Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The processing conundrum

As I was uploading proofs from a recent wedding shoot, I began to think about the difficulty of conveying different possibilities for each photo. Even if you create a sort of "look" gallery (which I should probably do), you still have think about tailoring the looks to the photos. Here is a brief example:

I liked this sweet moment that I took at an overexposed setting (which I like to do on closer shots sometimes because it tends to make very flattering skin tones), but darkened up for a more traditional look that you see above. As shot, the photo was a lot closer to that hazy sunny look I talked about in a recent tutorial. So, I exaggerated the effect and added a layer of yellow with an overlay blending mode to get this look:
Personally, my tastes are heading toward a very classic black and white:
Nothing is as timeless as black and white. And to further complicated things, you'll notice that my black and white example above was actually taken a second later, when the groom's arm was no longer bent. So far, you have three very different looks. Then you have to consider the effects of cropping:
An 8x10 crop takes away the white space at the top, like it or not.
A square crop changes it even more.
Or what if you wanted to change the crop, convert to monochrome, and do a romantic pink split toning effect:
Or you can crop it even tighter:
I've always been a fan of close crops, so I like this one as well.

The moral of this story is that making processing decisions can be as hard as taking the photo, and communicating the possibilities can be problematic. Which would you choose? If you were the client given nearly 500 proofs, how well would you do envisioning the possibilities?

Friday, August 26, 2011

If Plato were alive...

Plato: copy (copy!) of portrait bust by Silanion via Wikipedia

...he would have a thing or two to say about the discussion over at Tech Dirt about a judge dismissing a copyright lawsuit as bogus. In the lawsuit, one photographer (Janine Gordon) sued another (Ryan McGinley), claiming that he had violated copyright law because they both had photos of people jumping in the air with their arms spread out, or kissing, or other such nonsense. Thank heavens, the judge saw through the claim and let common sense prevail. I mean, look at my last post. Are we going to say that everyone that ever took a photo of someone standing in the middle of a road or sidewalk with a neutral expression looking at the camera is infringing on, um, Sander's pose?

I'm no lawyer, but from what I have read in books about photography law I had always heard that you can't copyright ideas, only the actual products that come from those ideas. In other words, I couldn't stop someone from replicating all of my ABC Paris photos (cue shameless self-promotional plug). They could go and take the exact same photos (or so I thought) and it would not be my product, therefore, not protected. And none of that ever bothered me. I mean, good luck tracking down all those things.

But then I read what the judge said about Gordon's frivolous case. There was a lot of explanation about how the photos were not all that similar once you really looked at them. Wait! So if they were more similar, Gordon could have won? This didn't coincide with my understanding.
This led me to start reading the comments after techdirt's post. It wasn't exactly like reading Plato's Sophist ("lawyers suck!" is hardly great philosophy), but it's a pretty fascinating, and for the most part, civil, read. In my mind, commenter "Dandon TRJ" (a law student) is the interlocutor who gets to be Socrates. Not that his are the only smart comments. Go read the comments if you are interest in copyright issues. Toward the end, the discussion starts to stray into questions of whether photography itself if art. "Bnesaladur" imagines a world in which you have to watch how you stand lest you be infringing copyright and then makes the provocative assertion that "photography is not art" because "all you have is a near exact representation of the world." I don't think it's too difficult to cut through that argument, but I just may ask my students to do it and see what they come up with. Since I was just making up a syllabus for the critical theory class I'm teaching this semester, I couldn't help but think about all the hullabaloo (can't think of when I last used that word) over Plato's idea of the simulacrum (as in "similarity"). At the mercy of post-structuralist theorists, the idea became as complicated as copyright law. If you feel like putting on your black turtleneck, smoking a gauloise, and getting a hot cup of coffee at your local pretentious coffee house, you have months of mind-bending reading ahead of you. Non? Then check out the comments at techdirt.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

timeless or time to move on?

