road-tripping the end of the world

Posts tagged “composite photography

The Ballad of Randall Carter – Origin (The Once and Future King)

The Ballad of Randall Carter - Origin

The Ballad of Randall Carter – Origin (The Once and Future King), 60″x90″, 2014

First in a series of three (so far), The Ballad of Randall Carter tells the strange tale of young Charles D. Ward (pictured here), and his boyfriend Randall Carter, who mysteriously vanishes from his Jeep on a country road a cold rainy night in November. These works continue my exploration of fine detail as a means of layering multiple narratives within an image.

Some details follow:

Detail - Origin Detail 2 - Origin Detail 3 - Origin Untitled-4

This work was generously supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, to whom I am eternally grateful! Thank you!

50th logo colour with tag JPEG small

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planning focus points and readability tests

This will be pretty dry and technical but some of my former students found this useful and perhaps someone else will as well!

The composite method I use for piecing together large-format prints with a high degree of detail relies heavily on planning out what parts of the ‘scene’ will be in focus and where the crucial areas of interest lie. This is also a distinguishing factor and plays into the conceptual creation of the image, and why a single frame (for instance, from a large format 8×10 film camera) won’t achieve the same effect – fundamental to the ‘readability’ of these images themselves is the rather neurotic control of depth of field and focus across the composite frame. This allows for a ‘flexible’ depth of field that can be essentially deformed across the image, allowing the simultaneous sharp focus of several elements at once that wouldn’t normally be possible with a single-frame image.

The second work I’ve planned for The Once and Future King is tentatively titled “The Impact”, and it’s just easier to copy and paste the narrative description from the proposal here to give a sense of the final product:

The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)

On a dark rural road in Ontario, the wine-red Jeep of one Randall Carter is found abandoned, door open, several large stacks of books balanced on the seats. Carefully folded on top of the books was found a military uniform, embroidered with Carter’s name and a series of unidentified insignia. The Jeep was discovered by Carter’s boyfriend, Charles D. Ward, after Carter’s protracted absence prompted Ward to retrace the route to Carter’s residence. Ward claims he found the Jeep by following the sound of music on the radio. The combined weight of the books was found to be 167 lbs, which coincidentally was approximately Carter’s own weight prior to his disappearance.

Instrumental to the work will be the ability to “read” a lot of the details of the “stuff” piled into the Jeep – literally read the book titles, but then also a lot of the signifiers and symbols present in the rest of the ephemera spread throughout.  So the first function of this test shoot is to map out the focus points / depth of field across the scene, and make sure that everything that needs to be in focus, is in focus. The second function is to test the viewing angle with respect to the composite – rudimentary at this point cuz my tripod head sucks – but because we need to be able to see “inside” the Jeep the angle of the shots, and the Jeep with respect to the camera, is somewhat crucial and does complicate the composite somewhat.

Last, the test generally brings to light unanticipated problems with the shooting/composite process, and gives me a sense of “what I have to work with” – just how much detail I get straight out of the camera under uncontrolled conditions without any post-processing. As such these images haven’t been touched and a few look a little dark or desaturated for a few reasons I didn’t anticipate. Learning!

Anyway, some fairly large images and such follow, so click below to read the rest.

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the once and future king: prologue

The exhibition proposals are finally going out for this body of work. I seem to function at a snail’s pace these days in developing work, but it actually feels like all the pre-production conceptual crap is up to snuff and I know what I’m going to do. The first work is all but finished, and can be seen in a previous post: https://mattsparling.com/2011/10/31/new-work-the-dismemberment-of-a-shoggoth-the-once-and-future-king/

This is the current state of the “artist statment” for this initial group of works, to which I’m referring as the “Prologue”:

The Once and Future King (Prologue)

Referencing T.H. White’s portrayal of Merlin as a being who experiences time backwards to normal reality, “The Once And Future King” serves as makeshift-title for a large body of work documenting a series of strange, seemingly unconnected events whose causal mechanisms exist outside of normal time and space. While privileged to the ‘effects’ described by these images – the disappearance of a student from an abandoned Jeep, the gruesome aftermath of a monstrous invasion of a residential garage, a paradox of a time-travelling book –  the ‘causes’ of these events seem entirely unknowable to us.

Playing with the compression of time on a narrative scale, the characters stand in the moment, posing, perhaps with pride, as if in foreknowledge of the future-historical significance of their present context, a hypothetical “spark event” for a cataclysm yet to come.  The prophetic mode here references, inversely, the truism “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; within these narratives, history has already predetermined a far-flung future disaster, and while the immediate causal mechanisms of these bizarre, random events is unknowable, the certainty of their eventual impact becomes quite monstrous.

Staged in lost and unknown locations scattered across rural and suburban Southern Ontario, these stories occupy vague landscapes situated in a nether-space disconnected from recognizable geography, constantly familiar, yet existing anywhere, at any time, and nowhere simultaneously.

I’m starting some of the preliminary technical work (ie; camera angles, feasibility tests, set construction) for a work called “The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)”, although the repetition of “prologue” there bothers me and there’s a third title to a group of works called “The Ballad of Randall Carter” … and then another grouping simply called “Reunion” …. all grouped under The Once and Future King … I am disorganized.

Anyhow, here’s the narrative fragment that’ll accompany the work and serve as a ‘public’ description, and it explains why soon (well, weather permitting), this blog will be inundated with me taking photos of my Jeep from odd angles filled with books:

The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)

On a dark rural road in Ontario, the wine-red Jeep of one Randall Carter is found abandoned, door open, several large stacks of books balanced on the seats. Carefully folded on top of the books was found a military uniform, embroidered with Carter’s name and a series of unidentified insignia. The Jeep was discovered by Carter’s boyfriend, Charles D. Ward, after Carter’s protracted absence prompted Ward to retrace the route to Carter’s residence. Ward claims he found the Jeep by following the sound of music on the radio. The combined weight of the books was found to be 167 lbs, which coincidentally was approximately Carter’s own weight prior to his disappearance.

 

Abject apologies for the lack of updates here. Also, if my former students of this past semester would like to lend me permission to post some of their work here, drop me an email, you guys were great.


new work: the dismemberment of a shoggoth (the once and future king)

The Dismemberment of a Shoggoth (The Once and Future King)

I felt a bit like I was rushing this post, but it being Halloween, it seemed appropriate.

The Dismemberment of a Shoggoth is the first work I’ve executed in a larger series, at present titled The Once and Future King. I would have liked to have had the full artist-statement on the series completed when I posted this image, but it’s still in the works, but meanwhile, here’s a snippet:

Referencing T.H. White’s portrayal of Merlin as a being who experiences time backwards to normal reality, “The Once And Future King” serves as working-title for a large body of work documenting a series of strange, seemingly unconnected events whose causal mechanisms exist outside of normal time and space. While we are privileged to the ‘effects’ described by these events – the disappearance of a student from an abandoned Jeep, a garage where some monstrous Lovecraftian terror emerged and was summarily dispatched, a paradox of a time-travelling book – the ‘cause’ of these events seems entirely unknowable. The events themselves play across a fictional timeline, punctuated by a system of signifiers drawn from actual reality and historical reference.
Playing with the compression of time on a narrative scale, characters stand in the moment, posing, proud, as if in foreknowledge of the future-historical significance of their present context, a hypothetical “spark event” for a cataclysm yet to come.  The prophetic mode here references, inversely, the truism “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; within these narratives, history has already predetermined a far-flung future disaster, and while the immediate causal mechanisms of these seemingly random events is unknowable, the certainty of their eventual impact becomes quite monstrous.

Ideally, when complete, the work will be printed around 60″x90″, and funds permitting, on big beautiful lightboxes. I have included some detail shots below to show the level of “readability” present when viewing the work in person, but I’m hesitant to post a full-resolution zoom.it version at present for a variety of reasons.

More props to the Propnomicon for being an essential resource in the creation of various bloods, goo and otherwise disgusting elements for the scene. Also thanks to my buddy Jer who made me a nice tub of gelatinous congealed grossness he whimsically referred to as “thickened water”. And, as always, my brother for posing for me, and my family for tolerating this level of insanity in their own garage.

Happy Halloween everyone!


making a kill room / in progress pt. 2

A weeks worth of messing about in the garage has produced some 30 gigs of component photos to fiddle with, but while that’s actually happening, I thought I’d post some of the in-progress shots I accumulated along the way. The primary function for these is actually to address problems in the composite-process “ahead of time”, plotting the depth of field, framing etc… but as a result they’re a nice little documentation of the whole procedure as it goes along.

