without passing through pretty good.” (Bill Withers, songwriter, singer)
A while back (I decline to be more specific since it was quite a while) I was going through prints that I had made a decade or so earlier. One after another I was saying to myself “That print is terrible! Why did I print it that way?” Since I’m pretty organized about such things I looked at the negative number on the back of one of them, got that negative out for another try. Dang! What a difference – that print sings!
When the pandemic closed things down I was going through prints that I had made a decade or so earlier. (Can you hear this one coming?) Yep, the print I made a year ago made the one that “sings” look pretty tuneless.
You can’t get to wonderful without passing through pretty good. I don’t know if I’m “wonderful” yet but I’m fairly certain that “pretty good” is in the past. It clearly paid me (and I’ll bet it will pay you) to keep plugging along at whatever you do.
Found this article on The History Press Website. (Street photography captured my attention when I first got into photography but I don't shoot as much of it as I should.) Hope you enjoy the article!
The history of street photographyThe saying goes, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ and street photography certainly lives up to this reputation. Since its inception in Victorian times, humankind has had a fascination with capturing not only the real, raw and gritty but also the mundane.Forms of photography have been around for millennia with the camera obscura (latin for ‘dark room’) where the image is projected through a pin hole into a dark room or screen. It wasn’t until the 19th century that a process was invented to ‘fix’ the image onto metal and glass plates (and later paper) to keep for posterity.
What we take photographs of in the 21st century is virtually the same as what the Victorians took photographs of - streets, landscapes, people, sports, stills etc. The first known photograph ever taken was of a Parisian street scene in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the first known portrait was taken in 1839 by John William Draper of his sister Dorothy and the first selfie was taken in 1839 by a young man called Robert Cornelius. The innovation of shutter speeds a few decades later enabled freeze motion, which meant portraits could be taken in a matter of seconds rather than a person sitting absolutely still for tens of minutes (hence portraits of Victorians tended to be somewhat stern looking) and also meant action shots could be taken without blur.
The first photograph ever taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in the Burgundy region of France.
The first street photograph. The image of a man has been captured as he stood still long enough whilst having his boots shined in 1838 by Louis Daguerre in Paris.
The first 'selfie' by a man called Robert Cornelius in Philadelphia 1839.
The first photographic portrait of a woman by John Draper of his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper in 1839/40 in the USA.
A Victorian photographic studio in 1893. Note the metal headrest to hold a person still for a given length of timeSo what is street photography exactly?From exclusivity to ubiquity, street photography’s definition has evolved alongside the opening up of the medium to all people of all backgrounds in conjunction with its technological advances from its origin of metal and glass plates to film to digital.
The definition of street photography (or photographer) is also different from 1918 to today. In Edwardian times it used to be a photographer who would take portraits on the street for a fee. During the two World Wars, the format could also have been argued to be under the umbrella term of ‘war photography’ and possibly photojournalism. Aside from journalists, ordinary people and hobbyist’s priorities did not tend towards luxuries such as film for their cameras (if they could afford one) during these tough years.
Post war saw the growing affordability of cameras and the consequent boom in candid and social documentary photography. Photographers such as Henri-Cartier Bresson and Diane Arbus who documented the everyday weird and wonderful in the 1950’s were probably the pioneers of what we are familiar with today.
The photograph becomes a type of ‘Memento Mori’ for bygone times and can elicit a powerful psychological response. Every minute and moment of life can be photographed and kept for all time. If we look at photos of a street scene in 1980s New York with the Twin Towers in the background, we immediately remember the tragedy of 2001, where we were and the other haunting images of that day. Another example would be those from Shirley Baker, images of kids playing in the streets of Salford in the 1960’s. If the viewer recognises the clothes, hairstyles etc, they would reminisce over their own childhood memories. It uniquely indulges the nostalgia within us.
It can be said that the pace of change in social and cultural demographics has picked up during the 20th and 21st centuries and street photography provides a wonderful (and at times, discreet) way of documenting our way of life for future generations. Anyone with a phone in their hand has the ability to take a street scene photograph. It’s the age of the ‘happy snapper’, instagramming every moment of life.
Check out this link for the article if you want to see the photographs mentioned in the article.
Our club offers many opportunities to "create new masterpieces" with other club members.
Of course you probably know about Debra Valpy's "arting parties" on Thursdays, and Honey B has also been hosting "paint and sip" on Zoom.
But did you know that Paul Illian has been hosting and painting "plein air" every Tuesday at 9am until "whenever" at the North SeaTac Botanical Gardens and Seiko Japanese Gardens? As of this writ- ing, Paul has been by himself painting except for the morning l came to snap photos. l have been there a few times this spring, and every time l walk in, there is something new to photo-
graph. This time l decided to come in when the light is best to hang out with Paul. He invites you to come out and paint with him.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term "plein air"... plein air painting is about "leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape" (l got that off the internet).
As our club's goals are numerous and each artist within our club wants different things from the club, we want to reflect that in the activities we offer. We are a social club that loves to talk all things art, we do watch and learn from other artists, we want to promote and sell our art, and of course we want to create more and more artwork. Plein Air at these gardens fulfills all of those goals
1) Get out in the fresh air, invite a friend and get to know your fellow artists at one of our beautiful local gardens. You may even make a new art buddy in the process.
2) You can watch and learn from other artists while you create your own art.
3) Paint some beautiful scenes from this garden. There is a lot of variety in these gardens, including a nice Japa- nese garden. Each week you can paint a different scene.
4) Promote your art. People sometimes come up to talk to you and watch you paint.
5) Before or after you do plein air take a brisk walk around the beautiful gardens to scope out your next "plein air" out- ing, or just come and paint with Paul.
6) Not a painter? Drawers and photogra- phers will also love this place.
There is a multitude of flowers, foliage, water features, walking trails, and trees in the gardens, and as mentioned...the Japanese garden is beautiful. The large nearby duck pond is often filled with birds. As of this writing, the lilacs are in full bloom, the iris gardens are blooming, and the Rhodes are in various stages of flowering. Spring is a fantas- tic time to do plein air as the budding foliage is all shades of green.
Come out and do "plein air with Paul, Tuesday's 9-11, or leave whenever you decide you are done.
I think about camera portraits a lot – thinking about them is a lot easier than doing them. It’s easy to take a photograph of somebody – click, a wash and brush up in a photo editing program and you’re there. Making a portrait with a camera is a lot harder. The great Henri Cartier-Bresson said that “Portraits are the most difficult. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of the person and his shirt, which is not an easy thing.”
Moreover a drawn or painted portrait (from a live model – not from a photograph) contains time. The sitter and the painter see a lot of each other and the result is not an instant in time. A photograph is – sort of.
The idea of time in a portrait came to me several years ago at Bumbershoot – when Bumbershoot was really an umbrella festival for all kinds of art and performance. Gage Academy sponsored a “drawing slam” – bring your own materials, they supplied several models and their faculty was roaming about giving advice as requested. I wandered through the drawing slam and was drawn to one of the models, a not-young-but-very-attractive woman in sort of Italian peasant costume. She was present – beyond the literal sense. Perhaps better described as “belonging” to where she was and why she was there. She was there to be seen and a drawing or a photograph of her would have been a portrait. Sitters like that are few and far between. I have worked with perhaps three.
What brought this to mind recently was a presentation by Robert Kalman, a photographer who does “tintypes” (more accurately wet-plate collodion) portraits. The exposure time for a tintype is 4 to 10 seconds depending on the light. Nearly nobody can hold the “say cheese” kind of expression for that long. Before the photographer opens the shutter the sitter has time to become rigid and suspicious or to become composed, relaxed, and present. Kalman’s portraits (the latter) contain, to my eye, the same feeling of time that a painted portrait carries. One of his sitters told him that was the only picture she had that “looks like me”. Well, a tintype is a mirror image – what the sitter saw was what she sees looking in a mirror.
Now there’s an idea! I recently did a portrait of a lovely 12 year old girl. I sent her two prints one of which was reversed left to right to make it a mirror image. I asked her and her mom to tell me which one looked more like her. Mom chose the “normal” girl the “mirror image”. I’m still figuring out what to do with that bit of insight.
I haven’t done many portraits in the last year. People wearing masks are not exciting subjects.
Who hasn’t heard about the Bayeux Tapestry? It is a 70-meter-long story of William the Conqueror’s conquest of England? The tapestry, which is technically an embroidery and not a tapestry, features 600 characters, 500 animals of all kinds, 200 horses. 50 trees – and so much more. It illustrates the conquest of England in 1066 by William of Normandy. It was probably commissioned by William’s half brother Bishop Odo. According to Wikipedia it depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England, concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex and King of England. The Tapestry culminates in the Battle of Hastings. It is thought to date to the 11th century, within a few years after the battle. It tells the story from the point of view of the conquering Normans but is now agreed to have been made in England.
Well, if you’ve never seen it in person, you
can see it on-line at https://
explore-online/. It is rather spectacular.
The site also has lots of information about how the tapestry survived throughout the centuries, what happened to it during WWII, and how it’s been refurbished and put on exhibit.
According to the website: For the first time, you will be able to freely explore the entire Bayeux Tapestry with a never seen quality of images! This project has been led by the City of Bayeux and the DRAC Normandie (Ministry of Culture) with the assistance of the “Fabrique de patrimoines en Normandie” who photographed the embroidery. The high-resolution images were then reconstituted by the University of Caen and the CNRS. This panorama is the reference image of the S.D.I.S tool (Spatialized Documentary Information System), produced to assist scientific research on the work, and to give access to a rich documentation to the public.
Check it out.
Cranky Letter Department
I hate Zoom.
This nonsense of sitting in front of a com-
puter and staring at artwork on a screen instead of staring at the real artwork is getting pretty old.
While I’m at it, I hate sitting in front of a computer looking at a face in a little box instead of looking at a real face .
Moreover I hate looking at art on a screen, Zoom or not.
One of the pundits said that the history of art as you see it in a textbook is really the history of artwork that will reproduce well in a quarter-page illustration. Michelangelo's David is the same size as a Japanese netsuke. My addition to that is that all artwork looks the same represented by a 1024x960 pixel jpeg on a computer screen with unknown color balance.
All that said, just today I watched a lecture by Todd Hido (photographer in the Bay area) arranged by the art gallery of the University of Kentucky. About 100 peo- ple attended from all over the western world. I regularly attend a critique hosted by a Portland (Oregon) photographer — with attendees from upstate New York, Tennessee, Burnaby BC, northern California, Chicago, Calgary.
I guess that Zoom and it’s ilk have a place, an important place. But, dang! It’s not the only place.
Back to the real world ASAP
Here is an interesting article on artdailys website by Issam Ahmed
Our modern plague – Coronavirus, Covid-19 – has turned our lives on their heads. Masks, hand washing, no face touching, no hugging or hand shaking or visiting friends. And the newest spike in cases of this disease threatens to screw up the seasonal holidays. For me that’s Thanksgiving and Christmas. The virus has changed how I grocery shop. I haven’t “seen” my family for 9 months. Of course, Zoom, FaceTime, Skype – these technologies have saved me. Sort of. I do get to “see” my family on my computer.
The same goes for my cello lessons. Virtual. My son is working from home and spends a lot of time in Zoom meetings. My grandchildren are learning virtually on their computers. And we artists, we spend time on Zoom interacting with other artists. It saves us. But how does Zoom and the virus change our art?
Well, zoom meetings are a different experience. For some groups, and here I’m thinking of my Colored Pencil group, zoom meetings allow members too far away to drive to local on-site meetings, to join in with artists they don’t normally get to interact with. This is a benefit. Another benefit is you can attend meetings in your jammies and bunny slippers! Sharing your recent WIP? When you’ve got a talented guy (Ron Hammond) who can take your photographs and put them into a presentation format so everyone can see them well, that’s a great thing. It encourages discussion about the art as well as providing the artist some friendly critique.
Personally, I rather like the Zoom format. I have taken several art classes via Zoom and a workshop with a well-known Colored Pencil artist. The charge for these learning opportunities are discounted because they aren’t “live” and in person. So that’s good. It means I have more $$ to spend on art supplies!
One thing I have found, though, with all this time inside, is that I don’t produce any more art. I’m not sure what that’s all about. I’ve organized my art supplies. Sorted my colored pencils. Categorized my watercolors. Made sure my pastels are dusted. Ordered my pads of paper by size. Sharpened all my drawing pencils. But, while I have lots and lots and lots of ideas for paintings, drawings, colored pencil pieces – and time to do them! – I don’t seem to get them done. And I think I’ve sussed out the reason: too much time spent watching/listening to news programs (which I could do just as well while I’m arting!) and then being stressed about the news, the weather, the virus. And this is another benefit from having Zoom meetings. Seeing all of you and listening to your news, seeing your work, brightens my day and improves my spirit. Thank you.
COLOR CONSTANCY OR IS IT THE POWER OF GRAY?
There as an article that I recently came across (you can read it here) that was really fascinating. Dan Dos Santos sent it to me as well and I thought I would write a quick post about it. It shows a plate of strawberries (keep reading, that isn’t the fascinating part :)).
The contrast has been reduced and the shadow color is shifted to green. The strawberries look, as you would expect, red. But when you examine the image closer with the eye dropper tool, you soon see that there is no red. It seems impossible. The entire image is in fact made of greens of various saturations.
