To distort or not to distort. That is the question. Or maybe the question is, “What is distortion?”. I ask this because I was working on a photo this week. It’s one of my Manhattan street scenes. A Bryant park scene specifically. It’s a photo that I took last year during one of my photo expeditions to the city.

When I make a photo it’s not about a single image. It’s about taking a whole bunch of images, cutting them up, arranging them how I like, and pasting them down so that they work together as one final image. I used to do this with photos printed from negatives but now I do it with digital photos on the computer and then print them out and paste them down physically.

I don’t really sweat the photos too much as I’m taking them. Sure I want to take a good picture but they’re street photos. By nature that makes them fleeting. Chance shots of chance people who happen to be walking down the street. Besides being patient and looking for good spots and subjects nothing is arranged ahead of time. It’s “Take what you can get” rather than “Bend the world to your will” photography.

I like doing that sort of photography because it suits the spontaneity I’m looking for. It’s spontaneity in myself rather than the photos though. I spend so much time planning my drawings, paintings, comics, and prints that, years ago, I decided not to spend so much time planning my photography. I would take what I could get and see what I could do with it. And that is where my skill lies today. Not in taking the photos but in making something out of them.

So there I was working on “Subject Unknown No. 2”. The second in my series of masked street people. The people are not actually wearing masks out on the street but I am drawing masks and pasting the masks onto the people in the digital photos. I’m doing this because I like the anonymity of strangers on the street and this makes them anonymous to everyone. Plus I like drawing masks.

When making these photos I usually paste all the pieces down in some sort of grid pattern. Though I have, on occasion, cut on the diagonal I almost always keep the various pieces of photos rectangular. So there are straight white “Gutters” between most of the pieces of photos. As a consequence any line in a photo that is not straight is obvious.

Photographic lenses are curved and buildings are straight. This leads to distortion in photographs. If you take a picture of a building the straight lines can look curved. As I was working on this photo and things were starting to come together I noticed that there was a building in the background of the main picture. The building’s windows made a grid. Except it was a grid that was out of square with the edges of the photo. The people in the photo looked fine but not that grid.

Since I was working in Photoshop I decided to try and straighten that grid out. The task was to fix the grid without making the rest of the photo look distorted. It was then I had to ask myself how much distortion was too much distortion. Or was I not distorting it at all but fixing it. They only “reality” I had was the un-retouched photo that was clearly already distorted otherwise I wouldn’t have to fix that building. I had to decide where reality lay based on how it looked to me.That’s always a little weird.

Anyway I approached the problem a couple of different ways and ended up finding a solution that suited me. The photo was of four people walking and after I finished “Fixing” it the person farthest left was leaning slightly differently than in the un-retouched version. You couldn’t tell without seeing both versions side by side and I ended up liking the new lean better than the old but now I have no idea which one is “Real”.

So that’s where I ended up; wondering what distortion is when it comes to a photograph. Was I making the photo more like life or less so? I’m not sure but I found it a fun question to ponder. One of these weeks I’m going to start posting some of my photos and paintings here so you can see them for yourself. Yeah, I’m a little slow.