Sitting beside my desk is a portrait of Jasmine Gray that looks, at first glance, nothing at all like Jasmine Gray. No, I didn’t let a Picasso or Dali disciple get close to my work. I did, however, take a very different approach to processing the image and the results are well outside the boundaries of what anyone would consider normal.
Our process began back in September of last year when I decided that I wanted to submit something to art shows for possible exhibition. I have plenty of nudes and other interesting pictures in my portfolio, certainly one of them would be sufficient to make it past adjudicators. Upon taking a really close and critical look, though, what I realized is that standard forms of portraiture, especially erotic portraiture, were not enough to stand out when placed on the same wall with some of the incredible contemporary paintings and and sculptures I’ve seen produced recently. Granted, art is not a competition in the traditional sense of that word but when painters are using vibrant colors, mixed media, and brilliant brush strokes while sculptors are challenging our concepts of form and defying the laws of physics, standard photographic portraiture, no matter how well it is done, can come off as flat and unimaginative.
Knowing that to earn a spot in the Detroit Dirty Show we would have to do something that pushes boundaries one direction or another, we set about shooting three distinctly different forms of imagery. When all was said and done, having submitted samples from all three styles, it was this one that survived adjudication and made it into the Dirty Show, marking the first time I’ve shown anything in that well-known venue.
What we had to do to create this form of imagery was different than anything I’ve done before primarily because it means applying math to the creative process and the science of acoustics: amplitude, period, frequency, and wavelength. I went back and reconsidered what I learned in college a gazillion years ago about musique contrète and the work of Joseph Schillinger, Charles Ives, Paul Hindemith and John Cage. I experimented with different waveforms as a means of distorting imagery rather than sound. What one sees in the images of Jasmine are the application of modified square waves along a set frequency and amplitude, modifying the period and wavelength across the image.
In theory, it should be possible to translate the waveforms presented in each of these images to sound. I’ve not yet figured out exactly how to do that. I’m not sure I have the necessary equipment for doing so. The concept of creating visual music, the ability to listen to images intrigues me and, in a creative sense, would bring my creative career full circle.
On another level, I look at this as a step, though perhaps a small one, in preserving the craftsmanship of photography. We cannot be terribly far away from the day where what we’ve previously considered professional quality portraiture is simply a matter of pushing a button and selecting a style. As creative imagery is increasingly composed in a digital format, the ability for computers to wholly duplicate our efforts is already knocking on our door. In order to preserve a sense of craftsmanship in our work, we have to move strongly, dramatically, outside traditional boundaries and change how one thinks of portraiture.
What concerns me, though, as excited as I am about these new image forms, is whether people viewing the images are able to understand and appreciate what we’ve done, where we’re going. I’m not exactly springing this form on one without warning as we’ve ventured into the avant-garde fairly recently. Still, this is dramatically different from what we’ve shown before.
To help ease that visual transition a bit, I waited a few weeks then went back and re-processed the same images in traditional black and white forms. Hopefully, this gives one a sense of the distance we’re reaching and the dramatic difference in the approach taken to photographic portraiture. I don’t expect everyone to “get” it and I’m not offended if one prefers the black and white versions over the waveforms. Adjusting our personal aesthetic takes time.
Consider, though, that when it came down to professional adjudication, only one was accepted for exhibition, the one reaching forward the furthest.
As always, click on any of the thumbnails below to view the images full sized. For better viewing, use a device larger than your phone. Looking at photos, or any art, on a small screen is like trying to view the Eiffel Tower through a keyhole: one is missing the greater portion of the experience.
Note: the collection presented here does not include the piece selected for the Detroit Dirty Show. To see that one, and perhaps purchase the portrait currently sitting next to my desk, one must attend the show in Detroit, February 8-16. Ticket information is here.