Asparagus 1684

Wednesday night I struggled with post-production for four hours before midnight. After all that the images I finished were so-so. After midnight, when I kept thinking I should be going to bed, suddenly I slipped into a creative mode.

Working on a photo closeup of flower buds on the parsley plant in my bedroom window, I altered the hue then added a photo filter and a solid color adjustment layer. I enlarged the canvas but now it took on the color of the color adjustment layer. I played with the opacity of the color adjustment layer and voila! There was the image I wanted! In quick succession, I took the original and once again, with a few deft strokes, I came up with the second image.

They’re not spectacular but working on those images suggested a direction for creating visual art. I want to create images that do not so much represent reality as tell of the inner promptings occasioned by the photographs. Instead of verisimilitude I want to build upon photographs to express my own aesthetic, even an artistic effect through the manipulation of colors, lines and shapes.

Today I only did this one image. Again nothing special but this image of asparagus hit the spot. In England they say, “Blue and green, only on the Queen!” Traditional artists don’t think blue and green should go together. But they do!

I could have done more today – the energy was high and bright – but my archival backup RAID drive suddenly went out on me last week. I could only read the files and couldn’t alter anything on the disk. On my old desktop computer, the RAID was connected via Apple’s Firewire 800 that my MacBook Pro does not support. Copying files from the corrupted drive was taking forever.

Finally this evening I went out and purchased a USB 3.0 external drive. Instead of hours copying took minutes. Shortly after midnight, I finished copying the files on the 3 TB mirroring RAID array. I couldn’t reformat it for RAID but was able to erase the drive and recover the 6 TB. It’s no longer RAID and it is USB 2.0. I’ll use it a third disk backup for my photo and video archive.

So, another day that could have been great for doing production work ended up as archival work. Such is the life of a photographer/artist. As much as I want to do fun, creative work, sometimes I have to use precious energy for grunt work!

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Almost Colorless Stairway

Masonic Steps 4824 narrow

Even when not outwardly producing we may still be using time well. Maybe there is a need for both fallow and use times, just as the author suggests in several parts of the Torah.

In Exodus 10:23 for instance, he writes: “You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops. But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. ..”

The seventh year, shmita, in Hebrew שמיטה (literally, “release”), is to allow less fortunate humans and wild animals to feed from the fallow land while you live off what you have put away for such a time of release.

Our collective sacred writings are rich stores for radicalizing our lives. Everywhere else we see signs to consume: grip the wheel, make the devils jump out of your way and beeline for the mall. A Sabbath year makes sense. We need times to turn off our wills and repurpose ourselves for letting go.

Take sleep, for a metaphor. During the day we thrust our way through words and life, insistent and full of ourselves. At night we live, it seems, another life. In the inchoate dark of our nights, dreams disassemble the structures of our frenzy. They turn them over and out, fluffing carpets, shaking off the dust, re-arranging chairs and tables and lamps that the “room” is fresh and new again for us when we wake up in the morning.

Turning ourselves for the use of others can accomplish a similar miracle. When we turn our gaze away from the carrot dangling in front of our face we might see what’s around us – the shiny pebbles on the road, that little bench under a shady oak, in the field beyond, a lion feasting on a deer, farther down, a snow-bedecked mountain, over it all a design-free sky – and find our footing on the ground.

The quiet hours of the evening and night are some of my most creative moments. In the helter-skelter of the day I get lost in the clamor that I don’t hear my own voice – or hear the still, small voice speaking to me and only me. It’s my lifeline.

Granted there are all species of humans out there. Some have adrenaline pumps for a heart; they live for the sheer terror of almost just falling off the cliff as they ramp up their engines to their vision of a Promised Land. More power to them. For some of us production is more like making love. We reserve it for the quiet times, when everything else has been put to bed, nothing left on the mind to distract us and we are completely alone with the Beloved.

Here is an image I worked on earlier today. It’s a photo I took during a walk about downtown Indianapolis this fall. It looked useless when I first saw it but the vagueness of the image lent itself to “light” work. It’s a play on crazy shades that are not quite colorless or gray. It’s in the innuendoes that I think  an image can be most persuasive, leaving much of the storytelling to whomever is viewing it.

Visual art should be like a page torn from our peoples’ sacred writings, a metaphor for creating anew a stairway of wandering and hope.

A Photographer as a Visual Artist

Jerusalem Hands P1000829

What are the limits within which a bona fide photographer must work and how far can he move outside the box and still call himself a photographer?

I have combined images before but not much. It was laborious when using Selection Tools but now that I’ve learned to use masks, combining images is much easier. The image above is one I did today.

Part of me resists combining images. What I’ve done so far in post is alter exposure, contrast and hue. Combining images would be a huge step. It involves structural modification.

With layers and masks, I can use collage to paint not only with color but with images. I have an old Wacom tablet that I have never used continuously. The tablet would enable me to use a pressure-sensitive surface to vary the heaviness of my “paint” brush and thus achieve texture as well as different widths of strokes. Somehow though I am starting to like the difference between painting and photography. They are both visual media but each has its own traditions and history that I rather like to keep separate.

I would be more inclined to use masks to combine images if what I am combining are not recognizable images but patterns or color blends that add depth and complexity to my photographic composition. I still think that a photographer, even a digital photographer, should restrict himself to tools that relate to qualities of light i.e. saturation, hue, contrast as well as color, lines, and shapes. The structure of the image he has to capture from real life. That’s the main ingredient to which he adds emendations as a cook adds spices and herbs to a pot roast!

In this I may be in a diminishing fraction and I question my resistance. All things change and it’s those who can think outside the box who lead the way.

Are we bound to preserve the limitations imposed on film photography? A digital camera captures an image conveyed to its sensor via reflected light. That image is what a photographer works with. But then he uses another gadget to process that image, a computer program to manipulate the pixels comprising his “image.” These two, camera and computer, share equal billing for today’s photographic output.

A visual artist may use matériel like oil, pigments, fabric, found objects from the garbage dump, hair, rope, wire, titanium sheets, vegetable matter, and yes, photographic images. His mandate is not just too keep the brain from going senile early; his mandate is to create a diversion for the eyes, a challenge to the mind behind those eyes to imagine and dream, to think the impossible, to believe.

To remain relevant art has to change with a society’s conventions, with its emerging technology. Maybe to be able to call oneself a photographer is not the point. Maybe we should think of ourselves as visual artists first and only secondarily photographers. The goal is the same for all who use the eyes as windows into the Soul.

Is Art Product or Process?

Venetian Glass 0845

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.”

Apple Service Rocks and I Have a New Website

A modern-day photographer depends on his camera and his computer to reproduce what’s in his head. Having used Macs since 1985, I naturally used an operating system I found imminently easy to use and gorgeous to look at. If I can’t come up with a pretty picture, at least my computer looks great.

Having a great computer system I’ve not had to require much from Apple’s fabled customer service until today. Actually the saga started around this time last night. I wanted to add to my online portfolio and opened iWeb, Apple’s entry-level web design program for non-geeks like me. It kept crashing.

I spent three hours last night trying to figure out what the trouble was. The problem eluded me and I went to bed feeling weird and uneasy, like I lost a screw somewhere in my head or my body lost a part I just didn’t know which. Before going to bed this morning I set up an appointment with a “genius” at my Apple Store, fortuitously just a couple of miles from my house. Brandon found me in the crowd and took me to the Genius Bar. He tried to help me for over half an hour and finally told me a page in the website was corrupted. I could delete it and save the rest. It had taken me six hours or more to create that website and I thought it was the best I’d ever done. I’d learned to keep things simple, have a personal touch somewhere, and keep the focus on pictures.

Back home, I couldn’t delete the page. I started working on it at noon, took a break for lunch and had at it again. Finally I sought out Apple’s Support Page and found a link for a phone consultation. I got to talk to someone at Apple in one minute. That is what I call phenomenal service.

For the next two hours, I worked with Patrick who then called in an iWeb expert. Like someone bargaining with Death I kept lowering the ante. I had told them I wanted to salvage the website. I liked it and I didn’t know if I could do it again. When it got to be five in the afternoon, I realized I’d spent the day trying to save a website that had taken me six hours to build. I said I needed to save just one page. Charles couldn’t even save that for me but I hanged up  feeling good about the whole thing. The day was stressful but it validated my partiality for Apple.

Back on my own, I tinkered some more with iWeb and somehow managed to drag the one page I wanted to a new site. It’s the second page so I worked on creating the home page. I think I like this new one I designed in just a few minutes. (I needed to stop to get in an evening hike before it got too dark.)

So here’s the deal. Apple service totally rocks! The three Apple “geniuses” didn’t save my website but I learned lots about troubleshooting a Mac. I think I know more about troubleshooting a Mac than most non-Apple-genius but there’s always more to learn. I hated losing that website, the first one I’d designed since I deactivated duendearts.com early this year.

But here’s the thing. I think I’ll make a better website than the one I spent 24 hours (yes, I continued working on the problem while I slept fitfully last night) trying to save. The biggest lesson: I stress out over something when the alternative proves better than what I hated losing!

One reads about Apple customer service being #1 at various polls