I take the image into Photoshop and fragment it, place the parts in different layers and treat them differently; some I blur, some are stretched or distorted, others altered by changing the density of colour or the grey scale, and so on. I then make a selection of backgrounds using photographic images I have taken myself, very occasionally from the internet, though I try not to do that, and then add further references, perhaps with an image that has connection to the X-ray or the disease process or perhaps text from a scientific article or news paper. These are placed in different layers and similarly processed. I then look at what I have got and perhaps drop additional colour into various areas according to how I feel, or how the spirit moves. Finally I arrange the layers in an appropriate order, using a Photoshop facility that allows me to add, subtract, multiply, etc. the images, maybe leaving some unprocessed and others heavily altered, some relating to each other, some not. As in all art there is an element of serendipity, and it is the extent to which this is controlled that is important. Finally the layers once chosen and processed to produce a harmonious whole are then fused together to become a single image.
Tony Lamont, Chest 30, Pneumonia
Some might be concerned about privacy for the person whose X-ray I am working upon. The original images are derived from teaching files where the image has been de-identified all information that could lead to identification of the patient has been removed. (Some other X-ray artists use human X-rays without removing the person’s name; if this is done without specific permission, it is I think unethical) I try hard to treat the image as presented in the final picture with respect for the person, whoever they are. The extent to which I achieve this is borne out by observer reaction to the image, and I hope it is successful, but the intention is definitely there (the road to hell is paved with good intentions).
When drawing or painting, as the process progresses, there comes a moment when the picture is satisfyingly complete. The artist must then stop fiddling with it otherwise it is spoiled. It is the quality of that “spoil” that fascinates me because it seems to place the image into a second incomplete phase which then needs to be worked upon further till it reaches a second “complete” phase. If the artist doesn’t stop, another similar process happens, and potentially it repeats itself. The trick is to know when to stop. Thus the X-ray itself represents a “finished” item; further work done on it like colouring represents stages where other X-ray artists generally decide to stop. I simply take the process a lot further with many more stages and processes to achieve what I am aiming for. And I hope it works.
Here are two pictures that show the difference between adding a different colour to achieve a different emphasis – Chest 18 – works, however before addition of the extra tone Chest 17 is OK but not nearly as good.
The decision to alter something that looks good already is hard to make, and the effect may be subliminal.
The question of whether an observer “likes” an image is not really relevant. The answer for me is whether the observer recognises truth in the image; whether it is a pleasant truth or an unpleasant one, it is that recognition that turns a picture from a pretty decoration into art. You may ask the old philosophical question “What is truth?”. The best answer I have heard for that is “Truth is a rabbit in a bramble patch, the best you can say is that it is in there somewhere”. Truth varies according to your perspective and to your experience. It can sometimes be displayed in words, but often can be expressed only in some other less cerebral, more ephemeral form, like a painting, like music, like taste (the bitterness in beer), like touch, etc. So the viewer looks at a painting and thinks “This disgusts me, I would never hang that on my wall”, they are reacting to the intrinsic truth contained in the image, it is therefore successful as an art piece.
I once saw an exhibition at a country village in the UK. The pictures were undoubtedly beautiful, but the only one that sold was a small oil sketch, that the artist told me he didn’t originally intend to display, showing a close-up, almost a silhouette, of a hedgerow, quite dark, with the light sparking through tiny gaps between the stems and branches. It spoke to me of the reality – it was something I hadn’t stopped to think about before and made me want to be there, I saw truth in what he was trying to portray.
In summary therefore one should think about it this way “What did the artist intend to portray? What did the artist actually portray? How do we react as individuals to the intended and actual images?”