Sunday, May 29


PhotoShop's Selection

Tech is irritating. Yeah, it's disrupting industries and businesses like a flame thrower, incinerating jobs, careers, and dreams... yadda, yadda... Forget the macro havoc, K? This is a more focused irritant. This picture. 

I had no intention of making this image. Instead I wanted to make an image something like this...

Ted's Selection

Oh, I'd have changed the dynamic range to tease the bearded man's image out from the background.But essentially, this was I wanted to start. And Photoshop simply won't let me! "Huh?" you ask. "Ted, you've studied and worked in Photoshop for eighteen years. You've mastered its every nuance. So wudda' hell's the problem here?"

I don't know. I've poured over the THICK manuals. Tried endless permutations. I've managed to create that second image up above in the application. But when I save it... only the first image appears!!??? And it is awful. Worse, the manuals are mute on this problem. So far it's absorbed two days of tweaking and shaking. I've thought about bashing it with a hammer... Finally I did a screen shot of the pre-saved image and it's that screen shot of the adjusted image before flattening that's posted second here. 

Frankly it needs a lot more work to bring out the details around his eyes, hair and beard. I'd like to have more 3D modeling. But why bother? I cannot save the worked version, much less export a jpg for export. 

Arthur C. Clarke's written, "A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from witchcraft." Uh, huh. There's a gremlin in my machine that will not let me do what I have done routinely until this image. &*^&%$!! 

Anybody know why adjustment layers won't compress or flatten without disappearing? Has it something to do with the B&W gamut? Should I work in a CMYK space instead of rgb or srgb? Where do I buy an aerosol can of gremlin remover? AAARGH!

Friday, May 27

Tell Me A Story • 4: Madonna

Race Against Racism runner(a)  • 4/30/17 • Lancaster, PA
Mysterious eyes. 

When color's surgically cut away, is there more or less identity... More or less story... More or fewer clues? I wonder: Do blind people understand others at a deeper or more shallow level? Is radio in anyway superior to video in communicating the depth of personalities? 

There's a resistance to digital post-processing, dismissing it as inauthentic. The word manipulation is the common verb that describes digital post work. I prefer augmentation, even revelation since manipulation sounds what? Dreary? Calculating? Callow? Shallow? Never mind that painters, for example, do nothing but manipulate... augment... reveal... the realities they imagine. Ditto poets, novelists, and composers. Can you imagine someone charging a symphonic composer of manipulation? Playwrights routinely manipulate the emotions of audiences, don't they? Is that a bad thing?

Yet somehow describing digital post processing as manipulation is dismissive, even insulting. But that's not my real point here. Those most likely to critique the idea of augmentative post processing argue that purity lies only in the image which comes out of the camera, right? Now I've written about pre-processing (lens choice, lighting constructs, filters, makeup, wardrobe, scenery, POV... and like that), and even what I guess you could call immediate processing involving the manipulation of panning, framing, and DOF. All of that manipulates what comes out of the camera. And that doesn't even begin to touch the things camera engineers have built in to manipulate sharpness, color and dynamic range, Etc. 

But none the less, purists who reject digital post processing as in-authentic have no memory of the wet darkroom where printmakers first selected among radically different developer chemistries/timings/heat, then chose between diffuser versus condenser enlargers, contrast/texture/pigment of papers/substrate, developer dynamics, hold-backs, burnings-in, solarizations, and on and on to create a one-of-a-kind final print, even in monotone. The opportunities to create one-off darkroom prints in color increased exponentially. The fact is that there never was a final print that was not processed heavily by at least the photographic artists and perhaps different darkroom technicians, and retouchers (both on the negatives and prints). 

Is all of this sounding defensive? Okay.... look at this:

Race Against Racism runner (b)  • 4/30/17 • Lancaster, PA
As I roamed the park next to my home here in Lancaster on the morning of this year's Race Against Racism run - I consciously looked for a series of faces to speak to you dramatically in monochrome.I could have set my Canon 7D to bleach away all color and make captures only in monochrome. Why do that? Why not allow all of the information possible to reveal narrative arcs? 

So first I processed this image above as a square (you'll note that this and the next images will all be square-cropped, since my Hasselblad days, that format's been a powerful challenge to me). And I processed it for the most haunting dynamic range and sculpting, adding a touch of glow to offset the overcast lighting of that morning. Then finally worked in monochrome to release the image at the start of this essay. 

But the geek-stuff all involves focusing powerful tools to carve out a narrative arc that allows the lady to tell her story. So, what is it? Once again, Tell Me A Story - THE story which you read from faces. I'm convinced that every street portrait needs to trigger at least  a short story - and perhaps a poem, novel, or epic. Hell, maybe even a sonata, if you won't accuse the composer of manipulating the notes - or the mysterious eyes :-)

Monday, May 23

Tell Me A Story • 3: Cryptic Moments

Philosophy Unbounded?

Lens glass
Slices life

Ambiguity: To the artist it's a window, to the craftsman it's a wall.

I try to make my pictures about something, y'know? I'm searching for images that resonate some thought and feeling. Anne Leibowitz once wrote, "A photographer hangs frames around pieces of life. In every direction I look, I'm framing." Works of art are about something, but where to find the answer to their questions? In the artist's mind? I don't think so. In fact when the creator supplies an unambiguous answer to that question we modify his title... We call him a commercial artist, right?  Which is a lot more craft than art.

And what about interior designers? Are they artists? Is decorative art - art? When we buy an image to coordinate with the couch, have we purchased art? Or does the art exist independent of, the couch? Should  a professional artist care? Uh-oh, when someone adds, professional to their title, that means they expect to augment their income from their work, right? So they are driven by some market's interest.

Which brings us back to the creator supplying an answer to a market's question. Of course there are situations where a market finds an artist's work which was created without an expectation to specifically answering someone else's question. But once again I've got this niggling question:
What is the difference between creativity and adaptability? Does the weight of survival inexorably shape the meaning of a professional artist's work toward answering some market's questions?

Art, they say in art school:Art lacks constraints - it is philosophy unbounded. And yet the product of art schools are artists who want to survive through their work. Which is one hell of a constraint, huh? No wonder we call 'em starving artists.

Oh, the picture up there is another in this year's Race Against Racism 2016. I'm enchanted by the beauty of this woman. Her face is a portraitist's dream and this slice of life is about... about... Well okay... What's the answer?

Geek Stuff: Another hand-held capture through my Canon 7D's EFS 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens. It's razor sharp... perfect for slicing life into cryptic moments, huh? 

Monday, May 16

Tell Me A Story • 2: Suspending Disbelief

Runner in the April 30th, 2016 YWCA Race Against Racism

We live across the street from Lancaster's YWCA. Since the turn of the century the Y's held a Saturday April morning Race Against Racism attracting thousands of runners. Nice of them to flood the street out front and the park we adjoin with a sea of puzzling faces. And As I wrote in the last post... "A face ignites its own explanation: Which is a dramatic narrative." So wandering through the crowds with my long lens (Canon 70-300mm) lets me pluck out wondering, y'know? 

Take this young guy. Someone said he's a 16 or 17 year old high school student. Hmmmm.... He looks like a movie star, no? It's hard to pry out tales from young faces, particularly when they are way attractive. Still, although it looks like the young man's won a lot in the gene lottery, I'm guessing that those shoulders and arms took a bunch of discipline to pump, right? And his caramel skin and curly hair seem latin? About thirty feet from this guy sat a collection of food vendors where he could have grabbed candy, fries, pretzels, and pastries. Instead he chose that apple. 

Uh-huh, there's discipline there and add the 5 kilometer run he just finished the guy's got an athlete's instinct. Do we instinctively trust handsome or pretty faces? It's like attractive people have a unique muscle that works emotionally. But it also defends them like an armor... protects them from probing. Maybe that's why lead actors are so good-looking: so that we'll believe whatever character they'll pull on for a performance? 

Does beauty make it easier for an audience to suspend disbelief? Hmmmm.... 

Grabbed the shot hand-held with my Canon 7D at 160mm (perfect length for portraits, huh?), 1/1000 sec and a low noise 400 ISO. The morning was slightly overcast and still early enough for sweet light. 

Friday, May 6

Tell Me A Story

A face ignites its own explanation: Which is a dramatic narrative.   

Street portraits capture what? Maybe the first words, of the first sentence, of a story. They’re about portents. They’re like keyholes. We plug our imaginations into them to create a dramatic narrative. We expect a face to have more meaning than what it communicates. Its first jolt to our imaginations is processed by our emotions to hunt for collateral messages. We’re programmed to find order that creates meaning. A face ignites its own explanation: A dramatic narrative.

A face sliced from an infinite number of instants at 1/500th of second is like an onion-skin-thin slice of tree. The texture and rings give up some knowledge of age and maybe species, perhaps gender… It gives back something about the tree’s experiences with physics, biology, and even how it leaned against nature’s propositions. But we’d need to see a lot more of the tree to release secrets of its coping mechanisms. It tells of the way life’s winds and weather whirled about its location. What stunting or enabling happened as it aged.

Street portraits trigger speculation. The best of them are purées of nuanced ingredients which fuel then steer the engine of wonder. And art without wonder is merely craft.

Who is this man? What a tantalizing hint he gives us both with his fleeting expression and with the way he’s allowed years to chisel his face. See how he’s chosen to permit and resist life’s propositions?

My take? Here’s a strong, alert guy… A skeptic but not a cynic… He knows there’s enough evidence to make decisions. Learned to cautiously seek it. And learned to learn from it. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. 

About a century ago, the now forgotten journalist and humorist Ambrose Bierce wrote, “Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum… I think I think, therefore I think I am.” And I think that the man I pictured up there, would think carefully about that joke… and smile.

On the last Saturday of April 2016  Lancaster’s YWCA held its annual Race Against Racism right outside of my home. For the past 16 years I’ve hunted among the many hundreds of runners and spectators who participate for these storybook faces. This year I gathered them through my Canon 7D’s EFS 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens, then tried to decipher their stories.