Simplified Amaryllis

February 24, 2014 · 12 comments

This art exploration is a funny thing.  I get awfully excited about new techniques and new tools and then wonder where the inspiration comes from.  I imagine how I want an image to go, and when I finish it may often seem vaguely derivative of something I must have seen somewhere.

Didn’t Georgia O’Keefe master this ?

I don’ t know whether to be pleased with myself or disgusted that I am only doing what has been done before.  I photographed this red Amaryllis last December for a calendar, finally arriving at a tightly composed image that seemed to pull me deep into the flower.  I wanted complete depth of field in order to see the whole flower structure, so I proceeded with a focus stack.

A focus stack is a series of exposures with slightly different focus points that are later merged in the computer. Notice in this series the small white area in upper left that comes into view as I focus more to the rear.  I use a software tool, Zerene Stacker, that for me creates a more exact meld than PhotoShop’s merge tool.

Once all the layers are stacked it is possible to carefully go back and pull out the sharpest edges of each exposure.  Inevitably, in this technique there will be some fuzzy edges as the computer has to layer both the soft and sharp parts of each frame, and then sometimes forgets to throw away an unfocused spot.

Once the photo is done, it as sharp as a painting.  I am sure this is the origin of my explorations with the focus stack.  Macro photos have a very shallow depth of field, but painters don’t have that problem (or opportunity, depending on the intended technique).

But a painter’s sharp attention to a flower doesn’t have to keep all the sometimes annoying detail found in a photo.  Enter PhotoShop.  I wasn’t really happy with this photo until I saw the recent Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, Modern Nature, at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum.

My composition was strong but the photo seemed . . . ordinary.  Too much detail gets in the way of the color, of the flower’s structure, the simplicity of the design.  So with Photoshop and the Simplicity plugin filter from Topaz Labs I was able to soften the photo.  Now I am happy with the print, but a bit saddened that I so obviously copied O’Keefe’s style.

But I am learning, learning.  Thank you Ms. O’Keefe.: “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

Print at Fine Art America

This same sense of borrowed inspiration came after I saw last year’s blockbuster David Hockney exhibit at the DeYoung.

Last fall, well before I even knew the power of Hockney, I made this print of glowing Tupelo leaves.  It is heavily stylized to enhance the color and glow.

Print at Fine Art America

I only saw this Hockney print later:

By no means do I want to compare myself to Hockney but I am sure glad I did my own print well before seeing his.  But like O’Keefe’s work, does his work somehow live in my unconscious ?  Ah, who cares – onward with explorations.

“It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract.  Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense.  A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it  is a hill or a tree.  It is lines and colors put together so that they say something.  For me that is the very basis of painting.  The abstraction is often the most definite form of the intangible thing  in myself that I can only clarify in paint.  Georgia O’Keefe 1976




{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

TC February 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

Excellent photo print Saxon, the work is gorgeous. Sometimes I feel like the works of others is “living in my unconscious” too. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I don’t quite know how to extract them from there.


Saxon February 25, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Hi TC – For me I often know full well I am being derivative of what I once must have seen somewhere. All art does build on these sorts of influences. I think that is why the OKeefe exhibit had such a powerful affect. I had done that Amaryllis stack wanting to get a ‘canvas’ that had sharpness all over but I had not realized until I saw her work in person how abstract they really are, how much detail is unnecessary to the experience of a flower. Indeed it can get in the way.


TC February 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Indeed, I’ve often heard the phrase “it’s all been said before.” Maybe it’s not as evident in the photographic arena as it is in the written word. I am definitely influenced by what came before me.


Michael Thilgen February 26, 2014 at 8:12 am

Those photos are beautiful and moving- very O’Keefe, very Hockney, very Holt. Thank you! What a glorious world!


blogadmin February 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

Thank you Michael, for sharing your world.


Larry Maupin February 27, 2014 at 9:05 am

Hey, Saxon. You know I’m a fan. Always enjoy your posts and, of course, your photography.
Like you, I decided to pursue the art side of my work after I “retired”, and it has been very rewarding. Not lucrative ;-)) but rewarding nonetheless. My joy is in discovering something in the natural world that others may not have seen then illuminating that for others to see. And sometimes (oftentimes) the finished work touches me in a way that others cannot comprehend because the work is uniquely mine. I remember the day, the place, what I was thinking and dealing with at that moment in time. It can be very healing also. That has led me to “meditative” or “contemplative” photography. It has been wonderful for me. Some examples are on my site.
Wishing you the best, my friend, and keep up the great work! – Larry


blogadmin February 27, 2014 at 9:57 am

Thanks for dropping by Larry. Pursuing the personal work “that others cannot comprehend” was scary for me until I really thought I had some unique insight after my my eye troubles and I wanted to find some way to communicate what I was seeing. It could not be done with straight work and gave me permission, nay forced me, to pursue digital manipulations. It is a thrilling thing to create something, see it bubble out of nowhere sometimes, after consciously trying to express an insight.
Love the way you play with light. Stay in touch


TC February 27, 2014 at 10:22 am

Took a peek at your work Larry and was moved to let ya know.


Larry Maupin February 27, 2014 at 10:56 am

Glad you enjoyed it.
You may also enjoy this blog by Kim Manly Ort, a contemplative photographer. I do.
I have a couple of the books she has recommended. All good stuff…


Philip March 17, 2014 at 7:26 am

Well done Saxon! Always exploring. I’m not sure there isn’t too much that has not been done before – I think we all continually absorb information, then interpret that information into new ideas and recipes, most times, unintentionally. Perhaps the goal is to do it better.

You mention that for you, Zerene Stacker, gives better results than Photoshop’s native stacker filter, I wonder, if that’s in better quality results or doe it just offer more features?


Saxon March 17, 2014 at 7:52 am

Thanks Philip – My experience with Zerene is limited so I am not sure I can give the best advice, but when merging the various focus layers there are inevitable soft spots where the program overwrites itself. Zerene has tools to go back and easily, if tediously clean up these areas. Photoshop may offer similar tools, but I did not spend time trying to look for them after I found ZS.


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