Constraints


Anger, alienation, frustration, resignation, gratitude, relief, fatalism. As we enter Year Three of this relentless pandemic, with the reality of more limitations on “normal life,” the very human activities of getting together, working together, traveling, going on adventures, and making memories have been turned on their heads. Fight or flight? Given the needlessly deadly polarities roiling our country right now, it’s both.


For me, the relentless futility of the moment has been replaced by a grim determination to beat this damned thing. To not give in. To tough it out. I’ve clipped my wings for more than two years. Creatively, I like to roam and ramble. I’m happiest when I get into a flow state in new kinetic environments, capturing expressions, ephemeral shafts of light, accidental geometries, and color juxtapositions. I crave the reality of being in the moment. But there’s just so much you can do when you’re locked down in your house and restricted to walkabouts in the mostly abandoned strip malls we call “towns” these days. I felt like a caged animal. Dozens of photographers have chronicled their lockdown experiences, from table settings and neighbor’s protests to children’s play and their family member’s noble battle with this disease. There are so many heartbreaking and poignant records of this unique time.


I started to document the experience in properly composed and exposed documentarian photographs. But I couldn’t capture the forced boredom or stifle the rage that was bubbling up under the surface. The suffocation I was feeling. So, I decided to break every photographic technical rule I could think of in every shot. The exposure triangle? Obliterated. Golden Ratio and the Rule of Thirds? Fuggedaboudit. I was going to push sensor resolution and the edges of the image until they screamed for mercy. It was critical to do this as much in-camera as possible. Taking properly exposed photos and pegging the sliders in Lightroom or C-1 is not the same thing. This wasn’t about creating a new effect or set of presets. I wanted the expression to come from my hands, not from the perversion of programmed bits and bytes.


And then a funny thing happened.


As exposures reversed positive and negative spaces to create new hardlines and barriers, as colors shifted to extremes and white space defined the emptiness of the jumble of storefronts, this project became cathartic. More than a creative experiment, it got to the heart of what I’ve been feeling. Isolated. Obscured. More shadow than substance. In an era of dark disrespect, where rules seem arbitrary and antiquated, breaking them all seemed appropriate. One of the perpetual questions in the arts is which leads, intent or technique? In this case, a radical shift in technique led to a powerful expression of deeper feelings.

© Copyright, David Ellis, 2021
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