This is a followup to the previous, a little discussion of my personal journey, which might shed a little light on what I mean in the previous essay. I'm linking, in here, to quite a few pictures I have shot. Enjoy. Or not.
I've been mucking around with cameras for.. a while. I literally cannot remember when exposure was a puzzlement, it would have been 30 years ago or so, and I suppose I had to struggle with it a bit, but I have no memory of that. The technicalities of making a properly exposed and in-focus picture hold no mysteries for me. I flatter myself that I have long been able to take a decent picture of a thing. A picturesque picture of a shack or a mountain, a moderately flattering picture of a girl, and so on.
About three years ago I embarked on one of those stupid P52 things. I tried to take a decent picture every week for a year, and mostly succeeded. The result was an incoherent mass of mostly decent pictures. I learned a few things, started to get more serious about using flash, and discovered a couple of "looks" I sort of liked.
Somewhere in there I started shooting nudes, experimenting with outré lighting idioms and so on. I learned a few more things about looks that I liked. Those pictures are extremely private. Sorry.
The year following my interesting but uninspiring P52 project I made several abortive attempts at portfolios. I was beginning to understand that the portfolio is really what I wanted to be aiming at. I started shooting people walking dogs, which I think is definitely a good subject. I discovered that I am not, or at any rate was not, the artist to make much of anything of that subject. There was, and still are, occasional feints at street photography. I'm also not Henri Cartier-Bresson, it turns out. None of these subject/method based ideas really seemed to go anywhere. I was not satisfied by the work, I did not feel that it was going anywhere. It seemed banal and uninteresting after a handful of moderately successful pictures.
I don't think that, I can see no reason why, a subject based idea isn't good. I just haven't been able to make one work yet to my satisfaction. I did recently shoot a subject-based mini-portfolio which pleases me moderately well, but this is mainly because I approve of the content so much. The pictures are OK, but the meaning is something that matters to me.
What has worked best for me started with a single visual effect. I ran across a description of how to digitally simulate an enlarger diffusion effect. This effectively "flares" the darker areas into the lighter ones, to a variable degree. It's absolutely dead sexy when applied to nudes, especially female nudes. Holy cow. Yum. Probably at random I applied it to a picture of a flower. Boy oh boy did I like that effect.
At this point I started to shoot flowers in the way I had been shooting nudes. Mostly quite dark. A lot of snoots, a lot of lighting from underneath or behind. Always, enlarger diffusion to taste. A little later, I started to apply the inverse of enlarger diffusion to high-key pictures, and finally I started to airbrush all over everything in a late pictorialist fashion, although possibly with a lighter touch. I shot a lot of these things, and wound up with a coherent portfolio of 27 pictures that I quite like. I am satisfied with them.
What worked for me, here, was to start with a single visual motif: the flower, shot like a fine art nude on black. I inverted the ideas, I modified them, I extended the theme out from there in coherent and sensible ways. With some fits and starts, Quite a lot of things didn't work, but some things did. The result is a coherent set of visual motifs, applied to a common subject. The result is a little portfolio of work that "means" something for me, that satisfies me in a way that previous work has not.
Notice that this portfolio was built with a bunch of stuff I had picked up over the previous years: use of flash, outré lighting idioms, general styling from nudes, enlarger diffusion. It is very reasonable to view this satisfying work as the direct result of a bunch of less satisfying labor. It is reasonable to view this as a successful effort which occurred in the natural process of trying ideas out, and building visual vocabulary, in a series of fits and starts which eventually found a path through to some satisfying place after failing for several years of concerted effort.
As of this writing, I am continuing to pursue these ideas. Can these visual motifs be applied and extended to other subjects, in a similarly coherent way? Can I make something else look like my flowers? Obviously I could shoot some nudes in this style, and that might make a good addition to the portfolio. There might be something to be said about the relationship between flowers and nudes, perhaps. Perhaps there are other subjects out there that are less obvious, but which would extend the body of work further, but in a coherent and structured way.
The point of the process I sketch here and in the previous essay is not that it always works, or that it works easily or quickly. The point is simply that this is the only process that I have been able to discover that works at all.