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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dream Worlds

Creating other-worldly images that blend Photoshop with film-based darkroom techniques

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Ann Elliott Cutting carves out time from her busy schedule as a commercial assignment photographer to make the images that she's inspired to make. For a photographer used to fulfilling the vision of editorial and advertising clients, it's especially nice to be your own art director and pursue your own projects. Cutting's personal projects aren't simply side work, though. She always has carried the torch of fine-art photography, long before she began her commercial career, even. These days, they're simply the two halves of her creative whole.

"When I went to Art Center," she says, "I kind of wanted to do fine art, but it's a very commercial school. So I learned all of the commercial stuff and just kept doing fine art on the side. Then when I came out of school, I was doing a lot of album covers—that's where I started—and it evolved into more advertising. Now it's mostly editorial and some advertising."

Cutting's work should be familiar to listeners of Kenny Loggins, Bonnie Raitt and Patty LaBelle who, among others, have featured her photographs as album covers. Readers of TIME, Science and The Washington Post have seen her work on those covers, too. She's clearly a master of precision when it comes to crafting her "whimsical" commercial photographs, but with personal work she's free to move away from the rigid technical requirements of client work into a more freewheeling space.

"I think in this work I'm allowed to be more illustrative," she says. "You don't need all the detail, you don't need everything to be sharp, and size ratios can change. It's a place to play. It's sort of anything goes. Let's say I have a Diana toy camera image that I like, but it doesn't stand on its own; I might make more of a story with it by adding other parts. I can come up with anything with this body of work because I'm just creating it. It's not documenting. It ends up being kind of fun."

One personal project, in particular, is instantly recognizable for its dreamy, textural quality. She thinks of this grainy, dreamlike series as "other places," images of man and his journeys.

"I don't really have a name for it yet because I feel like I need more images," she says of the body of work, which she has been building for a decade. "I feel like there's a common thread of man and machines that he has created to travel. It's sort of otherworldly. It's a little dreamy, it's a little mysterious, it's a little bit fable. It's a little on the darker side, too."

The fine artist's prerogative is to create work that asks more questions than it answers. Aside from being her own art director, though, creating artwork is an entirely different experience than when she's photographing on commission because of the room for open-endedness. Commercial work, she says, is very much about delivering a fully formed equation in which A plus B equals C.


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