Abstract Photography

Death of a Dancer

Death of a Dancer, Collage. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
Death of a Dancer, Collage. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

“…Let her finish her dance,

Let her finish her dance.

Ah, dancer, ah, sweet dancer!”

William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939

 

Some image details…

–Pieces of several mannequins were found scattered in front of a clothing store that was under renovation in Mendoza’s busy-bee city center.

–Ideas began to swirl in my brain as I made various captures from different perspectives.

–Some initial basic corrections in Lightroom: contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, sharpening, etc.

–In Photoshop: slight cropping, some cloning to remove a couple of distractions.

–B&W conversions with Google’s Silver Efex Pro, then back to Photoshop for the layering.

–Layering in PS: Played a lot with the placement of the three images within one another as well as the opacity of each layer.

–Camera: Sony RX100iv. Awesome little street camera–although the files don’t have near the adjustability of my Nikon D800 files (of course!) they are still pretty darn good coming from such a small package.

–To be printed at 18 x 12 inches on 19×13 Exhibition Fiber paper.

The Ice is Back!

Snow On the Rocks. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2016
Snow On the Rocks. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017

 

What with several days of below freezing temps–indeed even briefly below zero here and there–Boulder Creek has mostly frozen over. Then, day-before-yesterday’s 8-12 inches of snow left a nice fluffy-white cap atop the ice.

So, off to the creek I went to see what interesting abstracts might abound in one of the chillier parts of the canyon. The challenge was finding those few open water slots that still remained in those “refrigerator zones”.

Treading carefully, here are a few semi-abstract images I came up with:

Ice, #701. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017
Ice, #701. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017

 

Ice, #708. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017
Ice, #708. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017

 

Ice, #713. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017
Ice, #713. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017

 

Ice, #714. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017
Ice, #714. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017

 

Ice, #715. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017
Ice, #715. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017

 

Ice, #719. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017
Ice, #719. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2017

New Series: The Trump Collection

Just added a new portfolio of 12 images under the Galleries tab.

Here are three, to give you an idea. The message should be quite clear, I would think.

 

The Trump Collection, #1 (Vagitarian). Boulder, Colorado, 2016
The Trump Collection, #1 (Vagitarian). Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

The Trump Collection, #7 (Interrogator). Boulder, Colorado, 2016
The Trump Collection, #7 (Interrogator). Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

The Trump Collection, #10 (Savior). Boulder, Colorado, 2016
The Trump Collection, #10 (Savior). Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

The difficult part with these photographs is deciding which images should be layered together, then finding the “just right” placement of one over the other.

Most of these pictures came from files that were originally quite small (some were from my iPhone). I ran them through Topaz Impression to give them an effect I liked in addition to converting them to black and white. I have them currently sized at 18″ x 12″ but they could probably go to 30″ x 20″ quite easily.

I mention this somewhat technical information because it seems that many photographers get caught up in squeezing out maximum sharpness from their 24 to 36 to 50 megapixel super-machines when sometimes it isn’t really necessary. Yes, for a classic landscape, you likely do want that sharpness. But, if there is a specific concept in play that involves social or political commentary or story-telling, then the compositional elements and whether they are successful in communicating with the viewer are way more important than high definition and pixel resolution. 

Copyright Infringement, or Fair Use?

Sometimes the line between the direct copying a work of art (copyright infringement) and creating an entirely new work of art (fair use) can be very thin. There is a murky gray zone where the two sometimes meet.

For example, take (or leave) the photographer-artist Richard Prince. In one of his most famous images, he simply re-photographed a Marlboro ad, cutting out the text and leaving just the cowboy on the galloping horse. It sold for over a million dollars. Then another copy sold for over three million dollars.

He was sued of course but, after an initial court defeat, he eventually won. The US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit (Cariou v. Prince, 2013) said the photographs (well, 25 of the 30 works in question) were “transformative” so, therefore, “fair use”. 

Since Prince has made it his business to copy others I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me posting a photo of the image in question, “Untitled (Cowboy)”. Here it is, original ad on the left and Prince’s “re-appropriated” photograph on the right:

I’ll follow that up with an interesting three-minute video in which Sam Abell, the original Marlboro Man photographer, discusses what Prince has done:

 

Finally, how about my personal example of a “re-appropriated” work? Does it have a completely new meaning and value as a work of art? Is it transformative? Does it present a “new aesthetic”? Ultimately, then, is it copyright infringement or fair use?

Perhaps you could interpret it as a direct commentary on what Richard Prince has done to Sam Abell, eh?

Assassination of a Photographer. Denver, Colorado, 2016
Assassination of a Photographer. Denver, Colorado, 2016

 

Explanation: The above is a layered composition I derived from the following works, which you can see at the Denver Art Museum:

Roger Brown’s Surveying the Siberian Explosion (1985, oil on canvas) – all the exploded trees and the surveyor–who initially looked like a photographer to me

Carroll Dunham’s Shootist (2000, mixed media on linen) – man with pistol and balls on his nose–a powerful sexual violence commentary

Julian Opie’s Imagine You are Driving 3 (1997, vinyl stretched over an aluminum frame) – the disorienting highway scene

Funky Long Shadows

Lately, the shadows seem to have seeped darkly over my inspiration and enthusiasm. It has been awhile since I have simply gone out and about with my camera just to have fun.

So–I thought to myself–maybe I could try to boot myself out of this funk by grabbing and embracing those shadows–both literally and figuratively!

Up here in the northern hemisphere, the days are now quite short, the sun stays low most of the day, and the shadows are long. Ah, yes, an opportunity!

At the mall yesterday, whilst awaiting my store-browsing spouse, I challenged myself with this: Within 30 minutes, create an 8-12 image portfolio of shadow pictures with my iPhone.

After capture, I transferred the files to my desktop and put them through Silver Efex Pro using the “Silhouette” preset as the principal effect (with some tweaks). I cropped a bit here and there as well.

Maybe I am starting to break out of my funk?

Here is the result (and Happy Turkey Day!):

Mall Shadows, #1. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #1. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #2. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #2. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #3. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #3. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #4. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #4. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #5. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #5. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #6. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #6. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #7. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #7. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #8. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #8. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

And the last two with the human figure included:

Mall Shadows, #9. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #9. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Mall Shadows, #10. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mall Shadows, #10. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

Sawhill Ponds Reveals Yet Again

This place never ceases to astound me as a photographer. On the face of it, it is really nothing more than an old, somewhat dumpy, quarry area with a collection of shallow, swampy, ponds–but time has started to smooth out the scars and I almost never seem to go away from a photo visit without creating at least one good image, no matter the hour or the light.

A few days ago, we went for an afternoon walk around the ponds. The sun was still rather high…the light harsh. I had few expectations so didn’t bother with hauling the tripod along.

Still, Sawhill Ponds managed to rise once again to the occasion and show me something I had never seen before in my many, many trips out there.

Or is it that my creative eye is slowly maturing and is beginning to pick up on more sophisticated scenes?

…Landscapes that push beyond the boundaries of the traditional and the cliché, and on into the realm of the abstract…

 

First, here is a composition that appears quite busy at first glance, but is actually reasonably simple in terms of line, texture, and even form. Squint and blur your eyes and you might see what I mean. What caught my hairy eyeball was the way the winds were painting their way across the leaves and branches of a giant cottonwood tree–a tree with wonderful diagonals. The effect was almost surreal:

Autumn Wind. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016
Autumn Wind. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016

 

Second, here is a reflection I had never before seen nor captured in quite the same way, a nearby power pole supplying a sort of vertical focal point. The unusually low water level certainly helped by adding the many textured layers:

Tower Reflection. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016
Tower Reflection. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016

 

As Forrest Gump once famously said…”ya never know what yer gunna get…

 

POSTSCRIPT: For those who are fans of the added element of color, here are the original versions of the above two photographs. I think I like them just as much as their monochrome clones. They are just different–the eye tends to move over the picture differently…notice different things. Which is better? I’m not sure…

Autumn Wind. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016
Autumn Wind. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016

 

Tower Reflection. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016
Tower Reflection. Sawhill Ponds, Colorado, 2016

Monochromatic Anthropomorphism At Vedauwoo’s Rocks

Anthropomorphism: To ascribe human traits, ambitions, emotions, or entire behavior to animals, non-human beings, natural phenomena, or objects. Even rocks.

Do you often see human faces or body parts in inanimate objects when you are out photographing? Then the Faces in Places Flickr Group might be for you. There, you can join others in posting your latest anthropomorphic discoveries. Some are quite unusual, even bizarre.

Here are four I found in the Vedauwoo National Recreation Area, a popular rock climbing, camping, and hiking area between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming.

 

In the first, once you see the face, you can’t stop seeing it. Examine the left side of this image. The lips are formed by that slightly arching horizontal crack near the bottom. A small nose with a slight shadow below it is just above, and a sort of eye socket can be seen in the upper left corner area:

Face, #1. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016
Face, #1. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016

 

This one might be a bit of a stretch, unless you are a dentist. Do they look at all like giant teeth (maybe with bits if food on them)? Sorta…sorta…

Giant Molars. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016
Giant Molars. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016

 

That’s a nipple on the left. The black water streak in the middle divides his chest. On the right, you can make out the line of his shoulder and arm, but the nipple is missing. I suppose that horizontal line in the upper left would be a scar from a late night knife fight in a bar during Cheyenne Frontier Days:

The One-Nippled Man. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016
The One-Nippled Man. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016

 

Finally, I was able to find a monument to The Man himself, Homer Simpson, among the giant rock outcrops. I’ll let you discover him on your own, but the nose is a nice hint–that rounded triangular rock on the right–and he has no eyeball. The more cultured among you might see, instead, the outline of a rather pensive philosopher:

Homer Simpson. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016
Homer Simpson. Vedauwoo, Wyoming, 2016

The Mundane

Into the Light. Vistoso Condos, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Into the Light. Vistoso Condominiums, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

From Susan Sontag, in her book, On Photography:

“And since the 1920s, ambitious professionals, those whose work gets into museums, have steadily drifted away from lyrical subjects, conscientiously exploring plain, tawdry, or even vapid material.”

“To photograph is to confer importance.”

 

Is it possible to make a passably thoughtful image out of any subject, no matter how mundane, boring, common-place, or apparently empty?

Maybe. Maybe not.