Monday, November 19, 2012

Bungy Notes Has Moved

If you are stopping by, I thought I would state the obvious: I've kind of moved away from this blog.  It happens.  I was always a bit of an indifferent blogger.  My posts skewed to the TL;DR.  And while I always tried to include plenty of eye-candy, I don't think I ever really landed on what this blog was supposed to be about.

But fear not, those of you who loved the art or my occasional attempts at wit.  I have been quite active on Tumblr.  You'll find my pics and GIFs and cartoons and occasionally some commentary there.  And thanks to the conventions of Tumblr, my posts are short.  Usually.  And also way more regular. 

Anyway, come find me at Bungy Tumblr

Monday, February 13, 2012

On Media, New and "Old"

I made this as a part of a the "United By Edit" logo competition on Instagram.  No photos were used (or harmed) in the making of this image.

Ever feel like you are a social movement of one?  I know the feeling.  And of course, the irony of those two sentences is that they contradict: If there's two of us, we are no longer alone.

Click to enlarge to see a bit of my process in making this.
Now that we've limbered up with a little verbal calisthenics, let me get to my point.  I feel like I am waging a private war at times against the presuppositions of photography in  online image sharing.  The preponderence of sites (Twitpics, Flickr, Instagram, Picasa, etc.) default in their language to the idea of sharing photography, when a cursory glance through people's feeds suggests something more interesting is going on here. 

On Instagram, I participate in groups like #we_edit and #unitedbyedit, formed in part in response to photography groups who regularly criticize "too much honey" in a photo edit.  But even in these groups, photography is not always the base.  Plenty of folks are working with digital graphics apps and software that allow them to render from scratch or modify other captured content (preferrably open source or Creative Commons, but admittedly, not always). 

Actually began as a photo, but made to look painted.
Then too, many apps and software packages still predominantly identify their filters and effects by the ways they (roughly!) approximate darkroom procedures for retouching photographs.  "Burn," "dodge," "vignette," "HDR," "Orton," and so forth have become common parlance in digital photo editing -- although the results are often quite different from their print photography analogues.

Now don't get me wrong: I am not against digital photography or its imitations of its analogue ancestor.  And I see the value, on paper or on screens, of the minimally edited photograph.  But as we celebrate the ways tablet and smartphone technologoes are opening up people's creativity and generating "new" art movements (c.f. "iPhoneography"), I think it behooves us not to be too beholden to the familiar and to acknowledge the plethora of image creating possibilities these tools allow.

I think the real inovation of these tools is less the camera (although that is part of it, but certainly also available on lower IQ phones) than the screen.  The screen is increasingly how we frame our shots (as opposed to the analogue and early DSLR view finder).  It is also where we edit and view most images (since only very few of us print out our pics, and then only very few those, relatively speaking).  But it is also where we forgo the camera entirely to use stylus or finger to draw, paint, clip, and blend images.

So, there's a photo of a drawing in this one?
So what are the better terms?  What is a little less beholden to the way things were, a little more responsive to extant practice, and a little more visionary for the future.  Increasingly, I use "pic" (the online-savvy abreviation of "picture")  or "image" when talking about the images I create and share.  These may be photographs, may include photographic elements, or may never have involved a lens in the process at all.  I also object to "edit" as the default term for image manipulation since it implies some photographic original that I am revising and reworking, some qualitative distinction between making an image and revising it.  Instead of "edit," maybe we should call this work "pixel pushing."  Leaving aside vector graphics for the moment, "pushing" seems to capture both the sense of moving and also the sense of transforming through filters the basic structure of the digital image: the pixel.  "Pixel pushing" captures the idea of edit and of paint, and it frees us from the erroneous perception that we are engaged in anything really like darkroom editing.

Maybe this is all just a matter of semantics.  The "photo" in "Photoshop" hasn't stopped artists from using it even when they don't have a photograph to build on.  More people use Instagram than those using digital "Instamatics" or their imitators.  And every time someone complains about someone else's aesthetic or use of a tool, the offender tends to form communities as reaction formations to arbitrary rules.  Making art is frequently about breaking rules and using tools in ways other than they were intended.  No harm, no foul.

Click to enlarge some of the steps.
Even so, now might be a time to lift up our heads and take a good look at what is going on.  Something is changing in our capacity to make and circulate images.  The camera in your phone that is also a phone that is also a powerful also a powerful digital arts studio.  This combinatory morphing, this portability, and this digital ephemerality of the final work is creating truly new media, something that owes much to the predecessors we can name but something also significantly different.  With or without the social movement of one or many, our practices are leading the way into fascinating territory. 

Your Heart of Hearts.  Made with a digital brush made from a heart diagram.  
Happy Valentines Day!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Graveyard Theme and Variation

Last week I posted about my recent discovery of the folks making and sharing horror-themed pictures on Instagram. That group is still on my mind, apparently haunting the corners of my daily practice. As an extension of my prescient remix culture theme, this past week @horrorclub posted a picture to be used in a "challenge" titled #bloodstained_challenge1. The gist of these challenges is that you copy the prompting picture and rework it. Many challenges simply post regular highlights of participants' contributions. Some, like this one, create a mechanism for picking a winner from all the entries.

I would be lying if I claimed i was not interested in highlights and winning, but at least I try not to lead with that care. My primary interest is in the prompt and seeing how many different ways I can rework that opening picture. I also enjoy seeing what others do with it. But mostly, it's the combination of the assignment and the communal sharing that keeps me going.

There is something revealing in that observation: see, I've always thought I was a much better student than an academic. There comes a point in graduate school where you have to move beyond assignments and homework, but not the work. You have to start designing your own prompts, your own research projects. I found that transition hard; I still struggle with it. I've tried to formalize giving myself prompts, asking myself questions as if I was both teacher and student. It doesn't really work so well.

I'm not sure exactly what I get from an assignment prompt that I can't provide for myself. Alibi, maybe? In the case of these horror edits, I feel like both the sponsor and the group of folks contributing to the feed licenses some pretty dark stuff. If I were just doing this on my own, you might think I needed psychiatric help. Well, you probably still do. But in my head, my imagined you is less judgmental because I am not doing this alone. No, instead I've joined a creepy zombie cult of goth kids and misfits. So much better.

It is better, because those goth kids and misfits have got my back. We sneer at all of you squares and dweebs who "just don't get it." Again, not really. This is a psychological alibi. These are my hipster, imagined artist friends who hang out smoking id cigarettes by the dumpsters in back of the consciousness cafeteria.

Dark fantasies all around.

But so, horror is a comfort for me. I retreat to it, not for its violence and gore, but for its familiar formulas and the constant play of convention and invention in any genre. I love its playful yet sinister dare: go ahead, disbelieve this "hokum" -- you know what happens to the disbelievers. Again, not in real life -- well, usually not in real life. That's the tension of possibility right there. That's the dance of "you're being silly and superstitious" with "maybe there really are monsters, this time."

Okay, while I'm on the confession train, here's another fact about me: I love graveyards. I love going to them at all hours of the day and night, including midnight and after. They are, to me, more peaceful and spiritual than churches or mountaintops. They are spaces to confront possibility, to walk the knife's edge between what is and what might be, to feel the tug of superstition and the supernatural at the edges of a mind struggling always to be rational. They are sites of honoring the departed, remembering that they matter, and confronting how little they actually stay with us. They are places to witness others' attempts to remember and honor the departed, to see that as a performance in regular need of refreshment. Wherever I have lived, I have always known where the nearest graveyard is and visit it regularly.

Graveyards are a kind of prompt, a kind of invitation. We go there to work our magic, to imagine so many possibilities, both dark and comforting. A faded epitaph is its own kind of writing assignment, waiting to be fleshed out. Fresh and withered flowers and wreaths are the tokens of others' offerings to the cemetery seminar. And each shadow is a theater where fantasy performs, sometimes sinister and sometimes serene.

You might worry about the darkness in my soul, but I promise it is balanced by light. My recent picture manipulations are more signs of joy than despair. These are the formulae, the incantations of possibility and a deep belief that myth matters. These monsters that go in and out of fashion never go away. Like prayers or angels, they remind us that there is something more all while teasing us that to think so is silly. Or is it?

And so we whistle, breath and melody, its own kind of prayer, walking a little more quickly or a little more slowly past sites of so much possibility.