The Photography Of Thom Rouse; Where Technician And Artist Meet Page 2

SB: Many of your works are heavily manipulated. Do you have a vision in mind when you start or does it unfold before you?

TR: About a third of my pieces are previsualized and are finished very close to my original concept. About a third began with a previsualized concept and evolve into something else during the process. And about a third are simply the result of fooling around on the computer until I see something I like. Initially I thought it was "cheating" to produce an image that was not entirely previsualized but I have come to think that we really don't create anything--all possible images are already out there. Our task is to recognize them--discover them--and harvest them when we see them, whether in our own heads or on the screen.

"Time After Time"
What began as a pre-wedding portrait of three generations of women evolved into a commissioned fine art portrait of a family's matriarch. After completing a traditional portrait of grandma with her daughter and granddaughter, I began a fine art piece with Mrs. Yamaoka as the central figure. I started with a "yin/yang" line bisecting the subject's face from the upper left corner in a sinusoidal curve to the bottom right corner of a square frame. The Pen tool was used to create a path and was stroked in red. I wanted to give a sense of the totality of the subject's life from youth through old age. I retained the subject's face to the right of the yin/yang curve and to the left of the curve I constructed a youthful face from elements in my personal image stock. On multiple layers selected features of Mrs. Yamaoka's eyes and lips were masked over the left (youthful) image and stylized into what I imagined her features might have been as a younger woman.
Because Mrs. Yamaoka had spent portions of her life in both the East and the West I wanted to incorporate a subtle Western motif into the composition to balance the Eastern yin/yang motif. My thought was that the "golden mean" is among the most Western of visual motifs. In a separate document I constructed a grid of various but proportionally-sized golden rectangles. I stroked the lines in the same red I'd used for the yin/yang and dragged the layer over the image in Overlay Blending mode. The right angles of the grid seemed overly regimented for the overall composition so I took the grid overlay into "liquefy" and added a clockwise spin to the entire layer.
Several selected images of an Asian model's hair were brought into the image, manipulated with the Transform tool, and masked into position. Saving the layered original (just in case!), a duplicate was flattened and taken into Painter. My experience with Painter was and still is very limited. In this case (as in most cases) I defaulted to a large palette knife. I added broad strokes of red to the left half of the image, dark blue/black to the right half. I continued with the palette knife in Clone mode and (in Jeremy Sutton's terms) began a "mucking up" of the entire image. Finally, I added back detail and original contour with the soft cloning brush. The original image is printed on Kodak metallic paper (a material I once thought was a gimmick but have since come to use for many of my images).
Mrs. Yamaoka died on her granddaughter's wedding day--a fact that was kept from the bride until late in the day. Although at the time it seemed to be a terribly unfortunate circumstance, the bride and her family perceive the events as having given symmetry to the arc of their family's history. A number of the wall prints included in the wedding package were foregone in favor of printing "Time After Time" as mementos for family members.
© 2006, Thom Rouse, All Rights Reserved

SB: Can you take us through a typical fine art workflow? What camera/lenses do you use?

TR: I'm currently using the Nikon D200 as my principal camera and expect to buy the D3 soon. I use a variety of lenses, both Nikons and Tamrons, including a few older manual focus Nikon primes that I can't seem to live without. For studio sessions and figure studies I edit in Lightroom but save as raw and do very little manipulation until I start a specific project. I also collect and file objects and textures wherever I see them and save them as raw files. Many of them sit on a hard drive for months and sometimes years before I discover an appropriate use for them. Although textures are readily available for sale on disc I prefer to photograph everything that goes into a finished image, and I think the search for and discovery of textures is important to the process and to visual literacy.

For fine art work I rarely use Actions and often forget exactly how and what I've done to produce the final image. I want the process to be driven by concept and visualization not by the technology. It's too great a temptation to fall back on old tricks stored as Actions or Scripts. Each new image should be a process of discovery. Except for a few files I've saved for demonstration my finished images are flattened. At first I flattened them to save storage space but it has become part of the process and forces me to declare an image finished and to resist the temptation to tamper with it further.

"Symbol Tree." A surreal image of a tree, a face and stylized leaves with symbols.
© 2006, Thom Rouse, All Rights Reserved

SB: Do you have any favorite Photoshop plug-ins and do you use other software?

TR: Yes, I shoot raw and can't understand why anyone would shoot anything else. One of the joys of digital is having the postproduction opportunities that allow for greater spontaneity during capture. My principal software is Photoshop. I'm convinced that you can do everything in Photoshop--although a plug-in may well save time for specific manipulations. I use LucisArt sparingly--I rarely want it to be obvious--and a few of the Flaming Pear plug--ins, including Flood. I also have Painter X and use it occasionally but I'm not very good at it.

SB: File sizes must become cumbersome with the amount of layers involved. Tell us a little bit about your computer setup and how you deal with large file sizes.

TR: I'm currently on a Mac G5 Quad with 4GB of RAM. Most of my images range from 750MB to 1GB, but occasionally well over 1GB in size. The G5 seems to be sufficient, although I may have time for a short nap while it renders an extensive liquefy manipulation. I'm an obsessive user of layers in what is probably a very inefficient way. I know I've had images with well over 400 layers but I kept them with the idea that I could always go back to an earlier state and rearrange individual elements. In fact, I almost never move back--I either declare the image finished or declare it a failure and move on. (I've learned far more from the failures than from the successes.)

"Natural History." A depiction of natural history with the Fibonacci sequence dominating the composition.
© 2005, Thom Rouse, All Rights Reserved

The current trend in retail photography is to use software to save time; to use Actions and Scripts to automate production. There is great emphasis on saving time--sometimes to the detriment of our craft. Time is of course important in production work but for fine art or self-assignments or carriage trade work saving time should not be a major issue. I had a brief conversation with Arthur Rainville from the New England School of Photography who said that photographers are always worried about saving time when they might be better served by "savoring the time."

SB: Do you think it's possible for a photographer to have a viable business by creating unique artwork such as yours?

TR: It is certainly my intention to make my living solely as a fine artist but my primary motivation is one of self-discovery, so I'll be doing it regardless of whether or not it is economically viable. That said, each year seems to bring an increase in revenue from fine art. And I think that just as in portrait and wedding photography, financial success is dependent on attention to business and marketing--not just to image making. I've tried hard to avoid it but I've made a resolution to pay more attention to business and marketing.

To see more of Thom Rouse's work, visit Rouse can be contacted via e-mail at: