Not Elvis

Not Elvis

I have mentioned more than once that one of the great pleasures of running this website is watching artists grow and evolve. I remember when Jim first started submitting images to P1xels (his first picture was published on May 11, 2011: the dog on the sidewalk shot you can see in the gallery.). As I recall, they were highly saturated, often over-apped, and I didn’t publish a lot of them, but he kept working and submitting.  It is always clear when someone is working on his art, taking chances, pushing to perfect his craft to bring forth a personal vision and this was evident from the start with Jim.

His work now is consistently excellent: intelligent, intriguing, sometimes humorous, bold, and it always seems that he has achieved the image he set out to create. Although we all know that happy accidents are a part of a lot of great art, esp. in the realm of iphonic art. Still, I always sense that Jim has mastered his craft.

He has an artist’s eye, thinks like an artist, and, most importantly, he works like an artist and that is what separates the chaff from the wheat, in my book.

It’s been fun getting to know Jim, as well. We talk on the phone once a month or so. He’s very personable, with a dry sense of humor, evident in the interview below, very knowledgeable about art making and the business of art.

I decided to revive the interviews we used to do here and thought we could start with Jim. Here goes:

KB: Please tell us a little about yourself – where you live, if you hail from Earth, anything like that. Whatever you feel like sharing that isn’t covered in the questions below.

JC: I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and received my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Wisconsin. I transferred into Art School after my 1st semester as a freshman because at the time, my main focus was to stay out of the Army (which may give you a hint as to my longevity on the planet) and I couldn’t find anything in the Liberal Studies course catalog that “called” to me & I seemed to have an artistic aptitude. In my Junior year, I stumbled upon a glass blowing class and was immediately hooked. Glass became my passion, which continued on into Graduate School where I received my Master of Fine Arts degree.

In between undergraduate and graduate studies, I made a brief attempt to assimilate into normal society by teaching Art in the public school systems of Cheyenne, WY and Madison, WS. After Graduate school, I got married a local Madison girl, and thought it best to get her away from her mother, so we moved to Boulder, where I had been offered the opportunity to share a glass studio with another Artist there. I eventually built my own studio and made my living designing, producing, and more importantly, selling my wares for the next 25 years (see: www.jamesclarke.com).

Fast forward the aforementioned 25 years, I left the Art world for brighter pastures, but found that the “greener” patch of grass I was hoping to find proved to be somewhat illusive. This simply caused a personal “right brain/left brain” struggle which left me feeling unfulfilled. Apparently my 1st wife also had some “fulfillment” issues of her own (or she missed her mother) and we parted company. In an attempt to keep the creative juices flowing, I met and married an amazingly wonderful and supportive woman who is an Artist in her own right, and together, we tried to start an online Art-based business where we transform your favorite photo into a Pop Art masterpiece. This involved a lot of Photoshop re-imaging work which led me down the path of digital Art.

KB: How long have you been shooting pictures with your iPhone?

JC: I started taking pictures shortly after I got my 1st iPhone 3, which was about 4 years ago, but I didn’t get into this “iPhoneography thing” until May of 2011. I am currently slogging along with an iPhone 4S. I’m sure that the iPhone 6 will be out about the time ATT will allow me to upgrade.

KB: How often do you work on your art?

JC: I try to do it every day, although I do take an occasional break. When that happens, I usually make up for it as soon as I get new inspiration. Quite often, an image will take an unexpected turn which leads me off to a new series of unplanned images. New apps offering new challenges and possibilities also cause my work to flow into new directions.

KB: How did you discover apps?

JC: I had been heavily involved with Photoshop related digital Art, using related filters on my computer. My good friend, Shirley Drevich (a frequent contributor to this site), had been encouraging me to take a spin on this ride we were calling iPhoneography. I resisted for quite some time base on a reluctance to switch from my computer with its twin 24″ monitors to the tiny screen on my iPhone. I kept thinking: why would anyone want to limit themselves to those silly little apps for the iPhone and that tiny little screen? Not to mention that it’s not all that easy to see around my fat fingers…

KB: When did you get serious about it, and what was the turning point for you?

JC: After having been self-employed most of my life, my new connection with “corporate America” offered an experience which was heretofore unthinkable – I got “down-sized”. This provided me with a unique opportunity, or shall we say – a “paid vacation” and I found myself with some time on my hands to do a few other things. After a few home maintenance projects that had been put off, I decided to humor Ms. Drevich and take a serious look at this little artistic subculture. I did some initial research and purchased what some others had indicated were the most essential apps. It didn’t take long before I figured out that one person’s “essential app” list usually varies from one person to the next.

KB: What do you like to shoot? When? How does your whole creative process work? And how has it evolved?

