More on Art Reproduction

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.

Date: Sunday, 26. September 2010 21:44
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Aesthetics, Criticism, Photography

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  1. 1

    I’ve been thinking about The Real Thing and this post, and there’s a nag inside of me to push this argument into the realm of books. I recently read a piece on eBooks and poetry and how the Kindles of this world could change the meaning of a poem (through font resizing primarily). Reading on devices changes the way many print books were meant to be consumed (and thus understood). Certainly something like Danielewski’s Only Revolutions would be ruined in a digital format (unless rethought, but then it’s a different book at that point). I would concede though that words can adapt to the medium and retain meaning in a way that photography or other art cannot. But the for time being, as we discuss digitizing everything written for print, it’s fair to ask how to preserve the author’s intent.

  2. 2

    Another reason not to buy a Kindle – which only operate in the Kindle format – the Nook and other E-Readers have the pontential to use PDF (amongst other types of files) that could represent the text as the author intended. I think the argument that the text font/scale/size matter thus forces the text into the world of art – because the image and the layout is important then is it not, in fact, greater than just the text on the page? So if it is – it then goes back to light guy’s and Jason’s argument that once the medium changes from the original intent, the art is not as the artist intended.

  3. 3

    Here’s a follow up to my comment yesterday. I was reading a post from Cliff Gerrish’s blog Echovar and this comment caught my attention:

    “I recently bought a copy of The Waste Land and Other Poems, by T.S. Eliot. It’s a small volume in paperback, the perfect size to dip into and spend time with the poems. I have a hardback of the complete works, but somehow in these smaller doses, the poems show themselves more completely, more individually. I’ve tried to read poetry on electronic screens, but the words seem to be stripped of their resonance. The line breaks never seem quite right, the words jostled about, re-flowed into the industrial templates of the reading machines. When I return to a poem in this small volume, I have a sense of having been there before, the resonances deepen. On an electronic screen, each time is as though it were the first. The media doesn’t conspire with me, it doesn’t seem to keep up its end of the conversation. I have bookshelves full of ‘read and keep.’ Old friends that pick up the conversation where we left off…”

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