Personal Articles · Photography

Two Photographers and Two Very Different Photographic Styles

Before I retired I was a  landscape photographer.  I had a business called Hanselmann Photography where I sold large images of mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers, wild flowers, aspens and National Parks.  About 2010 I started to get more and more out of the photography business and my son Jeff began, more and more, to take over the business.  Now-a-days I’m 99% out of the business and Jeff owns it and runs it all.  About all I do now is shoot an occasional picture and write newsletters for the site.  This article began as a newsletter that I wrote in June of 2016.

Fred Hanselmann is the old Hanselmann Photography.  Jeff Hanselmann is the new Hanselmann Photography.   Here is how a father’s and son’s images differ.  The old and the new ways meet.

Below is the old face of Hanselmann Photography. That’s me, Fred Hanselmann on the left and Joan Hanselmann, my wife, on the right. These pictures of us were taken about 20 years ago at apex of our participation in the business.

Here I am today, more or less retired, in New Mexico. I still take a few pictures and I spend a lot of time working on the Hanselmann Photography website and on writing newsletters. That tiny camera I’m holding will take pictures that will print many, many times larger and sharper and at far better quality than the huge view-camera in the picture above. Such is the power of the newest digital technology.

Here is the new face of Hanselmann Photography, our son, Jeff Hanselmann. Jeff took over the business in June of 2015. Jeff has always been a great photographer. Most of the time he is a much better photographer than I ever was. Our photographic styles are similar in some ways, and quite different in other ways.

This newsletter is an exploration of the ways our pictures are similar and different. Both of us have our strengths and our weaknesses. Our website is now becoming a history of our combined landscape photography, from the mid 1980’s when Joan and I took all of the pictures, into the twenty-first century where Jeff is taking all of the pictures. And the style of our pictures is shifting from Fred and Joan’s more conservative landscapes to Jeff’s more modern style.

I begin by looking at some of Joan’s and my recent pictures and then shifting to Jeff’s photography. As you will see, Jeff will continue to take natural landscapes very similar to what we have always done at Hanselmann Photography and also move into much more modern pictures of urban landscapes and into a few images that are a lot like abstract art.

This is a picture I shot on a trip to the Tetons eight years or so ago. It is an early morning shot of the Oxbow on the Snake River with the Tetons in the background. This is a very typical picture for me. It is very much in my style. It is warm, comfortable, a little old fashioned and expresses my view of the world pretty well. The Tetons are a place I have been visiting for 65 years and a place that I love dearly.

This is another of my pictures. It was taken in the Maroon Bells about ten years ago. Again it is about warm colors in a natural setting. As in many of my pictures, there is interesting and sharp detail in the foreground of the picture, which is one of the trademarks of my style. As in the above Teton picture, I have allowed the background to fade into much lighter tonalities for for a feeling of weather and distance. The vertical lines of the close up trees also contrast with the diagonal lines of the green trees and the mountains.

In this picture, as in all my pictures, I’m thinking about both subject matter and composition. But subject matter is what is always foremost in my mind; I’m thinking about this particular place at this particular time and how much I like it and how it makes me feel. And I’m trying to convey that feeling to the viewer. As you will see, Jeff does the same thing, but with a different emphasis. For Jeff, composition usually comes first and the subject matter second.

This is another Teton picture that I took on that same Teton trip eight years ago. This one is a panorama made from five or six separate shots combined into one shot. It will print in huge sizes as it has six times the dpi of a single shot. Again it is a shot about the glories of the Western Landscape. This is what my eye tells me is beautiful. And that is what interests me, the beauty of this particular scene.

Joan took this picture. This is a picture of a quiet pond in Jackson hole in Wyoming where the Tetons are. It was the same 2008 Teton trip. Joan has always loved wildlife and she shot all of our wildlife pictures, from moose to marmots and everything in between. Her eye is pretty much the same as my eye: warm colors, traditional composition, traditional subject matter.

This is my picture of round, smooth-worn, colorful river rocks in Jackson Hole. This is about as close as I get to modern, abstract art. The picture is kind of abstract but it really has the same comfortable feel as the rest of my nature pictures.

This is another Teton picture from the same trip. Again, this is a very traditional picture of a very traditional subject. It isn’t very original and it has been done a million times. It’s practically a cliche. But I love the picture and it is done well and it’s my view of a world that I love and of a place that I particularly love.

At this point I’m done with my pictures and moving on Jeff’s photography.

This is one of Jeff’s recent pictures. Since he lives in Maine, a lot of his pictures are of the Atlantic coast and other places in New England. This spot is Portland Head Light near Portland. This picture is done in a style very similar to mine. It is mostly about nature, it is a very traditional subject and it is very well done photographically. The composition is perfect, the light is beautiful, it is very sharp and it prints well in large sizes.

This is another Maine seacoast picture taken by Jeff. Again the light, color and composition and subject matter are perfect. As I said, I’m always thinking about composition when I shoot, but Jeff is almost always ahead of me on this. Both of us have been looking at pictures and working with images for so long that composition is automatic, it’s natural for us. This is what is called having an eye. Actually it’s probably something you are born with, you either have it or you don’t. Clearly Jeff and I both have it, but our eye is not quite the same.

This is a picture that Jeff shot on our recent bike trip in upstate New York. This picture is mostly about composition. It’s about color and space and line. Notice the proportions of the green grass to the blue sky. Notice the positioning of the buildings and the cropping. Look at the verticals of the edges of the buildings, and the flag pole contrasted to the soft, unevenness of the trees. This progression of vertical lines from left to right is a lot of what makes this picture work. This is really a masterpiece of composition. It’s traditional subject matter but done with a great eye. It just feels right.

Jeff’s picture of Autumn Leaves and Needles on a pond in New Hampshire. This is the sort of thing I’ve done many times. We both love closeups of great color on a dark background.

Jeff shot this classic scenic of an old barn in a field of dandelions in Upstate NY on our recent bike trip there. Jeff shoots a lot of modern images, but he definitely loves shooting classic landscape images as well.

Another great Jeff composition of a natural subject. The three trees on the left are kind of balanced by the two trees on the right, but not quite. The trees are connected by the crisp line of the fence and isolated by the snow and the winter sky. The snow is kind of the same color as the sky but not quite. That “not quite” bit is, I think really important in all visual art. Things are often centered, or balanced, or connected but “not quite.” And that is really what makes the picture. If that line of fence and trees were centered between the upper sky and the lower snow, the whole picture would be ruined. I really don’t know why, but that’s the way it is.

There are formal rules of composition that say never center anything; always use the rule of thirds instead, etc, etc, etc. But that’s not how it really works. How it really works is you play with a picture until it feels right and then its done. It’s really a very organic thing that is always shifting, never definite or for-sure. The best way to ruin a picture is to blindly follow the formal rules of composition.

Jeff’s picture of granite, moss and water in New Hampshire. More good composition. I think the reason I’m showing you all this good composition is to make the point that Jeff often takes pictures similar to mine in subject matter, but his composition is almost always better than mine. His is always dead on. Mine is sometimes there and sometimes not.

This Jeff picture of a dory tied to an old dock is especially nice. This one was taken somewhere on the Maine Coast, I’m not sure where. This is one of the finest pictures of this type I’ve ever seen. Everything is perfect. It’s hard to believe how hard it is to take a picture this good. I’ve tried and failed (or maybe kind of halfway got it right) hundreds of times. The colors, textures, lighting, positive and negative space are all absolutely perfect.

Trying to take a picture like this is very frustrating. You walk into a harbor in some New England cove someplace along the coast and see the possibilities. But actually making a picture that works this well is practically impossible. Believe me, I’ve burned up hundreds of rolls of film, back in the old pre-digital days, trying to get one this good. But I never did.

Here’s a Jeff picture of the pier at old Orchard Beach in Maine shot on a cold winter dawn. This picture is all about lines and color. It looks easy, but try it. It’s very, very hard to get it this right. You have to be there at the right place, at the right time, in the right season, in the right light just to begin with.

One thing that Jeff does a lot of and that I never do is black and white photography. I began as a photographer back around 1980 doing black and white in a traditional black and white wet-chemical darkroom. And then I switched to color in 1990 and never looked back. I could never do both color and black and white photography. To me they are two totally separate things.

In black and white you are thinking art and composition, not subject matter. My problem is that I seem to be always thinking subject matter. That is, I’m always thinking first about the place, and secondarily about color, line, shape, position, space. Jeff, on the other hand is always thinking first about art, composition, style. To him, art comes first and subject second. I think this is the main difference between he and I as photographers. This picture by Jeff is pure minimalist art.

Here is a classic Jeff black and white picture. Ansel Adams has a picture very similar to this one that he took in Yosemite. In Ansel’s picture, the tree is covered heavily with snow, which is just sliding off one portion of the tree. In my opinion Jeff’s picture is as good as Ansel’s. Notice the intersection of hard right-angle lines at the bottom center of the picture contrasted to the tangle of limbs outlined against the contrasting sky. And how this pattern is repeated in the back of the picture. The simplicity of the design is perfect.

Jeff’s name for this picture is Night Court. Now we are getting into a whole different realm in Jeff’s photography. What he is doing here is something I never accomplished in photography. I never would have thought of even taking this picture. I never would have imagined it. I would have thought, “A snowy basketball court in the woods at night. Why bother.”

In the first place this is technically a really tough shot to capture. It was night time with some kind of lighting; not easy conditions. And then there is the feel of the picture. This is a very lonely, isolated, alienated, edgy kind of picture. This is not really a comfortable picture like all of mine are. Jeff’s view of the world is not always nearly as comforting as mine. Jeff lives very much in the 21st century. Art-wise, I mostly live in the 19th century. And then there is the pun with the name. I never considered irony as having any part in my photography.

