I Wonder… What if I…?
In 2012, my wife and I spent a week visiting my sister on Hilton Head Island. Each morning, after breakfast, while my sister and my wife wandered along the hard sand beach, I’d slowly stroll behind them exploring at the sand patterns left by the receding tide and the emptying tide pools. As the tide slipped back from whence it came, it etched intricate patterns in the hard-packed sand. The sun, low on the horizon, skimmed across the sand revealing the tide’s intricate etchings. Every so often, I’d pause, point my camera between my feet, compose an image and press the shutter.
On the first morning, my sister aware I was no longer with them, asked my wife, “What’s he doing?” My wife replied, “Oh just ignore him. He’s found some that caught his eye and he’s taking pictures. He’s in his own world at times.” My sister said, “Well then, we’ll keeping walking and to hell with him then,” as she smiled broadly.
As I looked at the sand patterns, I’d see things in them. Details that might reveal something or other that may be interesting once processed. Below is an example of one such image. Really, not much to look at, is it?
No two patterns were the same. Some were similar, but different in detail, depth, length, width and appearance. One morning, I pushed my foot into the edge of a small stream and it engulfed my toes almost instantly. My foot sank into the soft, wet sand as the water swirled around. I waited a few seconds and then snatched back my foot. It left a deep impression in sand, which quickly filled with salt water. As the water rose above my foot’s impression, it rolled over the top. Within minutes most of my foot print was gone, but there was still a slight depression. As the water swirled, new sand patterns slowly appeared and then vanished as the water drained away. I repeated the process a few more times, each time studying how fast the depression emptied, what route the water took and how the sun’s rays illuminated the slowly revealed patterns.
I repeated the process one more time, only this time I focused my camera between my feet and started capturing images of the flowing water, the shifting sand, the texture revealed by the sun’s light and the intricate every changing, ever shifting patterns.
At the time, I thought they’d make some interesting B&W images and maybe a few prints. So as the days drifted by, I continued my morning walks and continued making sand pattern images.
Upon arriving home, I imported all the images into Lightroom (LR). I left them for a few weeks as I got busy with earning my living. Eventually, I circled back and began processing the images in B&W just as I’d visualised. I even made a couple of 13x17 inch prints. I applied warm toned cast to some images. But as I studied the results I was disappointed. The results never matched my original emotional reactions, my original intent was more in my mind’s eye than in the images. Viewing the images in colour or B&W on the computer screen, I had no reaction. I guess they were only pale, boring photos of boring sand, after all.
Normally, I delete unsuccessful images from my external hard drive, but for some reason, I kept over 230 of the sand images.
In 2017, I was in Mexico for my son’s wedding. My wife and I were there for a week, but the Big Day wasn’t until the second last day of our stay. So I had plenty of time to myself and, of course, I brought my camera. I started exploring the resort. At first, I just walked around the resort looking, not for anything in particular, but I wanted to let my brain take all that it could. I needed to look, to see, to react emotionally, to listen to that inner part of me that whispers, “Hey look over here, I like how that feels. What do you feel.”
One morning, I walked out of our room onto the balcony and I froze. My mind’s eye and my eyes were in sync - the frowns of a large palm tree moved ever so slightly in the breeze and I smiled. I’d walked past this same spot three or four times for the first two days. Why had I not seen this before? I studied the sensuous curves of the frowns’s yellow stem as it curved toward me as if it wanted to reach out and touch me. I felt very quiet and still inside. I could see the framing, the composition and the right angle even before I raised the camera to my eye. I looked through the viewfinder for a moment and then pulled the camera back for a second. I switched to live view and used the camera’s LCD screen to compose the image. I sensed this was the right way to capture what I felt, what I heard what I saw. Naturally moving first right, then left, then lower, each time pressing the shutter release when it felt right, I made about a dozen images. And I felt I had made something special.
People ask me why I do this, why do I take pictures. First of all I don’t “take pictures”, I make them and I do it because the way I felt, my intentions in sync with my spirit, as a calmness rose from deep within - there’s no other thing I do that gives me such peace and fulfilment. Below is one of the images I made that day.
Once I returned home, I selected the above image. I remembered composing that specific image on my camera’s LCD screen. In the Lightroom Develop module. I didn’t have to think, I knew what needed to be done, I knew how the final image would look, it was simply a matter of making the adjustments that I had seen the day I made the image. When completed, all the feelings, emotions and sensibilities returned and I quietly smiled to myself.
The image below is what I saw on my screen.
Weeks later, while processing other images from Mexico, I returned to my palm frown. And then, without thinking I created a second copy of the processed image. As I looked at the two images, side by side, I asked myself, “What if I …?” And I did; I flipped the second image horizontally, creating a mirror reflection of the first photo.
