So, here’s an example of what I’ve been doing with my time as of late. Divide the above photo in half and cock your head to the side. That’s what the original photo looked like. Then I went into Photoshop, mirrored the image and, voila. Is it an owl? A koala? Ewok? You decide.
I have thousands of interior kaleidoscope images. Now I’ve been going through them and using this technique to change things up. I’ve had some pretty unexpected results, many of which I could never show (because they’re a little weird). But I’ll share two here and get back to my studio. I won’t give up pushing the boundaries of what can be done artistically with a camera, lens and a high quality scope.
Both photos are taken with kaleidoscopes created by David Kalish.
It’s been a while since I’ve written, but only because I’ve had nothing to say. Three months ago I submitted one of my pieces to a local gallery (re-read my post entitled “The Show” to remind yourselves how my last attempt at that went) and now it’s finally on the walls.
When I made my first visit to see where the curators had placed my work, I had to walk through the entire building until I finally stumbled upon it in the far south-east corner of the second floor, inside the vestibule next to the women’s bathroom. What I felt when I finally saw it was not unlike the pang one gets when they’re the obligatory invite to a cousin’s wedding guaranteeing a seat at the table that’s wedged between the kitchen’s saloon doors and the fire exit.
That was two weeks ago. Today I returned to the gallery and took my time walking around. I made two observations that I had neglected to notice the first time I was there. First, most of the offices in this building (leased by companies not associated with the atrium’s gallery) are on the second floor. That means that almost everyone who works in the building will see my piece on their way to the loo. Secondly, I realized that if my work had been along the hall walls, it would have been easily passed over by those getting to where they need to go. Instead, my photograph is at the end of the hallway, perfectly framed by the surrounding walls leading to the washroom door.
See, Carla? Not so bad after all.
I’m pleased to finally be at a place where I don’t feel the need to hide what I do. I’m relieved, really, that it’s out there, and that others are able to see what I’ve done with my aunt’s kaleidoscopes. In the meantime, I continue to have some fun in Photoshop as I try to present the original image in original (read: new) ways. I’ve come up with some great first drafts, so to speak. I still don’t want to alter the image digitally, so I’ve been toying with putting my hands to work to sketch/colour/paint the image. I’m sure I’ll post some of my preliminary work eventually.
(“Celestial Cluster”, by Carla Groen. 32″x 32″. Kaleidoscope crafted by David Kalish.)
Last month I went to Smokestack, the studio owned by Jonathan Groeneweg who gave me ideas as to how I could take my photography of kaleidoscopes into new directions. I really liked his ideas, although I admit I probably won’t pursue most of them. This is a ‘me’ problem, for sure, as I have set up walls which are mortared by self-dialogue that includes: I’m not a fine art photographer, and, This is just a hobby.
The visit wasn’t all for not, however. When I walked into the studio, and again as I walked out, my eye was taken in by a print on the wall by Anna Church, a fine art photographer out of Toronto. The image, I later found out, is called Blurred Lines III, and in my opinion, brilliant. The reason I was drawn to it was that it looked like something out of a kaleidoscope, but upon closer inspection, it is a vase with flowers, mirrored.
I went home and mulled that word over for a while. What I like about mirroring an image is that I am able to create something new without taking anything away from the original image. I haven’t edited it; I’ve repeated it. I sat down at my computer and started taking my most popular images (which you’ve never seen because I don’t post my best work) and started going through the 12 steps necessary in order to mirror an image in Photoshop. Dreadful. I then went to my folder of “B” images, the ones I’ve never shown even to my own family, but haven’t had the heart to delete altogether. Brilliant. It worked, for sure, and I’m pleased, to say the least. The next step will be for me to print them off here at home and see how well it translates onto paper. If that proves positive, I will send them away to be enlarged for our walls.
