Emily Cobb at Humboldt State University (in Arcata near Eureka in northern California) has invited me to present two days of lectures and discussions for their students, but there is a public lecture on Thursday night, April 12 at 6:30 p.m.
If you have any questions or issues that you would like me to address, leave your request in the comments. I will incorporate that into the lecture.
This series of posts has reviewed the photographic documentation of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. The formats included a standard plain white background, a mannequin, and a posed live model. I had one more rather radical idea that I wanted to reveal in a post before a final comparison of all the formats. I had an idea of creating a photographic image that could possibly convey a larger environmental message rather than strictly focusing on documenting the necklace.
This post shows the progression of this photographic experiment. The step-by-step images illustrate the evolution of my idea and highlight the reality that most projects are not fully coherent at the initial conception. All too often we forget the trials and tribulations during the hours of preparation and the work that it takes to bring an idea to reality. There can be lots of mistakes along the way, and that is O.K. If you ever read the book, Creativity, Inc * you will hear numerous anecdotes about Pixar's ideas, storylines and characters that required tenacious development, multiple iterations, mistakes, and revelations all the way through.
For my photo experiment, I took tangible steps at the very beginning and planned to give it time to evolve. I sewed the sheer organza dress and reserved an evening for a practice session with Jen, the live model, in my living room -- literally a dress rehearsal (shown above.)
Then on the next day, the experimental postures that seemed to work best in my living room were photographed at Philip Cohen's studio(shown below.) We were trying to portray what drowning or floating in a deluge of plastics looks like.
A couple of experimental postures were just the beginning.....
Photoshop magic took out the sawhorse support for the photo (below.)
Then the image was handed off to my daughter, Aryn Shelander, a professional graphic expert for more Photoshop experimentation. Aryn was very supportive of the photo experiment idea and took on responsibility for the final result.
I saved a few of the many iterations as Aryn sent progress reports to me and asked for creative direction. Below are screen grabs as the modified photo developed. I will also admit that it took lots of back and forth iterations to figure out exactly what to do to get the intended imaginary. It was a trial and error effort that evolved throughout.
Experimental Iteration #1
For example, we decided that Experimental Iteration #1 was too blue.
Next, Experimental Iteration #2 (below), we tried changing the colors of the water.
Experimental Iteration #2
In a further evolution, Iteration #3 (below ), we changed the color of the deeper water and added the cityscape to appear that it was also submerged in water.
Experimental Iteration #3
With these details, the image and my intended message were converging.
In Experimental Iteration #4below, we added some floating trash in the water and added a shadow under the necklace to make it appear that it is suspended near the bottom.
Experimental Iteration #4
In Experimental Iteration #5 (below) the water is murkier. This is a nice effect, but it also made it too hard to see the necklace.
Experimental Iteration #5
Aryn decided that the necklace needed more clarity.
In this final version (Iteration #6 below), a little extra contrast helps the necklace to show up a bit more.
Experiment Iteration #6 final
Iteration #6, above, is the tentative final photo for my radical experiment. Aryn and I decided to stop at this point and think about it for a while. As of this post, this photo experiment has taken close to three weeks of development including Photoshop iterations.
A tip from the Photoshop professionals is to create separate layers for the various effects so that you can push and pull, change, or alter each element separately.
The hardest part for me was to realize that the necklace and the model were now components of a different artwork -- the photo. The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is literally submerged in the larger message about climate change, plastic pollution, and the impact of plastic in the oceans strangling marine animals and fish.
Your opinions are most welcome. What do you think? I look forward to hearing what you may have to say.
Working with a live model requires a lot more planning than any other option for photographing jewelry or art clothing. Finding a model is the first challenge. A close friend agreed to model, but I would have loved to have had more model options just to experiment.
Clothing for the model becomes a critical issue. While planning for the photographic documentation of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I purchased two white dance dresses plus sewed a transparent organza dress. Just sewing up the dress was a stress test in itself. Twelve hours of stitching double layers of slippery sheer organza without knowing if it would fit, look good, function well, or live up to the vision I had for this photo shoot.
We started with a dress rehearsal in my living room(shown below) and practiced a full range of movements and poses.
You can not imagine my relief! The dress fit perfectly but I had all kinds of contingency plans for a nip and tuck emergency sew. During the dress rehearsal, Jen Ohara (the model) and I reviewed underwear options and practiced the poses. Every detail counts. Ultimately we decided to have her wear one of the dance costumes and the organza dress at the same time which gave more layers of fabric.
Before the actual photography even began at Philip Cohen Photographic, I am snipping at raw edges of the fabric edge. It is hard to know in advance what the camera will ignore and what the camera will see as a major flaw.
If I could make any recommendation when using a model in addition to all the advance preparation, it is to have an extra person as an assistant. I knew this but didn't have anyone to help this time. Thus you see me in the photos below at Philip Cohen photo studio making all the adjustments to the model and the necklace. The necklace was long and heavy. Sometimes we needed two people just to move it. During a photo shoot with a live model, an assistant can step in to make each of the adjustments while you keep your eye on the bigger picture.When I had to go into the camera frame for each adjustment, it was very hard to see everything.
I would move into the frame,change the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, model, dress, fan, and move out of the camera view for an inspection. It was all distracting and time-consuming, and I never had time to study the composition.
In two hours we tried several poses, standing, sitting, and a few unusual postures for an experimental photographic composition. (This will be next week's post as the Photoshop iterations still need work.) Modeling can be tiring as well. Jen had to balance on two saw horses as just one example.
This was the third photoshoot in five days. Both Phil Cohen and I were getting progressively more tired. Creativity takes energy. I am still having decision fatigue.
A few of the final contending images (from over 100 possibilities) are shown below. There is some variability in the exposure. Ignore that issue. It will be fixed. (These are the proof shots for review rather than the final photos.)
Let me know what you think of the different poses of the model and layout of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. Pick your favorite.
Model shot #2
Model shot #3
Model shot #4
Model shot #5
Model Shot #6
Model shot #7
I'd appreciate hearing about your opinions about the images.
Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace:
While photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace I wanted to try using a mannequin to provide scale and to see the necklace worn with the neutral context that a mannequin can provide.
Suzanne Ramljak, the curator for the upcoming exhibition, Uneasy Beauty, also told me that she would like a mannequin photo in the exhibition catalog for the Fuller Craft Museum. That declaration raises a huge expectation that the mannequin shot needs to be very good, but I am not sure the images using the mannequin shots deliver. See for yourself in this post. (The next post will showcase the model photos.)
Since I was committed to at least trying a mannequin photo session, the next question was whether to rent, borrow, or buy a mannequin?
Borrowing proved to be impossible. One artist friend did offer her inventory of many mannequins, but she only had mannequins with black painted bodies. That would not work for a black necklace. I felt that a white mannequin form would be necessary to provide high contrast for photographing a black necklace.
Ultimately, I decided to rent a mannequin and Mannequin Madness in Oakland , CA was recommended to me.
Mannequin Madness (shown above) turned out to be a fabulous resource for renting or buying. They have mannequins of every kind and description.
Mannequin Madness also has an area set aside for photography with a plain white background paper ready to go. They also have photography lights. This is all available for $30 an hour with a two-hour minimum and they will let you use 2 mannequins or dress forms in their warehouse included in the price. That is a real bargain!
Available for an additional fee are tripods and "ghost mannequins". Check out the Mannequin Madness website. Even if you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area, they do ship and have other locations.
I rented a mannequin for $90 for a week. Perhaps if I had more time, I would have considered buying a used mannequin that needed a new layer of paint to refresh her appearance, but I had no time for cosmetic mannequin repair during the week-long photographic marathon.
The vast diversity of mannequins also raised a number of issues that I had not considered until looking at all the options at Mannequin Madness. Some of the mannequins had no heads or no arms. Some had stylized hands, hair, and faces that would not work for this necklace photoshoot. There were other factors or potential options that I didn't fully appreciate until later. On the mannequin that I selected, the arms detach for transport, great, but they only attach to the body in a fixed position. Nuts! I could not pose the arm differently or bend the elbow. And the legs were ridiculously skinny, so skinny that I didn't like looking at them head on.
One feature that I prioritized was natural looking hands (despite the oblique face) when I selected a mannequin. I also wanted a seamless neck and head for the image that I visualized in my mind before the photoshoot even began. Here is how it turned out below.
Mannequin Photo #1
I think this is a good image. The photo shows a close-up with lots of detail. The necklace fragments have a high contrast profile against the white background and mannequin. Using the mannequin in this pose also provided a more traditional jewelry necklace shot. The downside is that you can not see how long the necklace actually is -- 26 feet long.
Photographer Philip Cohen and I worked together for hours on the mannequin photos (shown below). Moving a 26 feet long necklace is not easy. The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is far heavier and more delicate than you might expect. The length was easily tangled or twisted and it does have a bottom side so that it can lay properly without damaging itself. Below are the best of the mannequin images from perhaps 75 shots. They present a variety of compromises. What do you think? Do you have a favorite? Let me know.
Mannequin Photo #2
Mannequin Photo #3
The final mannequin image (#6) uses the mannequin without putting the necklace on the body. While I think it is an interesting image and provides scale for the necklace, I don't think it shows the necklace to best advantage.
Which photo would you pick as best choice?
The next post is about using a live model and what I think turned out to be the best photographic shots despite the trade-offs and obstacles.
Previous Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace:
For the first photo shoot of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I used plain white paper background. This is possibly the most conservative approach to documenting the artwork. It also gave photographer Philip Cohen practice with lighting and exposure for the challenging black-on-black textures.
Out of the 75+ images Cohen took in three hours, the goal now is to select just a few of the best. I pay for each image that I decide to keep, therefore I need to choose wisely. Experience has taught me that I end up using the best images over and over, but at this initial selection stage, my brain is often overwhelmed with decision fatigue.
And because I am still vibrating with concerns with the intricate details of fabricating the artwork, it is difficult to view the work objectively at arm's length to see what is the best image.
So, of the five photos in this post which ones would you buy? Photo image #2
Which photos capture the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace most effectively? Tell me what you think. Photo image #3
Here is how I went through my selection criteria:
A minimum requirement is a full view and a detail close-up -- but which ones?
Also, I'd like to have a vertical and a horizontal.One never knows which situation may call for a particular format. Reframing an image in Photoshop is an option, but the result isn't always the best quality photo. Optimal focus and lighting is always in the original image from the photographer.
Social networking sites add to the quandary on vertical or horizontal. The constant use of computers for viewing images has made the horizontal format very popular. Horizontal images work well for Facebook and social network banners. Vertical images work better on Pinterest. Instagram leans toward square. There is no way to use one image for everything anymore.
The full view below is great, but it presents a major weakness -- there is no way to know that the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is 26 feet long. Photo image #4
With a plain white background, there is no indication of scale. This image provides no clue for a viewer to tell how big this necklace is at all, yet for my purposes, a plain white background is essential to emphasize the stark black and white contrast. Typical alternative backgrounds such as wood texture, sand, rocks, or a room-like context may work for an editorial shot, but would likely distract excessively from this particular artwork and my expectations for using the photo.
How can a photo of a large object reveal detail, materials, scale and the artist's intent all at the same time?
