I was moving some stuff around today and I found a street photo I made back in January 2010. Hard to believe that was over five years ago now. This was one of the first 10×15 inch street photos that I made and it’s done in my classic cut and paste different photos into one big photo style. No words to go along with the image but it does have a title. “Subject Unknown”.

"Subject Unknown"

“Subject Unknown”

I’ve always face a little problem with my street photos in that none of these people had asked to be my models. They have no idea these photos even exist. They were all taken in public places but I still feel protective of people who didn’t volunteer or get paid to be my muses. So I’m always trying to find ways to work around their identities. It also helps me be creative. Plenty of other photographers make photos all about the model and the model’s identity or the model’s pretend identity so nobody will miss out if I make mine about obscuring the model’s identity. That trail eventually lead me down the path I use now with many filter recipes that give me different looks and effects over my photos. But before I developed those I did a few photos with this mask technique.

The rest of this photo follows an anonymous model technique too but that’s by giving the viewer little glimpses of a persons face and not the whole face. We see a nose and lips, pieces of arms, the back of a shoulder, and a figure off in the distance. I also uses blurry out of focus figures. I’m big on blurriness as one of the words in my photography vocabulary. Sometimes things need to be out of focus. It adds to the visual variety of a photo. I’ve actually made photos where everything is in sharp focus and they don’t turn out well. They lack a certain depth that the eye can move into. So blurry is as important as sharp. But I couldn’t make the main figures blurry to obscure their identities. Blurry can’t be the main flavor of the dish.

So I came up with masks. I draw masks all the time. I draw odd faces all the time. It was natural that I reach the conclusion that I should draw masks on the main people in the photos. I even thought it was an easy solution in that good old way where I think things will take way less time then they eventually do.

At first I thought I could draw the masks digitally. I opened the photo in Photoshop and proceeded to use my Wacom pen to try and draw the mask over the person’s face. It didn’t turn out as I’d hoped it would. I thought maybe if I drew it at a larger size it would be better but that didn’t work either. I just plain don’t have enough time in drawing digitally to get a real feel for it. I find the whole process clumsy. Drawing on a piece of glass with a tool that won’t do exactly what I want it too is frustrating to me. I’m sure if it was my job and I was doing it all day every day I’d get the hang of it soon enough but that was never my job. So I decided, once again, it would be faster to draw on paper and scan in.

Now the first thing I had to do was draw all those faces. This is easy enough to do digitally since it wouldn’t be a finished drawing. I just trace over the faces and then print that out in blue line to draw over. Though the faces are only an inch or so tall in the final photo I drew them at four to six inches tall. Each was drawn on a different piece of paper and then I scanned them in to be colored on the computer. Coloring a drawing on the computer is something I do all the time and am very comfortable with. It’s totally different than drawing on the computer. It took some doing to get the masks to fit just right though. If I remember correctly I had to warp and bend them ever so slightly in Photoshop to get them to look the way I wanted. They had to be in the right place compared to the hairline and ears while bending slightly around the jaw. That took more fiddling than I thought it would.

The last thing I remember doing to the masks is knocking back their layer opacity to 90%. That means the color is not quite solid. Ten percent of the face behind it shows through. That’s really not enough to notice any features or such but it makes the masks slightly less stark. They sure do stand out against their photo backdrops but a little less so with the 90% opacity. I went back and forth with that trying to figure out exactly how much if any of the background face I wanted showing through the mask but eventually I settled on very little.

Overall I like how this photo came out. I like the boldness of the masks paired with the boldness of the figures walking towards us. Plus it makes some sort of statement about our faces and the masks we wear on them. “My mask is my true face” are the words that go with one of my old prints and they can be used here too. What is real the mask or the face underneath? I don’t have the answers just the questions.

Either way I only did two or three of these masked photos. They ended up taking a lot of time to do. One of the reasons I like working with photos is that it’s a faster way of working with images than drawing or painting. I can get more done in the same amount of time. If the photo is going to take the same amount of time then it has lost its advantage. But looking at this on makes me want to do more. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to speed things up. Sure I will.