This weekend I started reading a new book about Ideas and where they come from. Now, I haven’t gotten very far into the book so I don’t feel I can yet give it a strong recommendation, however, I am finding it interesting. The book is Steve Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From—The Natural History of Innovation”. (I got it from the library, so there wasn’t any risk associated with it not being interesting!)
It was in the introduction and first chapter that he covers some points that are very relevant to the pursuit of “What If’s” that I have been discussing here. Following or trying these ideas, by definition of the statement “What If”, takes us places that are not familiar or known to us. Pursuing these introduces new things into our awareness, things that we can draw upon later in our work—often in unrelated ways to how we discovered them. The point is that the more we know, the more we have to draw upon either to create something or to solve problems. One of the points in the book is that most of the major innovations we are aware of aren’t quantum leaps beyond what is already known but rather new ways of relating different known things to create something new—what he calls “The Adjacent Possible”. The more we know, the more robust our solutions and innovations will be.
I often hear the statement with regards to photography that everything has been done and so everything is just a rehash of what is known. The reality is then one day we see something new that someone comes up with, a new way of seeing or photographing or presenting something—of course, with that “everything has now been done”, but then this phenomenon repeats itself. The fact is that these “new” things are generally just new applications of that which already existed, things we may or may not have, personally, been aware of.
So, the author of the book made a statement there that I thought was extremely important and that is: “The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.” Of course, the “table” is our knowledge base and getting those parts isn’t sitting around thinking but being out doing.
Sometimes we will have a lot of parts and have an idea but we don’t yet have the “tools” to make them a reality and maybe the discovery of some new tool can stimulate other new ideas. In the last entry, I presented several “what if” ideas that were related to pre-digital photography. The pursuit of those ideas helped me more deeply understand the processes of photography that I still use today whether I am working digitally or with analog processes. In the following examples, it was digital processes, both with scanned film and digital capture, that facilitated my discoveries. The discoveries were not just visual but deepened my understanding and proficiency with digital processes. These “What If’s” that I will focus on here, and the thoughts around why I pursued them, all led me to a current process that I am exploring and which will be revealed in the next installment of this “What If” series.
In that regard, I started pursing a line of questioning with regards to space, time and perspective and how to express that photographically about 17 years ago although I had done some cursory investigations 30 years ago when I created some grid imagery as well as multiple exposures along these lines. I should mention that these explorations were also related to my long time interest in the transformation of subject to “what else” it becomes other than representational concerns.
So, let me give some examples of this particular aspect of following those “What If’s” I explored with regards to time, space and perspective:
In 1998, I began to play with extending the idea of how the drop shadow, used extensively by designers with product shots, could separate an object from the background (space), as well as the concept of aura, through multi-layering. (I was also exploring the use of the Holga and another aspect of cross-processed film at that time) After about 30 hours using a much more primitive version of Photoshop to create the image above, I had learned a ton more than I already knew about the program although I had been working with it since 1993. I used this technique both personally and commercially for several years after that.
A few years after creating the Electric Tower image, I started working with multiple images to see how space, time and perspective could be presented by photographing pieces of a scene with 100’s of different images and then reconstructing the image with these slightly different perspectives. The image above was created in 2008 or 2009 when I resurrected the idea after getting a “serious” digital camera. Of course, this idea had been explored by many others, including David Hockney, but I wanted to see how it might be applied within my own work. Again, I learned quite a bit from the process of shooting several different types of images over the next couple of years.
The image above was a short-lived experiment where I combined the separate RGB channels of the first three images (The Red from one, the Green from the next and the Blue from the last.) Unfortunately, this is a pretty monochromatic color image but you might recognize that the stationary parts of the final image are rendered in “true” color while the moving parts take on the more colorful variations. This was actually a process that had been experimented with by several fine art photographers in the 70’s and 80’s using film and RGB sharp cut filters for each exposure—either printing as dye transfers from three separate pieces of film or on a single piece of film through a multiple exposure using a different filter for each exposure. One day I was just bored and decided to see how it worked with digital exposures—and whether it had some relevant application for me. I did discover what I believe was a new permutation of the process, that using the same color channel from each of the exposures pasted into the RGB channels of the final (eg only the red channel, one from each exposure into the r, g, b channels of the final) converts the stationary objects to black and white while the moving objects take on the multi-colored effect. (I would be glad to demonstrate this in another entry here if there is interest by anyone, just make a request in the comments here).
Some recent experiments with those “What If” ideas have been a bit more interesting for me and have presented a direction that I have been pursuing a bit more seriously over the last couple of years.
The image above represents the first test I conducted on stacking various exposures digitally–which might also be done in-camera although some digital post processing might be needed to finish the image. This idea came from seeing others working in similar ways. One of the first discoveries of “visual” similarity I have come across was done by Idris Khan with appropriated imagery. Of course, his idea was a bit different and it should be understood that it is how we use various techniques, our ideas, that can make them our own even if we create more traditional imagery.
When I had done several of these, another “What If” came to me to take the idea in a slightly different direction, I created the image below:
Which led to another “What If” with regards to the processes of how one combines those same images and how a totally different visual, something more solid, can emerge:
Although I have been pursuing these various ideas over the last few years, the acquisition of a new piece of equipment was the catalyst to asking another “What If” and discovering a different approach to this sort of imagery. This process was right before me without the new equipment but hidden. I will present this work in the next entry here.
The important thing, again, is to just get as many “parts on the table” as possible by trying different things. We do this by continually exploring into those unknown areas stimulated by our “What If’s”. Even if those don’t end up being something we want to pursue, the knowledge we gain, those parts discovered, can be what invaluable to our growth and development and a discovery that’s in our future.