George DeWolfe
Where The Eye And The Spirit Meet

Photos © 2004, George DeWolfe, All Rights Reserved

Photographer for over 40 years, author and contributor to numerous books and journals on traditional and digital photography as well as a past teacher at the New England School of Photography, University of Idaho, and Colorado Mountain College, George DeWolfe is perhaps best known for his popular workshops and seminars throughout the country (22 this past year).

We interviewed DeWolfe at his home in Southwest Harbor, Maine, focusing on his favorite topic, "perception," the subject he teaches under the heading of "Contemplative Photography and the Spiritual Quest." The inspiration is an outgrowth of his studies with Dr. Richard Zakia. From 1969-'71 DeWolfe studied perception with Dr. Zakia at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This proved to be the kernel that launched his interest in seeing. "I started off at Rochester Institute of Technology because it was the best technical school I could go to," he says. "I was going to learn all about seeing but after six months I realized that was not to be the case. The technical aspect came easily but the seeing did not."

Perception Is The Key
"Photography is about perception," DeWolfe says. "The starting point of a good image is the camera. And it's the same old story--garbage in, garbage out! A high quality image is necessary to produce a high quality result."

In this age fueled by technology where we can tweak every which way from Friday on our computer these seem like strange words. But, DeWolfe goes on to say, "In digital it may be even more important than it was in traditional photography. You must start out with as near perfect an image as you can capture because your workflow must be kept simple. It's doing as little tweaking as possible, as little adjustment in Photoshop as you have to. The more you fiddle around, the more you are apt to lose. It's all about seeing."

Our first step is to see. The problem comes in combining the emotion you feel at the moment of exposure with what you are seeing and then juxtaposing them in such a manner in the print so that the feeling of what you perceive comes across in the final image. "It is not a conscious thing," he explains. "It happens. That is what the mission is and it's the hardest thing to do in photography, traditional or digital."

The Process
DeWolfe's gestalt includes practicing a form of awareness where his mind is clear of all thoughts. First he sees the picture whole, both visually and in his mind. Then he begins to photograph, his mind a blank slate as though he is watching the world as a spectator. "As far as digital," he says, "it's the same thing. It is just a different way of making your picture."

Our first step is to see. The problem comes in combining the emotion you feel at the moment of exposure with what you are seeing and then juxtaposing them in such a manner in the print so that the feeling of what you perceive comes across in the final image. "It is not a conscious thing," he explains. "It happens. That is what the mission is and it's the hardest thing to do in photography, traditional or digital."

The Process
DeWolfe's gestalt includes practicing a form of awareness where his mind is clear of all thoughts. First he sees the picture whole, both visually and in his mind. Then he begins to photograph, his mind a blank slate as though he is watching the world as a spectator. "As far as digital," he says, "it's the same thing. It is just a different way of making your picture."

All of this is directly opposed to the conceptual trend in the art world at this time. What DeWolfe talks about is the magic of the image and about the form, motion, and color that our brain interprets visually, the intangible and compelling process that can make people see, the "stuff" that he says he has spent the better part of 40 years trying to nail down and to teach.

"I have found that I can only put people on a path and help them to see before their mind designs or composes anything," he says, "to stop and view the world as purely as it exists in front of us without thinking. This is the essence of everything I am trying to do. It requires great leaps of the imagination to empty ourselves of all our preconceived notions--that alone is a skill--and to experience the basic elements of human vision and where that vision meets awareness in that quarter of a second. It's all about how things create excitement in our brain and about being in the moment now."

In The Moment, With Camera
According to DeWolfe, being in the moment now means where your camera is and where you have to be in order to capture what the camera sees. It is understanding that your thinking faculty is on the surface of things. Seeing is much deeper and therein lays the secret of a good photograph.

"I believe in the simple statement of the lens," he says. "I come from a very good tradition, having studied with Ansel Adams, Minor White, and Eugene Smith, and I was a traditional black and white photographer for over 30 years."

Digital Now
DeWolfe has moved easily into the digital world now and, since the beginning of digital technology, has worked as an adviser with Epson, Adobe, and Polaroid as well as with numerous other high tech companies, testing and writing on their products.

Though he still works with his 4x5 Wisner camera he also photographs with a Nikon D100 and a Canon EOS Digital Rebel. "Digital is now my medium," he says. "I don't have a darkroom and I use the Polaroid type 55PN with my 4x5. All I have to do is put the film in the sodium sulfite in the sink, wash it, hang it to dry, and then scan it. Everything else from the negative on is digital.

"The digital process allows me to express a lot more about white and tones and about my subject than I was ever able to express in silver. For the past six years I have latched on to quad tones and find that taking a really good ink jet print and a really good silver print of the same negative is compelling. The ink jet gives me a much better realization than I ever had in silver, a print with subtleties that are much closer to what I felt when I took the image. I am getting a denser black with the quad tones, and a smoother gray scale in between and no dots in the highlights because of the mixing of different grays. It is a more efficacious way to bring out the light in the photographs.

"Some people are going to yell and scream at me for saying this but I have more control over the ambient light that brings out the feeling of light in my digital prints and this light must be brought out. It was the sine qua non of a great photograph and if you look at Karsh's portraits, it is the glow of light that speaks to us and this is basically what we are looking for in our own quest for that perfect image. The skills we have in the darkroom are valuable when we go into digital. It's cumulative and the more you work the more you increase your abilities to see the fineness of the gray values and to bring out the light.

"But now we can talk about interpretation, what Adams and White called `interpretive realism,'" he says. "The same technique of seeing and of taking the pictures has not changed. It is only the technique after you get past the photograph, the manipulation, and as far as I am concerned, the control of digital is magnificent.

"Why that bothers some people I don't know. It still goes back to seeing and capturing a good picture--it really does. Digital is only a tool, just another way to create the expression of a print that you want and to make it better in an uncannily simple way."

DeWolfe's message encourages us to let go of that other dimension when we take our photograph, the area that is the thinking part of our work, and to allow ourselves to experience the world in a purer sense visually, to see things as they really are in that moment and to be there totally. Isn't all photography about being in the moment? It is. But photographers often are not--DeWolfe believes they must be in order to see the real world.
To learn more about DeWolfe, visit his website at: www.georgedewolfe.com.

Share | |

X
Enter your Shutterbug username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading