Friday, December 30, 2011

Overlook by Whitney Point

We drove downstate to our daughter's for Christmas. The rest stop just before we turn off I-81 overlooks a valley and a ridge on the other side with farms dotted along it. I've always liked the view there and I shot several photos with my Canon G11 which I thought looked like paintings so I decided to heighten the effect.

I've been playing with Postwork Shop Basic which only processes images up to 800 pixels but that is enough for this blog. It works in layers which you can change the transparency of as well as manipulate the effects of each layer from the presets. I layered an Oil Painting effect over the original photo at 50% opacity followed by a Fresco layer at 35% opacity. I also altered the effect from the defaults.

I got the basic version (free) after seeing an ad for it in Photoshop User and have tried a number of the effects, mostly in combinations. 800 pixel images are fine for web use but I think I will buy the Pro version in which will let me work on full sized files because I may want to print some of them. The Pro version also gives you a lot more effects to choose from.

The final effect looks like gouache to me. The faux mat was added in Photoshop. I described how I do that in a post back in 2010. The "frame" uses the same filter as the bevel but set to "round" rather than flat with the added grey border selected and with the light direction reversed from what I used on the mat bevel.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clarity VS Mystery

Brooks Jensen posted an interesting thought on LENSWORK DAILY today, interesting to me at least. The photo at the top of his post is a puzzle in that the subject isn't readily discernible and Brooks says that it is nothing you could guess no matter how long you try. He goes on to say that if he revealed what it was that the picture would be "dis empowered" because the moment we recognize something we move on.

This idea interests me because one of the early criticisms of my photographs as art was that "it isn't esoteric enough" and since that time I've had other comments that suggest that I should introduce more "mystery" into my photos. Brooks says that if he told what the photo was, our reaction would be "Got it. Next." so he doesn't reveal the subject in order to keep the viewer pondering.

In a sense that is the same reason I sometimes alter images, as in the one above, although not usually to the point of being unrecognizable, rather I do it to reduce the distracting elements and help the viewer focus on qualities other than the 'thingness' (if that's a word), to see the shapes, forms, lines and colors involved apart from "trees with snow".

Photos that are so completely abstract the subject that they are totally unrecognizable are fun but hopefully they should also reveal something so that when we discover the actual subject we think about it in a new way. For me the world is by nature mysterious. What we see as we walk through the world is a superficial representation of pieces of a vast mystery, the mystery of life and the universe. For me photography is a discipline for trying to penetrate that mystery, first for myself and hopefully for my audience.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Comment about Comments and What is Art (Yet Again)

I've been reading Kirk Tuck's blog, The Visual Science Lab. As a working photographer Kirk always has something informative to say but lately he has shut off comments so I can't respond directly to his thoughts. I gather from what he says in his posts that he got tired (irritated/upset/PO'd) at some of the rude and abusive comments to his posts so he just turned off comments for the remainder of the year in order to be in a better mood for the holidays.

I can't say I blame him. My little blog doesn't seem to attract that sort of comment (it attracts few comments at all). The closest I've come is a reader suggesting that I don't know what I'm talking about. That's fine. It's his opinion and he is entitled to it. I've been photographing for well over a half century and spend considerable effort trying to be accurate. I firmly believe that in the case in point I am right but I'm open to someone demonstrating to me that I'm wrong. I moderate the comments on this blog, meaning I get them in an email before they get posted and they only get posted if I approve them. I approved his.

My standard for approval is that they are not abusive and/or blatant self promotion. I've been fortunate not to get any abusive comments but occasionally I get a "Great photo. You should see my site" followed by a link to another site which when I follow it takes me to a site selling something, a low class form of network marketing, frequently not even related to photography or anything else discussed here. Word to the wise: If you submit a pseudo compliment as a ploy to get a link to your site, it will be trashed, not posted, not even the compliment part. Further I only post links to other photographers sites if I believe their work has something to offer my readers. I welcome (civil) discussion and I am not above accepting flattery admiration if it isn't a cover for commercialism. Call me elitist, but hey, it's my blog.

