The path to a digital art photo gallery (based on a “drawing or painting light photography” principle) with content that has “ambitions”, isn’t normally a straightforward one. Anyone in this field who has achieved even a small measure of distinctiveness about their work will have toiled long and hard to get there. It’s the old principle actors understand; it takes at least ten years to achieve overnight success.
One of the things that can speed someone on their way towards distinctiveness is a willingness to gamble. Gambling introduces random variation. A lot of the world’s great discoveries have been made that way. In the act of seeking one destination, random variation delivers the traveler to another. Sometimes that destination is better than the original one (sometimes not of course). This isn’t a principle disciples of Satnav will understand. Satnav is about the need for certainty. A Satnav mentality is also the conventional view of photography, especially among those who don’t do it.
The last time I did any significant regular gambling in the traditional sense was when I was about ten or eleven. Before anyone jumps to conclusions about my upbringing, let me say the gambling was on a lone slot machine in the bar/restaurant area of a health club where my father worked. I’d go in with him sometimes during school holidays. He used to take a slightly perverse pleasure in telling anyone who would listen about my gambling “system”. Without too much immodesty I can say with confidence it was in its own way, touched by genius. My father must have agreed. He would wait until he had a few people seated with him, and then direct their attention to me. I was perched on a stool, feeding money into the machine and pulling the handle in an unceasing robotic “tinkle-clack…..kerchunk” way while I stared at the tumblers in the hope I had the psychic power to influence them. Tinkle-clack….kerchunk……chuk-chuk-chuk……..tinkle-clack….kerchunk. Again and again and again and again. You get the idea.
My father would incline his head closer to someone and say “He asks me for money to put in the machine. If he wins he keeps the winnings. If he loses he asks me for more.” The typical response to this was laughter. If the right people had been present I might have had a very different career path in politics or organised crime. Fortunately my father didn’t have any connections (none that I knew about anyway) with either politics or organised crime, which upon occasion can be the same thing. Looking back, it’s likely he was glad I only joined him periodically during school holidays. I’m sure his income took a massive hit then.
The technique at the heart of my gambling was persistence fueled by someone else’s funding (now we are drifting into politics). It’s what later I came to recognize or classify as the Columbus principle. There used to be a joke that Christopher Columbus started out in 1492 not knowing where he was going. Upon arrival he didn’t know where he was. Upon leaving he didn’t know where he’d been, and he did it all on someone else’s money. Later I applied the essence of this principle, unconsciously, to photography; though in this sense it was a roll of the dice in a search for random variation. I didn’t entirely know where I was going. I just wanted it to be somewhere else.
The doctor will see you now
I’ve always preferred the great unknown to a plodding and methodical way of doing something (the latter also being known as “hugging the coastline” for anyone who enjoys metaphors). I made a lot of mistakes that way, but they were mistakes that for the most part I learned from. It encouraged development of a photographic “vocabulary” in me, and the notion that all things are possible. If it can be imagined, the odds are it can be done with the right accumulation of photographic and post-production techniques. The experience also developed resilience in me – an awareness or flexibility to accept that strange and interesting things happen on the way to a destination if you’re open to being jolted from the “one true path.” A small random distraction can produce a completely new way of looking at the world.
I’ve a sense that generally people using this approach in their chosen field (and that can be any field) are not inclined towards the togetherness of clubs and societies. I suppose it’s the mad scientist/Dr Frankenstein in us. Mad scientists by their nature don’t seek company or belonging in their field (they are, after all, mad). They’re always working alone, or with a hunch-backed assistant in a room in the tower above the castle battlements, where blinding light flickers from an open window. A lot of the time mutants and monsters come out of that process, but on the occasions when the experiments go well, something unique can emerge. Even the monsters born of this process can have value because they give insights or clues into new techniques and processes if handled in a different way. No effort is entirely wasted.
Open Day at Castle Frankenstein
After the experimentation, and working through the night to produce something with a heartbeat, there comes an obvious question. Where do we go from here? In my case where we go is commerce because this is my job and income. Building this site has been remarkably easy in some ways, and at the same time immensely difficult in others. The basic engineering of the site has been made simple because of WordPress. WordPress is an off-the-peg solution to the problem of building a site, so it will never have a true bespoke appearance. It does, however, allow relatively unskilled labour like me to put up a structure very quickly from which to showcase their wares. Crucially, it also accommodates plugins for e-commerce. What surprised me a little was how hard some companies made it for me to do business with them in terms of subcontracting my printing and distribution work. Too often for my liking, when I asked if they had a solution to my problem they smiled cheerfully and offered me the solution that was good for them, not for me. One in particular would have required me to abandon this site and buy a new one from one of their trading partners as it had their e-commerce built-in. I declined politely. Eventually I found a solution that worked for me. Even then, the company was rigid about wanting the images to conform to specifications that were different to the specifications I’d been using very successfully for many years. Every single image I was offering for printing had to be re-saved from the master files. At the time of writing this there are 54 images alone in one gallery.
Integrating e-commerce into this site wasn’t quite the work of five minutes it was suggested it would be, but overall it was relatively straightforward. Its cosmetic appearance is (at this stage) functional on the page rather than pretty. Next comes the final test – a trial order. More on that later perhaps.