PictureGeese on the soccer field at St Louis School in Clarksville, MD
So, how can this photograph protect you from the Ebola virus?  It can't. Seriously, you thought I was going to tell you some magic cure?!?  This blog is about photography.  If you keep reading, however, I will tell you about vernacular photography.

Much of my work can be described as vernacular photography.  And, in my case, the vernacular subject is life in suburban America in the early 21st century.  I make photographs of familiar, common, everyday buildings, people, and scenes.  In my photographs, you will see things that you immediately recognize as familiar.  But, as works of art, I include elements that will inspire you to continue examining the picture and to start asking questions.  Where is that? How did you get that? Or, they might inspire you to retrieve a memory and share a story of your own.  "This reminds of the time I...."  "Oh, I remember when we went there."  "That looks just like the one near my house."  My photographs capture the vernacular of suburban America, as differentiated from rural life, urban life, or life in other countries.

In the case of this photograph, the row of expensive custom homes (in Clarksville, MD) behind the soccer field is probably immediately familiar.  If you live in the Mid-Atlantic region, you might not even notice that this style of architecture is different from styles common in New England or the Southwest.  And, you probably immediately recognize the soccer (or lacrosse, or field hockey) nets.  Even though you can't see buildings besides the houses, you probably automatically assume that I was standing near a school or rec center when I captured this shot.  Yes, it was a school.  

But then, you notice there is a line of Canadian geese across the midline of the image.  Again, if you are from the mid-Atlantic region, this scene is not surprising to you at all.  Combined with the color of the leaves on the large tree to the right, you recognize the season as Fall.  The geese are stopping to rest on their way south for the winter and a soccer field provides a welcome landing zone.

This photograph also represents some of my favorite artistic elements. I like the symmetry of both color and space in the way the blue sky balances the green field.  I appreciate the perfection of the horizontal horizon of the tree line that separates the field from the homes in the background.  I use a tool in Lightroom that allows me to draw a straight line along that edge and it rotates the image as necessary to make that line the perfect 0-degree horizontal.  But, too balanced would be boring.  The soccer nets follow the rule-of thirds for composition.  They fill the right third section of the image, while the center and the left are open.  That un-balance is also supported by the two large trees to right of center, while there is only one large one to the left of center.

To introduce the story to this image, the geese are present in the line across the center.  Geese are not normally on an athletic field. They are common during certain times of the year, of course.  But, this image would be less interesting if there was a group of kids playing soccer.  You would expect to see kids playing soccer.  There are millions of photos posted on the internet showing kids playing soccer.  Not as many of geese.  And, what I believe is also the artistic element of this photograph is that the overall presentation of the image uses the lines, colors, and placement to create a beautiful picture that keeps you interested because it is familiar, but still a bit new at the same time.

Vernacular photography was a specialty Walker Evans.  He captured images of life during the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration (FSA).  

 
 
PictureEighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
This weekend, I return to my ongoing project of creating a coffee table photography book to document every Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Today, I share my work from St. Andrew by the Bay in Annapolis, MD. 
This project presents me with a challenge of balancing competing priorities.  I want the photos to be beautiful decoration, creative art, representative documents, and religiously faithful.  Most important is the balance between fine art and documentary photography.  I want this book to serve as a reference for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is the oldest in the United Sates.  Such a reference does not exist.  I want to document the status of the Catholic Church in the United States early in the 21st century. I envision a reference that would be valued by churches as well as secular libraries.  But, I also need the photographs to be beautiful and artistically creative.  Achieving this balance means that I need to makes a few concessions at both ends.  The images can be neither overly religious nor completely secular.  
For example, notice image #2 below of the bench.  I would guess that most non-religious people would see this as a row of park benches.  However, member of this parish, and possibly a few other Catholics, would recognize these benches as pew for an outdoor chapel. And, if they look closely, they will see the stones between the pews that mark the Stations of the Cross, a common feature in Catholic churches.
At the other extreme is the photo above, which is a close up of the Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.  Catholics will immediately recognize this iconic feature.  However, I created this photograph with artistic elements to appeal to a broad audience.  I created a steep angle of view from below, as if a child was looking up.  Most adults (taller than 5 ft) would not regularly see from this angle. I also reduced the color saturation and enhanced the sharpness to allow the viewer to attend to the details of wood-carving marks on the statues.  I also adjusted the light to emphasize the shadows created on the wall.  I find it appealing to notice the difference in textures between the wood and the shadows.  These artistic elements would apply to a photograph of any sculpture and are not specific to Catholicism.
A few of the images below represent another balance between art, documentation, and faith.  For the interior shots, I applied a treatment of high-dynamic-range (HDR), which is common practice in current real estate photography.  This treatment eliminates most of the interior shadows and enhances the colors of all of the elements in the photograph. So, I created beautiful images that capture the architectural qualities, but I also included specific elements of a Catholic church, such as the altar, crucifix, and apse in image #4 below. Image #6 below is especially representative of my own artistic preference for balance and symmetry in showing the aisle leading out to the narthex.  This view is well-known by Catholics, and welcomed with anticipation after a particularly uninspiring homily.  
I also chose to capture images with people included. Doing so creates an artistic challenge because I can't have the people recognizable without getting a signed photo release form.  I had a cute shot of a little girl by the outdoor altar but I chose this one of the curly-haired boy because you can't see his face.  The black and white image of the outdoor altar shows the activity of parents delivering their children for morning preschool, but their faces are sufficiently obscured.  I also chose this subdued color treatment, as well as black and white for the baptistery, as a way to add visual variation to this set of images.  As a group, I don't want them to appear too similar to each other.  
So, I hope I have achieved my intended balance of decoration, art, documentation, and faith.  And, I would like to give special thanks to Marie, who opened the church for me and turned on the lights.

