Last first day of undergrad, unfortunately. It’s bittersweet, because I’m gearing up for what should be a very exciting semester, and yet, it must come to an end. I am somewhat reassured, though, by a few of my classes that have asked us to keep up research logs and journals of thought and experiment. Reassured in the sense that this is something that I have already been doing sporadically for some time in the form of these daybooks. Of course, I think they have served a slightly different purpose: a sort of nebulous diary and not really directed towards the end of making art. That’s Ok. I’m going to try to pick up the clip on these a little bit more and speak towards my motivations for shooting and what I learned with each iteration. Or I should say, that’s what I’m about to do, and I’m really hoping that is sustainable move forward.
I set out with the idea of joy. I have made so much moody artwork, and artwork that when I sit down to write about, it’s just very hard. It’s a very taxing experience, and I am still trying to write my thesis I project out of my system. I think that there are certainly dark portions of this world, and there are dark portions that are worth considering. Not dwelling on, or obsessing over, but considering and thinking on well. I think any coherent model of the world ought to account for tragedy and horror, but I have given myself the challenge of dwelling on joy throughout this semester not as a means of trying to lead a more joyful life, but hopefully as a result of one. I hope that this becomes a means of discussing Christian theology, and I realized that perhaps it is better to start with what I think the thrust of the Christian message is- joy.
I should also say, before diving into the things I did today, that I don’t think that this is a cheap happiness. I don’t want to make funny work, or even light work. I want to make work that is an acknowledgment of the brokenness and futility in the world, but work that has a waft of understanding that this brokenness does not get the final say. I recall thinking about making work like this, but never setting out with much intentionality to do it. It’s far easier, in looking at the world and looking at art and thinking about what to make, to fall into some degree of cynicism and bitterness, or in my case, dread and despair.
Onto the work.
I thought I’d go back to the graveyard. This may seem like a weird place to make happy work, but I think that oddly my happiest series that I really had was one that never felt quite done, Some Flowers which felt happy moreso because of the broad and bright palette rather than the content, per se. In any event, they were satisfying images to make, so I got to it.
I started with trying to photograph the same stuff and that didn’t work. It just felt like uselessly rehashing, so I moved past that pretty quick.
I had had the image in my head of some time to use flash to try to overpower the sun for a portrait, but only having my speedlight, I tried to make do, at first just finding a place to prop it up on the ground, and finally taking the path of greater whimsy and throwing it up in the air and trying to fire the shutter right as the head was pointed at me.
It was fun but it felt funnier and sillier than anything I was trying to do. However, I was excited to be using my new remote shutter release to make images that weren’t possible before. I tucked that in the back of my head.
The next step involved throwing a lot of sticks and trash into the frame and firing the flash in order that the images might be composited afterwards. I’ve been working a lot with flash and remote triggers for architectural photography, so this has been a familiar situation for me, and it’s one that was fun to try and warp for studio photography.
At first I had the flash set up, and was trying to throw things through where the flash would be in order to hit them with the light. This proved to be difficult and I was frustrated for lack of a light stand, so I went handheld with the flash. A very odd thing happened where despite holding the flash in my right hand and the trigger in my left, I would throw the object and quickly try to orient the flash, and as a reflex I would point the trigger as if it were the flash, leaving my flash hand down at my side. This invention was quickly improvised.
wherein the flash and the shutter release are one. It gave a satisfying kinetic quality to the action of photographing. It was also an interesting separation from the act of making an image and the act of performing. In the past, when I would photograph actions, it was a matter of either being behind the camera and intervening in the space, or trying to be clever with a timed release. Now I had the advantage of being able to perform in front of the camera and release the shutter at exactly the right moment without needing to be behind the camera. Cool!
Take 2. This time, no masking. Obviously I didn’t have the benefit of referring to the photoshopped version of the first iteration when making this one, but having a hunch which imagery might work best for this process, I tweaked the process a bit and set it against a darker background. Still not sold on this though, but I like this one better.
Having spent some time over break practicing making the “lighten” layer blending mode work in photoshop, I felt like I had some different way of seeing the world, if ever so slightly. I could foresee images made by combining images, wherein only the lighter pixels would appear. It sounds kinda dumb to write it out like that, but I’m trying to let it go stream of conscious, because before I never would’ve thought to make an image like this:
Or like this
Or finally, focusing in even more, like this:
There’s still more imagery in this vein to make, I think. I’ll leave these here as studies for now.
Finally, three more that I’m going to use as an intro to the last section of some writing and thoughts.
I really resisted doing this when I first thought of it. The three color separation process was kind of sacrosanct and set apart for film cameras, specifically the 4×5. I loved how expensive and difficult it is and how switching out the film holders would invariably slightly move the camera. I love going into the darkroom and processing the stuff and scanning it and spotting it. The beautiful and odd color image at the end of it felt like a reward for labor. The digital process felt so exact and accurate that it almost robbed me of the joy of doing it in one way. In fact, I didn’t even physically use the R G and B filters- I realized that I could actually just take those channels out of each image and drop them into a new image for the same effect. With the remote release, I didn’t even have to touch the camera in order to make the three separate exposures, meaning that as long as nothing else moved the camera and the subjects didn’t move in front of it, it would already be perfectly lined up when it was dropped into Photoshop.
That reinforces my inclination that something so crucial to the film process (including the 3 color process) is the labor. There may still be technical advantages to the images, and for that I’ll have to do some more experimenting, but what I loved about the three color process was drawing out (temporally) my perception of a scene. I could have a hunch of what it might look like, but as I said in 50% Underground, it was really like several weeks between shooting the images and having the final print, and that was even working at a steady clip to produce those images. So in one sense it feels like cheating to have made those 3 color images in so little time (I shot those earlier this afternoon, ate dinner, went to class, and I’m now writing this).
This is all to say, I still don’t know if I’m going to be working in film or in digital. The dream is still the Canon 5DR for the moment, and at 50mp that might get me to hang up the film equipment for a while. Not that resolution is the only difference alone, but for the longest time I have told myself that some marginal practical benefits of resolution and the slow pace outweigh the tremendous cost and time labor in producing film images.
And they are just that- images. If a color 4×5 image can ultimately just get me to slow down and invest myself into a singular -image- that is, a picture that tries to function like a “classical” and highly formal art photograph, that might be the benefit. And yet, it would be nice to be able to fire off frames that may have the same technical quality as a high res film scan and try to let myself figure out the head game wherein I can work in the same process and make it happen. Even nicer still would be to have the economic means to not stress over buying a $40 (yes, $40) pack of 10 sheets of color 4×5. Even black and white film is $40 for a box of 25 now.
The last thing I’ll say on the matter for now is that it feels important to be working in digital if only to be close to the kind of cultural discussion I think I’m trying to have. I have, for the longest time, been invested in studying how images function in society, and fascinated with everything that has come with the increasing rapidity of image production and consumption. Of course, going along with that isn’t the only way to comment on it (and there is something to be said, because I have tried to say it) of the fetishization of the slowness. But at a certain point, I’m not sure I can get people to care. The digital speeds up my thinking and frames it in that digital context- if I can get myself feeling about work in the digital space, and feel how it is unique, that helps grease the skids of good thinking in other areas.
In any event, it’s the beginning of the semester, and I’m trying to stretch my conceptual muscles. So, more to come.