Lori Carey Photography

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

When Life Hands You Lemons

When Life Hands You Lemons II, still life with lemons
Purchase a gallery wrapped canvas print

It's been a while since I spent serious time in my studio. As much fun as it is to be running and gunning outdoors shooting in natural light, I'm really in my element when I have the time to properly set up and light a shot, something I can't usually do when I am chasing Jeeps down a trail. I love working with and manipulating light to create the scene as I envision it in my head. California finally got much-needed rain this year, and my lemon tree produced an overabundance of fruit. I have a list of all of the goodies I am going to make with the two quarts of lemon juice I've squeezed so far (with suggestions from friends - lemon bars, lemon meringue pie, lemon curd tart, limoncello, and lemonade - with and without booze), but I couldn't resist grabbing a few lemons to bring into the studio.

Chiaroscuro is an Italian term which literally means "light-dark". It is the dramatic play of light and shadow in an image, where the nuances and subtleties help create the narrative. If the look reminds you of the Old Masters, that's because the technique was developed by da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt in their beautifully dramatic oil paintings. You can learn a lot about fine art photography by studying the techniques of the Old Masters, something every serious fine art photographer should do. Photography at it's essence is really about light.

There is a brief period of time when the light coming through the upper windows of my house is perfect for still life photography. Of course I could always recreate the effect with strobes, but there is something about that beautiful quality of light streaming through my windows that makes me want to use the real thing, not a simulation. It only lasts about a half hour and the time of day changes with the seasons, so I have to watch and wait for it to be just right. Being able to "see" the quality of light is one of the most important skills a photographer needs. I used a black card to create the shadows and depth, and I re-arranged the composition over and over using props from around the house until it felt right. I'm sure you can't tell that the candle has slices of lemon embedded in it, but I felt that it was a stroke of genius when I spotted it in another room. If you've ever wandered around your house desperately searching for just the right prop, you'll know exactly what I mean.

My husband was impressed by the photos but said he never understood the appeal of still life images. He has just started to learn about cinematography and has been paying more attention to the art of photography, so he asked questions and we talked a bit about the chiaroscuro technique and the often underlying meaning of still life images. We talked about symbolism and intent - are the loaf of bread and grapes in a painting meant to represent the Body and Blood of Christ, sustenance, bounty, or merely a random collection of items found in the kitchen?

I explained how there is often a subtle underlying theme of Vanitas in Dutch still life paintings. Vanitas art always includes some reference to man's mortality. Vanitas is Latin for vanity and refers to Ecclesiastes 12: 8 in the Old Testament (Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.), which implies that all human action is transient in contrast to the everlasting nature of faith. More modern vanitas art has moved away from the religious reference, while still implying that man is a mortal being who will one day die. Images in the vanitas genre typically use more obvious symbols such as skulls, dead flowers and rotting fruit, but I gave a more subtle nod with the cut lemon. While it is visually appealing to show the interior of the fruit and it adds to the composition, I explained that it also signifies the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. The same could be said for the unlit candle, although I resisted the typical portrayal of a wisp of smoke from a freshly snuffed candle because this image isn't about vanitas, it is about light. It's also important that my lemons aren't the perfect specimens that I would use in a completely different type of image; the natural imperfections are part of the narrative here. Usually this stuff makes his glaze over, but this time Bill described a chiaroscuro still life painting he remembered from his childhood and what he thought it meant, and I could tell that he was developing a new sense of appreciation for still life and fine art.

I don't usually have a difficult time choosing my favorite composition, but this time I do. The compositions vary only in that the candle is higher and the shadows are deeper in one, and the cut lemon is in a slightly different position. Just when I think I've chosen my favorite, I see something in the other that makes me change my mind.

When Life Hands You Lemons I, still life with lemons
Purchase a gallery wrapped canvas print

One of these is going to look great hanging in my kitchen, I just need to decide between the two. Which one do you prefer?

One of these would look great hanging in your kitchen or dining room too. You can purchase a gallery wrapped canvas print by clicking the link below the image.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Breaking The Rules - What Remains, Honorable Mention

Carrizo Plain Ranches I

I'm very honored that my photo "Carrizo Plain Ranches I" was selected for Honorable Mention at L.A. Photo Curator's exhibition "What Remains" by curator Jody Miller! I was a bit nervous about submitting to an L.A. photo exhibit because Los Angeles is a very trendy and highly competitive market for photographers. It's also my home market so I thought was time to dip a toe where I suspected that people might not be so quick to question my desire to photograph strange things (it has been pointed out to me more than once that in my personal work I tend to be drawn toward the strange and weird, rather than traditionally beautiful images).

Over 200 artists submitted their work and some of the entries just blew me away. The winning photo "Late Dad" by Paula Rae Gibson is very emotional and powerful; I knew it was a winner as soon as I saw it. You can see all of the winners and read about the Call For Entry at L.A. Photo Curator: What Remains. My photo is on the second page of the Honorable Mentions gallery and I have a full page with additional images in the Group Exhibition 3. Do take the time to view the rest of the entries and winners, there is some really spectacular work and I am humbled to be included in the list of winners. It is an on-line exhibit only but I decided to enter this competition for a few reasons. The main reason is that a percentage of the entry fees is donated to charities. For What Remains the donation went to the Sacred Stone Legal Defense Fund, the legal defense of the Water Protectors. What could be better than using your art to help a good cause? In addition, the first place winner receives a one-on-one review with at least one of the curators, and L.A. Photo Curator (Laurie Freitag) really goes above and beyond to promote photographers on the website and social media pages. Add to that, I felt that the theme was a good fit for my work and previous exhibitions showed that the focus was on quality fine art, not the type of photography that is popular on social media (that's a topic for a whole 'nother blog post).

This is especially meaningful to me because a few months ago I decided that I needed to rededicate myself to my fine art pursuits. I've focused so heavily on creating content for DrivingLine the past few years that people who are new to my work think of me as someone who writes about Jeeps, not as a photographer. For me the Jeep is just what I use to pursue my fine art photography and the writing is a way to share my photos and stories. I've been a photographer for over 30 years and I felt the need to bring that to the forefront again. Don't worry, I'm still shooting and writing about my off road adventures for DrivingLine, I'm just making a concentrated effort on the fine art photography that I feel I've neglected the past couple of years. I was still shooting it when I had time, but I wasn't making the time to do much with it. My theme for 2017 is #NotJustJeeps to remind people that first and foremost I am a skilled photographer.

As a bit of a niche photographer whose personal work doesn't chase "pretty pictures", I need to be highly selective in the exhibitions I enter. Fine art is defined differently by every artist you meet; I know what it means to me and I only enter when I feel there is a good fit with my work. Entering juried exhibitions is a pay-for-play game that can get quite expensive if you don't put a lot of thought into your entries. I prefer themed exhibitions rather than general open calls, and I need to feel an emotional connection to the juror's work (I always research the juror before deciding to enter). That approach has been paying off as I am two for two in just the few months since I've refocused my efforts.

My photo "Carrizo Plain Ranches I" was the selected winner both times (and was also selected as the title page image for the exhibition brochure of "A Sense of Place". I forgot to tell you about that), so I want to point out to beginning photographers how it violates one of the cardinal rules that people will preach non-stop at beginners - the building is smack in the center of the photo! I composed the photo this way because I was drawn to the dirt roads that spiraled around the building, and I used them as a compositional element. I also love symmetry and believe that it brings a certain "quietness" to a photo, with the risk of being boring if not done properly and intentionally. If I had followed the rule of thirds the image wouldn't have the same emotional feeling. Nothing angers me more than seeing a beginner photographer told that his/her photo doesn't follow the rule of thirds, without any other reason other than it's the rule. If I had followed the rule of thirds when composing this image, the entire dynamic would change and it wouldn't tell the same story. I actually did shoot this building in several compositions, but this was the composition that spoke to me, and it's reassuring to see that it speaks to others as well.

The xext time someone critiques your image by telling you that you should never center the subject and you should always follow the rule of thirds, ask them how it applies to the specific photo. If there is no justification beyond "it's the rule", take it with a grain of salt and go with your gut. Learn the rules, then learn how to break them and embrace your unique vision.

You can purchase a print by clicking on the photo at the top of this post. Now I think I'd better find the time to mat and frame the exhibition print so I can hang it in my own home.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lori Carey Presenting at San Diego Photo Club

I am very honored to have been asked to share photos and stories of my back country adventures deep in the remote regions of the Mojave Desert with the San Diego Photo Club. If you live in the area and are looking for something to do on the evening of Thursday the 16th, the meeting is free and open to all.