Jeff’s pictures are seldom just pictures of pretty places; they are always about something more than the subject matter, just as a great novel is always about something more than the plot. Great novels are an intricate combination of plot, symbol, imagery and theme. Great pictures are combinations of subject matter, feeling, style, composition and theme.

Again, this is very much an edgy, uncomfortable picture. We both rode by this place on our upstate NY bike trip. I saw nothing here. It was just another boring old silo. Jeff made it some kind of symbol of the desolation and pastness and sadness of that many of the old abandoned farms we passed by had. Many of the small towns and abandoned farms in some places in upstate NY had the feel of bygone splendor and success and optimism that were now gone forever.

This is one of the many old farm houses that we rode by on our Upstate NY bike trip that told a story of better times, now long gone. Many of Jeff’s pictures are shot with themes like this in mind. Often his pictures tell stories and usually they are about something more than just a literal representation of some particular place. Jeff’s name for this picture is “Better Days.”

And Jeff can do it in color also. This sun and town painting was on a peeling wall in Utica NY. I walked by this scene and saw absolutely no picture at all. It’s hard to believe this, seeing the color and brilliance of this picture but its true. We were pushing our bikes and I was busy trying to keep from getting run over and Jeff was muttering something about “Got to get it all. The curb and lamppost and fire hydrant and fence and everything or it won’t work. Got to get it all.” I asked what the hell he was doing, we needed to be on our way. But he was too busy to hear me.

Ditto for Jeff’s shot of this bridge across the Niagara River. Canada is on the other side, not far over the green island in the background. I saw no picture at all, sad to say. I wondered what Jeff was doing taking a picture of a stupid old bridge. There were no flowers or autumn leaves or sunsets or Tetons or anything beautiful at all. What could he be thinking of. By now you are probably seeing just how different Jeff’s eye is from mine. He sees beauty not only in sunsets and mountains and spring tulips but in all kinds of modern structures and architecture and almost everything.

This picture of Jeff’s was taken through a stained glass window of a coffee shop in Syracuse NY on our recent upstate NY bike ride. I think this is mostly an interesting but not very serious picture. It’s kind of a traditionally cutesy picture that is more an art cliche than a serious attempt to see the world in a new and original way. It’s still an attractive and interesting picture though. And I like it a lot.

Here is another of Jeff’s pictures that is in the modern vein. This one is, my opinion, very original and anything but a cliche. The sweeping lines of the handrail are particularly wonderful. The biker becomes the center of attention, silhouetted against the sunset and is framed by the sweeping, curving lines of the edges. This, I think, is a truly great picture.

In my opinion, this picture and the next two pictures are serious and successful attempts to see the world in an original way, with fresh eyes. I other words, I think this is contemporary art. Maybe a bit out of date, but still pretty great stuff. This picture was taken at one of the many locks on the Erie Canal on Jeff’s and my spring bike trip in upper NY state. It’s about color and texture and space. I like this picture a lot. I think it could hang in any contemporary art gallery anywhere.

I feel the same way about this picture. This picture could also hang in any contemporary fine art gallery. Again, it is not about subject matter but completely about line and space and texture. That black space at the bottom is part of the picture Jeff shot. It’s not just a back box he added to hold his copyright. That copyright kind screws up the picture, but so it goes.

This picture was taken in Utica, NY. On first glance, this picture looks like a very plain-Jane picture of some mundane brick buildings. But this picture is actually much more than this. It is not mostly about these buildings at all. It is really about the lines and geometric shapes and spaces in this scene and their complex relationship. For me it’s mostly about the negative space of the blue sky.

The various geometric shapes of the positive space (the buildings) is set against the negative space of the sky. And then there are the crisscrosses of the wires and the motion of the tiny bird flying through it all. It’s that bird that kind of makes the picture. And then there are the colors: the blues and the greens and the muted reds. And then it is also saying a little something about actual buildings: this is partially a picture of the lost world of the crumbling 19th century brick architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century east coast. All of these buildings are abandoned and part of a long gone world.

Once I started looking at it carefully, this became a very, very interesting picture. But it’s also a picture that is beyond my ability to take. I can see how the picture works artistically, now that it is finished. But it’s not something I have the ability to capture and see in the real world. My eye is just not good enough for this.

OK, I know that not everyone is going to like some of Jeff’s more modern, more abstract images like the last four above. And that’s OK, not many people really appreciate that kind of picture. I like pictures like these when I’m in the mood, but I also love many of Jeff’s more realistic images. This picture of Portsmouth is probably my favorite of all Jeff’s images. I love the bright, bold, strong colors of these houses set against the stormy sky and the somber foreground. This is the one I would like most to have on my wall if I didn’t have a very Southwest home where it would never fit in. So it goes.

So, final word. I think I have left Hanselmann Photography in good hands. I think Jeff is going to take my modest little photography business to places I never dreamed of. And I think it is going to become a much better place than I left it.

All Photography by Picture by Hanselmann Photography. 

Fred Hanselmann
Hanselmann Photography
June, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s