Evolution: A Story in Pictures

Ah, the heartache in revealing the genesis of a completed photo . . . I’ve always believed you lose a ‘certain something’ in revealing a photo’s origin; somehow, a little wonder is lost – this special, completed, object loses its mystique. Utterly quotidian now, it’s no longer seen as the result of any secret ability, or a magical, recognized moment. Instead, it’s the culmination of steps and missteps, effort and imagination. It becomes . . . ordinary.

And so it’s with a little sadness that I reveal the origins of Leer:
Leer

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I made the capture sometime last year – my camera says October 11, 2007 at 8:32:51 PM – as a potential image in EIT Diaries. I’d taken it with black and white conversion in mind – not for me the mentality of “It doesn’t quite work as color – why not try it as black and white?” That’s too random, and besides, I find that color and black and white require markedly different ways of looking at, and responding to, the world.
The starting image

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After a few basic adjustments to the color negative – white balance, color balance, exposure compensation – I do the initial conversions, playing with different parameters, trying to internalize the photo’s response. Most images never make it past this stage: misjudged the light, misjudged the contrast, misjudged the translation of color to grey . . . – there’s any variety of ways to fail, and experience the only way to identify them. With flagged photos (those I’ve decided could make the leap from raw material to completed outcome) I usually remember my feelings photographing the scene; it’s with that in mind that I eye the conversions.
Test conversion - Sample 1

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Test conversion - Sample 2

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Initial conversions rarely work. I try – try to articulate what’s missing before returning to the color negative. Once there I try again – this time to make the changes necessary to realize the ineffable impressions of recollection.
Reworking the original file

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Working the original file, then trying a conversion – I repeat this process as many times as necessary, each time trying to get closer to that ill-defined image in my imagination. Mistakes are made; each photo is a combination of things that work, those you’re ambivalent about, and stuff that simply fails. Case in point: the photo below. I liked the overall tones, but hated – yes, hated – my dodging on the skull. I was trying to separate it from the wall but felt the result looked ridiculous, even comical.
Too dodged skull

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And so I try again to address the deficiencies I’ve noticed. The longer I work and live with a photo (in-progress work usually runs in a slow slideshow on my monitors), the more I understand the emotions I’m trying to impress – it’s then I feel the greatest sadness; I realize just how difficult it is to transport another to the mental space you occupy, and just how poorly my pictures do it. But I try anyways.
Fixing the problems

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Finally I arrive at a conversion and crop I think ‘works’.
Looks right

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With most photos I’ve the general crop outline in mind, sweating out only the specific positioning. It’s rare that I simply play around, trying to find something that works. This is a version made late in the process after a series of frustrating crops. In it I tried to strip the photo down to its bare essentials: the skeleton, the display case, the security camera, and the upper wall; but the image fails and I’m not sure why . . . Lack of context? No sense of larger atmosphere? No sense of place?
An alternate crop

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Doesn’t matter.

I return to an earlier effort, declare it ‘done’.
The final image

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I don’t claim this as the best possible interpretation of Image_2007_10_11_20_32_51.nef – simply the best I’m willing to achieve right now. And although I’ve presented it as a linear journey from beginning to end it wasn’t one; there were false starts, dead-end crops, conversions and adjustments, and plenty of reexamination – lots of photos never make it through.

But this one did.

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