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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In The Valley Of Kashmir

John Isaac puts the exotic world of Kashmir into a universal perspective

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A father holds his newborn son in Atnar village near Pahalgam.
The striking portrait of father and child Isaac describes was made with window light. Isaac made every image in the book with only available illumination.
“A lot of the pictures were shot at 1⁄15 sec. handheld,” he says. “I have a pretty steady hand. I shoot everything handheld. My new camera has three stabilizers—an X, a Y, and both. That’s the way I shot even before, when I was shooting film. I was always very steady.”

Steadiness is key in natural-light photography, particularly when the light is changing with the weather. Fog around Dal Lake, the major body of water that dominates the landscape in many images, makes for some of the most memorable photographs in the book. Isaac attributes his training as a painter for influencing the appeal and execution of such images.

“I studied watercolor painting,” says Isaac, “so in Kashmir all the lake scenes are very much like a watercolor painting. That’s the way I wanted to shoot—like the very misty mornings or when it’s foggy. There’s a nice picture of a man selling flowers in a fog. A lot of people have used that; it’s a favorite picture because a lot of people identify with it.”

Challenging lighting makes for interesting images, but Isaac still provides his RAW files with additional assistance. Though he’s proficient with postprocessing, he isn’t trying to reinvent his images in the computer. He’s simply applying his hard-won darkroom skills in a new medium for the same effect as always—making a photograph communicate clearer.

A flower vendor in the early morning on Dal Lake.
“I’m a good technician,” he says. “I don’t change anything, but I emphasize. I make my pictures look good. I do a lot of burning and dodging. I teach a course at the Maine Media Workshops every summer; my emphasis is basically what I learned when I did my black-and-white—it’s all burning and dodging. I came to a conclusion that burning and dodging is the most important thing.

“Photography is an illusion,” Isaac concludes. “You can create that illusion by meticulously burning and dodging. It took me a long time to understand this part. If you use it correctly, you can burn and dodge highlight, midtone and shadow areas selectively in small percentages. Just as much as shooting, I love printing. That’s why I can’t wait to bring my pictures home and correct them and make them look good. All this is why I think in some ways I’m still surviving and learning the new tools I had to learn in the last 10 years. I never used a computer before in my life; at age 55, I got my first computer. My learning curve is slow. I do things a little slower, but I enjoy it.” OP

To see more of John Isaac’s photography, visit www.johnisaac.com.


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