I refer to a phenomena so common, terrible, intriguing and mindless that it not only pegs you down in quick sand, but causes divorce, brain discoloring and smug neighbors? For instance, why do I waste my time writing this blog? Is it the public masturbation shared with all the other jerks writing blogs about subjects no one cares about? Or is it trying to sadistically poke your brain? Perhaps it is the frustration knowing that both of us wasted another day without furthering society, our morality, world peace or truth in advertising? How about the waste of lost dreams? You get it? Do I have a point or not?

“What point”, you ask. The point is the point about waste. Waste such as the leaves floating about in a lifeless desert. Waste such as the rats in your toilet making you flee to your backyard. Waste such as throwing up because today it is yet another day bringing you that much closer to death. Look around and there is plenty of waste to be seen by your yellowed, blood shot eye or smelled by a smashed in nose. But the waste you see, smell or feel is just the tip of the ice berg. The biggest waste is within, below periscope depth, slippery, unseen and without control.

“Within what”? “Within my bread box”? Certainly. “Within my donations to Sudanese kids”? Canceled years ago. “Within that pledge to lose weight”? Don’t remember that one. No, no, the scope is wider than any of those little things. I’m thinking about the waste within you, within all of you, the waste that makes becoming a contributor to humanity very unlikely. The black hole in your soul. The garbage can in your heart.

“Yeas”, you hiss. “I got no black hole. My garbage can is over by the garage, not my heart. They pick up my garbage every Monday.” Well, good for you. I guess I did not make myself clear. I’ve seen you around for years. I’ve seen you bombarded by every worthwhile idea, initiative, law, advance, passion, plea and joke. Nothing brought a reaction of any kind. You seemed to brighten at the tea party crowd but that lasted only a brief moment. Everything went into that black hole you seem unaware of. Gone. Nada. Dead quiet. Not even an echo, splash or ripple. Have another Valium and all will be well.

You could be Scrooge except he’s got initiative and you don’t. He says no but you mumble. It’s much easier to enumerate what you are not than to pinpoint the qualities that you possess. Mention any characteristic and you’ll find it does not quite apply to you. Are you generous? Honest? A good father, wife, mother or child? Are you a party pooper, embezzler, insider trader or shop lifter? A civil rights activist, a recycler, a doctor without borders? Stop crying, you fraud. Get used to the bad news. Pretty much, you’re not really anything. You’re like a playing card without a face. All you know is how to pack it all into the garbage can in you heart. They’ll pick it up on Monday and you are free again, temporarily. Then the smudge starts to accumulate again.

You know the slogan “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste” (1). Perhaps you remember Dan Quayle who contributed an imaginative paraphrase: “What a Waste it is to Lose One’s Mind. Not to Have a Mind is Being Very Wasteful.”(2) Dan hit it right on, didn’t he? Dan may not be the brightest speller but he could cover his tracks with the best of them. Yet the marketing guys know a good thing that they can waste, turn around, plagiarize and destroy. Here’s a few: “A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste”(3), “A Stimulus is a Terrible Thing to Waste”(4),” Intelligence Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”(5), “A Lifestyle Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”(6), “A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste”(7) and “Trash Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”(8). Bush contributed “And There’s no Doubt in My Mind, not One Doubt in My Mind, that We Will Fail” (9) which may be his only insight during eight long years.

In turn, the slogans above refer to (1) educational wake up calls, (2) a politician’s customary fogginess, (3) learning lessons from bad stuff such as the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, (4) experts claiming that Obama’s $837 billion stimulus package was and is gigantically wasted, (5) the TV show Entourage’s fan book, (6) a song title, (8) a Canadian promotion of recycling with the related “Land is a Terrible Thing to Waste” and finally (9) a 2001 Bush pep talk to the Labor Department.

Slogans, one liners, battle cries, jargon, lyrics, catch phrases and mottoes are just words stapled together to penetrate you skull. They are of as little consequence as sand penetrating your shoes, yet are as unavoidable as the baby on the air line seat next to you. Slogans are spam on the way to the black hole of the Delete folder. By now, we perceive almost everything as spam, regardless if the message comes from Sarah Palin, the Pope, the IRS or that poor Nigerian statesman. The Nightly News are spam. Beethoven’s Ninth is spam. Mona Lisa is spam. Your partner’s blabbering are spam. You boss leeks spam like the Mississippi. This blog goes straight to the black spam hole.

Slogans make up 95% of the communications we receive and give (I made up that number). “Have a Nice Day”, “You Look Well”, “I Feel Great”, “I Love My …”, “How’s that…?”, “I Bet …”, “I Hear That …”, “Keep Up the Good Work”, ” My … Says That …”, “Come and Get It”, “Yes We Can”, “Can I Get You Another?”, “Did You Find Everything?”, “Will That Be All?” and “Come Again”. Comfort words fill any gap left open in circular lives without start or finish. They swirl around in our mouths and spit out like mustard gas, filling the air with clouds sticking to your hair and shoes. The clouds wander up your nose, becoming cog web around your brain. No response is ever generated, nor expected. It’s the white noise of loneliness. It is the knee-jerks of empty minds.

“Empty minds?”, you say. “That isn’t me. I see through all of that. Doesn’t bother me. No, Sir. No fog to report”. Excellent, excellent. You are right. There are people who do not suffer from cob web or discolored brains. Frankly, of those, most suffer terrible damage to the inner self. They do not understand the significance of “Have a Nice Day”. No Prozac can bring them to the ranks of the mindless masses because the damage is so severe that not even Dr Phil can sort it out. Which leaves the last crowd for the last.

Some people just don’t get it. They seem unaffected by the slogans. They refuse living the mindless life. They shake off the boredom, loneliness and the brain cob webs. The slogans make up 5% of their reception, not 95% as is the case with the wasted mindless. Who are these people? That is hard to tell. We may all have ideas but, being mindless, it is difficult to be sure and most mindless aren’t likely to even try. Who are the mindful? What made them mindful? What made the difference? You don’t really expect me to answer that, do you? Only the mindful can answer things like that. The mindful have not told me their secrets. Maybe some day.

Can You Take This?

December 10, 2010

What’s your tolerance for controversy? What kind of controversy, you ask? We suffer controversies all around us so what do I have in mind? The color of a tie, a barking dog, e-mail spam, people eating veal, Michael Jackson’s nose, BP’s cover ups, Osama bin-Laden’s muffled threats on tape, Wikileaks releases of semi-truths or maybe the origin of cosmos. These are all valid controversies that many if not all of us suffer, cherish or ignore.Harold Pinter

Once in a while something pops up that hits you in some special way. I’m referring to Harold Pinter’s 2005 lecture called “Art, Truth and Politics”. If you don’t know, Harold Pinter was a British actor, screenwriter and playwright. His works were somewhat mysteriously labeled “absurdist and realistic while displaying despair and defiance about the human condition”. If you, like I, didn’t quite catch that, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” was one of his movie credits. Moreover, he won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature. He got the French Legion d’Honneur as part of a mile long list of awards and honors. He was a controversial, outspoken leftist political activist.

The Nobel Price lecture was pre-recorded, and shown on video on December 7, 2005, in Börssalen at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden. Pinter, 75, suffered major health issues and could not attend in person. Death is one of the controversial themes in the lecture and clearly on Pinter’s mind but did not lessen the fury, passion and personal honesty displayed By Pinter. He died three years later, in December of 2008.

Pinter was controversy personified. He was and is the left-winger that right-wingers love to smear. The US and British post WWII policies in the Middle East and Central and South America gave Pinter the political platform he needed. Yet he is also a keen observer of the phobias of mankind on an individual level. Therein lays the greatness of his Thje 2005 Nobel Literature Prize Diplomalecture. He bridges the gap between the national horrors and our personal sphere of “lies, lies and lies around us”.

The lecture ties our personal, moral culture to the corrupt top level political arena. In the latter, he targets the two Bushes’ wars in Iraq, extending it to the US deadly meddling in Central and South America. You may or may not agree with his leftist views – that is not the main point. It’s not about whether or not Pinter hates America. It is about whether you and I have the courage to see and react to what is around us. That’s the point missed or ignored by his critics.

You will find plenty of controversy; as good as it gets in civilized circles. Take the time to sit through the lecture (link below). It probably won’t change your life. But the lecture will make you think. It may anger you or it might make you jump up and cheer. In either case, the real point is how we personally relate to a world of violence on the highest level. It is about opening one’s mind. I know. That’s a hard Harold Pinter, The Actorone.

The lecture ends with a poem by Pinter. Labeled “Death”, it pinpoints the gruesome reality of death with a question about love. “Did you wash the Dead Body”?. “Did you kiss the Dead Body”? The macabre horrors of the world are not distant events but events that affect us morally, ethically and personally every day of our lives. His final point is about our loss suffered from the “lies, lies, lies”. We have “lost the Dignity of man”.

Below is the link to the 46 minute lecture as presented to the Swedish Academy on December 7th of 2005.

The Official link: http://nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=620

Here is one of the responses, as merciless as the lecture itself:

Harold Pinter, Acting“Christopher Hitchens, a US-based British polemicist alerted American conservatives to the full horror of Harold. He warned, in The Wall Street Journal, that the new Nobel laureate was “a thuggish big mouth who has strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage for far too long”. Hitchens also declared he had experienced more wit and enlightenment on the walls of a public lavatory than he had by attending Pinter’s plays.”

And here is the other side as expressed by the price awarders of the Nobel Prize:

“Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the highest honor available to any writer in the world. In announcing the award, Horace Engdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Academy, said that Pinter was an artist “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”.

You decide.

Eatless in Seattle – Hell Yes – more often than not applies to dining in Seattle. Dreadful to be sure considering Seattle is a place of more culinary opportunities than those endured by many other spots such as Fargo, North Dakota or Death Valley. To the West, the Pacific rolls uninterrupted to Japan with whales moving North, then South in relative peace. To the East, you’ll find some of the most fertile farming grounds anywhere. Up North, BC and Alaska provide the freshest seafood in the World. South of Seattle, markets from Astoria, Oregon to California’s Napa Valley to Chile’s regions X to XII supply everything a chef can dream about, only an airplane ride away.

Midtown Seattle,you find many of these products at Pike Place Market. You might get bombed by flying Sockeye salmon straight from Bristol Bay or an 85 pound King salmon out of Kenai River. Veal sweetbread, Cajun sausage, giant octopus and obscene looking geoduck clams are yours at quite a reasonable cost.Bering Sea

You name it, Seattle has it. Lacking are Chinese penis restaurants proudly serving goat’s penis, bull’s penis tip, deer-penis juice or donkey vulva with a sauce choice of lemon and soy, chili and soy, and a sesame-seed paste. These special treats require a trip to Beijing. Less risky, chocolate versions of the above are available from the local erotic bakery right here in Seattle.

Other absentee culinary experiences include meter-sized Danish smoked in-skin eel, Canadian baby seals, NYC subway rats, bats, camels and Southeast Asia poodle stews, all hard to find in Seattle’s neighborhood groceries or local farmer’s markets. Local organic, wholesome, green places such as Whole Foods prefer to sell seeds and nuts rather than net caught tuna and North Atlantic cod. The latter two are, of Octopuscourse, on all endangered lists for one or another reason.

Seattle may be, or was, more famous for music than for extraordinary culinary experiences. Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Corbain, Ernestine Anderson, Quincy Jones, Fats Navarro, Kenny G or Marc Seales famously beat out local chefs such as Ba Culbert of Tilikum Place Cafe, Tom Douglas, Robin Leventhal or Ashley Merriman. Truly famous chefs such as the “F” word Gordon Ramsay or Alain Ducasse, Wolfgang Puck, the Soup Nazi and Paul Bocuse seem to have no interest whatsoever in Seattle.

No Michelin stars hang by the doors of Seattle diners. Top 50 restaurant lists never mention Seattle. Still, Seattle has the ever popular Dick’s Drive-In burgers where the Deluxe version sets you back a little over two bucks or as little as a buck+ for the Regular kind. Happily, Seattle still has some of that laid back atmosphere.

Same Old

To many, Seattle dining means heading to ancient places such as the Spice (sic) Needle Revolving Restaurant, aka “Eye of the Needle”, straight out of the World Fair of 1962. The menu changes at the speed of molasses flowing down a ten story wall. I visited the Space Needle “Revolutionary dining atop Seattle” in 1976 with no urge to return. The Canlis (“cooking with abandon or not at all”), a nearby dress-up joint, celebrates 55 years of fine dining. For 15 years, Canlis was only a few blocks away from my home. I never went there since dress codes don’t thrill me. $72 Australian lobster or the American tenderloin aPrison Diningt about the same price don’t really fit my wallet. I never figured out if or when they were in a state of abandon sufficient to peel the onions and cross the carrots. You better call ahead to find out the state of abandonment before you decide to try them.

The all night 13 Coins is the veteran where the menu is straight out of 1970. French Dip, Eggs Benedict, Chicken Liver Saute and Steak & Pan-Fried Oysters can be had for a modest investment at 5 am if it so pleases you. Try the Banana Cream Pie for dessert.

The Metropolitan Grill is another fast route to coronary troubles that will delight your surgeon far more than you. One frightening offer is a 38 oz Prime Porterhouse for $69. Add the Béarnaise sauce at a reasonable four bucks. A side order of Twice Stuffed Potatoes might calm that tummy so depraved of saturated fat. Try the Surf and Turf at $82 or the Châteaubriand for Two weighting in at 115 bucks. Ain’t America great? Your leftovers would feed a Sudanese family for a week or two, you bastard.

Hurricane Cafe, 5 Spot and 5 Corner Cafe have been around forever. All three are relatively merciful on EMPyour wallet but remain just as deadly. Extra charges might apply if you drop dead while on the premises to pay the cost of stuffing you into an XL size doggie bag. 5 Spot provides eternal weekend breakfast queues possibly easing the exposure of last night’s lovers to each other (“what’s your name again?”). 5 Corner Cafe, where no one cares to know your name, serves a killer grease burger at 3 am or 3 pm, your choice. Absolutely no personal checks, you dumb shit. As to the Hurricane Cafe, a recent review states that “the food is always half-assed, but who gives a fuck? It’s 4:00 a.m. and you want to eat”. Indeed so.

Ivar’s Restaurants feature perhaps the best known chef, folk musician, maverick, major drunk and general legend – Ivar Haglund, by now dead for 24 years but still kicking and still beloved by all. You find Ivar’s name on various Seattle waterfront eateries. That alder smoked “Indian Style” coho salmon was enjoyed by your grand daddy, daddy and will likely be around for whoever survives Global Warming, Korean missiles or the GM bailout. A $25 bargain.

EMPThe Paul Allen monstrous Seattle Center creation serves little food as far as I know. In my book, this pile of colored sheet metal is known as Paul’s UpsidedownTesticles. The Experience Music Project is about as popular to most of us as, well, the mere thought of Paul’s UpsidedownTesticles. See the nearby pictures. Decide for yourself. Moreover, featuring Bing Crosby in almost the same breath as Jimi Hendrix, Queensrÿche and The Pudz is odd even by the standards of a Seattle suffering acute depression derived from a heritage of long, howling winter storms at Lofoten, Norway. Paul’s pal Bill Gates is arousing twin mini towers for his and Melinda’s foundation across the street that seem to fit the testicle idea quite well. Look for yourself.

Skipping EMP, try out the slightly psychodelic Seattle Center ‘s Center House. Eat there if you dare from an abundance of odd little stands in the house’s shadowy corners. The culinary experience is quite overshadowed by the free for all action on the Center Stage and Dance Floor. That’s right. No charge for trying out Participatory Folk Dancing, Square Dancing, true Ballroom Dancing or plain old rollerskating. You might enjoy the Tuxedo Junction Band (“Stardust, Begin the Beguine, You Gotta Be a Football Hero, That Old Black Magic and Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye”), the Microsoft Orchestra (“String players at any level are always welcome”), Peace on Earth, Womanipura with Mind Craze, Lelavision “Physical Music” or the Magic Mystery Show. And you though there was no Culture in Seattle.

Other Seattle notables include eateries that are cute, popular and heavier on marketing than on salt and pepper. You go there to be seen by envious neighbors, thumping your nose at furious exes and (unwittingly) at IRS agents. Dahlia’s, Etta’s, Wild Ginger, Sorrento’s and The Herbfarm are a few examples of such wonders. You won’t be disappointed unless your neighbor in raging madness drives over your dog after watching you and company break out the third bottle of 1966 Dom Pérignon ($1,200 or so). The ex calls you back to court with sudden proof of that secret Bermuda account of yours.  An enraged IRS suddenly sticks its nose into that business meeting at Seattle’s premier strip club Lusty Lady, “where everyone can see your heels”. You watch it. Your credit, marriage or worse might suffer.

My Neighborhoods

I happen to live downtown Seattle, quite close to the Space Needle. Apart from that “Revolutionary dining atop Seattle”, there are some 10-15 restaurants of various kinds within a block or so. One is the 5 Corner Cafe menFood, foodtioned above where you might find me very late when the drunks have collapsed, vanished and quieted down. Seattle outlawed serving booze after 2 am which is a good thing indeed.

There are Greek, Italian places, Mexican and American fast food, a wine and cheese place, a French organic bakery called Boulangerie Nantaise run by a delightful lady from Chamonix at the foot of Mont Blanc, France. I might be there having a light breakfast with an espresso or two. The Shallot Bistro is the best of several Asian outfits. The local sports bar is doing whatever sports bars do now that the Sonics are gone. Sadly, no Norwegian, Zulu or Romanian affairs are present so far. In all fairness, some of these places may not tickle yours or mine tongue but it’s nice to have them around.

A few blocks away, the Belltown nightlife district beckons the innocent suburbanites to occasional shootings, frequent drug trafficking, bloody noses, hot spots, loud music, drunk kids and one of the best of jazz clubs – Tula’s. Tula’s isn’t famous for their menu but feature mostly local talent of great Bygone Diningability at very reasonably prices, compared to the better known Jazz Alley which isn’t known for great food either. At Tula’s, tell Michael I sent you as you settle down a foot or so from the stands of the Jim Cutler Jazz Orchestra, some 16-18 strong of considerable db’s, Greta Matassa, Jay Thomas, Susan Pascal, Hadley Caliman, Kelley Johnson, Beth Winters and many more. Believe these guys are good.

Closer to Lake Union, there is the Swedish Club. The famous Swedish pancake breakfast is presently on hold but will apparently return in September, lingonberries and all. With luck you may share the breakfast with a hearty dose of folk dancing. I visited the place in 1975 and haven’t returned. But that is just me. I never warmed up to polkas, lutefisk or cod roe cakes. In any event, the Northwest heritage of Swedish loggers and Norwegian fishermen is deader than all-you-can-eat salad bars, karaoke and turtlenecks.

Ballard isn’t what it used to be. The last Scandinavian restaurant is now Indian. The Armani suits infested the place, Rolexes, BMW’s, Hummers and Blackberries are everywhere as are personal trainers, nannies and investment crooks. The last Scandinavian food store closed its doors recently, perhaps to be replaced by yet one more organic juice outfit.Couple Dining

Fremont is a lost Seattle soul. Once hip and funky, condos, giant Getty’s and Adobe office complexes dragged that neighborhood down to become your average Redmond or Silicon Valley trash can. On the culinary side, a not bad Greek stalwart named Costas Opa is still operating with very reasonable prices. Service used to be a drag but might be better now. A decade ago, I ran a business down there. Costas fed me more often than not together with the legendary Red Door Alehouse, now displaced to an undisclosed location by Suzie Burke, Land Baroness or Goddess of Fremont, aka the female Godfather of Fremont. She owns just about everything in the area, including the Red Door Alehouse. She wanted another million condos where that poor tavern happened to do business. We all know who’s the boss down there. Condos up, tavern gone.

Tilikum Place Cafe

Now, let’s get to the point of this little message to all of you around the globe. Eatless in Seattle? Not so. Late in 2008, a new place opened up in my neighborhood after what seemed to me and my neighbors to be years in the making. My hair guy Kevin shared some pre-opening rumors, being next door at the BaSublime Place. Taped up windows added to the mystery. So and so mentioned some sort of bistro was coming to town. Then it opened – Tilikum Place Cafe.

On the second or third day of the opening back in the very last part of October, I tried them out. Duck Confit, it was. Terrific. The the mussels appetizer followed, oddly off the menu nowadays. Outstanding. I’ve been back once or twice a week ever since. You’ll find me at the bar counter, the guy trying to look like Hemingway with zero luck. I’ve spent more time there, lately, than with this blog, perhaps to the relief of many. My budget may be bruised more ways than one, but so be it. Don’t get me wrong, the Tilikum Place Cafe is a bargain compared to, say, Canlis.

I’ve been through their tiny Spanish sardines, Alaskan char from way north, sturgeon, salt cod and mussels. I had rabbit, duck, pork, beef and all kinds of salads and veggies. Desserts such as homemade ice cream and truly made-to-order strawberry shortcake caught my sweet tooth. World class coffee that is as superior to the Starbuck’s junk as Google stock to the Lithuanian Lita. Dutch babies, smoked paprika butter, special this and that. Spirits galore. The menu is short and to the point. The dishes are unique partly because Ba and staff makes just about everything fresh to order from scratch, creating distinct taste clusters played off against each other. Or something like that. The pate isn’t bought from some sweatshop slaughter house in Bronx or Shanghai. It’s coming to you fresh from the Tilikum Place Cafe kitchen at 407 Cedar Street, Seattle.

My dad’s gold standard for food was boiled pig parts with boiled potatoes. Anything different was treason punished by his plate thrown across the dining room. If that’s your game, then perhaps Tilikum Cafe isn’t for you. The Tilikum Place Cafe culinary experiences are neither ordinary nor short lived. You really can’t put a label on the place. Some things come close to being vegetarian but meat isn’t lacking. Other dishes are hearty, most are on the light side. Some of the prevailing opinions pin a European label on the place but that works only if you don’t know what European cooking is. For instance, not even Ba seems to go for the braised cow’s lung in tomato sauce that the Italians love. Few Parisian chefs offer buffalo burgers but Ba does. Suffice to say that the style of the Tilikum Place Cafe is the style of the Tilikum Place Cafe. Enough said.

By now, the place has been reviewed and dissected by newspapers, bloggers, the “neighborhood business guides”, know-it-alls and word of mouth to Tilikum Place Cafeuniversal acclaim. You look it up. Real critics already picked apart every menu option so I won’t. Blessedly, the business seems to boom now after some gloomy, rainy days this winter and Spring. That’s good because I would very much regret if they went away. Know that Japanese saying? “Do the right thing long enough and you will succeed”. Add a qualifier such as “if you have what it takes” and the Tilikum Place Cafe qualifies royally.

Over the months, like any regular, I got acquainted with owner/chef Ba Culbert, her business partner Paul Dormann and the staff that one reviewer described as “flying around the tables like humming birds”. After all, there are only some ten people on staff so the flying might be called for. I’ve witnessed the back breaking effort required to make the place a success. I’ve seen the artistry of creating world class dishes. The kitchen is open. Seeing Ba and the others in action makes you realize that this kind of cooking is art.

Truth

Here is my second point. I don’t really go back to the Tilikum Place Cafe because the food is great or I happen to like the people working there. I go there because the place makes me feel good. It’s one of those personal things. Most of us have retreats, memories or places, occasions or people that we cherish. Our comfort zone. The security blanket. A picture of mother, the cat or Michael Jackson. Some adore a bottle of Armagnac a day, others live to climb Mount Everest or raise ants. A few smoke BC Bud, smuggled in by someone’s grandmother in a 1930s handbag. Some obsess over Italian shoes, recently married Robert Redford or UFO’s. A hair blown breed needs that Hummer, a next-generation spouse and a lakefront property to feel properly comforted. In my case, I head for the ambiance of a neighbor eatery.

SharkHere’s to people, their fallacies, blemishes, talents and occasional heroism. Sarah Palin, the astonishing narcissism of a not quite sane quitter. Ann Coulter, the modern day Goebbels. George W. Bush, criminal and failure. Michael Jackson, the medical wonder who finally lost the magic. Muhammad Ali, the wonder who has yet to lose the magic. Boris Yeltsin, the winner, dead drunk or not, currently simply dead. The senators, congressmen, governors, mayors and dog catchers caught with their pants down or pocket books open. The CIA torture specialists. Pratibha Patil, Asif Ali Zardari, Kim Jong-il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Benjamin Netanyahu, almost all with thumbs on the big bang button. Corrupt bankers. The drug cartels, OPEC and Iranian strongmen. Mother Theresa and Gandhi heroics. The sad hysterics of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Neighbors riding 200 db motorcycles at 4 am. Horatio Hornblower, Homer Simpson and Forest Gump. Martin Luther and Martin Luther King. Terrorists, the Religious Right and the Arrogant Left.

So many get their moment of fame but with little to show for the effort. Here is part of the reason: none of these cats above made art, or at least not art of lasting value. Thus they disappear as time passes – there are exceptions but not many. On the other hand, the few that do produce lasting art will themselves last. That’s why I write about artists. Fellow photographers include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, the Westons, Robert Mapplethorpe or Jeff Wall. Here you’ll meet Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag and Georgia O’Keeffe . Geniuses, from Picasso, Gustaf Mahler, Miles Davis and Mozart to da Vinci, frequent these pages. As a contrast, monsters such as Mao, Hitler and Stalin lurk behind the scenes, together with scores of other political rascals.

Art is good because it survives no matter what. Stuff such as democracy, human rights, the Beatles, Antarctic krill, polar bears and ozone layers come and go. So do birthdays. El Niño follows La Niña, de Premaking water flow this or the other way across a vast Pacific Ocean. The Big Bang and Black Holes are irreversible but when did you last worry about that? Now check out the Bach Concertos ignored by dead, forgotten despots. What about the cave paintings in France and elsewhere that are still alive after 35,000 years? The liturgical songs by Hildegard of Bingen are with us after 850 years. Mozart was belittled by some emperor or another (“Too many notes, my dear Mozart”) but who is laughing now?

Consider the string quartets coming out of Auschwitz some 55 years ago after their creators joined untold others inhaling Zyklon-B gas. You get my point. People come and go. Art remains. One day the bomb may drop or global temperatures might hit a hundred or more degrees, shutting down that last CO2 spewing smoke stack. The concertos, rock paintings, Bruno Walter recordings, Thriller albums and Star Wars DVDs will still be there, somewhere under the debris of human bones.

This blog and Tilikum Place Cafe aren’t likely to have a major say in the end of the World or the start of a new Paradise. Perhaps we’ll leave some trace somewhere. For now it’s a matter of strawberry shortcake and a tracer of Armagnac served with the World’s best coffee. So say hello to Ba and the Tilikum Place Cafe is where “everybody knows your name”, or at least my name. It’s a neat place. Go there. Tell Ba I sent you. Here’s how: Tilikum Place Cafe. Facebook is a lively source for Ba and the Cafe. Enjoy. Do fly in from Zagreb, Paris, Hanoi or Bellevue if necessary. It’s worth it. Try the Spanish sardines.

All the best,

Karl

Say Hi to the four Ms, all famous for their music, but for vastly different reasons. Millions find great joy in the art of the four although few like all four. Billions more do not appreciate or even recognize any of the four, possibly leaning more towards Grunge Metallic Slacker Sludge, Christmas Carols, Mexican Hat Dances, AK-47s Miles Daivis late in lifeor Tibetan chants.

Why are these Ms considered important? Are they really even artists? Do they truly produce art, whether or not they are artists to begin with? The features of their trade share little: Symphonies versus Ragtime. Lieder versus Solos. Form versus Adlib. Opera versus Gigs. Black tails or Headbands. Liberia versus Libretto, Joy versus Angst. Technique against Creativity. Brooklyn versus Berlin?

How can four so different practitioners of music all be famous? Should they be? What about Culture, Racial and Generation Gaps? How about Snobbery, Elitism or simple Ignorance? Are such items factors in this mystery? Add all into the pot, stir and suddenly one might feel a) is there really a thing called art, 2) if so, what is it and 3) what’s for dinner? Such questions are hard to face after a long day at work. Not to despair. Art is real. It’s just hard to understand at times. But then, that is part of the secret.

Mozart toiled at his legacy in the late 1700’s in the remarkable city of Vienna. Gustav Mahler followed suit in the early 1900s in, mostly, Vienna and Austria. Miles (Davis) is mostly a mid 1900s guy. Wynton Marsalis lives his glory moment as we speak. Mozart was an early Classicist, Mahler a late Romantic and Miles a little of jazzy everything in an introvert manner. Marsalis is also a little of everything but in a very different extrovert way.

Music According To Ms

>Mozart is the legend of all legends to most of us – the true artist, the wonder kid, the greatest of geniuses and the master practitioner. At the time, emperors and dukes solemnly nodded their heads (or not) while Burghers applaudeW. A. Mozart late in a short lifed, silver coins clinking. Today, record companies know him as a sure, positive ROI. His personal life was a romantic mess – no money, starvation, illness over and again. He completed the fairytale by predictably dying prematurely. Luckily, he got off to a good start around the age of four or so, producing six hundred works that apparently won’t by surpassed till the end of time.

Not liking Mozart is as unsocial as beating kids, kicking your dog, picking thy nose (or worse, someone else’s nose) or missing Mother’s Day. Some might wonder, though what is real and what are myths such as Robin Hood, King Arthur or Babe Ruth.

Mahler wrote his hour plus long, grandiose symphonies, vastly orchestrated, while suffering from all the angst so popular at the time. He started dying as soon as he was born and it didn’t ever get better. He did eventually die after producing around fifteen hours of symphonies and, mostly, lieder about Angst and Death (KindernTotenLieder). Some claim his music basically is a poor copy of Alpine cows roaming over the mountain sides, their bells clonking and loudly producing masses of green house gases. Critics happily find all kinds of technical problems. Maybe so but Mahler made art. Perhaps he went over the top at more than one occasion in a technical and emotional sense. Don’t we all?Mahler's 8th debut in USA

The picture to the left is from the US premiere of his 8th Symphony. No, that is not the audience you see. Those are the performers. It is not known if they managed to squeeze an audience into the hall.

The last 60 years of jazz produced only a handful of truly great jazz artists with a lasting legacy. Miles is one of them. Not only that, he was an artist never standing still. He worked his way through late swing to bebop to cool to the best quintet and sextet music ever recorded, followed by fusion, free style and what have you. Other true artists in the same vein include Picasso and Stravinsky. Lead, don’t follow.

Perfection not Desired

Was Miles as great a trumpet player as he was an artist? His early recordings with Charlie Parker lacked the confidence, flair and excitement of Navarro and Gillespie. Later, heLeni Riefensthal in Nazi Germany tended to play with his back to the audience, walking off stage when others soloed. Like Mahler, the angst level was high, yet he delivered just about every time. Nothing belittles his legacy – it only shows that superior skill is not required if artistry is big enough.

Miles is not the only case where the art genius beats the stiffness of lips and the speed of a few fingers. Ellington’s piano solos are series of three-finger chords that only a composer can love. Chet Baker couldn’t tell a chord from a Ford, much less read any kind of score. Louis Armstrong was a teddy bear of a singer but technically perfect? Not quite. Yet all are Hall of Famers.

Leni Riefenstahl debuted as an Alpine sex symbol of great beauty (above). She clawed her way up to become Nazi Germany’s most prominent film maker. Her immense talent, flawed, naive and self-serving as it was earned her the friendship of Hitler and a jail term by the Allies after the thousand years Reich vanished. Following that, she fled to Africa and became a KGLPhoto - The Hands of a Pianistdistinguished documentary photographer of steppe tribes. In her seventies, she switched again and learnt to scuba dive. Her underwater photography ranks with the best. She was not a nice person but possessed an immense talent. She also was an artist never standing still until her death at 101.

Compare that to Rolling Stones still living off their 1960s tunes. Think of Mel Gibson playing the same role in every film. Many of us go through life never changing or even considering change. “She was a 3rd grade teacher all her life”. “They were married for seventy two years”. “He never wrote that novel”. “Her mother was a nurse so she followed the family tradition”. All of which may boil down to nice, comfortable lives. You will not find many true artists in these bourgeois neighborhoods.

Sanity – Way Overrated

Another school contains those with above average sanity challenges. Bud Powell was a brilliant pianist when his madness was somewhat controlled. The same goes for Glenn Gould of Bach fame. Van Gogh and the ear business come close. Robert Schumann was locked up in his mid forties and soon died. Charles Mingus was not mad to Miles Daviesd - Back to the Audiencewmy knowledge but had a temper issue that resulted in smashed bases and screams at audiences. Keith Jarrett also has an audience problem. Do not sneeze in the presence of the master.

Charlie Parker left recordings amply proving that having your brains on fire does your artistry no good. So did Billie Holiday, Zoot Sims and Lester Young. Ben Webster went nowhere without his pocket flask. No one can fault the brilliance of these cats. No one can deny the artistic disasters all produced at many a time. You won’t find technical perfection here.

There is the phenomenon of Outside Artists, a phrase coined in the nineteen twenties discussing (academically) the art of the insane or severely disadvantaged artists mostly residing in asylums. At the time, there wasn’t much of a splash. But the last ten or twenty years awoke the World of Art to yet another way to make money, especially since by now the Outsiders were often dead with little need for royalties or income. Today, museums and galleries from Tokyo to Toronto feature the original Oursiders as well as an inflow of others. I have covered the artistry of these Outsiders several times in these essays.

We have the complete artistry and skill of Mozart, the fatal emotions of Mahler, the imperfect genius of Miles Davis and scores of others – sane, angry or not. Put it the other way. Mozart wasted his genius faster than his money could fly. Mahler does sometimes in fact sound like roaming, self pitying cows. Miles Davis was one of the great but blowing his horn was not flawless. But artistry and adversity are not the only ways to create music.

Practice makes Good

Wynton Marsalis is at the other end of the spectrum. He is the current self declared high priest not only of jazz but music in general. His brilliant technique flashes everything a trumpet can do in polite company. Cool, urban, the Obama of Jazz, his repertoire stretches from (the) baroque to big bands with lots of lecturing.Pablo Casals with his cello

My problem is that his work leaves me out in the cold. No engagement – it’s like looking at the blueprint rather then the basilica. Of course, his nine Grammy’s and a Pulitzer (all earned, not nominated) probably indicates I’m the one with a problem. Little do I care. Miles Davis matches the nine Grammy’s. He even has a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. So there.

Marsalis is not the only technical supremist. Yo-yo Ma punches his way through reinventing Bach to fiddling along in the Appalachians, South American Tango bars, Silk Roads, Tibetan monasteries, Brazilian beaches or Japanese gardens, sometimes on the same day without losing his stride as he jets from Vienna to Vermont. Technical brilliance and an odd need to explore what perhaps doesn’t need exploring, but who can argue with fifteen (15) Grammy’s, a carbon fiber cello and first class upgrades for life on every airline currently in the air?

On the piano, technicians such as Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and John Lewis battle it out against the belly laughs of Fats Waller, the gyrates by Ray Charles and the off the beat beats from Errol Garner in Concert by the Sea. Errol was about as technically challenged as Chet Baker. The only good sheet is a dead sheet, they said. No Academies needed. Juilliard, go home.

Artistic Black holes

The Grammy’s is possibly the most boring TV show ever invented, surpassing the Oscars, CSPAN, Traffic cameras and Community TV. Endless hours are spent on Best Polkas, Best Studio Lavatories and the Most Recent Tattoo Screamer. Imported celebrities snort and snore whStravinsky at the pianoile practicing looking alert while asleep. Grammy’s, needless to say, are a lousy way to understand artistic accomplishment.

Several modern day performers mentioned here have in the order of ten awards each. Others do not for undisclosed reasons. Ellington has eleven; Oscar Peterson seven and Ella Fitzgerald received thirteen. Kenny G trails with only one with Louis Armstrong at a miserable single one for Hello, Dolly. John Coltrane also missed the trane with only one. Errol Garner lost out completely. U2’s twenty-two is the best score, Michael Jackson got thirteen and Tony Bennett fourteen.

Another measure: Record sales shows who got rich and prove bad music can sell very well. The toppers are the Beatles, Bing Crosby, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Elvis. None of the Ms are best sellers. Kenny G ranks around 120 together with high octaners such as Hibari Misora of Japan and Luis Miguel of Mexico. The opera crooner Luciano Pavarotti ended up in the mid-seventies, close to Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. O Soli Mio doesn’t stand a chance to White Christmas by Bing Crosby.A Cellist on a Mountaintop

Categorizations such as the Grammy’s, Emmy’s and Tony’s never were intended to provide artistic judgments. They are more like voting for “Most Likely to Succeed” or “Best Dog Catcher in Town”. That does not tell us which success story or dog catcher will make the most significant contributions to mankind. Snooze with the Grammy’s if you like. Grammy’s might claim to know who is the best Tango Flutist in Western Argentina. They will not tell you whether such a flutist possesses any artistic talents whatsoever.

Let’s turn to the fakes, jokes, pests and bores mercilessly ambushing us in the largest abundance bad money can buy. This illustrious gang comes at us blaring from our TV sets, out of the supermarket and elevator PA systems, in Town Hall meetings, party alliances and church action groups. They are plastered on bill boards and buses. They predict the weather, read the news, write to the editor (or rather blog writers), investigate community antiwar groups, combat abortion clinics or practice white, black or Compassionate Conservative power. Many like to prohibit art, burn books while others promote sending artist commies to the nearest reeducation camp for a little tough love. And God help the Jaywalkers and those spitting on the sidewalk.

The Jokes and the Losers

Sadly, we suffer the charlatans or, as I’ll call them, the jokes. Capable of some obscure publicity trick, they hail utterly forgettable causes. A few examples – Ann Coulter in the world of fascism, George Bush in the nonexistent world of compassionate conservatism (as practiced in Guantánamo??), Jerry Leonard BernsteinSpringer in “entertainment”, Geraldo Rivera as the brave war correspondent. In music, you have Britney Spears, Kenny G, various Jacksons and Mantovani. “Men in lace panties and the women who loves them”, to quote Geraldo.

Billions are untouched by Mozart, Mapplethorpe, Miró, Mailer or Mahler, correctly caring not at all that these five survive the cruelty of time. Surviving is not enough. Hitler will be remembered. Our memories are infested with Charles Manson with his crazed troops, Reverend Jones of Jonestown serving up Kool-Aid or Reverend Koresh in Waco playing with matches, Teddy the Unabomber giggling in his windowless shack, peace in our time by Chamberlain on the eve of the WW II 73 million dead, Tricky Dick Nixon chatting with Checkers by the fire, neither being crooks, where’s the meat by Mondale (who?), the spelling of Dan Quayle, the grammar of Dubya, the line in the sand and no new taxes according to his Dad while Bill Clinton never had sex (define sex).

Twelve Tone Music seems like a loser as are the USSR sculptures of worker heroes. Cubism doesn’t have much of a future – been there, done that. It’s hard to believe Pierre Boulez’ bird songs will be in much demand a hundred years out. Art Nouveau is hardly Noveau any more. FauvisLudwig van Beethovenm no longer resembles Wild Beasts. What about the minimalistic school? Is it minimalistic in terms of art or just far too tiny to care for? Smooth jazz, snooze jazz. Is rap crap? New Age is more Truly Boring Age. The Road Less Traveled might be just that. Prozac for the devoted fans. All two of them.

Most of us are more concerned with the famous of today. There is no real way of predicting who will be remembered in 2108 but here are some wild guesses. Will anyone remember Bill O’Reilly, Hillary Clinton, Norah Jones, Jay Leno, Harry Truman, Burt Bacharach, Mel Gibson, Ralph Nader, James Inhofe or the Princess of Wales? I surely don’t know but certainly have an opinion which says none of the above. On the other hand, Michael Jackson likely will have his picture in a few medical journals as will Cher and Joan Rivers. Muhammad Ali will be there but not Kobe Bryant. Pele will kick around but David Beckham will not.

The Artistics of Artistic Artists

An artist is a person whose creative work shows sensitivity and imagination, a character who creates or builds the new, who use imagination, talent, or skill to create works that may be judged to have an aesthetic value. And so on. Others say an artist is skilled at some activity, who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry. According to sources in Kansas City, a practicing fine artist may not necessarily be a resident of the Kansas City metro area.

Leo Tolstoy defined an artist as someone with communication skills allowing the audience to be “infected” with the artist’s point of view. I suppose that means most self help gurus, TV evangelists and politicians must be artists rather thanJacqueline du Pré entering the Hall mere con artists.

In most of history, an artist was viewed as a craftsman. That is certainly true of, say, Haydn who lived at the mercy of various aristocrats. Bach served the mighty church as an organist during most of his career. His 200 cantatas played to the glory of the masters. At the time, his Goldberg variations, Brandenburg concertos and other secular works were mostly ignored. His contemporaries found him a tolerable organist, not a composer.

Mozart, at his arrival at the Salzburg court, found he ranked between the valets and the cooks. By then he had about 35 symphonies and a dozen operas to his name, together with a resume covering many European Courts. Emperor Joseph II uttered his classic put down, ‘Too many notes, my dear Mozart’ following the premiere of the opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

More recently, the Soviet Union practiced a policy of art being a political tool to con the masses into higher production of tractors, vodka and tanks. Artists were servants of the proletariat (aka the Politburo), expected to follow detailed guidelines. This practice lasted till the fall of the Soviet some seventeen years ago. Lately in the symbol of freedom, Rudolph W. Giuliani made an ill-fated attempt to reinvent censorship. Joe McCarthy favored going after artists in general and those associated with Hollywood in particular. Republican congressmen would like to disband public radio and TV together with the National Endowment for the Arts in favor of drilling holes in the Arctic.

Art survives. Artists never die. Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev both kept a degree of artistic integrity in spite of Stalin’s ever-present threat of having both join the millions of others executed. The Soviets are not alone. Turkey, for instance, is not far behind: “Individuals are being harassed and threatened with imprisonment simply for speaking or writing about aspects of Turkish history or culture that do not conform to an imposed nationalist ideal”, according to Amnesty International. Amnesty itself is under constant criticism from Russia, China, Vietnam, Congo, Israel, the United States and other nondemocratic governments.

Art objects, of course, are easily destroyed. In WW II, the Allies pulverized the Italy Monte Cassino Monastery which dated back to te yeaJacqueline du Pré in performancer 529. Today the Monastery is rebuilt. Militarily, the strike was a disaster. The destroyed buildings provided the Germans with plenty of new defense positions.

The historic center of the German city of Dresden, filled with art treasures and historic buildings was completely wiped out by the British Air Force in 1945. This was only a few weeks before the end of the war. The raid was plain revenge without any military benefit whatsoever: the Dresden military targets were not hit at all. Much of the Dresden centre is rebuilt to the historical standard, except the Russian occupiers bulldozed into oblivion the wreckage of treasures such as the Gothic Sophienkirche, the Alberttheater and the Wackerbarth-Palais.

Art gets stolen, in particular paintings. This rather limits its access to mankind in general and its rightful owners in particular. The Nazis with Goering in the lead stole the art of the occupied territories on a massive scale. Approximately 20% of Western art disappeared into Nazi hideouts. Some 100,000 items remain unaccounted. The value may approach billions of dollies. The hunt is still on.

Historically, music and literature were harder to steal. Today, that is no longer true. Computers in everyone’s hands and the Internet makes theft not only possible through copyright infringement, but also so easy few bother to consider the impact. Copyright owners all over the world struggle with this and so far it is mostly a losing battle. How can you prosecute millions of kids?

Bach and Haydn are remembered today. Their masters are long forgotten. Yet these masters, depots, Fuhrers and kings of this and dukes of that may have made the rest of us an unintended favor of immense value.

Adversity Helps

Art does not just come from individual creativity. It’s often dependent of and based on controversy such as war, terror and the many 9/11s of history. One of PicMiles Davis solo asso’s most famous works is based on the Nazi bombing of a Spanish town. Robert Capa’s pictures of D-Day slaughter and Jewish artists producing masterpieces in Hitler’s concentration camps also make the point.

Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony dedicated to the millions who died from hunger and cold as Nazi troupes watched. Shostakovich wrote most the symphony on location as Leningrad died around him. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s books about the Gulags are based on personal experience. In 1945, he upset Stain so that, under Soviet Criminal Article 58, he spent the next 11 years in various camps and exiles. Here, in his own words:

  • I was arrested on the grounds of what the censorship had found during the years 1944-45 in my correspondence with a school friend, mainly because of certain disrespectful remarks about Stalin, although we referred to him in disguised terms. As a further basis for the “charge”, there were used the drafts of stories and reflections which had been found in my map case. These, however, were not sufficient for a “prosecution”, and in July 1945 I was “sentenced” in my absence, in accordance with a procedure then frequently applied, after a resolution by the OSO (the Special Committee of the NKVD), to eight years in a detention camp (at that time this was considered a mild sentence).
  • I served the first part of my sentence in several correctional work camps of mixed types (this kind of camp is described in the play, The Tenderfoot and the Tramp). In 1946, as a mathematician, I waDaniel Barenboim Conductings transferred to the group of scientific research institutes of the MVD-MOB (Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of State Security). I spent the middle period of my sentence in such “SPECIAL PRISONS” (The First Circle).
  • In 1950 I was sent to the newly established “Special Camps” which were intended only for political prisoners. In such a camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), I worked as a miner, a bricklayer, and a foundry man. There I contracted a tumor which was operated on, but the condition was not cured (its character was not established until later on).
  • One month after I had served the full term of my eight-year sentence, there came, without any new judgment and even without a “resolution from the OSO”, an administrative decision to the effect that I was not to be released but EXILED FOR LIFE to Kok-Terek (southern Kazakhstan). This measure was not directed specially against me, but was a very usual procedure at that time. I served this exile from March 1953 (on March 5th, when Stalin’s death was made public,
  • I was allowed for the first time to go out without an escort) until June 1956. Here my cancer had developed rapidly, and at the end of 1953, I was very near death. I was unable to eat, I could not sleep and was severely affected by the poisons from the tumor. However, I was able to go to a cancer clinic at Tashkent, where, during 1954, I was cured (The Cancer Ward, Right Hand).
  • During all the years of exile, I taught mathematics and physics in a primary school and during my hard and lonely existence I wrote prose in secret (in the camp I could only write down poetry from memory). I managed, however, to keep what I had written, and to take it with me to the European part of the country, where, in the same way, I continued, as far as the outer world was concerned, to occupy myself with teaching and, in secret, to devote myself to writing, at first in the Vladimir district (Matryona’s Farm) and afterwards in Ryazan.

Through his punishment, he kept writing, hiding the notebooks, defending it with all his cunning, seeking publication. The Soviets kept suppressing him but eventually, all of SGustav Mahler Quite Aliveolzhenitsyn’s work is published, first in the West, later in the Russia that replaced the USSR. At this time, his old adversaries are dead,

Art also survives through cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, madness, wrecks and early death. Scott Lafaro, Clifford Brown, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Fats Waller, Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie Christian, Eric Dolphy are some examples of early death and lasting art in the small world of jazz.

In the world of classical music, Mozart died at the age of 35, Robert Schumann at 46, Kurt Weill at 50. But in general classical music is a safer environment than that of jazz and rock. Few classical composers spend their time in obscure clubs in strange little towns with a wheezy old bus running through the night to the next gig and another grease pot burger. Classical soloists are sometimes treated as royalty – rock punks and jazz cats are not.

Goliath versus David. Hillary versus Obama. Marsalis and Miles. Yo-Yo Ma versus Jacqueline du Pré. Oscar Peterson versus Bill Evans. Kenny G versus John Coltrane. Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. Anita Baker against Billie Holiday. Diane Krall compared to Shirley Horn. Britain versus Thirteen Colonies. Jedi Knights versus Hobbits. Kojak versus Philip Marlowe. Miami Vice versus Sam Spade. Ronald McDonald battling The Colonel battling homemade porridge. Technicians versus Artists.

The Lure of the Technicians

A technician is someone who might service your car. They fix machinery and appliances. There are chief, expert, assistant and bad technicians. Some deal with mDancing in Parisaintenance, testing, forensic, x-ray, optical, nuclear, food, brakes, shark, toe nail, nose, lice, cat and dog matters. They make the World tolerable. They are licensed, bonded, illegal or shy, loaded or pretty much like all the rest of us. Some say a technician is generally someone active in a technological field (Gee!).

Few descriptions of today’s technicians mention art although historically, artists were viewed as technicians or craftsmen. Society today is complex indeed, requiring an army of experts to run it. The true technicians are very visible. We need the doctors, plumbers, mobile phone gurus, Redmond enablers (“Your potential. Our passion” which currently translates to xBoxes) and hairdressers. Torturers, lawyers, snipers, SWAT teams and concentration camp guards are desperately needed.

Way back, people just hunted down some animal for dinner so they could return to painting pictures of the same animals on their cave walls. Few technicians were needed. Fire and the concepts of shelter were already in place. What else could anyone possibly need? How about a little art to liven things up? At the time, stealing art was not a big issue. Time changed. War was invented. Money came along. Al KGLPhoto - The Base PlayerGore came up with the Internet. Art became steal able.

Few laws prevent changing original art to whatever the nimble technician desires. Famous people find themselves starring in sex videos. Fake Hillary videos have her say the most astonishing things. Fox Network changes those graphics ever so slightly and yet another liberal commie walks the plank.

US Senator from Oklahoma James Inhofe doesn’t need computers, skills or technical fakers to make up his own fake reality, a talent shared with George W. Bush, Michael Jackson, OJ, Saddam Hussein, Kim il-Jong and Anderson Cooper. Global Warming deniers ignore science. Creationists ignore their own bodies. Spiderman reinvented human flight. King Kong went from chauvinism to sensitivity in just an hour or two.

The Joy of Technology

Today we have entertainment technicians manning the porn stages and sport technicians dunking basketballsKGLPhoto - The Guitarist at an unbelievable price tag each time. Other technicians fiddle with mp3s, MIDIs, Photoshop, YouTube and online sharing of art. Ansel Adams images now exist in thousands of versions, cropped here and adjusted there. Mona Lisa might bear the sneering face of Dick Cheney. That Glenn Miller tune may be all coming out of some computer. For a while, a decent printer and basic computer allowed you to print your own money. Today’s PDAs can design your very own nuclear bomb if you’re technically inclined.

Industrial CAD and robots can easily reproduce Aztec temples, Chinese walls, Zeppelins, Pharos tombs, the Hiroshima bomb and the Model T automobile. Add a bit of cheap video and Battleship Potemkin becomes a Ben Affleck flick. We already have fake Gettysburg battles, fake moon landings and man made UFOs, interactive alien invasions and fantasy versions of killing thy neighbor, spouse or pet alligator. Or yourself. We now enjoy video games about video games. Inventors experiment with whole body rubber devices that can simulate remote Internet sex at the annoyance of many a motel owner and to the joy of divorce lawyers.

What I Think

Artists are the ones who touch me emotionally. They make me see, learn and experience more than is obvious. Technicians may make me a bit envious but they leave me cold. No Marsalis solo will engage me as those of Miles Davis do. Yet Marsalis beats Miles technicalJohn Scofield in Seattlely every time. I don’t care.

Not that emotions are the only ingredients in Art. Dazzling highs, darkest lows, wild exaggerations, cold blooded cynicism, racism, chauvinism, greed, betrayal, you name it – all parts of the deal.

I was about fourteen when I first heard Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and the Abschied movement on the radio. Many years later I still remember that evening and how music was never again the same. I discovered that emotions drives artistic experience. And few can play on emotions like Gustav Mahler could. Couple that with Thomas Mann’s books from the same time and you have a world class melodrama on your hands, easily beating the suffering of Hollywood any day.

Another memory from the same time finds me home from school sick in bed. Based on my pains, I managed to blackmail my father into believing an album by a mysterious Charlie Parker might cure me. I became the naive recipient of my first Parker experience. I hated the bloody thingSeattle Tenor Man. The sound was terrible. Every track seemed like weirdness galore. The harmonies could raise your hair in panic. It was one of those radio recordings with Parker, Davis, Fats Navarro and Bud Powell. There was  weird stuff like Round Midnight and Ornithology. Considering myself as a fellow alto player, I kept at it though. Suddenly it dawned on me. The hump disappeared. The anarchy of bebop and modern music suddenly became part of me. The emotional discovery happened and nothing was ever the same.

In the early 1970s I experienced a concert by Jacqueline du Pré, a cellist and a remarkable story. As with Mahler, some saw her as emotionally over the top. Perhaps she was. She also at the time suffered from MS that would kill her some 15 years alter. Her illness brought a brilliant career to an end by the mid seventies. On our trail of emotions, her most famous recording is that oOlympia Base Plaqyerf Elgar’s Cello Concerto made with the London Symphony in 1965 when she was 20. Two years later she married Daniel Barenboim in a remarkable artistic partnership that was brought to a close far too prematurely.

Experiencing de Pre’s Elgar Cello Concerto is as much an emotional high as anything can be. It is the basis for her today being viewed as perhaps the greatest cellist ever. The technical skills and travels on the roads less traveled by Yo-Yo Ma will not approach the impact of that scratchy old de Pre recording.

There are, of course, other significant experiences. A first hearing of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat or the Rite of Spring ballet ranks high. Here is to prove others are gripped by emotions as well at the 1913 premiere of the Rite in Paris:

  • “The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd. At the start with the opening bassoon solo, the audience began to boo loudly due to the slight discord in the background notes behind the bassoon’s opening melody. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventualYet Another Sax Manly degenerated into a riot. The Paris police arrived by intermission, but they restored only limited order.”
  • “Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Stravinsky himself was so upset on account of its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly crying. Fellow composer Camille Saint-Saëns famously stormed out of the première (though Stravinsky later said “I do not know who invented the story that he was present at, but soon walked out of, the premiere.”) allegedly infuriated over the misuse of the bassoon in the ballet’s opening bars. Stravinsky ran backstage, where Diaghilev was turning the lights on and off in an attempt to try to calm the audience. Nijinsky stood on a chair, leaned out far enough that Stravinsky had to grab his coat-tail, and shouted counts to the dancers, who were unable to hear the orchestra.”

Cool huh? Moving along to other discoveries, eye openers, emotional highs and just great artistry, Coltrane’s Giant Steps and A Love Supreme, the Mingus Ah Um album, Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debbie and I Say Farwell (he really did), Ellington in 1928-1931 and 1940, Kind of Blue by Miles (much as I hate to admit it given the gross commercialization of the album), the 1955 Clifford Brown and Max Roach album, Charlie Parker in 1947 and Sonny Rollins in The Bridge and Saxophone Colussus both Bill Evans at the Pianorank high.

In the classical area, add in anything by Martha Argerich, Keith Jarrett and Villa-Lobos. Argerich, a publicity shy Argentinean who may or may not show up for concerts, consistently produces fabulous records. Her Prokifiev and Bartok Piano Concertos are very, very good. Keith Jarrett is many a thing. He is mostly a jazz pianist of real originality but also a truly great classical performer. His 24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich are fabulous. He made a mark with his jazz solo recordings with hour-long free form improvisations that to me are a bit trying.

Hector Villa-Lobos, a Brazilian composer of the first half of the 1900s, is mostly associated with Bachianas Brasileiras, a takeoff on Bach that includes a train trip and other fun features such as scoring for no less than eight cellos and voice. He also composed a series of really great string quartets.

The artists, records and works above all are time tested, well known, critically acclaimed and safe bets. Some of them are a little less well known but the selection is by no means adventurous. It is unforgivable to pass over the equally talented artists as well as letting so many jokes off the hook. On the practical level, there are thousands upon thousands terrific artists out there – I manage an artist database that in a very short time passed 100,000 records. Unfortunately, not all can be covered in a blog like this.

Coda

Leo Tolstoy said in the 1897 book “What is Art”: “Art must create a specific emotional link between the artist and the audience. The link “infects” the viewer. Art embraces any human activity in which the artist transmits previously experienced feelings to the audience. Tolstoy offers an example of this: a boy that has experienced fear after aJacqueline du Pré Finishing it offn encounter with a wolf later relates that experience, infecting the hearers and compelling them to feel the same fear that he had experienced—that is a perfect example of a work of art.”

Tolstoy is mostly right except for claiming the audience must share the fear of the boy. The audience rightfully may react any way they wish, be it amusement, fear, pity or what have you. The aim is to get the reaction, not to dictate what reaction is allowed.

Artists quite often are victims both of their own devices (the madness of van Gogh, the starvation of Mozart, the addictions of Charlie Bird Parker) as well as the persecutions by the Goebbels, Stalins, Bushes and many a local chief. Technicians, in the narrow perspective of this essay, are not so often victims as they are victim makers. Yet Mozart, Haydn, Dostoevsky, ancient cave painters, da Vinci, Michelangelo are Hildegard von Bingen are even more present today than in their own days.

Art expands us. Art without a point is not art. The artist may strive for a specific point but the interpretation is really in the minds of the audience, not the artist. Experiencing art is an individual undertaking where the next guy may see things very differently. That is how it works or as it should work. Art is the most democratic of all ideas surrounding us.

Mozart taught me about joy, Mahler pointed at death and thus life. Davis proved sketches are more powerful than billboards. John Coltrane built the grandest of architectural music monuments. Tomas Mann showed me what despair really is while Dostoevsky made me understand suffering. Ellington is all about color and light. Bird rose into the skies with a path towards new horizons. Beethoven was made of courage, anger, heroism and superiority. Leni Riefenstahl proved Art can be immoral while Jacqueline du Pré showed it is immortal. Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn made me see how suppression and prosecution can not beat down Art. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chet Baker and Errol Garner relied not on technical wizardry but on a gigantic inner artistic spirit.

That’s how it is, how it should be and how it will be. Lucky us.

Thank you all and happy listening!

Karl

Don’t we just love to assign labels to people? We have famous people and those unlucky unfamous people. There are winners and losers. Some are rich, others poor. You have heroes and creeps. Cops and robbers. Good guys, bad guys. Pillars of society and scorchers of earth. Then the whole deal morphs into crime and punishment, Bible versus Koran, Red versus Blue, Cancer versus Hangnails and Canon versus Nikon shooters.

This is the story about the rich and famous, the not quite rich or famous and, most importantly, those not famous at all. It is also a story about art. It touches on some shameful facts but there are good things too. Nothing is black and white only. Something for everyone, I think.

Technology

It has long been a desire of the powerful to classify people into useful categories. Consumer companies such as Procter & Gamble owes considerable debt to market research which divides the World into those using Prell, Tide, Bounce and the infidels that do not. TV evangelists, politicians, NPR and Greenpeace split people into Donors and Parasites.

The Census Bureau classifies us in microscopic detail to the delight of the marketing and advertising gangs. The political districting gurus have a grandiose sand box of devious tactics. Some become crooked enough to drive legislators into neighboring states to avoid being Camp Art -  A Graveyardrailroaded. Starbucks drill into the data to determine the address of the next overpriced java dump.

I’m happy to learn there are 984 Slovaks and 89 Sioux in the City Of Seattle. Sadly, no Navajos appear to live in my city. 2,447 females require less than five minutes to get to their workplace. Some are my neighbors, no doubt. Of those working at home, 1,271 are not US citizens. 4,767 leave for work between 5 and 5:29 AM, which oddly is about the same number as those leaving between 11 and 11:59 AM. All data is downloadable from the Census Bureau for your entertainment unless, of course, you already have a life.

Then there is something called data mining as practiced illegally by various US government agencies such as NSA in the name of the holy War on Terror, aka the Religious Right War on Muslim. It’s purpose, in the eyes of the George W.’s of an unfortunate world, is to gain insights in as many aspects of your personal life as possible, thereby supposedly proving you are a Muslim and thus a terrorist. Never mind that you may actually be a Slovak, Sioux, Navajo or, worse, a Democrat.

Data mining is largely done by deep diving into the Internet, tapping emails and listening in on phone calls. When it gets more than lukewarm, your phone specifically is tapped, with or, most likely, without court approval. Big Joe demands all your private Camp Art - Cart with Bodiesrecords from record keepers such as banks, online services and your veterinarian. Naturally, banks, airlines and others such as Yahoo, eBay, Microsoft and Google, have caved in to Big Joe. Joe McCarthy would be green with envy if he were to live in these joyous times. Many wonder why 250 million Americans buy into this horse manure. This is the people fanatically defending their right to bear assault rifles. Over their dead bodies as the saying accurately goes. That line in the sand stand, of course, defends the right to carry an assault rifle to the supermarket, not those Commies’
civil rights.

If you are like most people, data mining is not close to your top priorities. It is a subject almost as boring as Global Warming. No doubt you will ignore both of these issues until 1) your house is permanently under carbonized ocean water and 2) Big Brother decides you are no longer allowed to fly on US of A airlines to visit Grandma in Florida. Your charitable donations are suddenlyCamp Art - Horror terrorist money laundering. Your favorite cruise ship vacation is replaced by a prolonged stay in Cuba where no laws are pertinent.

Will data mining stop terrorism? It absolutely, definitely and assuredly will not. Data mining and the War on Terror will fail because George Bush has no idea what or who he is allegedly fighting. Winning means you have to know who and what to beat. It helps if you also know why. Ask any athlete. Tim Duncan does not play against some vague demographic segment. His job is to beat the heck out of Yao Ming and Shaq O’Neal.

Data mining, on the other hand, will generate gigatons of absolutely useless data, not winning a single game. It is pointless to wiretap 250 million Americans to gain insights into the minds of five or so terrorists located in Kazakhstan this week and in Lille, France next week and then possibly in the Sears Tower with a suitcase full of radioactive weapons of mass destruction and a smart looking suicide belt. The CIA will blame FBI who will tear into The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office who sends it off to NSA/CSS after which it is never seen again.

This is all due to the idea people can be classified, pigeonholed and dumped into categories, risk segments, code orange traps and hard drive locations. It is, to be true, all fantasy.

Politics

George Bush splits the World into those with him and those not. Those against him include everyone not with him, that is, Terrorists aka Muslims, Scientists, Environmentalists, anything French or German, Gays, his Dad, Hollywood, the Press, Fancy Food, Alzheimer victims, Math Teachers, ACLU and Anyone making less than a million bucks a day. He also dislikes journalists, Camp Art - The Cagedoctors, lawyers, actors, his own cabinet and members of previous cabinets as well as any past, current or future members of Congress.

Hitler divided the World into mythical Aryans and those not, such as Jews, Gypsies, Hungarians, Poles, Cabaret performers and Homosexuals. Stalin divided his constituents into evil peasants versus loyal commissars. His Generals split their troops into those shot by Germans and those shot in the back by fellow soldiers for not advancing fast enough. The Generals too usually ended up shot by a jealous Stalin.

None of the three gentlemen above cared or cares at all for “different” people. That is a tragedy led by the powerful and directed at the powerless. People are split into categories resulting in the loss of freedom, rights and heads. The rules of the splits can be pretty much anything. Here are a few examples from the last 8 years or so, sorted by casualties:

Iraqi Wars, Afghan Wars, Ethiopia-Eritrea War, Somali Civil War, The First and Second Chechen Wars, Sudanese Civil War, 9/11, Algerian Civil War, Israel-Lebanon War, Sierra Leone Civil War, Waziristan War, Cote d’Ivoire Civil War, al-Qaeda misc. Murders, Turkey-PKK Conflict, Beslan School Siege, Bali Bombings, Madrid Terrorist Attack, Moscow Theatre Siege, Guatemala Civil War, Bojaya Massacre, Super Ferry 14 Bombing, Iraq Fuel Tanker Bombing, London Terror Attacks, Passover Massacre, USS Cole Bombing, Varanasi Train Bombings, Janupur Train Bombing, Karachi Bus Bombing, Indian Parliament Murders, Podujevo Bus Bombing and the Anthrax Attacks.

Tragedy

There is a different kind of prominent split that most of us like to ignore. That is the split of those that are Disadvantaged or those who are not. This includes the Mentally Ill versus us Sane. The physically disabled versus us fit. The oppressed, discriminated against and persecuted; the homeless, stateless, limbless, jobless or not. Anyone not fitting the orderly picture favored by Outsider Art - Bill Traylorthose claiming to be Normal. Once you had Hippies and Beatniks. Now you have welfare mothers, suicide by police, walled suburbs, security cameras, phone taps, road rage and high school murder. It’s them versus us. Take no prisoners.

Perhaps one way to make the distinction is that the Outsiders are those that frighten the Insiders. The Insiders deep down know that the transition to Outsider is just a breath away. That is not a pleasant thought. You might suddenly and involuntarily join the damned, those fucked over one way or another. Jobs, status and security come and go.

Walk into any nursing home and you will not just find the elderly – you will find plenty of people that by their age and physical condition should be out there laboring away as us normal persons do. These people – traffic accident victims, punched out boxers, short-circuited CEOs, born “that way”, victims of violence or natural disasters – are institutionalized because a) they should be and b) someone or something is paying for their keep which is lucky indeed.

The US VA hospitals are filled with those suddenly Disadvantaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or the dozens of other conflicts deemed worthwhile by brave leaders. Iraqi graves are filled with those permanently Disadvantaged by cluster bombs, religious leaders, Bunker Busters, Precision this or that, lack of milk, neighbors, drugged out Blackwater “security guards” not to mention Syrians, Saudis, Iranians, Egyptians, Kurds, Turks and Jordanians. Perhaps an Israeli or two play their game too.

Cityscapes

I live in downtown Seattle. As in most downtown areas, human misery is close at hand. Screams in the night, mental illness, drugs, pan handling and all the other urban invisibles are all quite visible in my neighborhood. Being on a busy street close to a major fire station, sirens topple the normal Oursider Art - Bill Traylornoise level at a frightening pace. The major TV stations are close by and their remote units come and go, recording misery somewhere else. Their helicopters constantly head for some disaster or another.

Listening to the nighttime screams, the anger of those stuck out there is very obvious. It is true rage I hear. That rage is rarely specific and usually aimed at “it”. “It” isn’t you or me. But it leads to fear among the shop owners, the Yuppie condo people and the city officials. Rage on one side, fear on the other side. Careful demarcation of boundaries: them versus us, day versus night. It is remarkable how loud voices are at 4 AM when the traffic is gone. Perhaps it is despair I hear rather than anger. It might be both.

I have yet to see the rage of the disadvantaged turn into violence although it certainly happens. It does not, though, approach the violence created by even an average American President. Some of “them” I know by now. Others I recognize. Being an insomniac, I see both sides of the fence. Some of “them” are artists with great talent although the chance of a gig or exhibition is slim indeed.

Art

Here is what I’m driving at. You’d be astonished how much art is created by the Different or those Disadvantaged. Take Hitler’s concentration camps and ghettos. A different post of mine includedCamp Art - Shoes the harrowing, remarkable art produced by camp inmates. Some of those images are repeated here. Extraordinary music was composed in the camps. Only a small proportion is preserved. Hitler’s envy of real artists sentenced them to extermination. Here are just four of the names: Mendel Grossman – photographer, Leo Haas – painter, Alfred Kantor – painter, Paul Morgan – entertainer.

In recent times, the fenced paradise of Singapore banned, censored and prosecuted local press, local artists, theater performances, international press and magazines, pornography and music of various kinds. Sex and the City was only shown recently after much hand wringing. They call it Social Engineering.

The people of Singapore feel they live in a nice place which might be true in the mind of some. Certainly Singapore is record clean. There are immigrant ghettos in Paris and many other European cities that are not as clean or socially engineered. The various zones, authorities and partitions in the Middle East are in the daily news. The Baghdad disaster, parts of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto. If you live in one such area, Art may not be in the front yard of your life. Yet Art lives on everywhere – even in the Green Zone of Baghdad. I bet. Camp Art - Hands

Many of us saw the glorification of the Soviet Worker’s Paradise: workers rising, workers working, workers marching or worker warring. It did not include workers drunk, workers departing for Siberia or workers suffering from AIDS. Apparatich, KGB and aging leaders were artistically invisible. Artistically, the World became one-dimensional.

The Soviet System demanded conformance to “Soviet Realism” which was neither realistic, nor had much to do with art. Lenin in 1920 denounced “Expressionism, Futurism, Cubism and “other ‘isms’,” as non worthy elitist deviance. Dissidence meant gulags as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Alexander Ginzburg found out. Major artists such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev in music and, in literature, Bulgakov, Pasternak, Platonov, Mandelstam, Trifonov, Babel and Grossman all walked the thin line of becoming “Different” and rebelling against the state line. But check out some of Shostakovich’s works – there are plenty of semi hidden revolts against the dictations. All of which were at the mercy of Stalin and others. “Different” meant living a very miserable life.

In the US of A

Billie Holiday was banned from performing in New York as was Thelonious Monk. Joe McCarthy destroyed some 140 victims – many were artists. Rudy Giuliani unsuccessfully censored the Brooklyn Museum and its “Sensation” art show. Some five years ago, the New York State corrections commissioner announced that he banned the sale of artwork created by prison Outsider Art - the Clowninmates to reduce the anguish of the victims of said inmates. Considering over two million people in the US enjoy free room and board, it stands to reason there should be a rather lively art scene. Certainly many artists were in jail for some or another offence in their past.

Let’s compile another list: Emily Araki, Asao Handa, Mobu Hashimoto, Taye Jow, Yoshiko Ushida and Richard Kanazawa. All were Artists, different and residents of American concentration camps during WWII. There were many more, all of Japanese origins. Yet the sons fought in Italy and elsewhere. On the American side.

NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts are perpetual Republican targets for extinction. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird, All the Pretty Horses, the Harry Potter series, The Catcher in the Rye, Sophie’s Choice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Inferno (Dante) all share the honor of being banned from schools in, for instance, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida and Texas. The same schools usually favor school prayers, various patriotic pledges and creationism. They tend to agree with Lenin on “Expressionism, Futurism, Cubism and “other ‘isms’,” being dangerous elitist deviance usually leading to pre marriage sex or worse.

Camp Art - the FirebirdThen we have the racial issues. It used to be those were viewed as mostly a shameful American problem. Today it is a global issue that will get worse. Global Warming will force relocation of hundreds of millions of people from tropical areas into developed areas on top of the current labor market flows. Politicians gamble it will not happen on their guard. But Nicolas Sarkozy of France already knows the score as do his riot police.

Racial profiling is yet another example of discrimination practiced by air lines, police and New Jersey Turnpike State Patrol. United Airlines throw Assem Bayaa off a flight claiming that because of national security, they don’t have to obey civil rights protection laws. Racial profiling is blamed for the shooting of Amadou Diallo by the New York City Police Department. London Police killed Jean Charles de Menezes because he looked Middle Eastern. Menezes was Brazilian. US Airways removed six Muslim imams from a flight after fellow passengers expressed fear.Camp Art - Colors

My favorite fascist Ann Coulter jumped in on the US Airways act: “US Airways is my official airline now. Northwest, which eventually flew the Allah-spouting Muslims to their destinations, is off my list. You want to really hurt a U.S. air carrier’s business? Have Muslims announce that it’s their favorite airline.” Would Ms. Coulter like to fly Middle East Airlines on her next trip to Beirut? Maybe she’ll have to connect using Syrian Arab Airlines after crossing the Atlantic on Royal Jordanian out of JFK. No doubt service would be impeccable.

Mortgage lenders, insurance companies and the retail industry have their own version of profiling known as redlining. It means ethnic factors determine the availability of services. Blacks cannot obtain loans or insurance. Retailers refuse to serve certain ethnic neighborhoods. The late 1980s saw the emergence of the phrase Environmental Racism. It covers issues such as urban decay and excessive pollution in minority areas and the unavailable health care for, say, AIDS.

Us

“Us or We” stand for Tide and Dell. iPods, SUVs and cell phone ring tones. A precious few are happy, well adjusted and always productive. Most of us are not. We cherish majestic homes, Camp Art - Revengeexercise clubs, personal trainers. Airline miles, first class upgrades, airport club rooms and special floor in hotels. Foie Gras, Beluga Caviar, Kobe Beef, 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, stirred, not shaken martinis on Bombay Sapphire and a spot of BC’s finest. Prozac, Prada, Nike, Viagra.

Illegal gardeners, cooks and nannies. Insider trading, child porn, spousal abuse, congressional pages. Cancer, heart pacers, redone faces, improved waistlines, hairlines and butt lines. The Sundance Cirque Lodge, The Causeway Therapeutic Center or perhaps the Sunset Malibu when things get out of hand? “We” congest the streets, cause global warming, kill thousands of species, make wars, snort cocaine and generally don’t care for one another.

Camp Art - Gideon AbstractOnly the most stupid of us believe in useless stereotyping as shown above. There is not a single individual fitting the portrait. Some may come closer than others but labeling just does not work. Not all enjoy Beluga Caviar. Some prefer ballpark hot dogs and drive a Chevy Aveo. Others like Iranian Caviar better. Personally, I like spaghetti. I’m not much of a Prada guy.

Let’s consider the “Us” camp and some of its members. By most standards, membership includes strange individuals such as Howard Hughes, Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, Jerry Springer, Kobe Bryant, George W. Bush, Howard Stern, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, Boris Yeltsin, Ann Coulter, Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fred Flintstone and George Karl. All defy classification. They are different but have one thing in common. These people do not produce Art.

The “Us” segment contains untold numbers of serious, legitimate artists. Writers, painters, composers, topless dancers, photographers and maybe a blogger or two. Occasionally well adjusted, safe and sound, they go about the business of art. Some art Camp Art - Gideon Abstract 2may be a bit bland compared to the far corners of expressive power. It truly takes all kinds. Take Smooth Jazz and New Age Flutists – great companions with Prozac. No wonder the true Disadvantaged scream in the night. Their art is rarely bland.

To see the spread from the bland to the somewhat adventurous and, by exception, the truly original, compare, say, Perry Como and Janis Joplin. Doris Day compared to Eve Ensler. Miss Marple and John Barth. Rock Hudson and Sean Penn. Tom Clancy and Kurt Vonnegut. Amy Grant versus Eminem. Norman Rockwell against Pablo Picasso. John Grisham versus Norman Mailer. Burt Bacharach and Arnold Schoenberg. Ebert against Susan Sontag. Ricky Martin versus John Cage. David Sanborn versus John Coltrane. Janet Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Anita Baker against Anita O’Day. Danielle Steel versus Andrea Barrett.

Perhaps not all of the above are well adjusted. Some are or were addicted to various things. Not all are nice people. Some of the art is truly awful and most is very bland. None of them live on the street or reside in mental institutions. Some may feel at home in rehab centers but that’s not quite the same thing. This essay is not about these guys. This article is about the other ones: “them”.

Them

“They” stand for poverty, rage, illness, irresponsibility, insanity, and screams in the night. They are institutionalized, discarded, feared, deep-6ed, 86ed, banned, ignored, hidden, driven out of town. They look bad and smell bad. They are drunk, high, low, infected with lice, AIDS or TBC. A few are violent. They annoy, panhandle and give us evil eyes. Many are in jail, asylums or various concentration camps around the World. Or they would be if we establishment types could find the time to round them up. Being parasitic, they deserve no care, no breaks and no respect. Politicians safely can ignore them. They carry no political weight, do not lobby much of anything and receive no DC pork.

Mental Creativity

Mental illness, in particular manic-depression and creativity go well together. Famous examples include Ernest Hemingway, Robert Schumann, Virginia Woolf, Michelangelo, Diane Arbus and Lord Byron.Martin Ramirez Man on Horse

“Outsider Art” refers to the work of self-taught mentally ill or disadvantaged artists such as Delaine La Bas, Adolph Wolfli, Nek Chand, Ferdinand Cheval, Henry Darrger, Madge Gill, Alexander Lobanov, Martin Ramirez, Achilles Rizzoli and Judith Scott. The 1922 book “Artistry of the Mentally Ill” by Hans Prinzhorn identified the Ten Schizophrenic Masters: Karl Brendel, August Klotz, Peter Mogen, August Neter, Johann Knupfer, Victor Orth, Herman Bell, Heinrich Welz, Joseph Sell and Franz Pohl.

The six images close by in this section represent works by Outsider Artists. The top pencil drawing of a woman is by Madge Gill, an English artist guided by a spirit. She did thousands of drawings like the one shown here. The woman in the drawing may be Gill herself or a stillborn daughter.

Martin Ramirez, a Mexican who lived in California, did the Man on a Horse. Ramirez suffered from schizophrenia. After his death, the painting became quite valuable. This is unusual: most of these artists are or were institutionalized with their work neither shown publicly nor sold. Even after death, when often their work first came to light, little is made public.

The drawing of a huge dog with his tiny master is next. No doubt based on an accurate view of the world according to most dogs, the artist is Bill Traylor. He was born a slave in 1856 on a Bill Traylor Big Dog Small Manplantation near Benton, Alabama. He remained at the plantation till 1934, described as an illiterate farmer with some English vocabulary. He then worked on road gangs and was essentially homeless. So how come this man is viewed as one of the most important American artists?

From 1939 to 1942, Traylor worked the streets of Montgomery as a street artist. He was 83 when he started this artistic career, eventually producing around 1,800 drawings. Friends brought him drawing materials and others provided small favors such as food and an occasional roof. His first show was held in 1940 – ignored by Traylor who was busy drawing. His next show was held in 1942 at a local high school. By chance, his work caught the attention of the NYC Museum of Modern Art. The Museum attempted to buy some of the works but was angrily rejected. By 1943 Traylor moved north to his children. He died in 1947 and his work fell into the shadows for thirty five years.

In 1982, he was part of a landmark exhibition of Black American art. His work was rediscovered and he is now a regular feature of the art scene. Exhibitions include about some twenty across the South in the last 10 years. He recently was featured in England, Germany and Switzerland.

Adolf Wolfli, Resident Artist, Waldau Mental Asylum, Switzerland 1895-1930

Adolf Wolfli is perhaps the best known of the Outsider Artists. Born in 1864, he was a farmhand, a laborer and a convicted sex offender by the age of 31. At this point he was committed to the Asylum where he remained to his death in 1930. He was violent, subject to hallucinations and diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

He started drawing in 1899, but nothing is preserved till about 1905. Over the next twenty five years, he accumulated a remarkable output of an imaginary Adolf Wolfli Big Thing25,000 page autobiography and some 3,000 drawings and collages. Supported by some of the hospital staff, here is his established routine:

  • “Every Monday morning Wölfli is given a new pencil and two large sheets of unprinted newsprint. The pencil is used up in two days; then he has to make do with the stubs he has saved or with whatever he can beg off someone else.”
  • “He often writes with pieces only five to seven millimeters long and even with the broken-off points of lead, which he handles deftly, holding them between his fingernails. He carefully collects packing paper and any other paper he can get from the guards and patients in his area; otherwise he would run out of paper before the next Sunday night.”
  • “At Christmas the house gives him a box of colored pencils, which lasts him two or three weeks at the most.”

He achieved a bit of fame in 1921 when he was the subject of an attention getting publication stating a mentally ill person can be a serious artist. In 1922, he was one of several subjects in Prinzhorn’s book mentioned above. The publicity allowed him to sell some drawings.

Yet that ripple did not last long and it was not till 1972 – forty two years after his death – that he was discovered by the world of art. His work started a remarkable tour through the world that included well over a hundred fifty exhibitions at locations such as the Museums of Fine Arts in Basel and Bern, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Adolf Wolfli Campbell Soup on NewsprintBrussels, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Universities of California in Berkeley and Santa Barbara, Musee Picasso, Antibes, American Folk Art Museum, New York, Kunsthalle, Kiel, Scottish Art Council, Edinburgh, Berliner Museum, Berlin, Centre de Cultura Contemporania, Barcelona, Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo and the Katonah Museum of Art, New York. This is just a sampling;
add many more museums, exhibition halls and galleries.

What about his work? Well, think an enormous collection of newsprint papers completely covered with text, drawings, symbols, poetry and musical annotations. Meticulously organized into volumes: Nine volumes of “From the Cradle to the Grave”, Seven volumes of “Geographic and Algebraic Books”, 3,000 pages of “Saint Adolf-Giant-Creation (allowing his nephew to conquer not only Earth but the entire Cosmos), six books of “St Adolf II” (his alter ego), six books of “Songs ands Dances”, four books on “Dances and Marches” and sixteen books and 8,404 pages on his “Funeral March”. Most of his drawings were part of the volumes but some, called bread art, were single sheet, occasionally sold and the basis of his modest early following.

The drawings are exhausting, epic, complex, grandiose, geometrical, adventurous, labyrinthine, mysterious, startling and based on an incredible imagination. He spent most of his mature life in an isolation cell, yet provided views on far reaching subjects he could not have observed through Adolf Wolfli Musicanything but imagination.

Here is a bit of trivia: Wolfli did his Campbell Soup Can (above) in 1929. Andy Warhol did his Can in 1964. It seems both of them liked the Tomato Soup. Warhol is the pop artist of fame. Wolfli is known for insanity. May the best man or image win.

Also interesting is the inclusion of musical annotations and hints. Recently, these annotations have been interpreted into actual performances. He is said to have inspired a range of musicians and composers. Here are a few words on the musical aspect of his work off his web site:

  • “Naturally enough, the question whether Wölfli’s music can be played is asked again and again. The answer is yes, with some difficulty. Parts of the musical manuscripts of 1913 were analyzed in 1976 by Kjell Keller and Peter Streif and were performed. These are dances – as Wölfli indicates – waltzes, mazurkas, and polkas similar in their melody to folk music.”
  • “How Wölfli acquired his knowledge of music and its signs and terms is not clear. He heard singing in the village church. Perhaps he himself sang along. There he could see song books from the eighteenth century with six-line staffs (explaining, perhaps, his continuous use of six lines in his musical notations). At festivities he heard dance music, and on military occasions he heard the marches he loved so well.”
  • “More important than the concrete evaluation of his music notations is Wölfli’s concept of viewing and designing his whole oeuvre as a big musical composition. The basic element underlying his compositions and his whole oeuvre is rhythm. Rhythm pervades not only his music but his poems and prose, and there is also a distinctive rhythmic flow in his handwriting.”

Another curious aspect is that he apparently incorporated a detailed vocabulary into his work. This vocabulary included graphics such as birds, faces, decorative borders, snakes, musical staves and mandela shapes.

Adolf Wolfli’s creativity is only the beginning of his startling abilities. It is hard to even imagine what must have been going on in that isolated mind that astonishes a world about which he directly knew very little. There is only room here for a few of his drawings (above). Given the uniqueness of his work, I’ve prepared a short multimedia show of samples from his work, accompanied by his own music as interpreted recently. Hit the “Wolfli” button in the next segment and let the show roll.

TOC

The Case of Adolf Wolfli – A Multimedia Show

Sometimes, Outsider Artists are referred to as “Folk Artists”. Other descriptions include “brutish, rural, untrained, intuitive, menial, peasant, marginal, clumsy, naive, primitive, extreme, mental, elaborate and fantasy driven”. Personally, I don’t quite agree with any of these classifications. Considering that Outsider Art has become a commercially viable art form, some recent output might be described as opportunistic, simply bad or exploitative.

However, in the case of Wolfli, his music as interpreted in the show below is decidedly Swiss Folk style. Perhaps not all of us favor that particular music legacy but few among us can claim to simultaneously be writers of autobiographies, adventures, poetry, algebraic and geographic text books and symbolic essays plus be accomplished visual artists, draftsmen and illustrators plus be composers.

Hit the button for a rare glimpse of a long ago Outsider Artist and his quite strange world and who beat Andy Warhol to the Campbell Soup Can:

Wolfli

Finally

There are Outsider Music and Outsider Photography artists. Perhaps we have Outsider Postmen, Outsider Plumbers, Outsider Accountants and Outsider Neurosurgeons. Outsider Bloggers most likely are quite a large group. It depends on how you classify people. I suppose my point is that classifying people is a futile exercise. There are some trivial classifications that are real. If you lost a leg you are a one-legged individual. If you were born in Moscow, Idaho, you are an American citizen. But if you claim such classifications can be extended to your credit rating or artistic ability, then you are on a slippery slope.

Visions aren’t the simplest of all things we have to deal with. Commercial visions are Big Business in a confused, surreal sort of way. Conglomerates, corporations, companies, politicians, police chiefs and postal workers seemingly can’t live without those pay-per-view mass market visions. Creating, making, faking, enforcing, stealing, distorting, maintaining and hiding behind visions can be an everyday task.

Visionary consultants enjoy visions of corporate money mountains to be liberated. Visionary self-help authors improve us while cashing our checks. Famous visionary seminar personalities smile at us from the podium, counting heads and the evening’s take. Visionary leaders can send us to war, death and hunger, chanting poll numbers. Other visionaries bore us to death. Visions are not easily shared and not always friendly companions. It’s a good thing there is help available to sort things out. Check out the small list below – if you don’t find the right choice – just keep looking. Someone will kLdesign.com - Two Pillowsnock on your door.

How about getting expert advice by hiring Andre Agassi, Bill Clinton, Bob Costas, Jay Leno, Lance Armstrong, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michelle Akers, Magic Johnson, Big Bad Voodo Daddy, Alec Baldwin, Dave Barry, Neil Armstrong, Angela Bassett, Ken Riley, Chevy Chase, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte, Wolf Blitzer, Paul Reiser, Dr. Phil, Mick Fleetwood, The Zippers, Paula Zahn, Ann-Margret, the B-52’s, Asleep At The Wheel, The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Dog The Bounty Hunter, Goldie Hawn, Drew Carey, George Foreman, Jerry Seinfeld, Shaquille O’Neal, Tom Jones, Yao Ming, Barbara Walters, Ellen DeGeneres or perhaps Tina Turner. You will end up delighted, motivated, reborn and very broke.

About Visions

Enron had a vision – hit California widows as hard as inhumanly possible. Microsoft had and has a vision of invincibility as did IBM and Saddam Hussein. Harley-Davidson (“HOG”) has a vision of stopping those darn oil leaks. George W. Bush has many Ldesign.com - Up the Laddervisions – none good, legal or comprehensible. Oil companies envision new holes in the Arctic, pumping the heck out of them till nothing is left but pollution, garbage and extinct species. British Prime Minister Chamberlain declared his vision of peace in our time in 1939 after giving away Europe to the evil visions of Adolf. Bill Clinton had and probably has visions that we won’t talk about in this family friendly medium. I’m not sure about Hillary’s vision or those of Monica, Kathleen, Gennifer, Elizabeth, Sally, Dolly or Paula. Etc.

There are religious visions, often referred to as miracles, such as the awakening of the dead – Jimmy Carter being a good example. Sometimes dreams are viewed as visions. Other times they are nightmares – such as the images of Ann Coulter or Geraldo. Some visions are expressed by speaking in tongues – consider Donald Rumsfeld, Robert McNamara or Alan Greenspan. Perhaps it is the mystical experience of seeing the supernatural, such as Elvis still being Big in Las Vegas, or being a supernatural being, such as Michael JLdesign.com - Lights in the Darkackson or the Alien II monster. It might be a person or thing of extraordinary beauty, such as Howard Stern or Paris Hilton. Some say it is the mark of unusual competence in discernment or
perception; intelligent foresight: a leader of vision, such as Michael Brown of FEMA (or his bosses), Ken Lay or Kim Jong Il.

How about the visions of sub prime mortgage companies of recent fame? Tobacco companies? Alberto Gonzales’ vision of US sponsored torture? IRS visions of you and your returns? The dreams of Iraqi refugee women serving as prostitutes in Syria? Al Gore’s vision of immortality? The Giuliani vision of no jay-walkers, no decadent art and a Disneyland America? The aspirations of Homeland Security. The Visionary Wars on Terror, Muslims, Immigrants, Gays, Science, Pot Smokers and the Teletubbies. There is no end to bad and misguided visions. Just look around you.

The Goodness of Visions

There are other kinds of visions than the bad, the ugly and the many. Those of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, John Steinbeck, Lord Byron, Jimmy Stewart and Norman Mailer (always remembered). Bono envisions an AIDS free Africa, a vision not shared by Drug CLdesign.com - Man at Nightompanies. Here are some more such suspects: Rubens, Miro, Aristotle, Miles Davis, Gustaf Mahler, Jack London, Fjodor Dostojevski, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. There’ll be more about the two last names as we go along, this being a photo blog. These visions are not bought in a parking lot like some already mentioned. Nor are they brought on by grandiosity, greed, confusion, mental deficiencies, crack cocaine or troubled childhoods as some others are.
Some things are different.

Here is one such difference. Visions associated with art tend to survive much longer than the others. Many value related observations of art versus the more mundane visions of toothpaste manufacturers exist. Art does carry a special banner. Art visions, for instance, outlast most cheese burgers, cheese burger consumers and their makers. Art may remain alive for thousands of years. Take that, Letterman, KFC or Rudy G.

About Creativity

Creativity is our second mini subject. As with visions, it is a slightly suspect subject. G.H.W Bush did not favor it and his mighty son does not consider anything as far out as ten letters (or so; 9? 11? duh). The subject of creativity is just not quite as distinguished as “visions”. There are creativity consultants – some Ldesign.com - Shadowsbearded and smelling of pot – that usually can’t demand as high fees as the visionary celebrities. Not that they don’t try. But somehow creative thinking or activity ranks way below the vision thing. It doesn’t have quite the ring to it.

In some cases, creativity leads to unorthodox, independent and hence dangerous thinking. Rarely is “different” a good thing. Microsoft Office, for instance, is a given part of almost any organization. That Open Source stuff is not to be trusted except by creative and visionary accountants. Where is the business model? What’s that insane “free” price tag? What if some one expected me to work for free? Damn Commies and Deviants. And how about those crazy blog writers and their silly for-free thoughts. Free is madness. Madness is bad. Obviously, blog writers are mad. A few are creative, making them even badder.

Of course, the above are just some examples of feelings running amok. It can go the other way, too. Just consider the “Creative Writing” classes of many fine institutions that possibly are Ldesign.com - Lightsanything but creative. What about the 281,524 book titles listed on Amazon as “creative”? Bring your reading glasses for treasures such as “Creative Abundance: Keys To Spiritual And Material Prosperity”, “Right-Brain Styles for Conquering Clutter, Mastering Time, and Reaching Your Goals “, “The Tongue: A Creative Force “, “Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 Exercises to Wake Up Your Brain”, “Creative Concrete Ornaments for the Garden: Making Pots, Planters, Birdbaths, Sculpture & More”, “Creative Whack Pack”, “Creative Recycling
in Embroidery” and “Creative Interventions for Troubled Children and Youth”. Here are some naturals: “God’s Creative Power Gift Collection; God’s Creative Power Will Work for You; God’s Creative Power for Healing and God’s Creative Power for Finances”. If that doesn’t do it for you, there are 281,510 other titles to enjoy and prosper from.

There are Creative Investments, Labs, Commons, MP3 players and sound cards. Singapore has singapore.creative.com, complementing Ldesign.com - A Fence their vision of a spit and butt free society. How about Creative Advertising, Interactive Media, Multimedia and Creative Linux. Creative Good, Screen writing and Adobe’s Creative Suite. Most are quite creative in taking your money but perhaps not in much more than that.

There’s some evidence madness and creativity go well together. Van Gogh certainly was both. Idi Amin and Bébé Doc Duvalier were both quite nuts but not creative except perhaps in murder. Lennie Bernstein – quite sane as well as very creative. Boris Yeltsin – mad but reasonably good at conducting large orchestras without falling down too often, pulverizing his own Duma and occasionally, creative dancing. By comparison, Putin seems neither-nor everything. Sort of like a pair of empty shoes. Like those of Mitt Romney, Keanu Reeves, Michael Bloomberg, Al Gore, Goofy and Dick Cheney. Anyone home?

We’ll return to the subject of madness in art in a later post.

French chefs create meals worthy ofLdesign.com - Autumn Leaves Michelin stars but not your cholesterol count. Cops create an illusion of safety. Insurance companies claim you are in good hands while envisioning saving you 15% in 15 minutes. Reality shows, thieves and politicians demonstrate creativity in lying, cheating, stealing or writing blogs. Democrats are creatively adding taxes for those not giving them money; Republicans are creative in reducing taxes for whoever gives them money.

Creativity and vision have some things in common. One is that the combination can produce great art. Another is that no one knows exactly what either is. There are scores of definitions of both vision, creativity and, let’s throw this one in – innovation. These definitions are all less than adequate. Many are simply self serving.

But most of us recognize creativity and pure vision when we see or otherwise experience it. Such recognition is personal, biased and not always logical. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci is a Ldesign.com - Down The Streetgreat example of creativity in just about ever one’s mind. But for what? His airplane thing never flew. He is not the one that invented the Camera Obscura. Already mentioned – Leonard Bernstein certainly was creative but how many of us still sing “Maria” in the shower? How many really admire the creativity in the unusual minds of Mel Gibson, Anderson 360, Martha Stewart, Larry King, Dean Martin, Victoria Beckham, Twiggy or Tom Cruise? Yet we somehow know what creativity is. Just don’t look too closely.

In previous posts, I’ve preached how nothing is what it seems. Light is just a perception, colors don’t exist; cameras lie, eyes and brains fool us, themselves and others. Our familiar three dimensional world isn’t actually three dimensional. Al Gore did not invent the Internet or Global Warming. Hitler was not the first practitioner of genocide. Bush did not create state sanctioned torture all by himself. Elvis is really quite dead. Romance does not lasts forever. O. J. is guilty. Churchill was not a teetotaler. This blog may not exist – you think you read it as I believe I write it. Fool’s Paradise.

Visions, Light, Distortions and Dimensions

Here is the crudest possible perception of a photo: It is a static two dimensional image of a scene as it existed in the briefest moment in time. Those characterizations are not true in the simplest amateur point and shoot cases, much less in any photographic piece of art. KGLPhoto Girl in a CrowdThe amateur may well successfully capture something of precious value to the intended audience. The fine art photo will probably be viewed by a wider audience, presenting a sophisticated, multidimensional and unique experience.

As part of a series, this essay contemplates what makes a great photo. What does it take to make one? I’m writing as a photographer, not a viewer. Viewers will get something out of it as well. This is not a technical how-to article. Look elsewhere for ideas on f stops, flash settings, rules of thirds, the zone system or Photoshop secrets. Instead, enjoy some rather unconventional ideas that reduce the mysteries of shooting great photos (for you) while preserving the magic (to your audience):

  • Understand your very own vision. Explore it. Let it happen. Persist. Ignore the gurus.
  • Photography is about distortions and abstractions, not reality. Break the boundaries.
  • Light is the basis of all photography. Understand light. Knowing about color helps too.
  • Photographs are multi-dimensional. Use that. Think beyond two or three dimensions.

Simple, isn’t it. I’m just kidding. It’s really, really hard to shoot a good photograph. It’s really, really absurd to reduce the magic of art into a few simplistic “rules” as shown above. As you will find out, these simplistic rules are not simple at all. But they are doable and real. Try it.

Understand that Magic

Success in any endeavor depends on self knowledge. In art, self knowledge defines the artist’s work and is reflected in vision statements and the work processes. Some people require formal vision statements, detailed plans, rules and so forth. Diane Arbus - People against Door at NightTo others, it’s all an intuitive process. Right or left brain, there is a process. The photographer who understands visions and methodical executions is much more likely to shoot and produce great and lasting photos.

Take wedding photographers, often following a written script: shoot bride; then bride and mother; add brother; add step father, grandmother and former boy friend…. Do Ceremony, Chicken Dinner, First Dance, Wedding Cake, Uncle Ben Ejected, Limo here, Limo there, Collect Fee and Get Out. Not much of a vision but certainly a partial plan.

Another extreme case is the amateur’s random path without a plan but with plenty of heart and soul. Masterpieces are not likely but it may not matter. A fine art photographer may spend years coming up with an original vision, acting accordingly in a consistent manner. The sports photographer follows the script. Portrait makers deep-six the wrinkles. The paparazzi covers the beat, avoiding bodily harm if possible. Guess who has KGLPhoto Branches against Light at Nightthe greatest chance of shooting something worthwhile to a knowledgeable audience. All do, of course – that’s who. Most photographers are quite similar to the monkey hammering away towards the Shakespeare play. That random path without a plan is more common than any admits. So what?

Many of us look for the middle ground as we deal with the “process thing”. Formalize some aspects to keep on track, be flexible in other aspects to encourage new ideas. The process is vital; the form it takes is personal. It pays to be a bit weary of the random path. Expecting no effort is the true loser.

Whether on paper or in one’s head, the creative process depends on a few basics. I’m sure Ansel Adams (who had to write technical books about his processes and thought patterns) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (who neither wrote technical books, nor volunteered to verbalize his processes) both, consciously or not, considered many of the points to be covered in this series.

Artistry

Artistry contains two uniquely personal components beyond that vision thing. The first is creativity. Creativity hangs out with that artistic vision. The second is innovation. Innovation makes creative ideas become real, actual works of art. Most artists create art that is unique and very different from that of the next guy. Yet the basic creative thought patterns tend to be similar. Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson created art with almost nothing in common except cameras were involved. But read some of their thoughts and you will find great similarities, not in everything but in spirit:

Ansel Adams said:

  • In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular…. sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a Ansel Adams - River and Mountainsgood chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
  • All I can do in my writing is to stimulate a certain amount of thought, clarify some technical facts and date my work. But when I preach sharpness, brilliancy, scale, etc., I am just mouthing words, because no words can really describe those terms and qualities it takes the actual print to say, “Here it is.”
  • When I’m ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.
  • Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Do these subjects move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?
  • I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term – meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching – there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said: Henri Cartier-Bresson Young Girl Carrying a Picture

  • They asked me: “‘How do you make your pictures?” I was puzzled and I said, “I don’t know, it’s not important.”
  • I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life -to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.
  • This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.
  • If the photographer succeeds in reflecting the exterior as well as interior world, his subjects appear as “in real life.” In order to achieve this, the photographer must respect the mood, become integrated into the environment, avoid all the tricks that destroy human truth, and also make the subject of the photo forget the camera and the person using it. Complicated equipment and lights get in the way of naive, un-posed subjects. What is more fleeting than the expression on a face?
  • To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression. I believe that through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds- the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to Henri Cartier-Bresson - Couple by the River Seineform a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate. But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean the rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines and values.
    It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.

To both photographers, the making of a photograph was a spiritual act, an inner conviction and a desire to abstract essence beyond the material world. Neither of them mentions tools or techniques except to say those are not important. I’d imagine they would not agree on whether a particular photograph is great or not. They had vastly different approaches to just about any lower level photographic technique. But the basic creative thought patterns are quite similar. Let’s consult some other photographers:

Other Photographers Said:

  • “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you Diane Arbus Twin Girlsknow.”; “What moves me about…what’s called technique…is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.”-Diane Arbus
  • The challenge for me has first been to see things as they are, whether a portrait, a city street, or a bouncing ball. In a word, I have tried to be objective. What I mean by objectivity is not the objectivity of a machine, but of a sensible human being with the mystery of personal selection at the heart of it. The second challenge has been to impose order onto the things seen and to supply the visual context and the intellectual framework – that to me is the art of photography. -Berenice Abbott

Here is some more wisdom:

  • Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term – selectivity. -Berenice Abbott
  • “I discovered that while many photographers think alike when it comes to equipment and chemistry, there are seldom two who agree on anything when it comes to what constitutes a good image.”; “Great Diane Arbus Two Ladiesphotography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”; “Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gismos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” -Peter Adams
  • “What is right? Simply put, it is any assignment in which the photographer have significant spiritual stakes… spiritually driven work constitutes the core of a photographer’s contribution to culture.”; “What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer.”-William Albert Allard

Vastly different personalities, drastically different views of the world and what makes a good photo, the creative thinking remains quite similar. It got to be a point in there, somewhere.

So what’s the fuzz?

What makes art special? Somehow art is more powerful than your average concept, be it Mission Impassable IX, Chicken McSluggets, Senator Hillbilly Clanton or the new Ford Swahili or motivational celebrities. The Ford Swahili Ldesign.com - A Dooris concept tested for years, rolled out on national TV, O% Financed, Traded in, Traded out, then disappearing into a final life as Haitian cabs. Millions may be made and sold, congesting highways, polluting the air and killing some of its owners. Then when it is over – it really is over.

The art of Ansel Adams has a permanent home of sorts in San Francisco. Not many of you have a clue where that is located. Some of his photos hang in museums around the world; others are in private hands. The University of Arizona safeguards the treasure. There are no trade ins, financing campaigns, concept tests, TV ads, marketing budgets or salesmen in smart looking Kmart suits. Occasionally some Adams collection hits the road, visiting Spokane, WA; Saarbrucken, Germany and La Rochelle, France. The local newspapers may cover the event in, say ten sentences filed next to the dog show listings. Most TV reporters never heard of Ansil Adam. Yet the people show up in droves.

Some time ago, I spent a weekend trying to get into a particular Chicago Art Institute exhibition. I never made it – too many lined up in front of me, day after day. It would have been far easier to get into a Bulls, Bears, Whitesox or Cubs game or the Jerry Springer & Winfrey Shows. The Rush Street Clubs or lunching with Richard Daley – much easier, I imagine. Dinner reservations with Charlie Trotter, Rick Tramonto or Grant Achatz – piece of cake by comparison. I’m sure the Art Institute spent some marketing money but that’s not what created the draw. The art created the draw.

Ldesign.com - Wet Street Ansel Adams is a name with considerable recognition. Hillbilly Clanton would love his numbers. Now, Adams did most of his famous work in the 1940s and 1950s. Do you remember which was the best selling car in 1954? The top chart song of 1942? The 1938 Senator from Indiana? The dominant fall fashion colors of 1948? The favorite milk shake in 1935? Me neither. Most of us recognize an Ansel Adams picture, though. At least I do.

Adams survived the wear of time together with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig who died in 1941, Coca Cola (there are always exceptions), Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Winston Churchill. Adams’ 1941 Moonrise, Hernandez, NM photo coincided with the premieres of Citizen Kane, High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and Dumbo. Bob Hope started his USO shows lasting the next fifty years. 1941 saw Hasselblad opening up a shop in Sweden. The Wehrmacht used plenty of Leica III’s. Joe Louis held on to his title six times. Those are some of the memorable events.

But did you know that Cecil Brown won the 1941 Peabody Award for reporting the news, that Jimmy Dorsey did Green Eyes and Bing Crosby crooned Dolores. Other forgotten songs include “It’s So Peaceful in the Country”, “The Hut-Sut Song”, “Cow-Cow Boogie” and “I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi”. Packard Clipper cars sold well as did the Hudson Coupe and Cadillac’s 2-door Convertible. The Cheerios brand was introduced. The radio show Melody Ranch with Gene Audrey, Hopalong Cassidy and the Grand Ole Opry shows all did just fine. The Emerson Phonoradio ($49.95) was enjoyed by many but is long gone. Few of us ponder the Ecuador-Peru Border War considering Pearl Harbor, the Germans just outside Moscow and U-boats sinking everything afloat. So much gone without a trace or regret.

Perhaps it is real simple. Things that deserve to last over time do indeed last. All the junk deserving nothing receive nothing and go away. Surely it’s not that simple. If that was true – would we have to suffer macaroni and cheese, Strauss waltzes, grits, yodeling or Jerry Lewis? I think not.

Digital cameras snap, shoot and process some 15 billion pictures a year. Most likely, only a few hundred of those will survive the lapse of time. The rest will quietly retire to the big photo paradise in the sky. What’s the difference between those long forgotten pictures resting in the sky and those few that live on to tell the story of our times?

Digital cameras sell at a rate of about 100 million a year. Cell phone cameras may sell at 5 times that amount. Say a combined total of 600 million per year. Say the average camera has a life cycle of three-four years, indicating there are maybe 2 billioSebastian Salgado - Slave labor in L. American Minen cameras in use world wide. Say the average owner snaps 5-10 pictures a year. That’s about 15 billion photos created a year, give or take a few billions.

Incidentally, isn’t it nice to know that the suicidal driver next to you on the road may not only have a head wrapped around a cell phone but could also capture the last earthly moments of either of you in panoramic, full color, no red eye high resolution jpegs automatically uploaded to YouTube, MeTube and ThemTube? Admired by millions before you even cool down? Ah well, that would never happen to me but it might happen to you.

Out of those billions of pixs, most won’t stand a chance to make it through history or even the day as your spouse/significant other/what-ever might gleefully point out. They’ll be lucky to survive a 1 second glance (the pictures, not the spouse etc.). Let’s be eternally grateful for that. The great big photo place in the sky is awaiting those hoped-for but not achieved master pieces.

Also disappearing are some $20 billion out of your and my pockets. I don’t know about you but after the first few billions, I hardly notice anymore.

Sebastio Salgados - Latin American MinePerhaps a success rate of a few hundred winners out of scores of billions seems pretty miserable, especially considering the enormous cost in $. But the flip side is that these few winners may provide a distant future with understanding and perhaps admiration of today’s world and its terrific photographers. Not a bad thing for a lucky photographer.

So it is good that most everyone in the developed and soon the entire world owns a camera, similar to possessing a phone, TV, dog, iPods, fresh socks or perhaps a card board box for a new roof. Any camera may produce the treasure picture. Some professionals may own several quite expensive cameras with lots of accessories. Others don’t.

Many of us discovered that some like to own the cameras we own. Thus, the rip-off business is very much alive, keeping eBay profitable. No one ever stole my socks but my cameras is a different story. Attach thou self to thy art, not the cameras. In this case, it is good to know it is the artist (owner), not the camera, that makes the great pictures.

The moral is that photography is big business, both to businesses and to individuals. It’s so common that perhaps we do not appreciate the miracle that actually creates a photo from some scattered, distorted and unruly light. Maybe it’s even harder to realize the magic that creates a good photo. This post serves to look at that issue.

Good photography has nothing to do with money spent on equipment. Your social standing, fame or skin Henri Cartier-Bresson - Kids in Ruinscolor matters little. A $40,000 Hasselblad or the all-plastic #20 Holga both can make art. Democrat, KKK member, Silent Majority, Maoist, Country Singer – who cares – art is for everyone. In many cases, the more money spent, the less the value of the photos – the focus is on the wrong thing.

You can make a great camera out of a shoe box using a little 5c needle. There are many great photos coming out of that shoe string operation. You don’t even need film or digital backs – the image can be viewed at the back of the shoe box as a plain projection. Scaling up, one can view such an image on a wall. No $3,000 F.5 lens required.

Fame and Money

Owning an expensive car does not make anyone a good driver. A big house does not make us better neighbors. Our ever bigger pay check does not produce a better society. Photoshop won’t create Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photo. Smart bombs do not create peace nor will the $2 trillion cost of the Iraq war. The corner office does not cure divorce, heartache or cancer. Microsoft Word Sebastian Salgado - Water Sources in the Desertdoesn’t make you Shakespeare. The biggest industrial base in the world doesn’t create the biggest land of happiness but the largest source of pollution.

Selling 85 million albums didn’t do Britney Spears much good. Michael Jackson apparently hides in a desert somewhere. Tom Delay, Richard Nixon, Bernard Ebbers and Ken Lay are just examples of the mighty taking hard falls.

W. A. Mozart was never rich – he fought poverty most of his life by spending every schilling he made. So did Rembrandt. Robert Capa mysteriously lost his Leica whenever he was broke which most of the time was the case. Haydn was a poor and humble court servant much of his life. So was Bach. Beethoven didn’t do much better. van Gogh and Monet never reaped to riches their works demand today. Mother Theresa didn’t lunch in Beverly Hills. My art teacher didn’t hop to London on the Concorde. Untold artists never made or make a decent living. Yet they have in common a collection of art unmatched by anything in the world of, say, Karl Rove, Ann Coulter, Bill Clinton, the Bush Clan or Alberto Gonzales.

LDesign.com - By the Cold StorageMy main “On Photography essay” mentions the artists belonging to what’s called “Outside Artists (or Art)”. These artists never achieved recognition in their life time. Most spent their lives in mental institutions. Some were homeless. They never had exhibitions reviewed by New York Times. The Art Institute of Chicago did not pay attention. Of course, neither one of these two fine institutions is at fault for this, they claim. Today, several of the Outside Artists are exhibited world wide. “Outsider Art” now is a money machine, catching new interest from dealers and curators.

None of this is new, of course. Artists always were poor, misunderstood and treated unfairly. No doubt that was true of the cave artists of the Chauvet Cave in Southern France 20-35,000 years ago. Yet their art is about all that remains from those very distant Ice Age days. This is precisely the way it is supposed to be! Art has this stubborn, wonderful ability to survive even the harshest challenges such as Ice Ages, the Religious Right, Rudy Guiliano and his various wives, police chiefs and investment buddies.

Let’s poll!!

We have, of course, always been fascinated (envious? disgusted?) with famous persons. Any numbers of businesses know that and exploit it to their little merry, greedy hearts. But what exactly is “fame”. For LDesign.com - Protesterswhom, or what, will it last beyond the next blockbuster of whatever medium?

Here’s the deal: a little poll Choose no more than four of the names, things, events below. Two of the items are your selections of the two least likely to be famous in 100 years. The other two are the ones you believe will at least retain most of their current fame. It’s a simple choice – those without lasting fame, those with lasting fame. For the heck of it, I added extra categories to the names: Foods, Events and Stuff. Select your choices from any category.

In the low tech spirit of this post, here is how: use the comment box at the bottom of this post to submit your vote in any fashion that communicates your choice. Here and below are links to that spot There is another link returning you to the beginning. I’ll do my best to keep up with your busy and eager responses. After all, on normal day, well over a thousand of you deeply honored readers pass through these pages. Bless you all.

Here are the names, in seven favorite groups – Politics, Arts, Entertainment, Misc. and to change the pace a bit Events, Food and Stuff ” – America’s Fastest Growing Poll:

  • Politics: George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Tom DeLay, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, J. F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Boris Yeltsin, Barney the Scottish Terrier, Bob Packwood, Kim Jong-Il, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan & sister Bay, Sonny & Mary Bono.
  • Arts: George Gershwin, Andy Warhol, Louis Armstrong, Lenny Bruce, Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Igor Stravinsky, Bill Haley, Norman Mailer, Luciano Paverotti, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Cage, The Beach Boys, Liberace, Woody Allen, Doonesbury.
  • Entertainment: Tom Cruise, J. K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Adam Sandler, Judy Garland, Jimmy Steward, Madonna, Donald Duck, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Howard Stern, Snowwhite, Paris Hilton, Laurence Olivier, Conan O’Brien, Batman, Greta Garbo, Bruce Lee, ABBA.
  • Misc: Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, King-Kong, Ken Lay, Marie Curie, David Beckham, Albert Einstein, Martha Steward, Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Mike Tyson, Karl Marx, Bill Maher, Groucho Marx, Snoop Dogg, Riverdance, Superman, Marge Simpson, PacMan.
  • Events: 9/11 2001, O. J. Simpson Trials, Global Warming, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, Bill Clinton Impeachment, The A-Bombing of Hiroshima, The Internet, AIDS, The Moon Landings, Watergate, Tom Cruise@Oprah, iPods Releases, Playboy debut, Janet Jackson@Superbowl XXXVIII, Yahoo birth.
  • Food: French Fries, Brains and Eggs, Steak Tartare, Beluga Caviar, Macaroni & Cheese, Big Macs, Surf & Turf, Onion Rings, Caesar Salad, Puffer Fish, Béarnaise Sauce, Lutefisk, Broccoli, Sushi, Snails, Liver & Onions, Veggie Burgers, Smorgasbord, Liverwurst, Fishsticks, Coleslaw, Kobe Beef, Kippers, Herring.
  • Stuff: Chevrolet Corvette, YouTube, Cell phone Ring tones, Microsoft Word, GPS-In-Your-Car, TiVo, The American Express Platinum Card, Boeing B52, Alien I, II, III, Soprano Reruns, The Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Reagan’s Star War, NASA, Hum-Ve, Cocaine, i-Anything, e-ThisAndThat, Maze.

