"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle
I bombed the other day. I posted this picture to Flickr and one of the few of my wonderful contacts who commented was delightfully blunt enough to actually ask, “What Am I Looking At?”.
It started with a spontaneous picture I took from the inside of my garden shed. When I first saw the RAW image I knew what I wanted: I liked the darkness within and the brilliant light coming through the crack between the doors. I liked curve of the chains standing out from the barely perceptible grain of the plywood. Right away for me it symbolized a yearning; a looking out, beyond, to the future.
Later, while browsing free textures in Flickr, I was attracted to the competition texture created by a favourite texture artist (Skeletal Mess/Jerry Jones) in the Ghostworks group. I knew I wanted to try it with the door image. I opened them as layers in Gimp , playing with layer modes until it had a suitably mysterious tonal quality. Then decided I wanted more actual texture to it – an ephemeral barrier that provides even more resistance to the attempt to get through these doors than the loose chains themselves; something curtain-like, but earthier. I went back to Jerry’s textures and immediately grabbed this great image of burlap. Perfect, I thought: natural, even crude, scraps of life getting in the way. I layered it with the rest.
Then in my mind, I saw a figure within, on the right and I scanned through the images of my friend who has often consented to allow me to photograph her for my work. I chose one where one of her wonderful red gloves lay flat on the ground. I felt that it would translate nicely to her feeling her way along the door to the opening. I masked the ground around her, her other hand and some of her hair and desaturated the layer a little. Overlaying this image on top of the door, but below the textures gave the feeling that she was deeply enmeshed, entangled in, or even a part of the door. I could have cloned out the right hand crack in the door, but I felt it added good tension, sharply connecting her hand and face.
I didn’t give a lot of thought to the technical details; I trust somewhat in my feel for composition and now see that the main elements fall within thirds on the plane of the image. It’s obviously very high contrast, with very dark mid-tones, which I felt accentuated the contrast between the here/now and the ‘there’ or future. The tones are subdued, earthy and warm, which also works for me on a symbolic level: ‘inside’ being comfortable and familiar, making the struggle to emerge even more difficult.
Flickr is a fabulous community of artists and my contacts are kind and helpful. If I ask for honest opinions, I can usually get a few, but they speak volumes sometimes by their lack of response, which is honest and good feedback for me with its silence. Although I often post text to guide an emotive response to my images, like this recent one, in this case I was certain that I did not want to lead any potential reaction with either title or description. I wanted the image to speak for itself or crash on its own, which it did. Loudly.
Why did it crash? I still don’t know because the image still works for me, which is unusual. Of course it hurts, I always hope that I can speak to someone else’s heart with my pictures and when that fails on an image that made my heart speed up as I worked on it; on one where I truly managed to get into the zone of creating, it’s deeply disappointing.
I remember a picture I painted in high school. I spent all my spare time painting in the art room, and so did another girl. We did not really know each other, each of us being completely absorbed in our respective paintings while there; however we appreciated one another’s art. At least, I admired hers and from the little she ever spoke, I felt she thought well of mine. I was working from a photograph on a large canvas and suddenly was inspired to incorporate what I naively felt I understood about this other girl’s perception of herself in society. I tried to make a connection, to show I understood her. I was inspired. I worked feverishly hoping she would understand what I was saying. It was meant to be a hug. Instead it insulted and hurt her and destroyed what little chance we might ever have had of making a connection – to the point where she pointedly avoided me when we briefly crossed paths a few years later.
Through many, many years and many moves, I have kept this canvas – ostensibly to reuse, but somehow, I have never been able to bring myself to do that. It sits in a dark storage room as a reminder to me to not ever assume I understand what goes on inside someone else’s heart.
It also was a poignant experience of failure and my first sense of what it means to put oneself ‘out there’, with expectations and hope of making a connection. There have been other such experiences and I’m better able to cope with that personal feeling of rejection and am now more curious about where my assumptions failed.
Is it technical – poorly rendered? Is the image just completely unappealing in an aesthetic sense? Or is it indecipherable, as the talented Grizzled Old Dog (Mark Harden) helpfully implied?
So here I am: putting myself ‘out there’ once again. I am asking for your honest critiques, impressions and opinions. Please satisfy my curiousity and help me learn.