Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Road and the Sky (Magic & Fear or Photo 101)

long surfboard on outdoor table (c) george elsasser


First and foremost thanks for taking the time to visit my blog shutter; if you are attracted to visual images or a creator of such, hopefully you will find it interesting. Where do I begin with such a thing as this? Well I will start with the image that changed my life as I had known it till then, Photo 101 Old Dominion University. Camera images had planted tiny seeds prior to this but nothing had really sprouted until the fall of 1977.

I titled this image “The Road and the Sky,” a song title used intentionally from Jackson Browne's album “Late for the Sky.” It was more homage than anything else. I was completely blown away at that time with that (still extraordinary) album. Quick critical overview of the LP here.  Bruce Springsteen inducts Jackson Browne into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and specifically mentions this album as a major influence)  here.

This whole music thing has got me thinking briefly about how hard some people are on an artist's long term output, such as "this album they made can't hold a candle to such and such" ,Sargent Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon, The Planets, Ninth Symphony, Mona Lisa...............you get the idea.  That is insane and unfair nobody hits em out of the park every-time at bat but one must swing the bat to maybe get to 1st.

Anyway back on track.

The image itself was created just a few rolls/proof sheets into my new journey. I was quickly becoming bored with the usual stuff fledgling photographers photograph in photo 101 class. This was long before I had seen work from Edward Weston, Minor White, Harry Callahan, Ansel Adams or Paul Caponigro (heroes I would in a year or so study) and even before I had much understanding of f-stopsshutter speeds, let alone depth of field.
It was just an idea and a knowledge that with lining up the two pointers in my used Olympus's viewfinder an image could be born; even if the birth was defective something should show up on the film. Back then for me it was still all voodoo, smelly chemicals in dark room's, a wing, a prayer, a Hail-Mary pass in the last seconds of a game I was lucidly dreaming.

So the idea was; “If I photograph this long wide surfboard with a stripe down the middle in b&w can I make it resemble a road or a least for a few moments fool viewers into thinking they are seeing a road?” So I placed my camera (like a 4 wheeled thing) near the fin close to the surface of the board and studied and adjusted it till all seemed right. As Ken Daley the director of Old Dominion University Art department told me many many years later, what interested him most about photography was its ability to lie.

I was printing on some recently created (plastic) stuff called RC paper, which I along with some would later refer to as bath mat. Although I knew just about nothing at this stage of the game it was already starting to bother me that the chemicals were getting splashed from one tray to another by students in a hurry to get to some more important task, to me time stood still – the task at hand was holy! Oh my God; what my fellow students did with the print tongs, in the stop bath, back to the developer, all over the room, the sacrilege was rampant. The people did not respect the alchemy they played with.


As I watched the image come up in the developer I was rewarded with an idea manifest in the material world that was all mine. It wasn't mine like the drawings and paintings I made during childhood and the various art courses I could never say no to, but for the first time all mine like no other image I had made. After years of trying to deny my artistic inclinations knowing I would never survive such a financially bereft life, the muse set up permanent residence in my heart. I imagine now, her saying to me, “I myself do not care about money, I can give you treasures of joy unimagined that money will never buy.”


I was so fortunate to be graced early by the Gods of Photography (and their camera named Olympus, LOL) with an inspiring image that I at one point became worried a new camera I might one day afford might not have such magical powers!  I am serious about this, that picture for me had enormous power.  Enchanted and entranced I was.

I was 21 and magical thinking had not left me yet.  Many have and had favorite bats, guitars, gloves and so on, I was not unlike others.  Once.

All that seems to go out the window as the years roll by and one realizes how hard one has to work and how hard it is to make a great image, the handful in my long journey have become like talismans.  Yes for me there is still much mystery that pushes me to explore something I know is there that I do not understand. 

back on track-

I never before knew photography had such power or could do such a thing; I only knew of the pretty advertisements in magazines and when photography was used to provide simple documentation of things. I was lodged on the hook. With this image I wasn't gonna be anything I wasn't, I was only gonna be me even if I still had to “costume up” for life to make a dollar. From this image on I knew what I wanted! I wanted to simply make images from my heart with no thought of commerce whatsoever and do it full time. Now at least, I understood my time on earth was meaningful, it had real purpose.

Finally I was very fortunate to have received an award of merit by Robert Heinecken (though at the time I was unaware of his work or fame) in a national student show for this very same image. This was a thrill, especially to know someone important in my first real career had found my piece provocative. I finally got an “attaboy” for something that was me, not a hand shake - pat on the back for forcing my self through some task I loathed or at something that held no flame for me. This recognition certainly was the icing on the cake and sealed the deal.

For those that are still with me thanks for hanging on and sharing part of my journey. The fine art photographers and teachers that inspired me early on showed me the way and provided a foundation through their visual journeys so I and others could begin extended further journeys. 


My photo 101 professor David E. Johnson's work

My photo 102 professor Wally Dreyer's work

My photo 103 professor Phil Morrison teachs at CNU
and presently has no work online


my early work 
scroll down to Gallery-6 EXACAVATION



1 comment:

  1. A beautiful composition and good tonal bravo!

    ReplyDelete