Michael Bilotta Photography Blog
- Published on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 03:35
- Written by Michael Bilotta
I have, in the past, posted pieces I had completed that were not published, mainly due to questionable quality or a concept gone awry. This time, I am posting pieces that were not published but I actually like. They are casualties of the journey, the soldiers that brought the idea home by sacrificing themselves along the way! Take this one, for example, the final piece of a process that involved four completed images before settling into what you see here, in "Death In The Afternoon."
The idea was improvised during the shoot, with the model playing with some poses and red fabric. With what he was wearing, his features and hairstyle, these was definitely something Spanish and matador about him, though we did not have a real matador costume during the shoot. When I started editing, I started trying to hone in on this concept and what I could do with it. My first idea was the concept of a young man practicing, training to be a matador, and symbolically what that could mean. I built up two images from the best shots of this "series:"
Sadly, although I like the tonal qualities and poses of these images, they didn't sell the idea successfully. Why was he practicing in a field? Why indeed - I do not have shots of a bull ring, so that was not going to be possible. Gradually, the concept evolved into the bullfight as a metaphor - learning to fight, the fight as a dance, the fight as growing up. That idea gave me this piece, with the working title "Learning to Fight:"
Now, I really like this image - I like the colors, the overall flow of it, so why not post it? Well, despite the concept being there, the pose is fairly static, placid, and the knives do not seem much of a threat, so this warrior in training seems a little inept, a little too posed, where more motion and action would work better. I wish I had those shots to do over, but I don't, so this one was left on the sidelines.
At this point I had three images with none of them exactly working well enough to sell the idea. Once i merged elements of both, I pretty much got my intent completed, using the pose from "Learning To Fight" and the field and environment from the Matador pieces:
It takes a lot of restraint and discipline to hold something you work on for a long time. I used to post anything I completed, and over time, I started removing the clunkers from my online portfolios, to publish only ones that I was confident with and proud of. Nevertheless, when you spend days working on something to make it as good as it can be, it's hard to put them in the folder and tuck them away. Especially these, which I classify as "close calls." So at least they can appear here, on this blog, as a little evolution of an idea, and how it got from beginning to end.
Thanks for reading and watching!
March 3, 2014
- Published on Friday, 24 January 2014 21:48
- Written by Michael Bilotta
It's been a few weeks since I posted anything, and about two weeks since any finished work has emerged, so I thought I would write something to fill in the blanks a bit. I tend to write these things in first draft mode - unplanned, unmapped, and extremely stream of consciousness, but I do try to structure at least a little bit, so it reads a little less like the meanderings of a diary. Always the context should be about the work, the art, so I will try to keep that mind, but most of the last few weeks have been devoid of art, and this is what I will focus on.
There is a party line in the world, in the arts, that you have to maintain a steely exterior, an iron clad confidence that makes you indifferent to criticism and negative reactions to your work, but I have never been much for parties. The point is, things get to me, even if they are temporary, even if I don't respect the person from which the reaction is emanating. It is always amazing to me how a run of misfortune seems to multiply, straining the resolve of a person to the breaking point. This month has been that for me. I am not made of steel, and I am not immune to negative feedback, even if the consensus of all creatives out there is that I should be.
To find the reason for this sensitivity would be arduous, and this is not meant to be a self-indulgent therapy session, but the sensitivity is there, and I don't understand how an artist can claim to be immune to negative feedback and still be an artist - the very nature of an artist should and does contradict this tough posturing. I suppose that confidence and self-worth play into this equation too, so perhaps there are others that find dismissing these "attacks" easier than I do, but regardless of where anyone else is on the scale, I feel them, and I react to them.
Contributing to my low tide this month, and leading up to the crest and the break, is a run of personal problems that I will not delve into deeply, but suffice to say, it's all "real world" stuff: money, family issues, seasonal depression, employment, and the bitter cold and weather that seems to keep me housebound more than I should be. Then a few other things, from the artistic side of life: good material is in short supply now: model shoots are needed, but no money to do them, environment/scenics are needed, but the weather and the locations seem to conspire against those things being obtained. Each piece gets harder and harder to complete because I am working with some pretty severe limitations of material at this point. There is nothing wrong with taking some time off - indeed, I should, given my prodigious output of recent months, but the problem with that is I like doing this, so not doing it is beyond frustrating to me, and it makes me feel empty not to have something to work on.