And now on to the subject of "Art" (again).
Kirk brought up the subject of what makes a photograph art in one recent post and while I don't entirely disagree I feel he is taking too hard a line in coming out against "applied effects". Those who have followed my blog are aware that I do apply effects to some images so they may feel I'm just being defensive and maybe they are right. There have been times I have expressed some misgivings here about the relatively limited controls in some of the effects I used. On the other hand I do believe that some photos benefit from more than just a 'straight' treatment in order to tell their story.

Take the two photos in this post. They are both phone photos, shot with an app called Pencil Camera. Both are very simple images that would most likely be overlooked in a instant if not for the "random manipulation" of the phone app and the border I painted in Photoshop.  Sometimes it is necessary to add some drama or at least a different way of seeing a common subject to get the audience to look at it long enough to see what you are trying to show them. I see it as being like the writer or poet who approaches the ordinary from a very different perspective, using words in an unusual way to help the reader see beyond the superficial.

As I noted I am occasionally bothered by the relative randomness that Kirk refers to, algorithms written into software by anonymous engineers whose code is applied to your photo. It is random, or at least appears so, but I note that it is different in every image, apparently responding on some level to the subject matter. It is true that I am not the one controlling it but is total control the appropriate measure of art?

Traditional Japanese potters would not agree to that. Some of their most highly prized Raku and wood fired pottery is the result of what can only be called fortunate kiln accidents, flames touching the pot in just the right place creating patterns hoped for but unplanned by the potter, a collaboration between the fire and the potter. In Western art too there is the example of accident accepted as art, most notably in the paintings of Jackson Pollock who (it is said) "learned to trust gravity" in creating his paintings. There are those who question his standing in the art world (I would be among them) but the fact remains that art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. As one who has made Raku and has a couple of pieces that I can claim only partial credit for, the remainder being the product of smoke and fire that I could not precisely control, I have to accept that randomness in the application of technique can in fact result in art. Not always of course. But then I can't guarantee "art" even when everything is fully under my control. Nor do I know anyone who can.

In the end I think art is what happens when the 'artist' (if we may be so bold or pretentious to call ourselves such), the subject matter and the medium (whatever it is) come together in a fortuitous way that can be helped, but not assured, by long practice. At best it can increase the odds.

With that I wish one and all a happy holiday (Christmas, Hanukka, Solstice, Kwanza, or whatever you choose to celebrate) and the hope for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Not Exactly an Angel

I was going through Ellenburg, NY yesterday and stopped by a cemetery there to photograph the figures on either side of the entrance gate for my angel series. They aren't proper angels though and they are not carved from stone. They appear to have been cast in pieces using concrete. The figure above is over the word "Hope" on the left of the entrance. The one on the right side of the entrance is "Faith" and although I did photograph it, I will not be using it in my angel series. Both figures are weathered significantly as is evident in the above image where aggregate (stone filler mixed with the cement to make concrete) is exposed all over the surface. Also they appear to have been cast in pieces and then assembled but there are voids in the surface which results in a somewhat grotesque appearance when viewed closely. I have disguised one of the voids in the image above by burning down the shadows to hide the fact that there is a gap between her neck and her body. I like the facial expression though so it might become part of the series anyway.

The "Faith" figure however is nothing short of ghoulish. Pieces of her face have spalled off leaving gaps that open into the inside of the head looking for all the world like some horror movie character. Adding to the effect is her pose, head bent forward face down with her hands hanging limply over the arms of the cross in front of her. I'm not sure how the pose represented "Faith" even when it was whole. It certainly doesn't in its deteriorated state.

I wandered to the back of the cemetery to see if there were any other figures. There was a large Jesus figure at the back of the cemetery painted gold (free standing, not associated with any grave). The were two smaller cast figures on grave markers, A Jesus, the good shepherd with a lamb on his shoulder and one of Mary. I didn't photograph any of them because they don't fit my project and I have no interest in collecting photographs of more modern cast figures. They are too commonplace in appearance. The "Hope" figure is cast (I'm mainly looking for carved stone figures) but she is sufficiently unusual in her pose to possibly merit a place in the series. I haven't decided yet.

While at the back I wandered by the stone vault which stands in the center of what once was a circular concrete pad, now partly broken up and grassed over, overlooking a brook that flows behind the cemetery. From the back of the circular area I got the view below of a small stepped cascade in the brook, more my usual subject matter than the things I have been photographing lately and a nice counterpoint to the macabre "Faith" figure at the entrance.