Tuesday, August 12, 2008
August Bradley - The Stylish Storyteller
Steering clear of photographic formulas and even simple rules of thumb, August Bradley embraces any method that gets his ideas
“I'm not sure how to explain ‘how' I remove distracting elements,” he explains. “It's on a case-by-case basis. The art isn't the mechanics of how something is done, but knowing what to do, how far to do it and what not to do. It's all about having a clear vision in your head of where you want to go. No hardware or software will lead you to something great; the image needs to be in your head and you simply find the tools to make your way toward that vision.
Everyone gets hung up on postproduction when discussing beauty images; the magic is really in the lighting, composition and the model's expression.
“Rules keep people out of trouble and avoid disasters, but they don't lead to remarkable results,” adds Bradley. “The key is to study faces, study how light rolls across them, examine what angles are most interesting and create the strongest geometry. I think a lot about geometric lines and shapes. Everyone gets hung up on postproduction when discussing beauty images; the magic is really in the lighting, composition and the model's expression. Without that, don't even waste your time on the image in post.”
Though he may prefer the spiritual aspects of the creative process to the technical procedures required, Bradley isn't opposed to mastering techniques. Quite the contrary, he has customized his shooting and processing workflow solely in order to be able to tell his visual stories more clearly. There appear to be few processes that are consistent from image to image with him, but those that remain are crucial to his workflow.
“I capture and convert all RAW files very flat in terms of contrast to give maximum flexibility for localized optimization,” he explains. “Every file gets contrast and color optimization. Every file gets capture sharpening and output sharpening. The degree varies by image.”
It's clear that Bradley embraces the idea that he's pushing the boundaries of the medium, leaving photography behind in favor of some new hybrid visual art concept. This is particularly noteworthy given his formative years spent in the household of a photographer and the time he put in learning analog darkroom techniques. You'd expect him to embrace the concept of photography above all, but in fact, he's continually living the example of trying to remove the medium from the message.
“I care entirely about connecting the original vision in my head to the final image,” he says. “I'm not sentimental about process. I'll go from the idea in my head to the final image in whatever way will most effectively deliver the best result. For so many years, the greatest drawback of photography has been that work created with the camera was limited by the constraints of the tool. Now, for the first time in photography's history, there are no constraints to what can be done with images captured by a camera. The imagination of the artist is now free to explore endlessly. More than ever, it's now about the artist and the imagination rather than about the peculiarities of the tool. This freedom has been achieved by combining the camera with a second tool, the computer.
“So does that mean it ceases to be photography?” he asks. “Maybe, maybe not—that's a semantic debate. The question is irrelevant if what you care about is the final image and how effectively it communicates what's in the mind of the artist. Now it's all about the artist's imagination and the final image, and that to me seems like a remarkably good thing. The tool is no longer in the way; the tool has become invisible. It's not about the tool; it's about the art, as it should be.”
It may be easy to assume that Bradley is leaving photography behind in favor of new media and techniques. On closer inspection, though, it appears to be just the opposite. He's growing his chosen medium to encompass tools and techniques that infinitely expand its capabilities. The biggest difference between traditional photography and Bradley's hybridized approach is probably a semantic one, argued in terms of fact, fiction, truth and reality.
For generations, photography has been assumed, correctly or not, to deliver an image of a factual reality. In truth, though, for just as long, creative photographers have pushed those boundaries and proven, time and again, that simply because it's a photograph doesn't mean it's factual, or even real. Bradley is building on this tradition, utilizing tools that make the process more broadly expressive. And he uses those powerful tools to make his fictional worlds look even more real.
“Some clients like a traditional photographic look,” he says, “and that's cool. I love that, too. But I feel my contribution to the medium is in the realm of this newer, more stylized type of imagery. This is where my voice is, and I think there's a lot to be said in this arena, as well. I like an image to look ‘real' within the logic of its world. So if sharks did swim by windows in building lobbies, that's what it would look like [with elegant lighting, of course], or at least what one's mind imagines it would look like. Again, I'm stripping out details—even factually accurate details—if they distract from the idea or emotion of the image to hone in on the main point.
“More importantly,” Bradley adds, “these images are entirely real portrayals of what they're depicting. And what they're accurately depicting is a scene straight out of the imagination, usually a graphic representation or metaphor of an idea or emotion. Rather than documenting what's happening in the outer world around us, it gets you inside the head of the artist. That's what my favorite art has always done."
When it comes to distinguishing fantasy from reality and fact from fiction, it would appear that Bradley not only has no problem discerning one from the other, but also doesn't much feel the need to make such distinctions. His focus is to render his images precisely and to tell his stories as he sees them in his imagination. There's only one truth he's serving, and it's personal creativity. Everything else is up to viewers to interpret as they see fit.
“There can be truth in fiction,” Bradley says, “even if fiction isn't factually accurate. Truth and literal facts aren't the same thing.”
To see more of August Bradley's images, visit www.augustbradley.com.
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