As a photo editor, I spend a lot of time sequencing images. When I build an online gallery, I want there to be a specific flow to the piece — a story with a distinct beginning, middle and end. I want to engage the viewer's eye, making him look into the distance in one shot, then pulling back to examine the details of an extreme close-up in another. In my mind, I refer to the process as "Zen editing." I couldn't explain in words just how I know the correct order of the photos; I just know when the sequence feels right.
Winter – Dallas, 2008
Grass – Boulder, Colo., 2009
Sonoran Cacti – Sonoran desert, Arizona, 2009
Industry – Texas, 2009
Subway – New York, 2008
Antique – Dallas, 2009
Aged – U.S.A., 2009
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Perhaps that's why I was drawn to Matt Nager's iPhone montages. Instead of sequencing photos linearly, he places his images in a grid. The viewer's eye wanders over these composites, not settling anywhere specific, but skating around while the brain processes the larger feeling created by the framework.
The montage that first appealed to me was Winter, which coincidentally was the first montage that Nager built. I love the simplicity of the color palette — crisp whites, deep blues, and that pervasive winter brown. I first look at the clouds in the center frame, then toward the clouds in the upper right, then to the Ferris wheel in the upper left. My eye then wanders to the frosty leaf in the top center, then back down to the middle, and finally around the edges. Individually, the photos are striking, but as a group, the canvas truly draws me in.
For being so complexly edited, the photos are shot surprisingly simply. Nager uses his iPhone camera in conjunction with the CameraBag application to add a stylized filter to the images. He then imports them into Photoshop, tweaks the curves, adds some sharpening, and assembles them into a grid.
"It was never meant to be anything, I did it just for fun," he said. But then he started showing the images to friends, and their reaction persuaded him to publish them on his Web site and start shopping them around to galleries. Nager, a freelance photographer, shoots professionally with a Nikon D700 and Mamiya 6 medium format camera. However, when he goes out casually he doesn't like to carry so much gear, so he started using his iPhone camera as his point-and-shoot.
"It usually happens that I'll be shooting and I'll think of a theme, then it happens all at once," he said.
He shot the collection Grass in three days in Boulder, Colo., deliberately thinking about which direction the grass was flowing, and where each image would fit on the grid. The result is a calming natural field of stalks and reeds — a lovely example of editing in Zen.