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"Without You" Tumblr Shows Figure Skating Duos Without Their Better Half

Christopher Hiltz digitally manipulates photos to create images that are both hilarious and oddly melancholy.

While this winter’s Sochi Olympics has had its fair share of controversies, it’s also been inspiring Internet gold. First there was the Shoshi Games Tumblr, then we saw the true Faces of Figure Skating, and now we’ve come across Christopher Hiltz’s curious Tumblr Without You--a brilliant set of digitally manipulated pairs figure skaters, with one of the skaters removed.

We recently chatted with Hiltz about the inspiration and process behind Without You’s bizarre and hilarious images.


The Creators Project:What gave you the original idea for this series?
Christopher Hiltz: The idea for this series was basically spawned from weariness; one groggy morning I was looking at the news online, when I saw a photo out of the corner of my eye of what looked like an awkwardly posed ice dancer. I was thrown off mainly because I was so out of it I didn't realize the skater (a woman) wasn't just floating in the air, parallel to the ice, but was thrown into that position by her partner. The image was composed as such that the guy was at the bottom of the frame, and for a split second I just missed him. That brief moment of confusion led me to begin intentionally manipulating photos of pairs ice dancers and skaters to look as if one member of the duo were missing.

Out of all the shots of Olympic figure skating, how do you select the photographs you'll be manipulating?
Well, first off, not all of the shots are from the current Winter Olympics, but all of them feature participants from the current games. I am by no means an Ice Skating aficionado--I should make that clear--but when I first started scouring for candidates to be manipulated, image searches turned up many from the 2014 Olympics. So I'd go through those, and then pull images I thought I could work with. During that time if I saw photos of a team's performance that I wished I could have used but couldn't, I'd then search for that team and find images from past events. So it was really a combination of both finding images I thought I could realistically alter, and then expanding the search to any event where these folks had participated in the past.


What processes do you run the images through to edit out the other person?
It varies quite a bit. For some, it's really quite simple. For instance, in the shots where it appears the guy is looking up at the rafters towards a blank nothingness, the female he had just tossed has been cloned-out using the rubber stamp tool in Photoshop. If the shot was taken from a certain perspective, sometimes the ice could be used as the cloning surface, which is pretty simple.

From other angles, I'd have to recreate the arena's seats in the area where the female should be hovering. Those were the easy ones. For the poses in which the pairs were intertwined, things could get dicey. I'd often have to first clone out the skater I wanted to eliminate as much as possible. Then I'd need to recreate the portions of the remaining skater that were previously covered up by their partner. Sometimes that would require "hemming" the person''s outfit, or sometimes taking one leg, copying it, and then warping it into place to act as their other leg that was once covered up by their partner. In one case (the male who is dressed like a cowboy) I had to find another photo of him from a totally different event in which he was posed in a similar fashion so I could steal his arm and place it into the photo I was working with.

What drew you to pairs of figure skaters as opposed to other events?
Honestly, I think this particular sport lends itself pretty much perfectly to this project. I can't think of another event where the results would look equally as strange. I mean, if I eliminated a member of a two-man Luge team, it would just look like a regular singles Luge. Now that you ask, though, I'll have to keep my eyes open for other potential series.


What do you see when you look at the finished images--are you going for funny, poignant, something else?
I'm definitely going more for humor. Seeing some of these poses out of context, or highlighting a facial expression that seems out of whack with the surroundings, is jarring, and hopefully has a weird, surreal effect. In addition, being that I first started posting these the day before Valentine's I was able to say things like: "Are you without a partner this Valentine's? So are these people."

Are you a fan of the Olympics? Is figure skating your favorite event to watch?
Sure, I dig the Olympics, and like many people I pretend to know something about these events once every 4 years. I think the aerial events are bonkers, and fascinating to watch; I have no idea how people train for that, at all. That said, I don't think I'd want to watch any of these events as often as I watch, say, basketball, so for two weeks every four years is plenty. As for figure skating, I admire their strength, athleticism, and flamboyance for sure, but often wish the on-air commentary (Okay, just Scott Hamill) was a bit less hyperbole driven and dramatic. It would be so much more enjoyable to hear just the skaters' chosen music, the crowd reaction, and the sounds of the blades carving the ice. I don't suppose NBC is ever going to let that happen, though.

Since the Olympics are far from over, keep an eye on Without You for more amazingness surely to come.