Photo image #5
Lacking any reference for scale, this close-up section could be 2 inches or 2 feet. This can be a serious issue when a curator or juried situation is looking for something bigger or smaller if they don't fully comprehend the description.
Out of the five photos in this post, which ones would you select? Each choice adds expense.
Would you change your choices by knowing that I have additional shots on a mannequin and a model? These will be shown in the upcoming posts.
Background information about hiring a photographer (below.)
Here are a couple of very practical issues when you hire a professional photographer.
Once you've chosen to have professional photographs of your art or craft, ask photographers about their fee structure. Philip Cohen charges by the hour for the photography session, and then I pay an additional amount for each final image that I choose. But money is not the only issue. You need quality photographs and a photographer that is familiar with your medium. A working relationship with a photographer that understands your intent is paramount.
Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace:
When an artwork is finished, a new creative process begins -- how best to photographically capture the essence of the work beyond rote documentation. For the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I definitely wanted to convey a much larger context far beyond the form and materials alone. During fabrication, I contemplated quite a few problems and uncertainties to accomplish my photography expectations.
So when the fabrication and assembly were finished, I mentally committed to photographing the necklace in four scenarios:
1) a swirling gyre on plain white paper without props
2) a mannequin to provide scale
3) a live model shot
4) a model in a photographic experiment fantasy with water.
A large roll of white paper was the first requirement. White backgrounds are generally the standard these days.
Shall I buy or rent a mannequin? I decided to rent a mannequin....but had to schedule a pickup time when Mannequin Madness would be open. (More on mannequin resources in a future post.)
A professional photographer with a quality camera, tripod, and proper lighting is a minimum for the quality images I need and expect.
Due to the size of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace (26 feet long), the camera had to be as high as possible to shoot down and include the entire large swirl. Hence, photographer, Philip Cohen, is up on a ladder.
The lighting and exposure are always critical issues for excellent photographs, but when photographing black objects, these are especially difficult issues. The light meter in the photo below helps determine the proper exposure with the photographer's strobe lights.
The light meter can take a reading right next to the artwork (shown below) to check the light exposure, rather than trusting the light meter in the camera. Still, on the first day of the photoshoot, Phil Cohen bracketed every shot like crazy to ensure a proper exposure.
The set of color swatches and palette of grays (shown in the photo below)can help determine proper exposure and help adjust the color or light in Photoshop. This is just one more incremental tool toward perfection in professional quality photography that can make the difference between average and amazing.
There is nothing more difficult than photographing black on black while trying to capture the varied textures in the materials. I knew it would be a challenge from trying to photograph the Black Plastic Bracelet. In this close-up (image below) taken with my phone, the black-on-black texture completely disappears due to poor exposure and improper lighting. Black mud . . . .
While most of the professional photography is done using a tripod, a few hand-held shots can work well for close-ups.
During the first day of the photoshoot, we only photographed the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace on white paper. Standard documentation, but I am worried that these will not be the best images because a viewer will have difficulty comprehending the scale of the finished necklace.
This is why I planned a second day photographing the necklace with a mannequin, and a third day with a model. Photographing with a mannequin loses the human touch which can be a plus or minus, but occasionally, juried exhibitions, curators, or books do not allow model shots.
Photographing artwork with a modelcan be extremely complex with too many variables to list here.
I'll be highlighting more of the issues and techniques of photographing with mannequins and models in the next few posts.
In the meantime, what do you expect works best for photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace? Plain white paper? Mannequin? Or a live model? In the next three posts, I will show the processes and finished shots of each. I'd like to hear your comments or questions, either before or after the posts.
Posts in this series about the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace
The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace has been a marathon effort to complete within a tight timeline. It has taken the combined effort of many people.
I have been collecting black plastic for years but didn't have nearly enough to fulfill my massive vision because I avoid buying anything packaged in black plastic. However, through the generosity of people that know me personally, or through Facebook, quantities of black plastic started coming in. Some people gave me black plastic one piece at a time, others a bag or whole boxes of black plastic. I couldn't have reached my goal without this help.
On Saturday, an entire box of black plastic came from Suzane Beaubrun that she collected from her neighbors. It provided a mind blowing variety of black plastic. I am both dazzled and dismayed at the vast selection of shapes and patterns -- both seductive and sinful at the same time.
Even the employees from RethinkWaste in San Carlos sent an envelope of special shapes in black plastic.
I cut all the plastic shapes myself, but this consumed every available moment, day and night, for the past seven weeks.
My studio assistant, Margo Plagemen(right and below) saw this project from beginning to end. She drilled holes into many of the black plastic parts and helped with threading the black plastic tentacles as we solved problems and refined the plan for assembly.
Early in the project, I was looking for additional project assistance for threading the individual pieces together. Shoshana Phoenixx and Aliza Abrams worked as outside constructors at their shared studio in Oakland.
Shoshana and Aliza discovered my Facebook postseeking project assistance on the Facebook group titled Support Network for Artist Re-use Contra Costa (SNARCC). This group is organized by RC Ferris. I am told that she is the "recycling queen" for Contra Costa County. RC Ferris also donated two separate boxes of black plastic. If you work with recycled or reused materials, check out the Facebook page for SNARCC.
Since this "necklace" is going to be 24 feet long, I needed an assortment of odd black plastic spacers (i.e. junk stuff) and went to SCRAP in San Francisco.
Bottle caps, pen caps, black straws and all too common black plastic parts (diverted from their destiny as trash) were readily available.
SCRAP is an amazing resource for artists, craftspeople, teachers, or anyone looking for materials to reuse at affordable prices. They always have an amazing diversity of discarded paraphernalia from paper to plastic, tins, wood, fabric and more, that can stretch your imagination.
For my family and me, a regular stop at SCRAP is always a destination in San Francisco because what they have in their building comes and goes. The prices are very low. Donations of materials, leftovers, surplus office supplies, nicknacks, and overruns from businesses and individuals in the Bay Area provide an astonishing range of scrap materials. When you pay for your jackpot from SCRAP, double the amount they ask for as a donation, and you still have a great deal.
My husband. Bill, is my home support. He drove me to SCRAP while I "double-timed" and cut black plastic in the car. Bill also provided transport dropping off plastic in Oakland to Shoshana and Aliza and picking up completed sections. And toward the completion of the necklace, Bill helped by tying the knots (with his Eagle Scout knot expertise) so that the knots will be invisible and secure as one long Black Plastic Gyre Necklace.
I am still cutting black plastic, but the finish line is fast approaching (or I am hearing the "bell lap" with the Winter Olympics in the background). Shoshana and Aliza tell me they have finished their final two units. Knot tying and adjustment are scheduled for this week.
Suzanne Ramljak, the curator, will see the Black Plastic Gyre necklace this coming weekend. YIKES!!!!!!!!!! Next on the agenda is a shipping box and photography for the catalog.
Stay tuned for updates on documenting the plastic trash on the street. I have written to Trader Joe's, Lyfe Kitchen, and the local newspaper hoping to gain some traction on eliminating the use of black plastic while I continue to collect black plastic trash off the streets, gutters, and sidewalks.
Thank you to everyone who has made a contribution to this Black Plastic Gyre Necklace.
Suzane Beaubrun Belinda Chlouber Ellen Crosby Melissa Durlofsky Mary Ellison RC Ferris Support Network for Artist Re-use Contra Costa (SNARCC), CA Madison Guzman – RethinkWaste, San Carlos, CA Martha Husick Theresa Kwong Roxy Lentz Margot Plageman Suzanne Ramljak Aryn Shelander Sara Sherman-Levine Carolyn Tillie
Plastic Assembly: Aliza Abrams Shoshana Phoenixx Margot Plageman Bill Shelander
I've been working on my Recycle Series of jewelry for eight years.
As an artist and visual thinker, I'm well aware of the huge investment consumer brands put into their packaging with alluring, beautiful jewel tones and shapes. As an avid recycler I'm also aware that so much of this consumer packaging is for single use -- then just thrown away. Until recently, I was primarily dismayed about the enormous quantity of plastic that gets thrown away, or perhaps recycled (for those who have an activist mindset and a curbside recycling program.)
I've come to realize that the plastic pollution problems are much larger than most people realize.
A lot of single-use plastics go to landfill, and a very small percentage of the plastic is actually recycled. But vast amounts of plastics are improperly disposed of and get washed or blown into the environment where they do not degrade for hundreds of years. A new documentary exposes the huge quantity of plastic that is accumulating in our oceans.
Coincidentally, while working on my Black Plastic Gyre Necklace,I kept wondering how so much plastic gets into our oceans. With heightened mindfulness during the past few weeks, I become aware of how much plastic, including black plastic, is littered on our streets. Yes, in the streets and yards or on sidewalks and shrubs.
As one example, I saw this black plastic takeout tray, black plastic spoon, and cellophane laying in the street while on my way to the gym. I'm always in a rush in the morning and promised myself that I would photograph the trash and pick it up after class. But then for one reason or another, day after day, I would forget.
Each day I was again confronted by the same black plastic takeout tray and made the same promise to myself. After a few days of repeated negligence, I also noticed that the tray inched its way along the curb and soon realized it was inevitably heading toward the storm sewer. Just a little bit of wind or moved by a car tire, it inched its way toward the storm sewer leading to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Finally, I photographed it and picked it up. One small crisis averted, but every day I started seeing more and moreblack plastic in the street.I feel like I'm in a weird version of the Sixth Sense movie -- "I see post-use plastic everywhere."
This Sharpie pen laid on the street for days.Crushed by cars, the tube was broken, but the black pen cap proved to be indestructible. I photographed it, picked it up and took it home.
No wonder plastic accumulates in the ocean and waterways. It lasts forever.
Now I am really paying attention. In the two block walk to the gym, I almost always find plastic litter.
This white plastic strap is really tough. You can't break this. You can barely cut it with scissors. There were two of them. This is what they use to strap boxes and furniture so they don't come apart.
Next there was a plastic bottle. There is nothing "Super Green" about a plastic bottle.
I photographed it and then picked it up.This is becoming a very smelly and distasteful experience in plastic waste awareness.
Before I get to my car there is a plastic baggie laying on the storm sewer grate.
So this is how plastic is getting to the ocean....
This plastic baggie was used for perhaps an hour or two but is now on the brink of going into the storm sewer, floating through the waterways, draining into the San Francisco Bay, and suspended in the ocean for centuries.
Where does my responsibility end?
Sure I picked up the plastic along the street where I walk, but every day there is more.
This was on 43rd Avenue in San Mateo. Within these two blocks are several restaurants with takeout food, e.g. Papa John Pizza, Round Table, a taqueria, Molly Stones grocery store, and CVS pharmacy.They all have plastic packaging and takeout food. Every business and every person who walks that two blocks should be responsible for keeping it clean and cleaning up the trash.
San Mateo has a new Adopt-A-Drain program. I've already volunteered to take care of the storm sewer near my house. At home, I have captured a considerable quantity of organic debris and plastic waste from going into that one sewer. Is that enough? By 2022, the City of San Mateo will be required to prevent all trash from entering the San Francisco Bay through the storm drains to meet mandates set by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, but who is going to help? It occurs to me that we will all pay for this trash left in the street, one way or another.
Future posts will include assembly and progress on the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace and some concrete, but easy steps for reducing plastic.
Scroll down for continued documentation of more plastic that I discover each day in one block of 43rd Avenue, San Mateo, CA.
