July 10, 2021 ·

Ed Gordon

Led Zepplin ~ Ramble On

This month, lots of images. I will not re-visit this period of my journey so get ready for a packed image fest.
The images all have stories, some more than others. They all speak to me. They are reminders of this great journey. If I were a PhotImagist, mainly creating on my computer would I have the same memories? I don’t think so but we all must delve into our relationship with our art and decide for ourselves what is you and then act at being just you. 

 If I didn’t say or write another word, this is all you ever need to know. It is the journey that gets you to the place of this knowing.

“Photography is personal and must be authentic. Unique self-expression is the ultimate goal and challenge” Ed Gordon 2020

This morning after my 2nd Moderna jab both myself and my wife felt awful, so we went and lay down for a while. Our vaccine appointment was at 8 am so for us an early start. The night before had been a restless one as we were afraid to miss the alarm clock and so all in all we were not feeling great. As we lay there, resting, on our very comfy 6 ft bed, I felt the tiny familiar hand reach out for mine. Child-like fingers intertwined with mine announcing connection, love, significance, and meaning. 

What has this got to do with photography? You might well ask. I did warn you all many months ago that I ramble and here I am being superfluous yet again.

Meaning and purpose. Life has three distinct phases. Survival, Success, and Significance. Your Photography or PhotImagery is no different. Every day those tiny little child-like fingers remind me of significance, that my life has meaning and that the purpose I searched for all my life was right there in those tiny hands. Finally, in my 50’s, I understood that the only purpose in life is to love and be loved, and once we understand that we can apply it to all aspects of our lives. 

Especially, we can apply it to our creative self with purpose and meaning. 

Shakespeare’s seven stages come to mind. I do feel like “The infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms” and delight in this significant period of my life both personally and creatively. I loved intertwining life and love of family with my world of photography as after all it is me that makes an image from my informed response to a person place or thing and you cannot be me, I cannot be you, but by knowing my journey maybe I will help you be you as a photographer and man or woman.

 I dread Shakespeare’s final words: 

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
 
–William Shakespeare (from As You Like It)

What’s Next?

The Journey ~ Part 2

Back in my Introduction article, we left off where my good friend Leonard Freed had given me a lesson in patience and pre-visualization.

In the first part of this story, Introduction, I talked about the journey to becoming consciously competent. When I started out there were no quick tips on YouTube. It didn’t exist. There was no magic sauce, there was only a process of learning that took time and relied on the generosity of many great members in camera clubs, their special guests, and of course workshops. Still true today. 

My journey, apart from hopefully being a good old yarn, illustrates that our journeys as photographers are parallel to our journey in life for meaning and purpose and above all significance. 

Viktor Frankel survived the concentration camps due to the meaning he created in his mind that allowed him to survive. Reading his story, “Mans Search for Meaning” I found myself being catapulted back to the days where my every thought was about purpose and meaning and the search for that in my photography and my work. I pushed myself to find my keys to meaning in all aspects of my life. I succeeded in part. Due to that success, I will always write from my heart and not just my mostly muddled head. How we see the world and how we connect to all its elements shape our experiences and inform us what we wish to point our cameras at and critically when we reach this elevated place of understanding we know why. The why is so important. 

All that I have written above I know now but I didn’t know or understand this stuff back in the early ’90s. My journey as a photographer took many twists and turns. The one great thing that I did do was start www.explorelight.com and that laid the foundation for another great thing that happened.
When my son Peter finished his Masters he went to work for some corporate entity in Dublin. As a boy, he could be heard endlessly complaining as the car screeched to a halt every time his dear Papa saw the light that was to die for. Many summers were spent in beautiful parts of Ireland, especially Donegal, and he and his cousin Ciaran were carriers for tripods, cameras, 35mm, medium format 6×7, medium format 645. Basically, they were Sherpas but Peter picked up “stuff” along the way, and when he and his wife-to-be, as very young adults (kids) went to China he wanted to make images and so he took with him the Nikon 301 I had bought him some years earlier.
He didn’t know it and neither did I but I had gifted him something he could love and make a living from.

