Pool Rorschachs inspired by David Hockney

My final graduating project for my BFA in Photography was an abysmal failure. I remember when I installed it in the gallery just how bad it looked and how much I wanted it to be better but there was no time. Maybe I was being hard on myself? (My parents liked it!)

My worst fears were confirmed when I received the pages of critiques from my professors, how I had fallen short in all aspects.

It was a crushing blow, but part of me really expected it too. And I’ve since learned after a decade plus of other moments of failures that you need those moments. They are moments that can either freeze you or pause you, but the key is to take the pause option, however briefly you need one, because they’re essential to your growth. These failures don’t mean you should stop.

Will Smith says to “fail early, fail often, fail forward”, as those that are truly successful are failing all the time. And I believe this to be true now but at the time I was too immature to accept responsibility for it. My muscle for failure is way better developed now, that I take putting my work out there and risking critique with a grain of salt. I actually don’t even worry whether someone will read this. It’s important for ME to work through my thinking by writing about it.

My graduating project was based in my inspiration from David Hockey’s polaroid work. I thought they were so clever and so wonderful to look at, that I had really hope to replicate it by showing a tree experience the seasons. But my execution was just wrong (for instance, I didn’t use polaroids) and I didn’t control enough of the variables to make it work visually. I should have realized it way earlier while I was in creation mode, but my project planning wasn’t as strong back then and I was way more rigid/unable to pivot from an early idea.

Nathan Swimming Los Angeles, by David Hockney  source: Pinterest

Nathan Swimming Los Angeles, by David Hockney source: Pinterest

The silver lining to all of this was a comment from one of my teachers on the many pages of criticisms was something along the lines of “this didn’t work, but I know how creative you are and you will be just fine. I have no doubt about it.” I didn’t feel it then, but she was right.

Anyway, suffice it to say that David Hockney is still a favorite artist of mine.

When I went to Martha’s Vineyard with a few friends last month, I knew from the last time we visited that there was a beautiful pool we could swim in and this time being prime swim season that I would get my friends on board to help me play with a few ideas. David Hockney’s pool paintings and polaroids sprung to mind and as someone who loves to study light I wanted to find news ways to photograph reflected light.

David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)”

David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)”


What we ended up creating was so different from the vision I had in my head but I think these are better than that initial idea.

On the heels of editing through 7000+ photographs from ONE wedding (I hope I never have that many photographs to wade through again) I needed a visual break and decided to break processing “rules” and played in Lightroom.

I mashed up the tone curve, went wild with the grey, blacks and whites and managed to bring about a painted, illustrated feeling while allowing my friends to remain real looking. What surfaced were the shadows; the light reflected on the bottom of the pool inferred Hockney while the girls shadows seem to take on a life of their own. They remind me of those Rorschach tests, how are shadows forever connected to us have a life of their own. What we do in the shadows. What lies beneath.

I’ll let you decide what they mean to you. Here are my favorites.

Thank you to Rebecca, Abby, Liz and Katie for being patient and fun models for me!