Month: May 2008

Photographer Harassment

I have been professionally photographing more than three decades and during the past two years since moving to west-central Missouri I have never seen or experienced photographer harassment as I have here. When I first moved here, I started going on short, local photo trips with some of my university colleagues and noticed while we were out, usually someone from the local community would stop us (typically my friend) and begin to aggressively question what we were doing. We could be photographing something entirely mundane, such as the side of an old weathered building, yet people around here seem compelled to take it upon themselves to function as some kind of “photo police”, as though the act of photographing public spaces is a crime. I truly don’t understand this mentality! Sadly, this is not only happening in the USA. Here’s a link to Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection, and watch this video of this craziness in the UK!

Today while I was riding my bike to the university to teach a morning studio class, I stopped on the neighboring street to create the image below. Just a simple close-up shot of a flowering American Tulip Tree. How benign can this subject matter be? Regardless, I’m minding my own business trying to get my little point & shoot (Nikon Coolpix S210) focused when I noticed one of the locals sitting in his sedan in the middle of the street staring at me. I consider myself to be a very open, accepting person of others’ chosen lifestyles so I don’t want to sound bigoted, but this guy fit the stereotypical rendition of a “redneck”, of which there are plenty around here.

At any rate, I finished my shooting and was getting ready to get back on my bike and he yells at me wanting to know if I was just photographing the “flower”. I’ve seen this episode play out too often with my photo buddies, so I was in no mood to go down this road. I put on a stern face, mustered up my old Army master sergeant voice and challenged him by asking him “was there a problem”? He smartly rolled up his window and sped off!

What is going on here? Why is that people think they have some kind of obligation to interfere with photographers working in public spaces? Certainly there’s no national secrets to safe guard near the campus of UCM! My personal theory is they must confuse everyone with a camera as being “paparazzi” and maybe they think they’re going to save the next Princess Diana!

© 2008 Terry Ownby, Flower from an American Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

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Military Photo-J

I’ve had a very interesting photographic career. Even though for two decades, I shot food for advertising and other commercial assignments, I was fortunate to simultaneously pursue photojournalism while serving in the U.S. military. After looking at my blog, one of my Army buddies asked me where were my PJ shots? Good question, since more than half of my 22 years of military service was as a photojournalist. Even though I’m posting an image today, I may very well devote an entire page on this site to some of my more memorable PJ shots.

This diptych comes from my last tour-of-duty in the República de Panamá. We were based at Santiago, in the Provincia de Veraguas, which is located in west-central Panama; roughly a 6 to 8 hour ride on an old school bus! My best friend, Koby, and I were sent to the north-western corner of the province, in the mountains up near Provincia de Bocas del Toro, to provide newspaper and TV coverage of humanitarian work by U.S. Army National Guard engineers. They were rebuilding a clinic in a small mountain village. Our only access to this hinter region was by air, so we hitched a ride with a flight of Vietnam-era Huey’s from the Illinois Army National Guard. After completing our mission, our flight decided to practice “nap-of-the-earth” flying along the Río de Jesús, which had a real pucker factor, but that’s another story for another time!

© 1992 Terry Ownby, Huey’s flying along foothills of the Ande’s in western Panama.

Self-Publishing

The idea of publishing a book of images is something I think most photographers have pondered from time to time. However publishing a monograph in the past was not always an easy task, especially when so many photographers were vying for the editor’s eye. But today, that situation is changing. Now the photographer can become the editor.

What am I talking about? Good question. What I’m getting at is the notion of self-publishing through what’s known as print-on-demand technology. Currently there are a number of excellent online presses offering excellent opportunities for photographers (and writers) to get their work in print. Two that readily come to mind are Lulu and Blurb. Both companies offer an array of printing formats including: softcover, hardcover with dustjacket, and spiral bound. An added benefit with this type of publishing, is many of these companies offer marketing services where you set the selling price and they function as order fulfillment companies, sending you a check for profits on your sales. For and additional fee, many of these companies can provide you with an ISBN so you can market to third parties such as retail booksellers like Borders or Barnes and Noble.

This type of publishing can be useful to photographers in a number of ways. One way is that of providing custom, professional perfect bound portfolios for sending to potential clients. Or, you could simply publish a book and give as holiday or birthday gifts. Many portrait and wedding photographers take advantage of these services in order to present their clients with a beautifully finished product of their event. I also see this as a great opportunity for the fine art photographer wanting to produce a monograph. This is what I’ve done with part of my Incongruity series. I anticipate publishing my second book sometime later this year.

Dustjacket from my monograph Incongruity: found american cultural objects.

© 2007 Terry Ownby

Photo Competitions

Competing for recognition in the photo community has been a long, time-honored tradition. Often times, winning awards for one’s photographs can lead to valued respect and it can help launch young photographers’ careers. It can also provide the photographer with a sense of fulfillment, an internal gratification.

I remember winning my first “ribbons” and “awards” for several images in my first photo competition nearly three decades ago. This was early in my photographic endeavors while serving in the armed forces. Shortly after this, while still in college, I jointly won some Addy Awards for work I was doing for a local ad agency in Springfield, Missouri. These awards certainly helped kick-start my career as an advertising photographer and it wasn’t long afterwards I won four more Addy’s, this time on my own.

So, thirty years later I still compete and I still get a sense of fulfillment when I garner another win. For example, last year I entered my Tall Rancher image as part of my Incongruity series, in the International Photo Review competition held in Philadelphia each year. My image placed eighth out of over 4,000 images submitted by 998 photographers from around the world. Needless to say, I was thrilled! But just a couple of weeks ago, I entered my Chicago Rails shot in the local Mid-Missouri Artists exhibit and won the award for artistic achievement. Again, I was just as thrilled. This type of recognition still plays a valuable role in my career as I work for tenure and a promotion at the state university where I teach.

Sadly, I don’t see many of my students here taking advantage of these types of opportunities. When I taught at the Art Institute of Colorado, I served as the photo competition coordinator for our program. During that time, I had several students win and were published in outstanding journals such as CMYK, PDN, and Communication Arts. I also was privileged to have one student win a Pulitzer Prize for his photojournalism work. All these students benefited from this type of publicity and exposure, helping to launch successful photo careers. So, to any of my current students who may happen to read this blog, I encourage you to seek out every opportunity to compete! Enter competitions and exhibits soon, and often!

© 2008 Terry Ownby, Chicago Rails.

© 2004 Terry Ownby, Tall Rancher.

Faux Dioramas

Some years ago I began manipulating my images in Photoshop with a combination of unsharp masking and Gaussian blur in an effort to replicate various camera techniques I’ve employed in my commercial work. Having used large-format cameras, such as 8x10s and 4x5s, for most of my professional career, I’ve come to appreciate how the camera movements can manipulate the final outcome of the image. One such technique is the Scheimpflug principle, which allows an apparent sharpness to appear throughout the image plane. Conversely, the photographer can employ an opposite camera movement, which results in extreme shallow focus, or what’s sometimes called selective focus.

Other camera techniques that add to the sense of selective focus include the use of plastic cameras such as the Holga or Diana. Another fun tool to use is the lens baby, which is very reminiscent of reversed Scheimpflug. Regardless, I have found that my understanding of these various tools and techniques can be readily adapted in Photoshop with just a few clicks of my mouse and some mental pre-visualization.

Resulting from this Photoshop employment, I have a developing body of work I call Faux Dioramas. A diorama is usually a small-scale model or set, similar to those made by model railroad enthusiasts. The fun part for me however, is photographing real situations such as structures or environmental landscapes, and then applying my faux techniques to emulate a miniature world. I’m not alone in this genre of photographic seeing. Toronto photographer, Toni Hafkenscheid has created a very interesting body of work employing a similar look. You can view his work on-line at thphotos.com or in Robert Hirsch’s book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age. Enjoy!

Faux diorama of Santuraio de Chimayo, NM.

© 2007 Terry Ownby, Enchanted Rituals.

Kansas Pano’s

Recently I had the privilege of a day trip with three of my friends from the university, to the Konza Prairie Biological Station. This is an incredible venue for all types of photography, but especially panoramas. Although my colleagues are into this type of photography rather seriously (they’ve custom made or bought expensive pano heads for their tripods), I tend to be more low-tech. In other words, I hand-hold my camera and use and framing device similar to my colleague from the Art Institute of Colorado, Angela Faris. She describes a similar technique in her latest book, which I highly recommend, The Elements of Photography: Understanding and Creating Sophisticated Images. I hope you enjoy this latest blog entry and I would enjoy reading any comments you might wish to offer.

Hand-held pano and stitched as separate frames.

© 2008 Terry Ownby, Konza Prairie 1.