26 October, 2008

Why my Fantasy Photo Collages Fulfill an Aging Parent's Dreams

Albert's fantasy fulfilled.
Total photos supplied by family: 2

Let’s just say your dad is a lot like Albert: a humble maverick. A lawyer for almost six decades, running five times for judge, Fate has something else in store for Albert. And being the great probate lawyer he is, Albert continues to do what he does best, conscientiously and uncomplainingly as ever.

But all this time, his son's been paying attention. What kind of fortitude, energy and creativity must it have taken for Dad to run a campaign five times and "never make it"? Is there something I could do for Dad to make everything alright in the end? Could I maybe make him a judge after all...

At Retirement, One Last Unfulfilled Wish

The thing is, we can fulfill an aging parent's dream any time we want. We can make their dreams come true at retirement, on their birthday, for Xmas or for Hanukkah. All it takes to make this photo collage fantasy gift is a powerful story, locating a few well chosen pictures of your subject (or having them pose for you without having a clue), and a couple of convincing props from my own bag of tricks.

As a professional portrait artist, I've seen all kinds of dreams fulfilled: the father who wanted to win the Congressional Medal of Honor; the mother who wished she'd become a nurse. Sometimes these dreams are tucked down so deep in a retiree’s soul, that they're convinced they're well beyond it. Others will pine for what was not to be, or curse the day their dream derailed. But then, out of the blue, there it is, their wishful reality on paper, big as life.

Does it embarrass the aging parent and make them mad? Amazingly, no, because, you see, it's a gift of love. You'd be surprised how the majority of retiring parents are thrilled to see their adult children knew them better than they knew themselves! Even more amazing is how these aging moms and dads are touched by the positive way everybody else reacts to their fantasy collage gift.
Here's what Albert said after we created his special order photo collage:

“I like just the entire thing – it makes people kinda laugh. They enjoy it.”

Expand Dad’s Fantasy into a Full-Blown Fantasy Collage

In Albert's case, the request by his son was to turn Dad into a full-blown Supreme Court justice. But there was something else driving this custom order photo collage. Albert's son couldn't put out of his mind how Dad had reacted to one particular decision the Supreme Court made that they really shouldn’t have, which ended up having disastrous consequences. Albert explains:

"We were all pro-Gore at the time, and didn’t like the idea that the Supreme Court entered the picture at all. They had no right getting involved on a State, let alone a Federal level. That was the year 2000, when the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4, exactly the opposite of how I voted. So in the photomontage my son made for me, they’re applauding my dissenting vote.”

How Good Sons and Daughters Can Earn Brownie Points

In this piece of wishful reality we created for Albert, Dad not only became a full-fledged Supreme Court justice. We also surrounded him by all his role models dating back to the early 20th century: William Douglas, Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter and Hugo Black, Benjamin Cardozo, William Howard Taft,Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O'Connor. Albert’s reaction?

"My son, he’s a very smart guy to pick out the good judges, whether they voted for Gore or not. And he put me in the middle as Chief Justice. The gavel? It shows after 57 years, I’m in charge.“

22 October, 2008

Your Photos Combined into an Epic Photo Collage

In this custom photo collage roast by Nancy Gershman, a brother and sister spar
over the innocence of OJ Simpson. Total photos supplied by family: 4

So you want to make an artistic photo gift. You have all kinds of objects, buildings, people and pets to insert into your photomontage. But what's the epic story you want to tell? In what kind of a landscape will all these things go? The epic story is what gives your photo gift that really creative z-i-n-g. But where on earth do you find an artist who combines many pictures into an epic photo collage? An artist you can talk to personally, rather than ticking off a bunch of checkboxes in a shopping cart?

Forget "artistic service companies" if you want a custom photo gift that makes everyone do a double take. Instead, find yourself a visual storyteller like me, schooled in digital photo manipulation, who specializes in nothing else but special order, custom photo collages. In my studio Art For Your Sake I listen; I conceptualize; and then I wow you with ideas for an epic story.

The first step in making an epic collage is concocting a story that stars the person you're giving the photo collage to. It's about turning that family member or sweetheart into a hero of epic proportions. And it all starts with ordinary photos taken right from your photo CDs and picture albums. But they can also be photos you stage right at home with a digital camera. In fact, if you're a smooth talker, your subject doesn't even have to know that you’re posing them to fit right into their own photographic collage. The idea is to make your final digital photo collage look like somebody just snapped the picture and everything in the picture was already there. Here's how I do it.

