Tag Archives: Fine Art Photography

Exhibits at Scott Nichols Gallery – 2016

A little over a year ago, I was very fortunate to begin a working relationship with Scott Nichols. Scott and his gallery in San Francisco are well known for their expertise in classic West Coast photography. I think my appreciation of that work, and the fact that I continue to work in a similar vein, is what prompted him to take a chance on me.

Over the last year, I have been honored to have my photographs on display alongside those of many of my photographic heroes. Scott was kind enough to include my photographs in the work displayed at Classic Photographs Los Angeles, Photo LA, the AIPAD Photography Show in New York City, and two exhibits in the gallery.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to post a couple of photos from those exhibits, express my thanks to Scott for representing me, and thank my lucky stars for being able to connect with such a well-respected gallery.


The Big Picture Show

The Big Picture Show at Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco (June–July 2016). My photo, Oceano #28, is at the lower right.



The Summer Show

The Summer Show at Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco (July–September, 2016). My photos, Oceano #6, #39, and #37, are on the right.

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Black + White Magazine (UK) – American Connection



I’m very honored to have been profiled in Susan Burnstine’s column, American Connection, in the April 2016 issue of Black + White Photography Magazine (UK).  Black + White Photography is a high-quality international magazine published in the UK, focused, as it name implies, exclusively on black and white photography. It is available in the United States at Barnes and Noble, international magazine stands, and online.

I met Susan Burnstine last Fall at the Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego. Susan’s own black and white photography is hauntingly beautiful, and created with hand-crafted film cameras and lenses made out of “plastic, vintage camera parts, and random household objects, with single-element lenses molded from plastic and rubber.” While quite different from my own work, I find it beautiful and intriguing, and presumably she saw something in my work interesting enough to write about as well.

The article can be seen here: Black + White Magazine – American Connection

(Courtesy of Black + White Photography Magazine (UK), April Issue, #188)


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Scott Nichols Gallery

I’m honored (and extremely happy) to announce that I am now represented by the Scott Nichols Gallery. Located in San Francisco’s art gallery hub at 49 Geary Street near Union Square, the Scott Nichols Gallery is one of the best fine art photography galleries anywhere.

Scott Nichols is considered an expert on Group f/64 and Brett Weston, and the gallery has an extensive inventory of photographs by classic California photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Ruth Bernhard, Wynn Bullock, and William Garnett.

The gallery shows a  combination of  established, up and coming, and contemporary photographers. Scott Nichols is very friendly, casual, and an all-around nice guy. As Scott says, “This is not the typical white walled gallery affair.” I’m humbled to begin a working relationship with him.


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INFOCUS at the Phoenix Art Museum

Oceano #6, Oceano, California

I’m happy to announce that one of my prints (Oceano #6, above) is included in PhotoBid 2013, an exhibition and silent auction at the Phoenix Art Museum. PhotoBid 2013 is organized by INFOCUS, the museum’s photography support organization, and curated by Rebecca Senf, the Norton Family Curator of Photography at the Center for Creative Photography and the Phoenix Art Museum.

The exhibition will be on display in the Phoenix Art Museum’s Norton Photography Gallery from Saturday October 5 through Friday October 18.  The Silent Auction will take place at the museum on the final evening (October 18), as well as online.

The online preview can be seen at www.infocus-phxart.org/auction.

The mission of INFOCUS is to promote interest in and understanding of photography through education, photographic scholarship, connoisseurship, and personal collecting. To accomplish this, INFOCUS sponsors exhibitions, programs, and publications.  PhotoBid is their major fundraiser, and allows the group to continue supporting photography at the Phoenix Art Museum.


