|Conceptual Photography - Confessions of a Digitalist by Jim Respess|
When I discovered Photoshop, I realized that I had been waiting much of my life for its invention. While I could not have predicted I would build a career around the software, I was driven to make use of it in my art. I was still in recovery from a career in molecular biology and gene therapy, locked away in a darkroom, attempting to splice photos together in a manner not unlike recombining strands of DNA. In one project, for example, I wanted to create a beach scene with surfers, folks strolling and sun bathers, only in the middle of the night with a full moon and moon bathers. I set up my camera overlooking the beach in the late afternoon, avoiding the sun but catching the sunlight on the water. I took one underexposed shot of the scene (three stops down for thems that shoot). With the film not advanced, I placed the moon in the correct position so that the double exposure would look as if the light on the ocean was coming from the moon. I then took a photo of the moon on a new frame and subsequently double exposed it with a scene of the beach. I repeated this behavior until the moon no longer looked full. The result (with considerable darkroom contortions) was Crystal Pier Moonlight. I would soon learn that with Photoshop I could spend more time with concept and less with the execution of the final image. At least, that’s the case with relatively simple compositions.
Crystal Pier Moonlight
While I was struggling through the basics of Photoshop 3.0, I wasn’t struggling a bit with the many crazy concepts that I wanted to visualize. In one of my first projects, I took a look at a picture of (my lovely wife) Jan that was taken on the Acropolis in Athens, There she was, scabby kneed from a motorcycle spill, standing in front of the Parthanon in her miniskirt. It should be noted here that my liberal education included three years of art history as well as numerous painting and drawing courses. I was not unfamiliar with the artistic joke in which a familiar image is taken out of context. In this case, I thought it would be cute to imagine a budding architect/artist wanting to create a caryatid (a female figure as a column). So, I cut and pasted Jan into a nearby column. In the crude manner that I cut her out, I was left with her disembodied legs standing on a stone. I had another column to work with so I created a second caryatid in which just the female legs supported the temple. The result is Caryatid.
In the meantime, I was happily turning concepts into images. For much of my work, I imagine more or less the completed image before I begin to assemble it. In Book Beat for example, I took a photo of the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. That store became famous in the ‘50s as the west coast center of Beat literature. When I got back to San Diego and looked at the image, I was struck by the notion that the thin building looked like a book. Or better yet, I could make it a bookend to hold two-story Beat paperbacks. I brought my project idea to the owner of the Blue Door bookstore in San Diego, a good place to find Beat literature. I incorporated her, her store and her children in my final image. In order to visually draw attention to the books, I broght the color down from the sky and desaturated until it was completely gray at street level. There, only the books and the people looking at the books get color. (The young woman gets a little color because she is holding the hand of the fellow looking at the books.) I was encouraged with my art when this image took two Guru Awards from the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (including Best of Show).
Stuff of Life
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