One of the highlights of my trip to the northern Europe last April was an all-too brief stay with my friend Ule Rolff. During the visit we strolled through the picturesque village in Munsterland where she lives, and Ule showed me an intriguing old half-timber building, originally a home but later used for housing pigs. I dove into photographing the aged building that day, just as Ule had done before me. I had no idea that while on my journey through Europe, a stop at a small village would lead to another journey, this time a creative one. After I got home Ule and I decided to collaborate on a post about the building. “Funke’s Pigsty: a Double Eye-catcher” features photos and written history and reflection in German and English.
While working on that post we noticed that some of the photos we took were very similar – we both gravitated to the peeling paint, the rough timbers, the off-center lines. We wondered what would happen if we exchanged unprocessed photos with each other, then processed the exchanged photos in our own style. Would one person’s ideas for processing be similar to the other person’s, or not?
We decided to collaborate again, and over the past few weeks we exchanged photos and used google docs to record a dialogue about the experience. Luckily for me Ule is comfortable enough with English to converse via the written word as well as in person. She told me it’s “just” a matter of letting go of her native tongue and thinking in English!
Working with someone else’s photos and writing about the process has been a unique experience. I haven’t seen Ule’s results and she has not seen mine. I’m looking forward to the big reveal, as they say. We plan to incorporate our reactions to what the other person did with our photos by meeting online after publishing, recording our dialogue, then adding that piece to the dialogue below. *
A written record of our dialogue follows. Above and below you’ll find two processed versions for each of the four of Ule’s photos that I used. The originals are at the end of the post.
L: When we first thought about working with one another’s pigsty photos, I only had a vague idea in mind. It had to do with the fact that some of our photos were quite similar, and I was thinking that if we take almost the same photograph, then what is it that we are each doing, that makes that photograph different? As I thought about it some more it seemed like any differences in processing would probably be minimal. As long as we were aiming for a straightforward representation of what we saw, if we processed each other’s photos the outcome was likely to be different in only very minor ways. So then I started to think about what you have done in some recent posts, manipulating photos and taking an image to a very different place from where it started. I admire what you’ve done, and I wanted to try something along those lines. But I know you use Photoshop and I don’t. That would be a limitation. With all this in mind, I took two of your images and “messed with them” as much as I could in Lightroom, while still yielding a result that I liked. It was a struggle at first – it’s just not what I’m used to doing.
U: As we both tried to show more documentary photos of the pigsty, you are right: they would come out quite similarly. And this kind of work flow is more a thing I also prefer doing in Lightroom.
But in this second posting, my idea was to go beyond documentary limitations, to show what isn’t to be seen at first glance in a picture. This is what I am especially interested in these days also in my other work, published or private. And this is where Photoshop comes in with its wider manipulation effects on image data. When I understood that PS is not your favorite tool to work with, I tried to mostly do what was possible with LR also, so our thoughts about processing wouldn’t go too much apart. Just when compositing photos or altering structures, I had to go further, and I’m really interested in talking about photos that are further from where they started by editing… so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon…so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon.
L: I like that idea – to show what isn’t seen at first glance in a picture. I’m going to think about that when I work on another photo. A LITTLE unease is a very good thing. Only when it gets extreme does it become negative, right? This pushes me into something I haven’t done before, and whether or not I continue in the same direction, what I learn will probably inform me going forward.
U: This is what I love about you (above many other things) that you are so open-minded to new experiences and new thoughts. In photography, I often find it so easy to open up to other people’s concepts by viewing their photos. And I’m always afraid of losing my own way by these impressions – in your case also, I found myself afraid you might damage your poetical and emotional approach to photography by too much technical experimenting – but then again, I’m confident of your strong character and I think you have a feeling for what does you good.
L: 🙂 Please! Too many compliments! I will say that open-mindedness is an important value to me, I strive to keep an open mind and I try to be aware enough of myself to know when I’m not being open-minded.
I understand what you mean by the danger of being influenced too much by someone’s work. That’s something we have to live with and to be aware of. Hopefully, we are influenced positively and can maintain our own individuality in the process. Don’t you think that the older we get, the less that’s a problem?
