What a Beautiful Thing!

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For the past two weeks I’ve been doing David Nightingale’s online workshop on black-and-white conversion. I learned several ways of creating black-and-white images, something I need to do more. Without color,  portraits and landscapes seem to speak to another part of our brains. Unencumbered by the richness of hue and saturation we see other details, our brains pick up other communications.

David introduced Selective Color and Hue/saturation Adjustment Layers along with the insanely powerful Curve tools. I’d always skipped learning these tools whenever I came across them in other tutorials and books before but using them in B&W conversions I realized how they could be useful when processing color images as well.

This was one photograph that I shot this morning towards the source of light, a west-facing window. I processed two copies, added a Solid Color Adjustment Layer and played with opacities and several Curve Adjustment Layers. I was enthralled! The effects you can create with the slightest change in a slider or curve are nothing short of magical.

Others more expert at the use of photography post-production tools may be laughing at my naiveté. I’m okay with that. The novelty shall wear off as I discover more uses of layers, masking and other subtleties of manipulating pixels but each aha! moment is special. It’s what feeds the passion to explore, invent, and innovate.

With these techniques I can layer several images or differently processed versions of one image then “paint” in which parts I want to show. I can work with just colors, letting them create “shapes” from the area they occupy in the image. Come to think of it, this is the way objects exist outside the mind. They are not separated by lines as in comic book strips. Color creates boundaries and a seamless experience becomes distinguished into artificially disparate objects.

I could also layer in more discernible images e.g. portraits, landscapes or still life, use color in the background or foreground to modify the visual effect and add more of a “story” to the final work. The possibilities seem endless!

The more I learn how else pixels can be modified the more inspired I am to capture more daring photographs. The two – capture and post-production – work hand in hand. And each moment of finding an image that works fills me with wonder at what a miracle, what a beautiful thing is a human, how god-like his capacity for invention and delight!

A Photographer as a Visual Artist

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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?

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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.”

Art as the Salvaging of Shadows, Living Our Whole Selves

 

Food for the Dark, Cold Winter Days

I like aspects of the nudist movement because of the reasons you wrote about. I don’t like Puritanical hypocrisy but don’t deny I have my fair share of it. The naked body can be beautiful but probably only if we have a healthy relationship with our own naked bodies! Raised as you were in a predominantly Catholic society, I have the same attitude towards the naked body as the Puritans that settled New England from the time of the Mayflower settlers through the early years of largely English colonial activity. But early on I became sensitized to what I now deem a largely unhealthy tendency in much of world, both East and West, to think of the naked body only as a sexual object.
A photographer (or visual artist, more generally) finds beauty not in his or her subject but through the artist eye. I attribute our conventional ideas of beauty to the media that abound all around us, often so ubiquitous we no longer see them or become aware how they affect our attitudes and ways of seeing and interpreting experience. One of the goals of a photographer is to teach the rest of us to see again, to see beauty where we’ve grown blind to see it. I’m a photographer because I am obsessed with seeing the world without prejudice as beautiful. I don’t always succeed but succeed more than I could ever hope for.
I’ve been doing web workshops with established, gifted photographers this past year and I’ve learned more than just technique from watching them work. I am especially interested in their philosophy, in how they see the world and how they interpret it through the work they produce. As you’ve guessed by now I am flawed philosopher. I like to break down seemingly whole objects or concepts or experience to see what they’re made of. I became aware of this that summer after I left medical school and went back to San Agustín to study literature and philosophy of literature. By then I thought it was too late to change gears. I don’t think I could have made the switch then either. There were too many obstacles. I had to grow a little more emotionally and intellectually to attempt the switch, which I am now doing.
Photographers are constantly pushing the envelope of what is photograph-worthy. If beauty is in the eye of the artist, there are increasingly other reasons for creating pictures. I’ve never been attracted to photo-journalism although many modern photographers have been influenced by photo journalists. While I have mostly done documentary-style videos I want to venture into narrative videos. To do this I have to develop story-telling, an aspect of imagination and creativity. It’s a whole new ball of wax but it’s the challenge that goads me. I want to develop my appreciation of art, grow intuitive and creative qualities, and find and validate the “feminine” side of me. Nowadays, of course, we are blurring the boundaries between the gender stereotypes. A great part of the world is discovering wholeness. I like to think I am part of that movement and abet it by my own small efforts.