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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rob Van Petten - Master Of The Near Future

Hyperreality meets science-fantasy in Rob Van Petten’s striking imagery

Before being able to conceive and create such whimsical imagery, Van Petten had to master and become very comfortable with the new tools. When photographic technology went digital, he became completely reenergized as a photographer. “When I made my first digital print, it changed my life because up to that point, I had always been a darkroom chemical guy,” he recalls. “In early 1997, The Boston Globe wanted me to photograph the clothes that were used in the film Evita. I had one day to do the shoot and I had to deliver a print overnight. I bought an Epson printer, and the very first print I made—right out of the box—was beautiful. Right then and there, my life changed. I had figured out how to optimize that little printer. As newer printers were released, I continued to upgrade. Since then, I’ve never returned to the darkroom.”

Van Petten may periodically tweak an image after it’s done, but that’s not common. Instead, he usually prefers to work an image to completion and walks away from it to embark on the next. “Once an image has been published or is on my site, I let it live that way,” he says. “For those images that haven’t been published or posted online, I may occasionally enhance a few. To be honest, I’m hungrier for the next shot than what I’ve shot before. After I’ve spent an hour or two on an image, I’ve grown bored with it and am ready to move on to the next evolution. I remain eager to get back into the studio and work on the next shot.”

Van Petten has much to share on education in photography today, serving as the Co-Director of Photography of the Center for Digital Imaging Arts (CDIA) at Boston University. Van Petten, Chris Alvanas and original chair and mentor Cary Wolinsky from National Geographic, along with Executive Director Bob Daniels, have created an intense program. Aspiring young photographers can choose to study in the program rather than spend many years assisting a pro photographer, which offers them real-world preparation.

Rob Van Petten has a unique conception of the future. Like a vision out of Barbarella, his Near Future project shows models that are simultaneously sensuous and sterile. The images are clean with the perfection of an imagined reality apparently devoid of dirt, blemishes and wrinkles. There’s a coldness to the photographs that stands in contrast to the models themselves. Van Petten uses technology to create this look, but he’s quick to point out that no amount of Photoshop skill can wholly create the emotion he conveys. That emotion comes from the original shooting session.

Says Van Petten of the rigorous program, “To assist for four to five years before you break out on your own? The question really is, Do you have the time? Technology will continually evolve. What I’ve tried to do at CDIA is target the skill sets a photographer needs to go out and get a job into three major communities of commerce. The first is editorial, storytelling or journalistic photography, which includes the creation and use of multimedia. The second is the straight commercial stuff, which includes the kind of work that I do—advertising, fashion and studio work—the kind of work I’ve been doing for 35 years. The third is retail work, where you’re the local portrait or wedding photographer.

"CDIA offers an accelerated nine-month program of some two-dozen one-week workshops, and it teaches the business and practices in each of these communities. Such a program will put people way ahead of where they would have been had they been assisting for five years. The program was designed by photographers to prepare people for what it’s like to work in a photography studio. The program was defined by photographers who asked, What kind of school would we have liked to have gone to?"

To see more of Rob Van Petten’s photography, visit www.robvanpetten.com.


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