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Author Topic: Creating Meaningful Photographs  (Read 32138 times)
Tony Jay
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« on: May 30, 2012, 03:41:44 AM »
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Interesting and current topic.
I have to say that some of the "Alain Briot moves" such as removal of, or duplication of, landscape elements is not my cup of tea.

I have no problem with an artistic approach to photography, particularly landscape photography, especially since the camera while indeed ingesting huge detail, cannot capture fully the essence of the entire colour palette and tonal nuance of the scene. (This issue has been debated rather fully on this forum already.)
Maybe landscape photography has already lost all claim to capturing recognizable reality so maybe playing around with scenic elements in post-processing as Alain is proposing is acceptable, or even favoured, however I am not comfortable with this approach.

I hunt long and hard for good compositions and good lighting conditions: "perfect" shooting conditions are rare.
Do I do a lot of post-processing? Sure.
Do I use stitching and HDR to capture what I want? Sure.
Can somone who was looking over my shoulder while I was shooting recognize the result? Absolutely.

In my humble opinion the current state of digital photography has not exhausted its options in creating fantastic landscapes with detail, tonal nuance, and colour NOT available from single image captures.
Such things as stacking, focus stacking, HDR, and stitching while obviously not magic bullets are probably underutilized, however some  in the community regard these techniques as the devils horns.

The charm and allure of fine art landscape photography lies in the fact that it is based on a reality - a recognizable photographic reality.
To clarify, I do not have a problem with those photographers that use zooming and other movement techniques in their endevours since the intent and result is so clearly an abstract one.
However to sell a landscape image that has been subject to some of the "Alain Briot moves" without informing the buyer that the location of the image only exists in the imagination of the photographer in my opinion violates a, usually unspoken, tenet that the image actually represents a real place that even if difficult to visit would be recognizable from the image - even in the detail.

Fine art painting, in contradistinction does not suffer from these same"obligations", since, as far as I am aware, in the history of the development of fine art painting a "photographic-type" reproduction of reality was never expected. (Apologies for the awkward terminology.) Photography, in general, and landscape photography especially, on the other hand, is inescapably a product (victim) of its own process and a historical community expectation that photographic images should represent a recognizable reality combined with a current scepticism and suspicion that everything is a "Photoshopped" illusion anyway.

As with Alain's piece I am not expecting everyone (or anyone!) to fall into place behind what I have articulated.
Hopefully, though, a lively and constructive debate will result.

My humble contribution

Tony Jay
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 04:34:01 AM by Tony Jay » Logged
opgr
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« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2012, 05:16:39 AM »
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I personally have no problem with AB-moves, especially if it sells his images. Whether there is a presumption about truthfulness/reality/documentary is entirely between the artist and consumer. Artists are equally free to create collages of image elements as they are to attempt to capture nature's inherent beauty as is, merely emphasizing the experience.

Obviously, if an artist would try to sell a collage as reality then it reflects directly on his/her personality which should theoretically reflect in the art-expression itself. But I doubt most consumers would pick up on the nuances.

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Regards,
Oscar Rysdyk
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2012, 06:19:45 AM »
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To clarify, Oscar, I too would have no problem should the image-maker truthfully indicate the nature of the image in this context.

I do however feel that there is more at stake here than just whether a customer realizes that he has been duped.
I don't think that the ethic here should be that everything is fine as long as one is not caught out.
Please correct me if you feel I am misrepresenting the point you made but it does seem to be a fair conclusion.

Also, as in most commercial endevours bad behaviour by even a few tends to unfavourably reflect on everyone else.

Regards

Tony Jay
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JohnBrew
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« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2012, 06:42:10 AM »
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Tony, I support the points you have brought out, however, I believe most clients just buy what they like - they are not usually aware of where or how the scene was photographed or even manipulated, and they don't particularly care. They only want something that somehow pleases them, whether esthetically or not, for a particular wall or room, to match a color scheme or as a gift.
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opgr
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« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2012, 06:49:08 AM »
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… should the image-maker truthfully indicate the nature of the image in this context.

