About Steve Parish’s Fine Art Photography Process
‘Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth… you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.’ – C. S. Lewis.
Both as a natural history photographer and as an expressive digital artist, an emotional connection with Australia’s ecosystems is what has driven me for six decades. People, places, natural habitats, and their associated flora and fauna are my palette. As an artist, I am particularly drawn to the artistic elements, the textures, shapes, forms, colours, and lines present in one form or another within all drive me. In addition to design elements, the light available within any given moment is also a significant contributor. It is then a matter of accepting the reality in front of me and expressing as best I can at that moment.
Photography is all about moments. Moments in time, many very brief like the passing of a bird, or a sudden cloud movement that changes the light, or a quick shift in my state-of-mind while sitting behind my computer. As I grow creatively, as I learn more about the content, as I search for imaginative ways to express feelings – I find my interpretative skills expand. I sometimes joke that if I put as much time and effort into my physical activities as I do my creative imaginings, I would win the New York Marathon!
As an artist, I am often not entirely satisfied with what the camera and lenses see. For decades I have craved more playful interaction with my images. If so inclined I may digitally exaggerate (or not) artistic elements to bring an image more or less in line with my pre-visualised outcome. It is really as simple as that.
The image above is an example of how the back story can influence the outcome.
This tough little wind-blown Tea-tree is growing almost horizontally to the ground. It has sent its roots on what one could describe as a horizontal journey for survival. A great metaphor for life’s journey, reminding one that while we humans crave certainty, true certainty does not really exist, it is an illusion. Only a willingness to embrace change, an inherent desire to always remain open to life challenges, enables all living things even a moderate chance of survival. In fact, when considered in the human condition, I believe that lack of certainty is the single biggest cause of depression yet conversely adversity can also be a very powerful driver to positive action. – Tea-tree roots, Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia
As both naturalist and artist, emotional connection with nature is what drives me. Moments in time, like this spoonbill’s preening contortions, are what I strive to capture as writer and photographer. In this instance, the initial capture was driven more by the naturalist within however this creative expression is all about play. A state of play is where I reside when the ‘artist within’ takes over and this is what this montage is about. Royal Spoonbill preening. River Murray National Park, South Australia
I started playing with clay sculpture, oil paint, crayons and charcoal as a boy. Raised in a strict home environment, it was about all I had to play with until the camera became part of my life. I was sixteen. In those days from 1961 till 1978, my focus was entirely on what I saw in front of me. In 1978 I was introduced by a close friend renown abstract artist and teacher Irene Amos to the art philosophy of Desidarious Orban. Orban opened my eyes, heart and mind to the concept of ‘artful play’; a world of free expression without thought for the opinion of others nor commercial outcomes. While Orban’s teaching at the time spun my head, the manipulative tools for a photographer were not yet available. Of course, that changed somewhat in the early nineties with the introduction of Photoshop. However, it was digital photography and the subsequent flow-on effect of numerous software applications that enabled me to start to interpret not just what I saw, but also what I felt and indeed was drawn to say.
Above, a work titled ‘Litter Art’ it is a triptych from a collection I refer to as ‘art at my feet’. I have long enjoyed exploring forest floors for artistic elements – of course, one need not walk far to find them! Left to right: Kurrajong flowers and leaves during the autumn fall, Queensland; leaf litter Western Australian woodland and fallen leaves and fruits tropical rainforest north Queensland.
CONTENT + STYLE + TECHNIQUE + STORY
If I were to define my over-arching approach from the capturing of an image with my cameras in the field to the final resolution of a piece of art in the digital darkroom it would go something like this:
The living and non-living content within the various habitats, arid lands, rivers, lakes, floodplains, mountains, coast, reefs, open oceans, forests, woodlands and all their moving and stationary components, are the palettes from which inspiration is drawn. Sometimes I am inspired during the field capture process to create a specific piece of art and as a result, may apply specific camera techniques with relation to lightness and darkness, softness and sharpness and the gathering of surrounding elements for playful interpretation. On other occasions, an existing image speaks to me at the post-production phase. When working in the ‘digital darkroom’ space anything can happen.
The style of the artwork may be based loosely on traditional accepted stylistic contexts. For example, I am drawn to impressionism, abstractionism, romanticism, montage and the list goes on. Of course, to me, the categorisation of styles means little or nothing in the end. In fact, I see them as akin to the taxonomy of fauna and fauna which is primarily there to enable research and the acquisition of additional information. I am not decrying the wonders of art history. I am very passionate about how the world has and is artistically expressing itself over time, and this is regardless of the medium. I love all forms of art as I do music. I am however very much focused on what I do and am sensitive to managing outside visual influences preferring my styles to evolve through my strong connection with the content (to subjects and their natural histories). I strongly believe that artistic expression grows when one is both self-aware and content familiar.
There are considered techniques for achieving ‘a style’. These styles are created through the artful use of software as layers and applied digitally with brushes, masks, rubbers, cloning and sharpening tools and so on. Most images then have textural overlays that may be shimmery, painterly, drippy, runny and so on. Of course, the detail of these effects are not as evident online as they are when the physical print is examined and so during production I often work on sections enlarged to scales of several hundred percent.
All images have backstories. See below, an example of a ‘back story’. You will find these stories sprinkled throughout my galleries and my many social media and website posts. As a footnote I consider words to often be as important as images. Many images can speak for themselves while others are enriched by words. There are many occasions where the words are entirely responsible for a visual outcome. I also like to create quotes and poems to go with my work.
From Steve Parish ASONE Fine Art Photography Gallery www.gallery.steveparish-natureconnect.com.au
As a photographer, I revel in the challenge that exists when I approach a new subject. The moment I decide to raise my camera I begin self-talk, a ‘heart-heart’ conversation with myself. “What do I want to say in the construction of this image, what viewpoint will help me convey whatever it is that I am feeling”. In this case, a low perspective and subtle, subdued use of colour has contributed to conveying how I felt about this moment down in the dirt on a skywards journey towards the light. Paper flowers, Western Australia.
How do you know when an artwork is finished?
My students always ask, ‘How do you know when a work is done?” My answer is simple. My personal sense of aesthetics is what drives me. A ‘sense’ of a conclusion is based entirely on what pleases me at any given moment in time. This is what I rely on to make final decisions. Of course, all artists know the process is never finished. All ideas linger and will, in time, represent themselves. Ones technical skills with cameras and computers are under constant review and when I feel doubt creeping in with the technological changes that are ever present, I refer to the most important lesson I have learnt in my life and that is that at all times I should remain both non-judgemental and open minded.
As well as selling and exhibiting my art I also enjoy teaching others how to create their own. The teaching Module above is one of six in both my Online Griffith University Masterclass and physical world Masterclasses that are held around Australia. Visit this page for full details.