In Search of the Abstract
Phase 2

by Flo Deems

Introduction: A subject that has long frustrated me, "long" being two years, is a sculpture displayed at the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, USA.

Project: The sculpture in question, titled "Dragon's Shrill in the Cosmic Void" by Yuyu Yang (see also: this page), I have covered in the Phase 1 of this project. I thought I'd worked this particular sculpture to the max - but recently I've discovered a way to help me abstract the "idea" of "Dragon," which I had not been successful at doing before. So here's the story of my continuing efforts at abstraction of this concept.

Some friends recently attended a workshop at Callaway Gardens near Atlanta, GA, USA. In this workshop, they learned some interesting in-camera techniques to convert their ordinary flower images into artistic, especially impressionistic, images. They posted some of their results on a photography forum and told us how they got these results.

So immediately I tried these techniques out with my own camera. After much experimenting, experiencing results I didn't care for, and more experimenting, I finally got the right combination of lens, neutral density (ND) filters, ISO, f/stop and shutter speeds plus camera motion that gave me results I liked.

Here's how I made the image below. First of all, I used a 50mm f/1.4 lens. I mounted two ND filters - one a 2-stop, the other a 4-stop, for a total of 6 stops light reduction - on the front of the lens on the circular polarizer filter that's always on the front of the lens.

Next step is to set the ISO at 100, which is the lowest I can go with my Nikon D80 DSLR camera.

Then I set the exposure dial for Aperture priority. This means I select the aperture I want and the camera then chooses the proper shutter speed. So I used f/16, the smallest aperture opening possible with this lens. This means a very slow shutter speed. You want at least half a second. Longer is even better.

Hold the camera in horizontal or vertical position and focus on the subject. Set the focus to manual, so it won't change during whirling.

No tripod. I simply can't do the whirling with the camera on the particular tripod head I have. So I hand-held the camera. Center the subject. Then press the shutter release and immediately start rotating the camera clockwise or counterclockwise around the center. The mirror flips up, so you have nothing to look at to help you. This is why practice makes perfect.

Note: you can move the camera up and/or down, sideways, or diagonally, or any other motion you can think of. Each type of motion will give a different effect. You will soon discover that you prefer certain motions for particular subjects. Experiment and practice.

Of the several images I got that I thought I would like, here's the one that finally captured, for me, the abstract concept of "Dragon."

In my image, the blur I obtained implies the motion of the Dragon's head as it reared back, opened its mouth and spewed forth the cosmic "roar." The blackness around the head represents the cosmic void from which all manifestation comes. At the right of the image is a vertically divided broad slash with a white lightning form slashing through it. This is the "ignition" phase of creation. And to the right of this is Green, which symbolizes Life in physical form.

So now I am happy to have been able to express via an image, that which I have felt about this sculpture ever since the first time I laid eyes on it!

Since I shot the blur above, I have managed to produce a couple more images that please me and that also convey the things I've felt about this sculpture. Seems I just can't stay away from it. This first image zeros in on the eye.

This next image is a vertical panorama consisting of three horizontal images stitched together in Photoshop. From this angle, the sculpture reminds me of a Mobius coil, although it really isn't one.

And so now, is this "the end"? Perhaps. But I never know when the muse will strike me again!

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