Autumnal Photography, Differently

Making it new by sticking to principles


Last time, I discussed some practical points about how to buy art as a gift (which could include for oneself).

That was marketing, plain and simple, and one of my aphorisms about marketing is that i) it has to be done, and ii) will more likely succeed if the actual product or service is of superior quality.

Some artists eventually however grow restless, and want to do something new. The trick then, in my humble opinion, is to maintain (or advance) the quality, while finding ways to move forward—to do something different.

So that summarizes for me quite nicely what's been on my mind of late. I feel artistically restless, and I absolutely do not wish to sacrifice quality.

Let's see how that's going.

Oh, and there is Blog Housekeeping for you all. Sorry, but once in a while, has to be done. Details are at the very end, far below.

I like the following photograph. It's nice. (Is "nice" enough?) I has Autumnal colour, reflections, and I could have wished for a blue sky with fluffy white clouds (or could have inserted them later), but worked I hope pretty well with what I had.

Lyn Pond, Cataraqui Conservation Authority

The fact is that countless similar images have been produced before, a few of them by myself, and the rule about that, like most art-rules, does not exist. I enjoyed the process, and I like the image and I hope that others will like it as well.

It is not "new". ("New" is a relative term anyway; do I mean "new for me" or "something no artist on the planet has ever done before"? The latter is less likely, but in varying proportions, I mean both.) What might I do to maintain an artistic sensibility while looking for some variety?

Water St. E., Brockville, Ontario, oil-painting filter

Well, "new" doesn't have to be radically new, but in the case above, I found an ordinary Brockville scene, which most of us who live here see from time and time, without usually in fact seeing it. I include myself. Once spotted, I waited for a certain season and then for a certain light. One tree flamed red—likely better, visually, than them all doing that. It still lacked a certain punch which I had felt at the time, and so I added a bit of an oil-painting filter. (Don't even try me on whether that's legitimate!)

Along the same lines, conceptually, if not strictly-speaking visually, are these autumnal oak leaves:

Autumn oak leaves, frozen dew, paving stones with moss

same Autumn setting—more conventional?

Everybody and their sibling has photographed autumnal leaves. I personally have been doing it since roughly 1985, and hope to produce many more. That morning, however, the dew had frozen, which occurs less often just like that, and I enjoyed the subtle contrast with the texture and colour in the stones, punctuated by the very geometric pattern of vibrant green moss.

Autumnal Maple Leaves, 2016

I have others, from that dawn session, exhibiting a bit more drama, perhaps more conventional, and I like those too. Followers on social media will have seen some of them. (I recommend Instagram.) The one with the moss, however, continues to please me most.

I find myself currently less interested in repeating some of my older autumnal foliage work, although I still like it or I would not be showing it here. I simply feel less inclined to do something similar again.

There's more to Autumn than Autumn. The important thing has always been to be out photographing. One morning it simply occurred to me to go downtown, a bit before the city awoke, hit the main drag, and look up. There is a whole world of amazing art and craftsmanship up there, usually unobserved (including by me).

As usual, I and many others are drawn to decrepitude—so visually interesting:

cornice, peeling pain

Ships: I have featured some ship-photographs here recently, and if anything my interest has been rekindled, and (again) if anything I am less interested in just documenting them as they pass by, along the Great Lakes Seaway. For many, the emphasis is on the ships, which is great. For me, it's on the photography. So, this:

Lyulin & Federal Sakura, safely passing, at Brockville

I haven't captured ships passing quite that dramatically before, and likely won't again soon (although something quite similar occurred just the following day).

Does the detail of the far shore, in haze, matter to the success (or otherwise) of this photograph? I think so.

What about the following?

H. Lee White, passing Brockville/Morristown, in fog

It appeals to me because I do find it artistic (if I may say so), and yet it is not a conventional, documentary ship photograph. It tells a different story, in the parlance of artists. I have managed to use the available dawn light while showing just the very bow of the ship, emphasizing its impressive bow-wake, with clarity, while letting the fog diminish the far-shore background.

(There's also a production story about the H. Lee White photograph which other photographers might wish to inquire about with me some day.)

In this year of 2020, I so far have produced 206 ship photographs (from among a much higher number of exposures), and the season isn't over yet.

