An Altered Vision of Reality by Armando Chacón
I love photography! It is my passion. In my everyday work, I mostly photograph people… a little retouching here and there… but it needs to look realistic. That’s what they are paying me to do. As for my art, that is a completely different animal. It is MY art. I do it to please my inner soul and it comes straight from the heart. I consider these interpretations to be an “altered vision of reality.”
I start with an original image and crop for ideal composition by eliminating any distractions and enhancing colors as I see fit. The image is then saved to my “Edited” folder. Most of the time I have no idea how these images will end up. However, on occasion I do have a final product in mind. Whether other people like them or not is not my intention. These images are done strictly to satisfy me. If the viewer enjoys them, that’s a bonus.
“Havana Afternoon” – I was born in Cuba. My family immigrated to the United States in 1967. My father’s business was seized by Castro’s communist government. A beautiful country was ruined with no future. Although my parents visited the island occasionally, I feared going back while I was still of military age. Fifty years later, in 2017, I returned to Cuba. It was a bitter/sweet return. We visited Havana and it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. We stayed at an Airbnb apartment on none other than Chacón Street in the old part of Havana. Was Chacón Street named after a relative of ours? Where did he come from? Where did my ancestors come from? These questions were going through my mind the entire trip. It was an enlightening, emotional, spiritually meaningful trip.
The image was taken across from the Cuban Capitol building. As my wife and I were walking down the street, I saw it… a row of pastel colored buildings. We crossed the street and it was there that we saw a horse-drawn carriage picking up passengers and two old 1950’s cars coming down the street. Boy, did I get excited! As soon as the 1950’s cars came into my viewfinder, I knew I had the perfect shot. As Henri Cartier Bresson would say, “The decisive moment.” It turned out to be my favorite image from our trip, earning me a Master Artist merit at PPA competition, and has been my best selling image. This goes to show that you have to be ready when you see an opportunity.
When digital imaging was in its infancy in the early 1990’s, I began experimenting with the new equipment and mediums that were on the market at the time. Often I used programs that were included with equipment such as scanners and printers. Photo Finish, Picture Publisher, Photoshop 2.5 were some of the most used of the software. Watch out art store… here I come!
Back then I experimented with an array of aerosol sprays and brush-on varnishes to achieve different textures and finishes. Once, a bathroom at McDonald’s inspired me with the idea of printing on toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper. I carefully mounted toilet paper to an 8 1/2 x 11 paper and courageously ran it through my Epson printer. Voilá! Yet another new and interesting paper finish was discovered.
I displayed my “toilet paper print” at my next speaking engagement because I was constantly asked, ”What kind of paper is that?” I told the audience at the end of the program the door prizes would be packages of the paper I used. Imagine their faces when I pulled out my roll of Charmin. These techniques that we struggled with back in the early days are easily achieved through a multitude of quality mediums available today.
Currently, I use several different software programs including Photoshop CS, Painter Essentials, Topaz, Corel Paintshop Pro, On1 Photo, and Nik filters to name a few. I love using free trial software and if it’s interesting and inexpensive, I’ll consider buying it.
“The Windmills of La Mancha” – My wife and I went on a trip to Spain, covering Madrid, Segovia and Toledo in a crazy 4 days. It was an awesome, fast paced trip, but it was very satisfying. The beautiful old European architecture and landscapes were breathtaking. We decided to take a road trip south of Toledo to the town of Consuegra, known for the famous Windmills of La Mancha. These windmills are the setting for the novel Don Quixote, a Spanish masterpiece written by Miguel Cervantes, a literary giant in the Spanish world, comparable to Shakespeare, that was written in 1605.
We hired a taxi driver to take us there early in the morning before our train trip back to Madrid. We arrived just minutes before three buses full of tourists disembarked. I’m sure glad we were first. About ten minutes later, the place was full of tourists taking pictures with their cell phones. It was funny that we were the only ones with DSLR cameras.
After doing basic retouching to the image, like removing a few of the tourist, I went into Topaz and applied a few various filters to the image until I was satisfied with the result. It was another PPA Artist Merit.
I decided to call my art “Foto Pinturas” because they start as a photograph and typically end up looking like paintings. Each creation’s final look depends on my mood, thoughts, feelings, and most certainly what music I’m listening to at the time. My life is definitely reflected in my art… happy or sad… it’s all there. I struggle to express myself verbally sometimes but I can write a symphony with my images.
I can talk about technique but, honestly, I don’t write down the process all the time. Every image is treated differently unless I’m working on them to be a group or series. In those cases, I take a few notes so I can maintain harmony throughout the pieces. It’s all experimentation, using the various tools I have available and delivering my interpretation.
I get a creative high from music, mostly instrumental with a good beat and a Latin flare. I have an amplifier hooked with my computer system with 5 speakers and a subwoofer that shakes the house. Of course, I use headphones when I work at night or if I am playing the song on repeat.
Most of the time, I don’t use one specific filter, but a combination of several. I go back and forth between the various programs and filters. Typically, I erase a percentage of what I have applied, and add a texture to the final image. It all depends on my final vision for that particular image. I try to be creative and unique.
Even though rules and critique guidelines are strongly placed in our industry, I try to clear my mind from those while I’m creating. I love to go to Museums and study the techniques of the great artist, read art books, and try to get into their minds. In an effort to step out of the box, I believe that I have developed my own unique style that has been influenced by the Old Masters of yesteryear.
“Renoir” – On our trips to Miami, we stay at the Gale hotel at 17th Street in South Beach. Every Wednesday night is Cuban Jazz night at the hotel. We became friends with the musicians after a couple of visits and, of course with the bartender. Since I always have my camera with me, I snapped a few pictures. The place is very dark, so I took multiple exposures since I had no monopod with me and tried to be as steady possible. On our next visit to Miami, I gave him an 11×14 as a “Thank You” gesture because he always plays our favorite songs and, on this occasion, dedicated a special song to us on our anniversary. I used a Nikon camera for this image with a high ISO to capture the image in such a dimly lit venue. For this image I used a mixture of Topaz and Photoshop.
“The Light of Wisdom” – This image was also an inspiration from Spain and the novel, Don Quixote, where I created my own interpretation of the author, Miguel Cervantes. Our dear 90 year old friend, “Mr. Russ” (Russell Renninger), who is also a writer, poet, painter, playwright, musician, was the perfect model for this project. He is such a talented individual that I feel humbled in his presence. After finding the perfect costume, plume and ink well, Don Quixote book (of course), candle, and keys from Toledo, I photographed him on a black background. I placed a backdrop that I took at an underground well that we found walking the streets of Toledo in the basement of a small store. I put it all together in Photoshop and used an array of Topaz, and Nik filters. It was another Artist Merit.
Remember, all you are doing is pushing pixels when using the computer to paint. If you want to do an actual painting, pick up a brush, paints and a blank canvas and go for it. Otherwise, the possibilities are endless with digital. It is a creative process and it’s not just pushing a button. Vision, passion, and creativity are needed to produce your image, plus the necessary tools, like computer and software to achieve your goal. So, listen to critiques and take the positive that will help you improve your work, but don’t let anybody change the way you see the world. It is your creation. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
Armando Chacón has been in photography for over 30 years, learning his craft from some of the best photographers in the industry. Specializing in Portraiture and acquiring an early knowledge of Digital Imaging, Armando has always been on the cutting edge of his craft, giving lectures and teaching at local, regional, state and international conferences. Armando has achieved his Craftsman and Masters degree from PPA as well as receiving his Life Membership from the Professional Photographers of America. He is on the Board of Directors and is a Life Member of the Professional Photographers Guild of Houston and served the 200 plus member strong association as President in 1998. Currently based in the Cypress area, Armando continues to practice his craft, and enjoys producing one-of -a kind images for his customers.