Wrestling With Pigs

Wrestling with pigs, Emerging from Hell

I’m about to emerge from nine months in hell. I’m not out yet – there’s still work to be done – but I’m at least back in control of this aspect of my destiny.

It was a simple thing, really; all I wanted to do was fix some issues with this blog site design. The original designer tinkered with some code, which made updates impossible and crashes common.

So I was recommended to another fired-up firm who would definitely be able to help me. (I won’t blast them publicly here – that’s not my style. I will gladly steer you clear of disaster upon request. My good friend who recommended me to this firm has also pulled all of his work from this firm for similar – and worse – problems. ‘Nuff said.) (more…)

Right-brained thinking in a left-brained world

I just attended a four-day “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” workshop and am exhausted. I never expected to be so fatigued – after all it was a drawing class! I feel like I ran four marathons.

The premise is interesting: that we lose our right-brained view of the world by about the time we become teenagers, once the language skills and quantitative training we receive in school really start to kick in. That’s why most of us (myself clearly included) as adults continue to draw as if we’re in about the fourth grade.

This training was based on the book of the same name, originally written in 1979 and still available as a book as well as a workshop. Interestingly, I purchased this book some three years ago but had not cracked the cover until a week before the class started. I read it as the class I was taking was taught in Hungarian and I wasn’t confident I’d understand all of the subtleties of the lesson, although I did fare rather well!

The class centered on looking at the world anew, suppressing the left-dominant logic when it comes to looking at shadows, faces and perspectives. Over the four days we learned how to look at objects leveraging our right brain hemisphere. I have to tell you it didn’t come easy for me and I consider myself to be pretty right-brained.

Beyond the overall lesson in drawing learned – and the vast improvement in my drawing in just a few days of practice – I also took away some more subtle lessons:

Use all the tools you have available. We were given six pencils – H, HB, H2, H4, H6 and H8 – that ranged in hardness and functionality. I found myself choosing a “favorite” many times versus leveraging the range of options available, and my drawings reflected this closed-mindedness. Several times I had too much graphite on an image and had I chosen another, better suited pencil, I would have fared better. We were also given three erasers: a basic one good for massive erasing, an eraser “pen” for more detailed corrections and a kneaded eraser for final touch-ups. All three had their role and I used them all extensively!

Look for what’s not there versus what is there. The left-brain tells you what is there and what’s logical. The right brain shows you what isn’t there – the negative spaces in an image that make an image an image. Really searching for what isn’t there was huge in helping render images as they really are as you learned the true spatial relationships between various objects. I observed one classmate (who happens to be in IT – serious left brain dominance) struggle with the assignments, even arguing with the teacher at one point about what he needed to do. He struggled with suppressing the left hemisphere more than some in the class and was extremely frustrated most of the time. We had to trust the teacher in looking for what was not there versus grabbing onto what was obvious in front of our eyes.

Have patience and persistence – and believe in yourself – and the image emerges. Many times I questioned myself about how I was shading part of a picture or what highlights I was leaving on the paper. It seemed counter intuitive at times, yet when I would step back from the image just a foot or two, the logic became clear and image would indeed appear as it was supposed to. Being patient and persistent were key and, coupled with choosing my tools well, made the difference between realizing an acceptable image (I’m no Vermeer mind you) and one that needed a big eraser or, better yet, a new sheet of paper.
I’m sharing here the before and after images I drew – click on the image to see it larger. Each of us was given a photo to draw as our first assignment on day one. On day four, we redrew the image and, well, the difference a couple of days of training makes is obvious. Everyone showed marked improvement in their drawing skills no matter where they started from, just by learning how to use the right side of their brains.

P.S. Also, welcome to the new home of my blog! Better name, better design, better focus (pun intended) and more functionality with this site. Please feel free to join the conversation!

 

Tools

I’m often asked what equipment I use. To twist the old male adage: it’s not the brand of the equipment that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts. Now clearly, if you want to capture high-speed sports action or microscopic images you need equipment capable of delivering those images. But for most situations it’s really not the quality of the equipment that matters, but rather it’s what you see that matters.

 

 

I remember my mentor, Howard Stephens, retelling a story where he went to a Nikon workshop. The workshop was designed to help one further develop his or her eye using discussions and examples. All of the class showed up with a pad and pen except for one individual who showed up with two Halliburton cases full of brand new Nikon equipment – bodies, lenses, filters, the works. This fellow had all the gear but no ideas and was looking for someone to tell him what to take pictures of. It just doesn’t work that way.

 

 

For my part, I most always have a camera with me as the right time for a photo is that precise moment – the decisive moment as Cartier-Bresson is credited with coining – and later simply won’t do; if no camera, then no image. As a result, many of my images are captured by a basic Nikon point-and-shoot simply because this camera fits in my pocket and consequently is with me a lot of the time. And it produces some great images – not because it’s a great camera (it’s adequate) but because there was an image that I saw, that I wanted to capture and I had a tool with me that would allow me to capture what I saw at that moment.

 

 

When I am on holiday or go out deliberately to shoot, I generally carry three cameras with me. One is my Nikon digital SLR, one is a Leica point-and-shoot loaded with slide film (to be later transformed into Polaroid emulsion transfers) and the last is the plastic Diana, loaded with 120 black and white film for those certain unique images.

 

 

Nicely, the vast array of digital cameras available today are of surprisingly high quality, so one has access to reasonable equipment that will allow him or her to capture that image. Still, it’s not as important that you have the best equipment money can buy, but rather more important that you see something visually interesting that you want to record.

The allure of various media, Part III

I finally went digital a few years back and color imaging was thrust upon me through the instant gratification window on the back of the camera. And to be honest, I like shooting in color, although I still convert a lot of my digital images to black and white as that’s how I saw them when I took the original image. While I miss playing with film, I’m finding that the digital images are overall OK. They at times seem to lack the depth of film, but perhaps that’s just me being nostalgic.

 

Despite being digital, my images are as I found them, beyond the normal adjustments of contrast and brightness – no different from what I would do in a darkroom. Years back I experimented with high contrast or Ortho images in the darkroom. I enjoyed the manipulation although today I’ve resisted the temptation to “Shop” images as digital manipulation has been called. I’m seeing some great stuff out there that doesn’t need altering. Perhaps one day I’ll expand into digital manipulation, but for now I’m enjoying capturing images from the world around me.

 

I have to say, though, that while I’m getting accustomed to finishing my images on a PC, I miss the smell of fixer. I’ve been looking for a candle that smells like fixer to light when I work on images at my worktable. My darkroom has been in storage in the States for the past seven years. I’m curious if and when I’ll ever unpack it…

 

Regardless, my mission is clear with whatever medium I choose to work in. In the words of Andre Kertesz, “You have to learn the limits of the medium, and then learn to work on the edges of those boundaries.”

The allure of various media, Part II

Another technique I use is the Polaroid emulsion transfer. These images begin life as slides. I then copy them to Polaroid film using the handy Day Lab. The Polaroid images are then scalded in hot water which causes the emulsion to separate from the paper backing. Finally, the emulsion is transferred to watercolor paper resulting in the odd-looking textured images you see on my site. Going from slide to Polaroid alters the colors a bit and the water bath process has its effects on the image as well. Still, the final image is intriguing and – to me anyway – needed to be seen in this format.

 

Here again, as with the Diana, the composition has to happen in the camera as there is no cropping – the Day Lab copies the slide to the film as is. Adding to the challenge is restriction that the image is only as large as the Polaroid paper – about 3 ½ by 4 ½ inches or 9 x 11.5 cm. Not all images work in this format.

 

I love to work with this medium although Polaroid has announced that they are no longer going to produce the paper so these images may become a part of history sooner than I anticipated.

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