Hey out there! Summer’s winding down, my kids are back in school, and Skillshare classes can once again start flowing. This one is about a topic near and dear to my heart – Finding Your Photographic Vision. It’s a class not about the technical side of photography but about the steps anyone can take to become more unique and expressive in their photographic art.
I also wanted to mention that San Diego Comic Con just wrapped up, and Adobe sponsored me to give a panel on their motion capture animation software Character Animator. It was a hoot to be onstage at the largest comics convention anywhere, and it’s all down to a film I made called The Innocence of Seduction and the corresponding classes I created on Skillshare. On my channel there are lessons about Motion Comics in Photoshop, Character Animator,After Effects, and other Character Animator tutorials here and here!
It’s been a week since one of my favorite photographers, Ren Hang, apparently took his own life at the age of 29. Ren made very stark, minimal, ring-lit images of people in piles, nude, doing strange things with animals or genitals, but all very unsexy. It felt to me like a statement on the weirdness of just being a walking organic mess.
I’ve been showing Ren’s work to everyone I work with for the last year or so- a Pinterest board full of loose, random, colorful, “unposed” poses- and to some extent I’ve gotten some successful images, but nothing like the kick in the balls that Ren made with every image. He left behind such a mountain of images, each one a masterpiece.
Jim Henson made avant garde films and probably would have continued if The Muppets hadn’t taken off. I know there was a comic recently of one of his unfilmed works. The Muppets were my earliest memory and influence, so Henson already had a place in my Mt. Rushmore, but the strangeness and unique sound design and pacing of this are influencing me as a filmmaker alongside the same as Orson Welles’ experimental design or George Melies’s in-camera effects. Sound and cutting are what drives the story in “Timepiece.”
During my recent trip to NYC I caught a gallery showing of German photomontage artist Grete Stern at the Museum of Modern Art. Stern fled the Nazis to Argentina in 1935, and produced a stunning series of images that are impressive for their creative weirdness as well as technical precision in the pre-computer, pre-xerox machine days.
The sense I get from Stern’s ideas is what I really want out of “assemblage” kind of art- a concept, completeness to the piece, and out-and-out craft and composition. As many modern collage artists show up on my Tumblr feed, few can pull those elements as tightly together as Stern did.
I did this video for Graham Crabb, the singer of Pop Will Eat Itself who has a fun electronic side project Je Suis Crabbi. JSC is an outlet for the less serious targets of Graham’s ire- note track titles “Bonophobic”,”Uptalk” and “Big Mouth Wanker”- in this case, London mayor Boris Johnson. I learned a lot about ridiculous British politics doing this video.
Before I had reviewed the list of Palm Springs Photo Festival’s workshops, I am not sure if I’d ever been overly familiar with the name Frank Ockenfels the Third. Then I looked at his work- Rolling Stone, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, countless movie posters, music videos, and so on- and I realized this was a guy I’d seen dozens to hundreds of times. Someone on the level of Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Annie Leibowitz, and Dan Winters, equal parts commercial and creative. Photography is like that, though; we are more familiar with the creators for their subjects than anything else.
About 16 of us photographers of varying backgrounds were in attendance in Frank’s workshop. He focused on unusual lighting to portraiture, forbidding us from using strobes and instead working on shaping natural light or using department store sources. Frank definitely leans towards creative distortion in his artsier work – in camera vibrations caused by 1/8 second exposures, using deliberately dirty or “fucked up” filters and lenses, shooting through massive diffusion rolls and bouncing with filthy bounce cards. He gave tutorials on light painting and challenged us to do things that we’d never done before, meaning, if I did do light painting, I shouldn’t be using it.
The basic structure was, shoot before lunch, have lunch and listen to Frank spinning yarns about particular shoots or swearing about the Kardashians, then a bit more shooting before group review on a projector. Day 1 we were in a resort villa, Day 2 in a huge studio space with interesting nooks and crannies and a bunch of grip gear, Day 3 had rented out hotel rooms and 8 models. Each time we traded off assisting duties and borrowed each others’ hardware store lighting tools to get truly unique lighting.
This being my first workshop, I had a grand time. Circumstances cut short the 3 hours of final day critiques which Frank vowed to make up with one-on-one phone calls which was fine with me. I challenged myself to shoot in weirder ways than I normally do, the results of which will be posted over the next few weeks, and heard the perspective of a portrait legend in 3 days of constant shooting. More than anything though, he taught me how a satisfying workshop should be run, something I plan on incorporating in my own photography and art classes.
Roughly a mile from my house in Chandler, Arizona, is the ASU Techshop. It’s about a year old and chock full of machines that I had no idea how to work or what art I could make if I got my hands on them. As a Christmas present to myself I bought a membership and signed up for a few classes, and those few weeks since have yielded some creative results.
One of the new tools I’ve made use of is the Universal Laser Systems’ laser cutter. It’s about as easy to use as any regular xerox machine except sometimes a fire starts in it. Basically I can etch, engrave or cut a huge variety of materials using whatever designs I create. There’s not much more than convert photos to a pure black-and-white design using “threshold” and “layers” in Photoshop, save as a PDF, import that into Corel Draw and that’s about it for prep.
My current favorite material is an acrylic plexiglass with a mirrored back. It makes my images look like large Daguerreotypes.
I’m also quite fond of this black acrylic. This is my first etching on the laser cutter, converted to a vector drawing in Adobe Illustrator CC. Check the video for the “making of” process…
The other tool I’ve been using non-stop is the 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator 2. I feel about this machine the way I felt the first time I could burn CDs, or the first time I saw Amazon’s commercial for a Kindle. Last year I photographed a bunch of models “in the round” to make 3D models of them, and though the process of getting an interesting object out of those photos wasn’t as simple or satisfying as I thought it’d be- currently I have a bunch of half-heads in my Meshmixer folders- I have been making objects that are actually useful to me. From Thingiverse I’ve created some GoPro mounts and a plastic pinhole camera…