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Archive for the ‘Portraits’ Category

Do you feel like you are progressing in photography? Have your skills improved as you have bought newer and more expensive gear? How do you know?

Periodically a notice pops up in my Facebook timeline reminding me of a posting that I made on that date in a previous year. I post at least one photo daily and I have no idea how the Facebook algorithm decides when to present me with a memory and, if so, which one to use.

This morning, Facebook reminded me of the image below of a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) that I posted seven years ago. Wow—seven years ago is in the distant past, only six months or so after I had started to get more serious about my photography. At that time I was shooting with a Canon Rebel XT, an entry-level 8.0 megapixel DSLR, and my “long” lens was a 55-250mm zoom lens.

It is almost a cliché for photographers to state that gear does not matter, but I think that this image demonstrates that there is a truth in that cliché. I have more experience now and better gear, but I would be hard for me to take a better shot today. Nothing is more important than being there, as all wildlife photographers know well. The informal motto of the Postal Service seems to apply to us as well— “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Click on this link if you would like to see the original posting from 2013 (and judge for yourself if my style of posting has changed). For fun, I added a second beaver photo that I posted the following day, January 29, 2013—here’s a link to the original posting.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely take the opportunity to look back at my older images. Perhaps I should do some more often.

 

beaver

beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I generally do not like to take “traditional” selfies. When I do photograph myself, I prefer shots like these ones that I captured early in the morning last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When the sun is low, the shadows are so elongated, as in the first photo, that they remind me of Alberto Giacometti’s famous statue “L’homme qui marche” (The Walking Man).

selfie

selfie

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are small and often stay in deep waters, but I managed to capture these shots of one yesterday at a suburban pond not far from where I live. If you click on the photos, you can see the grebe’s beautiful eye coloration and the pattern on its bill.

As I was walking along the pond, I initially spotted the little grebe while it was napping. It had drifted a little closer to shore than normally, so I was pretty excited to have a chance to get some shots of this elusive bird. However, the grebe’s head was in the shadows, so I watched and waited, marveling at the patterns in the water.

I captured the second shot below shortly after the grebe started stirring and looked to one side. As it started to swim away, the lighting was almost perfect and I captured the first shot below, a wonderful little side portrait of this Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you use your name as part of the title of your blog? Do you use your face as the avatar that shows up when you like a post? How much of yourself do you reveal in your postings?

Recently I have been pondering these types of questions. Ever since I turned 65 this past summer, I have been more reflective and introspective than usual. Retirement has posed some new opportunities and challenges as I seek to redefine myself in a way that does not necessarily include paid work.

As most of you know, my name is part of the title of this blog, “Mike Powell: My journey through photography,” and the URL is simply michaelqpowell.com. The template of the blog and even the “About me” section have not changed much since I set up the blog more than seven years ago. I think it is time to make some changes there and will probably do so over the next few months.

As a first step, I have updated the photo in my avatar. Over the past year or so I have assisted my mentor Cindy Dyer with some portrait sessions and, in addition to helping to set up lights and hold reflectors, I have served as the “model” to test out the lighting set-ups. Earlier this month, Cindy sent me the first photo below from one of those sessions.

Ever since I had cataract removal surgery a couple of years ago, I wear glasses only for reading and sometimes for computer work, so I am happy that my updated photo shows me without glasses. A side benefit is that I now have a much clearer sense of the actual color of my eyes. As you can see in the second photo, my previous avatar image that was also shot by Cindy, my eyes tended to look darker behind the glasses.

To a significant degree, I don’t care what others think about the way I look and act. I don’t think a lot about my appearance and you will rarely find me taking selfies—I feel a little strange posting photos of myself. What I care more about is having a sense of integrity, a sense of consistency in my actions, a feeling of comfort with who I am, and a willingness to do what I think is right. This blog provides a relatively unfiltered view of what I see and often what I feel—I am generally proud with having my name and my face associated with it.

So what about you? Do you ever think about your image? Has your view of yourself changed over time? Do others see you the way you see yourself? Do you care what others think?

Mike Powell

Mike Powell

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m normally very self-conscious about taking photos of people in public, but today I decided to throw caution to the wind and tried to capture images of a few of the guys who caught my attention.

The first image shows a young guy who was at the overlook area in front of Sacre Coeur and was trying to interest people in tours of the city in a bright orange vintage Citroën 2CV, the one that looks vaguely like the original Volkswagen Beetle.

I first heard the guy the second image playing the bongos (with a tambourine to his side) on a bench across the Seine from me, on a bank of Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame de Paris is located. Although I was a long way away, he seemed to sense my presence and looked up at me for a moment before returning to his music.

