Thursday, November 29, 2012

Your 2013 Calendar: Michael Kenna

I'm not into calendars other than the one on my phone, but I'm coveting the 2013 Michael Kenna calendar because 1. I love Michael Kenna's photography and 2. it's all France this year.

Nazraeli Press puts out a new Kenna calendar every year and they are very popular (and collectible—2010 calendar for $100-$400!). It's kind of like the Maxfield Parrish calendars of yore—crowd-pleasing and enduring in appeal.

Something for the holiday wish list.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

Wanda Wulz, Italian, 1903-1984, Gelatine silver print, 1932

If you use Photoshop or Instagram or manipulate images in any way, then Faking It is a must-have. Faking It is a 280 page hardbound catalog to accompany an exhibition at the Met that runs through the end of January. The first major exhibition to deal with manipulated photography before the digital age, Faking It gives some much needed historical grounding to practices that many people seem to think were invented by Adobe. To quote the last lines of the well researched catalog:
The tradition of photographic manipulation that began in the 1840s is bound to continue far into the future. Let us follow it armed with a truer picture of photography's past. (203)
One of the things I love most about the book is that it leaves you well armed with historical knowledge. This is no lazy quick "scholarly essay" intro followed by a bunch of images with captions. Mia Fineman's work represents an important resource with seven chapters that develop the theme of photo manipulation in a variety of manifestations including pictorialism, politics, spirit photography, vernacular novelty photography, journalism, surrealism, and the move toward Photoshop. Having once spent six years working as a guest curator, I have come to respect the delicate balancing act of museum curators and educators who must produce works of scholarly integrity that can also appeal to groups of school children. 

Good exhibition catalogs tend to shy away from academic jargon (thank heavens!) as well as from controversial academic debates (a "safe" choice). In the spectrum from pure description to theory-heavy analysis, museum catalogs tend to adopt a conservative stance. I didn't come away from reading the catalog with a strong sense of a central thesis. Instead, I enjoyed a content-rich experience that makes me want to revisit the material and see where it leads my own research. There were so many interesting moments/facts/quotes that I have vowed to go back and reread the whole thing, next time taking notes.

Why should you buy it? Context.You probably already have strong opinion about Instagram and Photoshop, but "armed with a truer picture of photography's past" you will be able to think about and discuss debates on photography with more nuance. Context always results in better thinking, and I believe, in better art.

To use a literary example, we can look at 19th-century French romanticism and find themes of unattainable love, a troubled relationship with time and the past, and a highly subjective relation to nature. If you know the context of the French political climate of the  time, you can appreciate how those themes relate to the loss of "old regime" beliefs in transcendent systems of government and religion, etc.  If you strip romantic themes from their historical context instead of Les Misérables you end up with Twilight. In photography, more context could improve/add depth not just to your understanding of photography, but also to your own aesthetic decisions.

I can't imagine that a person could read Faking It and not be inspired. Even if you're not a big collector of photo books, I highly recommend that you buy this one.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hi-res textures vs. not-so-high-res free textures

Free Photoshop textures are everywhere, so why bother buying any? And why on earth did I decide to start selling some?

Here's my story of a quest for good textures and how it led me to open up shop...

The Problem
We'll blame it on Instagram. Some of my latest commercial art projects called for that Instagram grunged up look (or rather, my version of it done in Photoshop). I had brushes, but I needed some film textures to help out. I looked up some of the lists of free Photoshop textures, many of them touting "hi-res" large files. Well, it turns out that what they call "hi-res" might have seemed so circa 1999. I mean, is 1500 px hi-res? I think not. That's great if you're doing web design work, but I need files that will work for print. If you only post photos on Facebook, then there's no need to ever buy textures, but what if you do portraits and a client wants a textured photo to blow up for their walls? 1500 px gets you a whopping 5 inches at 300 dpi. Yes, you could resize and pray for the best, but there are limits.

So, maybe my Google search skills are limited and I have missed the great treasure trove of truly hi-res textures (let's say, somewhere in the range of 5000 px). If so, feel free to add a link in a comment. But for my purposes (namely, to find film-related textures), I only found one good source: 11 grungy film textures at Lost & Taken. They're more in the 3000-range, but that's workable enough. But I needed more. Next stop: iStock. I found one that I quite liked (that's one, mind you, ONE, not an entire pack of textures) for a mere $42 (in the 4132 x 3960 px size). Tempting, but I'd rather buy four albums on iTunes.

The Good Sources
Finally, I found a great source: the French Kiss Collections. I bought the Glorious Grunge texture pack for $35. I have been very happy with them and I will definitely buy more from them in the future even though I am also making my own.

Honestly, I only found one other decent source: Flypaper textures. They have a Classic Grunge pack for $35, but it wasn't based on film like the French Kiss collection, so I didn't get it (not that I wouldn't in the future). Their Antique Edges pack ($40) is closer to what I would want, but ideally, I would love to just buy individual files rather than a whole pack. Both French Kiss and Flypaper also offer gorgeous painterly textures that set my mind racing with creative ideas.

The Take-Out Photo Toolbox
All of this go me thinking...Hey! I just bought a huge box full of old photos, negatives, and who knows what else at my favorite Paris flea market (it's Vanves, by the way) last summer and I haven't even had time to look through any of it! 

old paper with scratches and (fingerprints?)

Since it was Friday, I thought I may as well do something fun and start to sort through the goods. I didn't discover the next Vivian Maier or anything, but there are some pretty amazing photos and enough negatives to keep me busy for years. When I bought the lot, the vendor threw in a bunch of old photo paper and other things I didn't think I needed (such as a bottle of developing fluid that's about 80 years old). The paper is unusable, but turns out to be great for borders/textures/backgrounds.  Some of them have a crazy painterly look like this:

My current favorite is the creepy-cool grunge look of this ghostly family snapshot faded beyond recognition (hint: it really should be landscape orientation):

I decided that since I'm in the year of shameless commercialism (which you know if you follow my blog), I may as well start offering some of my own for sale. In fact, I decided that I would sell individual downloads (so you don't have to buy packs) for dirt cheap. What's "dirt cheap"? Well, for the smallest size (but honestly, why bother?) it's 50 cents. The massive 4800 px wide (and 6000-something tall) is $2 for personal use or $5 for commercial use (You can read the commercial license on the site, but in short, it's basically that you can't just resell them as is or in slightly altered versions. You need to actually make your own art of which my files are but a part. No credit to me needed).

So much more to come....
Gradually, the Take-Out Toolbox of goodies for photographers and designers will include other useful goods—many of them from things I've purchased in Paris flea markets over the years. If you buy any and create something with them, let me know and perhaps we can showcase it here. I'll do some projects of my own in future posts.

Take-Out Photo texture toolbox

An extremely quick texture project with two textures from the Take-Out Photo toolbox

This isn't a full-on tutorial, but I wanted to show you how quick and easy it is to play with texture.
I opened a photo...

I converted it to black and white...

I took one of my new textures from the Take-Out Toolbox and pasted it in a new layer on top of the photo, with the blending mode set to soft-light (I lowered to opacity just because I felt like it).

I decided that I liked the sepia that was created by the overlay...

but for reasons I won't get into in detail right now, I decided to sample the color, create a new layer, and use that layer as a soft light overlay to get the effect. This left me free to desaturate the texture layer and then brush it out on a section of the skin without changing the color. In my layers palette, you can see what I ended up with:

 Below, you can see (in red) the area that I masked out on the texture layer (the middle layer in the screen shot above).

Then, I decided to add one more layer of texture, make some adjustments on it, and mask out some of it. You can get an idea of what I did from this screenshot of my final layers palette:

This is the first texture layer that I added. It comes from the paper used to separate pictures in a pack of photos circa 1920 that I bought at my favorite Paris flea market.

The second layer of texture also comes from the flea market, but it is from an actual sheet of film that was never exposed, except by light leaks over time.

I'm selling those an others (many more to be added soon) on my new Take-Out Toolbox gallery. You buy them for personal or commercial use (see details on the site) for a really great deal. Check them out.

You'll get the full story behind the new Take-Out Toolbox in my next post.

update: So, I got home, looked at the post on a smaller screen, and realized that it's hard to see the texture. Here's a more detailed screenshot to better show you:

Looking at the background, you'd never know that I just took the photo in their backyard. Here'a another detail screenshot: