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The Necessity of Fundamentals

Monday, 25. March 2013 1:31

While not a photographer himself, the chairman of the art department where I teach is adamant that the first courses in photography be done with analog cameras, black and white film and chemical darkroom processes. When I questioned him about this, he informed me that the departmental approach to photography would stay the same so long as he was chairman. This is an interesting position, given that a number of major universities have phased out their chemical darkrooms, and along with them, basic courses in analog photography.

And even though, for a number of reasons, I am not sure that I agree with his position, I understand the rationale. This is not a man who would insist that courses be taught this way because “it has always been that way.” Rather, it is because he believes that those analog/chemical courses teach skills that are necessary to a full understanding of the art and craft of photography. His department is in the business of teaching fundamentals.

This is exactly the same business that the drama department is in. It is our firm belief that solid fundamentals are necessary to success in theatre; the art chairman believes the same thing of visual and plastic arts. It is true of all arts. I don’t know a single choreographer, for example, who does not stress fundamentals; the same is true of musicians. The list is comprehensive.

We should build on solid basics in any art, and those basics should be broad. It is, in my opinion, impossible to be a good artist without some knowledge outside of our immediate specialties. Our department demands, for example, that drama students take courses not only in the areas that are of immediate interest to them, but in other areas as well. So technicians attend acting classes, and actors sit, sometimes uncomfortably, in technical theatre classes. Everybody builds and paints and sews and works on productions. Such broad exposure builds respect for those who work in other areas—an essential in a collaborative art, and very often the knowledge is put to good use. Occasionally, someone will discover an area with which he/she was formerly unfamiliar and decide that that is where they really ought to concentrate. Without exposure to the basics in all areas, these students would have no basis for such a decision.

Sadly, many artists do not see strong fundamentals as a necessity. They are not quite sure what an f-stop is. They only know one style of acting. They can’t remember all of the principles of design. Part of color theory is a little hazy. Getting exposure exactly right becomes a thing of chance.  They are convinced that there is no real need to learn stage directions. They can’t pick out a tune on a keyboard. The precise names of things elude them. Mastery of certain tools and techniques is beyond them. They are unconcerned with the very thing that holds them back: incomplete knowledge of basics. Unfortunately, without solid fundamentals, artists find it difficult to do really excellent work consistently, broaden their repertoires, or even communicate with other artists.

Strong fundamentals, like any solid base, give the artist a foundation to support his/her imaginative work without having to worry about the underpinnings. This then allows the artist the freedom to create and develop. Without strong basics, the artist is restricted and is likely to produce a very narrow range of work.

The same applies to any art. The more media types and styles and approaches we know, the better able we are to make the decisions necessary to create our art. The stronger our foundation, the higher the structure we can build on it. The more we know about the theory and history of our arts, the better able we are to put our own work in perspective. And such knowledge allows us to avoid wasting time doing work that has already been done, and allows us rather to build upon the work of those who have gone before. And such knowledge can give us freedom to move forward on our own. As a friend of mine said recently, “you can’t consciously break the rules unless you know what the rules are.

Category:Creativity, Education | Comment (0) | Autor:

Art in Motion: Motion in Art

Sunday, 24. June 2012 23:38

Recently wandering through the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, I encountered Jennifer Steinkamp’s projected installation, Mike Kelley. Not only is the Steinkamp installation a projection; it is a moving projection, an animation,  twelve feet high and sixteen feet wide; it’s message is not complex, but the image certainly is, and mesmerizing.

Mike Kelley is not the only animation in MFAH’s collection.  Across the hall from the café, five screens play Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow. The 2005 animated piece is similar to Steinkamp’s in that it is a cyclical animation. Some might argue that Aoshima’s piece is narrative, telling a story. But it doesn’t tell a story in the same way that a narrative film or an entertainment animation does. Here the message is more abstract, leaving room for viewer interpretation, and repeated endlessly.

Seeing Steinkamp’s and Aoshima’s installations in the same day caused me to consider the role of motion in fine arts, a role that seems to me to be growing. I’m purposely not considering film in this discussion; that is another topic all together. Rather I am talking about the world that is usually inhabited by painting, sculpture, and still photography, a world that that is becoming increasingly motion-oriented.

Some of this I have mentioned before. In an post about art online, I mentioned s[edition], which allows anyone to purchase limited edition digital pieces by very well-known artists.  In my estimation the works of Mat Collishaw are some of the most successful on the site in that they take full advantage of the animation capabilities of the digital medium and, instead of consisting of a movie of a work on a turntable or a film of an activity, fully integrate the motion and the subject matter.

There were also discussions of both cinemagraph  and lenticular images. The former is essentially a still image that has been selectively animated. This minimal animation adds interest and dimension to a photograph (or other illustration), and modifies what and how that image communicates with the viewer. Most of these are made in a gif format and can only be viewed on a computer. But they could also be projected or viewed on very large screens. In other words, they are not really limited to the relatively small computers and tablets that are currently their homes.

Lenticulars are the non-electronic entries in the trend to add motion to images. In a lenticular, “multiple images are interlaced and fused to a lenticular lens to create the illusion of movement or three-dimensionality” as the viewer walks past the work.

The most notorious recent example is the lenticular work by Derrick Santini [Note: all links in this paragraph are NSFW.] which are part of his show Metamorphosis and which are based on the Leda and the swan myth. What makes this example notorious was the widely reported incident of a London Metropolitan policeman seeing one of the works in the Scream gallery window and, with a fellow officer, demanding that it be removed because it “condoned bestiality.” Interestingly, the gallery had had no other complaints.

Art is always in motion, but now motion is moving into art. The ability to digitize makes it possible. But it’s still not easy. I have made lenticular images, but the process is not for the faint-hearted; it is complex and exacting both on and off the computer. Any sort of animation, while perhaps easier than it used to be, is still quite intricate. Regardless of the complexity, motion in art is here to stay; it gives the artist ways to say things in a fine arts framework that otherwise could not be expressed.

Category:Audience, Communication, Presentation | Comment (0) | Autor:

What’s Important – the Image or the Artifact?

Monday, 23. April 2012 1:28

An acquaintance of mine recently declared that he was going to hang no more prints in his home; from now on it was to be only originals. To me this means that there will be no more lithographically printed images on his walls, but only things created by the artist. It also means that those pieces hanging on his wall will be one-of-a-kind. But I wondered what this person would do with regard to photographs. What constitutes an “original” in photography is open to discussion, if not debate.

Photographic prints do not have the uniqueness that hand-drawn or painted pieces have. This is particularly true of digital prints, which can be reproduced infinitely, with each print being just as good as the previous one. What then constitutes an “original” photograph?

There are several responses to this question. The first is to issue prints in limited editions, a procedure used by many fine art photographers. The number of prints in an issue is fixed, but different series of different sizes or formats may exist. Generally the purchasing public relies on the photographer’s integrity to guarantee the originality and scarcity of limited edition prints they might buy. Some US states have laws that regulate photography editions; some do not.

This procedure is not without its difficulties. One of these came to the fore recently when a collector sued renowned photographer William Eggleston after Eggleston created a new issue of images that had previously been printed and sold as limited editions. The new images were of a different size and printed using a different process. At stake, according to the lawsuit, is the value of the original collector’s images; he maintains that the new issue has devalued the prints he owns.

The problem gets a little cloudier with open editions, that is, editions that are essentially infinite. Then whether it is an original or not usually depends on some rules of thumb, such as whether the photographer actually printed or directed the printing of the image, or whether was it done by someone else or after the fact.

The second response to the problem of original photography is to somehow create a unique artifact. There have been two articles in photography trade magazines in recent months on making encaustic photographs, one about a photographer who uses the process and one how-to article. Even though each piece is based on the same digital print, each is unique because of the manual encaustic process used. Thus each is an original, and some would say much more than a photograph.

