Sunday, May 18

Finding The Voice Of Your Instincts
• An Essay

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With art, the idea is to look through the image to the meaning on the other side. Okay, so how do you do that kind of photographic based image? There are a cornucopia of digital enhancements available to us which make the creative process more exciting. But first, some words about processing.

All pictures are processed: life is too.

Image makers debate the role of enhancement, meaning processing. Yet every film ever made along with every digital processor… all of them process images. If the film photographer is very pure it’s possible to restrict the processing to “just” the stuff that’s done by the engineers who dreamt up a film’s chemical composition, plus the purest chemical mix needed to develop and preserve the paper image. But even this most restricted effort is still processing and there are a colossal number of wet-darkroom diddles that can take things way farther between opening the film canister and showing a print.

There's an organic photographic school that hates digital post processing since that movement grows out of a nostalgia for film photography. When it comes to photography, they want all engineering to end at say… 1988? Which is peculiar since there’s a lot more processing going on twixt lens and virgin image in the film world than in the digital.

Photography has always been an adventure.

And fine art photography explores the space inside of us just as surely as our lenses aim at the outside world. The digital photographic process allow us to explore deeper than film ever did.

They allow us to find the voice of our instincts.

Look, as I’ve written in an earlier essay, pre-processing has always gone on. We choose a lens, camera format, point of view, depth of field, blur, filter, lighting, even set, makeup and model. Is that manipulation? Nope… enhancement.

I’ve already discussed the post processing extremes of the film development chain. And now there are the tools of digital post processing.

An artist creates a pane out of a plane.

We make images on a two dimensional surface yet behind it lies more dimensions than Paris Hilton has shoes. The artistic moment occurs when the image plane that attracted us begins to shimmer and reveal, like a pane of glass, the artist’s ideas, answers, hopes, fantasies, dreams, questions, opinions and feelings.

But before we can do that we have to seek out all of those things ourselves. Then reveal them to first us, then to others as eloquently as our craft (technical & aesthetic) will permit. The viewer and the artist take a plane ride… through that pane… into…

Ultimately intelligence is the master processor of art.

But it is a two part thing. What lurks behind the plane is first what the artist has found inside of his or her self… and secondly what the viewer makes of what the artist has revealed. Art is a process of connecting beliefs and understandings in ways that resonate with meaning. Look, we all live in a bubble with walls created from our morality, ethics, tastes, education, loves, politics, hates, and DNA mix. We live in cultures, and simultaneously build our own inside of the larger ones. Our bubble walls are transparent, but colored and foggy so that the things that come through are shaped to our beliefs.

We are conclusions seeking confirmation.

Still, even though those walls constrain us, there are folks who’d want to impose rules that keep us from fully understanding even our own bubble-space. They create rules which hobble our ability to express ourselves.

There are two kinds of rules.

(1) Some rules are tools.
(2) Some rules are barriers.

Know the difference.

For example, drop a banana and it plops to the floor. That’s an example of rule (1)…. Gravity. If we understand gravity we can use it to do things, imagine things, grow. But suppose someone insists that (2) because of gravity we should never show floating bananas. That’s a barrier.

Organic photographers insist that photographic images should pass the reality test. The final image should not contradict any known principles of behavior. All shadows must have balancing light sources, colors must come from nature, things must be as they “could” and “should” be found.

Artists employ the (1)-rules to deconstruct the (2)-rules. Which can be disturbing. There is no (1)-rule which says that the conjectures and assertions beyond the image pane need not disturb.

Post processing enhancements now allow us to peer at the virgin image on a monitor, study it, and then find a way to poke through it. Good images are at least semi transparent. Great images are more like the clearest crystal. They are tickets to a pane ride into both the imaginations of the artist and the viewer.

Okay, so are there principles for employing the full range of pre and post processing enhancements to turn the film plane into a pane? I think so, and I'll discuss them in my next essay.

Ultimately they leave us wondering. And wonder is a very good thing.

Here's the virgin image from up top...


Andreas said...

Cruel shot :)

Ted, it may be unsatisfying, but you sure knew there wouldn't be any resistance from me? Umm ... yes. To everything :)

Oh, by the way, Today I began reading "On Photography". Starts out well.

Andreas said...

Oh, by the way, in your list of traditional enhancements you consistently forget movements. No way to get this image without movements.

You know, I like to let my perspectives run wild, but this image is surely impressive :)

Debra Trean said...

Ted - I agree with everyword you have written this is a good essay and one that one can go back to and read when people start the arguments about organic vs post process. I think the work you do is amazing and the images you have chosen are really making the essay points!!

Always a delight to see your works and read your words - often - they come just when I need to read them.

Stacey Olson said...

Ted, thanks so much for this article.. I am still new to photography, and find myself deleting alot of OK photos because of one reason or another. I guess I jsut assumed that it wouldn't be acceptable to do something more with them and make them Great images.. thanks for your words, they helped me to look out side of what I assumed was acceptable in the photography world. I have been following your blog for a while now and have great respect for the work you do and the fact that you show the original is fantastic, really gets my imagination going... thanks so much

Marti said...

Hi Ted,

While I am over here on your site offering my congratulations for having seven of your images selected for the Canon POTN Collection for 2007, I came back and re-read this essay, partly because I'm doing some searching of my own these days.

I love your comment: "Art is a process of connecting beliefs and understandings in ways that resonate with meaning. " And, I plan to use it, with due credits (of course) in an upcoming discussion.

Thank you for your inspiring work and words!