John Petro: Blog en-us (C) John Petro (John Petro) Wed, 10 Jan 2018 17:49:00 GMT Wed, 10 Jan 2018 17:49:00 GMT John Petro: Blog 120 89 Unnoticed No Longer, a book of photographs by me I have self-published a coffee-table book of photographs. The book has 118 photographs, 118 pages (that is a coincidence, there are some pages of text and no photos and some pages have more than one photo per page). It also has nine haiku's written by me to introduce each of the nine sections. You can preview the book here

Should you wish to see it and hold it in your hands, or purchase one, contact me. You can purchase it directly from Blurb, the on-line publisher but be advised the coffee-table hardback cost is $170.00! You can also purchase a pdf digital version for $24.99.

]]> (John Petro) coffee-table book fine art photography book photography book Fri, 04 Nov 2016 00:06:05 GMT
My review of Sally Mann's book, "Hold Still, A Memoir with Photographs" I recently read the book Hold Still, A Memoir with Photographs, by photographer Sally Mann. I recommend it. Sally is not just a very talented and creative photographer but a remarkable writer as well. Sally is a product of the south, the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where she has lived all of her life – except for her school years – and she fits well into the rich tradition of the many remarkable writers from the south. Her choice of words is precise and her descriptions are vivid. This book weaves family history going back several generations, autobiography, very poignant tales of race relations in the 20th century south, descriptions of the Shenandoah Valley, the creative process in art and photography into a single whole that kept me captivated throughout. I found it inspirational.

Sally is a large format film photographer and she discusses her projects that have continued into the first decade of the 21st century. She gained fame and somewhat infamy in the early 1990’s when her project Immediate Family went on public display. It consisted of photographs of her three young children, from birth to about 10 years of age, some of which showed the children nude. The photographs are captivating, large format black and white images depicting the innocence of youth. But, somewhat understandably, some folks were offended. How could a mother put such images on public display? Is this not child abuse? Understandably, this project has the most words among her project discussions. The thinking and motivation that went into it, the surrounding controversy, the impact on her family, and her reactions and defense are covered in the book. Like her family photography, her writing about herself and her family holds nothing back.

To make my case that the book is inspirational and her writing exquisite, here are three short quotes from the book that I copied out and added to my (long) list of quotations worth keeping and reflecting on in the future (a list that includes words from Montaigne, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Kafka and others). I think you will agree these thoughts are rich in ideas for photographers, and actually for everyone, to ponder and discuss. They are precisely and concisely written and each would make a great topic for an essay or blog posting, taking a pro or con position.


In response to one critic’s complaint about a photograph in Immediate Family, she writes:

How can a sentient person of the modern age mistake photography for reality? All perception is selection, and all photographs – no matter how objectively journalistic the photographer's intent – exclude aspects of the moment's complexity. Photographs economize the truth; they are always moments more or less illusorily abducted from time's continuum.

Sally Mann, Hold Still, p. 151


The following two snippets are from the book's preface and again, I just find them to be sublime and profound:

I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by the experience but the last time you recalled it. With tiny differences creeping in at each cycle, the exercise of our memory does not bring us closer to the past but draws us farther away.

Sally Mann, Hold Still, p. xii


Photography would seem to preserve our past and make it invulnerable to the distortions of repeated memorial superimpositions, but I think that is a fallacy: photographs supplant and corrupt the past, all the while creating their own memories.

Sally Mann, Hold Still, p. xiii


Not all of her photography is to my liking, some of it is too graphic and gritty for my taste. Immediate Family is not in this category. There is no need for me to further expound on my likes and dislikes here. Like all good artists she pushes boundaries, the reader should be prepared to have his or her boundaries challenged.

To conclude, I found a personal connection with Sally as well. We were both born the same year and came of age in the tumultuous 1960’s. Our introduction to photography also bore some similarities, both of us getting our first cameras, an old Leica, from our fathers in our teen years. She lists Steichen's The Family of Man as a book she came across in her teens that inspired her, the same happened to me. Finally she married at age 19, the age my wife was when we got married. Sally is still married to the same person as am I, we are both past our 40th anniversaries.

]]> (John Petro) Hold Still Immediate Family Photography Memoir Sally Mann Fri, 04 Mar 2016 20:02:46 GMT
Five days along the eastern Sierra Nevada When someone from east of Nevada hears the word 'California', images of beaches, of youthful males and females in bathing suits splashing in the surf, of actors driving expensive convertibles on LA freeways, of San Francisco streetcars, of dotcom moguls sipping Napa wine and tranquil sunsets over the Pacific come to mind. Yes, these generic images describe a diverse land with lots of glitz and glitter, but there is another entirely different face of California. A drive down US 395 just west of the Nevada line and east of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains will give the visitor from “back east” an entirely different picture of the geography and inhabitants of our most populous state.

From Oct 22 - 27, 2015, my wife and I went on a mini-vacation to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. This is a vast and largely rural area but it affords amazing opportunities for sightseeing and viewing, remarkable and unique geology, plant and animal environments, and the resulting plants and animals that inhabit the region, along with remnants of the hardy people – Native Americans, explorers, miners, ranchers and farmers – who passed through or settled it throughout our nation’s history. Given all these elements it comes as no surprise that this region affords many great opportunities for photographers to capture unique and inspiring images. In this note I lay out our itinerary for a whirlwind five day visit that brought us into contact with a large swath of the area, to include places to stay and eat, approximate cost, and things to see and photograph along the way. I should add that I have been to this region several times previously (and I hope to return many more times in the future) so this five day trip in no way does justice or provides the time to experience everything it has to offer. But if all one has is five days and wants a good sampling of the the eastern Sierra Nevada, the plan laid out here is not unreasonable, or if one has more than five days or is revisiting, what is laid out here can be useful as well.

Given the size of the region and the sparsity of roads, to maximize what one can see in a limited time a loop route – starting and stopping at the same place – is insufficient. So the route laid out here has one starting in the northern end, in Reno, NV, and driving south along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, primarily along US395, to the town of Lone Pine, CA, where it turns south east driving through Death Valley National Park (NP) and into Las Vegas for the tours end. Thus for my wife and I, from our home airport outside Baltimore we booked an outbound flight to Reno-Tahoe Airport and a return flight from Las Vegas. We then booked a one-way rental car from Reno-Tahoe to Las Vegas McCarran Airport. The five days of the rental car with a one-way drop-off from Enterprise Car Rental came in at less than $200.00. I consider this a real bargain!

Before I get into the details, here are a few of the highlights from along the route that illustrate what makes this area special and why five days is not nearly enough time to experience everything that you will pass through or that will be tempting nearby.

Virginia City, NV: the famous mining town that sprung up in the 1850’s with the discovery of the Comstock Lode silver deposits and which was immortalized in the TV show “Bonanza”.

Bodie, CA: an amazingly preserved gold mining town from the mid-19th and early 20th century, frozen in time and preserved today as a ghost town. Bodie is a Calif State Park and there is a $5/person admission fee.

Mono Lake: a large saltwater lake with large exposed tufa formations that were formed when the lake was much larger and deeper. There is a $3/person fee to visit the south Tufa formations along the lake.

The eastern side of Yosemite NP: a natural wonder that deserves its own multi-day visit. There is the usual National Park entry fee to be paid on entry to Yosemite proper.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest: this is the home of the oldest living thing on the planet with trees still alive known to be over 4000 years old. This is a $3/person (to a max of $6) per adult fee.

Mt. Whitney: the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

The Alabama Hills: an amazing geological formation in the Sierra foothills, the location for many western movies and TV shows from the mid-20th century.

Death Valley NP: a natural wonder that deserves its own 5 day visit. There is the usual National Park entry fee to be paid on entry to Death Valley NP.

Although it was not specifically planned, given the dates of our trip in late October I knew there was some possibility of fall colors. Since I live in the northeastern US I expect that the best fall color photography is in my backyard and the eastern Sierra have much more enticing photo ops than fall colors. But, it turns out we were there when fall colors were at or near their peak and given the majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as backdrop, I expended a good portion of my photographic energy on photographing yellow and red aspen and cottonwood trees. Spring is also a good time for a photography visit given the possibility of wild flowers blooming. In winter, and into early spring, all the roads at elevation are closed due to snow, this includes Yosemite (Tioga Pass), Bodie, and the Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Finally, to conclude this preface,

  1. Some of the photographs from this trip can be found in my Eastern Sierra Nevada gallery. Other eastern Sierra Nevada photographs can be found in various of my other galleries.
  2. This area is very rural - especially for folks from the northeast where there is a town or city every 10 miles or so. Gas stations are few and far between, don't head out with less than a quarter tank. Gas is expensive.
  3. Given the rural nature, food choices are also limited. BUT, there are surprisingly good places to eat along the way - see below.
  4. I am happy to answer any specific questions about things to see and do and places to stay and eat, just drop me an email.