The article concludes that the reason we see the strawberries as red is due to “color constancy”. The article quotes Bevel Conway, and expert on visual perception from the National Eye Institute:
Conway said this illusion is also helped out by the fact that we recognize the objects as strawberries, which we very strongly associate with the color red, so our brain is already wired to be looking for those pigments
I think that color constancy is legitimate, and it might add to our perception in this image, but I don’t think it fully explains what is happening. I believe it is because of a different phenomenon. That is that when a gray is placed next to a color of higher saturation and similar hue and value, that gray will take on the appearance of the complementary color.
The reason the strawberries look red is because they are actually less saturated greens next to higher saturated greens and so they start to look like the complement of green. Let’s take a closer look at the image and the palette.
I reduced the image down to 256 colors to simplify the colors and get cleaner color samples. It looks the same at this point:
Here is what the palette (below) looks like for the above image. It is arranged according to hue. The top rows being a little cooler and warming as it gets to the bottom rows. Look at how the grays fluctuate in color temperature according to how much saturation there is.
*if you take the palette in to photoshop, there are a couple pixels in the palette that are outliers
Here is a crop of the image with colors swatches picked out. Note how in the close up the “red” is still perceived even though you can’t really tell that strawberries are the subject.
The swatches across the top of the image correspond to the pixel at the center of the circle. Look at how the colors that are more blue or green are higher in saturation. As the color starts to appear more red, the hue shifts a tiny amount (still blue/green), but the saturation drops off significantly and the gray looks more and more red. The most “red” color, the one 4th from the left is actually the least saturated color in the crop with a saturation of just 13%.
If we shift the colors more yellow/green, the strawberries start to look purple/magenta:
Here is the 256 color palette for the image above.
This corresponds to the traditional color wheel showing complements across from each other
Here is the image shifted more towards blue. The strawberries now look distinctly orange. If color constancy were the only principle in effect, we should still see red strawberries, because we know they are red, but in fact they look orange, reflecting the complement of blue.
I have written about this in a previous post if you want to see this in action with some paintings:
Feeling Grey Today
I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks!
I created a new image to remove some of the recognizable elements and just focus on the effect. Here the image has been run through the mosaic filter, rotated and cropped. I did this to remove any perception of strawberries. If you take the image into PS and check the value range of the “strawberries” you will see that there is very little change in value, just saturation. This is important to get the effect.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you
are the easiest person to fool. Richard Feynman
Each month I put a new quotation on my web- site’s home page. This one by physicist Richard Feynman is the first one that I have used there that is not by a photographer. My friend Steve emailed it to me for my collection (thanks, Steve) and it triggered a memory.
A photographer acquaintance had the extreme good fortune to take a weekend workshop with the great Ruth Bernhard. It turned out to be her last workshop - a few years be- fore her death at 101 in 2006. In addition to being a gifted photographer herself her reputation held her to be an equally gifted teacher and mentor.
Part of the workshop was, of course, a review of portfolios brought by the attendees. Ms. Bernhard looked very thoughtfully and carefully at my acquaintance's portfolio of landscapes. Even though her own photo- graphs were rarely if ever landscapes she made insightful comments on several of the prints as she looked through them again and again. But she kept coming back to one print without commenting on it. She ques- tioned my acquaintance about his intentions for it and his printing of it.
She finally said to him "You really want this print to work, don't you?" (yes) "And you know in your heart that it does not, don't you?" (long pause -- yes). As Feynman said "... you are the easiest person to fool."
How do we as photographers, painters, sketchers, ... keep from fooling ourselves -
or at least keep ourselves from doing so frequently? It seems to me that we face two issues: "How do I want this piece to look?" and "What do I do to make it look like that?"
The second of these is technique. If I go to a workshop with a master of my medium I'll be better at it immediately after doing so. (Well, I may have to practice a while first.)
The first question also has a very simple but much longer-term answer. Look at art. Look at lots of art. Look at all kinds of art. When you see a painting, a drawing, a pho- tograph, a print, a collage, a weaving, a stat- ue ... that excites you try to discover why it does so. Do this a lot and perhaps you can generalize from the specific to the benefit of your own work. It worked for me.
But that's not all. If you look at art with the goal of finding out "what works" – look with that goal at your own work as well. Yes, the opinion of someone you respect is helpful and if you listen with an open heart and mind it will help you to look at your next piece more realistically.
But it's still you that has to make the decision. Photographer Jerry Uelsmann once did a lecture in which he showed every one of
the prints he had made in the previous year -- 50 odd of them. Of those only six did he consider successful enough to go into his portfolio. He, obviously, is very good at not fooling himself.
I now have about 60 candidate negatives for my current project that I intend to be com- prised of about 20 prints. Only two days ago I printed one that I really want to work but know in my heart that it doesn't. I'm quite a ways from 20 "keepers".
[Adapted from a “What’s New” post on my website, www.ronfstop.com]