The School of Photography winds down our FA17 semester at AAU with a shout to our students, past, present and future.
Professional travel and luxury photographer Braden Summers discovered early that the key to having a successful career was to surround himself with other professionals. As a result of internships and self-directed study abroad with the Academy of Art University's School of Photography, Braden now has a versatile portfolio of sophisticated imagery.
His work has been featured in Marie Claire UK, on the sites of French Elle, French Glamour, Advocate and The Huffington Post.
In this video, Braden talks more about his experience at AAU.
More of Braden Summers' work can be found at www.bradensummers.com
Text and images by Gregory Beams.
Narrative photographs are those that invoke a story for the viewer. Unlike books or movies, a photograph doesn’t convey the entire story, but rather, it invites the viewer to develop a story based on the scene and content presented within the photograph. Viewers bring their life experiences, including the books, movies, television, etc., they have read or seen, into their relationship with the photograph.
Movies & the Photograph
When people go to movies, they willingly set aside the reality of the world in which they live and enter a cinematic reality. This new reality is unique to each movie and defined by the story being presented on the screen. Movie goers don’t judge that cinematic world based on their life experience, but rather, they judge it for consistency within itself and what it portends to represent. Viewers develop a highly sophisticated understanding of the visual cues used by cinematographers to convey the story being presented by the movie. Attributes such as color, light& tonality, composition, etc., inform the viewer about the scene and its emotional meaning.
Photographers can access that narrative power by adopting a more cinematic aesthetic. This allows viewers to see cinematic photographs as frames from within a larger story. Viewers are then willing to look for the narrative being presented and willingly search for visual clues to understand what is happening within the image.
Whereas movies are presented on a timeline established by the movie itself and so viewers can’t stop to inspect scenes and content more closely, photographs are meant to be explored on a timeline established by the viewer. This allows viewers to examine a scene and consider the meaning of the characters and other content within the photograph. As a natural part of viewing a narrative photograph, viewers will consider what happened to the characters and content before the scene was frozen into the photograph and what will happen next. This becomes a key part of how the story is developed by the viewer.
Photographers can use the movie-goers’ visual sophistication in creating their narrative photographs by developing a more cinematic aesthetic. When viewers see a cinematic photograph, they inherently understand that there is a story for them to find and they willingly participate in developing that narrative.
In using a cinematic aesthetic, photographers provide visual cues that cause viewers to see the photograph as being from a larger narrative. The three main cues include composition, light and color.
Composition: Cinematographers use certain compositions such as close-ups, medium and long shots and variations of these compositions in order to provide context for viewers. Wide shots set the scene and inform viewers about the setting within which the characters are portrayed. Medium shots portray action and activity between a limited number of characters and content. Close-ups involve emotion and intimacy between the viewer and the character.
Light: Light establishes the visual importance of the characters and content within the scene and it conveys the mood or emotion associated with the scene. Viewers are drawn to brightness and contrast and so those are important attributes for informing the viewer about where to look for the important aspects of the image. The overall lighting and tonality sets the viewer’s emotional expectations about the overall scene and so will impact the type of story they develop. The overall lighting defines whether the scene is one of bright happiness, hope and triumph versus dark mystery, intrigue and despair. If the lighting is inconsistent with the intended emotional mood, then viewers will be visually confused and may misunderstand the photograph’s message or intent.
Color: Color is critical to creating cinematic photographs because movies use a consistent color palette that viewers are accustomed to. While cinematographers can and do deviate from these colors, these are artistic exceptions. Cyan, blues and greens are most often used for dark scenes with characters given a slight orange hue. Daylight scenes bring more color variety but are oftentimes given a bluer tone for dramatic movies and an orange or yellower tone for more romantic movies. Photographs that have a dominant hue across an entire image are also seen as cinematic and can create tension and drama.
Bringing consistency across all of the photographic attributers so that the composition, lighting and coloring work together to inform viewers about the emotion of a scene is important in their ability to understand what they are seeing and to engage them in developing a story about the photograph.
