The Purge by Andre H
From the time I began shooting with the iPhone 3G years ago I have experimented with many apps and styles as I navigated the developing world of mobile phone photography. I have seen my images pass through many phases, and fads. I have grunged the hell out of my images, sometimes losing them to unsalvageable damage, tiled them together to form visual quilts in a David Hockney sort of way, shooting through digital lens onto digitally replicated film types, all in the name of, and for the thrill of experimentation. Since that time I have worked my way back to where I am now. Through my street photography I have come to embrace and love the simplicity of a minimalist workflow shooting primarily black-and-white with little, if any post-production.
I know a lot of us have made names for ourselves by developing, and holding to very specific styles, or subject matter, but how healthy is it to limit ourselves to one particular workflow or style? Every now and then we need to purge, step away from our self-determined styles and subjects for a moment, and try something completely new, 180 degrees away from “normal” in order to help us to understand ourselves and continue to grow as creatives. After recently losing my job, now facing a temporary run of unemployment, and at a loss for my daily serving of the streets of San Francisco, I looked for the positive. And, there it was, right in front of me. My attention shifted to my 3-year old daughter. I was given the gift of enjoying more time with her. Spending all day everyday with her, she became my new muse.
The tender moments and portraits of a little girl and her daddy served as proof of our time spent together. I may have lost my job, but thank God, not my imagination. With these intimate moments of Wren and I at home I asked myself the magical question, “What if?” I had recently begun exploring a new app, “Mextures.” I had also begun revisiting an old favorite, “Pic grunger.” So, “what if I degraded these images to the point of becoming more graphic in nature, both conceptually, and visually?” For so long I had bound myself to an almost photographic “purity” involving no heavy filtering. Now I was ready to embrace another side of my creativity, one that had been lying neglected for sometime. I wanted to see just how far I could push my photography in the opposite direction. It was time for a brief purge. For two-weeks I would let go of who I was as a street photographer and run my photos through the filter meat grinder, tweaking and grunging photos of my daughter and I out beyond my normal style.
Depending on the light, the moment, composition, and the amount of post-production, each image began taking on a new creepy, disturbingaesthetic. I liked the results I was seeing. I immediately began posting on IG and Eyeem. The reactions were interesting. Some people absolutely loved my horrific “purge” series, while others hated them. Some thought they were fun. Others threatened to “un-follow” me if I continued to post similar images. Some people even demanded more. I knew I had something here that was striking people’s emotions.
These were not necessarily for everyone. I was creating this series for me. As I mentioned earlier, I needed a change. I had a lot of pent-up anxiety and frustration. So I purged it through my photography. I embraced something new. Not really photographing a new subject, but rather exploring how I could transform an image perceived as “innocent” and elevate it to another level of perception. Now, before we move on, I want to make it crystal clear here that there are no weird, intentional underlying messages within these images symbolizing my relationship with my daughter, or my feelings toward her.
We all need to let go sometimes. We need to step out of our comfort zones and embrace for just one short moment, another side of ourselves uninhibited. It’s needed. We all try so hard to live within the boundaries of what our peer groups or followers are expecting and willing to accept that we forget about the search for the new and unknown. Especially now, as we all search for that virtual pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—more followers, internet fame, global acceptance and the digital pat-on-the-back-high-five by strangers acknowledging that we’ve done something good. Normally known for street photography, I took a brief break. I wanted to explore what potentially could be hiding just below the visual surface. Think of it like another dimension. Not only would this involve myself. But as I would later find out while posting that this would take my audience on a new journey as well. Introducing them to a side of me that they may not have ever been expecting to meet.
The Process—How I did it
This experiment began with innocent experimentation with an innocent moment. I followed my normal recipe. I photographed my daughter using camera+. Under the “scenes” tab I chose clarity. Effects tab–retro–Ansel. I now had the first step of the process down.
Next I imported the image into Mextures app. I cropped the image to my liking and moved forward into the texture packs. This is where I made the real discovery that propelled my project forward. This is also where the most experimentation happened, and the most nuanced tweaks made the biggest difference. Next I chose “emulsions” followed immediately by clicking the far right icon that looks like a magic wand with three stars, or, “blending modes.” I clicked on every single option in the beginning to see what each did. The one that caught my attention was “color burn.” Using this with a black-and-white image produced a high contrast image. The beauty of this option is that there is a sliding scale that allows you to control the level of the effect. But it gets better. I was hooked. I clicked the check mark. Selecting different emulsions I realized that the image was once again drastically affected. Each emulsion created a different effect in the color burn blending mode, and each was controllable using the slider bar. Oh ya. I was excited. I explored each one until I arrived at a “look” that I was satisfied with. At this point I was surprised to see how a photo of an innocent little girl was transformed into a horrid, evil looking creature. I loved the possibilities. My curiosity was ignited. I began experimenting with more and more images, more about that later. Once I found the right “emulsion” I clicked the “+” symbol to add a new layer of effects. Select “new pack.” I did this multiple times adding layer after layer of grunge effects, grit and grain, and more emulsions until I was satisfied. I exported and saved to the image library.
3. Pic grunger
Pic grunger is a pretty amazing app that has been around for quite sometime. I used a long time ago to add an old rudimentary warn photo look with an interesting border. This app is amazing because of the grunge possibilities it gives you. I will easily lose a lot of time exploring the infinite possibilities in this app, as did I. After exporting from Mextures, I imported the image into Pic grunger for its final round of filtering. This is where I would add the polish to my fear invoking images. After importing you see many different options some I used and others I never touched. For this example I used “streaked.” At this point, if you haven’t realized it, you’re falling down a rabbit hole. There are four different ways to tweak this effect. “Style” “Strength” “Border” “Texture.” I really didn’t waste my time with “Border” it seem to ruin the affect I was after. I really didn’t do too much with strength either. I primarily explored style and texture. Those were my favorites. Under the texture tab my favorites were “pulp” “wrinkled” and “newsprint.” The style tab adds contrast to the final image. I found the results differed from image to image depending the quality of the image upon import and the texture used.
Photography is about context and how we perceive what we’re looking at. What are we questioning, hoping to discover? Sometimes we find answers to our questions, while other times we are introduced to concepts and truths that we wished we had never unearthed. Looking over these images that I was creating I began to question if this is how we perceive ourselves when we’re depressed or stressed? What might we all look like under stressed, graphic conditions? A good innocent smile becomes a dark, horrifying creature reminiscent of a nightmare. What we initially perceive as happiness really dark? Is this how I was seeing myself, and life? Was I looking at the visual representation of my anxiety and depression? Or was it just an innocent experimentation that I stumbled upon by accident one day. I’m not sure how to answer that question just yet. But what I do know is that the importance of the purge is to clear our systems, experiencing a new perspective with the intention of coming back to a normal way of doing things with a new outlook. I did just that and enjoyed every minute of it. Through that process I came face-to-face with a new series of questions that have helped me grow and reconsider how people not only perceive my images but also how people might perceive me as a person. Man, I love photography.