Scratching Away On Lottery Tickets

The end of 2013 and the first week of 2014 has found me in a strange, but I believe ultimately a positive and productive mental space.  Having felt constrained by my own feelings about photography I have been working at a quick clip to find direction.  This expenditure of energy has been someway unfocused with the objective to abandon my normal process of over analysis and evaluation which often results in creative paralysis and total inaction.

I am reminded of some ideas about the first steps of the creative process that American choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote in her book on the creative habit:

The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight.

You need a tangible idea to get you going.  The idea, however minuscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.

I call it scratching.  You know how you scratch at lottery tickets to see if you’ve won? That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece.  I’m digging through everything to find something.  It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain trying to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.

Scratching can look like borrowing or appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity.  It’s primal, and very private.  It’s a way of saying to the gods, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just wander these back hallways…” and then grabbing that piece of fire an running like hell.

So to use Twyla’s term, I have definitely been scratching the past couple of weeks.  I set myself three guidelines to follow during this process.  The first one was to not evaluate if something was good enough, or serious enough to do.  The second was that I could not make any new photographic source imagery, that I should rely on existing imagery created by others, or in the most desperate cases use old stuff I had laying around.  Lastly I should employ PHYSICAL alterations to the images I selected to create something new.  The series of burning cars made from advertisements from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are some of my favorite initial results.

Alteration by Phil Nesmith

Alteration by Phil Nesmith

Dryer lint on vintage automobile advertisement.

Historically I have not been very drawn to making images of people which is evident if you plow through the years worth of post on this blog or troll the work on my site.  But when I examine the people images by others that draw my attention they are often the ones in which the identity of the individuals in the frame are obscured by accident, intent of the sitter, or after the fact by some other agent.   This affection is connected to a general interest that I have about identity.  A currently simmering project explores specific objects and connections to private/public identity and personal myth of the American soldier.

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The three images presented below are a collection of old wet collodion ambrotype and tintype portraits that I made back in 2008 and 2012.  Versions of these images that have not been altered can be found in the older regions of this blog (which I will let you explore to find).  The obscuring of the specific identifying facial features originally began by using shallow depth of field, providing only enough visual information to hint at the sitters identity but focusing the viewers gaze on the objects the sitter was presenting for inspection.  I abandoned this project shortly after it began, but something about the obscuring, and alteration or obliteration of the recognizable physical identity stayed in my thoughts.

©2014 Phil D. Nesmith

©2014 Phil D. Nesmith

Acrylic and gold leaf on 7×5″ ambrotype.

During the summer of 2013 a spontaneous action led to the creation of a number of experiments in which I was digitally manipulating historical American Civil War portraits to obscure the physical identities of the sitters, yet creating something of an alternate personality by the use of shape and color.  An example can be seen here and a more comprehensive listing of other posted images from this exploration can be located here.

©2014 Phil D. Nesmith

©2014 Phil D. Nesmith

Acrylic on 7×5″ ambrotype.

The three altered portraits presented here are the result of my latest “scratching” session.  Acrylic directly applied to unique wet collodion images has been employed to further obscure the physical identity of the sitters.  This exercise served two purposes, that of shattering my worship of the pristine in-camera created exposure and forcing myself to revisit old images made for the purpose of exploring the same concept and extending the visualization with the application of an additional physical action.

©2014 Phil D. Nesmith

© 2014 Phil D. Nesmith

Acrylic on 7×5″ tintype.

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~ by Phil Nesmith on January 5, 2014.

2 Responses to “Scratching Away On Lottery Tickets”

  1. I love the concepts you’ve presented here!

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