Photo: Narrowleaf Yucca (Yucca angustissima)

Narrowleaf Yucca

I recently concluded my last workshop of the season in Moab, Utah (Terrific Trio with friends and leaders Guy Tal and Bruce Hucko) and am happy to have come home with a new photograph for my desert botanicals collection. I gave a presentation during the workshop whereby I discussed portfolio development and my own methods of having several working projects under simultaneous development. During a brief off-road stop following the workshop, I spotted this yucca under sizzling midday light; not the ideal time for photography. I used my standard combination of modern tools and vintage aesthetics to make the photograph. The background is in full sun and provides a pleasing backdrop for the diffused light foreground.

Advice for photographers: always carry a diffuser.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Advertisements

The Art of Saying

_MG_0904

The art of seeing has long been co-opted by the photographic community but its first use was likely Aldous Huxley’s unrelated 1942 book. We use this phrase to describe our own photography; that we possess some sort of gift, that our art is the ability to see and capture. I propose an end to this nonsense.

Art arises from artists who have good stories to tell about their subjects. Good composition is mere training and repetition, as evidenced by the many wonderful smartphone images I’ve seen by non-photographers and non-artists. A traditional operating mode for nature and landscape photographers is to find something beautiful; to use a wide angle lens; to stick something large, unrelated, and often obtrusive in the foreground and to keep the fingers crossed for an “epic” sky (apps can help you determine this but they can’t help you make art).  But when photographs lack a backstory and/or deeper interest (which admittedly may vary greatly depending upon the viewing audience) the most likely reply from viewers will be a terse “that’s pretty” (a death knell for the artist, a potentially positive outcome for the camera operator).

As an artist, I’m still trying to find my voice after more than twenty years of working at it. I’m still in an “entry level” position. “Overnight success” has proved apocryphal; artist is for the long-haul. If you love what you do and have a story to tell, what’s the rush? It takes years to understand what you need to and want to say and to learn how to say it. There is no competition despite the apparent F.O.M.O epidemic. Good cameras and software and a large social media following will not ensure artistry or success. Having good ideas that are worth expressing is probably a better path to a long, artistic career.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Starry Nights

_DSC5492Most contemporary nature and landscape photographers are obsessed with sharpness. I like to see how far I can push the blur.
This is Sweetbush (Bebbia juncea), long after the flowers have gone to seed and probably long after most photographers would consider making a photograph of them. It’s a large aromatic shrub in the Daisy family that grows in desert washes and provides a nice treat for Desert Bighorn Sheep. I used a soft-focus portrait lens wide open (big aperture) and focused only on one flower.

 

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

On Exhibition: American Desert

the-arenaI am excited to tell you about my forthcoming exhibition. American Desert will feature twenty-five of my photographs from my extensive works on the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The show will  feature a balanced blend of my botanical portraits of unique desert flora along with bigger views of these unparalleled and sublime landscapes. The Arena (attached here), made in Death Valley National Park, will be included.

This exhibition takes place at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento, California, and will be on display from Tuesday, March 5 to Saturday, April 6, 2019. I’m very pleased to share this space with the beautiful works of Kerik Kouklis. The Artist Reception is open to the public on Friday, March 8, 2019 from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm. I will be present and hope to meet you there!

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Visionary Image: Conceptual Development

Place two photographers side by side on the the very same scene or subject and they are likely to produce distinctly different images. Excluding the most obvious images easily gathered from accessible vistas, photographers have largely known this to be true. With any given scene of any scale, how we approach it and what we choose to most focus on is largely based on our mood and temperament of the day; our previous experience with such a subject; even the subliminal influence of other photographs and photographers may come into play.

Guy Tal and I wandered a Death Valley canyon following the close of our most recent Visionary Death Valley workshop. We stopped intermittently where we found interesting rock outcrops and healthy fruiting specimens of Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) – these wild desert pumpkins can be intriguing subjects for photographers of our ilk. I have casually photographed Coyote Melon for many years; an artful black and white image of Coyote Melon was still elusive and resided only in my head. Required to make this image was a perfect confluence of my mental state, a good visual arrangement, and unfailing vision. I still had yet to find that while in the company of these gourds.

We were now just a few miles from road’s end where we would begin a walk into desert wilderness – this is our method of rest and recovery. But Guy spotted one more beautiful Coyote Melon specimen – we stopped to investigate. It was a large enough vine to provide working space for both of us. We each identified our objects of interest and and got to work.

_DSC0713I was immediately drawn to the delicate but elaborate etchings on one particular fruit – I honed in. Space and space exploration has been on my mind a lot lately. I spend many nights each year staring deeply into it and sleeping under it and NASA’s InSight Lander touched down on Mars just thirteen days after this photograph. I like to use space and time metaphors in my images and titles. The etchings reminded me of planetary surfaces similar to Jupiter or the Moon. This became the metaphor that I forced into my approach.

My very first frame is seen at left. It’s a solid documentary image but it’s not terribly creative or exciting. I’d be happy to have it published in a plant ID guide but I can’t call it “art”.  Over the next 17+ minutes (happily mired in a flow state), using two different lenses – including a soft-focus brass portrait lens – I exposed 46 frames in total, each with slight shifts in perspective and field of view, each working towards the image that I had now developed in my mind. I already knew how the print needed to look. The camera position moved exceedingly closer to the ground in order to force the perspective I sought. I wanted the gourd to be tucked behind some of the leaves – similar to the way a full moon rises into a bank of clouds. In fact, I had photographed this very thing a couple of weeks prior. The dramatic image I had made of a full moon rising was finding its way into this image of a simple gourd. But I was no longer photographing a gourd – I was photographing a Rising Coyote Moon.

Coyote Moon Rising

Creative photographers who find such ideas and discussions stimulating and inspiring should consider joining Guy and I for Visionary Death Valley.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Published: *Shots* Issue No. 140

SHOTSGravitational Waves” opens SHOTS Issue No. 140 (“Forces of Nature”) with a beautiful double-page spread. Thank you, SHOTS magazine! Hang a print on your wall, own it and 15 other great images in this book, or enjoy it on your smart phone or tablet via digital download. Thank you for your purchase.

Photographers and those who enjoy philosophical meanders, please read on….

I’ve long been looking for an opportunity to discuss the language and semantics photographers use in the pursuit of their art and craft. It’s not my magazine and I have no stake in it, but I’m not fond of the name SHOTS. Since it’s inception, photography has struggled as an art form (yes, art form) and has always played second fiddle to painting; a poor man’s (or presumably less creative man’s) means of pursuing art (if you allow me to call it this). The belief being that as a mechanical object with a button to push – like using a smart phone – there could surely be no art or craft involved: it’s just a snapshot of whatever fell before the camera. But creative photographers and those who appreciate creative photographic art know a far different reality. So let’s take every opportunity to use good and proper language to educate our viewers that what we do is serious art.

* My creative pursuit involves a communion with my subject(s); there is no conquest and I “take” nothing.
* The photographs I make require contemplation, thoughtfulness, and good composition. The very same is true of painters and painting.
* Painters don’t throw or blast paint at their canvases, I don’t click or snap shots.

* I make photographs *

The words we use most definitely matter.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Photograph: The Queen

TheQueenThe extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms.” Edward Abbey

The Queen is a cristate (or crested) saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea). Cristate form is perhaps most well-known in saguaro but can occur widely across many cacti and succulent species. As some suggest, these are “freaks of nature”. The mechanisms for cresting aren’t well understood but the outcome can be elegant or bizarre (or both). Cristate form occurrence in saguaro cactus is estimated at about 5 per million. They’re not easy to come by yet Saguaro National Park says they have about 75 within their boundaries. Here’s an informative article for your reading pleasure:
https://media.azpm.org/master/doc/crestedsaguaro/

Here’s an enjoyable video about the Crested Saguaro Society who have now located more than 2200 cristate specimens in Arizona: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfNJ2KuQNvU

A larger version and prints can be acquired on the website (click LARGER VIEW under the image). Thank you for looking and commenting.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.