I’ve been taking pictures for a long time. Only recently have I taken pictures with a purpose. For many years I have taken pictures serendipitously, what Pascal calls “grabbing” (DS # 1134). That approach was my staple for many years, but the more I shoot the more I veer from grabbing.
I’m getting too old to wait for fate. Gotta get up early, or stay up late, to chase the perfect light that may or may not oblige. And then I may get the perfect shot of a sunrise (or sunset) almost as good as the thousands I have seen on the walls of galleries everywhere. To what end? I may get lucky? Perhaps. I’d rather chase the perfect cappuccino technique in my kitchen, devour the perfect croissant made fresh by my wife, and read the life and leisure section of the paper. I’m getting too old for serendipity.
I began my purposeful exploration of photography several years ago, soon after my wife began raising flowers with a purpose. That purpose? Harnessing entropy. Make no mistake, her plants engage in entropic wandering constantly. Orchids are like that. Like little kids, they sometimes make bad decisions. She molds them, ever so subtly, into better versions of themselves. She has a vision for them that is a combination of altruism and artistry. They shine because of her vision and thrive under her care. The results are both natural and artistic. She is my muse.
My camera has become a shovel with which I mine the raw materials from which I craft a “reality” hidden from my camera’s sensor. I am less concerned with capturing an accurate rendition of what I see, and more concerned with how I can use those raw materials to pursue a vision that begins as a fiction in my imagination. That has become the purpose of my photography. But it’s easy to go too far. I stive for a balance between purpose and artifice.
That is not to say I can’t get a bit carried away at times. For this I apologize. I offer an example of a tortured print I produced using three photographs taken of four eggs, generously donated by a neighbor, four egg yolks, generously provided by my wife during a baking frenzy, and a photo of a Chihuly glass sculpture that I took while visiting my daughter in Seattle. I find the result particularly pleasing even if the photographic process was a bit messy. A copy hangs on my living room wall.
In my previous life, I was engaged in medical-image husbandry, mating disparate visualization techniques into a what I hoped would be a more useful diagnostic tool, photoacoustic ultrasound to be exact. In that endeavor I failed. In retirement, however, I have not abandoned the pursuit of the perfect visualization. I share my attempts with anyone who will take some time to look. We all have something to share.
Before I became a medical-imaging scientist, I studied physics. (However, I am no DeGrasse Tyson, nor do I pretend to be.) Not surprisingly, my favorite topic during my training was optics. The bending of light rays through glass made complete sense. Focusing, f/stop, exposure, noise, grey scale, image compression were no problem. Does familiarity with these concepts help me? Of course they do, but only to the extent that my photos are in focus, adequately exposed and free from objectionable noise. But most are objectionable in more annoying ways. My physics professors did not teach me how to transform my photos into adequate, let alone perfect, visualizations. ‘Twas not their job. ‘Twas mine.
Suffering from one recent brain cramp, I undertook creating a series of images from a simple concept. (All of my concepts are simple.) I took photos of store-bought bell peppers and layered them with other photos I took of my wife’s flowers to see what emerged. What emerged was something I titled The Pepperazzi Collection, which revealed a variety of unexpected, three-dimensional shapes and textures. Sometimes, my purpose leads to serendipity.
Fascinated by the way in which two-dimensional pictures can convey three-dimensional forms, I exploited Trompe l’oeil techniques that trick the eye into “seeing” 3-D forms in planar structures. I took a photo of a simple pattern that I assembled from different-colored, construction paper, laid out on a planar surface. I then desaturated the resultant image, which produced shading. When combined with the projection angle from which I took an image, the result displayed strong 3-D cues. Accentuating the texture of the construction paper gave an impression of rock-like solidity. Addition of a vase, a few cherries or some knickknacks completed the 3-D illusion.
So, there you have a quick trip through a few of my photographic fantasies. I have indulged my desire to create something a little different, sometimes unexpected. My recent work takes place in my attic “studio”. My camera rests squarely on a tripod. I choose my lighting to meet my needs as best I can. I try to create a simple world that I can control rather than succumb to the vagaries of the real world. It is too complicated. I leave that more difficult task to those of far greater talent, dedication, and endurance than myself. But I do enjoy what I do. I think that is the bottom line.
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