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Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Winter 00 > Article

Picture Perfect
by Jennifer T. Daly

Reality and the mind’s eye meet in Lanny Webb’s world.

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, the UGA graphic design professor uses advanced digital technology to transform regular photographs into dreams.

“I try to create illusions that stay just inside the edge of photographic truth, images impossible for film to record or creations of what would result from a photographically utopian world where everything is where you would like it and the lighting is always just right,” Webb said.

The illusion usually begins with a long drive. Webb takes to the highway to find the images that will serve as the foundation for his computer artistry, capturing them first with a top-of-the-line panaramic camera.

Never quite sure what he is looking for, Webb is guided by broad themes, most often drawn to landscapes that best capture the essence of the Southerner’s reverence for the land.

“My images are born not from a sense of nostalgia as much as from an attempt to rekindle within the viewer the importance of this disappearing sentiment once native to the South,” he said. “In general my images have always sought to recreate more of the spirit of a place than the actual place.”

A recent series is a case in point. In photo shoots that spanned two and half years, Webb climbed fire towers at dawn and dusk to photograph Southern landscapes. From hundreds of images, he selected a few as the basis for one eventual picture. Webb scanned the selected negatives and then took to the computer for the real work.

Through the use of digital technology, Webb weaves the images together, making subtle changes in lighting, composition and color palettes. Through manipulation, “I try to recreate the magic about a particular place that I felt when I was there,” he said. “Whole forms can be altered, rotated, duplicated or even totally removed and replaced with other forms created in another program or imported from another photograph.”

The work is tedious and time-consuming — 15 to 20 hours for smaller images, nearly three times that for more complex pieces. A large image in progress may require more than half a gigabyte of storage space — enough room to store the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Webb drives the final work to Greenville, S.C., where a company called Digital Solutions Inc. uses the giclée process — the most advanced method of color printing — to put his new image on paper. Often Webb will spend several days working with DSI meticulously tweaking the colors of his final image.

“The distance between what I see on my 20-inch computer screen and what translates to the printed medium is vast,” he said. “We print and reprint until it’s right.”

The resulting images look as real as a photograph, achieving what Webb hopes is a transparent use of computer technology.

“Recently a traditional photographer looked at one of my images and said, ‘Damn, that is a great shot!’ And really, it was five separate shots,” Webb said.

Digital imagery is primarily used for commercial purposes, Webb notes, but he invites his students to explore ways to use the technology as a tool for personal expression.

Before computers introduced digital imaging tools, Webb was an illustrator who had always drawn from photographs, using the photo as a point of reference to reconstruct a scene out of his imagination. His computer, he said, enables him to take this method of creating reality-based images to a new level.

“People will accept almost anything as reality if it is a photograph, because they believe that ‘photographs can’t lie,’” he said. “Photographs can lie, however, and now with digital imaging they can lie with seamless edges smoother than those created by the dwindling magic of moonlight.”

Webb’s intent is not to deceive, though. His passion for this truly 21st century form of art lies in finding new truths, new ways of looking at things — in essence, exploring a new frontier for the artist.

For more information, access http://www.visart.uga.edu/lanny_webb/.


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