As for the emotional and poetical sensibility, that is something I struggle with. I think it’s because I’m also drawn to a more documentary scientific approach to what I see. Part of me is always happy to just make a good record of something interesting. But another part knows that to relate to other people, to communicate with and move someone, there needs to be more than that. I’m happiest when I think I’ve created something with some emotional power, and that doesn’t happen very often. Lately I’ve been in the documentary mode – traveling for three weeks certainly strengthened the desire to document and didn’t leave lots of time for emotional expression along the way. There were too many new things to see. Lately I’ve been wanting to get back to pure feeling.
U: I agree: the older I get, the more I grow aware of my cultural roots and I’m thankful for influences that happened throughout my life. Nobody lives and develops a character without personal impressions. Maybe it is a question of organic integration and consciousness, as you describe, not to lose the individual core.
What you say about your different modes I can completely see in your latest publication about Leiden, but instead of one or the other, I see you integrating emotion in documentation, which often happens in your posts. But it is always a frail balance, I feel that for my work, I always need enough time to keep to myself to escape too much distraction. And traveling always throws me completely on new paths, mostly documentary ones.
L: I haven’t thought that much about my cultural roots, but the trip to Europe prompted me to think more about that, more as a New World/Old World comparison. Maybe I AM thinking about it, just not quite in those terms. Organic integration – that sounds good! If I’m integrating emotion and documentation, that’s wonderful. My inner critic says I need to emphasize real emotion a bit more. We’ll see how that evolves. 😉
Yes, we need time to ourselves, and that’s the great thing about not having to spend 40 hours a week working for someone else. At least we don’t have that distraction now. I think traveling can be a kind of addiction, not in a medical sense of course, but thinking about my own desire to travel, I’ve been aware lately of the benefits of not traveling, of being more rooted. But now I’m straying away from the topic at hand.
U: Not really. The question also at stake here is basic conditions we need for being content with our photography. So if it is traveling addiction with you, it is kind of an allergy with me …;-)
L: And to get back to what we need to be content, we are also interested in shaking things up a little, in this project, right? Right now there is not much to be gained by restricting ourselves to trying to do the best job in accurate documentation.
U: We are not competing, but doing something together, it is no question of better or worse, but of finding out possibilities together. And I have to admit: sometimes I love taking a little shower of bad taste 😉
L: A little shower of bad taste – that’s funny…
U: Wait until you see what I have done to your photos! I sometimes like overdoing things a bit, out of joy about what is all possible in editing photos – beginner’s disease, I think.
L : Now I’m scared. And it’s interesting how, along with the delight, there is always a shadow of competition there – like, uh oh, how will my processing look compared to hers? But I think that is just something we can acknowledge, look at, and move on from. I want to pick up on your phrase “beginner’s disease.” It immediately calls to mind the famous zen phrase, “beginner’s mind.”
U: Oh, I remember having read the phrase in David Ulrich’s book on Zen Photography. It sounded a bit friendlier than I used it above.
L: 🙂 A bit!!
*Here are our thoughts after posting:
L: : I just approved your pingback (do they call it the same thing in German?) I love your photos! Thank you!!
U: Yes, it is the same word. And I love yours! They are so completely “Lynn’s”! I must view and think a minute …
L: The captions you used help to carry me into the photo, because they show what you were thinking. I want to just say “I like…” but I’m searching for better words, because that really doesn’t say anything. Still, my initial reaction was a delighted: “I like what she did with my photos!” I appreciate that you tell the viewer which filters or effects you used. I confess I don’t remember what I did – it was more a matter of “try this, try that.” But there’s value in knowing how you get to a place! The systematic way you worked is satisfying to follow, and I can learn something from it.
U: Your captions are not so technical as mine, but they show an important part of your motivation, your intention what to do with the images. For many readers, your information may be more “speaking” than the techniques.
But I’m really surprised how unfamiliar your alterations made my photos to me: you have added some of your character to them, your subtlety and refined taste.
