Forgive me this tangent from the usual photo art discussion to one of fandom. Every year, this is the day my psyche seems to take a deep breath and say, “made it through another one”. It’s a feeling of pure joy, dropping into the alternate reality of baseball. Opening Day in the major leagues (capitalization on purpose). The weather has turned pleasant, the air is sweet, the birds are singing, and the cares of the world slide into the background as Hope re-emerges. Hope. A good thing. Maybe the best of things.
Aside from texturing, the lighting added to this photo makes it stand out; lighting effects being one of my primary tools for creating art. The Cubs logo being, of course, a separate image that I layered on top of the art. Then I selected a few of the leaves surrounding it, and laid it over the top of that, thus creating the effect of the logo emerging from the ivy. A final couple global filters came next to tie the pieces together.
Abstract Realism: The infusion of elements of design with the depiction of real life in visual art.
Our species (human beings) feel a need to categorize all things in existence. There used to be one kind of rock ‘n roll – now there are two dozen categories for it. Since the expressionists of the late 19th century (some would say further back than that) there have been a score of defined styles – expressionism, post-expressionism, cubism, post modernism, surrealism, art nouveau, abstract expressionism, pop art, etc., etc.. This obsession is detrimental to the purpose of art. Art seeks to perceive existence beyond categories. Art is a personal reflection. There could be as many forms of art as there are individuals practicing it.
Abstract realism is a new term that fits my own perception, and it is a term other artists have confirmed for me. The above definition is written by Elizabeth Reoch, a superb Canadian artist and teacher. She goes on …
“Abstract Realism is an art movement that is not easily defined because it is a marriage of two contradictory terms, Abstract art and Realistic art. Abstract art has no reference to real objects. … Realism attempts to capture real life moments in time, an image and the personality of individuals or objects who resemble real life.
“After the invention of the camera, artists moved away from realism and experimented with depicting feelings and concepts in their works. Those first playful and emotional experiments were called Expressionism and Impressionism. Artists infused their thoughts, feelings, emotions and inner thoughts into their paintings of real-life objects. This was the birth of the current term Abstract Realism.
“There was no longer a need for an artist to capture the image of a beloved person or the history of the time. The photographer was taking over that market and also inspiring the creative and innovative 19th century artist. Photographers are no longer just interested in just capturing a moment in time, they want to emote and inspire. Their choice of compositional angles and the editing process creates a new image or piece of art out of the real-life image, abstracting reality.”
Many thanks to Ms. Reoch for defining this so well. Please note that I’ve added the bold italic type where I want the point to stick.
Today’s work illustrates the term well – an easily recognized image depicted using elements from abstract design. Sharp lines dancing with smooth curves. Perceptive readers of this blog, however, will recognize that Abstract Realism is a scale, not an absolute, and today’s work sits further to the ‘realism’ side of the scale. Many other works here go much further to the ‘abstract’ side, even crossing all the way over to abstract expressionism.
I will have more to say about this by and by …
The patterns within this over stacked clothes display attracted me to capture it, then on the computer I concluded that some of the colors within should recede while others should explode. Something about the flatness of the fabric suggested everything should, instead, glow. Then I just pushed it towards the abstract until I felt it had gone as far as it should. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a work that might well be criticized as too busy, but the busyness is the point – the display was busy; the clothes all jammed together like a pile on the floor of a teenager’s room (this was The Gap, after all), and thus the art it generated comes off a little like a pile of light.
I recall attending a lecture while I was attending grad school – this would have been in the late 80’s – given by a social activist whose name escapes me (Daniel Ellsberg’s cellmate, as I recall, and a quick check of Google can’t identify him either) who began by asking the audience who among us had more than one pair of shoes. To those of us who raised our hands he said, “Then you people are criminals – there are people in the world with no shoes”, implying, of course, that no one should have two of anything until everyone had one. In retrospect, I question if he was simply using it to illustrate the inequities of human existence, but a part of me believes he really was trying to be literal. It’s a quixotic philosophy, of course, and in the end I remember reading that this individual had taken his own life as he found the modern world exploding farther and farther from his ideal. My temptation to poke fun is tempered by the knowledge of how much pain he must have been in. But ride that explosion a bit. If one has two of something, are they designer or discount store? If they’re both designer, which designer? If there’s two, why not three? Is there one for each season? Two for each season? Two formals and two casuals for each season? Two for the beach and two to wear while shopping for more? Does it ever end? Ideals that pursue the perfect miss the contentment in what is. But contentment also allows inequity to maintain a stranglehold. It takes anger to change anything. How much pain do you want to be in?
This capture illustrates the importance of edging, or more specifically, properly setting the subject itself off from the minutia surrounding it. In this case, the original capture caught the camels in essentially the same color and light as the background – they were lost with no definition in a busy swirl of brown. It’s been suggested that some of my works are indeed too busy, and this would effectively be the cause. In my case, failing to spot the essence of the photograph; seeing too many things I like in that minutia and trying to throw everything into the final work (I can argue that there are no absolutes, and that in fact on occasion a ‘busy’ work is better than a simplistic one). A good photographer would study the subject at length and look for exactly the right time and placement, perhaps catching the subject in brilliant lighting while the background is in shade, spending hours, or even days stalking the right moment. This is why I insist that I’m a photo artist, not a photographer. I don’t have hours or days; at most I might have a few minutes to line the shot up and capture it, and then using camera equipment that is decidedly less sensitive to light than the sophisticated lenses a professional photographer would bring to bear. In my case, I’m using Photoshop to select the subject and work with it differently than the background so that the subject stands out from it (it could be argued this work does not go far enough with that – it holds too close to realism and does not venture bravely into a more abstract composition – love to hear your thoughts on that). Then it’s a matter of additional work to tie both parts together into a single artistic vision. Indeed, there is an irony that I posses the time and ability to spend hours on the computer completing a work when the photographic capture is a quick point-the-camera-and-grab. But then, another element of photography is freezing fast moving moments. I’m simply using the computer as an interchangeable lens the camera cannot accommodate.
As I worked with this capture it seemed a lack of color (or rather, a pronounced glow applied to the reflective surfaces, which results in the same thing) would be the most apropos means of bringing its art to the surface. The exception to this was the deep purple attire which, just the opposite, suggested amplified vibrancy. Another case of different parts of the capture requiring different adjustments and filters. Several layers of effects were then applied to the whole, to create uniform texture and perspective.
I studied to become a journalist about 100 years ago and in the course of this spent most of my time outside class at the student paper, reveling in the friendships and comradery there. In the course of this it was my great delight to edit one of the paper’s annual April Fool’s Day editions, which dropped the pursuit of journalistic excellence for satire and frivolity. I’ve long since lost any physical copies of this edition – a lot can happen in 100 years – but recently this edition became part of the digital archives the university has placed on-line. One of my great friends and I from this period independently took a look at it reached the same conclusions.
In my memories, this publication was one of the highlights of my life. A superb composition of biting satire and brilliant insight that illustrated, so the memory went, what a highly talented and intelligent young man I was. Surely I could have written for the National Lampoon or performed with Monte Python had I applied myself. Today I would be one of the contributors to The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live or by now the writer/director of a string of film masterpieces of the comic genre. That’s the memory. The reality is that it was SO BAD!! A banal, adolescent mess of silly and stupid teenage male fantasies expressed as imbecilic rants. It was less uncomfortable seeing it as a train wreck in the present than embarrassing to realize I’ve spent so many years thinking it was the opposite. Talk about blowing up my illusions!
On the other hand, rediscovering it now affords a certain perspective – a disconnect. An observation that has no impact in the present. Had I not carried the illusion, would the memory be replaced by regret? Would it have haunted me (and there are a few things from the past that do)? Have I been better off not knowing? Have I been freer; better able to evolve without dwelling on past mistakes? Has the illusion afforded one less demon scratching in the basement.
One of the subjects I look for when capturing photographs is anything that can seem completely ridiculous if perceived in a certain context.
It’s not that simple, of course. The art I create is fueled by a number of elements that may, I stress MAY, have no relationship to the actual subject. This is not an especially wise philosophy for an artist in a world in which sales are driven, as one veteran told me, “Not by how well I draw, but by WHAT I draw”. Putting it another way, commercially successful artists start with the subject and create art from there. I start with artsy elements that appeal to me and worry about the subject last. But, once more I digress.