But there’s something else about Anna Church’s images which attract me to them, and that is her use of white. I know I can remove or replace the black negative space in Photoshop, but it looks terrible as there are a hundred hues of black and grey in the shadows, and using all the channels, masking, magic wands and pens Photoshop has to offer looks hideous on the screen and even worse on paper. The only way I could even get close to what I want is if I actually cut the image out by hand. But what I really want is to have the image sans black negative space as a relief print. Anna’s images are crisp and clean, and that’s what I wish to learn next. I know how she does it, but my brain has been layering on more bricks as of late, telling me: it’s fussy work and besides, this is just a hobby, remember?
If I’m ever to move forward with my photography in a serious way, I have to tell my inner monologue to shut its mouth and take a sledgehammer to the brick and mortar I’ve allowed it to build up around me.
The question to ask myself now is: How badly do I want this?
I don’t have a job. I have hobbies. The good news is that I’m always busy. The bad news is that I don’t make money. Take my piano playing, for example. I have played since I was seven years old. Most recently, I was using my love for making music during Communion services in our church. I loved it. We had to leave that church, however, and the church we attend now uses professional musicians, so I just play for my dog at home these days.
And then there’s writing. I love to write. I take every opportunity to write, whether short stories, letters to friends, or blogging. I’ve been published several times (magazines) but nothing really noteworthy. I just like to write. I don’t write to be read. I write to write.
Sailing. I love sailing. But my father, at the age of 82, decided it was time for the boat to go. Buying a boat isn’t in my future (I don’t make money, remember), so my sailing days are most likely over, although I will be able to remain in, on and by the water through other means.
Art. I love art, in almost all its forms. I’ve enjoyed my camera and overcoming the many challenges of fine art photography as it relates to kaleidoscopes, but I’ve hit a bit of a ceiling. It took me some time to be able to master what I do, and now that I can do it, jadedness is setting in and I’m so ready for the next thing. The problem is, it’s just a hobby, and in order to break the ceiling on my work, it’s going to take more time. More patience. More money (I don’t make money, remember).
I’ve taken my work to several galleries in my city over the years. Even though Hamilton is known for being a steel town, there’s been a shift, and the downtown area has become a serious hub for artists. I remember one gallery I handed my portfolio to. I was well acquainted with the owner and curator as I frequented their opening nights. The conversation went like this:
“I will never show your work in my gallery.”
“Because your work is shit.”
“I don’t understand. My work is unique. It’s never been done.”
“Someone can shit on a plate and nail it to the wall because it’s never been done before, but that doesn’t make it good art.”
Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of doors closed on me. The owner of the gallery responsible for framing my work said my photos are “magnificent”, but he’ll never show them because he doesn’t do photography.
Two weeks ago I went to a highly respected artist who owns a local printing studio to show him what I do and inquire how he would take the photos to the next level. He strongly encouraged me to leave the negative space behind and work with the subject itself, transforming it into something completely new and different. In other words, when I’m done with it, nothing of what makes it a scope image will remain.
I suppose I’m at an impasse. I can continue doing the same old same old but that’s not me. And going in a completely different direction is a huge commitment for someone who only dabbles in photography in her spare time. And in the end, the only person I’m really doing this for is me. My aunt’s still dead. So if I’m going to go through with exploring the next thing in kaleidoscope photography, It’s going to be so I can have original art on the walls in our home.
As the daughter of a Dutchman, living by water and sailing boats of all shapes and sizes is as normal as planting tulips and eating droppies (salted licorice, eaten kilos at a time). I have enjoyed sailing on the bay for the whole of my life. As for the steel, Hamilton is a steel town. My only employment before we started a family was in metal fabrication, so I’ll always have a place in my heart for all things iron and ore. I grew up in the factory, starting on the floor when I was 12, only stopping when I was 5 months pregnant at 23. Needless to say, I had a much different life experience growing up than the kids I went to school with.
Hamilton is the home of famous funny men Martin Short and Eugene Levy, both from west Hamilton (but not the mountain). Justin Bieber’s hometown is an hour away in Mennonite country, for those who care.
