Linda Grashoff's Photography Adventures

Old Boats Are Best—1


Old boats are the best boats—at least to photograph. While we were waiting for latecomers to join the tour that Karen Bell was to give of the A.P Bell fish house, Karen told me she loved the look of old boats. I said (of course) that I did, too. After the tour Karen drew me a map of where I could find nearby old boats to photograph. Below (way below) are the boat photographs I took that day.

The other day I happened upon the work of Richard Alan Cohen, who also photographs old boat hulls. His web site includes a link to a review of his work by Kat Kiernan, editor-in-chief of the photography magazine Don’t Take Pictures. It’s short, and I’ve pasted it here:

“I never want to see another abstract photograph of a distressed surface. Camera lenses pointed close enough to a subject will turn almost anything into an abstract photograph. A camera is unable to produce a true abstraction—it can only record what is in front of it. This forces the conversation to revolve around what the subject matter is. Most photographers making abstract pictures will say that the what doesn’t matter and that their image is only about line, form, texture, and so on. Too often, these types of photographs feel like a cheap way to get the look of an abstract painting without having to actually paint. And too often, they feel flat—lacking the depth and texture needed to pull off the illusion. Richard Alan Cohen takes a different approach.

“In his series Waterlines, Cohen makes no attempts at abstraction for its own sake. His “what” is right there in the series title and is a perfect subject matter for the “why.” He photographs distressed boat hulls not with the intention of reducing them into just lines, shapes, and colors, but instead explores the minimal elements required to form a landscape in the mind’s eye. He is not trying to hide the fact that these photographs are of the undersides of boats. Instead, he uses their waterlines to create an entirely new one—one that only exists through Cohen’s careful framing and our own psychological search for recognition. In Cohen’s photographs, the waterline becomes a coastline, corroded fiberglass becomes weather, and the footprints of barnacles become stars. He embraces the subject matter beautifully by making a strong conceptual connection between the subject—a boat—and the final image—an abstract photograph reminiscent of a seascape.”

Well, ouch.

Kiernan may have based some of what she writes about Cohen’s work on what he says on his website:

“Pausing to study this evidence of where the boat has been, one perceives that the waterline provides an horizon. Above and below that are details of imagined landscapes, perhaps those that could be seen from the boats themselves when they sailed on the water. In developing these images, I share my own imagination and provide the seed for each viewer to form their own remembered landscapes. This project is ultimately an exploration of the minimal elements required to form a landscape in the mind’s eye – the waterline as coastline, the texture as weather, the footprint of barnacles as stars.”

And later:

“The color and forms introduced by the interaction of the pollutants with the boat’s bottom paint provide iconic symbols of man’s disturbance of nature, and are inescapable evidence of the downside of the sailor’s voyage upon the sea.”

I urge you to read more of what Cohen says in his recent Lenscratch interview.

Here are some questions Kiernan’s review has prompted me to consider. I wonder, dear reader, what you think.

  1. How much do we miss out on a larger conversation about photography because we don’t think deeply enough about what we are doing?
  2. How can we learn to think deeply?
  3. Can we even learn to think deeply, or is that an ability we either have or don’t?
  4. How much do we hold back our work from greater exposure because we aren’t willing or don’t know how to talk about it?
  5. I absolutely don’t mean to impugn Cohen’s work, which I admire along with his stated intent, so forgive my cynicism (or not): How much verbiage about art, especially photography, is based on associations discovered or devised after the painting or photograph was made? And would this practice be legitimate?
  6. If we are not deep thinkers or writers, can we nonetheless entertain hopes of making noteworthy photographs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

33 responses

  1. Take heart Linda, your work is wonderful. Cohen’s work, too, is fabulous but in composing his shots in such a controlled way, I feel he is not allowing my own imagination to make the discoveries. They’re great but I feel a little imposed upon. Your questions are good ones but the 5th need not be a question I think. All artists in whatever medium or field they work discover things in their works after the fact so to speak, sometimes years later. If they say otherwise, they are not being honest. Those works that don’t give this potential for future discovery must, by their nature, be preconceived and in turn, lose something of their power to communicate. Part of the art is always in the perception of the viewer.
    And that’s today’s lecture ended – sorry about that.😉

    Liked by 1 person

    March 3, 2019 at 4:39 AM

    • Alastair, please don’t apologize. It’s a very good lecture. Thank you! I really like what you say about discoveries.

      Liked by 1 person

      March 30, 2019 at 5:00 PM

  2. Wow, Linda! All excellent. And yes, Old boats are the best! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    March 3, 2019 at 6:10 AM

    • Thanks, Harrie. Glad you agree with me about old boats. I imagine that you’ve photographed your share of them.

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:00 PM

  3. Linda,

    Oh you gave away your secret. You didn’t really post this at 3 AM from the road. I really like many of your boat photos and the accompanying discussion is quite interesting. Perhaps I’ll think about that the next time my eye is behind the camera.

    Good travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 3, 2019 at 8:48 AM

    • Thank you, Lynda, for your “good travels” wish. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Better now though.

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:01 PM

  4. I particularly like the one with space aliens peeking over the horizon, # 8.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 3, 2019 at 9:46 AM

    • I always like to see other people’s imaginations applied to my photographs. Thanks for the space aliens.

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:02 PM

  5. Anonymous

    Beautiful! Isn’t nature one of the best artists?

    Liked by 1 person

    March 3, 2019 at 12:11 PM

  6. My thoughts FWIW… photography is a marvelous versatile medium. It seems as though it attracts far too much criticism for not being what some folks seem to think it ‘ought’ to be. I can’t explain it, but the 3rd from the end totally drew me in. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    March 3, 2019 at 10:53 PM

    • Gunta, I like your thoughts here. So happy that one of the photos drew you in. What attracts us usually does defy explanation, doesn’t it—though we may rationalize after the fact.

      Liked by 1 person

      March 30, 2019 at 5:03 PM

  7. I agree – old boats are the best and I share your love of photographing them. This is a wonderful selection to prove the point. I have no answers to any of the questions, though. I believe that your photos, especially series like the boats, bins and even the Leptothrix discophora films, are not true abstracts. To me, they are the details of subjects just as they appear in nature, beautiful yes, but natural. To me, an abstract is a subject that has been perceived in a way that may be altered from its reality. Of course, I could be wrong, too. I was once wrong in 1984 (last time).

    Liked by 1 person

    March 3, 2019 at 10:53 PM

    • Aha! Ken, you have hit cogently on something that I’ve thought about only in a muddled sort of way. I like what you say about some photographs, rather than being abstract, are details. I’m always torn between tagging my photographs abstractions or the thing that is being photographed. It seems they shouldn’t be both, but—as you see—that’s what I’ve done in this (and many another) post. I will henceforth think of many of my photographs as details rather than abstracts. I will probably continue tagging them “abstract,” however, so that people who might think of them as abstracts can find them.

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:03 PM

  8. Really beautiful, vibrant images, Linda! Keep on keeping on!!!!!!!

    And as for “6. If we are not deep thinkers or writers, can we nonetheless entertain hopes of making noteworthy photographs?” >>> well. I’m taking photographs for myself, I’m expressing my creativity in images and words, and MIGHTILY enjoying doing it! Its a bonus that some other people enjoy what I do, and I’m VERY grateful for that. But I’m still taking pictures for me, not for them.

    But as for noteworthiness, I simply don’t give a damn, I’m just out there doing my thing and, thereby, gaining immense Life Satisfaction – which can only be a good and also healthy thing. Adrian 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    March 5, 2019 at 5:43 AM

    • Thanks, Adrian. I intend to keep on keeping on. I’ve had some recent setbacks, but hope to be posting regularly soon. Thanks also for deflating the noteworthiness idea a bit. I think we do our best work when we do it for ourselves. I just want both!

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:04 PM

      • My friend, I’m very sorry to hear about the setbacks – I think that the thing is, our blogs are not urgent or super important in the “grand scheme of things” – and that we, your followers, aren’t going anywhere, we’ll all still be here when you are back “on air” again. Yes, we do our best work when it comes from our own hearts (and guts) – so don’t get tangled up worrying about things like noteworthiness – our images are, above all, from and about ourselves, they are subjective – and if others like them its a bonus. A 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        March 31, 2019 at 1:26 AM

  9. First of all, this is an amazing collection of photographs! Just fantastic. The variety is wonderful. I like seeing the black/gray/white one there, with all the others. And the textured fiberglass one – that acid yellow-green. I like all of them very much. I could single out #2, and #10, #15, #16….and another day that could change. I’m scared to ask if there are more because I know you have already left the area. I hope there are, but if not, I know you’ll do interesting work wherever you are.
    As for your reviewer and the artist, I appreciate his work very much – it’s beautiful. Thanks for introducing him to us. He writes well about his work, better than the reviewer. Reviewers are obligated to write well, artists aren’t, but in today’s media-driven world, if an artist can write well about their work, they’re likely to get farther, market-wise. I would agree (with the reviewer) that SOME people make abstract photos that feel like they’re just imitations of painting, just as some photographers make landscapes that way, but I’m not worried about it. Move on.
    She lauds Cohen for not hiding the true subject – fine, again, I don’t think hiding or not hiding the subject alone makes or breaks a photograph. She seems to celebrate him for finding other imagery within the abstract image, which is silly, to my mind – people will find what they will find. The artist can scream all they want about what their intent is, but in the end, it’s subjective and the viewer will see what they want to, or what they can see.
    An artist can’t control what’s read into the work. And why try?
    What Cohen says about his work, I have no problem with, I’m just saying that the work can’t depend on the words, if it’s visual work. The market might, but the work can’t.
    And your questions? #1 – if we want a larger conversation, then thinking more deeply is a good idea. If we don’t care about that, then it’s not necessary. #2 – I don’t know! Ask experts in education, or psychology. But if I feel a personal need for more depth, I know I can go online and find resources that will challenge me to think harder. #3 – I think we can learn to think “better” – more deeply. I suppose starting in preschool would b e good, and continuing all through school. #4 – That’s entirely dependent on the individual. It sounds like you’re asking yourself that question. For me, greater exposure would mean doing a series of things, only one of which is writing well about it. I weigh willingness to invest energy in those activities against investing energy in other things, and I come up with my own answer about what I will do to get my work out there. #5 – Who knows how much meaning is discovered after the fact, and who cares? It’s totally legitimate to find meaning after making the work, unless maybe a person claims they had an intent they did not have. I don’t think an artist is obliged to divulge at what point in the process they realized particular things about their work. #6 – Yes, we can make good art without being a deep thinker, but I do believe that consistently good work – what’s called a body of work – benefits from the artist having the ability to think critically analytically, logically, creatively, deeply, etc. (not to mention the ability to feel deeply). So-called outsider art isn’t always noteworthy, but it can be pretty remarkable, without the artist possessing the ability to write coherently. Plenty of art that may be written about well isn’t worth a second look.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 5, 2019 at 3:07 PM

    • Lynn, thank you. Yes, there are more old-boat photographs—from another Cortez outing I took a few days earlier than the day I took these. I posted these first because they related to the Karen Bell story. Thank you for bringing notions of the viewer into this discussion. And I like your “I’m just saying that the work can’t depend on the words, if it’s visual work. The market might, but the work can’t.” Would like to know (I’m serious) where to “go online to find resources that will challenge me to think harder.” To be honest, your words about question number 4 fit me, too. I often just don’t want to put in the time and effort. Enjoyed all your deep thinking about my questions. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      March 30, 2019 at 5:05 PM

      • It’s my pleasure….and as for places online to be challenged, it seems to me that often, when I’m looking into something, one thing leads to another and soon there’s a very interesting article. Which often gets saved for later. You know how that is! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        March 31, 2019 at 3:07 PM

  10. I assume that thinking deeply is a function of intelligence, and like so many other characteristics, intelligence is normally distributed in a population. As a result, it seems that there are indeed some people who won’t do well at thinking deeply. That said, whatever a given person’s native potential is to think, teaching and practice can probably improve that person’s performance. In photography, for example, we can teach the average casual photographer to pay attention to the background in a picture and not just make a portrait of someone in the place where the person happens to be standing.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 18, 2019 at 4:17 AM

    • Good points, Steve. I often forget that practice works—and usually works better than just trying harder.

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:05 PM

    • I agree that intelligence is normally distributed, but their are equally intelligent people who are better or worse at divergent versus convergent thinking. Divergent is being able to think of all sorts of new things based on a stimulus and convergent is being able to derive meaning from the seemingly disorganized. These are both helpful in the creative process.

      Liked by 1 person

      March 30, 2019 at 5:19 PM

  11. I loved the newest post and the images of your boat hulls. I barely skimmed the text and went straight to your photos. They are beyond lovely. They are abstract and many are like landscapes and seascapes.

    Then I read all that you wrote and Keirnan’s review of Cohen’s work, which I also looked at. I felt the sting that you obviously also felt, of the Keirnan’s remarks about abstraction and the use of “just” line, texture, etc. And I could see in Cohen’s work more deliberate compositions that reference paintings of landscapes, seascapes and night skies.

    I really responded to the questions you pose for yourself and others about photography. And I can see how those questions can relate to any art form/media. Especially no. 5: “How much verbiage about art, especially photography, is based on associations discovered or devised after the painting or photograph was made? And would this practice be legitimate?”

    For me, much of my work is intuitive and therefore derives its associations after the work is made. Yes, I often start with a concept in mind and I often have representational imagery involved, but I let the materials I have or the processes take over and I don’t always know what it is all about until way after the work is made. So for me this is a legit practice.

    When I look at the images you have been taking (both past and present) and the work that Cohen does, I feel that those marks, made by nature, are marks that one cannot make up as they paint or create their work. I get these kinds of marks from eco printing with leaves or staining with rust. Nature does a lot of the work. The artist gets to reap the rewards and use these marks.

    Your work is stunning with its great sense of composition. I see landscapes, waterfalls, fields of wheat and flowers. I find myself drawn to the colors and textures and sometimes surprised by acidy lines of unexpected neon green. I am also impressed with your thoughtfulness about your process.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 18, 2019 at 9:24 AM

    • Thanks, Clare. I like what you say about the legitimacy of intuition coming first and the discovery of meaning later. Thank you for broadening this discussion and for your kind words about the photographs.

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:06 PM

  12. Beautiful 🙂

    Like

    March 27, 2019 at 12:36 AM

  13. I discovered you by following up a comment you made on Melinda Green Harvey’s blog. I’m glad I did.

    I’ve spent considerable time looking at the images in this post, and then reading all the words and looking at Richard Allen Cohen’s work.

    I looked at the images first, then read. My initial impression was that your work is staggeringly beautiful.

    Then I read, absorbed, and intellectualized. I found that in doing so, my initial enjoyment was reduced, not enhanced. My state of mind was immediately improved by going back to the images themselves.

    Scandling’s Paradox: The minute you try to define simplicity, you mess it up. That’s the first line on the about page on my website. After two-thirds of a lifetime of watching other artists agonize over their artist statements, I’ve come to the conclusion that if the artist statement is so difficult, the artist would do well to pay more attention to the creation of the art itself.

    My own experience is that any creativity on my part stems from, and is ultimately expressed as, a more emotional than intellectual exercise and final expression. Not to say that intellect isn’t part of it. It is. But for me it’s more about applying intellect as a means of incorporating past experience in technique to strengthen the emotional impact. When you go through a museum or gallery and something grabs you, I’m pretty sure it’s not the intellect that was attracted first.

    I will say this about abstract photography. What is on the film or digital file is what passed through the lens. Period. Whatever one does in the darkroom or in post processing the digital file is part of the overall creation. But the image itself of, say, the rust patterns on a boat hull are a factual representation of what it looked like in the physical universe the moment the shutter was tripped. It may resemble an abstract painting, but it’s not. This does not in any way denigrate it as an image. The photographer may do things after the fact of the shot that do make it more abstract; or the viewer may bring whatever he or she contributes to the image which takes it beyond a rust pattern into something that their imagination uses to finish the image in their own mind. Or the photographer may present it just as it is because it’s beautiful enough as it is. It is, after all, what the photographer saw and chose to present. She could’ve seen something else. But she didn’t. She saw this. Her vision is uniquely her own.

    If someone wants to intellectualize it, great. Or, they could just look. I prefer the latter.

    My first impression was that your images are staggeringly beautiful. My final impression is that your images are staggeringly beautiful. What went on in between, doesn’t matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 28, 2019 at 4:08 PM

    • Michael, you’ve given so much to think about. Thank you. You write, “When you go through a museum or gallery and something grabs you, I’m pretty sure it’s not the intellect that was attracted first.” I think that holds for much of photography practice, too: We shoot what grabs us emotionally, even if we know at the same time how the photograph fits into a body of work for which we’ve already worked out the meaning. You may have had an experience that I’ve had, where something in my field of vision calls to me—begs me to “take its picture” though I was not at all thinking along the lines of that calling. But there it is, not to be ignored. Later I may be able to fit the photograph into an intellectual framework, or I may not. But I’m never sorry I answered the call.

      Thanks also for your kind words about these images.

      Like

      March 30, 2019 at 5:07 PM

      • I agree with you that while I’m in the field, if something says “take my picture“ I take the picture. It doesn’t matter whether it fits into a body of work or not. In practice, for me at least, emotion and intellect work cooperatively and more or less invisibly. But if there’s a conflict between the two, I’ll usually go with emotion. That’s the impact I’m trying to make anyway so why not go with it? Over the years, there have been too many projects that I have over-thought into oblivion. I try to consciously use intellect as a tool, rather than letting it run the show.

        Liked by 1 person

        March 30, 2019 at 5:29 PM

  14. Sue

    Found you via Melinda Green Harvey……love these old boat images, especially 1, 17 and18. Marvellous studies

    Like

    April 7, 2019 at 10:03 AM

    • Thank you, Sue. I just finished reading your About page. I really like and appreciate how you describe your life and art journey.

      Liked by 1 person

      April 7, 2019 at 10:08 AM

      • Sue

        Many thanks, Linda!

        Like

        April 7, 2019 at 10:15 AM

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