Bevil Templeton-Smith is a computer programmer and IT consultant who has been residing in London, UK, and engaging in technical work for nearly 30 years. However, he is the son of two artists (painters) and as a result, possesses an artistic inclination that constantly strives to express itself. He cannot draw or paint, so photography has become his chosen medium for visual art and a pastime during his downtime. He has pursued photography as a hobbyist, with occasional paid assignments, for more than 20 years.
His photography work leans towards technically or technologically challenging subjects rather than focusing solely on aesthetics. His challenging subjects have included astrophotography (capturing nebulae, planets, the moon, etc.) through his telescope, ultra-macro photography of nature in the field, ultra-wide photography from unconventional perspectives, and experiments involving ferrofluid, glow stick fluid, or injected paints and inks in water. He has also explored glass photography, among other techniques. Bevil tends to create unique setups or, from a technical standpoint, seeks out and acquires specialized camera equipment and lenses to accomplish the goal of capturing photographs that others would find challenging. His current project and body of work stem from acquiring some very old research microscopes, fashioning adapters for his camera, and using the microscopes to observe and photograph a diverse array of crystal shapes and colors.
For many years, Bevil believed that photographing a single subject could be contrived and uninteresting. Since he does not rely on photography for his livelihood, he enjoys the freedom to let his subjects be driven by his imagination. However, his recent fascination with polarized photomicrography has led him to become exceptionally focused on this specific theme. He can often be found experimenting with chemicals, observing, and photographing various subjects through his expanding collection of microscopes.
Artrepreneur: How do you find inspiration and maintain creativity in a world saturated with images?
Bevil Templeton-Smith: I am constantly amazed by the quality of work by so many creative people in the art (and in particular, photography) world. There is an endless stream of truly spectacular work, that has obviously had huge amounts of thought and effort spent to create it.
To compete in a world filled with this cornucopia of incredible work by other artists is a daunting challenge. In my photographic journey over the past 25 years, I have not really tried to compete because there is always someone who has taken the same shot, at a better time of day, or with better lighting, or with a better eye for the composition, or with better gear, or with a combination of some or all of these.
For all of this time, I have also dismissed latching permanently on to a particular photographic subject as I saw other (successful) photographers do – as that seemed to box in my imagination and freedom to be creative. Citing my independence and freedom to work with whichever subjects took my fancy, I proudly proclaimed my independence from being in such a box.
However, I either found my subject, or it found me. Whichever, it is a photographic subject in which I have managed to achieve more than any other that I have tried, and certainly much more than flitting between subjects. It is a combination of the technical nature of the process of getting the shot, and the creative eye of the photographer in seeing art in some of these gigantic landscapes of colour and shape. Merging this very technical process, with a hopefully artistic vision is a challenge that I think I have learned to meet.
Inspiration and creativity are boundless, and come easy when I don’t feel I am copying or emulating anyone else’s work, and I know they would struggle to copy mine. When I first laid my eyes on my first large Chromaluxe print on aluminium – in preparation for my (first) exhibition in March 2023, it took my breath away. It is easy to continue to find inspiration and maintain creativity when a physical manifestation of my work and my thoughts and my process literally takes my breath away.
ATP: How does your use of composition and framing contribute to the storytelling aspect of your photographs?
BTS: The act of producing photographs is often difficult. It usually requires physically going to a location, or arranging people, schedules, or objects. My work in this particular photographic journey is not difficult to prepare for. I make some microscope slides using various chemicals, melted or dissolved, I then put those slides on my polarising microscope, configure the cross polarising filters, choose a retarding method, and set the camera up on the microscope. At that point, the composition and framing find themselves.. Crystals can be any orientation, or at any magnification, or depending on the polarising and retarding set up, could be in a range of colour palettes. I can visit this process multiple times per day (in between doing my IT day job).
It is literally the composition, either during the photography process, or afterward that makes (or breaks) the work. Without the hard work to find and work the compositions, the photographs would be of no value. Out of 7800 photographs I have taken, only 16 met the high bar required to print, frame and then show them. The way these turned out gives me great pleasure, and that other people seem to like them (evidenced by multiple sales of large printed works at high value).