If you look at a lot of art photography, or read the sartorialist, or follow wedding and engagement photography, you've probably seen a lot of photos of people standing in the middle of a fairly vacant street or sidewalk with a very neutral expression looking at the camera. I'm not sure I could tell you where it all began. I know that when August Sander did it in the 1920s it was still fresh:

Vintage 1927 Anton Räderscheidt via

Decades later in the 1970s people like William Eggleston were doing it:
 Eggleston (there are better examples, but not that I could find easily on the web)

Today, it is often the go-to fashion in the street portrait:

And many many contemporary art photographers use the pose:

 John Keatley via Feature Shoot just happened to be in my rss feed

And the look has been a trend among wedding photographers, as in this photo I found pinned on Pinterest (not quite as neutral as some):

I would be surprised if some of you hadn't noticed how frequent this is used. I'm just wondering, has this been worn out or is it timeless? 

I want to be clear that I think originality is overrated. Throw a stone at a photo show and you're almost certain to hit something that has been done by a dozen other photographers. Take my post on car wreck art, for example. It seems that whatever you can think of has been done or is being done. More important than originality is context, depth of thought, execution, coherence, etc. etc. So maybe what I'm wondering about is the intent behind the choice. Obviously, we are dealing with a pose, so there is a conscious decision to strip away things like movement and emotion. To the American eye, the lack of a smile can come across as sad, but that's a subjective. What I tend not to get from these types of photos (and this is just my opinion) is a sense of personality. For Eggleston, who was fond of photos that cropped off the head (something also common in portraiture today), the people were never really as much the point anyway—at least not compared to questions of color and composition.  For Sander, the project was to create a sort of visual index of social types. For the sartorialist, the idea might be to strip away all elements of personality except the clothing. Who knows?  For Keatley, the fact that he was photographing Liberian children in need of clean drinking water may have influenced the choice. For that bridal pic, I have no idea. 

Let me wax academic and then I'll end my pseudo rant. There's a nifty little term of Greek origin called "catachresis." This goes beyond cliché and into the realm of dead metaphors. It describes an intentional or unintentional misuse of language such as mixing metaphors, misinterpretations, anachronistic readings (like, if you interpret "gay" in some 1920s song as a comment about sexuality) and so on. Theorists like Derrida salivated over the general ambiguity of the term and used it to explain fundamental problems with language itself. Is the "neutral expression standing in the street" pose falling into a state of catachresis? Are people misusing a visual language? Are we taking Sander's cataloging approach, for example, and unintentionally interpreting it as a fashion statement? What do you think? 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

DIY: Print photos on old dictionary pages

I first saw this idea floating around the Pinterest boards. People had printed photos onto old dictionary pages. I just happen to have a HUGE unabridged dictionary from 1937:
 I love the marbled exterior and the tabs. But since I don't actually USE the dictionary other than for decor, I thought it could stand to sacrifice a few pages for an art project.


There's really not much to it:
1. Carefully rip out a page and measure it.
2. Choose a photo (or in my case, 6)
3. Convert the photo to black and white. It's best to use photos with some contrast and a decent amount of white space. Whatever is white will not actually print white on your page; it will just show through to the background.
4. The first tricky part is to figure out the margins so your photo will print on the right part of the page. Not that it's necessary to be exact with this kind of thing. I measured the size I wanted, made a blank document in Photoshop at that size, opened my photo, copied and pasted it into my blank document, and then used the Free Transform tool to make it the size I needed with the margins I needed. The best thing to do is approach it with a very forgiving attitude. Apply the "galloping horse" rule (which is that if you don't notice the error when galloping by on a horse then it's fine).
5. The second tricky part is feeding your paper into the printer. If your paper is old like mine was, you'll have to carefully hand feed it.

Once I knew it was going to work, I used the first page of the dictionary for this photo I took of an iron gate in Paris:

One feature of this particular dictionary that I really like is the letters down the right side.

Another cool thing that you can see on this crop of a bike photo is the dictionary illustrations that show through, like these wasps. I used all Paris photos, which makes me wish I had an equally cool French dictionary to cannibalize. (The photos I snapped of these completed pages, by the way, had the awful lighting conditions of incandescent+sunlight, which is why the color doesn't always look uniform.)
The door knocker looks really cool, in my opinion, because of the contrast and the ample white space.

I bought an old six-pane wooden window for $10 at a consignment store. I knew I was going to use it for photos, and it turns out that the panes are just about the right size for the dictionary pages. My plan was to simply tack the pages on the wall with decorative upholstery tacks and then hang the window on top of it. The trick is figuring out where to pin each photo. I hate doing anything that requires measuring and calculation, so I hung up the window, marked with pencil just outside of each pane, took the frame down, and then put painters tape to show where the divisions were:

(Did I mention how sick I am of that wall color? It's changing very very soon.)

