Meet the artist: Howard Fineman

With an innate appetite for photography, Howard Fineman can’t help but find photo-worthy images just by living his everyday life.  In this short conversation, he discusses his journey into digital photography: where he has been, where he is now, and where he plans to go.  Howard’s enthusiasm for photography is palpable!

What was your path to becoming a photographer? How did you develop your artistic style, and how has it evolved over time?

I started photography as a teenager as a hobby, partly because my friends were doing it, and partly to explore creative outlets.  I shot only black-and-white 35mm film with a budget rangefinder camera, and I did my own film developing and enlarging.  After pausing during college, I bought my first 35mm SLR and started shooting color slide film.  As I refined my eye, style and subjects, I gradually upgraded my equipment, and started the switch to digital imaging 20 years ago.  I moved from photography as a hobby to being a professional artist after I retired from a career in technology and the business of technology.

Digital photography’s instant feedback and zero cost per image enabled me to experiment and “work the subject” much more than I did with film.  As a hobby I tended to shoot a wide mix of my surroundings as well as family and friends.  The primary subjects that attracted me as a professional were cityscapes, landscapes, and waterscapes.  My aesthetics and technical evolution have been mostly self-taught, through reading, shooting and self-critiquing. More recently I have taken on-site workshops with well-regarded photographers and teachers.

A long time ago, I noticed that I often scan my surroundings through an imaginary viewfinder.  I didn’t need a camera at my eye to visualize how a scene might translate to a captured image.  That ability continues to be refined, and even if I have only my iPhone I can quickly go from pre-visualizing to having a captured image.

What inspires your work, and how do you land on your subject matter? Do you have any particular routines to motivate your creativity? Compared to 5 years ago, what do you think has changed the most about your artmaking?

While I enjoy shooting an eclectic mix – virtually anything interesting and unusual that catches my eye – my primary subjects today are architecture, cityscapes, and waterscapes.  I’m particularly attracted to shapes, geometric elements, surfaces and textures and how all of those interact with light and shadow.

I don’t consciously have a routine to prepare to be creative – it just happens, and I go with the flow.  But in retrospect, I can connect the dots that led to a creative inspiration, and it’s often resulted from different contexts colliding with each other. Sometimes it’s something I heard or read stimulating me to wonder “what if…”. Sometimes that “what if” is visually questioning how a subject would look from different perspectives or by zooming in on a portion of the whole.  I’ve been doing that more and more over the last five years with architectural subjects.

I’m instinctively attracted to visually complex subjects like Order & Chaos 4, Hanoi, or Order & Chaos 7, N.Y. – both are in the Urban Landscapes show. However, over the last 5 years or so, I continue to get better at extracting a simpler representation of that complexity.  Sometimes it’s by using patterns and repetition that are part of the subject, or by selective elimination as I frame a shot.  Sometimes it’s by revisiting older images and experimenting with cropping them for a tighter look or subtle changes in lighting of parts of the image.  And when I’m fortunate to be able to revisit a location, I can capture it differently.

One other aspect in my work that’s changed is image processing technology improvements that allow recovering details in shadows and highlights far better than 5 to 10 years ago.  This has enabled me to reprocess earlier digital images or re-scan old color slide film with great results.

What projects are you working on right now, and what would you like to accomplish in the near (or distant) future?

One project that has been ongoing for about 5 years is my series on Order & Chaos, in which elements simultaneously work together while contending.  This started with images of a 2015 public art project by Janet Echelman of multi-color fabric netting suspended above the Rose Kennedy Greenway with the backdrop of buildings along Atlantic Ave.  The chaos of the variable reflections of the netting in the building glass framed by the orderly structure of the buildings led to this concept.  I have applied this to both earlier images that fit the concept and new subjects as I discover them.

Another project I’m considering, stimulated partly by the pandemic-induced limitations on travel, is assembling previous work into various collections of books or other forms of presentation.  

Any art, book, movie, recipe, media, etc. recommendations, or just anything you’ve been particularly enjoying recently?

Before the pandemic, I had not been much of a TV watcher – like many of us, that’s changed now.  My wife and I have been especially enjoying a variety of English and French detective series.

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