Thursday, September 23, 2010

Leaving Well Enough Alone?

Under the Pier, 2010

Do you ever go back and look at pictures your taken or painted or drawn and change them?

I’ve been watching a series of programs lately on the Sundance Channel called The Day Before. Each half-hour show covers the day leading up to one or another famous fashion designer’s annual fashion show. So far I’ve watched Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang and Donatello Versace, the latter of whom is said to be tempestuous and unlikable, but came across in at least this show as a pretty nice person. They’re all artists, though, so they’re always changing things and always keeping all the people who work in their orbits up late and frustrated with unrealistic demands.

In a documentary that only covers the last hours before a show, it’s difficult to know how much time has actually gone into designing and creating the fifty or so completely new outfits that will be shown. But if there’s a recurring theme among these programs so far, it’s that a whole lot of sweat goes into the last few hours. Things that looked good on paper or on a mannequin don’t look good on the live model who will wear them in the show. The seam that nobody noticed before stands out like a sore thumb. The combination of well-selected fabrics doesn’t end up going together well. Upon seeing them in the show line-up, some outfits get completely blown apart and remade. Some disappear from the collection. The hours before the big show are all about making and remaking dresses. No one sleeps. But the teams always pull it off in the end. Anna Wintour nods approvingly. The crowd applauds. Lots of air kisses.

This got me to wondering about how I treat pictures I took a long time ago. My workflow goes something like this:

  1. I take the pictures.
  2. I’ll do a quick cull that day to get rid of the easily recognized duds. Some pictures will stand out right away. I’ll start working on them.
  3. The others I’ll do some preliminary post processing on within a couple of days. But I find I have to approach them a few at a time.
  4. Eventually, I’ll sort out a few “selects,” and then over a period of what could be either weeks of months, I’ll toss the remaining ones out. (Just because it’s easy to store digital pictures doesn’t mean you have to.)
  5. I look at them for a while and then they get stowed away on a hard drive. It’s been months since I liked a picture so much that I made a print for myself.

Every now and then I go back through the files and revisit pictures I’ve taken in the past. Upon reflection, some are mindless. I’ll wonder why I ever kept them. In some I’ll be like the designers in The Day Before and find flaws I didn’t notice before and touch them up a bit. Still others I’ll have to admit have no reason to be. I’ll feel good to have cleaned them out.

Yesterday I went down and took a walk on the beach. I also took about thirty-five pictures. The first cull was easy. None of the images excited me and only five survived the first cut, including Under the Pier, above. Who knows what will happen when I look at it again this winter?


  1. I use basically the same process with one difference. With two 500Gb portable hard drives and a couple of months of snow in the offing I usually spend the dreary snowed in days going through my old photos. As you say, it's best to do a few at a time too avoid culling too many, keeping too many or going blind!

  2. Can't say I've ever done that with photos. But then I'm not a photographer. I have done this with sewing--many many times! Clothes you make rarely come out as they "should." I have definitely re-made tons of clothes over the years.

    Interesting to hear your processes.