Enter your choices by using the comment box at the end of this post. Hit the “Poll” button to get there quickly. Then return here using the “Return” button. And – hey – if you don’t like my choices, make up your own.

Poll

High Tech Anxiety

If being rich and powerful does not guarantee great photos any more then using an expensive lens – what would? Surely the fantastic new wonders in our ultra technology world is an answer. Take groundbreaking technologies such as DIGIT III, USM, FlexiZone, AiAF, iSAPS, SELPHY, VariAngle, TriCod, Elph, CyberShot, Super HAD, EXILIM, Genie, DA C, DNG, IAA, Phocus, GIL, IPTC Core and XMP Plus. These allegedly major advances come from current catalogs of Canon, Sony and Hasselblad. You have no idea what this stuff stands for? Me neither and I’d like to keep it that way. If you think TriCod is the way to go, by all means spend the dough. It’ll match your BetaMax collection and that ABS training system you purchased a while ago.LDesign.com - Wasteland

High Tech creatures as we may be, utter madness is a healthy part of life. We are living in the utopia of intelligent garbage compactors, mood sensitive lighting, paperless (and people less?) offices, secure and safe computing, no-spam email, painless surgery, eHarmonized spouses, nuclear umbrellas, terrorism cured climate controlled eHouses. Well, the truth is – none of these much talked-about technologies are real. All of them have or will join the failures of Microsoft Bob, Ford’s Edsel, Dubya’s War on Terror, Apple’s Pippin, and the Tacoma Bridge, Alberto Gonzales’ war on US Attorneys, the Maginot Line, the Dean Scream, FEMA, the Domino Theory, Homeland Security, New Coke, G. H. W. Bush’s tax policy, Hillary Clinton’s Health Care Plans and just about everything ever touched on by G. W. Bush & Entourage. Or,

  • As H. M. Warner, founder of the famous studio put it in 1927: Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? Or as Ajhan Chah mentioned: Looking for peace is like looking for a turtle with a mustache: You won’t be able to find it.
  • To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality; to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality. The more you talk and think about it, the further astray you wander from the truth. Stop talking and thinking and there is nothing you will not be able to know. Hsin Hsin Ming

Of course not everything is a failure, fake or fraud – it’s just a matter of perspective. Michael Brown did a heck-of-a job in New Orleans. George W. successfully was landed on an aircraft carrier and declared his job was done. Ken Lay never went to prison. Reagan felled the Berlin Wall but never heard of Nicaragua. Record companies successfully dragged grandmothers and underage kids into court. Oil Pollutionand Tobacco companies survived the adversity of various overeager zealots. Global Warming is kept an obscure, unproven and invisible rumor by George W. and other visionaries – just a part of the George W. Bush War on Science. Genocide here, famine there, nukes spreading like wildfire and Guantanamo’s popping up around the world: all are made subjects unworthy of attentions.

Drug companies enjoy fair and well earned profits from Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Esipram, Effexor, Cymbalta, Avanza, Zispin, Remeron, Esronax, Wellbutrin, Zyban, Emsam, Manerix, Tryptan, Buspar, Seroquel, Klonopin, Rivotril, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Adderall, Ritalin, Lithium, Tegretol, Epilim and Lamictal. That’s just to mention a few of the mind altering drugs on the market. It used to be that booze and opium did the job but no more of that.

Meanwhile, there are few drugs available to African AIDS victims. Countries such as the US dispose of their mentally ill by putting them on the streets as police gun practice targets. Polar bears and Arctic seals, krill, cod, lemmings, foxes, reindeer and walruses are obsolete and of no consequence. So are textile workers, aluminum workers, telecom workers, steel workers, cab drivers, sex workers, whaterveryourindustryis workers – depending on where you live and rare fortunes.

So what?

So life is tough. Artists starve. Sickos die. Bad products flop. Fortunes flip. Jobs go elsewhere. High Tech fails. Bears perish. Pills keep you happy. Pills make you sleep. Pills wake you up. Pension funds robbed. Coral reefs bleached. Bush remains President. Spouses fight, kids disappear, dogs panic. On it goes.

Remember the Chauvet Cave artists? Come on – it was just a couple of paragraphs ago. Pay attention. I mentioned them for a reason. Art survives. Almost all that is known about prehistoric human conditions comes from the art of a few cave artists in Southern France. Everything else is dead and long forgotten. We don’t know the ancient status of Gay Rights, Equal Employment Opportunities, Balanced Budgets, Wars on Terror, Evolution, Abortion and so on. We do know just how important animals were to those people. Just look at the art. Cave Art - Bisons

Art survives. Species go extinct. Jobs are gone. Gods, no gods, one, several, none. Chemistry here, pollution there. No morals, too much morals. Evolution, yes, no, maybe. Holocaust, starvation, killing fields. Clausewitz, Mao, Sun Tzu, Mickey Mouse. Abortion, yes, no. Bombs – nuclear, smart, dumb, too big, too small, stealth, B-52s, vested, worn, exploded by females, students, kids and Generals. Unfairness, violations, crime, corruption and high fever. Ice Ages come and go as do Global Warmings. Art survives it all. Eventually the rest dies. Art survives. The cave artists are still with us. Their contemporaries are not. Art is about us, by us, for us and will eventually be all that is left.Cave Art - More Bisons

Cave Drawings are Art. Photography is art. Lenses are not art, neither are brand names, pixels or ISOs, ASAs, DINs and UFOs. Canon, Nikon, Hasselblad, Leica or Kodak do not make art, they make stuff. Art is people, at least in the case of a selected few. Photographers create the art – some to be immortal, others very much mortal. The few, the proud, the artists. The survivors.

Less is More

Now, let’s consider the Leica M3 rangefinder camera. It was introduced in the early 1950s and remained in production till about 1968, succeeded by a few very similar models. No batteries, exposure meters or gadgetry. Three lenses did the job. Possibly a flash but usually not. Today, these cameras catch top dollars. So do the lenses and the few accessories.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Ralph Gibson, Alfred Eisenstadt, André Kertész, Yousuf Karsh, Fred Maroon, Jim Marshall, Joe Marvullo, LDesign.com - Musician Sebastiao Saldago and Robert Frank were or are more or less exclusive Leica shooters. These guys produced masterpieces that will be famous as long as there is a human race.

They did it without the help of electricity, buzzwords or mindblowing features such as White Balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater), Custom and Scene Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Special Scene (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Night Scene, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, ISO 3200), Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Stitch Assist (From the specs of Canon’s PowerShot A650).

As far as I know, they did it without the assistance of Prozac or Wellbutrin. I’m not sure about opium and booze but I’ve never heard about anyone needing Zoloft to operate an M3. In photography, less tends to be more.

Light in the Camera

A camera is a pretty simple mechanical object. It consists of a lens, a shutter system and a back end device such as a digital chip or a film. The back end catches the light remaining after passing through the lens and the shutter system. Then the back end stores a representation of the light by chemically altering the loaded film or by writing to file a digital representation of the energy hitting the sensor chip. That’s about it. Of course there are additional elements supporting the three basic ones – light meters, flashes, digital software and much else for the gadget happy photographer. As you might have noticed, my advice is to stick with the basics as we will in this essay.

Expensive Lenses or Not

A lens is just a few pieces of glass or, occasionally, plastic mounted in a tube. It gathers light to be recorded by the back end of the camera. Engineers discovered, over the last 150 years or so, that it is not possible to build an accurate lens. Today’s lenses are incredibly complex in pursuit of the fewest inaccuracies and/or the most pleasing distortions. Even so, a lens does not pass on what it sees but its distorted version of what is in front of it. Each brand with its focal length, f-values, focusing system and Diane Arbus Lady with Curlerseven individual lenses of a particular specification/brand have different and, to some extent, measurable characteristics.

Hence, no matter what you pay, lenses are not perfect from a scientific point of view – the light coming through the lens is reduced in intensity and the light beams hitting the back end are distorted due to the optical imperfections of any lens. There is no way around that. Most of these distortions are correctable, either in a darkroom or in Photoshop (or similar software).

Here are just a few of the possible imperfections: pincushion or barrel distortion, image corners out of focus, image corner light falloff, vignetting, ghost images, flares or the curvilinear effect from fisheye lenses. More generally: there are out of focus optical distortions (monochromatic aberration) such as tilt (perspective changes), defocus (sensitivity to focus changes – related to depth of field and focal length), spherical (imperfect refraction resulting in “circular” blurs of light points), coma (off-axis points are rendered wedge-shaped), astigmatism (certain images KGLPhoto Seattle Demonstrator appear doubled) and field curvature (this stands for barrel and pincushion distortion). Then, there are the optical lens color shifts (chromatic aberrations) that may be axial or lateral. Finally, we have lens stabilizers – a fairly new feature that Robert Capa and everyone else managed without until marketing geniuses decided otherwise..

The wise photographer learns to live with and benefit from the characteristics of a set of favorite lenses. Realizing the full benefits of a lens consists of long and intensive use in typical shooting situations. Some photographers claim the only way to understand the strength and weakness of a lens is to exclusively use it for a year.

Aesthetically, what is pleasing given the distortions to one photographer is deplorable to another. Lens snobs (connoisseurs) often concentrate their attention on the “bokeh” of the lens – how the out of focus parts of the image are rendered. Bokeh is generally not measurable but subjective. In a digital world, bokeh of a lens is easily manipulated in Photoshop.

Adding to the imperfections of the lens are the human errors – using the wrong lens and the wrong settings. Then the problem of low light and handheld shooting often results in handshake blur, in some cases reduced by built in image stabilizers. What about a mind stabilizer?

The Mechanical Wonders of Shutters

Then we have the shutter system. Better yet, we might include the aperture device and call it the light control system. While we are at it, let’s add the light meter present in most cameras. There are endless engineering variations of these systems. All of them share one characteristic. KGLPhoto Lady BartenderThey are inaccurate.

Accuracy is a relative concept. The shutter and the light system may actually be quite accurate except it is not doing what you tell it to do. Say that you set a shutter speed of 1/500 second. The shutter will actually give you 1/400 (say). Typically, every time you set 1/500, you will consistently get 1/400. Shutters will most likely not randomly jump around from 1/250 to 1/700 and everything in between. Likewise, the light system may consistently set you up for 1 stop overexposure. These issues are not fatal as long as you calibrate the camera or at least identify the issues. This is not very hard to do.

Potentially a much worse issue is that of relying on automation – auto exposure, auto focus and in digital cameras, auto white point. Both work efficiently only in trivial shooting situations and actually encourage bad or at least boring compositions. Consider auto focus which requires you to point the camera at the subject and then expose. That composition is not likely to be very exciting. Of course, you can point the camera at the subject, lock the focus KGLPhoto A Customerand recompose. But if so, why not manually focus which is faster, easier and more accurate?

A few cameras allow you to use off center focus points. My Canon has that ability and that works quite well although even the nine or so focusing points are not enough in my case. How about a continuously adjustable focus point? Is that too much to ask for?

Then, there is auto exposure which works great if you shoot even surfaces of 18% grey. If not, trouble soon pops up. Try this on: grab your camera, go out on a dark night to a nearby well trafficked road, making sure you don’t get run over. Try to take a picture using auto exposure of the oncoming traffic. First, point the camera in the vicinity of the headlight coming towards you and expose. Next, place the headlights off center and expose. The first image will be way underexposed while the second will be overexposed. The correct exposure is somewhere in the middle and only some intelligent guess work will save the night.

To help exposure issues, many cameras can bracket the shots automatically, up and down a few stops. That is quite helpful but won’t work in the roadside example – that variation in exposure far exceeds the typical bracketing settings.

Back ends – Film or Silicon

In a film camera, you load a particular film. That film possess unique features: brand, batch, age, overall sensitivity (ASA or DIN) and the more precise spectral sensitivity over wave lengths all the way down to the individual roll and how it was handled and stored Cindy Sherman Untitledfrom manufacturing and on. Many photographers overlook the importance of handling and storing film correctly and are punished by color casts and other unexpected issues. High temperatures and any kind of radiation make bad news. Film may be over or underexposed, either by mistake or by purpose, in which case the film is pushed or pulled, which, then, is compensated for in development.

In a digital camera, the back end consists of a chip, onboard memory and software. The chip possesses various unique characteristics ranging from resolution and sensitivity to size. The onboard software takes the raw input from the chip, massages it and converts it into an image file of some standard format, usually JPEG. RAW images may – or not – bypass the onboard software to produce an “accurate” image. Some digital cameras allow you to modify the onboard software for white balance, shooting what the manufacturer considers typical situations (”Hawaiian Sunsets”, “Cathedrals” etc.) and much else. Removing “red eyes” has become quite an industry because most camera manufacturers knowingly put the flash in the wrong place.

Of course, the image produced by the back end – film or digital – is not accurate at all. Consider the journey of light from the sun towards earth, bent and hammered as it flies along. Then the atmosphere with reflections, refractions, collisions and Annie Leibowitz Three Girlslots more does its trick or treat act. The treacherous lens adds to the wounds, the shutter and light system adds to the insult and the back end lets everyone down. Then add this little element to the pot:

If you are a Photoshop affectionate, you may have played – or even used – some of the fancy plug-ins that attempt to change the characteristics of various back ends. There are plug ins that “compensate” for or “emulate” all kinds of film brands. You can make your digital photo look like it was shot with HP 400 black and white film. Or Velvia color film. Or anything else you may fancy. There are other plug-ins making your film images look like they were digitally shot. Other filters make your image look like it was shot in 1853. Of course, all you do is to add more distortions to your image.

The Ultimate Camera

All we can expect of a camera is for it to give us images we like. Or images we can Leni Riefenthal Nuba Male“improve” using various tools. We must have sufficient control over the shooting session. We can’t get bogged down in technical gadgetry. We can deal with the distortions produced by the camera. Just accept the unavoidable fact that the camera gives you a highly distorted view of the light from the subject you’re shooting. Then keep shooting.

The Ultimate Camera is the one you are happy with and gives you images you like without too much fuss. It may play nasty tricks on you once in a while but that’s life. Do be aware that automations and gimmicks will generally make your life harder. Keep it simple and shoot as much as you can afford. Equipment prices have little to do with this – $20 Holga cameras have quite a following and artistic acceptance because of the extreme amount of distortions produced. They aren’t as great if you want to be a basket ball sports photographer.

This post surfaced a lot of issues about cameras and photography – sources of untold inaccuracies, distortions and fallacies in almost every step on the road. Some Arnold Newman Alfred Krupp Portraitmay think that digital technology will make all that hassle go away. The answer is no. The reason for that is that most of the issues have nothing to do with photography. The behavior of light and how our brains process color information are items completely outside our control and do not change no matter what the camera is doing or if it is digital or film based.

The few remaining professional film cameras are marvelous technical machines, built from 60-80 years of crucifying development. They survived anything from nuclear blasts to World Wars to landing on the moon. They even survived Uncle Ben and the punch bowl. They have been used to punch out muggers, stop bullets and to drive down nails. They are stolen, fenced and stolen again. They remain faithfully capable of taking great photos as long as there is film to load and a live finger to press that shutter release.

Professional digital cameras build on that tradition but have not quite been through the hazing of their film brothers. Yet they are the result of terrific technology advances that won’t stop for a long Robert Doisneau Two Prostitutestime. But no matter how big a sensor or how smart the auto focus, physical laws do not change. Digital technology faces exactly the same issues as does film technology but is nowhere closer to overcome such issues. That is because these issues go beyond cameras. A $40,000 digital Hasselblad system does not reduce pollution in Shanghai. Nor does it correct for ice cave blues. It can’t cure color blindness. Compositions with the Hasselblad are no better than those from my father’s old mechanical monster.

Cameras give us an image frozen in time. You press the shutter button. The shutter fires for a given period of time. The back end records the light received in that period of time. The raw image is done and reflects only that slice in time. This leads us to the next subject and two very different devices – our eyes that record images in an analog manner and our brain that processes those analog images in real time. This is way more complex and sophisticated than that camera. But first: some words from the wise.

Quotes from the Wise

  • I like to watch the person viewing my photographs to see if their eyes twinkle or cloud with tears. Does the smile sneak out when they were not expecting it to? Then I know I have captured emotion that can be shared. -Marsha Cairo
  • A big shot is a little shot that kept shooting. -Amanda Caldwell; The mystery isn’t in the technique, it’s in each of us. -Harry Callahan; If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. -Robert Capa; Rules aren’t any good if they don’t work! The only real rules are the laws of physics and optics. -Dean Collins
  • Images at their passionate and truthful best are as powerful as words can ever be. If they alone cannot bring change, they can at least provide an understanding mirror of man’s actions, thereby sharpening human awareness and awakening conscience. -Cornell Capa
  • (Professional) photographers are like hookers: at first we started doing it because we liked it and it David Bailey Portrait Femalefelt good, then we kept doing it but only for our friends, and NOW we’re still doing it but are charging money for doing it! -Dean Collins
  • Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing). -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing. Success depends on the extent of one’s general culture, one’s set of values, one’s clarity of mind and one’s vivacity. The thing to be feared most is the artificially contrived, the contrary to life. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Our eye must constantly measure, evaluate. We alter our perspective by a slight bending of the knees; we convey the chance meeting of lines by a simple shifting of our heads a thousandth of an inch…. We compose almost at the same time we press the shutter, and in placing the camera closer or farther from the subject, we shape the details – taming or being tamed by them. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • ..throughout the history of art it has been art itself – in all its forms – that has inspired art… today’s photographs are so geared to life that one can learn more from them than from life itself. -Van Deren Coke
  • The camera is a killing chamber, which speeds up the time it claims to be conserving. Like coffins exhumed and pried open, the photographs put on show what we were and what we will be again. -Peter Conrad
  • Photography is like fishing. You go out in the morning with no idea of what the trip will bring. Sometimes luck is on your side and all your crab pots are full of prime Lobsters. Other times you get nothing. -Bob Croxford
  • …There are too many people studying it [photography] now who are never going to make it. You can’t give them a formula for making it. You have to have it in you first, you don’t learn it. The seeing eye is the important thing. -Imogen Cunningham.

The Poll – Repeat from Above

Here’s the deal. Choose no more than four of the names/things/events below. Two of the items are your selections of the two least likely to be famous in 100 years. The other two are the ones you believe will at least retain most of their current fame. Simple choice – those without lasting fame, those with lasting fame. For the heck of it, I added extra categories to the names: Foods, Events and Stuff. Select your choices from any category.

In the low tech spirit of this post, here is how: use the comment box at the bottom of this post to submit your vote in any fashion that communicates your choice. Here and below are links to that spot There is another link returning you to the beginning. I’ll do my best to keep up with your busy and eager responses. After all, on normal day, well over a thousand of you deeply honored readers pass these pages. Bless you all.

Here are the names, in seven favorite groups – Politics, Arts, Entertainment, Misc. and to change the pace a bit Events, Food and Stuff ” – America’s Fastest Growing Poll:

  • Politics: George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Tom DeLay, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, J. F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Boris Yeltsin, Barney the Scottish Terrier, Bob Packwood, Kim Jong-Il, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan & sister Bay, Sonny & Mary Bono.
  • Arts: George Gershwin, Andy Warhol, Louis Armstrong, Lenny Bruce, Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Igor Stravinsky, Bill Haley, Norman Mailer, Luciano Paverotti, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Cage, The Beach Boys, Liberace, Woody Allen, Doonesbury.
  • Entertainment: Tom Cruise, J. K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Adam Sandler, Judy Garland, Jimmy Steward, Madonna, Donald Duck, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Howard Stern, Snowwhite, Paris Hilton, Laurence Olivier, Conan O’Brien, Batman, Greta Garbo, Bruce Lee, ABBA.
  • Misc: Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, King-Kong, Ken Lay, Marie Curie, David Beckham, Albert Einstein, Martha Steward, Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Mike Tyson, Karl Marx, Bill Maher, Groucho Marx, Snoop Dogg, Riverdance, Superman, Marge Simpson, PacMan.
  • Events: 9/11 2001, O. J. Simpson Trials, Global Warming, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, Bill Clinton Impeachment, The A-Bombing of Hiroshima, The Internet, AIDS, The Moon Landings, Watergate, Tom Cruise@Oprah, iPods Releases, Playboy debut, Janet Jackson@Superbowl XXXVIII, Yahoo birth.
  • Food: French Fries, Brains and Eggs, Steak Tartare, Beluga Caviar, Macaroni & Cheese, Big Macs, Surf & Turf, Onion Rings, Caesar Salad, Puffer Fish, Bernaise Sauce, Lutefisk, Broccoli, Sushi, Snails, Liver & Onions, Veggie Burgers, Smorgasbord, Liverwurst, Fish sticks, Coleslaw, Kobe Beef, Kippers, Herring.
  • Stuff: Chevrolet Corvette, YouTube, Microsoft Word, GPS-In-Your-Car, TiVo, The American Express Platinum Card, Boeing B52, Alien I-III, Soprano Reruns, Cell phone Ring tones, Maze, The Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Reagan’s Star War, Cocaine, i-Anything, e-ThisAndThat, NASA, Hum-Ve.

Enter your choices by using the comment box below. Then return to the top of the post using the “Return” button. And – hey – if you don’t like my choices, enter your own.

Return

Your brain is located in your head, according to Wikipedia. After this astonishing discovery, Wikipedia states that the human brain contains more than 100 billion neurons, each linked to as many as 10,000 other neurons. Let’s see, that means the poor thing has to deal with 10 quadrillion neurons. I really have only a dim idea what neurons are and know even less about what quadrillions of them might do to me. Apparently, they look like this: Neurons in your brain

So now you know what’s in your head: quadrillions of tiny worm look-alike things. Somehow, these worms deal with light, color, visions, creativity, math and all the rest of the stuff we believe we “know”. Moreover, these things can be several feet long, stretching from the base of the spine to the feet. They communicate with each other through various electrical and chemical means, all of which sounds like a Hollywood horror C movie.

They allow us to drive cars, walk, make love, hate the boss, watch “Police Academy III” and have opinions on photography. They tell us we are lonely, hungry, horny or just bored. Busy little things, those worms in your head. More complex than an O. J. Simpson murder case or a George W. Bush statement on Global Warming, the War on Terror and Progress in Iraq, there is no hope of understanding how the brain really works. Only politicians can deal with quadrillions of things, especially in regard to your tax bill and Air Force toilet seats. Humans can’t.

Yet for all the mystery, even a few quadrillions eager little worms don’t do the job that well. The brain is easily fooled as many simple little pop science graphics can prove. Lines that look bent but aren’t. Dot’s that rotate bur really don’t. That is in spite of consuming most of the human energy requirements and thus being responsible for Global Warming.

The brain might get sick and cause all kinds of problems. Even when healthy it can cause completely irrational things to happen. Example. I live in Seattle but every weekend I eagerly await the UK Times Sunday magazine and its reviews of London restaurants. There is close to zero chance I’ll ever visit any of these restaurants but apparently some little worm in my head suffers from Britophilia. Perhaps this is due to how the Brits endured the Blitz, David Beckham, Prince Charles and “The Office”. Who knows.

Even more amazingly, I know others suffer from the same irrational phobia. People write these Times critics from all over the World, having opinions on meals they will never have. Just last weekend, a fellow Seattlie commented on the alcoholism of one of the critics who also received a “thatta Scot” from someone with a Spanish name in Texas. Another critic receives criticism because he tends to mention his girl friend too often. The third critic (yes, the Times have three restaurant critics) is frequently called an old goat and perhaps he is. Every week this old goat publishes a photo of himself with some recent girl friend.

The Times also features a chef more famous for his record setting use of the f_ _k word on TV than his cooking. There is also a “motor” columnist who probably should be locked up as well. Said critic recently declared that “he likes cars to telegraph their intentions through the fabric of his underpants. He likes them (the cars? the intentions? the underpants?) to be crisp and responsive and loud and powerful. He confesses: “But I am unusual”. Indeed.

Of course, brains are associated with all kinds of things. Brainpower stands for a Dutch Rapper. Eggs and brains are a popular breakfast item many parts of the World, including Britain and Portugal. The Honorable US Congressman from North Carolina, Howard Coble’s web site headlines his favorite recipe for Brains and Eggs. The French like their Tete de Veau, the Mexicans their Tacos de Sesos. The US South eat squirrel brains, Indonesians like brains with coconut milk. The Mad Cow Disease might sober the demand for some of these Pork Brains By Armourdelicacies. 3rd Rock From the Sun aired their Brains and Eggs episode in 1996 (Voted 9.0 or Superb).

There are the Brains of Bahrain – a chess match – and the former TV show of Brains & Brawns, nowadays referring to downloadable cell phone ring tones. Braintree is a city in Mass., USA. The Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble makes Mozart recordings. Brains is a popular brewery in Wales. Mad scientists dream of Brains in a Vat. Let’s not forget the No Bra movement of the 1960s.

So this occasionally irrational brain and its electric worms handle our visionary system. Not only does it allow judgments on wide reaching subjects such as Michael Jackson’s nose, Britney Spears’ hairdo and the girl friends of English restaurant critics., it also permits judgments on our photography. It makes us claim one photo is better than another. It declares that some photos are obscene. Or romantic, revolutionary, boring, charming or the like. It ignores the fact that it is the brain that not only creates the opinions but also the images themselves. The brain worms receive electrical impulses derived from the amplitudes and frequencies of light and then fools us into believing we see reality. There is no reality.

Some of this post is an update and extract from my big essay on photography “On Reality 6: Mysteries of Photography” as well as On Reality – Part 1 – Elements of Light and On Reality – Part 5 – How Perceptions and Illusions destroy Reality. Other posts include On Photography – Trick and Treat of Light and On Reality 6 Rev. – Jeff Wall Magic Revisited.

Light’s in Your Eyes

Superficially, our eyes share some characteristics with a camera. Eyes have lenses, irises and corneas that work like aperture and focusing controls. Eyes understand and adjust Arnold Newman Pablo Picasso Portraitfor different light levels. There is a retina back end consisting of seven layers of light sensitive receptors that pass information to our brains. The eyes’ focusing, aperture and light controls are infinitely more sensitive and fast than those of any camera, however costly or “digitally advanced”.

Do our eyes accurately record the Truth and pass it on to the brain? No. Eyes have limitations. Some of us are near sighted; a few are far sighted or perhaps color blind. Others are blind, or nearly so. Not to forget crossed or wandering eyes. To older people, focus muscles are worn out. The eyes may contract illnesses. The lenses and corneas are easily damaged. Many lenses are shaped in an inaccurate way, resulting in distortions. The receptors may get temporarily blinded by sudden surges in light levels.

There are big businesses involved in fixing your eyes. Eye glasses, sunglasses and contact lenses eat up billions of our dollars while introducing even more distortions. Many of these devices change the focus and color of the light reaching your eyes. Some even change to color of the eyes themselves. Surgery chains happily operate on your eyes at a remarkably low price, changing your point of view again.

The eyes and the rest of the visual system do not operate on light or colors the way a camera does. The human system transforms the light entering the eyes to initially straight lines that eventually combine into curved lines and contours. Colors and light levels are Robert Doisneau Pablo Picasso with Big Fingersjudged by comparing the curves. Colors are no longer represented by K values or any other ordinary system. Light is no longer measured by absolute levels, as is done in the photo cell of a light meter. The process of interpreting all these lines, contours and relative levels introduces yet another level of inaccuracy. It is the basis of the many illusions with which some (such as psychiatrists) like to work or play.

It really is just plain weird. The brain tells us something is blue. Yet the information it based this opinion on has nothing to do with “blue” – not even the abstract “real” representation of amplitudes and wave length. The eyes and the brain have its own way of “colorizing” our world. In the external world, blue is represented by that vibration deal. Internally – in your brain – blue is associated not with vibrations but some other poorly understood collection of lines, form, chemicals, tiny electric impulses and no doubt stuff like enzymes and ultimately DNA. Beats me.

Add the analog feature of our eyes and visual system. There is no such thing as one view of our surroundings. The eyes constantly receive new information. They react to the information in an eternal cycle of adjustments. Most of us have two eyes. Each eye receives a two dimensional view. The visual system combines the two dimensional views into a three dimensional view. Take that, you one-eyed, two dimensional cameras.

Think about it. Your tiny eyes have incomparable power and flexibility relative to any camera at any price and size. But accurate – don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry.

Fooled by your Brain

The brain does fix it all, in a manner of speech. It is in complete charge of our perceptions. It even adds a whole emotional dimension to the information from the eyes. Of course, the brain controls the eyes themselves, not to mention all of you. A regular control freak, your brain is. But whatever the brain decides to present to you is the truth Ralph Gibson Female Foreheadbecause you have no source for a second opinion.

The trouble is we don’t quite understand what our brain does with that relatively straight forward stream of distorted light entering the eyes. We can’t control the process. We do know that what we see is an interpretation created by the brain. What are the rules for this interpretation? Here you enter a real complex issue studied by many very clever people with lots of theories, some of which are contradictory.

One theory states that the brain creates an interpolated view that is based on incomplete information from the eyes. This, again, explains the visual illusions mentioned earlier. Manipulate the incomplete information reaching the brain and it makes predictably bad decisions. There are various theories how this interpretation works, such as the one claiming the brain uses the complex math of Bayesian science.Ralph Gibson Oily Hair

Most theories agree that the brain is not an impartial recorder or interpreter of truth. It receives input from the eyes and all our other sensors. It examines the input, compares it to prior input (“experience”, “knowledge”) in its database and modifies the original input to make it more understandable and safer. Take, for instance, the novice 911 medic. The first job experiences are extremely traumatic but become routine fairly quickly. The work isn’t getting easier but that the brain distorts the reality to protect the worker. The same goes for novice soldiers entering their first battle. Later they become seasoned veterans as their brains and experience database kicks in its protective circuits.

In a more peaceful world, how many times have you used the expression “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” as applied to practically anything. The brain learns from experience and applies it to any similar situation in the future. The phenomenon of “deja vu” is similar. A new input is suddenly associated with a previous experience that may or may not be real. Theories abound on how this works, but suffice to say that the brain is quite prepared to play games with you.

The brain also makes basic assumptions such as that light is usually coming from above. It relies on prior experience to produce a predicable, safe interpretation. It is almost like the old (very outdated) saying in IT circles: You will never go wrong by buying IBM. The brain produces an image that it thinks you will like. It even goes as far as making sure that image won’t hurt you too much.David Bailey Mick Jagger Rolling tondes

Then there is the “Gestalt” theory. It states that the brain receives a bunch of sub components of the visual image. The brain then combines these sub components into the whole according to a set of rules. This theory claims the brain uses six distinct rules to achieve its goal: perhaps, perhaps not.

Other theories claim the rules depend on personality, race, gender, occupation, education, age, attitudes and values and so on. I suppose that makes intuitive sense. A different theory discards most of this theory: the brain receives sufficient information and does not make interpretations.

The brain is not really concerned with accuracy the way most of us erroneously take for granted. I already mentioned that the brain distorts the visual input as it tries to protect us from the ugliness around us. This is similar to how the nervous system shuts down to shield us from the effects of a serious injury. The brain goes beyond that mechanism. It adds an emotional context to the picture we might be looking at. Stuff look differently depending on our mood. It adds impulses from our social context or internal data base as mentioned. It also considers the current context – time of day, weather, stress level, alertness, cosmic cycles, UFOs – on and on it goes.

Here you are: a full circle and total confusion. Does this sound like the visual system capable of presenting Reality? Is it even designed to show Reality? The simple answers are No and No. On top of all the other distortions, the brain adds/filters out its own version of Reality. It’s not a damn thing we can do about it. Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry. Jack Nicholson cried out to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth”. How true.

What about Photography?

Art such as photography is occasionally (often? always?) just a game of manipulating a viewer, client or buyer. We, as artists, wish to interfere with that brain mechanism that the world perceives as “reality”. We want to provoke an emotional response. We wish to show something being not quite what others expect. We use our own emotional and social contexts and experiences to provoke interest. We try to picture and present the World based on our own perceptions, biases and pet opinions. Given that, us artists should be very happy our brains help support these illusions. Or whatever.

The impact of color on the art of photography famously is enormously enormous. We live in a color filled world, so we shoot in color. It’s got to look real – right? So we think. Color can accentuate a mood. So we romantically believe. Colors are pretty. Of course they are. Eventually we realize things aren’t that simple. Colors are not real.

For starters, take Picasso’s blue, rose and monochrome periods or van Gogh’s wildly yellow sunflowers. Nothing real about them but masterpieces nevertheless. Or what about something as mundane as food photography with its color distortions making us hungry. Then, shooting in black&white is another extreme form of color manipulation. What about gray granite sculptures or the white marble ones? Many of Rembrandt’s works are relatively dark toned compared to the vivid colors of Paul Klee or the light water colors of Carl Larsson.

Colors have nicknames. The 2008 Toyota Solara comes in Blizzard Pearl, Ivory, Dark Stone, Dark Charcoal, Classic Silver, Magnetic Gray, Absolutely Red, Cosmic Blue and Blue Streak. Does that stand for Blue, Red, Gray and White? Are Yellow, Green and Black no longer in fashion? On the other hand, the specs of Honda’s HR Series HRS216ODA lawn mower leave colors alone – apparently still following the Model T marketing strategy. John Deere’s 770D Motor Grader specs do not mention colors either but seem to come with tinted windows. But your bed sheets may be Ecru, Cameo Pink or Cinnabar colored.

Speaking of fashion, how about this: “Layers of haze, clouds, water and air create delicate variations of non colours next to white. Those tints are diffuse and innocent, with an iridescent shale tint contrasting the fragility of those diaphanous and bleached pastels.” Or: “In a season moving away from the bling, cheerful brights work as accents invigorating the season’s harmonious and subdued colour mood. Midtone lilacs, greens and blues compliment zesty red, orange, yellow and cyclamen”. Huh?Galen Rowell Coastal Colors

Some of us like pink cars, Pink Floyd and Pink Gins. Australia, Oregon and Jamaica have Blue Mountains, Bavarian forests are Black. In the 1950s, some men preferred blondes. The Irish favor green. Some US states are blue and others are red. There are Red Necks, White Trash and Blue Blooded Aristocrats. We used to have the Red Menace and the Yellow Peril. Today, we have Green Parties, Greenpeace and Glitzy Copper lipsticks. Scarlett O’Hara did history as did Jerry Brown, Red Skelton, Rosie McDonald, Karen Black and Goldie Hawn. Let’s not forget Rosie the Riveter, the Red Baron and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Colors are just energy things that vibrate. Lots of other things vibrate without us paying attention. What’s so special about colors? There are vibrating beds but we rarely name our kids after them. In fact, the world around us is filled with vibrations of various kinds. Some of those vibrations have been vibrating for billions of years. Do we care? Still, we have an endless curiosity about colors.

There were Black Panthers, Black September and Red Armies. White means marriage to some, funeral to others and Racial Supremacy to a few. Color Racism remains alive. There were the Dark Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, the Bronze Age, Black Death and Yellow Fever. Khmer Rouge murdered millions. How about Grey Eminencies, Dark Princes, White Princes, Kingdoms of Light, Red Cardinals, White Knights, Old Blue Eye, Red Communists and Hitler Brown and Black Shirts.C harles Turner - The Fighting

Some like blue movies or head for Red Light districts or Moulin Rouge. Others prefer Yellow Submarines. We have the Redskins, pink panthers, the Whitesocks, not to mention the pink and white elephants we occasionally chase. Off Color Jokes are frowned upon. It was a dark and stormy night. We are afraid of the darkness and of white sharks. Some worship the Sun and its light. Some days we are blue. Others, we are black, pink or maybe red. We eat Brownies, White, Red or Yellow Potatoes , Green, Red or White Onions, Red Beans, Red , White, or Dark Meats and Red Hot Chili. Some wear White Shoes in the Summer, Black after Labor Day – perhaps they dress in Black for Dinner.

It’s all fantasy. We let colors symbolize ideas and feelings where we largely make up the connections. Then we can’t agree on what those connections are. Asian connections and perceptions differ from those of the Western Word. In America and elsewhere, the perception of color vary significantly depending on you skin color.

We watch Men in Black, A Clockwork Orange, Blue Lagoon, Black Orpheus, White Christmas, The Color Purple, Red Shoes, A Red Violin, The Hunt for Red October and GoldenEye. We listen to Paint it Black, Brown Eyed Girl, I’m Blue, Purple Haze, Blue Monday, Black and White, Little Pink Houses and Pale Blue Eyes. We read Devil In A Blue Dress, Blue Light, Blinking Red Light, The Red Moon and Wearing Purple. Gershwin had his Rhapsody in Blue, Miles Davis was Kind of Blue, Ellington composed A Black and Tan Fantasy, Mood Indigo and the Black, Brown and Beige Concerts, not to mention Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.

It’s all in our minds and nothing is what it seems. Contrary to reality and reason, colors have powerful connections to our minds. The thing is colors aren’t real. Artistically we distort them for, well, artistic reasons. Photoshop rules. We invert, bend, mix, translate, multiply, XOR and erase colors, having great fun. Why not? Perhaps we don’t understand that all we do is fool around with light beams and particles vibrating at various frequencies and amplitudes. Then we might even see that colors aren’t real. We just think they are.The Color Wheel

Consider the simple color wheel above. Those colors aren’t real. They are the result of preparing the surface of paper, or in our case, manipulating a computer monitor. In the case of paper, you coat the surface with stuff that reflects electromagnetic waves at different wave lengths and amplitudes. In the case of a monitor, all you do is watch transistors going off and on, or seeing light guns fire away at a metal screen with little holes in it. Either way, it’s just frequencies and amplitudes.

Mother Nature is the most powerful manipulator of us all. Light and color is under constant attack. Dark colors dominate at night, while mysteriously it is light during the day. How so? Consider colors during a thunder storm versus colors on the beach or in Shanghai on a bad day. Climb to the top of Earth or dive deep into the oceans. How come the colors are so different?

Then we have ourselves and our poorly understood human perceptions of color. Our brains play a real trick on us. They make us believe that colors are real. They have found ways to generate brain waves in response to mere vibrations. They try to fool us into believing that things have colors. Things do not have colors. It’s just energy trying to be something more.

This post is largely an extract from my big essay on photography “On Reality 6: Mysteries of Photography“. Parts of the discussions update and expand the content of other previous posts, notably On Reality – Part 1 – Elements of Light and On Reality – Part 5 – How Perceptions and Illusions destroy Reality. Other posts include On Photography – Trick and Treat of Light and On Reality 6 Rev. – Jeff Wall Magic Revisited.

A Bit of Theory

Light is characterized by three components: amplitude (intensity or brightness), frequency or wave length which relates to color and polarization (angle, vibration, reflection). Light may come in the form of a beam emitted from a light source. If the beam is aimed straight at you, it is visible as a point of bright light. From the side, that Ralph Gibson Shadow on a Red Wallbeam is not visible till it is scattered into a spectrum of different wave lengths. Our retinas and brains map the spectrum of wave lengths to perceived colors.

I’m sure you have seen the standard graphs of wave length and associated colors. It goes like this: the lowest wave lengths are associated with sound as heard by humans. AM radio, TV and FM waves are next up in frequency (lower in wave length), followed by kitchen, radar and signal transmitting micro waves.

Then comes infrared light which is associated with heat – the burning logs in your fireplace emit infrared “heat”. The TV remote uses infrared waves. So far nothing is visible to us. A very narrow band of visible light, split into colors, follows. This spectrum goes from red, yellow, green, blue and magenta to violet.

After the band of colors, we return to invisibility: ultraviolet light causes sunburn. It can’t be seen by humans but is visible to bumblebees. UV light is real important in astronomy – distant galaxies and stars often only emit UV light so the Hubble telescope and some Jeff Wall Milk 2satellites are very sensitive to such light. Then X-rays follow. Finally, gamma radiation can kill, very important both to space travel and astrology.

Have you noticed I sometimes talk about frequencies and wave lengths as in an analog beam (scattered or not) and sometimes about light consisting of particles bouncing around in some pattern? Both ways to look at light are correct but how light consists of both waves and particles is a bit mysterious. An issue of quantum physics, debated by many from Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein, this unresolved subject is a bit beyond this essay.

But think about it: why would an electromagnetic pulse (light beam) be split or scattered by an atmospheric particle unless it too is a particle? On the other hand, are our eyes really letting in all these dirty particles that have traveled space and bounced off all kinds of pollution? I’d hope not. How do light particles penetrate a camera lens? This mystery will remain unsolved in this essay (as it is in science).

Colors from Happiness to Madness

So much for theory – electromagnetic waves, infrared this and gamma that, particles, amplitudes…. Let’s switch tack a bit. Visions are emotionally driven, inner convictions. Colors, in psychology, not to mention advertising and web design, associate freely with emotions. I’m blue today. He was red hot. She was green with envy. Here is one opinion (of many) on how colors associate with emotions:

  • Red is the color of fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love. Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure. It has very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage. It is a color found in many national flags. Red is the Color of Fire and Blood
  • Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation. To the human eye, orange is a very hot color, so it gives the sensation of heat. Nevertheless, orange is not as aggressive as red.
  • Yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. Yellow produces a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness, stimulates mental activity, and generates muscle energy. Yellow is often associated with food. Bright, pure yellow is an attention getter, which is the reason taxicabs are painted this color.
  • Green is the color of nature. It symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility. Green has strong emotional correspondence with safety. Dark green is also commonly associated with money. Green has great healing power. It is the most restful color for the human eye; it can improve vision. Green suggests stability and endurance.
  • Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It isBlue is the c olor of Trust and Loyalty often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity.
  • Purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. Purple is associated with royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. It conveys wealth and extravagance. Purple is associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic. According to surveys, almost 75 percent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all other colors. Purple is a very rare color in nature; some people consider it to be artificial.
  • White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection. White means safety, purity, and cleanliness. As opposed to black, white usually has a positive connotation. White can represent a successful beginning. In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity.
  • Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery. Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown (black holes). It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, ‘black death’). Black denotes strength and authority; it is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious color (black tie, black Mercedes). In heraldry, black is the symbol of grief.

Some claim colors guide our lives in a sublime mix of emotions and realities. Personally, I’m not so sure. I believe we all are more complex than that. Form, harmony and discord, for instance, seem important as well. Probably context, such as being fired, getting married, suffering from depression or winning the lottery, emotionally overrides any color setting. Colors as emotional impacts are nevertheless legitimate parts of the magical toolbox but not at the exclusion of other factors.

Unreal World Color

AA Gills of the London Times recently visited Tasmania and filed the following observation (italics mine). Rarely have I seen so many unusual wave lengths covered in so few sentences:

  • The rocky shore is tortured into a macabre and dramatic beauty. The waves stand up on their hind legs and lunge at the land, to be flayed into bone-white shreds by the black rocks. In the late afternoon, the sky is glowing pale gold, dark mauve clouds are filigreed pink, thousand of mutton birds (sheerwaters) fly low over the silver water, and we hurry back in the teeth of the wind to our hut.

Now, that is the drama of colors, if somewhat tortured. I’m sure Conrad had not been able to put it better. AA Gills Galen Rowell Storm on the Ocean actually is a restaurant critic and feature writer for the Times but seems to have his hands in plenty of pots. Good for him.

Take that sun beam traveling through space towards you. At high noon, that beam will hit the atmosphere straight on. Since the atmospheric particles are much larger than those associated with the beam, the beam is scattered into predominately short wave lengths – blue. Thus the sky is blue during the day. As the sun sets, the angle of the sun beam is to close to 90 degrees. Now we see more of the longer wave lengths – red.

Colors depend on altitude – the higher you are the bluer the scene and the sharper the shadows. A higher altitude means, mostly, less pollution and more unhealthy radiation from space ranging from UV to gamma energy. Sun beams are less scattered, hence the scene is lighter. There are fewer clouds if you go high enough. Perhaps you are high enough to encounter snow which reflects enormous amounts of light. Or, returning to zero altitude – sea level – you better consider a similar high reflection of light from the sea surface. In Galen Rowell Sun on the Mountain Topthis case, polarization becomes yet another tool. Keep this in mind next time you climb Mount Everest.

As a side line consider Global Warming. Color, together with light in general, plays a powerful part. As temperatures go up due to CO2 content in the atmosphere trapping the Sun’s energy – some in the form of ordinary light – ice packs melt, the ground becomes darker, reflecting less energy back into space, making temperatures increase even faster in an evil circle that may be unstoppable at some point. Simple color properties may extinct mankind. Perhaps.

The color spectrum varies tremendously from one location to the next. You have monochrome environments such as deserts, ski slopes, some beaches, polar ice areas, tundra, oceans, mines and tunnels. Next, there are monochromes with occasional color items, such as many parts of an inner city or fireworks. Low light photography is usually close to monochrome, wherever you are. Intensive colors are found in many tropical locations. Specific places such as the Dutch tulip fields in the right season or Brazilian Samba festivals are colorful. You choose your film or white balance (or other settings) with that in mind.

Colors Ain’t Colors

Colors aren’t real. They simply are associated by your brain with light particles vibrating at certain frequencies. As humans, color processing follows a complex path through the eyes, to the retina with its three basic sensors (blue, bluish-green and yellow-green of all Galen Rowell Camp on the Mountain at Nightodd compositions) and on to the brain, where it is all sorted out according to a set of rules. A given wave length is translated into a “color”.

Put an 80A blue filter on your lens (or simply look through it) and colors change. This particular filter changes light emitted from reddish tungsten sources back to “normal” daylight color spectra, given daylight film or white balance. Here is what actually happens: the filter is manufactured so it absorbs vibrations in the 1800-2500K range (perceived as red) while letting the shorter wave lengths through. The result of applying the filter is that the scene appears to emit relatively more short wave length rays, correcting for the excess emission of light in the 2800K range typical of tungsten light. It’s all a matter of wave lengths, not “colors”. Galen Rowell On the Ridge

Walk into a color darkroom and twist the color correction dials a bit and the color print comes out quite differently. Play with color settings in Photoshop and the image changes accordingly. Put on your sunglasses and colors shift. Color blindness changes how wave lengths are mapped in your brain due to some part of the system being damaged. Several other deficiencies change our perceptions of color. Colors are what you make them to be.

Next, we need to represent color in print. Now we deal with a totally new set of representations. CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) is the traditional print representation which has absolutely nothing to do with how we humans perceive or process color. Pantone’s system of six colors for increased precision adds orange and green to the CMYK system. So we invent these systems of classifying colors. All that actually happens is that various materials with different light energy scattering properties are applied to a piece of paper.

Do Computers See Colors?

Computers use their own concepts of color representation. Colors are associated with an RGB (Red, Green and Blue) model. This model assigns trios of numbers from 0 to 255 to the “colors”. Red, for instance is coded as (255,0,0) and blue is (0,0,255). (0,0,0) means black, (255,255,255) stands for white. These numbers are used not only to describe Galen Rowell Sunset from the Topcolors internally but also to control the electron gun of an analog monitor or the transistors in flat screen monitors.

The RGB model does not actually represent real colors but are simply some numbers that could represent anything or nothing. The numbers do not automatically result in accurate colors. The computer and the monitor need to be told what an “accurate” color is. This information is held in one or more arrays that say “apply this correction when sending info to the monitor or printer”. You are responsible for keeping those arrays up to date, using available tools. Many of us don’t do that and hence get used to strange colors and fail to understand why others complain.

Monitor color guns or color sensitive “dots” must also be carefully calibrated to some standard color space. Such calibration uses elaborate color management tools. The standard monitor color spaces come in many flavors of RGB (red, green, blue): sRGB,Galen Rowell On the Coast Apple RGB, Adobe RGB and ColorMatch RGB. On the printing side (CMYK), we have a set of US standards together with corresponding (different) European and Japanese variations.

A simple but crucial monitor setting is the brightness, referred to as the “gamma” setting. Just for fun, Apple uses a different gamma standard than PCs. A Mac calibrated image looks darker on a calibrated PC and vice versa. Great, isn’t it?

It’s not over yet. Next is the coordination of color spaces and calibration across devices. The digital camera, the scanner, the monitor and printing using external labs or the onsite photo printer must be calibrated accurately to compatible color spaces. This is not a trivial undertaking although special software may reduce the pain a bit.

Computers have no understanding of colors – to them it is just a numbers game. Perhaps by now you wonder in what way all these classifications, standards, rules, adjustments and measurements are relevant. Nature itself makes far greater adjustments without blushing or asking for permission.

Colors, Oh Those Damn Colors

Maybe you conclude things were simpler in the old days of taking your color film to some lab or retailer, accepting the result – perhaps grudgingly but with little chance of being heard. Heck no. In the “old days”, a good print meant endless darkroom exercises tinkering with enlarger settings, which doesn’t even start dealing with the external Galen Rowell In the Ice Caveviewing or printing issues. Color management was not easier but merely overlooked in many cases, or more accurately, achieved in a different way.

Colors and photography are a true mess. Technology makes it all harder instead of easier. Truly managing colors in photography is a massive undertaking that many photographers avoid or ignore. The bright side is that if you make the effort to master color and its management, you are far ahead of much of the competition. The bleak side is the hours you spend on tinkering with calibrations, devices and standards. Many of us end up with a compromise. One compromise is to let specialists deal with the whole issue. That is expensive. Another option is to wing it. You learn what makes a nice print on a trial and error basis. You learn that a bluish tint on the monitor results in a great print on your Canon printer. And you get on with life.

Let’s jump into yet another issue. Different films as well as different digital chips have unique sensitivities to the wave lengths of color. A particular film (or sensor), black&white or color, may be more sensitive to blue than red. Another film or sensor may behave in the opposite manner. Each film is associated with a sensitivity profile ranging over the wave length spectrum. This spectrum sets the film apart from other films. The same is true for sensor chips in a digital camera. The difference is that the chip is permanently in place while, in the film case, you can simply change films to match the shooting situation and your vision. The Galen Rowell Sunset from the Bottomback end (film or chip) may be sensitive to waves beyond the visible spectrum. In the case of film, that may be X-ray waves.

The latest Leica M camera, the first digital version, suffered (suffers?) from an abnormal sensitivity to infrared light. This resulted in strange distortions that were visible in the images under some circumstances. Given a price of around $4,500 for just the camera body, that is a bit embarrassing. Is it a unique case? I think not.

Now you know one major reason I love black&white photography. Not that any of the color issues magically disappear (they surely don’t since you have to manage the color to gray scale transition) but dealing with a gray scale is a lot more natural to me than tinkering endlessly with scores of color standards. And in my mind, b&w has an artistic impact unmatched in any medium. That, of course, is just my view.

Using Color: The Magical Toolbox

Color work splits into two events: Before Exposure and After Exposure. Colors are only a form of light or, precisely, they come from light beams split into color waves. Everything in the previous section about light applies to color waves as well. This section expands on the special form of light referred to as colors.

The Before Exposure considerations include:

You have an artistic vision. You developed a photographic style. You are on assignment. Let’s say you’ll shoot color. The first Leni Riefenthal Underwater 1consideration is that your vision most likely favors certain color combinations, mood and overall light. It may be in-your-face harsh light and strong, exaggerated colors. Or perhaps it is calm muted colors with a minimum of shadows. It might be a mix of the two. Next, mesh that vision with the requirements for the shoot (if any). The vision rules, the requirements are the handcuffs.

Then, find the location that matches the vision and requirements. You are, of course, familiar with all the ways in which colors and light vary depending on a great many, but often predictable factors (excluding weather in the case of outdoors shoots – if you need sunshine and it’s raining hard, you’re out of luck).

Now you have advanced to the chosen location. It is a matter of setting up the actual shoot. The dominating consideration still is color and light. Even with the most informed choice of location, there will be color and light issues to deal with. Things are always just a bit out of sync. Sometimes they are way out of sync. The exception, of course, is if you maintain your own control over light and color by Leni Riefenthal Underwater 2supplying you own lighting setup. Jeff Wall can spend weeks or months waiting for light and colors to be just right.

Your vision, of course, favors certain compositional elements, including color preferences and associated moods and balances. Now faced with the real world, perhaps the scene does not match the vision perfectly or, maybe, not at all. It is time to reconsider and improvise. Or walk away which might be costly.

So a particular dance starts up, similar to the “As Time Goes By Can Can” already mentioned for exposure and composition. Let’s call this dance “The High Noon Two Step”. You run around the location, checking out shadows, highlights, midtones, light ratios and color shifts, perhaps wishing you were free to move around the country instead. You’re adjusting this and moving that. You Leni Riefenthal Underwater 3tinker with the camera, fitting filters, changing film, moving the white balance this way, then that way. You’re pre visualizing like a mad man. You snapping test shots left, right, up, down and possibly upside down.

Eventually, you have to admit you used all the tools and excuses, the scene is OK and it’s time to actually start shooting. The madness actually followed a path (although no one else may believe it). So the “As Time Goes By Can Can” compositional dance is about to start. The color work is temporarily on hold. Actual pictures are about to happen.

After Exposure, there are more opportunities to screw up or to enhance the images:

Development strategy or initial Photoshop corrections: You did, of course, pre visualize the image which should define the steps to take in development and printing. But sometimes the initial result isn’t quite Leni Riefenthal Underwater 4what you expected. Maybe your white balance setting was a bit off. Perhaps the color film wasn’t quite to specs or the development chemicals a bit too old. So don’t be too surprised you have to apply some initial corrections to get the colors back on the intended track.

Alter the color balance and related features: Your pre visualization may well include corrections to the original image. Perhaps you shoot digitally but the plan is for a black&white image. Maybe you planned to enhance the original image to fit into your vision or work spec: apply more vivid or muted colors, shift the colors to some off beat point, add some special effect or combine several images. There are literally infinite possibilities to make your vision come true, whatever it is.

End use adjustments: Most likely the image has to be adjusted fit the particular color (and other) requirements of the intended end market, be it a photo album, web site, Leni Riefenthal Underwater 5print advertisement, gallery show, museum purchase or a shoe box. Each end-use has different requirements, usually radically different: the color capabilities of the web are very different from an offset printer as an example. Typically, your image must be adjusted into several versions: perhaps one to show to clients in your carry-around portfolio, one for your web site portfolio, one for your long term hard drive storage, one containing your printing instructions, another for off-site printing, low resolution versions for Flickr, MySpace and the hundreds of other promotional web sites.

The final image and follow ups: You’ll produce the actual high resolution image in all its glorious colors to be used, published, shown or exhibited. Hopefully you’ll reap the well deserved rewards. Then you’ll consider documenting and protecting all the color (and other) work you have put into not just this image but the perhaps thousands of other images in your portfolio. This is a real Leni Riefenthal Underwater 6management issue – how do you keep track of all these versions of a single image and all its unique settings for different purposes? Especially considering you own thousands of images? How do you keep them safe over long periods of time? How do you record color (and other) settings so you can repeat them? There are many solutions available – I’ll have to leave that part to you.

That’s it for the discussion of colors. Together with the light discussion, you have a pretty good foundation for dealing with these two critical elements. The idea was to alert you to some of the intricate details of these basic components of your magical toolbox. Next, we’ll examine the two other fundamental components. That is the camera with its lenses and backends followed by the human system of eyes, retinas and the brain in processing the images.

Photography is a dangerously gadget friendly environment. Stocked with hundreds of cool camera bodies, lenses and miscellaneous equipment, camera stores happily sell thousands of accessories. Add chemicals, development materials, printing accessories, computers, memory cards, special monitors and you end up with an empty wallet and far more headaches than you deserve. Or as some partners put it, all those headaches you do deserve. Often stated, boating is a hole in the water into which you throw money. Photography is a hole in the sky into which you throw not only money but perhaps your marriage, career, cat and sanity.

The first camera I used was one I liberated from my father. Equipped with a bellowed fixed lens, zero batteries and no focusing assistance, it sure was a curious little machine. Using medium format film in a body smaller than a Leica rangefinder, it took remarkable photos. Not only that, the absence of any modern convenience resulted in complete freedom from gadgets. In fact, available accessories numbered exactly zero. Those were the days.

The basic idea here is that gadgets don’t make photographs – not bad nor good ones. Photography is made possible by light. Light is preserved and eventually becomes viewable as a photograph. No gadget ever changed this basic notion. Light is about photography and photography is about light.

