Dragon Boaters - slow shutter photo impressionistic image

artist’s statement

stephen d’agostino

Growing up with slide projectors, Brownies and Polaroid snap shots, I believed that photographs documented the passage of time and the adventures of family. Photography was my journal. Over time photography combined with my interest in all things natural; a way to record what I had seen, to share and re-live the experience. Travel photography was a natural extension of this passion as my destinations grew more exotic. But I came to realize that my photographs were not authentic documents of my experiences, instead I was editing them in an attempt to communicate the memory, or more accurately, my idealization of the memory.

By its nature, photography is an exact process. Images are mechanically reproduced freezing the scene to within a fraction of a second. However, we make choices in applying the technology to produce our distorted and idealized images. There exists in photography a dichotomy between what is true and what we create.

Dragon Boaters - impressionistic image - slow shutter
Dragon Boaters – impressionistic image – slow shutter

I find this dichotomy intriguing, because our minds do not record the truth. They dodge and burn our visual memories until those memories are a stylized representation of the truth. The images we cherish are idealized versions of reality not the precise mechanical reproductions. These impressions of reality become artifacts that we relish like summer preserves. We add sugar as needed and return months or years later to enjoy, its sweet memories. The point? Photographs record fractions of a second, while our memories capture moments. The photographer’s challenge then is to capture an impression of the moment or, more accurately, photo-impressionism.

My discovery of photo-impressionism began around 2002, through Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant’s book Photo-Impressionism and the Subjective Image. That book focuses on the creative use of multiple exposure to create photo-impressionistic images.  However, I found multiple exposures of flowers and trees unsatisfying as the images seemed forced and lacked the true essence of the subject. I abandoned the idea for a couple of years until I noticed the dragon boats.

Dragon Boaters - photo impressionistic image
Dragon Boaters – photo impressionistic image

To me, dragon boats represent the harmony of energy, motion and power. Their paddles break the surface in rhythmic strokes, yet they penetrate the surface with a violent force. Obsessed with the idea of capturing this power, rhythm and energy, I resolved to capture my experience of the dragon boats through multiple exposure. At the same time I was exposed to Vincent Versace and his idea of “cinematic vision”. Building on these ideas, and my earlier experiments with multiple exposure, I was able to capture my impression of the dragon boats, as they forced their way across the water.

The dragon boat experience was liberating. The images captured the moment in a post-impressionistic manner. I was not taking photographs to document a split second; I was making pictures that captured the essence of the moment with all of its energy and cadence intact. As did the impressionists, I expanded my subject matter to include the everyday as seen in my images of the hustle and bustle of street life in New York and Paris.

Photo impressionistic image of dragon boat racers
Photo impressionistic image of dragon boat racers

While there are numerous techniques that can claim to be photo-impressionistic, I like in-camera multiple exposure best as it adds the element of chance to an equation that measures the moment by the metre of the shutter, thus making the image true to the moment in a way that a single photograph cannot; reducing the image to the essential moment where everything collides – energy, motion, power and beauty.

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photography, photo impressionism and infrared black & white