Monday, July 26, 2010

Alan Henriksen, photographer

Last Sunday, I met with photographer Alan Henriksen at the Planting Fields Arboretum for a working photo shoot session. Alan took a series of photos of plants pushing against the stained and whitewashed glass of the main greenhouse. Most visitors go inside the greenhouse and photograph objects within; it takes a photographer's eye to see a potential for great photos from the outside looking in.

We have here a short video of Alan taking the first shots of the session, a warm-up as he called it.

Photo by Alan Henriksen
The image on the right is the first photo taken in the video. You can see stains on the glass and plants inside of the greenhouse. The overall effect resembles an underwater photograph. I guess, this is not how you have envisioned the end result of the take. It was a surprise to me, too. Made me look again and think. And admire.

The combination of natural and man made objects, frequently photographed through windows, are a recurring theme in Alan's latest work. The objects and the reflections in the glass give an interesting sense of space. Check out Alan's website to see his portfolio of varied themes, subjects, and locations. The Sunday photos will be making their way there shortly. Alan is also considering submitting them to a photo competition.

Becoming a photographer, Alan's way

Forest Reflections
Acadia, Maine, 2010
Photo by Alan Henriksen

Alan Henriksen, a Long Island native, comes from a seafaring stock. His grandfather, Henrik, still holds the world record for Atlantic salmon. Alan's father, Hans, who served as an engineer in the Norwegian navy during World War II, was also an expert fisherman. He married and started a family in the US following WWII. Alan grew up exposed to Long Island's forests and its surrounding sea. His family's homes in Massapequa Park and, later on, Oakdale were adjacent to large nature preserves, which he explored extensively. The family also went on frequent fishing trips, either in the family boat or on occasional outings to Montauk, where they would practice surf fishing in the afternoon and evening, camp overnight on the beach, and continue fishing the following morning. These experiences, on land and water, became a great inspiration for his work.

Alan began photographing in 1958, at the age of nine, with a Kodak Brownie camera. In 1959 he received a small darkroom kit as a Christmas present. The kit included a package of print-out paper, which produced a visible image upon exposure to sunlight, and the trays and chemicals to tone the print and make it permanent.

During his high school years a review of a book of Civil War photographs led Alan to the Sayville Library, where he wandered into the photography section and chanced upon "The Picture History of Photography" by Peter Pollack; Edward Weston's pepper was the first photograph he saw. That moment was an epiphany - Alan decided that photography was the path he would follow. Using savings from his newspaper delivery job, Alan bought his neighbor's camera and darkroom equipment. Later, as editor of the high school yearbook and vice-president of the school's camera club, he had access to a well-equipped darkroom, where he spent many hours improving his printing skills.

In 1966, at age 17, one of Alan's photographs, of a clump of pokeberries against a tree stump, was accepted into the Northwest International Exhibition in Washington state.

Mirror Lake
Yosemite, 1970
Photo by Alan Henriksen

The following year Alan began a correspondence with Ansel Adams, who became his mentor. In 1970, after three years of phone conversations and mail exchanges with Adams, Alan attended the Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshop, where he met Adams in person. Many years later, one of Alan's photos from this trip was accepted into the Yosemite Renaissance Exhibition, which toured California, starting at the Yosemite National Park Museum.

From 1974 to 1983 Alan was employed at Agfa-Gevaert's photo paper manufacturing plant in Shoreham, Long Island. He worked primarily as a sensitometrist, someone who is expert in determining the way in which photographic paper responds to light. This led to Alan's collaboration in the late 70's with Adams, along with photographers David Vestal and Paul Caponigro, on Popular Photography Magazine's project to develop better photo paper. In the late 80's Alan put his knowledge of sensitometry to use by authoring ZoneCalc, a software implementation of Ansel Adams' Zone System of exposure and development, which was marketed by Maine Photographic Resource.

Fast forward some years and technological advances. Though fully equipped to photograph and print using multiple film-based formats, Alan now photographs mostly with a digital camera, and has extended his output to include not only black and white, but also color.

Bar Harbor, Maine 2008
Photo by Alan Henriksen
Boards and Tarp
Searsport, Maine 2010
Photo by Alan Henriksen
Doors and Reflections
Bar Harbor, Maine 2008
Photo by Alan Henriksen

In addition to the portfolio, Alan's website,, also contains a list of the exhibits and publications. His work has received recognition from major photography magazines and has found its place in serious private collections.

Make sure you read Dean Brierly's excellent interview Alan Henriksen: Contrapuntal Vision.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Portrait in guitar by Scott MacDonald

Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
Jolanta and I visited luthier Scott MacDonald, owner of the S.B. MacDonald Custom Instruments in Huntington.

Scott builds fewer than a dozen new guitars a year, but when he does, he creates a new being. The new instrument is more than just a bunch of precisely cut wood or metal pieces masterfully glued together, it becomes a reflection and a part of the owner.

Scott attempts to find out as much as possible about the player's musical preferences, the shape, strength and size of the musician's hand, his or her technique and the energy level. This allows him to craft an instrument that performs beautifully in the hands of its owner. It does not hurt, either, that the instrument looks stunning, from its shape to its color and decoration. These are also a reflection of the owner's personality.

The finished product is a result of hard labor and a long dialog between Scott and the musician. It may take up to 24 months between the initial contact and the time the ecstatic owner leaves the shop with a guitar under his arm.

We have asked to have a "portrait in guitar", as I called it, painted of one of us. Since I had a background in music, we have worked on a hypothetical guitar for me. I fancied a strong, rich blues sound and some red accents. We have settled on a black electric guitar with a mother ladybug on the body and baby ladybugs walking all over the neck.

Scott built his first banjo in a college dorm. Some years later he returned to lutherie by first putting together a guitar from a kit, then by trying his hand on building an instrument from scratch. His father still owns this memento. Scott now runs a successful studio where in addition to creating custom ones he repairs all types of fretted instruments - guitars, banjos, ukuleles, mandolins, even lutes. The list of his clients is extensive, with about half of them local.

His instruments have a crisp, full and warm sound. You can find some recordings plus photos of the instruments on Scott's very informative website His Scott's Guitar Blog is a must for a professional.

Scott can be reached at 631.421.9056.

Also listen to Scott show his own ukulele in this YouTube clip:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Eric Marten, fiddler

Eric Marten, violinist, music teacher and historian, delighted the visitors of a school house (c. 1845, from Manhasset) at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration with traditional tunes on this swelteringly hot Independence Day.

Eric played one of four 19th century violins in the possession of the Village. This violin/fiddle differed from a modern day instrument in a number of ways - sheep gut strings produced milder, richer, less metallic sound, the violin had no chin rest and no fine tuners. It was tuned differently from the standard GDAE and its pitch was lower than modern A-440. 

The simple tunes were charming, warm, and catching. It was not difficult to imagine dancers moving gently to the rhythm. If not for the fact that we wanted to preserve the gravitas of the place, were eager to hear more music and more information (and were very hot), we would have danced ourselves, right there, in the small, one room school house.

Eric Marten is the music historian at the museum. He has extensive knowledge of period tunes and instruments. Over the years he has been involved in the works of The Long Island Traditional Music Association (LITMA), where he currently conducts Young Musicians Fiddle Instruction Series workshops, The Barnburners, The Long Island Fiddlemonic Orchestra, The "No Frills" Contradance Orchestra, and various school fiddle clubs on Long Island.

If you need information about traditional tunes, period instruments at the Village, or just want to play music, contact Eric at 1.516.359.3801.

In the following video, Eric plays the fiddle while his wife plays limberjack, a wooden instrument.

More fiddle music performed by Eric can be found on YouTube: