If you’re familiar with the work of surrealist Rene Magritte, it probably won’t take you long to realize which of his paintings I drew inspiritation from to create the above composite. You may not remembered the title Golconda, as Magritte’s titles were often as mysterious as his content but the vision of men wearing bowler hats and falling from the sky like rain, is pure Magritte.

            I had photographed the elements (my neighbor John and a late afternoon sky) over a year ago for a class assignment in which I was to produce three composites in the style of my favorite surrealist.  While I did submit three images, I ran out of time before I could finish this one. I rediscovered the files a week ago while searching for something I had archived for a client and decided it was worth revisiting.  Seventy-seven layers and a bit of masking later I think I’ll consider it finished.

The title Golconda was suggested to Magritte by poet friend Louis Scutenaire. From the 14th to the 17th century, Golconda was a city at the center of India’s mining industry and became a synonym for “mine of wealth.” What  was Magritte alluding to? Well, your guess is as good as mine.



One of my first assignments in an advanced Photoshop class was to make a composite in which one person appeared in the image multiple times. The assignment was called “Bring in the Clones.” We had studied the work of Henry Peach Robinson, one of the most prominent art photographers of his day. His first and the most famous composite picture, “Fading Away” (1858) was both popular and fashionably morbid. He was a follower of the Pre-Raphaelites and was influenced by the aesthetic views of John Ruskin.

I began the assignment by going through my archive to find a background on which to assemble a composite. The Idea to create a portrait of my ancestors as immigrants, came to me when I found an image of the Registry Room, on Ellis Island. I had taken the photo a few years before, while on a family trip to New York City.

My wife Lori, our son Wynn and I, dug through our wardrobes to find vintage looking clothing. Lori and I had it easy, once we were dressed we just had to sit back and look stoic. Wynn, on the other hand, had to change three times and each time invent a different persona.

Back then, there was no “One and Done” philosophy, couples had many children to help with the daily chores and there were no child labor laws. The more children you had the greater the family income. Infant mortality was much higher then as well.

Final image is a composite of four photographs, The registry room, the triangle composition of Myself, Lori & eldest Wynn, then Wynn with glasses and bow tie, and last but not least, Wynn as his own sister, which I’ll bet comes up in a therapy session, or two, at some point in the future. I’m sure my parenting skills will be called into question. Whether or not I’m around to defend myself, and my art, remains to be seen.

Since we’re on the subject of composites here’s another one. The background image was shot at The Fayette County Fair in western Pennsylvania.  I grew up near there and going to the Fair was an annual rite of summer.

I felt the need to re-connect with family members in that part of the state so I planned a visit that would coincide with the dates of the Fair. Aside from me revisiting my youth, I wanted Wynn to get a feel for a rural county fair. In addition to the carnival with its sideshows and enough rides to make you barf your corndog, there are pig races, tractor pulls, truck pulls, motocross racing and a rodeo depending on what night of the week you decide to go. There’s also a pavilion for musical acts, we heard The Clarks, a solid rock n’ roll band from Pittsburgh. You can listen to cuts from their new album “Restless Days” on their website. I’m listening to them now as I write this.  My favorite song so far is “Midnight Rose.” Of course, you can download them on iTunes.
I originally wanted to photograph my neighbor John dressed as a carnie barker but couldn’t pull the costume together in time so I used Wynn.  I photographed him on a white background late in the evening when the sun was low in the sky to match the light of the sideshow image. I placed a white reflector on Wynn’s left side for some fill. I used the double high pass again, plus added noise for that comic book look.  Just something I need to get out of my system but I do like it on this image.
Auto mechanic

Auto mechanic in shop

                                                                              Click on the image for larger view.


One of the assignments for my digital illustration class was to complete a series of images based on the verse from fortune cookie. Apparently the instructor and her husband ate a lot of Chinese. She passed around a hat full of fortunes and each student picked one. Mine read “You will always be Successful in your professional career. “
I could have photographed myself holding a camera with a long lens or in a studio surrounded by lights, soft boxes and umbrellas, like “Here I am, Joe Photographer,” but that seemed narcissistic and amateurish.
I opted for irony instead. Given the state of the economy, why not take the fortune and turn it around? What would I be doing if I weren’t a commercial photographer?  A Volvo mechanic!
The inspection on my car was about to expire so I took it to Dennis Auto in Kensington.  Dennis Auto specializes in repairs on Volvos and I have been going there for over 20 years, so it was not a problem when I pulled out my Canon G9 and tripod and started taking photographs around the shop.
I chose to do the series as composites. After selecting a frame I liked from the shop (in this case, the car on the lift) I photographed myself in front of a white backdrop set up in by backyard. I opted for natural light because I didn’t want to set up lights.
After making a mask around my figure I dropped it into the shop photo. I downsized my figure with the transform tool and refined the edges with a black brush on a mask.  I added two layers of high pass one vivid light, one hard light to make it grungy.

Homage to Magritte

The final assignment for my advanced Photoshop class, was to choose a Surrealist then produce three images in their style.

I’ve long been a fan of Rene Magritte so deciding who, was not an issue, the problem was which of his themes could I translate into pixels after a semester exploring selection tools, layers, masking and blending modes?

I went with his man in the bowler hat theme, like the man featured in Magritte’s most famous painting “Son of Man” but rather than obscuring the face with an object, like a green apple, I removed it entirely. Add a simple blue sky with cloud background and the crow for some added interest and I had the first of my three final images.

While Adobe Photoshop has made compositing easier, photomontage is not new. Oscar Gustav Rejlander, considered to be the father of art photography, created “Two Ways of Life” in 1857 by combining more than 30 negatives. Henry Peach Robinson’s “Fading Away” was created in 1858 by compositing together 5 separate negatives. 

For me the downside to photo compositing is file management and storage. I find it harder to delete images now as there may be some element in even the most mundane image that can later be incorporated into a composite. The crow in the above image is a good example, extracted from a mediocre beach scene captured while on vacation in California. I also find myself shooting more walls, clouds, textured surfaces, sunsets and landscapes that can be used as backgrounds for future composites.