Thursday, May 8, 2014

SOOMIN HAM: Interpretations Of Grief And Loss

In SOUND OF BUTTERFLY, MEG member Soomin Ham’s current show, Soomin takes an experimental, yet personal, approach to seeing, understanding and interpreting memories of grief and loss. The series of portraits reflect her mother’s journey through life and death, and reveal traces of this journey as Soomin’s memories and vision uncover a deeper narrative beyond the images presented.

Below, Soomin answers a few questions about her new work:

Your new work has its origins in grief. Tell us about it. On a quiet night one August, I lost someone I loved very much. With my grief, I started collecting the scattered memories that I shared with her. Finding them from family photo albums and in the belongings she left behind was painful, but I found myself feeling even more appreciation for her love, passion, dreams, and other things that she shared with me. She was my loving mother who dedicated her life to her family. 

Why do you reference butterflies in your show title? Butterflies were one of my mother’s favorite things, and they also symbolize a new journey for me. Throughout the whole process of putting together this body of work, I was able to understand and embrace my grief by following the path of my mother’s journey.

Your work involved a freezer, which is unusual in photography. How did a common kitchen appliance become part of the show? The show is made up of two series. The

(c) Soomin Ham
FROZEN MOMENT series incorporated images of many special belongings my mother left behind as well as photographs I took of moments that reflect a place and time of my mother’s presence. I placed all of these images in a 4”x4” box in a freezer and then re-photographed each image in a lightbox. The series documents and preserves moments and objects that would have perished, or like memory, would have decayed and faded.  

The second series is called BACK TO HEAVEN. What can you tell us about it? This series presents the soft, blurry images of old photographs of my mother. Selected from family albums, the pictures are scanned and printed on rice paper.  The rice-paper prints are stored in water for a period, then washed and dried repeatedly until the images grow dim.  I then placed these prints outside during snowfall, and re-photographed them just as they began to disappear under the fallen snow. The whole process of aging the picture is my interpretation of the cycle of life and fading memory.
(c) Soomin Ham

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Soomin Ham: Seeing Beyond External Form and Beauty

Soomin Ham's newest work, SOUND OF BUTTERFLY, is on exhibit at Multiple Exposures Gallery through May 11th. Below she shares some thoughts on finding inspiration in
sacred spaces. 
Since the time photography became one of my creative media, I have come to recognize three special places that inspire me to reflect on art and meaning in my life.  I would like to share what I have experienced these places, working to capture my thoughts and emotions in my photographs. 

When I was a child, I would imagine ghosts in cemeteries and was scared to go there. As I grew older, and as loved ones passed away, the cemetery became a sanctuary, a private place of peace and personal connection.  When I was sad or feeling lost, I would drive two hours to the Memorial Park in Seoul, Korea, where my grandmother's grave is.  Often I would stay there --
close to what is now also my mother's final resting place -- finding comfort and a place of contemplation. Since moving to the United States, I continue to visit cemeteries, walking the quiet paths, reading the stones, curious about the lives of the departed... and finding the same comfort as I had in my own country.

The desert is a second special place of inspiration. A trip to India in 1992 was my first experience seeing the beauty of the desert. I was speechless at the threshold of this
endless space. I was so excited to take a photograph at the beginning, but eventually, I put my camera down, as I wanted to feel the desert's spirit and its silent echo.

The Royal Palaces of Seoul are another favorite place for my inspiration. In my childhood, visiting the Royal Palaces with my family offered me a place of wonder. As time passed, these palaces have become places of harmony, spirituality, and nostalgia.  Now too many tourists have come and broken the silence of the past, but I still sense the traces of time and find memories of times shared with my loved ones.

For me, these places of inspiration transcend time and space. Beyond appearances, they leave behind their questions of eternity.  For my art life, I choose to develop ideas based on the inspirations that I find in these spiritual places, rather than trying to capture their
external form and beauty.  They are my private sanctuaries, and I will return to them again and again along the path of my photographic journey.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Living Yesterday Today

Boy Soldier     (c) Sandy LeBrun-Evans
MEG member Sandy LeBrun-Evans is building LIVING YESTERDAY TODAY, a new portfolio filled with images of Civil War re-enactors. Below she shares why finds re-enactors and the battles they fight to be such interesting subjects.

