetlands, marred only by the crossing of Old Highway 101 and tracks of trains running between San Diego and Los Angeles. It is bordered to the east by Interstate 5 as it runs north-south from Los Angeles to San Diego, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean as its waves break upon its sandy beaches.
It was within this confined space that Bill Evarts worked his magic as he photographed the Reserve from one end to the other. Often arriving before the sun rose over the Laguna Mountains to the east, and just as often leaving after it dropped below the waves of the Pacific to the west, Evarts found ways to exclude almost every trace of human existence as he photographed from the trails, beaches, ravines and canyons of Torrey Pines. He caught the golden light of a fading day as he photographed the cliffs above the sandy shore, and he captured the glory of clouds from a clearing storm as they boiled into the sky.
He must have left no corner of the Reserve untouched as he found the rare Coastal Agave among the needles of a Torrey Pine, and the pale pastels of the evening light filtered and reflected by the boiling surf.
It’s easy to write about Evarts’ work. He’s masterful in his careful choices and gentle in his words as he describes what he has photographed.
Torrey Pines, Landscape and Legacy was finished long ago. You can still find a copy now and then, but to see more of the photographs from Evarts’ work go to the website of the Ordover Gallery in Solana Beach, California. There you can see more of his work at Torrey Pines, and you can see the many faces of the deserts of Baja California where he continues to photograph.
If you visit the website of Amigos de los Californios you’ll see another side of Bill as he and his wife, Sue, help provide medical care to remote villages high in the Sierra de San Francisco. Years ago Bill and Sue established a non-profit corporation, Amigos de los Californios, with the intent to provide medical, dental and eye care to the people of Santa Marta village and its surrounding ranchos. As you read this newsletter they will be in Baja California del Sur with a team for their annual medical clinic, and it’s all without charge to a people who have no money to pay.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Machu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham, 1911

March 2010 issue - Photographers' Formulary newsletter

Hiram Bingham, Accidental Discoverer of Machu Picchu

The facts are well known. Born in Hawaii, son of a missionary minister, Hiram Bingham dreamed of escape and discovery. He longed to escape the sometimes harsh hand of an overbearing father and the confines of the small Pacific islands, at the beginning of the 20th century still isolated outposts of civilization. He dreamed of exploring and discovering things and places yet unknown.

He chafed under the rigid and hard discipline of his father and as he became a teenager began to plan his escape. There was only one way out then, and that was by sea. The sailing ships that had brought his father and others to the placid islands would carry Bingham away, or so he hoped. He and a friend saved their money to pay their passage to the mainland and on the night before the ship was to sail Bingham slipped out of the house and down to the wharf.

Bingham’s friend thought better of the scheme and backed out. The ship didn’t sail on time and Bingham’s father came to the docks to take his son home. Surprisingly, Hiram was not punished. it may have been one those moments in a boy’s life when a father realizes his son is coming of age and begins to back away to give the boy breathing room.

Hiram stayed in Hawaii to graduate from high school, then went to Yale to study and later to teach the history of South America. Realize that in the early 1900’s South America was a very large unknown quantity, unmapped and unexplored in countless square miles of its mountains and jungles. Little was known of the Incas of the Andes, though there had been occasional explorations in the previous century.

What was known about the Incas of Peru was based mostly on the writings about the Spanish Conquistadores who had conquered the Inca empire in the mid 16th century. Many of those writings were made long after events had taken place, inevitably based on reports gathered by others, and often by writers who had never even been to Peru!

Bingham finished his education at Yale and at a very young age became a member of the faculty. He married well, taking as his bride an heir to the Tiffany fortunes. Hard labor, in other words, was not a necessity in his existence. A healthy bank account and an indulgent wife gave him the freedom to explore, and explore he did.

In 1908 he made his first expedition to Peru. He had done his homework and was familiar with the writings of Spanish historians and religious. He knew a great deal about the Inca empire and its remarkable rise and fall in little over 100 years. He understood the politics of conquest and had read of Juan Pizzaro’s remarkable victory over an overwhelming Inca army in 1532.

Bingham’s 1908 expedition led to no breathtaking discoveries, but it whetted his appetite to return in 1911 for further exploration in the areas reputed to have been the “last stand” of the Incas, and perhaps to contain the ruins of their final bastion against the Spaniards.

Bingham was not the first to visit Machu Picchu. He was not the first to report its existence, nor was he the first to leave his mark on what is widely regarded as the best preserved set of ruins of an ancient civilization in South America.

What sets Bingham apart is that he came to Peru prepared to systematically investigate, map and record what he saw. His expedition was well funded, and replete with resources to assure his success if he could only find the lost city of Vilcabamba, the last political capitol of the Inca’s fading empire.

In July 1911 he hit the jackpot. Bingham had heard about a place called Machu Picchu, known to indigenous mountain people, but because it was only one of many names of ruins to be found and explored it held no special appeal to him, or to any others for that matter.

He and his party had worked their way north and west from the border of Peru and Bolivia at the fabled Lake Titicaca. They had already climbed what they had hoped was the highest peak in South America (they missed by several hundred feet,) and they had crossed the burning coast deserts bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Many ruins touted to be excellent examples of Inca architecture or construction turned out to be duds. The native Quechuan population had little interest in abandoned Inca cities; they were more interested in raising enough potatoes or corn to feed their families and their livestock.

But they did know about the Incas, and they often knew where to find this ruin or that one in the heavily overgrown jungle or on the high mountain tops. Early in July 1911 Bingham spoke with a Quechuan who claimed to know of a mountain redoubt called Machu Picchu. Mentioned nowhere in any writings of the Spanish conquerors, not shown on any maps, and totally ignored by Peruvian scholars in the city of Cuzco less than thirty miles away, Machu Picchu was just sitting there waiting to be discovered.

On July 24 1911 Bingham went for a hike with his local guide, Sr. Melchor Arteaga, and Sergeant Carrasco, a military escort provided by the Peruvian government. They climbed into the mountains and eventually came to the homes of two or three Quechuan families who made their living growing corn and other crops on small plots of land.

Bingham asked the families they knew of any Inca ruins. He was assured that they did. He offered to pay the stunning sum of something like a dollar if someone would lead him to the ruins. The adults stayed by their huts, but sent Bingham off with a young boy who told Bingham that the ruins were nearby.

The little group walked further up the path, around a bend and into the open view of the land below. Bingham was stunned by what he saw. There, hanging on the hillside, was what is now known as the fabled Machu Picchu. The Quechuan families had cleared a small portion of the ruins and had been using the stone walled terraces as growing plots for their meager crops. The remainder of the ruins remained engulfed and entwined in jungle growth.

Bingham photographed, or attempted to photograph the ruins that day. He and Sergeant Carrasco returned to their main camp and Bingham reported his findings to his fellow explorers. Bingham had documented his findings as well as he could in the short time he has been in the ruins, but it was enough to assure him a place in history.

In the days to follow Bingham returned to Machu Picchu to further explore, photograph and describe his discovery. In 1913 his copious notes and photographs became the basis of an entire issue of National Geographic Magazine. Though never trained as an archeologist or as a photographer, Hiram Bingham will always be known as the discoverer of Machu Picchu.

The photographs in this article were taken by Hiram Bingham. With the passage of time they are no longer subject to copyright. But to give credit where credit is due, the work of Hiram Bingham, historian, explorer, discoverer and photographer, has given us what has become known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

To read Bingham's words of discovery and to see some photographs of his several expeditions, go to "Rediscover Machu Picchu!". Read a chapter of Bingham's writings about Machu Picchu and see photographs of his expeditions in the highlands of Peru and see more of his photographs here. . . .

For all questions or comments regarding this post, please write to:
Newsletter Editor

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In this Issue

February 2010

•Steinbeck Center Features Soledad Mission Photography
•Product Information and Material Safety Data Sheets now Online
•Call for Entries - 3rd Annual Alternative Processes Photography Contest
•Impossible Project Press Release
•February 2010 Newsletter Specials

Steinbeck Center Features Soledad Mission Photography Steinbeck Center Features Soledad Mission Photography

Many are familiar with the works of John Steinbeck and his tales of the Monterey, and of the Salinas Valley of California. Most of us have read his novels, Tortilla Flats, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and “Of Mice and Men.” Not all of us, however, are as familiar with the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, or the exhibitions and programs it offers.

In April 2007 more than 30 photographers gathered at one of the smallest of the California mission chain in Soledad California. Located almost fifty miles south of Salinas on the banks of the Salinas River, the mission was established in 1791 by friars of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor as the thirteenth in the chain of 21 missions..

The mission was built in the middle of the Salinas Valley. It’s a hot and dusty place during the summer and not all that hospitable during the winter. A mission church was built, but in 1828 and 1832 the church was damaged, then destroyed by floods.

In the early 1950’s a small portion of the mission was rebuilt. This includes a small chapel, a kitchen, a classroom and the mission office. While picturesque, it has none of the grandeur of a mission such as Santa Barbara or Carmel.

Because it is small and isolated it is often missed by travelers speeding north and south on nearby Interstate 5. So when Formulary instructor Al Weber did stop by the gift shop he found poorly printed postcards that scarcely portrayed the mission. He offered to have better photographs taken, for free, by his friends. The offer was accepted, the gathering of Al’s photographer friends arranged, and history was in the making.

