Yesterday I was teaching an online photography workshop and was helping a student work through a creative problem. We are similar in age and it seemed apparent to me that she was inspired by early MTV music videos so I asked her and she agreed. It was a wonderful opportunity to mine the depths of our memories to create new and interesting imagery.
Our conversation got me thinking about how exciting it was to go to a friends house after school and to put on MTV and watch the videos. My parents didn’t have cable and none of us really new anything about the internet and we didn’t have cell phones. What we did have were aspirations and dreams that seemed to be reflected back to us on the screen in a montage of superimposed imagery.
Even now I will occasionally spend a sleepless night in our guest room watching old music videos from the 80s. I still believe in peace and the magic that led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
My father was the same way about music from the 50’s. He never stopped listening to Marty Robbins songs. The images and sounds are the fabric of youth that mould our perception of the world and bring us comfort in the form of nostalgia.
In my workshop I set about demonstrating how I would go about creating an image based upon these memories and emotions. To get some ideas about what it needed to look like to feel authentic I spent some time thinking about the old CRT tube televisions and how they would flicker and get the colors out of alignment. The images were soft compared to today’s 4k flat screen technology. I would need to create a LowFi effect for the final image.
Reviewing some of my favorite MTV videos I realized that a lot of the early videos seem to have a pop art and comic book look which makes sense because I am sure these were the childhood experiences that informed the aesthetics of the filmmakers at the time when they were making these videos.
To compete my research I looked at some images of old televisions with the flicker effect and the color alignment issue for inspiration and then dug a couple of images out of my archive and set about to create an image that felt like watching a music video.
To start I pulled up this photo of a young woman from my image archive and purposely moved the color channels out of alignment. Every color image is composed of a red, green, and blue channels. By selecting the red channel and moving it a couple of pixels to the left and then selecting the blue channel and moving it a couple of pixels to the right I was able to create the effect I was going for. It reminded me of a 3d anaglyph image.
Next, in deference to Lichtenstein’s work, I applied a halftone filter effect to really pop the face from the background and to give it a comic book feel.
To complete the image I found a photo of a sailboat on a lake and superimposed it on top of the image of the woman. I could mentally hear Styx play Come Sail Away.
Playing with blending and contrast control I was able to create something that felt authentic to the memory. To finalize the image I added a screen flicker by drawing some horizontal lines on a dodge/burn layer and then blurring them a just a bit. The final image made me smile as I remembered all my teenage years. For me art is about translating memories and emotions into visual imagery.
That is really the creative process in a nutshell. Creativity is the combination of spontaneity and originality. The originality comes from the frequency and intensity of life experience and the spontaneity comes from mastery of craft to the point of no longer having to think about what you are doing. Spontaneity is really the source of artistic play. Since I have been working with Adobe Photoshop since version 2.0 on a MAC Color Classic, I have years of experience that allows me to just play with an image like a child doing finger painting. A single memory transformed into an image in about 30 minutes!