What Pictures Work Best in a Photo Collage?

Take the case of Roy and his sister, Jenniesther. These siblings have been in a jesting feud about the OJ Simpson decision since 1995. Each thinks the other is totally wrong. Jenniesther has even gone so far as to dream up a special punishment for Roy if OJ's ever proven guilty (he’ll be forced to eat chocolate). Roy, likewise, has his own punishment for Jenniesther if OJ's ever proven innocent a second time around (she’s got to eat Flipper or some other exotic meat).

In Jenniesther's words:

"I used to joke with Roy, about OJ being Roy’s hero. For 15 years Roy’s been obsessed by OJ’s innocence. He followed the trial religiously. He’s convinced that OJ is set up. I believe OJ is guilty as sin."

So all Roy and I had in the beginning was this kernel of an idea: to make his sister a one of a kind birthday gift in the form of a roast about OJ. The way we started thinking about this photo collage creation was to imagine it as a play, with real props, players and good scene design. Creating the players came first, with Roy posing for somebody while his kids snapped his picture.

Next came Roy posing his sister and her dogs and then snapping her picture -without Jenniesther ever knowing what it really was for.

How Do You Create Wishful Reality?

Props came second. The photo collage illusion for this Legal Battle would involve two opposing armies, one pro-OJ and one anti-OJ. The prop list included:

  • A pro-OJ button on Roy's lapel

  • Under Roy’s arm, a lawyer’s briefcase stuffed with briefs

  • Behind Roy an army of pro-OJ demonstrators with identical placards depicting a smiling OJ

  • Roy's own son and daughter waving pro-OJ signs they made themselves

  • Jenniesther wearing an anti-OJ T-shirt

  • Next to Jenniesther, one dog chewing up a pro-OJ placard

  • Behind Jenniesther, two anti-OJ placards made out of a Newsweek cover

  • A giant Hershey bar ready for Roy to eat when he loses, and

  • The courthouse from The Back to the Future movie set sitting in the background to set the scene

In fact, that courthouse was one of the most intriguing props in our epic collage. Jenniesther later told me:

"I knew I’d seen that courthouse before, but couldn’t figure out from where. It was killing me; it looked so familiar!!"

In the end, all Roy had to provide me, the photo collage artist, were 4 photos: one of himself, one of his kids, one of his sister, and another close up of the dogs on a tight leash! The rest of the illusion would be supplied by me.

Is An Artistic Photo Collage Affordable?

Absolutely. A fine art digital masterpiece is affordable but only if you know the secret to keeping the costs low. If your digital artist charges by the image as I do (at $9-40/image), the trick is providing me with photos taken all around the same time, in the same lighting conditions. This way I can use multiple images from multiple shots you've taken for your digimontage (e.g. Roy, his kids, Jenniesther, the dogs) but charge you for only one photo. Four photos counted as one; that's a bargain!

You also want a digital artist that doesn’t charge you full price for cloned images (i.e., one image repeatedly used in the artwork, such as the pro-OJ placards). In my studio, I charge only in the single digits for multiple clones, so the total price ends up being nominal.

Not All High Quality Photo Collages are Epic

Can a photo collage design and printing service come up with a conceptual idea like this? Would they spend time finding you the exact kind of historical photos you need for your concept, without charging you an arm and a leg? Would an artistic service company automatically take it upon themselves to restore, retouch or augment your photos if the photos need the work, without charging you extra? Not likely. Photo collage design and printing services are there to "assemble" or "arrange" your photos into high quality photo collage compositions, but their ideas are going to look generic because they rely heavily on stock photos. I don't.

For a high quality collage to be epic, you need a Curator, Photoshop Expert and Art Director all rolled into one. That's because an epic collage is really about good storytelling. The more convincing the reality, the more likely the person on the receiving end is going to feel like Jenniesther:

"I was thunderstruck. I stared at it. And stared it. I could see all these different scenes blended into one. What a creation! I couldn't believe somebody could create a story about us."

Let me dream up an epic photo collage for someone you love. Call Nancy Gershman at 773-255-4677 or email me at nancy@artforyoursake.com.