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The Print As An “Object”

When I moved to the Bay Area in the late 1980s, I was fortunate to work about three blocks away from the Ansel Adams Center.  This housed the gallery, bookstore, and offices of the Friends of Photography (an organization founded in 1967 by Ansel Adams and others in Carmel, which relocated to the Bay Area in 1989 and ultimately ceased operations in 2001).  The Ansel Adams Center was a beautiful facility on 4th Street in San Francisco near Moscone Center, in a building that formerly housed San Francisco’s venereal disease clinic, a bit of trivia I always found amusing.  There were three galleries of photography with rotating shows, one of which was always devoted to the work of Ansel Adams.

I spent countless lunch hours there.  I would always visit all three galleries, but would usually linger in the one devoted to Ansel Adams, appreciating his prints and craftsmanship.  This time spent with his prints, the final concrete expression of his vision, was inspiring and contributed to the way I look at my own work as well as that of others today.

This relates to the concept of the “print as an object” (a well-known term for which I have not been able to find a source to credit).  In addition to the image (the subject), the final presentation of the image (the object) is of supreme importance, at least in certain circles.  To relate this to Ansel Adams’ well known quote (the negative is the score and the print is the performance), many people like to experience the performance in person.

This experience is often lacking today. The digital presentation of photographs allows vastly more photographs to be viewed, but in my opinion it is not a substitute for viewing the object itself.  In many cases, the “object” may not even exist beyond its digital form. This is undoubtedly the case for the vast majority of casual photographs made today.  Although you can get an idea of the tune, the subtleties and nuance of the performance are not readily revealed.  In some cases prints may not live up to the expectations set by their digital counterparts, while in others the reverse is true.

Reports are that Bill Gates’ mansion on Lake Washington features video displays on the walls to show revolving works of art.  While interesting, the experience must be quite different than looking at the originals.  In this case, the digital presentation becomes another “object”, clouding the issue.

While I look at a lot of images online, I still try to look at the “real thing” whenever possible.  It’s well worth the effort.

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What Would Ansel Do?

It’s a topic that comes up regularly in the ongoing film vs. digital debates – what would Ansel Adams do with digital photography?

Of course no one knows, but it is kind of fun to speculate.  My own opinion is that he would be well aware of, and most likely very experienced in, digital imaging.  Whether or not he used digital technology to capture and/or print his fine art images would most likely depend on his assessment of the final prints and any preference he might have toward one process or the other.

Would he work in color, stick with black and white for which he is so well known, or perhaps do both?  After all, the major constraint in color photography in his time was the lack of available control over the output, which digital processing has pretty much eliminated.

Although Ansel passed away long before the advent of modern digital imaging, he saw the potential on the horizon.  In the 1983 BBC TV Production, Master Photographers, he talked about the possibilities:

“The thing that excites me is that within not too many years we’re going to have an entirely new medium of expression in the electronic image.  I’ve seen what can happen to a print reproduced by the laser scanner and how that is enhanced and that’s just the beginning.  I’ve also seen some magnificent electronic images, direct electrical not pictures of pictures, and I know the potential is there and I know it’s going to be wonderful.”

So what would he use – film, digital, or both?  Who knows?  However, I’m almost certain that he would know the options, make his decisions based on his aesthetic and personal preferences, and get to work.  Not a bad approach.

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Wandering Around

Copyright © Jim Banks

Quite a few years ago, I was showing a portfolio of commercially-oriented work around in an effort to drum up more business. I met with an art director who looked through my portfolio carefully, and then remarked, “you just wander around and take photos of interesting things.”

I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, but I later concluded that he was right.  That’s what I liked to do, and that’s what I thought was one of photography’s major strengths: finding interesting subjects, compositions, patterns or drama, and capturing them through the magic of photography.

“Wandering around” has always been my approach to landscape photography as well.  I’ll have a general idea of where I want to look, but that’s about as far as my planning takes me.  I much prefer to wander around and let the photographs find me.

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Twelve Significant Photographs

Ansel Adams wrote, “twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”  In today’s age of cell phone cameras, Facebook and Instagram, is this a hopelessly outdated notion?

It’s estimated that there are currently about 90 billion photos on Facebook, with 6 billion more added each month.  Granted, most are posted as a means of personal communication rather than as any kind of artistic expression, but that’s a lot of photos!  Flickr, a photo-sharing site where the photos presumably have more creative intent, already hosts about 5 billion images.

The technological sea change that photography has seen in the last decade has exponentially increased the quantity of photographs, but not necessarily the quality.  While it’s generally easier, faster and cheaper to make photographs than ever before, that doesn’t necessarily translate into better photographs.

Oceano #1, Oceano, California © Jim Banks

The key word in Ansel’s quote is “significant”.  Of course that means different things to different people, but in this case I think he meant portfolio- and exhibition-worthy prints that would stand the test of time.

I feel that this seemingly modest goal is still valid in fine art landscape photography.  Although it’s very easy now to make hundreds (or thousands) of images in a day, the best still come from deliberate observation, selectivity, timing, and circumstance, with a little bit of luck thrown in.  They then have to survive a ruthless edit and pass the most important test of all, the test of time.

All in all, twelve significant photographs in a year is quite an accomplishment.

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Appreciating Black and White

My early experiences in photography were purely in color.  I don’t think I understood the point of black and white photography for quite some time (presumably due to a lack of exposure to it).

I was a Freshman at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1975.  This was the year that the Center for Creative Photography, founded by Ansel Adams and the University, was established.  I was vaguely aware that the new Center was being constructed in a former bank building on Fourth Street near campus.  Although I knew very little about it, I thought it sounded interesting, and I did go there once it opened its doors.

Regretfully (and embarrassingly) I went in, took a fairly quick look around, and then walked out.  I didn’t have the background to appreciate what must have been on those walls.   I remember that the prints were fairly large, and that many were black and white, but they really didn’t catch my attention.  I’m now saddened to think about the opportunities I may have missed.

I first began to become really aware of black and white photography about nine years later, as a result of the all the news coverage following Ansel Adams’ death in the spring of 1984.  Although I knew who he was through his TV commercial for Datsun and his environmental activism, I didn’t know much about his photography.  After his death, I remember being moved by his black and white images, shown in newspapers and magazines and on television.

The following year for Christmas my parents gave me his Autobiography, and I was hooked on black and white photography.  The first chance I had to see his prints in person was when my wife and I took the train from Los Angeles to San Diego to see an exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Art in Balboa Park.  I have since seen countless exhibits of black and white photographs (of Ansel’s and many others).

Although I enjoy looking at color photography, for my own creative photography I exclusively work in black and white.  From my own experience, I have come to the conclusion that black and white photography may be an acquired taste.

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Roots in the Landscape

People sometimes ask how I got interested in landscape photography.  I think the answer lies first in my interest in the landscape.

When I was growing up, family outings and vacations usually involved lots of time in out-of-the-way places. My parents were “rock hounds”, and my grandfather, H.H. Nininger, was a pioneer in the study of meteorites.  We would spend days (or weeks) in remote areas, camping and exploring. As a kid, I didn’t have a lot of patience for actually looking for rocks, but I really loved the requisite traveling, camping and being outdoors.  I always enjoyed looking at and being in the landscape. I clearly remember struggling to stay awake on long car rides so as not to miss anything interesting along the way (which I still do today).

Like many photographers, I developed an interest in photography at an early age, although it was initially fairly casual and secondary to the experience of actually being in the landscape.  I have vague memories of having an old Kodak Brownie camera when I was very young, and clear memories of receiving a Kodak Instamatic camera for my 12th birthday.  These piqued my interest in photography, and I eventually got a hand-me-down Argus “Brick” camera from my mother, and finally my own 35mm SLR.

Initially, as with most photographers, my photos were primarily records of places and things.  Photography was a way to enjoy and remember the experience of being someplace.  While the technical aspects of photography came to me easily, and I think strong compositions were fairly natural for me, photography really didn’t get much deeper than that for me until I was in my 20s.

Throughout my formative years, I think I was most interested in the landscape itself, with photography being a strong, but secondary, interest.

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