In the world of photography, there often exists a line drawn deep in the sand. Not the one delineating the schools of aesthetic choices, like color vs. black and white, but one that often conjures snide remarks and outright indignation. It’s the divide between film purists and the modern digital world.
Yet, when it comes to discussing their innovative “Photographic Impressionism” exhibit at the Glendinning Gallery, veteran photographer Don O. Thorpe and his son Stewart sidestep the thorny issue deftly.
“Most people assume right away that we create these images with some kind of software,” says Don Thorpe. “We do use some software every once in a while to further enhance something, or to drag an image further than it went when we originally took the picture, but most of it’s the original image that was recorded by the camera itself.”
This is an important distinction to the Thorpes. It seems that together, while on a road trip in Canada, they stumbled upon their idea of photographic impressionism by simply manipulating the digital cameras, as opposed to digitally varying an already produced image. They may shake, twist, fiddle, bump, stir and maneuver the camera—all in order to produce instant visual variations on a chosen subject matter.
“There’s a difference between software manipulated images and camera manipulated images,” says the elder Thorpe. “There’s a spontaneity and there’s a depth of in or out of focus that you don’t get by trying to manipulate things with software. It’s almost like sketching with a camera—it kind of bounces around until you see something that really works. So, there’s a little more freshness there. But I’m not opposed to using anything you can to make the image work.”
That distinction seemingly doesn’t leave any bad taste because this unique take on photography is, in essence, not about Puritanism. It’s about a new form of artistic expression.
“The author Anaïs Nin had a quote saying, ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are,’” adds Stewart Thorpe. “This style is more how I see things and more how I feel about things than just a normal, straight photograph could be.”
The more the father and son team bounced experimentation off one another, the more photography became a viable tool for a certain artistic impression. Their way of producing shots that abstractly express an idea or emotion—more than focusing on a strict subject matter—feels far more stylistically individual for them both.
“Most photographers today, especially scenic photographers, are stylistically similar,” says Don. “If you mix up all their photos, then line them up and try to match the photographer with the photograph, you would have a really tough time of it. Because they’re all kind of doing the same thing—they’re all into making the perfect image with perfect composition and all that. They’re good, I don’t criticize them, but a lot of them just don’t have much individuality.”
That, in a nutshell, was their impetus for developing something more individual, more personal, more impressionistic within their already chosen field of photography. It’s also important that they developed this together.
“All artists get in ruts of approaching things artistically,” says Stewart. “You can feel stagnant after awhile. Sometimes I get my inspiration from his stuff, thinking that I may be able to approach that differently from my viewpoint or my technique. I think it works that way for him, too. It’s a kind of cycle, I guess.”
“Stewart has a way of looking at things that really strikes me and gets me going,” Don says, agreeing with his son’s sentiment. “At times he has really been a catalyst for me. His way of isolating the subject with these kinds of techniques is really quite profound.
“The main difference between us is that I tend to hang on to some of the more traditional photography ideas, feelings and viewpoints, while at the same time going far afield from that, where Stewart kind of stays in the newer kind of feelings and techniques that we’ve developed together.”
This variation is apparent within the collection of work at the gallery. The elder Thorpe runs the gamut of their newfound photography—from straightforward photography that might have a clear subject matter aided by punched-up color or an impressionistic perspective, to works where a discernable image is overcast by some new technique or another. Stewart’s work, on the other hand, is derived almost singularly from the latter pool, focusing on agitated portraits and wide fields of color.
And even though at times being father and son might overshadow their artistic exchange, their first exhibit together appropriately focuses on that all-important auto-catalytic relationship between two pioneering artists. It’s a relationship that allows them to freely create—boundaries, divisions and lines in the sand be damned.
PHOTOGRAPHIC IMPRESSIONS:, Don O. Thorpe and Stewert N. Thorpe, Glendinning Gallery, 617 E. South Temple, Dec 5-Jan 31, 236-7555