Who are you, what do you do, why do you do it?
My name is Andy Beckemeyer, and I take photographs of colorful scenes around the city of Portland, Oregon, USA that wind up looking more like impressionist, cubist, and abstract paintings than they do conventional photographs.
Please describe your submitted pieces.
All of these images are pictures of trees taken in Portland within the past year, two in fall and two in spring. I wish I could tell you what kinds of trees they were, but unfortunately I don’t know much botany or gardening.
Light With Lamppost: North edges of the Laurelhurst neighborhood in late October. The first three pictures are taken with the same lens for a sort of smoother impressionist look.
In Not-Even-Anything Land: Also Laurelhurst in late October. The title is from Chuang-Tzu, who said something like “Be like the gnarled tree in Not-Even-Anything Land. Be useless, so that no one may use you.” Sage advice.
Let Me Run Wild: Somewhere near Alberta Street in mid April. Whatever these trees were, I couldn’t believe I found orange like that in spring. More like a fall color.
Whirlygig Rigmarole: Near St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in the Hawthorne District in late April. Taken with a different lens than the other three, one which maybe gives an impression of broader brushstrokes.
Please tell us a bit more about your lenses, why did you create special lenses? What form do the lenses take? How do they work?
Although I don’t want to get into too much technical detail here, these pictures are all taken through camera lenses of my own design. I do use editing software for minor improvements here and there, but what you see here is for the most part not the result of some digital effect or phone app.
The reason I started working on lens design is that the first pictures I took of the fall leaves when I moved to Portland turned out pretty ordinary. I realized that what I didn’t like about the pictures was the mundane detail, the dully precise shapes of leaves, the shadowy patches or spots of light, the cigarette butts off in a corner of the frame and so on. I started off toying with the focus and wasn’t any more impressed with the blurry results, but thought I was at least kind of on to something. My next approach was lens design, and I’m very happy with the results so far.
What have you achieved by creating these lenses?
More than I ever imagined! Over the past two years I have created volumes upon volumes of images I never could have conceived of any other way, and it has been a very fulfilling project. Now I’d like to share what I’ve done with the rest of the world, and I’m thrilled to have my pictures included here for the readers of Wake Up Screaming.
Please describe your relationship with trees.
I grew up in the very dry climate of Colorado, surrounded mostly by evergreen trees, and when I moved to Japan for a couple years to teach English I was completely awestruck by the possibility that trees could be orange and red and of all things pink! You might as well have shown me a green sky and a yellow ocean as a cherry tree in bloom. When I moved to Portland later, I found myself in the same kind of climate surrounded by the same brilliant colors, and I’m astonished by something I see just about every time I go outside (well, not in the winter.)
What do trees have to teach us about creativity?
Almost all of my photographs are taken in a pseudo-natural, but in fact almost fully man-made, built, created environment. By which I mean, people’s lawns in Portland, Oregon. Most of the trees I’m looking at have not only been placed and planted with some degree of creative intention, but have been selectively bred and created to appeal to homeowners in some way. On top of whatever innate creativity you might imbue to the evolution of wild trees in actual nature, these domesticated trees are themselves in a large degree a medium of human creativity and a created product. Who knows, in twenty years I might be shooting pictures of meticulously gene-spliced trees that turn into blue-and-white representations of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa every fall.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
In keeping with the theme for this issue, the pictures included here are pictures of trees, and ones which look more or less recognizably like trees. I also take pictures of trees through several other lenses which distort the bright colors of trees into completely unrecognizable patterns, as well as pictures of flowers, crowds, architecture, beaches, lakes, mountains, other artwork, and whatever scenery I think will work.
More of that work can be seen at www.throughaglassbrightly.com, and prints are available for sale. You can also follow me on Instagram at @throughaglassbrightlyphoto.
Find Andy here: www.throughaglassbrightly.com