Photographs by George Clapper

Virtual Exhibit Dates: Oct 15, 2020 – Jan 15, 2021
Photographer: George Clapper
Curator: Dave Christensen, Director of HMPC

Gazing up at the beautiful expansive sky, perched high on a knoll at a favorite spot,  or gazing out a window and watching the ephemeral, eternal dance of clouds give their eloquent gossamer, wide-screen performance, lets one’s thoughts and imagination wander, unbridled. As one releases the daily internal chatter, you can begin to see and compose strange mythical creatures and abstract animals floating, and drifting in front of our eyes, forming, merging, and evaporating for our pleasure. One can project and imprint one’s thoughts and emotions upon this live production, which evoke many emotions and imagery, as if one dropped a watercolor paintbrush in a clear glass of water, watching the magical fusion take place, with the paint pigment and the water. Total magic every time, when we stop and start to see and feel the scene in front of us.  All though history, clouds have inspired numerous artists, and photographers alike.  Alfred Stieglitz also found this subject to be emotionally evocative, tapping raw emotions, as he was inspired by music to begin his journey with photographing his beautiful images. One never knows where inspiration comes from or leads to, but bliss to follow.
We trust you will enjoy this collection of photographs, which George Clapper has so wonderfully photographed and shared with us.

Dave Christensen, Curator
San Francisco, Oct 8, 2020

“O! It is pleasant with a heart at ease
Just after sunset, or by moonlight skies,
To make the shifting clouds be what you please.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Fancy in Nubibus (or the Poet in the Clouds), 1819

Clouds are Everywhere for Everyone

1980: it was in a photo history class that I first saw Equivalents by Stieglitz. “Clouds [are] there for everyone…” Response by Stieglitz to a commentary which said “the success of his work [photography] was due to subject matter…” Stieglitz felt he had been accused of being a simple recorder of what appeared in front of him. He then set on a new series of clouds to show that it was “not due to subject matter, not to special trees or faces…clouds were there for everyone.” Through clouds he wanted to photograph clouds to find out what he had learned in 40 years about photography; “to put down my philosophy of life…” My approach was not as lofty or proof of anything.

1985: from my front window on Collingwood, San Francisco I first aimed the Nikon FM loaded with Kodachrome 64, set at f22, on a tripod at a pink, magenta, pale blue sunset sky. Taking advantage of the slow shutter speed I would tap the 105mm lens to soften the image. The intent; to create large transparencies (30×40 or more) suspended in a room wherein the viewer would be immersed in the clouds/images. At that time it was cost prohibitive so they were relegated to a file in a cabinet to be kept from the light.

1995: ten years later while watching clouds out my window on Laussat Street, San Francisco I saw what looked like an elephant’s head go by (we’ve all seen these forms). Opened the window and out on the ledge I went. Nikon FM2 on a tripod, Ilford Pan F Plus, red filter, f22, 105mm. This time set the timer, no tapping. Whenever it looked like a particularly good day for clouds it was out on the ledge again. It became a challenge. Sometimes moving as fast as possible before what was seen was no more. One was taken from a mall parking lot in New Jersey, a few from Duboce Park, San Francisco.

As I printed other images, other projects, occasionally I would test out a cloud negative with the paper/developer being used for size, tone etc. but never settled on a combination. Years went by, some developers/papers started to disappear in the early 2000s.

2010: decided to revisit all the cloud negatives to see what had been done over the years and make a decision. With that I turned to the internet to find out what size Stieglitz did (approximately 4”x5”) so I settled on 4”x6”, warm tones combining warm tone paper with warm tone developer.

The result is a ‘homage’ to Stieglitz and his Equivalents. He referred to his as “corresponding to inner states, emotions and ideas”. I opted for what Coleridge wrote: “To make the shifting clouds be what you please.” Direct representation of things found here on terra firma. With that in mind, I invite you to lie down, see what you see, feel what you feel as a cloud floats by morphing until it is gone forever. 

George Clapper

“Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel? By th’ mass and ’tis, like a camel indeed. Methinks it is like a weasel. It is backed like a weasel. Or like a whale. Very like a whale.”

William Shakespeare – Hamlet Prince of Denmark (Hamlet & Polonius at III, ii)

“You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.”

Henry David Thoreau

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George Clapper Photographer Bio

Originally from New Jersey, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1975, in 1979 purchased my first 35 mm camera a Nikon FM 50mm 1.2 lens. Film Camera work is all manual; print my own black & white images.

After a year of learning while doing what worked & more often what didn’t (mostly shooting Ruth Hastings & Company a Cabaret Act for which I did the lighting), I decided to get a basic technical education entering the Academy of Art completing 3 semesters.

Setting up my own darkroom I started working on my first series San Francisco Financial District, 52 images of abstracted reflections of buildings in office windows with Aaron Siskind’s peeling paint in mind. They were exhibited in the lobby of the Transamerica Building 1986. This led to Stairways of San Francisco, again 52 images of the some 450 public stairs that aid the walker in traversing the many levels of the City, exhibited in the lobby of the Mills Building 1991. Other San Francisco related series completed are Monuments of Golden Gate Park for the SF Arts Commission Adopt-A-Monument Program exhibited at Interim City Hall 1996, Images of Grace (Cathedral) exhibited at Davies Medical Center 1993, Building Study (tops of SF buildings) in City Hall 2004 & Sutro Tower Study, individual prints exhibited. Outside of the city my other favorite area to photograph is the landscape surrounding Palm Springs, primarily the Salton Sea.

In recent years, as a volunteer, I have exhibited various images/themes at the Harvey Milk Photo Center. One such project was to enlarge the horizontal 35mm negative to a full 20” vertical letting the sides drop off producing an image that up close would reveal the grain but as one stepped away would bring the subject matter in focus. My other interest is in making prints that are black on black exploring the shades of black.

Golden Gate Park Holga work currently is part of the Photo Center’s online exhibit for the Park’s 150th Anniversary. One image ‘Reforestation’ was in a group show July 2020 at the Berlin Blue Art Gallery in Germany.

For me photography triggers the memory; evokes thought; sets apart.

“Above all, look at the things around you…If you are alive it will mean something to you, and if you know how to use it, you will want to photograph that meaning(ness)…For the achievement of this there are no short cuts, no formulae, no rules except those of your own living.”  

Paul Strand, 1923

Click here to learn more about Alfred Stieglitz