I had to take the window on and off a few times and adjust the tape until it lined up pretty well:

Finally, I just started tacking on the pages, making sure that they were at least in line with each other (I didn't care if they were perfectly centered in each frame--galloping horse, remember?).

I used a variety of upholstery tacks that had been sitting in a drawer in the basement just waiting for something like this. Here is what it looked like before I put the window back up:

The detail of a chair (top left) seems to be a favorite. Top middle is my favorite, but I like them all. In fact, I have about 20 photos that are good candidates for this sort of project.

Finally, I hung the window back up:

You can save yourself time by just framing the thing. Or better still, don't even frame it; just use decorative pins, tacks, or whatever. You could also save yourself the printing effort by scanning the dictionary page and making a composite, but I really wanted to print on the actual pages.

Maybe this will inspire you for your own project. If you do something and post it, send me a link.

Don't want to make your printer hate you by feeding it old dictionary pages? OK. Check out the tutorial I just posted on how to do the whole thing in Photoshop.

AND...You can also buy my exclusive versions of the prints you see here with all of the flexibility (almost any size) and durability of photo paper (or giclée, canvas, even metal) you can get them on my site.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

WIll you pante my nells tudey?

"Will you pante my nells tudey i wont them to be nise"

Just a couple of weeks ago I posted a "found still life" that I called "Snaily's Nightmare." It sparked a new project that I'm calling "Dream House." When you have an imaginative 6-year-old daughter (who wants to be a paleontologist/dancer and ride a pink motorcycle to work), you come across so many surreal tableaux that they start to become invisible to you. When you're busy, the toys your child painstakingly arranged as part of some complicated imagination game just look like clutter. And it's not that you never notice. I mean, when Eva puts earmuffs and a pink sleeping mask on Wrinkly, her stuffed bulldog, you have to laugh. But then you move on.

However, the Snaily photo sparked off a project, and just in time for a call for entries that I plan on submitting to tomorrow. I won't post any of the photos I am submitting until I find out the results (bad luck), but the photo above is part of the extended project. I found it last night at 2 a.m. and wrote myself a post-it to photograph it when I got up. The lighting is soooo bad in our house that I have to use a tripod for almost everything. But I can't move it to better light. That's against my set of rules. It has to be where I found it.

I took several other photos today. The funny thing is, when I got home from work and Eva said "Do you want to come play with me in my clean room?" (she had played all day), I thought, Oh man! What serendipitous still life have I missed?

This is a completely new style of project for me, but I'm pretty excited about it. You just can't plan the kinds of scenes that a child creates, and it wouldn't be as fun if you tried. To wax Freudian for a moment, I think that my "Dream House" project (the title makes more sense when you see the images I can't post yet) is about the "uncanny" experience of looking at the kind of imaginative world that growing up tends to make us forget.

Yeah, Marc. whatever. Save it for the "artist's statement."

Monday, August 1, 2011

F-Stop Magazine "Relations"

Three of my photos are in August/September issue of  F-Stop Magazine  under the Group Exhibition "Relations" section. Here are the ones that were accepted:


Trickle-down economics

A flea-market encounter
A few things I really like about F-Stop Magazine and my experience with the submission process:
1. Free entry
2. There is a clear editorial voice in the selection process. I don't mean to criticize other online photo magazines, but I sometimes feel like photo communities/magazines can take the focus away from the photos and make it more about getting lots of followers and playing networking games. Yes, there is an argument to be made for broad popular appeal, but it also nice to have a more direct editorial assessment that is completely divorced from the "followers" game.
3. F-Stop keeps an ongoing list of calls for submissions and other photography news on their home page. This is a great way to find new "epic fail" opportunities. I have found two calls for entries there that I plan on doing within the next two weeks.

If you want to submit to the October/November issue, here's the basic info (find complete details here):


ISSUE #49: Portfolio Issue - October/November 2011

Issue #49 is a Portfolio Issue.
Submit a complete body of work (12-20 images) along with your artist statement following the guidelines below.
Images must be received by September 15, 2011. Issue #49 will have an expected publication date of October 1, 2010. Only one submission per person for an issue.