by Joseph Linaschke
This has been a curious project for me, since #1 I don't really consider myself a "fine art photographer", and #2 I've always been reasonably reluctant to over-retouch images. I've been using Photoshop since 1.0, Aperture since it was barely a warm puddle of code, and spent the first part of my professional career hawking the Kai's Power Tools plugins. So, you could say that digital manipulation is in my blood. But the purism of "straight" photography has always been a stronger force. I don't have anything against pixel pushing, should you get the wrong idea… I just felt like personally I preferred to shoot it the way I wanted it to be, with minimal effort afterwards. I felt so strongly that way that back in the film days that my preferred stocks were Velvia and Kodachrome 64; both positives (slides). Not that it's impossible to manipulate, but generally a chrome is the final enchilada. There's no exposure adjusting, dodging and burning, etc. for the final image. Put a light behind it and you're done. I liked that. Maybe it's just because I never really enjoyed the darkroom, or maybe it's because deep down I always wanted to be a photojournalist and subscribed to the idea that you don't touch the image. Whatever the reason, I liked to shoot and be done.
Regardless, when the world went digital, I quickly learned that the RAW image is designed to be manipulated, and a good RAW image is usually shot quite flat, with the contrast pushed and pulled in post. This concept really hit home editing RAW video from cameras like the RED or Viper; the image that came out of the camera looked like crap, but once you threw it on the scopes and expanded the range, ho-boy, did that image pop. I put that experience into the way I shoot digital stills, and have been better for it ever since.
So what does that have to do with the Sculpture series? I put it out there to make the point that this is a huge departure from my comfort zone, which is, of course, rather the point. As I said in the previous post, it's a project I've had in my head for 20 years, and finally had the opportunity, ability and funds to realize it. The results may not be perfect, but what's perfect anyway. I learned a lot in this process, that's for sure. For example, I learned that when you are shooting nude models with a medium format digital camera, nothing — nothing — is missed. On the image above, I spent probably 6 hours removing tiny little soft white hairs from her back, one at a time. Talk about mind numbing. Next time, I'll ask the model to wax and remove every last trace of body hair. Keep in mind that intention of this project is to blur the line between human and sculpture, so and stray hairs would certainly give up the game immediately.
I also faced the challenge of finding the balance between skin that had been smoothed to a point of looking almost carved, but not like plastic. You know those awful photos you see from the "easy retouching" apps that are advertised in banner ads on every photo site you go to, where they take a model and make her look like a barbie doll, and even manipulate the curve of her face? These apps will reshape the face, move the eyes, puff up the lips — geezuz. I *hate* that. My daughter has a basket of old barbie dolls; if that's the look I was going for, I'd just shoot them. Real humans have real "flaws". Pores, hairs, and, god forbid, wrinkles. There's nothing wrong with softening a hard line or removing a pimple, but methinks that if your own mother can no longer recognize you, you've gone a wee bit too far, no?
OK so what's my point… well in this process, I found that to get the look I wanted, I had to nearly go there. NO reshaping, mind you — every curve you see in this series is 100% real. The skin, however, I retouched like I've never retouched before. I removed every bump, hair, color variation, beauty mark, freckle, scar, and piercing hole. I smoothed the skin to look nearly plastic, then blended the retouched and the over-smoothed version together to create something that, hopefully, blurs the line between human and sculpture. As I said before, I know and accept that some of these images were more successful than others in that regard. I think that this image (#2) is the most technically successful, but we'll see when the prints arrive (possibly today!)
It's important to push our boundaries and comfort levels. It's how we grow as photographers (and as humans). I spent more time in front of the computer for this project than I ever have for any other project in my life, and loved every second of it. Well, nearly ever second… after the 5,000th hair, that level of retouching gets a little old ;-)