« Happy Thanksgiving | Main | Prejudices #4: The All-Time Best Color Medium in Photography »

Friday, 23 November 2007


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Your photo reminded me of an Edward Hopper painting; Bridal Path. Not a bad thing.

One of photography's shortcomings is the "distortions" are affected more by the tools than in painting. Of course, my having a "bad" day can distort what I perceive as "true" visual reality.

I think Degas was a photographer.

Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!


This is a good example of how much our perception really is learned, driven by our experience and expectations, rather than some objective recording of reality. I know I find that womans portrait to be, well, bad - even vaguely repulsive - due to the very odd proportions, while the ballet dancers feel completely natural. People with no experience in seeing photography would have, as you say, had the opposite reaction.

Which is "correct"? Neither. Both. Whichever one does the best job of conveying its content to its intended audience.

I think it was David Vestal, describing the characteristics of lenses, who ended each paragraph with something like "just like a normal human eye." Telephoto, normal, wide angle, fisheye. All a twist on normal vision.

If one watches and is willing to learn, a lot of ordinary, sensible, right and just characteristics of what we know about reality turn out to be the result of sloppy seeing or sloppy thinking.

As Vestal (I think) said of wide angle "perspective" with exaggerated foregrounds, foreshortening, and radical vanishing points, it actually represents things the way that human vision does, if one is careful and tries to see things as they come through the door of vision without editing them down.

Sometimes you need to get up close and stick your eyeball to the side of a building or the trunk of a tree, but it's pretty much there if you look for it. Sometimes you have to get farther away. Or look at things upside down, and then you see it. It's hard at first.

If you tune into one lens, you walk around cropping views with your hands and squinting, and before too long you notice your eyelids and the bridge of your nose walking around with you, as though you are a little person in a box. You are. We are all bags of wet stuff looking out through a couple of holes. Mostly we miss this completely, having grown up that way and all, used to being in our bodily prisons.

The fisheye effect is a difficult one to see, and I haven't managed that one yet, but Mr. Vestal is one smart cookie, that guy, so he must be at least mostly right.

One aspect of this became pretty obvious to me soon after I started my lifelong hobby of buying and ruining film. (Now I waste memory on digital cards, but that is so much less fun that I sometimes feel like weeping. But it is cheaper.) Well, back to our story...

I'm from North Dakota, Land of the Frozen Dead, and it's winter there a lot. Doesn't snow that much but when snow falls it tends to stay around for half a year or so, and you just have to do some winter photography. There is no way around it. And then right away, if shooting color transparencies, you notice that all the shadows on the snow are blue.

After a while you get mad as hell over it and just stand there with your camera inside your coat, and stare at the shadows. You know they aren't blue. They aren't, dammit. Shadows ARE NOT BLUE.

And then they are. You see it. You realize that you've been wrong all your life. You are incredulous, or newly credulous or something, and you walk around for months checking all the shadows, and they're all blue. Every one.

And no matter what happens after that, every time you walk into the shade of a building, or enter a cool dark grove of trees, you see it. It's so obvious. Everywhere. And no one else does, because they haven't made the same journey. They argue with you. Some even try to poke you with sharp sticks. You lose friendships. They can't see because they aren't really looking.

You are what you eat, even if you eat it with your eyes. Reality picks us up and shakes us around and eventually manages to get us to pay attention. And then we see strange things every where we look.

Too bad I'm still a crappy photographer.

Mike, I learned something new, "in drawing" is a fresh concept to me (my education is like Swiss cheese). I liked how your essay proved your writing using the pictorial examples.

It seems I need to learn to be able to turn off my "mental auto correction" when viewing photographs. I looked at the horse's head, but I assumed that it looked like any other horse's head--being tossed to and fro--but I was shocked when I went back and took a closer look. My new awareness can only be a good thing, I suspect. Thankyou Sir!

Dave Sailer,

You've only gotten halfway there.

Shadows almost always have a different color from the non-shadowed parts of a scene but they are not necessarily blue. They are the color of (or tinted by) the secondary light source(s) which can be either direct or bounce/fill.

If you subtract the light (with its color) of the primary light source, what is left is the light that is in the shadows (that's what a shadow is; a light deficit relative to the rest of the scene).

Because skylight - which is usually blue - is the most common secondary or fill light source, shadows are often - but not always - blue.

For Dave Sailer and others who live in the north (I'm in Minneapolis): We not long ago had a show of 19th century paintings from Scandinavia called "Northern Light" at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. These were being done at the same time as (and were affected by) French Impressionism--but the light was different, and the landscapes are colder and darker and included lots of snow. This was a real eye-opener: a different kind of beauty, with different colors than you'd find in the essentially semi-tropical south of France. The show gave me a different idea of what can be done with northern landscapes; the French landscapes I usually think of as "lush," even including the few of them that show snow. The northern landscapes were much more dramatic -- had much wider DR, as well. Do paintings have DR?

One of the hardest things to do when you're learning to draw is to draw what your eye sees, and not the model of the object in your brain. We all know what a horse looks like, and that's why we usually draw them (or visualize them) from the side. To get your hand to draw something from out-of-model is hard, and makes you feel stupid. It's also a terrific exercise in seeing what the world actually looks like...


Just to say that it's been well-argued that the change you note in e.g. Degas isn't necessarily related to photography, or at least not to photography alone: at almost exactly the same time, examples of Japanese art were becoming more widely available in Europe and North America. The perspectives and cropping seen in it long pre-dated photography, and paid no attention to "drawing". Many of the artists who moved away from drawing would also have been very well aware of Japanese art.

Lurking below the surface is an interesting argument about the influence of Platonism in art, ideas of authority vs the demotic, and the representation of "things as they ought to be", "things as they are" and "things as they are seen" to which photography is pivotal through its social impact, as much as through its aesthetic impact.

The interaction between painting & photography is complicated and productive to both. I have a vague feeling that digital has added hugely to both the complexity and the value of this interaction.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007