The following very simple photograph has been popular among my extensive fan-base (thank you both).

rain, window

I say, about the following photograph, that I almost didn't stop the car. I have about 200 dawn/sunrise photographs from this year alone, and numbers like those might help explain why I'm feeling less inclined to photograph "just" another sunrise. (But, honestly, they are so beautiful!)

dawn over the St. Lawrence River, Johnstown Bridge

I felt then and continue to feel now that I have never seen a dawn quite like that one before, and may never again. To the eye, however it was small and far away, so I almost missed it, and to photograph it required my longest telephoto lens. I'm so glad that I did stop the car.

One morning found me up at Merrickville, and it is a very pretty spot, and I have always felt artistically blocked there. I wandered along the deserted, winterized canal locks, and of many exposures that morning, this remains my favourite.

Ayling's Boatyard (as it's rarely seen), Rideau River

I have been saying that I like pizazz, the wow-factor, the pop of bright colours and bold designs ... except when I prefer subtle. That happens too. (Into which category does the one above fall?)

Late one afternoon, already well into dusk at this time of year, I (again) stopped by Blockhouse Island, drawn by the lights and buildings of Morristown, across the river, and that day, it just wasn't working. That happens. If every idea works out then an artist risks using too little imagination.

I turned and made a photograph of the Brockville waterfront-east, and it had to be that exact time of day for the right light balance with the sky (and the Executive condo-building is dark at dawn—everybody still asleep or something!), and this is the image which many have preferred:

Water St. E., The Executive, evening lights, zoom-effect

Talk about pizazz. (I was about to finish up, and had an after-thought: why not try an intra-exposure zoom?) I however prefer it a bit less "produced":

Water St. E., dusk, The Executive

But even that says something about art-appreciation and preconceptions. I was there, and liked it, so I pre-expect the photograph to look like that. The rest of you were not there and have no such bias. My mantra is: "It's all about the image." It isn't about me. (That hurts me to say, but it may be true.)

A friend, who lives there, enjoyed some cheerful banter with me over whether it had required my photographic touch to make that building look pretty. (!) (At least one other photographer has since proven me wrong anyway.)

A few days later found me again at Blockhouse Island, photographing Water St. East in the early morning. The water had just the right amount of movement (barely any), the light seemed good, and I found appeal in a scene in plain view which I had overlooked for decades.

Water St. E., The Executive and environs

I did give it a little extra oomph in the digital darkroom.

Another morning, I walked along the public path, immediately to the east of the Port of Johnstown, only perhaps my second or third visit there ever. I found textures and shapes which intrigued me.

Port of Johnstown, very old elevators

Its first impression is of straight lines all at right angles, but on a barely-conscious level, I find so much more in it.

One fellow artist suggested removing one small distracting element. I tried it, and then left it in. Can you spot it? What do you think?

Another block-spot for me is the Back Pond at the south end. It's gorgeous, but to the eye much more than to my camera. This is the Golden Hour late one Autumnal afternoon:

Back Pond, Golden Hour, Autumn -swans!

Back Pond, August

Contrast that with this similar vantage (but no telephoto effect) from early August.

The Autumnal Back Pond photograph is from Nov. 23, and the following (welcome to Canada's temperate zone) only two days later:

Oversize deck chairs, foot of Ferry St., Brockville, dawn snowstorm

I made a similar photograph there last Winter, but this is different enough that I'm glad that I returned to it.

The concept overall in this blog is "new but not only new", so for example the question has been occurring to me of how many more ways can I photograph a sunrise; not done yet, is apparently the answer.

Sunrise over Ogdensburg, NY, beacon at Prescott Harbour

The work, earlier in this blog, of the Brockville waterfront, east of centre, has sparked a little informal project, and sometimes quite by chance I am finding other vantages.

Brockville waterfront east, dawn, fog

Brockville waterfront east, sedimentary cliffs

Brockville waterfront east, old ship wharfs

The same question remains, which permeates everything foregoing, applies also to the following: how many times can I photograph the same island at dawn? And this time was without the faintest ray of direct sunlight. I'm apparently not done there either.

Thousand Islands, cloudy dawn

This collection brings me right up to this morning. I am having the time of my life.

All works are for sale, and although time is short (for Christmas), I can get a print into your hands (if local) within a day or two - not necessarily matted or framed. Check out the larger collection here.

And thank you all so much for reading.

Charles T. Low


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