Monday, October 6, 2008

Tuscany MAGIC from Alessandro Ornelli

I spent a day in Tuscany. When I left, part of my heart stayed behind. We are planning a trip back to that wonderful region because a handful of hours simply wasn’t enough. Actually, I don’t think a year…a decade...or even a lifetime would be enough.

Tuscany is everything you imagined it to be and much more. The countryside is a perfect canvas for all artists. It inspired the artist, Michelangelo and birthed the incomparable singer Andrea Bocelli. It’s where you will see vineyards and history and the kind of countryside you thought could be found in storybooks.

It’s also where Alessandro Ornelli makes his art. Alessandro lives in Toscana. By day he is a PC technician but when he packs up his camera and heads out for the fabled countryside of Tuscany, he’s on his way to becoming one of the top graphic artists on flickr.

He is absolutely one of my all-time favorites.

I wanted to start this series of articles with Alessandro because the first time I saw his work, it took my breath away. I mean it. I saw an explosion of colors and light and I distinctly remember my jaw dropping as I sat in front of my computer having one of those “oh my God” moments every photographer hopes to inspire with his or her work.

It’s difficult to speak with Alessandro. His English isn’t good…and my Italian (beyond phrases like “Where is the red dog radiator banana located?” and “Please, madam, may I have three of your large green ears?”) isn’t much better.

We had to do all our talking through translators.

But look at these images and try to tell me Alessandro has a hard time making himself understood. I dare you.

“I love clouded, dramatic skies,” Alessandro writes. Okay. He didn’t have to tell us that. Both of the images he selected to be shown to you feature those huge Italian skies. Up top is one of his favorites. The Italian title translates to “Rain Threatens.”

You need to have a look at this image’s full size so click on it, spend a minute or two looking at it (and wishing you’d taken it…because I sure do) and then click on the “Back” button and meet me back here.

First, let me draw your attention to the leading line. Alessandro crops his image so those lines lead right to the sky. Open the picture again and have a look. As you look at the image, you will more than likely find your eyes following the furrow directly to that fabulous sky.

There are three beautifully ordered color grids being used here: the foreground is this awesome earthy brown. To the sides and the middle is vibrant green. The sky is comprised of varying shades of grey and black.

You need also to watch and see how this artist has used light. There’s light in the clouds as well as two lines defining the break between the brown earth and the green middle ground. See how he has used light to create that division?

Light plays and even bigger role in the second canvas Alessandro chose to show to you. This is the effect we have all seen and find very difficult to replicate. My wife and I call these “God rays” – bright lances of sunlight breaking through the clouds and shining perfectly on the earth below.

There are two really interesting things about this image to me. First: it has to be about 85% sky. The artist has decided the light and texture of his work are what he wants you to see. Where the first image started your eye at the bottom of the shot and then led you to the clouds – this image starts with your eye wandering around those wonderful dramatic clouds and then riding the rays of light down to the ground. In this image, earth is more of an afterthought…and, with a sky like this, why shouldn’t it be?

Look at the colors: strong greens and blues and whites. Bold and so very lovely.

This is my personal favorite. I chose it from Alessandro’s Photostream to share with you. I looked at this for a very long time the first time I saw it. The English translation is “The Party Ends.”

Do you see a continuation of what makes this artist truly exceptional? The sky, the perfect textures and the LIGHT – so lovely that it almost hurts your eyes. One lone umbrella remains and the people have vanished. The clouds are reflected in the water, the sand is textured with lines that lead to the water and then onto the sky. To me, this work is incomparable.

Alessandro says he spends about half an hour on each HDR image and shoots about 60% of his work in HDR. There’s a deftness, confidence and skill about his work, isn’t there?

I wonder how many Tuscany businessmen have watched him working on their PCs and had no idea who he was…or the awareness of beauty that waits within him.

Alessandro Ornelli’s flickr photostream can be found at

Pop by for a look. Who knows? You just might learn something.

I certainly did.

NOTE: All photos in this blog segment are by Alessandro Ornelli and are used with his permission. He reserves all rights.

"flickering" Thoughts

I’ve been playing around on flickr for the past while. For those who don’t know, flickr is a photo sharing website with teeming millions of photographers.

Some are scary good. I’ve seen utterly remarkable Photoshop and Photography work.

I’ve also seen some really awful stuff: snapshots of vacations, "cute pet" pics, endless wedding and family reunion photos.

(My photostream, loaded with travel and Photoshopped stuff is here: in case you want to go there and begin writing wild notes of praise and send me blank signed checks.)

Times at my company have been really busy – which explains why I haven’t been around much. It’s not that I don’t think of you guys. But it takes me quite a while to put together a reasonable blog and time has been a real luxury lately.

But back to flickr for a second. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1) We are talking about a site that is as much about politics and networking as it is about the photos. Those who are well-connected get a TON of immediate response to their work.

What is “response?” People can “comment” on your photo. They can also choose to make your photo a “favorite.” Or they may make you a “contact” – which means they want to have constant updates on your work. The "genuine" compliments are the latter two.

My issue with this is that no one really seems to want advice. The comments are unstintingly positive. If people really wanted to hear what you think, they would say so. Read through the comments on pictures and try to find one…just ONE…that has a real suggestion for how to make the image more effective.

2) The awards are mostly meaningless. Since many flickr groups are intent on spreading their name around, there is a tremendous emphasis on giving out “awards.” As an example: some groups will demand that if you post one of your pictures, you are expected to make group “awards” to at least two other pictures. (“Awards” are codes you cut and paste from the sponsor group.)

The result, somewhat predictably, is that there are tons of awards given. This means that people aren’t really looking for “award worthy” work. They are looking for likely candidates to dump awards on. Not the same thing. Many people cut and paste awards and make no comment at all.

I think this leads to “fickr fever” – a condition where the patient is unable to sleep for fear of missing even one positive comment the very instant it arrives. The patient is constantly trying to cook up new ways to curry the favor and attention of other flickrites.

I’ve created my own award that I give to work I genuinely respect.

2) BUT there is a mind-blowing variety of material available on flickr. I’ve learned a LOT just from looking at the hundreds (maybe thousands) of photos. You see how different artists approach the same topic, how they visually depict various ideas and concepts.

You’ll see illustrations and Photoshop. You’ll see photography and snapshots, landscapes and portraits. You’ll see photographs from all around the world of interesting people doing interesting stuff.

This is probably the very best reason to check flickr out. The compact exposure to all kinds of new art and visual “muscle” is candy for anyone’s eye. There are outstanding artists on flickr.

3) It’s interesting to see what people comment on…when they do comment. A great photograph HAS to be about more than a great subject. Everyone likes to see cute kittens, pretty girls and fabulous sunsets. These images really draw tons of comments on flickr.

But often it’s a lousy photograph of a great subject that also draws comment after comment. Sure. It’s a cute kitten or a lovely girl. But often it’s a badly composed or poorly exposed image. Sometimes the images are over-processed. A great subject in a terrible photo is still a terrible photo.

I am astounded at how often the viewer chooses to overlook this stuff and “oooh” and “ahhh” about the subject instead. Reading the comments will give you a great insight on how your image might be viewed by its audience…an audience you never meet.

4) The absolute “proof in the pudding” about all things flickr is the answer to these questions: “Has being there made me a better artist? Do I think about the things I have learned from other people at flickr? Has the bar for my own work been set a little higher?”

The answer to all three questions, for me anyway, is “yes.”

So I am planning to devote the next few blogs to discussing the work of some of the exceptional artists I have found on flickr.

Stick around. It’s going to be interesting!