Photography as Art, A Lifelong Passion
by Eleanor Brown
Homer Spit, Alaska
Ever since I could remember I liked having a camera in my hands. At age two I loved to “play” with an old Kodak Brownie box camera, by age five I began taking “snaps” around my yard with an updated version of the Brownie, and at age eleven with yet another version of the Brownie, I began photographing the landscape during my family summers in Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado. These early years with several of Kodak’s boxed marvels began my life with photography as both “art, passion and love of our Natural World” that eventually became a deeply personal pursuit.
I eventually left the old Kodak Brownies behind and began shooting with 35mm Nikon film cameras, primarily birds using a Nikon with a 600mm lens. My work was published in calendars (Audubon, National Wildlife, etc), magazines (Birder’s World and others) and books such as “Texas On My Mind” by Falcon Press. During this time I visited an exhibition of Ansel Adam’s large prints at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and this experience was to change my photographic approach forever! I bought medium and large format film cameras, built a color and black and white darkroom and began printing fine art images for corporate, medical, and law offices, in addition to donating hundreds of large prints for Art in Healing programs in the Texas Medical Center. I also began printing PR work for non profit organizations that worked with children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. My fine art work has been exhibited in galleries locally and a few nationwide. In 2000 I began with digital capture, workflow and printing and have never looked back, though I have wonderfully fond memories of my black and white darkroom days.
Over the years I found that the diversity of my interests in photographic projects and attraction to subject matter varied widely. They ranged from color to black and white, literal interpretations to abstract, the serenity of bird portraits to images of Hurricane Ike’s devastation, and finally from the beauty of our natural world to the slums of Brazil and Peru. Each approach and visualizations in my art have wide ranging representations to me in meaningful ways far beyond my conscious awareness. It has been vital to me to photograph only what moves me visually and emotionally...what touches my heart and soul at the deepest levels. With my camera in hand, I love to walk, hike, drive, and travel, always “quietly scanning, contemplating and observing”.
My images presented in this article are from a project called simply, “Homer Spit, Alaska”. The “Spit” is a long piece of land that juts out in Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula. The harbor on the Spit is the quintessential Alaskan fishing waterfront with an eclectic mix of old boats that float, and older boats that don’t with a few reflections added in! This series of images is about “old things” which have always been subject matter I have loved to capture. These are objects from the past, not in some upscale museum, but fortunately remain intertwined with the landscape, among grasses and flowers and trees, rain, wind and sunshine...weathered and aging. Before my trip to Alaska several years ago, I began researching the areas my husband and I would visit and the Homer Spit piqued my interest. I immediately realized this was the type of place I had to photograph! The areas I particularly wanted to shoot were the boat graveyard and some of the very old and fascinating fishing boats moored in the harbor nearby. I decided to take both my Phase One P45+ digital back on a Hasselblad camera body, and a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR....those two formats should do the job! When I photograph what I refer to as “old things and places past” I see so much more than the actual subject matter itself in fact what is visually obvious many times will become secondary. I visualize and experience textures, patterns, light and dark, abstractions, both the unsightly and the beautiful, rust, decay and of course “the past”......in essence the vicissitudes of “life, living and aging”.
When looking at my RAW files from this shoot I decided to process these in a warm toned monotone with vignetting giving an old process feel to them. I use both Capture One Pro 7 and Lightroom 5 depending on the characteristics of the file. For this project on the Homer Spit I use Lightroom for processing and Pixel Genius toning capabilities in Photoshop for the warm tone. For most (but not all) of my Nikon D800e and Phase One files I’m finding I usually prefer Capture One Pro 7 processing. I find the color and micro detail to be more to my liking. As part of this “Homer Spit” project I decided to include some of the reflections in the water in this series, as they were quite captivating. My approach in processing and printing these reflections was to flip the reflections upside down in Photoshop, so the old boats stood upright and the image over all gave me the feeling of an abstract “painting”. I realize most reflections are left as is... with an “upside down” appearance, however at times I prefer my reflections flipped. I have always loved impressionistic and abstract paintings, so this technique of flipping my reflections seems to help me mimic these wonderful paintings while maintaining the the subject matter the photograph depicts.
Today I shoot with a Phase One P65+ digital back, a Nikon D800e and the new little Sony RX1R. My earlier work with a Hasselblad and large format 4X5 film cameras led to my later work with high resolution digital cameras. I have always been drawn to the wonderful micro detail and creamy smooth tonalities one can achieve with the higher pixel count cameras. Since I do not like any digital noise I usually try to shoot at base iso. My lens choices have been quite varied and these days my most used lenses are my 35 and 50mm lenses on my Nikon and 50 and 80mm on my Phase One P65+. With that said I love a super wide lens, my Nikon 14-24mm at 14mm, comes to mind, for it’s ability to stretch the near to far landscape. I also couldn’t do without my Nikon mount of the Zeiss 100 f.2 lens for work on my “Old Things” series shot in an 1880‘s old mining town in South Park City, Colorado. In addition I enjoy the Zeiss 100 f2 shot at f2 to isolate aspects of the landscape. With my Phase One P65+ I primarily use both the Hasselblad 50 and 80mm lenses though occasionally my 35 and 100mm lenses.
Eleanor Brown lives with her husband Dale, a recently retired Obstetrician Gynecologist, and their yellow lab, Dillon, in both Houston, Texas and Summit County, Colorado, located in the Rocky Mountain high country. Eleanor and her husband love to travel to out of the way places such as Antarctica. the High Arctic, and Alaska among many other locations. They have visited many US National Parks from the lower 48 to Alaska and Hawaii and enjoy driving trips through the American West. In addition to her photography, Eleanor has a layman’s fascination with cutting edge particle and theoretical physics and “where the Universe came from”, along with an interest in the psychodynamics of human behavior.