Haptic versus Visual

Haptic Self PortraitA little nuts, isn’t it?

And yes, that’s my real hair.

But why?

The year was 2002 and I was in a color photography class, and the assignment was Haptic versus Visual. Pick a subject and shoot it straight, simple, and honestly. Then take that same subject and shoot the feeling. Not the visual representation, but the “feeling!” Two prints, one Visual and one Haptic.

All I can say is that I must have been feeling really really colorful at that point.

How was it done? The hair or the image? Both? Well the hair was easy, just get it damp and put in small rollers, let dry, and Voilà! Instant curls!

Creating the image wasn’t hard either, but there were quite a few steps. It was originally shot on black and white 35mm film and printed on black and white paper. Then I took food coloring and painted liberally. The food dye shows up best in the lightest parts of an image, but I like applying it to the darker areas as well – and making rich inky shadows. Then I shot that print with a 4×5 camera, using color film. The final print was made on color paper – so it is, in the final form, a full-color chromogenic print, with the look of a hand-painted black and white print.

So where is the straight photo for comparison? The Visual representation? Isn’t this Haptic versus Visual? Where’s the Visual? Well, it still exists, but it’s boring. Really boring. And not really representational at all. And I got a B on it. I got an A on the Haptic version though, so maybe I’ll just leave this post with the one image, and skip the boring…

It’s not what you don’t do…

Cereal with Blueberries

How often have you heard someone who is trying to get healthy, or thin, or beautiful, explain that they don’t eat cookies anymore? Or potato chips? Or maybe they go all the way and just swear off all fat or all carbs…

It seems so simple and elegant to just say “no more bad food” and be done with it.

But for me the problem with swearing off certain foods or food groups, is that while it sounds good in theory, it’s incredibly difficult to do.

Isn’t it smarter to think less about what you’re NOT going to do, and think more about what you ARE going to do? Like adding more blueberries to your day? Or eating at least one fresh vegetable everyday? Or drinking enough water each day?

More early self-portraits

Once I discovered self-portraits, I fell in love hard. Who isn’t fascinated by their own image in the mirror? But to capture what we see in the mirror in a photograph? And then twist it, into something that expresses not just how you look, but also who you are? It’s beyond cool!

This series is all from 1996. At the start of the year I was still playing with the light from my vanity, and going for “pretty” images. I was also shooting models and my first musicians and bands, so it’s probably not surprising that even my self-portraits from that time period have a little bit of a commercial twist. But by the end of the year I was in full-on fine art mode.

Self Portrait

Definitely going for the “pretty” with this one. It was shot on tech pan film – which has a very fine grain – and is good choice when you want to enlarge an image significantly, like this one. In fact, the actual print includes all of both eyes, and more – but my current scanner couldn’t handle a print that large, so I just scanned the center section, and let the left side fall off.

Duplicity // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Once again, going for the pretty – but this time with a twist! This image is the result of a flipping the negative during the exposure – so it’s a darkroom trick and really difficult to get right. I was VERY happy with this final image – I loved the way the hair crossed in the center. Very cool!

The last three images were all for one assignment – we were to think of three words that had meaning for us, and illustrate each one with a self-portrait – and we were encouraged to do something that scared us.

Volition // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Volition was my favorite word at the time – it means the act of choosing, or the power to make something happen. I was in love with the word… So I chose a long exposure and a lot of movement to express it. I set the camera timer, then bent over at the waist, and flipped my hair back, and the lines you see in the image are strands of hair, as they passed in front of the lens. Some images are magical, and can’t be recreated, and for me, this is one of those images – I still love it, all these years later.

Hope // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Hope was my second word, and to illustrate it I decided to do something a little out of my comfort zone. I decided I was going to feature my least attractive body part in my photo – and for me at the time, that was my stomach. I was determined to make a beautiful image of the ugliest part of me – that’s the definition of hope, for sure!

Narcissism | Self Portrait

My final word was Narcissism. It’s probably not hard to guess why I chose narcissism at this point! Self-portraits tend to make you question all sorts of things. I decided that the best way to twist that concept into an image was to shoot myself first thing in the morning, with wet hair and no makeup – in other words, at my absolute worst – and try to make that into something beautiful. Getting past puffy eyes and wet hair, and into sensuous lines and tangled creamy focus – it was a stretch, but I loved the final result. I still do!

