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Issue #98 / 9 May 2008

The New Format: An Introductory Rant

Goodbye, Photoshop


I'VE CHANGED THE LAYOUT of my web page because I'm tired of all the goddamn images. Instead of working on my writing I’ve been using graphics—composites made from stock images and too many photos of me. Issue after issue, I would stop thinking about what I was writing and begin to create the illustration before I finished the piece. The image would supplant the writing. I've been doing what I loathe — contributing to the surfeit of goddamn images in our culture—pretty, pretty pictures. Don't know how to think anymore.

I go to a greasy spoon down the street and they have a big, ad-only TV monitor with slick images of local businesses. Can’t even eat in peace. Nail salons, hair salons, spas, gyms: narcisso-vision; it’s hard to look away. We need some true iconoclasts, people who will smash some images. I want to do my part.

I'll start with Photoshop, the software, the image maker. I hate Photoshop; I've never learned how to use it, and I'm damned proud. I've had three versions of it in ten years and still don't know a goddamn thing about it. But a few weeks back I attempted to use it so that I could create an illustration for a piece I had written, some whine about a lack of recognition by my college alma mater; and it took me five hours to get a clean image of a goddamn tangerine using Photoshop.

During some of that time I was dealing with a guy on the Help Desk of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I'm a member of NAPP even though I shouldn't be. The professionals of NAPP shouldn't have taken my $99 because I’m not a Photoshop professional and don't know how to work their tang4a1goddamn program. In this particular instance of not knowing how to work their goddamn program, I couldn’t figure out how to do a simple little isolation of an image, take the tangerine away from its white background. I should be kicked out of the NAPP. I want to be kicked out of the NAPP because I'm not going to use their goddamn program anymore.

But two weeks ago I was using Photoshop and had to ask this guy on the Help Desk at NAPP what to do. Peter Bauer, the Help Desk guy, wrote a book called Photoshop for Dummies but must not like to deal with an actual Photoshop dummy. Because when I didn't understand something in his email instructions on how to do this simple isolation goddamn thing, he wrote back, "I gave you complete instructions. Please follow them" and then a bunch of repeated instructions in italics as if he was dealing with a Photoshop dummy and didn't want to be dealing with a Photoshop dummy even though he wrote a book for Photoshop dummies and presumably is making money from us Photoshop dummies.

But, you know what? I thank him, I thank Mr. Bauer. Because after spending five hours getting the image of the goddamn tangerine to put over my bloodshot eye in my photographic composite I came to this understanding. No, it was more than that; it was an epiphany, an epiphany about the whole matter of images. And I'm not talking about Catherine's photographic images or Robert Royal's photographic images; I'm talking about my own, my composite illustrations. What the hell have I been doing? Why did I spend so much time with them?

I'm not a goddamn illustrator; I can't even create a little pissant (French word) tangerine. Five hours to isolate it from its white background and place it over my bloodshot eye, and once I got it there I didn't know what the hell it meant or why I had made it. Published it anyway.

How did it work as an illustration? What did it have to do with the piece I had written? Was I trying for some kind of Magritte effect? Who did I think I was, what's-his-name Magritte? Carlos? Saul? He did a painting using a piece of fruit; it was an apple and it covered this man's face, the fruit was the face, with a bowler hat sitting on top of the man's head. But what did some Magritte effect have to do with what I had written, what I was attempting to say about my redneck alma mater? Magritte, apples, tangerines. Hell, I didn't know; I just did it. Images supplanting thinking.


One other graphics matter: I have spent god knows how much time in my web design program, working with this effect and messing with that shape. Precious little lines and sweet little rollovers and, even cuter, mouseovers, little mousey-overs, hours and hours spent making navigation bars and effects for over two hundred individual pages of my website. But what about writing? I'm sorry to be so pissy about all this, but some epiphanies, goddamnit, aren't pleasant. Shouldn't I have been writing?


So I've now designed this simple little web page and here it is, looking at me, just spaces for my writing. It came to me with the tangerine and the impatient guy at NAPP. Shhhh, be quiet, the epiphany said. Don't spend your time on illustrations; you don’t do well. Write. Make the web page simple.

In thinking about all this—writing, the time spent doing graphics—I started thinking about a chapbook—you know, a little pamphlet thing. Forget the ever-more-trashy-by-the-day worldwide web and make a little paper book each week, a book of my writing, my trying to think. Make it with folded deckle-edge paper and staples, a hundred copies. Go down to the corner of Ventura and Van Nuys and hand it out. "Excuse me! Like something only marginally obscene? No nakeds? Want to read me as I attempt to think? It was an apple, not a tangerine, you know? What was Magritte's first name? Excuse me...Here take one; don't even worry about a donation."

But I decided against it; I decided that I want to make this work. I want to continue with my web page. Just this simple little page for my written work, where I try to think, with a gallery on another page. Where I'll put...I don't know. A single image maybe. But only after I finish the written piece. Cute forest creatures maybe. Something strange. No tangerines.

What else? I'm going to continue to promise a weekly journal with this new format as long as the writing works. I've put all my past work with its hard-won graphics in an archive that you can find here.

Thanks for reading.

—Britt Leach

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