Cinematic photography lets photographers use the visual sophistication that viewers have developed through their movie-going experience to invoke a narrative within their photographs. Viewers see the image as a scene from a larger story and they willingly create a narrative not only of what they believe is happening within the photograph, but what has happened leading up to the photograph and what will happen next.
Only My Two Cents,
Editor's Note: Gregory Beams' work will be on display at AAU's 625 Sutter Gallery during the month of October.
Recently, AAU Lens featured the work of MFA student Cynthia Matty-Huber, selected for 2014 Photolucida Critical Mass Top 50. In this interview, Katty Hoover talks with Full-Time Faculty Marico Fayre. Fayre, who is an alumnus of AAU's MFA program, was recently selected in the 2015 Top 200 list for her project Cartographers of Memory. We wish her luck in the final selection!
KH: Cartographers of Memory is inspired by the legacy of your grandmother, who is known for her penchant for adventure. Has your grandmother seen these pictures?
MF: No, she hasn’t seen them yet. I spoke with my mother and one of the other sisters and though I was happy to let them show the work, we all agreed to wait until my next visit. I have created a book I will give to Tutu, either for her 93rd birthday (in November) or for Christmas. I am very curious to see what she thinks.
KH: These images were made in San Miguel de Allende, which has established a reputation as a sanctuary for artists, including American ex-pats. Nonetheless, these images say little about the tourist experience. Many of the pictures are made in interior spaces; some are self-portraits. Can you talk about how San Miguel set the scene for you to explore the subject matter this way?
MF: San Miguel has always felt like home for me. Most people who live there weren’t born there, so whether they come from America, Canada, Sweden, Argentina, Mexico or somewhere else, we all share a personal and often an artistic draw to the place. It makes for very interesting conversations - and friendships. San Miguel collects wanderers and artist. Most people end up there during a major transition or transformation, which is part of what draws me to the place and to the people.
I first went to San Miguel after getting divorced, receiving my MFA, quitting a job and starting another one (teaching for AAU), and generally uprooting everything familiar in my life. In this the space, this emptiness, Cartographers began, though I didn’t know it at the time. Every time I go back, I feel the layers slipping away. I feel more open and present. I’ve even been told that my eyes and my face change. I see differently.
By letting go of everything that was familiar, I started building a new life – and a different approach to my art. It’s definitely a work in progress, but almost four years later, I can at least start to see the pattern, piece by piece.
KH: What photographers have influenced you and your process?
MF: So many! I am always looking at work. I love teaching in part because looking for reference for students encourages me to seek out artists that I may not have seen otherwise.
I was reading the diaries of Edward Weston when working on Cartographers and I always go back to the mundane magic of William Eggleston. I am grateful to Cig Harvey for continued inspiration. She asked important questions when I first began owning the power of incorporating my own story more directly into my work and through seeing her work evolve I was also able to give myself permission to explore very personal subject matter.
Mary Ellen Mark and Todd Hido were both inspiring to me as well, though less directly. I could go on and on.
KH: You also work as Full-Time Faculty at AAU, which must require balancing your energy between teaching and art production. What advice can you give to aspiring artists who work full time or have other obligations?
MF: The question of balancing work and art (work) is an important one and honestly I wish I was able to do a better job of this most days. While everyone has a slightly different approach, I find that I do much better when I have a routine in place. So, for example, I often make coffee and journal in the morning. Sometimes photo ideas come from it, other days it's just a way of getting some of the chatter out of my head and onto paper. I also recommend planning specific days or times to shoot. This can be annoying when you’re a student and it’s a requirement, but it can be easy to get out of the habit afterward and I honestly miss having deadlines!
Unlike many artists, I went directly from being a student to being a teacher and it took me a couple years to figure out any sort of balance between teaching (online), shooting for clients, and consistently making my own work. I like to plan weekend trips every 4-6 weeks and then 2-3 longer journeys during school breaks to places that inspire me and allow me to focus (San Miguel de Allende is essentially my second home).
