Post from 3158, October 2010

Direction, Aesthetics, and Post-Processing

Sunday, 31. October 2010 21:49

For the last week, I have been lost in a sea of post-processing choices, and it has been a very educational experience. Let me explain. I am working on a series of images with which I am not yet completely satisfied. So I decided to play around with post-processing choices.  If you have ever used Photoshop®, you are probably aware that there are more than a few such choices. There are adjustments, actions, filters, layers, blending modes, variable opacities, variable fills, masks, not to mention plug-ins. And the list goes on and on.  Some choices are rejected from the outset as being too-this or too-that, but then there are all those others… There are so many choices that it can be impossible to decide what to do. The combinations are literally limitless.

The problem is that we, as artists, sometimes don’t know exactly where we are going—at least in a way that can be articulated. I know that it’s blasphemy to admit this publically, but it’s true. Sometimes the embryo of an idea is there, but it has not germinated, much less blossomed in our imaginations. Then the only thing for it is to experiment. And with so many choices, that can be like entering a gargantuan labyrinth from which there is no exit.

So I have, from my week’s experience discovered a couple of things.  First and obviously, it is best to know where you are going before you start, or you may never finish, at least with post-processing.  This does not mean that you should close yourself off from any serendipitous accident that might occur, and it certainly does not mean that you cannot try out ideas and methods to discover if something better or more interesting exists. Certainly discovery is always a possibility and is one of the most delightful features of the artistic endeavor. It does mean, however, that you should have some idea of the destination before you wander off into the maze of multiple possibilities, never to surface again. With no notion of your desired destination, you have no guide for deciding which discovery is the one that will complete the piece.

The second discovery is that post-processing experimentation is an excellent way to tune your personal aesthetic, particularly for those of us who have never bothered to verbalize our aesthetic, or at least to verbalize the details of it.  As you experiment, you begin to learn about yourself. For example, I began to learn what I consider acceptable for a photograph of mine and what I do not. I discovered that some of the nuances of my aesthetic I have never articulated, at least consciously, so this particular exercise, aside from being frustrating, was very self-informative. I now know that there are things that are just not acceptable for photographs that I make—if I am going to continue to call them photographs and claim author status.

Then I began to wonder how many of us, artists, aficionados, and critics, are wandering around the universe with detuned aesthetics. How many of us lack a fully articulated concept of what, for us, constitutes a good photograph, painting, illustration, sculpture, play, opera, ballet, composition, novel, poem?  Oh, we say that we recognize quality when we see it, but then we can’t say exactly how we do that or what constitutes “good.”  Maybe we, like Persig’s Phaedrus, need to take some time to meditate on the components of quality, or do some experimentation—perhaps with post-processing.

Category:Aesthetics, Creativity, Photography | Comment (0) | Author: