Sadly, in the picture above, it is almost impossible to see the wonderful lady in the lower right-hand corner, on the computer screen.While the detail is clearly visible in the original file, that file is more than two-hundred times larger than what is seen on the screen.
So, you might want to keep in mind that, when studying images on the Web, there is more there than you can see.
Imagery in the Age of the Virtual Darkroom
Most of my pictures undergo extensive hand/computer work. Here is a simple example, with the one on the left being what the camera saw—underexposed, but the subject had very little contrast.
On the right is the completed image. Extensive adjustments were made to contrast and color balance, but not much else (that I recollect). While a whole lot easier to do than in the traditional film-and-chemical darkroom, nothing new here.
The next example divides the process into three phases, starting at the bottom with the camera original.
In the middle frame, I have adjusted perspective and corrected distortion (and painted in areas that got lost during those steps), and retouched anything I found distracting in the image.
Then, in the final (top) frame, I've masked areas and applied canned processes (algorithms, actually) for effects and adjustment in color and contrast. Masking allows me to treat areas separately; in this picture, the person and the doors were masked. Again, although more difficult, these adjustments could have been made in the traditional darkroom.
After a time, I decided that the picture did not please me, so I discarded it.
[There is a point to be made here, and that is that the quality (aesthetic value) of any object has nothing to do with how much work went into the creation of it, or how well it is executed.]
In the third example, I made adjustments that would be almost impossible to do in the old darkroom. Here was the camera original:
In the first version out of the virtual darkroom, I made relatively modest adjustments, and added material on the left side of the frame.
Then, in the second version, I changed more, particularly on the left-hand side.
My point here (if I have one) is that the computer has allowed photography to move away from solely recording what was in front of the lens. While I like to retain a semblance of reality, what and how things are rendered in the photograph are not necessarily as they were. I add, subtract, move, distort, and otherwise fiddle things all the time; in this, photography has become a lot more like painting—while retaining the ability to instantaneously capture the original scene. Brilliant!
Addendum: Guessing or knowing what has been changed in an image will not contribute to a greater seeing or understanding of that image.
So, just what is art photography? I come across the term but no one ever bothers to explain what they mean by it—perhaps because it would require a definition of art. Tough one, there.
I'm guessing part of the problem is that, when you tell someone that you are a painter, a poet, a sculptor, a potter, or even a writer, you usually won't have to further categorize what you do, but photography doesn't seem to work that way.
Up to now, when asked, I've said that I am an amateur photographer (which is true, because I do it for love, not money) or that I am taking pictures for my own amusement, which is also true. But the plot thickens: while browsing the Web, I now often come across people claiming to do "fine art photography". What the hell is that? Is that the good stuff?
I don't get it.
Atget (1857–1927) photographed in Paris long ago. Quite a few people have tracked down the views Atget used and photographed them now, illustrating what has—and has not—changed.
I was looking at one of Atget's photographs and remembered that I had taken pictures of that same facade. Not only that, but one of my exposures was taken from practically the same angle.
Given how many wonderful old buildings have survived (and that Atget left behind some 25,000 pictures), this isn't all that surprising.
To me, though, while the historical record of Atget's photographs is interesting, it is the intrinsic grace and delicacy of vision in each of his images that delight my spirit.
I sometimes adopt elements of his style but with subjects of my own choosing. Here are a few; others will appear further on.
Tree planted in 1602
A Small, White Feather
"Art is the demonstration that the ordinary is extraordinary."
Endowed from youth with an overabundance of shyness, I never went down the path of self-promotion that is essential to achieving recognition and possibly fame, and all that stuff. I just keep making images to suit myself, and found other means of making a living.
One of the rewards has been that I am free to do whatever I like, switching styles, subjects, techniques... while those seeking recognition must develop an individual, recognizable style and then stick with it from then on.
Another problem of the fame track is that it eats up a whole lot of time and energy getting shows, publication, sales. Whatever. It's not the path I took.
More or Less
Sometime back in the early seventies, I heard John Szarkowski (at that time director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York) say in a lecture that "there were more photographs in the world, than bricks."
That struck me like a whack on the back by a Zen master.
Now, in the time of digital cameras churning endlessly everywhere and an Internet brimming over with images—a Google search just returned 1,620,000 pictures of bricks in a tenth of a second—that statement is so obvious as to have lost meaning.
Seeing with an Empty Mind
"The state of mind of a photographer while creating is a blank... It is a very active state of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image pre-formed in it at any time. We should note that the lack of a pre-formed pattern or preconceived idea of how anything ought to look is essential to this blank condition." [Minor White]
"One does not think during creative work, any more than one thinks when driving a car. But one has a background of years—learning, unlearning, success, failure, dreaming, thinking, experience, all this—then the moment of creation, the focusing of all into the moment." [Edward Weston]
Arriving in New York City in 1936, André Kertész discovered that "...the people in America did not respond as kindly as in Paris when their picture was being taken."
[from Wikipedia entry on Kertész]
The Bully Pulpit
I've noticed that some people will spend inordinate amounts of time looking at paintings or sculptures yet flip through photographs quickly—often taking little more time than is required to identify the subject matter.
That is too bad, because they miss so much.
Perhaps, because the image was initially recorded in a fraction of a second, they think they should look quickly, too, whereas the painting took hours or even weeks or more, so more time should be given to looking at it.
Close Mouth, Open Eyes
There are no people, yet there is a breeze that calls out the absence.
Stand in a field on a summer night and hear the squeaking roar of all the insects at once—that is the sound that is in my head, day and night. I have had tinnitus since it seems like forever and it does make hearing more difficult and, therefore, a less desirable activity for me. So I am often looking rather than listening and, when I am engaged in seeing, I become less conscious of the noise in my head.
The Story Teller
Fractional Seconds Collected
Wandering and Wondering
period photograph of student housing design by Jean Prouvé,
exhibited at the Hôtel de Ville, Boulogne-Billancourt
"Whether a watercolor is inferior to an oil [painting], or whether a drawing, an etching, or a photograph is not as important as either, is inconsequent. To have to despise something in order to respect something else is a sign of impotence."
[Paul Strand, 1917]
Noted In Passing
[ click to enlarge detail ]
What you see What I saw
Standing across the street, I wondered what this little shop sold—pop? And it had such odd and complex hours posted.
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
Consider looking at just a few pictures a day, absorbing rather than racing; chewing, tasting, enjoying each morsel.
Perhaps you've noticed that my name doesn't appear anywhere on this blog; this is by choice. In all the years I have been making images, I've never signed them; don't know why I should want to.
My goal is to see, not to be seen; to know, not to be known.
Observing the Ordinary
"You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary."
[David Bailey, ~1980]
"Let me here call attention to one of the most universally popular mistakes that have to do with photography—that of classing supposedly excellent work as professional, and using the term amateur to convey the idea of immature productions and to excuse atrociously poor photographs. As a matter of fact nearly all the greatest work is being, and has always been done, by those who are following photography for the love of it, and not merely for financial reasons. As the name implies, an amateur is one who works for love; and viewed in this light the incorrectness of the popular classification is readily apparent."
[Alfred Stieglitz, 1899]
The Three Wise Men
A Curious Absence
This image caught my attention when I realized that it had no primary subject—as viewer, you don't know where to look, so your gaze just bounces around. Perhaps you are left with a feeling of having missed something. Maybe it is a picture of what is not there.
Our little household has been overtaken and struck down by the grippe. (Americans call it the flu, but I like the older term, also used by the French.) The cure seems to be patience and it will be gone in a fortnight or so. In the meantime, your brain is mush, you cough a lot, and everything hurts.
I see that the U.S. dollar has sunk even more, and one Euro now costs just over $1.50. Heck of a job, Georgie!
Unrelated to all of this—here are some more pictures.
What I saw and what you see are not the same.
Some time back, in the early seventies, I encountered Susan Sontag in Lincoln, Nebraska. I asked her if, while she was there, she was going to look at what artists there were doing, and she said no—if the work was any good, it would come to her in New York.
I said nothing, and walked on.
Alternative Directions Noted
Chasing James Burke Down the Street
Not everything makes the same sense to everyone, or even any sense sometimes, to some.
It is gone forever
"There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. ... Once you miss it, it is gone forever.
[Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1957]
Spaces, in Places
The Dog in the Market
I like pictures that reward patience—the more you look, the more you see. This is one of those and, over time, you come to see that it is not really so much about the dog, but everything else in the picture.
For Later Understanding, Maybe
Perspective and Purpose
"Let photography quickly enrich the traveler's album, and restore to his eyes the precision his memory may lack; let it adorn the library of the naturalist, magnify microscopic insects, even strengthen, with a few facts, the hypotheses of the astronomer; let it, in short, be the secretary and record-keeper of whomsoever needs absolute material accuracy for professional reasons. So far so good.
Let it save crumbling ruins from oblivion, books, engravings, and manuscripts, the prey of time, all those precious things, vowed to dissolution, which crave a place in the archives of our memories; in all these things, photography will deserve our thanks and applause.
But if once it be allowed to impinge on our sphere of the intangible and the imaginary, on anything that has value solely because man adds something to it from his soul, then woe betide us!"
[Charles Baudelaire, 1859]
"Results are uncertain, even among the more experienced photographers."
[Matthew Brady, 1823 – 1896]
Wall Street Institute
This company offers to teach you "Wall Street English" and advertises widely in the Paris Metro.
