What’s your background?
Nowadays I am a retired engineer. My working career was in electronics, computers, and primarily photo products — design, product development, quality and reliability, and leading teams in those areas. Preceding all that, and continuing alongside my professional work and to this day, was a passion for drawing, painting, and photography. How things worked always has fascinated me, so science and technology seemed a natural career choice. My artistic interests led me to jobs and projects where all these areas came together. I applied photography and drawing skills in my work and created tools for photographers and hobbyists. But art and photography was and is a love and pastime for myself.
Does your artwork come from that background?
Indeed, I think the influences worked both ways. Just recently a friend commented on one of my photos saying, “I like the clearness of your photos so much!” Technical drawings have to be clear, concise, precise, complete. I am sure that those ingrained customs from the technical world affect my art and photography. In terms of subject matter probably less so. I do admire mechanisms, machines, and you can see some of that in my art. Some of my technical photography has led to art pieces. I have one abstract painting that has never been seen publicly. When it was finished I realized that it revealed too much, it was based on schlieren images visualizing shockwaves. You can see my fascination with light and shadows in many of my photos.
Many of my techniques are a continuation from my technical work, but my subject matter ranges all over. I love flowers, plants, landscapes and street photography, whatever is around me.
What are you trying to say with your work?
“My world is fascinating and beautiful.” I am aware that what I want to say is often not what the viewer experiences. Visual art is a communication medium, but it connects way below the conscious level and undergoes influences by both the creator and viewer that can distort and change the message profoundly.
Some time back I ran an experiment, hey, I’m an engineer, to test how well my photos conveyed my intended message. I prepared a small group of images and asked several online friends from around the world, all well-respected artists, to tell me their first reactions. I had followed these artists and was well acquainted with their styles and genre. The answers were fascinating and illuminating. My sample size was not large enough to be statistically significant, but sufficient to show that their reactions matched more closely their own artistic notions than my intended messages. Not a surprising result, we all know that we “see through rose-colored glasses”, that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Our own experiences affect how we interpret what we see.
My little booklet on composition is available for purchase at: ludwigkeck.magcloud.com
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What made you choose the medium you work with?
As far back as I can remember, pencils and water color sets have always been part of my world. I was a teenager when I got interested in photography. What influenced me I can’t recall, although I remember the store and the details when I bought my first camera. It was a folding roll film camera, producing 6×6 cm negatives. Later, in my college days, I added color photography. Then just ten years ago I switched to digital. The post-processing of digital images allowed me to combine drawing, painting, and abstraction with my photography and has resulted in my most used imaging techniques that I call “café art”.
Do you work in a studio?
The world is my studio. I go out to find my subjects. At home I do have a room that serves as my work area with computers (yes, plural) a drafting table, lights and photo gear. A black glass table and a rig with translucent panels on top, sides and bottom serves for photographing small items. But mostly I prefer to work on location. That is true also for sketching and painting although I have been doing less and less of that.
What is the one thing in your studio you just could not be without?
Light. Whether in studio, where light can be precisely controlled, or out in the world, the play of light and shadows is my first interest. I love light from a window that provides that soft “Rembrandt” illumination. Strong sunlight, any time of day, makes me happy and I try to position my subjecst or my camera to achieve bold images.
Who are your biggest influences?
In school in Germany, before I came to the United States, my art teacher showed us books with works by old masters, especially Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt, that I admired for the superb technique with pencil and ink. That influence still comes out in many of my pieces.
I was most fortunate to do my college work at Case in Cleveland. The philosophy of the institute was that engineers need to understand society and environment and required classes in non-technical fields. That included courses in art. The campus, on University Circle, was just across the street from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Whenever I needed to get away from the pressures of classwork I spent time at the museum. I became captivated by the old Flemish and Dutch masters with their marvelous use of light in their landscapes.
In a course on modern art I became acquainted with impressionism and the artists that took giants steps away from the realism of the past. The techniques of Monet, Degas and others of the new genres, have been a powerful influence on the way I share my vision.
I have admired and learned from the work of many of the photography greats, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt. Of the famous ones, Eisenstaedt is the only one whom I have had the opportunity to meet personally.
What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?
That’s a tough question. There are many that I take great pride in. It seems that I often really like one of my pieces that others take a rather ho-hum attitude to. My “Musician” has been one of those. I think I achieved pretty much exactly what I set out to do. With “Musician” I tried to get the viewer to hear the music. I removed everything that to me did not say “music”, then I applied an effect that has the feeling of music. The image shows just the essence of the musician and her instrument. I used the colors that say music, at least to me.
I have an author page at Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/ludwigkeck
How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?
There is the time before the shutter is clicked and the time spent after. Since much of what I shoot is outdoors or at events, much time goes into planning and getting the gear ready. I have sat for hours waiting for clouds to show up in just the right place. I have followed a goose family from the time they built their nest to when the goslings were grown up. Arranging the details can be time consuming. On some assignments for real estate photos I have had staging crews to help. “Turn that magazine clockwise a quarter turn, move that vase a little to the left, straighten that table cloth.” With food it can take time to get every sesame seed or whatever into the right place. At times I have pitched in myself and grabbed the chopsticks to move a wayward pickle into the proper pose. One photo of a cocktail, which I will not share here, took me so long to set up that the salt on the rim slid down part way on the moist glass. I didn’t notice that as I was fussing with the lights and only saw it in the image later. I call it my “hula margarita”. The client didn’t use it, of course, but was greatly amused.
Post processing can vary greatly. For “reportage” work it might be just a few minutes for each photo to adjust exposure, crop and maybe make some other adjustments. For some photos it can take much longer. Architectural photos usually require perspective and distortion correction and I like to adjust that by eye. When manipulating or transforming photos, like my “musician”, it usually takes me hours and I have spent days on some. Digital painting is, for me, as time consuming as working with paint and brush.
How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?
I start out with an idea of what I wish to achieve. A specific technique may spring to mind. On rare occasions I will try different approaches and pick a direction much later in the process. There seems to be a point where the look is there, all the flaws have been eliminated, and the vision has come to life. For paintings or manipulated images the final step is to apply my signature. I must admit that for digital work the signed image becomes a separate file and I retain the unsigned version, “just in case”.
With digital work, when only copies are shared, parting is not so painful. With drawings, paintings, carefully crafted prints, walking away is like abandoning part of oneself, much harder to do. I envision the client or customer to be the steward of my work and that it will be in appreciative hands.
What project are you working on now?
At this moment I am planning to photograph an evening race where runners carry all sorts of glowing objects and lights. This is an annual event and a great deal of fun. It is also photographically quite challenging. I am involving my local photography club to make this a special evening. We should be able to put a really neat photo story together. No financial compensation in this project, just the satisfaction in the work.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
“No one must know.” As a teenager back in Germany I apprenticed with a master photographer. He took great patience in teaching me the art and the skills. This was, of course, long, long before digital tools. Retouching was done with tiny brushes. There were always flaws that needed to be eliminated, just like today, although nowadays there are way fewer. My master stressed that the retouching work needed to be done in such a way that it was undetectable in the final print. The image must be free of distracting marks, it must look like nothing had been touched.
In my photography I extend that philosophy much wider. I want to take my viewer to the object pictured as if there is nothing in between, no hint of camera, of lights, of posing, of photographer. Just the subject, the place, then time, and the viewer.
Similarly, in my “café art” I want to share my vision, my thoughts. The place and time of the underlying photograph, the identity of the subject, should no longer matter. I want to take the viewer not to the original subject but to my imagination, to a fantasy world.
What was the first piece of art you sold?
Sold may not be the right word. Back in college I worked as a photo technician in the chemistry department on a project that involved analyzing samples with ultra-violet light. The glowing patterns not only provided the researchers scientific insights but also made marvelous abstract images. The work was published in an obscure chemistry journal and they chose a group of my photos to appear on the cover. You can imagine my ecstasy in having my work on a magazine cover. Alas, it has not happened since.
I am the proprietor of three places called “Café Art”. None serve a decent cup of coffee, in fact they don’t serve anything, they are social gathering spots online for artists who think a little like I do. Fun to share images there and an occasional discussion.
On Facebook: Facebook.com/groups/cafeartfriends/
on Google+: plus.google.com/u/0/communities/110760386716532823746
at Fine Art America: fineartamerica.com/groups/cafe-art.html
Do you find it hard to navigate the artworld?
We have a neighboring town that has taken art to heart. They have galleries, a lively artist community, exhibitions, festivals, public art paintings and sculptures. It is fun to get together with artists at the many gatherings. I participate in a group or artisans that work in a wide range of media. I feel part of the art world and visit galleries and museums in the Southeast. There are publications and online connections. Getting around, meeting artists, is only limited by my time and resources.
I do spend a good deal of time online. I feel I have made friends all over the world whose work I admire and follow. I have build a veritable cloud of sites of my own and helped groups and artists with their online presence.
I would not say that I find the artworld, real or online, confusing. It is perplexing, large, varied, offers friendship and comfort but also a vast wilderness where one can feel lost and alone.
What are you personally doing to advance your work career?
Being an octogenarian, I don’t think of my art as a career. My work is primarily for my own satisfaction. I don’t depend on making a living from art, but I do take an occasional assignment if it is personally interesting and challenging. Currently I am trying to make a local photography club a viable organization. There are many clubs in the area and a wonderful cooperation amongst them, both online and by visiting at events. Exhibitions are quite frequent in the area and are well attended. I do not participate much in exhibits. In part because of the cost in time and dollars to prepare works.