Well, yes, if the context is the article, then I presume we agree that he was very clear about the different approach vs "documentary photographs", to quote:

In order to create expressive photographs (as opposed to documentary photographs) you have to bring at least as much to the subject as the subject brings to you.  In effect, you usually have to bring more to the subject than the subject brings to you. This means transforming the subject from what it looks like to everyone into what it looks like to you specifically.

If the context is his sales approach, or better, selling art in general, then I think it is useful to both the artist and consumer to remain truthful about the entire process. I can imagine that manipulations aren't specifically mentioned per image, but one could do so in an "artist's statement" etc… Every part of the process reflects on the artist. If I buy a piece of art with a maintenance guarantee, then that is entirely different from buying a piece of art and the transaction ends right there and then where the money changes hands.

Note also that I am a proponent of Art being an expression of communication, which basically means that the message always precedes the medium. If you try to transfer an experience, thought, or message, as an artist, you are free to select the appropriate medium and manipulations. The moral imperative is in being truthful about the choices, not the choices themselves.
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Oscar Rysdyk
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2012, 06:55:26 AM »
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Note also that I am a proponent of Art being an expression of communication, which basically means that the message always precedes the medium. If you try to transfer an experience, thought, or message, as an artist, you are free to select the appropriate medium and manipulations. The moral imperative is in being truthful about the choices, not the choices themselves.

I agree.

Regards

Tony Jay
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arlon
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« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2012, 07:23:35 AM »
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If Picasso had been a realist. who'd have heard of him? I don't like his work but obviously there are a lot that do. Sometimes I like duplication, sometimes I like art. Depends a little on the subject and even my mood at the moment. I'm not sure if perfectly duplicating a scene is really art, artistic but not art. I shoot a lot of macro, I try to capture bugs as realistically as I can but they sure aren't art. They are duplication for documentation.

I'm not crazy about duplication when it comes to landscapes (that's a snap shot), I usually like a little exageration. It's kind of like getting on a stage. It takes a little exageration to be interesting.. Funny how that works.

So where does documentation stop and art start? I guess it's a little subjective and open to personal interpretation.
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LesPalenik
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« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2012, 08:00:22 AM »
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So where does documentation stop and art start? I guess it's a little subjective and open to personal interpretation.
And therein lies the crux of the matter, the world of landscape photography is splitting into two directions - precise documentation and pleasing art.

If I am going to paddle between the 30,000 islands on Georgian Bay, it really helps to see a picture with detailed depiction of every island and cove by satellite or Google Earth.
On the other hand, if I want to hang a nice picture on my wall, I would likely choose one of Alain's photographs, and position of a rock or some prickly plant better conforms to the overall composition rather then to the exact GPS location.
 
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Isaac
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« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2012, 09:59:00 AM »
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If Picasso had been a realist. who'd have heard of him? I don't like his work but obviously there are a lot that do.

Science and Charity, P. Ruiz Picasso, 1897.
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Isaac
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« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2012, 10:59:42 AM »
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Fine art painting, in contradistinction does not suffer from these same"obligations", since, as far as I am aware, in the history of the development of fine art painting a "photographic-type" reproduction of reality was never expected.

The qualifier "fine art" is doing all the work. Before photography, landscape drawings and paintings were made as documentation (and made as art) - photography quickly took over the role of making images as documentation.
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Rob C
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« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2012, 12:42:20 PM »
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I'm quite sure that Canaletto, for one, would have had hysterics to find himself referred to as a documentary artist. Moving buildings into more pleasing positions than the architects had imagined possible was nothing to him - all in a day's work.

Regarding the original idea of this thread as it affects photography, I'm once again pushed into memories of Jean Loup Sieff's writings on art and its promoters. Perhaps his answer to the moral dilemma, if indeed it should be thought to be one, might be found in his words: "there is no art, only artists."  In essence, I think anyone working for his personal pleasure is entitled to do anything with his photography that pleases him. After all, if you can't please yourself, what's the point in spending all that money, time and effort making a picture? Should someone else be overcome with emotion and suddenly feel inclined to buy it, then that's what he's buying: the picture. Period.

