Warning: I may succumb to fangirl geekiness in this article!
Has your heart ever been touched so deeply that you feel giddy, slightly nauseous and your spine feels like an interstate highway for hordes of marching ants during rush hour?
Well...I was fortunate enough to have just that experience this past week!
The Back Story
I had signed up for a workshop with John Paul Caponigro. He excels at using Photoshop as a digital darkroom. Taking control of my prints has become a priority, so I signed up for his "Black and White Mastery" Course.
Plus, I was enticed by the idea of photography opportunities in Cushing, Maine.
Romantic ideas of fishing villages, lighthouses and rugged shorelines filled my head. Ironically, the weather was gray, foggy, chilly and winter dark.
The sun finally rose in it's golden glory...while I was driving back to the airport. (Life is so darned funny!)
John Paul just happens to be the son of Paul Caponigro, a contemporary of Ansel Adams and a member of the famous Photography West group.
Little did I know that Paul lives about 200 yards behind his son...and that we would get to spend an incredible two hours with this master photographer in his studio/dark room!
He graciously showed us about 70 (or more) prints from his library of black and white masterpieces.
Spirituality reaches out from his photos and pulls you, heart-first, into the frame!
His use of "figure to ground" placement should be used as exemplars for photographers (and painters) everywhere.
The use of atmospheric perspective in the black and white photos was astounding and inspiring.
The elements of composition were subtle yet powerful in conveying his vision/message.
Here are a few of the creative gems he shared with us.
There is an otherness inside you that wants to be part of the (artistic) process.
I photograph what Nature puts in front of me. (One could actually hear the capital "N" of nature in his voice.)
You have to wait for the rocks to start breathing before you take their picture. (I shook in my seat when I heard this because I wait for the rocks to talk to me!)
You must learn to "suggest" in your photos. (By this time, I was shaking like a James Bond martini because "Suggest" was on the list in last week's blog!)
Ansel wrote 6 volumes on the Zone System. I can give it to you in 10 words. Shoot for the shadows. Work on the lights in processing.
I only use natural light. If I need a bit more fill light for something, I'll wrap tin foil around a board and use it as a reflector.
Even the Great Photographers have ups and downs... Caponigro did not touch a camera for up to seven years during the early 2000's. And once, he spent a year shooting only color film and sent it to Kodak for processing instead of doing it himself.
Mr. Caponigro and I hit it off quite well - especially as I blabbered uncontrollably about the intense spirituality I saw in his photos, his use of figure to ground and my recognition of the megaliths of Avebury, England. (His photograph of two major stones reminds one of angels.)
(Of course, by the time I identified his use of pine cones as a psychological metaphor and a snapping turtle as potential beauty, my class mates were looking at me with "Who is this woman?" faces.)
As we left, he grabbed both my hands and kissed me on the cheek! (I haven't washed that cheek since!)
If it weren't for the fact that I live in Maryland, I would have asked if I could sweep the floors of his studio/darkroom just to be in the presence of such photographic greatness...and hope that I could absorb some of his wisdom.
If I had to choose one word to describe the workshop and all the people involved, it would be generosity.
John Paul, his wife Ardie, and their two assistants, Diane and C.T. are four of the most heart felt generous people I have had the pleasure to spend a week with.
We were a group of nine learners from Alaska, Colorado, British Columbia, Georgia, and the East Coast. It's a good sign about the quality of instruction when students travel great distances to be with a teacher.
And because this was a print development workshop, we were encouraged to make as many prints of as many sizes we needed to finally produce a professional quality print. We're talking 30 to 40 prints per person - on high quality Epson printers and high quality papers of all textures.
I was not prepared for this generosity of printing supplies, so I was less prepared to develop and print as many photos as I could have. Next time, I'll know better.
The Bottom Line
My bottom-line, take home learning from this workshop is fine art prints require the ability to see the print in a large size. For example, in the photo "Buddha in the retaining wall" there is a beautiful spider web sitting to the viewer's left. I did not know that, nor did I see it, until the print was blown up to about 17 x 22 inches.
I fully recommend if you are considering a workshop/field trip with John Paul - DO IT!
And tell him, Rebecca sent you.
P.S. Make sure you take lots of photo files for developing and printing.
Expect the best. Anything else is an adventure.
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