Local Contrast 1996
Posse snuck up on me. The stunning presences, within the series Allies, reminiscent of Native American totem poles, African sculpture, or Hindu figurines, had been pursuing me for months. There were, and still are, dozens waiting to find homes. While the majority of the images I had created featured solitary figures, I was drawn to explore the effects of many within a single image — group dynamics. I tried subtle variations of the same figure. Another image arose, Rainbow Warriors. I tried many different figures within the same image. Some worked together, others didn’t. When the right ensemble gathered, Posse appeared. Both images were drawn from my old home, the New Mexico desert. Both images contained one shared figure. And the shared figure, appropriately, reminded me of the kachinas I read about, drew, collected, and watched in dances as a child.
I tried many landscapes. Few had the intensity to compete with figures. When I found this ridge I knew it had sufficient drama. It became clear that a land containing a sharp angular slope suggesting a possible impending descent was wanted.
I tried many skies. Many were too distracting. If the skies had a definite design, the image became too busy. I needed a single field, a ground without figure, to support the many figures hovering in the space above. Yet, a flat even sky was too simple. It offered too little support. Some skies contained too much color. A bright blue announced itself too loudly. Its dramatic contrast in color took attention away from what was already dramatic, form and light. Color in general was subdued and altered to produce unity and focus the attention of the eye on the essential elements.
An image can have too little or too much contrast. (Here I mean contrast between all elements within an image, not just tone.) Too little contrast and the message is unheard. Too much contrast and the message is obscured. In either case, the message is unclear. Most leading actors need supporting actors, all save the soloist need accompaniment. But, when supporting actors compete with main actors, the thrust of the drama is confused. Contrast needs to be placed in the most important areas. It establishes priorities. It is what we focus on. With this in mind I often downplay certain elements to let others shine. Yet, I didn’t want the supporting elements to be silent. In them, I wanted a quiet life to simmer underneath the main action. They are there to echo, through similarity, and amplify, through contrast, the message. They reinforce the drama.
I found myself sifting first images and then elements. First one element, then another, a little to the left, a little to the right, a little darker, a little lighter, a little cooler, a little warmer. Seeing things side by side, simultaneous contrast, made things clear. Through successive iterations the image was refined. The proper balance was achieved. The image was sought and found.