Saturday, February 28, 2009

'Once there was a tree...'

Stockton Tree study no.1
Perhaps it was reading 'The Giving Tree' as a child, but I have always had an infatuation with trees. I love them and I've been photographing them since I was a teenager. They take up a great part of my photo archives. This is the latest shot this week at Fort Stockton, Presidio Park, Old Town San Diego.

Elizabeth by the window
An early example of my explorations circa 1987. A black and white shot photo printed on Agfa fiber-based paper, sepia toned then painted with Marshall's photo oils, oil pastels and Prismacolor pencils.

I am the product of two artists. Each with very distinct styles and opposing viewpoints as to the role of an artist. My father leans towards realism, my mother towards impressionism. In many ways, I walk a line that bridges them sometimes leaning toward documenting what I see and other times towards interpreting it.

In art school, I studied alternative printmaking methods. We played with cyanotypes, gum dichromate, intaglio and relief printing, pinhole and polaroid transfers. Each in a quest to further and refine our quest to interpret our world. My school's motto was 'Art for art's sake...' and our time exploring these methods were some of the most memorable of my college years.

Moving from school to the 'real world' required an adjustment from playing and exploring to the harsh reality of having to pay rent and buy food. I took jobs custom printing and learned the tricks of working in a studio from a couple of pros and got down to the business of exploring the technical side of photography: lighting, equipment, working with models, prop styling, etc.

After I moved onto the newspaper, I had a little financial cushion that allowed me to get back to exploring alternative photography in my free time. I started shooting infrared again and pushing and pulling Tri-X in order to manipulate grain and then spent hours in the darkroom making black & white prints from single or sandwiched negs sometimes exposed through black netting held between the lens and the easel to soften and blur the image, or sometimes I bleached, fogged or toned them. Then afterwards, I would go back and manipulate the prints with oil paint, watercolor, pastels, pen and ink so that the final print would more closely match the world I had in my head and not necessarily the world I saw with my eyes.

When I discovered Photoshop, I saw it not as a replacement for what I was doing in the darkroom, but rather an extension of it: A way to manipulate color, texture and photographic elements in such a way as to bend the world around me to the vision in my mind's eye. This surreal approach balanced with a need to tell a story gained me a small amount of recognition and allowed me to continue my exploration in the pages of the newspaper I work at. There was a time in the late 90s through about 2003 where my illustrations appeared at least once a month throughout the paper and won several awards for me and by extension, recognition for the newspaper. A restructuring and a new editor saw me phased out of the illustration rotation and I simply stopped exploring and concentrated on getting through my day and heavy workload.

But photography has always been my touchstone. I never had a deep seeded need to be a journalist. It's just where I ended up: a means to pay the bills, live my life and I'm grateful for it but truth be told, I wanted to be an art photographer bouncing back and forth between my camera and a paintbrush.

With the mounting uncertainty of the industry and the continuing bombardment of bad news as papers are folding across the country, I've found the need to nurture the photographer and artist in me again as a means to cope. I've started shooting more regularly and exploring with post processing just as I used to all those years ago late at night in my converted home darkroom and makeshift studio. Only this time, instead of my trusty Pentax K1000, Beseler enlarger and Marshall photo oils, it's a Canon 5D, MacBook Pro and Adobe Photoshop that I reach for to help me realize the visions in my head.

The above tree image is the first in a new series exploring texture and color manipulation. I'm curious to see where the journey takes me...More curious than I have been in a long time...

1 comment:

KleoPatra said...

What an interesting read into your artistic past, present and future. i'm so impressed with the photos here and even moreso what you've done to them to bring out the "extras" in them both. i look forward to see what else you are doing artistically speaking! Such talent you have. It's such a deep sadness i have that the newspaper has gone in the direction it has, especially for the artists who have always made it pleasant to look at... to go along with the black and white printed matter. It's what i have always loved about newspapers... the combination of the printed word and the artwork that accompanies it, enhances it and enriches it. We don't see that much any more and it's a shame. Oh for those days to come back.