This post is largely an extract from my big essay on photography “On Reality 6: Mysteries of Photography“. Parts of the discussions update and expand the content of other previous posts, notably On Reality – Part 1 – Elements of Light and On Reality – Part 5 – How Perceptions and Illusions destroy Reality. Light Waves

Light is not a simple matter. Here are some of the theories dealing with light: Optics, Particles, Waves, Magnetics, Electrics, Relativity, Quantum, Wave-Particle, Electrodynamics, Radiation, Radiation and Light Pressure, Spectral, Ballistics, Photometry, Spectrometry, Lasers and much more. Yet the basic idea isn’t that complex.

Light is energy. This energy is emitted by sources such as the sun. Light energy consists of magnetic and electric waves traveling through space, atmosphere and some other media. The human eyes are sensitive to light waves. Our brains interpret the light energy as representing the world around us. A photograph captures the light present in a particular moment in time.

That Treacherous Light

Nothing is more important to a photographer than light. No light, no photography. As a photographer, you must love light. You Angus McBean Stage Actors in Profile better love how light bends, creates color, enters a lens, refracts, reflects, bounces, scatters, disappears, enters eyes for processing in the brain and how it is affected by sun spots, black holes, cosmic rays, global warming, atmosphere, clouds, rain, weather, pollution, dust and much else.

All of the factors above are distortions. The original light source, the sun for most practical purposes emits “pure” light. By the time that light reaches some place on Earth and your camera lens or eyes, it is very different compared to that original “pure” light. Light from space is distorted even before it reaches our atmosphere. Then the atmosphere adds its set of oddities. The camera is a virtual snake pit of distortions. Manmade light adds other distortions – its light is differently colored than the “norm”. Our eyes and brains add more layers of distortions.

Historical Light

In the beginning, people assumed one saw by emitting light beams out of one’s eyes. Pythagoras, 500 BC, assumed light traveled from the eyes and a sensationKGLPhoto High Rise At Night of seeing followed as the beam hit some object. Plato, 400BC, supported the same theory. Around 300BC, Euclid questioned that eyes were the only source of light and formulated quite a bit of light related mathematics. Still, the view of the eyes beaming light prevailed. The Bible mentioned “And God said, let there be light, and there was light”, associating light versus darkness as a good versus evil issue.

Around 1000AD, al-Haytham of Egypt finally voiced the idea that light entered the eyes rather than the other way around. He concluded the sun was the source of light. He also invented the Camera Obscura although Leonardo da Vinci received some of that credit 500 years later. Unfortunately, our gentleman resided in jail, so his findings were not immediately available. Most of his ideas were based on the sun light coming into his cell through a tiny opening or crack.

It took over 500 years before al-Haytham’s theories reached Europe, inspiring Kepler to formulate some fairly correct theories late in the 1500s. Galileo, Descartes and Newton added tremendously to the understanding of light over the next 100 years. The wave theory came along through Euler in the mid 1700s. Other contributors include Fresnel, Poisson, Faraway, Planck and Maxwell, leading up to the late 1800s and pretty much the way we understand light today.

A Simple Theory of Light

Light is produced by light emitters, reflected by certain objects and consumed by others. Light is radiation energy affected by combinations of photons, atoms, molecules and KGLPhoto WSindow at Night with a Truckother low lives. It has characteristics such as wave length, frequency and intensity, all of which vary tremendously with quite spectacular results. Most light originates at the sun and manmade processes. Light may be a single beam or scattered in a collision with some obscure molecules.

Radiation is a form of energy with intensity and wave length, vibrating around us constantly. Low frequency waves represent sound. There are TV and radio waves, visible and invisible light, radar waves, cellular phone radiations and X-ray emissions. Light as we see it and as used by a camera is only a small part of the energy waves around us. In some cases, invisible wave lengths affect film or memory cards in undesirable ways. Don’t X-ray your films. A rather extreme example is the HEMP bomb that can fry all electronics within a large radius; including your camera (unless you use a camera similar to that of my father, but even so, the film is probably a goner).

Light is created in many ways – the sun maintains a controlled nuclear explosion emitting lots of radiation energy, some in the form of light, other in the form of quite deadly variations such as gamma rays. Light bulbs, neon lights and many other manmade devices emit light on demand. Such light is usually created by the combination of energy in an enclosure containing suitable gases. Other light sources include computer, radar and TV screens which operate using cathode rays and energy sensitive coatings or by turning KGLPhoto Security on a Walltransistors off and on. Nuclear reactions produce lots of radiation, some of which is visible.

Heat generates light; increasingly hot temperatures transform light from the original color to a glow of red, white and eventually blue – think about your stove, fireplace, kerosene lamp or volcanic lava. Military night sights use slight heat variations as emitted in the infrared spectrum to “see” a battle field. Chemical processes generate light in some organisms: fireflies, glow worms, krill and others. Lightning produces a short burst of light based on heat.

When light falls on an object, some waves with a specific length are reflected and others absorbed. Light emitted by an object also have a specific set of wave lengths. We perceive the light of a specific wave length as a color. We thus “see” the object having a color. The reflected light is not a constant since it depends of the wave lengths of the incoming light. Reddish sunset light makes any object look reddish while the same object is bluish at noon.

Photographers and light meter manufacturers make a big deal out of incident and reflected light. Incident light measures incoming light only and then make assumptions about correct exposure. Reflected readings do the same for reflected light. The problem is that different object reflect light very differently – snow, water and any light object reflects much more light than dark soil, a black cat or any dark object. That means that neither incident nor reflected light measures result in a correct exposure. In the case of snow, an KGLPhoto Street Light Over Bushesincidence measure will overexpose the scene while a reflected metering will underexpose the same scene. The only time you get a good measure is when the scene is a uniform 18% grey – a very rare occurrence.

Auto exposure cameras use only reflected light as does the Zone System. Popularized by Ansel Adams, the Zone System attempts to correct the ambiguity in light measures. In fact, that is the major point of the Zone System.

Meanwhile, the auto exposure camera relies on you to override its automatics to produce a correct reading. Nothing automatic about that, is it?

Most objects are not producing light at all. They are only visible because they reflect light. A chair does not normally emit light. The moon does not produce light – it solely reflects light mostly from the sun. There is a bit of a fallacy here because heat produces light. Heat the chair up and it will produce light. Humans do not produce light but we (and animals) have a body temperature that does cause light emissions in the invisible infrared spectrum. If we actually turned into visible light emitters we are very dead because that implies heat sufficient to make us glow red – blue – white. That would not be healthy. However, it is possible to photograph people in total darkness. All you need is a readily available sensor or film sensitive to infrared light.

Light intensity declines rapidly with distance. Most photographers use a simple formula stating: double the distance from a light source and the KGLPhoto Laughing Lady in the Darkintensity is down to a 1/4 of the original intensity. That is an approximation that serves photography well in most circumstances but is actually wildly inaccurate. If you get close to a light source, then light intensity to distance is almost flat regardless of distance. Nor does the rule hold up when the light is focused with some sort of reflector as you may have noticed using a flashlight, driving at night or watching the beam from a lighthouse.

Light never dies. As time goes by and the light travels great distances, the intensity goes down but it never reaches zero. We are surrounded by light originating billions of years ago. Unfortunately, the intensity is way down making it impossible to see for us humans. The Hubble telescope is extremely light sensitive and can pick up very distant light originating a long time ago.

There is no such thing as “seeing” an object; our eyes only receive light emitted and reflected by the object. The light waves reaching our eyes are quite distorted. The eyes introduce more distortions due to various imperfections. The brain then makes up a “view” of the object, introducing additional distortions. The brain is easily fooled into providing false or biased views. What we “see” is not an accurate representation of the object, it merely is one deemed safe by our brain.

Light Traveling Space

The sun is our major source of light. This light is comes from a massive nuclear reaction that has been going on for billions of years. Sun light affects human health and climates. The current Global Warming crisis is caused by sun energy being trapped by CO2 concentrations rather than reflected back into space, which causes temperatures to rise to dangerous levels. Sun light produces Vitamin D and fuels millions of energy requirements. It also causes skin cancers and ultraviolet KGLPhoto Tending the Shopradiation aging us. The sun will very certainly cause the demise of mankind, possibly through Global Warming but for sure as its energy runs out.

Stars, clusters, galaxies and nebulae provide some light. Polar lights (Aurorae) are clearly visible in high latitude areas and seasons. The moon reflects sun light. Magnetic fields in space bend light, space storms distort light, black holes does who knows what with light and sun flares send out a lot of unpredictable and usually harmful energy.

Cosmic “rays” refer to Earth being bombarded by energy containing particles. These particles originate with the sun but also exploding stars, novae, galaxies, quasars and black holes. These generally low energy (unless you are an astronaut) particles have some limited effect on climate by affecting lightning and cloud formation. Solar cosmic rays can affect electronics on Earth such as communication devices and possibly digital cameras. Then there is the Oh-My-God particle (really) traveling around the Universe at extreme speed and containing enormous KGLPhoto Blues Musician in a Wheelchairenergy, given its tiny size. But that is another story.

Photography in space is quite different than on earth. The radiation levels are harmful to film. NASA tests film extensively to reduce fogging and color shifts – they tend to use film specially made for them by Kodak. Today I’m sure they use digital cameras with similar quality considerations.

Light in space is either on or off with photography taking place when light is on. With the light is on, it is very constant – no clouds, haze, rain storms or shadow. There are only two basic shooting scenarios: close or far. Shooting earth from the space station means using one standard exposure (reflected light is quite constant) and the lens set at infinity. Shooting “close ups” such as space walks require a similar standard exposure and some focusing. Photography inside the space vessel is similar to that on earth.

Space light is much bluer than on earth. There is far more ultraviolet radiation which is not visible with eyes but may impact images. Contrast ranges are extreme – consider an astronaut in a white suit against a pitch black background. The seasoned space photographer must also consider speed. Everything moves way faster than earth speed limits. The shuttle moves at 17,500 miles an hour (5 miles per second or 110 feet a typical exposure of 1/240 seconds) so panning is a necessary skill. The Cartier-Bresson Decisive Moment takes on a different meaning. In space, a photograph doesn’t freeze a moment in time. It records a sequence of movement

Atmosphere and Time

The atmosphere greatly impacts light from space. Distortions include seasonality, clouds, storms, humidity, dust, pollution, inversion layers, refractions and reflections. Other factors Robert Doisneau Baldaccini Portraitinclude time of day effects and temperature distortions.

When light beams reach the atmosphere, they scatter as they collide with atmospheric particles. During the day, this results in a blue sky because the light is coming from a high angle. In the early morning and evening with a low sun, we see a reddish sky because the angle of the incoming beams is low. Without clouds, we experience a mix of sun beams and scattered light. Snow, water and beach sand reflect light more than dark objects. That elevated light level reaches your camera and confuses the light meter. You better reduce the exposure. Ice also reflects light but amplifies the blue wave lengths. Thus, photos of ice bergs usually have a deep bluish tint.

Seasons display unique light effects. Snowy landscapes require special attention to exposure. Fall foil colors can overwhelm a landscape. Some enjoy the Christmas feeling Charles Gatewood Box on Endand warm toned nostalgia. Seasonal sports and graduations are popular events. Some regions suffer extreme weather seasons such as the Arctic winter, the hurricane plagued Southeast US coasts, the mid US Tornado Alley and the Asian Monsoon and Cyclone season.

Clouds reflect the direct sun beams and all we see is the scattered light waves – shadows disappear or dilute. The water content of the clouds scatter light in a way that produces no particular color, hence the grayish feel with a complete cloud cover. The thicker the cloud, the less light passes through. Extreme weather can lead to almost total darkness and a general loss in color. The red rose is suddenly grey.

Bounces and Refractions

Refraction of light is the bending effect that happens when light passes through certain Edward Weston Oceano - Desert Lightmedia at certain angles. The straw in a glass of water is the classic example. Refraction is, for instance, the cause of rainbows. The atmosphere provides refraction of sun beams: the lower the sun, the more the refraction. At sunset the refraction can be as much as half a degree or about one sun diameter. This explains the “oval” sun at sunset or dawn. Another effect of refraction is the “floating mountains” or “elonged islands or ships” seen on hot days (Fata Morgana). Other special effects include mirages and the common illusion of distant pools of water on hot roads. Refraction also makes it possible to see beyond the natural horizon.

Refraction in a vacuum is exactly 1.0, which means there is no refraction. The atmosphere has a refraction of 1.0003 while ordinary Ansel Adams Clearing after the Stormwater refracts 1.33, quite a bit more. Acrylic glass has a refraction index of 1.49 and diamonds are at 2.42. Silicon has an index of over 4 although that probably won’t be much of a photography issue.

Refraction also is important because different wave lengths of light have slightly different refractions in different materials. This causes dispersion of the light into colors. Diamonds, for instance, are very high in dispersions causing their extraordinary “fire”. One moment you see blue light reflected from the stone, then perhaps green or pure white. Rainbows are another example of this phenomenon. Reflection, dispersion and refraction are the mechanisms by which many different kinds of prisms work – very important design aspects of your camera’s lenses.

Pollution and Dust

Atmospheric pollution affects light. Compare light in a smogged Los Angeles, Mexico City or Shanghai to that experienced on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Broadly, there are three Haze over Hong Kongkinds of atmospheric pollution agents. Some reflect solar beams back out into space, resulting in less light and cooler temperatures. The sulphur dioxide crisis of the 1960s and early 1970s is a good example. Other pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, do the opposite – they allow the sun energy to pass to the surface of Earth but disallow the required reflection of excess energy back out into space. The result is Global Warming. Yet another pollutant, typically Freon, destroy the ozone layer allowing ultraviolet light through at levels threatening health.

Here are the smoggiest cities: London, New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Houston, Toronto, Athens, Beijing and Hong Kong. Smoggy areas include the Ruhr Area and Silicon Valley and many places in China, Southeast Asia and India. Forest slash and burn practices in Indonesia cause severe smog and smoke in much of surrounding countries. The disastrous 1952 smog in London killed 4,000 people in four days, followed by another 8,000 in the next six months. On a happier note, both LA and Mexico City have made substantial advances in controlling smog.

Apart from the health issues, heavy smog can easily make any normal photography impossible.

Dust in the atmosphere typically reflects sun energy back out and thus has a cooling effect as well as a darker sky. Sunsets tend to be tremendous. Volcanoes cause massive emissions of dSmog on the Rtiverust, particles and ashes into the atmosphere. The eruptions of Mount St. Helen and Mount Pinatubo spewed out ashes that traveled the world for several years. Dust storms due to drought are another major source. The Oklahoma storms of the 1930s, today’s Sahara storms and those of China affect all of Earth. Global Warming will amplify dust storms due to extreme droughts. Yet another source of particles in the air stems from forest fires due to deforestation in Brazil, Malaysia and, above all, Indonesia. The uncontrolled fires in Indonesia cause severe health problems in not only Indonesia but all of Southwest Asia. The particles circle the
globe.

Manmade Light

Natural light is terrific to photographers. Manmade light is a pain. Hundreds of different devices, lamps, bulbs, processes, materials, gases and energy sources result in the strangest of light spectra. Add that manmade light is generally there because the natural light is not available. You are stuck with the darn thing. True, you can set up your own light version Diane Arbus Queen and Kingwith all kinds of expensive photographic lighting devices. That’s fine but really what you do is to replace one manmade environment with another manmade environment.

K (Kelvin) values and wave spectra are important to photographers. A K value is an average of a light source’s color spectrum. A spectrum provides much more information about the scene than does the K value. For instance, the spectrum may have a high wave length peak and a low peak – a ‘U’ pattern. The K value will fall between the peaks and not really mean a thing. What you need is, perhaps, double filtration to correct for the two peaks.

The K value of sunlight is about 5,800. Typical daylight is either 5,000K or 6,500K depending on if you go for the US standard calibration or that of Europe. Computer monitors are calibrated to between 5,000K (reddish yellow) and 9,300K (bluish). Digital cameras often display white balance settings in terms of Kelvin values. In the spectrum of colors, red is around 1,800K, the average is 5,000K to 6,500K and blue starts around 12,000K continuing up to 16,000K. Examples of low Kelvin light: Match flares, candles and ordinary (tungsten) light bulbs. Here are some high Kelvin items: Xenon light, analog TVs: “the bluish flicker from you neighbor’s window”. Henri Cartier-Bresson The Duke of Windsor with Divorcee Wife

Unless going for abstraction, photographers compensate for the local K value/spectrum to bring the image back to “normal”. For instance, you try to make skin tones similar to those recorded in regular daylight. That may be accomplished through lens filters, white balance adjustments or post production trickery. When you do that, obviously the original scene is distorted – the ugly manmade light was, after all, the real thing.

Most fluorescent and gas discharge lamps have “interrupted spectra”, meaning the spectra are not smooth curves but a series of narrow peaks over the frequency band. Such irregular peaks, often in the yellow to green range, are very hard to filter away. The only real solution is to use alternative lighting such as flash. Gas discharge lamps include neon light and high intensity lights (mercury vapor, metal halide and sodium vapor) as used in light streets, stadiums and factories.

Then there is another issue. Film or sensors react quite differently to odd light situations than do your eyes. Your eyes and brain compensate for strange light to make it more consistent with your built in database on how a face “should” look. A camera has no such database or ability. It records incoming light according to its fixed sensitivity to different wave lengths.

Shadows

Are shadows the opposite of light? Of course not, shadows are light just as is present elsewhere. They are a bit darker, that’s all. Zone system proponents know all about shadows being as important as high lights. The old film saying is: “expose for shadows, develop for high lights”. Or, in the case of digital photography, do the reverse, i.e. shoot for high lights and balance shadow detail in Photoshop.

The dynamic range of light in photography is typically measured in f stops. If the ratio of Henri Cartier-Bresson Man and His Shadowlight intensity in high lights compared to minimum light is, say 1024:1, or 2 raised to the power of 10, then the range is 10 stops. There is a huge difference in the ranges different media are capable of recording or displaying. Your eyes are amazing in that not only can they cover the largest dynamic range, they also are self adjusting in real time. Other devices don’t even come close.

On a cloudy day a scene may display a dynamic range of as little as 3 stops. On a sunny day, the same scene may display a range of 12 stops. That is well within the capabilities of most eyes. Eyes can dynamically adjust to a 24 stop range although a more static range of 10-14 stops is more realistic. Most cameras (film and digital) can handle a range of about 8 stops, a considerable reduction. A typical print covers about 6 stops and a monitor slightly less. Newspapers can only display a range of 3-4 stops.

Several techniques and technologies exist to extend either the original or the displayed range. One recent example is High Dynamic Range Photography. In traditional photography, special development techniques coupled with corresponding exposures can do the trick. Consider the Hubble telescope and its ability to record and then enhance the dimmest of light.

In practical, everyday photography, the biggest factor in getting a decent dynamic range is simply to use correct exposures. Over or under exposure quickly destroys the dynamic range. One stop overexposure loses one stop of range on the high light side. Please note that correct exposure is not the same as pointing your camera at something and letting the built-in light meter (or for that matter an external meter) blurb out some numbers. Light meters are very stupid about measuring light. Practice, practice so you truly understand exposure. Otherwise, your shadows or high lights are off, were off and will stay off, blowing you out of the water every time.

Using Light

Now that you know a little bit about light, how do you use that knowledge? In generic terms, the benefit of this knowledge is that you know more about what to expect. Make that an element in your photographic execution. Industrial ShapePhotography in big cities usually means polluted air which produces a different light than that on top of Mount Everest. If you shoot in an ice cave, the light is blue, while if you shoot in a sand cave, the light is reddish. Indoor shooting at, say, Christmas, will probably produce warm, reddish photos. Shooting on a lit street may produce very strange color casts.

We do not know all there is to know about light – much remains a mystery. The current knowledge is recent or no more than a hundred years old. Yet we speak of light with deep convictions, especially in photography. An image “captures” the light, a print contains the “full range” of light, the light reflected from a face “accurately” captures the skin tones. Professional critics have a language, of their own but incomprehensible to many of us, classifying and judging light and how a photographer deals with it in his art.

A photographer can use tools to analyze light. The intensity of light falling on a subject or reflected from a subject into the lens is easily measured. He/she can even determine the color of light falling on the subject. Once the picture is taken the image can be analyzed either with software in the case of digital images or by a densitometer in the case of film. That is all fine, but no meters will ever tell the full story and in fact they may even hide the real magic.

The true story about light is not one of analysis. It is about the creative use of light presented at a particular shooting event. To create that vision, you need to realize light is not just one thing. It is a combination of many different kinds of effects and distortions. Once that is clear, here are a few ideas that you might use to figure out your very own creative toolbox. A tool box is an individual treasure chest. What is a trap to some is an opportunity to others. We are all as different as are our visions. So take the following as nonexclusive ideas, not sinister laws.

  • History and Theory: The history of our understanding of light is long, colorful and by no means finished. The “seeing” interaction of eyes and brain is only partially, and very recently, understood and no doubt inaccurate. Think about the significance of all those tricky images designed to fool the brain – where straight lines suddenly look bent. Or where stationary images impossibly start to move? In your fooled brain, that is.
  • Space: Most natural light comes from space. As light travels through space, it undergoes Edward Weston Kneeling Nudetransformations, most quite subtle. It bends, gets malformed, disappears, reflects, is colored and ends up differently than expected in largely a random, uncontrolled manner. Light in its “cleanest” form is quite variable even if you reside on the International Space Station. The atmosphere is then doing it’s best to make matters even more complex:
  • Atmosphere: The atmosphere shields us from a quite harmful space environment. The ozone layer filters out UV radiation. Space is filled with particles harmful to humans that have come close to killing astronauts. These particles luckily do not penetrate the atmosphere. As the atmospheric filters do their work, light from space becomes even more modified. Then local conditions change light again, either by less filtering or more. A photograph taken in Australia or in Antarctica may be subject to a lot more UV light than elsewhere. A picture shot from an airplane at 37,000 feet is subject to more bombardment of essentially radioactive particles than one taken in Times Square, New York.
  • Refraction: Light bends as it passes through certain media such as water or a lens. This leads to many special situations and opportunities, whether you appreciate oval suns, mirages, Fata Morgana, rainbows, floating mountains or tilting buildings. You figure it out. Make a list of the special situations created by refraction in your shooting environment.
  • Reflections: We all have many so-so shots of tall buildings reflecting wobbly images from their glass walls. And those self portraits using a mirror belong deep in that shoe box in the garage. We realize Edward Weston Veggieshow reflections from snow and water may be controlled by polarizing filters. Portrait photographers use reflectors to create a pleasing light. Film and TV crews do the same. Daylight may be modified by fill flash to create an illusion of reflections. Reflections, in any type of photography, represent huge and under used opportunities for creativity. Think about it. Create you own sun! Make your own shadows!
  • Time of Day: Time of day is an essential tool. Most photographs can only be successfully shot at very specific light conditions, whether it is due to the light intensity or its color balance. Examples: Rarely is noon light the best for nature photography. Long shadows may accentuate the emotional impact of a scene. Some animals are only reachable at certain hours. Downtown traffic is busier at rush hours. Indoors, the uses of ambient light through windows depend not only on time of day but also on the angle to the sun. At noon, light from a south facing window is quite different from a window facing north.
  • Seasonal: Many of us associate seasons with specific events. You shoot fall colors as leaves fall. Or delicate spring colors as leaves return. Cherry trees bloom. Whales, salmon and birds migrate. Grizzlies wake up or retire. Frozen lakes thaw. Change your wardrobe. The barbeque is manned. The car gets its annual wash. The first strawberries show up. Taste the Beaujolais Nouveau or fresh halibut. Eat your heart out at Thanksgiving. Do the Christmas shopping. Snowmobiles, motor cycles or power boats roar. Sailboats tack. Dust off the camera after its winter slumber. Wash the windows, cut the lawn. File April tax returns. Harvest the apples, wheat and oranges. Does you vision include such items and more?
  • Weather: Nature gives us hurricanes, tornados, cyclones, fog, heavy rain, soft rain, clouds, thunder, lightning, sunshine, snow fall, heat waves or cold spells. The impact on your creative situation and challenge is obvious. Weather not only impacts light, it affects the range of possible or desired subjects. Some like shooting close up pictures of tornados. Most of us prefer to run like hell.
  • Pollution and Dust: Imagine grabbing your camera, crawling into your bed and under the covers.Edward Weston More Veggies Try taking a photograph of your left foot. That’s not real easy, is it? The bloody covers filter out the light. So do pollution and dust, both of which consist of airborne particles (and perhaps gases), covering earth like a blanket. Both reduce light coming through and both modify the color of light. Dramatic pictures from hazy Shanghai are perhaps interesting but not real artistic in most cases. The thing is, not all light effects are desirable in the sense they create creative opportunities. Some are simply bad news to most photographers. Here is another example:
  • Manmade Light: Speaking photographically, manmade light is a pest unless specifically created for photographic purposes. Blast that sodium light. Darn that fluorescent office light. Curse those wave length peaks and valleys. Green faces, orange hair. What is fun about lobster red skin? Well, nothing much. Maybe useful in some artistic visions, manmade light is a curse to most photographers.

There you are – you have a shopping list for your magical light tool box and a list of features to think about. This discussion of possible opportunities could go on much longer. It won’t, at this moment. The main idea still is that you are the one to create your own box, preferably by thinking outside the box. Try it on. Now, let’s check out colors which are just one form of light.

Artistry contains two uniquely personal components. The first is creativity. Creativity drives artistic vision. The second is innovation. Innovation makes creative ideas become real, actual works of art. Most artists create art that is unique and very different from that of the next guy. Yet the basic creative thought patterns tend to be similar. Take Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. They created art with almost nothing in common except that cameras were involved. But their way of describing their art and their inspiration is quite similar – means may differ but art, creativity and innovation are universal concepts.

This is a excerpt from my main Photography essay: “On Reality 6: Mysteries of Photography“. It also updates an earlier preview on Jeff Wall: “On Reality 6 Preview: The Magic of Jeff Wall“.

Jeff Wall is a photographer from Vancouver, BC. His unique art is exhibited and represented worldwide. He will serve us as a deep dive into the far reaches of creativity taken to an extreme. Jeff Wall is not your average photographer in any sense of the word. Moreover, he is quite a radical innovator. His 25 year career produced, so far, only about 130 images, sold in extremely limited editions for around $1 million each.

Jeff Wall is an example of the ultimate in creativity and innovation. He is also an example of Creativity (or Obsession) Gone Wild. To some he is a genius, to others a snap shooter on steroids. He is not included here to resolve that controversy. He is here as an example of what artistry and creativity can be in one person and how far it sometimes has to go. Serious photographers might think about what it would be like to be in Wall’s shoes and the commitment that implies. Perhaps that will foster some new ideas. Here is what he does:

  • Jeff Wall uses state-of-the art photographic and computer technology to create images that share the composition, scale and ambitions of the grandest historical paintings. His works often have the formality of documentary photography. He exclusively stages his scenes, sometimes reproducing or interpreting paintings or specific events.
  • He does not seek the decisive moment or a picturesque scene. Nor does he create symmetry, lyricism, formal perfection or abstraction. He does not deceive you, hide his intentions or use the work of others except as visual inspiration. He avoids pop culture images and enjoys some irony.
  • Each of his images is the result of immensely elaborate creative explorations. He may spend from weeks to years on completing a single image. He never repeats himself and is always unique. He tells the obvious story or none at all.
  • The subjects range from very complex to surprisingly simple, even banal “every day” slices of life. He moves from landscape and street photography to still life and genre painting, to Japanese woodblock prints and medical illustration, to Impressionist and Baroque painting.
  • He views himself as part painter, part movie director and part photographer, all three being part, in his opinion, of a single pictorial tradition. Some images are shot on location, others in his studio. The process may include paid actors and consultants such as marine biologists, stage builders and Hollywood special effects experts.
  • His images are very large even considering his frequent use of large format cameras and medium format Hasselblads – often in the order of 6 feet by 6 feet or 2*2 meters. Some measure 10 feet by 16 feet. The people in the images are often life-size. He can combine hundreds of images into one. The images may be prints (traditional or inkjet) or transparencies mounted in light boxes.

Here is a sample of Jeff Wall’s art – “A View from an Apartment (2004-2005)” – a carefully arranged everyday scene where the harbor in the window contrasts with the indoor tranquility:
Jeff Wall View From An Apartment

The present material partially depends on an outstanding article, dated 2007-02-25 and titled The Luminist, published in New York Times by Arthur Lubow. This original article is outstanding. I hope my summary, additions and reorganization hasn’t completely destroyed the spirit of it.

Images

The Destroyed Room 1978

“The Destroyed Room,” shows a vandalized bedroom. It was made in 1978 as his wife, Jeannette, had left him temporarily for another man. The ransacked room contains a heap of women’s clothing. The violence directed against a woman’s possessions acknowledges feminist art criticism. Wall used his absent wife’s clothing to construct the scene. “I borrowed her clothes because we were still on good terms and she had the good clothes,” he said. You can easily detect the scene is staged in a studio – check the door and the window. There is no deception.
Jeff Wall The Destroyed Room

Wall based the image on a 19th-century painting, “The Death of Sardanapalus” by Delacroix. Sardanapalus, an Assyrian king, defeated in war, destroyed his court and harem. The influence is obvious in the diagonal lines and the rich, red palette. Wall wants you to see the reference to the painting:

Despite Delacroix and feminist art criticism, is this about a rejected husband’s anger? Wall sidesteps. “I don’t find my own experiences very interesting. I find my observations interesting. Maybe that’s why I’m a photographer. Maybe an observation is an experience that means more to you than other experiences.”

Picture for Women 1979

“Picture for Women” (1979) interprets Manet’s masterpiece “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” by changing the setting to a photographer’s studio. In Manet’s painting, the central figure, a barmaid with downcast eyes, receives a gaze from the male customer reflected in the upper right corner of the mirror behind her. The customer is located in an impossible perspective that simulates the one occupied by the viewer of the painting. The key features are the male gaze by itself, the relationship towards the female and the viewer as an active, involved onlooker.
Manet Resturant Server

When Wall composed his photograph, he set his camera, seen as a mirror reflection, at the center; the woman stands at the left, coolly studying the camera and the photographer beside it. The camera and its operator become the central subject of the picture and the object of feminine scrutiny. Wall mimicked the receding globe lights of the Folies-Bergère bar into the overhead bulbs, deepening the space in the photo as Manet did in his painting.Jeff Wall Picture for Women

There are some common elements in the two images. But they are so vastly different it is hard to see a real relationship between the two. The warm intimacy of Manet contrasts too much with Wall’s cold, stark image. Manet shows a servant engaged by a probing Parisian male while the Wall image allure to an antagonistic relationship between the two characters without any joy whatsoever.

Dead Soviet Soldiers in Afghanistan 1992

Wall created an elaborate battle scene based on the Soviet Union’s conflict with Afghanistan in the 1980s. The image is old-fashioned, as if just exhumed from a war museum. Then you notice that this is a macabre vision: the dead Soviet soldiers strewn about are all awake — laughing, crying and fingering their wounds.Jeff Wall Dead Soviet Soldiers Afghanistan

Given his propensity for finding guidance in history, here are two possible inspirations, both famous and real but without the laughing part. The left hand image is from the aftermath of the American Civil War Gettysburg Battle. The right hand photo, from the Crimean War 1855 by Roger Fenton, is called “Valley of the Shadow of Death”. Fenton was the first known war photographer. He did not show dead soldiers, as opposed by his slightly later American counterparts. He said of this image: ” …in coming to a ravine called the valley of death, the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them…”.

Civil War Gettysburg Deaths and Crimean War Battle Scene Roger Fenton

The two images above are just samples of photos that bear some resemblance to Wall’s War study of the strange and absurd. There are many more similar images. Clearly, photographers have a rather morbid (sordid?) interest in the horrors of war. Moreover, the general public enthusiastically seeks out the most graphic war images possible. I know because my “Artistic Awareness System” tracks such trends using real data. Seeing both the supply and the demand side, I can’t help feeling a bit uneasy. Why are those alive so fascinated with the dead?

A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) 1993

“A Sudden Gust of Wind” is based on a famous Hokusai print in which several travelers are buffeted by unexpected turbulence that sends the sheets of a manuscript spiraling through the air. He used more than a hundred shots in the painstaking composition of the final 12-foot-long picture.

Here is the Hokusai wood print:

Hokusai

And here is Jeff Wall’s version:

Jeff Wall A Sudden Gust of Wind

As opposed to the Manet case, the Wall image is great if seen in isolation. You may still ask yourself what is the purpose of mimicking (copying? plagiarizing?) another image? In this case, the two pictures are closely related – both are lovely. Looking at them close together is confusing.

Diagonal Composition 1993

Documentary-style photographs of old, ordinary and neglected spaces and cleaning areas are longstanding parts of Wall’s work. “Diagonal Composition” explore the still-life genre with inspiration from early twentieth-century art, particularly the abstract images of artists such as El Lissitzky, Theo van Doesburg, and Alexander Rodchenko, whose paintings typically comprised grids of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition (Original)

The image is a modest social statement: time left the surfaces scarred and degraded, symbolizing lives gone by. Wall calls it ‘the un attributed anonymous poetry of the world’. His social and activist statements are generally quite mild and subtle, perhaps in line with being Canadian.

Diagonal Composition No 2 1998

The perspective, composition and staging in this image are as elaborate as any of Wall’s works. It shows the corner of a sink, a rough wooden shelf and a pale green wall. To the right a small stick of plywood lays on top of a white rubber glove. It is placed at an acute angle to the sink. Just left of center, the dark side of the sink produces diagonal lines. The light linoleum above has traces of glue around it, breaking up the straight lines dominated by the molding, the diagonal trend of the work top, the shelf, the linoleum and the little plywood stick.Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition No. 2

No doubt a lot of work went into this image. I find the composition lacking in any kind of interest. The perspective is too bland, especially compared to the more daring one in No 1 above.

The Flooded Grave 1998-2000

Certainly complex, the “Flooded Grave” required nearly two years of work. It shows a freshly dug, open grave filled not only with water but also with orange starfish and sea urchins. The image is viewed as hallucinatory, strange, poetic and surrealist. The scene combines images from two sodden Vancouver cemeteries with photographs of a living aquatic system created in his studio.

Wall kept a large custom-built aquarium in his studio for more than six months. Two retained marine biologists caught sea anemones, sea urchins and octopuses from a single offshore spot. “I wanted to make it just like a moment in time undersea, not a compendium or display,” Wall explains. “I wanted to make it as real as I could.”Jeff Wall The Flooded Grave

Wall likes going to extraordinary lengths. “The artistry of doing something is just fascinating,” he says. “If you don’t like artistry, why are you an artist? It’s fun.”

After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2000

Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man” is about a black man who, during a street riot, escapes into a forgotten room in the cellar of a large apartment building in New York and decides to stay there, living in hiding. The novel begins with a description of the man’s home with its ceiling covered with 1,369 illegally connected light bulbs.
Jeff Wall The Invisible Man

The image is an over-the-top re-creation of the light intensive basement dwelling of Ellison’s character. The photomontages are invisible without being truly hidden. The chaotic mass of details is staged to the extreme. Positioning is elaborate, precise and overdone. Its incredibly cluttered and overcrowded nature is claustrophobic: maybe the whole place will cave in. Yet there is some feeling of space because the bottom foreground is somewhat less overcrowded than the absurd ceiling.

Outside a Nightclub 2004-2005

Wall devoted a full year to “In Front of a Nightclub” – a picture of young people standing outside a Vancouver club at night. The shoot took so long because the club Wall found is located on a heavily trafficked thoroughfare. It could not be photographed as he wished. There simply was no place for him to stand with his tripod and large-format camera.

He had the club exterior – the columns and grille, the facade, gum-spotted sidewalk and concrete curb – reconstructed in a studio. One assistant worked for six months constructing the set. “Of course, you can’t see everything he did, but that doesn’t matter,” Wall says. “There is dirt and moss growing in the cracks where the bottom of the building is crumbling, but you can’t see it. The discoloration of the sidewalk is extremely accurate, and it took many layers of application. Wall placed his strobes in the precise locations occupied by the street lamps and other lights that shine opposite the real nightclub.
Jeff Wall Outside a Nightclub

He and his assistants parked outside the club on several nights and took 300 or 400 snapshots of the kids gathered there. Wall checked the photos for characters and clustering he liked. Then he hired 40 extras from a casting agency. Dividing them into two groups and giving them general directions, he photographed them over the course of a month on alternate nights. “People’s metabolism is different at night, their coloring is different,” he explains. For each group he finished with only one frame that satisfied him. “You only need one,” he points out. He digitally combined the two photos of the crowd with a third one of the building into his final picture.

Men Waiting 2006

On a damp winter morning, 20 well-used men hung at a bleak Vancouver cash corner. Wall stands behind a tripod-mounted camera, patiently waiting for his vision of men waiting at a cash corner to come true. He had hired the laborers at an actual cash corner where the men normally hung out and bused them to the shooting location, a cash corner stand-in. The men waited for Wall to determine that the rain had become too heavy, the light too bright or the prevailing mood too restless for him to obtain the feeling of suspended activity and diffused expectancy that he sought in the picture.Jeff Wall Men Waiting

He was prepared to come here, day after day, for several weeks. On any given morning, typically after three hours elapsed, he would adjourn until the next day. The men received their paychecks of 82 Canadian dollars and got back into the bus. “Men Waiting” is a small-scale Wall production in spite of its cast of 20 laborers plus Wall himself, assistants and equipment, its two-week shoot and on-the-street location. The laborers alone ended up costing as much as $35,000.

The risk is that Wall will overly manipulate the hired hands, transforming them into puppets. Asked about the laborers, he said: “My pictures are obviously related to my own life. Why would I be interested in them otherwise? I’m not a sociologist. I must identify with these figures, even though I often don’t like them, I don’t even feel that sympathetic to them. But I must identify with them in some way because they keep coming into pictures that I want to make.” Wall was fascinated by “the physical animal energy that is present on the street and waiting to be disposed of.”

He plans for all contingencies and commands a shoot start to finish. Yet photography is never fully controllable. Unforeseen events will occur. Some events are beneficial, such as the recompose of “Man Waiting”, which, even so, took several days to create:

  • In spite of his elaborate planning for “Men Waiting”, he changed the frame of the picture. One of the reasons he liked the location he had selected was a scraggly little tree (in the middle right of the final image) that had shed its leaves for winter. Further down the street was another tree, a giant fir (in the extreme right of the final image). After taking five days to find his camera position, he concluded that he couldn’t eliminate the unasked-for fir from the picture, but by including only part of the trunk, he would minimize it.
  • On one of the first days of the shoot, the rain increased, and several of the men huddled beneath the evergreen for shelter. When that happened, Wall realized that the fir had a role to play in the picture after all. He changed the camera setup to encompass the entire trunk, allowing the crowd of men to continue to the edge of the picture and, by implication, beyond. “That tree bothered me all along,” he told me. “If it hadn’t rained hard, I might never have noticed it. Now I’ll just include it. It’s stronger for it.”

Throughout the shoot, he found undirected details — an umbrella stuck in the mud, a hooded head lowered — and choose to keep some. Speaking on a walkie-talkie, he would ask his three assistants to adjust the position and behavior of the waiting men. The final picture was structured by his artistic sense, but did account for the unpredictability of his living subjects. “You can’t make these things up,” he said.

The Storyteller:

Jeff Wall The Storyteller

What do the horizontal power lines do to the composition? Presumable related to trains of some sort, they break the composition without creating tension. The one or two tiny groups of story listeners fit well but the power lines destroy the picture. That’s my opinion.

Mimic:

Jeff Wall The Mimic

This is a picture with a well stated, clear and relevant message. An immigrant “foreigner” worker is mocked racially by a redneck, trashy “citizen”. The worker knows well there is nothing to be done; it’s a battle he cannot win. The redneck knows well what he can get away with.

Techniques

Paintings

He makes photographs that are intended to be experienced the way paintings are. “Most photographs cannot get looked at very often. They get exhausted. Great photographers have done it [their masterpiece] on the fly. It [the on the fly opportunity] doesn’t happen that often. I just wasn’t interested in doing that [the on the fly shooting]. I didn’t want to spend my time running around trying to find an event that could be made into a picture that would be good.”

Insomnia:

Jeff Wall Insomnia

The art that he liked best, from the full-length portraits of Velázquez and Manet to the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and the floor pieces of Carl Andre, engaged the viewer on a lifelike human scale. The paintings could be walked up to (or, in Andre’s case, onto) and moved away from. They held their own, on a wall or in a room. “If painting can be that scale and be effective, then a photograph ought to be effective at that size, too,” Wall concluded.

Jell-O:

Jeff Wall Jell-O

In Spain, “I saw the Velázquez, Goya, Titian — I loved it and wanted to be part of it somehow,” he said. “Every time the bus stopped, you were looking out the window, and there was a sign in a light box. I began to think, it’s luminous, Velázquez was luminous and I’ll try it.” When he emerged in 1978 as a mature artist, he presented photographs equal in status with paintings. In sheer size, they were measured in feet, not inches.

Large Size and Staging

He dislikes the way photographs are typically exhibited as small prints. “I don’t like the traditional 8 by 10,” he says. “They were done that size as displays for prints to run in books. It’s too shrunken, too compressed. When you’re making things to go on a wall, as I do, that seems too small.” Many of his images exceed several feet in any direction. Some are over 10 or even 15 feet wide.

An Octopus:

Jeff Wall An Octopus

He desires the sharpness of large formats which comes close to what the ever-adjusting and compensating human eye perceives. The size of his images requires the highest possible level of sharpness. Such precision eludes the documentary photographer who shoots split-second moments. We know the grainy, blurry images of Frank, Weegee, Cartier-Bresson and somehow deduct these technical deficits are authentic. Grainy, blurry pictures may convey a desired mood, but they do not reflect authenticity.

Some Beans:

Jeff Wall Some Beans

Early on, Wall sidestepped the challenges faces by street photographers: how to impose a technically satisfying formal composition on a subject that has to be captured instantaneously. Rather than hunt for material to photograph, he manufactured all his subject matter in the studio.

Very soon he moved out of the studio to shoot landscapes and street scenes on location. He looks for “the indeterminate American look”, which he says he can find by not looking for anything in particular. “You have to forget about the idea of the spirit of the place,” he says. “It’s one of the big, consoling myths of people who live nowhere.”

Using a large-format camera on a tripod severely constrains street photography. Beginning in 1982, he circumvented the problem by re-creating subjects using that he calls “cinematographic photography.” Typically, he would see something, often a small event with compressed human drama and political overtones. Rather than snap it, he would go home, think about this glimpse of everyday life or popular culture. If he wants to proceed, he hires performers to re-enact the scene.

Stumbling:

Jeff Wall Stumbling

Does staging a street scene and then photographing it as if it had “really” occurred betray honesty in photography? “Not necessarily”, Wall says. “What an artist can do with photography isn’t bounded by the documentary impulse”. He points out that in visual arts only photographers and cinematographers are criticized for staging rather than directly recording scenes. Other arts always offer re-creations of the outside world.

Light boxes

By the late 1970s, Wall worked feverishly on the light-box transparencies that still are part of his artistic career. His images of the late 1970s and 1980s were enormous transparencies lit from behind by fluorescent bulbs. The “light box” format is similar to that typically used for advertising. Like a commercial light box, a Wall photograph grabs the viewer with its glowing presence and, unlike an advertisement, hold viewers with its richness of detail and harmony.

His use of a light-box format derived from advertising suggests a possible critical analysis of consumer culture: but no. “I was not especially interested in doing a critique of advertising — it was an accident.” His concern with the physical beauty of his images also set him apart from most of the contemporary avant-garde photographers and closer to the painters he admires.

Cardplayers:

Cardplayers

He did his first one-man show in late 1978. He presented his exhibition as an “installation” rather than as a photography show. He put “The Destroyed Room” in the gallery front window, enclosed with a plasterboard wall. You could see it only from outside, where, especially after dark, it resembled an actual vandalized room. Before the show closed, the piece was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada, a great send-off to his career.

Digitalization and Special Effects

Wall no longer restricts himself to light boxes. Over the last decade, he acquired four small buildings in a drug-infested downtown Vancouver district. There, helped by two full-time assistants and others as needed, he develop and print all of his work.

The Vampires’ Picnic:Jeff Wall The Vampires' Picnic

In his studio he recently staged a vampires’ lawn picnic and, extravagantly, a conversation among resurrected Soviet soldiers slain in Afghanistan. He imported Hollywood special-effects consultants as part of his team. “I used up a lot of blood,” he says. He quickly grew tired of these outlandish subjects, but computer technology remains an important part of his artistic arsenal. By converting his film exposures into digital files, Wall can then superimpose them invisibly and endlessly, often assembling a final image on film from many different shots.

He has begun making large, beautifully gradated black-and-white photographs on paper in the mid-’90s and more recently inkjet color prints. Many recent images, such as “Men waiting”, “Volunteer” and “Citizen” are presented in black and white, breaking his past reliance on color.

Volunteer:

Jeff Wall Volunteer

Citizen:

Jeff Wall Citizen

Critique

Jeff Wall has a strong following both from the general art enthusiasts to professional curators and gallery operators. Some say his work revolutionized their view of art. But not everyone loves Jeff Wall’s work. One critical pool finds his obsessive micro management plain out of sight, not to mention a monumental waste of resources. Other critics find that his work lacks in depth and simply consists of elaborate snap-shots. Here is Walter Robinson:

  • “The critics love his light boxes, which I think are obnoxious, and say his photos are beautiful, when I think they look like big snapshots — but I guess that’s the point of their being so laboriously constructed.”
  • “Many of his images, much reproduced, are less than thrilling. ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)’ is a yawn, as is his illustration of a scene from Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’, a set piece showing a shabby apartment with hundreds of light bulbs on the ceiling. ‘Dead Troops Talk’, a scene of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan, is in poor taste, to say the least.”

Other critics chime in:

Another critic says: he is an intellectually ambitious, morally earnest perfectionist navigating through avant-gardism. A control freak who smothers the life out of his picture, hung up on his process, he is seduced by the elaborateness of his techniques and the gorgeousness of his images. The effort to make viewers think hard in a Modernist way about the gaps and distortions inherent in perception is ignored.

Milk:

Jeff Wall Milk

Another critic claims: his shift into narrative representation and pop versions of subject matter in the light boxes was a strategy to make conceptual art more communicative. It eventually became so grand and so glamorous, aimed so much at redeeming pictorial traditions, that the original intention was lost. Wall tries to do as a 21st-century photographer what 19th-century painters like Manet and Seurat did in their elaborate depictions of contemporary life which is a historically absurd undertaking. “His claim to be a new history painter is very problematic for me,” a critic says. “The pictures have become very overwhelmingly spectacular objects. There is a kind of Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk quality. You have the set and the narrative; all we are waiting for is the sound.”

My View

What do I think? First, to me it is impossible not to admire the immense creativity or at least magnitude of his visions and execution. Second, the dedication of spending weeks or years to find the perfect or near perfect image is a lesson to every photographer. Third, the combination of many expressive means, from large format cameras to digitalization to light boxes and huge prints with the references to other art forms is quite humbling; at least it is to me.

Just about everything he does makes sense – if you are him. His techniques are not for everyone but they should provide food for thought to any photographer. After all, no one imposes any techniques on anyone else. Although his influence on individual photographers is quite substantial, I won’t adopt his ways in my own work except as an inspiration to try new things.

A Fight on the Sidewalk:

Jeff Wall A Fight on the Sidewalk

My reaction to what counts – his images – is mixed. Admiring what it took to get there is not the same as falling in love with the result. The extreme staging leaves me with a feeling of aloofness and lack of spontaneousness. It is too deliberate and intellectual even if he intended it that way. Some of his subjects leave me wondering if they are worth the attention.

Why do I need to look at “A Fight on the Sidewalk” (above)? Especially if it is staged: the visual impact of the fight is lukewarm at best. To me, it could equally well be called “People Asleep on the Sidewalk”. The Rocky movies are safe in the fight department. Check out this movie scene (below) for more drama (I know – Rocky isn’t art and this scene is as staged as Wall’s is- but what the heck?):Stallone in Rocky delivering a punch

His idea that photography should have equal standing to painting is fine even if it seems a bit defensive. Making photos look like paintings is by no means a new idea. It was very popular with British Victorian photographers in the mid to late 1800s, for instance. I can’t understand why that means the photos need to recreate an actual painting. What do the links to Delacroix, Manet or Robinson contribute to his images? Are the subjects “better” or more interesting because of these links? I doubt it. Speaking of influences:

Overpass:

Jeff Wall The Overpass

The Overpass image above reminds me a bit of a Dorothea Lange (California 1934) Depression and Farm Agency photo (below) showing two men, clearly vagrants, walking down a dusty road, next to a huge roadside billboard, being the perfect juxtaposition, saying “Next Time, Try the Train”. That image is powerful indeed. The frustration, inequity and poverty of that piece of history are all perfectly clear. But the “Overpass” (above) does not have that power although it seems clear Lange’s photo is the blueprint. But where is the tension, contradiction or juxtaposition? Where are these guys heading? To the Hilton? To their annual Hawaii vacation? To pick apples in Western Washington? To deportation to Somalia? To a Soviet Gulag? Who knows and who cares.
Dorothea Lange Vagrants at the

What exactly does “Men Waiting” tell us? I find the “Picture for Women” to be of little interest, especially when compared to Manet’s picture. “The Flooded Grave” is impressive in its many contradictions – but why? How are sea anemones, sea urchins and octopuses related to a Vancouver graveyard? A few subjects are, to me, utterly banal and uninteresting, such as “Overpass” and “The Storyteller”. Perhaps, so are those of other avant-gardists including, say, Andy Warhol with whom, I think, Wall has more in common than he has with Delacroix.

I do like quite a few images for what they are, not for the elaborate staging or art links: “Outside the Nightclub” is great, as are the “Milk” and “Mimic” images. I enjoy the “Octopus” and “Some Beans” scene and the “Sudden Gust of Wind”. The original “Diagonal Composition” is much more interesting than the later No. 2. “The Vampires Picnic” is intriguing.

I do not believe painting, cinematography and photography are of the same pictorial tradition, not in execution or in vision. Ultimately a photograph is the result of releasing a shutter, freezing a moment. That’s the uniqueness of photography. Combining a bunch of such moments into a new image perhaps resembles the brush strokes of a painting. It still does not change that frozen, unique moment that makes photography a standout.

That concludes the discussion of Jeff Wall’s work.

What’s mysterious about photography? The first photos were shot about 180 years ago. The conceptual process never changed: have light, see things, point camera, release shutter, make stored image visible and view results. Today’s tools are different and possibly more convenient. But tools do not make good photographs. The more sophisticated the gadgets, the greater the risk of misuse and disastrous results.

Great art does not depend on tools, technology, costly equipment, techniques, zone systems, rules-of-thirds, chemicals, digital chips, net worked cameras or any of these fabulous ways to divert attention KGLPhoto Fence At Nightfrom the real thing. Art does not depend on $30,000 digital backs or $15,000 lenses. Great art is the reflection of a laborious, deep and personal vision as realized by and flawlessly executed by a motivated, creative and original artist.

Art is about art. It’s a state of mind. It is a vision. It is mysterious and magical. It engages and spellbinds. It’s about inner life. It is about honesty and self discovery. It informs and challenges. It exposes, proves and documents. It can be vulgar, ugly, hateful, absurd, beautiful and poetic. That’s art. Let’s explore art.

The Mystery of Photography

The mystery of a great photograph is why and how it touches the photographer and especially an audience. Such a photograph is not just a piece of paper treated with light and chemicals or covered with ink applied using a stream of computer bits. It truly is a piece of magic, as is any real piece of art. KGLPhoto Room at Night

It is often easy to look at a photo and exclaim “this is a great shot”. It’s much harder to say why that is the case. Then it’s even harder to go out and actually shoot a great photo, especially if you don’t know what makes a good photo in the first place.

The mysterious magic of a great photo does not just happen in a random fashion. You don’t suddenly take a walk and come back with a great photo. For one thing, you need to take a camera along, meaning you have some purpose which is a good start. Bringing that camera along may be subject to a deliberate and soul searching artistic vision. Then the probability of returning with some decent shots improves tremendously. Therein lays the subject of this essay.

The Metaphysical Process

To any photographer or artist, a soul searching vision is the life line. Consider Ansel Adams versus Henri Cartier-Bresson, both masters with hugely different, equally creative KGLPhoto - Alley At Nightvisions. One was a large format nature photographer and technical guru, the other a Leica street photographer and painter. One was deliberate in approach to the nth degree, the other hoped to encounter the split-second Decisive Moment. One took hours to set up a shot, the other achieved success in fractions of seconds. One spent endless time in the darkroom; the other viewed a simple camera as his only tool, spending no time in darkrooms. Both are legends. Both produced magic. Both approaches are valid.

However different these two approaches might seem, they share features such as: the images present a multi faceted, relevant and unique experience that reflects the artist’s creative vision and flawless execution. Hang on for details on this somewhat bold statement.

Visions, Light, Distortions and Dimensions

Here is the crudest possible perception of a photo: It is a static two dimensional image of a scene as it existed in the briefest moment in time. That characterization is not true in the simplest amateur point and shoot cases, much less in any photographic piece of art. KGLPhoto Girl in a CrowdThe amateur may well successfully capture something of precious value to an audience. The fine art photo will probably be viewed by a wider audience, presenting a sophisticated, multidimensional and unique experience.

This essay contemplates what makes a great photo and what it takes to make one. I’m writing as a photographer, not a viewer. Hopefully, a viewer will get something out of it as well. This is not a technical how-to article. Look elsewhere for ideas on f stops, flash settings, rules of thirds, the zone system or Photoshop secrets. Instead, enjoy some rather unconventional ideas that reduce the mysteries of shooting great photos (for you) while preserving the magic (to your audience):

  • Understand your vision. Explore it. Let it happen. Persist.
  • Photography is about distortions, not reality. Use that.
  • Light is the basis of all photography. Understand light.
  • Photographs are multi-dimensional. Use that.

Simple, isn’t it. I’m just kidding. It’s really, really hard to shoot a good photograph. It’s really, really absurd to reduce the magic of art into a few simplistic “rules” as shown above. As you will find out, these simplistic rules are not simple at all. But they are doable and real.

TOC

About This Essay

The essay is split in two main parts: The Prerequisites and The Toolbox. The Prerequisites part discusses the various steps and thoughts that make creative and innovative photography possible. The Toolbox part reveals some rather unconventional tools that nevertheless are crucial in creative photography. The goal is to understand whatKGLPhoto Rural House at Night the heck I meant above in the introduction:

  • The images present a multi faceted, relevant and unique experience that reflects the artist’s creative vision and flawless execution.

This is a very big post, containing the equivalence of almost 90 text pages, not counting the space of the images. Considering it might be hard to get through it all in one sitting, you may want to bookmark this page – in your browser or by using the bookmark button below.

I’ve included a navigation system to make it easier to get to whatever you may be mostly interested in. The Table of Content below is one part of that system. The other part is the many “TOC” buttons you’ll find after each section. Here is a sample:

TOC

Table of Contents

Images in This Essay

There are many images in this post. After all, this is a photo blog and I am a professional working photographer. The purposes of the chosen images are two fold: to demonstrate the mysterious magic of photography and to show examples of the various ideas in the essay. Some photographs are my own, others from a broad spectrum of photographers, most famous, some not.KGLPhoto Pillows

You will notice many of the photos are film based and black and white. That is partly due to my own preference of this medium, but also because for historical reasons – many of the photographers lived in the fantastically creative black and white era. But the discussions make no distinction between film and digital, color or black and white. On the level of this essay, such distinctions are immaterial.

In a couple of places I illustrate the ideas of text using non photographic art – mostly paintings and some sculpture. This is not for convenience but to point out the parallels of various art forms. There are many media but art is art.

This blog, its design, text content (except quotes from others) and my own images and graphs are copyright © Leading Design, Inc 2006-2007. All Rights Reserved. I make absolutely no claims on images or quotes originating in other sources. All image copyrights belong to its owners.

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Prerequisites – Understand the Magic

Success in any endeavor depends on self knowledge. In art, self knowledge often defines tDiane Arbus - People against Door at Nighthe artist’s work and is reflected in vision statements and the work processes. Some people require formal vision statements, detailed plans, rules and so forth. To others, it’s all an intuitive process. Right or left brain, there is a process. The photographer who understands visions and methodical executions is much more likely to shot and produce great and lasting photos.

Take wedding photographers, often following a written script: shoot bride; then bride and mother; add brother; add step father, grandmother and former boy friend…. Do Ceremony, Chicken Dinner, First Dance, Wedding Cake, Uncle Ben Ejected, Limo here, Limo there, Collect Fee and Get Out. Not much of a vision but certainly a partial plan.

Another extreme case is the amateur’s random path without a plan but with plenty of heart. Finally, consider the fine art photographer who spent years coming up with an original vision and who acts accordingly in a consistent manner. Guess who has KGLPhoto Branches against Light at Nightthe greatest chance of shooting something worthwhile to a knowledgeable audience.

Many of us look for the middle ground as we deal with the “process thing”, as the elder Bush might have put it. Formalize some aspects to keep on track, be flexible in other aspects to encourage new ideas. The process is vital; the form it takes is personal.

Whether on paper or in one’s head, the creative process depends on a few basics. I’m sure Ansel Adams (who had to write technical books about his processes and thought patterns) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (who neither wrote technical books, nor volunteered to verbalize his processes) both, consciously or not, considered many of the points to be covered below.

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Be Artistic

Artistry contains two uniquely personal components. The first is creativity. Creativity drives artistic vision. The second is innovation. Innovation makes creative ideas become real, actual works of art. Most artists create art that is unique and very different from that of the next guy. Yet the basic creative thought patterns tend to be similar. Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson created art with almost nothing in common except cameras were involved. But read some of their thoughts and you will find great similarities, not in everything but in spirit:

Ansel Adams said:

  • In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular…. sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a Ansel Adams - River and Mountainsgood chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
  • All I can do in my writing is to stimulate a certain amount of thought, clarify some technical facts and date my work. But when I preach sharpness, brilliancy, scale, etc., I am just mouthing words, because no words can really describe those terms and qualities it takes the actual print to say, “Here it is.”
  • When I’m ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.
  • Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Do these subjects move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?
  • I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term – meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching – there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said: Henri Cartier-Bresson Young Girl Carrying a Picture

  • They asked me: “‘How do you make your pictures?” I was puzzled and I said, “I don’t know, it’s not important.”
  • I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life -to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.
  • This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.
  • If the photographer succeeds in reflecting the exterior as well as interior world, his subjects appear as “in real life.” In order to achieve this, the photographer must respect the mood, become integrated into the environment, avoid all the tricks that destroy human truth, and also make the subject of the photo forget the camera and the person using it. Complicated equipment and lights get in the way of naive, un-posed subjects. What is more fleeting than the expression on a face?
  • To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression. I believe that through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds- the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to Henri Cartier-Bresson - Couple by the River Seineform a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate. But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean the rigorous organisation of the interplay of surfaces, lines and values.
    It is in this organisation alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organisation can stem only from a developed instinct.

To both photographers, the making of a photograph is a spiritual act, an inner conviction and a desire to abstract essence beyond the material world. Neither of them mentions tools or techniques except to say those are not important. I’d imagine they would not agree on whether a particular photograph is great or not. They had vastly different approaches to just about any lower level photographic technique. But the basic creative thought patterns are quite similar. Let’s consult some other photographers:

Other Photographers Said:

  • “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you Diane Arbus Twin Girlsknow.”; “What moves me about…what’s called technique…is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.”-Diane Arbus
  • The challenge for me has first been to see things as they are, whether a portrait, a city street, or a bouncing ball. In a word, I have tried to be objective. What I mean by objectivity is not the objectivity of a machine, but of a sensible human being with the mystery of personal selection at the heart of it. The second challenge has been to impose order onto the things seen and to supply the visual context and the intellectual framework – that to me is the art of photography. -Berenice Abbott

Here is some more wisdom:

  • Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term – selectivity. -Berenice Abbott
  • “I discovered that while many photographers think alike when it comes to equipment and chemistry, there are seldom two who agree on anything when it comes to what constitutes a good image.”; “Great Diane Arbus Two Ladiesphotography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”; “Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gismos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” -Peter Adams
  • “What is right? Simply put, it is any assignment in which the photographer have significant spiritual stakes… spiritually driven work constitutes the core of a photographer’s contribution to culture.”; “What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer.”-William Albert Allard

Vastly different personalities, drastically different views of the world and what makes a good photo, the creative thinking remains quite similar. It got to be a point in there, somewhere.

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Creativity: Visionary Ideas

Creativity is an inner engine that makes you discover unique ideas and concepts. Creative forces push Madge Gill Womanyou towards identifying new links between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity relies on motivation, divine intervention, cognitive processes, spirituality, social environments, your personality traits and chance. Creativity works with your genius, mental illness and humor. So goes one of many definitions.

No one agrees on a precise, general definition. No one seems able to measure this magical Creativity. Scientifically, no one knows if you are creative or not although intuitively most can tell right off. Someone made up a list of about sixty definitions of creativity. Most research suggests creativity and intelligence have very little in common. You can be a creative fool or an uncreative rocket scientist.

Pseudo-Creative Industries sell creative new age advertising, exotic car designs, unusual forks and self help books about being creative. Other industries want to monetize your creative ideas, inventions and art. Celebrity seminars, photography schools and art classes happily teach you their new, improved view of creativity, against a fee.

Mental Creativity

Mental illness, in particular manic-depression, and creativity seem to go well together. Famous examples include Ernest Hemingway, Robert Schumann, Virginia Woolf, Michelangelo, Diane Arbus and Lord Byron.Martin Ramirez Man on Horse

“Outsider Art” refers to the work of self-taught mentally ill or disadvantaged artists such as Delaine La Bas, Adolph Wolfli, Nek Chand, Ferdinand Cheval, Henry Darrger, Madge Gill, Alexander Lobanov, Martin Ramirez, Achilles Rizzoli and Judith Scott. The 1922 book “Artistry of the Mentally Ill” by Hans Prinzhorn identified the Ten Schizophrenic Masters: Karl Brendel, August Klotz, Peter Mogen, August Neter, Johann Knupfer, Victor Orth, Herman Bell, Heinrich Welz, Joseph Sell and Franz Pohl.

The six images close by in this section represent works by Outsider Artists. The top pencil drawing of a woman is by Madge Gill, an English artist guided by a spirit. She did thousands of drawings like the one shown here. The woman in the drawing may be Gill herself or a stillborn daughter.

Martin Ramirez, a Mexican who lived in California, did the Man on a Horse. Ramirez suffered from schizophrenia. After his death, the painting became quite valuable. This is unusual: most of these artists are or were institutionalized with their work neither shown publicly nor sold. Even after death, when often their work first came to light, little is made public.

The drawing of a huge dog with his tiny master is next. No doubt based on an accurate view of the world according to most dogs, the artist is Bill Traylor. He was born a slave in 1856 on a Bill Traylor Big Dog Small Manplantation near Benton, Alabama. He remained at the plantation till 1934, described as an illiterate farmer with some English vocabulary. He then worked on road gangs and was essentially homeless. So how come this man is viewed as one of the most important American artists?

From 1939 to 1942, Traylor worked the streets of Montgomery as a street artist. He was 83 when he started this artistic career, eventually producing around 1,800 drawings. Friends brought him drawing materials and others provided small favors such as food and an occasional roof. His first show was held in 1940 – ignored by Traylor who was busy drawing. His next show was held in 1942 at a local high school. By chance, his work caught the attention of the NYC Museum of Modern Art. The Museum attempted to buy some of the works but was angrily rejected. By 1943 Traylor moved north to his children. He died in 1947 and his work fell into the shadows for thirty five years.

In 1982, he was part of a landmark exhibition of Black American art. His work was rediscovered and he is now a regular feature of the art scene. Exhibitions include about some twenty across the South in the last 10 years. He recently was featured in England, Germany and Switzerland.

Adolf Wolfli, Resident Artist, Waldau Mental Asylum, Switzerland 1895-1930

Adolf Wolfli is perhaps the best known of the Outsider Artists. Born in 1864, he was a farmhand, a laborer and a convicted sex offender by the age of 31. At this point he was committed to the Asylum where he remained to his death in 1930. He was violent, subject to hallucinations and diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

He started drawing in 1899, but nothing is preserved till about 1905. Over the next twenty five years, he accumulated a remarkable output of an imaginary Adolf Wolfli Big Thing25,000 page autobiography and some 3,000 drawings and collages. Supported by some of the hospital staff, here is his established routine:

  • “Every Monday morning Wölfli is given a new pencil and two large sheets of unprinted newsprint. The pencil is used up in two days; then he has to make do with the stubs he has saved or with whatever he can beg off someone else.”
  • “He often writes with pieces only five to seven millimeters long and even with the broken-off points of lead, which he handles deftly, holding them between his fingernails. He carefully collects packing paper and any other paper he can get from the guards and patients in his area; otherwise he would run out of paper before the next Sunday night.”
  • “At Christmas the house gives him a box of colored pencils, which lasts him two or three weeks at the most.”

He achieved a bit of fame in 1921 when he was the subject of an attention getting publication stating a mentally ill person can be a serious artist. In 1922, he was one of several subjects in Prinzhorn’s book mentioned above. The publicity allowed him to sell some drawings.

Yet that ripple did not last long and it was not till 1972 – forty two years after his death – that he was discovered by the world of art. His work started a remarkable tour through the world that included well over a hundred fifty exhibitions at locations such as the Museums of Fine Arts in Basel and Bern, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Adolf Wolfli Campbell Soup on NewsprintBrussels, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Universities of California in Berkeley and Santa Barbara, Musee Picasso, Antibes, American Folk Art Museum, New York, Kunsthalle, Kiel, Scottish Art Council, Edinburgh, Berliner Museum, Berlin, Centre de Cultura Contemporania, Barcelona, Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo and the Katonah Museum of Art, New York. This is just a sampling;
add many more museums, exhibition halls and galleries.

What about his work? Well, think an enormous collection of newsprint papers completely covered with text, drawings, symbols, poetry and musical annotations. Meticulously organized into volumes: Nine volumes of “From the Cradle to the Grave”, Seven volumes of “Geographic and Algebraic Books”, 3,000 pages of “Saint Adolf-Giant-Creation (allowing his nephew to conquer not only Earth but the entire Cosmos), six books of “St Adolf II” (his alter ego), six books of “Songs ands Dances”, four books on “Dances and Marches” and sixteen books and 8,404 pages on his “Funeral March”. Most of his drawings were part of the volumes but some, called bread art, were single sheet, occasionally sold and the basis of his modest early following.

The drawings are exhausting, epic, complex, grandiose, geometrical, adventurous, labyrinthine, mysterious, startling and based on an incredible imagination. He spent most of his mature life in an isolation cell, yet provided Adolf Wolfli Musicviews on far reaching subjects he could not have observed through anything but imagination.

Here is a bit of trivia: Wolfli did his Campbell Soup Can (above) in 1929. Andy Warhol did his Can in 1964. It seems both of them liked the Tomato Soup. Warhol is the pop artist of fame. Wolfli is known for insanity. May the best man or image win.

Also interesting is the inclusion of musical annotations and hints. Recently, these annotations have been interpreted into actual performances. He is said to have inspired a range of musicians and composers. Here are a few words on the musical aspect of his work off his web site:

  • “Naturally enough, the question whether Wölfli’s music can be played is asked again and again. The answer is yes, with some difficulty. Parts of the musical manuscripts of 1913 were analyzed in 1976 by Kjell Keller and Peter Streif and were performed. These are dances – as Wölfli indicates – waltzes, mazurkas, and polkas similar in their melody to folk music.”
  • “How Wölfli acquired his knowledge of music and its signs and terms is not clear. He heard singing in the village church. Perhaps he himself sang along. There he could see song books from the eighteenth century with six-line staffs (explaining, perhaps, his continuous use of six lines in his musical notations). At festivities he heard dance music, and on military occasions he heard the marches he loved so well.”
  • “More important than the concrete evaluation of his music notations is Wölfli’s concept of viewing and designing his whole oeuvre as a big musical composition. The basic element underlying his compositions and his whole oeuvre is rhythm. Rhythm pervades not only his music but his poems and prose, and there is also a distinctive rhythmic flow in his handwriting.”

Another curious aspect is that he apparently incorporated a detailed vocabulary into his work. This vocabulary included graphics such as birds, faces, decorative borders, snakes, musical staves and mandela shapes.

Adolf Wolfli’s creativity is only the beginning of his startling abilities. It is hard to even imagine what must have been going on in that isolated mind that astonishes a world about which he directly knew very little. There is only room here for three of his drawings (above). Given the uniqueness of his work, I’ve prepared a short multimedia show of samples from his work, accompanied by his own music as interpreted recently. Hit the “Wolfli” button in the next segment and let the show roll.

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The Case of Adolf Wolfli – A Multimedia Show

Sometimes, Outsider Artists are referred to as “Folk Artists”. Other descriptions include “brutish, rural, untrained, intuitive, menial, peasant, marginal, clumsy, naive, primitive, extreme, mental, elaborate and fantasy driven”. Personally, I don’t quite agree with any of these classifications. Considering that Outsider Art has become a commercially viable art form, some recent output might be described as opportunistic, simply bad or exploitative.

However, in the case of Wolfli, his music as interpreted in the show below is decidedly Swiss Folk style. Perhaps not all of us favor that particular music legacy but few among us can claim to simultaneously be writers of autobiographies, adventures, poetry, algebraic and geographic text books and symbolic essays plus be accomplished visual artists, draftsmen and illustrators plus be composers.

Hit the button for a rare glimpse of a long ago Outsider Artist and his quite strange world and who beat Andy Warhol to the Campbell Soup Can:

Wolfli

There are, of course, Outsider Music and Outsider Photography artists. Perhaps we have Outsider Postmen, Outsider Plumbers, Outsider Accountants and Outsider Neurosurgeons. Outsider Bloggers most likely is quite a large group.

Creativity Continued

Creativity Reviewed

The digression into Outsider Art shows how creativity can thrive on the fringes of society, far from the sacred halls of traditional art. It is not owned by any population strata: it makes no difference if you are rich or not, intelligent or not, mentally sound or not, physically well or not or trained or not. Artistic creativity surfaces where least expected. Being on the fringes does not mean the lack of ordinary artistic features such as clear cut Ralph Gibson Female Portraitvisions and painstaking execution. Wolfli, for instance, was immaculate in both vision and execution. So was Bill Traylor and no doubt most others in the Outsider Art school. I’d suggest the label “Outsider” to be dumped at first occasion.

Perhaps none of the above is terribly important to you as an artist. To you, creativity is a deeply personal center that does not really require definitions or the interference by others. It is about you, no one else. It is your personal realm. It is your art. It is your way of recognizing and developing a multi faceted view of the world. Nothing is easy about creativity – your unique artistic and creative vision requires honesty, self discovery and a clear purpose. It’s hard, takes a lot of practice and leads to many frustrating dead ends.

You may be right about the personal aspect of creativity. But no one exists in isolation and most creative ideas are influenced by outside factors. Probably, your creative mind benefits from the widest exposure to the creativity of others and to experiences in general.

The worst case scenario is the ease of lazily overlooking the “vision thing” as the elder Bush put it, proceeding to completely ignore it in favor of lines in the sand. This disability he passed on to his president son who no doubt believes creativity is a four letter word. Creativity is not for everyone. Arthur Schlesinger differed and wrote about the ultimate leadership:

  • “The president of the United States”, wrote Henry Adams, “resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grab, a course to steer, a port to seek.”
  • The Constitution awards presidents the helm, but creative presidents must possess and communicate the direction in which they propose to take the country. The port they seek is what the first President Bush dismissively called “the vision thing.”
  • “The presidency”, FDR said, “is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is predominantly a place of moral leadership. All our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.” In other words, they were possessed by their visions.

Here we have a helm to grab, a course to steer, a port to seek and a direction to follow while discarding engineering and administration and acknowledging historic ideas and KGLPhoto Greta Matassa Jazz Singer at Tula's Seattlemoral leadership. Pretentious maybe, visions are not limited to artistic endeavors. Much of life depends on the creative visions of a few. Make sure you are one of those few as it relates to your world, artistic or not. To artists, the lack of a creative vision means artistic life is dead in the water – no helm, no port.

A vision is not an analytical notion; it has a strong emotional component. It can reveal very personal insights into where you are mentally and emotionally. You cannot truly shoot a happy documentary unless you actually are happy. The emotional context influences and might steer your personal connection with a particular subject. If you hate clear cutting, then that should be reflected in your images of clear cutting. Your emotional stance relates to another vital concept: honesty. If you aren’t convinced your vision is truly honest and reflecting your true convictions, then it is unlikely you will convince anyone else. You end up being or at least looking like a fake.

Creative Artists

Creativity is never static; it evolves in different directions and changes over time. Take Pablo Picasso and his periods: the Blue, Rose, African, Analytical Cubism, Synthetic Dance by Henri Cartier-BressonCubism, Classicism and Surreal Periods. Igor Stravinsky, shocking audiences, covered a vast musical landscape with his Russian, Neoclassical and Serial Phases. Arnold Schoenberg went from late Romanticism to Twelve Tone Music without stumbling one bit although perhaps his audience did.

In the same vein, Cartier-Bresson covered Cubism, Surrealism, went through an African Period, returned to Surrealism, became the Leica symbol in his cross-Europe Treks, moved into photo journalism, founded Magnum Photos (with, among others Robert Capa) leading to his Indian, Chinese, Mexican and East Indies Periods followed by refining the Decisive Moment idea (more later). Then he abandoned photography in favor of painting for the last 30 years of his life.

Leni Riefenstahl was a dancer, actress, film producer, director and a photographer. Starting as a dancer, she moved on to star in the 1920s German Mountain soap operas, Track by Leni Riefenstahlclimbed her way to her own production company, became a Nazi (later denied), a friend of Hitler, covered Nazi Party conventions and the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a documentary film maker and an artistic symbol of Nazi propaganda. Her film work was visually and artistically stunning. After a short imprisonment following the war, she became a Non-Nazi and gravitated into photography; no doubt a camera was friendlier than post war movie distributors.

She achieved renewed fame with her African photos. In her late 70s, she learnt to scuba dive and turned to underwater photography (and some film work). An infamous liar, social climber and self serving turncoat, she was, to her death at 101, an incredibly talented and multi faceted artist.

Other artists stayed in more or less one arena: Robert Capa was the War Photographer. Ansel Adams became the f/64 Yosemite Valley Genius. Diane Arbus fame came from Leni Riefenthal Shodows of Gymnastsdisturbing portraits of society’s fringe. Robert Mapplethorpe showed an in-your-face, explicit homoerotic scene. Cindy Sherman staged portraits, often starring herself. Annie Leibovitz made inventive, staged and much published portraits. Ralph Gibson redefined the photographic notion of symbolic simplicity.

Other one subject artists include Ingmar Bergman who introduced a brand of intuitive existentialism and dark misunderstandings of Lutheran faith to an unsuspecting audience. Olivier Messiaen made strange music resembling birdsong. Rolling Stones “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” in spite of trying for the last 42 years. The Beatles quit. Richard Wagner locked in High German Mysticism and Romance. Haydn and Mozart found their grove and mostly stayed there. Ernest Hemingway’s language of concise clarity never changed. Jean Paul Sartre worked his anti-bourgeois and philosophical way through communism, socialism, atheism, metaphysics, addictions and most D-Day by Robert Capaimportantly existentialism. Albert Camus followed essentially the same path. Sartre refused the Nobel Prize while Camus accepted it. Although the fame of Sartre and Camus may have declined, both were
enormously influential.

All of these artists are or were hugely creative and they made a difference. Each practiced his/her own version of art. I doubt many of them bothered putting vision statements down on paper but they certainly had a clear understanding of their art and their convictions. Without pursuing convictions, creativity and the associated vision, they would not be the legends they all are. Luckily, they also knew how to share the results with their audience which leads to the next topic: from vision to results.

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The Case of Jeff Wall

Much of this section is a reprint of a preview to this post. Most of the material is updated. Use the button below if you wish to bypass this section. Otherwise, just keep reading.

Bypass

Jeff Wall is a photographer from Vancouver, BC. His unique art is exhibited and represented worldwide. He will serve us as a deep dive into the far reaches of creativity taken to an extreme. Jeff Wall is not your average photographer in any sense of the word. His 25 year career produced, so far, only about 130 images, sold in extremely limited editions for around $1 million each.

Jeff Wall is a fantastic example of the ultimate in creativity. He is also an example of Creativity (or Obsession) Gone Wild. To some he is a genius, to others a snap shooter on steroids. He is not included here to resolve that controversy. He is here as an example of what artistry and creativity can be in one person and how far it sometimes has to go. I believe serious photographers should think about what it would be like to be in Wall’s shoes and the commitment that implies. Then you can go back to your environment and perhaps think about it a little differently.

  • Jeff Wall uses state-of-the art photographic and computer technology to create images that share the composition, scale and ambitions of the grandest historical paintings. His works often have the formality of documentary photography. He exclusively stages his scenes, sometimes reproducing or interpreting paintings or specific events.
  • He does not seek the decisive moment or a picturesque scene. Nor does he create symmetry, lyricism, formal perfection or abstraction. He does not deceive you, hide his intentions or use the work of others except as visual inspiration. He avoids pop culture images and enjoys some irony.
  • Each of his images is the result of immensely elaborate creative explorations. He may spend from weeks to years on completing a single image. He never repeats himself and is always unique. He tells the obvious story or none at all.
  • The subjects range from very complex to surprisingly simple, even banal “every day” slices of life. He moves from landscape and street photography to still life and genre painting, to Japanese woodblock prints and medical illustration, to Impressionist and Baroque painting.
  • He views himself as part painter, part movie director and part photographer, all three being part, in his opinion, of a single pictorial tradition. Some images are shot on location, others in his studio. The process may include paid actors and consultants such as marine biologists, stage builders and Hollywood special effects experts.
  • His images are very large even considering his frequent use of large format cameras and medium format Hasselblads – often in the order of 6 feet by 6 feet or 2*2 meters. Some measure 10 feet by 16 feet. The people in the images are often life-size. He can combine hundreds of images into one. The images may be prints (traditional or inkjet) or transparencies mounted in light boxes.

Here is a sample of Jeff Wall’s art – “A View from an Apartment (2004-2005)” – a carefully arranged everyday scene where the harbor in the window contrasts with the indoor tranquility: Jeff Wall View From An Apartment

The present material partially depends on an outstanding article, dated 2007-02-25 and titled The Luminist, published in New York Times by Arthur Lubow. This original article is outstanding. I hope my summary, additions and reorganization hasn’t completely destroyed the spirit of it.

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Images

The Destroyed Room 1978

“The Destroyed Room,” shows a vandalized bedroom. It was made in 1978 as his wife, Jeannette, had left him temporarily for another man. The ransacked room contains a heap of women’s clothing. The violence directed against a woman’s possessions acknowledges feminist art criticism. Wall used his absent wife’s clothing to construct the scene. “I borrowed her clothes because we were still on good terms and she had the good clothes,” he said. You can easily detect the scene is staged in a studio – check the door and the window. There is no deception. Jeff Wall The Destroyed Room

Wall based the image on a 19th-century painting, “The Death of Sardanapalus” by Delacroix. Sardanapalus, an Assyrian king, defeated in war, destroyed his court and harem. The influence is obvious in the diagonal lines and the rich, red palette. Wall wants you to see the reference to the painting:Delacroix The Death of Sardanapalus

Despite Delacroix and feminist art criticism, is this about a rejected husband’s anger? Wall sidesteps. “I don’t find my own experiences very interesting. I find my observations interesting. Maybe that’s why I’m a photographer. Maybe an observation is an experience that means more to you than other experiences.”

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Picture for Women 1979

“Picture for Women” (1979) interprets Manet’s masterpiece “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” by changing the setting to a photographer’s studio. In Manet’s painting, the central figure, a barmaid with downcast eyes, receives a gaze from the male customer reflected in the upper right corner of the mirror behind her. The customer is located in an impossible perspective that simulates the one occupied by the viewer of the painting. The key features are the male gaze by itself, the relationship towards the female and the viewer as an active, involved onlooker. Manet Resturant Server

When Wall composed his photograph, he set his camera, seen as a mirror reflection, at the center; the woman stands at the left, coolly studying the camera and the photographer beside it. The camera and its operator become the central subject of the picture and the object of feminine scrutiny. Wall mimicked the receding globe lights of the Folies-Bergère bar into the overhead bulbs, deepening the space in the photo as Manet did in his painting.Jeff Wall Picture for Women

There are some common elements in the two images. But they are so vastly different it is hard to see a real relationship between the two. The warm intimacy of Manet contrasts too much with Wall’s cold, stark image. Manet shows a servant engaged by a probing Parisian male while the Wall image allure to an antagonistic relationship between the two characters without any joy whatsoever.

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Dead Soviet Soldiers in Afghanistan 1992

Wall created an elaborate battle scene based on the Soviet Union’s conflict with Afghanistan in the 1980s. The image is old-fashioned, as if just exhumed from a war museum. Then you notice that this is a macabre vision: the dead Soviet soldiers strewn about are all awake — laughing, crying and fingering their wounds.Jeff Wall Dead Soviet Soldiers Afghanistan

Given his propensity for finding guidance in history, here are two possible inspirations, both famous and real but without the laughing part. The left hand image is from the aftermath of the American Civil War Gettysburg Battle. The right hand photo, from the Crimean War 1855 by Roger Fenton, is called “Valley of the Shadow of Death”. Fenton was the first known war photographer. He did not show dead soldiers, as opposed by his slightly later American counterparts. He said of this image: ” …in coming to a ravine called the valley of death, the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them…”.

Civil War Gettysburg Deaths and Crimean War Battle Scene Roger Fenton

The two images above are just samples of photos that bear some resemblance to Wall’s War study of the strange and absurd. There are many more similar images. Clearly, photographers have a rather morbid (sordid?) interest in the horrors of war. Moreover, the general public enthusiastically seeks out the most graphic war images possible. I know because my “Artistic Awareness System” tracks such trends using real data. Seeing both the supply and the demand side, I can’t help feeling a bit uneasy. Why are those alive so fascinated with the dead?

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A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) 1993

“A Sudden Gust of Wind” is based on a famous Hokusai print in which several travelers are buffeted by unexpected turbulence that sends the sheets of a manuscript spiraling through the air. He used more than a hundred shots in the painstaking composition of the final 12-foot-long picture.HokusaiJeff Wall A Sudden Gust of Wind

Here is the Hokusai wood print:

As opposed to the Manet case, the Wall image is great if seen in isolation. You may still ask yourself what is the purpose of mimicking (copying? plagiarizing?) another image? In this case, the two pictures are closely related – both are lovely. Looking at them close together is confusing.

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Diagonal Composition 1993

Documentary-style photographs of old, ordinary and neglected spaces and cleaning areas are longstanding parts of Wall’s work. “Diagonal Composition” explore the still-life genre with inspiration from early twentieth-century art, particularly the abstract images of artists such as El Lissitzky, Theo van Doesburg, and Alexander Rodchenko, whose paintings typically comprised grids of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition (Original)

The image is a modest social statement: time left the surfaces scarred and degraded, symbolizing lives gone by. Wall calls it ‘the un attributed anonymous poetry of the world’. His social and activist statements are generally quite mild and subtle, perhaps in line with being Canadian.

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Diagonal Composition No 2 1998

The perspective, composition and staging in this image are as elaborate as any of Wall’s works. It shows the corner of a sink, a rough wooden shelf and a pale green wall. To the right a small stick of plywood lays on top of a white rubber glove. It is placed at an acute angle to the sink. Just left of center, the dark side of the sink produces diagonal lines. The light linoleum above has traces of glue around it, breaking up the straight lines dominated by the molding, the diagonal trend of the work top, the shelf, the linoleum and the little plywood stick.Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition No. 2

No doubt a lot of work went into this image. I find the composition lacking in any kind of interest. The perspective is too bland, especially compared to the more daring one in No 1 above.

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The Flooded Grave 1998-2000

Certainly complex, the “Flooded Grave” required nearly two years of work. It shows a freshly dug, open grave filled not only with water but also with orange starfish and sea urchins. The image is viewed as hallucinatory, strange, poetic and surrealist. The scene combines images from two sodden Vancouver cemeteries with photographs of a living aquatic system created in his studio.

Wall kept a large custom-built aquarium in his studio for more than six months. Two retained marine biologists caught sea anemones, sea urchins and octopuses from a single offshore spot. “I wanted to make it just like a moment in time undersea, not a compendium or display,” Wall explains. “I wanted to make it as real as I could.”Jeff Wall The Flooded Grave

Wall likes going to extraordinary lengths. “The artistry of doing something is just fascinating,” he says. “If you don’t like artistry, why are you an artist? It’s fun.”

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After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2000

Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man” is about a black man who, during a street riot, escapes into a forgotten room in the cellar of a large apartment building in New York and decides to stay there, living in hiding. The novel begins with a description of the man’s home with its ceiling covered with 1,369 illegally connected light bulbs. Jeff Wall The Invisible Man

The image is an over-the-top re-creation of the light intensive basement dwelling of Ellison’s character. The photomontages are invisible without being truly hidden. The chaotic mass of details is staged to the extreme. Positioning is elaborate, precise and overdone. Its incredibly cluttered and overcrowded nature is claustrophobic: maybe the whole place will cave in. Yet there is some feeling of space because the bottom foreground is somewhat less overcrowded than the absurd ceiling.

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Outside a Nightclub 2004-2005

Wall devoted a full year to “In Front of a Nightclub” – a picture of young people standing outside a Vancouver club at night. The shoot took so long because the club Wall found is located on a heavily trafficked thoroughfare. It could not be photographed as he wished. There simply was no place for him to stand with his tripod and large-format camera.

He had the club exterior – the columns and grille, the facade, gum-spotted sidewalk and concrete curb – reconstructed in a studio. One assistant worked for six months constructing the set. “Of course, you can’t see everything he did, but that doesn’t matter,” Wall says. “There is dirt and moss growing in the cracks where the bottom of the building is crumbling, but you can’t see it. The discoloration of the sidewalk is extremely accurate, and it took many layers of application. Wall placed his strobes in the precise locations occupied by the street lamps and other lights that shine opposite the real nightclub. Jeff Wall Outside a Nightclub

He and his assistants parked outside the club on several nights and took 300 or 400 snapshots of the kids gathered there. Wall checked the photos for characters and clustering he liked. Then he hired 40 extras from a casting agency. Dividing them into two groups and giving them general directions, he photographed them over the course of a month on alternate nights. “People’s metabolism is different at night, their coloring is different,” he explains. For each group he finished with only one frame that satisfied him. “You only need one,” he points out. He digitally combined the two photos of the crowd with a third one of the building into his final picture.

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Men Waiting 2006

On a damp winter morning, 20 well-used men hung at a bleak Vancouver cash corner. Wall stands behind a tripod-mounted camera, patiently waiting for his vision of men waiting at a cash corner to come true. He had hired the laborers at an actual cash corner where the men normally hung out and bused them to the shooting location, a cash corner stand-in. The men waited for Wall to determine that the rain had become too heavy, the light too bright or the prevailing mood too restless for him to obtain the feeling of suspended activity and diffused expectancy that he sought in the picture.Jeff Wall Men Waiting

He was prepared to come here, day after day, for several weeks. On any given morning, typically after three hours elapsed, he would adjourn until the next day. The men received their paychecks of 82 Canadian dollars and got back into the bus. “Men Waiting” is a small-scale Wall production in spite of its cast of 20 laborers plus Wall himself, assistants and equipment, its two-week shoot and on-the-street location. The laborers alone ended up costing as much as $35,000.

The risk is that Wall will overly manipulate the hired hands, transforming them into puppets. Asked about the laborers, he said: “My pictures are obviously related to my own life. Why would I be interested in them otherwise? I’m not a sociologist. I must identify with these figures, even though I often don’t like them, I don’t even feel that sympathetic to them. But I must identify with them in some way because they keep coming into pictures that I want to make.” Wall was fascinated by “the physical animal energy that is present on the street and waiting to be disposed of.”

He plans for all contingencies and commands a shoot start to finish. Yet photography is never fully controllable. Unforeseen events will occur. Some events are beneficial, such as the recompose of “Man Waiting”, which, even so, took several days to create:

  • In spite of his elaborate planning for “Men Waiting”, he changed the frame of the picture. One of the reasons he liked the location he had selected was a scraggly little tree (in the middle right of the final image) that had shed its leaves for winter. Further down the street was another tree, a giant fir (in the extreme right of the final image). After taking five days to find his camera position, he concluded that he couldn’t eliminate the unasked-for fir from the picture, but by including only part of the trunk, he would minimize it.
  • On one of the first days of the shoot, the rain increased, and several of the men huddled beneath the evergreen for shelter. When that happened, Wall realized that the fir had a role to play in the picture after all. He changed the camera setup to encompass the entire trunk, allowing the crowd of men to continue to the edge of the picture and, by implication, beyond. “That tree bothered me all along,” he told me. “If it hadn’t rained hard, I might never have noticed it. Now I’ll just include it. It’s stronger for it.”

Throughout the shoot, he found undirected details — an umbrella stuck in the mud, a hooded head lowered — and choose to keep some. Speaking on a walkie-talkie, he would ask his three assistants to adjust the position and behavior of the waiting men. The final picture was structured by his artistic sense, but did account for the unpredictability of his living subjects. “You can’t make these things up,” he said.

The Storyteller:

Jeff Wall The Storyteller

What do the horizontal power lines do to the composition? Presumable related to trains of some sort, they break the composition without creating tension. The one or two tiny groups of story listeners fit well but the power lines destroy the picture. That’s my opinion.

Mimic:

Jeff Wall The Mimic

This is a picture with a well stated, clear and relevant message. An immigrant “foreigner” worker is mocked racially by a redneck, trashy “citizen”. The worker knows well there is nothing to be done; it’s a battle he cannot win. The redneck knows well what he can get away with.

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Techniques

Paintings

He makes photographs that are intended to be experienced the way paintings are. “Most photographs cannot get looked at very often. They get exhausted. Great photographers have done it [their masterpiece] on the fly. It [the on the fly opportunity] doesn’t happen that often. I just wasn’t interested in doing that [the on the fly shooting]. I didn’t want to spend my time running around trying to find an event that could be made into a picture that would be good.”

Insomnia:

Jeff Wall Insomnia

The art that he liked best, from the full-length portraits of Velázquez and Manet to the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and the floor pieces of Carl Andre, engaged the viewer on a lifelike human scale. The paintings could be walked up to (or, in Andre’s case, onto) and moved away from. They held their own, on a wall or in a room. “If painting can be that scale and be effective, then a photograph ought to be effective at that size, too,” Wall concluded.

Jell-O:

Jeff Wall Jell-O

In Spain, “I saw the Velázquez, Goya, Titian — I loved it and wanted to be part of it somehow,” he said. “Every time the bus stopped, you were looking out the window, and there was a sign in a light box. I began to think, it’s luminous, Velázquez was luminous and I’ll try it.” When he emerged in 1978 as a mature artist, he presented photographs equal in status with paintings. In sheer size, they were measured in feet, not inches.

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Large Size and Staging

He dislikes the way photographs are typically exhibited as small prints. “I don’t like the traditional 8 by 10,” he says. “They were done that size as displays for prints to run in books. It’s too shrunken, too compressed. When you’re making things to go on a wall, as I do, that seems too small.” Many of his images exceed several feet in any direction. Some are over 10 or even 15 feet wide.

An Octopus:

Jeff Wall An Octopus

He desires the sharpness of large formats which comes close to what the ever-adjusting and compensating human eye perceives. The size of his images requires the highest possible level of sharpness. Such precision eludes the documentary photographer who shoots split-second moments. We know the grainy, blurry images of Frank, Weegee, Cartier-Bresson and somehow deduct these technical deficits are authentic. Grainy, blurry pictures may convey a desired mood, but they do not reflect authenticity.

Some Beans:

Jeff Wall Some Beans

Early on, Wall sidestepped the challenges faces by street photographers: how to impose a technically satisfying formal composition on a subject that has to be captured instantaneously. Rather than hunt for material to photograph, he manufactured all his subject matter in the studio.

Very soon he moved out of the studio to shoot landscapes and street scenes on location. He looks for “the indeterminate American look”, which he says he can find by not looking for anything in particular. “You have to forget about the idea of the spirit of the place,” he says. “It’s one of the big, consoling myths of people who live nowhere.”

Using a large-format camera on a tripod severely constrains street photography. Beginning in 1982, he circumvented the problem by re-creating subjects using that he calls “cinematographic photography.” Typically, he would see something, often a small event with compressed human drama and political overtones. Rather than snap it, he would go home, think about this glimpse of everyday life or popular culture. If he wants to proceed, he hires performers to re-enact the scene.

Stumbling:

Jeff Wall Stumbling

Does staging a street scene and then photographing it as if it had “really” occurred betray honesty in photography? “Not necessarily”, Wall says. “What an artist can do with photography isn’t bounded by the documentary impulse”. He points out that in visual arts only photographers and cinematographers are criticized for staging rather than directly recording scenes. Other arts always offer re-creations of the outside world.

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Light boxes

By the late 1970s, Wall worked feverishly on the light-box transparencies that still are part of his artistic career. His images of the late 1970s and 1980s were enormous transparencies lit from behind by fluorescent bulbs. The “light box” format is similar to that typically used for advertising. Like a commercial light box, a Wall photograph grabs the viewer with its glowing presence and, unlike an advertisement, hold viewers with its richness of detail and harmony.

His use of a light-box format derived from advertising suggests a possible critical analysis of consumer culture: but no. “I was not especially interested in doing a critique of advertising — it was an accident.” His concern with the physical beauty of his images also set him apart from most of the contemporary avant-garde photographers and closer to the painters he admires.

Cardplayers:

Cardplayers

He did his first one-man show in late 1978. He presented his exhibition as an “installation” rather than as a photography show. He put “The Destroyed Room” in the gallery front window, enclosed with a plasterboard wall. You could see it only from outside, where, especially after dark, it resembled an actual vandalized room. Before the show closed, the piece was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada, a great send-off to his career.

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Digitalization and Special Effects

Wall no longer restricts himself to light boxes. Over the last decade, he acquired four small buildings in a drug-infested downtown Vancouver district. There, helped by two full-time assistants and others as needed, he develop and print all of his work.

The Vampires’ Picnic:Jeff Wall The Vampires' Picnic

In his studio he recently staged a vampires’ lawn picnic and, extravagantly, a conversation among resurrected Soviet soldiers slain in Afghanistan. He imported Hollywood special-effects consultants as part of his team. “I used up a lot of blood,” he says. He quickly grew tired of these outlandish subjects, but computer technology remains an important part of his artistic arsenal. By converting his film exposures into digital files, Wall can then superimpose them invisibly and endlessly, often assembling a final image on film from many different shots.

He has begun making large, beautifully gradated black-and-white photographs on paper in the mid-’90s and more recently inkjet color prints. Many recent images, such as “Men waiting”, “Volunteer” and “Citizen” are presented in black and white, breaking his past reliance on color.

Volunteer:

Jeff Wall Volunteer

Citizen:

Jeff Wall Citizen

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Critique

Jeff Wall has a strong following both from the general art enthusiasts to professional curators and gallery operators. Some say his work revolutionized their view of art. But not everyone loves Jeff Wall’s work. One critical pool finds his obsessive micro management plain out of sight, not to mention a monumental waste of resources. Other critics find that his work lacks in depth and simply consists of elaborate snap-shots. Here is Walter Robinson:

  • “The critics love his light boxes, which I think are obnoxious, and say his photos are beautiful, when I think they look like big snapshots — but I guess that’s the point of their being so laboriously constructed.”
  • “Many of his images, much reproduced, are less than thrilling. ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)’ is a yawn, as is his illustration of a scene from Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’, a set piece showing a shabby apartment with hundreds of light bulbs on the ceiling. ‘Dead Troops Talk’, a scene of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan, is in poor taste, to say the least.”

Other critics chime in:

Another critic says: he is an intellectually ambitious, morally earnest perfectionist navigating through avant-gardism. A control freak who smothers the life out of his picture, hung up on his process, he is seduced by the elaborateness of his techniques and the gorgeousness of his images. The effort to make viewers think hard in a Modernist way about the gaps and distortions inherent in perception is ignored.

Milk:

Jeff Wall Milk

Another critic claims: his shift into narrative representation and pop versions of subject matter in the light boxes was a strategy to make conceptual art more communicative. It eventually became so grand and so glamorous, aimed so much at redeeming pictorial traditions, that the original intention was lost. Wall tries to do as a 21st-century photographer what 19th-century painters like Manet and Seurat did in their elaborate depictions of contemporary life which is a historically absurd undertaking. “His claim to be a new history painter is very problematic for me,” a critic says. “The pictures have become very overwhelmingly spectacular objects. There is a kind of Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk quality. You have the set and the narrative; all we are waiting for is the sound.”

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My View

What do I think? First, to me it is impossible not to admire the immense creativity or at least magnitude of his visions and execution. Second, the dedication of spending weeks or years to find the perfect or near perfect image is a lesson to every photographer. Third, the combination of many expressive means, from large format cameras to digitalization to light boxes and huge prints with the references to other art forms is quite humbling; at least it is to me.

Just about everything he does makes sense – if you are him. His techniques are not for everyone but they should provide food for thought to any photographer. After all, no one imposes any techniques on anyone else. Although his influence on individual photographers is quite substantial, I won’t adopt his ways in my own work except as an inspiration to try new things.

A Fight on the Sidewalk:

Jeff Wall A Fight on the Sidewalk

My reaction to what counts – his images – is mixed. Admiring what it took to get there is not the same as falling in love with the result. The extreme staging leaves me with a feeling of aloofness and lack of spontaneousness. It is too deliberate and intellectual even if he intended it that way. Some of his subjects leave me wondering if they are worth the attention.

Why do I need to look at “A Fight on the Sidewalk” (above)? Especially if it is staged: the visual impact of the fight is lukewarm at best. To me, it could equally well be called “People Asleep on the Sidewalk”. The Rocky movies are safe in the fight department. Check out this movie scene (below) for more drama (I know – Rocky isn’t art and this scene is as staged as Wall’s is- but what the heck?):Stallone in Rocky delivering a punch

His idea that photography should have equal standing to painting is fine even if it seems a bit defensive. Making photos look like paintings is by no means a new idea. It was very popular with British Victorian photographers in the mid to late 1800s, for instance. I can’t understand why that means the photos need to recreate an actual painting. What do the links to Delacroix, Manet or Robinson contribute to his images? Are the subjects “better” or more interesting because of these links? I doubt it. Speaking of influences:

Overpass:

Jeff Wall The Overpass

The Overpass image above reminds me a bit of a Dorothea Lange (California 1934) Depression and Farm Agency photo (below) showing two men, clearly vagrants, walking down a dusty road, next to a huge roadside billboard, being the perfect juxtaposition, saying “Next Time, Try the Train”. That image is powerful indeed. The frustration, inequity and poverty of that piece of history are all perfectly clear. But the “Overpass” (above) does not have that power although it seems clear Lange’s photo is the blueprint. But where is the tension, contradiction or juxtaposition? Where are these guys heading? To the Hilton? To their annual Hawaii vacation? To pick apples in Western Washington? To deportation to Somalia? To a Soviet Gulag? Who knows and who cares. Dorothea Lange Vagrants at the

What exactly does “Men Waiting” tell us? I find the “Picture for Women” to be of little interest, especially when compared to Manet’s picture. “The Flooded Grave” is impressive in its many contradictions – but why? How are sea anemones, sea urchins and octopuses related to a Vancouver graveyard? A few subjects are, to me, utterly banal and uninteresting, such as “Overpass” and “The Storyteller”. Perhaps, so are those of other avant-gardists including, say, Andy Warhol with whom, I think, Wall has more in common than he has with Delacroix.

I do like quite a few images for what they are, not for the elaborate staging or art links: “Outside the Nightclub” is great, as are the “Milk” and “Mimic” images. I enjoy the “Octopus” and “Some Beans” scene and the “Sudden Gust of Wind”. The original “Diagonal Composition” is much more interesting than the later No. 2. “The Vampires Picnic” is intriguing.

I do not believe painting, cinematography and photography are of the same pictorial tradition, not in execution or in vision. Ultimately a photograph is the result of releasing a shutter, freezing a moment. That’s the uniqueness of photography. Combining a bunch of such moments into a new image perhaps resembles the brush strokes of a painting. It still does not change that frozen, unique moment that makes photography a standout.

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That concludes the discussion of Jeff Wall’s work.

Innovation: Make It Happen

Jeff Wall and the Outsider Artists are two extremes of creativity. It is time to get back on our main track that perhaps is not quite as extreme but yet, hopefully, a challenge. Creativity is a very personal trait and so are visions. No creativity, no vision. No vision, no fame. No fame, no money (Go to Start). But once you have the vision, you must make it real, that is, actually produce some art!

The Process

The vision is clear and in your mind. The next step – execution – might be simple. Shoot the image and take the roll to the nearest super market developer. Or plug the memory Ralph Gibson Man with Framecard into your photo printer. Out comes the master piece. Possible, but it is not a very likely outcome. So let’s start over again.

It takes a process to translate the vision into a real life piece of art. This process may be intuitive or defined in formal detail. It can be based on technicalities such as equipment or items such as location, time of day or target audience. In most cases, existing and well known paths are good enough – not all of us must do it the Jeff Wall way. In other cases, the vision requires innovation for it to become reality.

The start to finish process plan requires effort but truly is a good idea. Without a clear path, the original vision will likely founder in random dead ends such as those New Years good intentions. “A monkey and a typewriter will eventually produce a Shakespeare play”. But monkeys do not come up with Shakespearean plays very often. Neither do amateur photographers frequently exhibit at Museums of Contemporary Art.

You consider and define every step in this process path. The path is always changing, improving or matching new visions. Every path involves trial and error and a lot of tinkering. Do not stop: it is never done – repeat as is needed. Then repeat some more, over and over. It’s a life long task.

Adding complexity to this endeavor, new ways of performing old tasks come along at a dizzying pace, all originally being the result of some one else’s innovative spirit. Not only is it hard to figure out the current path, the ground rules constantly change. Standing still is not an option – take the “digital revolution”:

  • Companies no longer in the film camera business: Minolta, Kodak, Contax, Rollei, Olympus, Polaroid (sort of), Canon and Nikon (both almost), Kyocera, Mamiya – in fact, almost everyone left town. Iconic film camera makers going digital: Leica, Hasselblad and Mamiya. Iconic camera companies leaving the digital camera business: Kodak and Agfa. Digital life isn’t easy.
  • Companies that dumped the film business: Agfa sold film busyness to AgfaPhoto which ended in bankruptcy within a year. 3M, Ilford (off an on), Kodak, (they wish) with perhaps only Fuji hanging on.
  • Film Accessories, Chemicals, Dealers, Development and Processing Specialists going out of business – too many to count. Digital Kiosks, Internet and Retail Printing Businesses, Internet Photo Sharing Specialists entering, struggling and leaving (some) the image business – too many to count with competition our of sight.
  • Commercial Image users (ad agencies etc.) requiring film based formats – almost none. Accepting or demanding digital images – almost all.KGLPhoto Bar Customers
  • Photographers still in the film business – more than anyone of sound mind would find believable. A reactionary bunch of bums, we are. We also favor 8-tracks, typewriters, employ secretaries, drive Beetles and smoke unfiltered Camels with our Wild Turkey breakfast.

Does the last point about photographers make you feel guilty? Heck, we deal with Art here – the painting business – colored pigment, fluid, an easel and a brush or two – has been around almost unchanged for about 32,000 years and sculptures (Big Rock or similar, chisels and heavy things) were first sold maybe 5,000 years ago after being initiated 23,000 years ago – why wouldn’t we photographers survive? With the right visions and execution, maybe we will.

Pre visualization

Pre visualization is a great tool to help defining the process although it means vastly different things to different people. First, we have visualizations, then the special case of pre visualization. Ansel Adams Pre Visualized Rocks with Mountains

Visualizations are common in our cultures. It’s used to communicate messages, concepts and abstract or concrete ideas in industry, science, engineering, education, multimedia and medicine. Computer graphics, drawings, diagrams, napkins and back of envelopes are some of the means. Visualization is prominent in meditation. Alternative health treatments might include visualization.

Pre visualization is a form of visualization that provides a view of a future outcome. The movie industry use pre visualization as a cheap method to check out movie scenes. Ad agencies use story boards in various forms. Most of us pre visualize – or perhaps fantasize about – future events, be it the review meeting with the boss, the next vacation or the Powerball winning number.

Pre visualization in some form is part of most photography. On the simplest level, most off us want the picture “to come out nice” or “better than last time” and we often take some steps, such as focusing, flash on, lens cap off and steady hands, etc., to improve the likelihood of that visualization.

Ansel Adams viewed pre visualization as a part of the Zone system: the scene of a potential photo is analyzed from a reflected light stand point. That analysis is coupled with a development and Ansel Adams Couple against Mountainsprinting strategy. The end result (a print) is visualized even before the shutter is released. The process itself is reused and refined over and over.

My own version of pre visualization operates on two levels. On the lower level, I include the Adams Zone system. I practice it but not in all its intended detail – I’m closer to the more intuitive Cartier-Bresson school. The higher level focuses on your creative vision, applying it to an overall strategy for your shooting and processing sessions. This higher level does not just analyze light ranges, development tactics and printing tricks, it combines items such as story, composition, dimensions, mood, emotions and subject matter into a more complete view. My “City Night Scenes” sequences and my multimedia “Symphonie Noir” are examples of such a broadly pre visualized path.

Modern Times

First we had the digital revolution in photography with devastating effect on some and new opportunities for a few. Artistically, that revolution may not mean much, but the world started mass producing images that ended up in a brand new distribution and Ralph Gibson A Tired Manpublishing media called the Internet. Cyberspace is littered with images. Not only do we have a billion (or whatever) amateur images: museums, agencies, galleries and individual artists got into the act, putting just about every photo, painting and last week’s grocery lists up for grabs on the net’s dedicated, shared web sites or on private sites.

Practically every artist – dead or alive, major or minor – has a web site, many very sophisticated and expensive. A particular artist may be represented on scores of web sites. The artist has little say about the use of the images beyond his/her private site. Photos are passed around, used and shared with no control or consideration of copyrights.Henri Cartier-Bresson Despair

The big time entertainment companies have suffered the mp3 and video problem for years. The difference is they have about a billion more resources to fight piracy than do most photographers. Not even the billion dollars could beat the people happily sharing music around the globe. Remember a few years ago when record companies started to sue grand mothers and minors (etc.)? That sure was a PR winner – not. The fight is by no means over – companies push backwards, the people forwards.

There are millions of bloggers (such as me) that may comment, review or criticize any artist’s work without mercy. 1.4 million Web sites have some explicit connection to “Ansel Adams”, according to Google. “Henri Cartier-Bresson” is linked to 1.1 million sites. Below a million means you’re pretty much a nobody – bad luck to most artists who rather create Robert Doisneau Hostility in a Barart than optimize their web presence.

Never have so many images been printed, eBayed, Web2ed, newscast, talk showed, spammed, fixed, copied, blogged, stolen, podcast, voice mailed, downloaded, uploaded, emailed, serialized, peddled, YouTubed, chat roomed, eHarmonized, pdf’d, pirated, multi mediated, Flickr’d, socially networked, Bluetoothed, SMS’d, invented by Al Gore, narrated by Al Gore, evangelized by Al Gore or shared in any other of the thousands of ways humans miscommunicate these days.

Not only is the distribution and sale of images changing drastically, but the actual processing of images is changing too. Adobe is creating an online version of Photoshop. Scores of Net vendors provide professional printing at rock bottom prices. Other Internet vendors sSebastio Salgado Worker Challenged Guardpecialize in supporting top quality self publishing. Specialized vendors provide just about any niche service ever thought of. Others pursue services no one ever thought or cared about. A search of “Photo processing” yields 1.1 million returns on Google. Narrowing it down to “Photo processing service” still lists 20,000 entries.

I won’t even touch the subject of society changing. The “war on terror”, the War on Arabs, the War on Iraq and Afghanistan (Korea, Iran, Syria…..), Global Warming, nuclear threats and the decline of human rights – the list is long. I do discuss my takes elsewhere.

Do your visions, plans and paths consider the mysterious ways of modern times? If not, think again. It’s better to benefit than being clobbered – not a trivial issue. Just sticking to the Internet, you better consider web design, eCommerce, RSS, Bookmarking, Flash, blogs, search engine optimization, eBay, AJAX, FLEX, XML, ASP and a myriad of other obscure technologies you probably never heard of or wanted to hear about.

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See Start to Finish, Act Accordingly

Define the vision. Find the path to make it real. Execute. Exhibit the results. Reap the rewards. Is that simple enough? Well, there are a few other details to consider. But the KGLPhoto Alley Light in the Nightintuitive view of understanding the simplest of path is a good start. Let’s build on that. Keep it simple.

I’ll borrow a technique from journalism to organize that path in more detail. It’s a simple technique – the Five W’s: Who, Why, What, Where and When. It is a way to conveniently organize the points I want to make. The 5W’s are used in many creative environments.

The 5W’s are often associated with a “How” item. The upcoming section “The Toolbox” is the “How” part. You may be surprised to find its two sub sections deal with “Distortions” and “Dimensions”. What’s that got to do with photography? Hang in here and you will see.

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Who: The Human Angle

A painting takes hours, days or even years to complete as do sculptures and symphonies. Master painters and composers Sebastio Salgado Migrating Figuressometimes use students to complete parts of the work. Two or more people can collaborate writing a book. Literature Nobel Prize winners see their works translated into many languages by collaborative translators. Several people collaborate to produce one of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures. Jacqueline de Pre relied on Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra when recording the most famous version ever of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Rudy Van Gelder’s recording mastery contributed to legendary albums by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane and countless others. Where would Mick Jagger be without Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts? Or where would California nrBritney Spears
and Paris Hilton without paparazzi?

But a photographer can’t rely on anyone in the crucial moment of taking a picture. Photography is unique in art as the critical moment truly is a one person event. Only one Henri Cartier-Bresson Young Girls in a Slingeye at a time can look through the view finder. There is only room for one finger on the shutter release. No one is with you at the crucial moment, when the shutter release is pressed. You are it. You alone created the image and it is yours.

Once the shutter closes, everything changes. You may be, or should be, in charge of the post-exposure process. You might have a team helping you. In commercial photography you work against a specification; various art directors, publishers, editors and accountants will unmercifully walk all over you. Photojournalists have bosses prone to smoking cigars and sneeringly dumping your stuff into the waste basket, next to last week’s Wild Turkey. In wedding photography you work for the bride who sometimes (often) blames the photographer for this loser of a groom she regrets ever setting her eyes on. She, as any client, can make your life quite difficult. Henri Cartier-Bresson -Proud Boy with Two Bottles of WineThey do, yet not one of them can take the magical moment away from you.

Many photographers never set a foot in a dark room (traditional or digital), relying on labs and assistants. Annie Leibovitz uses a small army of helpers to set up her portraiture stage. Jeff Wall hires scores of people for weeks as stage props. Robert Capa’s and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work started and ended with their Leicas; others did the rest, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Ansel Adams used assistants but each image was the result of his own detailed plans and specifications (pre visualization) start to finish. A news or sport photographer submits his image and it appears, or not, in the paper after several reviews by editors. Lucky or rich photographers have assistants carry all the heavy equipment around.

