The Evolution of a Contact Sheet

When I'm busy editing my work, as I have been for the past few weeks, I like to collate all the edited work together and periodically do a review of it, to see how the portfolio is shaping up as I add newly scanned and edited work.

 Some images from Fjallabak and also the north east of Iceland, taken this summer and autumn. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

Some images from Fjallabak and also the north east of Iceland, taken this summer and autumn. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

This has many benefits as I see it:

1) I'm able to see how new images added to the portfolio contribute by either enhancing or sometimes weakening the overall character of the collection.

2)  I can spot themes in the work which might suggest a direction that the work and future edits should take.

3) It helps me see when some images don't work because of colour problems and also tonal inconsistencies with the other images in the collection

4) The creation of a portfolio is an evolutionary process. As images are added to it, it grows and its character becomes richer. Sometimes a new story is unfolded in the process and what I thought the portfolio was going to look like, is radically changed.

It's also immensely satisfying to watch how the portfolio evolves. Like the act of making the images in the first place, there is a deep satisfaction in watching the work reach full completion.

Some portfolios come together very easily and quickly. Sometimes it's clear that there is a theme to the work before I start to edit, and other times, it's really not obvious to me at all.

I find the scanning and editing in the digital darkroom to be a fluid and iterative process. I may feel that certain images are finished, only to find several days later that they need to be re-tuned to fit with the colour palette or tonal response that the other images are dictating.

In order to let the portfolio evolve, I've got to keep an open mind, and be willing to go back and review an image I previously thought was done.

  Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

Some artists say their work is never done, and I tend to agree with this. Images that we work on this week are really more a statement of who we were or how we were feeling at that moment in time. Edit the work months or years later and we may find we come up with a different interpretation.

But still, I don't like to look back too often. Although there is value in revisiting one's work from time to time I'm wary of falling into a hole that I can't get back out of: revisit your work, but don't endlessly rework it. That way lies an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism.

There is a lot of freedom to be gained by accepting that your older work is a statement of who you were at that time. Being able to let go of the past is healthy as it makes room for the future and in a sense, invites new work into your creative life.

  The black deserts and volcanos of the central highlands of Iceland. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

The black deserts and volcanos of the central highlands of Iceland. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

These images are my new work, and as such, it's too soon for me to be objective about them. I'm going to need some distance and that means some time away from them.

All I can tell you is that the images didn't come easily to me. The central highlands of Iceland is a difficult, wild place. I'm always looking for a graphic element to any place I visit and in this instance it was often not so easy to find.  I think this says more about me and my own approach (read that as criticism of my own limitations).

To add to the complexity of the place, the light was not easy to work with. The deserts are black and often times it felt as though the sun was bleeding out of the corner of my eye. Contrast is a massive issue here. 

Yet I feel that this is exactly what is so compelling about the central highlands of Iceland. Some landscapes are beautiful because of their awkwardness. They are complex and challenging and they are captivating because of these qualities. 

A landscape like the central highlands of Iceland is a defiant one. It will not submit to you. Rather, you have to submit to it. 

I feel I have only just scratched the surface of this intriguing place.