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Unnatural Landscapes
September 24, 2007 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Photographer Kim Keever takes incredible, otherwordly nature shots using a unique technique: she builds the subject by hand in a 100 gallon fishtank. Other galleries of her work here & here. Via, which was via.
posted by jonson (37 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does she paint the cloud backgrounds? I love the end result. The concept brings to mind another oddball nature photographer, Myoung Ho Lee.
posted by carsonb at 7:17 AM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Those are neat, but I have to wonder: If you are go "fake" it, why not just use Photoshop? All the images are kind of foggy and blurred anyway, which hides a multitude of sins.
posted by DU at 7:20 AM on September 24, 2007


carsonb, the clouds are ink or dye injected into the water.

I've liked Keever's work since reading about it in Harper's a while back. Anyone have any contact info for him, I'd appreciate it.
posted by dobbs at 7:20 AM on September 24, 2007


If you are go "fake" it

How are they fake?
posted by dobbs at 7:21 AM on September 24, 2007


Thanks, carsonb.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:23 AM on September 24, 2007


I'd hoped that the quotes would keep people from latching onto the irrelevant word choice. Let me try again:

If you are going to construct a scene from scratch anyway, why not do it in Photoshop rather than a fish tank? Particularly since the scenes in question are exactly those for which it is hardest to tell it has been photoshopped (big, foggy vistas with no humans).
posted by DU at 7:25 AM on September 24, 2007


dobbs, Keever is represented by:

KINZ, TILLOU + FEIGEN
529 West 20th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10011
Tel 212.929.0500 Fax 212.929.0065
info@KTFgallery.com

They should be able to put you in touch.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:25 AM on September 24, 2007


DU, Keever answers your question in the artist's statement here:
Working in my studio and shooting the 4x5 transparencies of the aquarium setup in my apartment is half the creative process. Getting the film back is when I really see if I have made something interesting or just average. Most are just average but sometimes I get that wonderful surprise and feeling of elation of seeing one that really works. The fact is, I have no idea whether the work will be interesting or not until I see the film. I’m usually shooting so fast, if one can shoot fast with a camera that large, that after 7 or 8 shots I don’t know what I have.
posted by carsonb at 7:28 AM on September 24, 2007


DU, are you forgetting that art is as much for the artist as it is for the spectator? Why question the artist's choice of tools if it makes you look like a tool?
posted by pmbuko at 7:29 AM on September 24, 2007


It's like model sets for a low budget sci-fi show, early Doctor Who or something. I love it.
posted by Grod at 7:36 AM on September 24, 2007


Wow. You can almost imagine yourself shrunk down and going for a walk in those photos. Like walking in an alien world that isn't too different from ours. Cool. Thanks.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:42 AM on September 24, 2007


This is pretty similar to the way that they made cloud effects for movies pre-CGI.
posted by octothorpe at 7:44 AM on September 24, 2007


I don't think you'd be saving yourself that much time to use Photoshop because you'd spend quite a bit of time getting all the photographic materials together (shooting this tree, that creek, that boulder, this beach, etc.). Then compositing them all such that they have the same light would be difficult. Photoshop needs "real" photographic material to work. I always encourage my students to start with their own digital photography of "actual" subjects before they fire up Photoshop. It's like the saying "Garbage in, garbage out." I believe if you don't have good photographic source material then all the Photoshop in the world won't help you.

So, some people might suggest : why not build this in Bryce or Maya, etc.? Well, again, I imagine the artist has enough talent with model-making (B.S. in Engineering if you go to his/her bio page) that making miniature sets is as fast as building 3-D sets. 3-D sets wouldn't have near the variety of real texture as these "actual" sets and are really designed to be "moved" (to have cameras zoom through them in impossible ways).

I teach computer art and I'm sympathetic to encouraging artists in using digital technology. I think, though, that this artist is using plenty of technology and has developed a unique method of creating images that doesn't "need" computers.

Really neat link! Thanks!
posted by Slothrop at 7:44 AM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Very cool and definitely ethereal.
posted by OmieWise at 7:51 AM on September 24, 2007


I'd rather learn how to do illustration-esque landscapes in large format film than the same deal in photoshop (because it would challenge me). These photos manage to stay original and imaginative which is the real feat here.

Process is secondary.

(thanks for the link!)
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:54 AM on September 24, 2007


I didn't realize the clouds were ink/dye. That injects an element of "the dynamic world writ small" and unpredictability that I didn't get at first. I was thinking it was just a big diorama and he snapped a pic.
posted by DU at 8:27 AM on September 24, 2007


Yeah, I generally don't go for art that poeticizes nature but there's a much stronger unstable factor to the work then what you get with the usual paintings of natural vistas. I do wonder if her work appears more grainy and used in person as opposed to a screen. The use of a camera to produce this kind of image is somewhat deceptive, it smells of all the overwrought pictures of urban poor/degenerates that so many photographers just love.
posted by nixerman at 8:41 AM on September 24, 2007


They're very cool. Very painterly - they remind me of works by American landscape artists like Frederick Church.

Thanks for the post.
posted by rtha at 8:49 AM on September 24, 2007


rtha, nice call with the Frederick Church reference! This is probably my favorite Church painting.
posted by Slothrop at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2007


As a kid I used to spend hours doing essentially this in a creek. I would set up little imaginary landscapes and then toss in mud clods and watch the swirling clouds engulf the scene. Then the creek would conveniently carry off the silt and I could start over.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:13 AM on September 24, 2007


These would make FABULOUS desktop wallpapers.

...I don't know if that's a compliment, or an insult?!
posted by mr.curmudgeon at 9:18 AM on September 24, 2007


Zowie. Magical. Not what I expected.

And the idea of adding little drops of "clouds" and "mist" to the water? The process is as charming as the result.
posted by dreamsign at 10:03 AM on September 24, 2007


If you are going to construct a scene from scratch anyway, why not do it in Photoshop rather than a fish tank?

That question is so fucking idiotic, I'm at at loss as to someone could even think it. Have you never heard of pencils? conte crayon? photography? graphite? oils? stage design? ART?!?

All of these tools have been constructing scenes from scratch for centuries and, in the right hands, doing a damn good job of it. There have repeatedly been entire goddamn movements using just these tools to construct scenes, so when you ask "why don't you just use photoshop" I say because maybe she wants to do more than make a nice ad or rotoscope a film. Maybe she wants to get her goddamn hands dirty using the tools that have down the job for fucking centuries rather than be limited to how fast her computer processor is.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:07 AM on September 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Photoshop imitates art imitating life?
posted by carsonb at 10:11 AM on September 24, 2007


Art is a process.
posted by Area Control at 10:20 AM on September 24, 2007


I used to try and take extreme closeup pictures of drops of food coloring going through water.

These are much better/cooler.
posted by Lucinda at 10:23 AM on September 24, 2007


These would make FABULOUS desktop wallpapers.

Okay, forget jetpacks and cold fusion. I want the next great advancement in technology to be realistic 3D photography and display, so I can have a 3D version of this as my background. I'd of course want any desktop icons to be koi swimming slowly beneath the water.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 10:25 AM on September 24, 2007


Wonderful post. I think my favorites in the blue are the ones about unusual artists, and this is another typically fine contribution from jonson. (One minor quibble, Kim seems to be a him, not a her.)

If you are going to construct a scene from scratch anyway, why not do it in Photoshop rather than a fish tank?

In addition to what Slothrop said (which I agree with), the real reason seems to be that when the photographs are being taken, things in the tank are moving. (Watch the Quicktime video.) Just like with real weather. That's why, as in the quote carsonb notes, Keever says, "I have no idea whether the work will be interesting or not until I see the film. I’m usually shooting so fast...I don’t know what I have."

they remind me of works by American landscape artists like Frederick Church.

Keever's website says he's trying to reference "the Romanticism of the Hudson River School and 19th-century photography of the American West," so you're right, rtha. Church and others like Thomas Cole were the Hudson River artists whose paintings first brought attention to the island where I live up here in Maine. (This painting by Church shows the coast where I tour guide most days this time of the year.)

Here's an interesting site about tourism and the American landscape, and the artwork created by Church, Winslow Homer, and (my favorite of the bunch) Thomas Moran.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've always liked this Church painting.

I like Keever's work, and the fact that it's made in a fishtank rather than by an artist standing outside somewhere and painting a "real" landscape adds something to it, though I can't articulate what, exactly. There's some quality of light that Steever has managed to capture...I dunno. Makes me homesick for places I've never been.
posted by rtha at 10:42 AM on September 24, 2007


I feel like a doofus about the gender confusion. Stupid enthnocentric name based sexism!!
posted by jonson at 10:43 AM on September 24, 2007


Brandon Blatcher summed up any kind of comment I could make. This is far more interesting than a Photoshopped fake landscape.

Thanks for the cool post, jonson!
posted by agregoli at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2007


These photos are great. The fact that she built them is just another incredible aspect.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2007


Nifty. I've always had a thing for weird and imaginary landscapes.
posted by sotonohito at 11:18 AM on September 24, 2007


Very interesting, thanks Jonson: Keever is one of several photographers doing fantastic work with constructed miniatures: see also Didier Massard, Charles Matton, Lori Nix, James Casebere, Edwin Zwakman and Oliver Boberg.
posted by misteraitch at 11:24 AM on September 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


...and David Levinthal
posted by misteraitch at 11:26 AM on September 24, 2007


These are great - thanks, jonson, and misteraitch for further recommendations. And those of you who pointed to Frederick Church.

Another one: flickr user diastema posts charming miniature photography. [diastema is a flickr-pal of mine]
posted by moonmilk at 4:18 PM on September 24, 2007


...and Corinne May Botz.
posted by misteraitch at 12:56 PM on October 1, 2007


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