Thursday, October 07, 2010



Every so often, browsing through my photo archives, an idea for an image comes to me, when a few elements start to come together in my mind. Even on roadtrips with planned subjects, I also shoot a lot of photos not as pure photos, but as stock images, or as elements for future Photoshop collages.

Every so often, when browsing through photo elements, an idea for a collage image comes to me. These are not really Surrealist images, but post-surrealist. They owe more to the influence of one of my favorite photographers, Jerry Uelsmann, who for many years has made post-surreal photo collages in his darkroom, working with many negatives and masks and exposures to create master prints of his visionary art. From the very beginning of my work with Photoshop, I began doing something similar, albeit in the primarily digital domain.

This piece, Stairway came together over the las few nights, as I was looking at recent photos. The river image is of Turtle Creek, my local beloved river. The stairs are from a mountainous city park in Portland, OR. The model is from an outdoors model shoot I did over a year ago.

I like the combined result for its synergy, the combined effect that creates something new out of the individual elements, taking the finished image in a direction none of the elements implied only by themselves. The river becomes a tiled path, perhaps, with a traveler walking along its surface. Or a wet pavement street, or waterway. The reflection of the stairs in the sky becomes perhaps a shelter, or another path entirely, or an echo of the basic forms.

Here's the original color image of Turtle Creek, that served as a base for this collage:

The idea of superimposing the stairs came along as I continued browsing through images. It seemed like a natural fit, and I worked fairly extensively to get the right positioning and layering effects to their final state. The model was almost an afterthought, but quickly became essential to the concept of the piece. I did create a new wave reflection of the person to superimpose over the water, and the stairs.

In making these photocollage images, I often end up working in B&W rather than color. That's partly because so many individual photo elements don't match up in color, due to lighting and location. But working in B&W is also partly about making a composition in unified tonal effects, with unified lighting and tones, which is easier to assemble in B&W. So, those are the technical reasons for working in B&W.

There are aesthetic reasons, as well. Partly the history of photography, not to mention gallery culture, still recognizes B&W images as more "fine art" than color images, most of the time. That bias is still present. More importantly, there is a pleasure in B&W imagery that is purely about shapes, compositions, forms, lighting, and sensuality. You are freed up in some ways to think outside the usual photographer's mental box, when you don't also have to deal with color.

There is something very sensual about B&W, a different kind of sensuality than color: more of artifice than reportage, more subject to creative mastery. B&W is inherently more artificial than a color snapshot—which is one reason it's taken to be more fine art than color, still—and as a more artificial artform, it shows the artifice, the conceptual toolmarks of the artist's imagination, visualization, and execution.

Another way of breaking out of photography's sensual box that I have been experimenting with lately is to convert a color image to B&W leaving only one key element in color. I find that monochrome color often works for this approach.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I’d seen some of Uelsmann’s work before. The building with roots for one although maybe I’m thinking about the titles to The Outer Limits. I’ve always enjoyed photomontage but I’ve never been good enough technically to attempt it. I enjoyed seeing how you went about this one. It does feel a little dark overall. Perhaps it would look better bigger but it wasn’t until I read the text that I realised it was steps.

5:34 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

As you know, Uelsmann was the main inspiration for The Outer Limits title sequence, the revived TV show that is, and they quoted several images directly. All with his permission, of course. The house with the tree roots, yes. The image of the face in the palm of the hand was originally a self-portrait, although for the title sequence they put a woman's face in instead.

I guess it is a bit dark in the browser. It isn't that way in the working file, though. I was going for high contrast rather than dark. I do like the shadowy mystery, though.

11:37 AM  

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