Featured LEISURE

Photo-artist hopes to illuminate the world

One of Michael James Slattery’s creations (courtesy image)

Photo-artist hopes to illuminate the world

By Jill Alexander

Some might call Michael James Slattery a jet setter, but he doesn’t think so. 

However, photographer Slattery has traveled the world from Istanbul to Singapore to Bourbon Street, creating what he calls “luminism.”

His business is Luminous Views Gallery, and he sells online and at the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market on Thursdays.

“I’ve certainly gotten to do things in this life that I would never have thought I could do,” he said. “This is my full-time job. Every day is Saturday for me.”

Slattery uses state-of-the-art equipment and said he borrowed the idea from famous 19th century American artists and painters who painted landscapes in a way that would illuminate not what a photo does in a single moment but the light as they deem fit.

“They were using a camera to obscure their sketches, but they didn’t say that to anyone. It was why I think they became famous for the magic they were creating. I am convinced they were creating landscape images where they were interpreting the light in the mind’s eye,” Slattery said.

In other words, rather than illuminating everything in the same vein, one could see where the sun might be illuminating the mountain differently than the trees and the foreground as if the sun has multiple places in the sky, Slattery explained.

His techniques

Technically, what Slattery does is put the camera on a tripod in the afternoon and continually shoot the same exact photo into the evening to capture a palette of colors while the sun is out until the sun sets.

“I then take those pictures and blend them the same way a painter might blend color in a painting. I don’t use slider bars or layer masking,” he said. “It’s like using a wand and working like I did in a traditional darkroom … or like a painter might blend red and white to make pink, etc. … I don’t use paint, and this is not a time-lapse (a single exposure). I am bracketing hundreds and hundreds of exposures from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows using 12 to 30 different images of those captures.”

He has spent many hours studying color theory and perfecting his craft in the darkroom.

“It’s not like the cook invented thyme in spaghetti sauce. I learned many different things in photography and created what I have now,” he said. “Radiant darkroom techniques never provided me with the ability to be able to do what I do until digital came along.”

He is “trying to bring to light what the camera can see in a single moment and bring it all together with fascinating subjects.”

How it began

Slattery became interested in photography when he saw his grandmother’s old Polaroid Land Camera.

“She took five to six photos of my mom and brother in front of a car, and I watched it develop in front of my eyes. … I’ll never forget that,” he said.

When he was eight or nine, he told his mother he wanted to get a job to save up and buy a camera, but she said he couldn’t do it until he was 12 when he could get a job. 

Eventually, Slattery saved enough money and bought his first 35mm camera at age 12. 

Most recent adventure

While he has traveled extensively over the decades, he hasn’t been overseas in a while. His most recent trip was local to Eureka, Calif.

“I’m working on an image of these Redwoods – and this pedestrian bridge between the trees that is about 300 yards long and 100 feet above air the city put up. The Redwoods are pretty spectacular,” he said.

Some of his favorite places for shooting his content include Bourbon Street, as well as Mexico, Turkey and Ireland.

“In Turkey, the historical significance of human history was revelatory to me considering the landmarks and things I saw. … So mind-blowing,” he said. “Mexico, too, is amazing … The entire world is amazing no matter where you go. Just walking among these places is just OMG. I am blessed.”

Where to buy

While he has utilized the art festivals and other outlets, he now sells online, at farmer’s markets, and has a small shop in mid-downtown San Diego. He also creates frames from reclaimed wood from the Ocean Beach Pier.

He likes the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market where his booth has “lots of light.” In addition, the reception he receives, and the people are great, and “the community is awesome,” he explained

Visit Michael James Slattery at his booth at the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market and Family Festival, held from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. each Thursday at 10045 Carroll Canyon Road.