The Artist as a Loose Canon

In October 2017 my wife and I went to Paris, and along with that, several other French provinces. What better way to use up Frequent Flyer miles and also enjoy the sights with some relatives who would be joining us?


Being a photography-based artist, I thought about how I would use the time there while not spoiling the family’s enjoyment much. To start with, there’s the mechanics of making images. Bigger cameras mean more restrictions (for example a 12 kilo bag of camera and lenses might mean me walking slowly). So the digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) system stayed home and a small two camera body and three lens system went instead, a tribute to the mirrorless micro 4.3 format camera that modern tech has given us as an option.

Cameras are simply machines to allow a lens and a sensor to see well and capture what is seen, and of the two, the lens is the critical element. Assuming a pro uses only the sharpest lenses, the other proof of their high price worthiness is the character of the images they produce.

Lenses can lean colors in different ways: green, red, or blue. But what really makes this consideration fun is that the lenses have a character that is not easily described. And for that reason my all-time fave is a Leica-designed Summilux lens, originally designed by two Leica scientists around the time of WWII. It’s so good that it is my standard for any other lens I try out. It’s not that it is sharper, but it’s great because the flat areas of color, or grey tones, are as creamy smooth as I can hope for.


Creamy & Smooth? Okay, those are vague terms, so better that I say the lens produces the most elegant looking image I see. Today’s digital wonders are very fast at gathering light, too. That means during most of the daylight times you don’t need a tripod to steady the camera. Shaky hands don’t matter because these cameras are stabilized by gyros.

I have the small kit prepped and I don’t feel I am compromising much in making that equipment selection over my heavier and more powerful usual choice. And beyond that comes the day to day management of not lousing up the family’s fun and experience of this travel-oriented trip.

The few things we photo artists can louse up fall into the category of not slowing the party up and not being a distracted bore all of the time. Keeping up has two solutions. One, tell the fam to keep going and you will get this or that image moment done then run like a rabbit to keep up with them. It is a breathless task but functional in some degree.

For more serious work, arrange with the people you love to take a few hours off by yourself every few days. Then you go back to the places you surveyed while accompanying the family and with some time on your hands do explore that place in greater depth. In the past half century the prevailing idea to produce a good portfolio came down to thinking about your desired theme, refining it, then create images that stay in tune with that thesis. That approach has pros and cons to it, but no matter since that is what is expected by the world of curators, art dealers and other word-oriented folks we artists need to take into account.


So Paris, yes, but hmm…..


Having spent years in Hanoi, Vietnam, I thought, “Is Paris changing the way Hanoi has been doing?” and thus signaled my muse that my big Vietnam project was about that change. At least I should find out what the country was changing from, that is, its traditional culture.

But France is visually static, a good thing considering its aged and very aesthetic appearance. So without that change to work with, I needed another mini concept. The subject could be people, events, customs, or urban and rural landscapes. Or perhaps just history (meaning a lot of church-type buildings) would suffice.

Then the rebel stepped into the foggier part of my expressive brain, and I thought, why do I have to narrow this down or write some overstated thesis of what my aesthetic intention was? I’d then be forced to limit my ideas and feelings to only what images played well to that thesis.

Off I went with that little glint of freedom in my mind, and made a lot of images that I just felt a strong response to. As I review and continue to edit these images, it may seem clearer that my thesis was really not about the subject, but was about how I define myself as an artist who hates trends and restrictions on expression. Frankly, I don’t think the average human cares what the thesis was or was not because they just want to enjoy the image, or not.



But with all of that said I suppose there is a theme, which is the one of rebellion. Maybe we can call this mess of images, or a project I suppose, by one of the following titles.

  • Images from an Unrepentant Photographer

  • Truth is When the Image Sings

  • Feeling is Enough

  • I see, I reflect, I Expose and That’s it!

So I am a loose canon in this European portfolio, and maybe that is the best name for this soup of images.

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