Turn Your Bad Photographs into Great Paintings
Two years ago, during a long delay at London’s Heathrow Airport, I spent a couple hours in a very large magazine store. The selection of photography magazines from across Europe surprised me, and also gave me something to focus on during the delay. One headline on a digital photo issue grabbed my attention. It proclaimed, “Turn Your Bad Photographs into Great Paintings”. Wow, I thought, you can be bad in two things – you can’t take a good photo and you don’t know how to paint – and you can still make something great.
Last year during a workshop I watched a student open a box of prints. The first was of a water lily, but it had been put through a digital filter to make it “look like a Monet”. The next was posterized, sending colors of something, maybe a cat, into psychedelic neon nostalgia. There was one of a rose that was heavily blurred with digital brushstrokes. Each and every print was different, and each was heavily manipulated by the application of a digital software filter. My mind wandered, thinking that if one of these pieces were to hang on a gallery wall, the title card might read:
“Tulip, ala Cezanne” – by Ema Ture and Photoshop CS5, or . . .
“Cute Animal in Blue Period, Underwater” – by Nat Myonne and Acme Special Effects
I was fascinated by the thought of being honest about who really had the skill, and with this idea holding a lock on my mind, everywhere I looked, images had been taken far beyond what could be done in-camera. Okay, you say, isn’t the negative just the beginning? Mr. Adams proclaimed that the negative was like writing the score, and making the print was voila!, the masterpiece, the final expression. You’re right, but Ansel was doing his personal darkroom dance (a great place for private bogeying, but I digress) using his hands and simple tools, deciding that a particular spot over there needed a little more light, and that one needed less. In the digital world he would have been a master of selectively using tools to achieve his vision. And that is the point. Selectively using a tool to finesse the vision. Not scrolling through the choice of filters, and tripping with the mouse on “Ocean Ripple” or “Fresco” or “Mezzotint”, and going, “Cool, that looks great. Another couple sips of wine, and this will be quite an evening!” It is like going into a candy store, not knowing what you want, and getting seduced by the M&M’s, and maybe some Gummy Worms. And look at those Snickers . . . What we are missing is taking the time to become an expert at using the tools. And it is easy to see why, because the river flows strongly in the opposite direction. Many digital software classes teach the flash and not the vision. It’s cool, it’s fun, and it’s quick. Everything about photography is quick these days, from capture to viewing to publishing. But developing and building a vision is a journey.