VIDEO: “Ice Storm, Transformed,” A WestVirginiaVille.com Original Short Video
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ARTICLE: “How do you ‘Serve the Ice’?
Words & Photography by Douglas John Imbrogno
My earliest musical mentor, a larger-than-life singer-songwriter named Walter Craft, had a motto about performing: ‘Serve the song.’ As I understood it, he meant performers should aim to accurately convey the inspiration and meaning of any song we perform — and not merely serve our ego, as in: ‘Look at how well I am emoting. I’m a star!’
As the Ice Storm of Winter 2021 finally melted away this week in West-West Virginia (where WestVirginiaVille world headquarters are situated), that dictum came to mind as I flipped through my many photos of the remarkable storm.
How do I: “Serve the ice”?
We lived through several days with our biome encased in ice. With every branch wrapped, trunk to tip, in solid silver, trees looked as if they were made of glass. A forest looked like a glass menagerie on a shelf in sunlight. The sun seen through glassy branches created fractal images: the eye of a god, a cascade of diamonds.
The refractory funhouse of ice everywhere was heightened at night, bending, smearing, and swirling the efflorescence of streetlamps and house lights. WestVirginiaVille chief videographer Bobby Lee Messer captured this well in his moody tone-poem video, “Winter Walking” (which also serves the theme of exasperation with “A winter that never dies.”)
CLICK TO VIEW “WINTER WALKING”
Yet the fact of the matter is this: For an amateur shootist like myself, whose principal photographic device is an iPhone 7, it is damnably hard to photograph the wonders of an ice storm. You become entranced by the spidery glassworks of woods that are now an icy wonderland. You proceed to click-click-click. You check your photos later — and it looks nothing like the wonder of what you saw.
So, then. Let’s work this a bit.
What you see on this page are a series of ‘Ice Storm ’21’ art-attempt photographs, most of which have been run through a filter in my beloved BeFunky photo-editing app. This app has displaced the only other photo-editing program I have ever used extensively, Photoshop Elements.
I have never been good with overly technical programs like Photoshop. It’s like an endless buffet at a too-big Chinese restaurant—too many choices, too many tastes, too many possible combinations, all of which can end up tasting like nothing at all.
BeFunky offers a suite of ever-expanding artful filters, as well as the usual controls over hue, saturation, exposure, and the like. (The app’s free version is a modest amount of fun. But to unlock BeFunky’s superpowers — including an easy background-removal tool and elegant art filters — you’ll need to pony up $99 for a year’s subscription.)
I have noted which filters I’ve used for each photograph — or none, if I didn’t use one. Adding filters to photographs is a dicey aesthetic. There are so many easy, single-click filters that turn banal photographs into seeming little works of art. (If we had time travel, someone with a laptop, camera and Photoshop should zip back to 1850 and get to work at becoming a world-astonishing artist. Bring lots of batteries.)
The problem with filters is quite often this: the filter itself becomes the subject. I am just a semi-professional snapshooter — my elder brother, David, a photographer of international skill, always has far more nuanced, experienced, and elegant ways to state what I am about to try and say. (See his comments below about this project)
It’s a Walter Craft serve-the-song thing. Any filter you run your photograph through should serve the photo. If you impose a filter on your photograph that so transforms it that the original image which inspired you drops from view, then you are serving the filter, not the image.
There’s nothing exactly wrong with that if you are working up artful images, which I am seeking to do here. But if I am trying to communicate the grandeur of an ice storm, any filter I choose should highlight the wonder of an ice storm. The filter may radically alter my photo of icy tree branches, but if it communicates the fractal, cold beauty of iced limbs, then it succeeds, in this view. I could also make artful images that don’t convey or suggest a deep freeze or the cold beauty of an ice-wracked landscape.
Pretty. But that doesn’t serve the ice.
On the other hand, you may dis-favor my filter choices and think me guilty of the exact filter misdemeanors I describe. I blame my Inner Eye. Yet a filter skillfully or artfully applied to a photograph can help to more clearly communicate the wonder or artfulness of the image you originally framed up.
It is a bit counter-intuitive. The right filter, judiciously applied, can make the image captured inside your device a more accurate one — if it serves the photo and the mind’s eye attraction that drew you to attempt the shot in the first place.
The final thought I always keep in mind when filtering photographs is what I dub the “Stop Me Before I Saturate Again Syndrome!” We’ve all seen it. We’ve all done it, we who shoot photos regularly on whatever device and then go to edit them with all the growing digital firepower at one’s command these days.
The sunset or sunrise photograph. The nature photograph. The cityscape. The photo that looks suspiciously over-colored with exaggerated Technicolor hues you suspect one likely never encounters — unless, maybe, dropping acid in Big Sur. They are everywhere. I have added numerous over-saturated photos to the heap.
I suspect over-the-top over-saturated photos often arise from the urge to communicate one’s excitement at the grandeur of last night’s sunset or this afternoon’s mountainscape. (The urge is perhaps cousin to the famous YouTube video by the guy in Yosemite, who witnesses a double rainbow as a full-on, weeping religious experience.)
The double-edged sword of “Stop Me Before I Saturate Again Syndrome!” is this: Not only do such photos leave one vaguely suspicious (‘There’s no WAY those clouds were THAT colorful, man…”). But people who shoot out drive-by ‘likes‘ and ‘hearts’ on social media tend to heap praise and attaboys on you for such candyshop images.
You’re just encouraging us.
Of course, some filters may be too-too for you. I happen to appreciate the BeFunky “pastel” filter below, in which Vincent Van Gogh’s artistic eye digitally re-interpreted an otherwise ho-hum photo of a frozen West Virginia hillside into a “Starry Night” phantasmagoria.
I’m cool with that. You may prefer the original. Or neither.
I will let you, Reader/Viewer, be the judge of whether I have over-saturated and over-filtered, or need to be sent to my room without “Being Funky” for a while. Probably. We can all agree to disagree, as sometimes you may find the original either just fine as-is, or not good enough to see the light of the web. To assist you in that call, see the short video at the top of this post that depicts each of the filtered photos on this page, in pre- and post-filter form.
Pass the ice.
FEEDBACK LOOP: Photographer Brother Reaction
By David Imbrogno | I like it, even though I am not sure about one aspect of the theme. I am still not sure how I feel about photographs manipulated to look like art. Don’t get me wrong, manipulated photographs can be OK, even great. But I am still pondering how I feel about a photograph made to look like a watercolor painting, pencil sketch and the like.
I don’t want to impose artificial categories to art — e.g, a photograph versus a manipulated photograph, versus a photograph made to look like art. Like most expression, it is more like a spectrum from realistic photographs, to “art” photographs, to photographs unrecognizable as a photograph.
However, this treatment which shows the original photograph followed by the “interpretation” is pretty cool. I suspect with time I will figure out how I feel about the far end of the spectrum where images blur the medium.
In the meantime, either labeling photographs that look like art as manipulated photographic images or showing the ‘before‘ and ‘after‘ will go a long way towards finding the aesthetic place for the far end of what digital has allowed. That’s the back story.
As for the video, I do like it a lot. And the questions above that it spurs is a good thing. Go with it.
NOTE: See David Imbrogno’s photography on INSTAGRAM: Instagram.com/imbrognoarts. And FACEBOOK: facebook.com/cowgarage
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