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From the Bellydance Gala – Two that I Changed my Mind on

Sep 20, 2021

B&W photography sometimes has more in common with other creative fine arts than what most people see as “photography". Not only in the process but in that, similar to a painting, watercolor or say charcoal, there can be a lot of ambiguity near the finish. Is it done, is it overworked or should it have even been attempted the darn thing??? I can’t count the times I’ve backed up to rework previous versions, or picked up where I left off thinking I was finished, or crap-canned the entire thing.

These images have been sitting in my “I-don’t-know"” folder for over a week now – begging for some sort of decision. Occasionally I go in there and try to clean house. I like something about all of them, but something, almost always my treatment of the image, still bothers me. Sure I’m fighting horrendously low and atrociously colored lights, but none of that was the problem with these.

I know to fret over the set-asides because past images that I’ve felt this way about have all too often become favorites, either emerging with more work or simply growing on me – others of course have been unceremoniously dropped from the folios. Images have hung in this state for a year or more. I simply consider them my ambiguities. A short anecdote at the bottom of the post might help illustrate this phenomenon.

The intro image – Kimala Nar – is already growing on me. While I do enjoy bellydance, who doesn't, I’m not usually a big fan of the dancing with props. Combining that with the strong accentuating effect conversion from heavy blue lighting to b&w had, I sidelined this one, wondering if I’d gone too far with it. Going back for another look, I could see the poses Kimala eased into as creating sort of her own still pictures on the stage. The outfit, stance, expression, even the hair, were in sync with the daggers. The heavy blue lighting was effective in isolating the live view. Converting the blue to monochrome dramatized the image, for better or for worse. In this case it allowed me to set the level where I thought it should be. In the end, while not the effect I reached for, an effect i grew to prefe.

The second image I’m pulling out of my ambiguities is one I had some fun with, and then worried that it simply did not fit in with the whole bellydance theme. The dance troop is She Serpents. I see b&w performance photography as an opportunity to use what I do to bring out aspects of the scene that the stage and lighting environment tends to suppress. Burning dodging, color filtration, isolating focus, vignetting, eliminating, just a few of the tools at hand. This one sort of breaks that role/rule. These three dancers took center stage at one point to do the many-armed thing we often see. The issue there is that it really only works for those viewing straight-on. From an angle – not so much. Live, the mind can compensate, but the camera doesn’t do that. 

If I’d had a center view image I might have used it, ignoring this one. But lacking that on all of my exposures of the scene, I just couldn’t stop looking at the one showing the eye in the back. After I worked it up, I set it aside. I like the image for what it does and says, but again am conscious of the fact that it is not expressive of what the performers were about, and nothing that they would celebrate. But after a wait I decided that I just can’t resist using it… 

Both added to the folios, larger and downloadable HERE

The Anecdote:

Jim Hopkins was a very fine local artist, and good friend for many years. He passed over a dozen years ago now – and the pride and joy in my work studio is a small watercolor self portrait he made. He would, at least once a year, hold an open-house sale where he would hang new paintings downstairs and up – and serve food or course. Any efforts that he felt were too feeble to frame, but possibly not bad enough to burn, he propped against a wall upstairs, asking $25 for them.

On one such occasion I made a beeline for the upstairs studio and stood in absolute shock at an 11x14 acrylic/pastel painting of a couple of pears. It was (IS) magnificent, and priced at about an eighth of what it should have been. As I bought it he told me that it was brand new, and about how much it frustrated him that it just didn’t turn out like he planned.

I took it home and framed it nicely. The next time he visited he stopped in front of it, almost in shock, finaly seeing what I was seeing. Realizing he should have just set it aside for a while, all he could say was: “I phucked up, didn’t I?"

Oh, and the self portrait – it was a very intense 8X11 watercolor quickie that he made for his booth one weekend when he did an outdoor art show in Delaware with us. Only to get disgusted and go to throw it away at the end of the weekend. At which point I picked it up and was told I could keep it.