Suzanne Pitts manipulates her photographs with clicks, colors and swirls on her computer.
Her method is one that some, she says, argue isn't art. There's no paint brush or pencil involved -- just Pitts, her images and Photoshop. Some effects can only be created by computer, she says.
"I hadn't really gone toward the artistic side with it," she says. "People are kind of questioning the computer...It's not the computer creating the art, butthe vision and skill of the artist using the computer as a tool to express art."
The 17-year Laguna Beach resident began using Photoshop "Cookbook" publications from O'Reilly Media, Inc. to touch up professional shots for her own Pacific Image Photography. While dabbling in the program, she discovered the 2006 O'Reilly Digital Media Photoshop Cook-off contest -- and in October won its grand prize.
"It was really an honor," she says. "They flew me out to New York for the presentation."
Pitts, zealous for dance, says her award-winner was one of the photographs she took at the Laguna Dance Festival that lacked an appearance of movement. She used the computer to twirl hues around three ballet dancers, transforming the raw, "nondescript photo," into a "dramatic form."
"You see the form and the kinetic energy taking place with the dancers," she says. "It shows their connectedness."
The piece is part of a larger collection she's working on, "Dance on Glass" -- a compilation of photographs from the dance festival that she's manipulating to display "nonphysical expression," she says.
"It's expressing the energy behind the physical form," she says. "It's a point of the river, but the river is in motion. I think that's why art moves people."
Another of her collections, "Viva Terra," features a contemporary dance performance transformed into gray and orange hues, sharpening the outlines on each expression. These photos are on display at The Crystal Image on Forest Avenue.
"I hope to get into more galleries but right now I'm just trying to get clearer on the direction I'm going," she says.
The twirls she made in her award-winning shot she now considers her artistic signature, she says. While she developed her skills mostly by doing, Pitts adds that a few mentors helped her along.
"They taught me that it was of utmost importance to master my tools," she says.
Between raw photography and "cooked," Pitts says her preference is a toss up. Enhancing photos can take them in a different direction, she says, but cautioned:
"When you're talking about digital art, you're talking about artistic perception of an event. It becomes an abstract expression of what you are trying to say. I want to express not only beauty in form but beauty in movement."