I will be talking about how I got into this line of photography, the perils of solo travel through harsh, remote terrain (and to prepare for it), and of course I'll be sharing many stories of my adventures, both good and bad. I'd love to see you there!

Details on the San Diego Photo Club website.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Desert Foxes Story

Desert Foxes graffiti, Black Mountain

You know how much I love a good story, and this one really put a smile on my face.

The Back Story

In 2008 while visiting the Black Mountain Rock Art District, an archaeological area of the Mojave desert that has over 12,000 petroglyphs, I took a photo which became the subject of several subsequent blog and social media posts. I was fascinated by the Desert Foxes Jeep that was scratched into the rock in 1961. While it is obviously considered "graffiti" by today's standards, I couldn't help but feel a kinship with whoever had explored this harsh terrain by Jeep before I was even born. I tried researching the Desert Foxes but was never able to find any information about who they were. I wasn't sure why that specific piece of "vandalism" made me smile when other, older ones like the heart and initials dated 1933 made me cringe. The experience kicked off an on-going photo project that explores what I call "Modern Rock Art" and asks at what point do we as a society accept graffiti and vandalism (in the wilderness) as historically or culturally significant. I became obsessed enough with the question that I even reached out to a Twitter friend who is an archaeologist to discuss the topic and she sent me links to several white papers for further research on the topic.

To be clear, I am adamantly opposed to vandalism and graffiti and won't hesitate to confront anyone I catch doing it. Tread Lightly and being a good steward of the land are common themes in many of my social media posts and published articles. But there are examples of more recent graffiti (recent as opposed to prehistoric petroglyphs and pictographs created by indigenous people) that society has decided to accept without outrage, and I find that interesting. In the same Black Mountain Rock Art District it's a common game to try to find all four A. Tillman signatures from the 1870s. Tillman is thought to have been a teamster who traveled through this area on a regular basis.

A. Tillman signature dated July 1873 in Black Canyon

We can explain our fascination with the Tillman signatures as historically significant due to the dates they were created, but there are more recent examples which aren't (yet) old enough to be considered historic, but are cherished and even protected by locals. One example of this is Brenda, a.k.a Face Rock a.k.a. Miss Alabama, in the Alabama Hills. Local artists take good care of her and every once in a while she gets a new look, sometimes in a seasonally appropriate outfit. This is how Brenda looked in 2011.

Brenda, aka Face Rock located along Whitney Portal Road in the Alabama Hills, California

We can't even say that we accept some graffiti due to the artistic qualities. We all rightly expressed fury at the self-proclaimed Instagram artist who last year decided to leave her art in several western U.S. National Parks and post the evidence to social media. We were horrified that someone would think it acceptable. And yet when well-intentioned volunteers cleaned the graffiti known as Fish Rocks in Trona, locals were furious and insisted that the rocks be repainted.

Fish Rocks in Poison Canyon near Trona,California

The Desert Foxes

Which brings me back to the Desert Foxes. I photographed the etching again in 2015, still wondering who this mythical group of desert explorers were, and I included it an article for DrivingLine magazine on the Black Mountain/Inscription Canyon jeep trail. I used it as an example of how over the years man hasn't been able to resist leaving evidence of his passage while I lamented all of the new graffiti and vandalism since I had last visited the site.

Fast-forward to December 2016 and I was wonderfully surprised to receive an e-mail from Dan Reeder, who was eight years old when he accompanied his father on the Desert Foxes jeep trip through Black Canyon in 1961. Mr. Reeder's nephew came across my photo online and recognized the logo. They were hoping that I could provide information about the location because they want to put together a family trip back to the site this spring. Mr. Reeder read my blog post about my mixed feelings when I found it and as we e-mailed back and forth he told me the story of how it came to be.

Douglas Reeder, who passed away in 1988, was a WWII vet who served as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps. His wife was also a veteran who served as a combat nurse, and they met while in Sydney on R&R. Like many vets in the 50s and 60s, after he came home he enjoyed spending time with Jeeps and off roading. He was the President of the Desert Foxes Jeep Club in Long Beach, California and also the President of the state off road vehicle association during the mid-1960s. Desert Foxes was one of the very first Jeep clubs in California, dating back to the early 1950s, and is no longer in existence. Dan Reeder has one of the original club logo plaques in the garage workshop his father built, and he kindly sent me a photo of it along with permission to share it here.

Dan Reeder told me that even though our country hadn't yet realized the need to legally protect our wilderness and important cultural sites, as early as the 1950s the Jeep clubs were focused on conservation and stewardship. In addition to same rules we follow today about staying on designated trails, packing out trash, and making sure camps and fire pits were cleaned, they would typically do at least one larger conservation project such as a clean up every year, just like most clubs still do today. When the club leaders noticed someone scratching the club logo into one of the rocks at Black Canyon it caused a bit of a scandal. Damaging the site wasn't illegal at the time - it wasn't legally protected until 2000 when it was named a California Historical Resource (BLACK CANYON--INSCRIPTION CANYON--BLACK MOUNTAIN ROCK ART DISTRICT), but the club still recognized the historic significance of the location and the leaders were very upset that one of their members would do such a thing. The person who did it didn't realize that it was wrong because it wasn't until a few years later that our country even began to understand the need the protect these culturally significant sites. The etching was half done when they caught him, and after some discussion they agreed to let him finish it so it wouldn't look as bad as an unfinished piece would. None of the existing petroglyphs were damaged, it's all by itself off to the side on the same canyon wall.

Mr. Reeder assured me that the club was horrified when it happened, and since I've used it as an example many times in the past I wanted to share the story of how it came to be. A big thank you to Dan Reeder for reaching out and sharing the story and photo with me. I hope your family has a wonderful time retracing the trip you took with your father back in 1961 and that you enjoy revisiting that area as much as I do.

Now 56 years later it is a little piece of California history that will always brings a smile to my face when I see it, even though I recognize it for what it is. The next time I visit it I'll think of Douglas Reeder, home from the war and spending time with his young son Dan out adventuring in the desert, and my smile will be even bigger.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Camping under the Milky Way in Panamint Valley

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my friends, fans, clients and sponsors! You've all helped make 2016 a wonderful year of adventure for me. I greatly appreciate your friendship, support and inspiration. and wish you all the best in 2017!

ABOUT THE IMAGE: I've had many people comment that they thought this photo was done with Photoshop. It was, in a way, but not the way they thought. It's not separate elements composited onto a shot of the Milky Way (a "fake" shot), this is our camp exactly as it looked during our Thanksgiving week trip. It would be impossible to properly expose this scene in one frame. It required three frames - it typically requires a 20-30 second exposure for the Milky Way. A long exposure would overexpose the tent, so I shot another frame exposed properly just for the tent, and yet another (actually several until I thought I had a good frame) to light the Jeep. I didn't have my lighting kit, so I used a flashlight to light the Jeep. My Jeep is silver so it doesn't take much to light it and I needed to keep that exposure short, but it's hard to avoid a hot spot when using a flashlight. I then layered the three frames in Photoshop and "masked in" each properly exposed element to get the look I wanted. If I was doing this for a commercial shoot I would've taken more frames of the Jeep so I could really take my time and light all of the Jeep evenly, but this was just a spur-of-the-moment shot done with limited gear. I also used Photoshop to clone out the extension cord running from the tent to an inverter in my Jeep. So yes there is a bit of Photoshop magic, but it's a very real scene. And it's a good example of why I tell beginning photographers that learning to see the light and understand it is the key to moving your photography to the next level. In order to shoot an image like this, you need to pre-visualize the final image and understand how to handle the exposure and lighting for each element in the scene.

I don't usually shoot the Milky Way this time of year. I don't even bother to look for it. The galactic core - the bright and colorful part of the Milky Way- isn't visible in the Northern Hemisphere from November until late February, so it's not nearly as spectacular as it is during the summer. But it still is something to see! My husband joined me on a few Milky Way shoots this summer and picked up a few things, and he was the first to notice it. We didn't have a campfire so there was no ambient light to ruin our night vision, and the moon didn't rise until many hours later. The lights were already strung on the tent (using duct tape!) in hopes of a beautiful desert sunset that never happened. It was an exceptionally clear night, and this is the first time I've noticed the Milky Way in an autumn/winter desert night sky. As soon as we spotted it, I grabbed my camera and and tripod and started shooting. It was just a stroke of luck that the Milky Way happened to be positioned directly behind my tent and Jeep.