Friday, February 2, 2007

the art, the commerce

happy like an autumn tree

«happy like an autumn tree»

Alec Soth, in his blog, has a quiz. It is actually kind of fun to guess who are the celebrities behind each of the posted photos. I am not surprised that some, e.g. David Lynch, do take good photos, and it is a pleasant surprise to see who else does it (e.g., Brendan Fraser and Leonard Nimoy). I am not sure why it should be surprising that anyone with a camera can have the talent, even if the known-talent is away from photography. (Mathematics anyone?) After all, the basic idea of photography is to show what we see, and hopefully, what we feel is around us. We all have that faculty and how it is expressed best varies, and it seems that we put it aside the gear stigma making a good photographer, then it should not be surprising at all. I am not above it either, though I like to think of it as a pleasant surprise.

The quiz reminds me of a topic mentioned by friends: why don't I do this full-time? There can be courtesy behind those words, and it definitely is a fanciful suggestion. I view such comments are praise and not as suggestion on what to do, but it does make me assess how photography lives and becomes part of me. Those type of search questions through photography is a reason for this blog to exist. Most of the questions that arise deal with the process, and not with my direction in life. There are many aspect to this "search," and it is best to deal with one aspect at the time: commercialization.

I am not treading any new ground, just a little more understanding of what is involved. For example, I can begin to understand the so-called artistic struggle read over and over again, but in the past it was so distant. Now, it is an actual conflict. I certainly cannot rely on celebrity to make a push to get my work more widely exposed. Gifted or merely talented/competent, there is the advantage of having wide exposure through one art form to get some vindication for another. Actors try it with music, musicians try it with painting, and seemingly, everyone can try it with photography.

Of course, there is the element of appeal. The photograph above is probably my most accessible image. (There could be others in my computer/film-strips, so I should say "published" photo.) However, the photo was a total fluke. Well, most of my photos are fluke because I report what I see in my walks, and I do not go out and figure something grand: the photos taken are very extemporaneous.

Another important element is style. I can see from flickr that those that are very successful, in appeal and a flickr-sense, have a well-defined style. It seems that people migrate to the "safety" of consistency in style. Along with other photographers that I admire, I think my style -- as friends tell it to me -- has to do more with the feel, than the subject or "printing" style. Such a situation also arises in music, where often, the large fan base dislikes that a band in pop changes styles. This consistency seems to be required for a commercialization of one's art, regardless of field.

So, this entry is just to present three aspects that merits further thought with regards to some level of commercialization: exposure, appeal and style. It would not be interesting to discuss this, or it has been discussed extensively already, if it is not to involve one specific case: I will volunteer.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Westfriedhof (I) : Lamps in Isolation (by fernando [pixelstains])

«lamps in isolation» (Westfriedhof Ubahn)

In a few profiles at flickr, and at other places, I read about people that want to take a photo and not do anything to it. That is, the best representation of reality is to leave the photo alone once out of the camera. Like other "hobbies" there are people who take this to a religious level and dismiss any post-processing, whether film or digital, not to say anything of dismissing digital all together -- we have been there before with CD vs. LP discussions.

However, this kind of "purity" did make me think of a simple conjecture, at least for entertainment purposes. Consider the following scenario: a camera is set up on a tripod at a location at a certain time of day, and photographers can come in and set up the shot. If compositional rules are to be obeyed, and the lighting is the same for all photographers, then the same photo will be taken. This of course, is an exaggeration to make a point. That is, if the pure purpose of photography is to master the proper set up of a camera, and follow certain compositional rules, then a number of photographers in that art will have to take the same photo. There is only one answer to the confluence of all that is taught about camera and composition: rules of thirds, a certain DoF, etc. Since the lighting conditions are the same for all photoraphers, and no post-processing is allowed, the images have to be the same, unless there is some foul up in the talents on how to set up the camera properly.

This scenario is intriguing to me, because, yet again, like other equipment-centric hobbies, the person is enslaved to the machine. That the photo is a piece of art, or very pleasing to the eye is not the issue at hand -- I have seen many of such photographs. I also understand that certain kind of photography demands this discipline and knowledge of an equipment, and architectural photography comes to mind.

Now, to inflict more "art," or subjectiveness, into the process, people can opt for filters, quirky lenses (e.g., lomo, holga, lensbaby), and even being out of focus. Actually, even camera motion can be included. These are "pre-processing," however, I find them just as restrictive. If I can figure out a way to mimic/replicate the pre-processing in post-processing, then there is no way to tell the difference, and pre- becomes a post-processing in disguise. Perhaps worse, the photographer still relinquishes all control to the camera. Not that photographers that do post-processing are liberated: many people can rely on "photoshop actions" to achieve a result, and be just as the pre-processing crowd to lose control. I think HDR can easily fall into this trap. Again, there are many pre-processing images that are wonderful, so it does not invalidate the outcome.

It seems to me that to liberate oneself into the realm of imagination, that post-processing is the only alternative that we have at the moment, provided that all currently available pre-processing can be implemented in post-processing, though I am not sure that polarized filtering can be achieved in post-processing, at least not readily or with today's camera range.

Further to the notion that a photo should not be untouched, is the fact that the camera itself is not a true representation of reality, no matter how accurate it is these days. So, to think that it should not be untouched to present reality as it is seems like an chimerical notion. The camera/lens distortions are such that I find it more fascinating to work with those distortions than to work around them, we can call that judo-distortion photography.

The photo above is my experience with no post-processing. (OK, some colour correction and cropping.) It was a fun photograph to take, it was a great place to visit, but it also made me think that there is little to take the photo into the realm of imagination.

To adhere the purity of photography to a camera, also means a lot of photos not being taken because it is the wrong time of day, and correcting with dodge and burn is not allowed. Very much a wasted opportunity, one that I cannot accept, nor have I.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

sketches of Frank Gehry

slow emotion replay (by ~ fernando)

«slow emotion replay»

There is nothing like accidental photography. I think the way this started was to walk over to the Walt Disney Concert Hall (just some 8 blocks from home), and go up to the top floor of the garage across the street. That vantage point offered a panoramic view of the concert hall, that was unobstructed as opposed to the street level. The parking structure is not very tall, but just right. Then, in viewing the entire hall, I figured to see if, given the dusk light, just try to see the outline, with some of the glare from the lights already on for the night.

I had not shot blurry photos, intentionally that is, before, but was rather intrigued by seeing way too many Holga and Lomo shots. I am not keen on using those cameras myself, and rather have more control over the distortions, but given the results from Murat, and Eduardo, I thought there was an emotional intrigue in blurring and increasing the contrast, and making the blacks really black, as the banding or halo from the bokeh should stand out as it does its gradient to grey or lighter. I wanted to capture the outline of the building. The idea was to "tame" the Frank Gehry's architecture so that I can focus on some texture that just does not work up close due to the tiling and shine/reflections. Other buildings make it easy to come up close and extract an element, and even "texturize" the architecture, but not the case with Gehry's buildings, at least of this ilk, or perhaps just this one. This unhappiness with the up-close shots drove me to see if blurring had an answer.

There is an answer, but as I try more shots, it is definitely not an easy approach. Hiroshi Sugimoto already tried using his camera focused at twice-infinity to strip down the building to the fundamental. His photos can show magnificent results, though I am not sure why just twice infinity as a focal point. The approach I take is to just shoot different focal points between me and the building, and see how much "deconstruction" can the architecture withstand. It is also certain to me that not all buildings can go through this process, regardless of the appeal to the eye.

A fundamental idea of a camera to me is to use its distortions, intended or not, to create something that does not seem like what it is... though sometimes this can only be achieved with some post-processing toning, for example. Therefore, here is a great appeal to pursue that idea of distortions at the expense of some kind of emotional reaction or connection. This, of course, it is not too different to what the Impressionist did for painting. It is not beyond irony to take a very precise camera/lens instrument, flawed but very precise in many regards, and an building that screams out details, and tossing that aside. That is kind of exciting, actually.

After watching the documentary «Sketches of Gehry», I have come to realize that this blurring at a distance is a bit like deconstructing the building back to the sketches that Gehry makes.

This is a topic that is sure to take a few more posts to explore. There is the aspect about other buildings, and the close ups of this buildings.

Finally, this series of photos, in a very originally named flickr-set called «Sketches of Gehry», is to be shown on the IN PIXELS WE TRUST tomorrow. The set, as of this writing, is incomplete and without music in the link given. I will be posting the slide show here in the near future.