Blur Girl Rises from the Ashes of a Busy Show Schedule

IcelandicPath_3778, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

When I was in Iceland, our fearless leader, John Paul Caponigro, decided that we should all have superhero names. My name was “Blur Girl” since I like to take these blurry out-of-focus shots (yes, they are done deliberately in case you could not tell from peeking at this one.) Many people view these blurry out-of-focus shots as horrible mistakes and, I guess, in some ways they are. I don’t look at them that way though, I tend to see them differently. I tend to see most things differently, I guess and these sorts of shots are no exception, but I do kind of like them and think they are fun.

For starters, I like the blurry stuff because it’s softer. So much of the landscape, the “traditional” landscape style of photography is about taking shots of hard rocks, chiseled edges, intense angles. I’ve always imagined a more feminine landscape-one without hard edges. Yes, I know they are mountains, and they have been chiseled away by time and wind and all of that, but somehow, I just like to think of them as more feminine forms. I mean, when you look at the biological spectrum, almost half the creatures on the earth (for some species even more) are female so, surely there must be a feminine mountain out there too, right? I mean, there are female rhinos and wildebeest, chickens too and such, so why not girlie mountains? If there were such a thing, I’d try to envision what it might look like. This is kind of what I would come up with for that. Something, you know, something kind of softer. Soft gentle curves, gentle slopes, more feminine in nature. (Hey, we let you guys have monster trucks, ok? Can we at least have a mountain or two? Please?)

Another thing I noticed about these kind of blurry out-of-focus shots is that they are more interactive. And, I have to admit here that, when I say “I noticed” I actually mean it’s been noted, by several other photographers, people like say Uta Barth, Ken Rosenthal, or any of the noted photographers whose work touches upon the psychological aspect of abstraction as suggestion and memory seed. What these folks have realized is that, by taking an image, even a “familiar” or iconic type of image (like say, a path through the mountains, like this one here) and blurring it, you don’t actually remove any information from the image. Instead what happens is that the person looking at the image actually sort of “fills in the blanks” to what they are seeing. This happens because there is just enough information to sort of “read” the image and our minds love to work this way (it’s psychology, an actual science, not these people just guessing here.) It’s sort of the same way in that they say typeface is “easier” to read if it has little serifs attached to it-a sanserif font is harder to read, and scientific tests demonstrate how we read one more slowly than a font with serifs, because, when the serifs are not there, we mentally “fill in the blanks” and put them there. We mentally, on some level anyway, slow down long enough to actually fill in the missing information (even if we are not conscious of doing this, it gets done somehow in our complex mechanism of brain activity for us.)

What these photographers have realized is that this process of slowing down to “fill in the blanks” also makes us spend more time looking at the image itself. If you think about photography, one of the “goals” of image-making is to craft images that people spend time with-we all want images that people sort of “get lost in” or images that keep the eye within the frame, to engage the viewer. These sort of abstractions do that, in part because they are nice images (maybe) but also in part because of the abstraction. We spend a bit of time filling in the gaps of the image, long enough that it means we’ve also spent time looking at the image. So, this is almost a “poor man’s” way of “cheating” yourself into a good image. Of course, it doesn’t always work, sometimes you are just left with a pile of blurry out-of-focus mess, one which nobody wants to look at at all, but, you know, for the most part, you can sometimes finagle a good image out of this process (or so these folks tell me.)

Lastly, another reason I love these sorts of images I think stems from the fact that I paint a lot. Somehow, I think that painters are more “tolerant” of blurry out-of-focus images. They like abstraction. It’s something I’ve noticed as I paint more and more. I tend to like more abstract work. Some photographers don’t sort of “get” abstract work-they can’t see why you would want to blur something and think that it clearly must be some kind of mistake. Maybe you don’t know how to work your camera or maybe you just can’t see right. They think of these type of images as needing to be “fixed.” But, if you ask the painters, it’s almost comical, as they don’t “get” the clear, crispy sharp focused images the photographers so covet. They view these pieces as having sort of “nothing to say.” I’ve actually seem painters walk up to “traditional” looking landscape photographs in a show and say aloud, “I don’t get it. What is the artist trying to say here.” It’s like they work so much in the abstract, they don’t “get” realism. Personally, I think that because I work in both, as an artist I work both with the sort of realism that comes with photography but I also do very abstract paintings, I’ve very tolerant of abstract images, even in a photographic medium. I’ve always been drawn to photography as a medium, rather than painting or drawing, because it offers me both the real and the abstract. I’ve always felt this was a little bit like having your cake and eating it too-you get the best of both worlds. If I look back at my most successful images, they all have some element of this. It’s like you could take apart the composition and point to something “real” in the image but also point to something very “abstract.” They are both there living side by side. It’s a bit like the Hatfields and McCoys living next to each other and actually getting along (or some such thing.) I want my “real” yes, but I want my “abstract” too. If I can’t get it, then I might as well draw, paint or work in some other media, because that’s what photography affords me.

I think there’s many reasons to love or even just accept blurry images as part of the spectrum of images we can produce. I don’t always want to make everything blurry all of the time, no, but I do appreciate a good blur from time to time. I like the fun of it and I don’t think I should stop or have any immediate need to “make it go away” anytime soon. It’s just part of, you know, it’s just part of what I do so I’ve learned to live with it and even enjoy it. I still take in-focus shots every now and again too, and I like some of those. I don’t think I’ll ever be “all blur all the time” but I do enjoy to mix it up. It keeps the photography fun and interesting for me too, as the blurry stuff is a fresh change.

So much for my explanation of Blur Girl and the chasms of Iceland. It’s back to the show grind for me today. I’ll be over by the Big Medium complex (I think) for most of today, and I might actually be painting, so if you are in the Austin area and want to see how (exactly!) to paint with a blow torch, do please come on by and have a look for yourself. I’m at Pigoata Studios for most of the day but might also pop in over at Studio 2 Gallery for a visit as well. We have to see how the burn ban is doing in Austin before we can safely blow torch away at our artwork so much of this will depend upon the weather for today, but I hope to get some torching in as part of EAST this year if I can possibly manage it.

Until next time…


  1. Great Grandma Lin
    November 13, 2011 / 7:10 pm

    would love to see you paint with a blow torch-have someone else take a photo of you. I agree about the blurry focus-now I need to do that with my poetry…lol!

  2. Scriber's Web
    November 14, 2011 / 1:20 pm

    I love this photo. The soft focus makes it look mystical. I want to be there!

  3. Carol
    November 14, 2011 / 1:27 pm

    Thanks, thanks, yes, I love the blurry stuff.

    Lin, I don't know if we will be able to use the torches on account of the burn bans and stuff. I did paint yesterday but it was only with the heat gun.

    Scriber's congrats on selling some work yesterday! And thanks about the pic. Yes, Iceland is a wonderful place to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *