The Art Divide

Over the past few weeks I’ve been scouring the internet, compiling a list of galleries from each state that might be interested in my work. I’ve looked at close to one thousand gallery websites so far and have come to the conclusion that there are two basic types of artwork: understandable, and bizarre.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to narrow down all art, everywhere, to perfectly fit into one of those two categories, and there is certainly some overlap. But I think you can understand what I’m talking about when I use those two terms. Our boundaries between understandable and bizarre are certainly different, but overall do you understand what I mean?

"Parched": About as bizarre as I get.

“Parched”: About as bizarre as I get.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t like bizarre art. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but to me it flies in the face of skilled artists who have studied and practiced for years. I think the ideals (or lack of) that bizarre art proposes might even reflect the general direction of society as a whole, which is a depressing thought.

(Note that bizarre is not the same as “abstract”. I’ve seen plenty of abstract work that takes skill, study, and creativity.)

But rather than have a completely negative post about what I, as an artist, am against, I’d rather make the same statement by explaining why I produce the kind of work that I do.

1. My work is representational. It is a capture of a real time and place. This happened, I was there. I witnessed it. It is not fiction. Although it requires copious amounts of imagination and foresight, it is not made up.

"Lightning With Rainbow": A real moment that required vision, foresight, and experience.

“Lightning With Rainbow”: A real moment that required vision, foresight, and experience.

2. Although non-fiction, there is still plenty of room for me to imbue my personal taste and vision into the photograph by choosing subject, moment, perspective, and by making adjustments to contrast, hues, saturation, etc…  This makes me an artist as opposed to a reporter.

"Gateway To Manzanar": There were 11 other photographers with me. None of them captured this perspective of Mount Williamson.

“Gateway To Manzanar”: There were 11 other photographers with me. None of them captured this perspective of Mount Williamson.

3. It is understandable by, I dare say, everyone. Not everyone likes my work, but you understand what you are seeing. And I think you can understand that I’m attempting to communicate an emotion to you. I try to make the sum of my photographs greater than their individual parts.

I find bizarre art to be pretentious, like the boy’s clubhouse that won’t let you in if you don’t know the password. My art doesn’t make the viewer feel unsophisticated or out of the loop.

4. My photography has required a lot of time studying and learning, plus practice and experience. Just one or the other wouldn’t be enough. It takes effort and initiative. Someone can’t just wake up one day and randomly produce the kind of art that I produce.

"Moonrise At Bryce": A very technically challenging photograph.

“Moonrise At Bryce”: A very technically challenging photograph.

5. It’s not solely based on imagination. Imagination is critical, but imagination alone begets chaos.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

If I were an art collector…

I started to write a quick guide to collecting art, but there are different definitions for “collecting”, and a bazillion for “art”. Also, people collect in different ways and for different reasons. Instead, I’ll tell you how I would do it, and maybe it will give you a different impression of art collecting, and how affordable it can be. (Note that I don’t have an art collection as described below, mostly because I’m too busy making my own art. I guess you could say that I build my own collection. However, if I was not an artist, I could very well see myself as a collector.)

Moonset Over Santa Elena

Moonset Over Santa Elena

Budget

When I think of collecting, I think about my rock collection that I built while travelling throughout the western US as a kid on vacation with my family. I loved stopping in at rock shops and buying one or two pieces… whatever I could afford with my meager earnings. Sometimes I could even find something along side the road that I liked.  Over the years, I built a nice little collection of interesting things, and probably spent less than $100.

The limit for me, like most people, is that some art is expensive, especially large pieces. However, small art is usually extremely affordable. So I would limit my collection to small pieces. Maybe 8×10’s or 11×14’s.

Then I’d figure out how many of these it would take for me to feel like I had a “complete” collection. I reckon this would be 10 pieces of art, maybe even as many as 20. How much would I spend per piece, and how many of these pieces could I afford to purchase in a year?  Let’s say I spend $200 per year, and that allows me to buy four framed 8×10’s. Not a bad start. In five years, I’ll have a very nice (and very affordable) collection.

Of course, that means I’d have to find not only an artist that I like, but one that offers small artwork in my price range.

Moon At Turret Arch

Moon At Turret Arch

The Art and the Artist

The most important part of this is that I love my collection and that it speaks to me. I expect it to help me to somehow feel connected with the artist. I also want it to be cohesive, so I would choose a single medium (let’s go with photography!).

I’d start searching for one artist whose entire body of work really spoke to me both technically and artistically, and who was able to create consistent work on a regular basis. This is important! I don’t want to be drawn to one photograph, when the majority of the other photographs don’t appeal to me at all. It’s important for the artist to have a desirable and cohesive body of work, and not just one or two “one-hit-wonders”.

It would be beneficial if the artist is local, or at least does a show nearby regularly so I could meet him/her in person. I would, after all, want to like the artist as a person as well as their art. I want someone that I can enjoy and appreciate, before I invest my time and money.

Of course, they would also need to offer their artwork at the size and price range that meets my budget and space requirements. This is most likely true with photography, although many other artists also offer affordable small prints.

Moon Over Windmill

Moon Over Windmill

The Plan

If necessary, I’d narrow down the theme for my collection if the artist’s body of work is too broad. I might narrow it down to subject matter, location, color palette, etc. Maybe a collection of trees would be nice, or photographs with the color yellow. Perhaps black and white photographs of the moon? This will depend on what the artist has available. The more photographs available, the more I can narrow my theme.

I’d reserve an area in my home for my collection. Either a wall, a room, or a hallway. Something with good light, or more likely I’d add track lighting. Art dramatically benefits from good light.

Finally, I’d purchase one or two of my favorite pieces and either have the artist frame them, or choose a matching frame that I know will still be available a year or two down the road. I’d hang my new artwork in it’s reserved spot, and enjoy it for several months. After my new collection has had time to acclimate in my mind, I might already have another piece in mind that I had seen before that I would like to acquire next.

Moonset At White Sands

Moonset At White Sands

Follow

Perhaps even before I make my first purchase, I’d get to know the artist better. I’d read through their website, subscribe to their newsletter, and find more about who they are, what they’re up to, and what inspires them. I’d keep up to date on their latest releases to see what direction their work is going, and if I can better understand where he/she is taking me. I might even send them an email asking about a certain piece – perhaps why they composed it a certain way or how it makes them feel. In short, I’d get involved in their work and build an ongoing relationship.

Moon At Bryce

Moon At Bryce


 

Not only is this the way I would collect art, it is also my favorite kind of collector. The most exciting order for me to fulfill is not the largest and most expensive, but the one that’s going to someone who has purchased my work in the past, even if it’s just a $25 8×10.

I am so thankful for each of my customers, and especially the collectors that have added to their “Tim Herschbach” collections. Thank you so much for allowing me to serve you.

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Introduction to Photography: Interview with Jeff

In March of 2014, my buddy Jeff and I took a week-long photography trip to west Texas. I recently asked him about some of his thoughts on trip, and how it’s changed his views of landscape photography as an art form.

Jeff and me hanging out at our home base in Study Butte - a single-wide with a courageous mouse that would come out at night.

Jeff and me hanging out at our home base in Study Butte – a single-wide with a courageous mouse that would come out at night. He kept us on our toes!

Tim: So how much, if any, experience have you had with photography before this trip?

Jeff: Oh, back in middle school, my dad was really into photography and he used to take pictures for the newspaper, but he didn’t really teach me very much so I ended up getting a camera from my grandmother. I actually shot pictures for the middle school newspaper, but I didn’t really know what I was doing though.

Tim: Did you enjoy it?

Jeff: Yeah, it was enjoyable, you know. It was fun. Past that I really didn’t do much with it.

Jeff trying a different perspective next to the highway in Big Bend State Park.

Jeff trying a different perspective next to the highway in Big Bend State Park.

Tim: You still have the camera?

Jeff: I do still have it. It’s not digital so I don’t use it. It was my grandmothers. She was really into photography. She used to take pictures for her newspaper too, for the Weatherford Oklahoman. But uh, I didn’t really know a whole lot for the trip. I learned lessons from you the first drive out there, reading through the books.

Tim: So knowing that this was going to be a photography trip, what were you expecting?

Jeff: Really just to get out and see nature and be able to record that, and to learn a little bit about it. Maybe be able to put what I learned into action and take some decent pictures that would be fairly good quality that I could print out and put on my wall.

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Tim: How closely did your expectations match your actual experience on the trip.

Jeff: I think you taught me a lot about a different way to look at things; about lighting and using the right settings. Not just the location but the timing. Being there at sunrise or sunset to get the right light, using clouds for more depth in the photograph, things like that. I thought I learned a lot on the trip. I thought I captured a lot of good quality shots.

Tim: So your happy with what you came home with?

Jeff: I like the ones I took. You might have seen something different when you looked at the same setting as me, and took it at a different angle, but I enjoyed what I got.

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Tim: Any particularly memorable or exciting moments from the trip?

J: I liked driving along the highway by the river in Big Bend State Park and stopping at different sites along the way. Walking down Closed Canyon was really awesome. Most people don’t see those things because they don’t want to stop.

T: What was your favorite location on the trip?

J: Santa Elena Canyon, I loved that area. I liked walking back into the canyon by myself. You didn’t come back there with me because you’d already done it before and it was nice to get back there and set up on my own and take my own shots. That area was pretty awesome.

Inside Santa Elena Canyon

Inside Santa Elena Canyon

T: Several of the sunrises and sunset had what I call “peak” color that lasted less than a minute, sometimes only a few seconds. Did you ever find yourself scrambling to get the shot?

Jeff: I think that the minute or two window that we had to take the picture and then set up for another one, I think that was scrambling but the first composition we were already set up for and once we took that, we’d have 30 seconds to move somewhere else for another shot to try to get another before that perfect light was gone.

Just before sunrise.

Just before sunrise.

Tim: So you pretty much knew the first shot you were going for and once you got that one, you would get busy looking for others.

Jeff: Some of that was kind of cool because when we were working below Castalon peak, you took a picture there, but then if you moved in toward the mountain a little more, the sun still hadn’t quite come up over so you had a small window to get a different angle.

Working some wildflowers in a dry river bed.

Working some wildflowers in a dry river bed.

Tim: How has this trip changed how you look at a landscape photograph?

Jeff: I’ve always enjoyed landscape photographs. It’s probably one of my favorite types of photography. Portrait photography is not as.. you know… landscape is capture the moment in a certain place. Just the beauty of what you saw, and you can see it again without having to go there.

I’m going to art shows now. Certain artwork does nothing for me at all. Landscape photography, I’ll stop at their booths and look at their work. And not just landscape but a lot of photography booths I’ll stop and look at.  Photography is the media I enjoy the most.

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Texas: God & Men

*This is a follow-up from my previous post about my next photography project.*

I truly love monochrome (black & white) photographs. They take me to an alternate reality. I love working with them in the digital dark-room as the process seems natural to me.  Monochrome emphasizes light, texture, and detail, and invokes drama and mystery in a way that a photograph with color can really only hint at.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy color also; but color photographs tell a completely different story and have a different set of strengths.

White House - Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

White House – Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

I also love dramatic light that sometimes even seems tangible. I love how light bursts through a window and reflects off of the floor of a dark room to subtly lighten up the stone or adobe walls from below.  Everyday objects like a table or a chair glow like they were posing for a timeless portrait.

History.  Well, it’s important that we are aware of where we come from.  As a state, as a nation, as a society. Many have sacrificed much, and still do, for the rich lifestyles that even the poorest of us enjoy.

I want to use my photography to take these three concepts and meld them together.  I want to create beautifully lit, detailed, and monochromatic images of historical locations in Texas that played an important part in our past – particularly forts and missions.  Unfortunately, most of these forts and missions no longer exist… some wasting away to nothing, some destroyed, and others having been disassembled into raw materials to be used elsewhere.  But I’ve found a handful of them that still stand, although some only a skeleton of the past.  I will be visiting several of these over the next two months to create a collection of photographs that will represent a huge part of what made Texas the state that it is today. I’m not a native Texan so it’s exciting for me to go out and explore these places and learn how each played a part in our history.

In case you’re curious, here is a map that I put together of most of the locations that I will be visiting over the course of at least two week-long trips.  I won’t hit each location on this map, but most of them.  I will begin my first trip next week and expect to be finished around April.  The green markers are “High Priority” targets: San Antonio Missions NHP, Presidio La Bahia Fort, Fort Leaton, Fort Davis, Fort Phantom Hill, Fort Concho, and Fort Stockton. I also plan to visit the Battleship Texas, which is not on this map.

The difference between a photograph and “being there”.

We all know that looking at a fine art photograph of a location is not the same as being there, but we tend to think that a photograph is the “second best thing” to being there, or that being there is preferable to viewing a photograph of the location. I argue that there is no comparison to a fine art photograph, and there is no comparison to “being there”. They are two, very different things and share very little in common.

"Downtown"

“Downtown”

Let’s talk about “being there”. When you are at a location, sometimes you hear the wind blowing through the pine needles, the birds’ melodies, and water trickling in a stream. Or sometimes you hear a baby crying, the roar of a nearby interstate, or your phone ring. You smell the sweet honeysuckle, or the open pasture of freshly baled hay. Sometimes its car exhaust, a chemical factory, or something you stepped in. You feel the cold drizzle on your face, or the sweat fighting away the heat. You see the telephone poles, and the small pieces of litter, and the seemingly random arrangement of trees.

With a photograph, you only engage one sense. And what you see is only what the photographer allows you to see. There are no distractions inside the frame. There isn’t anything from the scene in your peripheral vision that shouldn’t be there. There is also no third dimension. A photograph takes a three dimensional space and compresses it into two dimensions, something completely different. When viewing a fine art photograph, you are likely having a much closer experience with the mind of the artist than you are with the location and time.

Pumpjacks

“Pumpjacks”

Take Pumpjacks as an example. It simply did not look or feel like that when I was standing there. It did not evoke that dramatic feeling. There were cars going by on the highway next to me. The temperature was beginning to be uncomfortable. The clouds were changing location and shape very quickly. The processing on this photograph changed the feel of the scene dramatically. And of course, we see in color, not grayscale.

I’m not saying that a photograph is better than being there. What I am saying is that comparing the two is apples and oranges. The two are going to give you completely different experiences. A photograph is not a substitute for being there, and more importantly, being there is not a substitute for a fine art photograph.

Photography “Manuipulation” and Black and White

At art shows I am often asked if I “use Photoshop”. The underlying question is “Do you make changes to the photograph after the camera has captured it?” I believe I have already commented on the fact that if you are one of the 99% of people that take a photo in the .jpg file format, the camera has already made changes to the photograph so that it is acceptable. Likewise with film, if you send it to a lab, they are applying those same changes to your photograph. I simply choose to make those changes myself so that I can impress my own style and desires into the photograph, and not the camera or someone in a lab.

Guadalupe Sunrise

Guadalupe Sunrise – This is not how you would have seen this scene in reality.

However, I thought that bringing only so-called black-and-white photographs to show would quell this line of questioning. The photograph contains only gray tones, which is obviously not reality, so the original capture absolutely must be modified. Even if you are shooting monochrome (black-and-white) film, that film choice itself is an alteration of reality, not to mention the many aspects of composition itself. What you are seeing in the print was not how it was, because we see in color. But to my amazement, some people still ask this question.

Bodie

Bodie – Also not reality. A real place, but not how you would see it if you were standing right there.

To be clear, I do not look down at those who ask the question. I’m simply trying to figure out the best way to answer, so that I can help them to understand. Perhaps, like the original question of “Do you use photoshop?”, the art viewer isn’t really asking what they want to know, but the lack of knowledge of the process of photography (as an art) limits their ability to ask the “right” question. Or perhaps they are seeing other photographers’ work that is obviously “enhanced” via over-saturation and they would like to avoid adjustments altogether. Or maybe they are trying to determine why their own photographs fall short of what they are seeing other artists produce. Whatever the case, just as we accept that a magician doesn’t really use magic and instead has some sort of secret mechanism to amaze us, I hope that we, as a society, can get to the point where we accept that camera’s are not magical and that fine art photographs are created by the photographer.