APPSTRACTIONS or if Rothko had an iPhone

I’m a big fan of the abstract expressionist painters — Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollack — that 1950′s New York thing. I sense great freedom in this kind of imagery, the colors and shapes interacting like jazz musicians improvising without the constraint of the chord changes. If I could paint I would gravitate toward making images inspired by that style. The truth is that I can’t paint. You know how Kindergartners sometimes make cool looking stuff just by accident? Not me. I failed at Cut and Paste. I broke the brush and spilled the paint. The world is a safer place without me making a mess with art supplies.

The Appstract project began as a way for me to re-invigorate my work and break free from the constraints of a more linear photography. I enjoy shooting landscapes, and I love photography, but last winter in Ontario kind of had me down. I found myself stuck in a repetitive creative cycle. I decided to let the images I see in my dreamscape emerge directly without filtering them through the metaphor of reality. The freedom and immediacy of working with shapes and colors became addictive. As time went by, I found more personal meaning in abstractions and less meaning in literal imagery, so I continued to pursue the project.

You know how Kindergartners sometimes make cool looking stuff just by accident? Not me. I failed at Cut and Paste. I broke the paintbrush.

Anyway, I live near Toronto and winter here—like Chicago, Cleveland or Detroit— well, it lasts a long time. For a good solid five months things are kind of brown and grey and white. I was in this situation where I wasn’t able to shoot my pretty landscapes – there was nothing that I could see that was interesting. So, the Appstract project began…

All of these images begin with an iPhone photograph. In fact, a lot of these pieces begin with the same photograph. I probably used the same image as a point of departure half a dozen times but you’d never know that because the end results are so different. It gets to the point where the process of creativity is the journey itself. I can start with anything. You know what they say: it’s not where you’ve been but where you’re going.

I have a toolbag of eight or nine apps that I use to manipulate and create each image. I’ve developed a series of methods that have evolved throughout the course of the project — methods that intersect and build upon one another. There are multiple adjustments and runs through each app. Like any dedicated appoholic the pieces take many, many hours until they look right to me.  There certainly isn’t a button I can press to make these images.  For the most part, each one begins with various distortions and then it’s a matter of working with the colors and placing the shapes, adding exposures, and developing a depth perception until it looks right to me.

So I might make, say, half a dozen versions of something and find I like the top right corner of this one, and the bottom left corner of that one, and the middle of another one, and then combine the elements into another image. My main apps for this project are Filterstorm, Iris Photo Suite, Photo Wizard, Tiffen PhotoFX, Cameramatic, PictureShow, BlurFX, Percolator, Diptic.

Like any dedicated appoholic the pieces take many, many hours until they look right to me.  There certainly isn’t a button I can press to make these images.

In one way or another each image goes through the apps more than once before I’m done. I use Percolator a lot as a starting point, or if I go too far with something and don’t like it, I’ll put it back through Percolator to shake it all up and start anew. I use Filterstorm a lot, which is a really great app for easily blending different parts of multiple pictures. I use PictureShow or Camera+ to quickly give me a bunch of different looks and then I start to mess around with those. I use Snapseed and Iris Photo Suite for textures. Tiffen Photo FX is always useful for doing things like halos and grads. It’s really just going back and forth. Much of the process is making multiple versions of the same image and then combining the things I like about each one until what I’m feeling begins to take shape in the visual world.

Making Appstracts is liberating for me as an artist.  I’m compelled to create stuff whether it’s a documentary TV series about musicians or a pretty landscape shot of the Niagara Escarpment.  If I don’t create I stagnate. I also start to get some really dumb ideas about what I should do with my time. The Appstract series has given me, for the first time, the opportunity to dig deep into my sub-conscious and share what I see when my eyes are closed.  I’m actually grateful that I’ve found a way to make these images. It’s pretty awesome to have found this palette. If only I’d had an iPhone in Kindergarten…

Daniel Berman

Daniel is the Founder of the Mobile Photo Awards
You can find him on TWITTER as @reservoir_dan

You can purchase the ebook version of Appstractions from the US iTunes store

You can purchase the hardback edition from Blurb

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About the MPA

The Mobile Photo Awards were founded to promote the global phenomenon of mobile photography and art.  The awards are committed to presenting the art-form in galleries and exhibits. The MPA is the world's largest open gallery call and competition of its kind.
The Mobile Photo Awards were founded to promote and celebrate mobile photography and art. With fine-art exhibits, competitions and open gallery calls, the MPA is the world's largest event of it's kind.