The final piece has a fair bit of work left to it, so I don’t want to discuss it much until it’s complete, but I included a preview at the end. Also, there’s zoom.it links along the way if you’d like to see the full-resolution images in all their excessive detail.

Edit: I’ve now written this post six times over. Images keep vanishing or text starts inexplicably moving into the image ‘captions’. This is a bit frustrating, hopefully this will finally work.

http://zoom.it/RkRp

The door has a lot of history (and claw marks), and the sawhorses usually support the soft-top for the jeep; I used three cheap halogen worklamps for lighting (two 500w and one clip-on 250w), and an old trouble light, which worked quite well.

http://zoom.it/kpIx

Cheap lightweight painter’s plastic sheeting – not the heavyduty stuff, so it wasn’t exactly durable (or wind proof), but it was cheap and cheerful. Shockingly, duct tape doesn’t adhere very well to old, dusty wood, but it still functioned well as a liner for the plastic through which I drove many a nail. The arrangement was meant to be haphazard and minimal at best, but still afford for some easy cleanup (which it did, beautifully). This shoot was at night, I shot it all again to check the lighting during the day, and fix some focus issues the night shoot highlighted.

Apparently half the text of this post is now missing. Awesome. Here’s the above scene shot the next day, with day light:

http://zoom.it/7tE5

The light from the window and entrance (behind the camera) provides some nice fill light, and I fixed a few of the focus/framing/depth of field issues that occurred in the night shots. Finally, adding some of the props and objects that would be in the final shoot:

 

http://zoom.it/OLDR

Good clean fun. Here’s a preview of the not-so-clean-fun:

dismembering an eldritch horror

I have to credit The Propnomicon as an invaluable resource on all things fake-blood and goo related. I ended up using a simple recipe of green-coloured detergent mixed with india ink and charcoal powder for the majority of the ‘wet’ goo, the best part was it cleaned up real quick with just the hose and some occasional scrubbing. My buddy Jer provided some thicker, heavier material you can see on the axe head and elsewhere in the piece that he described as “basically thickened water” – I’ll see if I can coax the recipe out of him, but given he works at a specialty lab for custom rubbers and resins, I imagine the ingredients aren’t over-the-counter. It was delightfully thick and gross however.

The whole shebang cleaned up like a proper Dexter-style kill room too, in about ten minutes, and that was just peachy.

Hopefully the final work will be ready in a week or two, right now all the finer adjustments and brain surgery are on the agenda.


in progress

Garage interior, composite test shoot

I’ve dedicated this week to executing a piece I’ve been planning for some time now, and finally things have mostly fallen into place to get it done. It’s part of a larger series of images which I’ll discuss later, but this one is situated inside my garage, so some cleaning and test-shoots have been needed. Above is the third composite test-shoot of the area I’m going to set up the narrative scene in; there’s just over 30 frames making up the final composite. I’ve posted some details below the cut, but if you’d like to explore the image on your own, my friend Jason linked me to zoom.it as a means of posting these large images, so feel free to check out the full-res image via their site at http://zoom.it/tJ4o (couldn’t get it to embed here, any suggestions are most welcome). Again, this isn’t the final work, just a technical test shoot to iron out some problems.

Tentative schedule has the final bloody shoot finished on friday or saturday, hoping a rough cut can be posted early next week. Details below!

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ottawa valley composites

Mill Interior, Balaclava, Ontario

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to road trip to the Ottawa Valley with my mother, the main purpose of which to find some of the small towns and villages founded by our ancestors in the early 1800s. The Ottawa Valley is quite beautiful, and well suited to a road trip in a Jeep; we found a number of reasonably spooky logging trails and dead-end roads, abandoned buildings, all the hallmarks of a region once prospering on resource acquisition, and now largely sustained on a tourist industry.

Finding the graves of our ancestors was not only unexpected, but quite emotional. We have scattered records of the family tree, many incomplete (and now more complete), but finding names written in stone that once only existed on paper was a completely new experience, it seemed to “make real” the mark our family has made on this landscape and its history.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to explore some of the ghost towns in the region, specifically here, Balaclava, a mill about an hour’s south from Pembroke. The mill has been long abandoned, and some research suggested at one point it was to be preserved as a historic monument, but money and interest fettered away and it sits mostly forgotten. The small town surrounding it, comprised of a logging road and maybe a half dozen modern buildings, was very quiet, marked only by a small recreation area on the river aimed at fishermen.  The only denizen we met was a very happy dog that wandered the town, and I will confess I didn’t get a photo of him because I was too worried about a lone dog out in the middle of the road.

I did, however, get a chance to put into practice some of the composite shooting techniques I’ve developed, and while these were somewhat hastily shot and far from perfect, the result does function very well. The two larger images are composed of 40-50 images each, and clock in at around “400 megapixels” if you were to measure them as such. As jpegs at full resolution are over 20 megs, I’ve just included some details here (after the cut).

The images themselves capture the mill itself, an out building across the street (with some modern wiring for no visible reason), and the interior of the mill. I don’t know who put the picnic table inside – or how they even got it in there – but it’s definitely “more” contemporary than the mill itself, which dates back to the late 1800s.

The Mill at Balaclava

Mill out-building, with contemporary wiring

Details and more rambling follow below.

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dslr quandries / composite-image meddling

As most Nikon “enthusiasts” are aware, Nikon has been delaying … or just not bothering … to release a replacement for the venerable D700, their only full-frame DSLR that retails under $5000. The gap is pretty large – the D700 runs around $2500ish canadian, and the next step up, the D3S, is $5200. Both are 12 megapixels, incidently, the only DSLR body in Nikon’s line surpassing that – 24 MP – being the D3X, which is around $8000.

This seems like a problem to me, and most retailers have seen it as such for some time – not only is there a huge “megapixel” gap, there’s a giant price range which Nikon hasn’t filled – actually two gaps, really; The D300s, their high-end crop-sensor DSLR, runs around $1300, the D700 clocks in at $2500, and the D3S, again, $5200 – all 12 MP cameras, by the way.

This becomes a ‘worse’ problem when you look at the Canon line – their 7D, at 18 MP, with a 1.3x crop sensor sits nicely between the D700 and D300s price wise, and their D700 equivilent (speaking fairly arbitrarily here), the 5D MkII, is about the same cost, and is a massive 21 MP full frame sensor. Canon fills in all the gaps nikon has left, and doesn’t have this bizarre fixation with 12 MP in their full-frame cameras.

Why am I bitching about this? Well, basically, I’ve been reaching the limitations my S5 Pro can manage for print-size, and I’ve wanted to make the jump to a full-frame DSLR. But it seems somewhat redundant to go from a 12 MP camera to another 12 MP camera, so I’ve been hoping, for a good year now, to invest in the replacement for the D700 when it came out, but Nikon has been dragging its heels. They say “summer” now, which, I guess, is better than nothing, but meanwhile I have prototyping and planning to do … not to mention exhibition proposals and grants … so I’ve been forced to improvise.

(and, yes, heresy, but if more delays or some kind of shocking price point occurs with the D800, I will switch to Canon and get a 5D Mk II)

With composite imagery, the problem of parallax tends to be the chief obstacle in stitching multiple horizontal layers of images together, particularly when there’s the existence of horizontal and vertical lines to match up … or extreme angles … or big long-ass panos. Being a significant distance from your subject tends to help – a 2 gigapixel or some nonsense image of the grand canyon comes to mind from a few years back – so big, expansive landscapes lend themselves to extremely “high megapixel” composite images. Interior spaces, anything within 15′ of the camera, problems arise.

So the current mess of a project I’m thinking through right now requires an extreme amount of ‘readable’ detail, and will be printed fairly large (I’m thinking 60′ x 90′ ish right now, and I’m fishing for suggestions on mounting such monstrosities…), so a high-res composite image is pretty much a must. I really wanted a 20MP, full-frame camera to execute this with, because it’d require less photos to stitch together, but that just doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

So I’ve been futzing around with methods for achieving this on my own with my trusty S5 Pro. My first successful test involved a garage wall, standing about 10′ away from it, using a 50mm lens to help offset the parallax issue, and I was pretty shocked at how well it stitched together. The resulting image, ironically, covers about the range of a 20mm lens from the same distance – this isn’t really compressing space like a wide-angle composite pano.

Anyway, what follows (click the ‘read more’ below) is the final image, and then some details with reference image from where I pulled them. (… as I’m inserting these into the post, I’m noticing they’re fairly dark and not as sharp as I thought. I didn’t really do any post-processing apart from the composite stitching, so .. that’s likely why. It’s just proof of concept anyway.)

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