Inhalation I, Nantucket, Massachusetts, 1998

I find this image supremely challenging – because of other people’s reactions to it.

The first time I exhibited this image, over the space of a weekend, in front of this image, four women shared stories of personal loss – a friend, a son, a husband, a father. Over the years, this has happened more than sixteen times Years later, in front of this image, in the same location in the same room, I found myself discussing the death of my first wife with one of the first women to share her own story of personal loss. I could pass this off as coincidence, but that would be irrational. While it sheds a little light on this mystery, Jung’s concept of synchronicity furthers rather than solves it. I simply can’t explain this. This challenges me – and others. Though largely formed of conjecture, the discussions are interesting. Specific combinations of qualities, universal color codes, sacred geometry, archetypes, intuition, precognition … theories multiply. The mystery remains.

When I made this image I wasn’t aware of the themes of death and loss weighing on my mind or heart. I was totally absorbed in making the image. Now, it’s almost impossible for me not to think of it, though I can still see much more in this image.

What people share about works of art may change their own and other people’s relationships to them. What the artist shares about their relationships to the works of art they create often changes the relationships their viewers strike up with them. This process is often encouraged and sought out. It can work the other way too. What people share about an artist’s works of art may change the artist’s relationship with his or her own work. While this type of process is less typical, it raises an interesting set of questions to consider, “When, where, and in what ways is encouraging this exchange most beneficial?”

The process of communicating the experiences stimulated by works of art and the results of those interactions, which continue spreading in many ways, often producing both intended and unintended consequences, is part of the life of a work of art. Though not entirely in the control of the artist, it is not separate from the work of art. Works of art connect us in unique ways.

It’s interesting that the amount of energy imbued in a work of art is not limited to the amount of energy invested by the artist, more is added through others’ experiences of them. How strongly a work of art does this is one criteria, among many, for evaluating its quality and success.

How many ways can you encourage meaningful discussion about your images?

How many ways can you seek useful feedback about your images?

How many ways can you give yourself useful feedback about your images?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

We All See Different Things

December 20, 2012 | 1 Comment |

Exhalation I, Mosquito Point, Maine, 1997

I’ve collected more responses to this image than any other. While they use varied words, most people’s associations share some quality of breath and/or a divine presence. However, some people’s associations vary wildly.

One night, at an opening, a man reeking of scotch and smoke approached me and said, “I love your satanic icon!” Surprised I looked around the room to see which image he was referring to. He directed me to this one. Challenged by his response, it was very different than my intentions, I held to my practice of not sharing my responses to images unless I feel the viewer can maintain and possibly add to rather than replace their own.

On another occasion, a friend bought a print of this image and surprised his wife with it saying, “Look! Isn’t it beautiful?” She replied, “You’re not hanging that in here!” “Why not?” he responded. “Can’t you see? It’s dirty. It’s an x-ray of someone sitting on the toilette.” It took some negotiation and an extended session of sharing what they saw in the image for him to be able to hang the image, in his office.

The response I treasure most came from a four-year old boy, who stopped in his tracks and caught his breath as he crossed the threshold of the door to the room this image was displayed in. Then he raced to it, waving his arms in the air, “It’s a giant sneeze!” Touched by his spontaneous outbursts, I tried to reconcile them with my desire to communicate something general if not specific. I had given the image the working title of Avra, the Sanskrit word for breath. I thought, breath … sneeze … close enough. Everyone in my studio now refers to this image as ‘the giant sneeze’.

How can other people’s associations inform your work?

How many ways can you stimulate viewer’s association in your images?

Read more of The Stories Behind The Images here.


1

Images with lighter palettes tend to be brighter and less saturated (though driving colors towards white desaturates them), while those with heavy palettes tend to be darker and more saturated (though driving colors towards black desaturates them).

2

Brighter less saturated colors seem lighter, while darker more saturated colors seem heavier.

3

Colors can be matched or contrasted by weight to control visual dynamics. Here yellow and blue are matched in weight.

Many psychological attributes have been assigned to color, such as temperature. It’s so natural to think of color having temperature that we often don’t think about how this is an associative meaning rather than a physical fact. Physically a blue fire is much hotter than a red fire. Nonetheless, red is universally (in all cultures and periods of history) considered the warmest color and blue the coolest color. It’s quite likely that this comes from our experiences with fire (generally red, orange, and yellow) and water (typically blue in large quantities). You might think the ascription of temperature to color is particularly strong for photographers who assign white balances to their images based on the color temperature of the light a photograph was made from to reproduce color accurately. But, it’s equally strong with painters and designers who use temperature associations to create expressive color schemes.

One other useful psychological attribution to color is weight. Does yellow feel lighter than green? Does purple feel heavier than orange? Most people would say yes. Of course, our response depends on the specific variation of each broad color family. You can make a green seem lighter than yellow if you make it brighter, either with luminosity or saturation or both.

So how can you use this information? Here are four ways.

1            You can strengthen comparisons or contrasts between two image areas by making their relative weights appear more or less similar.

2            You can also set the tone for an entire image. Set a brighter airier tone by using lighter colors. Set a darker earthier tone by using heavier colors.

3            You can attract the eye more strongly to specific areas. Once a predominantly light or heavy palette has been set, you can accent it dramatically with smaller accents of contrastingly weighty colors.

4            You can create comparatively lighter and heavier palettes for specific areas of an image, such as a lighter color scheme for higher areas and a heavier color scheme for lower areas.

It’s useful to note that weight is also associated with gravity and thus vertical location.

That the word ‘light’ can be used to describe both the appearance and the mass of an image speaks volumes. Psychologically, color has weight. With only a little practice and more sensitivity, you can use this to make your images more effective.

Exercise

Sensitize yourself to the weight of color by matching the weight of colors.

1               Create two or more colors. Match the weight of two colors from the same color family, such as blue.

2               Create two or more colors. Match the weight of two colors from different color families, such as blue and yellow.

Read more about color theory here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Aphorism enthusiast and author James Geary waxes on a fascinating fixture of human language: the metaphor. Friend of scribes from Aristotle to Elvis, metaphor can subtly influence the decisions we make, Geary says.

Find more of my favorite TED videos here.


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