The conclusion to last week’s discussion on how one of my images came to be:
I’ve been enjoying using a little 35mm pinhole camera I bought on ebay . It’s a crappy little Vivitar point and shoot that this fellow in Vegas rejiggers with an f200 pinhole aperture where the lens used to go. I’m drawn to the foggy, dreamy quality that a pinhole gives.
And that’s my cue for another tangent: why am I drawn to making dreamy, out of focus images? Am I going for a neo-impressionist look or something?
Don’t worry, we’re not going back to the library. This reason is much more internal, though I’ve always loved the work of the Impressionists.
A few years ago, I was frequently walked around Owl’s Head Park here in Brooklyn shooting landscapes with a little digital point and shoot. My method at that point was to take the photos, then fool around with them in photoshop to make them look like oil paintings. I wasn’t very thrilled with the results I was getting, and I blamed that on the fact that I couldn’t afford the very nifty photoshop plugin that would transform any photo into a goddam Van Gogh. I wanted that plugin like Ralphie wanted that BB gun.
At one point, I lined up a shot of a tree on a hillside in the setting sun, and on a whim I purposely threw the focus out of whack. I checked the image on the camera and thought, now we’re on to something.
For the next year or so, that was how I shot all my landscape photos. See interesting light falling on trees, line up the shot, refocus on the palm of my hand, then take an out of focus image. I’d work on them a bit in photoshop, but the lion’s share of the creative work was done when the shutter was triggered.
I mentioned the reasons were more internal: I’m going to brush past the reasons I started to see a shrink. Let it suffice that I was really down on myself, and my sainted wife encouraged me to go. I was diagnosed with depression. Talk therapy and a series of trial and errors with antidepressants, until my brain told me the right meds were found.
Some time after that, the penny finally dropped: all the blurry, people-less images I was making weren’t only an homage to the impressionists, they were a sign my brain was trying to tell me something. (And many thanks to my friend Prudence, who first helped my enunciate that into an artists statement.)
So that is a large chunk of the reason I make art that’s purposely out of focus and dreamy-looking. The experience has driven home something that I’ve long suspected but had never really understood: the thing that’s in front of the camera is only a part of what’s truly being photographed.
The battle with depression continues. But now I have much better understanding of what’s going on, and an arsenal of ways to deal with it. I make the images I make now because I have a more finely tuned feel for what my my brain is trying to tell me.
As noted, the image in question, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”, started life as a 35mm negative. I use the Darkroom in San Clemente, CA. Their basic service includes developing and scanning each roll for a very reasonable price.
Once I have the scan, into Photoshop it goes. (I’ve also started to get my legs under me with Lightroom and Bridge—I’ve got the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I’m a little surprised that it’s taken me so long to start using Bridge, it makes browsing your drive a much less onerous drudge.) If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll run it through CameraBag2 and see if anything there resonates.
I have a huge honkin pile of textures that I’ll start layering on. A lot of them come from Design Cuts—you should get on their mailing list, by the by. I’ll end up using 10-15 textures, at various opacities and blending modes, looking for the right flavor.
More than once I’ve abandoned an image after a few hours of work because it looked like a photo with a bunch of textures dumped on it. Likewise, I’ve stopped work on images after 10 minutes because I nailed the magic balance…such is art.
Until next time, keep shooting!