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