The Compliments of the Season

The following essay originally appeared in CAMERA WORK, April 1905, written by J B Kerfoot.

Spring has come. Two robins have been reported near Philadelphia, the note of the bluebird is heard in the land, and pneumonia is in full bloom.

We must not, however, lose sight of the fact that there are two kinds of Spring, subjective and objective, the kind described in the advertisements and the variety actually furnished by the procession of the equinoxes.

by J B Kerfoot
Objectively, Spring is the time of year when Nature stretches herself, turns over in bed and mumbles drowsily, “Call me again in three weeks.” Subjectively, Spring is one of the hallucinations of the artistic temperament.

Objectively, Spring is the time of year when Nature stretches herself, turns over in bed and mumbles drowsily, “Call me again in three weeks.” Subjectively, Spring is one of the hallucinations of the artistic temperament.

The artist may be either a poet, or a painter, or a photographer. It makes no difference (even a photographer, you know, may have a temperament), and each in his own way has helped to spread the pleasant superstition.

Your poet always was an uncertain creature. When he sings most feelingly of feasts you may be sure that he has dined on beer and a rye sandwich; and as for that lovely lyric on the joys of curds and a cottage, the inspiration for it lay for ten years in bottle in the cellars of Rheims.

Poets, indeed, like dreams, go by contraries, so that you may put it down that the Ode to Spring was inspired by a particularly odious day in late January and that April found the author sneezing in damp boots and a raincoat and dreaming of the balminess of June. If for many years, while men still read poetry, it was the popular notion that the seasons had changed or that the particular climate under which it was one’s misfortune to have been born differed, vernally, from that of the Lake Country, we can easily place the blame and, since the Return to Nature, we know better.

Even Thomson, the poetic authority on seasons in general, had his moments of disillusionment. When he cried impatiently, “Come, Gentle Spring! Ethereal Mildness! come.” it must have been getting on toward the end of April.

“In the Spring,” says the poet, “the young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” You might know a poet said that. To begin with, with apartments at three thousand a year and the Beef Trust eking out a miserable two percent on porterhouse steaks, a young man, unless he is artistic and unpractical, does not at any season turn his thoughts lightly to love. It is too expensive. And then, in Spring, your well-balanced young man has other fish to fry. He is busy rubbering for his goloshes and wondering whether or not to wear his winter-overcoat when he leaves home mornings, and his thoughts are turned to the uses of sarsaparilla and the latest discoveries in cold cures.

And your painter is no less imaginative. Like the poet he is an impressionist — that is to say, he shows us the world not as it is but as he feels that the good God might have made it had he been educated in Paris. And to give him credit, he sometimes so persuades himself by his own preaching that, going out absent-mindedly to paint Spring pictures in March, he dies of a chill and thereby vastly enhances the value of his past output. And even the photographer (who, as we have seen, may also have a temperament) is sometimes known to print his bleak fall landscapes through the glass and to dream dreams.

Since then it appears that either Art is a Spring madness or that Spring is an Art madness, and since as wise men it behooves us to look facts in the face while as artists we must preserve our ideals, let us agree to worship Spring nine months in the year and the other three we can pass in what forgetfulness we may, taking stock, practicing philosophy and, withal, keeping our feet dry and our souls from mildew.

J. B. Kerfoot

Edward Curtis and The North American Indian | video part 3


The following paragraphs are footnotes and afterthoughts to expand this video from the three-part series on Edward Curtis and The North American Indian.

I’m not sure if this video is too long or too short. It’s a bit long as a YouTube standard.

But a lot of information was cut to keep it manageable.

The particular focus here is the topic of pictorialism.

To reemphasize, the Pictorialism Movement (around 1890-1910) was first and foremost about the presentation of photography as ART. The common thread of these “pictorialists,” was not about photographic style, but about artistic expression.

Today’s sources of information place an incorrect emphasis on a style of photography. Their thesis statement would describe the Pictorialism Movement as a style that is blurry, fuzzy, out-of-focus, heavily manipulated, and romanticized.

Also noteworthy, today’s experts consider Alfred Stieglitz as the primary influence of the Pictorial Movement. In America and New York City, that would be correct. However, The Pictorial Movement was a global movement.

I can appreciate how the experts today would come to their conclusion. It is very easy to find a few quotes from that time period that backs up their thesis. And that conclusion is entirely incorrect.

My thesis statement is that pictorialism in photography is NOT a style but rather a branch of photography, contrasted by straight photography.

Pictorial Movement was rooted in London. Paris, Vienna, and many other locales were also squarely in the middle of this movement.

Remember, in definition and regular usage, the term PICTORIAL was synonymous with ART. So in Paris, it would not have been called Pictorial Photography. It would have been called L’art Photographique.

Simple. The main challenge here, is that picture and pictorial have different meanings today then 125 years ago.

Moreover, the experts will expand the timeline by saying the Straight Photography Movement followed.

In that timeline, call it a hundred years ago, it technically was not a movement. The era was witness to the same debate. With different figures leading the charge. Pictorial vs. Straight photography. Artistic vs. Mechanical Duplication photography.

It could be said there was a Pure Photography movement. Maybe. Those that were interested in pictorial photography continued the pursuit of the naturalistic representation of nature.

As photography was becoming accepted as ART, the “impressionistic” or “painterly” style of photography was beginning to fade. I’m referring to the style or treatment of photography that is improperly called pictorialism: fuzzy, blurry, romanticized, heavily manipulated.

It’s easy to see when looking back in time. Painters saw the photographer instantly and automatically portraying the natural delicacy of blending light into shadow and the perfect accuracy of linear perspective.

Photographers were imitating paintings less and less. Likewise, Painters were imitating photographs less and less.

I will simply conclude with my opinion of the era commonly called the Modern Art Movement. It all got muddy.

Painters found trend and fashion in breaking away from the trends and fashions.

There was brilliant art being made a hundred years ago. And there were also groups with different agendas making statements in the name of art. Statements, creatively stated. But was it artistic? Was it art? It’s like they were singing an interesting lyric, but the melody sounded like playing the piano while wearing boxing gloves.

Stay tuned. This discussion on pictorialism in photography is to be continued.

– Jon

Edward Curtis – The North American Indian at the Muskegon Museum Of Art

Now through September 10, 2017, is the super ambitious exhibition of the photography portfolio of The North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis.

This project is a 20 volume set that is essentially a comprehensive encyclopedia of the native tribes living in the regions of North America west of the Mississippi River.

Not only is this project an ambitious one, it was compiled by a crew led by photographer Edward Curtis. Its sheer enormity is its claim to fame. The accompanying photography is the glorious icing on the cake.

Each of the twenty volumes included a set of art prints, in the form of a gravure, or photogravure. This entire set of original books and gravures have been in Muskegon since its release a century ago. And for the first time anywhere, all 223 gravures are on display, celebrating the artistic vision of an inspired photographer.

This video is part one of a series I will be making about this stunning collection.


MuskeCon | Muskegon Comic-Con

It felt more like browsing through a small neighborhood book store than getting lost in a big-box store. It was the first time for me to attend a comic-con and Muskegon’s first time hosting. It was fun. I’m generally familiar with how a comic-con looks, but to jump into the mix was the best way to experience it.

This video is part of my PHLog series on YouTube. (Like VLOG, but photo-tip driven, thus PHLog.) Enjoy, like, love, share and subscribe!!

– Jon Jacobson


Windy Day at Pere Marquette Beach

A gale warning is always the allure. Irresistible and dramatic. Lake Michigan always puts on a show.

Dramatic gales pound relentlessly against the South Breakwater Light in Muskegon at sunset
Dramatic gales pound relentlessly against the South Breakwater Light in Muskegon at sunset

In this video, we enjoy the energy that draws an audience of spectators. Wind and waves and the Muskegon Lights lit by the setting sun.

Plus a bonus reminder to apply the rule of thirds as we look through the view finder of a camera.


The Pigs In Tutus Didn’t Show Up

Full disclosure: I was not really scheduled to photograph dancing bacon.

This past week however, there were expectations that did not come to fruition. The kind of missed expectations that would even surpass absent ballerina pork!

