Tombeaux, continued.


Tombeau :  08:13:13PM © David Roddis, 2014.  All rights reserved.

Tombeau : 08:13:13PM
© David Roddis, 2014. All rights reserved.

A tombeau is a formal posthumous tribute to a public figure and is originally a musical offering.   The French composer Maurice Ravel, for example, composed a suite of pieces for piano (which he then orchestrated) called “Le Tombeau de Couperin”.  This bears analysis:  Couperin was a French composer during the time of Louis XIV and was celebrated for his keyboard works.  So this is, at first glance, a “tombeau” or tribute to Couperin, and Ravel has created exquisite pastiches of Baroque dances that reek of Ravelian nostalgia and a mysterious, aching loss.

But then comes the twist: look again at the dedication, for each of these pieces in the suite is dedicated to a friend who lost their lives in the Great War.  So this Tombeau de Couperin is also a tombeau for Ravel’s lost companions. 

Well, it just slices the top of your head off, scoops out your brains, and throws them in a ditch.  Then it tears your heart out.

Here’s a YouTube video of Angela Hewitt playing the entire suite:

It was last year that I started the process of creating a series of these cathartic images. I have yet to assign them people or events, so right  now they are “freestanding dilemmas”.

The piece you see above is one of these tombeaux without an anchoring event.  It does possibly represent someone, something, that I have lost in the past year; I have charged it with the task of carrying that weight into the future and suffering under the burden.  Poor baby!  But rather you than me…


My collectors

Every artist needs someone – anyone! – to believe in him and support him.  Sure, we can “do it on our own”.  But how dispiriting and downright lonely if one has to do that.

A print meets its ownerEarly on, one’s family and friends, if you’re lucky, provide support and encouragement that goes beyond “that’s lovely, dear”.  (That last remark to me is the biggest sign that I’ve failed in my intentions!).    My friend Bill has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for my work right from the start.  He recently acquired #2 print of my piece “Seven Veils”.  This particular iteration is at 22 x 17″.

My practice is to rework the art for each owner.  The differences are slight, yet create a piece that is unique.  I think it’s worth the effort.

I also create a unique Certificate of Authenticity, using a watermark of the actual artwork and overprinting the specs.


Be an advocate for my art. Earn money. Be happy.

My solo show at Akasha earlier this year.

My solo show at Akasha earlier this year.

I’m looking for a unique individual.

S/he will live in Toronto or the GTA (likely).  And s/he will like – no, be in love with – my art.

By helping me with placing, promoting and selling my work, this unique individual will earn my undying gratitude – and (potentially) big $$.

Do you know this individual?  Is it even – perhaps – YOU?


Dahlia Lifecycle (2014). Archival pigment print face-mounted to acrylic. 17.5 x 55″. Edition of 3. Price on request. © David Roddis, 2014. All rights reserved.

Download the job description here (requires Adobe Acrobat):

You are welcome to forward the document to anyone you feel is capable and potentially interested.

I know you’re out there…


Following the light: some thoughts, and a challenge

Photography means literally to write with light.  Many people forget this, and think that it means merely to take a picture of a person or an object.  Perhaps digital photography, with its forgiving nature and possibility for post-shooting repair, is responsible for this shift in attention.

Lighting sets the scene; lighting affects us profoundly, subliminally.  We react to times of day, seasons, moods through the expected quality of light.

Light has intensity or luminosity.  Light has temperature:  warm golds, cool blues.  Light has DIRECTION.

David Roddis, “Thistle”, from "Senescence", ©2011

David Roddis, “Thistle”, from “Senescence”, archival pigment print, 22 x 17″, Edition of 10.  © David Roddis, 2011.  All rights reserved. 

Think of winter mornings with their pale pink and blue dawns; harsh noon-day sun like a hot knife; think of a Rembrandt portrait with its chiaroscuro (literally:  bright and dark).  Think, my god, think and study Caravaggio!  (Because you don’t just look at photos, do you?  You study art.  Right?)

You probably sweat to light every square inch of the frame.  But less is more.  Try underlighting your photos. See how little you can get away with. Work with shadows.  Don’t think that every detail has to be apparent.  Digital seems to be all about detail and sharpness:  be careful that your brain doesn’t get rewired by your camera!  Make your choices creatively.

With this approach, your first question can be:  “How will I light this? Take advantage of this light?” rather than “How should they pose?”  or “Am I following the rule of thirds?”  (God help you!)

Then you’ll start to create much more interesting images.

CHALLENGE:  Take a subject that you photograph often. (Returning to the same subject many times is a good idea.)

For the next week, pay MORE attention to the light than to the subject. Send me one of the images from your week that you feel has benefited from this approach (jpeg format, under 1 Mb, no more than 900 px on the longest side) and I will publish it here on my site.

Your reward:  A feeling of immense satisfaction and more validation than you can shake a stick at.

Happy shooting.

The image:  From “Senescence”, an ongoing series of black and white images.  Click here to enquire about purchasing this image or others from this series.


Six ways to instantly improve your people photos.

Here I am.  Show finished, utterly projectless, bereft of ideas, totally adrift.

Yeah, right.  I’m about as adrift as the CN Tower.  What’s really happening is a gathering of force behind one idea.  Before that happens, I take a lot of “bad” pictures.  I remind myself of previous concepts which fell by the wayside – should I revive them? Is my resistance to them a sign that I really should pay more attention to them? – and I allow myself to free associate:  What if…?

“What if…” is a key to an antechamber of the imagination.  You can’t get there without this question.  “What if I embraced blurry rejected photos?  What if blurry was just another esthetic choice?  What if, instead of all-but-nailing the camera down, I deliberately moved it?  What if I lit the scene so it was barely visible?”  And so on.  And those are hardly earth-shaking or even original what-if’s.  But pushing through what you’ve been taught is “correct” is always a challenge, and always necessary.


Arne H.

Arne H.

While I’m drifting, you, at least can be put to good use.  So here, for the beginning or casual stuck-in-a-rut photographer, are five  (plus one) ways you can instantly improve your people photographs:

1.  Get closer.   What we want to see in a photograph is usually something we haven’t seen before.  So get as close as you can to your subject – Aunt Minnie, for example – and then – get closer.  Physically.  Crop the image agressively in the viewfinder.  And you will begin to see…  (Hint – a portrait doesn’t always have to be the face.)

2.  Find or use directional light.   Think Rembrandt, think Caravaggio.  Think chiaroscuro. Light and shadow.  This requires directional light and the direction is NOT from the flash on your camera straight ahead bang on to the subject. In fact, if you’re using a phone camera, find out how to TURN OFF the flash!  We want light from the side, from the top down, even from behind.  But that straight-on flash will flatten your subject and bathe them in that dispiriting glow that is the essence of every hideous passport and driver’s license pic you’ve ever endured.


Dmitri. Notice: how the directional light sculpts his body? He’s lit from above and slightly behind by the light in this changing room, so his face is in partial shadow – I’m TOTALLY FINE with that!

Directional light, if you are not using an artificial source, usually means seeking out a time of day when the sun is lower in the sky.  That’s early morning or just before sunset (and as a bonus, the light is gorgeous, pink, gold, ethereal at these times of day).  A more simple approach:  sit your subject beside a window.  If the light is really harsh, cover the window with a white cloth or sheet.  This will filter the light and soften it.   But don’t worry too much about the contrast between light and dark.  Try a lot of contrast, try less.  See what you like.

3.  Try a new angle.   Ever notice how most amateur photogs just – well, stand there?  So what you end up with is – exactly the same view that 99% of the population sees.

Instead, get low to the ground.  Lie on your belly if you need to.  Or stand on a step ladder.  Climb a tree!  Do anything except just stand there in your normal way at your normal height.  The resulting view will be quite new to most people, even if it’s a familiar subject.

To continue the challenge, don’t take two pictures in a row from the same spot or point of view.  Now you’re talkin’…

4.  Don’t tell them to “smile!”.  OMG! Please!  Instead, before you take the picture, try having them scrunch up their face, then relax it.   Let the muscles settle into their natural configuration.  Neutral (but the secret is:  we’re never neutral).  Instead of the mouth, pay attention to the eyes…. Because once you’ve allowed them to have a relaxed, ‘neutral’ face, you’ll be amazed at how much actually comes across.  (And the eyes are really where smiles happen…)

As a bonus to #4:  have your subject look out that window, into the light source, instead of

Dana M.

Dana M. in a glamour pose. Where is the light situated?

at you.  (Or away from the window.  The point is to have them NOT look at the camera for a change.)

5.  Shoot in black and white.  Most cameras, even phone cameras, have a monochrome setting.  (Please, no sepia!  I have my health to think of…).  Black and white forces you to see the play of light and shadow, because that luminosity is all that you have.  Now you will start to see the way that directional light really models the face of your subject.  Try high contrast (bright light, dark shadows) and low contrast (softer light, lighter shadows).  It’s all good.

6.  Bonus:  Have your subject move:  I often get my sitters to chat about their work or a topic that engages them.  I encourage full-on mediterranean-style hand movements as well!  Catch them as they speak, laugh, frown – capture them in unique, off-guard moments.  Some of the captures will be awful, some silly – but some might just amaze you.

Have fun!


Chromophobia is a terrible thing

You know, people say the strangest thing to me when they see my photographic artwork, and especially if they are contemplating a purchase.


Balthasar van der Ast: “Flowers in a vase with shells and insects”. Early 17th C.

They say,

“Those colours won’t go with the decor of my living room.”

Now, think about that.  Nature puts a riot of colours together. Greens of every tint and shade, purples with reds, and orange.  Poppies and cornflowers and irises and carnations and hollyhocks.  ROSES. Nasturtiums….

Well, you get the idea.  And have you ever said to anyone,

“Gee, the colours in that meadow just don’t —  ‘GO’.”


No.  I didn’t think so.  So where does this terrible chromophobia come from?  Is nature’s riot of color just too much for the human sensibility to bear? Has all of our courage been suffocated under the mantel of conformity?  Has all of our joy in the gorgeous heart-breaking transience of this world been systematically beaten out of us?

I don’t have the answer, but I’m darn well going to sit in that corner and have a good think about it.

But I know one thing:  If I ever had had a child, s/he would have been called “Balthasar”.

The image:  “Flowers in a vase with shells and insects” by Balthasar van der Ast.  Note the uni-directional lighting, which of course would have been the light from a window into the artist’s studio.  The modeling of the light creates a strong three-dimensional effect from light and shadow; symbolically there is life and death in this picture. The gorgeous yet muted colors and sensual almost fleshy forms of the blooms barely break out from the murky interior, so that our reaction to them is not pure joy, but nostalgia, a sense of imminent loss.
The presence of insects makes one think of the “cabinet of curiosities”, in which strange and amazing objects from the natural world were displayed.  The grasshopper sits like a stone; the dangling spider waits patiently to spin its web around its victim – us?   van der Ast was a renowned still life painter who is known for his masterful depiction of shells.