This is part two of a post from August 10, 2011 where I discussed the topic of zero drafts. To read the original post, go to Recent Posts on the right side of the blog and click on Zero Drafts and Unfinished Business, or just click on Aug 10 from the calendar.
A zero draft is a term referring to a story written with a sense of urgency, as the story unfolds in the writer’s mind. The goal is for the author to capture all elements of the story and avoid premature editing. It is called a zero draft because it is rougher than a first draft.
I promised to show a photographic example of zero drafting in this post so here it is. The image is from an old scan of a 35mm film slide I made almost 15 years ago. It is my zero draft photograph I call, “Tree Against Storm”.
One morning in St. Louis, Missouri, I watched the sky change from blue to black in what seemed like minutes. I managed to make this image before packing up camera, gear and tripod, and running for cover as tornado warning sirens sounded.
The original photograph was rushed and lacks the full impact of my experience that day. Normally, I take my time in photography. I can spend an entire day in the field and come away with only a few images. This click-and-run-for-cover approach was not me. I saw potential in the original version of Tree Against Storm, but the image did not live up to the title. It needed something more.
A few years later, I was experimenting with making wet plate collodion images from slide projections and digital transparencies, and decided to revisit Tree Against Storm.
I printed the image on a transparency sheet, placed the sheet in front of a large UV light source, and re-photographed the backlit transparency using a wet plate collodion camera and process.
Here is a scan of the resulting wet plate collodion image on glass:
Collodion chemicals produce a unique set of tones, ranging from warm/creamy and cool/silvery. It is not a black and white process. Collodion existed before black and white printing.
This image has some of the drama I remember from that day in St. Louis, but I think the process artifacts detract from the image. This version becomes more about the process and less about what I wanted the photograph to represent. Things were coming together but work was still needed.
A few years later, I was making black and white fine art prints in a traditional wet darkroom. I wondered what would happen if wet plate collodion glass plates were used in the darkroom instead of film negatives.
Here’s a scan of a black and white print made from the Tree Against Storm collodion plate:
This is what I felt in St. Louis. I saw that angry sky fighting against the daylight again. I saw the single tree standing against a chaotic swirling wind. This is Tree Against Storm.
The zero draft gave me something to work with. From there I was able to craft a final image using a series of revisions. Thankfully, I had to rush the start. The Dreaded Editor had no time to convince me to pack it in and call it a day in St. Louis. I would have listened, because I know myself. More unfinished business in my art life is everywhere to prove it.
Whether the project will be good enough in the end is irrelevant when we are making the work. How many opportunities do we miss from waiting, second-guessing, or thinking too much? Why is it so hard to just make stuff and see what happens? Let’s start more projects with a sense of urgency. Time saved can be applied where it matters most: in the revising and polishing stages. If only I could reduce time between my revisions from years to months, weeks or even days!
Was this image worth it? Yes, if only to finish what I started. It took a mix of 19th, 20th and 21st century technologies to get there, but the only was I know how to make art feeling my way through “what-if” questions, mapping the edges as I go.
If you want to learn more about wet plate collodion, check out the “What is Wet Plate Collodion?” tab at the top of the Mapping the Edge blog!
It’s strange to hear you say that the last image is the finished one because the first one “needed something more”. When I see the original image, I don’t think that it feels unfinished or needs anything more. To me, it is finished.
I guess that it all comes down to the perception of the artist versus the perception of the viewer.
I am! 🙂 Kidding. Alane, I think you just gave me an idea for a good future post – when does the artist’s voice end and the image’s voice take over?
I think it comes down to a difference between artist intent and viewer experience. What I want the image to convey ends as soon as the work is presented in a gallery or on a blog. From then on, it has its own voice. In a way, my voice stopped as soon as I presented it. From then on, I can only say what I was going for.
Thanks for the compliment about the original image. I’m glad to you feel that it’s finished as-is. I found it lacking compared to what I experienced, but I must have had a more abstract concept in mind in the first place, since I prefer the third image. Plus, it’s hard for me to let go and say something is finally done. I tend to keep tweaking. And tweaking.
Thanks for the feedback, and for the idea for a future post!