I became hooked on photographing civil war re-enactors completely by accident. Driving home one evening, I noticed a sign on Interstate 95 that indicated a re-enactment would take place the next day. I thought, “Why not check it out!"

Readying For Battle    (c) Sandy LeBrun-Evans
I was amazed and hooked from my very first visit. Re-enactments include both battles and the re-enactors living, eating, playing as they did during the Civil War period. As I wandered around the camps of the Northern and Southern armies, everywhere I turned there was a vignette of the past.

In 2013, the 150th anniversary of some very important battles was commemorated, and a number of battles were re-created, including Antietam/Sharpsburg (the name of battle depended on which side of the war you were on ), Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. Each re-enactment provides both a field full of action and a history lesson. 

War Widow          (c) Sandy LeBrun-Evans
Interestingly, during many of the battles, just as they did 150 years ago, ladies sit uphill, taking in the scene while garbed in period dress -- all the way down to their underwear!  The attention to detail is incredible in everything the soldiers, women and children wear and do. 
What draws my attention and my camera the most are the early mornings when everyone is preparing for what's to come and the evenings after the battle. Throughout the camps, they cook, camp, drill and play as if they are truly LIVING YESTERDAY TODAY.

I am just starting to work with my images. The most difficult part of the process is trying to make my images look as if they were taken 150 years ago, especially since I am presenting them in color. One solution has been to mute the color and add textures.

At every battle I witness, I learn something new, meet wonderful people and see photographs everywhere I turn. I look forward to adding to this portfolio and sharing my work with others. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The View From The Street: Q&A With Fred Zafran

Fred Zafran’s new show, 7th and H Streets, NW, at Multiple Exposures Gallery, is an exploration of the historic Old Downtown neighborhood in Washington, DC.  More than a simple depiction of the character of the neighborhood, the images form a psychological landscape that communicates the spirit and presence of place.  Fred offers insights into the joys of street photography and how they led him to this exceptional new portfolio.

Congratulations on the opening of your new exhibition.  Would you tell us a little about your photography and way of working? I am principally an urban photographer and most of my work takes place “on the street.”  My way of working is to set out with very little equipment… usually just a single camera and lens.  I wander the streets observing, listening, trying simply to be present.  I find joy in exploring without plan or preconception, remaining open to the unanticipated “stories” that the day may offer.

I’m also looking for things — settings, circumstances, people — that typically wouldn’t be found together, but when connected (framed), create a new and stronger narrative.  Joel Meyerowitz, a well-known street photographer, has described it as “photographing the relationship between things.”

Do you choose specific locations to shoot or do you wander until you see something intriguing? Both really. I remain open to the possible, but at the same time, I’m drawn to settings with extraordinary light. I am always looking for illumination that “textures the darkness” because it is here that light itself imparts its strongest meaning. If I find a spot with extraordinary light, I will explore this location until I find the right vantage.  Then I might stop and wait (…and wait some more) until an idea or opportunity presents itself.  I could be at a single location observing and waiting for quite some time before I begin to press the shutter. 

Would you share more about your new project and portfolio of work?
For a year, I returned repeatedly to the neighborhood surrounding 7th and H Streets, NW, in
Washington, DC.  This is the historic "Old Downtown" DC and the corner of 7th and H Streets may be considered its "epicenter."  The neighborhood is defined by the intersection of three distinct subcultures – a popular DC entertainment quarter, a Chinatown fading in decline, and a shadow world of those struggling and living too close to the street.

There was something about this neighborhood that kept bringing me back, to wander the streets, to explore, with the intent to document what I saw.

The images in your portfolio feature people from a number of different vantage points – at street level, from outside on the street looking in, from close and from farther away. Does vantage affect “comfort level” and does this change based upon proximity? In some cases, I’m very close to the people within the frame I’m capturing. Often I will have to react quickly to capture the image envisioned.  If I have the time and opportunity, I like to engage, say hello, share a bit about what I am doing… and ask if it would be OK to make a photo.

When I shoot from the outside in, I sometimes go to the window, raise my camera and with a gesture, silently ask permission.  Often the person will nod and smile and indicate they are OK with the situation. When you get close to people in street photography, you just have to work through any potential discomfort that arises. Connecting with people is part of the magic of street photography.

What do you want people to take away from your images? If my images are successful, the viewer will want to come back to look again. Alex Webb, a Magnum photographer and another well-known street photographer, describes less successful photos as “one-note” images – mildly interesting, but you look once and don’t care to come back again. Successful images ask questions, communicate emotionally on multiple levels, and don’t readily yield up their answers.

