“Artistry through the Lens”
Presentation and Q&A with photographer Lowell Wolff
September 16th 6pm to 7:30
Wolff explains the difference between “taking” a photograph and “making” a photograph begins with the intention to use artistic elements in the creation of an image far more nuanced than simply taking a photo to capture the subject. This event is free and open to the public.
“Reflections of Northern Minnesota” is a collection of 20+ photographs. Most are large (30” x 20”) and exploit the clarity and dynamic range possible with digital photography. Some are printed on traditional paper using giclée inks, others of high-quality canvas with giclée inks and some using a dye sublimation process printed on aluminum which make them impervious to climate and UV resistant.
The word “reflection” can describe a contemplative mental state or the mirroring of light, particularly the reflection off water – a centerpiece of northern Minnesota identity. One hopes that the exhibit illustrates the fusion of both meanings into the viewer’s experience creating visual artistry through a lens.
I was raised in Gackle on the prairies of south-central North Dakota and attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota majoring in music. After graduation, I began teaching in Fargo Public Schools and continued playing in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony and the Fargo-Moorhead Opera Company. During this period, I vacationed along the north shore of Lake Superior and fell in love with the boreal forest biome of northern Minnesota.
After moving to Illinois to pursue graduate studies in music, I returned to Fargo-Moorhead and began graduate studies in computer science. After a 40-year career with Fargo Public Schools, the last 25 as an assistant superintendent, I retired and moved to the place I have long loved – northern Minnesota.
I now live in Park Rapids, MN and Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico, where I have pursue the advancement of my digital photography – pursuing visual artistry through a lens.
While living in Mexico, a young, multi-lingual photographer asked for some advice to improve her photography. We had the opportunity to talk a great deal on a trip to photograph a live volcano at night. I noticed that she was using the phrase, “making a photograph.” That was a contrast to the American English phrase, “taking a photograph” – to capture a moment in time. It was also striking because it was a distinction Ansel Adams often made. What a difference one letter makes!
To “take a photograph” is simply to capture the subject in front of you. With today’s smart cameras, capturing what is in front of you is not the act of an artist, but the act of a technician. Taking a photograph invites the viewer to literally identify the subject and move on. “Oh, a waterfall. Next.” Many times the image captures a moment, viewed on a 3”x 5” screen distributed by a social-media post. There is no nuanced study or attempts at a deeper appreciation – only a “Name that Tune” for the visual arts.
This is in sharp contrast to experiencing other art forms in which the viewer studies the image in great detail, leading to an enlightened cherishing of the subject and its medium.
However, to “make a photograph” declares an intention to use artistic elements in the creation of an image far more nuanced than the simple, literal identification of the subject. It employs the artistic elements of the visual arts such as lighting, patterns, leading lines, shapes, textures and composition. It blends those artistic elements with the tools of the camera: fast/slow shutter speed, deep/shallow depth-of view. The results invite the viewer to appreciate a waterfall: the contrast of the smooth wisp of water with the sharp angular rocks that confine and shape it.
Unlike other forms of art that start with a blank piece of paper, blank manuscript paper or a blank canvas, photography begins with a chosen subject together with all the detracting visual elements around it. The challenge of making a photograph is often the elimination of distracting visual elements to distill and simplify the main subject in a way to make it so engaging, so alive, that the viewer is compelled to stop and appreciate it at a deeper level.
It starts with finding the most compelling aspects of the subject and playing with light to enhance those elements. It may be using techniques to bring out lines, shapes or a color, or even capturing a decisive or unique moment. It could be anticipating when the light is just right to accent a shape or produce a complimentary shadow or highlight stunning colors in a portrait. In a landscape, it may be waiting for a certain temperature to melt the snow on the ground, but not the snow on the tree branches. It could be as simple as isolating a pattern, unique lines or a texture.
For me, a successful photograph is one that engages and invites the viewer to see the subject as if for the first time – in a new light: Artistry through a lens.