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David King Artist's
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“It seems to me indispensable, that we, the creators of our own time, should go to work with up-to-date means.”
Today — early in the 21st Century — photography is in revolution as the first major change in process in nearly 100 years is taking form. That process, involving digital capture and presentation, though still embyonic, has opened doors for expression only dreamed of by photographers not trapped in some scholastic approach that narrowly defines the limits of a medium usually based on the aesthetics and skill sets of the founders of that approach. The photographers doing that had a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants, but could not get out of their shadows to do so.
Beautiful as silver-based emulsion can be, it is, for me, aesthetically narrow in its range of applications. But ink on paper is an application that has had hundreds of years of creative exploration. And that knowledge of controlling how a particular ink type interacts with a particular paper type to render color and line from soft and subdued to fine and rich can now be combined with the psycho-sociological power of the optically based image and the aesthetic power of a level of finite control over the tiniest parts of that image heretofore available only to painters and printmakers. For example, a single leaf in a forest can be enhanced if it contains the soul of the image and is critical to the visual story; that is extremely difficult in the darkroom.
And, more challenging still, our exploration of these new possibilities is but starting out from the trail head. It carries with it a complete paradigm shift for artists and photographers and, as in all fields when such a cataclysmic event happens, some embrace it and some are terrified of it. But none can ignore it for long.
The natural world, the general subject of my non-commercial photography, is, to me, made up of its infinite variety of details. Fractal geometry has shown us that the same basic elements can be arranged in endless ways to create completely different views of the world. String theory tells us that the collection of possible worlds is nearly limitless as well. I am fascinated by both the details themselves and the larger world(s) they create. Of late I have used those various elements to explore detail in ways ranging from a nearly traditional approach to those natural details involving shooting closely and isolating the intended subject, to the use of digital techniques to allow me to shoot at resolutions far exceeding the potential of the human eye and then present a large view but in which those small details can now be seen along with the results of the aesthetic alchemy that brings them together in so many ways.
To me, the world is truly a magical place. Everywhere I look there are visual mysteries, wondrous stories, exalting vistas, exquisite design, and puzzling details. The immensity of that visual feast is such that to try to shoehorn all of what I see and feel into one narrow scholastic approach or another is not only impossible, it expresses a profound disrespect for the subjects themselves.
I am divinely indifferent to trying to portray just what I “see” and chose, rather, to try to bring any and all of my tools to bear on the attempt to portray what I “feel” when I find my spirit resonating with a subject. Sometimes that feeling is serene, sometimes frenetic, sometimes it demands of me a “straight” rendition, sometimes it asks me to explore its core essence abstracted from its banal surface reality. Sometimes it even demands that I allow it to jump off the page at the viewer as it jumped out of its background for me. Perhaps another way of phrasing this is that even if my subject is a rock, I try to take it's portrait and bring out its character and soul. For me, the goal is to make visible for the viewer things that would otherwise be unseen by them. But I also want them to have to work a little at it so they too succeed on a voyage of discovery.
If I did not allow the subject to converse with me and suggest to me the best ways to present itself to the viewer then, in my opinion, I should turn in my artist’s badge. I refuse to let the mechanical restraints of what is no more than a tool to me—the camera—define the limits of my vision or of the world of my subjects. My camera is not an artist; it is a simple light-gathering device. My computer, similarly, is not an artist; it is a not-so-simple pixel-editing device. Nor is the darkroom an artist, it is no more than a location containing chemical compounds and some projection equipment in which art has the potential of being made. If, therefore, I am to be true to my subjects and to my feelings about them, I must work on attaining the range of skills and tools required to produce an image in any form those feelings might indicate, even if they take me outside of my comfort zone and even outside my current skill level or even into another medium. If, for example, my mind conjures up an image that should be done in bronze then, if I want to be called an artist, I should be willing and able to learn what it would take to render my vision into that proper medium and bring it to life for the viewer.
In my photography I have completely embraced the digital world because, for me, it opened up so many more creative options and allows for the freedom—and terror—to explore image creation in ways more traditional artists have done for centuries. The visual effect of various types and flows of ink on various types and porosities of paper, for example, is no longer the sole realm of the watercolorist or printmaker. This and other options are finally opening up to photographers and I am thrilled, excited, intimidated, and enthralled by it.
And for those traditionalists who decry the digital arena because it can produce images that, in their opinions, are not the product of a darkroom (as if that imposed "art" into the result by some inexplicable method), I would suggest one name: Jerry Uelsman. The truth is that there are very few things than can be done in a digital photo editing environment such as Photoshop(tm) that could not have been done in the darkroom if, and it is a HUGE "If," the artist had mastered sufficient skill and vision. There is nothing inherently artistic about ANY medium or mode of expression, they are simply tools standing ready to be used by expert and nimrod alike. It is so wearisome to hear people who ought to know better assert that one scholastic approach is "THE" proper expression of art and others are not. A Black and White image does not inherently contain more 'soul' than a color one: try selling that line to an oil painter. The "art," if there is to be any, lies only in the final product - the image; and the means by which it was attained are utterly irrelevant.
N. David King