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  • An Ode to an Inspiration

    An Ode to an Inspiration

    Was reminiscing recently about a battered and worn upright piano that occupied a back corner of our family's garage during my teenage years. It wasn't very pretty - broken ivories, broken keys, broken wood. Still, there were strings - and the potential for music. 

    Occasionally, I would wander over to the tired instrument, hoping to coax a melody or two from the heart inside its fading shell. Untrained, I was relegated to simple, original compositions - haphazard improvisations that were largely exercises in avoiding dissonance. 

    At seventeen, my parents, maybe sensing a little spark, upgraded the piano and enrolled me in lessons with a woman who lived across town named Betty Hansen. A middle-aged widow, she possessed a sparkling personality and a vast love for music that outsized her petite frame. In her cramped front room resided the Steinway. Around it, stacks and stacks of sheet music - Gershwin, The Beatles, show tunes and folk songs - most of them transcribed in her own hand and signed - "Arranged by Betty M. Hansen"

    We progressed slowly, working through primary books, and eventually some of her simple sheets. I was surely one of her least diligent students - though she would never say so. We'd meet for 30 minute sessions every couple of weeks, and there were periods where I might not have played in between. Still, she was patient, always quick to encourage and careful not to criticize. Occasionally, when I'd do something well, she would prop open the top on the grand, offering my tentative hands the chance to fill the room with sound. Her love of music was contagious, and over time, I had learned just enough to carry my interest forward, a gift I appreciate to this day.

    Near the end of our time together, when it was becoming clear that music was going to be just an avocation for me, Mrs. Hansen offered to score one of the small pieces I had composed. As I played, she plotted the notes on paper. Her handwriting was elegant, lyrical. When we finished, she added my name next to the title: "Genesis."

    I read today that Betty May Hansen died two weeks ago. She was 88 years old. One year for each of the keys on her piano.

    When we first met, she had a few octaves yet to play. But midway through her own life's symphony, Betty Hansen struck a more resonant chord than she knew. Because of her, I still play today, decades later. Still can't say I practice much, but I play.. I play.

  • Looking Back - Twenty Sixteen

    From tears to cheers, parades and serenades, 2016 offered up an array of unique moments which I was grateful to experience and fortunate to share. Here's a brief look back at a few of the images I was able to capture during the course of the year. The short presentation features primarily work done for the Wisconsin State Journal and is backed with a little original music which touches on another evolving interest of mine as well.

  • Coming Full-circle with Square Format

    Coming Full-circle with Square Format

    Really pleased to have three images selected for inclusion in the upcoming exhibit “Wisconsin Photography 2016” at the Racine Art Museum’s Wustum Museum of Fine Arts. The show, juried by Karen Irvine, curator and associate director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, will feature the work of 38 fine art photographers from across the state. It’s always an intriguing exhibit, offering a broad array of photographic visions and approaches.

    Inclusion in the show holds a special meaning for me on several levels. Racine is my hometown, the place I was first exposed to photography as an art form, and where I nurtured my early interest in the medium.

    In addition to my career as a working photojournalist, I’ve always tried to maintain a steady interest in non-documentary work as well. The set of images selected for this exhibit are representative of some of the personal art explorations I’ve continued to pursue outside of work.

    The portfolio I submitted for judging was comprised of a set of images all drawn from my interest in square format composition. As a relative newcomer to the Instagram phenomena, I’ve been intrigued by the platform’s 1x1 image ratio preference, and have been composing work with that format in mind for the last year or so.

    What I really like about the approach, though, is how it reminds me of my very first experience with photography as a boy growing up back home. I remember the first camera I ever held was a twin-lens reflex camera which my father let me experiment with. I don’t believe there was even any film in it, but I can recall walking around our home composing imaginary ‘pictures’ while looking through the vintage device’s square-formatted, top-mounted viewfinder.

    In a way, being part of this exhibit, with these images, kind of brings full-circle my passion for photography from my earliest exposures, to present-day pursuits. 

    The show opens August 28th, and continues through November 26, 2016.

