Friday, August 6, 2010

Inspiration When You Least Expect It

I have started work on a new project that was inspired by a comment made during a critique. The critique was not for my work. The comment was not directed at me, but to another photographer. That's the great thing about group critiques, you don't have to be the one being critiqued for it to be a valuable lesson, or for it to inspire you.

The photographs that were being critiqued that evening were images of trees in a forest setting. They were all done in a very traditional black and white style. This particular photographer has shown similar work many times over the past several years. When questioned about the validity of doing the same work over and over again, his response was about being familiar with the subject material and feeling comfortable working within a very traditional style.

Although this photographer may never change his approach to photographing the landscape, I found myself thinking about the possibilities of doing such a thing. I entered photography through the doorway that Ansel Adams opened many years ago. However, after working for many years under the blanket of a fine art black and white landscape photographer, I came to a crossroad in my work and decided then to make some big changes in my approach to photography. In order to keep evolving creatively, I have worked with intention to continually change my methods of photographing. I have many times changed my subject material, techniques and locations so that I might be influenced to create in a new way. I was once asked about how can we, as artists stay fresh and motivated about our work. The short answer is change. Tune in to the moments that inspire us towards creative exploration. Make changes, even when its not comfortable.

It has been awhile since I have photographed the landscape, but I am excited to start working. I want to see if I can challenge and motivate myself to approach a familiar subject and work towards a different conclusion than I have in the past. I have found a natural landscape environ-ment very close to home where I have easy access to work in. It is important to have the ability to work as often as we can and to jump in when we feel the inspiration. If I had to wait weeks, or months to make a trip up to Yosemite before taking out my camera, progress would be slow. Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it.

My new location is a grove of Eucalyptus trees within three miles of our home. I can easily go to the location as the light changes during the day, or when there are changes in the weather. After looking at my initial photographs of the Eucalyptus grove, I have decided to create the images as black and white photographs. In the past I would have used a 4x5 camera, but for this project I will use a digital camera and digital processing. I am drawn to the images that I shot that day that have a limited depth of field. I have used heavy processing techniques to help isolate the main trees from the background. Using focus and contrast controls I am able to push the obvious subjects into the foreground of interest. At this point, the images are printed with an intentional dark border, creating a visual framing devise to hold the viewer inside the image. The black and white images are printed with a warm tone process, another step outside of my usual way of working.

I have only just begun to shoot and process the images. I am not sure if my initial printing has pushed me far enough from my comfort zone, but the first prints are different from my Ansel Adams inspired photographs from many years ago. It will take many trips and several hours of experimentation to see where this takes me, but then that is the work with new material and techniques seeking to be inspired towards a new creative expression.

If we just sit and wait for inspiration, it may never show up on its own, but if we seek it out and keep our minds open, it just may come from the places where we least expect it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Photo Technique Magazine Publishes Vogel's Spectrum Suite

The May/June issue of Photo Technique Magazine will feature an article I wrote about my Spectrum Suite Series, A Photographic Series in Three Movements. You can preview the announcement on their website at

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seeking Inspiration & Truth (with a small "t")

Photograph, The Journey by L. A. Vogel
from the book Creativity / The Seekers Journey
More information at

If we are to become more creative artists and thinkers, it is essential that we continually seek for inspiration. It is on this journey of seeking that we will begin to grow as artists and deepen our understanding as creative thinkers. However, before we begin our journey we must first acknowledge that we desire to be on a path seeking to discover and expand our creative potential. Because all action is preceded by thought, we must begin by consciously setting a course. Very few goals, if any, are achieved strictly by chance. As the French chemist Louis Pasteur remarked, “Chance favors only the trained mind.” We can achieve the necessary training by learning and seeking out that which inspires us. New discoveries begin with an educated awareness and the curiosity of “what if.”

The Seeker’s Journey isn't about reaching a destination, it's about the journey. We must avoid staying focused only on a predetermined destination, for it is this type of narrow vision that limits our growth potential. However, if we are willing to allow the destination to continually change, we will begin to walk on new pathways that weren't there when our journey began. It is on those new pathways of seeking that we will encounter original ideas and make new discoveries, which will ultimately enhance our art and deepen our lives.

If art is the result of our personal and creative expression, then we must begin to search for and develop the necessary inspiration from within. It has been said that knowledge comes from without and wisdom comes from within. So it is in this act of inward digestion that we will take the knowledge from without, turn it inward, and transform the knowledge into wisdom and inspiration for our creative process.

If it is true that deep and expressive art is the product of a deep and expressive artist, then how do we become such an artist? We become such artists by doing, living, and observing life. As artists, to be alive means we must continually engage the “whole self,” which includes the hands, the mind, and the soul. British writer, John Ruskin, declared, "Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together."

As artists we must learn to draw inspiration from all of life's experiences. Then allow our observations to incubate until the images well up to a point that they have no other choice but to spring out and be expressed through our chosen medium. When we become more reflective about life and soul, and we begin to rely on personal experiences and intuition, we are learning to live, as Thomas Moore says, “more artfully.” As we absorb life's experiences into the heart, mind and spirit, we will begin to deepen our expression and ultimately strengthen our art.

On such a journey towards living "more artfully" as seekers are faced with the dilemma of discernment, choosing what is true and/or right. Our search for creative inspiration will result in the discovery of an abundance of information, some of it comforting, some of it familiar, and some of it uncomfortable. We are sure to find information and opinions which conflict with our personal philosophies. It is in this very conflict where we begin to question which information is best suited for our needs; what is true and what is valuable. The issue of discernment is something that we all encounter in our daily lives and although we sometimes avoid making choices for fear of making the wrong choices, ultimately we must make decisions in order to move forward.

Although we do have the option to accept or reject any new incoming information, we must also be willing to seek with an open mind. It is with this type of open-minded seeking that we will discover many new truths, even though we may never find the “Truth.” Philosopher, Martin Heidegger describes truth as, “....the freedom of letting things reveal themselves as they are.” However, he points out, “When anything is revealed, other things are concealed.” Heidegger also believed, “The best place for us to get a glimpse of the truth is not necessarily in what we know, but at the edge of what we know.” So in this sense we begin to see that the truth can be ever changing. The Russian painter, Kandinsky spoke about the truth as, “It [the truth] suddenly looked to me like a slowly moving snail that scarcely seems to leave the spot and draws behind it a slimy trail, to which shortsighted souls remain glued.”

As seekers and artists the most important thing we can do is to continually explore the unknown, always asking questions and gathering new information. As we do this we will continue to grow and change. Therefore, we will never be left standing at the familiar edge of what we know now, but we will continually grow and discover many new truths based on the knowledge gathered at the ever changing thresholds of our journey. We are seekers, and for the seeker the truth is ever changing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Creative Life

"It begins with a distant notion, a plaintive whisper of the heart. It comes in the flash of an epiphany or through a deeper unexplainable longing that it has always been present. It is the recognition of conception, the understanding that a new idea has been born. It is embracing the dreamscape that is imagination, and having the courage to go there. For those who accept a life of self-exploration through willful acts of creation, the journey offers the ecstasy of all that is possible, along with the agony of unattainable perfection. It is a solitary road into the unknown self, and offers no destination but the journey. But for those who follow, it does lead somewhere, and such a life will never be uninteresting."

This quote appears at the beginning of the documentary film, Amargosa, Story of Marta Becket. The film is written and directed by Todd Robinson. From the moment I heard these words I immediately felt a resonance with its sentiment. I have included this quote in my book Creativity/The Seeker's Journey. It is presented in the book to stand as a testament for everyone who chooses to begin the journey into a creative life.

For me, I love the final line, "....and such a life will never be uninteresting." I have long stated, "If in the end, I have gained nothing more from my life than to have seen the world through the eyes of an artist, then what a beautiful journey it has been." Most days I can't wait to awaken and begin the day to get to work. I usually have many projects going at the same time. I was once asked by my mother what I was planning to do for my retirement. My response was, "Retire from what?" I have no plans to be one day sitting in a chair daydreaming about what to do next. My brother worries about not being able to finish all of his work in a life-time. I have relaxed my expectations and settled on not be able to.

So my friends.....begin today to live a life of self-exploration and do your willful acts of creation, and your life will never be uninteresting.

Photograph by L. A. Vogel from the series "Sky Touches Water"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Vogel's Book Now on CD!


Southern California artist, Larry Vogel, has developed a clear exposition of how to accept the challenge of a life of self-exploration through willful acts of creation. Going on the assumption that we are innately creative but in need of some encouragement and guidance, Vogel draws upon psychologists G. Wallis and Jacob Getzel’s “Five Stages of Creativity” — First Insight, Saturation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification — which provide the reader with mind exercises and examples of each stage drawn from his own creative experiences.