How do you view the relationship between the photographer and the viewer, and what role does interpretation play in the appreciation of your art?
BTS: The photographer and the viewer of a piece of art are in a transaction. The photographer takes the time to learn the craft, assemble the necessary equipment, set up the subject, work the composition, take the photograph, and then post process the work to make it just right.
The viewer of the work pays the photographer by allowing the work to engage them. They may glance fleetingly at the work, and have no interest, or they may stare at it long enough to drink the whole thing in. Either way, they may love the work, or find it uncomfortable. Each of these gives the viewer some stimulation and food for thought, and that is payment for the time the photographer took to produce it.
I have had some happy experiences (thankfully no negative ones) with my work up on the wall when a viewer, not knowing that I am the photographer sees it in my presence. My work is extremely abstract, and holds no clues as to scale or subject (no unsuspecting viewer has guessed the subject). This is useful to understand reaction to the work, because it is a clean slate. There is no way for them to interpret the work OTHER than that they like it or they do not. It is pleasing or it is not pleasing.
There is often great surprise when the viewer learns that in fact the work is purely a photograph, and that it is not contrived, or AI art, or created in Photoshop or Illustrator. This sets the work very distinctly apart from other photography, and usually increases the appreciation for the work. The work appears very much as abstract painting (viewers, friends and collaborators struggle to avoid referring to my ‘paintings’).
I consider my work to be simply happiness inducing. Certainly for me, I have a very simple sense of happiness when looking at my photographs, particularly when printed large and vibrant and sitting unapologetically on a wall in a beautiful frame. Perhaps this is because of the lack of scale or recognisable subject. I think they exist to do no more than elicit a happy thought, and thankfully this seems to work with most viewers. Ultimately, this is my relationship with the viewer.
ATP: Is there a boundary between documenting reality and creating art through photography?
BTS: There is a boundary between pictorial photography and art, but it is very wide. Just like colours of the rainbow transforming from one to the next across the electromagnetic spectrum, there is no central dividing line in photography where on this side you have a pictorial work, and that side you have an art work.
I value very highly work that is made by people interested in documenting reality. From reportage, still life, portraiture, travel, macro, astrophotography, and any number of other photographic endeavours to show the world. Those good at the craft will make photographs of real things, but stage them in such a way that they fall squarely in the art box. I think this is a sign of good photography.
I am very pleased that I can make photographs which give no clue to their scale or subject. An area of a crystal on a glass microscope slide that is 3mm wide and 2mm tall was photographed processed and worked to produce a physical print that spans 1.5M x 1.0M. Even from a few centimetres away, there is huge detail to explore in this print – all from an unimaginably small little nondescript area on a microscope slide. My photographs are very literally pictures of real things, whose colours and shapes are brought to life by their properties when viewed through polarised light. They are perfectly real, but without scale or recognisable form, fall squarely into the art box.
ATP: Can you share some insights into your post-processing workflow? How do you enhance your images to achieve the desired aesthetic?
BTS: My subjects are literally microscopic. At that scale, the tiniest spec of dust becomes a sizeable fraction of the overall image. Often the process of making slides produces unpleasant spots, stains, bubbles and grains of dirt that are impossible to eliminate from the scene in real life. Sometimes the subject and composition is beautiful, but one corner or element just doesn’t work (or detracts from the image). Photoshop and Lightroom heal tools are used to eliminate the uncomfortable dots, spots and splashes. The Photoshop clone tool is used in some cases to replace an ugly element with something a little more attractive from nearby.
The depth of field in a microscope photograph can be as small as 1/100th of 1mm. At this scale, achieving a perfectly sharp image is very difficult, particularly at the edges of the frame. As sharp as the microscope allows us to go, it is not sharp enough to print at very high resolution at very large sizes, so some level of sharpening, and perhaps a little noise reduction is used to tighten a beautiful but ever so slightly soft scene.
Ideally if there is post processing of the images, it is done in a way that cannot be detected (if the viewer were to actually view the subject through the microscope and compare, it is sharper still than the photograph irrespective of the processing). For those that end up being printed – very large and at huge expense, there is always some post processing done. However it is done judiciously and with a desire for it never to be detected.
To view more of Bevil’s work please visit his Artrepreneur profile.