Tag Archives: William Koechling

A Russian Assignment

The art of lacquered papier mache´ goes back to the 13th century in China. It eventually came to Russia in the 18th century by way of Japan, Persia, India and western Europe. Today’s miniatures may be found in museums and private collections worldwide.

Generations of skilled Russian miniaturists having worked through the centuries on icon painting shaped the art today known as the Russian lacquered miniature. With the Revolution of 1917 came the decline of hand-painted icons. The skilled artisans turned from sacred themes to the rich heritage of Russian folklore and legend.

Four villages represent four art schools that produce this ancient art each one with a distinctive style. The villages of Palekh, Kholui, Mstera and Fedoskino are northeast or north of Moscow. The beauty of Palekh is known throughout the world for the masterful and inspired work of its artists who’ve carried on the glory of an artistic tradition for five centuries.

In January of 1991 the premier artists representing each of the villages came together in a dimly lit and dusty room in Moscow. They each brought with them their finest works. I joined them along with my client to photograph these wonderful samples of the best of Russian artistic culture. We were to prepare a book that would accompany the American exhibits in New York, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco.

While shooting for two days in the crowded room with the artists, interpreter, client and my Russian assistant it became clear to me that an art cooperative isn’t always so cooperative. In fact, as the days progressed, the conversations got louder and more tempestuous with each artist clamoring to have his work featured. I vividly remember one artist holding one of his boxes in front of my view camera’s lens and trying to remove a competitors box already in place. Either one of those treasures could command a place in one of the world’s finest museums. I was astounded by the egos displayed by each of the artists and even more surprised that we were able to avoid fist fights.

When the shoot was finished we all shared a celebratory meal and exchanged gifts and vigorous hugs. It was a memorable exploration of the warmth of the Russian soul.

About Fisherman and Fish by Vladimir Bushkov, 1990, Palekh Casket

About Fisherman and Fish by Vladimir Bushkov, 1990, Palekh Casket

The Snow Maiden by Nina Lopatina, 1990, Palekh Casket

The Snow Maiden by Nina Lopatina, 1990, Palekh Casket

Russian Troykas by Boris Kukuliyev, 1990, Palekh Casket

Russian Troykas by Boris Kukuliyev, 1990, Palekh Casket

Ruslan and Lyudmila by Alexandr Gelishev, 1990,Palekh Casket

Ruslan and Lyudmila by Alexandr Gelishev, 1990,Palekh Casket

Russian lacquer miniature

Russian lacquer miniature

Lid of Box by Oleg Dukhanin, Palekh

Lid of Box by Oleg Dukhanin, Palekh

 

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A Chicago Minute or Two

By most measures, this is a rather ordinary photograph of an extraordinary orchestra.

The plan was for me to arrive with my equipment during the intermission of a Saturday concert. After their concert I would photograph the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What could go wrong?

I was told by the Orchestra’s marketing representative that I could do a test shoot at their practice two days before the concert. That way I could adjust the lighting at Orchestra Hall the way I needed it for the shoot. I could also establish my shooting position. I could shoot a few sheets of 4×5 film using the same emulsion batch – and exposure – that I would use for the final shoot. This would allow me to run the film to Gamma Photo Labs, wait for the film to be processed and assess the results.

The test film looked the way I had hoped and allowed me to be confident in the entire process that would be repeated for the real shoot.

Upon arrival at Orchestra Hall I was met by the marketing person who told me that it was imperative that the photo session end at 10:30 P.M. Because of union regulations, each orchestra member left posing for a picture even one second past 10:30 would cost the Orchestra significant overtime fees.

After coordinating our watches to “Orchestra time” we both nervously listened to the remainder of the concert. When it ended at 10:15 I was really getting nervous. I still had to wait for the hall to empty, go to the second floor balcony I had used for the test shoot, position my tripod, focus the camera and take the photos.

With the Hall empty I ran up the two flights of stairs and opened the doors to the balcony. At that moment I summoned the courage to glance at my watch. EXACTLY 10:28. As I adjusted the camera and loaded the first film holder, I shouted out a greeting – and a few orders in the same sentence. I exposed three sheets each of color transparency and negative film. With the last shot I said, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. We are now finished.” A glance at my watch – and a thumbs up from the marketing person told me that it was exactly 10:30.

Sometimes even the most mundane assignments require meticulous preparation.

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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A Nearer Landscape #1

Early in my career I thought about all the wonderful photos I could take if only I could travel to exotic locations. As one who always wanted to see what was around the next bend, I felt that my photos would greatly improve by going to where National Geographic photographers and writers went.

Then one of my photographer friends burned out rather quickly working for the Magazine I loved. I still anxiously read the articles and look with wonder at the terrific photographs in National Geographic Magazine but I now have a better understanding of the process than I did years ago.

This past Friday was a very rainy, fall day in the Chicago area. I used this as an opportunity to take some photos. I’ve always enjoyed shooting in the rain because a coating of water saturates the colors. The neutral color of a rainy sky adds a purity to the colors.

My goal was to shoot for no more than an hour, venture no farther than my yard and to come up with 10 photos that showed me something new.

Photography is much more about seeing than it is about taking photos. Familiar subjects seen in a new light become a different – even exotic world. (An hour in the rain could be miserable if this were not true.) Most of the hour was spent seeing; very little was spent shooting.

The images in this series are very straightforward in both composition and treatment. I opted to not use unusual angles or anything other than a “here it is” approach to shooting. I also used no Photoshop filters or any post-production tools other than an occasional use of curves to put the contrast back into sync with my eye.

I didn’t travel to faraway lands shooting these but I looked at each subject as if it were seen for the very first time. And I had a blast.

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This is a horse chestnut tree leaf from my neighbor’s tree. I always have thought of these fallen leaves as a dirty brown color. This one was a beautiful surprise.

horse chestnut tree leaf

horse chestnut tree leaf

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Propellers and DDT

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Having a large greenhouse should be a tremendous advantage for a gardener. Sadly, ours is in hard shape. REALLY hard shape. _wkp7008

When it was built near the beginning of the last century it was probably surrounded by open fields. Today there is a 60-foot white pine tree on its east side and several large spruces to the west. It is almost always in the shade.

If we have the time this summer we will probably take it down. We hope to build a screened porch on it’s full knee-wall foundation. The attached shed – probably built before the greenhouse – will remain. We may even salvage some of the glass and framework to build a tiny greenhouse in front of the porch. This area gets some sun February through March.

The greenhouse has been a most interesting, albeit dangerous, place to explore. In its innards we have found everything from a large hand-carved wooden propeller to a collection of turtle shells, and a large container of DDT. It is bursting at the seams with the same rusty, dusty stuff it had when we bought the property from the Millers twenty two years ago.

There remains much of what had been a well-run greenhouse. The oil heater used a pump system that incorporated the radiator from a 1920’s-era car or truck to circulate hot water throughout. A series of thermometers wired to an alarm system alerted those in both the house and the garage (the portion that is now my studio) when the temperature dipped below a set temperature.
_wkp0584

I always think of Mr. Miller and his farm as I walk past the greenhouse on my way to my studio. We’ve taken the DDT to a hazardous waste facility for disposal but the propellar, the radiator, tools, various thermometers and gauges, and hundreds of clay pots remain. And I’ll bet we could find those turtle shells if we looked._wkp05892

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