Thursday, April 7, 2011

Photography: an Interview with Ron Nolland

Photographer Ron Nolland lives in Plattsburgh, New York, a place very dear to my heart. He and I are old friends, and when my husband and I visited Plattsburgh this past fall, we much enjoyed seeing some of his photography not only at his home, but also in the hotel where we stayed. To see more of Ron's photos, visit zenfolio.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography. After not having a camera for many years, my wife urged me to get one as we were expecting our first grandchild, and she thought photography would satisfy my artistic side. I play music, and enjoyed writing, but had not been active in anything creative in quite a while. I bought a point-and-shoot, and took lots of family snapshots. I enjoyed taking pictures of nature when I walked my dog along the river, starting to see images all around me I needed to capture. I bought a better camera, and used it for almost five years before moving up to a digital SLR. I entered my work in member shows at the local cultural center, and it was well received. The director asked me to exhibit at an off-site gallery (a doctor's office), and urged me to get a grant to help pay framing expenses. That led to exhibits other places, joining an Artist's Co-op Gallery, and eventually getting another grant. Once the creative flow started, it was impossible to stop. I work full-time, so the photography is truly for art's sake, although it is supporting itself through sales of my work.

For you, what is success in photography? I have had several solo exhibits, and have had my work chosen for all the juried shows I entered. These would normally be considered as "success", but I actually think of the real success as being when someone looks at one of my photos and sees what I saw and explains my work to me; then I know they got it! People will often say "what a beautiful photograph", or how nice an image of something generally accepted as pleasing is (such as a sunset or landscape), and that is satisfying to some degree. But the real success is when they look at an image that is not your standard pretty picture, and see the subtle, hidden qualities that made the image speak to me and to them.

How would you describe your style? I shoot most of my images outdoors, where I like to find patterns in nature that often go unnoticed. The abstract lines, curves, and relationships between shapes of the mundane take on a quality reflective of the world around us, yet usually not glorified. Tiny wildflowers and weeds can be as gorgeous as the orchids and roses we usually see photographed. Subtle patterns in flowing water or ice, reflections of sunsets rendered as abstract patterns all interest me. Close-up photographs of tiny pieces of nature show us that everything is a part of the larger fabric of life, and I try to show both the the threads and the cloth. I try to be, and my work is often described as "painterly".

Tell us more about your subjects and themes. Do you chose them or do they chose you? I live in a beautiful area, the Adirondacks, which means there are great mountains, Lake Champlain, and several rivers nearby. Photography of plants at all stages of growth, from sprouting to their return to the ground interests me. As I look around, the images say "pick me, pick me" and I try to bring them back with me to show others. It is very difficult to take what you see and have others see it too. Sometimes I don't chose images that have presented themselves because I fear they will not translate. I am learning that I should not fear that and should let images have a chance to reach others and not to worry about viewers "getting it". Otherwise, I would only have the safe, commercially viable images, and my photography would be the less for it.

What is your favorite camera and photography software? I am presently using a Canon T2i digital SLR with kit lenses (18-55 and 55-250 mm). I used a Konica Minolta A200 for five years and kept is because it is still a great camera. The Canon is a step up, but requires more work for the finished product, including more post-processing of the image with software. I shoot in RAW, which is an uncompressed file format that allows much more control of the image. I was using Photoshop CS2 for post-processing, but have since been doing most of my work in Lightroom 3, which handles RAW files better.

Name some of your favorite photographers. Of course it is easy to say we all like Adams, Liebovitz, Cartier-Bresson and all the other greats that have been around. National Geographic has many people whose names you wouldn't know who do great work, but my favorite photographers are my fellow enthusiasts. When photographers with big travel budgets go to exotic places with expensive equipment and a staff to help, you expect some pretty good photos will be produced. When we enthusiasts do this, our kits cost less than one lens for a pro, yet it is amazing what we find. A large online community has developed, and it is inspirational for me to see the quality there. I enjoy looking at this work as much as that of the famous photographers, if not more.

What's next for you? I have started to do custom photography. I was hired to take shots of a property with beaver ponds and forests during all four seasons. I hope to expand this concept for people that want fine art photos of a particular place. I recently did a series involving people and their tattoos as part of an exhibit, and my work was well received. I want to learn more about portrait photography and will offer my services at various tattoo shops in the area so people can get artistic photos of themselves and their tattoos. My camera shoots High Definition video, and I hope to start that learning curve and carry the same interest in patterns to moving pictures.

Thank you, Ron!

photos by Ron Nolland: Saranac Sunset, Fiddlehead, Submersive.

photo of Ron by Ernie Lamberti

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