Vogel takes us chapter by chapter through these stages. First Insight is a passionate connection to our initial subject or problem; Saturation involves information gathering from diverse sources; Incubation pertains to pondering (both conscious and unconscious) the problem; this inward journey often leads to a sudden moment of enlightenment or Illumination in which the solution is envisioned; and, finally, Verification, the most difficult stage: acting, a doing in which one makes the unseen, seen. Ideation is realized in artifact.

Although Vogel’s book targets the fledgling artist, giving him or her tools with which to unblock creative insights, collateral damage is done to every person’s tendency toward mental inertia and fear of exercising one’s imagination.

Excerpt from the Foreword by James R. Hugunin, American Critic, Artist, and Professor of Art History, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Creativity/The Seeker's Journey now on CD
$20 plus tax & shipping
To order go to
or contact Larry Vogel at

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Bar Has Been Raised


Photo by L. A. Vogel From the Paris Color Series

Song writers can no longer write lyrics like:

“Love, Love Me Do” (The Beatles)

“I Got You Babe” (Sonny & Cher)

The Bar Has Been Raised

“It feels like lightning running through my veins every time I look at you.”

With lyrics like that from David Gray…

The Bar Has Been Raised

As photographers, we can no longer stand in front of an object, click the shutter and present a simple image:

The Bar Has Been Raised!

With the advent of digital photography we have a whole new set of tools. These new digital tools gives us the ability to participate in the creation of photographic imagery like no other tools previously available to photographers. To not use them would be to deny yourself the ability to take control of your creative potential.

For many years photography has struggled to become more than a mechanical medium. And now, more than ever, we have to show that digital photography is more than just a button pushing medium. Ansel Adams said,

“I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term -- meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching -- there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.”

Well guess what, it has become infinitely easier to make a photograph! Now the potential to “produce a superficial image” is more likely than before.

With digital technology, we have the ability to do so much more; a chance to show the expression of the artist. However, if we are to call ourselves Fine Art Photographers we must first understand what that means. John Ruskin says, “Fine Art is that in which the hands, heart and mind all come together.”

It is easy to do the hands part, just pick up your camera and get to work. The mind part is perhaps a little more difficult. This requires some training and education, know your medium, know its potential. The heart part; Ruskin was very wise to add this to the list. This is what separates the arts from the crafts, kitsch from the masterpiece and makes the ordinary extraordinary. However, this heart part can be the most elusive part of Ruskin’s formula. It is something that must be actively pursued.

Betty Edwards, author of Drawing From The Right Side of The Brain, says, “Perhaps we can take a step in the direction of gaining access to that part which knows...more than it knows it knows - the same part of the brain that asks the beautiful question, ponders the unsolved problem, takes the initial step in the creative process: First Insight” Betty Edwards is identifying the first of five steps known as The Five Stages of Creativity.

As Artists, we spend so much of our lives trying to tap into that place deep inside. This is the secret to making a deeper connection with your art and a deeper connection to the viewer.

Think about being able to unlock that viewer response……the one that goes beyond Ooh and Ah, and making the AHA moment happen!

The bar has been raised.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Loss of a Renaissance Man

The news came to me yesterday, long time Orange County, California resident, artist, friend, teacher and activist Jerry Burchfield had died on September 11, 2009.

In the last twenty five years, I have had several opportunities to work with Jerry. Our artistic lives have crossed paths many times. I have felt privileged to be included in some of his many projects and exhibitions. Throughout his life Jerry was generous with his time and connections in the art community. He invited many friends and fellow artists to participate in his publishing's, projects, and exhibitions. He opened doors for students and photographers to exhibit at the college where he taught.

Jerry Burchfield has long been a presence in the Orange County art scene. I have aways had a certain respect for him as an artist. I admired his ability to evolve as an artist. He was not afraid of taking creative chances. Photography was his vehicle, but was not a photographer. He was an artist. In my book Jerry qualifies as a New Renaissance Man.

As a teacher, Jerry was continually provoking his students towards a more creative expression. He was a mentor to many and will surely be missed in that capacity.

Please visit Jerry Burchfield's website to view his work:

I wrote a piece of poetry years ago and love to share it in moments such as this. I present it here for a friend, artist, and fellow Renaissance Man - Jerry Burchfield.

We Touch

In life we touch
and many lives have we embraced
some for years and others only briefly
but the touch is everlasting

In life we touch
and encounter those that will fall away
but it is the way in which we touch
that makes our soul wiser

In life we touch
and like the finger of God to Adam's reach
it beckons us to connect from afar
and leaves us yearning for more

In life we touch
and when there is no more and all feels lost
can we find it within ourselves to reveal the blessedness
because we have touched