 
 
PictureA ground level view of "Out of Many, ONE" in Washington, DC
I visited the National Mall in Washington, DC to see the creation by Cuban American urban artist Jorge Rodríguez- Gerada.  You can visit the website for the National Portrait Gallery and click on the satellite photos to get the best overall view. There are many thousands of other images already online for this work of art.

But, as a photographer, I am rarely interested in capturing a popular location, such as this one.  I find that all of the interesting shots have already been taken.  I can makes pictures that are equally as good as the best ones I see, and mine would be better than the casual snapshots. But, mine would have to be substantially better than those created by more established photographers.  If I go to to the same location with the same equipment as other photographers, my images will be about the same.  

So, my challenge is to discover something new that has been overlooked by most other artists.  In this case, I chose a ground-level view.  One basic technique for creating interest in photographs is to move the camera either higher or lower than normal eye level.  With the millions of new camera phone pictures posted daily, people have become overwhelmed, and bored, with seeing everything from eye level.  So, here, I moved my camera almost to the ground.  

The result is a detailed, close-up view of the soil used by the artist to create the display.  The Washington Monument is blurred in the background (another example of bokeh) to give you the ability to place the location.  But, in between, the remaining ground and the trees give a slight illusion of being out of perspective.  

Do you see those red horizontal lines across the middle of the picture?  Those are the lines of string that the artist used to map out the sections of light sand and dark soil. They are about an inch off the ground.  So, while all of the other photographs of this exhibit were taken at eye-level on the ground, or were overhead shots from the top of the Washington Monument or from satellites, mine is the only one I've found that takes the viewer right down to the surface of the soil itself.  Considering the soil is the artist's medium of choice, it seemed fitting to give you this perspective.

 
 
PictureDistrict of Columbia War Memorial
I like taking photographs of other photographers taking wedding photographs.  This group might not have been for a wedding, as she is in black (not white) and he is not in a tux.  But, it was some sort of formal shot on the steps of the memorial behind them.  Perhaps it was for an engagement photo.

When I captured them coming toward me, I intended the District of Columbia War Memorial to serve only as an interesting backdrop to establish their location in Washington, DC.  But, during processing, I was able to bring out the glowing effect from the memorial.  To me, it looks almost like the memorial is lit from within, which it is not. The marble columns even have a slight appearance of translucence, which they are not.

I get this effect by enhancing the dynamic range of the image.  The shadows are made brighter and the sunny areas are made darker.  Part of this effect is automated by the software, but I have to make adjustments to ensure that the result is appealing. Most recent real estate photography uses this treatment, commonly known as HDR (for high dynamic range). 

So, in the end, I now see the memorial as the primary subject of this image and the couple getting photographed serve as props to show that the domed, peristyle Doric temple is a living part of the tourist experience in Washing, DC.  In addition to looking up both terms peristyle and Doric, I also learned that this monument is specifically NOT the National World War I Memorial.  This photograph shows the District of Columbia War Memorial.  It is the only monument located on the National Mall, although it is correctly identified as being in West Potomac Park.  The National Mall is east of the Washington Monument. And, I learned that this monument, in 1931, was the first to include the names of African Americans and women along with white men.  In 2008, Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, began an unsuccessful effort to incorporate the DC into an expanded and nationalized World War I memorial. The citizens of the District were able to mobilize opposition to kill the plan. In 2010, renovations began and it reopened in 2011.

I enjoy my new appreciation for this undervalued monument.  I hope my photograph does it justice and honors those who served and died.