The Mystique Remains
The World According To Daniel Morduchowicz

"It is impossible for anyone to go out and photograph something and not have it reflect who they are. It's almost intangible. You can analyze and say it's the cropping or it's the lens, but the mystique remains."
--Daniel Morduchowicz

There is nothing mainstream in the images of Daniel Morduchowicz. He is not interested in common themes or reality, as most of us know it. Shutterbug caught up with Morduchowicz at PhotoPlus Expo 2003 at the Javits Center in New York, where his work was prominently displayed at the MediaStreet, Inc. booth.

Photos© 2003 Daniel Morduchowicz, All Rights Reserved

Attracted by a group of portraits exhibited along the wall of the booth, I approached to find that these were not images of live models but rather strange and spooky mannequins posed as if to show another side of our own persona, an interpretation of who we think we might like to be--perfect bodies, makeup, style--symbols of beauty. It is easy to understand these as an art form, but the more I looked, the harder it was not to make a connection with the images.

To Morduchowicz, however, what he saw in the mannequins was different. "Though they are quite beautiful," he admits, "they are also quite sad. Reality is not perfect."

Morduchowicz plays with our mind. His interest is not only in challenging our sense of reality but the procedure he must go through to perform his legerdemain. It is less of a game than a test. He engages us with a warning to remain skeptical of everything we see and read and hear, to just look carefully and think later.

Computer Tech
Much of his mystique stems from his close association with computer technology, where for 10 years making things appear surreal and otherworldly was his livelihood, a good one at that, with a client list that included HBO, US Weekly magazine, Universal Pictures, Disney Studio, Levi's, Miller Brewing Co., and other high profile corporations. It was Morduchowicz's poster of an American flag split by a gavel and held above a newspaper that represented the battle for the presidency in Florida in 2000.

Born in Argentina in 1959, his career began in the late '70s. In '80 he moved to Los Angeles where he began doing photocomposition and retouching in his darkroom. When computers became affordable Morduchowicz bought his first Macintosh. In the early '90s he started to work with the motion picture industry in Los Angeles, producing advertising, then video and music covers and finally large movie posters for spectaculars like Titanic, Moulin Rouge, and Independence Day.

"In the Titanic poster," he tells us, "Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet appear to be hugging behind the large image of the boat. In fact though, they were not hugging. Each came from a different photograph. DiCaprio's hand was blurry so I photographed someone else in the studio and changed the hand. The hair was also a composite and the ship we see in the poster was very different from the photograph given to me because we needed to trade details. That poster took several months to complete though it appears to be a simple image."

In the early '90s, realizing he needed to run his business in-house to solve turnaround problems he was encountering in the movie industry, Morduchowicz purchased a large high-end drum scanner, a complicated machine requiring an experienced operator. A large format Iris printer followed as well as a Kodak film recorder capable of producing up to 8x10 transparencies with high resolution. Next he added the Quantel Paintbox, which was like a mainframe computer. His business, "Cronopios," grew to be one of the premier digital imaging studios in Hollywood.

"My photographer's eye and my knowledge of photography made this possible," he says, "but I had to lay aside my own work for over 10 years. By the year 2000 my equipment was obsolete and I shut down the business and replaced the Iris printer with an Epson 2000 that is so simple it runs itself. The scanner was replaced with an Imacon that sits on my desktop and all I have to do is press a button.

"The movie poster business had grown stale for me," he says. "The excitement was no longer there and it became just a question of making money and for me a thing must be more than that."

Lasting Images
In 2000 Morduchowicz discovered the permanent, pigmented Generation inks from MediaStreet and felt liberated to create his personal work with new ink technology that would allow his prints to last. His images still incorporated the strange alchemies for which he was noted and for some, questions began to arise: "Is this really photography? If an image is printed on canvas does this make it a painting?"

Of course not! The photograph remains totally valid, yet many people still question and look once more. And that is just what Morduchowicz wants us to do.

A Light Photoshop Touch
Although he works in Photoshop, he "does it lightly," he says. "Most of my images are not photo composites. I do not put pictures together from different images. My work now is much more what I see. I do use a lot of darkroom tricks in Photoshop," he says, "like dodging and burning as well as other things a darkroom does not allow you to do but a computer does. Sometimes I will oversharpen an image for a certain effect and because I know the technology so well, I do things the technology is not designed to do to enhance my own vision.

"I may blur an area or create my own depth of field but I do it in a subtle way and it is never my intention to make my pictures look like anything but photographs. I may borrow certain techniques used by painters in the past and apply them to my photography, like softening an edge to turn a form or to concentrate your attention on certain areas of the image, using warm and cool tones to bring certain areas out and make others recede. I might add visual texture to create an interesting background and invite your eye to stay in the image, but this is simply using measures artists have always used.

"I am a bit defensive when people ask, `Is that truly a photograph?' Would they have asked Jackson Pollock `what is that?' In the minds of most people a photograph must be a picture of something, but I like it when they don't always know exactly what they are seeing. The important thing is for them to look at it. The event is really about recording what is inside!"

At a recent show of his work in Los Angeles, titled "Bystopia," which, Morduchowicz says is the opposite of Utopia, half of the show was the mannequin series. The other half showed unpopulated landscapes, shot in different areas around the world. There is no sense of human presence. An eerie loneliness pervades which, for the photographer, raises the question, "Are there places where people really don't matter?"

The photographs of Morduchowicz are intuitive and he shoots what he finds. He is not conceptual and has no preconceived ideas when he photographs. He does not want to make art that he feels is lacking in formal beauty or technical skill or try to make it more important or outrageous.

His take on that is, "If you can't express an idea visually in a way that makes sense and that needs to be explained, why not go and write a book?"

Simple Gear
His equipment is simple. Morduchowicz shoots digitally with a Nikon D100 and says, "I am not looking for the perfection of a view camera. It is totally different and in terms of the technical stuff, digital is getting there. If I were shooting 35mm and scanning in the image, the digital would be better than the 35mm scanned in. I found this out through extensive testing. However, I prefer shooting 21/4 for my portraits because there is still a quality there that digital cannot give me. The 21/4 gives me a subtlety in changing from one area of sharpness to another. For instance, if you look at someone's eyelashes or hair, the digital still has a hard time re-sorting refined detail and it tends to clump up a bit, where with the 21/4 I get a nice separation in the hair."

The portraits are not just random models. They are people he chooses. "One," he explains, "is the great Duchess Maria of Russia, a direct descendent of the Czars." His fascination is understandable--the woman's image is anachronistic, as though she does not belong to this time but is rather a remnant of long past royalty.

As with all of Morduchowicz's work, the portraits are about reality vs. reality and we come away wondering--does reality really matter?

Check out Morduchowicz's masterful and beautiful website at: