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Friday, 17 February 2012


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Just wanted to add that I enjoyed yesterdays post a lot, and learned a lot from it. Especially about my own prejudices. My first thought upon noticing that the pictures were `fake', was that you were experimenting with some new plugin (because of the oddly specific captions for each picture), and I had a whole reply lined up about how an analog body has no influence on the picture, so it was pointless to add that data.

Then I thought again, and realized that everything you wrote in those captions could be traced back to something in the picture. And suddenly it was a fun exercise. I still missed a lot (I've never seen an Ektar, and I wouldn't know a hotspotting lens if it hit me in the face, for example), so I definitely wouldn't mind the full boring deconstruction, but I already learned a lot.

Maybe the teacher in you likes to hear that.

Aw, MIke - c'mon... Are you suggesting that the photograph has run it's course?

I've heard this so often now. The problem is that the proliferation of good quality, diverse photographs on the web and elsewhere has led some people to believe that it's all been done. I spoke to a friend recently who is a member of a photoclub in Richmond, Surrey (in England) where they have some famous landmarks that have been painted and photographed ad infinitum. He said that a speaker at the club had proclaimed that "all the possible photos of Richmond Bridge have already been taken".

I'm afraid this brings me back to the bees buzzing in my bonnet that I've let escape a few times on this forum... photography is not a visual art form, per se. It has visual characteristics, the medium is visual, the message, or purpose is much more diverse.

To say that "all the photographs of "Richmond Bridge" - or of "" have been taken, is like saying that all the books, poems and essays about familiar subjects have already been written.

Modernism did nothing to sweep away that contention, and I'm confident that while there are photographers who have something to say about, life, the environment, the human condition - then the source is endless.

"Aw, MIke - c'mon... Are you suggesting that the photograph has run it's course?"

No, not at all. I'm just saying that most photography is derivative and I've seen a lot of what it's derived from. That's true even if you're very hopeful for the medium's future and excited about its possibilities.

A further point is that a lot of times, I really appreciate work that DOESN'T strive to be original, but that takes its own antecedents into account with awareness and sensitivity.

And, more and more, I appreciate simple values like sincerity, honesty, and personal feeling.


I have this strange penchant for a gloomy sky...

B&W conversion in digital is quite challenging, to my mind. that is, if one wants to get involved with the photo the conversion is not trivial or having the ease of a "preset". unlike the "presets" of film, and if one carries that intent to printing, in digital there is not one B&W look, and my B&W conversions reflects that — there is a myriad results, though not random. in a way, B&W conversion in digital, for me, entails not only a good B&W "development," but also a good B&W "printing." the two step process is to develop the negative into the colour tonal ranges, and then see how the B&W mix can be changed for each colour. (I do the B&W conversion exclusively in Lightroom these days.) then the second step is to think of the way it should look in print.

those steps are regardless of the subject: it is a purely objective conversion (as best as a human can do that). then comes the interpretation of B&W, which is to say... should it be low, normal or high contrast? or what kind of split toning should be applied? most often I think of low-contrast, and always of split toning. depending on the photo, some "grain" is added.

what I do try to avoid in the process is to let the slider go everywhere or to the max, and that is what the first step of development does: it should not look ghastly in colour (initially), though the mix of colours once in BW may alter that somewhat (if converted back to colour) — more so when people are not the photo.

for this photo submission, I also used the B&W conversion to alter the brightness to focus on the tree as a centerpiece. this would not be to mimic a film, but the effects of a lens, a filter, or printing.

"booked up" is now in, almost the only thing in, Archer, TX.

"Derivative" is an interesting idea. It can be very broad (All mountain sunsets are) or very narrow (attempted copies of an Adams Yosemite image). It can be derivative of a style, specific photographer's work, a specific image, etc. Similarly, its opposite "original" or "unique" has a similar range of definitions. For either, it is necessary to compare the subject image to evaluation re some criteria. What do you use for criteria and scope?
I know that after 63 years with a camera - admittedly not full time or as a profession- I sure haven't seen it all.

Originality is a lesser form of plagiarism. (Say that with a Master Po accent so it doesn't sound too pompous.)

Hello Mike,

as someone with way less experience than you (amateur hobbyist, with no particular focus or style, since 15+ years), many and mainly film cameras but almost no time to use them, but several hundreds of photo monograph books (with focus - mostly Japanese and Swedish), I STILL have the same feeling of having seen too much of the same derivative photography. Since I have so little time for my own photography I am almost in despair of my inability of developing my own style which is absolutely not helped by the lack of inspirational originality of the photography I see on the web and in books. With the infinite options of fine tuning photographs with software but without the foundation of personal originality of vision and very little inspirational direction from looking at other's originality I can not seem to move forward. Looking east to "Asian" photography sometimes gives me a breath of fresh air however. Just acknowledging what you wrote by way of too many words. All the best/


The "seen it all" feeling is a bad sign. You and I are almost exactly the same age. I'd sure like to think there's more 'new' ahead of me. Photographers seem to be especially prone to ennui. GAS is usually the (short term) cure, and it's understandable. The latest equipment is almost always better, if by "better" you're looking at a metric like resolution or speed. Some photographers travel, with the idea that never-seen is the remedy for seen-it-all. Some photographers look to new printing processes, especially if by new you really mean old.

But, my own growing sense of gear-grinding about five years ago led me to understand that GAS and printing processes and travel all fail to address the real problem -- image capture (for lack of a better word.) There is no way to make the external world new to aging eyes. We must find a way to look at an aging world with new eyes.

For a while, digital imagery helped rejuvenate bored film photographers. Now, film is being discovered by young photographers who grew up with digital. But, really, both are now settled technologies. Got a question? There's someone out there to answer it for you. Someone got there before you.

What is missing -- that cure for ennui -- is the realization that there is still something to discover -- in the 'thar be dragons', pre-Google sense of wonder and mystery. Knowing that you're out there discovering something no one else knows. The sense of 'new' is internal, born of the excitement and challenge. Dry plate photography has been my answer. I'm sure there are others. We just need to look beyond the herd.

I just downloaded your "SmugMug" original, and regret to inform you that I much prefer the original color image, and can't think of any manipulation to improve it.

A little slow to the party here, but yesterday the post just completely flew over my head. Anyway the last two images are just plain Ugly and cultural milieu, style, whatever has nothing to do with. I think the best rendering is the first: has the greatest tonal subtlety (sp), nice detail throughout. I suppose some folks might object to the lack of black. Overall it's a testament to the skill of the photographer that you could pull it off with a mere 12 Mpixel camera. The "Pentax" and "Hasselblad" examples are kinda grim,too.

Firstly:- what a nice colour photo! I wouldn't be tempted to think about converting it to BW if it was mine.
Secondly, having downloaded it and tried my very small armoury of BW conversion techniques I could not come up with anything nice to look at.
Should I be in awe of your technique or just pleased that I'm never tempted to buy Panasonic?

Although it's possible that "having seen it all" might make one blasé or bored or somehow less interested in photography (or anything else for that matter), the irony is that people who have seen that much can be a very valuable resource to others.

Of course, it need not be the case that having seen it all has any of those effects. I am sure it differs from person to person.

I think that the very fact that not much is new to you (or anyone) is the kind of knowledge that could be useful to someone that is new to a field.

I actually thought yesterday's post was rather interesting. My only comment is that the picture from the Panny is way over processed--too much work in post. I have an Oly EPL-1 that handles scenes quite well via simple RAW conversion.

Question -
Gray-scale images only, or do you except toned images also, i.e. Duotone, Tritone, etc.

Your 2001 image looks like how I used to print everything as a teenager - on Grade 5 paper because I thought it was 'edgy' and moody. As I matured I aimed for your Adams-esque 2012 look but usually ended up with your 1965. I just couldn't be bothered with the mucking around in the darkroom doing hand shadow puppets under the enlarger!

I understand that feeling, I'm a graphic designer for 10 years and I'm too at a phase where I have a hard time finding stimulating graphic design work.

But graphic design is a much more commercial-oriented activity (it would be strange to do it as a hobby) so, in this case, I might be in a advantage regarding photography: for me it functions as a escape-route from design and I hope this can work to mantain a continuous and fresh interest.

PS: I've just send my take on the B/W conversion.

Now that I've seen the "color version" I like it a lot. Subtle color, painterly, wall worthy.

Come on Mike & Denise, I'm pretty sure I'm older than either of you and I find things that surprise me all the time. I admit it gets harder with age and I'm not as easily impressed as I used to be but the "I've seen it all" feeling is partly your own attitude. Denise is right that we have to find new ways of looking but that includes looking at other people's photographs.

My take on the conversion was probably closest to the 1987 but I didn't look at an y of them after downloading the image and before interpreting it. I just did what felt right and I agree with Bill & Robin that the color version is quite nice.

Pertaining to your comments about derivation:


An interesting four-part series about that very topic as it relates to the creative arts, and how economics has complicated things with all the lawsuits and such. Really well done, worth the time.

Isn't it the responsibility of those who claim to have see it all to create something new? ;-))

I have a scattergun of reaction to this post.

First, it seems to me that this is a continuation of sorts of the context posts stared by Ctein. You seem to be saying that you are unable to see photographs simply in themselves; they are always seen in context of other photographs.

I feel rather glad for my apparent lack of sophistication in the formal history and languages of photography. I can photograph the same subject in much the same way many times, except for the endless variations of light, and get great pleasure from the result.

I've just been watching videos of the history of Western Art and have been struck again at how often, especially since the Impressionists, painters have revisited the same subjects again and again. And how often they have painted responses or commentaries to the works of others.

I even get the occasional pleasure of seeing, for the first time, some famous photograph, and seeing in it an echo or presentiment of something I've done.

That brings me to something about derivativeness. I believe that Jung* was right in his theory of archetypes. Imagine taking a group isolated people who had never seen a photograph, giving them cameras and looking at the results after they had had time to become familiar with them.

Then show them to people like yourself with a deep experience of photography and perhaps painting. I believe you would find that these viewers would find much that seemed derivative to them, even though that could not be the case.

Certain ways of 'seeing' are inherent to the human mind and vision, and will tend to arise spontaneously.

Now to the immediate subject at hand. I do enjoy occasionally working at length with one, generally simple, image. There is something about trying all sorts of different processing treatments that tends to shake up the usual patterns of treatment that I fall into, sometimes give me an insight about how to photograph in the first place. This study of an extremely ordinary subject is something I did a few days ago.

There is nothing at all wrong with the original, in that it is a fairly accurate representation of the subject. Likewise, the simple desaturation B&W conversion is fine. I simply like to see where else I can go, often in different directions. It also points up to me some of the strengths and weaknesses of B&W vis a vis color.

As to your illustrative images, unfortunately, the JPEG from your camera has sufficient, unsophisticated sharpening to put halos around the birds which are a real hindrance to further processing. It you aren't going to use RAW, you might at least turn down the sharpening.

I did my version without looking back at your versions, so it is simply a version that I feel looks good. I've included another, quite different version I also like - except for the halos.


* And. of course, Plato and others of the ancient world.

I understand the feeling of having seen it all. I don't have your breadth of experience, but there are only so many pictures that you can look at online without seeing vast repetitive memes and styles copied ad nauseum.

Sometimes I feel like I am hobbled by the 150 years of photographic history that has proceeded my entry into taking pictures. But then I find genres or styles that resonate with me and I want to make it my own, even if it's not terribly original. For example, I find that I am really attracted to a formal portrait style that is not currently popular and looks old fashioned. But I do so like making portraits that way.

I fell a little bit silly now...I really thought, those were pictures from different times...the cloud patterns should've made it obvious, it was just one photo...

Dear Folks,

I'm picking up a misperception of what Mike said, perhaps?

Just because one has "seen it all" doesn't mean one doesn't enjoy seeing it again. I ate a lobster once, it was very good. I expect I shall do so again and enjoy it.

Seen redwoods. More than once. Liked'em every time. (Take that R. Reagan!)

When was the last time you saw a genuinely original movie? 99% of the good movies made are "derivative" in the way Mike's using the term. So that means we don't enjoy them?

Mike likes a lot of my photos-- he's told me so. He even owns some.Very little (none??) of my work is original in the sense he's talking about.

Experiencing something genuinely new is a thrill all its own, but most of us get lots of pleasure from revisiting known delights.

pax / Ctein

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