Friday, February 9, 2007

plagiarism vs. homage vs. ????

the drunken cubist (by ~ fernando)

«your silent face»

From a link provided by The Online Photographer:
Finally, the Zielskes have prompted relatively little scandal because most artists think it's impossible to plagiarize a photograph simply by showing up at the same place at the same time of day.

In a previous entry ("confinement"), I posit the hypothetical of what would happen if order is strictly adhered in photography. Another perspective on this is explored in Slate's article "Can Photographers be Plagiarists?" The article is in the form of a slide show to demonstrate both perspectives about inspiration versus copying. The genesis of the article is a recent controversy between the father/son team of Horst and Daniel Zielske versus Peter Bialobrzeski over photographs shot from the same vantage point.

As far as my point of view goes, with so much order/discipline to the technique, the first one to find a vantage point should get the credit, as I would suspect is normally the case. However, for Mr. Bialobrzeski to cry foul, well, that is going a bit far. It is sufficient to point out that he was there first with shot, and not try to sue, or stop an exhibit. Still, I think that if the Zielske made contact with Bialobrzeski prior to their photographs, that reference to that consultation should have been made public, just like a reference just like in published journal articles.

Above, is my feeble attempt at plagiarizing Hisroshi Sugimoto, even if the awareness was after the fact.

colours, japanese food and turntables

Bill Callahan (smog)

«bill callahan (the Independent San Francisco»

I look over my photos, and I see a variety of colours. However, it is often that I hear that I "just" go for B&W. Here, B&W can include split toning, or just a few colours. Although perhaps an unfair stereotyping, it is mostly true: I am displeased with the colours of many shots I make, and rarely think that they convey the emotion I want to present.

As I now get to work first with Adobe's Lightroom, and sometimes skipping any dodge, burning, and/or corrections with Photoshop, I have noticed another reason: the digital cameras sensors still suck. (OK, just bear with my drama here.)

I got my first camera in 1999, and shot with colour film. All the nice photos looked fine with a little contrast correction, as done by the nice person at the mom/pop photo store. Nice work, I was very pleased. Once I got the first digital camera at the end of 2001, I stopped using colour film, in favour of black and white. Not sure why, I do not know much about film performances, but the colours in digital are very crisp when properly exposed. Even clinical. I was doing digital colour and film B&W.

It must have been while using Photoshop Elements and discovering the "overlay" layer blending, that I fell in love with contrast. Turning up the contrast in colour looks strange, and perhaps more importantly to what I want to do, very distracting. I think this falls into common wisdom, and there is nothing new here. Since then, I developed some Gradient Maps to convert colour images to anywhere between 2 and 5 tones. At times, I used it for desaturation, and that is all I did in the early days: very desaturated images thanks to the Gradient Map and blending with blurred layers. Soon, I lost interest in that look, and it was just a learning step towards B&W.

I am fascinated by making odd connections, and I can think of Japanese food. After all, I like to think that my subsconcious is rather limited and it applies similar rules to many, seeming disparate, perceptions. The main reason why I like Japanese food is that elements are simple and generally separated. When taking a bite, there are a few flavors to savor, unlike say, a pizza with "everything on it." I like the focus on just a few elements at play at any one time, so I can maximize learning and/or appreciation. (Yes, when I eat pizza, I just want one or two toppings maximum.)

B&W photography offers to me the same experience as Japanese food: I am able to highlight for myself a couple of elements in the photo that I want to emphasize. The image can still be chaotic in its lines, or something very simple. However, the "sweet spot" is being able to play with the contrast in the image. «Triangle» above is a wonderful example, and I am not a fan of flower images (flower and portraits are still my weak spot, and the feedback on flickr correlates to that notion).

Playing a record on a turntable can be full of noises that can detract from the experience, yet this is contradicted in photography, although people may enjoy the noise on both. A consequence of increasing the contrast in an image is to increase the noise as well. In colour images this seems to be unacceptable, but it is highly tolerable in B&W, as a way to add "ambiance" or feel. I am curious if in a few generations this appeal will go away, as a greater number of photographers may only know digital and, like most today, listening to music in a digital representation is more appealing than a turntable with noise/pops. However, blurry paintings are still appealing quite a few generations removed from its start.

Even in Camera RAW images of today, turning up the contrast on images exposed to my liking means having to deal with the presence of noise. This is not the case for many applications of digital photography, but for early morning and late afternoon photographs, the contrast is already low, but the light is delicious: the image has to be compromise, in one sense, to gain in expression in a B&W space.

The reason why digital cameras suck (within the limits of what I want to do), even when there is gorgeous colours at that time, is that as the image is broken into RGB at different pixel locations, the blue channel is mostly noisy, though the blue channel contains quite an amount of sharpness detail and texture. In using Lightroom to convert to B&W, I am struck at the quality increase in the image when I convert to grayscale, and can use the different RGB colours to mix into one very satisfatory image in two-tones. This is a simple fact of Information Theory, where the total information is increased when different sources are combined properly. Then, I can apply some split toning to change the mood a little, if the B&W is too harsh.

This approach has become so intuitive, that it is best to assume that the image is going to be in B&W so I do not worry to much about White Balance, unless the capture quality is compromised, i.e., one of the three channels may be over, or under, exposed. As the newer digital cameras provide a histogram for each channel individually, this problem with white balance can be corrected. Not only is the white balance not as critical, or easy to correct, but it becomes a matter of using this camera instrumentation shortcoming to my advantage. For example, under expose to obtain some "digital grain" and have a signature noise, controllable (it is in the blue channel after all), and not depend too much on a layer, or more, of gaussian noise.

There will be a time of very fast and sensitive digital sensors to 32 or 64 bits, and perhaps I will return to colour. However, there is nothing to complain at the moment, just to have some eureka moments and work with the faulty instrument.

Thursday, February 8, 2007


woman on Calle Del Sol (v2) (by ~ fernando)

«woman on Calle Del Sol (v2)»

I seem to be meandering with many topics initiated in these entries, but they have been in my head, without outlet, for so long. In addition to this dam of questions, there is the little reminders that will come up in daily interactions over at flickr.

I was recently added by someone that seems to blog a lot of images, has some good images of his own -- if not with a very narrowed interest -- that he liked my images and wanted me to participate in his pool (named after himself, as these vanity pools seem to be spreading quite fast). I did join, and notice that one had to vote by plastering some icon of his design for images to stay in the pool, or whatever. I observed and left, and also removed him from my contacts, because after a while, I notice the pattern (no pun intended on his graphical images) of his talent, and there is no much more to entice me: the idea of photography for my appreciation is for my imagination to wander, and sometimes, wonder.

These actions were met with a lengthy (form) email about not joining/leaving. I responded kindly that I am not interested in competitions of the kind, and it got me thinking whether other art forms have such a competitive streak. I thought of paintings, and there could be something of a competition about students learning, and certainly there was a famous one that gave us the beginning of the impressionist movement. It seems that the impressionists were not obeying rules that made the judgement a bit harder, and so they were not admitted (to summarize rather crudely).

I also thought of dog competitions. Aside from watching, and enjoying, the movie Best in Show I have only caught a glimpse of it on TV. However, it has intrigued me how among such different kinds of dogs in every aspect, one is chosen. How can there be an objective way to judge a dog across breeds? I will remain ignorant. However, I think this has a good parallel to photo competitions -- by jury or by popular vote: how is blurry photo compared to a "decisive moment" compared to an architecture photo compared to a heavily manipulated photo?

The fascinating part is not how to judge a photo competition, but why is it such a popular thing to do in photography? Is it because the gearheads dominate such a push, and since the camera can be used to demonstrate technical prowess, then contests can be held often? (to increase the odds of getting a ribbon to list with the gear.) Is this mainly a U.S. phenomenon? (Where competition and forget-who-came-in-second is so prominent.) I think the meaning of winning a competition has no significance in absolute terms, and the relative value may not be assessed except by those attending the contest: so what is the point to others? If I am going to list a ribbon for a won competition, why give the competition the publicity? I can just as well (in the same web space) show a photo -- this gives more information to the viewer.

I will admit that I enter one competition in a flickr pool. The photos are posted to a discussion topic and the top three go into the pool. The photos can be re-entered at another time. However, this is one approach for to me gauge how people view photos because it is a popular vote, so I do not see it as the idea of entering a competition, and all the aspects of it that I dislike.

It will be the case that I shall never enter a contest, actually, I am even having a hard time envisioning printing my photos, except for friends and relatives. I like to think of a way that the web can be used to better have people be happy to have just a digital copy of it, but then again, I am digging into another topic for the future.

The image posted, to me, signifies the best example of why not to enter a contest. Some people get the image, but I will always feel that what I see in this image is so far from what others will see, more so the strict-technical kind, that it would be such a disillusionment to enter a contest. This is the dichotomy of a contest: If I exhibit an image, I am intrigued by how a person can view the image and celebrate the confluence of differences, while in a competition, that difference is a futile collision of two opinions. How does the latter further any artistic purpose?