Daily updates of plastic found on 1 block of 43rd Avenue, San Mateo
Cellophane and a chapstick- February 14, 2018
Pure Fresh Spearmint Gum plastic package - February 16, 2018
"Nice" purified plastic bottle (crushed) - February 16, 2018
Plastic Bottle Cap & Cigarette butt - February 16, 2018 Evidently, someone drove over the bottle (shown above.) The cap burst off and laid in the street until I picked it up. Plastic bottle caps are becoming a huge part of plastic waste in the waterways and oceans. The cigarette but is disgusting (though not part of my project.) Cigarette butts are toxic to fish and marine animals.
Plastic Dental Flosser - February 16, 2018
Ice Breakers Plastic Box - February 18, 2018 This includes both the top and the bottom of the box.
Plastic Bag - February 17, 2018 The plastic bag was obviously driven over a couple of times, but no one stopped and picked it up.
Plastic sushi tray with soy sauce package - February 17, 2018
Red plastic straw - February 17, 2018 Plastic straws are becoming a huge problem as they are dropped in the street, no one cares to pick them up and they end up in the ocean.
I thought plastic 6-pack rings were outlawed because marine animals and fish get trapped inside the loops.
6-pack ring discovered laying on the storm sewer grate - February 20, 2018
Green Plastic Straw with paper wrapper lying in the street on the way to the plastic ocean - February 19
Translucent plastic cup lid with a piece of sand paper and paper litter laying on the storm sewer. This plastic lid is one blast of wind or a rainy day before it arrives in the San Francisco Bay on the way to the ocean. Of course, I picked it up. Why didn't you? - February 20, 2018
More photos coming for each day I visit this one block and document the plastic waste in the street.
Do you know that black plastic is rarely recycled? When I 've asked around, not one person so far has known that black plastic is not recyclable.
Most people think that the recycle symbols indicate that it is "recyclable," so did I, but it is not. This was recently verified by my local recycling center. The recycling center, ReThink Waste, is now helping to bring this issue to wider attention and issued the following message on Twitter and Facebook to help me collect black plastic for a new artwork.
Black plastic is not recycled (even if it is labeled as recyclable) because most plastics are sorted by optical scanners that cannot "see" or recognize black plastic. Essentially black plastic can't be differentiated from other trash, so it goes into landfills, or even worse, goes into our oceans and waterways. (More on this topic in the next post.)
Yet black plastic is used pervasively for catering, take-out, deli containers, and microwave packaging.Pay attention to this issue and you will be shocked! Black plastics in the form of food containers, pen caps, bottle caps, black spindles, etc. -- all go to trash.
Here is one example.Shown beloware twenty 12-inch diameter bowls from one event catered by Lyfe Kitchen. Lyfe Kitchen sells take-out and catered food marketed as sustainable. But there is nothing sustainable about using black plastic containers.
I contacted Lyfe Kitchen about the use of black plastic.They responded: "...we are in the midst of a packaging vendor transition on the West coast. We have been diligently looking to source a more sustainable option for our catered salads container pictured here."
To bring more awareness to the issues surrounding black plastic I made this bracelet years ago.
Now I am immersed in making a "Black Plastic Gyre Necklace" that will be 24-feet long. The "necklace" will wrap relentlessly around a model, again and again, to convey the accumulation of plastic debris that is clogging waterways, strangling animals, and damaging coral reefs. The piece is intended to highlight the impact that plastics are having in our oceans and rivers.
For the past six weeks, I have been frantically cutting tentacle shapes from black plastic containers to create the gigantic Black Plastic Gyre Necklace to meet an exhibition deadline.
The shapes are cut from black plastic forms such as this container (below) clearly embossed "Go-Green" -- yet it is nearly impossible to recycle. This is an example of what is called "greenwashing."
There is nothing green about this black plastic.
I'm finding that the enormous variety of black plastic items allows me to cut out some very interesting shapes.
Interestingly, each black plastic container inspires different shapes.The above photo includes exquisite shapes cut from a Noosa yogurt lid. The lid was soft yet flexible, ideal for cutting curvilinear shapes. I can't imagine why this brand uses black plastic lids.
Why do cookies and candies come with a black plastic insert? Only because I think someone thought it looks good or sophisticated. This is another example of unnecessary plastic waste in packaging.
One of those 12" black plastic salad bowls (shown above) provides a lot of plastic. In the photo below, I am starting to cut it up into pieces for the necklace.
One black plastic bowl can generate so many parts, producing a messy pile of great shapes (below) that will go into the necklace.
Every day I spend hours cutting black plastic for the necklace to meet the deadline.
If you would like to contribute your black plastic to this project,contact me to drop off your plastic or mail it to me. The idea is to raise awareness about plastic in our environment and become an advocate for change.
Stay tuned for more posts about progress on this necklace and the local makers who I hired to help meet a tight deadline.
This year my Thanksgiving table theme was in black and white, a reflection of the current propensity for political and social polarization.
With a small group this year, our conversation topics brought everyone into thoughtful and civil debate. Some controversies were acknowledged but remained unresolved. In particular, the recent revelations in the news about inappropriate behavior by men in power positions are leaving everyone shocked.
#Metoo can't be ignored, nor should it be. I don't know any women who haven't experienced inappropriate advances. The widespread public revelations could lead to a huge pivot in society. Although I remain circumspect about accusations without evidence, I tend to believe the women. Where will this lead? How will social behavior and expected norms shift?
The black and white theme included white roses flowers and a white pumpkin.
White carnations, white roses, and white Gerbera Daisies with black centers continued the motif. The black bowl worked well as a framing device for the flowers and foliage.
This year the black and white theme was inspired by my collection of Knowles Ebonette vintage dishes. Designed in 1954, they are of a classic mid-century modern design. Every plate was hand painted with the black and white lines so they vary quite a bit. The dinner plates have a slightly squarish shape. The bowls are slightly irregular. It seems the blank ceramic for these dishes were painted in different patterns.
The current debate on "made in America" is not a new topic. I also used my vintage gold plated flatware and gold and black glasses. All mid-century modern that I have collected for years.
In closing, I wanted to share one secret for a memorable table setting that can be used anytime you want to set an amazing table -- it is as simple as a roll of paper. Sometimes I feel inspired to paint the paper or more often I discover a roll of gift wrap that offers great colors or patterns. A great pattern on the table can inspire a new way to look at the dishes you already own.
Recently I got a really scary warning from Google about my website. It said:
"Chrome will show security warnings about this website..."
"Starting October 2017, Chrome (version 62) will show a “NOT SECURE” warning when users enter text in a form on an HTTP page, and for all HTTP pages in Incognito mode.
The following URLs on your site include text input fields (such as < input type="text" > or < input type="email" >) that will trigger the new Chrome warning. Review these examples to see where these warnings will appear, so that you can take action to help protect users’ data. This list is not exhaustive."
Internet security is a big issue these days. I certainly did not want my website visitors to see this and feel my website was not secure! This warning is enough to throw me into a nauseous spasm of internet inadequacy. Most of my silver repair business is with people emailing me through my website. None of us can afford to lose potential customers.
HTTPS is the future of the internet. If you look at all the major retailing sites, they have migrated from the original HTTP address to the newer and more secure HTTPS. Sticking my head in the sand (or retreating to my metalsmithing studio) would not fix this problem. I could not go out and water my plants or snack my way through this problem.
https is also the reason for this post. I checked a random but broad selection of artist's, and maker's websites to see if this post would be relevant. Many had the old http prefix which makes them "not secure" in the current internet standards. I even found the http prefix on art organization's websites. This is a serious issue.
Ultimately, the solution came a lot easier than I initially imagined. The "Help" contact on SquareSpace, told me the 1, 2, 3 steps to fix the problem. I am most grateful for their chat assistance.
Take steps to keep your web presence secure.
Another security issue I noticed on artists' websites is that they posted their email. WARNING: Do not post your email online. Bots will capture your email and send you unsolicited email. Instead, provide a link to an email program or have a contact form instead.
Is your website working for you? Is it establishing the web presence and visibility for your work? If you can't be found on the internet, do you even exist? Well, not much in the commerce and visibility of the web.
The accessibility and ubiquity of digital cameras and the Internet have both good and bad sides. The ability to pick up a phone and take a picture allows everyone to produce a photo. Work in progress can be easily documented and shared directly from the studio. A Pinterest board or Instagram can represent your work. Or does it? When does easy and instant imaging mislead makers into thinking that they have done all they need to do?
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Every phone brand brags about more and more pixels -- Is that all there is?
In April, 2017, opportunities from CNN and KQED required quick access to images of work in progress that could only come from my phone's digital camera. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to compare photos side-by-side from my phone and from my professional photographer, Philip Cohen.
Above and below are a couple of examples with my phone image on left and Philip's image on the right.
Photo (left) by Harriete of bracelet in progress. Photo (right) finished bracelet by Philip Cohen
Alternative Facts Bracelet by Harriete Estel Berman
O.K., passable on the left, but better on the right. Then a further hurdle of photographing "Fabricating TRUTH" Fruit Crate with the three bracelets -- an impossible shot with a small digital camera or phone. Lighting, the background, and an extended depth of field with the precise focus all become critical factors that an amateur quality, consumer phone camera can not "auto focus". I am convinced that professional quality photos are essential, but what is your opinion?
If the quality and range of digital capabilities are discernable, what are the consequences to your art or craft future when photos are good enough .... or are they?
Dave Yoas recently invested in professional quality photography for his artwork. He realized that he had been tolerating "good enough" and wanted to improve his images. In the following photos, Dave agreed to share his D.I.Y. photos (left) compared to the photo magic of professional photographer Philip Cohen (right).
Photo (left) taken by Dave Yoas. Photo (right) taken by Philip Cohen "Bearly Dreaming" by Dave Yoas
Dave Yoas told me that he was using a digital camera with a tripod to take his own photos. Those are good steps. But you may not be conscious of the D.I.Y. quality without seeing the comparison. Notice how the colors seem so much more vibrant in the professional photos. And the whites are whiter.
Photo (left) taken by Dave Yoas. Photo (right) taken by Philip Cohen "Dames N Flames" by Dave Yoas
In the side by side examples above, I formatted the image comparison so that the objects were close to the same size, but the comparison between the D.I.Y. of Dave Yoas and a professional photo goes further. In the next side by side comparison, note how the object is framed within the photograph. The photo by Dave Yoas fills the frame of the photo close to the edge. In contrast in the photo by Philip Cohen (right) there is more breathing room around the object rather than crowded to the edge.
Photo (left) by Dave Yoas. Photo Credit (right) Philip Cohen "Good ol' Daze" by Dave Yoas
This extra margin of space surrounding the object is very practical for posting on social networks where cropping may be outside of your control. The extra margin of space within the frame is also visually more comfortable. In the photo below you will see what happens in the example photo (left) when the frame of the image feels as if it is cutting off part of the object. Cropping the object too close to the edge of the photo feels crowded and cheap, kind of like a crowded exhibition where the work doesn't have room to feel important.
Photo (left) taken by Dave Yoas. Photo (right) taken by Philip Cohen. "Mid-Century Mojo" by Dave Yoas
"Mid-Century Mojo" by Dave Yoas Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
Again, the colors in the professional quality photography are much more vibrant.
Close-ups can also be a critical component to sharing your work online or in a juried opportunity. It gives the viewer more information about the texture, materials or techniques. Dave Yoas told me that he thought the details by Philip Cohen were images that he was incapable of capturing on his own.
In the photo below, Philip Cohen photographed each object with the same lighting, and then assembled the triptych in PhotoShop. This avoids that difficulty of finding one large wall big enough for displaying all three artworks at the same time. The lighting can be consistent and even over all three artworks avoiding highlights and dark corners when photographing a large wall.
"What every boy wants" by Dave Yoas Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
I am convinced that professional quality photos are essential for anyone who is truly serious about their art or craft. The ease and convenience of your digital camera or cell phone are amazing, but they are not a substitute for professional quality images. The consequences of sub-quality photography may be costing you more than a professional photographer.
I asked Dave Yoas why he decided to spend (no, I mean, invest) in professional quality photography?
"To tell you the truth, I have spent “many” hours trying to capture the “essence" of my work. All the books and tutorials, all the equipment, light diffusers, and hours lost were not worth it. Philip's work is a good investment." After buying the equipment and spending the better part of a day in photography, the resulting images were still "not representing my work."
Yoas also mentioned that it has become increasingly rare to walk into galleries these days to show our work. "Everything is electronic." The photographic images represent our work.
What are your thoughts about professional photography?
Related Posts about photography for art and craft:
Images have always been the indispensable mode of communication for artists and makers. With the Internet, the power of the image travels much further. Photographic images especially share one person's perspective of reality with the world. In recent years, more than ever, images convey an experience and inform an audience through social media such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. The value of documentation with images sometimes supersedes the ephemeral event. For makers, having images ready to transmit whenever needed, can be a key to success.
During the months that I worked on TRUTH and the related bracelets, I took documentary photos. The studio shots brought great visibility to this work through CNN and KQED (local PBS station.) Even though those photos weren't professional quality it permitted me to participate in the political commentary of the moment. Despite the ease and convenience of taking photos with the amazingly versatile smart phone cameras, you want your final documentation photos to be professional quality. It would have been much less expensive to simply accept the in situ, in studio shots, but I know that professional quality photography needs a professional photographer with professional equipment and professional skills. For me, that is Philip Cohen, for more than 28-years and counting.
When I arrived to pick up my artwork at Phil's, I took some photos of his photo set up. I find the behind-the-scenes set up insightful. What is outside the camera frame is rarely shown and it reveals the tricks that a top notch photographer keeps handy.
Of course, the lights and the camera are on a tripod. That is step one for a good shot...and we rarely do that with our phones. That reminds me that a stand for my phone might improve my quick shots. Note that the lights shine up into the umbrella for a bright diffuse light. Buying those umbrellas doesn't cost that much, and they can be really handy for reflecting light.
Notice the large cardboard covered with aluminum foil. This reflects the light in a bright diffuse way, and by tilting it up or down it can reflect more light exactly where you want it. This works even if you don't have photo lights. In the photo below, you can see this same cardboard from another angle.
Note also the small cardboard with aluminum foil in the front of the set-up. If you look in the other photos you will see it is propped up on an easel right outside of the frame of the finished photo.
Fabricating TRUTH by Harriete Estel Berman Photo by Philip Cohen Photography.
In my next post, I will compare my quick cell phone photographs to those by a professional for your review & opinion.
Ever since the January presidential inauguration, I have been repeatedly dazed by both shock and dismay. In addition to stepping up my political activism significantly, I have been channeling my fears and frustrations into "Fabricating TRUTH" along with three new bracelets. Today's post shows the final steps for one of the bracelets, "Web of Lies".
Harriete Estel Berman soldering the decorative edge to Web of Lies Bracelet
Confidentially, I must confess that the final steps of finishing any artwork fill me with anxiety -- so much concern that I sometimes even delay finishing. Does that happen to you?
Will the final results be equal to my original imagination? I always find the end of a project scary. I am worried that the last steps will ruin weeks to months of work.
For these bracelets, I never made any drawings or models. I've never made anything similar. In the beginning, it was more of a concept with little idea about how I'd even construct each bracelet. It was all in my head, nothing more than a mental image.
Despite my concerns, I pushed forward.
Because I imagined that the "Web of Lies" bracelet should be gold plated, I had to find a plating shop which is becoming increasingly difficult to find. But instead of a problem, this adventure led to a surprising highlight. A fellow silversmith, Gary Reopelle, who owns Monsen Plating in Berkeley, CA, agreed to plate my "Web of Lies" bracelet.
Gary is a rare breed. At 76 years young and tough, there aren't many silversmiths and plating shops anymore. A rare breed in another respect because there surely aren't' many Republicans in Berkeley either -- but we were highly aligned with our hand skills, silver repair work.
The gold plating solution is cyanide-based and has to be shipped with a hazardous materials surcharge, so this would cost close to $200. But it was really important to the concept of this bracelet to have it gold plated.
The gold plating on the Web of Lies Bracelet was an important symbolic component for the bracelet because Trump properties and branding ostentatiously uses the appearance of gold, (even if it is plastic or paint) as a symbolic motif. The superficial gold is a pretense of value, so thin it is essentially fake.
If you aren't familiar with the Trump brand, this photo (left) is a stellar example of the prevailing decorative motif.
Electro-cleaning is always the first step for all plating. Removing the buffing compound, fingerprints, and every speck of dust is essential for good plating. This was followed by a rinse with a hose. All the waste water (even from the cleaning tank) is considered hazardous waste and has to be disposed of in compliance with environmental protection standards. It costs over $600 to dispose of one tank of "rinse water." No wonder plating in so expensive.
The photo (left) shows the Web of Lies bracelet with a nickel plate. It looked fabulous already. Nickel plating has a hard smooth bright finish. There was an intermediate step of a copper plating (before this) for great adhesion of the plating. Each of the plating steps took only minutes as the shape of the bracelet was easy to handle. Nickel plate is necessary so the gold plating does not alloy with the brass construction or copper plating underneath.
The photo (left) shows the gold plating solution. The gold molecules in solution will plate on the bracelet. This is as much skill as intuition. Gary kept adjusting the volts and amps to get it to plate just right (shown below). So exciting!
In the photo below you can see Web of Lies gold plated.
I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Gary Ropelle, owner and master at Monsen Plating for his skill and generosity. He and I are in the same increasingly rarefied silver repair business. He has a lifetime collection of hammers (left) and forming tools (right) that made me jealous. A lifetime of accumulation for working with metal.
Monsen Plating also had another feature that I greatly admire .... space for tools and equipment.
In contrast, my studio space is squeezed into a two car garage. Whether doing silver repair or artwork, I often dream of having a gigantic studio in my next lifetime. In the meantime, I am working as fast as I can.
Stay tuned for my next post with behind-the-scenes photos of Philip Cohen's professional photography of TRUTH and the three bracelets.
Recently, the noted jewelry photographer, Hap Sakwa wrote to me with a question about reinventing his future. With his permission, I thought that others may appreciate "listening in" to our conversation....so here it is.
Question from Hap Sakwa:
Bowl by Hap Sakwa circa 1970's
Along the way, we've met a few times. You may remember me as a jewelry photographer. But, once upon a time, I was a 'maker'. Now I'm a little of both, but more interested in 'making' again and of course the difficult task of selling. I visited your website, as I knew we were kindred spirits - 3D cultural anthropologists.
Sculpture by Hap Sakwa circa 1980's
So, here I am "Ask Harriete". Where does a reinvented artist show his work in a virtual world, where galleries seem to have been replaced by coffee shops? I naively thought I could spring back to life like the flowers in the Carrizo Plain, using my previous resume as a bona fide artist with 'museum credentials' to launch my 3rd incarnation. HA! It's like starting over......... scratch history.
Thanks for looking and any thoughts would be very welcome.
Reply from Harriete:
Teapot by Hap Sakwa 1990's
Hap, Of course, I remember you and your work. You always took absolutely superb photos.
Yes, in not too many years, the entire art /craft world has changed, or at least that is my impression.
I can certainly understand the sense of finding so much changed and becoming discouraged. I used to think that I knew the "recipe" for selling my art -- now all the ingredients are different, especially the traditional ingredients for art/craft fairs, wholesale, and high-end retail.
Sadly, fewer and fewer galleries remain, especially those that would say "make the best you can and our job is to sell it". Those days are gone, and I don't want the pressure to make "art for less" or do another theme show for less.
Consequently, I have changed my approach in the last 3-4 years. I focus more on my silver repair business, Berman Fine Silverwork , for revenue. I do not compromise on quality. I do not work cheap. I prefer to keep my business small and manageable so that I can work on my artwork in between.
My artwork has to squeeze in between all my other responsibilities and jobs. That is nothing new but I make and create exactly, I mean exactly,what I want to make. No consideration at all to what will sell. Too much 'stuff" out there in the marketplace is focused on low cost. But it is extremely difficult to compete on price alone when so much is manufactured or even "made by hand" by third world labor. Certainly, for me, it is quite unfulfilling to just produce work that is cheap or not aligned with my values.
"Web of Lies" Bracelet Harriete Estel Beman
I do recommend to follow your heart because you never know what may come your way. For example, I recently felt compelled to prioritize efforts related to my political concerns as a result of the 45 administration. Much to my surprise, this different focus opened new networks and contacts and a couple of publicity coups with great visibility arose. These were great opportunities. Not many artists or makers get to have their work featured on CNN. I am very excited, but it was entirely unexpected. I didn’t know anything would come of it. But as is my habit, I actually had photos of my work in progress and was able to show this work even though it wasn’t complete. Guess the old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." is working.
My secrets for success are not so secret:
A website dedicated to your artwork is a must.
A social networking presence is also expected. Yes, at least four or five or more major social networking sites. Mix it up. Experiment. Think of it as brain exercise.
Interacting within the social network to some extent is necessary -- but constant self-promotion with a "look at this work" is not cool. It has to be more like a "sharing" rather than a request. This may seem like a small difference but that is actually huge in the reception.
Focus on making work that is at least "good" to "great" first.
Look for opportunities without any expected outcome.
Create visibility by providing resources or opportunities for others. You could create some visibility with your new work, by offering “tutorials” on how to photograph work with a cell phone and achieve good results. That is just a suggestion. I'll bet you can think of tons of ideas. Of course, there is no substitute for professional photography, but that has to be when the work is done and ready for the big world.
Vase Hap Sakwa circa 1990's Photo Credit: Hap Sakwa
REPLY from Hap Sakwa:
Hey, Harriete Berman............ thank you so much for a speedy reply and a great and thorough letter........... although, I must add that it was profoundly sad and disappointing. It's like starting over......... scratch history.
There was one piece of advice you offered that really rang my bell........... Do not make work to sell. Make work that is good to great first. The other 'stuff', I'm working on, but it's tedious and uninteresting. I do understand the requirements of the digital age, so I will do what needs to be done. I intended to struggle forward, making what I want and reaching out, trying to find an audience. I'm even doing the spring Open Studio here in Sonoma County. Even if the work doesn't sell.......... I want someone to see it.
Sculpture by Hap Sakwa 2017 Photo Credit Hap Sakwa
I won't keep you but wanted to say thanks for your thoughts and advice. Obviously not encouraging, but valuable wisdom.