April 30, 2017 – Abstract April Finale

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“Quit trying to find beautiful objects to photograph. Find the ordinary objects so you can transform it by photographing it.”
~Morley Baer

This months blew by quickly; I can’t believe that Abstract April is coming to a close. I had a lot of fun putting these images out there, even though I know that abstract photography can be difficult for some people to appreciate. I do like looking for interesting compositions, strange textures, and random objects – this kind of photography is like a scavenger hunt, and it motivates me to play closer attention to the world around me.

I think to start out next month, I’ll be taking a step back from a lot of the macro photography that dominated this month’s images. Rather than surfaces and textures, I think the them of May will be ‘Places.’ I think that’s a sufficiently vague theme to give me decent breathing room. I hope you’ll join me.

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April 29, 2017 – Painted Bricks

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“If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.”
~Garry Winogrand

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April 28, 2017 – Red White Blue

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“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
~Imogen Cunningham

Nothing tells the truth – not even the camera.
I know it’s a popular expression – “the camera never lies” – but that’s a lie. The camera has been used by governments as early as 1860 to create fictitious tableaux to galvanize opposition to political parties and rulers. The tools of photographic manipulation are more democratized, and much more easily accessed in today’s digital culture, but photographs have been manipulated since the very beginning.

And it’s not that it’s all lies, really, is just that the medium can be used to deceive as much as it can be used to enlighten. It’s a tool, not a philosophy. Tools can be used in many different ways. In a media landscape where an increasing number of people are becoming savvy to photographic and digital manipulation, it’s harder to tell the lie.

That’s why CGI in feature films ages poorly – the more people are aware and engaged, the more they are aware of the deception. The same thing is becoming true of still photographs, and scandals abound in the popular press of news photographers manipulating their pictures to try and make the scene more emotional, more beautiful, more dramatic than it actually was.

Can you spot the manipulation in today’s “Image of the Day?”
Double trouble, because it’s a purely aesthetic, ‘abstract’, composition. I’m confident that only trained eyes and other media professionals could even begin to peel this one apart. Give it a shot in the ‘comments’ section.

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Logan (Soaring Character Development – Low Budget)

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The struggle between ‘art’ and ‘commerce’ is a real one. Content is regularly stripped of complexity to make stories more accessible to more people. Films are also regularly stripped of violence and profanity to achieve a PG-13 rating, making stories more accessible to the widest possible audience. Material is dumbed-down, focus-grouped, and manufactured ‘by committee,’ and the result is often a muddled, boring, effects-driven dumpster fire.

Wolverine Origins is a good example. It had stunning visuals and a magnificent opening montage to illustrate Logan’s near-immortal status and battle-hardened personality, but it also bastardized many beloved characters and fell flat to a passionate fan-base. More recently, we have the Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman debacles, films that spent a tremendous amount of money only to insult hardcore fans. Sure, these films performed okay at the box-office and appealed to casual fans, but they were roundly dismissed by critics and didn’t perform as well as the studio had hoped. With huge up-front costs, large action set-pieces, and remarkable visual effects – not to mention monumental marketing campaigns – these films ultimately did not pass muster.

Films made by committee, that attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator, never endure. Marketing may contribute to successful opening weekends, but the numbers predictably dropped-off as the word spread. Home video sales take a huge hit in these situations, and movies like this quickly become bargain-bin offerings at Wal-Mart.

We’ve had a couple of wonderful object-lessons in recent years. Deadpool‘s monumental success is often cited as the only reason Logan was allowed to have an R rating. Both films were made with a modest budget compared to other films of the genre and both films performed exceedingly well at the box office. With smaller crews, practical effects, and lower budgets, the film-makers were given more freedom to execute their vision without interference from the studios.

A novelist doesn’t hire a crew of people to change his story in order to make it more palatable to wider audiences. Why is this model so routinely employed in Hollywood? The most celebrated films of all time are typically the realization of one person’s singular vision. The rise of the writer/director in the 1960s and 1970s is our evidence. Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are two recognizable names, and they are notorious for their relentless control over their productions. I would shudder to imagine what Pulp Fiction would have been like if Bob and Harvey Weinstein had insisted on focus groups and a rating reduction.

We certainly wouldn’t be revering the film today.

Director James Mangold spun some magic with Logan, borrowing the tone from the ‘Old Man Logan’ comic book series and allowing the titular character to be exactly what he has been on the written page for the past several decades. The budget was modest and the set-pieces weren’t heavily glossed over with digital trickery. The film was concrete and character driven, something that’s difficult to do with a large ensemble cast. The gravitas of a specific character’s arc is difficult to illustrate with an Avengers-style film, with over a dozen major players to consider. Logan focuses mainly on two characters, Logan and Charles Xavier, and the minimalist approach leads to meaningful and emotional character arcs.

Being smaller is a good thing for super-hero and comic-book properties. The source material is serialized story-telling anyway, and we’ve seen several new comic book properties being adapted for the small screen. Daredevil and Luke Cage, Dirk Gently, Preacher, The Walking Dead, and many others have proved to be successful adaptations of comic book stories, capturing the imaginations of not just children, but adults as well. This is where the R rated film comes into play. Comic books aren’t just for kids, as television networks and Hollywood executives have assumed for an entire generation. Comic books are our modern mythology. We’ve all been raised on comic books and there are plenty of 18+ viewers who want to see these stories told in an adult, mature way.

Logan effectively closes the chapter on the Wolverine story, passing the torch to a new Wolverine. It lays the groundwork for a whole new set of stories without overwhelming glitz and glamour, without throw-away exposition and forgettable characters. The film relies on character and story, not effects. It respects its audience, rather than insulting the audience’s intellect. It did something that few of these superhero films has been able to achieve – it has a heart. It has grounded characters whose struggle we can identify with on some level. In over fifteen years of playing Logan and Charles Xavier, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart ended the saga in a beautiful way, paving the way for new stories.

After the success of Deadpool and Logan, let’s hope that the message has been read loud and clear. Audiences aren’t only ready for more mature stories. They want them.

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April 27, 2017 – Scuffed Metal

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“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”
~Matt Hardy

Sometimes I’m amazed by what I don’t see – that I can walk down the same street I’ve walked down a dozen times and see something interesting or beautiful that has always been there, but that I have never noticed. The exercise of abstract photography makes it easier to actively look, everywhere you go, and it makes life – even the most boring parts – undeniably more exciting.

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April 26, 2017 – Under Construction

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“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”
~Diane Arbus

I agree with this quote. In my experience, I think that I often photograph things that everybody sees – things that everybody sees all the time. I often photograph things that are so common, so banal, so boring that even though we see them all the time, we never notice them. My trick is to add focus and direction to how I photograph these subjects, so that people can see them anew.

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April 25, 2017 – Longitude (industrial textures)

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“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
~Elliott Erwitt

I’m not sure if I really have much more to add to the quote. It’s something I’ve said, in my own words, countless times over. This image was hugely inspired not by any photographer (or photography mentor) but a print-maker named Nathan Abel, who I had the pleasure to learn under in the printmaking lab at the University of Arizona. I made this photograph while I was attending his printmaking course, and the process of drawing solar- and mono-prints, etchings and xerox transfers, influenced how I looked at the world through the camera lens.

Even though I’m not a print-maker like Nathan, or anybody else who works in a printmaking lab, I have worked as a photographic print-maker for my entire adult (and most of my teenage) years. I was struck how the introduction of a new discipline opened new doors for me, and is the most solid reminder I have to continue introducing new ideas and disciplines into my day-to-day life, because they tend to help my own work grow and evolve.

Experimentation is key in the creative arts, and I highly value that very brief summer course. I learned an awful lot that I hadn’t expected to learn in the least; I was just trying to fill up that damn credit requirement. I guess you never know what’s going to happen, so long as you’re willing to dive in, give new things a try, and say ‘yes’ to uncomfortable territory.

Thanks, Nate.

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