Newsletter No. 34: May 2008
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
While I wait for the snow to come off the mountain trails,
I am taking the opportunity to talk about shifting the paradigm
of photographic artistry.
Also in this Newsletter I am announcing
the date for the opening of a new exhibit here
at the gallery.
Enjoy the Newsletter, and pass it on to interested friends. Remember, our goal here at the Gallery is to share the creative process, and promote the arts; thus strengthening our artistic community. Thank you.
The Past Seven Years
Photography for me during the past seven years has changed
dramatically. Firstly, I photographed my recent
book The Bowron Lakes:
A Lifetime Journey entirely
with film, but when I went to publish, I found
the printers in the midst of digitizing their printing
processes. The state of transition in their ever-changing
requirements caused me to postpone publication – for
five years as it turned out.
Next, with globalization and a number of
other factors, came the collapse of the stock photography
business. With that came my decision to diversify.
In 2002 Rita and I built a straw
bale Gallery from which
to sell my fine art photographic prints and books.
On top of all this, my four-year Grasslands
Book Project required that I too move to digital capture. Talk
about upheaval! Meanwhile, throughout this time
I was still trying to make a living as a nature photographer
and publisher. Times were tough and uncertain!
Did You Manipulate that in Photoshop?
In the creation of my early books I was happy to show
beautiful “Kodak” landscapes or postcard
scenics. But in my Bowron
Lake book I wanted to
search deeper into that familiar landscape and
show images that were not so obvious. I began to
use creative vision to push the limits of film.
In the image below, for example, I created an impressionistic
interpretation of a portage trail. This quickly
became a best-selling print in the gallery but
it was also the brunt of many questions by suspicious
viewers. "Did you manipulate that image in Photoshop," they
would ask. At first I felt defensive and that
my integrity as a photographer was being questioned.
Now, of course, I welcome the question.
© Chris Harris;
Canon EOS-3 film camera
Forest Trail was created as a result of
creative vision. Being intimately familiar with the landscape
I was photographing, I formed that image in my mind while
sitting by the fireplace in mid-winter. I made detailed
notes of exactly how I was going to make the image when
I was in the field. The next spring, while guiding a
tour, I stopped my group and pointed out the photographic
potential of this beautiful S-curving trail through the
forest. Having studied my notes in the tent the previous
evening, I made this image within a minute – before
any of my clients even had their cameras out!
Photographic manipulation means ‘alter
or adjust data to suit one’s purposes’.
In the case above, that purpose was to create the
image I had visualized. I manipulated reality by
making a total of 16 exposures in my camera. But what
if I had made a single image in-camera and then 15 more
in my computer and blended them together to make
this image? Is that manipulation any different? For
me, because I sell it in my gallery as a photographic
print, not a computer generated one, I feel good
about having made it in my camera.
Bluff Lake Road
© Chris Harris; Canon EOS-3 film
For the image Bluff Lake Road, my creative
vision came to me while looking through the viewfinder – not
at home by the fire. The road represented a beautiful
S-curve through the autumn colours, but the S-curve
was ill defined because of the leaves being scattered
all over the road. Had I been a painter, I would
have painted the leaves where I wanted them to achieve
my vision but, as a photographer, I went to the nearest
farm and borrowed a rake and garbage bag. I raked
the road clean and gathered more leaves in the forest
to scatter over the road’s shoulder – thus
accentuating the S-curve and creating what I felt
was a more powerful image. Manipulated? Yes, indeed.
reality, of course, is that photographs have been
manipulated for as long as film has been around. We
remove dead branches, add moons to landscapes with double
exposures, saturate colours with polarizing filters,
and change perspectives with a wide variety of lenses;
in darkrooms, B&W photographers have been dodging and burning
and fiddling with contrast for decades. It’s always
been that way. Dry darkrooms with software have changed
What About Painters?
Still Life by the Sea
© Jane O’Malley,
In my family background of both photographers
and painters, we often discussed art from both perspectives.
That is why I often think from a painter’s perspective
in the field.
If you change the word ‘photographer’ to ‘painter’ and/or ‘image’ to ‘painting’ in
this article, the negative connotations of the word “manipulation’ disappear.
It’s then all about creativity which is positive.
When you look at a painting such as my sister’s
Still Life by the Sea, reality once again has
been manipulated or altered through her creative vision.
So the question remains – would you ask Jane in
her gallery if her painting was manipulated, as people
ask me in my gallery if Forest Trail was manipulated?
why is it that photographers are expected to make
imagery in documentary terms while painters are completely
free to interpret their subject matter through creative
vision? Surely, both should be free to be true creative
artists – a
thought worth pondering!
The Photographer’s Integrity
A few years ago, a very well known American photographer
distorted a natural history image for the cover of
his book and did not disclose his technique. Photoshop experts
figured it out and, before long, every photo magazine
carried the news to the world. It was a lesson for
every photographer in the new era of digital photography.
Similarly, a wildlife painter would not paint six
grizzly cubs with its mother. A distortion of the
truth pertaining to natural history is of no value to
anyone. Every artist needs to be honest and integral
to both themselves and the public.
I am happiest when I’m in the field, aware of
all my senses, and expressing myself creatively. Solving
computer problems and continually learning new software
updates to express myself is definitely not my first
love! Probably, in 50 years when digital photography
has matured a little, I as a photographer will be able
to completely concentrate on my creative visualizations
in the landscape – trouble is – I won’t
be around then!
We have selected a new exhibit of prints to open with
a celebration on June 6th.
We will release a special
Newsletter to announce the opening, so if you live
in the area, or have friends visiting, we hope you
will all join us.