Monday, July 26, 2010
Let's Put on a Show!
It’s fascinating to watch Rich develop the paintings he has posted here. I'm always asking Rich “How did you do that?” and seeing the paintings in various stages gives some idea of the techniques he used and the effort put forth.
As I look forward to the September show, I have different challenges as a photographer. Rich is looking to finish the works and increase the number of completed paintings. I’m largely done shooting, and am now in the post-capture phase. I need to pare down what I’ve shot to create the best possible exhibit.
This is a real struggle for me. I only want to present my best work, but often a series of photos tells a more complete story. There is a tyranny of vision if I only choose one or two images – that is all people get to see, and I can rarely tell a whole story with one or two images. That is why I’ve grown to really love this blog, as I can show more images and provide more information than I can at the gallery.
This exhibit is not a documentary, but rather a collection of fine art images around a theme. I do not therefore feel obligated to capture every interesting roadside attraction in New Jersey. I do feel obligated, however, to leave viewers with an overall impression of the some of the unusual and interesting things that make this state so unique.
When I mount an exhibition like this around a theme, I gather all the possible images on the computer to see how things look together. Sometimes I layout the images on a virtual wall, sometimes not. Last year Rich and I interspersed our work and it made for some very interesting juxtapositions. We will likely try this again this year.
Things get interesting when I have the images gathered and I see patterns and omissions. It’s not until this point that I get a sense of what the exhibit will really feel like. I may find, for example, that I have a lot of photos of buildings. Are they interesting enough? Too similar? Is it exhibit about the building or how it fits in the landscape? Are there people interacting with the building? Typically, when I’m shooting at a location, I’ve got close-ups, long shots, abstractions, and photos with people. The images I choose to tell a story determine what people feel.
I’m convinced the subject of the work is more important in photography than other mediums. It doesn’t matter so much if VanGogh paints a night sky or sunflower. Its how he paints it that people react to. But typically a photo of a night sky or a photo of a sunflower will first remind viewers of a night they spent outside or a sunflower in their grandmother’s garden before they react to the artistry. All photos start with light bouncing off a real object.
So, I believe the subject is important. And no subject is more fascinating than people. Photos of yourself are the most fascinating, followed by photos of those you know and then animals. Photos of people are so expected, in fact, that I find photo exhibits without a single person or even an animal to be rather stark, cold, and removed, although this is sometimes exactly the point.
Once I’ve settled on the images to include, I start to think about the final presentation. I don’t do a lot of after-capture manipulation, but I begin to think about how to crop the individual photos and whether I want them to be in black and white or color. And what kind of black and white and color? Bold colors, muted colors, sepia toned, stark black and white, or black and white with softer gray tones are all options. I usually have a very clear idea when I shoot, but sometimes change my mind when I look at a series of images later. It’s more about setting a mood or telling a story than it is about right or wrong.
I’m already struggling with one aspect of this exhibition, and that is the sense of time. I’ve got images that aren’t exactly timeless, but look like they could have been taken yesterday or fifty years ago. I’m trying to decide whether it’s more interesting to emphasize this by giving the images a timeless quality, or whether it’s more interesting to make them look modern and hope people see “that the more things change the more they stay the same”.
Finally, the subject of scale comes into play. I’m always amazed how some images just seem to look right or wrong at certain sizes. Sometimes the size is dictated by technical factors like sharpness or details in the shadows. Usually, however, I print to the size that has the kind of impact I'm looking for.