All Photos by Paul Elson
My images happened to be in the right
place at the right time," says Paul Elson, a photographer who was invited
to China by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to lecture in Beijing after their
delegates saw his work displayed in New York's SoHo district. Elson--who
uses digital technology to create his own original works of art from his photos--attended
a large photo exposition in the town of Duyan, China, in the summer of 2002.
Paul Elson photographed "South China Sea" on the island
of Hainan. The sky (which was cloudy in the original image) was
later rendered in warm tones, and the silhouetted subject and
umbrellas were added in Photoshop.
Of course, the trip also afforded
great opportunities for photography. But rather than touring the countryside
as part of a group, Elson was encouraged by his contact at the Ministry to seek
photographic locations on his own. "An odyssey of indelible memories was
the result," he says. He discovered that when he inquired where to shoot
pictures, local people would send him to "spots suitable for typical postcard
shots." As an alternative, he often hired a cab and found his own subjects.
"I would choose my general direction from a map or by suggestions of the
locals, but my course often becomes sidetracked by a route I happen upon that
seems more interesting. Serendipity has made great contributions to my portfolio."
Timing is Everything
"I find dawn a magical time. Even in New York City, you can hear the birds
at sunrise. I think it's the metaphor of everything starting anew. I find
that I prefer the images I've captured early in the day, or at that time
in the afternoon that I call `long shadows.'" He avoided both
unflattering light and tourist traffic, he says, by not shooting during peak
daylight hours. Elson looked for naturally misty scenes to photograph rather
than to create them in Photoshop, although he altered a number of his images
afterward to get them to look the way he wanted. One such scene, entitled "Li
River Dawn," was an area not very close to his hotel. To get the shot,
he woke up at 4 a.m., and took a cab to get to his destination by daybreak.
happy, elderly shopper at a marketplace in the southern region
Elson also believes strongly in
scouting out photo spots ahead of time. "When you find a scene that you
like, go back at an optimum time to shoot it," he says, although he adds
that this doesn't always guarantee fabulous results. "When I find
something I like, I always have to remind myself not to seek that `maybe
even more beautiful' shot down the road--to work on this shot, and
get that `maybe' shot tomorrow."
"You don't just `take' photos, you `make'
them," he asserts. He waits for good light and sometimes adds and subtracts
elements later in Photoshop. Yet, in addition to his artistic images created
via Painter or Photoshop, he's done some wonderful "straight"
"As photographers, we're looking for metaphors--we try to capture
something in which the viewer immediately knows what we're trying to say
at a glance. The best images communicate instantly, no caption required. I find
it very pleasing when I create an image, that someone tells me it expresses
something, perhaps nondefinable, that they wish to keep--an emotion, a
memory, something that might have been--that's what art is all about."
In Elson's case, he discovered that he liked photographing scenes that
depict time-honored Chinese traditions.
Li River, China," is actually a combination of three different
He also stresses that simplicity is key. "Less is more--it's
easy to say, but not always easy to do. I know that I can make a good image
if I can visualize it first." One such image is "Tai Chi,"
which Elson photographed at a boat landing at dawn. The original scene included
elements that he found extraneous, such as numerous people participating in
the Chinese discipline Tai Chi, others looking on, and several industrial-looking
boats. Later in Photoshop, he removed the distracting objects and pared the
composition down to the single man in a Tai Chi pose, which is a simpler, more
striking image. "It's the beauty of using Painter or Photoshop.
My best shots are ones that I pre-visualize or a scene that inspires me."