Volume 10 • Number 2 • July, 2017
A Leap in the Dark
A Leap in the Dark
by Huntington Witherill
"The artist never entirely knows — We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark"
–Agnes de Mille
Back when I was in college (presumably during the Dark Ages) I had occasion to take a class titled: Life Drawing 101. As of this writing I’m still a bit fuzzy about why I had actually registered for such a class because, at the time, I was majoring in music. And of course, drawing the human figure would likely not have been a necessary prerequisite to learning about music. Nevertheless, and despite the seeming incongruity, I do recall having completed the class with a slightly better than passing grade.
To this day though, I've got this lingering hang-up about the fact that I can't seem to draw a hand so that it actually looks like a hand. Every time I try to draw a hand I'm faced with a result that looks more like a knurled tree stump than it does a human hand. I can't explain why this seems to be a problem for me because my lack of ability to draw a hand has not (as far as I can tell) held me back as a photographer. I can say that I took the life drawing class prior to taking up photography (by several years). So who knows... maybe the perceived failure in one pursuit actually led to adoption of the other. No matter. It's not really important.
However, in what might best be described as an inevitably improbable connection, my long ago and considerably less than exhaustive training in drawing is now finally being put to use within the context of a recently conceived series of new images.
A few months back I stumbled across a video, on YouTube, in which the narrator was demonstrating the features of an iOS based drawing and painting application called: Procreate. With the Procreate app, a stylus could be used to draw directly on a tablet screen (in this case, an iPad) and the software will not only facilitate the appearance characteristics of pencils, pens, brushes, and most any other imaginable drawing or painting implement – it's also capable of working with layers, in much the same way as I have grown accustomed to working within Photoshop. And in fact, the layered drawings (or paintings) produced within the Procreate app can be saved and exported as .psd files. The overall creative potential for what turned out to be a $5.99 app seemed just too great to pass up. I thought, maybe I could resurrect those long forgotten drawing skills and, if nothing else, have a great amount of fun. Despite my uncanny ability to depict a fairly convincing five-fingered tree stump, I've always found drawing an enjoyable exercise.
Well, I must have expressed more than a passing interest in all of this to my wife, Tracy. A week later, there on my desk, was an iPad Pro, an Apple Pencil, and a little note that said: "Have fun!" (Have I mentioned how much I absolutely adore my wife?)
With great anticipation, a fair amount of excitement, and the requisite level of apprehension that seems to accompany most any new and unfamiliar tool, the first few drawings using the Procreate app were somewhat crude, to be sure. Here's my very first attempt:
Despite what clearly appears to be a child-like naïveté, I continued working with successive drawings over the next couple of weeks until they seemed to be gaining a bit more sophistication and finesse. At the peak of what I'll call my "re-introductory drawing phase", I had completed what I thought to be a couple of reasonably competent sketches (as shown, below). However, despite the fact that the sketches, themselves, were being produced from scratch (i.e.- they were not being traced from photographs or other outside sources) I began to realize that no matter how sophisticated those sketches might eventually become, they would continue to remain, for the most part, nothing beyond the ordinary and certainly nothing that I could rightfully claim to be in any way unique.
It was at that point I thought; maybe I could somehow incorporate the sketches into my photographs in such a way that they might serve to compliment one another, and in so doing, become something more distinctly compelling, and perhaps even constitute an approach that might be more decidedly of my own creation. So, I started to combine the sketches with parts and pieces of my landscape photographs. As a photographer who has worked with the landscape for nearly 50 years, it is not an exaggeration to say that I have, literally, thousands upon thousands of landscape photographs that never quite came to fruition. To be sure, I maintain a vast resource of prior images from which to work.
Upon completion of the first attempt to combine the sketches and photographs, the result (shown below) seemed engaging enough that I was sufficiently encouraged to continue with this particular line of exploration and, over the past three months, I've completed roughly thirty pieces that comprise the beginnings of a new series of images titled: Enigmata.
Now of course, exactly where this series is headed – and what it specifically represents – remains a mystery to me. As Agnes de Mille suggests in her quote, this is one of those "leaps in the dark." I figure it will take at least 100-200 finished images before the series begins to better define itself. If nothing else, having a good number of images from which to edit out all but the very best is an important aspect of producing any meaningful body of work.
I can say that one of the things I really enjoy about these images is that virtually nothing within the images, themselves, is strictly recognizable. They are purely visual experiences in which the viewer must actually create their own story about what it is that they are seeing and experiencing. For me, personally, that is a very exciting prospect and one that is likely to keep me engaged in the journey for some time to come.
Though this new series is still in its infancy – and admittedly, the approach itself has clearly strayed beyond the confines of what might otherwise be considered a strict definition of the word: Photography – I hope you will enjoy some of the new images currently being displayed in the Enigmata Gallery. Time will tell what actually becomes of this series but, for now, I'm very excited about the possibilities.