During my final visit to Place de Tertre in Montmartre late this afternoon, I again watched Jean-Marc Lambert, my favorite watercolor artist at work. You may recognize him in the final photo from an earlier posting I did about him. Unlike the two previous times, I did not engage with him, but silently and wistfully watched from a distance.

Tour guide in Paris

Bongos player in Paris

Watercolor painter in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How fast is a minute? As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I went on a sketching tour in Montmartre yesterday and I thought we would be sketching static objects like buildings, which we did. Then we moved into figure sketching. Yikes. That seemed to move things to a whole new and unanticipated level. The instructor, Romain, gave us a quick lesson on human proportions and then he assumed several static poses. We had a minute to sketch each one, pausing momentarily in between poses for him to provide feedback on our work.

As a final exercise, Romain adopted five slowly moving poses and we had one minute to sketch him in pen from head to toe in some part of each motion. Wow! Without a pause he would move to another dynamic pose. Each of those minutes went by really quickly and I felt like I was out of breath after five minutes of constant focus.

We all had a little laugh when the most skilled of the three of us taking the class ran out of time with one of her figures, which consequently  had no head. It was a little ironic, because just minutes before we had seen a statue of Saint Denis holding his head in his hands. Saint Denis, a Bishop of Paris, was martyred for his faith in 250 AD by decapitation. A popular story claims that the decapitated bishop picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance.

For fun, here are a couple of pages from that final sketching exercise. I can understand better now why artists need so much practice and training.

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Place du Tertre, a small square in the center of Montmartre, is a special place where artists of all varieties set up their easels every day and work in the open air, surrounded by the milling public. Many of them are portrait artists, who gently try to convince you to sit for a portrait.

I watched several of those artists at work and they are amazing talented, creating true-to-life drawings over an extended period of time. This is in sharp contrast with the large number of quick sketch “artists” who aggressively pursue you in the streets, trying to convince you to stand for a “portrait,” which is often a mere caricature that barely resembles the subject.

A number of other artists worked on small canvases with oil paint using palette knives. I had the impression that some of them were working in almost assembly line fashion, cranking out the same limited number of scenes of Paris suitable for souvenirs.

After circling the square, I returned to the only artist who was working in watercolor. He would sketch out his detailed paintings in India ink using a pointed fragment of bamboo as a drawing instrument. After the ink had dried, he would carefully apply multiple washes of color. Some of you know that I have dabbled with watercolor and I was absolutely enthralled as I watched this artist at work, mixing and applying the colors from a watercolor set not all that different than ones that I have.

Watercolor painting is time-consuming and unforgiving—you really cannot hide your mistakes. Supplies are relatively expensive, compared to oil and acrylic painting. Why would an artist choose this style of painting? It does not seem like an economically rational decision.

I did not want to interfere with the artist’s efforts, so I watched from a respectful distance and discreetly took a few photos. When he reached a certain stage when he needed to let a layer dry, he stopped for a smoke break. As he lit up an unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarette, I started to talk with him.

At first I asked him about the materials that he uses. He paints on high quality Arches 100% cotton paper, using a mix of artist quality paints from Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, and others. For brushes, he uses several rather large natural hair brushes. He pointed to one of them and noted that it had cost over 80 Euros (about $100), but he had used it for close to ten years.

He said that he had been painting from a young age and preferred painting in public like this and had done so for almost 40 years. Based on some comments he made about other painters, he seemed to reject the almost elitist idea of painting in seclusion in a studio, with works hanging in high-priced galleries.

He obviously loved what he was doing, but somewhat wistfully talked of eventually retiring to a place in the country. As he puffed on the final fragments of his cigarette, he announced that it was time to get back to work. I thanked him for talking with me—we spoke exclusively in French—and sharing his experience and perceptions. He graciously agreed to let me take a quick portrait shot and that photo, the last one below, is one of my favorite remembrances of this trip to Paris.

The first photo below gives you an overall sense of the environment at the Place du Tertre. Note the assemblage of easels and the passing tourists and compare that with the focus of the painter, who appears to be in his own little world.

The second image provides a slightly closer view of the work in progress. Note the large size of the brush that he is using and the initial delicate washes of color that he has applied.

The final shot, as noted above, is a quick portrait of the artist. It’s a candid pose from where he was standing. I really like the way that it turned out, capturing in part the unique personality of this awesome artist that I was happy to encounter, a man content with doing what he loves outdoors in all kinds of weather (except, he noted, in the rain, which obviously is bad for watercolor paintings).

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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