So that was 1996 – it was a good year for self-portraits!

Eat Locally. Eat in Season.

California white nectarines and blueberries // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

When I was just out of high school I got to visit the same nutritionist who had treated my Great-Grandma, my Grandma, and my Mom. Her advice was personalized, just for me. She had me lay on a board, with my head lower than my feet, and she felt all my internal organs through my clothes. She looked at my skin and hair and eyes. She gave me pamphlets, and told stories and gave me lots of really good advice that I still remember.

One of her best pieces of advice was to eat what is grown locally and what is in season. It’s just plain healthier, as well as being cheaper.

And who doesn’t love California white nectarines and California blueberries? I’m so grateful to live here!

My first self-portrait…

Self-Portrait, 1995In the Spring of 1995 I took my first photography course – and in the fall of that same year I was introduced to self-portraits.

The assignment was simple – make a self-portrait – no other restrictions or rules. Most of my classmates groaned, but I got excited!

All art reveals something about the artist who made it. We spend time debating and critiquing art, because good art says something! And self portraits expose the artist in a way that no other art form can – it’s not just your art that’s on display, it’s also you!

If you want to get in really deep, you could say that every piece of art an artist makes is in reality a self-portrait…

I was a beginning photo student with no lighting equipment and not much in the way of lens choices – so I had some limitations – but I could see in my head what I wanted to do, and I knew just how I’d do it! I had a vanity in my bedroom, with full makeup lights, and I set up my camera on my tiny tripod off to one side, and I sat on my little stool and posed, tripping the shutter with a borrowed cable release. After processing the film, and making proof sheets, one frame jumped out at me – the one where I cut the top of my head off, and you couldn’t even see my eyes. What kind of a self-portrait was that, if you couldn’t even see my eyes? But it was the frame that spoke to me, so I printed it, and matted it, and ended up getting an A on the assignment.

Bottom line, there are no rules with self-portraits. That one frame said more about me than any of the rest. I won’t tell you what it says about me – that’s for you to decide, as the viewer – but it definitely speaks volumes about who I was as a person and as an artist at that point in my life. In other words, it’s a true self-portrait. Who needs eyes anyway?

Happy Labor Day!

Labor Day is one of the best holidays all year long… No presents, no decorating, no big elaborate meals – just a lazy summer day where you get to do exactly what you want to do. My kind of day!

Spinach and Tomato with Roast Beef Salad // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

And this is one of my favorite meals! A big spinach salad with some beautiful sliced tomato and beef – the kind of beef intended for fajitas – and a little raspberry walnut vinaigrette dressing. Absolute perfection!

Self Portrait Project

Cheryl SpeltsI’m starting a new section of my blog today – a new category – it’s kind of a secret section, because the posts won’t show up on the main front page of my blog, or in my main RSS feed. Anyone on the web can get to it, so it’s not a real secret… Just a section no one knows about, except for me. At least for now!

So what is this unknown, sort of hidden, and pseudo-secret section going to be about? Me!

I’ve been wanting to get back into doing more self portraits – maybe even making it into a project? And whenever I think about self-portraits, then I get into self-improvement mode – it’s hard not to when you spend time gazing at yourself!

Self examination almost always leads to self-improvement…

And wouldn’t it be fun to document the whole process? Not just the end product – the actual self-portraits – but also the changes and evolution and the goals and the dreams – all of it. Or at least the interesting parts!

Thing is, not everyone who comes to my blog is going to be interested in all that personal reflection – in fact, it would be safe to say that very few of my blog visitors would enjoy reading about all that. So I had to choose between starting a second blog, and keeping things totally separate, or I could just start a new category on my current blog, and hide the posts from the front page and the main RSS feed – and I chose the latter.

Here’s to my new project! Documenting a work in progress… As an artist I never know where I’ll end up with an open-ended project like this – but that’s part of the beauty of it – and if you find this section, and decide to follow along, I welcome you!