Beautiful composition, thoughtful lighting, attention and skill given to making the final print made Michael Puff’s portfolio a 2020 Rfotofolio Selection.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I’ve been involved in some form of visual arts since I was a child. As a boy, I had painting lessons with a wonderfully creative artist. As a teen, I became heavily involved in children’s theatre. University years led me to a double major of theatrical scene design and Egyptian archaeology. I continued to design scenery as a young adult, being recognized with several awards from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.
I found that working professionally in the arts was quite different than my expectations. I moved into database programming, which I also found very creative. I spent 25+ years at Stanford University retiring as a software architect in 2017.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I took a single photography class in college. I did not pick up a camera again until the early 2000’s when affordable digital cameras became readily available. In terms of camera mechanics, I’m completely self-taught using books, the internet and photographer friends.
In terms of developing my style and alternative photographic processes, I’ve taken workshops or consulted with Christina Z. Anderson, Diana Bloomfield, Jim Fitzgerald, Greg Gorman, Mark Nelson, Elizabeth Opalenik, and Brian Taylor. All have added to various facets of my skills and art.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I am primarily a platinum/palladium printer. Mark Nelson has had an extraordinary influence on me. Initially he taught me the basics of digital negatives and the basics of platinum/palladium printing. But more than that, working with his methods and chatting with him over time has led me to understand that I can create any image in the tonal range of my choice. It took me several years of constant printing to come to this point but I feel it’s very empowering.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
One of the first platinum/palladium prints I saw was by Mark Nelson. It’s an image of a woman wrapped in gauze, seated next to a vase of iris flowers. I can close my eyes and see this print at any time. I need to add it to my collection. Another image that comes immediately to mind is Ansel Adam’s Dogwood Flowers. While these two images are very different, they both are extraordinary compositions exquisitely rendered.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
I have an image of a young woman holding a calla lily, wearing white satin with a very painterly background, similar to one of the images submitted to the Rfotofolio Call. The image ranges from black to paper white, contains extremely delicate shadows in the white satin and many ranges of mid-tone grey throughout the background. It has become a test image when working with a new paper or process. I learn from it continually.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Rfotofolio Call.
I find it the most difficult to talk about my own art. When I started to work on fine art photography, I was primarily doing landscape work. I found that I wasn’t saying anything deeply personal to me. So, I returned to my history of working in the theatre. I love working with dancers, movers and actors. The settings are usually minimal allowing the focus to be on the individual’s expression. Each shoot is like a performance to me.
The image(s) which come out of those performances are a mere moment of movement, gesture and emotion. This portfolio spoke to me as an expression of this pandemic past year of solitude, emotional weight and rebirth.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
Oh, I do love printmaking. While I enjoy seeing photographic work digitally, I find printed images to be very magical. The choices artists make for process, paper and presentation are fascinating to me. I am a printer through and through.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
Generally, I keep pushing forward until I feel successful or I feel I’ve learned everything I can from what is not successful. That way I can always walk away smiling.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
My grandfather was a bricklayer and carpenter who always stressed having good tools that are right for the job. Hence, I enjoy the pursuit of well-made tools. For print making, an X-Rite 810 densitometer, nuArc 26-1K exposure unit, and Japanese handmade hake style brushes are essentials. For photography, I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark IV and a Canon 5D Mark III modified by LifePixel for infrared. I bought a large number of lenses when I started out, but a number of years ago I sold many of the lenses. I kept only the handful of lenses that I use all of the time.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I want to continue to explore infrared photography. I’ve barely scratched the surface there. For printing, I’d like to learn copper plate photogravure.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
The light, I’m always exploring the light and shadows around me.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods ? Or has it?
It’s had a profound effect on my being able to work with models. I’ve not photographed a model in the past year. I have begun to explore still life photography more deeply.
What’s on the horizon?
I’m ready to go through the still life images I’ve created and potentially put together a portfolio of that work.
To learn more about the work of Michael Puff please visit his site atMichael Puff.
“Love love love Michael Puff’s work, and I am so happy to have several of his images hanging in my home. Not only the exquisite printing, but the imagery– just perfection. And Apres le Bain is one of my favorites, now hanging here, too! As an aside, that’s a fascinating university double major!!” Diana Bloomfield
“I am privileged to know Michael and own one of his hand-colored platinum prints! I have long admired his exquisite work.” Jody Miller