By the 1840’s – especially with the publication of John Ruskin’s seminal work Modern Painters in 1843 – many painters were drawn to representing the natural landscape. Ruskin (b: 1819, d: 1900) was the most influential art critic of his day and exhorted his readers to “…rejecting nothing, and scorning nothing, believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing in the truth.” Ruskin, also an artist, made detailed sketches and paintings nature and man-made objects and argued that “truth to nature” was the principle role of the artists. He championed the Pre-Raphaelites who in turn were influenced by his writing.
One of the painters that was influenced by Ruskin’s writings was William James Stillman. Born in 1828, Stillman was given an artistic education graduating from Union College in his home town of Schenectady, New York. He studied art under the Fredrick Edwin Church an American landscape painter who put emphasis on light and held a Romantic respect for natural detail and was a leading figure in the Hudson River School of painting and had apprenticed under Thomas Cole the founder of the School.
I went to my favorite spot along the San Francisco Bay shoreline in the mid-afternoon to read, listen to good jazz, and “practice” using the 120 soft focus lens on the Pentax 645NII. Last week I used the Pentax 67II but after thinking about it afterwards came to the conclusion that the 645 would be a better fit. The working hypothesis is that sailing on the open water would make for a fine color print in the impressionists style. The 645NII is smaller and more compact than the 67NII and will work off the smaller and lighter series 0 tripod while the 67 requires the series 3. This makes the 645 faster to remove from the backseat and set-up and the 120mm lens has a further reach on the 645 than on the 67 and fills more of the viewfinder with the sailboat. Additionally, the damper on the 645’s mirror is far softer than on the 67 but with a shutter speed around the 750 mark mirror lock-up is unnecessary. The weather was perfect and the fog was absent from the moderate onshore flow and lowering the windows allowed for a refreshing breeze to flow through. It was also perfect for sitting on one of the benches lining the shoreline without having to wear a parka but I also wanted to read while listening to good jazz and have the camera ready to go and the car fit that bill nicely.
While reading East of the Mississippi – Nineteenth Century American Landscape Photography I became excited about creating impressionistic photographic prints and although I had to work the early morning shift at work, brought the big Pentax with the 120mm soft-focus lens and tripod along to capture some images of ordinary people enjoying their leisure – one of the central motifs of the Impressionists.
It was a rare warm sunny day at Ocean Beach where thousands gathered escape the heat and play in the surf. Finding a parking spot was a nightmare and I didn’t really expect to find anything reasonably close to the ocean but as luck would have it a spot suddenly opened up almost in front of the Cliff House – just steps from the overlook I had in mind and I exposed several frames of now expired Kodak Porta 160 color negative film that I had in the wine cooler. Earlier I shot the impressionistic-looking facade of an upscale apartment building I had spotted the previous week while checking-out MONET or the Triumph of Impressionism from the San Mateo public library. I was going to purchase it through Amazon but why do that when so many copies are available in the local public libraries.
It was great fun working again with the big Pentax – August will be its eighteenth birthday (so it starts college in the fall?). I remember when I first got that camera: I was so proud of it that I took it and the one lens (105mm normal) with me on a visit to a friends friend house to watch The Green Mile which was shot with 70mm film and starred Tom Hanks. The case was so large for the camera and one lens that it felt awkward carrying it as a tilt would start things inside rolling around. But over time I added to the lens and now it is packed with the camera and nine lens. Two more lens, the 300mm and 400mm, are housed in the separate factory hard cases that came with those lens. The Pentax 120 Soft is an interesting lens to work with. Focusing with it is tricky and a little time consuming but if you get it right it delivers outstanding results.
I checked my chemistry and the RA-4 and C-41 are still good. I have some Fuji Crystal Archive glossy in the refrigerator which should be also still good but I am thinking that maybe a semi-gloss or even matte paper may be best for Impressionism. Likewise Kodak Ektar, which has a ultra vivid color palate and high saturation, may be a better film for Impressionism but you have to start somewhere and with what I have on hand is the best place.
The Veterans Administration’s 32d Annual Creative Arts Festival was held regionally last Thursday and Friday and the Kallitype that I had submitted in February placed 1st in the competition. A photograph of all 1st Place art is then transmitted to the national VA by each of the regional VA’s for the national competition. Regardless of the outcome at the national level I am honored that my print was selected and I found the participation to be an enjoyable personal experience.
I wish that I had known of the VA’s Creative Arts Festival before but now that I do I plan to be an annual participant and encourage all reading this to check the CAF out and, if a veteran, participate!