Saturday, June 21, 2008

Back to the darkroom - 'Inspiration Desk'

The most important part of my montage printing happens before I fire up the enlarger, and pour out the chemistry - I sift thru my contact sheets, over and over again, making sketches of images I think may have possibilities, and trying to find other images that go along with them, somehow. ( I put the contact sheet on a light box, and trace, onto good ol' fashioned tracing paper like I used in advertising in the 70's.... and I keep adding to the sheet, when I come across something that connects to one of the images already traced.)

The body of work on my website has all been done since I moved to California in 1992 - I don't show hardly anything from what I did before that. At first, the pile of contact sheets wasn't so big, and was easy to sift thru... but as time went on, it became seriously deep, and sifting thru ALL of them became... well... too cumbersome.
In 2002, I moved out of an apartment I had for almost 10 years in SF (which was very conducive to an impromptu darkroom) to a place in Marin county, where an improvised darkroom arrangement was a lot less convenient - I had to make the entire apt. 'dark' to print, & it felt really claustrophobic!

Between that, and the great amount of time I now spend in front of a computer, doing the printing in a very improvisational way(without searching too much thru contacts) felt really good - "too much 'point & click, drag and drop' makes Jack (& Bob!) a dull boy" to rephrase an old saying.
As much as I was relatively happy w/ the results of my recent Xmas darkroom binge, I felt like I wanted to get back to the way I did things previously - much more sifting thru contact sheets, and 'exploration', before printing, even if the stack of contact sheets had become knee high.
So I now have 5 or 6 sheets of tracing paper that look like the one below.

Recently I decided to print one of the images, the one at the bottom left, of a desk(at the bottom of the image) dissolving into a landscape(above).

Getting to this point ( 'connecting' these two images) brings me to mention another couple of important conclusions I've come to, also along the lines of "The most important part...happens before I fire up the enlarger...".

#1 - No matter how much Photoshop you can do, nothing trumps having the 'right' image elements to begin with (Photoshop is a tool, and an excellent one, but there are no ideas there, anywhere)...

#2 - Now that anyone can put 'who-knows-how-many images' together digitally, that's no longer a challenge - the real challenge now is doing something that.... is more than the sum of the parts, an image takes you somewhere you haven't been before, even if it is very, very simple.

The desk was shot in 1996, somewhere in the Southern Ca. desert, I have no idea where.
Because the 'M.O.' for my road trips is simple - I have: cash, credit cards, cameras&film, and a lot of bud :-)
Use all 'as needed'/or 'liberally', whatever the situation requires :-)
Where I am, exactly?? what difference does it make?

(I'm sure i can find my way back to SF, when i really need to.)
((If I ever get a rental car w/ a GPS-thingey, i will turn it off, if possible.
If I ever rent a car that starts talking to me? I will be severely tempted to reach under the dash and rip out
as many wires as I can reach.))

I guess this comes from my childhood (old habits die hard, don't they?)
Vacations were always road trips, and on one, we drove from home (Gardiner, Maine) towards Quebec, Canada.
My dad wasn't much for maps, he figured he could find his way there without any help.
My mom was always his alter ego, worried that maybe we were lost.
On this particular trip, my dad took a shortcut - a road that was barely a road, which didn't please Mom one bit.
They argued, while we (2 brothers & 1 sister) just watched it all pass by.
At a certain point, we all noticed something - any kind of signs stopped being in English, and were in French.
I guess that means we were there, already?!...which we definitely were.
'Customs'? National boundaries?? we seemed to have missed those, entirely.

When I shot the desk, I had no idea what to do with it, but it was a 'pregnant' symbol -
someone discarded it as useless,
but if you were to sweep the crap off it, you could still sit down and work on it.
The landscape above/beyond it is Death Valley, I think around 'Badwater', shot five years later, in 2001.
The perspective on the water (in the distance) is about the same as the top of the desk, which is why they came together, for me.
I wanted the top of the desk to blend into the distance somewhere, even though the desk's legs are obviously sitting on the foreground ('feet in the sand, head in the sky'?)
The first print of just those two, together, turned out to be pretty interesting.
At the same time, it begged for more -
'so what happens here?...if you were to sit down at this desk, what would the topic of study be?
Would a teacher or guide of some sort appear?

I used to have some kind of prohibition about using the same negatives more than once...
not anymore. I definitely have some themes I want to work with, so why not use some of the same negs
several times?
Even though I have used the 'stars' on several occasions... and also a flock of gulls,
why not use 'em again?
Both seem to be symbols of...hmmm, let's see: the stars = some kind of divine intervention?
a cosmic zap of enlightenment?
and the gulls? this case, all hovering above, headed towards the viewer?..maybe they are
the inevitability of... everything - the passage of time, for one.
Perhaps even the arrival of wisdom, if you should be so lucky (as if the stars weren't already enough!)
If you'd like to read anything else into either of the above?
Help yourself... I'd love to hear about it.
I never know exactly why I arrive at some of the 'solutions'(final prints) I do - if I actually understood it?,
then I probably didn't go far enough.

For larger images:

The next few entries? .... definitely more darkroom! - I got a 'Fog Desk',
and a 'Desert Distance' waiting in the wings....
but there may be a digression or two along the way!