And then came some negative comments about my work. In the last few weeks, I have seen comments like "artless," "soulless," "depressing," "empty," and criticizing my choice of colors, my cropping, everything. One even likened one of my pieces to a moment in a rock video, meaning nothing, with no artistic merit. Of course these people were emboldened to rip me apart safely in the land of internet anonymity, and of course most of these people have nothing of their own work on display - I have been down this road before, and I know that those types are out there, lurking in the cyber shadows. But no matter the source, this kind of attack gets through, and plants a seed of self doubt in me, and I go into shutdown, into a period of self-assessment and analysis.
I am confident enough about my work - I like to think I am pretty good at looking at it objectively, and I spend an enormous amount of time avoiding laziness and trying to make things as well as I can. I want my pieces to mean something - I don't want simply a pretty picture, and I don't want to create nonsense. I know when I am finished something that regardless of how successfully conveyed the meaning is, there IS meaning in it, and I put it there deliberately. It is quite a lengthy process to gradually form an idea and visually represent that idea. Some come easier than others, and yes, some of them are not my best work - everyone is capable of creating duds, and I am no exception to that. But I know that there is some measure of integrity in all of them, some attempt at symbolic meaning and communication at their core, and so my integrity does not feel this attack, but my humanity does, my skin, my desire to be appreciated, which we all have no matter our bluster and noise to the contrary.
One of the pieces that came under particularly harsh attack was one of my personal favorites, and it was one that was days in the making, and also one that required me to do it twice, as the original file became corrupted and I had to start all over again from the beginning. That it was completed at all was a test of my patience, and my desire to see it through and make it work was a personal victory for me, since I am not known for my patience in life. It was stuffed with meaning, symbolically of course, and I thought it held together quite nicely. During a curation process, the piece was appraised without title, without my explanatory notes. And it was attacked.
I live in my own world artistically. In visual arts, as in music, when I was a songwriter, I don't really absorb a lot of work from others while I create - that can lead to copying ideas, so my development is measured internally, by me, and the body of work becomes a progression, a personal one, like raising a child and seeing all the iterations of that child throughout its development. It is a key motivator for me - this desire to see things through, to see where it could go and how good it could get along the way. There is never a destination really, it is a journey, it is developing a muscle, and your strength relies on perseverance. Since what I do is neither straight photography or painting, but somewhere in between, I have to post my work somewhere online, and most of the places it resides are photography sites.
Photography can indeed be an art form, but not all photographers are artists, or even artistically inclined. Some of them wouldn't know a work of art if they fell onto it from 20,000 feet and were impaled by it. With great disdain some of them view my work and call it over-processed, artificial, and they become almost hostile when they have no idea what it means or what it is trying to say. And so the scathing comments come. But after my initial reaction of being hurt, it occurs to me that these people are utterly incapable of looking at anything that isn't cut and dry, and they require, insist really, on being spoon fed. Naturally, something surreal would irritate them. Of course something symbolic would perplex their literal and narrow minds.
This amounts to a pep talk, and something I try to tell myself when I see these comments. But the initial attack has done its damage, and eventually my desire to create something will override their hateful words, and output will resume. It is just very unfortunate timing that it comes now, when everything else is low, everything else is hard, and for the one constant in my life, my creative output, to be harped on now is just too much. Even if it is momentary, even if it is unqualified, you start to view your work through their eyes, and suddenly you question your talent, your ability, and all seems rather pointless and futile. Even if this lasts a day, it is damaging. Even if you have lots of positive support outweighing the negative, the bully in your life will always cut the deepest. Why? Because bullies are the only one carrying the knives. Because the part of you that resides in all of us that doubts, that feels worthless, is awakened by these bullies, and that part temporarily takes the foreground when it should be left dormant and inert.
And so I am climbing out of the hole slowly, and trying to resume. I am often dismayed by being labeled so often as "negative." I would never say to anyone something so harsh as I have seen about my work directly, even if I felt it. I like to think I at least try to see something redeeming in people's artistic expression, but if I really don't like something, I would not set out to inform them of this. It astonishes me that there are people who feel compelled to do so, and further confirms my suspicions that most of humanity is savage, most should be kept at arm's length.
To the purist photographers out there who hate what I do, you should know that, besides being a complete hypocrite, what you do and what I do are worlds apart. What I display is not something I captured or documented, something approaching voyeurism often, but it is the result of willing something into existence, and I am not at all interested or aspire to capturing something real or as is. I am not a reporter, I am not a documentarian. I am an artist, and what you do is more akin to hunting, and I don't really care. It is why I prefer fiction over biography, films over documentaries, scripted shows over newscasts. There is nothing interesting in that realm for me. I don't need to spend any more time in the real world, I am forced to be in it daily. I want the surreal, the fantastical, the impossible and the dream-like. I want the message to be delivered allegorically, not plainly. And if you are perplexed by what I am trying to say, or feel I am saying nothing at all, then maybe the void that you experience is really your own inability and unwillingness to find meaning in something that isn't literal.
I realize not everything I do will be great, or good, and not everyone likes the same thing. My tolerance of those differences needs work, certainly, but clearly not as much as some of my contemporaries, given the misery they felt so free to unleash. Kicking while someone is down is probably the least attractive quality in the human condition, and one that makes me feel very apart from it, and alone. I am not a saint, certainly, and I have strong opinions, but not everyone needs to know your opinions.
The last time I got some form of artistic rejection, I created a piece as a reaction to it, letting my current and raw feelings seep into it, and certainly it was a piece created out of anger, out of self-defense. Perhaps it is bad form to do so, but then again, if I am being honest with myself and my work, then why not show that too? I have a feeling the experiences of this awful month will find their way into the next round of imagery, whenever they may come, and I think I will let it be, and give it voice, as I have here now. Why not? What good is an artist that tempers what he does, that restricts and edits the raw material, that worries about the party line and falls in line with the rhetoric most seem to value? I am not interested in that.
Perhaps my explanatory notes that accompany the images will cease in the future, given the revelations of this month, it seems that too many don't want to work hard or even a little to glean the meaning in something, and want it all laid out for them. Maybe I am doing myself a disservice by writing the notes, and should let the pieces speak for themselves, though I do enjoy writing them.
For those of you out there who may have read this, who may also create art, I hope this connected with you, and you should know that it's okay to be sensitive to the negative comments you may receive, and to desensitize yourself is unnatural if you want to be an artist. Artists need to be sensitive, perhaps hypersensitive. It's unfortunate though that the world at large is so overrun with the insensitive and cruel.
- Published on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 06:08
- Written by Michael Bilotta
This piece began life, as ever, with a simple model shot and pose, and then, weeks later while editing, evolved into a meditation on the deaths in Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius covered the city and all its occupants in ash, preserving them seemingly frozen in time at the point of their death. Ash I could do, roman architecture and volcanoes, well, those items are in short supply in my area. This sat around for weeks until I decided to scrap Pompeii and see what else this pose, which I really liked, could become.
Two aborted trips to gain new environmental material and an old Sarah McLachlan song became the sources for what you see now. Winter in New England is a damnable thing - you never know what you are getting with the weather from one day to the next. I went out twice in the hopes of getting some new places shot, only to come back empty handed. I got a corn field in winter, cut down to the quick, and on the second trip, almost nothing - a few shots of some branches and a bit of a barbed wire fence.
I have always been a big believer in great titles and try to come up with good ones. Growing up, there are more than a few songs, albums and books I bought solely on the title alone - if they were image-laden, if they were alluring, I was hooked. Once you start writing your own work (I am a songwriter as well), you begin to realize that a title is not enough - or, if you have a killer title, you damned well better deliver the promised goods. Case in point, this title, by Sarah McLachlan. I remember this song only in passing - I remember seeing the album in the store, "Solace," and reading the titles of the songs. "The Path of Thorns" - oooh that sounds rich! Thorns make me think of Biblical things (Jesus and his crown of thorns) being an ex-Catholic, and you can see in your mind's eye wonderful imagery with a title like this. I never did buy the album for some reason, but I never forgot the title.
