Monday, January 27, 2014

To Paraphrase Bill Clinton : "It's the Photographer, Stupid"!

In most of the beginning and intermediate level photography courses I've taught, I've led off with a discussion on "It's not the equipment, it's the photographer that makes great photographs."  Many attendees bring along their $5,000 worth of  Nikon (and/or Canon) cameras and lenses, and they always look amused at my obviously (in their mind) unfounded theory.  

Well folks, here's an honest-to-goodness, livin' proof example. . .

I'm actively involved in the Point of View Gallery in Burlington. We currently have an exhibit of artwork from students attending Hawbridge School in Saxapahaw.  The exhibit began with an opening reception for the students.  As one would expect, there were a number of proud parents and their children in attendance.  One of these parents was Brian Towey.

We were just casually talking. Brian was providing his favorable impression of my printing techniques on several of my hanging pieces.  He mentioned that he liked to take photographs and had a few that he might be interested in having me print for him.  I assured him I'd see what I could do - if he would email them to me I'd take a look and get back to him.

In a few minues Brian realized he might have one of the photos on his smartphone. Would I like to see it?  Being polite, but with low expectations, I said "Sure."  

I was absolutely blown away. Here's a version of the photograph:

Although a photographer, I'm a big fan of Renaissance-era Dutch and Flemish painters.  Here's one of Gabriel Metsu's that reminds me of Brian's. . .

Here's Brian's Story:

“We’re a home schooling family. In 2009, we were setting out on a year-long RV expedition, from North Pole, Alaska  to the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico. I had my trusty old Canon G2 along to document the trip.

On our way north we detoured through Chicago to visit relatives. In the RV park where we were staying, some neighbors encouraged us to visit the Bristol Renaissance Faire in nearby Bristol, Wisconsin. For many years we have all participated in living history. That’s the only kind of history lesson that sticks. So, we didn’t need much urging. It’s a particularly big and splendid fair, as such things go, a very entertaining blend of the historical and the hysterical.

The best part of living history, besides lots of beer and knives, is when the costumes and settings work perfectly. You find yourself watching a scene that could have popped out of a museum picture frame, or perhaps you walk through torchlit mists with cloaked friends and just for a minute your mind slips a gear and you feel it might be real. I keep my camera handy just in case.

This young lady was one of the costumed reenactors at the fair. Her costume and props were so good (at least from this angle), that she looked just like a painting. Because she was outdoors under a canopy, light just poured onto the scene. The picture practically took itself.

We got a lot of great photos on that trip: Moose and glaciers, pyramids and palm trees. You expect that on a grand tour. This photo stands out for me because it was such a perfect and timeless moment. When people ask me what I mean by living history, I pull this out to show them.”


Just to reinforce my equipment vs. photographer theory - the camera that Brian used for this shot, a Canon G2, can be purchased on eBay for $29 or best offer! 

Meanwhile, I'm spending some time with Brian's image in Photoshop.  Although not a Photoshop fan, I'm trying to emulate the Renaissance style for a canvas print version.  Other than removing the person in the background wearing bluejeans shorts (!), I'm just playing with the tonality and shadows.  

But let me be clear, Brian's photography stands on its own and would make a beautiful print without any post-processing. 

Thank you man for sharing this with me!

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