From the photographs a portfolio was produced. Each participating photographer submitted a single image, and became committed to produce thirty copies to include in the thirty portfolios. Al, his wife, Suzie, and a number of friends in the area of Carmel put the portfolios together, boxed them for mailing and sent them to the participating photographers. Two copies were given to Mission Soledad to use for fund raising and for the mission history and a third was designated as a gift to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.

One of the photographers, Martin Vargas-Garcia, contacted Curator of Collections & Exhibitions, Deborah Silguero-Stahl, at the National Steinbeck Center, offering prints from the portfolio for a show in the center’s gallery.

In December 2009 the show opened as part of Salinas’ Art Walk. A closing reception, at which the Soledad Mission photographers were the guests of honor, took place on January 8, 2009.

The Steinbeck Center gallery was lined with the twenty five photographs taken almost three years earlier at Mission Soledad. Photographers from near and far gathered to enjoy a rare moment of seeing their work on the walls, and the chance to talk to many of those who had taken other photographs in the exhibit.

As the evening came to a close, Al Weber stepped forward to talk about the remarkable collection of images. He explained how the project had come into being from his visit to the museum gift shop, and the enthusiastic reception he had received when he invited his friends to spend a weekend at the mission.

Then, changing the focus of his remarks from photography to the history of the Salinas Valley, he told of his arrival in Salinas in 1953. What he found then, he said, remains today. A community of farmers who work the land, who work together and form the bedrock of the valley’s rich agricultural society.

Weber described the “Natural grace of the landscape,” as well as the, “Incredible wealth of the agriculture” as difficult to beat for a place to live and work.

Soledad Correctional Facility, aka, prison, probably causes some travelers to bypass the town. But, said Weber, drive down the center of the little town and you find yourself in what could be a “cutout” of every small town anywhere. He described Soledad and the Salinas Valley as a place with real people and recalled the remark of the man who delivers his propane that, “You know you are leaving the Salinas Valley when the people quit waving.”

Weber joked that he lives on the coast in Carmel, an area that balances out the Salinas Valley because, “We get all the nuts,” whereas the people in the Salinas Valley are level-headed and filled with common sense.

Click here to watch Al Weber’s remarks...

Colleen Finegan Bailey, Director of the National Steinbeck Center, followed up on Al’s remarks. Ms. Bailey talked about the hard working and dedicated farmers of the valley, and the sentiment that they are “real people.”

The major thrust of her remarks, however, was reserved for Al Weber as she recognized his many years as a teacher, and his dedication to his purpose. “It’s almost harder to find a great teacher than it is to find a great artist,” Bailey said, and in the short time she had known Weber it quickly became obvious that Weber is a great teacher.

The exhibit was proof of Weber’s abilities as a teacher, she said, and the work of his students, hanging on the walls of the exhibit is of value to the Steinbeck Center and to the people of the Salinas Valley as a record of the valley’s rich culture.

Then, looking forward to the next exhibit of mission photographs, Bailey welcomed the prospect of some fifty photographs of Mission San Miguel again taken by Weber’s friends and former students. That exhibition will feature the second “Mission Portfolio Project,” and will take place in late 2010.

Click here to watch Ms. Bailey’s remarks. . .

The person responsible for the exhibit, Curator of Collections & Exhibitions, Deborah Silguero-Stahl, recognized the importance of the photographers and their images, and the connection they have to the history of the Salinas Valley. Martin Vargas-Garcia brought her photographs of Mission Soledad as a gift to the Steinbeck Center, she said, and asked for the possibility of an exhibit to showcase the works.

As she dug into the photographs she realized that they form a contemporary view of the history of Mission Soledad, and of the Salinas Valley. She decided to hang the show in a way that would allow visitors to experience a visit to the mission by walking around the room. The photographs are important, she said, because they help to tell the “Mission Story.” They record the architecture of the mission, and at the same time record the history of the valley, the mission and the State of California.

The photographs, said Silgueros, allowed her to bring a visitor into the landscape, then into the church. A visitor could see the mission and its artifacts, and gain a perspective of the mission as though they had been in the mission themselves. Missions and churches, she said, have a mystique, and the Soledad Mission photographs help lift the veil of that mystique to give visitors a greater enjoyment and understanding of what they are seeing.

Click here to watch Ms. Silguero’s remarks. . .

What’s next on the list? Al Weber has already been approached by Mission San Antonio de Padua, located in the middle of Fort Hunter-Liggett, a military reservation to the south of Salinas and Soledad. Negotiations are underway for twenty-five photographers to spend a weekend capturing the essence of California’s most secluded mission located in the Valley of the Oaks in the Santa Lucia mountains just off the California coast. It’s a mission that has been described as the only one which might still be recognizable by its founder, Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded it in 1771 as the third of what would eventually be twenty-one California missions.

We’ll keep our eye on this one, and when the time comes you’ll see what develops.

The entire Mission Soledad portfolio can be viewed here. . . .