Swazoo Koolak Photography

Rusty Object, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo,

I never went to art school, so I never learned how to write the sort of impenetrable prose that is so common in artists' statements. Please forgive the fact that this is in plain English.

My artistic goal is to highlight things that are unexpectedly beautiful or interesting. I try to avoid the obvious—things like sunsets, flowers and pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. I go for composition as much as I do subject matter—that is, I am inclined to photograph something that has interesting shapes and colors regardless of what it is. My ideal subject is something that people wouldn't normally notice, but is aesthetically pleasing when looked at the right way.

I try to avoid simply photographing other people's work. For instance, a beautiful garden is nice to see, but it's the work of the gardener. Photographing it would be a little like walking into a museum and taking a picture of a painting.

I take a lot of pictures in old neighborhoods and industrial areas. Things that are new and pristine don't interest me much. I like things that nature has been allowed to work on a little bit.

I don't publish many pictures of people. That way I don't have to worry about model releases.

What About Photoshop?

I use Photoshop Elements, which is a less expensive, less feature-laden version of Photoshop. Almost all digital photographers use some sort of photo editing software.

Some people have the idea that using software to manipulate a picture is cheating. My feeling is that there's nothing wrong with it as long as you're not trying to deceive people. No technique in art is cheating unless you lie about it. I freely admit that I change my pictures—nothing you see here is exactly as it came out of the camera.

That being said, I am more inclined to make some types of editing changes than others. I almost always correct the exposure, change color saturation, lighten some areas of the picture and darken others. I often remove what I consider to be distracting or extraneous elements.

I rarely put something into a picture that wasn't there originally. I have nothing against this practice—it's just something I don't do often. There are some people who go so far as to use Photoshop to create images from nothing. That is, they start with a blank canvas and "paint" an image. Not me. My approach is closer to straight photography than it is to painting.