A few weeks ago I returned from almost 2 months on the road photographing and although I wanted to get to this post, I ended up needing some time to decompress—I haven’t even fully unpacked yet! At some point I may share some of my experiences from those travels—across most of the southern US between Utah and the east coast—but, for now, I want to offer some tangible examples of the “”What If”’s” I spoke of in the last couple of posts here.
Before that, I think there are some important things to consider with regards to those “What If” moments.
First, there is no specific nature of these “What If” moments or ideas. They don’t just occur when we are doing something creative or related to our photography. It can just be an urge to read some book or see some movie or even something related to our day job that triggers a seemingly random thought. And THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE ORIGINAL IDEAS either. If we see something someone else has done we might have the urge to try it.
Second, the value of pursuing these “What If” ideas is not necessarily accomplishing the original goal but what we learn or discover along the way. Exploring into the “unknown” is where we gain knowledge and wisdom.
Third, “What If” ideas are not always disposable once we pursue them. We only know what we know at the current moment. We might get an idea we don’t yet have the skills—or other tools— to fully realize when we think of it. Two things are important here. First, what we learn pursuing the idea will help us in all of our work and second, years later we can come across something we did that “failed” and see the solution due to the skills/knowledge we have gained pursuing various other “What If’s” into new areas. Or maybe some new “What If” combines with or allows the realization of an old one. Keep a list of those What If’s, even one’s never pursued, and review it often.
Some Personal Examples:
The whole point behind these “What If” discussions is that when we have one of those moments/ideas, we choose to follow it and see where it leads.
One of the most important things for me as one who photographs largely outside the studio is that I have learned to follow those feelings I get to walk or drive down unplanned paths or roads that I come across. (see post: Looking for vs Finding) I pass a lot of “side” roads and hike a lot of miles, but I don’t always get the feeling to move in unplanned directions, it is just that when I do and I try to respond, I am almost always rewarded on some level—not always photographic, but always valuable.
One such discovery by doing this was the place pictured above, back in 1984. It’s now one of my favorite places to visit when I am in the area, an alien landscape that was nearly missed. It is not visible from the road nor is it on the way to anything in particular, just a “What If” that was followed. I discuss my discovery here. https://acurso.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/the-wash/
Although there had been various “What If” moments/ideas before then, it was in 1990 when I entered the commercial photography field that things really ramped up in this regard. One of the things I confronted was that I was now going to have to shoot color and I didn’t really like “normal” color. I had already been shooting for 12 years and only black and white for most of that. At that time, photographers did not have access to digital solutions and the most common deliverable for a photographer was a transparency (essentially what most might know as a “slide”). So there wasn’t much one could do except choose a film that “fit” your style and the client’s needs. But it was also the beginning of experiments to cross-process negative films, creating positives instead of color negatives. I experimented with, probably, 12 different films but wasn’t crazy about the very soft, cyan results they all seemed to generate. I picked a couple that seemed to hold some promise but I wanted something different and varied the processing and other factors I could control at the camera. I was learning a great deal about color theory that I hadn’t ever considered before as well as insight into various processing variables that I still draw upon, even with digital. Over 6 months or so of various “What If” moments and not getting where I wanted to go, I was just about ready to give up. I had just picked up a batch of test film from my lab that still hadn’t gotten me any nearer my goal and was driving back to my studio when I got one of those most improbable “What If” flashes. Trying it, I had discovered what I believe was, and remained until the film was discontinued, a unique color process that gave a hyper-real feel to the photograph while maintaining a somewhat conventional look. Along with other stylistic factors, the process helped attract clients from across the country to not only shoot “branding” type images but what might otherwise be mundane product shots as well. I even had an art director fly half-way across the country just to shoot four slices of bread!
During the time I was experimenting with this type of cross-processing, I was also exploring the use of cross-processing positive film and using the resultant “negative” as the final image (many were having these “negatives” printed for the high contrast and color shifts–later, I also scanned these “negatives” to create positive images). One such case is the image at the top of the page here, which was not what the art director asked for but when I presented this version, it was used as the final artwork in the ad for a snowboard company.
It’s important to understand that while most of the examples here are related to my commercial work, that isn’t the point. Rather, although I did explore ideas before I turned Pro, it was during this time that these “What If” explorations intensified and, in looking back, that I realize how important constantly looking into unknown areas is to our creative development. The things we learn build on themselves and build up our capacity to move further than we ever imagined.
Below are a couple more examples related to the above explorations. In my next entry, I will explore some more personal explorations of those “What If” ideas and close with a final entry introducing some new work that grew from continuing to follow a line of “What If’s” that date back to the mid-80’s.
Exploring the cross-processed negative film (turning it positive), some of my early failed experiments came to life once I figured out those “missing” elements. The color in the two images above was created in the camera not with lighting. Yes, the camera lens was filtered, but it was not how one might think (using normal film or digital capture) but rather a more complex application of color theory due to the abnormal characteristics of this process. This variation of the process was used on several projects including the packaging for an entire line of teas.
The image on the top, above, was created to be used on an album cover with the color palette and subject specified by the Design Firm. Once I completed this image, I decided to have some fun with color theory and replace the filters on the lights to create the same palette in a negative image. The result, the image on the bottom, was the one used for the album cover.
Please feel free to comment or ask questions. My next post should appear early next week.