There are groups in your choice I see: one are the three roof cuts which pleases me very much, it gives something abstract to the skyline which I didn’t see before. And then the cloudy, ocean like bricks, marvelous!
Isn’t it funny we both finish with kind of a joke?
L: The big “L” at the end of your post made me laugh, and I think that image and the first one are very powerful. I also chuckled at “green glow” – that is almost radioactive! It truly does glow, that little piece of metal. Combining all three photos was a serious challenge (Bildausschnitt, Schlösser einmontiert in PS). If you asked me to do it, I would not have known where to start. The result may be my favorite one – it sings. There is a fairytale quality to it, it seems that a narrative or a mystery lurks just beneath the surface. I also want to comment on your organization – the flow is easy to follow. Something else I can learn from. 😉 One more thing – your Photoshop skills! Kudos! I fully “believed” the last two photos. They don’t have the artificial look one sometimes sees when different images are combined, they’re very natural.
U: Thank you for the flowers (can I say so in English? – it is a plainly translated German proverb). I willingly admit that I have been working hard on my use of PS, and it gives me a bit of contentment that you perceive the compositions as natural. What seems quite “typically Lynn” are the tender colour and reduced “clearness” in ns. 2,3,4 and 6. All the more, I laughed about your very colourful finale, it must have hurt you to do it :-))!
L: On the contrary, I really loved making that one. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t remember what I did, because I wanted to do more in that vein but when I tried to work that way again, I couldn’t figure out how I got there. My fault for not making notes! I’m glad that this collaboration gave you a chance to move ahead in the direction you’re going, and I’m curious to see what else is going to appear down the road on your blog.
U: Me too :-)) I have no answer to the question behind your “curiosity”, we will see. And if you didn’t make notes on the making of …, trying again will lead you to new, other or similar results, and give you new fun. I hope this project didn’t lead you too much astray or off your path.
And as you ask where this experiment will be leading us, I ask myself which were our intentions to give this kind of collaboration a try.
L: As for being led astray, that’s a good thing, it keeps us fresh to veer off our path once in a while. And as for intentions, I was wondering about intention, i.e. what was our intention in processing the photos? We talked about that before without calling it “intention” and maybe thinking specifically in terms of intent is helpful. There is an element of fun there, certainly, but it’s more than that. We are each letting go of our work, relinquishing it to the other person’s aesthetic, and – correct me if I’m wrong – I think we both find that idea more intriguing than scary. Some people would find the idea of another person working on their photo frightening. Another part of the intent, for me anyway, is to take the opportunity to push past some boundaries that I might normally stay within. My guess is that also is true for you. And then there is always the “payoff” of stretching yourself and learning or growing in the process.
U: The thought of risk is interesting for readers, I’m sure, for me it would be anyway, but in this case, I didn’t feel a trace of it. As you say, it was almost completely and exclusively intriguing. Besides, more and more I come to think of my raw captures as material to become what I want to show by further actions, so it is not so dangerous for my inner self, if someone else is touching them.
Your question of intention is a bit more compelling for me: above all, it was a thing of fun and adventure and just doing anything together that is possible over the wide distance. But more seriously thinking, there is the hope of stepping out of self set boundaries when you have the opportunity to watch what somebody else (somebody you appreciate) does with your material – and what is even more valuable: someone I can talk to about what she is doing and what I am doing. There are so many people not unable, but unwilling to use language to reflect the great things they do.
But, to sum it up, I am very happy with the process and the outcome of our experiment – even this risky spontaneous chat felt completely comfortable all the way. Thank you so much for being the sagacious and lovable being you are.
L: I’m pleased with it too. You have struck a perfect balance (for me anyway) of open flexibility and calm organization during the course of the project. And the bottom line is (Americans love to talk about the bottom line!) that frankly, I really like your work!! Thank you very much.
The original photos:
Technical note: Ule sent me PSD’s of the photos I requested, and vice versa. Then we each worked on the photos in Lightroom. I also used Color Efex Pro. We scheduled meeting times across the nine hour time difference and chatted using google docs, which we then copied and pasted into our posts.