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The Many Faces of Ed Freeman

Ed Freeman’s lengthy, career as a fine arts photographer has spanned over thirty years and seen him embrace a spectrum of styles and subjects from erotica and Hawaiian surfers to underwater nudes and recontextualized urban and desert buildings.

Now, with his new series, Faces, at his namesake Chinatown Gallery, (Ed Freeman Photography) he embraces an aesthetic far removed from familiar territory.

Unlike his previous, more conventional series which embody familiar techniques of posed subjects and an almost photojournalistic approach, Faces embraces a stronger sense of the abstract and experimental.

Using conventional portraits as a point of departure, Freeman distorts the images radically via digital manipulation. The images are reinterpreted to the extent that they barely resemble their original organic form. Instead they are transformed into sublime creations that lie somewhere between impressionism and abstraction, analog and digital, photography and painting.

Freeman reveals, “I’m going in a very different direction, away from photo-realism, towards a kind of impressionist abstraction. To me this is more aligned with the natural strengths and inclinations of the tools I’m using. Photo-realism is certainly possible, but it requires exercising strict control over the manipulative process – in effect, fighting the computer to make it do what the ego wants it to do. What I’m doing now is more about encouraging the computer to do what it “wants” to do naturally, rather than trying to force it to carry out my preconceived ideas.

I’ve been experimenting with stretching the boundaries of photography ever since I first started taking pictures in sixth grade. I used to shoot on enlarging paper instead of film, partially melt the emulsion off of film with hot water before printing it, solarize film and paper; I spent hours sandwiching negatives and making photograms in the darkroom. Later on I tried shooting into bent plastic mirrors, shooting through prisms and dime store magnifying glasses and glass bricks, hand coloring, making Polaroid transfers from color negatives, drawing all over them and then re-photographing them – all sorts of experiments, some of which worked and many of which didn’t.

They have an emotional intensity and insightful quality that is enhanced, not obscured by the extensive processing. Deceptively simple pictures are transformed into hauntingly beautiful, occasionally unnerving but inevitably memorable works of art.

Like many fine arts photographers Freeman employs digital manipulation as a key tool.

Citing the likes of artist Anthony Goicolea, Avedon, Irving Penn, Edward Weston and Andreas Gursky as masters of digital enhancement and as inspirations, Freeman is adamant that his use of Photoshop software as an artistic tool in no way discredits his artistic integrity or vision.

Asked about how his use of digital photography and photoshop differs a plethora of other work being exhibited, Freeman says, “most digital manipulation – including mine up until now – has been very photo-realistic in nature, even if it is used to create impossible fantasies.

Photoshop offers endless possibilities for distortion and manipulation; I’ve been playing with them for fifteen years. My most used tools are the Displace function and lots of layers in different layer modes – and endless amounts of experimentation. I hardly ever use third party plug-ins. These days I’d say that about 10 percent of my experiments work – and that’s up from 2 percent a few years back. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, but after a few thousand hours of mistakes, it gets to be somewhat better informed trial and error!

Freeman has exhibited internationally at various galleries and esteemed museums. When the tired economy permits, he also works on commercial assignments and shoots stock for Getty Images. His commercial clients have included Agfa, New Line Cinema, Miller Beer, Sony Music and Warner Bros. He also teaches Photoshop at Santa Monica College and has given seminars at Julia Dean Photography Workshops and WPPI.

His computer-enhanced artworks have been featured in over a dozen one-man museum shows, assorted photography magazines including Photo District News, Camera Arts, Rangefinder and Popular Photography, and countless general interest publications, art books, greeting cards, calendars and posters. Los Angeles Times Books released his first collection of landscape images, entitled “Desert Realty” in spring 2002; it was subsequently re-released by Chronicle Books in 2007.

A true Renaissance man, Freeman’s previous career saw him working as a performing musician, arranger and record producer. Highlights of his involvement with the music business include serving as a road manager on the 1966 Beatles’ tour, arranging and conducting a touring orchestra for Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers, arranging Carly Simon’s debut album and producing and arranging Don McLean’s iconic “American Pie.”

Of his career transition, Freeman confides, “Many photographers started out as musicians, the most famous of course being Ansel Adams – some of his contemporaries considered him to be even more gifted as a concert pianist than as a photographer. Maybe it’s that both art forms require a certain innate feel for mathematics; maybe it’s something much deeper or more unexplainable than that. But the connection between the two is unmistakable.”

Photographer Ed Freeman’s Exhibit “Faces,” on show untll Aug 30. 6-9 pm at Ed Freeman Photography.

Ed Freeman Photography
945 Chung King Road
Los Angeles CA 90012


About Craig Stephens

Craig Stephens is an Australian born freelance writer who has lived in the U.S. (LA &NYC) since Jan. 2000. He has written for an absurd cross section of titles from Playboy to Personal Computer, Elle to Tokyo Journal, Dart International, Artweek, Adweek, Malibu Magazine, LA Weekly, Loaded and many more, from stints in London, Tokyo, Berlin and NYC. More about him at craig-stephens.com

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