Recognized for his finely crafted digital photographs, Jean Miele`s photographs have been exhibited in galleries from New York to Norway. He is also internationally known as an educator whose “digital darkroom” workshops demystify Photoshop and empower students to realize their own photographic vision. Jean has taught for ICP, Adobe Systems; Apple Computer; Fuji USA; B&H; Maine Media Workshops; Anderson Ranch; and many others. To see his latest work, please visit: www.jeanmiele.com
Jean Miele is teaching three workshops at UHM this April:
We asked him a few questions about the workshops and his philosophy on photography.
What is the dynamic between your photography and teaching?
I love making photographs. So, arranging my life so I can travel, explore, make new friends, new pictures, and be with other people who are as passionate about image-making as I am, makes me feel very lucky. Being invited to help other photographers with their own process is an honor. And, between you and me, I learn an awful lot that way. Minor White called the camera a “metamorphosing machine.” Camera, darkroom, Photoshop, LightRoom – whatever the tools – exploring the process of visual alchemy with other artists is a pretty terrific way to make a living.
I noticed you organize your work by projects centered around a theme. What generates a theme/project that you can commit your time and energy to?
It’s sort of like adopting a kitten, or a puppy. You don’t choose them – they choose you.
Over the years it’s become clearer to me what I’m drawn to photographically, and some of the reasons why. It’s fun to step back from myself, and look at my own work as if it were someone else’s. I’m curious about what I’m drawn to, and why. For example, I was making composite landscape images for years before it occurred to me that I was trying to set the world right. Like so many of us, my feelings about the world – and myself – were rather turbulent. On some level, the calm strength of my black-and-white landscapes was something I needed, so I created it. On another level, I was experimenting with optimism – with seeing things in the best way imaginable – and with creating my own (better) reality. I’ve come to think that artists create what they long for. And make no mistake, we’re all artists. We’re all creators. Take a look at your pictures (or the stories you write, or whatever) and see if you can’t use them to figure out what you long for.
Do you have any new projects you’re currently working on?
I’ve been enjoying photographing maritime restoration projects in New York City, where I live. Old workboats. Beautiful machines that passionate volunteers keep alive, simply because they love them. The 1931 Fireboat JJ Harvey, for example, is an elegant diesel-electric powerhouse of a machine. And she’s terribly delicate at the same time. I love that the mechanisms on her decks and in the engine-room were designed with a consciousness towards function, and still hand-crafted with the attention to detail one would give to a sculpture. If you look closely, you can see that her electrical gauges were hand-painted. Form does follow function, but the people who designed and built machines through, say, the late 1940s, made them in a special way. Photographing, or even just being around them, connects me with the people who made and cared for those machines. It also gives rise to some big questions, like: “How is everything connected?” and “What do the machines that run the Universe look like?” I haven’t quite figured out how to photograph that series yet.
What is your philosophy in image making?
When I go out shooting, I try to prepare as well as I can, then let go of the plan. I want to be present to the possibilities that arise spontaneously, rather than create a picture in my head before I go, then look to make that picture. After all, if we have a vision, and we execute that vision to perfection, that’s great. But that also means our vision can’t ever go any further than what we saw in our head in the first place. That’s pretty limiting, if you think about it. On the other hand, if I let go of some control – if I allow the universe a hand in the process – I may be able to create some room for magic to happen.
As for post-production, I work on only a relatively small percentage of the pictures I shoot. I start with a picture that’s already good, or with a number of images that visually work together, and I spend a few hours (sometimes more) working to craft a final image, the way a painter might. I try to listen to the image. Sometimes everything clicks. Other times I’ll end up spending time to make a picture that’s not quite good enough – a picture that’s “almost” right, but doesn’t quite sing. Those never leave the studio. It’s hard to put into words what the difference is. I could talk about how the good ones work on every level: technical and emotional, with a clear subject, good light, interesting geometry, and a richness of metaphor… but, in the end, it has to do with whether the image comes to life. Whether it has a strength of its own.
What might people learn and experience from taking your workshops?
It’s my job to help students achieve the next level in their work, and to make sure we all have a good time while we’re at it! Whether it’s “Layers and Masks” or “Fine-Art B&W Printing” the real goal is always the same: to teach people how to achieve high-quality, consistent, repeatable results – while maintaining the ability to experiment and explore as they go. Workshops always begin with us all getting to know each other, because the people you meet can be as important (or even more important) than the technical stuff. We spend time figuring out *why* we’re doing the work we’re doing because understanding “why” makes “how-to” a lot easier. Asking ourselves what our pictures are really about, and how they should feel, helps us figure out what might be missing. And it definitely makes a choosing the tools and menus a lot easier. If you know what flavor you want, doesn’t that make the cooking a whole lot easier? Of course, we go deep into the gear and the technical esoterica, too. That’s part of the fun! As long as we don’t put the cart before the horse.
The photographer Saul Leiter said, “Seeing is an underrated enterprise.” Those of us who call ourselves photographers – we’re in the seeing business. I’m interested in exploring how the way we see the world makes a difference, and in helping all of us see more clearly.