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Amy Guip
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By Anita Dennis
This New York photo artist says she won't go back to the darkroom
When Amy Guip first starting using Adobe Photoshop to create photo-compositions five years ago, the challenge was to hide the fact that she was using a computer. "A lot of clients were first worried that my work would change," the New York-based photographer says. "The whole idea then was not to be obvious, to have the same tactile quality to my work."

Now, Guip is much less cautious about her use of Photoshop to create photo collages for clients, which include Atlantic Records, ESPN, assorted Time Inc. magazines, and other notable names. She has not only mastered the art of using Photoshop to mimic traditional darkroom effects — imperfections, cracking, and dodging and burning, for example — but she has also let digital techniques take her to new heights and new styles that would have been impossible without a computer.

"There's no way I could go back to that darkroom again," she says. "The possibilities are so incredible with Photoshop. I'm able to be more creative, using multiple exposures and layering on the computer. Some of these effects used to be physically impossible to achieve."

I came out of school doing very dark imagery and was very attracted to it. I've had more dirty-cop stories than any other kind in my life."
— Amy Guip

Guip, who is 35 and graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in illustration, has spent most of her career as an independent photographer and digital artist. Her specialties include photo illustrations for magazine articles, book jackets, and music CD packaging, with the occasional ad thrown in the mix. "I work in a world I have an assignment, and I start with a photo of a girl that is very photographic — it may look like your downstairs neighbour," she says. "I'm usually creating icons or symbols of things, so that image is too specific. I push it. I add illustration to make it less photographic, less perfect, a symbol for something you can relate to."

Her style varies depending on the assignment — a piece on aggression will be kinetic and emotional; a piece on medicine will be techy — but Guip is the first to admit that she does have a signature look: photo illustrations and collages that are "decorative, moody, and dark," she says.

"I came out of school doing very dark imagery and was very attracted to it," she says. Since she does a lot of magazine work, and magazine articles tend to focus on the negative side of human nature, Guip admits that she's been pegged into a certain niche, illustrating articles on domestic violence and other sombre topics. "I've had more dirty-cop stories than any other kind in my life," she sighs. "It becomes formulated and not challenging."

That's why Guip was excited by the new millennium. "Normally people wouldn't come to me for something futuristic or sci-fi or computery, but it was a great time for me because it gave me new stories. The subject matter of what was happening in the world changed, so the nature of my work did, too."

Guip credits the computer with allowing her to stay current in technique as well as topic. "I wouldn't be able to do that if I didn't have tools like Photoshop. It's the computer that has allowed me to evolve. Without it, I'd be stuck in the same place. That makes me nervous."

Her typical process is to photograph her subject, develop the black-and-white images (no frills) in the darkroom, and scan them into her Macintosh G3 or G4 using an Epson Expression 836XL flatbed scanner. Then she composites and edits the images in Photoshop. "I pencil-sketch my concepts; I never verbally discuss an idea because I'm between these two worlds and I'm hired to communicate something specifically," she says. "If it's a super-detailed piece, that evolves as I'm working, but the general feeling and poses are thought out before."

Guip must be doing something right, because she recently won a prestigious Alfred Eisenstaedt Award from Life magazine for one of her digital images. This puts her in company with such greats as Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz. Yet Guip is modestly defensive. "In the world of photography," she says, "Photoshop is frowned upon. Lots of my friends are photographers and they never call me a photographer. They call me a 'collage artist.'"

Then she laughs lightly and says her photographer friends have slowly come to recognise the need to embrace digital methods. The tables are turning, and they've begun to call her and ask for Photoshop lessons. "I get a secret kick out of it," she says. "I defend it tremendously as a tool that's no different from a camera. It's like the darkroom; it's not like you're cheating. It's the perfect tool for someone like me, looking to push photographs to another level."

Freelance writer Anita Dennis is based in San Francisco.
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