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Create Art Through Photography

Lesson 4 of 16

Maintain & Manage Photographic Projects

Art Wolfe

Create Art Through Photography

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

4. Maintain & Manage Photographic Projects

Lesson Info

Maintain & Manage Photographic Projects

So Cuba is a place that I traveled to 20 years ago and lived in Havana 20 years ago. And it's kind of cool the fact that not much has changed because I was just there last April. So yeah, some things have changed but so much of what I loved about Havana is there. The people on the street, the playing, the whole culture is really inviting and warm and they love Americans, oddly enough. They just love Americans. So they'll invite you into their house to have dinner and it's just a warm and a cozy feeling. And yes, there's so much decay, there's so much poverty. But I really firmly believe the people I saw that were living in degraded buildings had smiles on their face, very different than the people driving Mercedes in the upper scale neighborhoods around Seattle. They're a happier people and I've seen that in, you know, the bowery of cities around the world, that often the people that are just living on the street often have a better spirit than the people that have so much wealth. So t...

hat's one of the take aways I've gotten over the years as I've traveled. So I go into Cuba, I'm really taking the broader picture. I'm photographing the things that we think of as Cuba. The old cars, the culture, the buildings, you know, the big cathedrals, but also the details. So all those are just things that I would naturally photograph. I photograph without prejudice. In other words, I photograph everything except weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and graduations because other people can do that well. So otherwise, I could be photographing a rusting can in a gutter if there's a compelling reason to shoot that can in the gutter. Or I can photograph portraits or the big landscapes or even the wild animals. So you know, I'm a very broad-brush stroke and that really comes from my history as a painter and going through the art program. Because I had instructors that would be drooling on cigars saying, "Kid, you've got to broaden your perspective. "You can't be painting the same thing." And I really internalized that criticism and from that point forward, I never really saw myself as just exclusively a nature photographer, wildlife photographer, or even a cultural photographer. It's all good to me. If you can photograph something that's decaying and crumbling but find beauty in that is a great metaphor for renewal and rebirth. I photograph the graffiti on the street. I'm trying to capture the people that we didn't know much about for so long since there's been an embargo so I wanted to show Cuba as I felt Cuba was. And it's not that I've got that all wired down, there's a lot of mysteries still to me. But people in the street, the graffiti, all of that tells a story about the people of Cuba. The mixed-race couples, the lifestyle, interesting characters and this exemplifies this. I saw this old guy smoking a cigar and he was down the street and I remembered the graffiti on this wall and I brought him back and put him right in front of those arrows. So I'll often do that, too. I will orchestrate a shot, create the shot based on what I remember I saw minutes before. And some people might criticize that but coming from the world of art and design and all of that, perfectly acceptable for me. So yeah, average person on the street, many of them are candid. I started photographing dogs as I started traveling. I don't own a dog, I grew up with stray dogs all my life. So I'm interested in how virtually they look so different around the world. So after a while, you photograph people. It's a way of getting people interested and allowing you to take their portraits. It breaks down that cultural barrier. And over time, a book came out, "Dogs Make Us Human". And it was about dogs from the Amazon to the Inuit up on the ice flows in northern Canada to the Sahara Desert. Wherever there's humans, there are dogs. Dogs were created by humans from wolves over 40,000 years ago. So this is a prime example about just shooting randomly and with time, all these photos start to collect together. You know, when you have three or four photos, you have the beginning of a article for a magazine. When you have 10 to 20, you have the beginning of a book and a book came out and it has been successful. But again, it's just a way of, hey, can I photograph your dog? And then you photograph the whole story and they're really proud that you're interested in their dog. And then I looked for street scenes, you know, sports, wherever people collect. And in Havana, it's along Malecon Avenue that borders the ocean and the city itself. And though it's illegal for these young men now to jump off the bulkhead into the water, they do it anyways and I'm there photographing them. The street, the street is just full of life and pick-up games of soccer, you know, is part of it. This was shot 21 years ago or 22 years ago. I remember, all these kids just flocked to the edge of the karate mats and they were all apeing for me to take the picture and then the instructor came and swatted them in the butts getting back to karate. Boxing gyms, you know, boxing gyms and ballets, these are things that now are kind of on the tourist must-do list and I go there. So yeah, you photograph the candid, the more formal, anything that implies ballet and then start doing the details and the abstracts. And even out of focus photos could possibly play into another book down the road. So it's easier to shoot now and figure it out later. And I love this shot. For a split-second, a ballerina bent down and I just shot through the fabric of her dress. And it's just, anything that lends itself into more of an illustration or a painting rather than just a straight-looking photo, I like because it marries the painting history with modern photography so these are the ones I would naturally gravitate towards. So Africa. You know, I traveled to Africa in 1980, climbed Kilimanjaro, came down off the summit and learned that Ronald Reagan had won the White House. And so my first trip, 1980, I kept going back and back again. And so East Africa as a specific place, there's about five countries there, have yielded so much opportunity for me. In one book called "Africa", it was really about natural behavior. You know, the first times you go to Africa, you're kind of drawn towards the predator, prey, the spectacle, the