Who knows why things are dredged up from your psyche and what it all means, but now, almost twenty years since that album came out or more, the title came to me as something I should explore doing in my work. Thorns…hmmm. Well, I could go to a flower store and buy some roses, but who needs the expense? Besides, thorns are so literal a thing, and rose thorns would likely be too small for what I wanted. I had my barbed wire though, from the failed trip to shoot scenery. Certainly in the thorn family, albeit man-made. I added the wire into the model and built up a suggesting of a barrier in front of the model with it. I added the decimated cornfield right over my Pompeii ground layers and then things started clicking. The crucifixes were a no-brainer; thorns will forever be associated with the Bible in my mind, so an icon like the cross not only gave me some ominous cemetery subtext, but also pulled this into a commentary about my stance on religion in general - the depleted cornfield, the symbol of death that is the cross, and the barbed wire all created, in my mind, a symbolic path of thorns - a path to pain, restriction, emptiness and ruin. This led to me adding a bit of blood on the model to imply his attempts at navigating this barbed wire barrier, and also gave me a color scheme to aim for - for some reason, and again, who knows why, I associate purple with church.
I decided at this point to actually listen to the song I was using the title of, and check out the lyrics of it to see what tidbits of inspiration could be gleaned from it. I was pretty disappointed with what I found, and this goes back to my position on having a great title and backing it up with the goods. It turns out that this song, certainly a nice song, nice melody, well sung, is…a love song, or rather, a relationship song. What a huge disappointment. You have "the Path of Thorns" and all you can think of is a complicated relationship? The title is referencing only one line in the song, and is not the "real" title at all. It is, if you follow the pop song biology and let the music and structure dictate the central theme, "Terms of Endearment." I can see why she would choose to not use this, but in my head, I expected an epic, image-laden, almost mythical journey with a title like that, and not some disappointed lover moaning about the loser who let her down. You only get one "Path of Thorns" to use in your career, so you need to make it count! When you use iconic language like "path" and "thorns" those things need to be present, otherwise you are just false advertising, luring people in with promise of "the greatest show on earth" and delivering to them one single sad clown.
I don't mean to tear her down - I don't hate Sarah, I even have a couple of her albums, and regard her as a good songwriter generally. But you don't use an epic title like that and reduce it to a moan about disappointing paramours! Clearly, this song was not going to help or be connected to my image at all. What does one think of with a path of thorns as a concept? Well, certainly a dangerous path, a path of pain, strife, peril, but you also have to think about the starting point of the journey as well as the destination - where is this path going to? And this is what I spent wondering about in the three days this image took to complete. If religion is my path of thorns here, where is it leading to? Well, nowhere, actually - my model is stopped, wounded, naked and alone. All this fire and brimstone you get from the Bible can only lead you to cold comfort, which is really no comfort at all. It demands of us linear, practical, sensory dependent people to believe in the unsubstantiated, to believe in the scientifically impossible, and to trust that which has never been seen or heard. It demands abstraction and yet wants to be taken literally. It boasts peace, yet wages wars to get it. It divides more people than it unites.
I could go on, but this is all my point of view on the topic, and need not be yours. Therefore, my path of thorns is a personal one - a person at the point of losing his faith after getting stabbed a few times with these "thorns." He is entangled in them, will have scars from the experience, and hopefully will get off this path once he is strong enough to lift himself up, shake off his disillusionment, and find comfort elsewhere.
Ironically, or at least symbolically, this path of thorns became a bit of life imitating art for me. It's hard to convey all this in a blog, but you hit certain crossroads and roadblocks as you produce artwork. I just did some pretty strong pieces, personal high points for me, all in a row, and when they come out one after the other like that, you tend to build up anxiety about the inevitable brick wall you will face. this cycle of prolific output and then a crisis of dry spell has happened before and will again, but it is never easy getting to that point - the trudging through it, surviving it, is a miserable pain in the ass, and always will be. Over the course of two years, I have been developing my own techniques, my own way of achieving a look I like, and now that engine is humming along quite nicely - I could do this approach indefinitely. But that is not growth, and treading water like that eventually creates a mini crisis in your mind - will I ever do anything new or am I a one-trick pony?
I am speaking mainly, in terms of this image, about color. Being a colorist is a huge part of what I do - most of my raw shots of the models are devoid of strong color, being shot on gray paper and most of the models wearing dark clothing or nude. I have developed a way to apply color for my pieces and it is now almost a method, a process. After a while, you begin to ask, is there nothing more? Is it only just red, green blue, violet, orange and yellow? It was almost becoming, "well, I think I have done too many blues lately, let's go yellow!" I spent most of one day trying new ways to color this piece, and threw out the tried and true method. This piece will be stored in my memory now as the one that showed me a few new techniques to apply color and dynamics. Will I be able to use them again? Who knows, but the point is I learned something new to try, and my bag of tricks is a little more robust for the journey. Also, I feel the guilt of relying on my one approach has abated now, I can be reassured that I don't need to churn out carbon copies over and over, that there are other ways of doing things.