The shopping mall closest to me is about 1/5 empty and often can take canon shot down its concourse without inflicting injury. Its largest customer base are the “older” citizens who walk laps within it to get their exercise, and I found that wonderfully funny until I started doing it myself. Several corners of this concourse are home to a dozen large gumball machines backed up to each other in large squares, three machines to a side. I’m convinced the mall owners had them placed there for esthetics rather than consumption – c’mon, who eats gumballs! The machines are filled with different colored balls, so they create splashes of abstract color in space that would otherwise be drab and lifeless. The more I thought about it the more absurd they seemed. But, yeah, color. I gave the capture a tight crop to a 1x3 scale, pushed it towards abstraction and changed the lighting to add a sense of mystery, which should add to the absurdity. We’re talking gumballs that have sat in those machines for years – you bet your ass biting into one would be a mystery!
I’ve said before how much I love working with florals; I have more of them in my portfolio than anything else. Sometimes, though, I think the flower is looking back at me saying, “Why are you bothering?”
As I’ve stated, florals are sort of automatic abstracts, and often florals don’t require great effort. It takes a good deal of work to mess up a decently composed and lit photographic capture of a floral. Not that I haven’t put that work in on occasion; sometimes the work pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. But florals are like sunsets – they don’t necessarily require great artistic input to create an attractive work. It’s hard for me to walk past strikingly beautiful florals without pulling out a camera.
I didn’t do much here, just some edging and lighting; enough to bring out the definition of the rose while also softening it. I think sometimes the trick an artist plays in abstract realism is a balancing act of just how far to go; just how much ‘abstract’ can a work take before loses touch with reality and potentially becomes just a blob? It’s a question that has no answer, and one I never tire of playing with.
So the crazy thought I’m having today is, why is it that mammals, which includes most humans (there are those who argue lawyers are more reptilian), when they get older their hair fades to grey? The plant world does it quite differently, trees being the most obvious, some of which break out in brilliant reds and oranges. Trees announce to the world “that’s right (expletive deleted), I’m going dormate soon, so (expletive deleted) you!”
(NOTE: I’ve really been trying of late to curse less. And I curse a lot. I use curses like punctuation. Get the slightest thing out of place and out comes a profane string of curses. The people who did the HBO show ‘Deadwood’ – they came to me for dialog consultation. Not my best characteristic and it’s become excessive even for me, so I’m trying to put something of a lid on it. But sometimes it appropriately get’s the point across, like when Steve McQueen in ‘Papillion’ is floating to freedom on the ocean at the end of the movie and shouts out “Hey You Bastards, I’m still here”! See how it works there. That’s how it is in the first paragraph.)
Humans, though, just sort of fade out, retreat into the background, and then are gone. So I say, strike back by growing that grey hair really long! Let it flow like a lion’s mane! Women with long, flowing grey hair – gorgeous! Men with long grey hair swirling over their ears and cascading grey beards – debonair! (We shall leave men with grey pony tails for another time). Defiantly sneer at the passage of time! “Hey you bastards, I’m still here!!”
I picked up my first serious camera over 45 years ago. For the next 22 years after that I shot in film and transparency, mostly Kodachrome, mostly as an enthusiast if still a hobbyist minus the couple years I actually shot for a daily paper. Then I stopped. It had become too expensive. Besides, I had boxes of slides and negatives, many of which I thought were great but what good were they. I stayed stopped for about four years. Then I was gifted my first digital camera, a 2.0-megapixel Kodak. For the next two years I shot mostly family photos – what else could I do. Then I discovered digital manipulation - Photoshop. Seventeen years ago I began creating my first work that I consider legitimate photo art. Twelve years ago I began distributing my work via friends and social media. Seven years ago I began devoting more and more time to creating art. Five years ago I began treating art like a second job and sold my first works. A little over two years ago I began exhibiting in galleries.
What if that I had harnessed that creativity earlier?