Lodging rates given are approximate, one room for two, w/o tax (estimate tax at ~10%)

  • Oct 22, Day 0

           Fly Baltimore, MD, to Reno, NV, arrive approximately 9PM

Overnight Reno, NV: Hyatt Place at the Reno-Tahoe Airport


  • Oct 23, Day 1: AM sightseeing in Reno/Sparks, NV.

           Afternoon drive Reno to Bridgeport via Virginia City, 125 miles

           Stops for sightseeing/photography in Virginia City, NV

Overnight Bridgeport , CA: Silver Maple Motel $99.00 (nice, clean, friendly, continental breakfast)

Another interesting place to lodge in Bridgeport (note that I did not stay here) looks to be the Bodie Hotel. The proprietress, Jean, saw me photographing the exterior and invited me inside to photograph the interior of unoccupied rooms. It looked like one imagines how rooms in old west hotels would look (see the pics in my Sierra gallery), in other words it had lots of character and could make for a memorable stay.

  • Oct 24, Day 2: Bridgeport to Lee Vining, 25 miles via US395

                Highlight of this area: Bodie Ghost Town State Park ($5/person entry fee)

                Sidetrips to Bodie and Twin Lakes, CA

                Additional stops for fall colors photography along US395

                Bridgeport to Bodie, 24 miles but 1 hour travel time (final 3 miles are gravel, suitable for any car)

                Bridgeport to Annett’s Mono Village at Twin Lakes via Twin Lakes Road: 27 miles roundtrip

Overnight Lee Vining, CA: Lee Vining Motel $70.00 (you get what you pay for, look elsewhere unless you really want to save money - we didn't necessarily want to go cheap but oh well, we didn't have this blog)


  • Oct 25, Day 3: Lee Vining to Bishop - Note that on this segment for the final drive to Bishop we did NOT use US395 and so missed one of the main tourist attractions of the eastern Sierra, Mammouth Mountain Ski resort and surroundings.

                Highlight of Lee Vining: Mono Lake  (note that Bodie is also within short drive of Lee Vining)

                Sidetrips to eastern Yosemite NP via Tioga Pass on CA120

                Sidetrips along June Lake Loop for fall colors, CA158

                Photography everywhere – Mono Lake, June Lake Loop, Tioga Pass, etc

                Lee Vining to Olmstead Overlook in Yosemite NP via CA120 and Tioga Pass, 30 miles

                Lee Vining to Bishop via June Lake Loop & Benton Hot Springs along US395-CA158-US395-CA120-US6: 140 miles

Overnight Bishop, CA: Creekside Inn $130.00 (very nice, substantial breakfast, worth the expense)


  • Oct 26, Day 4: Bishop to Lone Pine

                Highlight of this location: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (outside Big Pine, CA)

                Additional highlight: Manzanar WWII Japanese Internment Camp

                Bishop to Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest via Big Pine along US395-CA168: 45 miles

                Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest to Lone Pine along CA168-US395: 74 miles

Overnight Lone Pine, CA: Dow Villa Hotel & Motel $87.00 for room in hotel (nice, clean, comfortable). The hotel is historic, and many movie/TV personalities have lodged here (1940’s – 1950’s) while filming westerns in the nearby Alabama Hills


  • Oct 27, Day 5: Lone Pine to Las Vegas and late afternoon flight back to Baltimore

                Highlight of Lone Pine: Alabama Hills and entrance road to Mt. Whitney

                Stops for photography in Death Valley Junction and Tecopah

               Route through Death Valley NP merits multi-day visit but we’ve been here before so except for a pass-through it was not on our “stop and visit” list this time.

                 Lone Pine to Shoshone via CA136-CA190-CA127 through DVNP and Death Valley Junction: 162 miles

                 Shoshone to Las Vegas through Tecopah via CA127-Old Spanish Trail Highway-NV160-I15: 90 miles

                 Finally, fly Las Vegas, NV, to Baltimore, MD, departing Las Vegas at 4:40PM arriving BWI at midnight.


Meal Suggestions with approximate price or price range

                Taste rating scale: Blah, OK, Good, Very Good, Outstanding, Excellent

Reno: Peg’s Glorified Ham and Eggs

                Outstanding skillet breakfasts with southwest flair (chili relleno, tamales, etc), $8

Bridgeport: Burger Barn

                Outstanding hamburgers, $5 - $9

Lee Vining: Nicely’s Diner

                Good breakfasts, $5 - $9

                Blah coffee

Lee Vining: Latte Da Coffee Shop

                Very good breakfast sandwiches $5

                Very good coffee

Bishop: Back Alley Bowling Alley. Yes you can still find great food in the lounge of a Bowling Alley. Is this a great country or what?

                Excellent Fried Chicken, $12

                Very good Ribeye Steak, $24

Bishop: Erick Schat’s Bakery. You have to see this place to believe it! As one who loves good bread and baked goods, I was in 7th heaven.

                Excellent pastries

                Very good sandwiches

Lone Pine: Texas Barbecue (across street from Dow Villa Motel)

                Outstanding beef brisket

Shoshone, CA: Crowbar Café and Saloon

                Very good breakfast omelets, outstanding pancakes!

]]> (John Petro) Bodie Lone Pine Mono Lake Reno Sierra Nevada Yosemite Sun, 01 Nov 2015 03:40:45 GMT
On looking at the photographs of Vivian Maier Vivian Maier was, in my estimation, a photographer of the first rank. She was a "street photographer", taking photographs of the random scenes she encountered while out and about on city streets, mainly the streets of New York and Chicago. Vivian had a day job that was not photography, she worked most of her life as a nanny for a well-to-do family. Thus one could call her an amateur photographer, but there was nothing amateur about her vision, her timing, and her technical prowess when it came to composing a picture, focusing, exposing and pressing the shutter release. She made captivating images of life being lived from the 1950's through the turn of the century. I personally can't get enough of her photographs, of the faces, the eyes, the expressions she encountered and froze in time forever. I find myself wondering about the people in the photographs and what became of them, how did their lives turn out after that 1/125 second encounter with Vivian, what were they like before the encounter? But each photograph also has me reflecting on and admiring Vivian herself, each image speaks to me of the awareness and empathy she had for her fellow man, of the tenderness that must have flowed from her, the prescience she had to recognize such scenes as those she photographed occurring in real time. However, it also appears (to me, but I have no concrete information to substantiate this) that Vivian did not outwardly express that tenderness and empathy that I see so clearly in her photographs. She apparently was an introvert, how else to explain that most all of those photographs she took over 50 years sat unprocessed or unprinted in her private belongings. What makes this story, and her photographs doubly (or triply) fascinating, is the details of Vivian's life and how her photographs came to be discovered - after her death - and ultimately made available for the likes of me to be touched and moved by them.

These photographs, the images themselves and the stories they tell, the thousand plus words embodied in each one, what they tell of the person who made them, and then the actual details of the life of the person who made them, in total constitute for me one of the sweet and glorious mysteries - enigmas - of human existence. She had an uncanny sense for finding signals in the noise (see my earlier blog entry from Jul 7, 2013) and the signals she found resonate strongly with me.

Vivian's photographs and the story of her life, as best it can be pieced together, can be found here:

I wish you could find photographs on my web site that were even 1% as good as what you will find there. Go there and look at the images in silent thoughtfulness, imagine walking down a street and noticing such scenes unfolding, of having a camera and composing and pressing the shutter at the "decisive moment". Look at the image, imagine.

