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Interview with our April featured artist: Flyrod

Revenant Revenant 1016 posts

Karen and I both thought of Flyrod as our next featured artist following on from Ebyarts. Flyrod’s technique and consistent artistic focus impressed us both. His art and photography also exemplify the versatility of full-frame digital photography. We hope this interview put together by Karen (who’s taking some personal time) offers a meaningful insight into the work and motivation of a very committed member of our group.

FF: What has been the biggest artistic influence on your work? Any thoughts on how you’ve evolved as an artist?
When I was in college at Missouri State University in the early seventies Jerry Uelsmann had a show there and I saw a couple of his lectures. He is a master of manipulated and composite imagery and I think he was my earliest influence as an artist photographer. I don’t think I could talk about photography for long without mentioning Ansel Adams. He said, “I don’t take photographs, I make them”. That’s how I look at my work. I see the photograph as the sketch and Photoshop as the medium to complete the piece. To put it another way, it’s like combining music and lyrics to create a song. Adams defined how we think of grayscale, tonal range, and contrast. I still marvel at his work.
I spent over thirty years working in Graphic Design and Design management primarily in consumer packaging design, and that has a powerful influence on how I see things. Graphic Design at its best makes an instant connection. It requires restraint and simplification. If an image is cluttered or overly complex it usually fails to engage the viewer. Saul Bass and Kit Hendrix are strong practitioners of this philosophy and greatly influenced me.

FF: Who would you say is your favorite photographer/artist?
I’ve always loved the innovative way Robert Rauschenberg combined photography with printmaking and non-traditional materials. I think Vincent Van Gogh is the greatest artist who ever lived. I saw Starry Night and several other works by him at the Chicago Art Institute when I was in my twenties and had the good fortune of touring the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam a couple years ago. His use of color and texture changed how we think about painting. I love the boldness and simplicity of his work.

FF: Why old cars?
Last June my wife and I went to a big car show in Reinbeck New York were the clear blue sky weather produced great conditions for shooting. I incorporated Zoom Blur and some other Photoshop techniques I had been recently using in landscape skies with cars (see Oozing Down the Street). It produced an effect I had never seen with a car before and I got excited about it. At about the same time I joined Red Bubble and started posting exclusively cars. I didn’t want to mix this with work I was doing for a couple of galleries and online site, so I invented the persona Flyrod. I think anonymity give me even greater freedom to work.
After doing about five cars I felt like I was on to something and I really got excited about it. I like to explore and I love a good challenge, so this really fit the bill. Digital technology has changed the game dramatically and flooded the marked with images. I believe if you want to sell your work you have to do something nobody else is doing. I’ve had several people tell me they know my work the instant they see it, and that’s exactly what I’m talking about. To further solidify my identity I started writing short stories to go with the image. The more I wrote, the more I liked doing it. After about seventy-five cars I way struggling to come up with a story for this Ford convertible so I tried writing a poem instead. I found it to be a platform for even greater creative expression and I’ve written one for every car since then.
Most of the cars I shoot were marketed between 1930 and 1965. These cars played a vital role in American Pop-Culture and evoke a strong emotional response through movies, television, and our personal experiences. George Lucas’s 1972 film American Graffiti captures this to perfection. Some of these cars have a life that is every bit as interesting as their owners. I don’t think a 1985 Toyota Camry will ever do this, at least not for me. I’m a big fan of the “film noir” style of movie making attributed to several German born directors from the mid-twentieth century. They used camera angle to create drama in a scene. I often shoot with the camera about one foot from the ground and I think that is the influence of film noir. (See Buick Noir)

FF: What would you call your “style”?
I would describe it as, “a crisp and bold impression of American car culture”.

FF: Any specific photography techniques (lighting, etc.) used in your artwork? Any equipment you just could not live without?
At the photography end I have little control over the situation. It’s daylight, and I can’t change the weather. Almost all of my images come from car shows, and that means about half of the time the owner has the hood up. This is were having the Canon 5D is a big plus because they think I’m a professional and maybe their car will end up in a magazine and If I ask nicely they usually close it for me. If I go on and on about how great their car is they might even move it forward to get it away from other cars and partial shade or other conditions that ruin the shot. I like to print on canvas up to five feet wide, so the 5D format (78 in. × 62 in. @ 72 DPI) keeps things sharp
Regarding post work, I use a Wacom tablet and I couldn’t do some of the painting and retouching with just a mouse. I learn intuitively. I never read a book or took a class in Photoshop. Every image provides a new learning opportunity if you’re open to it.

FF: Do you already have the work in mind when you shoot the car or do you work up an image from pictures you take?
Ninety percent of the time I don’t have a concept in mind when I’m shooting. I do a three bracket series for every angle I shoot from and sometimes do multiple settings of a polarizing filter (to control glare). I often do fifty shots of the same car. When I start an image I explore it in various modes. I study how it looks in black and white, true color vs. faux color, and what retouching challenges are present? Then I audition various backgrounds, texture, color shifts, etc. There is no formula and every image has it’s own path.

FF: What part of the process do you enjoy most?
All of it. When I’m at a car show it’s like treasure hunting. It’s really exciting when you find a spectacular car and the conditions for shooting it are right. Likewise, I enjoy every step of the processing. The rare exception is when Photoshop crashes and I loose an hour of work. Luckily that doesn’t happen often.

FF: What keeps you motivated? Does anything particular inspire you?
I don’t need motivation to create. I think it’s a gift and I feel privileged to be doing this. With the Internet at our fingertips inspiration is only seconds away. You don’t have to be rich to have access to inspiring works of art and information today. That can be a powerful life-changing thing if you can harness it.

FF: Can you give us what you believe would be a key advice for photographers who want to do compositing?
Get organized! It doesn’t take long to accumulate thousands of images. It is essential to have an external back up device or cloud service and to have your work well organized. I have an external 8 terabyte Drobo with four hard drives and a one-terabyte external drive built into my Mac Pro. These things keep coming down in price and are becoming very affordable. I have my archive organized by locations and events. Most importantly I have files for textures, surfaces, sky’s, animals, people and about fifty other categories. I hate wasting time looking for things and it’s easy to forget an image when you have so many.

FF: Any projects or goals you care to share with us?
I have enough content now to do a book and I’m exploring different ways to do that. E-books are an exciting new path that I’m also looking into. I’d welcome input from anyone experienced in publishing.

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