Tuesday, June 12, 2007
David Mendelsohn - It Takes Imagination
Digital and film, black-and-white and color, personal and commercial—these are the facets of David Mendelsohn's persona as a photographer
An artist and a craftsman, Mendelsohn doesn't like to draw distinctions between photography that's self-assigned and that which is commissioned from an outside source. This commingling of work—personally inspired along with business-driven—means that he's better prepared for both and, therefore, more able to draw on the same creative intuition for any image he sets out to create. His personal work frequently ends up being used in business, and his commissioned work can be found on gallery walls.
“I'm driven internally to be a little unique,” he says of his passion for experimentation. “Perhaps I take what I do far too seriously; I guess it's some form of slight manic compulsion. But I wouldn't have it any other way.”
That compulsion pays off in the photographs. Mendelsohn's drive toward perfection leads him to utilize any and every device at his disposal. Before the digital revolution, he worked toward the same exacting results with more primitive tools, and now it has paid off in a well-rounded sense of excitement in exploration.
Says Mendelsohn, “The time of day, subtle filtration, the type, quality and direction of light...Headlights on my car, an umbrella if it's raining, an emergency flare in my trunk, a can of spray paint…These are as valuable to me as the right lens and tripod. Everything is a prop and a tool. Seeing something, or simply imagining something, is for me just a beginning.”
Thanks to some new tools—the powerful digital ones—Mendelsohn is always just beginning his images. Like most professional photographers, he strives for as much precision as possible in front of the lens, but the ability to affect postproduction alterations is invaluable. The biggest drawback, he says, is that the fine-tuning could go on forever.
“To be sure, it certainly doesn't make things easier once the image makes it to your hard drive,” he says of his computer. “For me, it amplifies the question that has dogged artists since the cave became a canvas: When is it done? That seems to be the curse of control. When do you move on if you have the ability to experiment with the hue and saturation of a particular shade of mixed oils after the fact?”
For a compulsive creator, that power easily could prove unbearable. But Mendelsohn manages to make the most of it by shooting even more, surprisingly. This way, he always has multiple choices for the “best” image of a bunch, as well as less time to waste with needless postproduction changes. There's always room for improvement, and this continually motivates the artist toward his next creative project.
As a creative artist, Mendelsohn believes it's the photographer's obligation to utilize any and all available tools to deliver the best images possible. That's why he has never bought into any argument that using digital technology during capture or manipulation and enhancement in the computer is a less valid form of photography than printing straight from film. That argument misses the point entirely, he feels.
“Whatever it takes to get there, and to produce works that satisfy you or your audience, is totally acceptable by my standards,” says Mendelsohn. “To be a purist is fine for some; but then don't we miss the whole point of art and imagination? True artists are compelled to experiment. If we don't, then we're proof of Darwinism, and we move toward extinction because we refuse to keep an open mind.”
More than defying the extinction of the species, Mendelsohn says there's an intensely practical reason for photographers to harness the power that technology has to offer. It's the same reason new techniques are replacing old ones: They're better. More than simple business efficiency, Mendelsohn believes improved equipment can lead directly to increased creativity.
“Wouldn't you still rather use a number 2 pencil than a piece of charcoal from last night's fire?” he asks. “If you were to build a pyramid today, would you decline access to a crane? Perhaps, given the time you saved, this might allow you and your friends to build the Parthenon. No matter how you cut it, it still takes imagination to imagine.”
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