8.16.2013

Experimenting with paint and color and everything else.


There was a time in the 1990's when everything was an experiment. It was a response to the conformity expected at work. When we did jobs for advertising agencies and corporate clients on medium and large format film everyone had financial skin in the game and we made sure no highlights were blown, the focus was were we (and the clients) intended it to be and everything conformed to the prevailing ideas of "high quality." 

What that meant, though, was that on our own time we spent a lot of our own resources experimenting and trying new stuff. I went through a meticulous hand coloring phase using Marshall's transparent oil paints and acres of cotton swabs. We cross processed film to see how it would look. We distressed Polaroid in mid-development. We built our own lighting rigs. And we spent a fortune out of our own pockets on just trying stuff out. And messing up was part of the process of learning a new process, and by extension, translating a new look.

Funny, now that we all have digital cameras I see much less real experimentation and more just goofing around with lighting and post processing. I'm guilty of the same thing. It's almost like it's become an article of religious faith to grab something into the camera in a neutral way with the intention of having a good, solid file as a jumping off point for frilly and risk-less post processing.

Like always shooting in color even when you KNOW you want the image in black and white. Why? "Because (whiny intonation implied) it gives you more flexibility and options."  That's so logical and so chicken shit. Sometimes you just have to fold up the safety net and get on the trapeze naked and with greasy hands. Why? Because we learn more from failure, and even more from near failure, than we ever learn from applying metaphoric goo over the top of a perfect file. If the safety net is too broad and too close to the trapeze the audience understands, in some informed way, that there's no real excitement to be had. We watch the high wire and the trapeze acts holding our breath because of the possibility that someone may fall to their death. If we don't have that in our work then it becomes lifeless and mundane. Without risk there is no joy. Only stale popcorn and tacky souvenirs.

I'm taking my old Kodak out tomorrow to see what I can really fuck up. I mean make art with.....

Studio Portrait Lighting

13 comments:

jet tilton said...

Kirk,
Actually like the colors in top pic! Off topic, you posted a while back about the decline of photography as a business (except for commercial photography)...I got tired of keeping my dslr around waiting for the elusive portrait session so I sold it and bought the Nikon V1, which I take everywhere, and haven't regretted it a second! Of course after i traded in my dslr I got a quote request from a Dr's office for a shoot, but I must have been too high since haven't heard back from anyone....keep up the great work!

Claire said...

Kirk THANK YOU for this post !!! I will leave the lack of artistic risk-taking by pros alone (an altogether different topic), but the nearly maniacal obsession of hobbyists with photographic safety nets has driven me batty for years. No camera model would be deemed relevant unless it had RAW capture. RAW vs. Jpegs's old dead horse keeps on being beaten to death daily over dozens of threads and post while it's been rotten to skeletal state for years already. And now we got hords demanding 5 stops of exposure bracketing for the sake of the most gut spilling poor taste trick ever, HDR (HDR is like flash, it's only great when it's undetectable). Now we even got cameras that let you aim in a vague direction and will do the subject picking with proper focus all by themselves.
Helloooo, isn't photography supposed to be about choices ? Choice of what you put in front of your camera, and how you frame, light, focus it ?! Now with Auto ISO, RAW, bracketing and the like, people have robbed themselves of any chance of srcweing up... hence any chance of nailing it as well. When you can't fail, you materially can't succeed either. You've just denied yourself and choice and decision making, in a craft that was basically all about making a statement. I'm content enough to chose my own ISO and shoot jpeg files in Manual mode, and more often then not manual focus as well so I don't need to worry about AF points selection or frame coverage. And I have yet to use a lot of filters or gimmicks because I feel originality is more potent in content than in form.

sey said...

hear!hear!

sey said...

Yes Kirk, when I propose that the micro-chip has dumbed down creativeness, I usually am ridiculed but here you go giving me hope.
Thank you!

Bruce Rubenstein said...

You were able to do "R&D" because your jobs paid enough to plow back some of the revenue into R&D. (The photographer I’ve worked for years, still tells me about the job that paid for a new Volvo back in that era.) It was fun and it enabled you to book more jobs. It was the same thing in many industries. I worked at Bell Labs for 20 years, staring in 1983. As a regulated monopoly AT&T had a guaranteed ROI. That’s what funded the Labs. Shortly after the break up the basic research area (the folks who won those Noble Prizes) was phased out. Manufacturing was out sourced. It became an engineering shop. In almost all industries, profit margins were squeezed and R&D just enough of a new cool feature to sell the next year’s model.

Kirk, I don’t think enough people recognize how exceptional your for being able to change with the times and still be making a living doing what you’re doing.

Kirk Tuck said...

Reader John tried to post this but got the techno-mystery run around from the system. I am posting it for him (even though he disagrees with me.....):

Hmm. I differ. Unless one owns a leica monochrom, to shoot black and white digitally means to shoot jpgs. Shoot in color and alter it in post process means to have control over what you create. With film, choice of film, chemistry, temperature, time, paper, dodging and burning, toning made it possible to create what you wanted to see. Jpgs only allow what the camera will let you see. The world is the same in front of us, what has changed is the methodology in the darkroom/post process. Our eyes and brains see what the camera does not see. We create from within with outward tools. The micro-chip only dumbs down creativity when you accept what the camera gives you.

MGO said...

I actually tend to agree with the above:) I pick the tool that fits my "vision" best. A well written reply! I Like that you include it as a part of the post.

Claire said...

See what I meant about that poor dead horse ;) ?

MGO said...

Yes;) My reply Kind of backs your Dead horse up unintentionally. Thats why i like that Kirk included the disagree!

Aboutthemcat said...

Jpgs only permit what the camera will let you see. The world is the same in front of us, what has altered is the methodology in the darkroom/post method. Our eyes and minds see what the camera does not see. We create from inside with outward tools. The micro-chip only dumbs down creativity when you accept what the camera gives you.

MGO said...

You can make your "vision" Work with the tool at hand or you pick your a tool to fit your "vision". As long as it not about the tools but about "vision"

Frank Grygier said...

In 10 years this will be the past. Revel in the old way of doing things.

Søren Kvistgaard said...

Well put! This sums up exactly what is wrong with digital photography in this day and age: There's no risk, and hence, no excitement!