JC: Initially, I took the shotgun approach and was just trying different imagery, styles, applications and subject matter. I tell people that I’m an “opportunistic photographer”. I’ll shoot just about anything if the opportunity presents itself. If you’re going to park your 1938 Buick in the parking lot where I work, it’s a given that there will be some pictures taken. And if I can’t find a good picture to take, I’ve been known to create images from scratch using some of the painting and/or drawing apps. Early on, I started doing landscapes (or, cloudscapes) of the area behind my house just east of Boulder. I continue to do these, but one would be hard-pressed to pigeonhole me into any one specific look. I do a little of everything, from shots of inanimate objects like machinery (the rustier, the better), cars (the older, the better), architecture, flowers, dogs (no cats), nudes (with a preference to the female – I know…). I also spend quite a bit of time creating abstract imagery, which I’m pleased to say has caught on as a nice sub-category within the iPhonic Art movement..

I have always liked the idea of creating something out of nothing (kind of a Seinfeld thing). Glass was that way. You start with sand, and finish with a perfume bottle (I made a lot of perfume bottles). With iPhoneography, I treat the initial image as the “sand” and use it to get to my final objective. Getting there is the creative journey, fraught with wrong turns, but always with a light at the end of the tunnel (sometimes, brighter than other times). I spend a lot of time experimenting, not just with new apps, but with the varied filters within my favorite apps that I use regularly.

KB: Do you work in any other creative mediums, i.e., painting, music, writing, etc.?

JC: Not as much as I’d like to. I still work on the computer/Photoshop side of digital & graphic art, and I’d like to return to 3D sometime in the future, but my glassblowing days are in the past. I have continued to dabble in sculpture. For many years, I have created a new heart-themed sculpture for my wife for Valentine’s Day. (Readers may recall a recent Daily Pic on this site depicting an apped version of an image I took of my most recent endeavor.) I do like to write, but never seem to have much time to do it seriously (unless somebody really “pushes a button” & I feel compelled to respond). I have learned over time however, that responding to other’s wacky ideas (usually political) will rarely an opinion change.

KB: Do you spend time online looking at the work of other iphoneographic artists?

JC: Probably not as much as I should, but it helps me stay current and prevents me from getting stuck in a rut. There’s no better motivation than seeing someone do a fantastically creative image that leaves you wondering how they did that & what app they used that I don’t (yet) know about. There are a few specific iPhone Artists who I make a point of following as someday, I’d like to grow up & be as good as them.

KB: Do you study other art forms?

JC: I’ve always been very visually oriented and enjoy being exposed to as many different types of Art as possible. Because of my “previous life”, I’m still a student of the Glass Arts, but I’m also a big fan of anything that is well designed and well made. I’m also a fan of the Pop Art movement and have followed this genre from its inception. I was fortunate enough to meet Andy Warhol prior to his untimely departure.

KB: Have you done a lot of traditional photography? If so, are you still using your camera as well as your iPhone?

JC: I’ve taken more pictures in the last 2-years than ever before in my combined previous lives. I never really got a handle on that whole “f-stop” thing. The closest encounter to real photography I’ve had is doing product shots of my Art Glass, although, I discovered early on that I was better off paying a professional to do these. I have a couple of nice SLR film cameras available if anyone’s interested…

KB: We are now a few years into the global iphoneographic phenomenon. How do you think things have changed in that time. How do you perceive the social aspects of iphoneography, i.e., Flickr, Instagram, and their effect on the medium? Do you have any thoughts about the near-term or long-term future for the medium?

JC: I still feel as though I’m a relative newcomer to this and that I have missed a lot. Although I feel very fortunate to have made some progress in the relatively short time I’ve been at this, I am continually humbled by the work of both Artists who have been at this longer than I have and some who have just entered the fray.

The future of iPhoneography has much to do with educating the masses and that we are, in fact, legitimate Artists and what we do is a viable Art form using a viable tool set. Much of this has to do with exposing the work, but I question who is viewing this work if the primary venues are web-based social media sites? Are we are all just looking at each other’s work? What we need to do is get it out to where others receptive to the Arts can not only see it, but learn about it and more importantly…. start buying it.

I am involved with a couple of the other websites such as Flickr, IPA and EyeEm, but I have never been involved with Instagram and have no intention to do so. The websites are great for “spreading the word”, sharing ideas and images, but I think the real progress will be realized at the Gallery/Museum level where people can actually see, feel and smell the work.

KB: Where do you stand on the “Is iPhoneography photography or a whole new medium” debate?

JC: Personally, I treat iPhoneography as a form a Digital Art more than an off-shoot (pun intended) of photography. I use images as a starting point & my raw material. It’s pretty rare that I take a shot that says: “leave me alone, I’m fine just how I am”. I have become a better picture-taker and I think I have a pretty good eye for what makes a good photograph, but my intent was never to be a photographer and step on the toes of a few professionals out there who can’t take the heat. Some of my more interesting images didn’t even begin with a photograph.

I think the argument that what we’re doing isn’t “legitimate” in the eyes of the photographic community doesn’t hold water. We’re not trying to say that our pictures are technically superior than your DSLR shots, but just having an expensive camera does not a great picture make… This debate may have more to do with a perceived dilution of an already shrinking market than anything else. How did the portrait painters react when the camera was invented?

KB: Who are some artists – in any medium – you admire or have influenced you?