big landscape and so for that book, it was really about natural history. Natural history with a little bit of art woven into it. So these are classic portraits of animals and classic portraits of behavior that would be just perfect for the book "Africa". And I published that book and we published it in America, we published it in Germany and England. So I brought in different imprints. Over the years in the 101 books I've done, three or four of the titles are ones that I actually produced as under Wildlands Press. I just wanted to wear the hat of a publisher. It's a lot of work, it's really a lot of work to translate languages and so forth and so on. But it was a great book to work on. But that wasn't the only book I did on Africa. "Migrations" was a different look at wildlife. It was really from above looking down. It was inspired by the work of M.C. Escher which did these amazing patterns. And I first became aware of his work in design class back in the mid-70s. And so from ultralights, from fixed-wing aircraft, occasionally from above looking down, and in Africa it was primarily the ultralight. I had a crazy French pilot that was hired by the National Parks to keep track of the dwindling rhinos. And when he wasn't working, I hired him and we went flying around, you know, flocks of birds. And certainly in the Rift Valley there was a million flamingos so this was the perfect subjects for this book called "Migrations". Herds of animals on the move. And then from a ground perspective, wherever I could get up high and look across, I would do it. Another book called "Wild Cats of the World". There's I think 32 different species of wild cat, many of which are really easy to photograph in East Africa. So these locations, I'm working them all at the same time. Because as I said earlier and I'll say again, I could never fund an international book based on the advances of any publisher. They just don't have that economy. So just for those of you on the international audience that are listening in today, it's not that you shouldn't do books. We live in a great time. You historically had to do 20 to 30,000 books with a printer before it became economical for you to do it. But in today's world, we can do print-on-demand books. You can do as few as five or 100. You can certainly find 50 friends that will buy your book. And it's the process of doing a book that is so validating, so rewarding because all of you in this audience I'm sure are here because you're photographers. You love sharing what you create. I think it's just ingrained in us as communicators. So I'm trying to encourage you rather than discourage you. Do the books you want, print on-demand, line up 50 buyers or 100, attach it to an environmental group which is often what I do. I find any number of international environmental groups and they'll put their name on it, then the books could be sold to their membership and it's one way of going forward. So yeah. Certainly, "The Living Wild" was another book that I published. It came out in Japanese, French, German, English. And so it was a wide angle view of the world. You know, I had to get up close using a wide angle because I wanted the environment to be as important as the animal I was photographing. To that extent, I had Jane Goodall, and George Schaller, and Richard Dawkins, and these famous thinkers of our time and environmentalists write original text for it. And the tag line that I often gave as I gave talks about it was, an animal without proper habitat is biding time to extinction. So it's all about preserving more land around it. And so from a wide angle perspective, that's the way I approached the subject. And occasionally, I would get a little closer than I probably should. I camped out near, I didn't camp out, I just hung out near a little waterhole in Botswana and then suddenly these elephants are coming to this waterhole. And I can't run at that point because when you run, it's almost like instilling the chase instinct in an elephant and they certainly can outrun me. So you know, you just kind of hold your ground and photograph them. And what I was trying to do was abstract their bodies. You know, to look through a series of legs and trunks as if it was a forest of trees. So always I'm trying something different than what I've done in the past. Another book was long exposures. I was a big fan of the Impressionist period, Monet and Degas and all these guys and many of their paintings were very impressionistic. There was movement in their brush stroke. So with a long exposure, I was trying to pay homage to that. So "Rhythms from the Wild" was a study about nature on the move. Water flowing, snow falling, animals bounding. And all were around one second to two second exposures. And so every time I would approach a subject, I was trying to wear the hat of a different photographer because quite honestly, and I think you can glean it from my voice right now, I'm enthusiastic about sharing this stuff and this is after 40 years of seven days a week. So what does that say about creating and always finding new ways of saying something new? I've been to Antarctica 20 times but every time I go down, I've got mentally a new thing I want to challenge myself with. And certainly, "Rhythms from the Wild" was something I hadn't done before. And yeah, there's a lot mistakes. You know, there's a lot of times that you would take intentionally long exposures and they won't quite look as good as you hoped. But sometimes there were these gems. And as long as there was an element that was sharp, something where you could affix your eye to, the rest of the birds or the rest of the mammals could be wildly out of focus. So it was like Christmas all around. So, is that it? No, there's yet another style. Animals camouflaged in nature was another book. And from East Africa, it was fun to hide the animal in plain sight, you know. The little animals living in these acacia trees, the lion is beige because it lives in a beige environment. You know, they have to be camouflaged in order to be able to eat and catch their prey. And so I was using small aperture openings so that every blade of grass was as important and confusing for you so that that animal was really shown as most animals are, blended into their environment. So do you see where I'm going with this? Do you see the animal? So in the lower right right here in the frame is a leopard looking right at us. But that's how leopards are! You know, they're not out on a log, soft focus background, you know. They're blending into their environment. So it was a fun book! Every time I would go on the road and talk about these photos, the audience would start yelling out, it's a tree on the left, I see it first! And they were trying to demonstrate that they had better eyesight and they were smarter than the person sitting next to. So it became very interactive as I showed that work. "Rainforests of the World", I went into Uganda and Rwanda into the tropical rainforest, just part of East Africa, into the impenetrable forest and into the vines. We'd find, you know, chimpanzees and all sorts of primates. And just, it's never-ending. I could go back to Africa with a new set of eyes and re-shoot. And in fact, in two weeks' time, I'm flying into Chad and we'll be at it again. So I love life and I love travel and I love taking pictures and sharing it with people that are like-minded. And over the years, I've had many opportunities with the mountain gorillas. They're so endearing, they're so powerful, and yet, they're so human-like, you know. They look into your eyes and they're judging who you are. And yeah, they could do some harm to us but they are so gentle and so powerful and there's a feeling of being accepted into a community when you're around them. And this is long after they've been habituated. The first attempts by biologists to go into the mountain gorillas resulted in fairly severe bites by the silverbacks. These days, these animals are so intelligent. They've reconciled what humans are and we're not a threat, at least most of us are not a threat. So it's a privilege to go. And each one has a different expression. So, you know, with all the portraits I do, I'm doing portraits of animals that have, you know, the same familiarity of framing and lenses and the power of looking into the eyes. So "Tribes" was a book that was exactly that, was looking into the eyes of individuals in all these different cultures around the world. And it was a decided point of view that I wanted to convey because as you look at the work, your eyes connect with the people. And you may feel then a little bit of the power of the moment that I felt when I took the picture. So by having them look straight into your eyes, then you are a part of the experience. So yeah, from the Maori in New Zealand, the hill tribes of New Guinea, and of course, in Africa. There are a lot of tribes that I've visited over the years. So the power of the moment and the adornment, celebrating the adornment. Using clay from the bank of the river or the red from the nuts in the trees, they would just adorn themselves in elaborate ways. And I often thought, you know, some of the designs that these people are adorning themselves with, if you framed it nicely and put it into a gallery in New York, it would rival some of our great abstract paintings and so that was part of the story as well. So the classic portraiture became part of the archive, part of the way I see and I've always carried that point of view forward. And there's a privilege of going back over time. I've been back now to the Karo tribes in Ethiopia three or four times over the years and every time I go back, I bring photos from a previous trip and it's a way of introducing, re-introducing yourself to the tribes. Last time I went, they recognized who I was. You know, when I first went, I would photograph the men and then I went back and photographed their children. And the young boys that I photographed years ago, now I'm photographing them as adults. So there's this story that continues, a thread that continues throughout. And the abstract nature of their designs. You know, if you live in an environment where there are cheetahs and leopards, you might adorn yourself with spots. You know, they're modern human beings. They're being impressed by what's around them, with what they see. I love this shot. This guy was going through initiation the following day. He had to jump the bulls. He's in a tribe where a part of the initiation to move into manhood, you have to run across the top of bulls. But I love that hair and so I photographed him in the hut, the entrance to his hut, using the equatorial sun reflecting nicely into the shadows. But as I photographed his hair, it became a project that could be a book down the road. There's no doubt that as I've traveled the world, I have photographed all these different hairstyles. And if you live in a culture where clothing is optional or non-existent, then how do you manifest your individuality? Well, it's in your hairstyle. So everybody had a different hairstyle in the Surma culture. So I took, I won't say I got a degree or a minor in Cultural Anthropology but I had an inordinate amount of classes in Cultural Anthropology and certainly, I've lived that now for the better part of 40 years. And so there's a lot of knowledge that I've collected and retained over the years about these cultures. I'm just not walking in cold, not knowing what their customs are or their traditions and that familiarity allows you to navigate through these cultures without creating stress or harm. But yeah, hair is a theme to be carried forth. When I did the TV show Travels to the Edge, and this, I love this. This is one of CreativeLive's instructors John Greengo, a great friend of mine, part of the crew of Travels to the Edge and he had this imagination to do this series of shots. So when you travel with a film crew and you're going off into different parts of the world, well, typically in Mali, you need a vehicle to carry the crew, right? Then you need the host, hello! And then you need the crew, including John. Then you need a driver and a expert, a cultural anthropologist. So here we have the crew, but is that it? No, you need a driver, an assistant driver. Then you need a cook and the cook's staff to provide for the food because you're out there in the sands for a week or two and you need to be totally autonomous. Is that enough? No, you need the Malian army! You need an army to go with you because we're in a lawless land. Out in the middle of the Sahara, it spans multiple countries but no one of those countries really rules the rest. And so there's bands of, you know, pirates marauding through the desert and that's true to this day. So is that enough? No, throw in a few more. (chuckles) And they would be in a separate vehicle. So they're, you know, wearing sunglasses and turbans and AK-47s and it's like you just kept on saying, oh, I'm so glad we're hiring these guys, they're with us, right? They're with us, right? Okay, so that's what you need. And as we traveled around the world, we were getting ourselves further and further and further into the field in remote areas. It was like adult men playing games, you know. We were just thinking, okay, where