Is Art Product or Process?

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In a sense all art is product art. Plato is said to be the first to verbalize what art was: a true imitation of life. Nowadays art carries different meanings. Two panels of pure color obviously are not an imitation of any “thing” except color and shape, both of which often don’t have counterparts in our workaday world. Even if we hold to Plato’s fifth century ramblings in The Republic, is it enough that art re-produces something we see with our eyes?

Sometimes I think art is best characterized by the quality in a made object that makes us want to own and keep it. In this sense art is intrinsically tied up with memory. We want to remember something why? Because we don’t see it often. Because it makes us hold our breath in wonder. Because it fills us with a rare feeling of awe, of wonderment, of amazement.

One day I was walking around town and I was struck by how images dominate both our sensory experiences and our inner life. Images are not just art that we want to keep, whether they’re Lladro or Lenox figurines or Maserati speedsters. Images are what we want to buy!

Images are at the core of capitalist society, of any society based on money. Money is anymore just one’s capacity to buy images! We watch TV and what we see creates desire. This is how style proliferate throughout the world in this age of internationally disseminated media! From Manhattan to Manila young people dress alike, professionals dress alike, rich people dress alike.

Are images therefor art? Or is it how much people are willing to pay to own an image? Is art what moneyed people determine is art? If beauty is no longer the sole criterion for what makes art, what other criteria or combination of criteria would make an image art?

In people’s everyday life the images that they are most likely to “consume” are images that appeal to their contemporary sense of values as much as to traditional concepts of beauty of utility. Apple products sell not so much because they are efficient but because they are beautiful!

Oh, the early prototypes broke the mold for how we consume but it’s the absolute perfection of the form that keeps people buying Apple products. It’s the image that sells. No wonder that Apple keeps the photos of upcoming products under wrap. They want to create drama and emotion to launch the image into the world and create desire.

So maybe art after all is cognate with desire. We’re back in the realm of desire. Craving we use what represents industry, life energy we apply to a chosen purpose – money – to “own” something that ultimately defines the image we have of who we are, of what we are.

Of all things a woman owns, jewelry is perhaps the most personal. It is intimate too because she wears it next to her skin and after a house, a vehicle (because modern woman now works in the wider world outside the house), it is jewelry that represents her most expensive property. In a sense though jewelry is a woman’s ultimate indulgence. Unlike a house or a vehicle, jewelry is not essential to life. It is there simply to adorn her.

Is art adornment that allows a more extravagant display of luxury and wealth? Painting and craftsmanship used to be how artisans created images for adornment. These are not essential to life (unless we consider sacred images essential to survival) but items we crave for more ethereal reasons. Art is the jewel with which we say to the world, “I know who I am. Here is who I am!”

But is that art? Art, too, maybe, but this won’t account for why artists create art. I like feeling productive and having a finished product makes me feel I have not wasted the day. But the product is mostly a side effect for something else that drives me. I like challenging myself to draw from deep levels of my being, my subconscious, that I feel I am full-throttle alive.

Federico Garcia Lorca says this of “duende”:

“The duende’s arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.”


Learning Is Exciting!

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My nephew, a painter, narrated to me how going to a Connecticut artist residency was what pushed the quality of his work to the point where his confidence in himself came to fruition. Living and working with other artists he found himself reaching into himself for what until then he only hoped he had in him to turn himself into a painter.

Going to school to train to become a painter, a filmmaker, even a writer is perhaps the most important step that a young person can take. Not only that school teaches him what he needs to learn to best employ his native genius but that school gives him entrée to the community he wants to be part of. He meets mentors and colleagues. He learns from other people as much if not more from what he learns in the library or classroom.

I am too old to go to school. Or, I feel I don’t have time anymore to spare. I have a lifetime of experiences. I just need to buckle down and use all those as raw materials. I am hoping against hope I have what it takes to push myself into a whole new realm, that of being an artist.

At this point I am not sure I am not deluding myself but looking back to May 2008 and what I was doing with photography I can frankly say I’ve come a long way! I’ve learned to use the camera. I’ve learned what to look for in a camera and have bought one that can take me far – though I may need another camera to take me to the furthest shore I can reach! I’ve learned to use backgrounds and more recently use available light after learning to use continuous lighting then strobes. I’ve learned how to use models to make better photos for them and for me. And I’ve learned a bunch of skills using imaging software to fine-tune my images.

Joining 500px might very well be the turning point for me. I have finally mustered the courage to post my images in a community of exceptional photographers. I find some of my images as good as any I’ve seen even as I catch glimpses of where I need to take my images so I can confidently say I’ve arrived.

Having a steady supply of extraordinary images to survey daily I can shape my own sensibility.  I can learn more about the technicalities of a DSLR; I can learn more about lighting and camera settings; I can be more diligent taking spectacular pictures; but the task I see that I must now accomplish is to capture images that I can process in the incredibly alluring ways I see the photographers I admire using on their own images.

I feel validated. Shadows are treasures to mine for in images but now I am seeing how light and blur can also add that special element to an image. Color I’ve always loved but color can come in so many ways. They don’t have to be so aggressive or obvious.

Today I find myself thinking: yes, maybe yes, I am an artist! I may not have the genius some people seem to have and to recognize from early in life but slowly I see myself acquiring an artist’s eye. It’s all about sensibility. This may be, more than talent or skill, what makes for genius! It’s not logic or the clear lines or shapes of reason but what I used to call the “interstices” of thought that contains the promise I now know I must meet.

Styling and Branding Images

Frozen Falls at Gaylord Palms Resort


I continue to take workshops and webinars to improve my photography. Again and again I hear the presenters talk about branding. These are top names in their photography niches. They talk about their beginnings and how they got to the top. Invariably branding is part of the process.

Branding is not as simple as creating a logo for our photography website. Branding is essentially creating expectations. We evolve the kinds of images we enjoy making and that we are good at creating. By looking at our portfolio, prospective clients can see what we do. If they like what they see, they may contact us to create similar images for themselves. This is the theory of branding.

I am still in the thick of choosing my style of images. I am also still exploring the kinds of images I want to capture. I’d like to hurry the process up but I am not as focused as these photographers. I have many other interests.

Having said that I feel I am making progress. The image with this entry shows one of the falls at Gaylord Palms Resort that I took with a slow shutter speed. This is the first time that I’ve used this technique shooting a scene of moving water. I like the high contrast look of the image and decided to make this even more obvious by sharpening lines so that the image almost appears like a line drawing.

I’d like to use slow shutter speeds for panning moving objects. I’ll need to practice this. This would allow me to take more exciting photos of my models.

Craft and Serendipity in Night Shots

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I took this photo last night at Epcot. I shot 119 photos with no flash, just using high ISO and adjusting aperture and shutter speed, because I wanted to capture natural light. I may be able to use ten of these digital captures. I could have captured more usable images if I had a tripod. I have a couple of folding monopods. I should add one of those to my list of travel items. I took a couple of pictures using the railing surrounding the lake at Epcot and the photos came out better, but not by much.

A long shutter speed requires a perfectly still camera and I can never achieve that kind of motionlessness. I hold my breath as I press the trigger but I still mostly get squiggles of light.

I took advantage of this lack of manual control and processed one of those squiggly photos to use as my FB profile image. Mistakes can often turn out serendipitously creative images. The professional, of course, should be able to take the image he or she has in mind more and more. Still, those out-of-control shoot moments can be valuable.

Good photographs require learning the technical and aesthetic craft and taking the time to take good photographs. I am not yet a professional photographer because I take pictures on the fly, while I am doing something else. The only time I come close to focused photography work is when I shoot models and portraits but even then I often rush the process instead of taking assiduous care that I capture what I mean to capture.

It comes down to investment in time and effort. Isn’t this true of life in general? The wisdom of adulthood, someone said more succinctly, is already contained in the lessons we learn in kindergarten. It just takes a lifetime to make those lessons mature into wisdom.


Getting serious with lighting food photography

I shoot my food photos without preparing the lighting and camera setup so they’re hurriedly done so the food does not get too cold to enjoy. My food photographs merely document food I prepared at home of which I am especially proud. They have never been taken for the sake of taking a good food photograph. I’m too much a Filipino to think of preparing food then wasting it by simply trashing it after taking its picture. I’ve known all along that this is no way to take a picture. I know. I’m such a coward, slave to irrational beliefs, but then who isn’t?

Nonetheless, if I want to progress with my photography I need to invest real time in learning the craft and shooting my pictures. I’ve come a respectable way with model photographs though even here I’ve learned on the fly, from actually shooting models. I should learn the techniques when I don’t have models to work with professionally. The information is easily accessible. I have shelves of books and, horrors! hardware that I have not read or learned to use.

This photo might be a milestone. I was famished coming home from the gym after my gym run was delayed by an appointment with the heater service people that I had forgotten until the dispatcher called to tell me the service guy was on his way. I brought out the ingredients for the shake then set up the lighting before shaking them together. The results, I think, are impressive.

This was the second time that I’ve used my commercial-strength Vita-Mixer in decades! On a lark I made my first shake with it yesterday when I found out that my Cuisinart blender was no longer operative. I must have damaged it from crushing ice and frozen fruit last year when I was preparing dinner for friends. Down came the Vita-Mixer from atop the fridge and the result was such a delight that I rediscovered why people love shakes made with whey protein. The shake is frothy and rich-tasting without the fat!

I took this picture with a Lowel Pro set at full power five inches from the glass, manually setting the Canon D7 at 2.8 and 70 mm.