As his interest in photography grew so did our connection. We went on multiple trips to the USA.

Imagine being in the Upper and Lower Canyons with no one around. We had that, staying in Page for many days before heading off to Moab and then Telluride and Escalante and The Sierra Nevada’s, Canyonlands. On other trips, we went to Yellowstone in winter, Jackson Hole, and The Grand Tetons, Monument Valley, Dallas Divide, so many places and memories. 

We went to India together, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and many parts of Ireland. It was wonderful to watch him learn his craft but in truth, I must admit that I was not the most patient of teachers with him. It’s a father-son thing so there was the occasional eruption best left buried deep in both our psyches. A childhood carrying my cameras and all these trips led to opening up an awareness of new possibilities and choices. 

So, his Masters became redundant when he phoned me one day and we set up a meeting to discuss things. “I hate this corporate crap and I want to work with you in ExploreLight”. And so, he did and through graft and determination, he has made ExploreLight into one of the best in the business of providing teaching and tours and amazing connection to all those that travel and have traveled with us.
WWW.EXPLORELIGHTPHOTOGRAPHYWORKSHOPS.COM 

Along the way, Peter picked up many awards and continues to do so. In 2013 he was awarded “European Professional Photographer of the Year”. I traveled with him to await the announcement as he was in the last 5. Wow, what an amazing achievement. Boy, was I and still am a proud Dad.

Enough about Peter. This is my journey, and my twists and turns were epic.

Before quitting my day job, I had still lots to learn, and I used my weekends and vacation time to do just that. I sought out the best of the best and the pinnacle was when Galen Rowell accepted me into his mentoring program. Not an easy thing to do and when I got the email that I had made the cut so to speak I was thrilled.  This was before he moved with Barbara to Bishop so when I set off for Berkley, I was totally excited to have been given this opportunity to learn from one of the greats. I was like a sponge, soaking up every ounce of wisdom and insight that I could. This is mid 90’s and Really Right Stuff was a young company and the fruits of Galen’s work with Bob Singh had just come to fruition. So, the first practical things I did were to get camera plates, lens plates for all cameras and lenses, and then kit myself out with the range of GND’s Bob and Galen had developed.

Remember, we are working with film. To learn how to paint with light within the camera from Galen Rowell was totally mind-blowing. Nowadays GND filters are everywhere, and software can do anything you care to imagine. But, even now it’s the experience of the moment that matters as the moments last forever in the memories.
It saddened me greatly when I heard of his death. Also, Barbara as she too was a wonderful human being. I will always treasure my time with Galen Rowell, and I feel privileged to have learned so much from him.
When I returned home to London and Ireland no one was familiar with these new toys so I had a ball for many years and of course, having learned from Galen Rowell I could pass all of that on to my son and the future students of www.explorelight.com

Throughout the 90’s I continued to learn and obviously the darkroom was a key aspect of this development. Larry Bartlett one of the greatest printers ever along with Les McLean completed the trinity of The Camera, The Negative, The Print. 
You may recall that I had fallen in love with the fine art nude in the landscape and so I booked on a Steve Anchell workshop. Steve ran some great workshops in New Mexico and Big Sur. I attended many of them and I learned a lot. Steve also wrote the Darkroom Cookbook so in addition to time on the workshops, I spent a week with him in Colorado learning his darkroom techniques. So, for the darkroom, I had 3 amazing teachers.
On one of Steve’s workshops, I met a photographer who was to become a great friend, and over the years in the ’90s and into the early 2000’s we would meet up every year and go on an annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone in the Fall. Ed Alexander was a very fine photographer, and it was wonderful to have the shared passion for photography and the landscape. He had featured some incredible cowboy images in American Cowboy that were just amazing and to this day his image of Boise is the postcard everyone wants. 
His passion however was swimwear and glamour shooting. In truth, I had no interest in this genre of photography but when he had been chosen as a finalist in the shootout for Ujena Swimwear Illustrated Calendar I hopped on a plane and went with him to Mexico. 

