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Discussions Concerning Contemporary Photographic Art

Posts from — May 2011

Interview with Lori Hepner

Lori Hepner was interviewed on April 25 by e-mail as her exhibit opened on April 11. Her show is up until May 8, 2011. She is our final featured artist for the semester, but be sure to check out our SRO Photo Gallery Artists for 2011-2012.

Lori Hepner, SRO Artist 2010-2011

What inspired you for the concept of this project?

I’ve long been interested in digital technology, both as a means to make artwork and as a way to look at culture, for a number of years.  This work, Status Symbols, was started in a flash of inspiration that hit while learning to solder together electronics for the first time at a local workshop.  The concept was close to being fully formed at the outset, at least in terms of what the aesthetics would be.  I was interested in the layering of light that would wash together through long-exposures of moving LEDs.  I also knew that color negative film would be the best medium to use, as I wanted to use the build up of color density in the highlights, rather than maxing out with pure digital white: 255, 255, 255.  Since I had been using binary code as both a technique and concept in previous bodies of work, the idea to turn letters of text from tweets into a string of ones and zeros happened pretty naturally.  The ons and offs of LEDs would be the actual text the tweet, character by character.

In lay-person’s terms, explain how the process of the LED Ardunio system works. How was this software applied to your project? How are the images captured and converted into photographs?

The Arduino is an open source microcontroller, basically a mini-computer, that can easily be programmed to control physical items, such as motors, LEDs, light sensors, touch sensors, etc, that an artist might want to be a part of a sculpture, installation, or photo set-up.  It is designed to be affordable, as even fully constructed Arduinos are less than $50, and are cross platform for Macs, Windows, and Linux users.  A good introduction to the technology can be found on the Arduino website for those that might want more details (http://www.arduino.cc/en/Guide/Introduction).

In my particular use of the Arduino for the Status Symbols project, an array of 8 RGB LEDs, each similar to one pixel on a computer screen, are controlled to turn on and off by the Arduino software.  The customizable program allows the color of light to be changed based upon the intensity of the red, green, and blue channels in the LEDs.  It sets the speed of the on and off blinking, and controls the sequence of blinks to line up with the binary code that makes up each alphanumeric character of a tweet.  By using ASCII binary code, each alphanumeric letter of the keyboard is turned into a series of 8 ones and zeros that are transmitted to the LEDs very quickly.  An entire 140-character tweet can blink by in a few seconds.

My set-up has the 8 LEDs and Arduino spinning below a Hassleblad camera that is loaded with color negative film.  Each individual twitter portrait is turned into a computer program that controls the 8 LEDs.  The LED-array is set to spin and long exposures capture the moving blinks of the LEDs, sometimes through diffusion material, and form the basis of each portrait on the film.  After processing, each frame is scanned into the computer and turned into a printable image file.

What are some patterns you may have noticed in the words from status updates and Tweets once converted into the images of light seen in the products the Ardunio elicits?

One of the most unexpected patterns that I’ve noticed in the work is when tweets have recurring characters.  In the work that I did for the Brooklyn Museum’s, now-defunct, @1stfan project, I was asking followers to tweet back their portrait in text.  The first reply was @1stfans rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… until all 140 characters of the tweet were used.  Since the tweet was 8 differing characters from the @1stfan reply, followed by a repeated character, an interesting donut shape emerged.  Others mimicked this technique during the month-long project, specifically one of my friends, @npghjunk,who told me that he liked the visual formed by the first tweet.  He then responded by using a series of periods following the text of his portrait.

How do #trendingtopics from Twitter or heavily discussed events on other social media sites affect your work? Explain the selection process for words or phrases to be converted into light-image form.

The one trending topic that I made some images from was the #iranelection.  I was interested in capturing the large amount of messages, but was unable to attain more than 1000 tweets at a time due to an API search limit imposed by Twitter.  The tweets that I was able to save only scratched the surface of the hundreds of thousands of tweets of the hashtag.  I shot a great deal of the first few minutes of the #iranelection but I haven’t shown any of these images.  I may go back to the images at some point in the future to create a body of portraits, but haven’t felt that the timing is right to exhibit these.  Since it is far past the immediacy of the original hashtag, the work would need to be viewed at a time with more cultural relevancy than there is right now.  It’s a battle between the quickness of Twitter and the slowness that comes up with planning physical exhibitions.

You mentioned in an interview with the Brooklyn Museum that you “tweak” the code to create different aesthetic experiences; how are you working to preserve specific contents carried by the words, such as intellectual, emotional or other?

The tweaking refers to the colors that I’ve added in to the code for the portraits for certain tweet characteristics from the work from that project: Hashtags # are red.  @ Symbols are orange.  “Quotes” are purple.  Some strategic words are blue.

Otherwise, the words in each tweet are a randomly generated color that the code generates at the beginning of a word.  Random colors are generated for each of the R, G, and B channels and the color stays valid until a space signifies a new word, when a new set of color values are generated by the program.

How would you like audiences to view your “digital portraits?”

I consider the work to be portraits of the individuals/organizations at the moment of their tweet.  Each tweet is a new representation, whether made into an artwork, or left un-imaged. Each status update is a momentary portrait.

In which way do you really see the images as abstract or has the series been considered abstract because audiences may not fully understand what they are seeing?

The work was purposely constructed to be abstract on multiple levels.  It is first a direct abstraction of the tweet as it changes text into code into light.  It is also visibly abstract in the formal qualities that emerge in the produced image; It is unlike most abstract photographs as it does not visualize a part of the everyday world, but uses the defining properties of photography to create images that cannot be made through any other route.

To what extent is the round image a byproduct of the microcontroller and to what extent are you free to choose the shape of the image output?

I chose to make the portraits circular from the outset.  I have a few experiments going on that involve other forms, but I haven’t shown these outside of my studio.

What image sticks out in your mind? What was the word behind its creation?

A piece that stands out is, @justinrmeyer, 12:41 PM Dec 21st from web (#2), @1stfans gaugcuacugcuaug. This tweet is from a personal friend who is a biologist.  He tweeted a string of  DNA base pairs as his portrait: gaugcuacugcuau. The code within the code comes through in the image, which visually reminds me the nuclear fallout symbol.

Many thanks to Lori for answering our questions. Thank you for a great season.

May 3, 2011   No Comments

Interview with Bill McCullough

Bill McCullough was interviewed March 7 at the Texas Tech School of Art SRO Photo Gallery during his visit to Lubbock and the University. A lively interview, McCullough gave honest and candid answers as well as spirited motions in his commentary. McCullough is passionate about his work as a photographer and only has plans to further his wedding/photography portfolio.

Bill McCullough, SRO Artist 2010-2011

How did you get into photography? And more specifically how did you end up becoming a wedding photographer?

As a young kid, I was always fascinated with magic, science, and gadgets. After watching a show called “James at 16”, I became interested in photography.  I was intrigued by his use of a 35mm camera that was very different than my mom’s instamatic;and, he developed his own photographs in his darkroom.  I saved and bought my first camera at 15 years old. I was fascinated with the camera’s ability to stop water in mid stream. I found the science of photography interesting.

A year later, I saw a few black and white prints that were done by my best friend’s father, Will Lowrimore.  He was a master of the zone system and printed everything himself in his darkroom. Seeing for the first time the power of a perfectly printed photograph, I was inspired to focus on the technique of photography. In high school I talked my parents into letting me build a darkroom above the garage with some money I saved as a waiter.

There was a culmination of several factors that led me into wedding photography. In 2002, I married my wife who is an artist and printmaker. This pivotal change in my life created an environment with an emphasis on more creative endeavors.  Together, we strove to come up with a way to make a living without compromising our intent to create something we were proud of. Wedding photography, full of preconceptions and an overly sentimental tone, begged for a fresh approach, an approach that would allow me to maintain my personal point of view while still making a living. After photographing a few friends weddings, I soon discovered that the wedding provided a framework that allowed me to capture aspects of modern social life that interested me. I never paid any attention to other wedding photography and still don’t. This has helped my own style develop quickly.  I bought a couple of $35 film cameras off ebay, borrowed a friend’s flash, and shot my first professional wedding.

In an interview with Glasstire.com, you mentioned that “decisive moments,” in your photography come from your patience and optimism; how do you get yourself in the position of capturing these images, some of which strike me as incredibly surreal, at the weddings?

A lot of practice and concentration.

You can develop an intuition about where to stand and when to click the shutter, but this only comes from the act of doing. Also, because I understand  what I want to show in a photograph, a strong editing practice, which is an art form in itself, is the final step in bringing the best images forward.

In a fantastic essay on photography, Charles Harbutt mentions “How many photographic balIs was the photographer able to juggle at once?” Balancing several elements at once during an ephemeral moment to create a memorable photograph is exactly what I am trying to accomplish. When all the balls (physical positioning, light, mystery, focus, characters, emotion, ambiguity) are suspended in mid air then I have the photograph I am looking for. I hope there is a feeling that the image can never be recreated again.

You use lighting to great effect; what qualities do you look for in a final product you select to present? List some of the criteria you use to select the photographs you present as final products to your clients. When I see your photos, I am intrigued by the stories each seems to suggest; what types of reactions are you seeking to achieve out of the viewer?

I first used flash for technical reasons… to stop action in dark places and present photographs that are sharp and in focus. Since then, I have used light as an element that enhances the performance and theatrical aspects of social situations. Nothing in my work is posed, but the use of artificial light can create a sense of wonder and raise questions for the viewer. I want to ride the edge of presenting photographs about real life  that could never be staged, but also evoke a cinematic mood. Photography is about light, but my additional lighting does not make or break the photograph. Many times I use only the light that is available to me.

Another reason for using extra light is to create multiple layers of elements at various distances from the lens. This depth helps me emphasize the magic that happens when something is transformed from three dimensions into just two. This layering and collage effect places importance on all elements in the frame.

My wife and I edit photographs together. Composition, technique, and mood are the basic criterion we use to present a solid, well edited selection of photographs that the client will see. With further editing that usually occurs over time, we choose favorites that we believe to be special. When I say special, I mean that the photograph contains a hidden depth.

I strive to draw in the viewer, entertain, and give them just enough information to spark their own imagination about what the image is about.

If you are married, who took your wedding photographs? If you are not married yet, but think you might someday be, what sort of wedding photos would you want? For you?

It’s hard to believe I have been married for nine years. My wife had the idea to hire a courtroom sketch artist to document our wedding. She and I share our studio together and see eye to eye on many things.  I love her very much.

Many thanks to Bill for answering our questions.

May 2, 2011   1 Comment