It’s an irrelevant question. In the first place, for most of this time I was being creative trying to write novels (and getting nowhere). Plus, the tools I really needed to create modern photo art didn’t become available until the late 90’s. If I hadn’t lived the life I’ve led, if I hadn’t taken the steps that led to ‘now’, I wouldn’t be creating the work I am, and I wouldn’t have the life I have. (Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to be less of a jerk over the years – I just wouldn’t trade the life I’ve built).
My point is not myself, but everyone else – you, even. If my best art was dormant most of my life, and given than I consider myself roughly average, then what incredible art is out there, hidden in perhaps the humblest and most unassuming people, just waiting for the right sparks to emerge? Who among us can spark the best in others?
I still use the original photographic capture as the one and only basis for creating art. In other words, with one exception made to satisfy the requirements of a special exhibition, I do not bring additional elements into a work. What the camera saw is what the work will show, albeit in sometimes a wildly different form. This certainly may change – there’s incredible digital art to be created by combining images from multiple sources, and I don’t mean in the least to deride artists for demonstrating expertise in a technique I simply haven’t gotten to. But for now, I work in single images without importing things not there.
The exception is lighting.
Lighting is one of my important tools. Adding lighting in one place can actually take away lighting from another. Emphasis and focus is created. Arguably, I’m not actually adding so much as coaxing light out of the captured pixels – the Lighting Effects command will not bring in something not present, it just reveals what’s there.
In this, Art and the Human Condition seem to merge. All of us are simply captured pixels constrained by our resolution. When we look outside for inspiration, we’re actually looking within. The Kingdom of Heaven is within. Just increase the resolution.
Returning to the work shown in my last blog, which was captured in Antarctica, the astute viewer will look at this new capture and say, “But @DamnPhotoArtist, this is not an Antarctic penguin. This looks more like a species found in the slightly higher latitudes.” I would expect nearly everyone would make the same astute observation. After all, we are not idiots – everyone can identify by name at least a half-dozen different penguin species, for sure. This big guy, see, I captured on my way back. Just go with me on this.
At what point is a work just so cute as to induce nausea? No, really – like those photographs of babies sleeping in plants. I guess loads of people must like them because the artist has produced so much material with them they must be selling like plastic crosses at a revival meeting. But geez! It doesn’t often cross my mind (no pun intended) that I just created a work that has that effect, but once in a while I have to stop and ask myself.
People, actual living human beings that are not mannequins or dolls, rarely show up in my work. There are several reasons for that, beginning with I’m usually out wandering alone when I capture photographs. But it also bothers me that I might catch somebody in a shot, produce the work, and have them come back and accuse me of exploiting them without permission. Yeah, there’s probably some legalese that would belay that. And there’s certainly plenty of street photography including real people who happened to be walking by at the time. Yeah, also yeah, there’s likely something psychological about the connection between artist and subject being broken by the insertion of a living, breathing human being into the equation; the artist being more comfortable with a connection to inanimate objects than to human beings with their own free will. But let’s ignore that.
So, I avoid capturing people I haven’t talked to first, but sometimes the capture is just too perfect. This work was one of those times – the way the penguins and the child lined up … perfect. I’m satisfied with the work as it developed, if not elated (I actually made some changes between the time I wrote this blog and the time I posted it). The child is altered enough that their identity shouldn’t be obvious. What if the parents came back at me anyway?
So, I guess I should explain the shot.
This photograph was captured in Antarctica.
I happened to be there recently on a humanitarian effort due to an ice sheet breaking away while a pack of boy scouts were holding a jamboree on it. After assisting in their rescue, the team and I retired for a little rest and recreation at the Swedish Antarctic Research Center, which was visited by a cruise ship carrying a group of Kazakhs who had won the trip through participation in a radio station promotion. The Swedish scientists, who continue their research into the effects of temperature variance on human sexual response, took time out to coral a colony of penguins into glass enclosure for the enjoyment of the Kazakhs, especially the sweet Kazakh children, who cuddled right up against the glass and were rewarded by a serenade of Disney songs performed by the penguins themselves.
So, parents – if you are not a citizen of Kazakhstan who won a radio station contest to travel by cruise ship to the Swedish Antarctic Research Center where singing penguins performed Disney tunes, this is not your child. Chill.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.