Photography, computer, and mixed media
Kaye Davis discusses the evolution of photography and technology, referencing 2016 Illustrative Photographer of the Year Harry Janssen’s winning image, Ocean
The medium of photography has changed greatly over the past 10 to 15 years. The combination of camera and computer has largely altered the perception of photography as being merely a mechanical recording medium. The use of Photoshop is now an accepted (and expected) part of the production process that photographers have learned to master, with technologies and techniques applied either subtly or in a more overt manner.
Moreover, digital technology has provided the photographer with an extensive creative toolbox and means that they have to consider two different phases within the image-making process, because post-production is now considered just as important as the camera-capture stage.
While technology can be seen as mimicking traditional darkroom techniques in some areas, it also greatly extends creative capabilities and opportunities. Now, we are seeing how the combination of computer and camera is being used to engage our imagination and thought, with the use of technology pushing photography in new, interesting, and artistic directions.
I witnessed this at the recent Epson/NZIPP Iris Professional Photography Awards. In particular, one image captured the hearts and minds of the judges. Titled Ocean, and produced by Auckland photographer Harry Janssen, the image presented us with a powerful message.
The idea for the image came about nearly two years ago, around the time of the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane in the Indian Ocean. What piqued Janssen’s imagination were the satellite reports that revealed the extent of floating debris being carried by ocean gyres (currents) that circulate the ocean water around the planet. This, and a statement seen about there being more plastic in the ocean than there are fish, became the catalyst for creating the image. The challenge then was figuring out how to portray this, as well as the message that, as humans, we need to turn to ourselves and stop blaming others when it comes to pollution.
The development process first involved emulating the vastness and shape of the ocean. This was achieved by transforming a blue-water panorama — made up of 25 images captured along the coast near Thames, here in New Zealand — using polar coordinates in Photoshop to produce the circular shape. After perfecting the base for the image, the second stage involved adding all the other elements into it.
The oil slick was photographed in the studio using blue-top milk mixed with a few drops of food colouring to get the right colour. Janssen then delicately added dishwashing liquid using cotton buds. He spent quite a few hours on this before he was happy with the shape of the ‘slick’. Next, the oil puddle involved Indian ink being dripped on white paper — a process he described as “tricky”, as he needed to ensure the paper was “dead level to stop the ink from running off”. The floating rubbish was also photographed in the studio, after doing a bit of scavenging for cans, bottles, etc., while the ‘dead’ fish came from a photographic excursion to the Waikato River. Other items came from photographs that he had previously taken, including a stranded car wreck on a beach, an outboard engine, an old shipwreck in Kaiaua, a fishing boat off the Cornwallis jetty, a guy in a dingy, a tangled fishing net on the beach, and so on.
The third step — which became the pièce de résistance that pulls the narrative together and strengthens the message — was the unusual mixed-media application of a small circular mirror to the centre of the image. Janssen’s statement on applying this was that, “if you want to make the world a better place, take a look in the mirror, and start with yourself”.
As a photographer, designer, and digital expert, Janssen’s image epitomizes how effective combining photography and the computer can be. The innovative approach taken through the use of mixed media in the image, the level of detail, technical expertise evident, print quality, and the powerful communication portrayed accordingly and deservedly not only earned Janssen a Gold award for the image at the 2016 Iris Awards but also the title of 2016 Illustrative Photographer of the Year.
You can see more of Janssen’s imaginative and creative work by visiting harryjanssen.nz.