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Excerpts from "digit, Forum For Professional Imaging", Germany

Zen for the Poor

Which is why we take more pictures. Zen in the art of photography

Authenticity and the importance of the original in digital photography is one of the most discussed topics nowadays. But this discussion is actually as old as technically made pictures themselves - which is what photographs are. Photographer Paul Kalkbrenner from Cologne says the same thing.

The photographer takes camera in hand and shoots faces. Result: portraits. The same photographer transfers these portraits onto a computer and combines them with quotations from a book. Result: Zen for the Poor.

This exercise in practical work and the philosophy of digital imaging was photographer Paul Kalkbrenner's first encounter with the computer. A major focus of Kalkbrenner's photographic work is portraiture. Images of musicians for record covers and the magazine "Musik Express" make up the major part of his work. The project "Zen for the Poor" was realized in 1992.

"The computer has been a creative challenge to me, an attempt to deal with photography and portraiture in a new way." Despite the different technologies used, one can see parallels to his photographic way of working. "I work very spontaneously when I do portraits. I like to work with a minimum of equipment. I work intuitively, without too much preparation. When I meet the person I want to portray, I feel and experience them directly and start from there."

With the zen project, he articulates anew the question of how realistic a portray has to be. "What remains if I move that far away from the person and away from beaten tracks?" The "raw material" was photographed at the opening of the Cologne gallery "Atelier Sömering". With a Canon still video camera, he took a series of portraits of the visitors. "I positioned myself at the entrance and photographed the visitors one by one without even looking through the viewfinder.The camera had a fixed focus at close distance, so I just had to guess the right proximity."

Instead of the camera standing between the photographer and his subject, now the computer became the medium between the two: From the still video floppy of the Ion, the 72 dpi pictures found their way onto a Mac. "Intuitively I bent gamma curves and faces. Noses, eyes and mouths turned to flat spots of color and graphic structures. I used filters, masks and channels to manipulate the image in

a playful way. I didn't want to create a photo-realistic illusion. The typical technical perfection in digital imaging is rather boring to me." With the integration of the computer, Kalkbrenner replaces and broadens the process of imaging.

The interaction with the subject happens later on the monitor screen. Kalkbrenner combines the pictures with quotations from Robert Leverant's book "Zen in the Art of Photography" and so adds an extra dimension to the work. "I didn't want a straight translation of the book's message into images, but rather wanted to create a contrast. A stimulus that triggers a response in the eye

of the beholder." The combination
of pictures and texts develops from the order in which the people portrayed arrived at the gallery and the order of quotations in the book. The message of the image/text combination is in the eye and mind of the beholder.

Kalkbrenner's intention is "to trigger a thinking process through contrast and abstraction". And last but not least to provoke a reflection on photography and its reference point "reality" in general: "Photographers are just now realizing: The original and therefore their copyright is shaky. Instead of lamenting they should accept this new medium as a creative challenge."

We must approach it with a clean mind and pure heart.

Technically speaking:

Back in 1992 Canon introduced the "Ion", their first digital still video camera, and they gave it to me for testing. The Ion had an amazing resolution of 72 dpi, and captured something like 20 pics on a proprietary sort of floppy. You needed a special capture board to get the data onto your Mac. Friends of mine let me use their Quadra 900, which ran at the fabulous speed of 25 MHz. And on that machine I first discovered Photoshop, version 2.0 - one redo, no layers.

I remember the following incident. It was on my first night out with a Mac and I explored the endless possibilities of Photoshop, twisting the gamma curves of pictures, accomplishing in minutes what had once taken me hours of testing and hard labor in my lab. After about 4-5 hours I called my friend to ask him how to print the pics. "Where did you save them?" he replied. "What do you mean by saving?" I asked back. OK, you can imagine the rest. So much for the "Poor" in the title of this series. ;-)

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