Smokestack & Mirrors

Scope by David Kalish. Photographed by Carla Groen.

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.

Hmmm. 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?

The Show

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 it wasn’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.

 

Let’s Have Some Fun

I made the choice several years ago to keep my photography as “true” as possible and not edit it in any way beyond its development. That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t slid my files into Photoshop in order to play around with them from time to time. Every once in a while I come across an image that is well below the standard of what I’m looking for ‘as is’, but giving one command in Photoshop — in this case, replacing the colour black with grey — results in a completely different and incredibly unique image.

I’ve never hung these images on the walls in our home because I see them as counterfeit. They’ve been tampered with, computer generated (even if only in the slightest way), and therefore no longer a true representation of what I saw through my lens. It doesn’t mean that it ceases being art, or even pleasing art. But to me, it’s less photography and more modern pop art.

There was a time when I had a Facebook account (and Instagram, and Twitter, and…) and I would post photos of the edited images and the response was always positive. The public would always tell me what they see, and naturally they all had different interpretations. But when I bring my work to the gallery to be framed, the vote is always unanimous: the original photograph is strongest because the viewer immediately understands it isn’t computer generated, forcing them to wonder how on earth it was possible to produce.

I have a large collection of edited images now. Some of them are pretty surreal. The only thing I’ve changed is the colour of the background and in these examples, added a vignette. I haven’t used my mouse or a computer pen to paint or feather the colours and outline of the image.

I’ve included two of the more boring photos for your judgement. It gives you an idea of the fun I have when I decide not to play by my rules.