SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE EVERLASTING CIVIL WAR BETWEEN ARTISTS THAT BEGAN IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, the aesthetic wrestling match between natural depictions of subjects and deliberate abstraction of them, will probably rage as long as mini-pundits like myself can crawl to the keyboard to contribute their own particular chicken scratchings on the subject. Painting kinda started this argument, and, of course, photography has kept fanning the flame. You gotta admit, that, whatever your philosophy, it’s fun to walk through galleries and watch people on either side of the brawl wrinkle their noses and furrow their brows trying to see something in the crap that the other team has hung on the walls. It’s New Yawk thin-crust versus Shee-cago deep-dish. It’s Ginger versus Mary Ann. It’s Connery versus Moore.
Thing is, there is a definite time in a photographer’s life when a picture is both a literal record of something in the “real” world and a cracked-mirror tweaking of it that makes that thing something else. The most obvious transfer is the one from color to b&w, whereby we decide that some tones are gaudy and others are truth-tellers, but to whom and why? Post-processing, which re-jiggers the balance of tones or the priority of colors, takes the process a step further, in that we are keeping the essence of the thing pictured but changing every visual element of it in some way. It’s still the thing but, same time, it’s no longer the thing.
Man, I’m starting to sound like a first-year graduate student teaching from his own book……
The image above was generally the result of trying to take a familiar thing (a multi-level mall) and erase most of its obvious visual markers. I found that if I obliterated the colors, signs and other details that cued my brain to see the mall in the standard fashion, then added a particular kind of monochrome (in this case, an app that replicated the old platinum process for making prints), the underlying structure, reduced to shadows, counter-shadows, and reflections, would allow the pattens in the frame to take center stage, minus the distractions of the “real” bits. It’s basically stripping things away until you have nearly nothing, and then adding back dabs until you have a different, hopefully new something.
Of course, the real test of whether this is anything would be if I could manage to get the image framed and mounted on a wall in one of those “argument” galleries, so that I could finally hear the one sentence that convinces artists that they just may be onto something:
“I don’t get it.”