Camera Work: Mirrors and Mandalas
Some ten years ago or so, I accidentally became aware of the possibility that single images contained information that, to the eye, in a single image, was not particularly visible, and that is what’s happening at the edges of a photo. Second to that is what incomplete shapes take on meaning by mirroring the shape. The combination of the two set me on an intensive exploration that involved identifying single frames as candidates, digital manipulation in Photoshop,and exploration in color. A visual locution, with the possibility of metaphor. I went looking.
An essential problem: The photograph is a frame, with boundaries From the human perspective, the world has no boundaries, at least of the Euclidean kind, which the frame presents. So, it is as important to understand what you leave out as what you include, and that means define your edges.
The eye naturally looks to some sort of organization within the frame. It matters not whether one paints, draws or photographs. The way photographing differs from painting and drawing, from a production point of view, is the photographer organizes from the edges inward. Which means pay attention to the edges. We do that by concluding “I want to leave that out” and crop to that. The use of zoom lenses it particularly good for that. The zoom allows perfect composition as well as isolation.
However, there is “stuff” at the edges. Particularly in nature photography One never has complete elimination. The tree branch cutting at an angle is left over when eliminating the tree. Eroded rocks have pockmarks, hills and mountains have scree spread over the surface. Etc. Now, when one takes such an image, makes a copy, flips that copy then join the tow exactly at the edge something shows up now at the center of the image, a line if fine detail, and sometimes not so fine, freeing up all sorts of designs, principally faces! All kinds of faces. Animal and human. Many time grim, some Buddha-like, bears, cats, dogs. One thing they all posses is symmetry, a symmetric perfection which rarely, if ever, exists naturally.
The first time I saw this, nature had already done it for me. It was a reflection of a rock wall in a still pool of water. I marveled at the composition . It was only marginally perfect. It balanced top and bottom, so I had the bright idea of making the scan and aligning the original and the flipped versions.
I had my construction. And I had my project!
I spent many a day searching my files for candidates for such imagery. At that point, I was not using a digital camera so I had to scan each candidate, import it into an editor, make the copy then connect the edges, lining them up perfectly. The appearance of all sorts of images was amazing. My problem became one of selection. They all said “Pick me” but no, I had to choose.
During that choosing I noticed that some of the rejects were pretty interesting yet missing something others had, so I decided to copy, flip and match those pairs, and the mandala was born. Now I had a powerful process, with endless possibilities. I made hundreds of experiments.
As I was working this concept, I was also re-reading some of Castaneda’s books on Don Juan Matus. Don Juan kept urging his student, Castaneda, to look carefully, out of the corner of the eye so to speak, and see the forms that defied seeing by conventional means. I wondered if Don Juan was doing this with the pair of images the optical system produces. The eye presents the image to the retina upside down and flipped left to right. The brain flips it back and combines these images to produce the 3D effect by which we all see. Could the Yaqui “Man of Knowledge” be actually doing this as an alternative process? Combining the images so he “saw” the faces? Figuratively speaking, of course as Don Juan Matus was a fictional character. Or was he?
Anyway, I mostly worked with b&w negs, bur soon I started looking at color. There was less opportunity there,primarily because I did far more work in b&w than color. So I proceeded to the next step, colorization of the b&W. It was wildly more successful than I could have ever have anticipated!
I’m barely scratching the surface here. I stopped doing these maybe 8 years ago. I developed a working method which I will have to go back to certain files where I saved all the steps, to be able to again, re-crate this process. Algorithms for messing with color. Skewing methods to add complexity. Things like that.
The template for writing here at FDL makes it difficult to generate a process to show images and write about the process as one would in a book, so in lieu of this, I have a link to a small set on my website. I intend to follow up with a bit more detail, and I will be expanding the collection as well on my site.
Photo ©2015 Lawrence Hudetz