There are other solutions. Some photographers, like Gregori Maiofis, make prints using archaic and complicated chemical process which induce small differences print to print. This guarantees that each image in a limited edition is original.

Also recently I had a conversation with an instructor of print-making who had spent an entire semester working with a graduate student developing a process by which photographs could be used as a basis for creating plates for intaglio printing. Since each print is hand pulled and because of the unavoidable variations in every printing, each image would essentially be an original.

On the other end of the spectrum are photographers who celebrate the infinite reproducibility of the digital image.  Counted among the reproducibility advocates are those who appreciate the giclée, a reproduction of a hand-drawn or painted image. Digital files are made from the originals; then reproductions are produced using a giclée printer. Some are accepting of giclées because of their quality; some consider them mere copies. The advantage of any digital reproduction is, of course, that the image can be duplicated in an affordable format.

Money and quality are always issues, but the question really is are you interested in image only, regardless of how it was created, or do you want to own an “original” artifact?

Category:Originality, Photography | Comment (0) | Autor:

Want Art? The Gallery Will Come to You

Monday, 2. January 2012 0:19

Not long ago, Jason Wilson sent me a link to an article on The Bygone Bureau that proclaimed 2011 as “the year the art world went online.” The writer of the article, Kyle Chayka, noted a number of online art world activities that occurred during the year, including a couple of very high profile ones.

One of the projects noted in the Chayka article was the online VIP Art Fair, founded by James Cohan. The Fair hosted its first interactive art show in January, 2011, and plans a second show , which will represent over 2000 artists from 115 “carefully selected” galleries worldwide, for February 3-8, 2012. This event brings together galleries and collectors from all over the globe and allows the collector to see many works of art and have conversations with the dealers without leaving home.

The second project is Art.sy, which is backed by Larry Gagosian, Dasha Zhukova and others. The website, currently in “private beta,” is essentially a search engine of fine art from over 250 galleries and museums in over 40 different countries which “will analyze users’ taste in art and show them other works and artists that they might like.”

Not only can you buy physical art pieces through the internet buy you can now buy signed, authenticated, limited edition digital art by some very famous artists. In addition to works by Shephard Fairey, Isaac Julien, and others, you can purchase an original Damien Hirst for $12.00. Prices range from £5 to £500 and increase as editions sell out. There are even plans for a secondary market—handled by the same site, of course.

While these projects involve the most famous artists and the most prestigious galleries, there is art for the rest of us online. A number of artists, of course, maintain their own websites; on some of these, the art is displayed and the viewer directed to gallery representation for sales, and on others, the work can be purchased online. Then there are the online galleries that are not as new or exclusive as those discussed above. For example, both Zatista and 20×200 sell only original and limited edition art. Other sites, such as Art Gallery Worldwide, sell originals and open edition prints. Others sell only prints, although some deal in limited editions. Then there are the print-on-demand sites, which reproduce digital images in a number of media, ranging from “art prints” to tee shirts.

And we have not yet touched on the educational use of digital media in the art world. For example, there are a number of initiatives by museums to allow patrons to use their smartphones or computers to get more information about the artwork. There are already virtual tours of museums available online through various portals. The Google Art Project provides virtual access to 17 museums and expects to add many more. Gagosian Gallery has published an iPad app which is essentially a free digital version of a quarterly art magazine; there are also a number of other apps which provide art reference, generally for no monetary investment.

There are some of us, however, who have reservations about the digital rendering of visual art. The digitization of art is on the increase , even though color calibration is known only to artists who used digital production methods. From an educational and a sales point of view, digitization of physical art or original digital art itself makes a great deal of sense. Still, because of the differences between color rendition on various devices, you never know whether you are looking at what the artist intended or not. Because of economic and marketing requirements, art digitization is no longer optional; still, I wonder, aside from sales potential, what artists think about having their work represented in such an uncontrollable way.

 

Category:Audience, Education, Marketing, Technology | Comments (1) | Autor:

The Helmut Newton Exhibit: A Question of Authenticity

Monday, 29. August 2011 0:02

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston is hosting an exhibition of Helmut Newton photography until September 25, 2011. The MFAH is showing very large reproductions of images from Newton’s first three books: White Women (1976), Sleepless Nights (1978), and Big Nudes (1981). Newton was a world renowned photographer, specializing in fashion and nude photography. His work has always been controversial. This show concentrates on his personal work which, in turn, reflects his fashion work, at least in style.

This show raises a number of questions: Is this really a worth-while show? Just because you can print images that large, should you? Is Newton really an artist? Does he really have something to say about feminism? Society? Fashion? Is his work merely black and white pornography? Where is his place in the photographic canon? And now here is another: are the works presented authentic?

Why would I question the authenticity these images? Since this project began in 2007, three years after Newton’s death, and the images on display “were made specifically for the exhibition,” it stands to reason that Newton could not possibly have printed, approved of, or signed these prints, any of which actions might be taken to be proof of authenticity.

There is no question the subject matter is his; Newton’s work is unique to the point of being iconic; anyone who has studied photography will recognize it. There is no question the negatives or original prints, whichever were used as sources for the digital files, were his. But since he was not involved in the printing process, mustn’t one say they are reproductions, not prints?

Perhaps this is too fine a line for some people, but it speaks to the issue of what constitutes a “real” or “original” work of art. This is not such a difficult question for those who sculpt or paint: the original is the one the artist made; everything else is a reproduction. This is not necessarily the case with printmakers, and certainly not the case with photographers.

So the question becomes, when is a photographic print “real?” Is it an image that the photographer physically made him/herself? Is it a print perhaps made by an assistant that the photographer approved? Is it a print made by an assistant according to instructions of the photographer? Is it a print that is signed by the photographer? The Ansel Adams Gallery takes great care to distinguish between original photographs and other types of prints and reproductions. Should we expect less from museums?

The size of these images brings up another question: Are they a true representation of Newton’s art? We must remember that Newton shot originally for print. That is, his fashion work was for magazine publication, and his personal work, at least initially, was for book publication. This is a far cry from the size of pictures on exhibit at the MFAH, “some reaching nearly 8 x 8 feet.” Although the images are presented unframed and unglazed “in order to show how Newton’s work appeared in magazines,” the difference in size makes that impossible.

And another more general question arises: is the art in the concept or the execution? As noted above, these are certainly Newton’s concepts, but not his execution. Still everyone says that this is a show of Newton’s images. And I suppose they are his images, just not his prints.

So perhaps the MFAH is not misleading the public. Maybe this is not so much an exhibition of Newton’s work as it is an overpowering display of Newton’s concepts, of Newton’s subject matter, of Newton’s style, and, by extension, of Newton’s influence. Maybe the art is in the mind and eye of the artist, not in the creation of artifacts. This is indeed an idea worthy of thought, but a curious position to take for any museum that prides itself on showing only authentic, original work.

 

 

 

 

Category:Photography, Presentation | Comments (7) | Autor:

The Medium is Not the Message…But It’s a Big Chunk of the Experience

Monday, 23. May 2011 1:37

In his book Beauty, Roger Scruton maintains that meaning in a piece of art is “bound up with, inseparable from” the medium through which that meaning is presented. This means, of course, that the art cannot be reproduced in another medium and have the same meaning.

Although I have already discussed the difficulties I have with art reproduction here and here, two relatively new forms of art have been on my mind recently. These forms really seem to make the case for Scruton’s ideas even stronger.

The first is the lenticular image. For those who do not know, a lenticular is a fairly obscure medium (in which I work from time to time). Lenticulars can be based on photographs or other media; multiple images are interlaced and fused to a lenticular lens to create the illusion of movement or three-dimensionality as the viewer approaches the work. While the lenticular is not new technology, it is a relatively new art form. Many people have never seen one that was not an advertising piece.

The problem with lenticulars is that there is no way to reproduce the image electronically, so they cannot, for example, be viewed on the web. A simulation can be made with an animated gif file, but it is only a simulation and cannot reproduce the experience of walking past an image in a gallery that appears to move or to come out of the frame.

Interestingly, the animated gif is the vehicle for the second form. It is the cinemagraph, and its foremost practitioners are a team, Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg. You can see these images, which have been hailed by The Atlantic, Huffington Post and many others, on Beck’s From Me To You Tumblr. These images are essentially still photographs with movement added in isolated segments.

Despite the artistry involved with cinemagraphs and the stories they tell, they also have a problem. Cinemagraphs require an electronic device capable of displaying animated gifs. They can never hang in galleries unless those galleries are appropriately equipped.

These are just two instances where the art work seems completely inseparable from the medium; there are many.  For example, there are images etched in metal. A photograph of the etched image can be made, but that is a weak representation of the real thing. The same can be said for images printed on glass, another medium that cannot be adequately reproduced.

And there are others: physical collage only works if you can really see the texture of the items being collaged. Paint buildup is an integral part of many paintings that simply does not show up or certainly has less impact in a photograph of the painting. Sculpture defies reproduction in any kind of meaningful way except perhaps as a series of images or a video, which still falls far short of adequate reproduction. The same is true of dance or any other live performance art.

Actually, the same is true for all works of art. We can photograph them, we can describe them, but we cannot fully express the experience of them without reference to the media in which they were originally created.

Scruton, it seems, is correct: the content of a work of art is not really translatable to another medium; the medium is an essential part of the experience of the art work. And with these newer forms that union seems even stronger.

One can only wonder what the future holds.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Photography | Comments (2) | Autor:

Art: the Original Asynchronous Communication

Sunday, 9. January 2011 23:24

This week I got a couple of comments on older posts (here and here). I responded, but not right away. I read the comments some hours after the person had posted them, then I thought about the comments for a day before I responded.  A considerable amount of time passed, but at no time did the thread of the conversation get lost.

My approach is not unique. We live in a world of asynchronous communication: tweets, text, email, discussion boards, blogs and comments. Regardless of what the detractors say (and there are many who view asynchronous communication as somehow dysfunctional), asynchronous communication seems to be very natural. Much education has moved to the asynchronous model, and some has been very successful. We find the electronic forms of this communication easy and natural to use.

Of course, there can be a real-time component to a number of the communications media mentioned. Tweets, text, and email can all be responded to in real time, but many of us do not, because that is the convenience of those media. Ever notice how your volume of phone conversations has dropped? People now discuss when it is convenient for them, not necessarily when it is possible to “get together” in real time

Art was, of course, the original asynchronous communication. Excepting art involving a live performance, the product is created in isolation (assuming a single artist), usually in a location remote from the other party to the conversation. Then the artifact and the audience are brought together; the communication cycle is complete. Sometimes the audience discerns what the artist was saying, sometimes not.

Art is, after all, ambiguous. This does not disqualify it as communication. In fact, most communication is ambiguous. Otherwise why have courses in how to communicate? (And we all know there are plenty of those.) It is just with art, as with newer forms of communication, the interaction is not taking place in real time. Most people think of asynchronous communication as a very modern phenomenon; it has been around ever since the first man scratched the first image on the wall of a cave.

And just as with modern electronic communication, audience reaction to art, both emotional and intellectual is often delayed; it is felt, considered, thought about before being “published.” But unlike most communication, that reaction is hardly ever communicated directly to the person who created the work; more likely the response is transmitted to another audience member, or to some other community, but only rarely, if ever, to the artist, and if then, long after the viewing experience—a delayed retweet, if you will.

Art has several other aspects as a communication medium, one of the most important of which is that it allows complexity; many of our modern forms of asynchronous communication do not. Indeed, we must be careful in the world of tweets and texts to be sure that our comments are clear and properly referenced by the other party if they are to be understood. Some artists work with this same sort of concern; many do not. Many rely on complexity and ambiguity to create works that are not easy, works that are multi-leveled and intricate. It is left to the audience member to “get it” or not.

The ability of art to communicate complex and complicated ideas and emotions to great numbers of people over vast periods of time is unparalleled. No other asynchronous communication medium can touch it. Nothing can approach its calculated ambiguity, its fullness, its richness. Art may not only have been the first asynchronous communication, it may well be the ultimate asynchronous communication.

Category:Audience, Communication | Comment (0) | Autor:

Direction, Aesthetics, and Post-Processing

Sunday, 31. October 2010 21:49

For the last week, I have been lost in a sea of post-processing choices, and it has been a very educational experience. Let me explain. I am working on a series of images with which I am not yet completely satisfied. So I decided to play around with post-processing choices.  If you have ever used Photoshop®, you are probably aware that there are more than a few such choices. There are adjustments, actions, filters, layers, blending modes, variable opacities, variable fills, masks, not to mention plug-ins. And the list goes on and on.  Some choices are rejected from the outset as being too-this or too-that, but then there are all those others… There are so many choices that it can be impossible to decide what to do. The combinations are literally limitless.

The problem is that we, as artists, sometimes don’t know exactly where we are going—at least in a way that can be articulated. I know that it’s blasphemy to admit this publically, but it’s true. Sometimes the embryo of an idea is there, but it has not germinated, much less blossomed in our imaginations. Then the only thing for it is to experiment. And with so many choices, that can be like entering a gargantuan labyrinth from which there is no exit.

So I have, from my week’s experience discovered a couple of things.  First and obviously, it is best to know where you are going before you start, or you may never finish, at least with post-processing.  This does not mean that you should close yourself off from any serendipitous accident that might occur, and it certainly does not mean that you cannot try out ideas and methods to discover if something better or more interesting exists. Certainly discovery is always a possibility and is one of the most delightful features of the artistic endeavor. It does mean, however, that you should have some idea of the destination before you wander off into the maze of multiple possibilities, never to surface again. With no notion of your desired destination, you have no guide for deciding which discovery is the one that will complete the piece.

The second discovery is that post-processing experimentation is an excellent way to tune your personal aesthetic, particularly for those of us who have never bothered to verbalize our aesthetic, or at least to verbalize the details of it.  As you experiment, you begin to learn about yourself. For example, I began to learn what I consider acceptable for a photograph of mine and what I do not. I discovered that some of the nuances of my aesthetic I have never articulated, at least consciously, so this particular exercise, aside from being frustrating, was very self-informative. I now know that there are things that are just not acceptable for photographs that I make—if I am going to continue to call them photographs and claim author status.

Then I began to wonder how many of us, artists, aficionados, and critics, are wandering around the universe with detuned aesthetics. How many of us lack a fully articulated concept of what, for us, constitutes a good photograph, painting, illustration, sculpture, play, opera, ballet, composition, novel, poem?  Oh, we say that we recognize quality when we see it, but then we can’t say exactly how we do that or what constitutes “good.”  Maybe we, like Persig’s Phaedrus, need to take some time to meditate on the components of quality, or do some experimentation—perhaps with post-processing.

Category:Aesthetics, Creativity, Photography | Comment (0) | Autor:

Into the Realm of Books

Sunday, 3. October 2010 22:17

Jason Wilson wants to push the arguments in The Real Thing and More on Art Reproduction into the realm of books, and raises the question of preserving the author’s intent in electronic reproductions, citing as an example Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions. I had not meant to exclude any art, but his point is well-taken.  In forwarding his argument, Jason quotes Cliff Gerrish’s Echovar, which suggests that the reading experience is, for Gerrish at least, about more than the words on the page; he is concerned about line breaks and the placement of words. Gerrish’s concern is well-founded; written art seems to lend itself to alteration by electronic reformatting, and there are books that would be completely ruined by reformatting

If the line breaks were all that mattered, then 10hotdogs8buns’s suggestion that an electronic reader capable of displaying a constantly-formatted page, such as could be rendered in a .pdf file would answer the issue. When I read Gerrish’s comments, I have the feeling that he is talking about more than just the arrangement of words on the page or the line breaks; he is talking about the experience of a conversation with the work. And just as in conversation with old friends, there is more to the experience than just the words. There is the camaraderie, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sense of familiarity, the overtones and undertones, the environment that contribute to the communication that “conspire” with the speaker, or reader.  This sensory environment is very eloquently described by Charles Anthony Stewart quoted in Menachem Wecker’s Sept 23 Iconia:

The three senses were overwhelmed….the large books, as big as a desks [sic], covered in their ancient leather bindings; pages filled with ancient notes, smudged finger prints, and candle wax–and the smell resembling soot and offal; the texture of the parchments, rough with the pores, some still with attached hair. But in the midst of these earthy materials, were golden images and vibrant colors, as bright and brilliant as the day they were made! Somehow, I was transported back in time.

Obviously, there is much more going on here than just experiencing a book. The environment makes up an important part of the experience. The primary significance, however, is, in Gerrish’s words, a conversation between the viewer/reader and the work.  Once we reduce the experience to the interaction of those two elements, we are getting to the essence of the art experience.

If what the viewer/reader is interested in is gathering information, then advanced technology may be the way to go, provided that the presentation is at least adequate; it’s inexpensive and convenient. But those who are seeking the experience that the author/artist intended, who are seeking a real interaction with the work, will, if possible, want to experience the work in the format and medium that the author/artist initially chose. That viewer/reader will want to experience the page layout, the typography, the brush-stroke, the shifts in tonal values, the texture, the structure, the movement. That viewer/reader will want to experience the real thing.

Category:Aesthetics, Criticism | Comments (1) | Autor:

More on Art Reproduction

Sunday, 26. September 2010 21:44

A few days after I wrote about the potential deceptiveness of art reproductions [”The Real Thing,” here], I ran across an article in a magazine that was touting the first online photography competition hosted by the Fort Dearborn-Chicago Photo Forum to celebrate its 115th anniversary.  This was not the first online photo competition I have run across, and it certainly will not be the last. All of the winners reproduced in the magazine were in color.

My first thought was, “How could the judges know they are looking at the colors the photographers intended?” There are just so many variables: different monitors with different drivers and different resolutions calibrated to different standards, different color profiles, different browsers, different angles of view.

The list seemed to go on and on. Maybe the judges were trying to look at other things in the images, and while there is the perennial problem of no two people seeing things the same way, in this case there seems to be cause to wonder if the people were even looking at the same thing. (Admittedly I assumed that the judges were not viewing the entries on the same monitor.)  And I was wondering if I, looking at the images in print, was seeing anything near the images that the judges saw. A quick trip to the Photo Forum web site told me that the print version and what I saw on my monitor were very, very different.  Then there is the bigger question of whether anyone was actually seeing what the photographer saw on his or her own monitor, before saving and sending the file.

I realize that the world is digitizing at an ever-increasing rate, but the problems still exist. I have sent digital files to juried shows myself, always with reservations.  Monitor calibration, contrast, and resolution can dramatically impact black and white images, to say nothing of color.

Perhaps my difficulty is that I still think of photography as primarily a print medium. I look at a lot of images online and a lot in magazines and books. And even though the technology for reproduction continues to improve, or at least develop, both online and in print, they are still reproductions, subject to a myriad of variables, so you’re never really sure that what you are seeing is what the photographer had in mind when he or she made the image.

If I really care about a photographic image, I try to search out a print made either from the negative or the digital file, preferably by the original photographer. Or I visit it at a museum.  Only then do I know that I am looking at what that photographer intended.  Because that matters.

Category:Aesthetics, Criticism, Photography | Comments (3) | Autor:

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