Subliminal haunting might be the context of this work. Other versions of one’s self looking over the shoulder of the present self, like separate personalities jealous of the spotlight. Or clingy memories reluctant to let go; mistakes that can only be rectified by being forgotten, and that refuse to be forgotten. Just face away from them.
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I’d originally intended to title this work ‘Guy With Portrait Of Another Guy’, which is really all it is. Nothing especially experimental about it; just a guy in a dark corner with a painting of a guy that looks a lot like him. Lighting and texturing to create a pleasant bit of art was all that seemed appropriate. As I thought about the imagery I thought this more poetic title was more appropriate. An example, I suppose, of the complexity of the subliminal surpassing the simplicity of the work itself.
Writing last time about experimenting in art and why it rattles conservative perspectives drew me towards a broader realization.
Remove the notion of experimentation into a broader context and apply principles of scientific method. The scientific method works like this: You form a hypothesis, you test that hypothesis, you publish the results. In other words, you come up with some possibly crazy notion, you start experimenting to see how that notion plays out, then you throw it out there so somebody else can react to it.
And this method is the antithesis of so-called ‘intelligent design’, perhaps the most profoundly reactive and intrusive form of conservative authoritarianism and a topic which drives me right out of my water.
With intelligent design the experiment is rigged – only previously accepted constructs are applied. You don’t break new ground, you simply firm up the ground beneath established structures. Mind you, it’s not creationism I’m objecting to necessarily, so long as it is a matter of faith. Faith I get. Faith is internal. I deeply hold there are things going on in the universe beyond human comprehension.
If I may paraphrase the scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson (hopefully not badly), one might break human thought into science, politics, and faith. Under faith, a person can believe anything they want. Anything at all. But as soon as it’s brought into the political or the scientific now that person is trying to impose their views on me, and it is no longer an issue of faith but of religious dogma.
For me, adherents of intelligent design lack faith in their beliefs, and find it necessary to reinforce those beliefs by codifying them into pseudoscience with an intent of forcing others to go along with it. It’s the science of stupid.
Religion is a great comfort to many, and, again, as a matter of faith I completely respect that. When it becomes dogma, well … it’s the smile on a doll.
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This work is more digital composition than photo art because it combines multiple photographic captures with digital elements. There are a number of subliminal influences going on – I’ll be anxious to hear your interpretations.
Perhaps my pursuit of “art” is actually a series of experiments, and that’s certainly arguable over the last several months. While working on a greatly more abstract work that will be exhibited here in a couple weeks, a thought occurred: Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to be running these experiments when I was 25? Even 35? What’s the point of doing this now?
The underlying current, of course, is that one experiments in their youth, finds a comfortable status quo, settles on it, builds on it through a lifetime. One can be relied upon for a predictability of output. Further experimentation is just childish. One should already have the answers.
It defines the conservative perspective.
It also sucks! I hate it.
It’s not a thought I have very often, thank bloody goodness, and it’s fleeting when it comes. To believe that life essentially finalizes itself then locks itself down at any point is to rationalize and prioritize a static world. To function under such a belief is to be functionally insane. Finding fault in every new thought or expression – I know guys that, I swear, have not listened to and enjoyed a new song in 40 years, and I just want to slap ‘em!
I experiment; therefore I live.
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Another work captured from the Art In Bloom exhibit at a local art museum, also featured in Alone In A Crowd, a work I thought must surely be one of my best. It must have been so good it’s left the world speechless. One never knows …
OK, I admit it – the quarantine is even starting to get to me. I know, I just said in a recent blog that my life hasn’t been affected that much, and that’s still true. Turns out ‘that much’ is more than it seems. I still have plenty to occupy me at home; but there are no longer breaks in that status quo to provide contrast. Only the odd run to the store for supplies but trying to talk to anybody through a mask while doing so is like capturing photographs in a fog.
I fear I’m living too much in my own head.
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A local museum recently held an event featured in today’s work, as well as works to come. Curators brought in local florists to create arrangements that mimicked the art the arrangement was to be displayed in front of. The result was an explosion of color and creativity. I’ve commented before that creating art from florals feels like cheating. The flowers themselves are already abstract works of art; what he heck-fire am I getting involved for? (This belies that reality that a huge percentage of my portfolio are florals). The florists created works of art by interpreting other works of art.
I walked into it by accident on the museum’s busiest day of the year, intending to gather photographic captures of something else and leaving instead with a treasure of subjects and images. Sometimes life is an art museum; sometimes life is a fog.
It is a bit unusual to capture a photograph that seems to want to move in several directions at once, and then actually can. Combining noir effects with color pops and abstract components shouldn’t work; in this case I think it worked together fairly well. It was a fun little piece to create.
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Go to the Capital Arts Facebook page today and find their new Online Exhibit. The gallery invited artists across the community to submit digital images of their work as a means of keeping art dynamic when the gallery itself is closed, and it should be lauded for the effort. Well over one hundred works are on exhibit, revealing two things …
First, the incredible talent out there, even in a small town like my own. Tremendous work is on display, underscoring, I think, the creative impulses moving in all people, regardless of how ‘ordinary’ they seem or how far removed from the art ‘mainstream’. We are on this earth to create. Something. Anything.
Second, notice how art jumps when it’s on the computer screen. When the art itself is part of the light source, versus back in a corner waiting for light to find it. It begs the question – and this is another one the purists will hate – what is the best way to display art? Back to the first point, so many people creating art in so many mediums, so many ways, and so few see it. A few friends, perhaps, at best? OK, sure, get it accepted at a local gallery, but how is the foot traffic? How is the lighting? (BTW, Capital Arts is one such gallery that has gone to great lengths to assure that art is shown is good lighting). Digital tools have so greatly enhanced the creation of art; how will the technology ultimately impact the exposure and dissemination of it? It won’t stay the same, be assured of that.
I’m thinking about patterns. And what I’m thinking is that, over the past several weeks, the patterns by which everyone structures their time have been tossed into the trash. It’s happened in both fundamental and peripheral ways. Obviously, where one goes day to day, or the way one engages in work, or how we shop and what we buy. Also simple things like looking forward to that trip to the ballpark or that concert at the jazz club. Or even that Sunday afternoon sporting event on TV. None of that is there now.
What I’m curious about is if we’ll actually all flip back to it on a dime, or at all. I have doubts that the Coronavirus is going to magically disappear. To what degree could ‘normal’ re-establish itself?
I find that for many, their sense of ‘normal’ is what governs their world view. Take that away, and they feel unmoored. Me, working out of my home studio, other than a shifting of some family responsibilities, my life hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, I miss baseball; I miss open-wheel racing; I miss coffee with my buddies, but there are so many things I’m interested in that I have no difficulty filling the time. But then, I’m not normal. I’m a damn photo artist.
Static lines defining ‘normal’ are no longer unchanging. Now, we watch and see what happens.
The adventure story behind this work is worth telling.
A good buddy had seen ‘Alone In A Crowd’, the work featured in my most recent post, and liked it enough that he enthusiastically encouraged me to set up shop creating caricatures of people using the same techniques. What an opportunity, he suggested!
I pointed out two things. First, the idea of cranking out the same assembly line product day after day for a line of clients sounds too much like, well, work! Also boring! Second, as I’ve stated here any number of times, every photograph is a life unto itself. It’s almost impossible to apply the same techniques to different captures and have them come out exactly the same. All it takes is just the slightest difference in lighting or hue or, shoot, humidity from one shot to the next to throw everything into a different reality.
But for some reason, when I brought up this capture, for the hell of it I thought I’d try.
After all, the two captures in question were taken in the same place on the same day, and each featured a crowd of people in front of a wall-sized artwork. Why wouldn’t it work? So I opened both works and applied each technique used in ‘Alone In A Crowd’ step by step into the new work. And, actually, I came really, really close. I mean, it doesn’t look that way now because I’ve changed it. But before that, yeah, I got those people here close to those people there, using the woman holding the camera above her head as contrast, the same way the first work used the woman with the notepad.
And it was awful!
The problem wasn’t the people, it was the background. The artwork they were standing in front of was a sort of earth-toned, highly textured abstract that came out as an icky blob. No matter what I did it came out as an icky blob. I started changing the crowd away from my intention to try to create something resembling harmony between it and the icky blob. At which point everything looked icky.
Several hours into it, many versions of icky passing under the bridge, I realized I had to get rid of the background. Now, I almost never do this. There is, to me, something inviolate about every photograph that renders as sinful the act of combining elements of several images. It’s something of a point of pride – I take a single image and I create art from it. But, in this case, that background had to go.
I had photographed a Matisse just around the corner – just a touristy shot of Henri Matisse’s ‘Bathers With A Turtle’ (the Nazi’s considered it “degenerate” and it was purchased by Joseph Pulitzer Jr. to prevent its destruction), but it was my own photograph, not something taken off the internet, which WOULD have been a sin. It’s about 87 inches across; certainly not large enough to cover an entire wall as I’ve recreated it here. I’ve also desaturated it and blended the crowd to be slightly transparent before the painting. The crowd also required new filtering and lighting to fit its new background – the woman with the camera above her head had to lose her individuality.
The result, I think, is not icky. I feel it actually all works quite well!
I’ve mixed feelings about altering the look of a great master’s work and featuring it so prominently in my own, and for that reason this is a work I’m unlikely to ever exhibit. It’s more of a travelogue; a tourist’s journal. A typical adventure in photo artist.
Now beginning a series of works I’m very excited about in which art itself is a part. Whereas there may generally be elements of the background that are de-emphasized or peripheral, the use of art seems to make every element of the work essential, with each element standing as a work in and of themselves, yet working in harmony as a whole.
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Status quo as I sit at my computer creating art is music. If not shuffling through my own collection I’m streaming via Internet, generally my favorite XPoNential Radio, a public station out of Philly that includes the terrific program World Café featuring a string of superb hosts, from the encyclopedic David Dye to today’s wonderfully vivacious Raina Douris. I’m still more into buying music for my collection rather than simply streaming a service (I have a buddy who continues to deride me for failing to subscribe to Spotify), but most of the new music I’m exposed to comes through those sources.
One such song is ‘Headed South’ from the artist Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster. It’s about a relationship that has reached its end, and the only way to properly conclude it, the singer sings, is to simply leave. And so he’s “headed south”. One of the lines that stands out to me is:
“One day you’ll know me only by the shadow that I cast”
What a perfect description of what an artist does. To some degree everybody does just by living. Perhaps synonymous with Whitman’s “You may contribute a verse”, the artist commits those shades of light and dark within them to external medium. The work survives the artist. Maybe, if not hanging on display, only in a box up in the attic, or a few bits of data on an old hard drive, or something buried in a cloud database of old web pages. Or a not quite describable memory in the back of someone’s mind. But it’s out there in some nook or cranny. A shadow.
Perhaps some shadows are bigger than others. With luck, today’s work will be one of them.
One more Noir work before moving on. Again, we see the value in the wonderful Nikkor 1.8 lens that gave me such a sharp, precise, but short focal plane for capturing this portrait, while nicely blurring everything behind her. (I discussed the value of a good camera and lens in my most recent post). The computer allowed me to play with the light and color curves to create a nicely smooth, contrasting, introspective work. I prefer doing portraits in noir; it reveals an ‘inner light’ that seems lost when throwing color at it.
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Thanks to local artist Lina Forrester, who set up her easel at last fall’s Porchfest, for allowing me to post this work. Find her artwork at linaforrester.com.
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Back to abstract next week, and some new stuff I’m pretty happy with. Don’t miss it!
One of the things noir artworks bring out is the quality of the camera and the lens that captured the image. Particularly with abstract works, not only doesn’t the camera matter so much, sometimes the work is all the more striking when starting with an image of lower resolution and less sharpness. I shoot with three cameras, one of them a film camera, plus a smart phone. But my Nikon V3, which is no longer manufactured, is my go-to camera. It’s a small, mirrorless camera with interchangeable lens. Despite good reviews which convinced me to buy it, professionals never warmed to it, so Nikon has replaced it with their new Z Series that costs three times as much even before lenses, which are also more expensive. I thought I was spending too much money for the V3. One of my lenses, and the one I was using for the Porchfest shoot from which this and the last several works were taken, is a 1.8 that is incredibly sharp. As this work illustrates, at the higher f-stops the focal plane is quite deep. I adjusted the color curves to push this work into the near infrared, just as I did with last summer’s tornado series, which helped the foliage pop even as the cooler colors darkened, creating a high contrast, sharp image. But I have to give most of the credit to this work to the camera and the lens.
But it’s that dependence on hardware, years ago, which dissuaded me from serious photography. To really shoot well, especially nature, wildlife and studio photography, requires ungodly expensive equipment. I knew I could never afford all the equipment I wanted, especially as I was trying to start a family. Professionals may invest tens of thousands on equipment, which is why I pray my work never deprives a professional photographer of a sale. It’s also why I differentiate so strongly my photo art from straight photography. Photographers create through the camera. Photo artists use the computer to create visions a lens can’t see. Either way, it’s an art.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.