Artist's Statement - Photothemes

Artist's Statement: Photographic Interpretations by Robert Ludlow

Discovering Photography

I find it hard to believe it has already been 15 years since I first decided to scan and print a few favorite snapshots from an old, dusty-shoebox collection. And I don’t even care to think about the poor quality of those initial efforts, so I’ll just say they presented a challenge. Anyway, after a bit of research, I purchased a better scanner, a photo ink-jet printer, a copy of Photoshop, and a small stack of beginner’s books. Before long I began to see some acceptable results, which emboldened me to purchase my first digital camera, at the youthful age of 60  . . .

Now that little two-megapixel Olympus was the ultimate instant-gratification toy! I carried it everywhere, constantly hunting for interesting subjects to point-and-shoot at.  In a matter of weeks – and it could have been just days – digital photography became my ruling passion.

These days the size of my color prints is more like 24 x 36 inches, and my framed work and photo note cards are carried by art galleries, gift shops, and bookstores in Western North Carolina. Most importantly, I am still excited by all aspects of digital photography and fine-art, or giclee, printing.

Photographic Interpretations (Painting With Light)

For years people have been telling me my prints look like paintings. I like that, because it is a look I am trying to achieve, primarily through the use of matte paper and canvas rather than the glossier papers usually associated with film prints. The color qualities of the archival, pigmented inks I print with also contribute to the painterly impression. Now I’m not a painter, and never will be, but working in the digital medium affords some of the creative freedom painters enjoy.

I do have the capability to manipulate and enhance images almost without limit, and rapid advances in software are making it easier almost daily. Still, most of the time, I prefer to stay fairly close to reality, to approach computer image processing in the spirit of a realist painter. So I readily grant myself license to remove distracting elements, correct and enhance colors, and even replace entire areas of a scene, such as a drab sky. At the same time I usually limit digital manipulation, so that the final result, often slightly idealized, remains believable and reasonably faithful to the subject. (I like to joke that the actual scene didn’t do justice to the photograph!) Then there are those times when I get carried away, which is all part of the fun and excitement of digital image processing. You’ll just have to take a trip through my galleries here to see what I’m talking about. 

My main artistic goal is to render my very personal impressions of the beauty and richness of visual experience. In pursuit of that goal, the subjects of my photographs — what my images seem to be about — are often not of prime importance. Rather, I try to divert my attention from the obvious in order to capture visual qualities — colors, textures, shadows and highlights, angles, arrangements, juxtapositions. The challenge is to compose, capture, process, and print an image to take best advantage of the interplay among those elements. Sometimes that entails repeated visits to a location at different times of day and in different seasons. Often the final result is a somewhat unusual take on a familiar subject. Of course it's fine with me if the apparent subject of one of my pictures resonates for some viewers, but my true subject is always the entire image.

There is a prominent fine-art photographer who insists on referring to himself as a photographer, not an artist, because he believes it is up to other people to decide whether or not he is an artist. I embrace both the humility and the challenge implicit in that statement.

I’ll close with two mid-20th-Century quotations from the maestro of the black and white photographic image, Ansel Adams:

“I eagerly await new concepts and processes. I believe that the electronic image will be the next major advance.”

“Image quality is not the product of a machine, but of the person who directs the machine.”

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