The Floating World of Japan: Ukiyo-e

I function in an ironic state of being. So while I have been extolling the virtues of medium format film and chasing the perfect moments of light in exotic places; meanwhile, back in the jungle, I am a Photoshop junkie. I love the program, and use it as a digital darkroom wherein I can build what I see inside my head. I run around with film, scan it and then clean it up until I am satisfied with the quality of the final product. If I make it to print, then the image has to be exactly what I want or it will never see the light of day. The challenge from film aficionados and fine art buyers is whether you were able to capture it all in-camera, develop it using dangerous chemicals and print it on outdated papers. My answer to that is: errr…not my style.

Kyoto Geisha Vertus Version

Followers of the blog will know that my latest journey to Japan has influenced me in ways that I have not fully grasped yet, not only in my life, but also in my photography. One of the clear influences it has had is in how I see colour and depth. From Manga to Ukiyo-e woodcuts, the Japanese have this uncanny way of translating the magical world into single-plane artworks. This vision of the world originated in the Edo period and reflects the “floating world” of our dreams and nightmares. My latest series of images are composites based on photos taken in Kyoto and Tokyo. Tonight, I learned to use Vertus’ latest version of Fluid Mask 3 to cut out the characters. I have to admit that I can close-cut paths in Photoshop quite well, but this plug-in really makes the job so much easier and I appreciate the feathering inherent in the masking. I do not make it easy for the software as I tend to shoot wide open at f.2.8, so the blur complicates the process of finding hard edges in the software. I do love the blur [called bokeh by the photography world] though, and wide apertures in medium format have really let me use that more and more to envision dreamscapes from what the Japanese might associate with “the floating world”.

Gundam Vertus VersionGraphic Authority’s latest backgrounds from the Behind the Scenes collection builds the next layer. Again, I can hand-create backgrounds like this, but when I began doing the layout and design of the school’s yearbook I found that Graphic Authority does such a fabulous job at providing layered files for a reasonable price that it made no sense to build everything from scratch. If I need to customize things, then I can work on each layer and tweak it in Photoshop.In the case of this series, I wanted to create something strong and with powerful colours to represent the icons of Japan: the geisha, the robot and the dragon. I aspired to composite layers and synthesize them into what you would like to hang on your wall as a series of 12×12 prints. Photos that might fuel your imagination in an edgy library or games room.

Dragon Vertus Version

As I continue to scan the negatives, I hope to come across one or two more Japanese Gods that I can put into this series, but I feel like a triptych is all that there is that will meet the size/ratio criteria. I am interested to see if I can further adjust these in the new Nik Software Suite I purchased. It has a few brilliant filters that replicate various film grains and colour spectrums, and I can see potential for blending and blurring the lines between what is real.

Lastly, I am in a full-on debate with myself about whether I will purchase a new Mamiya 120mm f.4 macro lens or a Canon 50 f.1.2 L Series lens to replace the 70-200mm L f.4 picked up by V. Like any purchase in my new Zen world, I want to make sure that it will meet my needs for the next projects that come along. It will be about which lens will get me closer to my perfect world view perspective while still letting me capture images that pull people towards them.



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