projects

Old Michigan Avenue

US-12

Fun look back at the history of US-12 at Concentrate Ann Arbor:

Michigan Avenue has been recognized for its significance as a Historic Heritage Route. Given the fact that it’s persisted so long and been so essential to the state, it seems more than fitting to refer to this road, which spans the entire east-west length of the state, as Michigan Avenue.

US-12 has fed a life-long fascination for me, and is becoming a long-term photography project. It’s a road, and an area, rich with history.

Parts two and three are up, too.

 


Thirty Six

Thirty Six

Today is my birthday. I turn 36.

Today is also the start of a project – one that I’ve thought long and hard about since the holidays. It involves taking a photograph every day for a year and not sharing it with anyone.

Then, at the end? I’m not sure. I’ll figure it out when I get there.

That number keeps circling around my brain: 36. Thirty six. More than halfway to Old Man.

An idea is brewing.


Still Life Photography: Beating the Winter Blues

Still Life - Berries

Keep yourself busy, that’s what I say.

Last winter, off my big portrait project, I needed something to keep me entertained during these cold Michigan winter months. I needed a photo project to keep my mind and camera busy, and something that I could do inside.

When Sandhill Crane Vineyards invited me to be their featured artist for May, I felt like I needed to show some fresh work in their gallery. Wine would be fun. But what if I did more than wine still life photos? What if I made it bigger?

It ended up being my big still life project.

A few months back I was invited to speak to the Jackson Civic Art Association about the project. One of the members, Carrie Joers, dug my still life shots. More than liking them, she wanted to paint them, and figured a how-to session on setting up a still life setting would be good for her drawing and painting friends.

Here’s what I told the group in terms of restrictions and things to think about:

  1. Look at good still life paintings and photos to get an idea of what you like. I started with the Dutch masters, and went through to good product photography. Keep an idea board (I used Pinterest).
  2. Get yourself a theme. Doing random stuff is fun, but I found a theme (seasons, with food as the focus) easier to keep myself focused and organized. Pears go with winter, acorns go with fall, and colors matter, etc.
  3. Look for materials and items around the house, and keep texture in mind (the more, the merrier). Figure out what you don’t have on hand, and then go bargain shopping: yard sales, thrift stores, stuff in your parents’ attic, that kind of thing. Fabrics, containers, decorations – all that stuff can be had for cheap. To get the fresh ingredients, I went grocery shopping.
  4. Set up near a window for good light, and make your own backdrop. This was a lot of fun for me: I got to experiment with painting on a canvas, and setting a mood (here’s my simple set up at home).
  5. Experiment and practice. Move stuff around. Try a bunch of shots. Take 50 photographs to find the one killer shot.
  6. Challenge yourself. I went with one camera, one lens – and a 100mm macro lens at that. Set restrictions, stick to your theme, and don’t make it easy.

I’m making my slideshow (with notes) available as a download (PDF), since I can’t give my presentation to you, the reader. It should give you some background, some ideas, and some inspirational crumbs to follow.


War Against Seeing

Moving Sale!

Rob Walker in “How to Pay Attention“:

From looming billboards to glittering shop windows to the myriad distractions flowing through the pocket-sized screens we carry everywhere, vast and sophisticated efforts prod us to look in specific directions, at specific things, in specific ways. Taken together, they add up to a kind of war against seeing. I try to be part of the resistance.

Walker’s tips are all good strategies for design, writing, and photography exercises. What do you spot that’s interesting, new, or unseen? There’s a photo project in the making.

Notice things that aren’t meant to be noticed creatively – “attend to some recurring thing that is ubiquitous” Walker says – and you get one of those cataloging projects that are such a joy. For myself, that includes handmade yard sale signs. It’s a little thing, but it’s fun.

(via Austin Kleon)


Photographer Interview: Barry Phipps

I first learned about Barry Phipps’s Iowa photos project on Feature Shoot, and, as a fellow Midwesterner, could hardly contain my excitement – it’s my kind of project, full of story and place and changes.

Where are you and what do you do?

I’m in Iowa City, IA. Moved here four years ago from Chicago, where I lived for 22 years. I’m a working photographer and artist.

How did you get started in photography?

I studied photography at The Kansas City Art Institute in the late eighties. I’m old, so we were taught how to shoot, develop, and print film.

What do you like about your photography?

I’m very hard on myself, so it’s hard sometimes to say I like my own photography. That said, I enjoy a means of communication that isn’t blatantly about me. It’s more impersonal and less directly emotive than, say, making music. I’m a former musician who finds it gut wrenchingly difficult to listen to a song I’ve recorded and released where I’m singing, but have no problem digging through old photographs and finding enjoyment doing so.

You cover weddings and portraits along with your Iowa series. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?

I enjoy weddings and portrait work. I still shoot film and approach it in the same way as my Iowa Photographs series, and tend to work for artists, photographers, writers and the like. I don’t really look much at other wedding photographers for inspiration. My studio portrait work isn’t really influenced by other work. I’m inspired by Richard Avedon and kind of jealous of Terry Richardson. I like looking through Vanity Fair and those types of magazines as I’m waiting to get my hair cut. I’d love to do fashion stuff, but not going out of my way to make that happen. I do live in Iowa, after all.

I like that your photos, especially your Iowa series, have a sense of place and purpose. What kinds of themes do you explore with your work?

Thanks! Actually, I feel the Iowa Photographs series gave my photography a sense of purpose, focus, and direction. I photographed lots in Chicago, but moving to Iowa four years ago really gave me a sense of direction. I’m really drawn to this place. I initially just started taking day trips in every direction from Iowa City, just to see what was out there. It was exciting to be in a new place. I assumed I would live in Chicago for the rest of my life. Chicago can be a challenging place to leave. You can drive for two hours and still be in the city sometimes. Here, it’s liberating to be able to just get in my car and drive in any direction and be somewhere new in just a few minutes. Iowa is populated with a million small towns, most never more than six or seven miles from the last one. Iowa was mostly populated within a few years, mostly by European immigrants. So, these towns formed, thrived, peaked and later declined as the original purpose of servicing farming families dried up. There’s a consistency town to town, but also a uniqueness. I’m always surprised by what I find.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

The Iowa Photographs series will continue, but I have wrapped up my initial phase of the project. I’ve photographed every county in Iowa and have accumulated what I consider a fair representation of the state of the state. I’m currently putting a book together of the best stuff from this phase. It will be published by The University of Iowa Press around 2019.

You can purchase Phipps’s Iowa Photographs series in volumes, and follow along on Instagram. Check out more of Phipps’s work at his portfolio site.


Good Ideas Deserve to Exist

On Self Doubt

Last week I participated in an area authors book publishing forum. Me and two other local authors spoke about our book projects, and what it took to get them into the read world. After a brief introduction, we opened up the forum to audience questions. One question really got me thinking, from a thoughtful lady:

“What did you do to keep away the self doubt?”

All of us agreed that self doubt played a role in our projects. What if our books didn’t sell? What if we couldn’t make it work? Was it a big waste of time?

Perhaps more frightening: What if no one cared?

For my part, a large part of my project went into the pre-planning. As I’ve shared before, I thought about having a built-in audience, using my connections to get the word out, and relying on marketing to make my project a known thing.

Even deeper and scarier than getting the word out, however, self doubt means wondering whether a project even deserves to exist. What’s the big idea, and has it earned an audience?

Plenty of artists deal with self doubt. I wonder if there’s extra pressure on those who put physical things into the real world. Ones and zeroes can exist virtually and bother no one – but a book? That takes materials, space, and time in the universe. There’s gravity associated with it.

Good Ideas deserve the atoms that make up a book or print or sculpture or whatever. Getting rid of (or at least easing) self doubt means convincing yourself that yours is a Good Idea.


Photographer Interview: Heather Nash

Heather Nash is a photographer in southeast Michigan I’ve been following on Instagram for almost as long as I’ve been on Instagram. I love her unique view of the world, and the way she captures it.

Where are you and what do you do?

I live in Ypsilanti, Michigan and I photograph people, places and weddings.

How did you get started in photography?

I went to school for photography and received my BFA in 2-D studies/Photography. I learned with film, mostly black and white, some color. The transition to digital came later but I still shoot a bit of film here and there with an old Canon AE-1 that belonged to my grandfather. I love black and white photography, specifically the work of Sally Mann.

What do you like about your photography?

I like watching the evolution of my work. I feel like I’m constantly refining my style, honing my technique and improving the way I utilize light in my images. I’m always reading and trying out new ideas. It’s good to keep learning!

I like how you capture your world, and the people around you. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?

I do draw inspiration from other photographers and visual artists, and I’m often inspired by nature. I also love to people watch and observe daily life as it’s happening. I’m very curious and kid-like at times!

You do some paid gigs as well. How do you balance professional vs. personal photography?

I always try to leave room for personal projects, like portrait work, where I can try new things and challenge myself creatively.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

I just returned from a trip to Bali, an island in Indonesia. I took a small Fuji travel camera and documented my whole trip with the goal of putting together a small show this spring. It was an amazing experience to say the least!

Follow Heather on Instagram, or check out her portfolio site and blog for more of her work. 


Photographer Interview: Neil Thain-Gray

I first discovered Neil Thain-Gray’s work through Self Publish Be Happy. His photo book, Personal Space, was right up my alley: urban landscapes in the Eggleston/Shore tradition, but more up close and personal, with nods to design and patterns. And the colors! So good.

Where are you and what do you do?

I live in Glasgow, Scotland with my wife Rachel and our seven year old son. I earn a living working in Learning & Development for a national charity. Photography is my creative outlet that I fit in between work and family life, whenever the Scottish weather permits.

How did you get started in photography?

Both of my parents have a background in the arts, and my dad as a photographer encouraged me to get to grips with an SLR in my teens. However, I didn’t really connect with photography until after I had graduated from art school when I found myself without access to studio space or equipment. I picked up a camera just to stay creative and suddenly photography seemed to fit into my life.