JC: I guess if we’re going to succumb to name-dropping, Non-iPhoneography related would include (but not limited to): Kandinsky, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenberg, Pollock, Duchamp, Mondrian, Rauschenberg, and Calder. I should toss in a few Glass Artists such as Harvey Littleton, Dan Daily, William Carson, and Dominick Labino. Throw into the mix: Milton Glaser, Bill Cunningham, Tom Kelley, and Jonathan Ive just to mention a few…
iPhoneographers include (but are not limited to, and in no particular order): Shirley Drevich, Clint Cline, Roger Guetta, Lu Guada, Cindy Patrick, Rudy Vogel, Souichi Furusho, Johnny Eckó, Lene Basma and so many others too numerous to name (and I apologize for all those of you in the unnamed category).

KB: What is your basic app kit, or Camera Bag, as Marty Yawnick calls it. How has your use of apps evolved over time?

JC: Once upon a time, I probably started 99% of my images in Iris, but what happened to that app would be another good article idea for Marty (I still have a working copy). I used Blender early on because I could never get Iris to stop crashing when I tried to use its blend function (I think Blender is better at this anyway & it has only gotten better). The rest of my “go to” apps include Camera+, Retouch, Juxtaposer, Photo fx Ultra (iPad), AutoStitch, and Snapseed. I also really like Decim8, Tiny Planets, and PS Express with a splash of Hipstamatic and ScratchCam. Superimpose has made some nice advancements, but still doesn’t come close to the masking detail possible in Juxtaposer (why can’t these 2 apps just merge?) I’m currently liking PhotoViva quite a bit for creating painterly effects, and iColorama (because Rudy says I should).

KB: Are there any apps you don’t like?

JC: Apps that do great things but drop the resolution bug me, but there are some that I tolerate because they produce a look that I’m after (there are, after all, ways around the resolution drop). There are a few apps that I just don’t particularly care for. One-trick-ponies, or apps that scream: “I’m the app that made this happen”, or apps that are simply the app-du-jour are not high on my list. Apps that crash. Apps that do too many things and don’t do any one thing well. Apps that claim they do something better than apps that already exist & actually do whatever it is better & more intuitively already. Apps that go on sale right after I’ve paid full price…

Another personal pet peeve doesn’t involve apps per se, but what I consider to be an overuse of the macro lens. Let’s just say that I’m not a big fan of close up shots of bugs…

Generally speaking, I look for apps that help me create the look I’m after, not the other way around.

KB: Are there any specific improvements you would like to see made to existing apps?

JC: As previously mentioned, I’d be one happy camper if the folks at Juxtaposer & Superimpose could take the best parts of both apps & merge them into one great app. I’d like to see the Iris folks go back to the drawing board & fix Laminar, or scrap it & re-introduce Iris (but fix the crashing issues).

I hesitate to mention because I think this app is amazing at what it does (and things it can do that it wasn’t really meant to do), but Retouch still has a minor crashing problem. It has improved from what it used to be, but it’s a big bummer when you’ve spent 20 minutes tweaking an image just to have the app crash when you hit the save button.

KB: Are there any apps you would like to see developed/invented?

JC: I’d be pretty happy if Adobe came out with a fully functional version of Photoshop for the iPhone/iPad (with full resolution and for under $10), but then we’d all have the problem of why there should be any distinction between generic computer generated digital art and iPhoneography. I do think it’s inevitable that this will happen eventually, so I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised when it does…

KB: When you feel you have reached a creative stalemate, and believe your work is not cutting it anymore, do you have any tricks for breaking out of artist’s block?

JC: When that happens, I usually throw the image into Decim8 and/or Tiny Planets (or, both) & hope something interesting comes out. More often than not, it does. Other than that, I always follow Clint Cline’s advice. He once advised me to “put a fish in it” because that usually worked for him…

I have also seen some pretty interesting work come out of trying to make a humorous play off of something someone else has done. A good example might be when the aforementioned Mr. Cline reacted to one Mr. Knox Bronson when it was decreed that “there shall be no large borders” on images presented for consideration. Although Clint beat me to the punch, we had fun with it by attempting to create images that were more border than not, and it evolved into my “If Mondrian had an iPad” series which I revisit from time to time.

KB: What features would you like to see implemented at the Pixels website?

JC: I’d really like to see more participation regarding activity on the comments section. I know I could show some improvement in this area, but if no one comments, then I’m not as motivated to do so either. I know we’re all busy, but getting to know fellow iPhoneographers is much enhanced with some actual dialog.

I know that this is already in the works, but a new site format with more images per page would be nice, if only to keep Pixels looking fresh.

KB: A last word perhaps?

JC: I’ve only been at this for a relatively short time, but my involvement with both iPhoneography and Pixels has given me a new outlet for my creativity that has been dormant since I shut down my glass studio. I also love the sense of community within this group of Artists. There is such a broad mix of backgrounds, experiences and talent and everyone is great at encouraging newcomers and assisting each other by sharing information.

The Pixels site has done more than any other to encourage my growth and improve my work. Thanks to you, Knox, for being so available for comments, suggestions and advice. It has been a pleasure getting to know you as I have progressed on this path. I wish you great success, as ultimately, your success is our success!

KB: Thank you, James.

You can see James Clarke’s striking contributions to Pixels: The Art Of The iPhone by clicking here.