One of the biggest challenges for me is that I often shoot digitally and that requires editing on the computer, which means that I am online and too easily pulled into school, emails, client requests, etc. It's been important for me to develop a routine (not checking email from bed, for example) so that I still have structure around a work day - as well as time "off!"
I also make sure that I capture images every day, even if it is just on my phone. It's important to me to intentionally look at the world as a photographer - to slow down and notice the world around me. I use Instagram and my blog to share them, and also to hold myself accountable.
I also love collaboration and I am often working with artists and professionals in other mediums to create or help promote work that continues to inspire and challenge me. The conversations and energy that come from these experiences are really a key part of my life.
So, I don't have a specific formula, but I do think it is important to find what works for you. For me, it's a combination of daily routine, conversations and collaborations with artists, teaching in order to share my experiences and continue to be engaged in the developments within both photography and education, living in a place that inspires and invigorates me, traveling in order to see the world anew and remain curious, seeing visual and performance art, creating ongoing series that usually last between 6-36 months as well as shorter projects that give me a sense of completion, and continuing to build and nurture the connections I have with creators.
One last thought (this is becoming a novel). Be sure to find/create opportunities to talk with people who are working artists. Don't rely on the cocktail party type conversations; dig deep and ask questions. Students and friends alike will tell you that I never stop asking question.
KH: What’s next for you?
MF: That’s always the question! I generally work on two or three projects at a time so I don’t burn out on one. Currently I am putting together a book of this work as I think it needs to be held and touched. And I really want to get this body of work up on gallery walls! I'm in the process of submissions now.
I’m also completing another series that I also began during this same period of transformation, but set aside for the last four years. In fact, it was the first body of work I shot after completing my thesis. I'm now going back with fresh eyes. Seeing it now, Hiraeth: Houses & Hotels (originally titled You & I) became a record of my experience the past few years of making my “home” in new cities and, often, in other people’s spaces. The images explore the question of what we present to the world and ultimately how far behind the mask art can go as well as what we need to feel connected or grounded in our lives. These scenes of daily ritual reflect moments that are familiar and inviting, while also containing a strangeness that causes us to pause and quiet the rush and rumble of life. I moved from NYC back to Portland, OR in August and I am enjoying a new appreciation for place and a physical home – and the mental and creative perspective to finish another long-standing body of work.
Since I love collaborating, I am also working on a book with a good friend (a writer) and I have bi-weekly art dates with another friend/collaborator to create new work. He’s a performer and a stylist, so we’re having a lot of fun challenging each other to step outside of our normal way of making art and create something new! It also helps to have someone to hold me accountable so I can’t ever go too long without picking up the camera.
We're honored to feature in this week's Portfolio Flash the work of Cynthia Matty-Huber, who joins the MFA program at AAU this fall. Matty-Huber was just named in the Top 50 for Critical Mass by Photo Lucida.
Says Matty-Huber of this work:
I am intrigued by ranchers who dig their life’s work out of the land, day in and day out, 365 days a year. I have photographed one particular rancher, John Hoiland, through all four seasons. Hoiland's family came to Montana in 1906. He still lives on the same 940 acres and in the same house his family built before he was born. He never married. His parents died, leaving John to move relentlessly from one chore to the next until daylight is gone. “I have to do what three of us did,” he says. Some of the outbuildings that sprawl across John’s acres seem to be hanging on for dear life, but each has a purpose and almost every car or truck he ever owned including his everyday vehicle, a 1939 Chevy truck can be seen as you drive by. The same stove his father bought after World War I for $35 heats the kitchen. That stove and a wood furnace in the living room have warmed him since birth. I photograph to convey the rugged life this rancher endures, barely getting by, at the mercy of the elements, the cost of raising healthy animals a constant threat; I wonder what keeps him going. This series is a testament to these hardscrabble individuals who sacrifice their life to the western landscape.