In the summer of 2013, when I finally admitted that I had become bored with the predictability of digital photography's process and results, I started to use my camera transparently, perversely side-stepping the very precision and clarity that is digital's calling-card.
Photography is first of all about the surface of things, specifically, the surface that reflects the light; but I wanted to penetrate the surface, so I could stop taking pictures of my preconceived ideas.
Here was my problem: If I knew in advance down to the last pixel what the result would be, what was the point of taking the picture? I would have to outwit my camera and contrive a scenario where I did not - could not - know what to expect.
I began using a makeshift light-table, illuminated above and below with flash units, and more often than not hand-holding my camera (which, to someone wedded to his tripod, was radically disorienting).
The results of my "method" were various random combinations of sharp and blurred, sharp-in-blur, motion-blurred ... and I was by turns startled then excited, shocked then captivated by the results.
My camera had been narrowing my creative intent to match its capabilities. In fact, the intent to render a “sharp” photograph was not a given, but entailed a creative decision.
The results I had seen encouraged me to continue deliberately moving the camera, the subjects and myself, to continue producing these results that I couldn't, and didn't want to, predict.
“Dahlia Cosmology” (Image 1, above), one of the images I exhibited in “Dahlia Bacchanalia!” is one of the first fruits of my rebellion, and the first image which prompted the question: “Did you mean it to be blurry like that?”; a question that initially left me speechless, though not for long.
Did I mean it...? Well, yes, I did; or rather, I meant it post hoc. This is a perfect example of how much my camera's capabilities had limited me. Accept this work on its own terms and it is neither "blurry" nor "over-exposed". In fact, the sense of shimmering vibration and the hot color palette imbue this work with an electric energy that is infinitely more truthful than any static, pretty, "correct" picture I would have taken as a beginning photographer.
Another method I've pursued is a deconstruction and reconstruction of my subjects, tearing and rending, in a rather perverse act that the followers of Dionysus referred to as sparagmos.
“Petal Study: Cool Spectrum” (above) is an exercise in pure color and form, and I think this may be my way of tricking my viewers into taking time to observe. I'm not bothered by "what is it?" or "I don't like it!" when the alternative is to hear the dreaded "oh, how pretty!", and know that I've missed the mark.
To someone viewing this work who "sees" things – clouds, faces, clouds with birds, birds' faces, and so forth – which is something I strongly resist – I would ask them to take a metaphorical, and perhaps real, step back, to allow their mind to become still and to describe the literal surface of the work.
In other words, to describe what they actually see, not what they would like to see; and to forgo opinions and judgments and relate instead their emotional response, if any. Viewers can be profoundly uncomfortable with abstract images, and this conjuring up of something familiar is a defence mechanism.
The problem is that, by interpolating a preset, "safe" concept between yourself and the artwork, you are effectively not seeing it. Keep your eyes, and your mind, open.
Integrity is a big discussion in photography. Photography's unique nature is to record an event at the very moment it occurs, and to interfere with this moment is confusing, even cynical. Therefore, I take images into post-production "straight from the camera" (by which I certainly don't mean to imply that they're perfect at that stage, they're simply a foundation to work with), and any effects are created at the moment of capture, never added later. But I have no qualms about standard tasks such as working with contrast, exposure and color correction in post.
I am also interested in using multiple, non-contiguous images to create larger structures. “Aubade” is a beautiful word which denotes a love-song performed at sunrise – a kind of reverse serenade for the early-to-bed, early-to-rise contingent.
Triptychs, which originally were altarpieces or portable devotional aids, can suggest a solemn, reverent attitude. But “Aubade” light-heartedly riffs on the concept of apotheosis; and instead of Gregorian chant, joyfully offers up some pagan, begonia jazz.
David Roddis, "Aubade" (Triptych). 2013. Archival pigment prints face-mounted to acrylic,
each panel 30 x 20", overall dimensions 30 x 63" approx. © David Roddis, 2013-2017
David Roddis, "Petal Study, Cool Spectrum". 2013. Archival pigment print, edition 1 of 10. 17 x 22". © David Roddis, 2013-2017
David Roddis, "Dahlia Cosmology". 2013. Archival pigment print, edition 1 of 10. 17 x 22". © David Roddis, 2013-2017
©David Roddis, 2014.
“I AM NOT A CAMERA”
A revised version of an article originally written for online 'zine “Life as a Human”, in which I give some background to my current work and discuss three of my images.