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Thursday, 10 July 2014


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Another insightful post from TOP. I read Elisabeth's thoughtful comment earlier and enjoyed it very much. This follow up post helps clarify how I can use/do that type of analysis in a skillful way myself.

As I continue developing my own work, I'm working to figure out if (in Mike's words) I am yet "... skilled, competent, and practiced enough to actually achieve what they're after...". I think having that as an open question may indicate where I am =)

One of the most difficult things for any creator is choosing not only the subject but how it's presented (as you more eloquently than I) stated. I usually "sit" on a subject for months after shooting to let it take on a life of its own. Gary Winogrand did this. I do work a photograph right away, but my best is those I have allowed to "age."
Allowing for the photographer to make his own interpretation and accepting that interpretation is (for me) the Zen of the entire process.
Just my two pesos.

Interesting. My reaction was pretty much immediate: great photo. Love the subtext.

Then I read the text and thought 'wow Ctein and ddb sure care a lot about stuff I don't care about much' and that was pretty much that.

I think it's a great picture whether the spray is well defined or not. But it's not my picture! If ddb wanted it in velvet, good for him!

Perhaps it's wiser for photographers not to show their 'working out' if they crop and clone to make their pictures? Unless that manipulation is an integral part of their general working practice - Gursky.

"His picture, he's the one who gets to say."

But, Mike, this is one of the ONLY places I've seen on the vast, mindless Internet where intelligent, thoughtful discourse about photography ever takes place. I did not consider my additional (unpublished at this writing) comments to that referenced article to be "piling-on" to Elisabeth's keen observations. Just agreeing and adding my thoughts. That's ok. Isn't it?

I appreciate your slightly defensive reflex. But David looks like a grown-up, and I know that Ctein certainly is. They should each easily withstand intelligent critique and alternate observations. And alternate insights are what make photography fun. Otherwise we might as well make cuckoo clocks.

[Certainly no problem, Ken. I wasn't scolding and I liked your comment too. --Mike]

Speaking of integrity, I haven't seen any comments regarding the digital removal of the bit of ladder that would normally still be there on the right side of the photo once the perspective correction was done. It used to be that digital removal of elements from the original print was cause for uproar and dyspepsia - have things changed? Since it's not an important element and it makes the lines cleaner I'm not so bothered in terms of "truthiness," but I agree with Elisabeth Spector that the original negative strikes me as "real" and the printed one as "art." The ladder, ropes, and steps add an authenticity to the image. They're actually two different works of art, it seems. One is the archetypal, the other is the mortal. It makes me think that a great photography exhibition could be made of pairing originals (with general exposure adjustments but not cropping, etc) with the final version created by the photographer and printer. Their juxtaposition would make each all the more interesting.

I prefer the wider view of the uncropped shot but also prefer the lack of distortion in the cropped version.
One of the long-running and still not solved technical problems with 35mm SLR(and DSLR) cameras is the presence of barrel distortion in images made with normal and especially wide angle lenses.
I like big, epic, normal-to-wide angle shots, but I hate that distortion.
Note: The barrel distortion present in the uncropped shot leads me to strongly suspect that it was shot with the Pentax, since Leica lenses typically didn't have that much distortion.

I second Ken's comments; both about the blog entry, *and* the fact that this is the only place where meaningful discourse on photography actually takes place. My comments re: Elizabeth's excellent and thoughtful response was not in the spirit of "piling on", but that it provided an important (for me) insight into how I should view thinking about my own work.

All of these last three blog entries about DD-B's image have been excellent, both insightful and important.

DD-B does point out, on his website post, that removing the ladder was Ctein's idea. While DD-B agreed, this does raise a tangential issue to the discussion, i.e., the role a printer assumes in a collaborative effort. One wonders if DD-B would have made the same choice on his own or, even if he had, lacked the expertise to execute the edit.

This is no way changes the points already raised, nor in any way discredits the decisions; the creator has final say. And the history of photography is full of examples of noted photographers working collaboratively with printers. It's just another element in the discussion.

Dear Jeff,

Ah, the relationship between the photographer and the printer. A subject near and dear to my heart; I wrote three columns about it a few years back:


And this semi-related one:


On the more general matter of “befores” and “afters,” here's what I wrote in my preface to POST EXPOSURE [ http://ctein.com/PostExposure2ndIllustrated.pdf ]:

" Ansel Adams observed that the film is the score and the print is the performance. When I exibited my best prints to an appreciative audience, I feel akin to the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her companions were supposed to see only that majestic head with the spouting flames and smoke and to ignore the little man behind the curtain pulling the levers. If I am successful as a printmaker, my viewers look at my work with joy at its beauty. They don't know the tricks, manipulations, and outright visual deceptions that go into making a print that inspires awe."

As Ken Tanaka has pointed out, what DDB and I are doing here is pulling back the curtain and you're seeing all those funny levers and the funny little man. It's a useful and educational exercise, but one does not make a habit of it for the very good reason that it ends up distracting from the ART.

Back in the darkroom days, people would occasionally remove offending objects from photographs. It was quite arduous––lots of bleaching and retouching. So I could've made that ladder disappear then, but whether I would have gone to the huge amount of trouble to do so would depend entirely upon how important the photograph was to me. 99.9% of the time, you just decide that it's not all that important.

What digital printing has done has been to make it so much easier. The photograph that would have been just perfect except for the damned power line that you couldn't get out of the frame, because you can't levitate and move forward 20 feet? That's now a solvable problem without dozens of hours of handwork.

Of course, such power can be used for eviel…



pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I usually like the little quirks lurking in the corners (icing on the cake- one of the reasons not to crop), but every dog has his day. This subject is so "centered," the composition that best furthers and exemplifies that aspect, strengthens it. Clean, straight lines work here, and the miscellaneous details serve to distract (rather than add character) from the ongoing dynamism between the giant stoic Lincoln and his two more animated assistants. My 2.

Is it really about marurity? I'm not sure. More than other art forms, photography is often judged in terms of 'right" and "wrong'. Perhaps this has something to do with the technical nature of photography or with its quite diverse purposes and applications. The fact is in many cases it is difficult to distinguish 'art' from "craft' on observation alone. The observer must be explicitly informed of the creator's intentions in order to react 'appropriately". Of course, there are many exceptions; you can't look at a Giacomelli and think of technicalities. However, at this day and age a certain aesthetic has become almost obligatory for the wide acceptance of any photographic image and it closely associates with 'craft'. To communicate well, a photograph must possess high sharpness and clarity, thematic simplicity, a sense of geometric correctness, vibrant colous (where applicable) or tonality (if monochromatic), low in noise and in grain and highly detailed. The problem is those criteria take away from the 'artistic' sense of art, which has a strong affinity to imperfection (after all art is created by humans, not by machines). I do not wish to fall into the trap of trying to define 'art', but I feel that these days it is taken lightly. True artists do not need advice from the latest photography guru to communicate their emotions and unique vision. They don't have to comply to fashionable aesthetic trends and certainly do not aim to flatter their audience.

What you say (re the artist-creator having the final say) is of course true, but all artists-creators benefit from criticism. I wonder if DD-B would've done things differently if he had Elisabeth's commentary in mind before settling upon the "final" image. (In quotes because nothing is final in this realm).

My view -- and as you say this is what I am entitled to -- is that Elisabeth is correct. The earlier image is preferable to the latter. It is more worthy of a second look, more capable of making me ... think. About Lincoln, the workers, race relations, class, beauty, life itself.

The final image? Not so much.

Hooray, we are talking about a photograph, not how many angels can fit on the EVF of an Olympus. I do notice the grease pencil marks on the original proof sheet pretty clearly crop out the ladder. It would seem that including it in the image was never a strong desire. Personally I like the adjusted version. Lincoln is much more imposing, but as you point out it is David's image and he gets to make the choice and the rest of us can only like it or not.

Removing things with Photoshop is only an ethical issue if the photograph is being presented as a journalistic or "realistic" representation of what was there before.

For purely artistic pieces it doesn't seem to me that there is any issue.

On the general theme: I think there are interesting "truths" about art and culture that are hard for people completely internalize.

1. On the one hand, consumers don't own and can't control what artists give to them.

2. On the other hand, artists can't really control the life of the artifact after they have released it into the wild, so to speak.

This causes, it seems to me, a certain amount of conflict.

Addendum: resisting "perfection" can be very hard, can't it? But, at least to me, the fascination of photography is its natural predilection to record more than expected and for those little bonuses to powerfully enrich (or ruin) an image.

One of the primary reasons why I accept very few commercial projects is that most clients want, and have been spoiled to expect, sanitized perfection. Down to the nit. My A7r captured too much surface detail for one client's tastes recently. I take no joy in defacing to taste.

Personally I'd love to see you have a regular feature column that offers two or more versions of an image and solicits "Which and Why" opinions.

So what exactly is wrong with cuckoo clocks?

"The perspective feels more like what you experience when you see the memorial in person. Like it is towering over you. The corrected image seems a little too squared away and not as natural."

I wonder whether this comment reflects more what people experience when viewing the billions of images *not* shot with view cameras or corrected in post processing and, therefore, presenting the appearance of leaning backward. Ubiquity breeds "normalcy?"

The first amendment is the right to free speech, it did not include requiring anyone to listen.

Same goes for images: The photographer is free to create the work. The viewer is not required to agree with it.

But hey, I like the "manipulations" on the DD-B print.

The enthusiast photography world would be a more interesting place if its members created photos to critique other photos. This is not to put down Elisabeth's thoughtful and considered comments, but just a general comment.

This is probably an elliptic way of doing what Mike suggests, but one of the most effective ways to show how it should have been done is to actually show how it should be done.

Reminds me of the crop or no crop arguments. To each his own. I absolutely never under any circumstance ever crop, burn, dodge or do perspective corrections, unless I have to to realize the image I had in my mind when I made the photograph. (add sound of me spitting on the floor)

Quick Poll Mike? How many of those posting a preference have purchased a print?

Just reading the post and the featured comments, I have a hunch that opinions might be slightly influenced by seeing the "before" and "after" versions. I wonder how much people's preference for the original print is influenced by their knowledge that the original has been altered. I think that the "purist" photography debate may have a lot to do with this.

I am certainly a fan of corrected perspective, yet I find myself wishing it would have been done in camera with a view camera, which shouldn't factor in if the end result is better. Yet somehow I have this personal hang-up with digital corrections. It is a double-edged sword because on the one hand, we should all replace these new tools, on the other hand, if taken to an extreme, these new tools could really make our art form obsolete. Sooner or later, graphic design will swallow photography as we know it. Just look back at the post of the photography award a while back where all the winners were highly altered images.

It is a slippery slope that I think skews opinions of this particular print, and I will go out on a limb by saying that it might have sold better had people not seen the before and after.

[Possibly, but then, sales are not the number one priority of this site. It's just as important if not more to have something to talk about and to discuss the issues it raises. At least, I personally value that more than a few more sales. --Mike]

Sorry to 'pile-in' on the topic, but I thought Elisabeth Spector's post was one of the most thoughtful and insightful reader's comments I've ever read on the internet. She opened up and clarified for me exactly why my idle brain had lazily preferred the original scan without really reflecting more deeply on the reasons. I'm really thankful for her insight and the detailed way she presented it.
I also think the original scan is a far more artistically satisfying image: it has layers of both visual and semantic complexity that I feel would keep it 'alive' hanging on the wall for a much longer period than the reconstructed digital version. The new version strikes me as an iconic portrait - it has more 'grandeur' than the original - but it has less tension, drama and depth in the different areas and elements of the image. It feels more like hanging a portrait of some aloof and eminent relative on the wall - impressive at first, but invisible after a few weeks.
Great TOP discussion!

I thought this type of photography was all about the reality captured and rising above "sanitized perfection." Is this photo still considered street photography* now that it has been manipulated? I understand cleaning up an image, but cloning and removing significant objects from the scene brings into question the authenticity of the reality captured.

*Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment.

... Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying "unmanipulated" scenes, with usually unaware subjects.[2]

2. Gleason, Timothy. “The Communicative Roles of Street and Social Landscape Photography.” Simile vol. 8, no. 4 (n.d.): 1–13.

What a wonderful discussion. Thanks to Elisabeth for starting it. It shows once again how approaches to photography differ. Erics comment reminded me of my own.

I always crop. Always. Not because I never get the composition right in the first place, but because I absolutely dislike the 3:2 and 4:3 aspect ratios.

And I always correct perceptive in each single mage with straight vertical lines. Always. Mostly in camera with leveling it on a tripod using the virtual horizon (D800e) or with the help of the horizontal/vertical level indicators in the viewfinder when shooting handheld (E-M5).

The latter has become an obsession that is painful at times. I know that I am losing good images. Either I cannot control perspective at all - or I am too slow leveling both axis and the moment is gone.

If I was in DD-B's position in '75 I most likely wouldn't have taken the shot in the first place...What a shame!

It's the original for me as well, I'm afraid. But neither, imo, compares to Joe Lootens' 1940s photograph of the Lincoln Memorial.

My apologies to everyone in advance for this:

"Well, you've certainly taken Lincoln down on his pedestal a notch or two."

Dear Darr,

Ummm, I'm not sure how this impression was created, but DDB does not do “street photography.” I've photographed with him a lot. Sure, he photographs on the street and in public places, but so do I. “Street photography” as a genre, is not his. So, violating its tenets is irrelevant.


Dear Berndt,

As the fellow who is tracking the sales and when they occur, I am quite confident that these articles and discussion on printing and intent have brought in far more sales than they lost. (How do I know? Time-frequency analysis plus familiarity with the sales pattern for lots of the sales.)

I am going to assert that Mike modestly misspoke: indeed, TOP is not just about sales, but the Print Sales **ARE** about sales! So, yes, we try to do things that will enhance sales and not do things that will discourage them. There's a lot of back-and-forth that goes on behind the scenes on just these details.

In this case, the extra interest generated by the articles and discussions far outweighed the number of people who said they got turned off to the photograph.

I am normally not in favor of these kinds of articles, because I think they do distract from the art. You may have noticed that on several of my sales people have asked me to post detailed descriptions of how I printed a photograph and I have generally ducked the question. Because, in my case, there's nothing interesting going on there. It's just geek voyeurism. It's the whole back story on DDB's photograph that makes it unusually interesting.

Even though I don't live inside Mike's head, I can state with high confidence that these kind of comparison articles are most definitely not going to be the norm. This was an unusual case, because of the history of the photograph and the sensibilities and interests of the photographer.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I've never considered doing "street photography", no. So I don't consider this to be street photography. (We'll not-quite-skip the facile observation that it wasn't taken on a street, eh?)

To David:

I can’t tell you how relieved I was by two things: first, your very sincere and gracious response to the discussion about of your photograph, and, second, Ctein’s comment that he thinks the discussion may have helped, not hurt, the success of the print sale. Your transparency about this image was a very unselfish act on your part, and I’m sure I’m not alone in having even deeper respect for you because of it. I got rather queasy when I saw my comment as a Featured Comment (I’d rather stay in the background and talk quietly in the corner to one or a few people at a time, but that’s hard to do on a public internet forum!). I felt even more queasy when I saw the ensuing response. Most of all, I was worried that I had spoken too soon and that I should have waited until after the print sale was over to make my comments. If my comments indirectly helped sales somehow, I just couldn’t be happier!

I also wanted to say that the pictures I’ve seen of the framed print look gorgeous. The effect is very different from looking at just the image itself on the internet. I will no doubt regret not buying a print. Perhaps a tiny bit of me is still holding on to a shred of hope that one day, eventually, you might offer another version of this image from the drum scan! Sorry, I just can’t help myself from saying that, or from reiterating how much I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the original, even with the understanding that it does not reflect your particular vision as well as the final print does. If I were you I’d be doubly proud—not only of the beautiful print you have created with Ctein, but of that original masterpiece that you recognized as something special way back in 1975. Even if you never end up making a print closer to the drum scan version, it will remain in my mind’s eye forever (I can’t say that about more than a handful of images I’ve seen over my lifetime).

Best of luck with the print sale, and thanks again for letting us all see behind the curtain, so to speak. Initial queasiness aside, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

I've slowly learned that small online jpegs are indeed very different from prints, and that my judgement of a photo can also change a lot depending on its size. So I'm looking forward to seeing the fully realized print, my first order other than Ctein's bargain bridge.

Mike and Ctein,

thank you guys for taking the time to address my comment. Please don't understand it as a criticism of the printing or sales method either.

A friend who I believe was the photographer for one of your print offers a while back is part of a group that meets regularly to critique one another's prints. As he remarked earlier this week, "There are many ways to interpret a photograph," this in reference to the notion that there is "one right way."

I'm late to the party on this one, but wanted to note that I agree with your key points.

Also, and I know this likely matters only to me, I prefer the print sale version...albeit with the caveat that both are likely very different in person than on screen. The sale version feels more intimate to me, more emotional.

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