An Interview with Thomas Dodd - People & Portraiture Group

Our Artist of the Month for April 2008 is Thomas Dodd
I chose Thomas because he struck me as a skilled and multi-faceted artist. We have lots of great portraitists in the group, don’t get me wrong… It’s just that not many of them are as well-versed in two such demanding crafts as manipulation and photography. Not everyone can pull off the emotional response from viewers that his art elicits and I definitely felt that his philosophies and viewpoints on art would be of interest to the group! (Cadence Gamache)

Which were you first – a photographer or a digital artist?

When I first began taking photographs there wasn’t even such a thing as the home computer let alone Digital Art ( that should probably give you a pretty good idea of how old I am! ) so I was definitely a photographer first.

Did you receive any training in photography back then?

It was my father who taught me what makes a good photograph. From him I learned the basics of the craft; composition, depth of field, lighting, and most importantly, how to capture a good portrait.
I have found that this talent has very little to do with the technical aspects of photography and much more to do with the personality of the photographer and their way of making the model relax through the abandonment of self-consciousness.. This is something that actors and professional models are trained to do, but the average person “freezes up” when they see a camera pointed at them and instantly gives you that mugshot look or the same phony smile they use in family snapshots… The trick is to get them past that. Usually I start off with profile shots, I find that you get a much more contemplative look from your subject that way and it also takes some pressure off of them since they are not even looking in the direction of the camera.. After using that as an icebreaker (and making sure you engage them in conversation with a soothing tone of voice all the while), it is easier to move into more personal areas and get the subject to reveal much more of their true self for the camera.

How did you become involved in Digital Photography and Art?

I left Photography behind in my late teens when I became a musician. For two decades I was a working musician playing in bands, touring and putting out albums. It wasn’t until the advent of the internet and home recording becoming available on the computer that I became aware of and intrigued by editing programs like Photoshop. Editing other people’s pictures on the net got me back into photography again and I bought a Nikon DSLR shortly thereafter.

What is it about mythology that inspires you to create the images that you do?
I look at mythology as a kind of universal psychology. Every culture in the world throughout history seems to have had the same underlying concepts and principles to their myths. When you consider that most of them were doing this independently and with no awareness of each other, you have to come to the conclusion that there really is a deep well of archetypal symbology that we are all drawing from. If you read the writings of Joseph Campbell, Robert Graves and Carl Jung, they are all saying exactly the same thing. I believe strongly in the power of symbols and allegories. When I see a cup in a piece of art, I don’t just see the object, I see it as a receptacle and depending on how it’s presented it may represent the divine feminine principle or perhaps even the Holy Grail and I DEFINITELY use that kind of mythic thought process in my art… It is a language that we all instinctively know, and one which I consciously invoke when I create.
However, sometimes I find that it is only after a piece is finished that I realize exactly what I was trying to depict. Even with the amount of staging and planning that I use for my creations, I still find these little “happy accidents” of symbology and synchronicity along the way!

Why do you think spiritual themes translate so well into art?

Both art and spirituality deal with the hidden forces of the mind. Wherever the seat of consciousness may reside – be it in the brain or “the soul”, both mystics and artists seek to reveal it’s inner workings.
Art can lift the veil and show us the way someone’s mind works, the hidden fantasies and emotions that propel their thoughts, their deepest desires, dreams and nightmares. It is all there in the great art of history – from Bosch to Goya to Dali to Frida Kahlo to Picasso ; Name a great artist and I’ll show you someone who portrayed the inner workings of their consciousness. And what REALLY makes this interesting is the ineractive process that continues with the work after the artist is dead (thus they achieve a kind of immortality) because all art is ultimately a mirror held up to the soul (or “psyche” if you’re more comfortable with a non-spirtual term) of the viewer.

If you don’t mind divulging, could you share with us a little about your Photoshopping techniques?

I realize that I have a very identifiable style and like a lot of the people I’ve admired and learned from, it’s very textural and layer based. I am obsessed with textures. In fact, I guess that would be the thing I am most recognized for by a lot of other artists. I can use as many as 20 different texture layers on one piece. I just love creating these kind of tactile surfaces and I pay a LOT of attention to how the texture layers interact and I am constantly moving the components of each different layer around (with layer masking,the clone stamp, free transform, and brush tools) and changing the layer settings until it all looks absolutely perfect to me.
When my work is printed on canvas I use finishing gel or acrylic paint to enhance it even more and give it an actual texture on top of the manipulated ones. so yes – I think that may be where I fit in when it comes to the Photoshop side of things; as a proponent of the texture overlay, but quite honestly I want to reach people who just like Art and don’t know a damn thing about Photoshop!

Do you have any advice for people just getting into Photoshop or people who want to advance their skills?

I think anyone using Photoshop should learn how to “properly” use the software- and by that I mean pick up one of those QuickStart books and learn ALLof the tricks. If you know things like how to save and edit a selection, how to do a clipping path, how to do layer masking and channel blending – you not only will save yourself a lot of time when you are creating your art pieces, but you can even go out and get a job in the graphic design field which is a great way to support your art and continually learn new techniques in your medium of choice!
I would also like to see more people “step outside the box” ,especially when it comes to what influences are showing through in their art and what they are intending to convey with it…
In a lot of Photoshop work I see, you can tell the person putting it all together doesn’t have any references other than mainstream Hollywood movies or other Photoshop art, so as a result you get alot of this Horror and Fantasy stuff that all looks the same. I say why not depict an intense dream you had or try and recreate a traumatic or vibrant childhood memory.?. That would be much more interesting to look at and I think much more personally gratifying to create!

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you and your art ?

I have recently begun moving ino the fine art field and displaying my work in galleries. I am part of several group exhibitions this month and have my second solo show coming up in May.

Through promoting my work I have become a passionate advocate for Digital Art and Photo-Manipulation. and I have found that there is a lot of ignorance or misconceptions directed towards these fields – not so much from the general public, but from other people in the Art scene Although most photographers are beginning to understand it as a valid tool, many traditional painters, collectors, and gallery owners are still unsure about the validity and longevity of computer-based art. It is up to us as pioneers in a new field of art to educate our audience and fellow artists about our work. That is why I am constantly mentioning how I photograph all of the elements of my pieces and the importance of influences and intentions on our creations. I want this genre to grow and to be taken seriously in the Art world and thankfully – I am seeing that happen more and more each day!

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