The Art of Art: Revealing Behind the Art Scenes

Everyone loves art; we all marvel over pretty paintings, and admire the beauty of a well-conducted photograph. But what’s behind all of that art? What happens when you peel back the paint, peek behind the ink, and paper, and look at the art as a process.  When you think about all of the dynamics that make art, it makes you start to question: What is art?

Lucky for me, I happen to find myself a part of this process quite often (in fact, I’m writing this in the car as a photo is being done right now). My significant other is local photographer Russell Eck, who specializes in long exposure night photography, and almost all the time I tag along with him as he’s creating his art. I know the ins-and-outs of what makes a nice photo, but I got to wondering; do you? It’s an interesting process that takes a lot more time and effort than people think, and I think it is an important part of art appreciation to understand just exactly what it takes.

Saturday night in Reno consisted of cabin fever-meets-warm weather spontaneity that had Russell grabbing for his camera and his trusty assistant: me. He thought up some ideas, called up a friend, and the three of us made a night of it. As I said earlier, Russell does long exposure night photography, so we ended up fending for ourselves down by the Truckee River in the dead of twilight—well, not actually, but we did come across some unruly teenagers in the process, and I did have to confront another photographer about snapping unannounced photos of us doing our work (and flashing a few statement fingers, since the woman never stopped).

The process goes something like this:

  1. Stakeout: it begins. This is one of the major places the artist comes in—they have a certain eye (generally a photographer’s eye, but I think this applies to all artists in a different sense), which is able to pick out interesting things that the rest of the world doesn’t see.
  2. Spot picked: set up. Lugging the equipment (i.e., camera bag, tripod, flash, flashlights, and knives because let’s face it, this is downtown Reno) to various places, which range from off the roadside in the city, to miles up a hiking trail in places most people never see. Then, after the hike, comes the actual setting up—the moving, adjusting, testing, snapping, adjusting again moments until the artist is happy—time taken for this step generally ranges.

russ3. The wait: exposure time. This is where the breadth of the process truly lies. Since it is night photography, the camera itself requires longer exposure for enough amounts of light to reach the sensors and make a nice photo. Also—as Russell has often done—there are photo processes such as startrails and long exposure water shots that require a lot of time, sometimes hours. This is when we wind up goofing off and having tons of fun though—an unusual luxury of an unfaltering assistant 😉

russ34. The follow-up: on a technicality. This is the stuff that people really don’t think about when looking at a photograph. This is the double exposure times, the editing in computers, and finally the uploading, printing and matting. This part isn’t as glorious as the others, but is equally as necessary and still takes a certain skill and practice.

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I tag along for the first few parts, but generally I don’t see the finished product until we’re at home and Russell is pretty much done. I’ve learned about the different types of photography, the different works that go into it, and ultimately have a heightened appreciation for much of the work that I come across. Does it help knowing what goes into art? I’m not sure, but for me knowing the effort an artist puts into their reveals a sense of passion, and ignites in me ideas and motivation for my next creative project. The finished picture for the night turned out like this:

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Find Russell here:

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Artist Profile: REcked in Reno

Russell Eck

Local photographer on the rise in Reno, Nevada. Find him:

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In order to give back to the community, I figure I can start by getting to know it. Each member offers himself up as a piece to a larger puzzle, but in order to truly appreciate the big picture, one needs to focus in. Right now, I am going to zoom in on an up-and-coming local artist, born and bred, who is taking artistic standards and giving them a much needed modern spin.

Russell Eck is a photographer, specializing in long exposure, infrared, night, and landscape photography. He received a BS in Biology from UNR. He writes for and plays in a local post-hardcore band called A Place Before The Pines, and runs his own music recording studio, called 8 Bit Recording Studio.

Other than the fact that Russell Eck comes across as a busy Superman with a photo-hobby, he gave wonderfully down-to-earth and refreshing answers during my interview with him. A great person with great insight on what it’s like struggling to stay afloat in the river of amateur artists out there.

Lets start with the first question, why photography? What sparked your interest?

I just took it as a spur of the moment thing for school, and then decided that I wanted to do it on my own for the creative aspect of it. I took a class as an elective, and then decided, screw it, and did the rest on my own.

 Do you have schooling, or are you self-taught?

I took one photo class while in my undergrad, then went back and took another after I graduated. Other than that, I’m basically self-taught.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Walking around. I just like to walk. When I want to do photography, I just choose a spot and go out and walk. I rarely go out with a goal in mind.

Have a favorite artist?

Jerry Uelsmann. His style reminds me of my own when I choose to do surreal photography.

Dream job?

Travel photographer, with my significant other. She would do the writing, I would take the pictures–it would be a team thing.

What do you aim to do with your photography, other than of course making money?

I just want people to appreciate it like I do.

Best experience doing photography?

I was doing a night time photo out at Lake Britton dam with my girlfriend and best friend after a long day of wake boarding. We went hiking at night to see the dam. My friend Jake almost stepped on a rattle snake; it was almost surreal just sitting under the stars listening to the incessantly loud dam. Doing night photography is like being in a whole different world; people are never outside, wandering about.

Worst experience?

Down by the Truckee River. I had a shady man approach me, and I had to fend him off because I was worried about him stealing my equipment, or mugging me. That’s what happens when you do night time photography, it’s not exactly safe.

 What do you find most rewarding about it?

I personally do it different than most people. I enjoy the meticulous process of sculpting my photos how I want them, and perfecting the things that 95% of people wouldn’t notice. With night photography, just being outside at night when you’re alone is interesting; you become hyper-aware of everything. I enjoy the guessing game of taking a 10 minute photo, and waiting another 10 minutes for it to process to find out that it was everything and more than I thought it would be. It reveals a completely different world than the human eye can see, especially at night.

 What do you find most difficult?

I don’t find the process of photography or editing difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to have people see my work and therefore care about it. Everything is so saturated now with the internet… It’s hard to be recognized with all the bullshit out there.

 You’ve sort of created your own unique style, why shy away from the typical artsy nudes and light painting niche?

It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t like posing people, or objects, just what I already see.

Do you think your photography could change the world?

Not now. Perhaps in the future when the world changes. I try to capture the way it is in interesting ways.

Do you want it to?

I want people to appreciate it like I do. If I had the chance to effect someone in a positive way, that would be great.

 What other kinds of things do you do?

I write and play music for a local post-hardcore band, called A Place Before The Pines.

I ride bikes, play video games, record bands and music in the recording studio, 8 Bit Recording Studio.

 You’ve lived in Reno you’re whole life, what are the ups and downs, artistically and otherwise?

So far I haven’t really seen any ups on the artistic side. I feel like people don’t appreciate art here–in music or photography. It’s a stifling environment where everyone thinks they are better than each other, even if they aren’t an artist. That’s why I am moving to Seattle.

 Are you methodical and by the books, or impulsive and random?

My subject is impulsive and random. My technique and editing are insanely technical. I hate all of the cheesy effects that people use as a crutch for their photography, but I do understand that it has a place–very seldom. I like to represent the scene as accurately as I can, to make the viewer feel like they were there.

 What’s your favorite piece of yours?

This may sound kind of douchy, but I like all of my work. I put a lot into it, I don’t just snap shoot.

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Know any good jokes?

Knock knock?

Who’s there?

Smell mop.

Smell mop who?

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