]]> (John Petro) Vivian Maier Fri, 09 Jan 2015 01:59:49 GMT
"Regarding the Pain of Others" by Susan Sontag I have the good fortune of spending two weeks in New York City. To be more exact, I am residing in the neighborhood of Red Hook in the borough of Brooklyn, in an AirBnB discovered "huge artist loft" (this last is the lodging owner's AirBnB title characterization but it is rather accurate). It's quite an interesting place on the top (fourth) floor of a former luggage factory. It offers a great view of the lower Manhattan skyline to the west, some of it seen through the tall cranes along the Brooklyn dockyards on the East River.  It is more than a little different from my ordinary residence back in suburban Maryland, middle class suburbia on steriods. In the loft is a bookcase packed with titles that I find extremely interesting. One such is a short book by Susan Sontag titled Regarding the Pain of Others. Susan was an American intellectual who, among much other work, wrote very eloquently about photography. Her most noted work in this regard is On Photography, a series of essays published in 1977.

Regarding the Pain of Others is a book about photography but more so, it is a book about photographs and their influence upon us and what, if any, impact a photograph of human suffering can have on us or should have on us. The opening paragraphs quickly set the central theme of her discussion, referencing a 1938 book by Virginia Woolf (written during the Spanish Civil War), Three Guineas, in which the female writer responds to a letter from a male friend posing the question "How in your opinion are we to prevent war." Woolf disputes the "we" in the question, since the question is posed by a male to a female. Woolf asserts that war is primarily a male endeavor so the two parties to the discussion are coming from different directions. To demonstrate the difference in viewpoints, Woolf writes, "Let's see, whether when we look at the same photographs we feel the same things" and goes on to describe a photograph in that day's paper from the Spanish Civil War showing the aftermath from a bomb blast in a house. This question of how one responds to photographs showing others in agony and pain is the core of Sontag's discussion. The "pain of others" in her title refers to human-on-human inflicted pain primarily under the auspices of war. The question Sontag ponders is if and how the medium of photography, through its graphic depiction of the horrors of war, can possibly mitigate the human tendency to engage in war and more generally how should we respond to photographic images of human suffering that is caused by the action of other humans.

At this point you could be thinking that humans have depicted the pain of others well before the invention of photography and you would be correct. Paintings, etchings, and sculptures through the centuries have depicted human-on-human inflicted suffering and pain, whether through wars, religious persecutions, martyrdom and/or all of the above. Museums and churches are filled with depictions of such events and we call such images 'art'. Sontag discusses this and very nicely I might add, but she goes on to make a good case that photographs are different. They are not just images that sprang from the imagination of the artist, most often made with the intent to inspire, mystify or motivate. Even if made by a realist artist who may have been an eye-witness to some depicted event, a painting or any representational depiction, was made afterwards and is tainted by the inability of the eye-witness to see and remember everything and by the artist's biases and goals in making the representation. Photographs on the other hand are generally assumed to represent the unvarnished reality of what transpired. We expect that photographs of a battle scene or its aftermath are the depiction of the reality of some event that took place in an exact place and at an exact time. If there are dead or maimed individuals, these are or were living, breathing human beings like ourselves. Yes, photographs too are influenced by the photographer's biases and decisions as to where to point the lens and when to press the shutter release - but whatever is represented in the image is what was there, at least that is what most viewers assume. Even before photoshop however, things were not so simple. Photographs of battlefield scenes were often altered, posed or staged in order to present images acceptable to the side sponsoring the photographer. If anything, with the transition to digital over the past 20 years and all that digital manipulation permits, ethical standards for photographers in war zones have become much more stringent. Sontag makes the case that this more rigid adherence to non-alteration began with the Vietnam War, the addition of television to the battlefield, and the transition of journalist/photographer from propagandist/booster for a war to potential anti-war activist.

Sontag discusses the history of photography on the world's battlefields, the impact it made, and the controversies that inevitably followed. The first known war photographer was Roger Fenton, who was sent under contract to the British government to photograph the Crimean War. He was precluded from photographing the British dead, maimed or ill. At the same period another Brit, Felice Beato photographed several British wars, the Sepoy rebellion in India, the second Opium War in China and the Sudanese colonial wars. In the US, Mathew Brady was approved by none other than Abraham Lincoln to photograph the US Civil War. Sontag discusses the choices and changes made by each of these photographers to present images that would be deemed acceptable to the home front. Still, their images could not help but show the suffering and ravages their wars inflicted, at least to those on the other side. As for the 20th century, sadly there is simply too much to relate. There were the two World War's with the Spanish Civil War in between, the Vietnam War, the Cambodian killing fields, the Rwandan genocide, and the Balkan War each with their iconic photographs of human-on-human atrocities.

The book does not show any photographs, to do so would be blasphemous to Sontag's reverent intentions. It does discuss many specific photographs of relevance, most so iconic that one does not need to see them. Among them are the Robert Capa photograph from the Spanish Civil War of the republican soldier at the instant of being shot, the many photographs from April-May 1945 of the eastern European concentration camps, the Eddie Adams' photograph of the point blank execution of the suspected Vietcong insurgent in a Saigon street, and the 1972 photograph by Huynh Cong Ut of the naked children running down a road, fleeing the napalm bombing of their village. Controversy surrounds some of these and others that she discusses, were they 'staged' and if so by how much. But she is concerned with much more than the controversies of spontaneity and realism, the main concern is how should 'we' - who are in a sense disinterested and removed from the actual horror and fear and death of the instant being viewed - view such images. What should we come away with?

This book was written after 9/11 so Sontag discusses the images from the World Trade Center collapse as well. Here she goes on brief but well stated diversion of professional vs amateur photographer, I quote her:

Photography is the only major art in which professional training and years of experience do not confer an insuperable advantage over the untrained and inexperienced - this for many reasons, among them the large role that chance (or luck) plays in the taking of pictures, and the bias toward spontaneous, the rough, the imperfect.

Some folks may take umbrage at her view, I do not. I agree.

Human behavior since the invention of photography has given us far too many examples and case studies relating to photography's influence on war and violence. Sontag's best writing is in regard to what such photographs should mean for us, how we should view them and what our response should be. She has no answers, she only raises questions and ponders alternatives. I praise her unbiased and non-judgemental analysis and I thank her for asking the question of what it means to view such images.

As for me, I don't believe there are 'answers' to the questions she raises. We can ask the questions, they are good questions, they are worthy of thought, reflection and discussion, and we can reflect on what these questions mean for each us individually. And then we can go about living our lives, hopefully trying to make peace and bring peace wherever we can, loving our neighbor and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

]]> (John Petro) Roger Fenton Sontag Susan Sontag Sun, 25 May 2014 02:16:59 GMT
Review of my show at the HCC Art Department Gallery Here is the link for a review of my present show at the Howard County Community College Art Department Gallery.

You do need to hurry to see it, it ends on March 23.

]]> (John Petro) Thu, 06 Mar 2014 13:38:15 GMT
"Signals in the Noise" Photography Exhibition I have another solo photography exhibition opening soon. It will run from Jan 24 - Mar 17, 2014, at the Howard County Community College Art Department Gallery in Columbia, MD. I'm calling it, Signals in the Noise. Below is my "Artist Statement" for the show. These statements can sometimes be perceived as being pretentious and self-important and possibly you will consider this one as an example of such. I won't dispute you on that perception but if you read the statement you'll see that your perception, whatever it is, is an example of what I'm talking about. You've found a personal signal in the text.

In any case, if you're in Columbia, MD, sometime during the dates of the show, stop in and check it out. There is a reception on Thurs Jan 30 from 5 - 7PM. If you are reading this, consider yourself invited. Location details can be found here (or email me with questions):


SIGNALS IN THE NOISE Artist Statement:

Our conscious lives are spent searching for and responding to signals that are embedded within the noise that bombard each of our senses every waking minute.



It has taken me the better part of a long lifetime to arrive at this personal “aha!”, but for me now, that about sums up what it is that human beings do with their lives. Deeper analysis reveals that what constitutes a “signal” is often unique to each individual. Sensory stimulus that resonates with me and thus becomes a signal that rises above the noise I swim through, be it a particular piece of music, a particular image, a particular feel or touch, a particular political or scientific concept, may not resonate with you. We use the metaphor and simile as means of conveying the essence of some signal we perceive to another, in hopes of transferring the resonance. How each of us responds to the signals we get, well, that is life. I should add that I don't see the perception of signals by an individual as necessarily awarding any absolute validity to the signal. I mentioned “scientific concept” as a signal, but some scientific concepts are more valid than others, some are in fact completely bogus but still they resonate with folks. Some signals that resonate with an individual can be detrimental to their well-being, e.g. an excessive fondness for alcohol or living a life on the edge. But enough of this...