However, if one is commissioned by a town council, a preservation body or some such entity to produce a documentary record of what the state of something/somewhere really appears to be, then reality has to be follwed as best one can, I think. But then all commissioned work has its requirements set out before the start of the work. Even olde stocke was like that - mostly. The two situations are distinct.

Rob C
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Colorado David
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« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2012, 01:37:48 PM »
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I have no problem with the post work Alain does and I believe he is very forthright in his full disclosure.  Some of you may recall that I was struggling with this a bit in my topic about artists' statements.  Since I work in a variety of photographic disciplines, I wanted to be sure that I fully disclosed what I considered to be fair game.  If you are calling your work fine art rather than documentary and no one is using your photo to go find the exact location, have at it.
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2012, 03:23:06 PM »
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It seems that as long as there is meaningful disclosure about techniques used then there is consensus that the result is artistically ethical.
Thanks to all those who have entered the debate.

Regards

Tony Jay
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Isaac
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« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2012, 04:51:14 PM »
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I'm quite sure that Canaletto, for one, would have had hysterics to find himself referred to as a documentary artist.
Do you wish to claim that landscape drawings and paintings were never made as documentation?
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Isaac
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« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2012, 04:59:25 PM »
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artistically ethical

Well, I can see that passing off someone else's work as yours or mine would be an ethical failure - but that just seems to be an example of fraud, an ordinary human failing (like other kinds of nastiness).

I'm curious to know what specifically The Committee of Artistic Ethics should examine? :-)
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 05:34:30 PM by Isaac » Logged
David Sutton
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« Reply #15 on: May 30, 2012, 05:10:07 PM »
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The charm and allure of fine art landscape photography lies in the fact that it is based on a reality - a recognizable photographic reality.
Tony Jay

This debate is an old one. Here is a quote from the 1895 article Photography, Artistic and Scientific by author Robert Johnson:
“On the subject of retouching photographic negatives, there are a great many conflicting opinions, and a great deal of nonsense has been uttered both for and against this operation; some perfectly competent photographers urging that a photograph is quite incomplete until it has been retouched, others asserting that when a negative leaves the dark room it is quite ready for the printer; that it is bad taste, bad art, and, in fact, a very objectionable thing to interfere with it in any way.....”
I think the question of whether or not to retouch (or "alter") is at heart a stupid discussion. And by 1895 the horse had well and truly bolted.
The first practical form of photography was the daguerreotype (gifted to the world in 1839 by the French government) and established photography as a new way of  seeing that was quite unlike the way our eyes worked, and quite unlike the conventions of painters. It founded the various styles of photography and established photography as an art form and demonstrated the basic artistic truth that the photograph is made by the photographer, not by the camera. (not my words, I've lost the reference).
By 1860 few photographers were still using Daguerre's process. It had been replaced by the wet collodion method discovered by Frederick Scott Archer. A glass plate had to be coated, sensitized, exposed and developed within the span of about fifteen minutes, but it had a faster exposure time, was razor sharp, was much less expensive, and instead of being a one off, a large number of prints could now be made from a single negative. And you didn't get mercury poisoning. (Apart from the 15 minute time limit, its disadvantage was that it was made from guncotton and alcohol or ether. Ether is much  heavier than air and would drift along the floor from a leaking bottle until it found a fireplace or candle, at which point it would ignite back and explode the guncotton. There were a lot of deaths.)
Anyway, back on topic. The collodian process and thus the ability to easily reproduce photographs altered people's view of their world. The American president Abraham Lincoln said his election was due to his speech at the Cooper Institute and the photographs of Mathew Brady,  Have a look at “General Ulysses. S. Grant on a Horse in front of Troops, circa 1864” at
http://izismile.com/2012/02/08/historic_photographs_which_are_known_to_be_altered_13_pics.html
This photograph was not regarded in any way as a “fake”. Within 10 years of being able to mass produce prints, photographers were cutting and pasting in order to tell a story. Different versions were sometimes published to see which the public preferred.
Nowadays, while I agree that if it's art, then anything goes, and we have to judge an image by the final result, where it gets interesting is the point at which we limit our artistic licence to stretch our skills. As Georges Braque, who co-founded cubism with Picasso said, “Out of limited means new forms emerge”.
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Isaac
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« Reply #16 on: May 30, 2012, 05:32:31 PM »
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Have a look at “General Ulysses. S. Grant on a Horse in front of Troops, circa 1864” ... This photograph was not regarded in any way as a “fake”.
When was it understood to be a "fake"?  (The caption "Researchers at the Library of Congress uncovered this gem after extensive detective work." suggests that happened recently.)


Here's another example to make your point -

[1857-59] "Le Gray innovated by successively printing parts of two negatives onto the same proof: a landscape and the sky of his choice, photographed elsewhere. He applied this technique to his marines in particular, taking advantage of the flat horizon line that eased the joining of two negatives, thereby emphasizing the horizon's presence and strengthening the force of the resultant image. The effect is stunning... The critics sang his praises, and his photographs of the sea were often exhibited and sought after." p50

Reproducing Reality: Landscape photography of the 1850s and 1860s in relation to the paintings of Gustave Courbet
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Ray
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« Reply #17 on: May 30, 2012, 07:56:10 PM »
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- Removal of significant elements of the photograph such as rivers, trees, rocks, etc.

- Moving significant elements of the image from one area of the photo to a different area

- Duplication of significant elements

- Combining elements from several photograph into a single image

I can understand that the above procedures mentioned in Alain's article would be very controversial  'moves' for many photographers.

Cloning out intrusive power lines, or even intrusive people who have annoyingly got in the way of an otherwise beautiful scene, or cloning out litter that someone has thoughtlessly dropped, seems reasonable and sensible. But shifting or removing significant and relatively permanent elements in the scene so that the original scene in reality, if visited by the viewer, might not be recognisable, puts the photograph into a different category.

As an old codger originally from the UK, I tend towards the view that Photography is more of a craft than an art in the sense that there is no expectation that the artist, as in painter, is obliged to reproduce an accurate representation of reality, whereas there is an expectation that the photograph is at least a fairly close representation of reality.

The problem is one of expectation and assumption. When we watch a movie, we know it's not real. We suspend our disbelief so we can enjoy the story which is always fiction. Even if the movie is claimed to be based upon real historical events and real historical characters, it's still largely fictional, for the sake of the box office.

I would have no objection to what Alain is proposing if photographs could be reliably categorised into fiction and non-fiction, but I fear this will not happen.
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david loble
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« Reply #18 on: May 30, 2012, 08:52:29 PM »
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Because I only  photograph for myself, and in no way do I consider myself to be an artist I always wonder how I would jump into these recurring discussions. So let me try. For many years I photographed landscapes, always looking for the perfect, to me, scene. Generally that meant traveling to places more "pristine" than my Connecticut environs. Which are rarely pristine, in any case.
Then, a few years ago I was told about the "New Topographics". I won't go into that here, suffice that if any one is interested there is plenty of information on the web. But looking at the work of  Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, to name just 2 of the photographers in the New Topographic show turned my photographic life around. Pristine didn't matter anymore. I could, and did, start driving to Bridgeport where I found a bunch of old and abandoned factories and industrial neighborhoods pressed up against apartment buildings. I laughingly tell my friends that now I embrace the telephone poles and the wires and the cracked pavement and overgrown unused parking lots.
For me this is a more appropriate realism than a beautiful sunset at the Grand Canyon. But also for me it is a recording of a major part of the urban/suburban world and I don't have to worry about some "ugly" element ruining my picture.
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Ray
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« Reply #19 on: May 30, 2012, 11:40:03 PM »
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I laughingly tell my friends that now I embrace the telephone poles and the wires and the cracked pavement and overgrown unused parking lots.
For me this is a more appropriate realism than a beautiful sunset at the Grand Canyon. But also for me it is a recording of a major part of the urban/suburban world and I don't have to worry about some "ugly" element ruining my picture.

Good point, and I doubt that any historian years later would get confused about the reality of your photos. Were those pavements really cracked, and were those telephone poles really there?

But what about the following shot of the Himalayas at dawn. I got up at 4am to hike in the dark for a couple of hours, mostly uphill, to catch the sunrise at 6am. But was I accompanied by three young ladies who were prepared to expose their breasts in the cold, mountain air?  Grin

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