Our instant-gratification society works against selling art at exhibits as the buyer cannot take possession of a piece right away, having to await the end of the exhibit. Most artists must haul their own work away after the closing. I have several pieces leaning against the wall in my den.
Some artists in my circles have thousands of followers, people who know me and follow my art are far fewer. I don’t make it easy online and my posts are seen more likely by dozens than hundreds. My local acquaintances are a small group scattered about the Atlanta area. They greet me by name at a couple of galleries. There is just a small group of clients that call on me regularly. Nursing and growing a base of contacts requires a good deal of work. For me that is often more than I am prepared to invest.
You mentioned art trends. The art world is always in change and some of that is just obvious in what one can see and learn online. I participate in several online groups at Fine Art America and get to see the parade of new work. What is less obvious to me is what sells because I don’t follow that part at all. I would not want to get on any new bandwagon just because others do it.
How do you price your work and why do you price it that way?
Galleries have a tough time eking out a living, at least most of them, so they need to keep the major portion of a sale. That leaves, say, half for the artist. Quality printing and professional framing can easily become the major cost. My price floor is four times the production cost. I find that my price is usually higher than the prices I see on photographs in galleries. My online prices are the same so as not to undercut the gallery that shows my work. For assignments, even when I do it mostly for fun and the challenge, I try to price my work so as not to undercut fellow artists who work for a living. Many clients are quite willing to pay what I ask and don’t quibble.
Anybody who tries to get “a deal” is off my client list.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
Social networking is crucial to staying in touch with colleagues and to find like-minded artists, maybe even customers. I have several blogs and use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and more. On the internet I have several “gateway” sites that lead to my work. For presenting a “professional” image there is Ludwig.Keck.photography , my more casual site is CafeLudwig.com . On Facebook I can be found at Ludwig.Gallery and facebook.com/facebook.com/ludwigjkeck . More recently I opened an Instagram account, Instagram.com/ludwigkeck .
Is there anything that really annoys you about the artworld?
The number of artists is huge, and the number of wannabe artists is humongous, that makes it hard to connect with the modest number of collectors and buyers of art. There are many online sites that pretend to offer newcomers a quick way to recognition and sales. Every week I see some ads from contest, exhibit, or promotion sites. It is these leeches that prey on artists that annoy me. Oh, there are also haughty gallery proprietors, even artists, that try to pretend that they are the epitome in the world of art. I see those just as flotsam in the stream of society.
Another characteristic that bothers me is the way galleries operate with respect to artists. I can understand why they must function this way. To the gallery the artist is a “supplier / manufacturer”. In order to present consistency and continuity to clients, the gallery requires that the artist turn out a steady flow of work, usually several per month. That work must be consistent in style to allow establishing an image a style. To me that is way too restrictive. If I took the images that I have selected to illustrate this interview, I would be turned away. My work would seem, to the gallery curator, as scatter-brained, inconsistent, without continuity. Nothing that can be put on the shelf like canned peas and be pretty much the same from image to image.
Some artists have no problem with repletion of subject or style. Just look at the mass of water lilies that Monet painted, or the run of dancers from Degas. A current painter, whose work I very much admire, is Pietro Piccoli in Italy. He paints seascapes and sail boats again and again. They are similar yet marvelously different and individual. I have an image, “Gallery Visitors”, that is based on a photograph that I took at one of his exhibits here in the Atlanta area. I tried to present this image in a style reminiscent of Pietro’s. I did this also with a portrait of him.
What advice would you give new artists?
My advice is often, “use a tripod”. Carrying and using a tripod is a chore, it takes time, and therein is the benefit of the routine. Taking time allows the artist to experience the scene more thoroughly, to see the little details, to make the little adjustments that are the difference between a ho-hum shot and a well-executed photograph.
On a more philosophical level, I’ll let Shakespeare admonish through Polonius: “To thine own self be true”. I mean it in the modern interpretation of the words. An artist might be tempted to follow a trend, a fad, to follow “rules” that obscure the artist’s own vision. But to ignore that inner voice is fallacy. I have a little booklet on composition that asks on the first page, “Oh, great master, how do I attain mastery of my craft?”, and answers, “Follow the rules!”. On the last page again it asks, “Oh, great master, how do I obtain supremacy in my craft?”, and it answers, “Break the rules!”.
Have you got hobbies?
Besides photography and art? I blog, build websites, I am an avid astronomy fan. I used to tinker in computer programming and electronics, and in years gone by was an avid mountain climber, skier, hiker. I still love to travel to places, to see the land, the sights, the cities. Maybe my number one hobby these days is good food.
Where are you based?
My home is in Peachtree Corners, a recently formed city out of bedroom communities north-east of Atlanta, Georgia.
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I live in Manchester, UK and try to promote other artists and writers when I can.I'm so pleased you found our community and I hope to chat to you soon!!Please comment on my posts if you like them 🙂