    Racine Art Museum's Wisconsin Photography 2016

  • 2015 - The Year in Images

    Here's brief look back at a few of the things that happened in front of my camera during 2015. Some happy, some sad, but I'm still grateful for the opportunity to pursue my career as a photojournalist and share others' life experiences for the Wisconsin State Journal.

  • Zen and the Art of Nature's Transcendence

    I've been exploring the iPhone 6's slow-motion video capabilities recently and enjoying the results. The leaves in this short piece were actually fluttering wildly during a strong wind and steady rain. This minute-long segment was the result of only a 15 second-or-so initial capture. The zen-like result left me inclined to slow down a bit myself, and try and appreciate the wonders of nature more often. The audio track was recorded shortly after and features the sounds of the rain and nearby wind chimes.

  • Nature's Night Lights

    Nature's Night Lights

    Been enjoying the evening firefly spectacle in recent days and have managed to capture a few frames of these fleeting, flickering little harbingers of summer. It's turned out to be a fairly challenging effort, but after a week's worth of trial and error I've caught a few decent images and learned a few lessons.

    For the most part, there's about a 10-15 minute window a bit after sunset when the insects first begin their flirtatious flashing and there's still enough ambient light in the sky to offer a sense of the surroundings. I also find it much easier to track them at dusk as you're not stumbling around in complete darkness. Still, I find I'm stretching the medium a bit with camera ISO settings in the 4000 range and shutter speeds a 30th of second or less with the lens wide open. A macro lens is pretty key for close-ups, but there's a fine line between trying to get near enough for a good image and scaring the little buggers off.

    The main barrier, though, to photographing them has turned out to be the mosquitoes. They've been fierce, and I try to make sure I'm pretty well covered. I did break down and tried applying insect repellent for one outing, but unfortunately, it did repel the insects, fireflies and all. Since you're usually shooting at very slow, hand-held shutter speeds, there are times when you might be contending with a fair number of them buzzing around your head and attempting to draw their daily ration from your face, neck and ears.

    So, it takes a bit of patience and a whole lot of missed shots (I've probably taken several hundred frames and ended up with just a few decent ones) but they do offer a unique glimpse at this annual seasonal ritual.

     

  • On Shooting Stars

    On Shooting Stars

    Capturing images of night skies has been a long-time interest of mine, and when conditions are right, you can usually find me making an enthused effort to pursue these rewarding, but sometimes challenging pictures. When things work out well, the resulting photographs might appear serene and peaceful, but a lot of times, I find that photographing celestial bodies can be a fairly demanding endeavor.

    Surprisingly, one of the problems with photographing stars, planets, and the Earth’s sun and moon, is how fast they move through the sky. It doesn’t seem like it, but when you try to compose a night sky frame in a tight, aesthetically-appealing way, it becomes quickly apparent that our planet really is in constant motion, changing our perspective of the heavens every few seconds.

    Some of my favorite night sky photos often offer a hint toward man’s relationship to the cosmos, so when I can, I’ll try and incorporate Earth-bound elements into the frame. In fact, I keep a mental roster of potential locations as options for future images. Sites looking west, east, north and south, sites high on hills, sites illuminated, sites silhouetted. Farmsteads, windmills, church steeples, weather vanes and cityscapes are all potential foreground elements.

    I’ll track sky charts and space-oriented websites for potentially interesting sky events and I am usually generally aware of moon cycles and sunrise/set times. Over the years, I’ve had a number of successful efforts photographing eclipses, comets, planetary conjunctions, auroras and sun and moon events. Often, though, a preconceived idea for an image falls apart when I attempt to execute it. There are sometimes just too many unpredictable variables.

    Through trial, I’ve discovered that long lens exposures of more than a few seconds will begin to result in motion blur from stars and planets. That means that every half-minute or so, the celestial elements of your photo may not be quite where you want it to be. Long exposures at night are a necessity, which means I’m constantly moving my tripod to keep the composition intact. Add to the equation rapidly changing light conditions and broad luminance disparities between sky and ground elements, there’s a lot of potential for things to get difficult. Mosquito swarms, city light pollution and even suspicious rural neighbors and their protective barking dogs can all be unique night challenges. Those wonderfully clear mid-winter nights can be brutally cold, and don’t even get me started on clouds.

    At any rate, when things do work out and the planets metaphorically align, it feels wonderful to know you may be capturing a completing unique, totally spontaneous moment that can disappear forever in minutes. I was lucky to have that experience a few times last week, represented in the composite image above. The outer images were captured a several moments apart before a local fireworks show. A hot air balloon made an opportune appearance above the setting sun, and, shortly after I made the photograph of the same sun’s rays glinting off an adjacent lake. The inner images (Venus and Jupiter on the left, and the moonrise on the right) took a little more planning and some on-the-fly adjustments, but were taken within a downtown city block and 10 minutes of each other.

    For a few other examples of my night and evening sky images, have a look at the Our World & Other Worlds gallery of the website.

    Below: The light from a full winter's moon casts shadows under a backyard pergola.

    © 2014 John Hart Photography

     

     

  • Merging Muses

    Merging Muses

    Most who know me well realize that as passionate as I am about photography, it still probably rates a close second to my love of music.

    Had I been graced with a broader musical ability, I might have chosen a playing career over my present one, but unfortunately, it's probably not in the cards. Still, though, I’m steadily drawn to a diverse array of performers and performances, and admire the way accomplished artists are able to establish immediate and intimate connections with their audiences. Like photography, music really is a universal language and I’m envious of those who are able to communicate their craft in moving ways.

    Not surprisingly, I enjoy opportunities that allow me to photograph musicians I respect and admire, and relish chances to bridge these two primary interests. When capturing images of musical artists, my hope is to convey the passion they have for their craft, and the good ones make that very easy.

    Two performing friends of mine, emerging singer-songwriter Katie Scullin and seasoned blues guitarist Paul Filipowicz, may fall on disparate ends of the musical spectrum, but each harbor a distinct need to share their innate musical muses. Both are engaging, gifted musical artists, but I’m most drawn to their unbridled passion for their work. I’ve seen each perform many times, and it truly doesn’t matter if they’re playing to five people or 500 - you will get the same show regardless.

    As photographers, we’re often able to shoot, reshoot, edit and re-edit in an effort achieve our desired results. Musicians on stage, admirably, share their craft without a net. When it works, in the hands of talented, committed artists like Katie and Paul, the results can be uniquely immediate, moving and rare.

    A few more images I've captured of these fine talents can be found here: Katie Scullin and here: Paul Filipowicz

  • On Firsts - Past and Future

    On Firsts - Past and Future

    Playing with some numbers and dates recently, I happened to discover that I was approaching a milestone event. As it turns out, counting Leap Days, today, February 7, 2015, marks my 20,000th day of Life.

    Now, I know what most of you are thinking, "But, John, you hardly look a day over 15,000!" Well, I fortunately don't feel it either, but the math is what is and the revelation of my biological odometer flipping over has left me thinking about the past - and the future.

    Feeling inclined to visually represent this span of time, I assembled an array of 20,000 points - 50 rows of 400 dots. I found resulting pattern kind of revelatory, if not a little scary. It's represented in the graphic above, although truthfully, to even begin to see each mark clearly (at least with 20,000 day old eyes) it's probably best viewed at letter size or greater.

    I'll forgive myself for not remembering much about the first couple of thousand days or so, but the remaining rows, and points, are the ones that got me thinking.

    I wonder which one represents my first day of kindergarten - the day I took my first, tentative steps toward independence amidst an imposing sea of playground strangers?  Which was the afternoon I got my first really cool bike, which began to broaden my horizons even more? How 'bout that thrilling ride down the concrete toboggan run with my father, which left his knuckles a little bloodied but his demeanor ready for the next trip.

    I remember family trips and school trips and my mother saying "Well, tomorrow's a new day" when things weren't going well. There were first dates, a first kiss, first car and first heartbreak. There was also the first time I saw the woman I'd marry, the beginning of a long run of many remarkable, treasured events. So many memorable moments, so many firsts.

    All of which leads me to consider - what points might represent the days my children each began their evolving journeys? Blank slates ahead, a wonder, a gift. I remember once hearing that life's days go slow, and the years, fast. Yes. While we hope to make each day memorable, the truth is most eventually fade into a hazy, vague memory of faded impressions.

    So, what about my own blank slate? Hopefully, many thousands of days still lie ahead. How will they be filled? What memories will future milestones conjure? Today's figurative turning point offers a unique chance to consider how I'll increase the value of each day to come. It seems a good starting point would be to up the ante on empathy and gratitude - important human attributes that sometimes get diminished in the day to day routine of our hectic lives.

    So, here's to firsts - past and future - and the chance to remember what was, and consider what can be.

  • Black and White, 21st Century Style

    Black and White, 21st Century Style

    There's been popular trend making its way around social media lately which involves a challenge between photographer friends to generate images in a monochromatic style. I hadn't intentionally shot in black-and-white since the start of my career, and it was a welcome reminder of those early days when my eventual life's passion was new.

    While the capturing approach is decidedly different, the end result feels much the same as it did years ago. I can't say I miss the darkroom chemistry mess and the associated expenses, but I'm pretty sure I'll continue to venture into the monochrome profile on my digital camera a little more often.

  • 2014 - A Look Back

    Here's a short video compilation of some of my favorite Wisconsin State Journal images from the past year. I feel lucky and grateful for the opportunity to pursue my passion for visual storytelling. Here's to 2014 - and looking forward to seeing what the coming year brings! 

  • Expanding Horizons

    A recent trip to Michigan's upper penisula and lower western shore offered several opportunities to explore the idea of capturing images in a panoramic style. Probably inspired by the area's geography - the broad expanses of sky, water and sand along the area's shorelines - I found myself seeing things more linearly. What used to require specialized equipment or a little ingenuity - I remember as a youth trying to assemble multiple printed images together with tape - smart phone technology and image processing software advancements have made the once-unique approach commonplace. Now, the effect can be replicated in a several seconds. Anyways, as a photographer I'm finding that it's a great way to expand your creative horizons and offer viewers an enhanced view of your experience.

    These images also bring to mind one of my favorite pieces in my personal collection of photographic art. It's a large (48"x7") panoramic photograph featuring several hundred members of the Photographer's Association of America gathering for their annual convention in Milwaukee in 1910. Ironically, the dusty, warped and unframed photograph was salvaged from back corner of a Dallas antique store a number of years ago. I was intruiged by the local connection and drawn to the array faces of photographers as they turned the camera back on themselves. They're all gone now, but I'm comforted in the thought that many of these artist's images, and their unique visions of the world around them, still remain.

  • A Small Town's Place in Hollywood History

    Little-known fact: The first-ever public screening of the film "The Wizard of Oz" was at the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc, Wis. on August 12, 1939. The city was used as a test-market for the movie before an official Hollywood debut several days later. One theory suggests that the film's music composer, Herbert Stothart, who had a summer cottage in the area, may have had something to do with the city being selected as part of an effort to guage audience reaction to the big budget ($2.7 million) film before its worldwide release. The city continues to embrace that history, and this year's 75th anniversary of the event drew thousands to the downtown area for an outdoor showing of the MGM classic film.

  • Everything He Owns Is In This Photo

    Thoroughly enjoyed crossing paths with this true adventurer today. As part of his second bicyling tour across the world, London's Joff Summerfield made his way through Madison this morning on an 1880's-style Penny Farthing bicycle. Begun a month ago in Toronto, the anticipated 2-3 year journey will carry him through the western United States, then south through Central America and eventually to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost part of South America. From there, he'll make plans to continue the trek back to his home country. His first journey in 2006-2008 covered 23,000 miles and 23 countries. He averages about 10 miles per hour and 40 miles a day on the single gear bicycle, which he made himself. Like the first trip, he sold most of his possessions to finance the journey. He free-camps most of the way, but also occasionally accepts accomodations from people he meets enroute. A self-proclaimed "nomad of the road," Summerfield said he hopes his travels might inspire others to do or see something they might not know they were capable of. Updates from his journey are posted on his website: pennyfarthingworldtour.com.

  • When Small Moments Become a Big Deal

    It's been a while, but yesterday I received that look again. It used to happen often, but less so now since transitioning my career to a larger paper a couple of years ago. It's the look you get when you're recognized as the guy who made someone's day by capturing a picture of something important to them and sharing the moment with the world in the pages of a newspaper.

    An opportunity to photograph the opening day of the Dane County Fair in Madison, Wis. offered me the chance to return to an atmosphere I've always enjoyed. Over the years, I've photographed several dozen county fairs and I've never tired of the assignment. There are pictures everywhere, and the people involved are almost universally upbeat and engaged in their communal interests.

    While making my way through one of the cattle barns on the grounds of the fair, several young participants recognized me from an assignment a few weeks earlier which profiled 4H club members on the 100th anniversary of the organization. Photos of several of the exhibitors had previously made their way into a Sunday edition, including one girl whose image was our centerpiece art for the A1 feature story. As I happened past the booth of the Mudsliders 4H club again, the youngsters' eyes lit up, waves ensued, and, through a broad smile, the girl featured on our front page said "Thanks for the pictures!"

    Larger papers in metropolitan areas offer an opportunity to persue a broad range of stories and assignments. The work is personally rewarding, but often done more anonymously. So, it was great to revisit that experience where you and your subjects cross paths again, and you both seem to recognize the value of the shared human experience.

  • Staying Open to Opportunity

    Sometimes, I'll find myself in need of a reminder to stay photographically driven when I'm away from work. This array of trucks parked on a rural road, which were spotted during my evening freeway commute, proved too interesting to pass up and offered an incentive I needed. Don't know the backstory on this, but the symemetry of the arrangement commanded my attention. Making the image involved a bit of backtracking but the I'm glad I took the time. Today's lesson for me is shoot first, ask questions later.

  • New State Journal Photo Blog Launched

    Pleased to announce the launch of the Wisconsin State Journal's new Photo Blog which will be updatded regularly with work from photojournalists Amber Arnold, Mike King and myself. Please have a look around and bookmark, follow or check in occasionally.

  • Winter's Wane

    It's midnight and it will be dark soon. 

    Before long, winter's perpetual evening aura will fade, and the new season's leafy textures will mute our after-hours surroundings.

    We'll leap blindly into the temperate cloak, embracing summer's nighttime ambiguity and aural renaissance.

    Reborn, we'll rejoice, knowing we were meant to wonder, dream and explore - outside our wooden skins.

  • Amish Ice Harvest

    I recently had the great pleasure of photographing the unique tradition of an Amish ice harvest. Each winter, hundreds of 80-pound ice blocks are cut from frozen waterways, and then transferred and stored in nearby families' ice houses for use throughout the year. It's a laborious effort, involving many hands, horses and trailers. But because Amish homes are electricity-free, the practice is an important part of the workers' lives. It's also a good chance for participants, young and old, to reinforce the group's sense of community, an enduring component of the Amish way of life.

    I've photographed some members of this community a few times previously. Like most Amish, they are generally camera-shy, but I've been lucky to establish a small rapport with a few members of the group. In the past, I've shared with them reprints of the photographs I've captured, which seem to be appreciated and enjoyed. Because the ice harvest is such an important and unique element of the Amish heritage, I think this visit may have offered me a little greater access than I might normally expect as well.

    A gallery of images from the visit has been added to this website, and here is the fine story by Barry Adams that accompanied them in the Wisconsin State Journal.

  • Right Place, Right Time

    Right Place, Right Time

    A full moon ascends behind an illuminated sign atop the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee, Wis. Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. Each year, portions of the marquee are intentionally darkened in an effort to celebrate the holiday season. John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

    Sometimes you just get a bit lucky. Had a nice view of this full moon ascending over the Milwaukee skyline during a trip into the city this evening. I thought about making an image of it juxtaposed with one of the city's more iconic bridges. When I circled back to get a vantage, I happened to discover this nice coincidence near a building that has a little fun with its sign during the holidays.

  • Shadows at Night

    Fairly rare occurrences these are, the convergence a freshly-fallen snow cover, a clear night sky and the presence of a true full moon.

    While winters here are long, it's only occasionally that we're treated to this enchanting evening spectacle.

    Away from the glare of our urban beacons, the Earth's bright celestial neighbor lends an eerie incandescence to normally-cloaked nighttime haunts.

    It's a miracle of reflections - the sun's fiery flares echoing off the barren, pocked surface of the moon, and then back through space toward a frozen ivory canvas which scatters the rays one final time.

    These bright nights are revelatory, allowing us a chance to see with new eyes.

    Beneath tree branches and fence posts, shadows appear under the radiance of the high stone mirror. Short and true, they hold close to their sources, different from the elongated renderings cast by the season's shallower daytime luminary.

    Through it all, the occasional staccato-like hoot of a great horned owl can be heard interrupting the otherworldly scene. Rave on night bird, rave on.

  • The One and Only - Clyde Stubblefield

    Enjoyed the opportunity to meet and photograph a true original this week - the legendary drummer Clyde Stubblefield. As a member of James Brown's band during it's hey-day, Stubblefield's distinctive beats helped define many of the group's signature numbers, including "Cold Sweat", "There Was A Time", "I Got The Feelin'", "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" and "Ain't It Funky Now." His Funky Drummer beat is among the most sampled pieces in popular music. A long-time Madison, Wis. resident, he still performs occasionally and is in the process of assembling group to perform a series of local shows in the coming year. Here's a link to the State Journal story I was thrilled to collaborate on. 

  • Eye Candy

    Although the silhouette is occasionally regarded in our profession as a somewhat superficial photographic device, I think the technique can still be a viable tool in the photojournalist's toolbox. I've always been drawn to the graphic nature of these images, and I'm still unable to pass them up when offered the opportunity. I think it's the ambiguous nature of the images that I find intruiging. It's ok sometimes when photographs allow room for the viewer's interpretations to factor in. I came across this scene returning from an assignment this week, and like a moth to a flame, I was unable to keep myself from making a picture. Check out the Into the Light gallery of this website for a few other renditions of the approach.

  • A Camera is a Camera

    Granted, I'm a little late to the party, but recently I've been coming around to the potential that the iPhone camera posseses as a creative tool. Traditionally, I've left my 'serious' photography to my professional gear, but lately I've started to recognize the truth in the adage that "the best camera is the one you have with you." Here are a couple of images, snapshots really, grabbed with my phone during a recent trip to Arizona. As the image quality of cell phone devices continues to evolve, and my comfort level with the technology improves, I'm guessing I'll be capturing many more moments that I might previously have passed by. 

  • Converging Parallels

    Occasionally, I'll spot a potential photograph that I'm inclined to capture - if only for myself. While most of my daily work is assigned or geared toward the State Journal's daily editions, there are instances when I'll see something I can't pass up. This picture is like that. Our next day's local page was already filled and it's not necessarily the type of image I'd offer as a stand-alone, but I'm happy I grabbed it.

    I first noticed the juxtaposition of the converging cables of a construction crane with the painted lines of a roadway in my vehicle's side-view mirror while stopped at a traffic signal on my way to an assignment. But by the time I parked and re-visted the scene, the crane had moved and the picture was gone. A little patience, though, and the coincidence reappeared - just the way I initially saw it. Sadly, I couldn't do anything about the distracting utility pole just above the horizon, but I kind of like it anyways.

  • Millie - As in Millie-waukee

    My favorite image from an assignment documenting an influx of Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts celebrating the brand's 110th anniversary in Milwaukee ironically doesn't involve a rider or a motorcycle. Meet Millie, a seven-year-old Chihuahua that's logged 50,000 miles on the bike of her Tennessee owner. Here's a link to Barry Adams' story and a few additional images:

    Harley-Davidson 110th

  • A New Normal

    Was grateful to collaborate on this very touching and well-written story by State Journal colleague David Wahlberg. It involves a resilient four-year-old boy who is contending with the amputation of his feet following a rare and mysterious disease. It's worth a few minutes of your time:

    A New Normal