Evolution of an Image

Not all images follow the same life cycle. Sometimes it is pretty straightforward. See a scene; click; some post processing; done. Other times the path is winding, even circular. It is impossible for an image to be ready for a final print right out of the camera. Sometimes that shows an evolution of the artists perception of an image.

Of something

A lot of very good pictures are simply images of something. We find a lovely or interesting scene and we take a picture. Yes, we work the scene, find a good position to make a good composition. Wait for great light. Then make the shot.

It represents something real and concrete. It is what it is. There is nothing abstract or surreal about it. No hidden meaning. As I write this I am on a trip going through a part of the country that has lots of beautiful trees. I am shooting a lot of pictures of trees. Just because I like them. And they’re all around.

Most of these images, though, are ending up being just pictures of trees or fields. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them, but they are straight forward record shots of a scene I saw. It is the rare one that seems to actually have something deeper to offer.

About something

A goal is to bring something more than just a “here is what I saw”. I hope to occasionally make a statement or observation that will be helpful or insightful. Hopefully, I can bring you something more than just a pretty picture. I can only reveal to you what I emotionally reacted to at the time. It is up to me to react to the scene and be able to bring some of that to you.

This is a wide grey area. One person’s “depth” may be another person’s “duh”. My perception of the significance of something may be different from yours. All I can do is to say what I think. I cannot control how you receive it.

And the degree of depth or insight will vary all over the place. An image may have insight on something of human nature, or it may be humorous, or it may be ironic, or it may make a statement about the march of time or environmental issues. Good images do not have to be deeply serious. Few of mine are heavy commentary on social issues. My reaction to the world is governed more by joy and gratitude.

So when you see my images, assume they probably have some insight I have perceived about the scene or subject. It may not be dark and depressing, but that does not take away from my intent to say something.

A life of its own

Sometimes, though, an image takes on another direction, a new life. I occasionally recognize that the original image is not complete or fully formed. It may need to be combined with other images or heavily worked to change it into something different.

Take the image with this article for example. It started out a fairly interesting shot out of a favorite restaurant window. This particular window had 100+ year old glass that was wavy and distorted. Blurred in the background were some downtown buildings, trees, awnings, etc. I liked the scene and shot it repeatedly until I captured the impression I wanted (many lunches there!).

But I was not happy with it as it was. It was an abstract view of downtown, but it was too abstract to be an effective representation of a downtown street, but not abstract enough to become something completely different and interesting in it’s own right. So I decided to go much further.

Ah, the joys of Photoshop. It is fun to play sometimes. I added textures and played with colors and saturation and hues. Some overlay patterns gave it more definition and shape. Pretty soon it had nothing to do with the downtown scene I originally liked. If you sat where I shot the picture and looked out the same window, you would not recognize it.

The image now has a life of its own, completely independent of the original scene. I like it. It is a fun creative exercise. But I have to find the right base images to work with. And I have to form a vision of where I want to go. Only a few images are good subjects for such a treatment.

It means what it means

Coming to this point requires me to address the question of what does an image “mean”? Can a picture have a meaning? Does it have to?

There seems to be at least 2 opposing groups. Some say a picture is worthless unless it means something. The other says very few pictures can have an actual meaning, except for some photojournalism. As in most things in life, I range somewhere in the middle. Generally I say don’t take yourself so serious. A good picture can just be a nice, pleasing picture. If I have the opportunity to make images with meaning I usually will, but I don’t want the meaning to get in the way of the quality of the image.

I get frustrated with people who are so sincere and focused on something that is important to them that they feel everyone must share their angst. Lighten up. First make art.

I do make images with meaning, especially if I am shooting a project that is fairly serious. When I have the filter of a project in mind my focus tends to narrow to the subject. But unless it is a particularly dark and depressing subject, I want to concentrate first on making art. I tend to avoid the really dark and depressing projects. That is just not me and I don’t think they would make your life better.


The vast majority of the billions of photographs shot each year are record shots of something. They serve to capture a memory or mark an occasion. This was their intent and the work for that.

A small percentage of photos and paintings go further and reveal something interesting. Maybe it is a new insight on a subject. Maybe it is just the artist’s emotional reaction at the time. But we look at them and often agree that they bring something deeper than just a snapshot.

Or sometimes a picture becomes a thing in itself. Not a representation or even an interpretation. It just exists as a new creation. A lot of abstract and surreal art is like this.

In my case, I am a lens-based artist. That means I start from something concrete – an image – rather than a blank canvas. Sometimes as I live with an image and think about what it could be, I morph it into something new. That is the case for the image with this article.

I’m not saying this is a desired evolutionary path for an artist or that some steps are better than others. But artists tend to evolve their skills and viewpoints as they mature. I have observed myself moving through a progression. More and more of the images I like are abstract.

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