This was all new to me. About 50 models all vying to shoot with the best photographers, all wanting to be the calendar girl and ditto for the photographers.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I noticed how most of these guys were shooting and in truth, I didn’t like what they were creating. I grabbed a few models, and the rest is history. One of the judges saw my work and saw how different and unique it was and before I knew I had won this event without really wanting to or trying.

The amazing Cory. Together we made some unique Bikini and lifestyle images
Jessica currently making a movie with Micky Rourke
Amber Lee Ettinger
The ever-amazing Cory, now a Mum herself.

This all resulted in a snowball effect. Before I knew it my images were all over the place and the producers of a TV show called Shut Up and Model invited me to submit my work to be considered as a photographer for a new TV show they were producing.

I did and sure enough, I got a call one day saying to make myself available for the filming of the series.

So, in the blink of an eye, I had gone from being a people, portraits, some landscape, and lots of Fine Art nudes to being a glamour photographer on the world stage with Ujena Swimwear Illustrated and then a TV show in the USA with me as the photographer with all these gorgeous models and amazing props.

In no time at all, I was swamped with requests from models to make portfolios for Maxim, Esquire Playboy, and any magazine you care to think of.

Out of that came requests for celebrity portraits and before I knew it I was shooting Kate Winslett, Sir Nigel Hawthorne, and others and I grew to really really hate it all. 

I was all over the place, but I continued to find time for ExplorelIght and for teaching workshops that had a mix of Fine Art Nude and glamour.

I found my teachers and inspiration in books, in the clubs, workshops, I sought out the best of the best that I admired, and then I got lost in the allure of the spotlight and then I had to go and find myself again, to find meaning and significance again.

Know who you are and know who you are not.  

SHUT UP and MODEL TV Show

SHUT Up and Model TV Show

Sheriff J W Pepper~ Utah

During this period there were many Fine Art Nude and Glamour workshops. A favorite place to make base was Moab in Utah and sometimes Page in Arizona with proximity to Lake Powell. 

On one of these workshops, we had 4 models and 8 photographers shooting nudes and glamour in reasonably private and remote locations outside Moab.

Anyone that remembers the James Bond movie, “Live and Let Die” will also remember sheriff JW Pepper.

On one of our afternoon shoots, we were all happily shooting away when 2 teenage Mormon kids, walking a trail nearby, stumbled upon our shoot.

To our amazement and surprise, they just seemed to lose it as they screamed words at us, mainly from the bible, condemning us to eternal damnation for making images of naked women. It’s hard to truly describe in words their reaction but we were all going to hell was the basic message. All the girls covered up and I did my best to explain to these guys that we were making artistic nude images of the female form in nature and that the work was motivated by beauty and not motivated by a desire to sexually titillate. They had lost it completely and to them, we were the absolute incarnation of evil.

Finally, they calmed down and went on their merry, or so we thought.

We continued shooting and about an hour had passed when we heard the unmistakable sound of helicopter rotor blades overhead, hovering and a spotter leaning out an open-door surveying all below. Shit, this can’t be good, confirmed by the word POLICE emblazoned on the undercarriage and sides of the chopper. 

The chopper landed and I knew we were in deep poo. An ominous version of JW Pepper complete with jackboots and dark shades made his way towards our terrified group. “Who’s in charge here, he bellowed”. 

Feeling like a schoolboy caught smoking behind the bicycle shed I timidly raised my hand.

“What kinda shit storm you boys trying to create here Ya’ll goin’ to jail. Those poor boys ain’t never to gonna recover from this ordeal and they all gone home to their mama’s, and you better hope their pappy don’t come looking for ya”. None of this sounded good. 

As best I could, I set about explaining what was going on. I put on my thickest Irish brogue and did not need to feign total supplication as I knew that somehow, I had to make sheriff JW accept what we were doing and see that we were not in fact perverts. 

Minutes passed that seemed like hours and finally, this terrifying ogre of a sheriff declared,

“What’s wrong those boys? “There’s something really really wrong with those boys. When I was that age, I would have set up camp right here with you boys and gals”.

Phew ~ relief and joy. He warned us to be careful and for the girls to cover up should anyone else come along and left with a smile and a handshake. 

Well, you might think that’s the end of it. I’m afraid not. 

Kathleen, one of the models, wanted to shoot some shots to submit to Maxim and Playboy. 

I’m always trying to find a unique take on a shoot so I had this bright idea that we would shoot right in the middle of Moab main street and so as not to attract any attention we would do it first light.
For about 15 minutes we shot some topless only shots and then started to shoot some bikini shots. We had only been shooing for about 5 mins when I saw the long blue shadow being cast by the long arm of the law and waited for the inevitable horrible sound of the siren. It took seconds but sure enough, the siren wailed, and my heart sank as I began to imagine spending days in jail and trying to think of ways to get out of yet another mess.

The Police cruiser pulled up alongside me and my tripod. The windows were blacked out and I couldn’t see inside. Please God don’t let it be Sheriff JW Pepper. The window rolled down and in his booming southern or western drawl, I couldn’t tell, JW yelled “Boy, you got some kinda death wish”? Get outta my street, get outta my town before I lock you up and throw away the key”

I got the message and high-tailed it back to my hotel and did as he said and got straight outta town. Phew~ It could have been so very different and tragic. He was a good guy and gave us lots of rope.

Fun and terror in Moab


Fun and terror in Moab


Enough of Moab. Remember I said that I was all over the place, but I continued to find time for ExplorelIght and for teaching workshops that had a mix of Fine Art Nude and glamour.

By now I am well into the new millennium and in truth, I have no idea where my photography is going. More and more I am shooting a mix of digital and film where the light is just too good to pass. I became more and more indifferent and then came lots of years being mostly in the USA and I kinda lost touch with my roots in photography. Photography had lost all meaning; I no longer knew how to show up for myself. 

At the same time, I became frustrated sitting in front of a screen learning photoshop and in the end, I lost my love of photography. The only thing that kept me connected during this period was my connection to my son and ExploreLight but my heart just wasn’t in it.
Then about 3 years ago I decided to get back to my Black and White roots. It took me a year to decide that Joel Tjintjelaar was the man I wanted to learn digital darkroom from and so for the past 2 years I have been learning the digital darkroom with Joel. We have become great friends and now we talk endlessly about art and the medium of photography and these conversations along with many more with another great friend George Digalakis spur me on daily towards better understanding of my craft and drives my ambition to make art and to communicate. 

And so, the journey continues. I am excited to get back home again to Ireland. I am excited to get out there again making images with my son Peter and like-minded souls and I am also excited to pay it forward as best I can. 

I am so grateful to all the great photographers that have taught me so much but also to the many many participants attending ExploreLight workshops over the years. Their growth and their journeys continue to inspire me.

So, no tips or tricks or magic sauce in this epistle but I do hope the journey that I have described motivates you to ask questions of your own journey and in doing so helps you find clarity, purpose and meaning.

Let’s hope that I have many more years of rambling left in me. 

WWW.EDGORDONSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

WWW.EXPLORELIGHTPHOTOGRAPHYWORKSHOPS.COM

EDGORDONPHOTOGRAPHY@GMAIL.COM 

Ed Gordon

July 2021

 

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Ed Gordon

It’s been more than 20 years now since I founded www.explorelight.com and gave up my day job to immerse myself fully in my photography. My work has been published in various magazines including Photo Art International and Outdoor Photographer. I have also featured in numerous radio and TV celebrations of the work created by myself and my son Peter, European Professional Photographer of the Year 2013. As I reflect on almost a lifetime of making images and teaching others to find their voice in photography I realize that unique self-expression and authenticity are the ultimate goals in this great medium. The changes that have taken place in these past 10 years motivate me to share my journey and in so doing provide insights so that others can learn to find their voice in photography.

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