The notable expectation was a predicted thunderstorm with lots of night lightning.

I love photographing lightning.

Perhaps I should rephrase that. I love getting that perfect lightning shot.

The last time I captured that perfect lightning shot was in 2013. Since then, the past couple dozen times going out, I came up empty handed. Unmet expectations. And it’s way worse than being rejected by pigs in tutus!

So earlier this week when I was expecting sunshine, I got this instead:


Muskegon South Breakwater Light
Muskegon South Breakwater Light on Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan fog in Muskegon
Lake Michigan fog in Muskegon

When expecting a lightning storm, I got this:


A Crack In the Sky in Muskegon
A Crack In the Sky Over Lake Michigan in Muskegon

Lake Michigan Splash

Wind on Lake Michigan
Wind on Lake Michigan

And when expecting the northern lights, I got this:


Muskegon Lake at Night
Muskegon Lake at Night

Muskegon Lake at Night
The Auroras are faintly visible through the city lights over Muskegon Lake

The moral of the story is really quite simple: Be Tenacious! Just maybe, serendipity will be on your side. If not, just maybe an equally compelling story is unfolding. Look for it.

If it ends up being lemons thrown your way, make lemonade! (They go great with Pork Chops!)


Hamming it up for the camera
Hamming it up for the camera



Lucky Lightning

Lightning in Muskegon

There was a recent online discussion I had seen on the topic of Lightning photography. The word lucky was used to describe somebody else’s shots.


Rightfully so, the shooter took issue with the statement. Responding with something to the effect of dragging one’s butt off the sofa and into inclement weather.

This makes for a great photography tip: a) the key to excellent lightning photography is dragging one’s butt off the sofa and into inclement weather. I will offer a few more tips in this post.

Lightning on Mackinac Island
Sunrise Lightning on Mackinac Island

Lightning on Mackinac Island
Sunrise Lightning on Mackinac Island

The previous two shots are old. Before the days of digital cameras and mobile devices with weather radar. In some ways, as a shooter, this is a little lucky. A unique situation where I was on Mackinac Island, during a storm at sunrise. And a camera with a dozen rolls of film.

Unfortunately, one of the shots was a little over exposed. On the original negative, this cannot be recovered. Now fortunately, the picture at Arnold’s Coal Dock was a much better exposure. Not an exact science, because you never know how far away the next lightning strike with be. So again, a little luck.

Another photography tip: b) Shoot lightning in digital raw. This will give you a little extra latitude in exposure compared to shooting in JPG mode. If your digital raw image was over exposed by a couple stops, it is easy to dial it down with Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw software.

Lightning in Muskegon
Lightning over Lake Michigan in Muskegon

Lightning in Muskegon
Lightning over Lake Michigan in Muskegon

Lightning in Muskegon
Lightning over Lake Michigan in Muskegon

This next shot was in the middle of the day. The most difficult lightning shooting condition is daylight. Essentially, you want to limit as much of the day light through the lens so you can drag the shutter as much as possible. The downside is that you limit the lightning light also.

Lightning in Byron Center
Lightning in Byron Center

Grand Rapids Lightning
Grand Rapids Lightning

Grand Rapids Lightning
Grand Rapids Lightning

Some more tips:

c) be safe
d) use a very sturdy tripod and a shutter release cable
e) my settings: I start off at 100 ISO and a 30 second shutter speed. My aperture could be set anywhere between 2.8 and 8.0. Aperture settings will be what experience and my gut tells me.
f) be lucky

These final two shots were on an occasion that I had enough warning that a big storm was coming. So I got my butt off the sofa and headed downtown. And I must say, I was a little nervous when I first stepped out of my car. Dorothy? Toto? is that you?

The first shot was taken at 70 mm. Perfect framing. 15 minutes and 20 shutters later, the second shot was taken at 200 mm. Perfect framing.

So I think the moral of the story is: If you get that killer lightning shot, it’s okay to say, “yeah, I got a little lucky.” If you’re not the photographer, don’t ever say, “you got lucky.”

Grand Rapids Lightning
Grand Rapids Lightning

Grand Rapids Lightning
Grand Rapids Lightning