Artistic Philosophy

Photography and Painting: Approaching the Visual Record
Not all art requires a subject. Some artworks are studies in light, form, shape, and color and are not dependent on a particular subject for their success. Others are tied to their subjects and reflect or interpret those subjects literally or subjectively. For this category of art, the choice of subject is the most important decision the artist can make. How that subject is handled is the essence of the artistic process and determines the final artistic product.

An artist can record or interpret that subject best to which he or she responds emotionally. If the subject does not interest the artist, or evoke an emotional or intellectual response, he will be unable to produce a work that can communicate anything beyond a pure record of that subject to the viewer. Thus, for the artist producing work in which the subject plays a role, the choice of subject is critical to the production of emotive work. In other words, the artist MUST choose a subject about which he cares – or at least to which he responds in a significant manner.

Since first discovering photography as an expressive medium, I have found the subjects of religion and nature to be the dominant themes with which I prefer to work. Under the rubric of these two larger themes, I am able to do landscapes, portraits, architectural studies, and documentary work. Through the medium of photography, I want to share my understanding and appreciation of these two aspects of our world.

The spiritual life typically speaks to us through the written and spoken words of those who follow it. I believe, though, that the spiritual life also speaks to us through the outward expressions and actions of its adherents and through the art, architecture, and the very environments of the places where that life is lived. Thus, a photographic record of this life can convey aspects of spirituality that are not possible through the written and spoken word – a “third dimension” of that life, if you will.

The photos in these galleries were made between 1974 and the present, but mostly since 1990. The photographs were made in Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Egypt, Turkey, Germany, Ireland, Ethiopia, and the United States; in the years ahead, more countries will be added to this list. Images of religion and spirituality dominate, whether of mosques and churches, cemeteries, or the homes and worship places of dead hermits or living Sufis. Images of nature are also in abundance, images I see as another aspect of spirituality as they denote Man’s relationship with his God and the world that has been given to Man to inhabit.

There are a number of artists I consider to be influences in my work; at least I seek to emulate their work and to learn from their examples. Precise compositions, in particular, are a standard to which I aspire, so I look to artists working in different media for inspiration mainly in two aspects: composition and handling of subject matter. Among the painters I who inspire me are Jan Vermeer, Pieter Saenredam and their colleagues in the “Delft School” of Holland; Pieter Brugel the Elder; the “Perevizhniki” of 19th century Russia and Orthodox icon painters, especially the medieval Russian painters; and Edward Hopper. I am also indebted to Kandinsky for his writings on spirituality and art and Mondrian for masterful compositions based on shapes and colors. Among the photographers are the Frenchman Eugene Atget, the German August Sander, and several Americans, among them Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Edward S. Curtis, George Tice, Wright Morris, Paul Caponigro, and Paul Strand.

One of the most visually stimulating and artistically influential experiences I had was spending several days in Delft, Holland, walking the very streets that Vermeer and Saenredam walked, and exploring the churches they painted, studiously seeking the exact spots where they placed their easels. I have no doubt these men would have been superb photographers had they lived in a different age.

On the technical side, a few notes are in order. I find the medium of black-and-white photography to be most suitable for the vision I wish to communicate, a vision that is clear, sharp, and unmanipulated. The “Zone System” determines exposure and development, and all materials and working methods are traditional in nature. Photography itself encourages a realistic view of the world around us, while the black-and-white approach keeps that record from being too literal, too common, too “pretty.” However, it is important to note that all technical issues lead to one objective -- simplicity. My methods and tools are simple, but I seek to master them. In doing so, technical issues are easily and quickly resolved so I can concentrate my attention on subject and composition.

Occasionally, I work in large format (both 4” x 5” and 8” x 10”) but the vast majority of my work has been done with 35mm. In this format, I use Leica cameras. I use only German lenses (Leitz and Schneider) due to their exceptional contrast and edge resolution, which sets them apart from Japanese manufacturers. I have recently begun to explore digital photography, but even then the objective is to create large format digital negatives that are then contact-printed using traditional silver and alternative processes.

These images, harvested from many countries and cultures, from different religious traditions, reflecting both the natural and the manmade, stand as a record, but they also stand as a testament – a testament to those countless, faceless men and women, known and unknown to us through the ages, who received, lived, preserved, and passed on to us their way of life and their traditions. I hope that in viewing these images you will understand them and the choices those people have made, and that you will appreciate the affection I feel for the gifts they have given us.