Having “Signals in the Noise” as a theme for a photographic exhibition is in a way a cop out. It allows the exhibitor (me in the present case) to hang pretty much anything he or she wants – these are my “signals” after all. What you see displayed here are some of the visual perceptions I have made over the past few years and that somehow resonated with me sufficiently to warrant being photographed. Each of these displayed images was perceived by me, at the time they were captured, as not being noise but rather as saying something to me. My response to these signals, beyond the photograph itself, that is a work in progress.


It is my hope that some of the displayed images resonate with you, the viewer. I hope you don't find all of them to be noise....not that there's anything wrong with that.


We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.

Anais Nin

]]> (John Petro) Sat, 11 Jan 2014 21:17:24 GMT
Italo Calvino's "The Adventure of a Photographer" The cuban born Italian writer Italo Calvino wrote a short story "The Adventure of a Photographer". It was first published in 1958, but it appeared in English in his book of short stories, Difficult Loves, published in 1971. It presents a marvelous characterization of the obsession of photography through its effect on one individual, Antonino. The date the story was written has some relevance to my ramblings here since it was well before the technology changes we've undergone in the past 20 years. Like any good story (at least to my taste) the explorations that Calvino makes into the lure and obsession of photography - more generally the human need to record the events of our lives - has a timeless quality.

Using the terminology of the computer era, humans are endowed with "internal memory" but unlike digital memory our internal memory is 'soft', it is perishable, we forget, and it is malleable, we 'remember' an event one way when in fact it actually happened another way. Yes, I know digital memory too is perishable but not in the same way. With coding and error correction-detection mechanisms (ah, mathematics) digital memory readers know when the memory has gone bad and can notify us not to trust what is being output. Our brains on the other hand are not so precise, a piece of some memory may morph or perish but we don't necessarily know it - that darn malleability. We swear things were this way, when in reality they were that way. With writing and painting, mankind acquired "external memory" (peripheral memory?) that is much more permanent than the soft stuff in our heads, but writing and painting are malleable too. They are dependent upon the interpretation of the event by the writer or painter making the record. Photography, and other mechanical recording devices (video, voice, etc), are not dependent on the human operator to the same extent. It has been said that a photograph "speaks for itself". But not so fast you say, a photograph too depends upon the whims and biases of the photographer. The photographer controls where to point the recording device and then there is the conversion of the raw recording into the visual image ultimately displayed. While it is more evident today than ever before, given the precision and simplicity of digital image manipulation, it has always been possible to manipulate the final image displayed in order to convey an impression different from the reality that was originally taking place and allegedly recorded. A photograph can be made to present an image more perfect than the reality it records, the smiling faces in the family portrait masking tensions and rivalries for example. There are deep philosophical questions here. What is the 'reality' of an event that happens in time, especially going forward into the future, when the event is now in the past? Is all that matters of an event our internal memory of it, even if that memory morphs into something different from the initial reality? What matters more, the initial reality or our current memory of that reality? What of all these external aids to our memory, especially today given the limitless amount of memory now available via digital means, how far do we go in recording and preserving these records, how much is too much? Time spent recording, processing and cataloging events takes time away from actually experiencing the events of our lives, from making new events worth recording, when does such activity turn into obsession? And what of the records, who is to play them back? Where does the time spent playing back a record, reliving a recorded memory come from? I better stop here with the questions, before I get to "what is the meaning of life", it's not too far away.

Back to Calvino's story. In the opening paragraph he describes the unnamed city's inhabitants who spend their weekends taking photographs. He says of their weekend lives

It is only when they have the photos before their eyes that they seem to take tangible possession of the day they spent, only then that the mountain stream, the movement of the child with his pail, the glint of the sun on the wife's legs take on the irrevocability of what has been and can no longer be doubted. Everything else can drown in the unreliable shadow of memory.

Antonino is introduced as the rebel, one who sees nothing but folly in the clamor to record every aspect of one's life on film. Then Calinvo tells us what it is with Antonino that underlies his discomfort, he is a bachelor. His circle of friends are getting married, having children, and these events bring about the need to record. Those six month old toddlers will very soon be seven months old and thus a record must be made. It is because they love that they photograph. Well, with Antonino the process works in reverse. While on an outing with acquaintances, he is asked to take some photographs of a female acquaintance, and gradually through the posing and framing in the view finder he falls in love. The love fuels his desire to photograph, and vice versa. His compulsion becomes obsession as the need for the perfect photograph, for recording his love's every waking and sleeping moments overwhelms him, bringing about his downfall. Along the way, in telling this tale of Antonino, Calvino gives commentary on the human need to record the events of our lives, on compulsion, memory, love and obsession.

As for what "The Adventure of a Photographer" tells me about myself, well, that opening characterization quoted above fits me. I find that in my travels, they are not 'real' until I get home and see - and process - the photographs I've taken along the way. As I say on the home page of this site, "I acknowledge change, therefore I photograph". Change, really decay, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, is the way things are. My memory is fleeting, photographs are how I slow that down. As for what I photograph, well, see "signal in the noise" elsewhere in my blog. Like Antonino, I too seek some undefined, unattainable 'perfection' when I look through the view finder and press the shutter release. My concept of perfection is not necessarily in composition or framing or technical precision (mind you, those things are important), but just some glimmer of a signal hidden in the noise.

Calvino's story is in the open domain, it can be found here in the link below. It is entertaining, thought provoking, and, in this rushed day and age, it is short - not much longer than a 'tweet' (not that I have any idea what a 'tweet' is). Read it.




]]> (John Petro) Calvino The Adventure of a Photographer memory Sat, 26 Oct 2013 21:28:23 GMT
Signal in Noise I better begin this by asking any reader to stick with me on this till the end. We're going somewhere (I'm not sure myself just where right now) and hopefully we do get there and we find the destination worthwhile.

In communication engineering one gets introduced to the "signal to noise ratio" (SNR). The 'signal' is the stuff that the sender intentionally wishes for the receiver to recover, the 'noise' is everything else that the receiver recovers as well in his attempt to acquire the signal. The receiver gets both signal and noise and has to filter out the noise part. This notion of signal and noise can be much more general however. Signal can represent anything that the receiver gets from the environment (surroundings) that has potential to provide some value to the recipient. Noise is everything else in the environment that the receiver also gets but does not use, the stuff that is filtered out in the search for signal. When the 'receiver' is a human being, he/she gets data from the environment via his/her senses: vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Since this is a photography web site (it is a photography web site isn't it?) let's concentrate on the vision thing.

During our waking hours, our eyes are continuously bombarded with data. In the sense of the discussion above, I will call it noise. Depending on what we are consciously engaged in at the moment on a subconscious level our brains are filtering that noise looking for signals within it - stuff that matters. What sort of stuff matters? Well it could be signs of a threat to our safety and well-being, e.g. a bear or other threatening wild animal in our path, a run-away automobile bearing down on us, etc. It could be, and thankfully usually is, more benign, e.g. an acquaintance entering one's field of view, a scene or image that reminds one of a pleasant experience, etc. Even if we are consciously engaged in something involving our vision, e.g. reading a book or driving, in which case our vision is consciously engaged in the act of processing some signal, subconsciously our vision is still engaged in filtering noise in the data received by our eyes, for example via our peripheral vision.

The psychologist Daniel Kahneman theorizes that human brains have two distinct components for processing information. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow (a very worthwhile read) he calls these components simply "system 1" and "system 2". System 1 is fast and intuitive, system 2 is deliberate and analytical, but as a result also somewhat slow. Sensory data is initially processed by system 1 - it acts a a gatekeeper if you will - and only passed on to system 2 if system 1 perceives some signal that merits further deliberative attention. While walking along if one's vision suddenly takes in the sight of a lion, system 1 will send a "flight" response to one's muscles, not waiting for system 2 to analyze the situation. After the initial flight response, and while running away, system 2 will be performing analysis of the situation and possibly offer more reasoned additional options beyond just running to insure safety. For another example, when driving a car on a clear straight road with little traffic, system 1 is sufficient to process the visual data in order for the driver to safely control the vehicle. But, when in heavy traffic or on a winding road, then system 2 is called upon to aid in the effort, it must be applied to analyze the incoming visual information and guide our response if we are to remain safe and in control. Now as I recall Kahneman does not use the word 'signal', I am putting it there since I believe it means essentially what he describes as the relevant incoming data to which our brain responds.

Now what about visual arts? Here we leave Kahneman and his theories and go back to my musings. System 1 can initially process our reaction to viewing a piece of visual art. Our quick "I love it" or "Ugh, I hate it" is a fast, intuitive reaction to an image. If our reaction stops there, whether love or hate, and we move on, then the 'art' did not really have much value for such a viewer, essentially the image is noise. Possibly we can consider it to be pleasing noise if the reaction was "I love it" but noise none-the-less. It is only if the viewer was compelled to engage system 2 and consciously and deliberately reflect on the image and seek the signal, seek the message therein, that the image is truly art. The beauty of signal processing within the human mind is that the signal the receiver perceives can have no obvious relation to the message being sent by the  transmitter (whoever or whatever that is). What one person 'sees' in viewing the Mona Lisa, that is the signal his system 2 picks out when his eyes process the data of that image, can be very different from the signal another person discerns when viewing the same image, and both of these can be different from whatever it is Leonardo Da Vinci intended.

I hope that whoever stuck with this item till now finds some signal in the noise of my musings.

]]> (John Petro) Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow signal in noise Mon, 08 Jul 2013 01:59:16 GMT
Worth the drive I like the headline for the local press review of my "Parked Outside the Door" exhibit at the Kish Gallery in Columbia, MD, Apr 21 - Jun 1, 2013. I have to save the link here permanently. Check it out:,0,1690983.story


]]> (John Petro) Thu, 02 May 2013 20:24:24 GMT
Tables Turned While visiting and photographing in Charleston, SC, on a Sunday afternoon in March I had the tables turned on me. Another person was taking photographs and had set herself the goal for that afternoon of photographing people. I was her first victim, er, subject. I was "Stranger #1". She took a few candid shots while I was getting ready to photograph some architecture. Then she came up to me, asked if she could take another picture or two and post her work involving me on the web. Since I do this to others and I appreciate it when they are friendly and accommodating, it only seemed fair for me to give her my permission. We had a brief friendly chat and she took several 'posed' shots. While I did not give her the best material to work with, but she did a respectable job in making me look good. You can see her post, and get introduced to the "100 Strangers Project" here:

]]> (John Petro) 100 Stangers Project Tue, 09 Apr 2013 01:22:13 GMT
Car trips with paper maps and a trip through the southeast US In  Nov 2012 I joined the modern age and upgraded to a smart phone. It comes with a navigation app that can get me from wherever I happen to be to absolutely any address in the United States, probably the world. For a few years now, my wife has had a Garmin which does likewise and I have taken advantage of it many times. In her job, where she regularly travels to new locations throughout the US, it is indispensable (although she got by without one for a few years).

I still like paper maps. They are my friend and my favorite benefit from my AAA membership. For my photography, which primarily relies on what I randomly encounter "on the highways and byways, the back roads and side streets", I don't want to go directly from point A to point B. I want to meander. I don't want a voice (sweet though it is) telling me "In one-quarter mile turn right on Clarksville Pike", etc.

Recently I drove from my home in Columbia, MD, to Orlando, FL. I had work to do in Orlando but I chose to drive because I wanted to see some of the south that I had never seen before. I did not want the I-95 direct route to Orlando (I'd have flown were that my only drive option). I budgeted 5 days to get there and hoped to do at least 50% of that on non-interstate roads. I had paper maps from AAA for Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

Here is my rough itinerary for the trip south, sketched before I departed (using Google Maps for the distances which are "shortest route" distances so primarily interstates, much less than the distances I expected to encounter on my drive):

Wed Mar 13: Columbia, MD to Wytheville, VA,  327 miles
Thu Mar 14: Wytheville, VA to Chattanooga, TN, 292 miles
Fri Mar 15: Chattanooga, TN to Milton, FL, 370 miles
Sat Mar 16: Milton, FL to Wakulla Springs, FL, 172 miles
Sun Mar 17: Wakulla Springs to Orlando, 244 miles

I was to overnight with a friend in Milton, FL, on Friday and that was my only hard constraint, besides arriving in Orlando by 4PM on Sunday for a business meeting. All else was best guess that looks reasonable. Here is roughly the reality of the trip, thanks to the outline and those paper maps when on the road:

Wed Mar 13: I-70 to I-81 to Christiansburg, VA, then leave I-81 and meander to Abingdon, VA, where I spent the night.

Thu Mar 14: US 19 west through towns of St Paul, Coeburn, Norton and Appalachia in VA, then on to the Cumberland Gap (VA, TN and KY convergence) and into Tennessee. I make my way over to I-75 and continue south to Chattanooga where I spend the night.

Fri Mar 15: I-75 into Alabama then exit in Gadsden. Exit and continue south on Rt 77 to Talladega. Continue south on US 231 to Montgomery. There take I-65 through city and on to Georgiana, where I exit and take US31 working my way to Evergreen, AL. I continue south on US 31 to Brewton where I take Rt 41 into Florida and on to Milton, FL.

Sat Mar 16: Head east through the Florida panhandle, mainly on US20 with brief encounters with I-10. Eventually work way to Rt 267 and Wakulla Springs State Park.. Overnight at the Wakulla Springs Lodge in the state park.

Sun Mar 17: Continue east on Rt 267 till merge with US 98. At the town of Perry 98 merges with US 19 and turns south, towards Ocala. At Chiefland, with time running out thanks to many photo stops,  I take US 27 east, at high speed, for I-75 and the Florida Turnpike to Orlando. I arrive at the meeting with 5 minutes to spare.

For the return trip I took an easterly route with the same philosophy. I drove north through central Florida and hit the coast at the Florida-Georgia state line, overnight in St. Mary's, GA. I spent two night there, visiting Jekyll Island. The weather was not good, heavy overcast with intermittent rain all day. The next day I departed St. Mary's and it rained hard and steadily so I took I-95 into South Carolina. My goal was to visit Charleston, SC, a city I'd never visited before. I overnighted in Charleston, a beautiful city. From there I took back roads, mainly Rt 41, north through eastern SC and into NC. Arriving in Lumberton, NC, at 4PM, I decided I would spend that night in my own bed at home, so I got on I-95 and made a bee-line for Columbia, MD, with only a 1 hour dinner stop. I arrived home at 10:30PM.

I don't know how I'd have seen all that I saw, enjoyed myself as much, and taken the semi-random route I did, without good old paper maps. Did I take a lot of photographs? You bet I did. I chronicled some of the vanishing, rural south.

]]> (John Petro) alabama appalachia florida rural south southeastern us virginia Tue, 09 Apr 2013 01:12:10 GMT
My Gallery Exhibit, "Parked Outside the Door" My gallery exhibit will open in just over two weeks, on April 18. The "Meet the Artist Reception" will be on Sunday, April 21, from 3 - 5 PM. The gallery, officially known as the "Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House," is located at 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Columbia, MD, in the village of Wilde Lake. I  will have fifty of my photographs on display and for sale. The title suggests the subject of the photographs. You might be wondering how someone can build an exhibit of fifty photographs around such a theme, well, come and find out! These photographs are from across the country, Alaska to Texas, California to New Jersey (and even one from the UK). Actually, I have more but the space cannot contain them all (kind of like Fermat's proof of what has become his famous "Last Theorem").

Oh, there are a few surprises amidst the fifty on display. I did not explicitly say what was "parked outside".

My motivations for pointing my camera at vehicles parked outside doors:

Vehicles and buildings are the two fundamental constructs of ingenuity that long ago separated homo sapiens from brutes. They both enabled and formed the foundation of civilization. In buildings we conduct the business of our lives while our vehicles wait outside the doors, ready to efficiently transport us on to another location, another building. Almost as soon as they made their appearance, these objects went beyond being merely utilitarian. Using his creative nature man has adorned them and made them unique personal extensions of his individuality. In the modern age, these fundamental constructs are an inherent part of our existence, but they are also part of the background noise of our lives, often unnoticed and unremarkable except in their absence. In this exhibit we take notice of these incidentals, placing them on the center stage. These scenes of permanence and mobility, as expressions of someone's individuality, are often not only beautiful, with off-beat colors and textures and randomness, but in the viewer they can awaken old memories of vehicle makes, and architecture styles, all embedded in the surrounding landscape of the nation. In addition, these images can also provide cause for reflection – what became of the humans who influenced the scene being witnessed, what inspired them, who were they, what statement were they trying to make?

]]> (John Petro) Wed, 03 Apr 2013 01:06:33 GMT
Physical vs Digital Photograph The following is a slightly modified version of a response I made to an on-line photography forum, in response to a question someone posted about one's opinion on the differences, if any, between photographs printed on some tangible physical media vs photographs on electronic media and that remain in digital form. If you're reading this, you've seen some of my photographs in digital electronic form.

Nevertheless, here is my opinion:

A photograph that is printed on paper and is tangible has more substance than one that is and remains digital. It is always present, not just when the battery is charged or the power is on. Also, printing - even of a digital PhotoShop processed image - exacts a price and puts some limits on the quantity. One cannot reasonably store mega-4x6 prints, one does not have the wall space to hang kilo-16x20 framed images. Having these harder constraints compels more thought, care and, ultimately, meaning into the finished product. I much prefer seeing a photography exhibit hanging in a gallery, than one on-line. I love photography and when photography web sites started appearing on the internet in the late 90's and early 2000's, I enthusiastically joined several. I enjoyed viewing and commenting on the images and posting my own work. More and more however I find myself bored with these on-line sites and the posted photographs, not because of poor quality and not because of jealousy (although there are plenty of beautiful photographs of which I am envious), but rather simply because of the sheer quantity. Every day one can log on and cycle through image after image, heck, one per second for 24 hours, and never see the same photograph twice and still not see but a small fraction of all the photographs posted on-line that day! Herons, portraits, Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Rockies, the Pacific Ocean, old barns, rusty cars, sunrise, sunset (swiftly flow the years), you name it, some are extremely good, but so what, tomorrow there will be an entirely new batch. This exercise make me feel like Sisyphus pushing the stone up the hill only to have to redo it again tomorrow, but at least pushing a stone gives one a cardio workout. Personally, for me, walking through a gallery looking at framed photographs hanging on a wall has much more meaning.

]]> (John Petro) Tue, 19 Mar 2013 21:48:03 GMT
Preparing for a photography exhibition To my delight, I was approved for a solo photography exhibition at a local art gallery. The show will take place in Apr-May of 2013, and the gallery has space for about 50 pieces. Since this is a solo show, the burden is entirely on me to have 50 matted and framed works ready for hanging before show start. I was notified of my acceptance back in mid-October, so I've been working on this for two months already. In this note I will describe my post-PhotoShop work flow, equipment, material sources, and expenses for this show preparation.

First off, I am a do-it-yourselfer, so I do everything myself, from pressing the shutter release to final matted and framed 11x14 (or whatever size) piece, it is all done by me. That is not entirely true, I do still shoot film and slides occasionally, and when I do, the exposed film does get sent out for processing by experts, before I scan the negative/slide and process in photoshop (PS). But, in any case, here we describe what happens after the photoshop processing, how we go from a bunch of bits viewable on a monitor to a framed print suitable for hanging on a wall.

There are four advantages for doing the entire post-PS process in-house. Some of these advantages are of course based on my beliefs about how photographs should be displayed, if your opinions differ then this list may not apply. I believe that a frame and matte should not compete with the photograph for attention. Frames should be low key and unobtrusive, they should simply outline the matted photograph and separate it from the wall on which it hangs. I also believe that each photograph is unique and thus should be free to take on any aspect ratio and size the photographer deems appropriate for that image. Even though I did both the taking of the photograph and the framing of it, I much prefer to be complemented on the beauty of the photograph, not the matting and framing. Also, setting the idealism aside and getting practical, I offer my matted, framed photographs for sale and I want to break even if not see an actual profit and my name/photographs do not (yet?) command fine art prices, so expense of materials matters a great deal. My choice of frames, while meeting my beliefs about how photographs should be displayed also meets my requirement of allowing me to very nicely display my work without exorbitant expense. In summary, here are four advantages of doing the work oneself:

  1. Flexibility. I like lots of freedom in selecting the crop aspect ratio and print size for each photograph uniquely. Doing the matting and framing myself frees me from any constraints.
  2. Consistency. While I like flexibility in photograph dimensions, I prefer uniformity of frames and framing style for all of my photographs. I can more easily achieve this consistency over time when I do the work myself.
  3. Expense. Getting 50 photographs matted and framed is not cheap, even if you do it yourself, but it is still cheaper than contracting out all or any portion of the work.
  4. Speed/Control. Time to completion is only constrained by my schedule, not anyone else's schedule.

There are two big, as in expensive, non-recurring cost items one needs for this endeavor.

  1. Printer
  2. Matte cutter

As for the printer, I have the Epson 3800 Color Inkjet printer that I bought four years ago. As with much electronic equipment now-a-days, there is a new and improved version, the 3880 that one can buy for several hundred dollars less than I paid for the 3800. To further rub salt in my wound, presently (Dec 31, 2012) I see that Epson is offering a $300 rebate on top of the already lower price for the 3880. I don't know how long this will last and possibly this means there is yet a more improved version about to be released so they want to get rid of old stock. In any case I find that the 3800 is excellent, but I also know there are many other excellent printers on the market by a variety of makers. If you do go with an Epson product, it should be one that employs their ultrachrome inks. It should go without saying, but you do want to be sure that whatever printer you purchase, that it will allow you to print in sizes you wish to display. There are many blogs and tutorials on how to print, most are focused on specific printers as the technique varies for different printers so I will say nothing more about the actual printing process.

As for the matte cutter I have a Logan SimplexPlus Model 750 that I bought about 10 years ago. It can handle matte sizes up to 40". I see that Logan now makes a model 750-1 called the Simplex Elite. It generally looks like the one I have but comes with many more additional components for cutting glass, plexiglass and paper and an 8-ply matte bevel cutter. I am jealous and wish I had this new model. I like my SimplexPlus model a lot and have gotten lots of use out of it over the past 10 years, so I can with reasonable confidence recommend the new model. I see that on, the newer Simplex Elite can be had for about $320.00.

Here is a link for a youtube video made by Logan on the Simplex Elite and how to use it to cut mattes for photographs:

The recurring costs are for the actual framing materials:

  1. the frames and assembly hardware,
  2. glass or plexiglass (I use exclusively plexiglass),
  3. the matte boards,
  4. the foam core backing,
  5. and the hanging hardware.

I purchase all of the above on-line, from one of two places (but there are many others as well). I use either

  1. GraphikDimensionsLtd at  or
  2. FramesByMail at

Both offer complete kits, all precut to size, for frames, plexiglass, foam core backing and assembly and hanging hardware. They also sell matte boards in bulk or single quantity. I like that one can order these frame kits - at least for the style of frames I buy - in completely arbitrary sizes down to the eight of an inch.

The frame style I use (see my philosophy on frames above) is exclusively what GraphikDimension call Economy Metal. Within this group are many styles and finishes, but I prefer matte black finish. For each frame/size selection one can then add plexiglass and backing also cut to size. Since my older matte cutter did not come with the plexiglass cutter (like the new Logan Model 750-1) I purchase it precut. I prefer the non-glare plexiglass which is slightly frosted on the outer side to prevent, as the name implies, glare. I also get the foam core backing as opposed to the much less expensive cardboard.

I purchase mattes in bulk. A box of 16 mattes, 32 x 40 inches, costs around $94 for the basic and around $236 for the acid-free rag mattes. Note that there is no cost advantage on GraphikDimension for buying in bulk as opposed to single mattes. I buy in bulk so I'll have a good supply on hand. A single matte board, 32 x 40 can provide mattes for four 16 x 20 framed photographs.

I almost exclusively use a 3 inch boarder on my mattes regardless of final frame size. Thus for a given print size I must add 6 inches to each dimension to get the frame size needed. So to display a 10 x 14 image, I need a 16 x 20 matte and frame. If I used this size consistently I'd have no matte board wasteage, and a single board would provide mattes for four photographs. But, as I said above, I like flexibility in print size so I can crop each image uniquely before printing. But, I am not obsessive about cropping, I have three sizes I use very frequently, 10x13, 10x14 and 10x15. I find that most of my images fit one of those aspect ratios, 10x15 is essentially full-frame 35mm format (either FX or DX). The other two sizes enable with more or less cropping of the sides. So the frames I most often order are 16x19, 16x20 or 16x21. Note that from a single matte board I can also get two 16x19 and two 16x21 mattes with no wasteage (cut the 40 inch side at 19 inches gives a 32 x 19 and a 32 x 21, then cut each of these in half along the 32 inch edge). But really good photographs I like larger. Two other common print sizes I like are

  1. 11 1/2 x 16 and with the 3 inch matte window I need a matte and frame dimension of f 17 1/2 x 23
  2. 12 1/2 x 18 1/2 giving a matte and frame dimension of 18 1/2 x 24 1/2

These result in matte wasteage but so it goes.

There is one additional sizing feature I employ that you may or may not find useful. I left it out so far to simplify the description. I actually like for the photograph to have an additional framing feature and that is that the image be inset in the matte window by an additional 1/4 inch, so the white of the print paper shows inside the matte window by 1/4" all around. Thus my actual cropped print sizes are 1/2 inch less in all of the above descriptions. Instead of 10 x 14, I crop the image to 9 1/2 x 13 1/2 (but print on paper that is at least 11 x 15 with the image centered in the paper). Now I center the image inside the 10 x 14 window, so there is 1/4" of unprinted paper all around that also shows in the framed product. I like this presentation style. Also, I can title, date and sign the image on the print paper just below the image and it will show in the matte window.

AS FOR PHOTO TITLE AND SIGNATURE: This is something I have been struggling with recently, here's why. Traditionally, fine art photographs were printed on matte finish photo paper. They were then titled and signed (or sometimes just signed) with pencil along the bottom. Originally I printed my photographs on Epson Archival Matte paper and I signed them in pencil along the bottom. But I have slowly transitioned to Epson Premium Luster paper, preferring that finish over matte finish. Now that all my matte stock has been depleted I have been printing exclusively on luster paper. The problem is, one cannot write on luster paper, not in pencil for sure and most pens also do not adhere. So I have been experimenting. For my upcoming show I have some signed using a Sharpie pen, but my handwriting is not good, and while a pencil on matte was still OK, I do not like the Sharpie. My new method is to use Photoshop. After the photograph is sized properly, say for example 13.5 x 9.5 (for a 20 x 16 frame), I increase the canvas size of the image to 14 x 10.25, giving the image a white border with the photo centered, so it has a border 0.25 inches on the sides and 0.375 inches on top and bottom.  In the white border along the bottom I use the text tool to type in any desired information, e.g. title, date, place and my name. I use the Bickham Script Pro font for my name so it looks like John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. I like this solution, but I'm not sure how the public will respond. We will see in several weeks when such signed photographs are officially unveiled.

I affix the photograph to the back of the matte using an acid free artist tape. One should only tape along the top and leave the sides and bottom free. This prevents buckling or bowing of the image inside the frame when temperature and humidity cause any expansion or contraction.

Matte cutting requires a good flat space such as a large table, ideally slightly taller than a regular eating table (usually they are around 30" in height), say at drafting table height. One can get a sore back if one has to bend over too much. However, until several months ago, so for 10 years, I used a no-longer used ping-pong table, also about 30" high, that I had in my basement and it worked perfectly fine. It certainly provided lots of surface area that I managed to keep filled with junk and cut matte piece scraps, etc. I've since re-finished my basement and gotten rid of the ping-pong table. I now have a smaller room in which to work but acquired one of the taller dining room tables that is 35" in height and has a 48" square table top. It just fits the matte cutter with a full uncut matte and I like it a lot. All my preparation for the current show has been done on this table. The matte cutter itself does not take up but 20% of the table top so after the matte is cut, I can do the actual frame assembly on the table as well.

So far, over the past three months I've framed over 40 photographs in all of the various sizes described above. It's been a fun and rewarding process and I'm extremely excited about the up-coming show in April. When the on-line announcement for the show is up and running I'll send out a link, check it out. And if you live in the greater Columbia, Maryland, area (Washington, DC, Baltimore, Annapolis, etc) come on by and see the real thing.

]]> (John Petro) Mon, 11 Mar 2013 12:26:59 GMT
Why Photography #2 Today I came across the work of a photographer, Dave Jordano, that simply put, blew me away. His photographs speak for themselves, and they say all that needs to be said about "Why photography". In my earlier postings I discuss what is art, and this work of which I now speak embodies what 'art' is to me. It stops me in my tracks, grabs me by the collar and makes me take notice, and makes me reflect in a profound way on what it means to be human.

It exemplifies what I would like to achieve with my photography. It is inspirational and also humbling, since I know I will not come close to this level of perfection.

I've said enough. As I said, the work speaks for itself - as truly great work should. The link below is where you can see - and judge - for yourself. He has many portfolios, all are outstanding, but check out in particular the ones on Detroit, Marktown, Praireland, and Articles of Faith.

]]> (John Petro) Sun, 03 Feb 2013 17:37:21 GMT
Why photography? As I say on the welcome to this website:

I acknowledge change, therefore I photograph.

When I photograph I feel that I am, in some meager way, stopping the clock. I know this is futile but at its core this is what motivates my desire to point the lens at something and press the shutter release. This shows up in my choice of subjects. The people and things most obviously in the throes of change, that may not be available as subjects in the not too distant future, these are the subjects that strongly attract me (yes, you see lots of 'self-portraits' here for this reason). These photographs represent my futile attempt to claw with my fingernails into the ether and stop, or at least slow down, the relentless pull of time and what that means for us as individuals and the things on this earth that we have made. Even these photographs will pass away.

Now go and have a good day, that's what I plan to do. Be thankful for this day.

]]> (John Petro) Sat, 02 Feb 2013 02:03:18 GMT
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada For the past 5 days I have been in Vancouver, BC. I return home tomorrow.

I am here to attend wireless standards meetings, so I have been working during most of my stay. Today, Friday, the present session ended at mid-morning and since I do not return home till tomorrow I was free for the remainder of the day. Also I arrived at 1PM last Sunday and was free that afternoon and evening. I am staying at the Haytt Hotel, on Burrard Street just above Dunsmuir Street, which is in the heart of the downtown section of the city. I had no car so my mobility was quite limited. With all the previous as qualifier to my observations, here they are.

Vancouver is a lovely, vibrant city with remarkable diversity. In fact, I'd have to say it is one of the most vibrant cities I have had the pleasure to spend time in (and I've spent time in many cities throughout North America). Here is what I mean by vibrant. I remind you that it is January, that Vancouver's latitude is getting up there, certainly higher than most of the United States - excluding Alaska. So during my stay, the sun has set at around 4:30PM. The temperature most of the week has been within several degrees above and below freezing. Happily there has been essentially no rain. Given all of that, in all my walking around the city, daytimes and evenings, and I've walked every evening sometime between 6 and 9PM, everyplace I have happened to walk has always been full of people out and about! I find this very remarkable, but also for a visitor in a strange city, comforting. I don't know what everyone is out doing, but out they are. The people are of all sorts, all ages, both sexes, and appear to be of all social classes. Shops and restaurants all seem active and thriving as the evening wears on, regardless of the day of week.

Yes, there are panhandlers. There's something about the cities on the Pacific Ocean, I guess since it's a sort of "land's end" for people coming from the east, but, they have so many more panhandlers than cities further east. Vancouver is no exception in that regard. I was particularly saddened and distressed by several young women who weren't actually panhandling, but were sitting/lying down on the cold pavement outside the Hyatt and behind a crude cardboard sign that said "To Proud to Prostitute, to Honest to Beg". An inverted hat for donations was next to the sign. What has led these young 20-somethings to this state? These women could be my daughters.

Water surrounds Vancouver. The downtown is on a little thumb that sticks out from a fist which forms the body of the city. I was pretty much restricted to the thumb. A major port and cargo terminal is on the waterfront, just along the north side of downtown. The large orange cranes and acres of containers are within close view from downtown and a short walk gets one a direct view of the activity of large cargo ships being loaded and unloaded. A hotel and convention center are on a permanent pier that extends out into the water. Part of the city's public transportation system includes a "water bus" taking one across the harbor from downtown to North Vancouver, a large thriving city in its own rite. I took the water bus today to North Vancouver. At the landing on the north side is a farmer's market, called the "Lonsdale Quay Market". In the Market were many fine looking places to eat. I selected a booth called the "Soup Meister" that daily makes soups. I had a great bowl of one of the today's specials, Mulagawtany. I highly recommend the "soup meister". Just north of North Vancouver are large, snow covered mountains with skiing in sight. Some riders on the water bus were carrying snow boards and boots, suggesting they were on their way, via public transportation, to the slopes. Walk from bustling city to water bus to other public transportation to arrive at ski slopes on rugged snow laced mountains, that's diversity! Also it should be noted that Vancouver was the host city of the 2010 Winter Olympics and the major ski area of Whistler is only a car drive away.

This evening (Friday), completing a pleasant afternoon of walking and photographing, I chanced to walk into MacLeod's Books on Pender Street. What a serendipitous event! Given the state of book publishing and sales today, thanks to that marvel of technology you and I cannot do without called the internet (we are both using it in our respective 'now's'), this store is a step back in time in a very good way. I wish there were more such places. The proprietor (this title is an unverified assumption on my part) had no problem with my taking photographs. The results are in a gallery on this site, MacLeod's Books. Oh, and they have a great photography book section. I purchased a 1909 book, "The Sinclair Handbook of Photography." They don't have a coffee bar, but if I lived in Vancouver, I'd be a regular at this place (and probably poorer as a result but that's OK, I'd be less caffinated).

The downtown Vancouver waterfront itself, to the northwest beyond the cargo terminal has a beautiful waterfront promenade. In addition to the large convention center/hotel pier, there is a distinct pier called "Canada Place", that celebrates the country that is Canada. Beyond these two fixed piers heading along the promenade are luxury boat docks and restaurants. At the tip of the thumb is a nature park and preserve called Stanley Park. It is well worth a visit.

From my travel experience in the States, I'd say Vancouver is a combination of Salt Lake City with the nearby mountains and ski areas, and the San Francisco Bay area with the water in all directions, marine terminals, and upscale high rises and business district. If you have an opportunity, visit Vancouver!



]]> (John Petro) Vancouver Sat, 19 Jan 2013 04:39:50 GMT
What is art? Here I discuss an age old question, "What is art?" For me 'art' is any man made creation which causes me to stop and reflect on the human condition, on my own condition, and just what is this amalgam of stuff called humanity of which I am a very small part. My response to 'art' is both emotional and intellectual. As such, art takes me out of my comfort zone. Being lazy by nature, my comfort zone is that area of thoughtless bliss where I'm cruising along on auto-pilot, minimally processing sensory stimuli so as not to trip over a curb or pinch my finger in a door jamb or go too long without food so my stomach is compelled to complain. Then some human created stimulus comes along, visually or aurally, and I'm shaken out of my auto-pilot state to find myself confronting a flood of thoughts and emotions about the utter mystery of humanity, consciousness, creativity, and, yes, life. These words I use have a superlative connotation but that is because I can think of no others, this is not to imply that my socks are knocked off by every such confrontation or that every such confrontation is a positive experience. I mean to include the gentle awakenings as well as the jolts that on deeper reflection may cause me to turn away in disgust, to perhaps even experience some shame to be a member of the same species as the individual whose creation I now confront.

So at a high level, that is what I think of as 'art'. Art can be the written or spoken word, music, a visual image (this is a photography web site after all), or a 2 or 3 dimensional construct. There are two aspects of this human created stimulus I call 'art', the creator and the created. One must reflect on both the ingenuity of the creator of the 'art', from which we get the word 'artisan', and one must reflect on the created stimulus itself, the creator's creation.

One quintessential, knock-your-socks off example, is the Ninth Symphony of Ludwig von Beethoven. Whenever I hear this, I am just overcome with awe at the beauty of the sounds, with the emotions it invokes within me, and with pride in what my species can create. I reflect on the skill and talent for the performing musicians, the artisans playing the individual notes that come together to form the final product, and I always reflect on the genius of Beethoven. In this case in particular, I reflect on his condition, his deafness, and how he could create such a masterpiece and not be able to hear it himself. This example is 'art' to the n-th degree!

A second example is the painting by Edward Hopper called Night Hawks. Since he is not universally known like Beethoven, you can see this painting here:

Whenever I see this image I am drawn to reflect on Mr. Hopper's talent and skill in rendering the image, on his choosing this particular scene to render, on then the specific decisions he made within the scene. Even more, I am drawn to the image itself and am pulled in to muse upon the scene depicted, on the humans that find themselves in the cafe late at night, on the quiet city and the empty sidewalks that must be filled in the daytime. Surely this same vantage point will be crowded with humanity in several hours, surely the cafe will be filled. In the ebb and flow or our lives, this is a period of quite. Where will the subjects in the scene be come sunrise? What are the connections between them? Are they regulars at the cafe or just passing through? I am drawn also to recall the times when I myself may have been in such a scene, in a city late at night, with most folks gone. I recall the quiet inner joy and comfort I experienced when I came across other humans like in this scene - this is partly because a city at night can be a frightening place and sometimes those we encounter invoke fear. But a cafe, well lighted and with an employee and patrons, can be a refuge. All these emotions are aroused within me when I see this painting.

I chose Edward Hopper for an example because he is a 20th century painter that I particularly admire. I feel a certain kinship with Mr. Hopper as I find that his paintings invoke the same sorts of feelings within me that I find the better of my photographs do as well. I was taking the sorts of photographs that I do before I came across Mr. Hopper (and that was a long time ago), but once I saw Hopper's paintings, I quickly came to believe that he saw the world as I did.

The created objects of art should provoke, should take one out of one's comfort zone. No, I go farther and make this a requirement, to be art they must take one out of one's comfort zone. Art must make one think, to, as a minimum, pause and consider. I am open as to what it is one 'thinks' or what it is one "pauses to consider". Yes, a valid response, within limits, could be "whatever prompted that so-called 'artist' to do/make/perform/create whatever it is he or she are putting forward as art". I don't go for so-called art that is pure shock value. But reflecting on why the artist did what he or she did can be a good jumping off point for arriving at new insights and moving forward.

Added Feb 2016 by request: You can find more of Edward Hopper's art here:


]]> (John Petro) Edward Hopper Ludwig von Beethoven Night Hawks Thu, 17 Jan 2013 01:12:09 GMT
Thoughts in songs In a recent book review in the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Epstein wrote the following, quoting Yip Harburg, the song lyricist who wrote, among other memorable songs, the lyrics to "Over the Rainbow" from "Wizard of Oz":

In the realm of cognition there are thoughts and there are feelings, but "a song," Harburg held, "makes you feel a thought." Thus it can be more powerful than either on its own.

- Joseph Epstein, Passing the Memorability Test, Wall Street journal, Dec 29, 2012.

I find this very insightful, and certainly true with myself. And after only a little more thought, I have to say that it is obvious, so perhaps not so profound if you're one of those for whom ideas cannot be simultaneously both obvious and profound. In any case I offer the following examples of thoughts that are made immensely more powerful by the feelings invoked from being put to music. I challenge you to do likewise with your own personal repertoire of songs.

  1. The thoughts of isolation and loneliness from traveling in a far off land, put to music in Farewell to Tarwathie (see the versions by Judy Collins or Custer Larue in particular), or King of California by Dave Alvin.
  2. Thoughts on the toils and struggles of cheap migrant labor in providing the fresh foods I so enjoy, put to music in Deportees (Plane wreck at Los Gatos), or Pastures of Plenty (see the version by the group Solas), both written by Woody Guthrie.
  3. Thoughts on sin and forgiveness put to music in Amazing Grace. Actually all hymns could be given as examples since the purpose of a hymn is specifically to amplify the feelings invoked by the words.
  4. Thoughts on enjoying life with not too much money, and otherwise being laid-back LA cool - a life style I kind of envy - put to music in Poor Man's Shangri-La by Ry Cooder.
  5. The tragicomic aspect of capitalism vs communism of the 20th century - put to music in Waiting for the Great Leap Forward by Billy Bragg.
  6. The joy of being alive - put to music in Feelin' Good sung by Nina Simone (and many others).

Oh well, these were some random examples that came to my mind quickly for some reason. I could go on forever by just looking through my playlists. If you're looking for some good songs any of the above are worth a listen.

]]> (John Petro) Billy Bragg Dave Alvin Judy Collins Nina Simone Ry Cooder Woodie Guthrie Sun, 30 Dec 2012 01:55:12 GMT