When I was first doing the #100happydays challenge on Instagram I started playing around with their manual photo editing options to see what was possible. Aside from the occasional dramatisation, however, I mostly stayed away from doing more than tweaking photos, either to correct saturation or exposure, sharpen or blur, or other minor alterations. I never did find myself drawn into the radical garish filters. And I have not gone anywhere near the types of apps that stick cat ears on your face or turn you into a zombie or any other sort of overlays.
But for the occasional shots that did benefit from significant filtering and manipulating, I did use #filteredupthewazoo as a hashtag (because let’s be honest, Instagram is all about hashtags).
So when a friend of mine posted a photograph of herself on Instagram altered by the new Portra app, I was surprised by how much I loved the effect. I downloaded the app and spent this evening playing around with some old and new photos. Being the curious person that I am, I of course tried things that aren’t portraits as well.
I have always had mixed feelings about photo manipulation that take a photograph and tries to make it look like it was drawn or otherwise rendered by hand. First of all, I know a number of people who are very talented and could actually draw such images themselves, either on paper or digitally, from scratch. It certainly feels like cheating to me to produce something similar that is not a result of your own artistic talent but that of someone’s talented computer programming skills.
Secondly there’s a certain amount of “lying” that such manipulation implies, though somewhere between the cold, hard, unfiltered raw images of reality and the carefully photoshopped re-imagining is a large grey area where my feelings on what is and isn’t acceptable are in flux and undefined.
Something about the images produced by this app really captivated me however, but it wasn’t until I was in the middle of my lunchtime pilates class, with my butt stuck up in the air and my head hanging in downward dog, that it occurred to me that some of the filter effects in Portra make me think of my brother’s watercolour drawings.
My brother is one of those talented people. Well, he’s stupidly talented, in that he’s talented but he’s so critical of his own work that actually having him produce anything was always a challenge because he would often sabotage his own work. On more than one occasion mum had to rescue his drawings from the bin. I’m glad she did because as a parent to two boys he’s had absolutely no time or energy to draw or paint over a decacde now and I therefore treasure any of his older works that are still around. I have a small one with me in Ireland but my absolute favourite hangs in my room in the States.
Many of the drawings my mum has framed around her house are from a phase of his work when he was obsessed with images of old abandoned tram cards in desolate landscapes. And, well, watercolours are very suitable for anything that wants to be described as “desolate”.
However, there were a few exceptions to these variations on the same theme, one of which was this one (the one that hangs in my room). For whatever reason, my eye had been continuously drawn in by the foliage and the reflection of the sky and the trees in the water, and as a result the painting hung in my room for some time before I realised its (not particularly subtle) secret.
The tower is not reflected in the water.
This discovery made me love the painting even more as it fed into my love of fantasy stories and made me imagine the island in all sorts of tales like Arthurian legends of Avalon and other places hidden by magic.
At the rate things are going, I’m not likely to see any new paintings from my brother until his retirement so I have to stick to the ones I have. And I guess that’s why I got so hung up on Portra. Because while I’m passable at certain artistic endeavours, and I’m not too shabby with a camera, I don’t have the same sort of talent and therefore this kind of “cheating” is the only way I can get similar results, and this particular app is like a way of running my photographs through a “nostalgia” filter.