(A non – scientific look at some pretty cool abstract designs thanks to nature.)
A quick search on your favorite search engine and you will discover there are 10 types of clouds. That is amazing enough. Even without know the names of all ten types. My daughter could name them several years ago. I distinctly remember a section of earth science that covered cloud formations. She would quiz me, and I would undoubtedly get the type of cloud wrong.
“No dad,” she would exclaim. “It’s Altocumulus. Because…”
and she would start to explain the type of cloud I had gotten wrong. I do not know about her, but I was glad when that section of earth science was over.
Rewind about thirty some years.
It must have been 1986 when I first heard the name, Alfred Stieglitz, and it was not in a photography class. It was in Art History. As we neared the beginning of the 20th Century Stieglitz name began to appear on the pages. Stieglitz was part of the Photo-Secession group. There were some heavy hitters in that lineup. Their aim was to manipulate the negative & print to mimic oil paintings, etchings and mediums of the like. Being on the east coast, and wealthy enough to travel abroad Stieglitz was influenced by art in Europe.
That is an argument already covered in other books and I will not draw you into that…ever. Not that it is not important, I was on the side of the West Coast photographers, it is so particularly important because it changed the direction of photography for the next century and thankfully the West Coast won out on that one.
Stieglitz began taking photographs of clouds as early as 1922. But it was his “Equivalent Series” between 1925-1931 that brought that work to the forefront of art photography.
Fast forward to 2017.
I was finding that landscape photography was boring me. I had run aground for new material. I had just wrapped up a portfolio entitled “Exposed” where I found, in one space, trees growing with roots exposed to the elements. But after that portfolio and its success nothing I did matched the genius and originality of “Exposed.” I suffered from a creative block.
Then, one day in 2017, I was photographing St. Paul’s Cathedral in St. Paul and behind the structure was a beautiful cluster of clouds. I switched the lens on my camera to a wide angle and took this picture.
That was the spark I needed. Without much research, although I recalled the cloud photograph, I saw from Stieglitz’s work in “Equivalent Series,” I began a year long quest to photograph clouds. Every chance I had (and if clouds were present) I would be out there pointing my camera skyward. I can only image what went through the minds of neighbors and passersby as I clicked the shutter from formation to formation.
About six months in I made the mistake of doing some research on the work Stieglitz did with clouds. I should have remained ignorant to his work. I started to copy it.
“Untitled with TV aerial” is one example of placing objects into the image along with clouds. Stieglitz did this with trees partially in the frame. I experimented with this concept extensively but with limited success. I abandoned the practice since I was copying Stieglitz’s work word for word.
I always found myself photographing clouds, in all seasons. The most successful was pre-sunset summer days. This practice gave unusual illumination from below to the clouds and made it seem other-worldly. Since the color was way off the normal spectrum Adobe Photoshop struggled to get it right without me adjusting the sliders; so I converted them to black and white and left the off – color as it appeared to add to the shades of gray presented in the image.
The cloud work only lasted one year for me. But it was a worthwhile investment. From the hundreds of images gathered over that year I produced three separates portfolios. One entitled “Clouds 2018”, the second entitled “Abstractions” & the third entitled “Abstract/Concrete 2018.” I still enjoy going back through them. All three portfolios resounded with my audience in the art community and really got me back on track for landscape photography.
The power of Alfred Stieglitz had to be reckoned with in the early 20th Century. No matter how great the west coast photographers work was, he did not find much of their work worthy of his recognition. He stayed a huge influence long after his death. I was then and now heavily influenced by the work of the group of photographers from the west coast. But I also understand the contributions Alfred Stieglitz gave to my craft.
Cameras progressed, camera lenses progressed, they became faster, sharper and the world wanted to see clear images. Photographers embraced the new art medium. Thanks to Stieglitz, photography finally gained recognition alongside paintings, sculptures and many other types of artwork. His money and its power to buy property to set up viewing galleries helped every artist in America gain recognition for their efforts. And his influence abroad brought artist work across the Atlantic in both directions.
I cannot reconcile my feelings about Alfred Stieglitz. I am not sure a reconciliation will ever take place. But I am glad he looked up and found inspiration.