In light of the current depressive economy, I was wondering if they might want to change their name. Perhaps they could offer to teach you just Street English.
In another vein, doesn't that fellow at the desk look like he came right out of an Edward Hopper painting?
From Across the Way
Sometimes Happy, Other Times Sad
Most of the time, when I look at this picture I smile because I find humor in the lines and shapes. Sometimes, though, it reminds me of how hard it is for so many people to see—either because they are impatient or their minds are too cluttered—and then I am sad.
It is all so very complicated.
"... art is of value only to the extend that it speaks to us. It might be a universal language if we ourselves were universal in our sympathies. Our finite nature, the power of traditional and conventionality, as well as our hereditary instincts, restrict the scope of our capacity for artistic enjoyment. Our very individuality establishes in one sense a limit to our understanding; and our aesthetic personality seeks its own affinities in the creations of the past. It is true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens, and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognized expressions of beauty. But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe,—our particular idiosyncrasies dictate the mode of our perceptions."
[The Book of Tea, by Okakura Kakuzo]
or thought I did.
Dreams Fading in the Morning Light
Decline Towards Death
A Pilgrim's Journey
In twenty-five years or so, will they still be together? Or will they have parted, or one or both died? Will I.M. Pei's pyramid or even the Louvre still exist? Or will it all be ground to dust? Maybe so, maybe no.
A while back, I was watching a television show about what would happen to everything after man is gone, and an engineer said: "Everything that man makes contains within it the seeds of its own destruction."
I'm figuring that that applies to us as well.
"It's important to think, but it's better to look.
It's even better to look without thinking."
Perhaps, instead of endlessly trying to make Great Art... and falling short, our goal ought to be to make Great Postcards.
Espace en Plein Air
Open to Chance
Chance plays such a big part in candid 'street' photography. Initially, you only have control over where you point the camera and when you open the shutter; everything else is chance.
True, I do often make significant changes in the computer—adding, subtracting, moving, scaling—because I want everything in the frame to be working, or at least not distract. Here, for example, the lady on the far left is half cut-off, but her face and toes intrude (and she also keeps you from sliding off the left side of the frame). The balance of the young lady passing on front of her brings to mind a dance step.
I like looking at the faces and postures of all the people in the background.
Finally, the four 'major characters' are each doing something different; unrelated to the others and—especially—unrelated to the main facade of Notre Dame Cathedral that is just over my right shoulder, behind me.
The picture pleases me and, in the end, that is the most I can ask of it.
Giacometti, at the Pompidou
Without Making a Sound
"The photograph isn't what was photographed. It's something else. It's a new fact."
[Garry Winogrand, 1928 – 1984]
It was the little girl who caught my attention, but I had only a split-second to take a single picture as I walked by them—another fraction and one or more of them would have seen me and the instant lost. This was the best that I could do.
This little shop specializes in Far Eastern medical paraphernalia. I first came across it in 2004 and was attracted by the strangeness of it all. Now, whenever I pass by, I pause to look in the window.
Not idea what this is for, but the care in construction and presentation impressed me. Like happening across a little poem.
Standing across the street, I wondered what this little shop sold—pop? And it had such odd and complex hours posted.
After some research later, on the Web, I learned that "Stolly Bolly" is Stolichnaya vodka and Bollinger Champagne, which was a cocktail two characters drank in the British television series, Absolutely Fabulous.
"Special drink from sabry"? Is this a reference to the Confrérie du Sabre d'Or, who open a bottle of Champagne with the slash of a saber? [Isn't the Internet wonderful for research?]
Obviously (now) I see that Pop is a bar—to the right of the name is a Guinness sign extending towards the street. Failed to register that at the time.
American in Paris
U.S. Embassy entrance
Dreams Remembered Upon Awakening
Colors of Photography
I believe it was Robert Frank (The Americans, 1958) who said that black and white were the colors of photography. That was my world until I started exploring digital photography in 1999. Still, I cannot forget or abandon the power of a good black and white photograph.
At the same time, digital photography and the virtual darkroom have given us the ability to switch from color to black and white in an instant. I do that often, first to see if the image is better without color (sometimes it is) and second, to see what is behind the color, because I've long suspected that the best color photographs should also contain the values of a good black and white photograph (form, value, composition, and so forth).
Past Lost Through Technology
I worked for years in a photofinishing lab—when you took your film to the drugstore, I saw the pictures as they were processed. You put the prints in albums, or shoeboxes, or gave them to friends and family. They became your history. That's all gone now.
Now, although many, many more pictures are being taken, next to none are made into prints and the rest remain as electronic files that are soon lost, overwritten, and forgotten. And that is what is going to happen to our memories.
There's an element of sadness in the little box of old snapshots in the thrift store now, and soon there won't be even that.
Fragment of a Roman wall
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Three, Two, One