Issue No. 01 - January/February (2006 vol. 26)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MCG.2006.6
Dolores Kaufman says her work is a cross between photo manipulation and computer-generated imagery, but she prefers not to use that latter term. "[Computer-generated] implies that the computer is doing all the work and, boy, do I ever work hard!" she explained. "The wonderful thing I have discovered, and take advantage of whenever I can, is the opportunity for collaboration that the computer provides. I think that every art form, media, or tool provides this as well, but each of us has to find the one we can work with in this way, as it can be an exhilarating path to self-discovery."
Kaufman has a BS and an MS in art education from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University where she studied with op artist Julian Stanczak. She went on to exhibit her photography in galleries and museums and also lectured in photography at the university level. After leaving teaching, she joined another photographer in a commercial studio. After purchasing a Power Mac in the mid-1990s, Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress entered her life, but computers still provided so many new choices that she couldn't quite figure out what direction she wanted to go in. It was not until Kaufman learned of Diane Vetere's work with Kai Power Tools' Hyper Tiling plug-in that she found an adequate road to follow.
"Up until then I had tried and ultimately rejected the use of filters and plug-ins," she explained. "But there was something about the forms she was generating that were suggestive and intriguing so I decided to give it a try." Apparently it worked and the muse emerged. "I discovered that Hyper Tiling allowed the same kind of symbiotic dance that I had enjoyed with my 35-mm camera. Until that point the computer was a tool that I manipulated with conscious control and very little (or not enough) inspiration coming from the tool itself; but once I discovered a way to dance with it I wanted to dance all night!"
Transmutations, roller painting, and spring cleaning
Sea Voyage II.03 (the cover image) is one in a series of images derived from photographs that have nothing to do with the sea, interestingly enough. It all began with Hyper Tiling, or, to be more specific, not using the presets. "Kai Krause, the author of Kai's Power Tools, supplies a small group of what he calls presets that are intended as starting points, but many users simply apply the presets and go no further," Kaufman said. "A number of sliders are also supplied for adjusting a variety of parameters so, rather than use the presets, I decided to start each image from scratch by nulling all of the sliders and paying close attention to the changes that occurred as I slowly manipulated each one."
After playing around with depth intensity, transparency, field of view, and several other parameters, Kaufman established a string of techniques that produced images different from anyone else's. "When I began to see an image appear that reminded me of a four-month journey on a sailboat that my partner and I took from our former home in Cleveland, Ohio, to our new home on the west coast of Florida, I was able to steer the process in that direction and create a number of images for that series—all different, all evoking different aspects of the voyage, and all from a single photographic image (one for each series) that had nothing whatever to do with the sea." She deemed these transformative techniques transmutations, referring to the alchemical process of turning base metals into gold, or the search for the philosopher's stone.
"Now that I have spent a good deal of time with [Kai Power Tools], my initial ideas for work can come from many places," she said. "What I often like to do is to pose a question that I attempt to answer with the plug-in, using it as a kind of Ouija board. An example is the "Roller Painting" series [see Figures 1 and 2]. In that series I compare the computer to a paint roller. They are both tools originally designed and used for practical purposes rather than for art. So, I ask the Ouija board, Can I take these two nonart tools and create some art? It's a loaded question, of course, but so is any question posed to a Ouija board."
Kaufman says that Rituals (see Figure 3), part of her "Spring Cleaning" series, was gestated in much the same way as the "Sea Voyage" series. The original transparency is a photograph of cleaning supplies. "The final meaning goes beyond those utilitarian objects to evoke what a 'spring cleaning' might represent: thoughts of spiritual renewal as well as a reawakening of sexual desire or love. … While I love abstract art and have always been a proponent of art for art's sake, I find it difficult to escape the pull of an inner life of thought, feeling, and emotion in my own work."
Kaufman was recently included in JD Jarvis' and Joseph Nalvin's book, Going Digital: The Practice and Vision of Digital Artists (Course Technology PTR, 2005). For the book, several digital artists were given the same three images to start with and each artist then explains—almost in diary format—how they produced the final result. And each artist came up with a completely different final image.
"Being included in the book was a wonderful opportunity for me to test out my own hunches and musings regarding digital art," she explained. "I do believe there is a digital aesthetic but once you say that, the listener (or reader) immediately thinks in terms of style. Of course there is no one style, but there are tendencies and affinities to styles that tend to coalesce in digital work but might not be obvious at first glance. Examined closely, however, we can see a kind of seamless blending of pop art concerns and surrealism at work, as Jarvis points out."
A Girl Can Dream is the title of one of Kaufman's images included in Going Digital. She said that the future is uncertain and this is precisely what allows her the space to dream. She also noted that even as a digital artist, photography will always play a role in her work. "Reaching beyond qualities of surface and effect, digital art is primarily an art of the mind and the imagination rather than work of the hand. The same is true of photography and one of the reasons, perhaps, that they can work together so well. But there is another reason that photographs continue to play a role in my work. Photographs are artifacts of a past which I can now revisit, reinvent, and give new meaning. Combined with the computer they become the keys to my past, present, and future."