Did I deliver an image worthy of the delicious title? Well, that is a matter of opinion, but at least the flavor of it is there, and not some lamentation of love going wrong, and I would rather reach for the grand and mythical and be accused of missing the mark than downplay the intent with a throwaway title like "beware the barbed wire fence!"
- Published on Thursday, 19 December 2013 18:09
- Written by Michael Bilotta
I ended last year with a blog post called "a Year in Review" which was rather long and ponderous, covering nearly everything I did in the world of art photography as well as some biographical information. This year will be different - basically because more things happened, strange as that seems!
The list would be something like this:
I shot 11 model shoots this year (6 models, three of them more than once)
I was published in magazines for the first time
I had images stolen from me online
I won a Photography Competition
I gained a much larger audience online
I finally got a workflow together with a printer I liked
I sold an image as a book cover
I sold some images to a magazine
I self-published a photo collection book (in two formats)
I created my most popular images to date
Not bad right? Well, it's easy to list these things in hindsight in a bullet list and pat yourself on the back, but if anything useful is to be gained from a blog post like this, it is in the details and not in the broad strokes. So off we go…
Shooting models is essential to me as I don't enjoy doing self-portraits at all. This year I learned that quality is of course better than quantity and stopped fretting about getting a fresh face for every shoot. Mind you - I DO look for new models from time to time - I think it is healthy, but more and more I have come to really value the contributions of those that gave me their time and energy, and decided to not worry about using them more than once. Of course a large part of this is due to their talent in front of the camera, and I think I really do put my models to task - it cannot be easy - I give them almost no indication of what we are going for because most of the time I do not know myself. They must improvise, they must trust me, and above all, as most of them pose nude as well, they must be utterly comfortable with themselves. Comfort is a big factor for me as well - I am incredibly nervous going into a shoot - akin to stage fright, and working with a model more than once makes this so much easier. I have gained something useful and created some really strong images with everyone I have work with so far, and my hopes of creating a little stable of recurring models seems to be forming. If I have not done so publicly before, I would like to thank sincerely all the models for 2013: Ed, Gilberto, Mike, Edward, Felix, Zack, and Luis.
Being published in a magazine is a big deal and I won't downplay it (too much) but I find as I get older, these benchmarks are less exciting but nevertheless satisfying. It meant that this year I could finally say I was a published photographer. First it was an online magazine called JC&Art Elite, which does print copies as well, and then I had two pieces published in the UK magazine Practical Photoshop - one being a breakdown of one of my images layer by layer. It was great to see that on the printed page, and even a thumbnail of the article on the cover! I will cover the next magazine in more detail in the a section dedicated to competitions, but I was also published in a biannual literary journal called Camera Obscura Journal, having one one part of the competition and receiving Honorable Mention in another. That was pretty gratifying too. On the site 1x.com, a curated site that chooses what they publish, I had many pieces granted publication and they even contacted me to tell me that one of my pieces was going to be published in the annual yearbook! It's a beautiful collection, and one I am proud to be a part of. They also produce a how-to tutorial book once a year and I will have an image/write up in that as well, though it seems like it will be available in 2014 at this point. Finally, in November and December, I was published by way of selling three images to Healthy Living Magazine - one image in the November issue and two in the December issue. A nice way to end my first year being a published photographer!
Being stolen is certainly a horrible thing to experience, but on the bright side, it must mean you are doing something right too. Early in the year I found a few of my images on Tumblr, and while I was credited, the images were altered to black and white. I am not a huge fan of black and white, and I think it is beyond shitty to alter someone's intended presentation without consent. Since then I have been vigilant, and had to reduce the size of my posted photos online and insist on watermarking them everywhere they go. If is not enough though - this past summer, I discovered a site was using two of my images on their Facebook page - one heavily altered as their logo! The other was being used for some contest promo. I got pretty heated, but managed to get them to take them down, and they responded in kind and with respect, so all was well. Still, I do now make periodic sweeps of the online universe to see where my babies are going, and who is doing what. This has nothing to do with sharing - those that share images from my site and credit accordingly are beyond kind - this sort of thing helps me by growing an audience and I am over the top appreciative of those that like my work enough to share it!
Two competitions were payoffs for me - or so I thought. Late last year I won a slot with Canon's Project Imagination and this year the press started for that. I got a few mentions in local papers, and I suppose wherever the press releases from Canon wound up my name was mentioned but…it didn't really make much of an impact. Sure it's nice bragging rights, sure it's cool and there was a little prize money in the form of Canon Online dollars (new lens, thanks very much). By the time the competition culminated in October in a film festival with the films that were inspired by the winning photos, I was pretty unphased by it - after all, it was nearly one year since entering the thing - and then, when I finally saw the film my image was supposedly incorporated into, I was…annoyed. The film was not inspired by anything - it was a vanity project of the celebrity director/star. I saw not even the slightest hint of my image used, or even some of the others, and I was kind of disgusted with the whole thing. I will likely not enter it again unless the direction and concept of the competition changes in the future. The other win was the Camera Obscura Journal's annual photo competition. I won 1st place in the Amateur category, and Honorable Mention in the Professional category. I was happy to receive this news, but upon seeing the magazine in print, a tad disappointed that the photos were interspersed with nary a mention about the photographers - no write up, no bio, nothing. The focus of the publication is short stories, so the Photography section is really just an aside. Still, bragging rights in a quality publication - I am pleased!
Last November I had about 100 followers on Facebook. Flickr, my mainstay for publishing photos, was my largest audience, but it would sometimes take one week before a new image was viewed 100 times. By the end of this year I should be at 20,000 Facebook followers and now my photos on Flickr reach 100 views in the first hour or so of release. Progress indeed. This was not divine intervention though - it was work and planning, and even some money. I made sure to release new images at least once a week - a grind at times - they do take me a long time to create - and I made sure my blog was updated at least once a month - that can be hard to keep up too. I even did some paid ads on Facebook to get the word out - and it worked really well. Now I can ease off that and let the rest happen by word of mouth hopefully. Paid ads are nothing to be ashamed of - it means you believe in yourself and you want an audience for your work. Any artist that claims they don't is lying. Getting likes on Facebook is do-able by paid ads - keeping them and growing them is up to you and your work. As draining as it can be, I am on Facebook daily trying to find ways to grow my audience. I share on various pages, I make contacts and virtual friends with fellow photographers, and all that plus keeping fresh material coming has really paid off this year. Is it catapulting me to photographer stardom? No, not yet - but you never know - a year ago I had no followers and had never been published.
Turning my work into fine art prints proved to be quite a saga his year, and none of it was resolved or working until the middle of the year. I won't bore you with the blow by blow, but my goal was to find a relatively small printing house that I could work with to get my prints to look like I intended and using the finest paper and archival inks. I must have tried five printers in 2013 until I finally have it going in the right direction now - and they look great. The goal for next year though is to find buyers for them - these prints are expensive to produce and I cannot sell them at cost - so I need to attract an art buying audience - for now, these prints are ready to go, but priced as art, so, ummm, they are not exactly going!
Designing book covers and record sleeves was a childhood dream of mine, and in 2013, I got both! Sort of. I started being a contributor to ArcAngel Images last year - they are an image house that markets primarily to book publishers, and this year I finally got one sold - a Polish novel used it. And with all the handsome and attractive models I work with and have in my portfolio, who did they go with? Me! There are very few conceptual pieces using my face, but one of these apparently fit the bill, so my face is apparently on racks across Krakow now! I was also contacted by a composer who wanted to use one of my images for his original music project, so now I have, albeit virtual and electronic, my second childhood dream come true - an album cover. Thank you to ArcAngel Images and to Richard Ames Music for making these events happen this year!
Late in the year, as I have already mentioned, I sold three images to Healthy Living Magazine. Sold, as in, I was paid. I cannot begin to tell you that these checks, while small and not something I can quit the dreaded day job over, meant more to me than anything I have been paid for before. They were purchased as is, not by decree, and apparently worth using to them. This is significant to me - I do not want an assignment-based portfolio - I want my work to be what it wants to be - and if someone finds value in what I do, well, how can I be anything but happy about that?
Doing my own book was not exactly a priority this year, it was maybe something relegated to the future wish list, but given that there are ways to self-publish books now with printing done as needed, and not in bulk, I decided to get a collection done and take a chance. I was really pleased with the results - I chose a good grade of paper and did a nice, large collection of 55 images with their accompanying notes, all in an image-wrapped hardcover presentation. Of course, being rather verbose, these write-ups and editing them proved to be the hardest part - I had to self-edit, and often cut down the original texts to a more manageable size. This meant cutting out a lot of the technical background information on the images, but that was fine - I would rather present them as conceptual works and not focus on the technical when it comes to doing an art/photography book. Of course, given the materials used and the size of the book and the page count, this tome is rather expensive to even produce and at a very modest percentage for profit, it is not exactly priced to fly off the shelf! I decided to do a smaller, softcover version with no notes, and added 20 additional images to it. So, now i have two books to display my wares. I am proud to have it in my home, and even more proud that some actually purchased it and have it in theirs now!
There are a few ways you can get some big numbers on some of these web sites like Flickr and 500px.com: Editor's Pick, for example, or being "explored" on Flickr. This means you get thousands and thousands of views. I have never gotten either of those, and at times it bugs me. I drove a lot of traffic to Flickr this year - over half a million views, and yet none of mine have ever been picked up on Explore. On 500px, I get most of my images up to "Popular" status, usually topping out at the mid 90s percentage-wise, and still no Editor's Pick. In theory those boons would get me a much larger audience, but for whatever reason, it has not yet happened. Still, some of my images from this year have gotten some impressive numbers, all things considered. My top five images on Flickr were all created this year. I will show the top five below. One image really got a helping hand from the band Duran Duran. I created an image using one of their song titles, "Is There Something I Should Know?" This song's video had some connectivity to the idea I was trying to convey, and on a hunch, I sent it to them via Facebook. They posted it on their page and I had one really great evening of thousands and thousands of views. So, thank you Duran Duran!
It's been a good year; as much as I can complain about some things, I really can't or shouldn't. Things are growing, and moving in the right direction. Most important to me though is the work itself, and I am happy that this growth coincides with my personal growth and satisfaction of the images i create. I won't say that there have not been some clunkers this year - there have been - but much less so than the prior year. I created over 100 new pieces this year, and most of them are in what I consider my portfolio, which would represent my personal best work. There have been creative slumps, frustrations, sure, but the highs this year greatly outweighed the lows.
And on that note, a good one, I will say goodnight and thank you to all who read this, to all who encourage me, and to all who helped me make 2013 my best year so far.
- Published on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 04:00
- Written by Michael Bilotta
This layer by layer tour is done from the ground up. That means every layer shown is from the bottom layer upwards.
As always, this image was built with no preconceived ideas when it was shot. For the past few model sessions, I have been playing with this bench. It's simple in design, and I thought adding some architecture for the model to interact with could yield some ideas. This is how the raw shot looked:
Once I decided to remove the legs of the bench, it was just a matter of painting out the legs with a color similar to the background gray. It doesn't need to be perfect, because the gray area is going to serve as the layer mask selection:
Since i know that my process will deepen the saturation of colors, I add an adjustment layer of Hue/Saturation and reduce the red and yellow channels, bleaching out the body of the model:
I add the sky over these layers, and use a blending mode of Hard Light. Once I select the gray around the model layer completely using the Magic Wand, I switch to the sky layer and click "Add Layer Mask." The mask is still rough around the edges though, so I paint edit the hair line with a very soft brush, blending the layer mask into the hair. I also paint out the area where my cityscape will go:
I duplicate the sky layer and change the blend mode to "Screen" and reduce the opacity to about 20%. This gives the sky a little more light and airy quality:
I create a second copy and move the position of it around to fill in a few more clouds on the upper part of the frame. You can do this without affecting the mask position by unlinking the mask before moving the sky itself:
Next I add a sun spot. This is a 3-layer white elipse I have created a while ago and use repeatedly because it works well enough:
