Photos © 1999, Richard Pahl, All Rights Reserved
The one thing that you can
count on when you see Richard Pahl's images is that you're
not gonna believe what you're looking at. The reason is that he's
so darned clever with what he's done/doing, you're just
never sure where reality ends and fantasy comes into being. He creates
such a perfect blend, it just blows your mind.
My biggest surprise is all the things that he can find wrong in my portraits
and the simple solutions he has to correct them. No, it's not
my posing and lighting. It's more the tonal qualities, the contrast
ratios, and details that I didn't know could be changed once the
image has been finished.
Interestingly, Pahl comes from the background of being a portrait photographer.
As a result he sees things that few other digital gurus notice. His
eye, his mind, and his hands all work together to perform what seems
to me to be pure magic.
His digital refinishing and
creation abilities are mostly performed in two programs--Photoshop and
Bryce-3D. Let's look at some of his "outlandish" images
and try to determine what was going through his mind as he set out to
accomplish these unbelievable tasks.
In Photo 1, Pictures at an Exhibition, he built his own Mediterranean
display gallery--over the water--completely out of his imagination. Starting
with "primitive" shapes (squares, cylinders, spheres, and
pyramids) in the Bryce program, he constructed the pavilion--complete
with three-dimensional shadows and the like.
After adding some of his own pictures into the display walls, he felt
that the color in them became a distraction. It was a simple matter to
remove the color (desaturate) and come up with the resulting final composite
of more than a dozen photographs and an unlimited number of shapes. Yes,
there are more than a dozen pictures on display, but you can't rotate
the wall in this flattened version to see the others.
Photo 2, Shogun, began as a large piece of redwood burl driftwood on the
California coast. He separated it from its background with the Path Tool
in Photoshop, rotated it 90° to stand it up, made a duplicate layer,
reversed it, and merged them together with a flat seam down the center.
When he looked at what he had, he noticed the very defined oriental design
and immediately gave it the title of Shogun.
Then, it was a simple matter
of adding the framing to the design using layers, selections, and gradients
in Photo-shop. I just learned how to construct a simple straight frame
around my images. Viewing this frame was (for me) almost impossible. He
says otherwise, of course.
The tones of all the component parts of this image strike me as being
a strong factor in the effectiveness of the picture. On the other hand,
as I think more about it, I feel that his imagination in seeing the potential
in a piece of driftwood was more of Pahl's black magic prowess.
"Black" because in Photoshop he overlaid the driftwood with
a layer of black. That's what made the colors pop so beautifully.
Dry Run (Photo 3) is a hilarious distortion of fact when you really stop
to think about it. What an apt title for sailboats floating across the
desert sand! The image evolved from some serious surrealistic art work
that he was doing at the time. It was a direct result of Pahl's
passion for studying the works of Dali and Uhlman--people whose work,
Pahl felt, had no boundaries and which encouraged him to stretch beyond
his own boundaries, too.
The "sails" were
created in Bryce, as was the desert. The entire image is a figment of
Pahl's fertile imagination. I know that I would never have thought
about anything like that, but then I've never given much thought
to what can be accomplished in the deep, dark back recesses of one's
Sir Charles, the Great Blue Heron, (Photo 4) was a simple photograph of
the bird in a neighbor's yard. The original picture was created
through a 500mm lens on his Mamiya RZ camera (and on a tripod). He just
kept moving closer and closer, exposing more and more film--until the
bird had had it.
Pahl spent hours in Photoshop, isolating the bird from its background.
His original scan was a 100MB file, created by his lab, Evercolor Fine
Arts, Worcester, Massachusetts. With that large an image he could pick
out each individual feather, achieving the incredible believability of
He then duplicated the bird
layer, flipped it over and matched the two about 4" above the feet,
so that it would appear as if the bird were standing in water. (It was
actually standing on a fence when the picture was created.)
The circular ripples were created entirely in Photoshop. To show you the
extent of Pahl's far-out imagination, he solved the problem of creating
the ripples by starting with a completely independent file. He began with
a tall rectangle, approximately 1/2" by 8" tall. With colors
set for black and white, he went across the narrow width of the rectangle
with the Gradient Tool, changing the line back and forth from black to
white and then back again to black.
He then duplicated the layer, rotated it 90°, and flattened the two
images to create a simple "+" sign. Using Filter/Distort/Rotate/Swirl
Pahl created a spiral design and then crushed it to an oval with the aid
of Transform/Distort. Whew. Talk about imagination and creativity. Then,
it was just a question of bringing that image together with the heron.
The final "touch of magic" was Pahl's laying on an overlay
of a transparent golden color over the entire image and adjusting it to
the final color of the composition. Worth the effort? I would say so.
Trawlers, (Photo 5) was an exercise in selecting intricate details from
their original background. The boats were first photographed by Pahl in
northeast Florida. I don't know what went through his mind to place
them on Lake Tahoe, but I do know that Tahoe is one of his favorite haunts.
The combination of those boats and Lake Tahoe is so incongruous, it's
funny. Pahl has actually shown this image to residents of Tahoe. He enjoyed
seeing their reaction when they looked at it. Certainly, that's
Tahoe. And those boats are real. How could that be? Only you and I know
that secret now. Seeing is believing, huh? Is it photographic evidence?
Well, not necessarily.
And, finally, there's something here for everyone. Do you like pure
fantasy? Pure imagination? Some-thing out of this world? Take a look at
Free at Last, (Photo 6), the last image from Pahl (and one of my favorites).
"One of the keys to this
image," Pahl says, "is its simplicity. There's simply
a total of six spheres. If you take any one of them out of the composition,
the picture loses it."
Personally, I love the colors, shapes, and the incredible depth perception
that's derived from the various sizes of the spheres. I'm
just amazed that a mind can conceive such a complex image and then create
it. I wondered if he had the final composition in mind when he began its
creation. Pahl says, "Not really." He takes it a step at a
time, makes lots of tries, keeps what he likes, and no one ever sees the
He tells me that he doesn't see the spheres as such. Instead, he
sees them as beings.
I've sort of given this last image a couple of other names: How
about Up, Up, and Away or The Great Escape. Whatever it's called
I want this one for my home.
A lot of people will want creative, unbelievable (perhaps) imagery to
hang in their homes. I sincerely believe that a great deal of the future
art that's going to be prominently displayed in homes will be coming
from photographers who're familiar with what digital imaging can
do to enhance their creative spirits.
Whether it begins on film or on a computer screen, who cares? No one.
This may well be the future for many image-makers. No surprises.
Want to get in contact with Pahl? Drop him an e-mail at: RBPahl@aol.com.
I'm sure that he'd love to hear from you. Maybe, you can talk
him into setting up a class for creative portrait photographers who want
to go "all the way." Let me know. I'll be there, myself.