What do you like about your photography?

I like walking with a camera without any particular purpose or direction, especially wandering somewhere new, even if it’s just a short cut or side street. I don’t drive, so I’m always walking or on the bus or the train. Photography helps me to be attentive and open to the world around me. On a nice day, with nowhere in particular to be, having a camera is just a great excuse to exist.

I love your use of color, your consistent style, and your view of urban spaces. What kinds of themes do you like to explore with your work?

Thanks! I don’t know about themes and I don’t really have an idea of where my photographs fit in the world. Any sense of style probably comes more from a consistent process than any intent. I shoot with the same camera, the same lens, the same films. I am generally just looking for interesting light, shapes, and colours to make a composition with.

You recently put out a great little photo book. What inspired you to do that, and how has the experience been for you?

Thanks, glad you like it! I’ve been buying self-published photobooks for a couple of years and figured I should publish my own. The process of editing and designing was challenging, but I learned along the way. Setting up an online store was fun, too. The biggest hurdle has been the marketing, but it has been great to mail copies out around the world, to get feedback and a sense of connection.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

I am trying to pull together funds to self-publish my next photobook. There are a few drafts in progress on my desktop! I recently gave a talk at a photobook event at Streetlevel Photoworks in Glasgow and FfotonWales have posted videos of the event online. I will be trying to sell some copies along with postcards and prints at GlasgowZineFest in April so the next book better be ready!

Otherwise my camera will always be on me whenever I have some time to spare.

Thanks for inviting me to take part Dave, it’s been fun! Happy shooting all!

See more of Neil’s work on his Tumblr blog, and follow him on Twitter.


Photographer Interview: James Joyner

Among the urbex/abandoned community on Instagram, I try to look for photographers who do it well, and have a personal style that’s recognizable. James Joyner is one of my favorites, and we’ve collaborated in the past on each other’s work. Jimmy’s style has really grown into its own, and I love seeing the locations he finds on his adventures.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is James Joyner and I’m a radiological aide at a local hospital in Maryland, USA.

How did you get started in photography?

My parents got me my first “real” camera, a Nikon 35mm N2000, back when I was a junior in high school, where I first started really learning how to compose photos and work the controls. For my high school grad gift, I got myself my first DSLR, a Nikon D60, where I really started coming into my own and learning what I liked to photograph.

What do you like about your photography?

That’s a tough one… I guess if I were a third party looking at my photography, I’d say that I really liked the way I try to channel a scene’s darker side. I’ve always been a fan of darker styles of photography… I believe the shadows can add to a photo just as much as the light does (if not, more). In a sense, I like to work the lighting in a scene to enhance the darkness.

I’d also say that I really like that I shoot abandonment, but in the context of the surrounding landscape and scenery. I think there’s a deeper and a sadder story to tell about an abandoned house when you add elements such as the sky and the overgrowing grass around it.

Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?

I get my inspiration for my style and ideas primarily from the music I listen to, films/shows I love, and from other artists whose work I follow on Instagram.

Films/shows that really inspire my work include ones like I Am Legend, The Road, War of the Worlds, The Walking Dead, and other post-apocalyptic pieces such as those. I have a huge obsession with that genre… Sometimes when I’m editing a photo I’ll think something like, “I want this house to look like a scene straight out of The Walking Dead. I want the viewers mind to race when looking at this house, thinking thoughts such as ‘what happened here? Is there anything lurking in those shadows? Is there something written in blood on the walls inside that house somewhere?’” I want to create those thoughts in people’s heads.

Your work focuses on on a lot of spooky situations and abandoned properties. What excites you about shooting in these situations?

The story behind why a place is abandoned. The unknown of what I’ll find upon investigation of the place. Getting that ONE shot that makes the entire shoot worth doing. Getting caught by either the angry owner/the police on a property for which I haven’t necessarily gotten permission to shoot. All things that are racing through my mind while on shoots.

Honestly that latter thought tends to occupy my mind a little more than I’d prefer… but that’s all part of the game. It makes getting that one beautiful shot all the more rewarding.

What kinds of themes do you like to explore with your work?

The major theme I like to explore is Life After Humans. The History channel did an entire series on what happens on a grander scale if people were to vanish tomorrow, and I like to channel that on a little bit more personal level with my work.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

I’m working on a project at the moment for a @pr0ject_uno story takeover on Instagram. They have been doing it with some amazing artists so far, and it’s an absolute honor that they thought of me for this. My theme is going to be rural abandonment. Make sure to keep an eye on their account and their story for the takeover!

As for shoots… that’s the part that’s so cool about shooting abandonment the way I do. New shoots present themselves every time I go out and randomly drive around or explore a new spot. It could be tomorrow that I find the coolest house I’ve ever come across.

There’s an abandoned middle school I plan on hitting soon very close by… I just got a brand new Sigma 20mm Art lens, so that will be my saving grace inside that place.

Check out more of James’s work on Instagram as @shuttermayfire