With Flare

Photography and Fine Art Digital Printing for the Beauty of It

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In April 2015 I gave a talk to a small audience on my "Tourists - here today, gone tomorrow" project. This is a writen form of that.

Artist's Talk - "Tourists - here today, gone tomorrow"


Artist's Talk - "Tourists - here today, gone tomorrow"

"Tourists - here today, gone tomorrow"

Like all of my most interesting projects, Tourists came to me almost whole. Almost immediately I felt an energy that I knew would mean it would have the depth and interest to carry me on to completion. 

Its only on analysis that I see the parts that were lurking, waiting to find a connection and become more than they were alone.

Tourists came to me after taking a picture on Parliament Hill - a picture of a flock of teenagers alighting for a moment at the Eternal Flame & then moving on. I captured the moment, badly but good enough to move me to repeat the effort. What I had was the rich background of the Langevin Block and the East Block and a flash of movement. What I though I wanted was that same rich background with lots of people. 

As I added to the set I came to realize that most of the people were tourists (Duh!) and I remembered my experience in my early twenties, as a student archaeologist, of being the object of tourist's attention and of sharing in the derision of tourists at parties of my peers, many of whom served fudge to the tourists and called them "fudgies".

And so the project was born: I would take better than average tourist "snaps", looking for interesting tableaus and making sure that there were plenty of tourists in them. In post production I would prepare the chosen images for fine printing BUT I would treat the tourists themselves in a way that separated them from the sceen and proclaimed that they were "here today, gone tomorrow".

The images here come from four photo sessions:

1.   the original set, taken in 2010 between Parliament Hill and the National Gallery

2.   A few taken in London England when I was a tourist there in 2013

3.   One of the Musee des Beaus Arts in Montreal from late 2013

4.   A revisit to Parliament Hill in July 2014 with the final project firmly in mind

Research for the project was mainly searching out texts about tourism. I learned something of the history of tourism. I had hoped to find some perceptive tourist journals but never did get what I had hoped for - something dealing with the distance between the tourist and the native. The closest thing I found was some of Geof Dyer's work, especially Jeff In Venice, Death In Varanasi. Thoroughly enjoyable but not too enlightening in my area of interest.

I also did research and development of the method of separating the tourists from the scene. I tried a number of things, using suggestions from a FAP:O session where attendees (we don't have members!) helped with ideas. Tony Fouhse talked with me a bit about approaches to the project. I also had suggestions and other help from Michael Tardioli and the members of his 2014 "From Capture To Print" class. Since most of the suggestions had to do with developing the prints as fine art prints, they mainly served as anchor points to oppose. The main one was the suggestion that I tone down the saturation. I generally do keep the saturation down but in this case, I realized after I had been challenged, the tourists would be better represented as gaudy figures. The background is printed to conform to my normal esthetic but the tourists have had their saturation boosted, along with the other post-production insults they have had to endure.

The final production included:

1.   Rectification of any tilted verticals or horizontals

2.   Enhancement of any blown out or shadowed-out areas to create a full-frame rich print with full detail

3.   Careful close selection of all tourists. This was done by hand with a trackball and edited to fit closely to the people. Early selections of their shadows were eliminated because, while it made sense conceptually, it didn't look good.

4.   That selection was used to mask a blurred layer. The same selection was used to mask the extra saturation. A carefully expanded selection was used to mask the white layer that causes the aura around the figures

5.   The white layer is a full white pixel layer, blended using PhotoShop's "Dissolve" mode. This creates the "fuzzy" pixilated look. One early problem was that the "aura" prints more mushed than it looks on screen. A fair bit of work went into creating images for each medium.

But that's enough of  the technicalities. The tech just serves to create the desired impression - one of figures briefly visiting, separated from their environment and having little impact on their surroundings.

I wanted to talk about the effect of such a project on the artist and, by that, I really mean, the effect on this artist.

First of all it confirms for me that I am an artist. This is always a problem when you work as an amateur - how do you know you've made it? How do you know that you are not simply pursuing a hobby?

I believe there are two ways to know:

1.   Other people acknowledge your work. That has happened for me before but very much more for this project. The project has a certain conceptual basis that is more appreciated in the world of art than simply competence in printing or the ability to capture "decisive" moments.

2.   You set out to create a complex project as a step in your career and you do it well. You appreciate it. That has also happened here - this project will resonate in my work for the rest of my life. That DOES NOT mean that I will necessarily be separating people from their environment in any of my next projects but I will be more aware of people's place in their society when I'm shooting and printing. I will also be pursuing the difference between print medium and screen medium that I discovered in this work.

Secondly, doing the work itself makes changes in the artist.

After the initial idea and early development I needed to find why it resonated so deeply with me. I thought through my history with tourism, both as a tourist and as part of the focus for tourists. 

It made me realize that I had been a reluctant tourist. I had felt the distance, it made me uncomfortable, and I wasn't able to push through & make friends where I visited. This changed for me quite a bit in my 2013 visit to England. I went to see my daughter and to do landscape photography. Twice during the three week visit I stayed for three or more days in one place - walked the cliffs and beaches and took the pictures, of course, but also hung out in the pubs and chatted with people. It certainly made for a more interesting trip!

Also, there's something about treating all of those people as objects - carefully outlining & filling them on the mask, blurring them, and then adjusting the edges. I probably did some variation of that at least four different times as my ideas changed and my need for precision became greater. I'm still thinking about that one. It's certainly a relief having them on paper and hung in this beautiful light!

All true art comes from a need to express yourself - to say what it means to be you - to see the world as you do - to understand the world as you do - to associate what you experience with what you have experienced AND to associate all that with the human condition.

It's very easy to lose your balance in this. You are expressing yourself. You have an audience. They have their reactions to what you've done. How does this influence what you do next? Will it be as purely a work that expresses YOU or will it become a work that caters to your audience? You have the skill to do either. 

Jake Morrison

April 2015