After my life of steel came a degree in Psychology, a Certificate of Teaching English as a Second Language, and many (many) years of volunteering in the areas of Palliative care and teaching ESL.
Everything I’ve laid out about myself in this post means nothing to me when compared to what means everything to me: faith and family. My faith defines who I am (or more accurately, Whose I am). And being a homemaker, surrounded by my husband and children, as well as my parents and siblings throughout the week over koffie enlekkers, fills my heart with so much joy. But every once in a while I find time to slip into my studio and take a hundred photos. (I must say, the digital camera is efficacious in this regard.) It’s all part of a day in the life of me.
I’ve been putting this post off for as long as possible, but it’s time. Why the hesitancy? Well, it’s just incredibly uncomfortable for me. Alas.
There have been three occasions when I made my photographic work public: Two articles and an art show. The articles were easy enough as I really do enjoy writing. But the show was another matter altogether.
The year was 2010. (Or maybe itwasn’t.) For one thing, it wasn’t my show. It was everyone-who-lives-in-the-Hamilton-vicinity’s show. The venue is large and bright and mostly conducive to artwork, except for the second-storey narrow hallways that don’t always give the viewer the necessary distance to fully appreciate larger pieces. As my entries came somewhere in the middle of my photographic journey, the images were still rather small at 5×7 inches, so those pinched passages weren’t going to be an issue for me.
Another ‘oy vey’ was due to the fact that I don’t do public gatherings very well. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not an agoraphobic (anymore). I’ve had years of practice in the areas of both public speaking and piano playing in front of audiences of several hundred, so there’s little to intimidate me there. But I’m more of a tete-a-tete kinda girl, and I found the whole stand-next-to-my-art-while-people-file-by-giving-it-the-who farted?-look rather uncomfortable. They didn’t know what they were looking at, and at that time, I wasn’t ready to divulge the answer. Hundreds of people pressed their way through the show to take in everyone’s work, but my work always seemed to be a question mark along an otherwise self-explanatory wall of acrylics, encaustics, and snapshots of hawks, dogs, lions and children (not in the same photo, of course). That’s when I began to question my inclination for secrecy. I was still holding on to both the kaleidoscopes and my aunt’s memory inappropriately back then.
Somewhat disenchanted by the night’s unfolding, I was ready to make my way home when an eight year old girl stopped in front of my photos. She studied the photos, looked at me, looked back at the photos and exclaimed, “That’s a kaleidoscope!” At first I wanted to shush her, but honestly, I was just relieved someone finally figured it out. Of course a child would understand. I was delighted.
And then there’s this: I have no desire to sell people on the idea of what I do or how I do it, but I have an ardent desire to invite others to lose themselves in my art work. To me, abstract art is a wonderful platform from which to transcend spiritually and emotionally because, not unlike a Rorschach ink blot, what you see all depends on who you are and what life experience you bring to the canvas (or photograph). The answer will be different for everyone, and that insight has the ability to reveal a lot about one’s self. Trust me, I know. (There’s my Psych degree finally paying it forward). But at that art show, the public’s lack of information became a stumbling block in their personal interpretation of the image before them, and that was unfortunate. I felt sorry, and responsible, really, that there weren’t enough cues to somehow give them the confidence to let their imagination run. Albeit, I was rather pleased that my work looked more like contemporary art and not the interior of a kaleidoscope. Thank you, precise mirror alignment.
I learned a lot from that evening, and after all these years, I’ve decided to submit some images for their consideration once again, only this time the photos will be much larger and will come with an explanation of both the medium and subject. I’ve come to understand that people’s fascination with my images is not necessarily due to the colour and compostition alone, but due to their disbelief that a widened aperture could capture something so grand through an opening so small.
The above kaleidoscopes from left to right: Carla Groen, David Kalish, Carla Groen. I’ll be sure to let you know how the next show goes when the time comes.