My Journey from Photographer to Artist

Hello all and welcome to my website!

My journey from photographer to artist has been a “long and winding road” as the Beatles once sang. Like others I began with film and hours in the darkroom sniffing the wonderful aroma of Dektol developer and sharp acidic vapors of fixer. Starting with analog photography of yesterday helped me to learn critical skills that digital can inadvertently deny photographers today. Learning to previsualize, being patient and intentionally creating the right shot is a skill that wins over shooting thousands of digital frames with the hope that one of them comes out right.

I came to understand that applying the technical skills of photography is just a foundation one must build upon. The challenge is to then use the technical as one part within the larger process of creation. It is a true right/left brain exercise that, if done well, balances and blends a photographer’s technical and creative skills. It is this internal synergy that develops a photographer into an artist.

I fully agree with the late William Mortensen who understood in the 1920’s that what is captured on film [or on the sensor] is just the beginning of the creative process. An artist first creates and visualizes what he or she desires, hires models, stylists, makeup artists, scouts and finds the perfect location, arranges props, clothing and lights, and only then picks up the camera. Literally within a second an image is captured. This is followed by editing, compositing, color grading, test prints and finally the gallery canvas. In other words, a photograph is being manipulated well before and after the actual image is captured. The artist, therefore, uses each step to create the desired piece of art that is so much more than the pixels illuminated on the camera’s sensor.

Following a long hiatus from photography as I pursued a more conventional career that enabled me to raise a family, I got back into photography when I inherited my father’s Canon lenses and matched them to a modern Canon 5D Mark 2 body. It was incredible to be able to capture images and not have to go into a darkroom or send the film off to the lab. Adjustments needed to create the desired image could be made in real time.

But perhaps the thing that most excited me was what I could do with an image once I got it into my computer. Photoshop allowed me to achieve my vision using some of the skills I had learned when studying graphic design. When I first started years ago, even basic retouching often had to be done at a professional lab and by specially trained artists at significant cost. Now I could not only achieve basic touchups but could go as far as introducing new element into a picture through compositing, change colors, and a myriad of other things. The possibilities are endless and only restricted by the artist’s mind.

I use the word “artist” now instead of “photographer” because the use of these tools and changing of the original image requires skills beyond that of a traditional photographer. This includes knowing how to digitally paint, understanding anatomy to modify the body, and putting together elements that were not originally in the image. So I would say that I started as a photographer and, through years of learning, slowly become an artist.

If one looks at my work over the past fifteen years, one can see a progression. I started with traditional portraits with very basic retouching. Over time I then ventured toward more complex retouching and compositing. I also experimented with many different lighting styles: Natural light, a mix of natural and ambient light, and finally strobes and flashes. A discussion about lighting will be in a later entry.

My wife also influenced my work by designing sets and styling. Together we developed a liking for more dramatic images that have a "noir" feel, especially those with a nod to history or within a certain genre like ballet. We also came to enjoy costumes, gowns, and more exotic locations. Now we do many of our shoots in Europe because that is where we can find the kind of locations we enjoy working in.

As a team we continue to develop our artistic voice together. It has not only been a wonderful creative journey for us but also great for our marriage as we travel and work together.