What advice do you have for individuals interested in exploring street photography or improving their street photography? It is helpful to look at the images of master photographers whose work was largely accomplished on the street. Examples include
Andre Kertez, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Ray Metzker, Josef Koudelka, Fan Ho, Saul Leiter, Sam Abell, Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, Helen Levitt, Daido Moriyama, and Vivian Maier.

However, the most important advice is really to pick up your camera, head out and make photos… and then go out and do it some more.  When shooting on the street, go without plan or preconception.  Simply wander, be aware, and remain open to the possible.  I would also follow Sam Abell’s sage advice to “look for the setting first.” Let the light lead you to the right circumstances, compose, wait, and often the subject will find you.

The opening reception for Fred Zafran’s new show, 7th and H Streets, NW, will be held Sunday, March 2, 2014, from 2pm-4pm, at Multiple Exposures Gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Vicissitudes of a Project

      (c) E.E. McCollum
MEG member E.E. McCollum describes the evolution of a photographic series.

For the past 3 years, I've been working on a project I call the Cocoon Series.  The project started quite by accident when a model I was working with - Katlyn - showed me a tube of stretchy nylon material, six feet or so in length and sewn closed on one end.

"I think you'll like this," she said, and wriggled into it.

Suddenly, the figure I saw in front of me was transformed.  The fabric stretched around Katlyn in such a way that the space of the body was made manifest and Katlyn's creative poses took on a sculptural quality.  I was hooked.  Ways to make images of the body in the cocoon kept coming to me long after that first session.

     (c) E.E. McCollum
As I explored photographing the whole figure, I began to wonder what it would be like to have two models in one cocoon.  Two adventurous models agreed to try.  The two figures together suggested relationship and contact as the figures wove together.  I also began to explore moving closer to the models and not including the entire figure.  My creative model/partners began to play with the concept of the two together producing images that are by turns beautiful, and odd and unsettling.  We struggle to orient ourselves as we look at them.

We also used fish line to pull the nylon up toward the ceiling, manipulating the space that the cocoon defines.  It seemed to work best when it followed the contours of the body.  Again, the models responded with such creativity to this new approach and, together with one, we created what has become the iconic image of the series.
         (c) E.E. McCollum

With another model, I shot with a harsher light directed from a different angle.  The result was a more graphic sense of the body and some mystery as the body disappeared into the shadows.   The project went on and on.  We stained the fabric with facial mud and body paint to accentuate texture.  We tore it provide a sense of emergence.  I shot a male model and a male/female couple.  Each time I think it might be done, a new idea comes to me. 

      (c) E.E. McCollum
This is the first sustained artistic project I've done and I've been reflecting on what I've learned from it.  First, I think a sustainable project needs to be based on something more than just an idea.  I took a class once and a fellow photographer showed her project for critique. She had decided to do a sustained piece of work and cast around for an idea or theme, she said. What she showed, at least in my view, was somewhat lackluster, although the idea itself was intriguing.  I think it's because one can't set out to do a project. The project has to capture you. The cocoon came along unexpectedly and captured me emotionally right from the start and that seemed to enliven the work.  There must be something emotional in the mix if you are to live with a body of work as long as a project demands.

Secondly, I learned that things change.  The cocoon series started as individual images.  Early on, each image with interesting solely in its own right. The more it continued, however, the more I saw the images relating to one another with prior images providing context for the later ones.  It took time for it to became a project, in other words.  It developed organically.  I also have to remember that the earlier images are very familiar to me and have lost a little of their freshness because I have seen and worked with them so much.  But that isn't true of most viewers.  As I make a selection of the project for a publication or show, I try to include images from throughout the series.  The recent ones are of more interest to me because they represent my growing edge.  But you have to have faith in the strength of the work throughout.

Finally, I think you have to have the dedication to follow the project to its end while recognizing that it's hard to know when to stop.  So far, every time I think I've gotten to the end of the Cocoon Series, something new has occurred to me.  I don't know how long it will continue, or if the work will grow stale after a while.  Nevertheless, I remain committed to following it to wherever it needs to go.

Images from The Cocoon Series will be on display at the Art League Gallery in the Torpedo Factory from March 13th through April 7th, 2014. Selections from the series can also be seen daily at Multiple Exposures Gallery in Studio 312 at the Torpedo Factory.

E. E. McCollum can be reached at

Thursday, February 6, 2014


MEG member Danny Conant shares some suggestions for getting out of a photographic rut. 

Most of us have had the feeling at times of being stuck or stale in our photographic life. It’s no fun working on something that doesn’t inspire you or hammering away at a piece that you secretly know you are never going to like.  So we need to refresh and get out of that unproductive rut.

Over the years I have found some things that have given me a jump-start to pulling out of the rut. If you are feeling uninspired, make time to visit a gallery or museum or studio of an artist.  I say make time, not take time, because you will say, “I don’t have time.”  I don’t have it either, so I have to make it by perhaps giving up something else.  

Sometimes it’s better to see a painting exhibit than one of photography.  You may come away with some new thoughts after seeing what is driving that particular painter or sculptor or printmaker.

Other suggestions are to do something different even if it is a little uncomfortable and/or take a class to learn something new or challenging. Recently, I took a writing workshop in Tuscany, even though I know nothing about real writing. The first day I struggled along as I wrote the assignment. While that alone wasn’t comfortable, an even more terrifying part came when I had to read what I had written to all of the other accomplished writers. The good news? The earth didn’t open up and swallow me and everyone was too polite to ask why was I in that class. 

At the end of the day, I was fine with the whole process. After five days of work, I came away with a new feeling for words. And while I still love my visuals, one day I’m going to put them both together. 

Another favorite inspirational help is belonging to a couple of small low-key groups of like-minded photographers who get together a few times a year to share ideas and work.

Finally, when an image is just not responding to me after a reasonable amount of time, I simply let it go.  There will be other images.  

Overall, I think my main tool for getting out of a rut is my lack of fear of failure.  If I am afraid of failing, I won’t try anything new or push my boundaries at all.

Danny's work can be seen daily at Multiple Exposures Gallery in the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

No Image Stands Alone

Multiple Exposures Gallery's newly-minted president, Fred Zafran, explains the meaning behind a message.

Some time back, as I was traveling the unmarked road that is photography’s exquisitely winding journey, I came across a cryptic sign.  It read:

“No image stands alone.”

At first uncertain, the meaning (and wisdom) of the message gradually became clear.

As our technique and craft evolve along with the opening of artistic sensibility, we find on
(c) Fred Zafran
occasion that our captured images seem, well… expressive, and perhaps even compelling.  Maybe others seeing our work have said so too.  Now energized, we are driven to create more compelling images, to be open and receptive to finding more.

But… as the desire (the need?) arises to communicate an inner intent and deeper narrative through our work, we find that this is no longer possible with a single image (or a series of disconnected images).  So, it is within the context of the photographic essay (or project) that this communication becomes possible, and an imperative.

Charles Harbutt (Magnum photographer) offers a definition of a photographic essay as a

(c) Fred Zafran
“multi-level picture story that flows primarily from an awareness of the symbolic possibilities of the subject matter.”  He notes that this awareness may come either during the shooting or afterwards… but that there is “more vitality” when it comes later (!)

Working principally as an “urban documentary (street) photographer,” my approach to image making is to head out on the street with camera in hand, and to remain open to the unforeseen.  I have been working on a major project for about 9 months now (I’ll save this for a later Blog post).  But what is of interest, is that during the course of this longer-term project, other small narratives not previously conceived, began making themselves known to me.

Koji Onaka, an accomplished Japanese street photographer (and student of Daido Moriyama) summarizes well this curious process of discovery:   

“There’s not a clear concept before taking my pictures. Photography is procedural and I take photographs of what attracts me, and then later this manifests itself as interests. The
subconscious is at play, the work acts as a reminder of what I’m interested in – it’s what
(c) Fred Zafran
caught my eye. There’s not something in particular that is my subject. It becomes a process of self-discovery.”

I will share a recent photographic narrative that appeared as subcontext of my ongoing work, and is becoming a project in itself.  The new project depicts the photographer’s “presence” both conceptually and literally as observer and author of the captured scene – a key compositional and psychological element.  Although still in the early stages of discovery and development (… and uncertain of emerging direction), I have risked sharing a few images in this Blog post.  Maybe this is an examination of the “quantum entanglement” of photographer and the world observed (?)

More to follow…