UK Camera Magazine 'PhotoPlus' features my 5 year photography project 'Ghost Houses of the Prairies'
I am proud to announce that my 'Ghosts Houses of the Prairies" Photo Project is featured in the current edition of the UK Photo Magazine "PhotoPlus”.
This project is very close to my heart, as it represents a number of milestones in my life, and in my career. First and foremost it brought me much closer to the friendships first forged over 35 years ago when I attended High School in Hutchinson, Kansas, and a place I now consider my real home.
Secondly, using Hutchinson and a good friend's farm in Overbrook, as my bases, I spent a wonderful 5 years driving along thousands of miles of Kansas, straight as a die, highways and dusty county roads, tracking down these sad but amazing structures. Over the course of that project I learned more about the negative effects of globalisation on food production that a lad from the projects of the inner city would ever normally get.
It was also, as a result of this project, the first time that I was called an artist to my face. This came from someone I deeply trust, and was at a time when I didn't trust many people around me back home in Ireland. That statement alone was enough to change the course of my creative journey from that point.
Now, as this project passes into history, along with the houses I captured, a new phase has opened, one which will see me working from Dublin, Kansas, and California. From these leaping off points I will be seeking new and exciting directions in my photography, while giving the various photography related workshops I have created for the Institute of Photography.
I can honestly say that if it were not for my Ghost Houses Project, I believe none of this would have come to pass. A very good friend uses 'Art saves lives' as her email signature, in my case I know this to be true.
It has been an incredible journey, and as I come to the end of it I see that I'm just at the start.
Vita brevis, ars lunga - Life is short, art is long
Much of my new work is only available on my Instagram: www.instagram.com/davemckanearts/
My own website is an easier way to see some of my projects: www.davemckanearts.com
My Facebook Arts Page is at: www.facebook.com/davemckanearts
COPIES OF THE MAGAZINE
- The magazine is available for the month of February in all good magazine shops in Ireland and the UK.
- The print version can be purchased from: https://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/photography/photoplus-magazine-back-issues/photoplus-march-2016-issue-110
- A downloadable version for computer and smart device is available for purchase here: https://gb.zinio.com/www/browse/product.jsp?productId=500596125#/
It's amazing how you take things for granted. I live on a little island surrounded by the sea. This means we suffer from "inclement" weather on a regular basis. For "inclement" read "cloudy"! This, of course, makes it hard for outdoor photography that relies on the perfect light for any scene. You either have to be very lucky or very persistent. When you have a life i.e. kids, career, perhaps a significant other that doesn't really care about photography then persistent usually isn't an option.
I began to come to terms with "the clouds" a couple of years ago but I really started to build a relationship with them when I started delving deep into HDR. As my journey in this new way of working with photographs progressed I noticed cloudy overcast days produced great results, the cloudier the better!
So my photographs of abandoned Irish buildings are coming along nicely. I can usually expect interesting clouds here in Ireland and I'm rarely disappointed. This makes for very efficient use of limited time. It means I shoot more, process more, learn more, all in a shorter space of time.
So what's the problem I hear you say? The problem is that when you go to a country that doesn't suffer from the same weather, or maybe even a US State that's not surrounded by water you have to change your perceptions of the weather! On a trip to Kansas last April to continue with my "Ghost Houses of the Prairies" project I suffered from great weather for 6 of the 7 days I was there. I had been shooting under the clear blue skies and bright yellow sun but wasn't getting good results. The shot at the top above shows an abandoned farmhouse under these bright conditions. Luckily the weather turned for a day and I got to re-shoot the house under cloudy skies, as the shot at the bottom shows.
This last trip to Kansas at the start of October was 11 days long of which 9.5 were clear blues skies and bright yellow sun (of which, more next newsletter). Next time I'll be checking the long range weather forecast before I make any more assumptions about the weather!
What has the Reticular Activating System got to do with photography? What in god's name is it? Why should I care?
The Reticular Activating System is actually a filter at the base of our brain that prevents information, deemed irrelevant to us, from sending us into sensory overload. It essentially checks all our senses all the time and makes us aware of what it thinks we should know about and hides from us information it thinks we don't need to know about.
It was explained to me in a way which I think is very interesting. Think of a young mother who lives in a house under the flight path of an airport. At night there are planes regularly flying overhead making a level of noise that, in theory, should wake her up. But they don't. The Reticular Activating System says to her unconscious mind "you don't need to worry about this, stay asleep". But if her newborn baby makes a sound much lower than that of the planes the Reticular Activating Section says "you need to be aware of this, wake up".
This is one of the reasons why, when we're looking to buy a new car, we suddenly see that make of car all over the place. It's also why we see lots of pregnant women immediately after someone we know gets pregnant. In both cases it's like they've suddenly appeared out of nowhere. They haven't. The filter stopped us from seeing them in the first place and has been forced open in the second.
So what does this have to do with photography? For me it has more to do with photography projects. Let me explain.
One of my long-term projects is called "Ghost Houses of the Prairies". This is a collection of abandoned farmhouses from Kansas in the USA. Many of the houses I come up against are 'nearly' abandoned, they still have people living in them. I'm not interested in these kinds of houses. So how do I know? Well there are clues such as broken windows, screens hanging at an angle, doors half open, a tile or 2 missing from the roof, a hole in one of the walls. Any one of these is not a guarantee of an abandoned house, but a combination of them usually is. You'd expect, though, that I could only spot these up close and not from a distance. But I can spot these houses now from a mile or more away. My Reticular Activating System is open to all of these clues and tells me when I "need to be aware of this".
One amazing way it came together for me lately was on a fruitless trip 360 miles out (1 way!!) from base along Interstate 70 in northern Kansas. I was on my way back from a disappointing find in Hays (that's another story altogether!) and was heading on the long journey back. About 60 miles in I spotted a collapsed barn to the right of the highway. Now I'm not interested in barns and would normally ignore them, but my Reticular Activating System said ""be aware of this, abandoned barns may have abandoned houses near them". Almost without realising it I went into auto-mode. The next off-ramp was fast approaching (probably the last one for 10 miles or more) but I was ready to come off immediately and by the time I hit it I was already thinking of how to get there "go right, go right, go right" was on my mind. Kansas is pretty much laid out on a grid system so this would probably work. Well it did! I found a fantastic specimen... and then another and then another and then another! 4 in total less that a mile from each other.
But my Reticular Activating System wasn't prepared to let go. It said later, after I came back to Ireland "4 so close together is unusual". So I went back the next month and found 3 more, and a couple of months later 5 more!
I now call this my "Elephants Graveyard". All because I forced my Reticular Activating System to open up.
On a trip to Berlin recently I had great plans to shoot the Brandenburg Gate at dusk. As luck would have it the weather was miserable all day, with a thunderstorm around teatime promising to bring a halt to all outdoor activity. And I was only there for one night!
The clouds were still thick and miserable as I set out on foot from the restaurant were we had dinner and the weather stayed like that all the way there. As I set up the tripod in front of the gate about 10 minutes before sunset a German photographer came up to me and told me I was wasting my time as there would be no 'blue moment' that night due to the heavy clouds. I told him to have faith, I only needed a little break in the clouds. He said it was hopeless because he knew what clouds were coming our way. Well it stayed that way until 40 minutes after sunset when the clouds started clearing! (It got much clearer about 20 minutes after this shot was taken but by that time the light from the sky was too low and the light inside the gate was blowing out).
Even though the sky was clearing I was very worried about the dark foreground. The street lights simply weren't coming up to strength the way that I had hoped. But as luck would have it a police car drove by in a slow arc in front of me just after I fired the shutter leaving it's headlights trails behind, pure chance! This simple accident added significant foreground interest and really helped show up the detail of the cobbled street.
Oh ye of little faith!
One of my students recently brought my attention to some interesting research lately into the area of achieving exellence has come up with some interesting findings (thanks Tanyia!). We all know about the child prodigy's, the ones who can play the violin or piano from a very early age. We assume that they're born with this talent. The fact is that without regular practice a prodigy will never achieve excellence, day in, day out practice. So if you're born to greatness then a lack of investment in time and effort means you're unlikely to achieve the greatness you were born to.
But what about the rest of us? Those who weren't born to greatness? The same research is actually saying that it's the practice that counts. In fact it's 10,000 hours, or 10 years, of practice that's needed to achieve mastery in any field.
I've been shooting creative photography since 1984 and it wasn't until I was in Asissi in the summer of 2007 that I got what I considered a shot I was really happy with (see right). Is this my 10,000 hours? Maybe, but I had been tricking around my new Nikon D200 at the time and I thought it was the camera that made the difference, who knows!
Unfortunately mastery does not come about by staring at your camera while it sits on a shelf. You have to go out and take mundane shots, screw up the camera's settings and generally mess up before you start achieving a higher skill level. So get out and shoot.. now!
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