As you can see above, the sun is pretty much over the model's face, so to tuck it in a bit, I copy the sky layers mask and paste that mask onto the sun layer. I feather the mask significantly so some of the light naturally falls over the hair line:
Next comes the cityscape. This is an older shot from five years ago of San Francisco that I took with an older camera of lesser quality, but since I am going to be blurring it anyway, the resolution variance won't be much of an issue. I switch it to black and white and lay down the layer with a blend mode of Multiply. This is a darkening of the original shot, but since it was very washed out in noontime light, I want it to be a little deeper. I paint out the sky of the city shot so my sky shows through:
Another copy is made of the city layer, and this one is changed to a blend mode of Hard Light. This gives more detail and definition to the city:
Lastly, another copy of the city is made overlaid with a blend mode of Screen with the opacity turned way down. This gives a suggestion of haze:
Speaking of haze, since I wanted my image to be high up in the clouds, I add a layer of haze over the model too. This is done by another cloud layer (a diferent one) which is blurred significantly and overlaid with a blend mode of Screen. The opacity is turned way down, and the lower half is painted out. I also add in a system of zeppelins drifting by. I say a system because It is a combination of a shot of a miniature model, a layer mask, and several little lights painted over it. This is saved as a group, and the group is multiplied as many times as needed:
Next comes color. I wanted this to be a warm, sunset color, so I started with an orange/yellow solid overlaid with a blend mode of Color with an opacity of about 10%:
The color is a little greenish, so to offset it I add another solid, this time purple, with the same blend mode and opacity. This gives it a washed out sepia tone:
Since the last few steps of my workflow deepen the saturations overall, I add an adjustment layer of Vibrance and reduce the saturation and vibrance a bit:
Next, I wanted to close in the composition a bit and give more focus to the model. To do this, I add an elliptical vignette. To do this, I add a black solid layer and punch out a circle centralized circle. The remaning black is blurred greatly, the opacity is reduced, and the blend mode is set to Multiply. It's subtle, but the last two steps will deepen it a bit:
The last two steps are adjustment layers of Levels and Curves. First, Levels are used to punch up the mid tones and the highlights. This really intensifies the sun:
The last step is curves, giving a heavy amount of contrast. I used a preset of Heavy Contrast on this layer. This is the final look:
A note about hairlines: By shooting my models with interior lighting against a gray background, I never have to suffer the agony of cutting out hair lines, or models for that matter. The model is not cut out of his backgound - instead, everything is laid over the model shot, and the blend modes simulate a projected image on a silver screen (the gray background). This means that all I have to clean up is the hair line and I can paint loosely over the hair with the sky layer. It means every strand of hair is accounted for and nothing is jagged:
The neutral gray background makes selections for layer masking much easier. With a few clicks of the magic wand, I get an almost perfect layer mask that stands up even under closeup scrutiny:
I hope you enjoyed the little layer tour. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to write me a message!
November 26, 2013
- Published on Thursday, 14 November 2013 06:50
- Written by Michael Bilotta
I have two collections of my surreal and conceptual images on sale. "Peter's Epilogue" contains 55 of my pieces with full introductions for each image. This is a large, hardcover book. "The Road To find Out" is a softcover only, smaller book, and contains no introductory notes but has 75 images. You can preview both books here:
Preview displays only 15 pages.
Book Dimensions are 12 × 12 in / 30 × 30 cm, contains 114 pages and is printed on Premium Paper with a lustre finish.
Preview displays only 15 pages.
Book Dimensions are 10 × 8 in / 25 × 20 cm, contains 80 pages and is printed on Premium Paper with a lustre finish.
- Published on Saturday, 09 November 2013 20:32
- Written by Michael Bilotta
- the bad and the ugly!
- Fables of the Reconstruction
- Museums On Sundays
- Shields Up! when real life invades your artistic life
- Unlocking the Soul Cages
- so you think you can print...
- Depression and the Tidal King
- the Demons of Failure
- Blending Layers and Digital Frosting
- gearhead, sort of...
- Making "Quabbin"
- Arriving at the New World
- Making "Myth"
- chasing ideas one layer at a time (a photoshop deconstruction)
- My Time in the Valley
- Negative Space
- Masks, Chess, and Blurs
- the Square Roots
- Deliberate Composing
- "Eleven Kinds of" Editing
- Behind the Mask(ing) - Photoshop Tutorial
- 28 Layers Later: "the Road To Reason"
- the future looks grim...the Arcadia Tarot
- a year In review
- Dark Matter
- the Death of an Idea
- The Complicated Birth of an Idea
- the tech of the shoot
- Attack of the Brookalikes
- Best Laid Plans
- The Subtle Savages of the Virtual Jungle
- The Hunt For Models and the Naked Truth