I had never done that before, and I’m not sure where the inspiration came from, but the result had much more potential, much more depth, much more motion that it became more that the sum of its parts. Without knowing it, I was open to hear what the two photos had to say to me, Together they became more interesting, more creative, more impactful - a more complete photograph. That is why I make what I make!
Working in an other image processing application - Photoshop - I produce the single photo you see above.
So what does this image have to do with the very first image in this post you ask? Well, that’s a subject for different post.
I’m an early adopter of Adobe’s Lightroom - now Lightroom Classic (LrC). A trained analog photographer, I was some what hesitant to dive into digital image processing using Photoshop. I’d taken a look at the software and found it very confusing, powerful definitely, but the workflow logic just escaped me. Where as LrC reflected my experience of the wet analog darkroom I had used for years, only now I’d be working on a computer. Computers were the main tool I used to run my business and earn my living, so the decision to switch to a digital camera was made much easier once Lightroom was available.
The organisational structure of LrC’s Library module is straight forward and logical; the Develop module is intuitively similar to my analog darkroom; the Print module is effective and simple to use. Setting up an inkjet printer to work with LrC is straight forward. So obviously, I’m a fan of LrC but not so enamoured with Photoshop.
Therefore, the irony is not lost on me that I used Photoshop to create a series of abstract photographs that I consider some of my more creative and adventurous explorations. Especially, since I ended up working with image files I’d considered throw away mistakes that I had intended to delete, but for some strange reason did not.
As outlined in Experimenting, or a Willingness to Fail-I, my processing of a Mexican palm frown in LrC and then duplicating the image and flipping it horizontally was what sparked a visual Ah-Ah moment. Initially, it was a nebulous shape and idea for sure, but over time, as I pursued other photographic intentions, that visual moment, the visual impact of what I saw took on a more concrete recognisable form. No longer did I see one image of a palm frown flipped horizontally, but suddenly that space between the two images was gone and now I saw mirrored image that had visual depth, and motion and a V shaped background that halted the spacial movement and allowed the eye to take in the whole, as well as the parts, and circle back and view the photo all over again.
One day, as I perused the images in my LrC catalog, I happened upon the Hilton Head sand pattern images. Lingering, remembering the emotions and pleasure I had making the exposures and the sense of hope I held, a question rose in my conscious mind, “What if I used the Palm frown workflow?”. By experimenting and being willing to fail, I discovered a totally new direction in my abstract photographic journey.
The artist is a receptacle for the emotions that come from all over the place - from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web. - Pablo Picasso
Once I accepted that initial “What if I …?” question and acted upon it, the image below was the answer.
As I stared again at the mirrored sand track images in the LrC catalog, a sense of larger possibilities took shape.
I knew conceptually what I wanted to accomplish, I just needed to learn how to do it. A simple Photoshop inquiry laid out the required workflow. All that was left was to open Photoshop and follow the process.
In LrC, I returned to the Hilton Head sand pattern folder, selected an image and began my usual processing colour workflow. The image below is my original exposure.
Certainly not much to look at. The exposure technicalities are irrelevant. It was what I saw in my mind’s eye that attracted me to creating this series of exposures initially, even though my original intent proved incorrect, I had held onto the image files. When making the exposures, I was excited about the patterns, the lines, the edges sweeping in from the upper left and narrowing as they descended down toward the bottom right. The above image had a feeling of motion, of movement, of action. Plus the round spot in the lower left corner may become a counter point that would lead to visual tension. (In actuality, the round point thankfully disappeared.)
As my LrC workflow progressed, my commitment and a feeling of authenticity grew, for what I had originally seen and felt took shape on my monitor. The tones, the subtle hues, the texture and the visual movement continued to reveal themselves, which confirmed my initial feelings about the images’ creative possibilities. Sometimes, the muses whisper in my ear and I stubbornly fail to heed the call; at other times I’m open to listening. The image below is the final result of my LrC workflow.
The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance. - Ansel Adams
For any artist, the question is always the same, “When is it time to stop? When is a specific piece of work complete? When is it done?”
This was the second time, I’d worked on this image file. The first time resulted in a meaningless, confusing mess of black dots floating on a dull cream background signifying nothing. After freeing my thoughts and allowing my mind to take its own course, other creative possibilities presented themselves. What I latter realised was I no longer worked with analog photographic materials, but more importantly, I had moved on, I had grown as a person, as an artist.
A popular photographic tropes is a photographer must find their own personal style to distinguish them from all other photographers. In this way, each time he/she presents an image, the image’s style defines and identifies the photographer. In my opinion, this leads to a series of boring images that only continue to replicate a photographer’s stunted growth. Like all humans, who we are today is far different, far more complex, far more interesting than who we were in our teens, our twenties, our thirties, etc. People grow, they learn, life acts upon us, we act upon ourselves and others upon us. It is through growth that maturity, complexity, subtlety, increased sensibilities and creative mastery are achieved.
From within LrC, I opened the completed image file in Photoshop and followed the prescribed workflow. Looking at my monitor at the resulting image, a feeling of warm satisfaction rose from deep within and a quiet smile spread across my face. The abstract image that stared back at me was something so foreign, so unusual, so unlike anything I had ever created before, that assigning a title was impossible in that moment, but I was totally transfixed by what stared back at me.
I create photographic images for myself and my audience. It is up to each one of you, who view my images, to decide for yourself if you are a member of my audience. If you choose not to be, then I wish you well as you move on in your search; if you choose to be a member, I realise not all of my images will speak to you in some deep and personal way, but for those images that do, I know we’ll have a long lasting mutual bond that I truly appreciate, even though we may never meet face to face.
The two images below are titled Morphogenesis-1 (the one on top) and Morphogenesis-2 (the other one). These are two version of the abstract image I created based on the story outlined above.
The top image’s aspect ratio is 3.5 to 1; the bottom image’s aspect ratio is 2 to 1. I ask you one question, “What do you see?”
I leave it to you to decide which one speaks to you more. I’d be interested in any thoughts you might wish to share and why.
It’s About the Image; Not the Gear
Okay, clearly you need camera gear to make a photograph. True you can use your cell phone and if your happy with the images you’re getting then that’s great. You’ve got no need to buy any more camera gear. Because lets face it; this stuff ain’t cheap!! To get a decent digital kit you’re going to have to fork over hundreds, if not thousands, of bucks! And last time I checked that’s not for everyone.
However, having acknowledged a digital camera is costly, for me it’s all about the final photo no matter how you got there.
- How does my image make me feel?
- Does my image “speak” to some inner part of me?
- Does my image remain in my memory for a long time?
- Am I personally happy with the final image?
The specific camera settings, you know, ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture, that sort of thing and the camera/lens combination are all secondary matters. The digital camera/lens, the computer and the image processing software I use are my creative tools of choice.
Let’s give you an analogy. (I’m big on analogies. They can often make complex things simpler.)
A painter uses brushes, a canvas or board and paint to create his/her work of art. I doubt anyone asks the painter what type of brush, or paint, he/she used.
The visualisation, the idea, the intention for the work comes from within the painter. These thing are unique to the individual, to the specific artist. It’s the same for a photographer.
On April 26th, 1937th, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Guernica, Spain was razed in a bombing raid. The raid was carried out by the German air force. Hitler sent elements of the German Luftwaffe to help Franco and his fascist forces defeat the left-wing and democratically elected government. In reaction, Picasso created the painting Guernica.
The above are the facts. The first time I saw this painting, I don’t mean the original, I should be so lucky, I mean a picture of the original painting, I got sense of pain, fear and utter agony. The characters rendered in the painting are totally distorted, fractured, and broken into pieces. And the use of stark black and white paint makes the emotions even more real because the viewer is left to their own imagination what it was like to experience such terror.
This work of art is probably Picasso’s most famous painting. I doubt anyone wonders what type of paint or brushes he used. The work stands on it’s own.
I feel the same way about a photographic image - it stands, or fails, on it’s own. You, the viewer, are either moved to some emotional reaction by a photograph, or not. You feel a connection with the photograph and therefore you become part of that photographer’s audience. What you choose to do with that connection is up to you. You may look online for other work by the artist to see if that connection can become a deeper one. Or you may not, but make no mistake, a connection was made.
I don’t list the camera settings (ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture, etc.) I used when posting my images on my website.
Another example of a connection I made to two artists - one long passed and another still with us. Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which I had the immense pleasure of seeing the original at the Toronto, AGO Gallery.
When standing in front of the painting, I immediately heard Don McLean’s song Vincent play in my head. I stood silent, in the middle of a small crowd, listening to the painting. As others shuffled around me, I simply stood there, listening and taking in all the colours, tones, hues and shades that He applied to the canvas. And at the same time, I connected to a greater appreciation for the meaning of Don McLean’s song than I had before.
If you and I were in the exact same location and we both used the same camera settings to capture a scene, your image would be different from mine. My image would be no “better” than yours. The two images would just be different.
And yet, when I see photographs posted on social media platforms, the technical exposure settings for each image are always quoted. It’s as if these technicality, these pieces of the craft - ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture settings - will some how mysteriously make a difference about how I relate to the photograph. They don’t.
The photographs you’ll discover on this website were made because I wanted to, to please myself and in some cases, I was compelled by some inner voice, or force, to do so, but I post them here because I want to share them with you, my audience. And, if you should happen upon an image or two, or a monograph that speaks to an inner part of you, you’ll consider purchasing a copy. For it’s in this way, while we may never meet face to face, we will share a mutual connection of a deeper and more personal kind.