From time to time we find a photographer who is doing something very interesting or totally unique and Janet Dwyer is one. A fine art photographer from British Columbia, Janet has been doing ‘Scanography’ for years, creating a unique body of work that has gained her widespread recognition.
When I first heard the term ‘Scanography’ I, like many, thought “what?” In simple terms, Scanography is creating images using a scanner instead of a camera. Sounds cool! I gotta know more, so I contacted Janet and asked if she could tell us just what Scanography is, how she does it, her career, and show us some of her work.
The year 2013 will mark the fortieth year of my full time commitment to photography as a career. During this time I have worked within the industry in many different capacities, primarily as a freelance photographer, photo instructor and photo artist. My freelance specialty is documenting works of art for well known and lesser artists, museums and galleries. I have conducted workshops on this subject across Canada and written an article which was published in ‘Stayin Alive’, Robin Hopper’s survival book for artists.
Shooting large format slide film for clients, I quickly became accustomed to very high resolution results. This is what originally led me to creating images with a flatbed scanner, literally scanning the actual objects. Over the decade I’ve used various Epson scanners to create a body of personal ‘photo scanography’ imagery. Often people who see my exhibition prints are floored by the larger than life detail, then stunned when told my ‘camera’ is a scanner. Scanners create some unique effects due to their myopic vision, wrap around quality of lighting, and moving lens. The lens records and lights the objects from several different points of view as it travels past them.
Recently I have been using live elements in my work. Orb Weavers features over 300 tiny spiders building a web on the scanner’s glass. Their movement during scanning created a colorful trail or digital track. I was amazed it took them only about an hour to create such a complex structure. They infused me with spidey energy that lasted for days.
Silk Moths is another example where a digital trail is visible. I consider this effect a gift, involving some timing and luck; the scanner imaging bar has to be moving in the right place at the right speed along with the live insect movement. Patience and experimentation is a big part of this process.
One must have a lot of patience for retouching dust too, especially if printing larger scale. Most of my prints are 2 x3 feet and up. No matter how clean the scanner glass, there will be dust to remove with the clone or healing tool in photoshop, especially if there is a bird’s nest involved. A friend pointed out the interesting shape of these flower parts, quite birdlike they were, so a nest seemed appropriate, as does the title Refuge. Nests are very dusty, I now know to gently shake them out before placement.
Many of the scanography images I see online feature a dark background. The lid is removed for scanning and objects arranged like a still life on top of the glass in a darkened room. Black backgrounds can simplify and create contrast along edges, adding drama. For most subjects I prefer the more natural look of organic materials like handmade paper or the large voodoo lily leaf used in Pas De Trois. The human like quality of flowers inspires me to carefully position elements to mirror human physiology. I think of flowers as actors on stage or characters in a story and ask myself how I can further reveal their personalities. My images encourage viewers to question their familiar notions of beauty, sensuality and form.
Animal attributes inspire me. I have always loved the elegant shape and movement of penguins, together as mates and with their young. These garlic stems were reminiscent, hence Penguin Moment was born.
I am not adverse to removing outer leaves of flowers to see the interior parts before they unfurl. The inside of a passion flower bud looks quite human or perhaps a human/alien cross. (Ultimately one has to agree the hairstyle is outstanding.) For me there is a birthing motif going on here. I titled this one Fruits of Passion, arranging the elements accordingly.
When setting up, everything is upside down so I rely on the Preview function of my scanning software to see what the actual scan will look like. Then I reposition and tweak for the desired effect. Often several previews are required before scanning at high resolution. Be prepared for huge file sizes, 500MB to 1.3GB is not unusual and that is without additional layers.
Incognito received international recognition, winning first place for Professional Photographer (Nature Category “Flowers”) in the 2007 Pilsner Urquell International Photography Awards Competition. In this work, a hybrid flower combination forces the viewer to look more carefully at what initially presents as a colorful floral composition. I titled the piece ‘Incognito’ because for me it is about exploring other identities through disguise and transformation.
Memory is triggered by many things. Aging can also effect our ability to remember. Roses are a flower commonly associated with love and remembering. I wanted to create a piece that spoke about this and the elusive quality of memory. The wild roses are aged but still hold onto their color; I selectively desaturated them, purposely leaving a few with slightly more color, symbolic of the flashes of lucidity that can occur with memory impairment. The circular arrangement gives a sense of time and motion, also adding to the floating suspended quality, another unique effect of scanography that I enjoy.
Sometimes my work is simply about the beauty of nature like the image, Helleborous. This print was purchased by the late Norval Morrisseau a couple of years before his death, a great honor for me. There is a lot of warmth to it’s color, the result of additional tungsten lighting coming from the left side.
Bees are disappearing and humans everywhere are very concerned about what that means. The fragility of an egg, its torn edges, the soft nest resting on a bed of thin petals; all remind us that nature is in a state as delicate as the bee’s balanced pose. Linda Kavelin Popov, one of the founders of ‘The Virtues Project,’ was moved to tears when she viewed the image, BeesNest. These are the reactions that tell me that I am on the right path. Sometimes when composing an image I can arrive at a place of no thinking; it is almost as if an outside force moves my hands directing each element to the place it belongs. I plan to print this image scaling the bee to the size of a human baby, an homage to bees.
More beautiful Scanography: