Fine Art Photography

What Is Left Behind- by Ron Cowie

Today would have been my late wife Lisa Garner's 52nd birthday. It is apt that today is the opening for the show I'm in at the Griffin Museum gallery at Digital Silver Imaging. I'll be showing work from the Inventory Portfolio. This portfolio of images was made after she died. They are pictures of her things. It is my most personal work and I am very reluctant to share them.

I am sharing them because someone, today, is having to grapple with what I went through on March 25th, 2008; the day Lisa died. I hope these images communicate to those, who have been dropped in the middle of that darkest ocean, that others have been where you are and, you are not alone.

Having said that, let me speak to the reluctance I have in showing them at all: it hurts to be reminded that one of the most wonderful people I ever met is no longer on this planet. It hurts to remember that time of total powerlessness in the face of stark mortal reality. It is embarrassing to hear how much people like it. It is infuriating to hear how great it would be for a commercial job. In short, this body of work is intensely personal comes from a place of honesty and vulnerability. In other words, it's real art.

I won't bore you with my views on the over-commercialization of fine-art photography except to say it is happening and it sucks.

So, it is apt that I get to celebrate the life of a wonderful person with friends and photography. All the personal feelings I have are just that, personal feelings. They really have nothing to do with the images on the wall. I believe making successful art is about getting out of the way as it passes through us. If it can heal me, and it did, it might heal others. I don't get to control the conversation you have with the work I make. That's where most, if not all, the fear and reluctance comes from.

My job is to help you move through the world with beauty and in harmony. My tool is a camera. So, personal feelings really are nothing more than self-centered fears that stand in the way of that task. One would think that I should know better, and I guess I do but; I still need reminding of this. Once again, and as usual, I pass the test for being human.



Vespers by Ron Cowie

Specimens from the Cornell School Of Veterinary Science Anatomy Lab

Dr. Howard Evans is one of the most interesting people you will ever have the pleasure to meet. He is the professor Emeritus for the Cornell Veterinary School's Anatomy lab. He has written several textbooks that are considered, well, the textbook for dog anatomy and the like. He also oversees the Anatomy lab. To say that it is a little overwhelming it to speak the truth. 

One July, he gave my daughter and other family members a tour of the lab. He loves to teach and share his enthusiasm. When I saw the collection, I was a kid again. Not only did we get to see all the specimens, he also told me how to preserve certain items. What can I say, I'm into that kind of stuff. 

I couldn't resist asking if I could come back and start make pictures of the items. He said "Sure, why not?" That's how Vespers began; with childlike curiosity and love for the natural world.

Being in the presence of so many animal parts, some of their energy started to transmit through the lens. Without getting all hocus-pocus, I felt the presence of life in these bones. It was joyful and poignant at the same time

The title "Vespers" means "Evening Prayer" or simply "Evening". I had a great deal of reverence for the bones and bodies in this lab. The physical act of preparing the bodies for display takes weeks of painstaking, thoughtful work.

I'm interested in what is eternal. I wanted to honor the animals and the effort that went into preserving them. It would be simple to just photograph the bones and bottles with as curiosity or fetish. There is too much of that going on these days for my taste. 

My goal is to make a book of these images and to support the mission of those who want to dedicate their lives to helping animals in this capacity.

Where are all the Black Photographers? by Ron Cowie

Where are all the Black Photographers?

Here is a list, off the top of my head, of the African American photographers I know about. It reveals two things: I need to get out more and there aren’t a lot of African American photographers getting the attention they deserve. The list is small and, with a little effort, I could make it pretty comprehensive. Perhaps the list would double or even triple. I’m more than happy to be wrong about my math if the number is greater. Scarcity doesn’t add value.

When thinking about how to approach this topic, two ways presented themselves: conduct actual research and profile African American photographers or, put my ignorance and white privilege on full display. I chose the latter for a few simple reasons: I’m intellectually lazy, it’s a huge topic that goes beyond the scope of a blog post, and there aren’t a lot of African American photographers (I did a google search) being properly recognized to begin with. 

The current and past photo community is pretty exclusive, pretty white, and pretty boring. Part of me likes this since I’m just as racist/prejudiced/territorial as the next white guy; but my curiosity is winning the day.

The two photo portfolio reviews I attended recently were almost exclusively white. I say “almost” to cover my ass but, I actually think they were all white with a pinch of light tan. Don’t get me started about what AIPAD looks like on VIP night. 

Suffice to say, I’m not making this stuff up to appear evolved and enlightened. I am neither of those things. I’m just observant insomuch as I can see a white wall and call by name.

My inner-anthropologist asks why this is? The short, unscientific answer is institutionalized racism. If you break down what’s wrong with this country in terms of race relations, you realize it infects everything. There’s a population of photographers receiving less exposure than mysterious French nannies have. 

It’s almost like we’re looking to celebrate anything but African American photographers.

White America controls the visual conversation. We don’t want to see what the African American photographer can show us with photography: underneath it all, they have a similar sense of family, love, fear, hope, and aspiration as we do. They also have a unique complexity of feelings about the American experience. After all, we treated them like farm equipment or worse (often worse) for a solid 300 years. So, in our own self-preservation we “just don’t go there” and created a narrative which accommodates a status quo mentality. 

I’ve exposed my own ignorance and I have to amend the paucity of information with alacrity (I’m using ten-cent words I learned in private school). Perhaps the only problem is me and my lack of aforementioned curiosity? Maybe I’m projecting my own cultural astigmatism as fact and nothing else? While I’m sure both are true, I’m also right about the institutionalized racist stuff. Who says I can’t have it all?

So, I’m looking for this community and I’m going to share what I find. I’m going to seek out groups and organizations that work to change this reality. 

I’ll support artists. I’ll buy work that moves me that I can afford. I am no scholar. I’m just an insufferable white guy, with a camera and an internet connection, who is tired of looking at the same crap over and over. There are far worse reasons to start a journey of discovery.


Filter Photo Festival-Chicago, IL. by Ron Cowie

Filter Photo Festival

I'm excited to meet the portfolio reviewers at Filter Photo Festival in Chicago. If you would have asked me last week, I would have told you just the opposite. Actually, I would told you that I really didn't think it would have been worth the time and effort. You see, one of the best defense mechanisms I have to date is ambivalence. If I don't mind, it doesn't matter. 

There are as many reasons to go to portfolio reviews as there are people who attend. I know the party line is to say 'portfolio reviews are a great place to meet people who can help your career move to the next level."

There are even people who have made a business out of giving tips on how to "nail your portfolio review".  In fact, portfolio reviews have become a bit of a cottage industry. This is a good thing for photography. The abundance of people making better pictures is a result of greater access and organization from the "industry" side. When I'm feeling insecure about where I stand in this model, I think it's all just a silly circular game designed to suck money out of image maker's wallets. As with all overblown fears, there is a grain of truth to them.

Here's what I know for sure about portfolio reviews:

  1. They're fun. 
  2. I get to meet some of the best thinkers and creators in photography. 
  3. It gets me out of the house.
  4. Gatherings like this organize my thinking around the images I produce. 
  5. It's inspirational to see other photographer's work.
  6. Finding out that I'm not alone in this is a great comfort.

I don't have a really big agenda for Filter. I'm bringing some recent work and some projects  I haven't had a chance to show around. I going to Filter to get some fresh eyes on my work. Here are the reviewers I'm meeting.

This is a pretty amazing bunch of people and I'm not just saying that in case they actually read this. The energy and effort that would go into meeting these people individually would be astronomically higher and more complicated. Filter is a better deal.

Now, all platitudes and politically correct jibber-jabber aside, my expectations are extremely low. It is harmful to think otherwise. I'm not planning on walking away from this experience with print sales or shows booked. I'm not bringing a portfolio with that in mind. It's always more fun to see if I really connect with anyone and pursue the relationship after all the smoke clears.

No one is really making any kind of money doing this stuff. Hardly anyone supports themselves with their art "career" work. The exceptions are either living in a van "down by the river" or don't need to go to portfolio reviews anymore. 

Photographers wanting to remain "pure to their craft" will have very short careers unless they marry rich or win the lottery. Taking work to portfolio reviews offers a chance to create new opportunities and avenues for projects outside the fine art world. I have conflicted feelings about this truth however I recognize it is nothing new. It is the new normal for a well-rounded career involving photography. 

So, I arrive Wednesday night and can't wait. If you're attending too, I hope to see you.