The many passions of digital media artist Michael Tomb

Tombs image of the beloved katsura tree (Cercidphyllum japonicum) in Rochesters Highland Park.

Tomb’s image of the beloved Katsura tree
(Cercidphyllum japonicum) in Rochester’s Highland Park.

By Michelle Sutton  Images copyright Michael Tomb

Michael Tomb’s mesmerizing “Skin of the Arboretum” image series began in early 2008, on a tour of Rochester’s Highland Botanical Park Pinetum with horticulturist Kent Milham. Tomb became fascinated by both patterned and abstract expressions of bark on the trees; he now exhibits truly arresting photos and photo collages of them. As with “The Hobbiton of the Bark” (see photo), he frequently employs an element of trompe l’oeil in both the subject matter and the convincing, apparent picture frame. 

Tomb identifies as a digital media artist, rather than a photographer. He has taken an average of 50 pictures a day over the last 15 years. Many of his images employ HDR (high dynamic range) software that takes multiples of an image and eliminates the “noise” from each one to get a wider range of exposure and maximum 3-D effect. 

“Many of my finished images are not one photo—each is as many as 12 or 13 frames on top of or extending each other,” he says. “Virtually every image has been manipulated. I don’t believe in the idea that there’s a clean image that’s somehow sacred. All digital cameras are computers, after all, so a program is involved in any digital photography.” 

He continues, “I’m after the image. I like to use any method available to me—so were many of the most famous film-based photographers. They often used analog tools such as filters on the camera or the enlarger and dodging and burning, even combining multiple images into one. I experimented with all those techniques back in my darkroom days. But the image still begins in my mind’s eye and works its way slowly towards a surface of some sort. There is no happy accident involved here; I know what I want and when the image finally lines up with my internal expectation, it’s finally done.” Continue reading…