I'm beginning 2016 by looking backwards with the goal of moving forward. There are plenty of apps for finding out what your most liked or most popular images were, but the more important task is to look at your own work and decide what you liked best. My friend and fellow photographer, Crackle Bingham, challneged me to do just that. She came to value this as an important tool after she met Brooke Shaden, who does this herself each year. If you are familiar with Brooke's work, you may think she doesn't really need to do this each year; she's so good already! Having now gone through my work from 2015, both personal and client work, I can see how this task will become an invaluable part of my artistry.
I am not sure of how I am supposed to feel now that I've looked over a year's worth of work. I think I was hoping to feel more pride and satisfaction. I'm supposed to look at commonalities, investigate what I liked and why (and what I don't and why not.) What color pallette do I use? Are my favorite images square? Portrait? Horizontal? Are they personl or client work? Photoshopped? Not so much? Did I experiment? Think outside the box? Were the images meaningful? Did they even warrant a title? (All my final selections are titled images.)
So, here's how my inaugural attempt at self-critique goes:
For starters, only nine images made the cut. Initially, there were many more, including client work, several images of my kids and a a handful of lifestyle-type images that I just really liked. I decided to immediately cut out all images that were not titled, were part of a lifestyle-family portrait session or were special to me because they were of my own kids, but not so meaningful otherwise.
I don't think I discovered a big theme or had some big realization about my pallette or technique. Some of my favorites are heavily manipulated and more like a painting, while some were more photographic in nature and I shot them knowing already I wouldn't be doing much to them in post. Now that I am reflecting, maybe I like to alter images a bit, but not in a way that creates something unbelievable. I like to create an image or a scene, or world that removes the viewer from the ordinary without requiring that he or she suspend disbelief.
I like the images that are meaningful, the ones that suggest a story or a character. I like the ones that show an element of humanity--some aspect that we may recognize in ourselves. I leaned toward images of one person, not big groups, although I think, moving forward, I'd like to explore relationships, which may or may not involve shooting with more than one person at a time. (I know this is coming because I have a full series of images roughly sketched out, and many of them involve more than one person. Having said that, I have another set of portraits in mind that involve a very simple set up and one person per image.)
In 2016 it is absolutely a goal of mine to shoot one full series. I am missing out on many opportunities by not being prepared with a cohesive body of work. I know I have a ton of water portraits, and I love many of them, but they are pretty portraits--often creative and interesting, but other than the water, there is nothing connecting them. Occasionally, though, a water portrait (or in the case below, a milk portrait,) can turn into something else. I chose this first image, which was initially a water portrait, for several reasons. I have loved it from the moment it began taking it's final form. I find the subject to be interesting. I love her shape, her dress, her expression. I love that her feet sort of disappear from the image. I love the texture that makes it look like a painting. This piece came from client work, but she trusted me completely and gave me permission to play. She didn't ask me to make her look like a goddess or an angel, yet to me she looks beautiful, serene and confident. The earthy color pallette with no bold splashes of color are in my comfort zone, for sure, and I'd like to play with adding color in a way that stays true to my vision. No Andy Warhol, pop-art images from me anytime soon.
Mrs. Wright Looks Lovely in her Brown Dress
This next image made the cut because it was one of those rare times I dragged my ass out in cool, wet weather because I wanted to shoot in the fog. The man is my husband who often finds himself in front of my camera. I don't really photograph men that much. I'm much more drawn to the female form, but this year I want to make myself get out and shoot in less than ideal conditions and push myself to work with more than women. This image also represents my love of photographer, Rodney Smith, and was also an attempt to put make most of the magic in camera.
Next, another image of my husband. If I'm experimenting with ideas and technique, it's a good bet my kids or my husband are the subjects. They're the ones around when I get a whim! This technique isn't perfect, but I kept the image because it was an exercise in manipulating an image as I shot it, rather than so much in Photoshop. I'm definitely going to play with that idea some this year.
This is one of my favorite, favorites, and reflects the idea I mentioned of simple set-ups, one person, portraits. I wasn't sure exactly where this would go when I shot it, but I had an idea I would be covering her face with something like a shell or a flower...something! (In the end, I decided not to conceal her face entirely.) I did a lot of work on this image. A lot! When I thought I was finished, I noticed some flaws I couldn't correct and reluctantly started over completely. I thought I was going to try and recreate what I had intended originally but discoverd a new and better path along the way. THIS is what I mean by an image having a sense of the surreal while mainting believability. Plus, I love the gold-- a splash of color without being too bright.
A Bold Accessory
The next image was very much altered in post. Her skin is cracked and crumbling. The walls are aged and textured. There are no birds on wires across my dining room ceiling, and that piece in the back ground doesn't really exist. The model, the chair and the twinkle lights are basically what were present when we did the shoot. With this image, I knew the direction I would take, and I knew I would be playing with different techniques like encaustic and collage.
I shot this image in Arch Cape, Oregon at a workshop I was co-teaching with Thom Rouse, Joyce Wilson and emily Connolly.I picked this image to remind me that it is possible to create something different and new in reality, not just in Photoshop. I love the movement of the fabric that sort of takes on the role of the subject in this image, and how the lines of the rocks behind her lead directly to the focal point.
Hope Is Invisible
(for Hope, who sometimes feels invisible)
The next two images are water portraits created for clients: one created almost completely in Photoshop and one with very little manipulation. The first image, I think, suggests so many possible stories. It really activates the imagination. The second image tells a more specific and familiar story of a mother and her children and the connections between family members. I'm sure I'm also loving the cool, blue/gray, earthy, organic color of the backdrops.
Finally, I had been thinking about this piece for a year. Again looking at human beings, our relationships, our compassion for others, our strenghts and weaknesses. I call it Reprieve. I feel like human beings have such compassion for others who are suffering. We go on about our lives, often thinking of ourselves and our own troubles, but when someone we care about, and often, even someone we don't know, is in pain, we many times forget ourselves and think only about how we can help them. We may desperately wish to take on their grief or suffering ourselves, let our own bodies crumble, if only to give another human being a few moments of peace--to feel whole again if only for a minute. That concept is something I believe exists despite the bad news and turmoil we hear in the news that might lead one to believe people are inherently bad, or at least self-serving.
This year I want to give more time to personal work. I want my work to be more metaphorical and meaningful. I want to take time to think through ideas before I shoot. I want to create a cohesive, meaningful body of work to take to galleries, art directors, portfolio reviews, etc.
And I want to continue to teach.