scanner vs camera
I like to brag to my contemporaries that I can create incredible photography-like images without film or camera, images that can be blown up to wall size and be incredibly sharp (they have the feeling of photography but are not of that technology). Of course there is a gadget involved, a fairly big one in my case, I use it to make compositions of flowers, dolls, bugs, bones, textures, weird portraits, you name it and I imagine it can produce it. It is a photo scanner, with a recordable surface of 12x17 inches, the most amazing instrument I have ever invested in.
I must digress for a moment and briefly describe a technique that I had earlier developed and used for several years before discovering the potential of the scanner for creating imagery. This was before I had ever owned a computer or held a digital camera in my hand, instead of recording objects of interest by photography with a camera I actually placed these objects in the film compartment of a photo enlarger and projected their image onto a sheet of 11x14 color film placed on the enlarger easel. I then made 11x14 contact prints from these film image, it was heaven the quality and detail that I achieved with this technique, it was affordable because the film was outdated with a low cost of 13 dollars a sheet including processing, and the results were spectacular and saleable.
With this technique I was in heaven until the supply of cold storage outdated 11x14 reversal film at Freestyle Photo was totally depleted by myself and a few other. So then I figured that maybe a scanner could be my instrument of choice for making original images, (a wonderful choice it turned out to be). Again I was a happy clam,- I had no idea that so many other creative souls had also made that choice until I received an email from Christian describing the Scannography website. What a wonderful thing he has done, giving us a chance to show our work with no commitment except creating original images. I thank you Christian.
A technical note
Early on I found that the very flat lighting from the scanner was disturbing so I opened up my scanner and covered one of the two fluorescent lights that travel in the scanner as an experiment. I used a narrow strip of black aluminum foil to cover it: what a difference. This created a definite key light and a reflected fill light from the single fluorescent tube that remained, textures are emphasized and forms actually have volume described by the single light, a very satisfactory solution to the flat lighting problem.
Depth of focus: people question this as a potential problem, actually I usually work with material that is no higher than 2 inches above the glass surface and the results are satisfactory. Obviously the sharpest detail recorded in a scan is the spot of contact between an object and the glass surface of the scanner, remember that as the sharp focus of an object falls off due to distancing from the glass surface so also does the light diminish and darkening shadow masks the blurring of detail until both sharpness and lightness and form all disappear.
Damian Skimmer writes about Ed Martin
If LA is artifice, a land of theatre where nothing is as it seems, then it must be the perfect location for Ed Martin's photography, his vivid compositions of flowers in which the micro is blown up into an extraordinary lush, operatic vision of grand themes. In Passion's Moment (2008), a wilting red bloom unfurls over the stamens and stalks of a second, different type of flower underneath – like billowing fabric, a baroque form that perfectly captures the pungency, ripeness and ephemerality of passion. In Stars of the East (2008), buds, blooms, leaves and pods become a whole world, a globe surrounded by stars – the universe created from the very small.
On my last visit, after the gossip, the tour of LA, the good food, I had the chance to visit Ed Martin's studio, and take part in his theatre of transformation. The artist's studio is not a neutral space. Mythologised, romanticised, it is a dream world equal to anything that LA can create. For art history the studio is a privileged site in which the genius artist feverishly creates their masterpieces; it is central to the idea of originality. Funnily enough, Ed's studio looks exactly like an artist's studio should – a quirky set where anything crazy might happen. A few months before Ed had cleared out some stuff and uncovered a large distorting mirror that dominates the end wall of the studio. The kind of thing you encounter in a fun fair, it is the kind of prop that makes total sense in his world, along with the mannequins, dolls heads, Halloween masks and bones that clutter the room. It was time, he told me, to go into the studio and be photographed. Dressing me in a shirt that I can only describe (with understatement) as colourful, the session began. Legs, arms, heads and bodies end up in surprising and odd, sometimes funny, positions. Ed took the photographs holding the camera over his head, meaning that even he didn't know what would happen until he viewed the screen after the shot was taken. Somehow that seemed entirely appropriate.
Ultimately these photographs don't mean anything. I have one in front of me as I write this, and it is a suitably weird souvenir of a great visit. Such images aren't of the same order as Ed's photographs of flowers – they aren't as composed, as richly symbolic, as conceptually resolved. What I take from these topsy-turvy portraits is a restatement, a validation, of the magic of the studio. Yet I also think it is interesting that Martin continues to experiment, to play with photography's possibilities. It is a glimpse of the curiosity that informs the 'proper' work, the ceaseless and restless seeking to find unexplored avenues within a deliberately restricted subject (the possibilities of florals). Regardless of the myths of the studio, there's something magical about where Ed Martin chooses to work, and despite knowing better, I choose to keep that sense of magic and mystery alive when I look at his work.