Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scanner Photography: Revealing Wonderful Details

Onion Blossom
8"x10" • pigment ink on archival paper • 2007

Artists tend to work with the tools they are familiar with. I know a master printer who creates beautiful paintings with a brayer that are highly dependent on precise registration. His art has a direct correlation with his profession. I would even go so far as to say that the way his process transcends the expected use of printers’ tools and methodologies exemplifies the act of artistic expression.

Similarly, when I decided to pursue fine art photography – after working as a graphic designer for nearly fifteen years – it wasn’t long before I began experimenting with the tools of my trade. While I am well versed in Photoshop, I found I wasn’t much interested in manipulating my images digitally. I was, however, quite fascinated with what I could do with a scanner. Just about every designer I know has scanned a three dimensional object at one time or another, but I began to do so in earnest. Each day I’d collect small bits of plants during my morning walk and spend hours enlarging them (many times their original size) with my flatbed scanner. The results were stunning and had a profound impact on me.

Technology has never been difficult for me – but it had changed me over the years. I began my graphic design career in the late 1980s – just as the transition to digital production was beginning to occur. I gravitated to the field because I possessed the right combination of creativity, logic and craftsmanship. I could do amazing things with technical pens and x-acto knives. What’s more, tasks considered mind numbing by many, I found relaxing, even restorative. But, after years of fast-paced work on the computer, I no longer had the patience for the methodical precision I once enjoyed.

When I began using my scanner as a camera, my use of the computer changed. I slowed down. I was using the very tool that had sapped my patience to contemplate small details in the natural world – with an intensity and awareness that I hadn’t experienced since I was a child. The progression of the work that followed can best be summed up with the words of artists/authors David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book Art and Fear:
The need to make art may not step solely from the need to express who you are, but from a need to complete a relationship with something outside yourself. (p. 108)

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