can we go next, and we would go into the mountains that I was familiar with. Up in the mountains of Ethiopia, you'd get away and off the track. The last time some car had been up this road was probably 11, 12 months ago. And in between, there's been a monsoon and all the road's been washed out so you'd get stuck and people would come out of the bush and help you up. And eventually, we'd give in to the mountains of the Surma mountains and that's where the Surma people is. And these Surma people are somebody I've been photographing for a number of years. And I love these guys, they are so nice to us. There's no deaths in the village, there's no murder in the villages. They are very traditional. And in fact, if you live in Addis Ababa, which is the capital of Ethiopia, you need permits to go out there. So typically and historically, I would put my camera in their hands and let them take pictures of me. And in the age of digital, they could see what they were shooting and then they just process extraordinarily fast. And then I can take the camera and start photographing them, you know, the camera isn't such a foreign object to them. And that was true, you know, two years ago but it was really true 25 years ago. So the Donga is a stick fight that the Surma do, venting anger and angst that all young people have. You know, you build up all these little fights amongst them and once a year, you whack them with a stick and get it over and as I said, the result is, it just diffuses all kind of hostilities and they're all mellow afterwards. And besides, you know, scars on the body becomes adornment or badges of honor. Now these were carved into the body because the whelp that was raised, the scar, becomes part of their adornment. But other scars on their head, the more scars on your head, the more you are a warrior, the more respect you have. I have no scars on my head by the way. So I first discovered these people when I was working on "Endangered People". I came back for tribes. And I really enjoyed the way that they would use the clay of the bank of the river to adorn themselves. But initially, it would have been just to protect their skin from the sun. They wear very little clothing. It's such a perfect environment year-round that the need for a lot of clothing is not necessary. So occasionally, they'll wear just a one-piece robe but many times they're just walking around without the clothes. And over time then, the protection from the sun became more design. Humans love pattern all around the world. We're all wired the same way. We're attracted to patterns and textures and line. They're no different. So I took that inspiration of those tribes, brought it back to Seattle and I started body work called the Human Canvas where spots from the tribes became part of photographing the human form. I'm not really calling these nudes because it implies something different. I would do sketches and for the first time in 30 years, I was starting to draw pictures again and paint. And I loved the body work because I was combining again the experiences I had in these tribes around the world to a modern body of work. So I would storyboard it, do these sketches, and then execute it. So that was part of the way forward, spots and designs. I would put up notices in gyms around Seattle saying, I'm looking for people that are willing to work long hours. It will be difficult, it'll be hot, you'll get hungry and I have no money to pay for it. And 100 people thought, that's a great idea! (audience laughs) So I would encase them in clay and so forth and so on. So it was a spin-off from my experience on the work that I was seeing in tribes. And for me, it was just a chance to get a brush and paint and revisit my earlier career but the work was so vastly different than anything I had done before. And then I went back with Thomas Knoll who wrote Photoshop. He's a good friend of mine. And he funded the trip, Thomas is in the hat. We went back to the Surma yet again with photos from Seattle and we explained to the Surma interpreter, this is what we want, and they totally got it. They knew that this was an art project, you know. Now, 25 years later, a lot of photographers have been through the Surma and the Karo and the other tribes and they get what tourists want to, you know, get portraits. These guys understood I was after something different. So we virtually made a studio in the savanna, found the appropriate tree, used the tarps to block the sun and created a little studio. Always and always, I would involve my subjects in the process. I would do little sketches like I was doing in Seattle and then make it happen. So I was channeling Picasso when I was doing this, thinking of Picasso and the way he abstracted cultures. And the same point of view that I was doing in Seattle, now I was doing with these people. They've never been photographed like this before but they totally understood. So, for "Earth is My Witness", it was looking at changing the cultures again. A lot from what I was doing with the Human Canvas now and historically, the Maasai would photograph like this or like this and now I was going to change. For Earth is My Witness, which is a book that just came out a year and a half ago, I was gonna abstract a culture. I was gonna get above and shoot down as I was doing for the Human Canvas. So yet again, a different perspective of the same tribes. Looking down or looking up was part of the process. So wherever I could take the culture and create designs, I would do that. And my most recent trip last year to the Maasai, I brought a black and white dedicated camera Leica, brought a bedsheet from Seattle and I was photographing, you know, the details of and the beauty of the patina on the skin of older ladies and older men. So yet a different perspective of the same tribes I've been working with. And then I found a wildebeest skull out there in the savanna and asked a young warrior to hold it, very similar to my most recent work in the Human Canvas. So it's all, all connected. There's a thread that goes through my life. It's not a great mystery I wound up doing the Human Canvas. And in "An Act of Faith", as they say in East Africa, there's tribal religions, there's Islam, there's Christianity, and so I draw from that. As I'm still there photographing animals one day, I will be photographing tribes the next day. And in the mountains of Ethiopia, Christianity took its root hold. Remember the Queen of Sheba, she came out of Ethiopia. So going into the Lalibela mountains on a recent trip, photographing these churches carved out of the mountains historic and ancient is a great privilege.

Class Description

Photography is more than just a click of the shutter as it can create a statement or evoke a feeling and thus becomes a powerful art form. Internationally acclaimed photographer, artist and educator Art Wolfe joins CreativeLive to teach creative professionals how to see and make art in exciting new ways. 

In this class Art will share:

  • How to maximize photographic opportunities while traveling to unique and beautiful photographic destinations.
  • The best ways to take those special images efficiently. 
  • His favorite technological advances and how he uses them to enhance his creative vision. 
As a special segment, Art will preview how knowledge of art history provides a creative foundation and show students how to apply these principles to enhance their own compositions. He will also include a live critique of student images and, using Adobe® Lightroom® CC, will guide students through the editing process to transform the images into stronger artistic statements.



Thank you, Art Wolfe and Creative Live for this outstanding and astounding invitation to open my eyes and mind to a new way of thinking based on classic elements of design. This set of video lectures is a rich feast for the brain and heart willing to consider change. Art explains the elements of design such as texture, line, etc., and then shows how he has applied those basic principles. He explores metaphor, ambiguity, graphic design and negative/positive space--all with eye-popping examples. Wolfe takes us through the galleries of the Impressionists, Abstractionists, and Pop Artists to show how visiting our local art museums with a photographers eye can teach us to see in new ways. I love the way he shows, for example, a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollack or a Hokusai painting and then segues beautifully into examples of his own work inspired by those greats. Never does Art lose sight of the mission he has in this series, which is to inspire serious-hearted photographers to rise to new visual heights in their own work. He has a way of seeming to say, "Look. If I can do it, you can do it. Here are my secrets--let me break them down for you." To me, it was a privilege to take this class--my brain is exploding, and I'm itching to get out and shoot! Thank you so much, Art Wolfe and the Creative Live team--you are both amazing! Sandy Brown Jensen Eugene, Oregon

JIll C.

After watching Art Wolfe's presentation for just a short while, I have an almost irresistible urge to pick up my camera and get out into the world to look for the abstracts that can make stunning images. His body of work is simply stunning, and his verbal patter is mesmerizing. He proposes to find beauty in decay, and to train our eyes to see what others overlook. This is not a technical class, and there is no discussion of gear or camera settings. I found it very inspiring, and his ideas will surely help me to overcome the lethargy that has overcome my photography hobby.


Wonderful lecture with tips and tricks of how he shoots, what gear he uses, suggestions for comp, and samples of how he processes a RAW file in LR. Art was just as awesome as I had heard he was in person. I'm a professional photographer and definitely came away with many new tips, perspectives and inspiration to see your image differently and to look closer at the less obvious scene. Thank you Art for sharing your talent, its so very much appreciated!!