Ceramics Spring Cleaning

Just a quick note that I have a 20% off sale of my ceramic masks on Etsy through Sunday evening.  They are a mix of my Unpleasant People series of originals and pop culture Icons like Gollum, Admiral Ackbar, Batman characters, etc.


The Most Horrible Photo Words

I dislike two words that are common to the photographic lexicon:  “editing” and “retouching.”

Editing implies a business-like cutting away of elements.  The main goal is removal of elements rather than the building up of elements.

The original image of musician Jessica Kelly and one with about an hour of post-work done while sitting at Burger King. Background simplified, multiple textures added, dodging and burning on the figure, monochrome treatment applied, Nik software tone mapping and Silver EFX Pro applied, layers mixed.

Retouching is primarily associated with making a more commercial product for an ad.  It’s easy to imagine retouching a model or actor’s skin, or a product shot, to make it as appealing an image as possible.  It’s harder to imagine, say, Barbara Krueger creating her political slogan collages via “retouching.”

In sculpture or illustration, you start with nothing and add elements.  Video and photography, you create a recording and try to create the best version of the recording through blending elements.  Music is somewhere in-between- songs don’t exist until you start adding elements, but then you create the recording.  The best description I’ve seen for manipulating recordings is post production or postwork.  It better describes the process of creation than mere cogs in the wheel like “editor” or “retoucher.”

Those words apply to the creative side of photography.  On the business end, there are a few words that are like nails on a chalkboard.  I get a lot of emails asking to “collab,” which is text-talk for “I want you to help me create my ideas for free.”  Best not to go down that rabbit hole.

New/ Old Scans – Redefining a Series

Jane 1I haven’t shot much this week but I did a lot of organizing. That can be as productive in building photo series as creating new work. I’ve done scanner work of 4 models at this point, and I’ve decided to widen the series to include all kinds of people, not just nude models. To this end I dug up some old scans of Patrick and took advantage of a father-in-law who visited.

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Most of my series start with using a technique, then take on their deeper meanings. Scanning people was weird and cool but it’s become about human skin, aging, approaching the human condition by staring realllllllly close.

Patrick scan

Locations: Santa Monica

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Kalinda Gray

I first went to Los Angeles around 1998, and I always make a trip to the beach part of the routine.  My favorite beach by far is Santa Monica.  It’s crowded and you’re sure to pay for parking, which isn’t the case at a lot of other beaches, but being located at the end of I-10 and Route 66, it feels a bit like the end of the world.  You drive and drive until you hit the end.

I spent Sunday morning there with my family and it got me thinking about all the other shoots I’d done at the location, on the pier with the rides, deeper in the neighborhood amongst the houses and cafes.  Using the murals or bicycle racks or excercise equipment or giant chairs or underneath the pier.  Every shoot I’d done there has come out different.

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Sierra McKenzie w top by Bonsoir Bella
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Lacheln in Anna Morph designs
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Sugar in Anna Morph designs
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Sugar in Anna Morph designs
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Heather Votaw, hair by Victoria Buge
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Kalinda Gray
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Magdalena on Sunday
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Magdalena last Sunday
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Sierra McKenzie shot with my prism filter
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Amy Jo Colon, hair by Victoria Buge
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Hanna Kondo, hair by Victoria Buge

The Pre Shoot

Merrique 1  Last week I had a shoot with model St. Merrique and I was thinking about how I operate before a model shoot. It’s exclusive to model shoots because these are the kind that usually require special planning in advance. If I’m traveling, it’s all about being open to the experiences presented to you; if you’re doing a family shoot or a wedding, those are pretty by-the-book. But an artistic model shoot is different.

1. I have to establish what category the images will fall under. If they are going in my “pop” or “mythology” categories, then it’s digital and the D700. I take this camera no matter what, but there has to be some conciousness as to what I’m going to do. The images I paint on or Vesna does embroidery on, those need to be composed a certain way.merrique8-2

2. When I have my category, I look over what I already have shot and what I could add to the series. In the case of the scanner series, I have quite a few that prominently feature squished faces, boobs and hands, so if I want the series to be any more than that the next people I scan have to do something different. Scanning St. Merrique, we did some of her back and swirly hair that looked special and unique.


3. At this point I may do a sketch or two, gather props, but the most important step seems to be…

4. Forget most of my plans or anxiety and let instinct and experience guide me during a shoot. So often a prop, or some other element of a “plan” doesn’t work, but there’s amazing light over thataway, so let’s go thataway and take the good photos rather than struggle.

Trust in your own talent. You’ll get more good pictures that staying driving concepts into the ground.


The Battle of Picacho Peak

The yearly Arizona Civil War reenactment at Picacho Peak offered an interesting opportunity to try to recreate the specific look of that time.  The Civil War wasn’t the first war to be photographed- that was the Crimean War- but it was the first war Americans ever saw images from.  In particular the work of Matthew Brady’s company of photographers is so iconic it’s the first thing people think of when the Civil War is brought up as a topic of conversation.


I went with my 4×5 Graphlex Field Camera and 14 sheets of film.  I also took my son Patrick, who opened up one of the film holders before I got any shots at all.  In February, I was at another Civil War event at Pioneer Village north of Phoenix, and the attendance there was low enough that I figured I’d have the actors and location pretty open to shoot in.  Not so.  There were thousands of people at the Picacho Peak event, and anyone who has ever tried to get authentic period shots when you have so many other people milling about knows that it ain’t easy.

ImageQuite a few of these spectators were photographers themselves, from DSLRs to medium format to an interesting DIY combo of “Frankensteined” vintage lenses on a mirrorless Sony camera.  The 4×5 was slower than usual due to issues in keeping my son calm and happy, but it worked out in several ways:

  1. Forcing me to plan out shots, rather than “spray shooting” and hoping to sort them out later
  2. Forcing me to shoot in a framing style similar to the real Civil War photos
  3. Getting me a lot of attention from actors, kids, other photographers.  Nothing like a weird camera to help introverts like myself talk to people.

ImageWe arrived back at our house in Chandler around 4 pm, developed the film by 6 pm, scanned the 11 good images by the next day, and I finished them off using a combination of texture overlays, Nik software’s Tone Mapping in HDR Pro and Silver EFX Pro, and Adobe Lightroom. ImageImage

The Other Stuff I Make Pt. 2

In a previous post I talked about one of the non-photographic creative outlets I have in the music I create as Artificial Human. My other, most recent creative love is ceramic sculpture. Music and sculpture utilize vastly different creative muscles from photography than, say, drawing, painting, video or graphics.

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Walter White of Breaking Bad

I started appreciating and collecting pottery when I was in ASU’s American Indian studies program. Pottery/ ceramics are quite big around Arizona and New Mexico because the arid climate lends itself to drying out pieces- in England, it may take a week for something to dry out and be fire-ready whereas here it only takes a day.

Ceramics are awesome for many reasons:

  1. The work has an end. You can’t get more done than something being glazed and fired.
  2. Some pieces are utilitarian- bowls and mugs and vases etc.
  3. It isn’t something that can be digitized and pirated. If you want it, you have to make it yourself or buy it. And a lot of people are willing to spend money on ceramics.
  4. Clay is a tactile experience that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen.
  5. Clay is so easy to model and shape. It’s fascinating to see what you can do with something that starts as a ball of mud.
  6. There is a pretty low cost to be involved in ceramics. Even if you don’t have your own wheel or kiln, the art studios I work at in Chandler and Mesa both offer affordable “work at your own pace” classes where you have full access to the facilities.

Someday I want to create some installation featuring photography, music and ceramics. Of the three I am definitely the least knowledgeable of ceramics, but that’s part of what makes it so exciting to me. With so much to learn, every new piece is a step forward.