A few weeks ago from out of the blue I received a nice message from an Instagram follower called Annie. In this message Annie said that she had been listening to a podcast featuring one of my favourite musicians Brian Eno and in the interview they had mentioned Mondrians paintings. Annie being a curious soul went and looked at Mondrians art and came across the picture below. Called Woods near Oele
This picture reminded her of my work and she took the time out to write to me and let me know of this discovery
I had never seen this work before and I can see what Annie was saying it even reminds me of my work. It has elements of movement and colours that I often have in my work.
So whilst this was in my mind I happened to be in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London with my architect student daughter. This is my favourite museum and I do visit regularly, I love the silver collection and the cast rooms but this day we were choosing rooms that we do not regularly visit. We came across room 87.
In room 87 there is a small collection of John Constable and William Turner paintings. Turners is quite often referenced by icm photographers who use a more expansive technique of movement. However Constabtable was an English romantic painter famous for such paintings as the Hay Wain and Suffolk landscapes. I was fascinated by his trees they held shape and contour but also had a movement that reminded me of a couple of my pictures. So one late afternoon last week I set out to see if I could create an icm picture that was a fusion of ideas generated by these artists.
I was not setting out to create a Turner or a Constable, that was not my intention, I wanted to create an image inspired by them. I chose a piece of woodland that was not too visually cluttered, I wanted to keep the structure fairly simple. There was a mixture of grey clouds and small pockets of blue sky, and I was photographing towards the sun, though it was hidden behind cloud . This does make the exposure balance a bit tricky but I know that I can put it into photoshop and make corrections in there. If you look at the picture and the highlights you can work out my camera movement. What I did was to make two movements a wave vertical with a hook on the end. This is one my favourite icm camera movements. I did not record my settings in relation to the exposure level. However I would guess that I shot this 2-3 stops overexposed.
Shooting trees the way I do is not quite as straight forward as the majority of icm tree shots. I am looking to create movement in the most important parts of the picture. I will have the camera at 100 iso and usually decide upon a shutter speed. I work totally in manual, so then I will be concentrating on the main area of the picture.
I will decide upon the amount of movement as different speed of movement gives a different result. Using the exposure meter I will meter the scene. I will then over expose the scene by 3 stops and start a process of movement and shooting , I will take two shots, adjust the exposure by 1 stop and start again . What I am creating in effect is a test strip like we did on the darkroom to ascertain the correct exposure when making prints. When I read these steps I am looking for exposure and effect, with the emphasis upon the effect. I shoot in Raw go get as much data as possible. I open the Raw file in Photoshop Raw and import it without any correction as a 16bit file. I then set about working on an image much as I did when I would make photo prints in the darkroom.
With this picture, the source file was brilliant with lots of detail. I started with the central tree, it was darker than I wanted so I used curves to lift the area. There are many ways to do this and if I were teaching this in a workshop wouldn’t do it as it’s not a set method but I like the organic nature of the way I do it. I will make the layer adjustment for the whole image and then make a mask and soft brush the area I didn’t want to adjust. This is much more like photographic printing where you would dodge and burn an image. To be honest this picture did not need a lot of work in post as the majority was done in setting up the shot in the camera.
This makes it relatively easy. I made a saturation layer and increased the intensity of the blues. The blue data was already there in the Raw file but was lost in the over exposing. If I was working with a straight forward images I would be working with luminosity masks but icm you have a lot of ghost imaging and I prefer the more organic approach
I then duplicated the original layer and added a Gaussian blur , again masking the central area to keep the sharpness in there. The sharpness is created by the highlight trails. And that is pretty much how I made it. I will have fiddled with other bits, but nothing major.
I always keep my work in layers flattening only for reproduction.
So did it work? To be honest it doesn’t matter as the final product is something quite unique. The fact that it took inspiration from the great Art Masters is ok. Everyone gets influenced by the work they admire and collect.
When I was a young photographer I was highly influenced by the work of Robert Frank, I had found a copy of his book The Americans in a store in Paris and I would pour over this book for hours and I began to understand about the construction of images and how to put a project together. Did my work look like his, not at all as I was not copying I opened myself up to the influence. And I think that’s how we grow as photographers.
So a big thank you to Annie who reached out without your generous spirit this picture would not have happened.
As an addendum to this I have a great little story about the V&A. Many years ago I was in the V&A and needed the bathroom, and somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in a basement corridor where there were boxes stored, some cleaning mops etc. It was a white corridor, I remember it clearly. And on the walls of the corridor were 40 or so Robert Frank pictures, most from The Americans. There was no sign why they were there but I spent ages looking at them, the images that were so familiar from the book now on the wall, the print quality was magnificent. It felt so personal, like they had been put there just for me.
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