Articles by: Courtney Coleman

Beyond Pretty: The evolution of my visual literacy

When I joined the staff at Dallas Center for Photography in December 2015, I’d been shooting regularly for about 5 years. Mostly of my dogs and later my child and occasionally for friends with poor vision and cheap taste in photography. I enjoyed taking pictures. I had a gut instinct as to what I thought looked good but I would never classify myself as a “photographer” or claim to have any real knowledge of the subject.

I also had no shame.

I spent a lot of time looking at pictures but found myself lacking the ability to describe what I liked about them. They’re just…pretty! I could spend hours drooling over Dog Breath Photography’s portfolio. And how fun are these images from Loose Leashes?! (I told you I loved dog photography!) After my daughter was born I gravitated towards mommy bloggers who shared their parenting experience with both candid and posed visuals.

But as I immersed myself in the photographic world that DCP opened up to me, something unexpected happened. Instead of being inspired by all of these incredibly creative people, I was confused and insecure. I put my camera down for almost 6 months.

I was seeing images from both professional and beginner photographers that had real depth. My photo of my daughter looked nothing like the stunning portraits that came out of our natural light classes. I was also being exposed to genres of photography that I never really paid much attention. When I accompanied the street photography workshop and tried to capture some street scenes, I didn’t know what the hell to focus on. I felt like I was constantly failing.

After trying for 20 minutes on Halloween to get a pretty picture of Hannah in her costume, this is what I got. I was disappointed because you can’t see her face and considered the whole shoot a failure. When I showed it to Peter he completely disagreed. He explained that it’s strong because it captured her personality perfectly and was a moment any parent could relate to.

By the end of 2016 I had two key realizations. The first was when I realized what’s been holding me back from truly appreciating some photos: my ego and its default reaction of judging. When I am looking at a photograph displayed on a gallery wall my brain wants to quickly dismiss it as “there’s nothing special about that” and not really SEE the picture. But if I’ll turn that voice off for a second, I’ll notice there is a lot more to that photo. Sometimes it’s the interesting compositional elements or it’s capturing a unique experience that only the photographer had access to at that moment in time. As Peter once told me, comparison is the killer of creativity.

Not all intimate family portraits have to be taken outside during golden hour.

My next important discovery was realizing I was developing a vocabulary to describe the photos I was seeing. Sitting in on National Geographic photographer Sam Abell’s image critique gave me my first words to describe how a strong image comes together. I’ve been lucky enough to spend many hours discussing and dissecting photography with Peter. So now instead of a photo just being pretty, I appreciate the lighting, the defined spaces of the subjects or the photographer’s ability to capture the decisive moment in that event.

10 minutes into naptime.

I also started exploring photojournalistic style photography with the work of photographers such as Ed Kashi and Dorothea Lange. I’ve been moved to tears more times looking at Dorothea’s photos of migrant farm families and Japanese internment camps than in the entire year I had the movie E.T. on constant repeat. These photos are far from pretty. They are intense, emotional and necessary.

Fast forward another few months and I’m still frozen. I’m now intimidated by these photojournalists being able to capture impeccably composed photos amidst chaos and disaster and I still can’t figure out where to point my camera. And then Dorothea spoke to me. OK, she spoke to everyone watching that American Masters episode on PBS but it truly resonated with me.

In her early 20’s Dorothea was a successful and busy portrait photographer in San Francisco. When the Great Depression began to take hold of our country, soup lines developed in the streets below her studio. Looking down at this scene one day she said “I will set myself a big problem. I will go there, I will photograph this thing, I will come back, and develop it. I will print it, and I will mount it and I will put it on the wall, all in twenty-four hours. I will do this, to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightning.”

Even during our daily rituals I’m learning to see the details.

So that’s what I’ll do. I will look outside my window and photograph what I see. With constraints from family life, daily commitments and social anxieties, I won’t be traveling to exotic places or immersing myself in the important movements of our current society. But there are still pictures to be taken from my role as a mother, my activities at DCP and every place I may stop in between. I will take these photos, I will process them and although most will not get printed and mounted, I will likely post them on Instagram which is basically the modern equivalent but with a lot less chemicals. I will do this, to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightning. I’ll settle for a spark.

I’ll even allow myself to capture the un-pretty.

The Art & Business of Food Blogging

In early September Lauren Palmer was scrolling through Facebook and a familiar picture popped up on a friend’s feed. It was a picture of pastel macarons. Macarons she had purchased. They were sitting on one of her plates; on her dining room table; looking as gorgeous as they would had they come from Ladurée, Mad Macs or some other exquisite bakery–not the frozen section of Trader Joe’s where she had actually found them.

The picture-shot by her beloved friend and photographer, Patrizia Montanari, was promoting a class Patrizia would teach for Dallas Center for Photography called The Art and Business of Food Blogging. The Art and Business. Business. The title resonated with Lauren. We asked her to share her experience with us:

I’m not a food blogger per se. Well, not just a food blogger. My website, The Art of Living Beautifully, is an online lifeStyle hub where fashion, entertaining and yes food intertwine to inspire. This non-tech creative started a website in 2014 and has literally been tripping forward for 2 years, not knowing how to get there or even where she was going, but the determination to continue creating each week has outweighed the logic. The most difficult part though? Not knowing what I don’t know.

I signed up for the workshop where Patrizia would teach photography, Coryanne Ettiene owner of Ettiene Culinary Market would teach the business side of food blogging, and Rebecca White creator of A Pleasant Little Kitchen and foodie contributor for The Dallas Morning News would share her knowledge of the art of food styling.

lauren-palmer-art-and-business-food-blogging-dallas-center-for-photography

Photo Credit: Lauren Palmer

Five minutes till 9:00 I arrived at Ettiene Market with 10 other bloggers. I watched as they unloaded camera bags and lenses and sexy little MacBook Pros–I had shoved my tiny Olympus in my purse with a small notebook and my ancient laptop which weighs approximately 9 pounds. Class began on time in Coryanne’s market. It truly was the ideal setting to absorb foodie inspiration: French cup towels, cast iron pots with a golden hue, giant tea cups branded DARLING and SUGAR stacked in haphazard towers. It is rustic and honest and a home cook’s dreamy-est dream.

“I’m in the mood to receive a check for $6000 today” Coryanne said. I smiled. I liked her already. She began her segment by encouraging us to treat our blogs like a business, not just a hobby or creative outlet. Seek collaborators, fill in gaps, look for opportunities, reach out, do the work, diversify, be authentic, honest and open, take chances. Success doesn’t just happen for bloggers. We have to create it, look for it and be smart about it. She told me things I didn’t know, while reminding me of parts that I did, but had just forgotten.  Her knowledge was vast. Her experience, coveted. Her involvement in this workshop was priceless.

Patrizia took over after Coryanne and gave us a quick lesson on camera anatomy. Light, color, composition, story-telling–these are the components that make a great photograph, she told us in her lovely Italian accent. Also remember light is the other subject of the image. Be very aware of it and use it to your advantage. She was even able to demonstrate photo editing in Lightroom, all the while encouraging us to develop our eye and see our photographs differently.

lauren-palmer-2-dallas-center-for-photography

Photo Credit: Lauren Palmer

Market Street Supermarket graciously provided lunch for the attendees, which we could also use as subjects for practice. We spread out, ate and took a few shots before Rebecca White began her words on food styling–which for me was the most fun part of the day. I had no idea that photographs should be well thought out before hand, and that they should communicate your brand as well as show a particular food. It shouldn’t be just a picture of spaghetti. The picture of spaghetti should also tell what makes your blog unique: moody, colorful, glamorous, simple, kid-friendly etc…Rebecca had so many ideas and tips on how to create photographs that become your own personal thumbprint.

By the end of the day, I was overflowing with knowledge and fearful I would forget some of the precious wisdom I had just attained. I was also exhausted and starving. On my way to grab some Thai food take-out before heading home, I used what brain power I had left to process the day. The biggest takeaway I had was the simple reminder to seek help if you struggle somewhere. Look to places like Dallas Center for Photography for guidance. Take a class. Engage in a workshop and meet others who are in your same shoes. As bloggers and photographers our jobs can feel so lonely, so isolated. My day at Ettiene Market was a refreshing change to my typical island of one work day. Thank you DCP. Thank you to Coryanne and Rebecca. E grazie mille por la tua amicizia Patrizia.

lauren-palmer-dallas-center-for-photography

Lauren Palmer

www.theartoflivingbeautifully.net

Instagram: @theartoflivingbeautifully

 

 

 

Preview of the DMA’s Concentrations 60: Lucie Stahl

 

dma-press-preview-dallas-center-for-photography

This morning I had the pleasure of attending Dallas Museum of Art’s Press Preview for Concentrations 60: Lucie Stahl. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a scanner artist but it was close enough to photography that I wanted to know more.

Stahl uses a flatbed scanner to create large format images of items such as food, magazine clippings and trash. The results are fascinating and have a very tactile quality. I really enjoyed her image titled Identity which consisted of a Coca-Cola can, flowers, Lucie’s hands and some unknown liquid. Her method of coating the print in resin made it seem as though the strange red liquid was going to drip right off the wall onto the gallery floor. According to the DMA, “Stahl’s work plays with the notion of liquidity in its many forms – from finance to bodily fluids to the malleability of gender, identity, and images.”

Lucie Stahl Identity, 2015 Inkjet print, aluminum, epoxy resin

Lucie Stahl
Identity, 2015
Inkjet print, aluminum, epoxy resin

Creating art using scanners is actually a really fun and easy thing to do. The images you create can be blown up to huge proportions and are still very sharp. You can use flowers, household objects or even faces. Here’s a helpful how-to on scannography.

Even if you’re not ready to start scanning I certainly recommend checking out Concentrations 60: Lucie Stahl. The exhibit opens Friday, September 16, 2016 and runs until March 12, 2017. Admission is free. Visit the DMA website for complete details.

Sometimes Photoshop is just too complicated for a simple job

Have you ever wanted to make a nice graphic for a presentation or social media but using Photoshop seemed like too much work? I’ve found an easier option. Canva is a free graphic design platform that allows anyone to create beautiful and engaging designs.

I appreciate that they offer dozens of pre-sized templates for social media sites such as Facebook and Pinterest. I’ve used it to make party invitations, flyers, and even Christmas cards. When I’m struggling to come up with a design idea I like to browse their sample layouts for inspiration. Canva also offers free tutorials to help spark your creativity.

At DCP I’ve been using Canva to create easily sharable graphics to announce upcoming events and classes. Here’s an example of one I created for the Photo Swap Meet. I used one of our photos for the background image and then added text on top. Resizing text is simple- you just click the text you want and make your change. To ensure the text was readable, I layered a transparent square between the text and the background. It would have taken me half a day to find that object in Photoshop. In Canva you just click the icon for shapes and then you have a huge selection to drag and drop into your design.

Click here to check out Canva for yourself. And definitely take advantage of the Design School, it really helps break down the basics of good graphic design.

swap-meet-graphic-dallas-center-for-photography