Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Art photography: Blurry, on purpose

I'm an artist. I love color and design. I work with pens and pencils, paint and torn-paper collage, but cameras have always intimidated me.

Oh, I use cameras for family photos, travel pictures, and to illustrate my personal journals. I manipulate photos in my art, too. But, I still have a tendency to stare at the camera as if it's the engine in my car: I have the sense that it's powerful, but I have only a vague idea of how it works. And, that intimidates me.

Then, a friend--fiber artist Traci Bunkers--told me about nail polish pictures. Seriously. You take a disposable camera and paint the lens with a thick coating of clear nail polish. Put on enough that it is self-leveling. That's been the right amount for me, anyway.

Set the camera on a flat surface, lens up, where it's sheltered from dust and children's curious fingers. Let the lens dry for a few hours, or even overnight to be sure that it's good and hard.

Then, take photos with the camera. You'll use an entire roll of film before you'll know what the effects will be; it's kind of a mystery.

The distortions of the nail polish are intriguing. They blur in odd ways. Sometimes the sun hits the lens and the prism effect is breathtaking.

Sometimes, non-artists don't get it. They look at my photos and say, "Why didn't you just blur the pictures with your graphics program?"

I try to explain the serendipity of this technique, and the beauty of irregular distortions. For me, there's almost a poetry in this kind of picture-taking. I like it tremendously.

And, the pictures remind me of my childhood memories, in a way. They have that same slightly-blurry quality, and the colors seem more vivid than real life.

I like this so much that, after experimenting with disposables, I painted the lens of a "real" camera with clear nail polish. I'm very pleased with it. Somehow, the deliberate blurriness of the photos reduced my fear of picture-taking. It's turned it more into art.

It's difficult to put this into words, but if you're an artist, you probably know what I mean about the fun of this.

All it takes is a disposable camera, and the cheapest clear nail polish that you can find.

Try it for yourself, and see if the results delight you, too. In a way, this technique restores the mystery, anticipation, and excitement of waiting for the prints to be developed. And, that kind of connection with childhood enthusiasm is always a good thing.

No comments: