Surf's Up

3-D is all the rage in movies right now, the visual coming straight at you. Cognitive psychologist Michael Guertin has been fascinated with the third dimension of light …


3-D is all the rage in movies right now, the visual coming straight at you. Cognitive psychologist Michael Guertin has been fascinated with the third dimension of light movement and depth in art since photo manipulation was in its infancy in the 1970s. 

Back then, Guertin, who lives in Barrington, explored odd color schemes with infrared film. As for subject matter, he mostly took pictures of people and environments – friends at work, landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes. 

He explored, learned and visualized, but the technical resources at the time were just too limiting, he says. “It wasn’t until computers came along that I felt that I could put all of the elements together in interesting ways. For example, I saw wonderful landscapes in my macro photographs of crystals under polarized light, but those ‘landscapes’ weren’t completely convincing as could-be-real places.” When Photoshop finally appeared on the scene, Guertin was able to create a unified image from almost any selection of people, places and props. 

Guertin began by cropping photographs to eliminate all the bits that kept the composition from working. After cropping some images, he was left with so little that he had to start adding things back in. “Once I started adding and changing elements in my images,” he says, “the only limit on what I could do was my imagination.” 

Working on splendid digital images with clarity of line and variety of visual texture, he re-works and explores alternative color schemes and compositions with relative ease. “You might call my style photographic expressionism, with a touch of the surreal. I like to use bright, fauvist colors and some notquite-right geometry. I like to include a bit of surprise and some unexpected juxtapositions of objects that don’t generally go together,” he says. 

His works are reflective of the overall mood he wants to create – a familiar, yet dreamy atmosphere. “More often than not, I’m just trying to recreate the feeling of a happy summer day,” he says. “I manipulate spatial relationships to make the picture work, too. Composition is a whole lot easier when I can just put things where they need to be to balance the image or to lead the viewer’s eye. If I have to stretch, distort or otherwise warp an image to do that, I’m perfectly willing to do so.” Guertin’s artistic intention is to take the viewer to the edges of everyday experience so that they may see the world in a new way – brighter, clearer, familiar, yet at the same time “mysterious and enchanting.” 

And then, there are the surfers. In the middle of a museum, on a Parisian street, in an alley – surf’s up a lot in a Guertin image. 

Says Guertin, “Since a surfer is so easily recognizable, his or her image immediately brings to mind all the usual associations. They’re usually found on the beach; they have a certain attitude toward the world, and so on. With all these associations it’s easy to create a sense of the surreal. I just put the surfer someplace he or she doesn’t belong – a country road or a French village, and suddenly all sorts of questions arise in the mind of the viewer. How did he get there? What’s he doing? What’s he thinking?”

Surfboards, by virtue of their size and shape, also make for a great compositional element. “Get the board right in an image and it can unify the whole composition or, at least, provide a very effective focal point,” he adds. Simply put, his work is fun. “[My art] has a curious point of view with a bit of mystery, and an upbeat atmosphere. People who buy my work like the fact that it’s unusual, but it’s also familiar and welcoming,” adds Guertin.