I am an emerging artist. Given that I am about to celebrate my 77th birthday, this qualifies as a surprising development, not to mention a somewhat unpromising one. When I look at the work of people who have spent their entire lives developing talent they have manifested since childhood – Leah MacDonald, whose work is shown elsewhere on this site, comes to mind – the unlikelihood of my ever arriving at their level becomes clear.
Nevertheless, one persists, largely because I am adherent of Joseph Campbell’s dictum to “follow your bliss.” So I do that, with surprisingly gratifying results. Particularly surprising since I am working with a very limited set of tools, almost exclusively provided by Photoshop.
Most artists love to play, make a mess, and bring order out of the resulting chaos. I do, too; but I have zero manual dexterity. I used to marvel at my sister’s ability to color inside the lines; it was a talent I never acquired, even as an adult. So when I attempt to physically do artists play, the resulting mess remains a mess, because I have no facility for ordering it. But the mess I make that goes up on the screen is another matter entirely, and here I don’t so much impose order on it as allow the order to emerge on its own, to allow the image to take me where it wants to go. For what it’s worth, this process can take weeks or months. To maintain my momentum, then, I usually have several images on the go at once.
I should probably take a moment to explain how I arrived at this parlous state. I have been in love with photography since I first discovered it in my 20s. At one point I even quit my job and tried to become a freelance, ending up working in a commercial studio for a year, before acquiring my penultimate vocation as a marketing communications writer, which I continue to pursue to this day. When I first moved to Salt Spring Island, B.C., 40 years ago, I found myself with no place to put a darkroom, and no prospects of ever having one. So I shelved my Nikons and busied myself with property development and environmental politics, while my bliss took me kayak camping all over the B.C. coast.
In the early days of the personal computer, we all bought all the software that emerged; it was like gaming today. You had to have the latest and greatest, and that’s how I got into Photoshop and Pagemaker (does anybody remember Pagemaker?) and all the rest of it. Becoming proficient in those two packages as well as others led me into graphic design, and I maintained and enhanced my proficiency with Photoshop right up till I decided to retire, at 70.
And that’s when I decided to follow my first bliss, and get back into photography. (As an aside, I should mention that the cost of photographic equipment and supplies was so high that I had to keep working to support my retirement project. My current retirement plan is Freedom 85.) I bought a Canon G6, and then a Nikon D80, and starting taking pictures again. (I have now graduated to a Nikon D800, a spectacularly fine instrument.)
It didn’t take long to become disenchanted with the results. Everything I saw through my viewfinder began to look like a cliché. And then I attended a Photoshop seminar, and came home energized and better equipped to explore the possibilities rattling around behind my eyes. Admittedly, these were the products of a lifetime of looking at art. In particular, I found I related to the Modernists, the Post-Modernists, and various contemporary artists of schools for which I know no names. After I began to develop a style of my own, a friend suggested I have a show. My wife, a PhD art historian, insisted I could not do a “best-of” show; artists, she said, present series.
So I did that, and if you go to my web site – http://samlightman.com – and look at the portfolios starting with “Seascrapes” and working your way up, you will see what transpired. The last and most successful of these series was the Venice show, “Behind the Masque.” Some of the images from that show are spotted around this article, and they provide you with a sense of what I am about. They are not quite as abstract as my earlier work, or the work I am about to present in April in my next show, previewed in the portfolio “The Shoreline Project.” But they have an edge, and they demonstrate my approach to what I see and how I work now. I no longer take pictures. I photograph potential elements, details, lots of close-ups, and then I bring them up in Photoshop and begin the messy pursuit of making them work together in a sort of pointed harmony. It’s my attempt to go beyond the lens, into the realm of imagination and creativity
Nevertheless, one grows or dies, and I am now experimenting at last with messy, non-pixelated techniques; I am fooling around with ink on lots of other substrates besides digital photo papers, messing the printed images about and otherwise disporting myself in a most unprofessional manner. I am also collaborating on creative projects with my wife, who has artistic talents of her own which nicely complement mine. One of my inspirations is “Digital Art Studio,” by Schminke, et al. I highly recommend this book to any artist who wants to integrate digital art with more traditional art-making techniques. I can’t do most of what they present in there, but I’m really good at doing what they tell you not to do.
Once people get over the idea that photo manipulation is somehow less legitimate than other art making techniques, it will simply become in the art-buying public’s mind what it really is – just another medium, like acrylic or watercolor or collage, for realizing the artist’s vision. I intend to live long enough to see that day, and with any luck at all, benefit from it.
All Photographs Are © Sam Lightman
Sam Lightman Photographer Bio
I started adult life in the world of engineering and electronics, but the discovery of photography in my early 20’s changed my life forever. Upon returning from technical assignments abroad, I quit my job and wound up working as a studio assistant to a highly successful commercial photographer and then going to work in advertising before eventually embarking on a career as a freelance writer/designer. During this time I also attended the Philadelphia College of Art and subsequently the Instituto des Belles Artes in San Miguel Allende. While continuing my writing career, a deep and abiding love of the visual arts has led me to expand my own horizons into artistic expression via digital imaging.
I have lived on Salt Spring Island for the last 40 years and take full advantage of the special nature of the place to expand my perception. As an avid kayaker, an occasional traveler, a keen birder and a lover of all things outdoors great and small, I am exposed to a wide variety of both natural and man-made influences, all of which eventually find their way into my work.
Follow Sam Lightman on: The Shoreline Project