Turning "Pics" into Statements

If you wanna get straight to the pictures, go for it. If you want to know a little about what I did, read on.

A while ago, I had a conversation with my friend Ben of Spradosphere (a very cool music blog) about the length of time a photographer should take to touch up their photos. Back then I said no more than 2 minutes. “Do you think Annie Liebowitz takes only 2 minutes to touch up her photos?” he asked. The correct response is that it depends, although that’s not what I said back then (which was a really stupid and regrettable answer).

I had a rule for a while which limited me to two minutes on each picture. I was doing photojournalism for magazines, newspapers, and websites — pictures that shouldn’t look like an abstraction of reality. Just simple light touch ups. A little highlights. Some more contrast. Etc. But my answer to Ben was more of a broad sweep. Nowadays, it can take me up to a year to be satisfied with the final touches, which of course affects the price for a print but that’s for a different post.

There are many photographers who range from Hans Bellmer to Sally Mann whose influence blends with my attraction to old glass plate and ghost photography. It’s the particularly haunting qualities that make my eyes, heart, nervous system, and brain crumble when I look at examples of these works so of course it results in the creative amalgamation of my style.

BEFORE

First off, you would be right to assume that there’s something very Civil War about this image. We’re talking glass plate heaven potential. This was shot on a Nikon D300s in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I’m going to take this boring, throwaway shot and make it feel more special.

Already we have some problems with this photo. WTF is that car and dumpster doing in the picture??? The lighting ratio of the house is JUST okay but more contrast would make thee ol’ heart tremble.

So here’s our photo. All I did to this version was render it black and white — NOTHING ELSE.

You can click on it to BLOW IT UP.

And now to the final version. By the way, it would be helfpul to have Adobe Lightroom so you know what the hell I’m talking about.

The Safe House (2011)

AFTER

Okay, here’s the FINAL VERSION of the previous shot. More appealing. Much sexier and ultimately, much more my style. You could imagine a ghost coming out of one of those busted windows.

Fortunately, there were some interesting qualities to this shot that I could work with. Dilapidated house to symbolize injury to the nuclear family unit? Check. Spooky, winter-stricken trees in the background? Check. Nice patterns? Check. Sense of danger? Check.

You’ll see it immediately. The other building was cropped out. I could only get rid of half of the dumpster while maintaining the composition I wanted so I cloned it out of the picture. I “burned” the wood paneling of the house to darken and bring out its details and “dodged” the corners of the left side, to give it that old school film, overexposed look that I like so much.

My goal was to make this picture look as HAUNTING as possible and for that, I needed to work with opposites. Lots of dark. Lots of white. Life and death. Check out that grass in the front of the building: I used a softening tool in Lightroom to blend out the details and make it look…softer.

Check out those windows: A lot of mystery in there. A lot of questions, which ultimately makes the image into a statement rather than a “pic.” I love this image now. I really fucking love it. It elicits very personal emotion for me. I can pinpoint the feeling from a poem I wrote when I was a kid that said exactly what this photograph says now. This started as an ordinary image.

This is why my friend Ben’s insinuation was spot on. It’s because an image can be taken from plain to personal with some time and effort. Does the photograph end when the shutter closes? No and we can further see examples of this in Andy Warhol’s and Banksy’s work. Ultimately it’s about interpretation and that takes however long it needs to take.

If you are interested in an 11×17 print of The Safe House (2011), go to this LINK.

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