• Neale Stratford


For well over a decade my process has barely changed from when I first started working with lay figures as part of my art practice. Yes, I have refined it somewhat, streamed lined some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ if you will. This technical change has come about for the need to keep me interested in what I do - to make it better, slicker, more challenging…for me at least. This ‘refinement’ in process gives me time to explore deeper the underlying dialogue that is inherent within the work. Once I would say my work was primarily process driven. Go in, think of a setup, a theme, assemble, photograph, post process, done. Each image standing alone, made on a whim of the day. You can make a lot of work that way…however, my interest in quantity over quality was a ultimately a frustration…a myriad of disparate images that when cobbled together could make an interesting exhibition but when up, unfulfilling. When curated, the work divided between weakest and strongest, best and worst. Yes, the ability to edit is important, vitally for an artist, however, I have seen the ‘vetting’ process in action. Cold decisions to cut work, depending on subjective aesthetic flavour or at worst censor because of the vagaries of what the public taste is at the time.

The process for my latest body of work Dark Thoughts as I said above is refined some what as I have already decided how many images are going into the series, the size of each work, the order of the work, etc. Dark Thoughts will be a series of images all related, intertwined…not necessarily presented in a linear narrative from start to finish as I play with time and space, memory and delusion, fantasy and reality. More about that in later writings.

Nuts and Bolts

My studio time is normally relegated to once a week, so I have little time for ‘play’ so now I go into the studio with a image already formed, resolved within my head of what I am going to do. I know what figures I am going to use, what accessories needed, what modifications I will need to do prior to shooting, tools required, etc. Because I intimately know what I have in my studio to work with, I can visualise my whole process within my head several days beforehand. Of course, when in the studio some modifications are needed as the physicality of what is required for the set up to work doesn’t necessarily match what is in my head. When I am happy with the setup I attach the camera onto the tripod, adjust the lighting to suit my needs and start the photography process.

Through the viewfinder of the camera, minute adjustments can be made. I take a shot, review it, maybe change the position of a figure, a hand placement, tilt of the head. Another shot. Move the tripod. Another shot. Raise the tripod head. Another shot. Change accessory in figure’s hand. Another shot. So on and so forth until I feel I have captured the image that has been rattling around in my head for the best part of a week. I take between 12 to 15 shots of the set up, rarely any more. Sometimes, it is the first shot I have taken, or sometimes the last I will use as the definitive version of the image…sometimes it is a mixture of two or three shots, mixed in post processing that will make up the final composition.

Post-processing of the final image is the most mentally challenging of my process. It is the sheer concentration of breaking down the image to make sure each element sits properly within the scene, flesh is colour matched, articulation joins of the figures removed - anything that gives away the ‘artificiality’ of the scene is taken away. It is the illusion of reality I am after…yes, it is an artificially contrived glorified still life I create, but I want my viewer of my work to suspend belief, even for a second to get lost within the image I have created. This post-processing can take several hours before I am happy with the final result. Sometimes I will return to an image after several weeks and tweak if I see an obvious improvement can be made. I will even re-photograph an element to improve the composition…if required. It is important to sit on work and let it age, brew, mature within your own head. Adjust if necessary.

This is not editing as such, but resolving, finessing, becoming discerning and growing as an artist.

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