Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Different Vision of the James

Capturing Richmond's James River as a cascading swirl of blue-blues and white-whites takes a special eye. It takes an eye capable of seeing vivid color where most of us see nothing but muddy brown. Engineer turned Artistic Photographer Scott Weaver has that kind of vision.

J. Scott Weaver recently made a generous donation of 22 of his James River Alive! waterscapes to the Reynolds Art Collection. Richmonders may have seen the James flood, may have tubed in it, or watched its levels recede in the summer months, but these 22 remarkable canvases reveal the River as most of us have never seen it before. 

Scott used a number of techniques to create these photographs. Their beauty is a result of Scott's creative use of camera techniques, digital processing, and giclee printing.* He employs all of his talents in his work and has well earned the distinction of Artistic Photographer.

Scott lives in Henrico County and is a member of the Camera Club of Richmond, and is Digital Director of the Richmond Digital Photo Club. Scott's photographs have been exhibited throughout the Richmond area. Solo exhibits of his James River Alive! works have been displayed at the main Richmond Library and the Virginia Eye Institute. 

Scott is also generous with his time and shared the following profile about himself and his art:

Were you born and raised in Richmond? If not, where?
I was born and raised in central Illinois, near Peoria. I moved to Richmond in 1983.

How did you get started with photography?
Photography has been a life-long hobby of mine. I had a dark room under the basement stairs when I was 11 years old.

My interests have always involved computers, ham radio and photography.  After college, I worked as an electrical engineer involved in digital applications.
In the 1970's I was considering leaving engineering and took a series of photography courses at the SMU Academy of Visual Arts in Dallas. The emphasis was on commercial product and fashion photography mostly in a studio setting.
In the end, I decided to stay with engineering, leaving photography as serious avocation.

How do you get started with digital photography?
My first encounter with digital imagery was in connection with my engineering work at Texas Instruments in the early 1980's. We were using mainframe computers to do image enhancements that were a really big deal at the time but are now commonplace. 

I began using digital cameras and Photoshop in 2000. I still remember the steep learning curve with Photoshop and the struggle to work through examples I could find in magazines and a few books. User friendliness has improved a lot since then.

Your donation to Reynolds is a collection of striking photographs of the James River that look almost like paintings. What did you do to capture the James that way? 
Mostly it was many trips to the river! The rapids at Belle Isle and at Pipeline Park were the best locations. I discovered that the best blue colors for the water came from cloudless skies near the middle of the day, which is not the best combination for traditional photography. I often took a wide range of shutter speeds and overall exposures for any given scene. Getting detail in the white water turbulence required HDR-like (High Dynamic Range) layering in Photoshop. I also used various edge enhancement techniques on those sections to bring out the water motion that I wanted. The blue sky reflections on the water were often boosted with Photoshop. The muddy color of the James was not the look I was after.

I think the "painting" look comes from the high level of detail that results from blending multiple exposures and printing them on canvas. Richmond Professional Labs did an excellent job of making the prints.

In your “gallery” on the Richmond Digital Photography Club website your photographs have a wide range – a staircase, a street scene with umbrellas, a car, etc. What is your favorite subject and why?
My interests evolved over time. Many years ago I was seeking out old barns and houses. Then I started visiting New York from time to time and did street photography there. After a class or two with David Everette, an accomplished photographer here in Richmond, I was fascinated by the James River. 
My most recent project has been studio product photography of several mandolins that were hand-made by Dr. David Cohen (a retired faculty member of Reynolds).

I sometimes see photography as a series of challenges: shooting shiny mandolins is difficult -- let's see if I can do it; street photography can be scary -- let's see if I can do it; David Everette's work is outstanding -- let's see if I can approach it. 

Presently my focus is on travel photography -- in retirement I have taken several European river cruises and other trips that offer their own challenges for shooting. It is necessary to quickly evaluate scene for exposure, composition, and shooting while coping with the stresses of traveling in a foreign land.

You are active in several photography clubs around Richmond and are obviously passionate about photography. What are your favorite tools of trade?
I use a Canon 5D mark III camera and a small Leica point-and-shoot.
Photoshop and associated plug-ins are definitely important tools of my trade. I Photoshop almost all my photos in some way or another. I am producing art that I freely edit to get the look I want. 

Lately I have been experimenting with image manipulation using various filters and plugins. I am still amazed at the range of effects available in the digital domain compared with the things I attempted to do in the darkroom years ago.

How much time do you devote to this pursuit?
In retirement my schedule is quite random. When I am pursuing a project, such as the mandolin website photos, I may spend several hours per day in setup, shooting and post production. But I often take long breaks from the hobby and wait for the next project to emerge.

What photographers do you most admire and why?
Jerry Uelsmann - his darkroom-produced composites really intrigued me before the digital age. I attempted to do some of them when I had a darkroom. Thank goodness Photoshop came along!

Garry Winogrand, Cartier-Bresson and others. Urban street photography and in-the-moment images were early inspirations for getting more involved in photography.

David Hockney - I am impressed by his free-wheeling imagination in creating amazing images from ordinary scenes.  I have attempted to create my own Hockney "joiner" collages but I am not ready to publish them.

The work of David Everette was the inspiration for the James River images.

*  Giclee printing is one of the finest print production processes available today. It involves a 12-color ink jet printer (traditional printing is 4-color), acid free paper, and pigment based archival inks.