Making Art at the Art Institute

I’m taking a photo class taught by Chris Welsch this weekend. Besides being a wonderful writer and photographer, Chris is a friend and I’ve been waiting for some time now to have the opportunity to learn from him.

Of course, now that the time has come, I’m pretty nervous: Now he’ll see how good I really am. . . or am not, as the case may be.

The class is held at the Mpls Photo Center, which turns out to be an amazing place with comfortable spots to lounge, studio space and high-tech equipment for every need, and really great food. (I’ll definitely be spending more time here.)

And the class is fun. There are only eight students and – although we all seem pretty different – we fit together pretty well as a group. We spend the morning in the studio looking at images, learning from Chris and from each other, participating in a shooting exercise, and eating a really good lunch.

When it is finally time to get out into the field, Chris sends us to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Our assignment includes:
  • Visiting the Josef Sudek and Czech Photography exhibit if we haven’t already (sad to say, I haven’t);
  • Finding a good space and wait for someone to move into and make a good picture;
  • Using a low f-stop and playing with the focus to make part of the image sharp and part blurry; and
  • Playing with shadow and light.
The Sudek show is interesting, but it doesn’t leave me amazed or with a head full of with new ideas. . . well, except for the otherworldly images of Frantisek Drtikol that incorporate cut-out figures. Those keep drawing me back . . . which is the paper figure and which is the human?


Ok. Time to actually take some pictures.

We are supposed to be working in teams, but, after wandering together through a few rooms, neither my partner or I are feeling very inspired and decide to go our separate ways.

As soon as we part I turn around and see my first shot has been waiting behind me.

I also know I want to shoot the metal open-work Prairie-style door I saw on my way to the photography gallery, but I don’t remember exactly where it was.

Instead of asking or picking up a gallery guide, I wander for awhile, never really stopping to admire the art, but scanning the scene, hoping that something will catch my eye. Nothing does. How can an art museum be so uninspiring?

(Please note that I usually can get happily lost in some of the rooms here for hours. It’s not like I hate art!)

I finally give up and ask where the door I’m looking for can be found. (Literally, although perhaps that is true metaphorically as well, at least on some level.)

It is a great subject for a photograph. . .

what ever way you shoot it.

The afternoon is moving along and I’m not doing very well at getting through my assignments. Time to get serious about this. I love the Asian galleries, so maybe I can find some inspiration there.

Nah. Nothing very exciting there either. (Love the art, not my pictures of it or the other visitors.)

Back out in a main lobby I notice a large Buddha literally glowing in the afternoon light.

(I love those hands.)

The light is also doing lovely things to the Institute’s large Chihuly.

When I turn around from shooting the Chihuly, I realize that the Buddha I had just shot from the side is part of a larger scene that looks like a giant paper cut-out with silhouettes of Buddhas and museum-goers all mixed together. It is wonderfully dramatic and chaotic at the same time.

It is also amazingly difficult to shoot. It SEEMS like it should make for a great photo, but I can’t figure out how to make it look good in the camera until I cut out all the other shapes and focus in on that big beautiful Buddha.

Ok. That works.

What’s next?

I wait a long time trying to get a good shot up at a balcony, but the only person to walk by where I can actually see them is a guard and I’m checking a setting on my camera when she does. (My own fault, but still.) Now I know why we were supposed to have a partner – I could have sent Suzy up there to pose for me and potentially gotten something interesting.

I try a few other things that end up being equally uninspiring, although I do love the colors in the African gallery.

I’m hoping to find something bright and colorful in the Native American gallery, but instead of lingering there, I follow the crowds of people (really, actual crowds) into a bright room completely filled with strange objects. As Charles notes, it looks a lot like a garage sale.

It’s hard to even know where to look and it takes me a moment to realize that this is the Foot in the Door 4 exhibit where anyone can submit a work of “art” as long as it takes up no more than one cubic foot.

It’s certainly interesting.

Back at the Photo Center we do a quick edit and then view each other’s work and I wonder how my classmates saw so many things I missed?