When I look back upon my journey as a photographer, it can easily be summed up by the words of Jonathan Swift.
"Vision is the art of seeing things invisible."
The journey has been about learning the basics of image-making. It also has been a communion with the camera, and what we can do together. But mostly it has been a quest to see — see better. To see clearer. To see at the world and listen to how it connects what my mind is seeing. It has been a slow, ponderous hike of imagination.
Imagination is the only uniqueness in our time of media saturation. There nearly 60 billion photos on Instagram alone — and many are clones. In our everything is a remix reality; it is wishful thinking to expect not to be replicated and imitated. It is not easy for someone to get into the neural connections that run between your heart, eyes, and mind.
Imagination, in the end, is what distinguishes one creation from another.
After five years of making images, I have intuitively started to shun the obvious. Even when I end up in iconic places, I gravitate towards compositions and views that take me someplace, long before I even press the shutter. I see the final image in my imagination. What remains is to capture the best negative, in a manner that allows me to use editing tools — Adobe Photoshop — to finally what is my mind become a print. Even though I primarily dwell in the digital domain, I took a detour into the film world to get on the right track.
After a rigorous year of photographing with b&w film, I now tend to shoot for the “right” of the histogram. As a result, my digital negatives are brighter. I make sure that there is enough room on the right side of the highlights. I am less keen on deep blacks and comfortable being lost in the grays. Once I arrive at this negative, it is a handful of Photoshop layers that allow me to interpret the reality I visualize. Photoshop is there to eliminate any texture, contrast, and color. I would call this visual clutter.
Pablo Picasso once said:
"There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into sun."
As a photographer, this means imagined reality in general. Given my preference for landscapes, Picasso’s words are what I call imagined landscapes.
About two years ago, I was in Yellowstone. We were waiting by the side of the road waiting for two male bison to cross the snow-crusted road. The early morning sun was streaming through the thick forest of majestic trees on either side of the road. Lost in silence, I could see the clouds of warm breath coming out the giant beast’s nostrils, poking out of their giant heads caked with snow. I could listen to the wind, slowly rustling its way between the trees.
But my mind had me holding a simple thick piece of charcoal in my hand, slowly drawing on a coarse sheet of paper. The trees became just lines – thick scratches. The road was a mere part of the background. The sun’s rays just a reminder that there is warmth even in the coldest places.
Using a slight movement of the hand — they call it intentional camera movement technique — I captured a few negatives that would eventually allow me to create the images you can see below. Let me reinforce the big point here — you need to be technically savvy and well versed in techniques to make what you are visualizing. For me, that learning has come from hundreds of hours in the field and learning from the masters. And the same goes for putting Photoshop to work. The technical craft and skills are a necessary part of making imagination real.
Of course, you don’t need Photoshop skills. Two of my favorite photographers — Susan Burnstine and Sandra Bartocha , for example, test the limits of their cameras and use them to create their dreamscapes. Susan, a mentor of mine, crafts her cameras and lenses and uses film to create haunting images of heart-aching beauty. They both use the real world, but their pictures don’t represent reality. Bartocha, on the other hand, is a digital photographer and uses the DSLR to its extreme capabilities. But in both cases, they both take you into their imaginary landscape — a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and textures.
Someday, I hope I can take you to nowhere — my neverland that only exists in the spectrum between an imaginary world devoid of all color, but not entirely. Up until then, enjoy these images.
August 6, 2020, San Francisco
All images made with Leica SL and Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90/f2.8-4 ASPH Lens