Naturally, whether the whole show is yours start to finish or you have an army of assistants looking for guidance. Various clients testing your patience, there better be a coherent plan in place. But that is for later. For now, the final decision to fire the shutter is yours. Nothing permanent will exist till you make the decision. So you have all the power in the world in that particular moment. That power declines quite a bit once the release is triggered, so savior the moment for what it is worth.

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Why: Rewards for the Industrious

We shoot because we expect a reward. The reward is a highly personal part of our photographic career. It means vastly different things from one individual to another. Rewards may be internal – such as the satisfaction of creating a piece of art or pursuing Robert Capa Runing Spanish Soldiersa worthy cause – or external – such as getting paid for the piece of art or receiving praise from critics.

Famous Icons

Some photographers never attempt to publish a single image but go around shooting for decades, being happy with internal rewards. After their death, sometimes the mass of images catches someone’s attention and suddenly the dead photographer is declared a genius. This, of course, is the exception and in most cases the images end up in a landfill. Eugene Atget received more fame and recognition after death. Angus McBean is another such example. Other artists from many art forms were not well known while alive: J. S. Bach, Carl von Clausewitz, Franz Schubert, Emily Dickinson and Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Franz Kafka, most Outsider Artists and the tragedy of Anne Frank. Henri Cartier-Bresson Children Playing in the Ruins

A few photographers become icons in their life time: consider legends such as Ansel Adams, Robert Capa, Eddie Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Alexander Gardner. Sometimes being an icon brings lots of money: take fashion photographers such as David Bailey, Guy Bourdin, Edgar de Evia, Annie Leibovitz, Terence Donovan, Horst P. Horst and Gordon Parks who did or do make fine money.

Sometimes an icon photographer receives “just” the admiration of some strata and remains largely unknown. Some are cult phenomena: Charles Gatewood, Robert Mapplethorpe, Chris Nelson and perhaps Diane Arbus fit at least partially in here. In other Charles Gatewood Runner in the Overpasscases, the icon status means devotion to some cause, be it whales, Iraqi wars, inner city poverty, VA hospitals, African genocides or globalization. Entities such as Magnum Photos, the Farm Security Agency of 1935-44 (Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks and others) and National Geographic often explore(d) issues and causes.

Then we have the money sharks. We suffer paparazzi, ambulance chasers, tornado shooters, disaster specialists and National Enquirer forgeries. There is even a new term Waparazzi, standing for amateurs lucky enough to be present at some event, usually catastrophic, with their camera or cell phone shooting away. The videoed execution of Saddam Hussein is a good example. 9/11 and the 2004 tsunami are other examples of amateurs exploiting misery for money.

Ordinary People

To many, the reward is simply capturing memories for oneself, the family and others in a close knit circle. Millions merrily shoot their brother’s wedding, grandma’s 100th birthday, the twins’ high school graduation, the Acapulco vacation or Daddy testifying before the Ethics Committee and so forth. Memories provide long lasting rewards at Stanley Kubrick Chicago Train Stationa very modest cost.

Most photographers simply toil away at the photographic craft because they want to. Hard work, high hopes, little money, no fame, disillusion, 9-5, occasional successes and many failures dominate that life. No matter – they (we) do what they (we) love to do. That is not a bad reward and explains why millions of photographers choose a life style in relative poverty and even isolation.

Lastly, there is the never ending stream of hopefuls who never make it. They come and go, without ever experiencing the reward they dreamt of and perhaps felt entitled to. That is fine; we do need accountants, waiters, CEOs, coal miners and butchers. Photography as a career is not for everyone.

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Where: Spatial Abstractions

The Location

The original subject of a photograph must be in front of the lens when the shutter is Robert Doisneau Versailles Statuesreleased. This rule is a unique and obvious feature of photography. Other art forms do not have such a restriction. A painter may paint offsite in a studio from memory, photos or sketches. Music and sculptures do not usually even have a tie to a specific location.

There are exceptions to this rule. In photography, combining existing subjects can lead new subjects. This normally happens in an offsite lab. That’s why I said “original subject” above. Music may have a strong regional root, such as Brazilian Samba or Alpine Yodeling. Likewise sculptures might build on Greek mythology, the 1906 Olympics or the 1945 Iwo Jima Flag Raising. A photo may have such roots as well. OK, that’s a point but not very exciting, let’s move on.

If you have the vision and the requirements firmly in mind, the location of your shoot may well be a no brainier, at least in broad terms. When Leni Riefenstahl found her African vision, the answer obviously was – go to Africa. But Africa is a big place – did she KGLPhoto Guard at the Underpassmean downtown Johannesburg, Congo’s gorilla habitats, Sahara Bedouin tribes, Kenya safaris, Darfur famines, Rwanda genocides or what? As it turns out, her focus was on “straight day time, outdoor color portraits of individuals from the Nuba tribe, onsite in Sudan”. The vision needs to be quite specific if it is to be useful.

It’s easy to allow the vision be imprecise, letting you go out on unfocused fishing expeditions. For instance, one of my visions focuses on low light, usually night time, subjects. What does that mean? Is it shooting the moon, July 4th fireworks or New Year’s Festivities? Perhaps the goal is to set up long exposures catching some dim scene or to fire off flashes on sleeping homeless? Maybe it is chasing African wildlife at their nocturnal watering hole? Well, none of that. My actual vision is quite explicit in terms of when and where.

Staging the Scene

You have the location, now what do you do? The issue is staging. Some are uncomfortable with the very word “staging” as in faking. In reality, the only type of photography disallowing staging is photojournalism and even that is on KGLPhoto The Demonstration Stagershaky grounds. There are many very famous examples of “journalistic” photos that to at least some degree were staged: Capa’s dying Spanish soldier, Eddie Adams’ Saigon execution or Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima flag rising (all of these cases are debated) are just three possible examples.

In just about all other styles of photography, staging is required, optional or allowed. That does not mean all photos are staged but, more often than not, they are. Take commercial photography (advertising, fashion, food etc.) that is just about always heavily staged. Documentary photography and portraits may or may not be staged. Technical photography (industrial, medical or forensic) is staged in the sense the specifications are very tight regardless of the actual shooting environment.

When shooting your brother’s wedding and you ask Uncle Joe to please stop fooling around; you’re staging the shot. Making you son repeat that home run is staging. So is that tricky shot you took proving the officer could not possible see your illegal turn. Moving Egyptian pyramids around in a news photo is much undesired staging. So is adding extra smoke to the Beirut skyline after an Israeli attack. The Soviets famously removed suddenly undesired KGLPhoto Demostration Enthusiasmindividuals from all relevant photos – not to mention these unlucky people were also removed from the socialistic brotherhood of the living.

In some cases, on-scene staging is impossible. Street photographers, such as me, cannot stage anything significant. Paparazzi cannot usually choose or modify the stage, nor do they care. When I shoot a music event or a play, I cannot change the setup. There are photographers who categorically refuse to stage anything at all. I tend to be in that camp, except when it comes to processing the image.

Of course, a photographer may stage him/herself too. In the name of great photo taking, standing on one’s head, crawling in that ditch, dressing as a clown, hiding in a bush, climbing a lamp post or – as you’ll shortly see – performing the “As Time Goes By Can Can” all are examples personal staging.

After a staged or non-staged photo shoot, I’m free to use, and do use, all kinds of processing techniques in effect staging the scene. Cropping, burning and dodging, masking, toning, tilting and filtering are just a few examples of possible manipulations, whether done in a traditional darkroom or using Photoshop.

Composition – Position thyself

Composition is yet another ambiguous concept. There are at least a dozen completely different meanings ranging from math to music to visual arts. Focusing on visual arts, Eddie Adams Man Downdozens of elements may make up a composition. In effect, these elements are rules. In photography, we struggle with the rule of thirds, perspective, straight or curved lines leading to a vanishing point (or elsewhere), depth of field, simplification, symmetry, viewpoint, juxtapositions and the interaction of all these possible rules.

Creative photographers gain their fame by breaking rules, including those of composition. The perfectly composed photo is possibly utterly bland. A vision is similar – a perfect adherence may be quite boring. The tension and challenge of a great picture comes from breaking the rules of composition and/or the vision. Breaking rules is not, however, some random, anarchistic event (actually, sometimes it is!) but something planned for and consciously executed. Henri Cartier-Bresson Bicyclist on a street

Leaving such subtle points for now, let’s consider the down to earth technique of composing by moving around (in, out, left, right, up, down) and, then, deciding on simplicity, detail or complexity.

You are on location. Staging, if required, is done. The subject is present and ready. Camera is loaded. Loaded, you are not. Now you have to come up with a thrilling image consistent with your inner self, your honest convictions, your vision, compositional rules, pre visualization and, now, the idea that rules must be broken or the result will be bland and boring. All present, the model, assistants, art directors, corporate sponsor, bride, portrait customer, and the guy no one seems to know but who looks like a terrorist – they all have a zero tolerance rule about you wasting their time, money, integrity and lunch date through your utter and habitual incompetence.

Keeping your cool, you already know these realities. So you are at the point of improvisation. Your vision did not really get Herbert List An Artist Drawingdown into this detail, did it? It shouldn’t. If it did, you’d likely have an unworkable vision – too detailed and too complicated, filled with ifs and buts. A vision is guidance, not a blue print.

When on location, you face unforeseen details unique to that particular occasion. You are looking for a successful composition while adjusting to reality. One of the most powerful compositional techniques is simply finding your optimal position relative to the subject. Some photographers walk in on the scene, shoot the quota and leave. They are not likely to find the best shot or composition.

More enlightened photographers perform a curious dance before each shot. The photographer is bobbing here and bopping there, up, down, sideways, in and out with a camera stuck to his/her face. Occasionally, the photographer stops, looking thoughtful and rushes over to try a different lens. Then the magician might fire a test shot or too, staring at the result with disbelief. Dance is repeated, all to the amusement (hopefully) of those present. Eventually the photographer stops, mutters incoherently and starts actually snapping away, possibly moving and snapping some more. More muttering; repeat the dance again. OnKGLPhoto Before the Parade it goes till photographer skeptically says “enough”. The dance is called the “As Time Goes By Can Can” (just kidding). The photographer, of course, is composing the image by trying many different angles and keeps going till
the right stuff finally is secured.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master of this dance, performed right in the middle of unsuspecting Parisian crowds. He is even said to perform this dance with a hankie over the camera, pretending to blow his nose. In his case, he not only looked for the shooting angle but also the Deciding Moment. Walter Evans took an opposite approach by parking himself in a NYC subway train for about three years, camera disguised under his coat, proceeding to take now famous pictures of unsuspecting fellow riders.

Composition – Simple, Detailed or Complex?

Take Ernest “Papa” Hemingway: A sparse prose based on economy and understatement earned him a Pulitzer and a Nobel Price, mostly based on “The Old Man and The Robert Frank - The American Flag 1977Sea”. The winner of the most prestigious literary award on Earth got the job done in 77 pages. Not only a sparse prose but the point was delivered in a record concise form. Simplicity works.

Compare that to Charles Dickens, acclaimed for “rich” storytelling. Many of his novels are sequential, making the style even more elaborate. Florid, poetic, satirical, episodic, social and sentimental, he was not concise and brevity was not a strong characteristic: one set of serialized four novels runs 846 pages. Tolstoy’s War and Peace contains 1,424 pages of narrative, details and subplots. The bible runs around 1,000 pages. The Qur’an gets the job done in half the pages of the bible.

Nature photographers usually favor the “rich” approach. Ansel Adams zone system is designed to set the light range in the final print so that no detail is lost. His images are incredibly rich. Ralph Gibson, a modernistic Leica photographer, favors utter simplicity. Both styles work superbly. EdwardJeff Wall Untangling The Web Weston did nudes or vegetables. Some of the images are so simplified and stylistic that it is hard to tell if the subject is a pepper or a nude. As a contrast, Art Wolfe’s or Galen Roswell’s nature work show exquisite detail and richness. Two sides of a coin, pick your medicine.

Capturing detail is not the same thing as capturing complexity. Forensic photography collects the maximum amount of some specific details, while eliminating irrelevant aspects and complexities. A nature photo is not complex just because it contains a lot of sharply focused details and textures. Complexity implies more than just details. Typically, complexity means there are disambiguates such as perspective gone wild or startling juxtapositions. Juxtapositions create a sense of tension in a photograph.

But complexity in not just based on tension; it may well imply unharmonious relationships between a number of subjects. Nor is complexity the same as complicated. Thought patterns in your brain are complex. Operating on your brain is complicated. Photographs are not complicated but may be complex. Ralph Gibson Two White LinesProcessing the image may be complicated. There is a difference.

On the literary scene, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka wrote quite short, yet famous novels. Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” is only 48 pages long (others of his novels are longer), Camus’ “The Stranger” has 144 pages and “The Fall” 148 pages. Most of us would call those novels “complex” and yet stark. Obviously complexity does not need to depend on a mass of detail. Then you have cases such as Jean-Paul Satre going at it for 688 pages in “Being and Nothingness” while James Joyce needed 736 pages to complete “Ulysses”, neither your trivial summer read on the beach. One can certainly be both complex and longwinded.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling is anything but stark. Anything Baroque is rich indeed. Miro’s “Landscape” of 1927 contains only the starkest of details as does Picasso’s “Minotaure Courant” of 1928. Sitting through Wagner’s “Niebelungen Ring” sets you back 15 very solid hours of detailed but not complex German Soap Opera. It set him back, deservedly so, 26 years. Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” requires less than 2 minutes of your attention. Reading one of Hemingway’s short stories is a 10 minute affair. Reading “Ulysses” or “War and Peace” might be a lifetime event. It probably will be the next life time.

Those in favor of simplification simplify the matter into simple statements such as:

  • What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely Robet Doisneau Umbrellasto reach the viewer. -William Albert Allard
  • Ultimately, simplicity is the goal – in every art, and achieving simplicity is one of the hardest things to do. Yet it’s easily the most essential. -Pete Turner
  • My pictures are complex and so am I. When I am almost symbolistic in writing, there is a more limiting difference’s of accepting, while I can be even more complex in the photographs and people can usually accept them within the framework of their own limitations or lack of limitations – there is no dictionary meaning… they can look up for the photographic image and allow it to confuse them… -W. Eugene Smith, 1987

Simple/complex, big/small or detailed/stark classifications have absolutely no bearing on whether or not something is a piece of art. These classifications define different camps and, in your vision, you need to be clear on which camp is yours.

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When: The Time Factor Where None Exists

It takes a fraction of a second to create a photographic image. Such suddenness is unique in the world of art. Even Mozart could not produce a symphony in such a short period of time; he no doubt tried. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Rome Robert Doisneau Couple Kissing Paris Francewas not built in a day, as clichés goes. God created Paradise in six days according to the bible. Or it took Universe and its Big Bang a tiny fraction of a millisecond to create itself and then leisurely spent billions of years to evolve humans.

Many events trigger a significant and sudden transition from one state to another – turn the light off and it is dark. The suddenly dead from the roadside IED will stay dead forever. The Big Bang hopefully was a one time deal. You release the shutter; the image is frozen forever. The moment comes and goes, never to be repeated. There is no going back – the event happened and that’s that. The state changed from the scene being fluid and temporary to one captured and forever part of our heritage.

That magic fraction of a second is photography’s biggest asset as well as liability. T. In a split second, the image becomes timeless or time bound. Does it abstract an event over time or capsulate a short moment in time? The image can do either. You decide. The decision is yours only.

The Decisive Moment

In 1952, Henri Cartier-Bresson quoted, apparently from the memoirs of a 1600s Cardinal de Retz, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”. In 1957, he added: “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, iRobert Capa Spanish Soldier Killed by Shot to the Headt is gone forever.” He concluded, in 1999, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms that give that event its proper expression.”

Cartier-Bresson published, in 1952, “Images à la sauvette” which translates into “Images on The Run”. The English edition was titled “The Decisive Moment”. Whether it was the translator or Cartier-Bresson who started the “Decisive Moment” fame is up for debate. The publishers choose both titles. The preface to “Images à la sauvette” consists of a lengthy article by Cartier-Bresson. You can read the complete article (highly recommended) online through this link. Here are a few quotes from the article:

  • “I had just discovered Leica. It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap” life’ – to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”
  • “Sometimes there is one unique picture whose composition possesses such vigor and richness, and whose content so radiates Henri Cartier-Bresson Three Children in the Surfoutward from it, that this single picture is a whole story in itself. But that rarely happens.”
  • “Sometimes a single event can be so rich in itself and its facets that it is necessary to move all around it in your search…. you cannot be stationary…. sometimes you light upon the picture in seconds; it might also require hours and days. You must be on the alert with the brain, the eye, the heart; and have the suppleness of body.”
  • “A photographer must reach a precise awareness of what he is trying to do…. The photographer must make, while he is still in the presence of the unfolding scene, that he hasn’t left any gaps…. he is never able to wind the scene backward in order to photograph it all over again…. We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing. From that fact stem the anxieties and strength of our profession.”
  • “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
  • “I believe that through the art of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds – the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.”
  • “But this takes care of only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean a vigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.”

The article continues with some pretty down to earth advice on practical photography that is well worth reading, although perhaps it is a bit dated – after all, the article is 55 years old.

Henri Cartier-Bresson Man Jumping Over Pool of WaterThe main text of the preface article does not mention “Decisive Moments” except in passing when discussing portraits. The only significant mention of “Decisive Moments” is the English title and the quote of the Cardinal de Retz statement mentioned above. The quotes above are as close to the concept as you get. Clearly, his “invention” came later if indeed it ever was as an invention.

What is a Decisive Moment? Cartier-Bresson’s discussions explain quite well its importance as a photographic concept but do not explain what constitutes an actual Decisive Moment. The memoirs of Cardinal de Retz do nothing to clarify the matter. A thesaurus provides the following synonyms: Critical mass, crucial point, defining moment, important, substantial, momentous, moment of truth, point of no return, crisis, climax, high noon, zero hour, kairos and race against time, crunch, conspicuous, imperative, serious, vital and pregnant plus maybe a hundred others. Clearly, the concept covers a lot of imprecise and not too helpful ground.

“Decisive Moment” photographs usually have a strong time dimension where time is a crucial element of the image. That also means that motion is usually a strong feature.

That means not all photography focus on Decisive Moments. But much does, in addition to the time/motion “rule” above. Even the case of Cartier-Bresson’s opposite (as conveniently depicted in this essay), Ansel Adams, every picture relies on a decisive moment. The sun, shadows and clouds in that Adams’ nature scene have to be captured at exactly the right moment. Or take Robert Capa’s photo of the dying Spanish soldier – that certainly was a Decisive Moment captured 15 years before “Images à la sauvette” was published.

Ralph Gibson Man Jumping over Low FenceWhat is the difference between a “Decisive Moment” and “Random Luck/Chance”? Did the shooters capturing planes hitting the World Trade Center experience a Decisive Moment? Do the (many false) photos of the 2004 tsunami reflect Decisive Moments? I do not think so. There was no vision or deliberation behind those pictures. A monkey would be equally likely to take such random images, with a little bit of training.

The difference between “Decisive Moments” and “Random Luck” is razor thin as Cartier-Bresson voices it. He views it as a spilt second event where a combination of form and content comes together once in a life time. Shoot or it is forever lost. He finds these opportunities by wandering around, keeping his eyes and mind open. He is an outsider, looking in towards the subjects without a strong emotional involvement – after the shot he walks away and isn’t really interested in what he left behind.

Given this remote, outsider approach, the “Decisive Moment” strategy is hard to execute. It is well known that Cartier-Bresson did not easily find such moments – in most cases, it took many false starts, a lot of film and shoe leather to create a single successful image. Many of his images do not show a Decisive Moment. For myself, I do Leni Riefenthal Shadows on the Floornot expect, or look for, Decisive Moments. I concentrate on vision, emotional content, honesty and form. If a Decisive Moment happens to come along, that is fantastic but, of course, rare. I am in the camp of “insider, not outsider” view of Sebastiao Salgado:

Famous photo journalist Sebastiao Salgado rejects the notion of Decisive Moments, asserting that, instead, photo journalism requires the immersion of the photographer into the context he is documenting. The essence of the image depends on the rapport which you have with your subjects, and the knowledge that you acquired about their situation. That is not a Decisive, split second, Moment; it is a longer term commitment. Salgado routinely spend years on his projects:

  • “You photograph here, you photograph there, you speak with people, you understand people and people understand you. Then, probably, you arrive at the same point as Cartier-Bresson, but from the inside of the parabola. And that is for me the integration of the photographer with the subject of his photograph…. An image is your integration with the person that you photographed at the moment that you work so incredibly together, that your picture is not more than the relation you have with your subject.”

Looking at Salgado’s pictures, it is easy to see his commitment and immersion into the subject matter. Yet in the end they all show if not Decisive, at least Special Moments. They magically freeze an event that may or may not be of great significance. Does it matter how you got there, whether it took years of dedication or the split second recognition of the significance of some event? The Decisive Moment is subject to the same fundamentals as any quality photography. That means a vision, a path, patience and persistence. That is the same, always, in any worthwhile endeavor.

Sequences Everywhere

Now, here is an ambiguous term – sequence. It has meanings in math, computer science and real life. Sequences are present in archeology, poetry, music, filming, games, bio polymers, DNA, geology, dance and biology. And it is present in photography.

A sequence of photographs may document a process of some kind, such as the demolition of a building or the Emmet Gowin A Family Sequencelaunch of the space shuttle. A medical MRI session results in a sequence of images that shows consecutive slices of a body. An MRI is not a photo in the traditional sense but the result is captured sequentially on film, or, these days, on CDs as image files.

Any table top photography book contains a sequence of images, as does a regular old photo album. Slide shows can contain photo sequences as can PowerPoint presentations. Photos can be sequenced in multi media shows. Photos of kids growing up are sequences. There are sequences built into many cameras: bracketing and fast multiple exposure series. A roll of negatives or a full memory card contains sequences of images.

Sequenced photographs add a time component. There cannot be two exposures at precisely the same time. One image is exposed before or after another, a sequence over time. Not all sequences aim at a time dimension – a panorama by shooting a horizontal spread of images, going around in a circle is not a sequence over time. Collages or composite images do not necessarily reflect time. Wedding and documentary photography both have strong sequential time elements, as does sports photography. Advertising, food or portraits usually rely less on sequences since the end product may be one single image.

Emmet Gowin is a photographer that chronicled his family from 1965 to 1974. The sequence (small sample to the right) is symbolic, intense, revealing, relevant and honest with a gothic overtone. Incidentally, he started playing with dimensions quite explicitly in 1970 by using a circular lens.

Alfred Wertheimer gained fame as a photographer through an obscure assignment in 1956. He was hired to shoot a young, largely unknown, upstart singer with odd music, odd hairdo and very odd stage behavior. I’m sure you guessed right – the singer is a young but not so innocent Elvis Presley. I used a few of the images and some music for a little modest, but fun, multimedia show as an example of sequencing. The second show is a brief portrait of Seattle jazz pianist Marc Seales and his band. This time I did both the show and the photography.

Elvis Seales

Technically, all photography makes up a sequence as it is unlikely the photographer makes only one exposure in his/her career. From a vision stand point, the trick is to, first, recognize the sequential potential and, second, make the sequence meaningful. It adds an extra, very powerful dimension. Don’t miss out!

Sequences also have a totally different meaning. All photographers end up with hard drives full of images or filing cabinets stuffed with prints, notes, negatives, last week’s lunch, invoices and other junk. A smart photographer tackles that mess and makes sure it is organized to smoothly meet needs. Many of us don’t tackle the issue which is a rather dangerous way to treat your primary business or memory assets.

Do not forget the aging factor. Most photographic assets deteriorate over time. Hard drives crash. CDs and DVDs become unreadable. A traditional print deteriorates as do negatives. You are wise to consider this issue and act in your best interests. Enough said. Sermon is over.

Other Timing Stuff

Seasons: Spring, summer…. Time of day: Sunrise, high noon, sunset…. Events: weddings, births, sports, coronations, vacations and dinnertime. It might be a summer lunch by the river. All these examples can have a time, or perhaps more accurately, a timing element. Consider time and timing in your vision and game plan. Different events or timings require different tactics.

Henri Cartier-Bresson Lunch by the RiverSometimes time and timing factors go together. The wedding photographer must show up on time. He/she needs to consider the light situation given the time of the day. Another practical variable is the seasonal impact – in December, outside shots are fairly rare in Minnesota but much more common in Australia. The photographer must visualize the time and timing elements in addition to the standard wedding scenes, then act accordingly.

Another example: Several of my photo sequences use extreme low light scenes (no flash). This may be shooting a street scene at night or performances in some music club or a theater. I shoot outside at night or in dark interior spaces. Since I have done that for quite a while I know what I aim for and how to get there and it is certainly a vital part of my particular vision. There are many samples of this vision illustrating this essay.

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What: Context Layered on Contexts

Here is a summary of the discussion so far. A few items belong to the Toolbox and will be covered in the next main section. In effect, there are four major items (blue): Vision, Plan, Execution and Show. Then there are sub items (yellow). Think of it as a wedding cake – layer after layer:

Artistic Contexts

Does this start looking like some Corporate Planning fad? If so, the point is missed. Read the discussion all over again. I have yet to meet an artist who goes overboard on corporate mania. Most artists I’ve met or studied tend to belabor abstract, mystical and philosophical thoughts and theories. The Paris gatherings in the cafes and restaurants, such as the La Closerie des Lilas, on the Parisian Left Bank in the 1920s come to mind: The Lost Generation of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Getrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, Natalie Barney, Man Ray, Madox Ford, Robert McAlmon and William Carlos Williams smoking and drinking their Ralph Gibson Shooting the Breezecigarettes, coffee, Pernod and Armagnac. Perhaps the gang fell into stupor as the nights wore on but they were definitely not corporate in style.

All artists do go through the self discovery, work and dedication associated with creating a vision. All successful artists translate the vision into something tangible that can be shared with others. The graph above crystallizes the steps most commonly used. Most artists probably will not explicitly spell out as much detail as implied above. Not everyone will reach the vision and the plan in the same way. The components may be very different from that of the next guy or the graph. The graph is only a list of useful components. Those components may or may not apply to you. But be very explicit about what you include and exclude from your vision and plan.

All Those Styles

The next step explores the many different types of photographs and their widely different purposes to which the photographer must conform. In some types of photography, “accuracy” is crucial – even though we know accuracy and photography have little in common. No photos are accurate – they all distort reality. Then we have abstractions where eventually the original subject no longer is recognizable. In such a case “accuracy” is nonexistent and undesired. Here is a list of some major types of photography ordered by the elusive requirement of “accuracy”:

  • Industrial, Medical, Forensics photography renders artistic creativity irrelevant. A forensic picture uses precise techniques to capture all relevant detail of a specific item or event. It is not an “accurate” picture of the crime scene but a highly specialized one, serving exact needs of crime investigators. A sequence from an ultra high speed camera might document some industrial or medical process, having little to do with reality as a human might view it. Such a sequence is conceptually closer to an abstraction but covers the specific, exact requirements of the engineers or scientists involved. More examples include ultra high speed pictures of nuclear explosions and the Doc Edgerton stroboscopic images of flying bullets. Current technology easily allows capture rates of 1,000 frames per second.
  • Photojournalism emphasizes ethics, accuracy and objectivity. These images should contain a time element (when) and a narrative (what etc.), telling the relevant story as reflected in the 5Ws. That has to happen while under fire in Iraq, Boise or Watts, during riots, weather extremes, catastrophes, NBA games or Congressional hearings. The ability to run Photoshop in the middle of any war zone, famine struck desert or New York grid lock adds to the controversy. Strict procedural guidelines are in place but overlook that real photography has little to do with such guidelines. The guidelines are typically arbitrary. Photography is not truly accurate or objective.
  • Non-Fiction and Educational is a category I just invented. It represents a middle ground between Documentaries – that may be quite biased and opinionated – and idealistic Journalism. An educational photo sequence of, say, frog eating habits is quite different in tone than documentaries on abortion or IEDs in Baghdad. The latter two are most likely politically charged and the former is, well, about frogs eating stuff. Unless the frog reside in Love Canal, that subject is probably non controversial. Other examples of this “innocent” category include most Discovery Channel “documentaries”, biology text book photos, photo sequences of grass growing or a sun eclipse. Arnold Newman Igor Stravinsky by a Piano
  • Documentaries are another step away from “accuracy and reality”, yet many assume documentaries are objective and accurate. They are not. On top of the fallacies of journalism, nothing prevents – ethically, contractually or guide lined – the photographer from expressing a personal bias or perspective on the subject. Documentaries take stands – Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is a great example. If the bias is hidden, misrepresented or not clearly stated, then we do have a problem. We suddenly deal with propaganda – the recent BBC TV show “The Great Global Warming Swindle” is a perfect example of conscious misinformation.
  • Essays are similar to documentaries but generally advocate a particular opinion even more than the documentary. You are reading (viewing) an essay because you are curious about what the author (photographer) has to say (show). You realize that there are probably conflicting views. Quite likely, you will read those too. Neither essays, nor documentaries are text books. However they are not just polemic tirades either. The more militant in your face view points belong in the editorial field:
  • Editorials sometimes go beyond most journalism or documentaries/essays by expressing personal opinions with little pretence of being unbiased or even fair. In the news world, there are sometimes rules and editorial boards in place to control editorial excesses but as often, editorials are measured against its ability to grab eyeballs byYousuf Karsh Pablo Casalis and his Cello whatever means available. (Falsified) photos of John Kerry and Jane Fonda at a war rally are an example used in many conservative editorials. Greenpeace editorials on Nuclear Energy or Whaling, ExxonMobil on Global Warming, Philip Morris on Lung Cancer and Bush’s representations on Climate Change, Terrorism and Iraq are all very opinionated and biased viewpoints supported by photography and editorial photography.
  • Sensationalism represents the highest level of vulgarism in photography and journalism. The graffiti contra point of art, descriptions include “culture of fear, exploitation, star or Satan worship, junk news, infotainment, reality shows, media circus, absurdity, moral panic, pulp news/books/magazines, tabloid junk, trial by media and, not least, Fox News, Jerry Springer, Bill O’Reilly and Russ Limbaugh shows”. Of course, the reason sensationalism exists is because people want it and are willing to pay for it. Some photographers enthusiastically enjoy such money, including paparazzi and waparazzi. Others continued straight to pornography.
  • Extremism goes even further by typically combining sensationalism with another message. Consider videos and photos produced by authorities on executions, terrorists on beheadings, snuff movies, torture, medical and psychological exploitation of captives may show real events but against a backdrop that is real only to the producers and deplorable to all others.
  • Portraits add another dimension to the “accurate” versus “abstract” spectrum. Some portraits do EDdward Steichen Auguste Rodin the Sculpturnot even deal with the person. Diane Arbus portraits of fringe people are more about fringe society than about the people she used as subjects. Other portraits go beyond the person’s features to tell a story about their life. The famous pictures of Stravinsky (Arnold Newman) by a piano, Pablo Casals (Yousuf Karsh) playing the cello or Auguste Rodin (Edward Steichen) looking like a sculpture rather than a sculptor are all good examples. These three images take on a life of their own, rising far beyond what most think of as a portrait. On the other end of the spectrum, a Sears portrait usually smoothes reality to the customer’s relief. However, portraiture work is, in its day to day
    frame, mostly about customer satisfaction, not accuracy or reality.
  • Commercial photography implies commercial interests are more important than purely creative visions. The focus is on selling products, promoting travel, educating employees or simply informing some targets demographics. Each form of commercial photography has its own requirements. The trick is to mesh the photographer’s creativity with the commercial requirements. “Accuracy” is not a major concern; looking good, polished, unique and attractive is. Here are some of the key types of commercial photography:
    • The super slick arenas of Advertising, Fashion and Modeling.
    • The seductive fantasies of Food & Travel.
    • The ultra conventional fields of Wedding Photography.
    • The matter of fact Catalogs.
    • The huge cottage industry of various specialties – local post cards, souvenirs, real estate etc.
    • The ups, downs, this, that and “anything you want” of Stock Photography.
    • The insincerely nonobjective shadow land of Corporate Photography.
  • Fine Art ranks the highest on not presenting accuracy. Creativity comes before the literal meaning of “accuracy”. Fine Art is actually very accurate. You just have to expand the notion to include impact, metaphors, messages, statements, convictions, emotions and other elements. The all important artistic vision may include sophisticated abstractions and many different manipulations. There is no rule book. Creativity rules the day. But Fine Art is a subject that covers many types of photography. Below are just a few of them:
    • Nature photography may rank high on accuracy, detail and, often, texture. A typical image is much more elaborate than, say, street photography. Large format cameras are still in use. Aesthetics are more important than in most other areas. The genre includes landscape, wildlife, clouds, underwater and some macro photography.
    • Street photography simply implies the image is shot in a public place. In most countries, shooting in public places is a right protected in law (France and Saudi Arabia are exceptions) with some obvious limitations such as not endanger anyone or disturbing the peace. It’s a good idea to observe some ethical standards as well. The step from a legal right to exploitation and discrimination can be quite short. In many cases, the step from the same legal right to invasion of privacy in a non-public place is quite short too.
    • Abstract photography is a matter of degree. Strictly speaking, all photography is abstract since no photos reflect reality. The degree of abstraction usually relates to the degree of distortion invoked on the original subject, but can also simply convert the object to a different level than its ordinary role. There are endless techniques that achieve distortions, such as lens filters, development abnormalities and/or Photoshop. Or you may convert the object to make it appear in some other dimension. The line between art and weirdness is quite narrow. Abstraction truly requires a clear artistic vision to work.

Different applications, different requirements, different techniques. Different visions and different execution paths. Similar creativity, aesthetics, dedication, honesty and ethics. The top level of the stack includes creativity, then one level down you have visions, then there is the convictions-message-activist layer followed (down again) by the execution path and at the lowest level technology. That is the Prerequisite part of creating great photos. Let’s move on to the Magical Toolbox that is a great complement to the stack we created.

Techniques of the Clever Photographer

Before jumping into the magical toolbox, here are a few one liners from the text to date. They may be helpful as a summary of the wisdom so far:

  • Start
    • Define your a creative, artistic vision – honesty, emotions, facts. Be persistent. Don’t quit.
    • Understand your need for rewards. Money, fame, gratitude, sex, inner satisfaction?
    • Determine the execution path you need to follow to translate the vision into real Art.
    • Take advantage of relevant parts of trends such as Web 2.0, etc., etc.. Just face it.
    • Consider technology needed to realize the goals. Use what you need, not what you have.
  • Research
    • Do the subject research, repeat over and over. Immerse yourself. Live it, breathe it.
    • Start shooting, realizing it is not the final stuff but part of the immersion process.
    • Unravel the story, understand the cause, determine the message, show compassion.
  • Preliminaries
    • Pre visualize your end product and revisit the execution path. What modifications are needed?
    • Pre compose the imagery: Simple, detailed, complex or neither. Keep shooting.
    • Define the location, stage the scene: light, color, mood, composition, time of day, season.
  • The Main Event
    • Collect your team, especially if it consists of your lonely hand, eyes and shoe leather
    • Lead the assistants, models, make up people, crane operators, art directors, clients and lab people.
    • Look for the Decisive Moment if you are an optimist and figure out how to find it. Keep shooting.
    • Improvise. Break the rules. Create emotion, tension, harmony, conflict, contradiction as possible
    • Savior the Magic Moment of exposure. It’s you and no one else. This is the moment of truth.
    • Execute the magical moment!
  • Post Shoot
    • Execute the pre visualized path to the final image. Keep innovating. Break the rules some more.
    • Realize the power of sequences. Put that time element back into the static single shots.
    • Sell, exhibit, store, backup, manage and be a good little businessperson all around.
  • Move On

Obviously, steps and their order will vary by shoot and the attitudes and work habits of individual photographers. In this sample series of events, the main event – actually shooting for the final image – is at step 18 out of a total of 21 steps. That’s a very front heavy, deliberate approach favored by some but not all.

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The Magical Photograph – Quotes by the Wise

To finish off this essay’s first main part about visions and paths, here are the words on art by a few prominently wise photographers. To me, these quotes highlight the breadth of ideas while the creative focus is remarkably constant:

  • It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary. -David BaileyRobert Doisneau Cellos Hate Rain
  • “A photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see.”; Nothing would be funnier than the photographers’ contortions to produce effects that are “lifelike”.”-Roland Barthes
  • In photography, if you have purpose and intent you can [still] allow yourself to be beset by gargantuan problems during the taking of pictures. These problems must be worked out in advance … I do not mean that every minutiae should be rehearsed in advance, for if the taking became a purely mechanical routine, all spontaneity would be lost and the result could only be lifeless and dull. -Ralph Bartholomew Jr.
  • Too many photographers try too hard. They try to lift photography into the realm of Art, because they have an inferiority complex about their Craft. You and I would see more interesting photography if they would stop worrying, and instead, apply horse-sense to the problem of recording the look and feel of their own era. -Jessie Tarbox Beals
  • Photojournalism is the worst it’s ever been. Nobody is doing anything. Today all the photographers are making setup shots, where you go in to shoot someone with a couple of assistants and a few stylists. Everyone does it. I do it. It’s the Value Jet of photojournalism -stuck in the mud. In the end, those kinds of portraits mean nothing. They don’t convey any information. The idea in that kind of photography is to make a picture the subject will Robert Doisneau Cellist on a Mountainlike. That’s not journalism. -Harry Benson
  • My quest, through the magic of light and shadow, is to isolate, to simplify and to give emphasis to form with the greatest clarity. To indicate the ideal proportion, to reveal sculptural mass and the dominating spirit is my goal. -Ruth Bernhard
  • Fashion, flowers, nudes and portraits – they’re all the same: light, form, color and mystery. Mystery is very important. When I started photographing flowers, I thought, “My God, where have I been?” I’m totally addicted to this project. I’d never seen the mysteries of a flower. We walk by wonders every day and don’t see them. We only stop at what shouts the loudest. -Barbara Bordnick
  • When I have seen or sensed – I do not know which it is – the atmosphere of my subject, I try to convey that atmosphere by intensifying the elements that compose it. I lay emphasis on one aspect of my subject and I find that I can thus most effectively arrest the spectator’s attention and induce in him an emotional response to the atmosphere I have tried to convey. -Bill Brandt
  • “There are many photographs which are full of life but which are confusing and difficult to remember. It is the force of an image which matter.”; “The thing that is magnificent about photography is that it can produce images that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone.”; “The purpose of art is to raise people to a higher level of awareness than they would otherwise attain on their own.” -Brassai
  • What I feel is that the picture-taking process is an intuitive thing. You go out and intuitively plan a picture. When you come back, reason takes over and verifies or rejects whatever you’ve done. So that’s why I say that reason and intuition are not in conflict–they strengthen each other. -Wynn Bullock
  • A thing is not what you say it is or what Robert Doisneau Reversed Cello in the Rainyou photograph it to be or what you paint it to be or what you sculpt it to be. Words, photographs, paintings, and sculptures are symbols of what you see, think, and feel things to be, but they are not the things themselves. -Wynn Bullock
  • I now measure my growth as a photographer in terms of the degrees to which I am aware of, have developed my sense of, and have the skills to symbolize visually the four-dimensional structure of the universe. -Wynn Bullock
  • A very fine photographer asked me, “What did it feel like the first time you manipulated an image?”, and I said “Do you mean the first time I shot black and white instead of color, do you mean the first time I burned the corner of a print down, do you mean the first time I ‘spotted’ a dust speck on my print, do you mean the first time I shot with a wide angle instead of a normal lens, I mean what are you referring to? Where does it stop?” -Dan Burkholder

And that is it. The next major segment takes an unusual look at some major tools for creative photography. Think outside the box. Benefit from tricks of the trade in other art forms and even sciences.

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Part 2

And hereby, Part Two is awaiting your attention. It is labeled “Build the Mysterious Toolbox”. This toolbox is not a collection of cameras, assorted lenses and wonderful flashes, light meters and camera bags built to survive WWIII, Global Warming or a dive to 3,000 feet beneath sea level. If you haven’t noticed, this essay likes a somewhat abstract level. The vision thing, pre visualization, immersion, complexity, creativity and innovation can be rather heavy subjects if all you wanted to know was how to load film Yousuf Karsh Male in Shadow Lightinto a Leica M series (damn tricky if you ask me). Of course, these days you load a memory card into your brand new M8 and, of course, you still have to dismantle the camera to achieve this task.

This toolbox contains only two “tools”. The first tool is light. No photography is possible without light. Photography is all about the art of capturing light in the tiniest of moments. Light is a vital component in your toolbox but also a tricky and treacherous one.

Some of us don’t realize that we do not see things. We see light, nothing else. Otherwise invisible objects may have the ability to emit light (the sun, light bulbs and certain insects). Other objects can reflect light (the moon, your significant other and Mount Everest). Light is simply energy vibrating at a certain speed. This energy is influenced by thousands of factors, all serving to distort the light originating from some source.

The second tool contains assorted dimensions. The idea is to go beyond the obvious two dimensions of a photographic print to understand what is really in the image. As you’ll see, there are many more dimensions to consider. Some are simple – such as expanding the scope into time and distance or depth. Others are much more complex: the dimensions as exist in math, physics and quantum mechanics and – truly mind boggling stuff.

Then there is another angle – using psychology and its very differRobert Doisneau Portrait aganst the Lightent view of dimensions to understand art and how an artist relates to the world. If you hang in here, you’ll get a glimpse into some research by yours truly.

Leonardo da Vinci was one of the most creative and innovative giants of all mankind and all ages. He was a master of almost any field from science to art and far ahead of his time of 500 years ago. He created Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, drawings of helicopters, tanks, calculators and advanced research into anatomy, engineering, optics, geology and much else.

He described a Camera Obscura in 1490 and commented “…Here the figures, here the colors, here all the images of every part of the universe are contracted to a point. O what a point is so marvelous!”

Here are some other statements: “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.” “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” “Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” Still relevant after all these years.

The drawing below by, of course, da Vinci, is also relevant to this discussion of light and dimensions. Light is obviously present. The dimensional aspect is curious indeed. There is a very strong spatial, perspectural, scientific component. Then that is coupled with a human aspect – the mysterious people occupying the scene. Clearly, Leonardo saw an interaction of dimensions – scientific and human which is exactly where we are heading.Leonaro Da Vinci Drawing with Perspective and People Dimensions

Execution – Build the Mysterious Toolbox

Photography is a very gadget friendly environment. Starting with hundreds of camera bodies, lenses and equipment left and right, camera stores happily sell thousands of accessories. Add chemicals, development materials, printing accessories, computers, memory cards, special monitors and you end up with an empty wallet and far more headaches than you deserve. Or as some partners put it, all the headaches you do deserve. Boating is a hole in the water into which you throw money. Photography is a hole in the ground into which you throw not only money but perhaps your marriage, career, cat and sanity.

Here is yet another example of Jeff Wall’s art. It appears to be his interpretation of a Magical Toolbox. This particular toolbox seems to contain all kinds of goodies, gadgets and misc. survival gear. No doubt the owner is a happy, well organized photographer with a clear vision and an obviously grand toolbox.

Jeff Wall Suitcase

The first camera I used was one I liberated from my father. Equipped with a bellowed fixed lens, zero batteries and no focusing assistance, it sure was a curious little machine. Using medium format film in a body smaller than a Leica rangefinder, it took remarkable photos. Not only that, the absence of any modern convenience resulted in complete freedom from gadgets. In fact, available accessories numbered exactly zero. Those were the days.

The discussion from now on applies to a camera like that as well as the latest high-tech monster. By toolbox, I do not mean a box filled with gadgets, I mean a box filled with ideas. The discussion splits into two main parts. The first part deals with light, distortion and how to use both to your creative benefit. The second part covers a rather unusual way to look at tools by discussing dimensions and how to add them to that boring two dimensional image.

Here is the idea: the first priority is to understand the basic features of a photography toolbox, such as how light works and why dimensions are relevant to photography. The second priority is to provide some ideas on how to use these features in practical photography. However, all of us photographers are responsible for our craft; the real aim is to inspire you to create your own toolbox – there is no way I can determine what is right for you.

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Part 2a – Distorted Light, Distorted Reality

Distortion is the alteration of a shape or characteristic of some object after some change in state took place. In stereos, it is the difference in shape of the signal fed to the stereo and that of the output. It is the difference between the signal from a CD and that of an mp3 file created from that CD. It could be the difference in the sun’s light wave patterns and the light patterns measured in Los Angeles on a smoggy day late in the afternoon versus the noon measurements on top of Mount Everest.

Parts of the discussions below update and expand on the content of some previous posts, notably On Reality – Part 1 – Elements of Light and On Reality – Part 5 – How Perceptions and Illusions destroy Reality.

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That Treacherous Light

Nothing is more important to a photographer than light. No light, no photography. The Angus McBean Stage Actors in Profileone thing your toolbox must contain is your love of light. You better like how light bends, creates color, enters a lens, refracts, reflects, bounces, scatters, disappears, enters eyes for processing in the brain and how it is affected by sun spots, black holes, cosmic rays, atmosphere, clouds, rain, weather, pollution, dust and much else.

All of the factors above are distortions. The original light source, the sun (for most practical purposes) emits “pure” light. By the time that light reaches some place on Earth and your camera lens, it is very different compared to that original “pure” light and its spectrum. Light from space is distorted even before it reaches our atmosphere, then the atmosphere adds its set of oddities. The camera is a virtual snake pit of distortions. Manmade light adds other distortions since its light is differently colored than the “norm”. Our eyes and brains add more layers of distortions. Can you, the photographer, use this mess to your advantage? You sure can and, further, you pretty much have to.

Historical Light

In the beginning, people assumed one saw by emitting beams out of one’s eyes. Pythagoras, 500 BC, assumed light traveled from the eyes and a sensationKGLPhoto High Rise At Night of seeing followed as the beam hit some object. Plato, 400BC, supported the same theory. Around 300BC, Euclid questioned that eyes were the only source of light and formulated quite a bit of light related mathematics. Still, the view of the eyes beaming light prevailed. Then the Bible mentioned “And God said, let there be light, and there was light”, associating light versus darkness as a good versus evil issue.

Around 1000AD, al-Haytham of Egypt finally voiced the idea that light entered the eyes rather than the other way around. He concluded the sun was the source of light. He also invented the Camera Obscura although Leonardo da Vinci received some of that credit 500 years later. Unfortunately, our gentleman resided in jail, so his findings were not immediately available. Most of his ideas were based on the sun light coming into his cell through a tiny opening or crack.

It took over 500 years before al-Haytham’s theories reached Europe, inspiring Kepler to formulate some fairly correct theories late in the 1500s. Galileo, Descartes and Newton added tremendously to the understanding of light over the next 100 years. The wave theory came along through Euler in the mid 1700s. Other contributors include Fresnel, Poisson, Faraway, Planck and Maxwell, leading up to the late 1800s and pretty much the way we understand light today.

A Simple Theory of Light

Light is produced by light emitters, reflected by certain objects and consumed by others. Light is radiation energy affected by combinations of photons, atoms, molecules and KGLPhoto WSindow at Night with a Truckother low lives. It has characteristics such as wave length, frequency and intensity, all of which vary tremendously with quite spectacular results. Most light originates at the sun and manmade processes. Light may be a single beam or scattered in a collision with some obscure molecules.

Radiation is a form of energy with intensity and wave length, vibrating around us constantly. Low frequency waves represent sound. There are TV and radio waves, visible and invisible light, radar waves, cellular phone radiations and X-ray emissions. Light as we see it and as used by a camera is only a small part of the energy waves around us. In some cases, invisible wave lengths affect film or memory cards in undesirable ways. Don’t X-ray your films. Another rather extreme example is the HEMP bomb that can fry all electronics within a large radius, including your camera (unless you use a camera similar to that of my father, but the film is probably a goner).

Light is created in many ways – the sun maintains a controlled nuclear explosion emitting lots of radiation energy, some in the form of light, other in the form of quite deadly variations such as gamma rays. Light bulbs, neon lights and many other manmade devices emit light on demand. Such light is usually created by the combination of energy in an enclosure containing suitable gases. Other light sources include computer, radar and TV screens which operate using cathode rays and energy sensitive coatings or by turning KGLPhoto Security on a Walltransistors off and on. Nuclear reactions produce lots of radiation, some of which is visible.

Light is generated by heat; increasingly hot temperatures transform light from the original color to a glow of red, white and eventually blue – think about your stove, fireplace, kerosene lamp or volcanic lava. Military night sights use slight heat variations as emitted in the infrared spectrum to “see” a battle field. Chemical processes generate light in some organisms: fireflies, glow worms, krill and others. Lightning produces a short burst of light based on heat.

When light falls on an object, some waves with a specific length are reflected and others absorbed. Light emitted by an object also have a specific set of wave lengths. We perceive the light of a specific wave length as a color. We thus “see” the object having a color. The reflected light is not a constant since it depends of the wave lengths of the incoming light. Reddish sunset light makes any object look reddish while the same object is bluish at noon.

Photographers and light meter manufacturers make a big deal out of incident and reflected light. Incident light measures incoming light only and then make assumptions about correct exposure. Reflected readings do the same for reflected light. The problem is that different object reflect light very differently – snow, water and any light object reflects much more light than dark soil, a black car top or any dark object. That means that neither incident nor reflected light measures result in correct exposure. In the case of snow, an KGLPhoto Street Light Over Bushesincidence measure will overexpose the scene while a reflected metering will underexpose the same scene. The only time you get a good measure is when the scene is a uniform 18% grey – a very rare occurrence.

Auto exposure cameras use reflected light only as does the Zone System. The Zone System is unique by actually attempting to correct for the ambiguity in light measures. In fact, that is the major point of the Zone System. Meanwhile, the auto exposure camera relies on you to override its automatics to produce a correct reading. Nothing automatic about that, is it?

Most objects are not producing light at all. They are only visible because they reflect light. A chair does not normally emit light. The moon does not produce light – it solely reflects light mostly from the sun. There is a bit of a fallacy here because heat produces light. Heat the chair up and it will produce light. Humans do not produce light but we do have a body temperature that does cause light emissions in the invisible infrared spectrum. If we actually turned into visible light emitters we are very dead because that implies heat sufficient to make us glow red – blue – white. That would not be healthy. However, it is possible to photograph people in total darkness. All you need is a readily available sensor or film sensitive to infrared light.

Light intensity declines rapidly with distance. Most photographers use a simple formula stating: double the distance from a light source and the KGLPhoto Laughing Lady in the Darkintensity is down to a 1/4 of the original intensity. That is an approximation that serves photography well in most circumstances but is actually wildly inaccurate. If you get close to a light source, then light intensity is almost flat regardless of distance. Nor does the rule hold up when the light is focused with some sort of reflector as you may have noticed using a flashlight, driving at night or watching the beam from a lighthouse.

Light never dies. As time goes by and the light travels great distances, the intensity goes down but it never reaches zero. We are surrounded by light originating billions of years ago. Unfortunately, the intensity is way down making it impossible to see for us humans. The Hubble telescope is extremely light sensitive and can pick up very distant light originating a long time ago.

There is no such thing as “seeing” an object; our eyes only receive light emitted and reflected by the object. The light waves reaching our eyes are quite distorted. The eyes introduce more distortions due to various imperfections. The brain then makes up a “view” of the object, introducing additional distortions. The brain is easily fooled into providing false or biased views. What we “see” is not an accurate representation of the object, it merely is one deemed safe by our brain.

Light Traveling Space

The sun is the major source of light. This light is comes from a massive nuclear reaction that has been going on for billions of years. Sun light affects human health and climates. The current Global Warming crisis is caused by sun energy being trapped by CO2 concentrations rather than reflected back into space, which causes temperatures to rise to dangerous levels. Sun light produces Vitamin D but also skin cancers and ultraviolet KGLPhoto Tending the Shopradiation aging us.

Stars, clusters, galaxies and nebulae provide some light. Polar lights (Aurorae) are clearly visible in high latitude areas and seasons. The moon reflects sun light mostly at night. Magnetic fields in space bend light, space storms distort light, black holes does who knows what with light and sun flares send out a lot of unpredictable and usually harmful energy.

Cosmic “rays” refer to Earth being bombard by energy containing particles. These particles originate with the sun but also exploding stars, novae, galaxies, quasars and black holes. These generally low energy (unless you are an astronaut) particles have some limited effect on climate by affecting lightning and cloud formation. Solar cosmic rays can affect electronics on Earth such as communication devices and possibly digital cameras. Then there is the Oh-My-God particle (really) traveling around the Universe at extreme speed and containing enormous KGLPhoto Blues Musician in a Wheelchairenergy, given its tiny size. But that is another story.

Photography in space is quite different than on earth. The radiation levels are harmful to film. NASA tests film extensively to reduce fogging and color shifts – they tend to use film specially made for them by Kodak. Today I’m sure they use digital cameras with similar quality considerations.

Light in space is either on or off with photography taking place when light is on. With the light is on, it is very constant – no clouds, haze, rain storms or shadow. There are only two basic shooting scenarios: close or far. Shooting earth from the space station means using one standard exposure (reflected light is quite constant) and the lens set at infinity. Shooting “close ups” such as space walks require a similar standard exposure and some focusing. Photography inside the space vessel is similar to that on earth.

Space light is much bluer than on earth. There is far more ultraviolet radiation which is not visible with eyes but may impact images. Contrast ranges are extreme – consider an astronaut in a white suit against a pitch black background. The seasoned space photographer must consider speed. Everything moves way faster than earth speed limits. The shuttle moves at 17,500 miles an hour (5 miles per second or 110 feet a typical exposure of 1/240 seconds) so panning is a necessary skill. The Cartier-Bresson Decisive Moment takes on a different meaning.

Atmosphere and Time

The atmosphere greatly impacts light from space. There are seasonality, clouds, storms, humidity, dust, pollution, inversion layers, refractions and reflections. Other factors Robert Doisneau Baldaccini Portraitinclude time of day effects and temperature distortions.

When light beams reach the atmosphere, they scatter as they collide with atmospheric particles. During the day, this results in a blue sky because the light is coming from a high angle. In the early morning and late night with a low sun, we see a reddish sky because the angle of the incoming beams is low. Without clouds, we experience a mix of sun beams and scattered light. Snow, water and beach sand reflect light more than dark objects. That amplified light level reaches your camera, confuses the light meter and you better step down the exposure. Ice also reflects light but amplifies the blue wave lengths. Thus, photos of ice bergs have a deep bluish tint.

Seasons display unique light effects. Snowy landscapes require special attention to exposure. Fall foil colors can overwhelm a landscape. Some enjoy the Christmas feeling Charles Gatewood Box on Endand warm toned nostalgia. Seasonal sports and graduations are popular events. Some regions suffer extreme weather seasons such as the Arctic winter, the hurricane plagued Southeast US coasts, the mid US Tornado Alley and the Asian Monsoon and Cyclone season.

Clouds reflect the direct sun beams and all we see is the scattered light waves – shadows disappear or dilute. The water content of the clouds scatter light in a way that produces no particular color, hence the grayish feel with a complete cloud cover. The thicker the cloud, the less light passes through. Extreme weather can lead to almost total darkness and a general loss in color. The red rose is suddenly grey.

Bounces and Refractions

Refraction of light is the bending effect that happens when light passes through certain Edward Weston Oceano - Desert Lightmedia at certain angles. The straw in a glass of water is the classic example. Refraction is, for instance, the cause of rainbows. The atmosphere provides refraction of sun beams: the lower the sun, the more the refraction. At sunset the refraction can be as much as half a degree or about one sun diameter. This explains the “oval” sun at sunset or dawn. Another effect of refraction is the “floating mountains” or “elonged islands or ships” seen on hot days (Fata Morgana). Other special effects include mirages and the common illusion of distant pools of water on hot roads. Refraction also makes it possible to see beyond the natural horizon.

Refraction in a vacuum is exactly 1, which means there is no refraction. The atmosphere has a refraction of 1.0003 while ordinary Ansel Adams Clearing after the Stormwater refracts 1.33, quite a bit more. Acrylic glass has a refraction index of 1.49 and diamonds are at 2.42. Silicon has an index of over 4 although that probably won’t be much of a photography issue.

Refraction also is important because different wave lengths of light have slightly different refractions in different materials. This causes dispersion of the light into colors. Diamonds, for instance, are very high in dispersions causing their extraordinary “fire”. One moment you see blue light reflected from the stone, then perhaps green or pure white. Rainbows are another example of this phenomenon. Reflection, dispersion and refraction are the mechanisms by which many different kinds of prisms work – very important design aspects of your camera’s lenses.

Pollution and Dust

Atmospheric pollution affects light. Compare light in a smogged Los Angeles, Mexico City or Shanghai to that experienced on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Broadly, there are three Haze over Hong Kongkinds of atmospheric pollution agents. Some reflect solar beams back out into space, resulting in less light and cooler temperatures. The sulphur dioxide crisis of the 1960s and early 1970s is a good example. Other pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, do the opposite – they allow the sun energy to pass to the surface of Earth but disallow the required reflection of excess energy back out into space. The result is Global Warming. Yet another pollutant, typically Freon, destroy the ozone layer allowing ultraviolet light through at levels threatening health.

Here are the smoggiest cities: London, New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Houston, Toronto, Athens, Beijing and Hong Kong. Smoggy areas include the Ruhr Area and Silicon Valley and many places in China, Southeast Asia and India. Forest slash and burn practices in Indonesia cause severe smog and smoke in much of surrounding countries. The disastrous 1952 smog in London killed 4,000 people in four days, followed by another 8,000 in the next six months. On a happier note, both LA and Mexico City have made substantial gains.

Apart from the health issues, heavy smog easily can make any normal photography impossible.

Dust in the atmosphere typically reflects sun energy back out and thus has a cooling effect as well as a darker sky. Sunsets tend to be tremendous. Volcanoes cause massive emissions of dSmog on the Rtiverust, particles and ashes into the atmosphere. The eruptions of Mount St. Helen and Mount Pinatubo spewed out ashes that traveled the world for several years. Dust storms due to drought are another major source. The Oklahoma storms of the 1930s, today’s Sahara storms and those of China affect all of Earth. Global Warming will amplify dust storms due to extreme droughts. Yet another source of particles in the air stems from forest fires due to deforestation in Brazil, Malaysia and, above all, Indonesia. The uncontrolled fires in Indonesia cause severe health problems in not only Indonesia but all of Southwest Asia. The particles circle the
globe.

Manmade Light

Ambient, natural light is terrific. Manmade light is a pain. Hundreds of different devices, lamps, bulbs, processes, materials, gases and energy sources result in the strangest of light spectra. Add that manmade light is generally there because the natural light is not available. You are stuck with the darn thing. True, you can set up your own light version Diane Arbus Queen and Kingwith all kinds of expensive photographic lighting devices. That’s fine but really what you do is to replace one manmade environment with another manmade environment.

To photographers and others, K (Kelvin) values and wave spectra are important. A K value is an average of a light source’s color spectrum. The spectrum provides much more information about the scene than does the K value. For instance, the spectrum may have a high wave length peak and a low peak – a ‘U’ pattern. The K value will fall between the peaks and not really mean a thing. What you need is, perhaps, double filtration to correct for the two peaks.

The K value of sunlight is about 5,800. Typical daylight is either 5,000K or 6,500K depending on if you go for the US standard calibration or that of Europe. Computer monitors are calibrated to between 5,000K (reddish yellow) and 9,300K (bluish). Digital cameras often display white balance settings in terms of Kelvin values. In the spectrum of colors, red is around 1,800K, neutral is 5,000K to 6,500K and blue starts around 12,000K continuing up to 16,000K. Examples of low Kelvin light: Match flares, candles and ordinary (tungsten) light bulbs. Here are some high Kelvin items: Xenon light, analog TVs: “the bluish flicker from you neighbor’s window”. Henri Cartier-Bresson The Duke of Windsor with Divorcee Wife

Unless going for abstraction, photographers compensate for the local K value/spectrum to bring the image back to “normal”. For instance, you try to make skin tones similar to those recorded in regular daylight. That may be accomplished through lens filters, white balance adjustments or post production trickery. When you do that, obviously the original scene is distorted – the ugly manmade light was, after all, the real thing.

Most fluorescent and gas discharge lamps have “interrupted spectra”, meaning the spectra are not smooth curves but a series of narrow peaks over the frequency band. Such irregular peaks, often in the yellow to green range, are very hard to filter away. The only real solution is to use alternative lighting such as flash. Gas discharge lamps include neon light and high intensity lights (mercury vapor, metal halide and sodium vapor) as used in light streets, stadiums and factories.

Then there is another issue. Film or sensors react quite differently to odd light situations than do your eyes. Your eyes and brain compensate for strange light to make it more consistent with your built in database on how a face “should” look. A camera has no such database or ability. It records incoming light according to its sensitivity to different wave lengths.

Shadows

Are shadows the opposite of light? Of course not, shadows are light just as is present elsewhere. They are a bit darker, that’s all. Zone system proponents know all about shadows being as important as high lights. The old film saying is: “expose for shadows, develop for high lights”. Or, in the case of digital photography, do the reverse, i.e. shoot for high lights and balance shadow detail in Photoshop.

The dynamic range of light in photography is typically measured in f stops. If the ratio of Henri Cartier-Bresson Man and His Shadowlight intensity in high lights compared to minimum light is, say 1024:1, or 2, raised to the power of 10, then the range is 10 stops. There is a huge difference in the ranges different media are capable of recording or displaying. Your eyes are amazing in that not only can they cover the largest dynamic range, they also are self adjusting in real time. Other devices don’t even come close.

On a cloudy day a scene may display a dynamic range of as little as 3 stops. On a sunny day, the same scene may display a range of 12 stops. That is well within the capabilities of most eyes, being able to dynamically adjust to a 24 stop range although a more static range of 10-14 stops is more realistic. Most cameras (film and digital) can handle a range of about 8 stops, a considerable reduction. A typical print covers about 6 stops and a monitor slightly less. Newspapers only display a range of 3-4 stops.

Several techniques and technologies exist to extend either the original or the displayed range. One recent example is High Dynamic Range Photography. In traditional photography, special development techniques coupled with corresponding exposures can do the trick. Consider the Hubble telescope and its ability to record and then enhance the dimmest of light.

In practical, everyday photography, the biggest factor in getting a decent dynamic range is simply to use correct exposures. Over or under exposure quickly destroys the dynamic range. One stop overexposure loses one stop of range on the high light side. Please note that correct exposure is not the same as pointing your camera at something and letting the built-in light meter (or for that matter an external meter) blurb out some numbers. Light meters are very stupid about measuring light. Practice, practice so you truly understand exposure. Otherwise, your shadows or high lights are off, were off and will stay off, blowing you out of the water every time.

Using Light

Now that you know a little bit about light, how do you use that knowledge? In generic terms, the benefit of this knowledge is that you know more about what to expect. Make that an element in your plan. Industrial ShapePhotography in big cities usually means polluted air which produces a different light than that on top of Mount Everest. If you shoot in an ice cave, the light is blue, while if you shoot in a sand cave, the light is reddish. Indoor shooting at, say, Christmas, will probably produce warm, reddish photos. Shooting on a lit street may produce very strange color casts.

We do not know all there is to know about light – much remains a mystery. The current knowledge is recent or no more than a hundred years old. Yet we speak of light with deep convictions, especially in photography. An image “captures” the light, a print contains the “full range” of light, the light reflected from a face “accurately” captures the skin tones. Professional critics have a language, of their own but incomprehensible to many of us, classifying and judging light and how a photographer deals with it in his art.

A photographer can use tools to analyze light. The intensity of light falling on a subject or reflected from a subject into the lens is easily measured. He/she can even determine the color of light falling on the subject. Once the picture is taken the image can be analyzed either with software in the case of digital images or by a densitometer in the case of film. That is all fine, but no meters will ever tell the full story and in fact they may even hide the real magic.

The true story about light is not one of analysis. It is about the creative use of light presented at a particular shooting event. To create that vision, you need to realize light is not just one thing. It is a combination of many different kinds of effects and distortions. Once that is clear, here are a few ideas that you might use to figure out your very own creative toolbox. A tool box is an individual treasure chest. What is a trap to some is an opportunity to others. We are all as different as are our visions. So take the following as nonexclusive ideas, not sinister laws.

  • History and Theory: The history of our understanding of light is long, colorful and by no means finished. The “seeing” interaction of eyes and brain is only partially, and very recently, understood and no doubt inaccurate. Think about the significance of all those tricky images designed to fool the brain – where straight lines suddenly look bent. Or where stationary images impossibly start to move? In your fooled brain, that is.
  • Space: Most natural light comes from space. As light travels through space, it undergoes Edward Weston Kneeling Nudetransformations, most quite subtle. It bends, gets malformed, disappears, reflects, is colored and ends up differently than expected in largely a random, uncontrolled manner. Light in its “cleanest” form is quite variable even if you reside on the International Space Station. The atmosphere is then doing it’s best to make matters even more complex:
  • Atmosphere: The atmosphere shields us from a quite harmful space environment. The ozone layer filters out UV radiation. Space is filled with particles harmful to humans that have come close to killing astronauts. These particles luckily do not penetrate the atmosphere. As the atmospheric filters do their work, light from space becomes even more modified. Then local conditions change light again, either by less filtering or more. A photograph taken in Australia or in Antarctica may be subject to a lot more UV light than elsewhere. A picture shot from an airplane at 37,000 feet is subject to more bombardment of essentially radioactive particles than one taken in Times Square, New York.
  • Refraction: Light bends as it passes through certain media such as water or a lens. This leads to many special situations and opportunities, whether you appreciate oval suns, mirages, Fata Morgana, rainbows, floating mountains or tilting buildings. You figure it out. Make a list of the special situations created by refraction in your shooting environment.
  • Reflections: We all have many so-so shots of tall buildings reflecting wobbly images from their glass walls. And those self portraits using a mirror belong deep in that shoe box in the garage. We realize Edward Weston Veggieshow reflections from snow and water may be controlled by polarizing filters. Portrait photographers use reflectors to create a pleasing light. Film and TV crews do the same. Daylight may be modified by fill flash to create an illusion of reflections. Reflections, in any type of photography, represent huge and under used opportunities for creativity. Think about it. Create you own sun! Make your own shadows!
  • Time of Day: Time of day is an essential tool. Most photographs can only be successfully shot at very specific light conditions, whether it is due to the light intensity or its color balance. Examples: Rarely is noon light the best for nature photography. Long shadows may accentuate the emotional impact of a scene. Some animals are only reachable at certain hours. Downtown traffic is busier at rush hours. Indoors, the uses of ambient light through windows depend not only on time of day but also on the angle to the sun. At noon, light from a south facing window is quite different from a window facing north.
  • Seasonal: Many of us associate seasons with specific events. You shoot fall colors as leaves fall. Or delicate spring colors as leaves return. Cherry trees bloom. Whales, salmon and birds migrate. Grizzlies wake up or retire. Frozen lakes thaw. Change your wardrobe. The barbeque is manned. The car gets its annual wash. The first strawberries show up. Taste the Beaujolais Nouveau or fresh halibut. Eat your heart out at Thanksgiving. Do the Christmas shopping. Snowmobiles, motor cycles or power boats roar. Sailboats tack. Dust off the camera after its winter slumber. Wash the windows, cut the lawn. File April tax returns. Harvest the apples, wheat and oranges. Does you vision include such items and more?
  • Weather: Nature gives us hurricanes, tornados, cyclones, fog, heavy rain, soft rain, clouds, thunder, lightning, sunshine, snow fall, heat waves or cold spells. The impact on your creative situation and challenge is obvious. Weather not only impacts light, it affects the range of possible or desired subjects. Some like shooting close up pictures of tornados. Most of us prefer to run like hell.
  • Pollution and Dust: Imagine grabbing your camera, crawling into your bed and under the covers.Edward Weston More Veggies Try taking a photograph of your left foot. That’s not real easy, is it? The bloody covers filter out the light. So do pollution and dust, both of which consist of airborne particles (and perhaps gases), covering earth like a blanket. Both reduce light coming through and both modify the color of light. Dramatic pictures from hazy Shanghai are perhaps interesting but not real artistic in most cases. The thing is, not all light effects are desirable in the sense they create creative opportunities. Some are simply bad news to most photographers. Here is another example:
  • Manmade Light: Speaking photographically, manmade light is a pest unless specifically created for photographic purposes. Blast that sodium light. Darn that fluorescent office light. Curse those wave length peaks and valleys. Green faces, orange hair. What is fun about lobster red skin? Well, nothing much. Maybe useful in some artistic visions, manmade light is a curse to most photographers.

There you are – you have a shopping list for your magical light tool box and a list of features to think about. This discussion of possible opportunities could go on much longer. It won’t, at this moment. The main idea still is that you are the one to create your own box, preferably by thinking outside the box. Try it on. Now, let’s check out colors which are just one form of light.

Colors that Aren’t but Light

The impact of color falls into two categories: First, we live in a color filled world, and therefore our art is in color: we shoot in color. Second, color may be used to accentuate something in the scene we shoot, paint or film. We let some color dominate for specific reasons, usually because of the possible emotional impact of that color.

Color can be a major part of an artistic vision and its execution. Examples include Picasso’s blue and rose periods and van Gogh’s yellow sunflowers. Of course, selecting to shoot in either color or black&white is the obvious example. Colors are part of the science surrounding photography. Equally, colors have an emotional or psychological context in photography.

A Bit of Theory

Light is characterized by three components: amplitude (intensity or brightness), frequency or wave length which relates to color and polarization (angle, vibration, reflection). Light may come in the form of a beam emitted from a light source. If the beam is aimed straight at you, it is visible as a point of bright light. From the side, that Ralph Gibson Shadow on a Red Wallbeam is not visible till it is scattered into a spectrum of different wave lengths. Our retinas and brains map the spectrum of wave lengths to colors.

I’m sure you have seen the standard graphs of wave length and associated colors. It goes like this: the lowest wave lengths are associated with sound as heard by humans. AM radio, TV and FM waves are next up in frequency (lower in wave length), followed by kitchen, radar and signal transmitting micro waves.

Then comes infrared light which is associated with heat – the burning logs in your fireplace emit infrared “heat”. The TV remote uses infrared waves. So far nothing is visible to us. A very narrow band of visible light, split into colors, follows. This spectrum goes from red, yellow, green, blue and magenta to violet.

After the band of colors, we return to invisibility: ultraviolet light causes sunburn. It can’t be seen by humans but is visible to bumblebees. UV light is real important in astronomy – distant galaxies and stars often only emit UV light so the Hubble telescope and some Jeff Wall Milk 2satellites are very sensitive to such light. Then X-rays follow. Finally, gamma radiation can kill, very important both to space travel and astrology.

Have you noticed I sometimes talk about frequencies and wave lengths as in an analog beam (scattered or not) and sometimes about light consisting of particles bouncing around in some pattern? Both ways to look at light are correct but how light consists of both waves and particles is a bit mysterious. An issue of quantum physics, debated by many from Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein, this unresolved subject is a bit beyond this essay.

But think about it: why would an electromagnetic pulse (light beam) be split or scattered by an atmospheric particle unless it too is a particle? On the other hand, are our eyes really letting in all these dirty particles that have traveled space and bounced off all kinds of pollution? I’d hope not. How do light particles penetrate a camera lens? This mystery will remain unsolved in this essay (as it is in science).

Emotional Colors

So much for theory – electromagnetic waves, infrared this and gamma that, particles, amplitudes…. Let’s switch tack a bit. Visions are emotionally driven, inner convictions. Colors, in psychology, not to mention advertising and web design, associate freely with emotions. I’m blue today. He was red hot. She was green with envy. Here is one opinion (of many) on how colors associate with emotions:

  • Red is the color of fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love. Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure. It has very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage. It is a color found in many national flags. Red is the Color of Fire and Blood
  • Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation. To the human eye, orange is a very hot color, so it gives the sensation of heat. Nevertheless, orange is not as aggressive as red.
  • Yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. Yellow produces a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness, stimulates mental activity, and generates muscle energy. Yellow is often associated with food. Bright, pure yellow is an attention getter, which is the reason taxicabs are painted this color.
  • Green is the color of nature. It symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility. Green has strong emotional correspondence with safety. Dark green is also commonly associated with money. Green has great healing power. It is the most restful color for the human eye; it can improve vision. Green suggests stability and endurance.
  • Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It isBlue is the c olor of Trust and Loyalty often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity.
  • Purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. Purple is associated with royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. It conveys wealth and extravagance. Purple is associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic. According to surveys, almost 75 percent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all other colors. Purple is a very rare color in nature; some people consider it to be artificial.
  • White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection. White means safety, purity, and cleanliness. As opposed to black, white usually has a positive connotation. White can represent a successful beginning. In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity.
  • Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery. Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown (black holes). It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, ‘black death’). Black denotes strength and authority; it is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious color (black tie, black Mercedes). In heraldry, black is the symbol of grief.

Some claim colors guide our lives in a sublime mix of emotions and realities. Personally, I’m not so sure. I believe we all are more complex than that. Form, harmony and discord, for instance, seem important as well. Probably context, such as being fired, getting married, suffering from depression or winning the lottery, emotionally overrides any color setting. Colors as emotional impacts are nevertheless legitimate parts of the magical toolbox but not at the exclusion of other factors.

Real World Color

AA Gills of the London Times recently visited Tasmania and filed the following observation (italics mine). Rarely have I seen so many unusual wave lengths covered in so few sentences:

  • The rocky shore is tortured into a macabre and dramatic beauty. The waves stand up on their hind legs and lunge at the land, to be flayed into bone-white shreds by the black rocks. In the late afternoon, the sky is glowing pale gold, dark mauve clouds are filigreed pink, thousand of mutton birds (sheerwaters) fly low over the silver water, and we hurry back in the teeth of the wind to our hut.

Now, that is the drama of colors, if somewhat tortured. I’m sure Conrad had not been able to put it better. AA GillsGalen Rowell Storm on the Ocean actually is a restaurant critic and feature writer for the Times but seems to have his hands in plenty of pots. Good for him.

Take that sun beam traveling through space towards you. At high noon, that beam will hit the atmosphere straight on. Since the atmospheric particles are much larger than those associated with the beam, the beam is scattered into predominately short wave lengths – blue. Thus the sky is blue during the day. As the sun sets, the angle of the sun beam is to close to 90 degrees. Now we see more of the longer wave lengths – red.

Colors depend on altitude – the higher you are the bluer the scene and the sharper the shadows. A higher altitude means mostly less pollution and more unhealthy radiation from space ranging from UV to gamma light. Sun beams are less scattered, hence the scene is lighter. There are fewer clouds if you go high enough. Perhaps you are high enough to encounter snow which reflects enormous amounts of light. Or, returning to zero altitude – sea level – you better consider a similar high reflection of light from the sea surface. In Galen Rowell Sun on the Mountain Topthis case, polarization becomes yet another tool. Keep this in mind next time you climb Mount Everest.

The color spectrum varies tremendously from one location to the next. You have monochrome environments such as deserts, ski slopes, some beaches, polar ice areas, tundra, oceans, mines and tunnels. Next, there are monochromes with occasional color items, such as many parts of an inner city or fireworks. Low light photography is usually close to monochrome, wherever you are. Intensive colors are found in many tropical locations. Specific places such as the Dutch tulip fields in the right season or Brazilian Samba festivals are colorful. You choose your film or white balance (or other settings) with that in mind.

Colors Ain’t Colors

Colors aren’t real. They simply are associated by your brain with light particles vibrating at certain frequencies. As humans, color processing follows a complex path through the eyes, to the retina with its three basic sensors (blue, bluish-green and yellow-green of all Galen Rowell Camp on the Mountain at Nightodd compositions) and on to the brain, where it is all sorted out according to a set of rules. A given wave length is translated into a “color”.

Put an 80A blue filter on your lens (or simply look through it) and colors change. This particular filter changes light emitted from reddish tungsten sources back to “normal” daylight color spectra, given daylight film or white balance. Here is what actually happens: the filter is manufactured so it absorbs vibrations in the 1800-2500K range (perceived as red) while letting the shorter wave lengths through. The result of applying the filter is that the scene appears to emit relatively more short wave length rays, correcting for the excess emission of light in the 2800K range typical of tungsten light. It’s all a matter of wave lengths, not “colors”. Galen Rowell On the Ridge

Walk into a color darkroom and twist the color correction dials a bit and the color print comes out quite differently. Play with color settings in Photoshop and the image changes accordingly. Put on your sunglasses and colors shift. Color blindness shifts how wave lengths are mapped in your brain due to some part of the system being damaged. Several other deficiencies change our perceptions of color. Colors are what you make them to be.

Next, we need to represent color in print. Now we deal with a totally new set of representations. CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) is the traditional print representation which has absolutely nothing to do with how we humans perceive or process color. Pantone’s system of six colors for increased precision adds orange and green to the CMYK system.

Do Computers See Colors?

Computers use their own concepts of color representation. Colors are associated with an RGB (Red, Green and Blue) model. This model assigns trios of numbers from 0 to 255 to the “colors”. Red, for instance is coded as (255,0,0) and blue is (0,0,255). (0,0,0) means black, (255,255,255) stands for white. These numbers are used not only to describe Galen Rowell Sunset from the Topcolors internally but also to control the electron gun of an analog monitor or the transistors in flat screen monitors.

The RGB model does not actually represent real colors but are simply some numbers that could represent anything or nothing. The numbers do not automatically result in accurate colors. The computer and the monitor need to be told what an “accurate” color is. This information is held in one or more arrays that say “apply this correction when sending info to the monitor or printer”. You are responsible for keeping those arrays up to date, using available tools. Many of us don’t do that and hence get used to strange colors and fail to understand why others complain.

Monitor color guns or color sensitive “dots” must also be carefully calibrated to some standard color space. Such calibration uses elaborate color management tools. The standard monitor color spaces come in many flavors of RGB (red, green, blue): sRGB,Galen Rowell On the Coast Apple RGB, Adobe RGB and ColorMatch RGB. On the printing side (CMYK), we have a set of US standards together with corresponding (different) European and Japanese variations.

A simple but crucial monitor setting is the brightness, referred to as the “gamma” setting. Just for fun, Apple uses a different gamma standard than PCs. A Mac calibrated image looks darker on a calibrated PC and vice versa. Great, isn’t it?

It’s not over yet. Next is the coordination of color spaces and calibration across devices. The digital camera, the scanner, the monitor and printing using external labs or the onsite photo printer must be calibrated accurately to compatible color spaces. This is not a trivial undertaking although special software may reduce the pain a bit.

Computers have no understanding of colors – to them it is just a numbers game.

Colors, Oh Those Damn Colors

Maybe you conclude things were simpler in the old days of taking your color film to some lab or retailer. Heck no. In the “old days”, a good print meant endless darkroom exercises tinkering with enlarger settings, which doesn’t even start dealing with the external Galen Rowell In the Ice Caveviewing or printing issues. Color management was not easier but merely overlooked in many cases, or more accurately, achieved in a different way.

Colors and photography are a mess. Technology makes it all harder, not easier. Truly managing colors in photography is a massive undertaking that many photographers avoid or ignore. The bright side is that if you make the effort to master color and its management, you are far ahead of much of the competition. The bleak side is the hours you spend on tinkering with calibrations, devices and standards. Many of us end up with a compromise. One compromise is to let specialists deal with the whole issue. That is expensive. Another option is to wing it. You learn what makes a nice print on a trial and error basis. You learn that a bluish tint on the monitor results in a great print on your Canon printer. And you get on with life.

Let’s jump into yet another issue. Different films as well as different digital chips have unique sensitivities to the wave lengths of color. A particular film (or sensor), black&white or color, may be more sensitive to blue than red. Another film or sensor may behave in the opposite manner. Each film is associated with a sensitivity profile ranging over the wave length spectrum. This spectrum sets the film apart from other films. The same is true for sensor chips in a digital camera. The difference is that the chip is permanently in place while, in the film case, you can simply change films to match the shooting situation and your vision. The Galen Rowell Sunset from the Bottomback end (film or chip) may be sensitive to waves beyond the visible spectrum. In the case of film, that may be X-ray waves.

The latest Leica M camera, the first digital version, suffered (suffers?) from an abnormal sensitivity to infrared light. This resulted in strange distortions that were visible in the images under some circumstances. Given a price of around $4,500 for just the camera body, that is a bit embarrassing. Is it a unique case? I think not.

Now you know one major reason I love black&white photography. Not that any of the color issues magically disappear (they surely don’t since you have to manage the color to gray scale transition) but dealing with a gray scale is a lot more natural to me than tinkering endlessly with scores of color standards. And in my mind, b&w has an artistic impact unmatched in any medium. That, of course, is just my view.

Using Color: The Magical Toolbox

Color issues fall in two arenas: Before Exposure and After Exposure. Colors are only a form of light or, precisely, they come from light beams split into color waves. Everything in the previous section about light applies to color waves as well. This section expands on the special form of light referred to as colors.

The Before Exposure considerations include:

You have an artistic vision. You developed a photographic style. You are on assignment. Let’s say you’ll shoot color. The first Leni Riefenthal Underwater 1consideration is that your vision most likely favors certain color combinations, mood and overall light. It may be in-your-face harsh light and strong, exaggerated colors. Or perhaps it is calm muted colors with a minimum of shadows. It might be a mix of the two. Next, mesh that vision with the requirements for the shoot (if any). The vision rules, the requirements are the handcuffs.

Then, find the location that matches the vision and requirements. You are, of course, familiar with all the ways in which colors and light vary depending on a great many, but often predictable factors (excluding weather in the case of outdoors shoots – if you need sunshine and it’s raining hard, you’re out of luck).

Now you have advanced to the chosen location. It is a matter of setting up the actual shoot. The dominating consideration still is color and light. Even with the most informed choice of location, there will be color and light issues to deal with. Things are always just a bit out of sync. Sometimes they are way out of sync. The exception, of course, is if you maintain your own control over light and color by Leni Riefenthal Underwater 2supplying you own lighting setup.

Your vision, of course, favors certain compositional elements, including color preferences and associated moods and balances. Now faced with the real world, perhaps the scene does not match the vision perfectly or, maybe, not at all. It is time to reconsider and improvise. Or walk away which might be costly.

So a particular dance starts up, similar to the “As Time Goes By Can Can” already mentioned for exposure and composition. Let’s call this dance “The High Noon Two Step”. You run around the location, checking out shadows, highlights, midtones, light ratios and color shifts, perhaps wishing you were free to move around the country instead. You’re adjusting this and moving that. You Leni Riefenthal Underwater 3tinker with the camera, fitting filters, changing film, moving the white balance this way, then that way. You’re pre visualizing like a mad man. You snapping test shots left, right, up, down and possibly upside down.

Eventually, you have to admit you used all the tools, the scene is OK and it’s time to actually start shooting. The madness actually followed a path (although no one may believe it). So the “As Time Goes By Can Can” compositional dance is about to start. The color work is temporarily on hold. Actual pictures are about to happen.

After Exposure, there are more opportunities to screw up or to enhance the images:

Development strategy or initial Photoshop corrections: You did, of course, pre visualize the image which should define the steps to take in development and printing. But sometimes the initial result isn’t quite Leni Riefenthal Underwater 4what you expected. Maybe your white balance setting was a bit off. Perhaps the color film wasn’t quite to specs or the development chemicals a bit too old. So don’t be too surprised you have to apply some initial corrections to get the colors back on the intended track.

Alter the color balance and related features: Your pre visualization may well include corrections to the original image. Perhaps you shoot digitally but the plan is for a black&white image. Maybe you planned to enhance the original image to fit into your vision or work spec: apply more vivid or muted colors, shift the colors to some off beat point, add some special effect or combine several images. There are literally infinite possibilities to make your vision come true, whatever it is.

End use adjustments: Most likely the image has to be adjusted fit the particular color (and other) requirements of the intended end market, be it a photo album, web site, Leni Riefenthal Underwater 5print advertisement, gallery show, museum purchase or a shoe box. Each end-use has different requirements, usually radically different: the color capabilities of the web are very different from an offset printer as an example. Typically, your image must be adjusted into several versions: perhaps one to show to clients in your carry-around portfolio, one for your web site portfolio, one for your long term hard drive storage, one containing your printing instructions, another for off-site printing, low resolution versions for Flickr, MySpace and the hundreds of other promotional web sites.

The final image and follow ups: You’ll produce the actual high resolution image in all its glorious colors to be used, published, shown or exhibited. Hopefully you’ll reap the well deserved rewards. Then you’ll consider documenting and protecting all the color (and other) work you have put into not just this image but the perhaps thousands of other images in your portfolio. This is a real Leni Riefenthal Underwater 6management issue – how do you keep track of all these versions of a single image and all its unique settings for different purposes? Especially considering you own thousands of images? How do you keep them safe over long periods of time? How do you record color (and other) settings so you can repeat them? There are many solutions available – I’ll have to leave that part to you.

That’s it for the discussion of colors. Together with the light discussion, you have a pretty good foundation for dealing with these two critical elements. The idea was to alert you to some of the intricate details of these basic components of your magical toolbox. Next, we’ll examine the two other fundamental components. That is the camera with its lenses and backends followed by the human system of eyes, retinas and the brain in processing the images.

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Light in the Camera

A camera is basically a fairly simple mechanical object. It consists of a lens, a shutter system and a back end device such as a digital chip or a film. The back end catches the light remaining after passing through the lens and the shutter system. Then the back end stores a representation of the light by chemically altering the film or by writing to file a digital representation of the energy hitting the sensor chip. That’s about it. Of course there are additional elements supporting the three basic ones – light meters, flashes, digital software and much else for the gadget happy photographer. One good advice is to stick with the basics as we will in this essay.

Expensive Lenses or Not

A lens is just some pieces of glass or, occasionally, plastic mounted in a tube. It gathers light to be recorded by the back end of the camera. Engineers discovered, over the last 150 years or so, that it is not possible to build an accurate lens. Today’s lenses are incredibly complex in pursuit of the fewest inaccuracies and/or the most pleasing distortions. Even so, a lens does not pass on what it sees but its distorted version of what is in front of it. Each brand with its focal length, f-values, focusing system and Diane Arbus Lady with Curlerseven individual lenses of a particular specification/brand have different and, to some extent, measurable characteristics.

Hence, no matter what you pay, lenses are not perfect from a scientific point of view – the light coming through the lens is reduced in intensity and the light beams hitting the back end are distorted due to the optical imperfections of any lens. There is no way around that. Most of these distortions are correctable, either in a darkroom or in Photoshop (or similar software).

Here are just a few of the possible imperfections: pincushion or barrel distortion, image corners out of focus, image corner light falloff, vignetting, ghost images, flares or the curvilinear effect from fisheye lenses. More generally: there are out of focus optical distortions (monochromatic aberration) such as tilt (perspective changes), defocus (sensitivity to focus changes – related to depth of field and focal length), spherical (imperfect refraction resulting in “circular” blurs of light points), coma (off-axis points are rendered wedge-shaped), astigmatism (certain images KGLPhoto Seattle Demonstratorappear doubled) and field curvature (this stands for barrel and pincushion distortion). Lastly there are the optical lens color shifts (chromatic aberrations) that may be axial or lateral.

Aesthetically, what is pleasing given the distortions to one photographer is deplorable to another. Lens snobs (connoisseurs) often concentrate their attention on the “bokeh” of the lens – how the out of focus parts of the image are rendered. Bokeh is generally not measurable but subjective. In a digital world, bokeh of a lens is easily manipulated in Photoshop.

Adding to the imperfections of the lens are the human errors – using the wrong lens and the wrong settings. Then the problem of low light and handheld shooting often results in handshake blur, in some cases reduced by built in image stabilizers – a fairly new feature.

The wise photographer learns to live with and benefit from the characteristics of a set of favorite lenses. Realizing the full benefits of a lens consists of long and intensive use in typical shooting situations. Some photographers claim the only way to understand the strength and weakness of a lens is to exclusively use it for a year.

The Mechanical Wonders of Shutters

Then we have the shutter system. Better yet, we might include the aperture device and call it the light control system. While we are at it, let’s add the light meter present in most cameras. There are endless engineering variations of these systems. All of them share one characteristic. KGLPhoto Lady BartenderThey are inaccurate.

Accuracy is a relative concept. The shutter and the light system may actually be quite accurate except it is not doing what you tell it to do. Say that you set a shutter speed of 1/500 second. The shutter will actually give you 1/400 (say). Typically, every time you set 1/500, you will consistently get 1/400. The shutter will most likely not randomly jump around from 1/250 to 1/700 and everything in between. Likewise, the light system may consistently set you up for 1 stop overexposure. These issues are not fatal as long as you calibrate the camera or at least identify the issues. This is not very hard to do.

Potentially a much worse issue is that of relying on automation – auto exposure, auto focus and in digital cameras, auto white point. Both work efficiently only in trivial shooting situations and actually encourage bad or at least boring compositions. Consider auto focus which requires you to point the camera at the subject and then expose. That composition is not likely to be very exciting. Of course, you can point the camera at the subject, lock the focus KGLPhoto A Customerand recompose. But if so, why not manually focus which is faster, easier and more accurate?

A few cameras allow you to use off center focus points. My Canon has that ability and that works quite well although even the nine or so focusing points are not enough in my case. How about a continuously adjustable focus point? Is that too much to ask for?

Then, there is auto exposure which works great if you shoot even surfaces of 18% grey. If not, trouble soon pops up. Try this on: grab your camera, go out on a dark night to a nearby well trafficked road, making sure you don’t get run over. Try to take a picture using auto exposure of the oncoming traffic. First, point the camera in the vicinity of the headlight coming towards you and expose. Next, place the headlights off center and expose. The first image will be way underexposed while the second will be overexposed. The correct exposure is somewhere in the middle and only some intelligent guess work will save the night.

To help exposure issues, many cameras can bracket the shots automatically, up and down a few stops. That is quite helpful but won’t work in the roadside example – that variation in exposure far exceeds the typical bracketing settings.

Back ends – Film or Silicon

In a film camera, you load a particular film. That film possess unique features: brand, batch, age, overall sensitivity (ASA or DIN) and the more precise spectral sensitivity over wave lengths all the way down to the individual roll and how it was handled and stored Cindy Sherman Untitledfrom manufacturing and on. Many photographers overlook the importance of handling and storing film correctly and are punished by color casts and other unexpected issues. High temperatures and any kind of radiation make bad news. Film may be over or underexposed, either by mistake or by purpose, in which case the film is pushed or pulled, which, then, is compensated for in development.

In a digital camera, the back end consists of a chip, onboard memory and software. The chip possesses various unique characteristics ranging from resolution and sensitivity to size. The onboard software takes the raw input from the chip, massages it and converts it into an image file of some standard format, usually JPEG. RAW images may – or not – bypass the onboard software to produce an “accurate” image. Some digital cameras allow you to modify the onboard software for white balance, shooting what the manufacturer considers typical situations (”Hawaiian Sunsets”, “Cathedrals” etc.) and much else. Removing “red eyes” has become quite an industry because most camera manufacturers knowingly put the flash in the wrong place.

Of course, the image produced by the back end – film or digital – is not accurate at all. Consider the journey of light from the sun towards earth, bent and hammered as it flies along. Then the atmosphere with reflections, refractions, collisions and Annie Leibowitz Three Girlslots more does its trick or treat act. The treacherous lens adds to the wounds, the shutter and light system adds to the insult and the back end lets everyone down. Then add this little element to the pot:

If you are a Photoshop affectionate, you may have played – or even used – some of the fancy plug-ins that attempt to change the characteristics of various back ends. There are plug ins that “compensate” for or “emulate” all kinds of film brands. You can make your digital photo look like it was shot with HP 400 black and white film. Or Velvia color film. Or anything else you may fancy. There are other plug-ins making your film images look like they were digitally shot. Other filters make your image look like it was shot in 1853. Of course, all you do is to add more distortions to your image.

The Ultimate Camera

All we can expect of a camera is for it to give us images we like. Or images we can Leni Riefenthal Nuba Male“improve” using various tools. We must have sufficient control over the shooting session. We can’t get bogged down in technical gadgetry. We can deal with the distortions produced by the camera. Just accept the unavoidable fact that the camera gives you a highly distorted view of the light from the subject you’re shooting. Then keep shooting.

The Ultimate Camera is the one you are happy with and gives you images you like without too much fuss. It may play nasty tricks on you once in a while but that’s life. Do be aware that automations and gimmicks will generally make your life harder. Keep it simple and shoot as much as you can afford. Equipment prices have little to do with this – $20 Holga cameras have quite a following and artistic acceptance because of the extreme amount of distortions produced. They aren’t as great if you want to be a basket ball sports photographer.

This post surfaced a lot of issues about cameras and photography – sources of untold inaccuracies, distortions and fallacies in almost every step on the road. Some Arnold Newman Alfred Krupp Portraitmay think that digital technology will make all that hassle go away. The answer is no. The reason for that is that most of the issues have nothing to do with photography. The behavior of light and how our brains process color information are items completely outside our control and do not change no matter what the camera is doing or if it is digital or film based.

The few remaining professional film cameras are marvelous technical machines, built from 60-80 years of crucifying development. They survived anything from nuclear blasts to World Wars to landing on the moon. They even survived Uncle Ben and the punch bowl. They have been used to punch out muggers, stop bullets and to drive down nails. They are stolen, fenced and stolen again. They remain faithfully capable of taking great photos as long as there is film to load and a live finger to press that shutter release.

Professional digital cameras build on that tradition but have not quite been through the hazing of their film brothers. Yet they are the result of terrific technology advances that won’t stop for a long Robert Doisneau Two Prostitutestime. But no matter how big a sensor or how smart the auto focus, physical laws do not change. Digital technology faces exactly the same issues as does film technology but is nowhere closer to overcome such issues. That is because these issues go beyond cameras. A $40,000 digital Hasselblad system does not reduce pollution in Shanghai. Nor does it correct for ice cave blues. It can’t cure color blindness. Compositions with the Hasselblad are no better than those from my father’s old mechanical monster.

Cameras give us an image frozen in time. You press the shutter button. The shutter fires for a given period of time. The back end records the light received in that period of time. The raw image is done and reflects only that slice in time. This leads us to the next subject and two very different devices – our eyes that record images in an analog manner and our brain that processes those analog images in real time. This is way more complex and sophisticated than that camera. But first: some words from the wise.

More Quotes from the Wise

  • I like to watch the person viewing my photographs to see if their eyes twinkle or cloud with tears. Does the smile sneak out when they were not expecting it to? Then I know I have captured emotion that can be shared. -Marsha Cairo
  • A big shot is a little shot that kept shooting. -Amanda Caldwell; The mystery isn’t in the technique, it’s in each of us. -Harry Callahan; If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. -Robert Capa; Rules aren’t any good if they don’t work! The only real rules are the laws of physics and optics. -Dean Collins
  • Images at their passionate and truthful best are as powerful as words can ever be. If they alone cannot bring change, they can at least provide an understanding mirror of man’s actions, thereby sharpening human awareness and awakening conscience. -Cornell Capa
  • (Professional) photographers are like hookers: at first we started doing it because we liked it and it David Bailey Portrait Femalefelt good, then we kept doing it but only for our friends, and NOW we’re still doing it but are charging money for doing it! -Dean Collins
  • Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing). -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing. Success depends on the extent of one’s general culture, one’s set of values, one’s clarity of mind and one’s vivacity. The thing to be feared most is the artificially contrived, the contrary to life. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
    • Our eye must constantly measure, evaluate. We alter our perspective by a slight bending of the knees; we convey the chance meeting of lines by a simple shifting of our heads a thousandth of an inch…. We compose almost at the same time we press the shutter, and in placing the camera closer or farther from the subject, we shape the details – taming or being tamed by them. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • ..throughout the history of art it has been art itself – in all its forms – that has inspired art… today’s photographs are so geared to life that one can learn more from them than from life itself. -Van Deren Coke
  • The camera is a killing chamber, which speeds up the time it claims to be conserving. Like coffins exhumed and pried open, the photographs put on show what we were and what we will be again. -Peter Conrad
  • Photography is like fishing. You go out in the morning with no idea of what the trip will bring. Sometimes luck is on your side and all your crab pots are full of prime Lobsters. Other times you get nothing. -Bob Croxford
  • …There are too many people studying it [photography] now who are never going to make it. You can’t give them a formula for making it. You have to have it in you first, you don’t learn it. The seeing eye is the important thing. -Imogen Cunningham

Light in Your Head

What Do the Eyes See?

Superficially, our eyes share some characteristics with a camera. Eyes have lenses, irises and corneas that work like aperture and focusing controls. They understand and adjust Arnold Newman Pablo Picasso Portraitfor different light levels. There is a retina back end consisting of seven layers of light sensitive receptors that pass information to our brains. The eyes’ focusing, aperture and light controls are infinitely more sensitive and fast than those of any camera, however costly or “digitally advanced”.

Do our eyes accurately record the Truth and pass it on to the brain? No. Eyes have limitations. Some of us are near sighted, others far sighted and a few are color blind. Others are blind, or nearly so. Not to forget crossed or wandering eyes. To older people, focus muscles get worn out. The eyes may contract illnesses. The lenses and corneas are easily damaged. Many lenses are shaped in an inaccurate way, resulting in distortions. The receptors may get temporarily blinded by sudden surges in light levels.

There are big businesses involved in fixing your eyes. Eye glasses, sunglasses and contact lenses eat up billions of our dollars while introducing even more distortions. Many of these devices change the focus and color of the light reaching your eyes. Some even change to color of the eyes themselves. Surgery chains happily operate on your eyes at a remarkably low price, changing your point of view again.

The eyes and the rest of the visual system do not operate on light or colors the way a camera does. The human system transforms the light entering the eyes to initially straight lines that eventually combine into curved lines and contours. Colors and light levels are Robert Doisneau Pablo Picasso with Big Fingersjudged by comparing the curves. Colors are no longer represented by K values or any other ordinary system. Light is no longer measured by absolute levels, as is done in the photo cell of a light meter. The process of interpreting all these lines, contours and relative levels introduces yet another level of inaccuracy. It is the basis of the many illusions with which some (such as psychiatrists) like to work or play.

Add the analog feature of our eyes and visual system. There is no such thing as one view of our surroundings. The eyes constantly receive new information. They react to the information in an eternal cycle of adjustments. Most of us have two eyes. Each eye receives a two dimensional view. The visual system combines the two dimensional views into a three dimensional view. Take that, you one-eyed, two dimensional cameras.

Think about it. Here are your relatively tiny eyes that have incomparable power and flexibility relative to any camera at any price and size. But accurate – don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry.

Your Brain Is Fooling You

The brain does fix it all, in a manner of speech. It is in complete charge of our perceptions. It even adds a whole emotional dimension to the information from the eyes. Of course, the brain controls the eyes themselves, not to mention all of you. A regular control freak, your brain is. But whatever the brain decides to present to you is the truth Ralph Gibson Female Foreheadbecause you have no source for a second opinion.

The trouble is we don’t quite understand what our brain does with that relatively straight forward stream of distorted light entering the eyes. We can’t control the process. We do know that what we see is an interpretation created by the brain. What are the rules for this interpretation? Here you enter a real complex issue studied by many very clever people with lots of theories, some of which are contradictory.

One theory states that the brain creates an interpolated view that is based on incomplete information from the eyes. This, again, explains the visual illusions mentioned earlier. Manipulate the incomplete information reaching the brain and it makes predictably bad decisions. There are various theories how this interpretation works, such as the one claiming the brain uses the complex math of Bayesian science.Ralph Gibson Oily Hair

Most theories agree that the brain is not an impartial recorder or interpreter of truth. It receives input from the eyes and all our other sensors. It examines the input, compares it to prior input (“experience”, “knowledge”) in its database and modifies the original input to make it more understandable and safer. Take, for instance, the novice 911 medic. The first job experiences are extremely traumatic but become routine fairly quickly. The work isn’t getting easier but that the brain distorts the reality to protect the worker. The same goes for novice soldiers entering their first battle. Later they become seasoned veterans as their brains and experience database kicks in its protective circuits.

In a more peaceful world, how many times have you used the expression “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” as applied to practically anything. The brain learns from experience and applies it to any similar situation in the future. The phenomenon of “deja vu” is similar. A new input is suddenly associated with a previous experience that may or may not be real. Theories abound on how this works, but suffice to say that the brain is quite prepared to play games with you.

The brain also makes basic assumptions such as that light is usually coming from above. It relies on prior experience to produce a predicable, safe interpretation. It is almost like the old (very outdated) saying in IT circles: You will never go wrong by buying IBM. The brain produces an image that it thinks you will like. It even goes as far as making sure that image won’t hurt you too much.David Bailey Mick Jagger Rolling tondes

Then there is the “Gestalt” theory. It states that the brain receives a bunch of sub components of the visual image. The brain then combines these sub components into the whole according to a set of rules. This theory claims the brain uses six distinct rules to achieve its goal: perhaps, perhaps not.

Other theories claim the rules depend on personality, race, gender, occupation, education, age, attitudes and values and so on. I suppose that makes intuitive sense. A different theory discards most of this theory: the brain receives sufficient information and does not make interpretations.

Here you are: a full circle and total confusion. Does this sound like the visual system capable of presenting Reality? Is it even designed to show Reality? The simple answers are No and No. On top of all the other distortions, the brain adds/filters out its own version of Reality. It’s not a damn thing we can do about it. Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry. Jack Nicholson cried out to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth”. How true.

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Part 2b – Dimensions and Photography?

What on Earth do dimensions have in common with photography? That’s an excellent question and I’m sure the answer is not all that immediately clear. For one thing, the word “dimensions” can mean many a thing. Which meaning is it? Photography is physically two dimensional: up, down and left, right. That print or computer image is definitely flat, so what’s the problem?Pablo Picasso Town View

There is no problem. But “dimensions” can lead to many useful ideas to be included in the magical toolbox. As all of this post, the goal is to somehow generate thinking outside the traditional box.

Here are a couple of the “dimension” issues in photography. The simplistic way of looking at a printed photo is to view it as the flat two dimensional object. Yet, we’re concerned with the meaning of the photo and how it gains sufficient interest to be regarded as piece of art.

First, that two dimensional photo really is three dimensional. Very few photos lack some form of depth aspect. Ansel Adams’ landscapes would not have their impact without their strong perception of depth. On the other extreme, depth can be minimal in macro photography due the characteristics of the lens. Take a look at the Picasso paintings in the section – many use a very limited depth perspective.

Second, take sports photography. Sports photography is all about catching excitement. No one cares about a photo with a bunch of 7′ guys in baggy uniforms hanging around gazing at the moon. Kobe Bryant rounding up three defenders and sinking that buzzer shot in split second action is more like it. The basic dimensions here are position, distance and time (aka speed).

Third, a really good photo contains more than a two or three dimensional space. There is something special about that picture. We naturally want to know what that “special” is. It might be an “emotional” or a “time” dimension. Perhaps it is a “social” or “racial” dimension. It can even be a dimension used in math or physics. It can be a lot of things and the purpose of this discussion is to figure out how dimensions – aka unique characteristics – can become integral parts of photographic visions Pablo Picasso Another Town Viewand toolboxes.

Like everything else, the dimensions of an artist’s work are unique and personal. Camera stores do not carry ready-to-go sets of dimensions. There are no standard set of dimensions; each artist defines a unique set. Some dimensions are lifelong companions, some are more flexible. The often lifelong racial dimension, for instance, is important to some, while others only care about perhaps more short term emotional dimensions such as depression or euphoria. Dimensions leave you open to think about your art and its character in a slightly different way.

If it sounds as if dimensions are just another word for beliefs or opinions, you are partially right. A belief system certainly is one part of these dimensions – but not the only influence. There are two groups of relevant dimensions: first – physical dimensions which can project a unique view of the world on our art. As an example, the images in this section distort regular physical dimensions. You might say these dimensions come from the outside flowing inwards. The second set flows from the inside outwards and includes creativity, beliefs, attitudes, skills and motivation. This is about how the world views us as artists – good/bad – and how we’d like the world to view us – and what we can do about any discrepancy between the two. Impact is an important part of art. The images seen here project the artist’s view very efficiently. They make a difference.

Here is an example of impact. The mural below is one art’s most influential statements on war. Denouncing the 1937 Nazi bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, it shows the death, violence, brutality and suffering of war. Hundreds, maybe thousands, were killed as the war’s Fascist side used massive fire power on Republican civilians. In 1937, the artist said:

  • “The Spanish struggle is the fight of reaction against the people, against freedom. My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. How could anybody think for a moment that I could be in agreement with reaction and death? … In the panel on which I am working, which I shall call Guernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.”

Pablo Picasso Guernica Spanish Civil War Fascism Nazi

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Images in this Section

The approach to the images in this section is a bit different. There are a few photos but the main thrust is based on the artistry of Pablo Picasso. If there ever was an artist with very personal dimensions, his Pablo Picasso Naked Womanname is Picasso.

Picasso’s dimensions are not the obedient linear objects where the sky is blue, the sun yellow and the ladies have creamy skin. Skins are blue, red or perhaps rose, noses are displaced with two eyes on one side of the face, men are part bulls, perspective is in uproar or even not existing. He shamelessly uses all imaginable linear and often non linear distortions.

That’s Picasso, one of the greatest of them all. As you get further into this section, I think you’ll realize why he is such a splendid illustration to this section.

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What’s a Dimension?

Most of us intuitively know what dimensions are. They are horizontal, vertical and depth – aka a basic three dimensional space. That’s what our senses, especially eyes and brain, are accustomed to and how most of us perceive our surroundings. There is nothing wrong with this basic view.Pablo Picasso Portrait

Many of us go on to muddle up this basic set by mentally adding dimensions that aren’t dimensions. That might include adding altitude, direction, distance and position. Even worse, some would add movement, speed, departure, arrival, season and weekday dimensions. None of these are good dimensions – in the first case, all those “dimensions” are just combinations of the three basic ones and in the second case we should add the common dimension “time” instead of the other “junk” dimensions. It is perfectly fine to use computed measures such as altitude, distance and weekday – they are not basic, unique dimensions of the context. Overuse of false dimensions doesn’t really matter to the average citizen but can cause a great deal of confusion to a visual artist.

Here is the definition we’ll use: a dimension is a unique, basic characteristic of an object that does not depend on any other characteristics or dimensions. That is by no means the only definition – many others are more permissibly. Consider a common statement such as “He added another dimension by claiming Iraq had WMD”. Do Iraq and WMD somehow make a dimension? Do they define some other dimension or is it just a cliché? Apply the definition then the statement probably is junk: no dimension was added. Saying “He claimed Iraq had WMD” is more accurate. Paplo Picasso Two Eyed Woman

Take “time” as an example of a common dimension and say we define that characteristic as “seconds”. The definition then means that “hours” is not a valid dimension since it simply is “seconds” multiplied by 3,600. In a similar mode, “velocity” is not a true dimension since it is equal to “distance” divided by “time”. “Hours” and “velocity” of course are perfectly valid measurements of an object – they are just not true dimensions.

Incidentally, “distance” is not a good, basic dimension since it relates two points to each other – “point” is perhaps a better dimension? But point usually is represented by coordinates so then “point” is not a good dimension. And coordinates combine the height and width dimensions in a two dimensional space. Just scratch “distance, point and coordinates” from your list of dimensions – height and width are sufficient to provide calculations and measurements such as distance, points and coordinates.

Here is an example from the business world: Products and Customers are commonly used, valid dimensions. Neither can logically be expressed as some permutation of the other: “Customers” are not some combination of “Products” or vice versa. On the other hand, “Invoice” is not a dimension – it’s a combination of Customers and Products. “Delivery” and “Rebates” are not good dimensions but “Time” and “Money” are all valid. Pablo Picasso Women by the Sea

Technically, true dimensions are orthogonal to all other dimensions of that object. That means true dimensions are independent from each other – they share no characteristics and cannot interfere with each other. When you think about your art and its different features or when you split up the various important aspects of your work, independence of each feature and aspect will help make them much clearer and actionable. That’s how dimensions come in handy.

Maybe you still wonder what the point of this discussion is. The goal is to extend your photographic art by adding additional content or “dimensions”. We want to reach beyond those naive, two dimensional photographs. This is hard to do unless you know what make a real and unique dimension.

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Combining Dimensions

Very few objects are characterized by only one dimension. In fact, if an object only has one dimension, then it probably is a dimension. Already mentioned are the common, basic “spaces” of two (vertical, horizontal), three (add depth) and four (add time) dimensions.

Let’s play a little game. Below are four photos. They all, of course, contain the two basic dimensions but the question is what other dimensions are contained in the images. Now, that is a trick question because we don’t know what the dimensions that the photographer thought about and, second, your answer is unlikely to be the same as my answer. There should be no rights or wrongs. Do make the effort of identifying two or three extra dimensions for each image. Better yet; write them down before continuing to read – no cheating!

KGLPhoto Photographic depth

Sebastio Salgado Social Photography

KGLPhoto Emotional Photography

Robert Capa Motion in Photography

Did you come up with your set of dimensions for each of the four images? If not, go back and start over!

Here is my take – yours probably is different. The first of my dimensions is shared by all images – “light”. All of the four images manipulate light which easily is a unique dimension. Then, “color” or “black and white” are not dimensions. They are just special aspects of light. The first photograph emphasizes “depth”. The second deals with a “social” dimension – the subject is a mine in South America with less than human working conditions. The third image is primarily “emotional” – in this case happiness or joy. The last photo includes a “motion” component, which isn’t really a dimension – use “time” instead.

Let’s go back to the business example – do you think “Customer” and “Product” are relevant dimensions to the images above? That would be really stretching it, right? Dimensions are not universal; they are very dependent on context. If you care to continue this exercise: what dimensions would you associate with specific photographic styles such as Forensic, Journalism, Documentary, Commercial (e.g., Fashion, Wedding, Modeling, Food and Travel), Portraits, Nature, Street and Abstract?

Pablo Picasso Self PortraitOn the flip side, what kinds of photography do you associate with dimensions such as Spirituality, Evil, Cost, Price, Manners, Danger, Meters, Ounces, Health, Ethics, Shadows, Emotions, Money, Climate, Politics, Capital and Food? Are these items actually real, unique dimensions in a specific context? For instance, Evil is hopefully a rare component of Portrait photography. Ethics are especially important in Journalistic and Documentary work. Starting with these two examples, what dimensions associate with particular contexts? Are the associations relevant to photography? If so, how precisely does a photographer make use of this insight? What other (better) dimensions can you think of?

Very few of us have trouble with three or even four dimensional spaces – horizontal, vertical, depth and perhaps time. Another way to describe the four dimensions is width, length, depth and time. Most sciences claim humans can only really comprehend a three dimensional world with some time elements added in, such as motion. The scientific world has identified more basic spatial dimensions although humans really cannot comprehend or “see” any of them. But spatial dimensions are only part of the picture. We will deal with non-spatial dimensions as well.

Rocket Science – Spatial Dimensions

Spatial Euclidian Spaces

Math defines spaces consisting of any number of unique dimensions based on work by Euclid, about 300 BC. A zero dimensional space consists of an infinitely small point. A one dimensional space is a line.Pablo Picasso First Bull

A generic space includes N dimensions where N is any number, including infinity. An actual Euclidian space is usually characterized by a series of planes, defined by sets of points on which certain operations are allowed. You can tilt the planes, move them around, rotate them and measure their distance and angle relative to some point.

The Euclidian space consists of coordinates, angles and distances. Coordinates define points. Two points define a distance. Angles compare lines, vectors and planes. Think about how to apply what you just read to photography: coordinates and points, distances between points, planes made up by sets of points and angles of planes. Henri Cartier-Bresson once said:

  • This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.

Cartier-Bresson was no mathematician. Yet he applied Euclidian multidimensional theory to his art, perhaps without knowing. In reality, anyone applying composition to photography uses the Euclidian Pablo Picasso Second Bullprinciples. Your Euclidian space was initiated 2,300 years ago. After all these years, you are still free to add your personal dimensions.

Euclidian spaces decompose visual composition quite well and have plenty of practical, real life applications in economics, physics, medicine and countless other areas. Yet it is not the only way of looking at dimensions. The weak point of Euclidian dimensions is that they do not define what its dimensions are in a real world. You might assign length, width etc. to some dimensions but, generally, neither Euclid nor modern mathematicians do or care to. Reality is conveniently abstracted away.

Modern scientists have extended the Euclidian spaces in many different directions. The case of up to three dimensions is pretty straight forward. At four dimensions, differences start to occur. Although many regard Pablo Picasso Third BullTime as the best addition, others look at it differently. A fourth dimension may consist of a way to connect several three dimensional spaces, Put your slippers in the floor. Go get a rope. Tie up the slippers with the rope. Congratulations, you just entered the world of four dimensions. Untie the slippers and you return to a three dimensional world. The rope is the way to connect the three dimensions with a fourth.

The slipper example certainly is pretty silly. The point isn’t. In the current context, the fourth or Nth dimension can define a way to go from an N-1 space to N or N-2 dimensions. That is quite useful. Let’s go back to our eyes. They record a three dimensional world flattened into the two dimensional space of the retina. The brain then applies a third dimension to give an illusion of three dimensions that we “see”. The brain analyses the two dimensional information for clues to the next dimension: shadows, foreshortening and perspective provide information to the brain how the two dimensions might extend to three.

As always, the brain is easy to fool. Consider this example of a two dimensional picture, below, that completely violates the brain’s rules making it impossible to get to an illusion of three dimensions:False Perspectives

Look at the picture (which is no Picasso) above long enough and you will likely go crazy. Now, juxtaposition in photography refers to including an object that contrasts in some respect with the rest of the scene. Such an object usually is there to challenge the viewer and to add tension. The tension is achieved by breaking the rules of the brain’s attempts to add a dimension to what it sees: for instance, include a flower vase lit from the opposite of the rest of the image. It can also be an object that is out of context: a portrait of Oprah embracing David Letterman or the pictures of Saddam Hussein with small children. The picture above is an over-the-top shopping list of ways to offend the brain and creating tension (or confusion).

So far, dimensions are useful for cleanly defining compositions that generically create harmony and juxtapositions that add tensions. Compositions and juxtapositions aren’t really dimensions since Pablo Picasso Nude Woman they basically are combinations of the planes, angles and lines already present in Euclidian space. The usefulness of this to photography consists of adding formal elements and organization. That is not bad at all. But the story on dimensions is by no means finished yet.

Spatial String theory

Scientists are not satisfied with two, three or four dimensions, however you define them. String theory, also known as Superstring theory, is an attempt to explore areas in Nature and the Universe and create a universal theory covering more known events than is possible by four dimensions. The areas include explaining the interaction and nature of particles, planets, orbits, stars, black holes, electromagnetism, gravity and the Big Bang when the Universe was born. The scientific driving force is quantum mechanics. Our driving force is looking for new insights and becoming better artists. Perhaps a few warped dimensions will do the trick as it did for Picasso.

String theory went through and will continue to go through many evolutions: originally dealing with special particles called hadrons, then pondering the interaction, at zero distance, of particles with zero mass spinning around, leading to explorations of gravity. String theory can predict these natural and cosmic Pablo Picasso Bull Manbehaviors.

Strings are like guitar strings except not attached to anything. The strings may be stretched and set to vibrate, emitting “tones” or, rather, energy. These strings are quite small or in the order of a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter. The strings may be closed loops or open ended. They are paired with other particles in super symmetry – if a string emits force (“tones”) then there must be a receptor of this force.

Now that all of that is perfectly clear, none of this has been truly confirmed as existing. Those strings are way too small to be seen. Then there are several string theories to consider. These theories combine with quantum mechanics to add the notion of dimensions. These dimensions are as many as 26 or as few as 10 for “superstrings”. Work is ongoing to reduce the different theories into one single theory called M theory which is known as the Mother of All Theories.

We now have ten dimensions with vibrating strings. One of the dimensions is Time, leaving nine others. Of these nine, you might have a circular dimension. A string particle entering such a dimension starts circling, adding momentum energy to the whole setup. The string can wind itself around the circular dimension. This represents momentum and winding modes. There is a coupling of the string to Pablo Picasso Mother and Childrenthe dimension. There are now zero dimension objects (infinitely small ones), one dimensional (points), two dimensional lines and three dimensional membranes similar to Euclid’s planes.

Here is where we are: we have the three dimensions we are used to. Add the Time dimension for four dimensions, leaving the six other dimensions from string theory. This means that to describe a point, there are the four basic coordinates usually denoted as (x,y,z and t). Add six more coordinates to define a string theory point. These extra six dimensions make it possible to model a lot more events into a common framework. So how do you relate the six extra dimensions back to the four we humans know? One way is to make the extra dimensions real small and the whole system subject to gravitational, electromagnetic and scalar forces. That is, string theory does not just deal with dimensions but also the forces driving the interactions in the system.

This is great – we have a ten dimensional tool that can describe any natural phenomena from the Big Bang to Broccoli. It can tell what goes on in Black Holes and in holes in your socks. It certainly should provide brilliant insights into your photography. Unfortunately, those six extra dimensions are a mystery – no one knows what they are. They are “compacted” to be as small as possible and out of the way. Their only current role is to make forming the equations of a string-based universe possible. One sticking point is that these equations are so complex that only approximations are possible. A Six Dimensional Calabi-Yau object

One possible view of the six extra dimensions is that they are associated with Six Dimensional Calabi-Yau Shapes. These shapes or manifolds look like crumbled up paper with curves twisting all over in an incredibly complex pattern. There are no straight lines in this very strange environment. To the right is an artistic rendering of such a six dimensional monster. Unfortunately, there are thousands of possible objects like this, each extremely complex. Which one is the right one? It may take generations to reach a conclusive answer.

Now, if ten dimensions are hard to deal with, how about two hundred forty eight?

Spatial 248 Dimension Lie StructuresThe 248 Dimensional E8 Lie Group

Recently, 19 mathematicians each spent four years specifying a Lie group, named E8, which contains 248 dimensions and is based on a 453,060*453,060 matrix of parameters. That is 205,263,363,600 parameters that aren’t even straightforward numbers but complex equations. After toiling collectively for 36 man years, they did manage to define this mysterious thing.

Lie was a Norwegian mathematician living in the mid to late 1800s. The two images to the right are math’s ways to explain some of the relationships.

It takes a supercomputer three days just to make a test run on this massively complex “group” or structure. The 205 billion inputs, thought, are tiny compared to the output. A small font printout demands a paper sized 50 square miles. The Genome Project, as a comparison, uses only 1/60 of the input data of the Lie group. To the right and a little up and down, are two different representations of the E8 Lie group. The top shows the “root” and the bottom one shows the form of the matrix. 248 Dimension Lie Group

A Lie group captures the essence of symmetry, manifolds and geometrical elements. Applications of these groups include string theory, particle and theoretical physics, structures of complex materials such as crystals and even some aspects of the Internet. The Euclidian N dimensional spaces are Lie groups as are various types of matrices.

So What’s the Deal with Strings and Lies?

At the end of the day – what on earth is this all about? “Am I supposed to apply Lie groups to shooting Grand Ma’s 90th Celebration?” you ask. I would advice not to attempt that – where would you put the 50 square mile printout? There are a few lessons to be learnt from this curious stretch of our road.

The case of the Euclidian spaces should be pretty straightforward. There are direct parallels with composition and other aspects of photography. When you compose a picture, you really are Pablo Picasso Abstract Girlworking in a three or four dimension Euclidian space with planes, lines and points all related to each other and where you can adjust how these components work in harmony or tension.

The other two parts – String theory and Lie groups – differ from Euclidian spaces: the three/four dimensional spaces we are used to do not represent a complete and generic view of “Reality”. Nature is far more complex than that. That complexity is not well enough understood to directly aid us in photography. These extra dimensions, at least in the case of string theory, are spatial in character and subject to electro magnetic and gravitational forces.

The physical impact of the extra dimensions is probably unlike anything experienced before – if indeed they will ever be experienced. Nothing will be like the square, linear spaces of our ordinary environment. Objects, people and other creatures will twist, fade in and out, drop into deep canyons, hit high mountain tops where no mountains exist, switch from one space to another in a maddening experience. No, I’m not a Sci-Fi fan. Star wars are not for me. Sci-Fi writers are quite aware of the Lie groups and String Theories. I’d be surprised if there isn’t quite a bit enlightening interpretations in the Sci-Fi literature. I wouldn’t know about that.

Think about the images coming out of the Hubble telescope. These images do not penetrate the missing dimensions but do display some of the results of the interactions of such forces and Hubble Imagedimensions. The bluish image to the right above the portrait is from the Hubble. There is no accident the image is quite similar to the artist rendering of the Six Dimensional Calabi-Yau Shape a bit further up: that’s how I choose it.

The lesson is that reality may well be a lot more exciting than many of us think. Nothing should limit us to think in only the old linear dimensions. Those of us into portrait photography may hesitate about introducing twirling dimensions into the portfolios but that’s ok. A nature photographer may not appreciate his elk subject fading in and out. That’s OK too. Other may continue experimenting with the reality none of us have ever seen. That is very much OK.

Another item for thought is that dimensions do not exist in isolation but are linked to forces or energy. Such force might be a truck hitting you (let’s hope not) or lightning striking your model (let’s hope not). It may also be a strong wind across a landscape or a Tour de France biker heading up the Pyrenees. A time dimension may be strong or weak, long or short, discontinuous or linear or, why not, run backwards. A scene we shoot may be subject to imaginary heavy gravity, flattening everything. A subject’s hair may be suffering from heavy electro magnetic charges. You shoot an ad for McDonalds showing cows sucked into a black hole. Your camera turns on you and shoots only cats from now on. You yourself may fade in and out of nonlinear dimensions on occasion. I know I do.

Madness, you say. Out of question, you exclaim. Blasphemies, you cry. Are you familiar with Igor Stravinsky? Those are quotes from the audience walking out on the premier performance of The Rite of Spring in 1913 Paris. The collective walkout developed intIgor Stravinsky by Pablo Picassoo a full riot over this shameful, pagan ballet with its animal rhythms and offensive, unfathomable dimensions. Stravinsky is now viewed as one of the most influential composers of the 1900s. The Rite of Spring is one of his major early masterpieces. The portrait to the right is Pablo Picasso’s quite straight view of Igor Stravinsky.

Pablo Picasso was of the same generation as Igor Stravinsky. They knew each other well. Picasso’s images violate every perspective and linear space known to man, yet absolutely everything was there for a clear artistic reason and vision. Igor Stravinsky violated the rules of composition in an era when romanticism still ruled the kingdoms and the high seas of the Empires.

Only a dozen years before The Rite, Queen Victoria was still on the British throne. I doubt any of them (Victoria included with Igor and Pablo) thought about missing dimensions, non linear or not. But their work can be interpreted in that light (except Victoria – she has left the room). The key point here is the courage it took from both artists to break down walls and, most definitely, think beyond the ordinary paint and score boxes. That is a heritage worth carrying on. It was the beginning of the end of the British Empire, eventually leading to bra burning, nuclear bombs, G8, Britney Spears and the Beatles.

As they say, let’s add a new dimension to the discussion. Math geniuses and physics lions do not have a monopoly on this dimension stuff. For now, let’s return to the world of humans and maybe more familiar realms. That will be the day, you murmured.

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Non-Spatial Human Dimensions

No, I don’t care about your waist line. I mean dimensional analysis as applied to and by humans. Psychologists apply dimensional analysis to see if you’re mad or not. If mad, they apply more dimensions to see if you are suicidal, should be locked up or are unable to pay the bill. Art critics love to apply newly invented dimensions to artwork whether or not anyone else has a clue what they talk about. Some churches Pablo Picasso Sceneforce values on their members to ensure proper spiritual dimensions. The Internet provides thousands of “dimensional” personality tests followed by an opportunity to join their communities of eternally young, merry, well adjusted and extremely compatible lovebirds at a minor fee. Politicians and their spin doctors like to control every dimension possible and usually deep six them far out of sight. Witness Bush with his brave war
against the “Terror” dimension and his Global Warming Denial dimension.

Many of the ideas about human dimensions come from work done in psychology. Human characteristics are mapped into categories to aid the psychologist in determining a treatment, if needed. There are countless tests available to that end. Here are a few:

  • MMPI uses “scores” such as Validity (is individual providing valid data?), Clinical (attempts to id illnesses), Content (Anxiety, Depression, Fear, Cynicism, Work Interference, Negativity and others), Supplemental (Chemical Dependency, Maladjustment, Demoralization, Martial Distress and Social Dominance) and PSY- 5 (Similar to NEO PI).
  • NEO-PI measures “facets” such as Agreeableness, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Openness to Experience.
  • Raymond Cattell’s Personality Factors include: Warmth, Reasoning, Emotional Stability, Dominance, Liveliness, Rule-Consciousness, Social Boldness, Sensitivity, Vigilance, Abstractedness, Privateness, Apprehension and Openness to Change, Self-Reliance, Perfectionism and Tension.
  • MBTI identifies personal preferences and dichotomies such as Extraversion/introversion, sensing/ intuition, thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving. This test is generally criticized for validity and reliability. It (or a copy) is used by several Internet dating services.
  • PAI applies scales in the general categories of Clinical (Neurotic, Psychotic, Personality Disorders and Behavioral Disorders), Interpersonal, Treatment and Validity.
  • The Keirsey Temperament Sorter uses four scales: Expressive vs. Attentive; Observant vs. Introspective; Tough-Minded vs. Friendly and Scheduling vs. Probing.

These “scores, facets, factors or scales” represent abstract groupings of personality features for an individual or a group. They are often referred to as dimensions. Each dimension is made up of a series of properties or features – usually a set of answers to test questions. These ideas can apply to art, photography and you as an artist.

Dimensions of an Artist

Take Picasso as an example. He, like all of us, saw a three (or four) dimensional, traditional world. Yet much of his work bears little resemblance with that world. He added something. No one really knows what went on in his head, but it seems “Perspective” must have been one important factor – after all, he Pablo Picasso Lady drawingwas a founder of the Cubist school which reduced Perspective to almost nothing. As with all visual art, Light is a given – in his case it was even elevated to a “Blue” and a “Rose” period, colors being part of Light. Other features might include “Distortion” and “Focus”.

Picasso’s work had at least seven dimensions: the standard three spatial ones, Light, Perspective, Distortion and Focus. The last four dimensions contain many properties. Focus, for instance, might include cubist features: abstractions of shapes such as cylinders, spheres and cones. The Light dimension would include Monochrome since much of the cubist work is monochrome or close thereto. Picasso’s politics generally made for a dangerous life in particular in the 1930s through 1950s but also defined his art. Here is a simple map of Picasso, the Cubist Artist:

3 Basic Dimensions

Light

Perspective

Distortion

Focus

Politics

Width

(Blue)

Flat

Abstraction

Decomposition

Pacifist

Height

(Rose)

Edges

Symbols

Shapes

Communist

Depth (lack of)

Mono

Planes

Austerity

Partial, stripped views

Anti Fascist

This is much easier to visualize than Strings, Liens and Calabi-Yau Shapes – we have hundreds of samples in the form of his paintings. The table shows, however, only one specific dimensional view of one artist in one early part of his life, painting in one particular style. Later developments rapidly outdated this view. It was replaced by new dimensions and features, such as classicism rather than Pablo Picasso Peoplecubism. Some individual works are so overwhelmingly important that they require their own set of dimensions. Picasso’s Guernica (above) painting is an excellent example. It defines antiwar in art.

The typical visual art artist lives with the three basic dimensions and a few technical dimensions, such as Light and Time, plus a set of personal dimensions. This section will concentrate on the personal part – the basic dimensions are covered previously and the more specific technical dimensions are too dependent on the photo style to cover here.

It is not easy to come up with valid, personal dimensions. Most of us do not have a good view of the fundamental drivers of our lives – we are too close and too biased. That’s why the personality tests exist. But personality tests are not designed for artists; they aim at uncovering illnesses, not artistic features.

Analyzing the Artist

It just happens I have a proprietary process and tool aimed at analyzing personal aspects of artistry. Originally developed in house as a web site and search engine analyzer, I adapted it to more general tasks. This tool supports formally detecting and objectively developing the dimensions of an artist and his/her work. Pablo Picasso Blue Lady This can, of course, be done intuitively as it has since the dawn of humanity. But who knows how many more masterpieces we might have if the visions had been more focused and more objective?

The example in this section uses a hypothetical artist as a basis. We’ll come up with dimensions and specifics for this fictitious person. In a real life situation, all aspects of the analysis are customized to the real, actual individual. The process is quite labor intensive and requires a sizable investment. Here, I’ll cover only some basics – perhaps I’ll devote a future post to more detail.

The basic assumption sets the sample artist up as a pretty complex and cocky individual who is a bit vain although down on his luck – perhaps due to some mental issues. He is searching high and low for some commercial success. He is not the best of persons or the worst. He has some secrets but is no terrorist, war criminal, jay walker or addict.

The process consists of three basic steps and a lot of iteration with involvement both of the examiner and the artist. The steps are 1) create and verify a word list (concepts) relevant to art, the world and people in general, 2) categorize the word list, add a first go at dimensions, verify, iterate and 3) add value components, refine concepts, categories and dimensions, iterate and produce final report.Pablo Picasso Two Ladies

The first step list contains concepts or phrases specific to the subject. The word/concept list is quite exhaustive – about 1,500 entries or up. The concept list is based on three criteria: first, add personality items similar to, but less generic than, those used in psychology tests. Second, add concepts specific to art. Third, add features specific to the artist and his/her real life orientation. Most of the list is simply made up by adjectives as descriptors of for such features.

Once we have an initial list, each concept entry is moved into categories. In our example, the two categories are “Bad/Good/Neutral” and having “Major/Minor/Little” impact on the artist’s art work. This process is iterative and goes through several cycles as does the whole process. Luckily the process is computerized with a wide range of tools. Rarely do initial classifications or concepts make it through the whole process of continuous improvement.

A first go at dimensions follows having secured a reasonable set of concepts and classifications. These dimensions are tested logically against the classifications and the individual. Several more rounds of iterations, supported by the tools, follow. Usually the dimensions change substantially from the first go. In the example to come, the dimensions boiled down to “Brainy”, “Private”, “Public” and “Secret” after perhaps ten iterations. As it turned out, our hypothetical artist is apparently quite concerned with his image and not very modest about his intelligence. Pablo Picasso Two Blue Men

Eventually, a set of dimensions, classifications and concepts appear to fit the artist reasonably well. But this still is just a collection of concepts split this way and that way. A very fundamental part is missing. We need to be able to assign values to all aspects of the collection. Once we have values assigned to each feature down to the individual, original concepts, we know what truly is important and how one feature becomes more important than another. This is where the real insights come.

The values used in the example are based on proprietary Internet concept analysis: we measure the perception of each concept and, then, the competitive rank of the concept. The actual values chosen depend on the goal of the analysis. Anything that is collectible at a reasonable cost can be used. The values used in the example are good ones for determining an artistic web presence with a potential for commercial success. Other data sources include vocabulary statistics. Here is an example of a vocabulary scale:

Vocabulary Scale for Artists

This post contains some 38,000 words (I know – it’s a challenge). This mass of words certainly might provide a base for an artist concept list and also the value component – a simple frequency count might do. One simple way that does not include the mysteries of the Internet is to choose a text well regarded on Pablo Picasso Pink Ladythe subject (such as portraiture or journalism) and run it through the list creation and evaluation process.

As an additional example, an initial cut of 25,000 words of this post were extracted into the database and then culled down to 15,000 by getting rid of words with no stand-alone meaning – the “the”, “a”, “of” and “I’m” type of things. The 15,000 should be reduced to less than 2,000 to be manageable in the next steps. The analytical part of this process is fully supported by software. Still, each step requires extensive human involvement – this is not a black box, download from the Internet as a wonder-in-the-box solution but a process based on human judgment.

The resulting list, shown in the graph above, is quite typical. Since this post has a well defined purpose and orientation, the most “valuable” concepts are well defined and not unexpected. The top ones are Light, Dimension, Image and Color – certainly important subject of this post. Also typical is the steep shape of the list – there are usually some 4-7 concepts that tower above all others. This simple example was aimed at giving you a bit of hints about the real thing. We’ll leave it behind and move on to the main course.

Stepping Through the Process

The first stage concept list is inspired by the psychological tests and their scales, factors and facets. That initial list then is expanded by adding more “psychology” concepts. Next follows a set of generic art related concepts, last comes the set of artist specific items. Overall, concepts should cover segments such as Art, Pablo Picasso Strange PeopleMorals, Ethics, Spirituality, Emotions, Physical and Mental well being and perhaps Philosophy. It is not hard to come by well focused vocabularies. Suitable text can be OCR’ d or downloaded. Thesauruses and dictionaries are helpful.

Some concepts are specific to the artist’s actual specialty. Most are not. Don’t be too specific by including a lot of technical items – this is not a tool to determine how many minutes to use when developing your film. Too much specificity tends to add many biases – we aim at finding new dimensions, not validating old impressions. It’s important that this list provides a random sample within each category and remains free initial biases.

Concepts are added and thrown away during the iterations to identify classifications and dimensions. The process typically involves a universe of 2,000 to 3,000 conceptual phrases, ending up with about 1,000 to 1,500 final concepts. Our example list contains 1,381 concepts. The next two graphs show some of the dimensions and categories of the set.Goodness Impact by Dimension

The Goodness Scale splits the concepts into three categories: Good, or positive, as the concept relates to the impact on the artist and his work, Bad, or negative, or finally Neutral – neither good nor bad. Overall, 15% of the concepts are negative/bad, reflecting many human fallacies. 11% of the concepts are neither good nor bad in this context but Neutral; they are allocated to the Private dimension which also contains 21% Good concepts. We tend to make our negative/bad streaks secret, even from ourselves. We make sure that the environment sees only our best Public features. We tend to keep quite a few Good features – and certainly the wishy-washy Neutral stuff – Private to ourselves. 74% of the concepts are ranked Good or positive. In the example, 43% are Good, split equally to the Public and Private dimensions. The remaining 31% are labeled Brainy and reflects the positive, but not Public sides of our minds.

We all have a closet of skeletons that we keep secret, often even from ourselves. Next, we posses features with which we promote ourselves publicly. Third, our pride of being intellectually superior, well educated and knowledgeable makes up out Brainy dimension that may or may not be public. Most of us avoid bragging or appearing superior or elitist. Then, there is the middle ground – good or neutral features we keep to ourselves. Our “Earnings” is a good example – there is usually nothing negative about making money but we rarely make the details of this feature public – so it remains in the Private dimension.

Impact Scale by Dimension

This graph slices the dimensions by the Impact scale. This scale splits the concepts into three categories: High impact on the artist’s art, or lesser impact – Some or Little. In this example, only 11% of the 1,381 concepts ended up viewed as highly influential on the artist’s work. Of that 11%, a third had highly negative effects. Only 8% of the features ended up as high impact positives with 5% being Public or Brainy.

The original sample is now culled down to 5% of the original size. It now supports a high impact, public, positive set of dimensions and features – 95% of the concepts turned out to be of little value to this particular artist. That is a great result – the process provided very specific and focused results, Pablo Picasso Lady Playingdiscarding a lot of maybes. So far, though, all we have are some broad dimensions and categories. We need to get a lot more specific. The next graphs drill down to some of these specifics.

Arriving at the Final View

We now have a reasonable set of features and classifications with some agreement on the dimensions. It is time to introduce the value components. We’ll use Internet hit/buy scales. This leads to yet another round of iterations until we have a believable set of conclusions – dimensions, specific features and categories. This stage slices and dices the data, looking for logical and factual relationships. In the end, the whole thing simply has to make sense. It does not have to confirm biases or reiterate previous opinions. The strength of this process is its ability to bring new ideas to the table.

Here are the views we’ll run through: The Public Image that’s very important to most of us – it is so important we’ll look at several cuts. The bad stuff follows. We store this in our Secret compartment. Yet another view lists some real obscure features on which to waste no time – no one cares. The next view shows the opposite – what is important and provides real opportunities in presenting a strong image as a full artist. The final two views filter out features deemed not valid by this rather head strong artist.

The Public Psychological Dimension

Above are the features we believe leave a good impression on others – be it coworkers, bosses, landlords, curators or gallery owners. Most of these features are rather traditional or even conservative. The wild side is absent and so are the dark features. Top features include being Responsible, showing Excellence, being Involved, Inspirational and a good Listener. Being Alive helps a lot. Being Heavenly and Fabulous apparently is helpful as well to our fictitious vain artist.

Anotherf view of the Public + Brainy Dimensions

This graph is similar to the one above it. Both show features that may or may not be seen by others. The difference is that this graph includes the Brainy dimension in addition to the Public one. The distinction between the Brainy vs. Public is that the Brainy dimension points at internal features while the Public is geared to external issues. The Brainy features aren’t promoted by us in front of others as much as the Public ones. Brainy features aren’t really hidden – the environment will pick up on whether you are smart or plain stupid regardless of whether or not you promote one or the other.

Based on the value system employed and the fact we deal with an artist, the top features change quite a bit. Brainy features rank high, followed by Creativity, Originality and Abstractions. Being Smart, Goal Oriented (Specific and Effective) and an Expert are important features.

Secrets Stores Out Of Sight

‘No one is perfect’ as the Billionaire in “Some Like It Hot” remarked when finding out that the love of his life – Jack Lemmon – was a man, not a gorgeous female base player. Above you see the horrid calamities of the Secret Closet. We hope our poor artist is not beset with all of them, at least not at once. Being Destroyed, Desperate, Wild, Dangerous, Crazy and Violent won’t help our image much, whether true or false. These features may or may not be displayed in the artist’s work. Demonstrating Superiority (Ubermensch) and appearing close to a Breakdown are items perhaps best kept limited to discussions with a psychiatric.

Obscure Features of No Importance

This slice of the data lists generally useless, bottom-of-the-barrel concepts. Its only value is in providing logic to totally ignore such features. Even if they may be important to some, the general public could not care less. Be Mopey, Prudish, Heartsick, Scraggy or even Jinxed if you like. No one will pay attention and neither should our artist. As you notice, this process does not only surface what to do but also what to ignore.

The Good Features in th Whole Person

Here we allow the system to map features without regard to limits or categories. What you see is an overview of the most important features associated with our illustrious artist. Most of the top features are unchanged which is good – the top level focus remains unchanged. Lower down there are some fairly notable changes: the Private dimensions become more prominent.

Now our hypothetical artist has a set of personal dimensions and associated features. These should be used in three ways – first, by ensuring a pursuit of public efforts that are consistent and positive in nature. Second, the same features should be coordinated with the more internal artistic visions. Third, the process hopefully has provided some focus and some original thinking that just might have an impact on the art work itself.

Here is a quick take on an Artist Statement for our illustrative Artist. “As a responsible and alert Artist, I actively pursue creative, effective and original routes to enhance my classical abstractions of good, funny, happy yet specific essentials in interactive biochemistry”. Ah well, maybe that statement could use some wordsmith – I’ll leave that to the dear Artist. However, those words find 5.6 billion references on the Google network. That could be a useful starting point for our unknown, broke Artist apparently specializing in some form of humorous biochemistry abstractions. The comparable hit count for “humorous biochemistry abstractions” is 58,000,000 or 1% of the count mentioned above. That is something for our Artist to ponder. Broaden Thyself.

Going back many thousands of words in this post, I wrote: “Creativity is about you being creative. Creativity is your mental process of discovering new ideas or concepts, or finding new associations between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity derives from divine intervention, cognitive processes, spirituality, social environments, your personality traits and chance. It associates with your genius, mental illness and humor. So goes one definition.” The process described in this section is simply one attribute of the whole notion of artistry. It maps to a way of self discovery and moving ahead artistically. It’s yet another part of the magical toolbox.

Final Scale Indiviualized Features

But wait, the story isn’t over. The hypothetical artist comes storming into the office of the examiner, waving his copy of the report and yelling that he is neither Smart nor Original and wants nothing to do with either. The examiner sighs and mentally calculates the outstanding billings. He agrees to make a special run if the balance is settled and the original report is accepted as is. The Artist agrees, mumbling obscenities under his breath.

The individualized (biased) run is shown in the graph above and it paints quite a different picture. At the beginning of this sample application, I said: “The basic assumption sets the sample artist up as a pretty complex and cocky individual who is a bit vain although down on his luck – perhaps due to some mental issues. He is searching high and low for some commercial success. He is not the best of persons or the worst”. Doing the run on the artist’s biases and conditions pretty much confirmed those points: vanity, complexity, down on his luck and a bit mentally unstable while being obsessed with the public image – all confirmed and easily seen by comparing the graph above with the optimal, original one a step further up. This graph amplifies the point:

Comparing Optimal vs Personal Views

The upper right hand curve in the graph illustrates what the artist wanted “in” while the lower left hand curve shows what he wanted “out”. The rejected features are mostly quite conventional while those going in are not. The artist surely did not expect Desperate, Wild and Dangerous would end up top features. He was mesmerized by Cool and Hip, no doubt.

So which is the valid run? Both are. They are just based on different assumptions. The artist version practices status quo and surfaces quite a few biases. The original report suggested some change from status quo and is far less biased. However, we’ll leave it to our fathom artist to sort this out – after all he is the one to gain or lose. We, on the other hand, must move on. Fun as all this is, it can’t go on for ever.

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Dimensions and Art

This section started out by claming photography and any “flat” visual art is not two dimensional as a thoughtless view might assume. Such a limitation ignores and misses almost everything that is the mysterious magic of photography. Pablo Picasso LadyThe exploration of dimensions set sail onto a strange and stormy ocean. Things got a bit shaky here and there. Dimensions suddenly popped into two major versions: the Math/Physics approach and the Human/Psychology inspired analysis. These two approaches seem vastly different yet they are complementary.

The most obvious pattern is one of incredible complexity. Physicists work with around 10 dimensions and are completely at a loss to explain what those extra dimensions are. Yet other scientists reach for 248 dimensions where supercomputers have trouble just running some equations involved. Mathematicians easily jump into any number of dimensions but remain high up in the clouds since they completely ignore real life details.

Clearly, dimensions exist beyond the three or four generally viewed as graspable by humans. There is evidence that if we human would actually be able to experience such extra dimensions, the event would be far beyond any prior experience. Our safe linear world would turn completely nonlinear.

Yet, art also provides experiences beyond anything previously known. I used Picasso and Stravinsky as examples how a familiar reality gets stretched beyond belief simply with a paint brush and a pen. Adding new spatial dimensions, or distorting the common ones, is very possible and done all the time. To me, that notion belongs in every photographer’s toolbox. Even sticking with the basic spatial dimensions, it is easy to apply Euclidian spaces tPablo Picasso Three Musicianso composition and design in any photographic environment. In fact, photographers do that everyday, mostly unconsciously.

Then there is the matter of another class of dimensions derived from psychology. Primarily focused on self discovery and self knowledge, the aim here is to reach a higher artistic level. These dimensions do not deal with bent light rays, crooked perspectives or black holes. If anything, they straighten out biases and drop erroneous ideas about us. I ran through a pretty detailed example how dimensional analysis might be helpful to any artist, if sufficiently open minded.

Dimensional analysis is part of all art forms and actually life itself. It is simply there, whether you like it or not. Photography does not have a unique ownership of the concept by any means. But photographers will benefit from this addition to the magic toolbox. Thinking outside that three dimensional, square, linear box is always the right thing to do.

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The Magical, Mysterious Toolbox

At last we are at the end of this long and winding road. The road originated some 38,000 words ago. The first part, optimistically labeled “Understand the Magic”, discussed artistic visions and the higher level aspects of making that vision real. Jeff Wall provided a great example of visions and execution on steroids, but other photographerPablo Picasso Female Portrait s had their say as well. Henri Cartier-Bresson was mentioned more than anyone else.

The second, current, part of the post is labeled “The Mysterious Toolbox”, aka The Magical Toolbox. This is not the toolbox in your garage containing a broken electrical drill and 147 odds and ends, including a spare set of false teeth of dubious origin. This toolbox makes more highflying promises designed to make you a better artist. The approach may not be very conventional but is actually based on solid research.

The toolbox section contains two parts. The first part dealt with light and its distortions. Any artist can benefit from them. That’s better than to suffer from the illusion the fallacies of “reality” do not exist. This part dived rather far down into light, color, cameras and our human visual system with quite a bit of specific advice. The second part made a brave jump into the world of math and physics including quantum mechanics, followed by some analytical work based on psychology research. Go just half a page up for details.

In one of first paragraphs of this the mother of all posts, I stated successful photography means “the images present a multi faceted, relevant and unique experience that reflects the artist’s creative vision and flawless execution“. I hope I have clarified what I meant and that I provided some ideas about how to create art to that effect.

That concludes this post, except for a few wrap-ups below. I appreciate all of you that actually spent the times to reach this point.

Thank you, Karl

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Final Words from the Wise

  • So what is art? Simply stated, and in perspective to photography, art is a visual form of expression that brings constructive social value to the masses. It is endearing to those who view it, and it enriches humanity in general. Visual expression that is used to personally attack and ridicule a specific group, belief system, or culture, or to promote a political agenda, is not art. -Robert Devere
  • The ingredients that go into the creation of outstanding images are subject emphasis, the eradication of time, and universal themes. That is, a readily identified subject in a timeless setting that is universally recognized everywhere. Such an image is not only the hallmark of a truly remarkable photograph; it is achieved by very few photographers. -Robert DeverePablo Picasso Lady Sipping
  • The magic of photography is metaphysical. What you see in the photograph isn’t what you saw at the time. The real skill of photography is organized visual lying. -Terence Donovan
  • Making pictures is a very simple act. There is no great secret in photography schools are a bunch of crap. You just need practice and application of what you’ve learned. My absolute conviction is that if you are working reasonably well the only important thing is to keep shooting…it doesn’t matter whether you are making money or not. Keep working, because as you go through the process of working things begin to happen. -Elliott Erwitt
  • The meaning of quality in photography’s best pictures lies written in the language of vision. That language is learned by chance, not system; …our overwhelming formal education deals in words, mathematical figures and methods of rational thought, not in images. -Walker Evans
  • The first impression of a new subject is not necessary the best. Seen from a different angle or under different condition it might look even better. Always study a three – dimensional subject with one eye closed. -Andreas Feininger
  • The camera can push the new medium to its limits – and beyond. It is there – in the “beyond” – that the imaginative photographer will compete with the imaginative painter. Painting must return to the natural world from time to time for renewal of the artistic vision. The key sector of renewal of vision today is the new vistas revealed by science. Here photography, which is not only art but science also, stands on the firmest ground. -Andreas Feininger
  • I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject-matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others – perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph. My photographs are not planned or composed in advance, and I do not anticipate that the onlooker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind, something has been accomplished. -Robert Frank
  • A photograph has always been a lie. We can not freeze time, we are not two dimensional, we are not the size of an 8 x 10 glossy, we are not composed in geometric patterns, but we are real. Photos have power because of this illusion. Using the power and exploring it as communication of the collective sub-conscience can be fun to. -Misha Gordin,

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Previous and Next

Here are more posts from this blog that deal with photography. The posts are newer as you go down in the list:

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The G8 meeting is over after three days of intense exchanges sometimes lasting several hours per day. Leaders arrived, gathering for mandatory photo ops. Putin did the charm thing, a remarkable feat. Merkel vigorously looked for some – any – item to agree on. She pronounced the meeting a step forward towards making far reaching decisions. The rest of the gang barely stayed awake. Everyone was relieved Chirac is finally gone while allegedly Sarkozy had a drop too much to drink now and then. Flustered by farewell praise, Blair choked and stammered a bit.

Bush’s tummy suffered from evil European cooking and apparently from meeting Nicolas Sarkozy (drunk or not). Even so, Bush strongly and resolutely agreed only to not agree with any agreement containing any form of specificity such as numbers, dates or $ signs. Leaders agreed, announced strong and resolute agreements to agree at a later date. Mission accomplished, everyone left.

Success World Leader Style

Leaders claimed things were “encouraging, promising, getting critical directions in place, realizing breakthroughs, considering serious matters, Pablo Picasso At the Seaside Resortsending important signals, providing opportunity to prepare, putting processes in motion, identifying meaningful possibilities, promising long-term cooperation, directing possible flows” and so on and on.

Nowhere to be found is a single commitment, actual plan or mandatory actions. No treatises were signed. No bindings, incentives or accountability measures saw the light of day. Not a single concrete action was initiated or agreed on.

Bush’s standard recipe of doing nothing on anything and everything apparently now is a global policy. Perhaps it always was that way. Talk the talk, strut the strut, sneer a lot. Then execute the opposite of any public promise. Claim progress is made by going backwards. Aim for the Dark Ages. Make evidence fit the bill. Ignore reality. You’re either with me against me. I’m the Decider and Commander. You are not.

On the third day, 18,000 German police dismantled the 2.5 meter high barbed wire fence raised around the entire town. This mini Berlin Wall protected the 8 (eight) leaders debating bliss, democratic progress, on whom to aim nuclear missiles and the dinner menu. Demonstrators had no access Pablo Picasso Three Musiciansto the summit or dinner menus and returned to their day jobs. They as well claimed progress towards agreements on objectives to be established at a future date.

Bush to Fight the War on Global Warming

Dubya pretty much gained approval on his newly found religion on Global Warming. It has a simple, resolute message – “let’s ‘talk’ and meet again when I leave office – meanwhile let me handle the delays.” He thereby claimed the position of Master of Global Delay. Grateful leaders concurred, realizing they had the best man for this very important position. The dramatic announcement declared G8 leaders agreed to reach an agreement at an unspecified future date.

China, India, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil – present one day only – were invited to contribute as much to Global Warming emission control as the Pablo Picasso The Devil and Companyindustrial nations and to give up a few hundred billion $ of Carbon Credit money. Surprisingly, the five suddenly undeveloped countries turned down this generous idea.

China and India now have more years to build a few thousand more cheap coal based power plants based on the dirtiest technology available. Indonesia, Brazil and Malaysia can slash and burn the rest of their rain forests. Mexico City will keep burying its smog victims. Buy a Greenland time share or enjoy spring break at the Alaskan beaches. Enjoy the splendid new Prudhoe Bay Disneyland.

The circular Global Warming blame game continued – Canada blames the US, the US blames China, China blames India and India completes the circle by blaming everyone except India. Progress etc., etc. was happily announced by leaders exhausted by the three hour “working” lunch.

Everyone to Fight the African War on AIDS

African leaders and Bono – not present – scoffed at the rhetoric of saving their Continent from AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and McDonalds. Apparently the G8 goal of doubling aid to Africa will be Pablo Picasso Resort Townachieved by cutting such aid in half if history is to guide us. Major bankers strongly endorsed this sound strategy.

G8 also stated a goal of eliminating African debt. Perhaps that will be financed by doubling African dept. Major bankers strongly endorsed this sound strategy. Africans called the summit a farce which somehow explains why Chancellor Merkel was obliged to apologize to Bono for not getting back to him in a timely manner.

President Sarkozy announced a Darfur conference aimed at resolving the stalled efforts of getting peace keeping forces and aid into the area. G8 leaders hailed the idea and strongly supported the notion of France and African leaders take on this delicate task. “Exactly what those guys should do” was the consensus, allowing attention to concentrate on other worthy causes. Sudan, however, was not pleased and turned down the idea.

The Economies in Great Shape

The good news is that the World Economy is in glorious shape which is probably why AIDS aid is cut in half. Global imbalances are showing some signs of stabilization more recently. That explains why things are going so well in Darfur.

The IMF chief warned of complacency, merger mania, the unfair Chinese and their murderous exchange rate, and everything that can’t bePablo Picasso The Clown sustained long term. Of course, he did not have the environment in mind but rather the wealthy few. If we are all vigilant, things will be OK. It was deemed necessary to further identify and target specific areas for concrete actions, No doubt the identification of such actions would require additional areas to be identified for further concrete actions. Major bankers strongly endorsed this sound strategy.

Putin and Bush to Hold Intimate Discussions

Iraq, Iran, Korea politely weren’t really on the agenda. Surges were not mentioned. Issues of war crimes were way off the agenda. Secret prisons were unmentioned. No one was tortured. The feared return to the Cold War due to Bush’s brilliant policy towards Russia and Putin’s equally masterful attitude towards the West was temporarily shelved. Bush called Putin Vladimir (“I call him Vladimir, you know”) and invited the poor soul to Kennebunkport where George H. and Vladimir can swap stories on the good old times in CIA and KGB. Children need not attend.

Now Russia would like to host Bush’s missiles allegedly to be pointed at Iran, not Russia. Putin prefers having them in Azerbaijan rather than in Poland and the Czech Republic. Bush, flustered, found the idea interesting while everyone else laughed their heads off. Generals immediately objected, concerned about not being able to aim the damn missiles at anyone they damn well please.

Bush in the Democratic Stronghold of Albania

Bush went on to visit the last earthly place still supporting him – Albania, long the most Communist of all Communist states. The size of Maryland and largely Muslim, it was or is a center of terrorism, directly involving bin Laden together with the CIA. Chetnya, Taliban and Iran apparently use the facilities as well. Pablo Picasso Girl with BoatAllegedly converted to democracy, it is now With Us, Not against Us.

Engaged in the tourism, pyramid scheme and rioting businesses, Albania now Fight Terrorism to Bush’s delight. The Albanian Prime Minister commissioned a commemorate stamp with Bush’s face on it. Bush reciprocated by repeating an old promise of membership in NATO. Crowds cheered. As far as is known, Bush left with his face still in place but without his watch (furiously denied by the US Embassy to Albania, fearing a Grave International Episode). Someone check eBay.

Back to Business

But G8 and Albania isn’t today’s subject. It is actually hard to imagine why G8 should be the subject of anything at all since it appears to have no real subject of its own.

Instead I’ll like to update a little story I ran about four months ago which did and still does have a real subject. The original post was just another little story about the not earth shattering effects of Global Warming. That is, not earth shattering to those not affected but very real to those who gather on a lonely Bolivian mountain top or in the valleys below. The top is called Chacaltaya after its once mighty glacier. The glacier happens to host Bolivia’s one and only ski resort. I never thought I’d ever have an update on the story but I was wrong. Here is the original story:

Is Global Warming Real? The Mountain Top Chorale

Scientists say equatorial Bolivia’s proud skiing tradition could be extinguished when Chacaltaya’s ski run disappears forever over a few years. Glaciers are receding rapidly throughout the Andes, but Chacaltaya’s melting has been especially quick. More than 80 percent of the glacier has been lost in 20 years.

Bolivia’s die-hard skiers still boast about Chacaltaya, asking where else one can ski above the clouds at a dizzying 17,388 feet with a view of Lake Titicaca on the horizon. Where Pablo Picasso Funny Eyeselse, they ask, would the après-ski tradition include coca tea and soup made from the grain of the quinoa plant? Their pride in the ski resort here, the only one in Bolivia and the highest in the World, soon gives way to a grim acceptance that the glacier that once surrounded the lodge with copious amounts of snow and ice is melting fast.

Chacaltaya never had the glamor of a Vail, Kitzbühel or Zermatt. Founded in the late 1930s by a dreamer named Raúl Posnansky Lipmann, it can be reached only by a dirt road winding through the chaotic markets of El Alto, a sprawling city of slums above La Paz, and with terrifying switchbacks lacking guardrails. The lift, which stopped working some time ago, was powered by an old automobile engine which hauled skiers upwards at speeds exceeding any reasonable limits. Now, a few skiers trek 30 minutes to the only remaining ski slope to get a few runs in before Chacaltaya surrenders its claim to being the world’s highest ski area.

“This is a tragedy I can hardly bear to witness,” said Franz Gutiérrez, 65, who has been a member of the Bolivian Andean Club and Chacaltaya since he was a teenager. “There’s no place I’d rather be,” Mr. Martínez, 22, said, squinting as the sun beat down on the lonely slope. “At least Chacaltaya is ours.” Chacaltaya will be theirs forever but not as the world’s highest ski resort. That honor will be lost to Himalayan upstarts.

This story circulated with little fanfare in February of 2007. Next is a June 2007 update which takes somewhat broader approach with a surprising twist as well.

Chacaltaya – the Next Installment

Global warming will melt most Andean glaciers over the next few years. Bolivia’s Hydraulic and Hydrology Institute said the vast Chacaltaya glacier
is particularity melting fast. The glacier, at the Argentina-Chile border, snakes through Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador providing thousands of communities
with their only Woman Dancingsource of water and power. No viable alternatives exist.

Half of Bolivia’s glaciers (80,000 hectares, or 20,000 acres) disappeared over the past 50 years. Chacaltaya is now only 3 metres thick on average, down from 15 metres in 1998. Glaciologist Edson Ramirez says it will disappear this year or next. “This is a process that unfortunately is now irreversible,” he says. About 80 percent of the Andean glaciers are similar in size to Chacaltaya. Experts agree all Andean glaciers are doomed.

Over 2 million people in the La Paz region depend on the thawing cycles of Chacaltaya and neighboring glaciers for drinking water, farming and power generation. At least 35 percent of the area’s drinking water comes from melting glaciers, and about 40 percent of the electricity,” said Oscar Paz, the head of the Bolivian Climate Change Panel, a government task force. Paz said rich countries should create a global fund to compensate poor nations for the effects of global warming. “We’re the victims of climate change,” Paz said.

Daniel Cuencas, a father of four, walks several blocks every day to fetch water from a stream and is well aware of what will happen when the glaciers disappear. “This right here is ice melt. That is where the drinking water comes from, from the mountains. So we know that there isn’t going to be enough water,” he said, fetching water with a rusty tin can from the stream.

In a curious new development, Bolivian President Morales arranged a soccer (football) game at Chacaltaya – 5,270 meters or 17,300 feet up in near stratosphere. Morales scored four goals inPablo Picasso Women the 30-minute game played before reporters, scientists and a few dazzled tourists on a small gravel field. Morales and his team of presidential staffers and retired Bolivian soccer greats defeated a squad of university students 10-3, in a match halted occasionally when a ball kicked out of bounds would roll down the steep mountainside.

Football is close to a life and death issue in Bolivia as in most Latin American countries. The problem is that even without Chacaltaya, Bolivia and neighbors are in the middle of the high altitude Andes. The international football organization FIFA recently declared that international football games cannot be played at a higher altitude than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) to protect the health of lowland players.

Such a limit rules out international games in La Paz (3,600 meters up) and at least four other Bolivian stadiums. The same fate awaits the capitals and cities of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Mexico. Understandably all high altitude inhabitants are rather upset about the matter. Denver, incidentally is safe at a mere 5,280 feet. Lowland Brazilian club Flamengo announced that the decision was “a victory for mankind”.

It is unlikely, though, that international football games at Chacaltaya will save its day. At more than twice the limit as it stands, football games will likely be rare in spite of Mr. Morales point:

  • “Here we play in ‘altura,’ and we play with much ‘altura,'” he said, using a Spanish word that can mean “altitude” or “dignity.” “Those who fear ‘altura’ have no ‘altura.’

This might tell you something about Chacaltaya and why this obscure place actually is important to all oPablo Picasso Woman Sketchingf us. It is not just an issue of a handful of skiers, melting glaciers, the supply of drinking water and power to a few million people. It is a matter of dignity and pride. Our dignity and our pride are at risk. Not to mention our health

Is Global Warming real? To some it certainly is very real. Not in 5, 10 or 20 years and perhaps, maybe or possibly – it’s real right now. Probably no more than a few dozen people are impacted by the demise of Chacaltaya as a ski resort and you are likely not one of them. But rest assured something similar may happen to you much sooner than you think. Millions of Bolivians are finding out right now.

Thank you, Karl

Snow-white’s evil stepmother asked “Mirror, mirror, who is the fairest of them all?” We ask about politicians: “Mirror, mirror, who is the wickedest of them all?” The mirror in our tale might answer “Define wicked” or perhaps “How so?” With so many different kinds of wicked people around: how do you choose one politician over another? That is the question of this essay.

In poll after poll, the people voice their disgust and frustration with the wicked men and women they elect to office. The obvious but unanswerable question, of course, is – why elect such deadbeats in the first place? How come every one elected almost immediately joins the least trusted class on earth? Are many politicians incompetent scoundrels by birth or just an average bunch of people with their share of losers, criminals and maybe a winner or two? Is one gang of politicians “better” than some other gang beyond the bias of equally fanatic followers and opponents?

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Are Politicians More Corrupt Than The Average Joe?

About 511,000 elected US politicians serve over 85,000 different governments. These governments provide a livelihood for anywhere from 6 to 17 million people, depending on how you count and who you believe. Breaking down the elected politicians (figuratively), 540 fill the US Congress and 2 the executive branch: the President and VP. 18,800 serve in the 50 state governments and a staggering 491,000 populate various offices locally such as mayors’ offices, city councils and the like. Government Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew electioncertainly is a big business.

Doing a bit of math, with which I shan’t bore you, this extrapolates to around 1 million elected politicians in the 218 years since 1789. Considering the typical crime rate in the population as a whole and corrected for the mostly white collar crimes we are interest in, about 20,000 of the 1 million likely would have criminal inclinations. That breaks down to about 50 criminal politicians on the federal level and some 1,000 in state government and no less than 19,000 in local government.

The analysis of this post is based on an updated and reworked version of the excellent “Political Graveyard” web site which lists, with some additions, corrections and updates, 547 disgraced US politicians going all the way back to the late 1700s. Of those, only about 60 on the federal level were convicted of a crime and subject to some significant punishment, usually prison. Add 50 convicts on the state level and 62 locally for a total of 172. The remaining 375 individuals received only minor punishment, were acquitted or got off free in some other manner.

Identified Vs. Expected Offenders

Federal

State

Local

Identified in database as convicted, punished

60

50

62

Expected from the general, typical crime rate

50

1,000

19,000

The number of identified federal offenders (60) is about what one would expect given the typical crime rate (50). In state and local government, the database identifies too few culprits to draw any conclusion. There is no evidence federal politicians are more criminal than average people. However, as you’ll see, the damages from crimes by the federal politician tend to be far greater than those of an average Joe.

The picture above is a campaign poster for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Both were to resign in disgrace, one for ethical and criminal charges and the other to avoid impeachment for Watergate cover-ups. The Good and the Bad, both reside in the database used in this post – details below.

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Images in the post

This post contains an abundance of images as do practically all of my posts. After all, the blog is titled a “Photo Blog” and I happen to be a pro photographer. Many posts contain my own photos – this one does not. A series of factual graphs illustrate the points made – all of which are Robert Frank - In the Deli based on proprietary databases. The rest of the images are in two categories. First, some pictures serve as journalistic style illustrations related to the subjects covered. The picture below of a beaming Wilbur Mills with his Argentine Firecracker is a good example.

The second category is a bit different. I’ve chosen a series of photos from Robert Frank’s “Americans” collection (book) from the 1950s. To me, this is one of the most stunning documentation ever published of people in America – which is a good reason to include it. The real reason I included it is that I wanted to point out that politics is supposed to be in favor of the people. It is easy to forget that, especially if you are a politician that crossed the line. As a matter of fact, it is easy for a blogger to forget what this is all about in favor of a brief moment of fame based on some cheap point.

It’s about people, stupid.

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The Tale of Two Photos

About the first of the two photos: Does anyone remember Wilbur Mills these days? A US Representative from 1939 to 1977, he was the menace of Washington DC females of all colors, shapes Wilbur Mills having a good timeand professions. Liking his spirits, he cut quite a lively picture in the DC social life.

On October 7th, 1974, he gained true fame because of a somewhat rocky relationship with Argentine stripper Fannie Foxe (aka The Argentine Firecracker). That very night, being driven through DC, his car was stopped due to no headlights being on. As the cop approached, Fannie jumped out of the car and hopped into a nearby Tidal Basin. Wilbur, drunk as a skunk, remained in the car, fingering the scratches on his face.

Fannie eventually climbed out of the Basin; Wilbur temporarily sobered up enough to enjoy a 60% reelection by the good, not to mention open minded, people of Arkansas. But Fanniegate wasn’t over. Wilbur was soon forced to step down from his seat after staggering onto the stage of a Boston club where Fannie did her act, creating a bit of unfortunate turmoil. Allegedly, he later joined the AA. It’s not known what happened to Fannie except there are indeed some rumors involving the Kennedy’s.

The second picture shows Marion Barry, then mayor of Washington DC, take a hit of cocaine on Jan. 18, 1990. Marion was not yet aware he was the target of a monumental sting operation run by the FBI and DC Police. He was soon to find out.

The stingers took the picture using a Marion Barry getting stingedsurveillance camera set up in a DC hotel room where Marion met with a girl friend. Once they had the evidence, police and agents stormed the room. Marion was arrested, exclaiming “Goddamn setup… I’ll be goddamn. Bitch set me up!”

Charged with 14 drug related offenses, he was convicted on one charge. He had to step down from the mayor post and served six months in jail. He then returned to DC and clawed his way back into local politics.

His drug problems continued off and on till today. Even so, he remained, till today, powerful in DC politics, sometimes elected to various positions, sometimes not. He has been called “The Most Colorful Politician in America” and that is not because of his skin color.

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Table of Content for this Post

Following are some introductory notes about these essays and this post in particular. If you hate such stuff and want the meat and potatoes right away, hit the bypass button below. If not, just keep going.

Bypass TOC

Here is a Table of Content (TOC) for your convenience, making it easy to move around and find what you are most interested in. There are TOC buttons throughout the post to lead you back here as needed. Also note the links in the menu on top of the post that gives you easy access to the TOC for the whole site and the RSS feeds. Enjoy!

The links below takes you to the different sections of this post. Click this link for other posts in the On Ethics essays. Use this link to establish a RSS link to this blog. Bookmark this post using the Bookmark button below.

About this series of essays

This is the 7th post in the Ethics series. Previous posts went through a wide selection of ethical questions and issues. Here are the main posts:Heading to jail

  • On Ethics 1: Just A Point Of View? This post kicked off the Ethics series. It starts with a street photography issue but quickly veers into philosophy as related to life and politics.
  • On Ethics 1A: Art and Descartes – What About It? This post discussed two reader questions: the first one dealt with a quote “I think, therefore I am” by Descartes. The second question asked who does one know what is art.
  • On Ethics 2: Ethics and Morals of Torture. Suddenly US policy condones the use of torture, one of many violations of human rights practiced by the Bush administration. This post takes a look at the ethical consequences of that fatal decision.
  • On Ethics 3: Clashes of Giants. Combining views on Ethics, Reality and Morals; the post covers ground from philosophy to torture with a bit of politics thrown in.
  • On Ethics 4: Violence of the Ivory Towers. Governments, here known as Ivory Towers, commit unspeakable acts of violence. The post looks at the justifications for different types of War from an ethical stand point.
  • On Ethics 5: Ivory Towers in Peace. Going from War to Peace, the post covers government influences, such as those of the Ten Commandments, the Geneva Conventions, Magna Carta, the UN, the Kyoto Protocol and Global Warming.
  • On Ethics 6: We the People. Having covered the lofty atmosphere of the Ivory Towers, here is a discussion of personal ethics, such as ethnics, race, racism, culture and religion.

The present 7th post covers another issue: the ethics of elected US law makers and politicians. This issue came to mind as I read an obscure comment on some blog stating that Democrats are far more corrupt than Republicans, referring to evidence on a site I never heard of: “The Political Graveyard”. Intrigued by the wealth of interesting information on this site and the desire to find out who is corrupted, I ended up spending quite a bit more time than I expected. The result is this post.

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Lies, damn lies And Statistics

This section reveals shocking details and secrets about the data used in this post. If you don’t care, feel free to skip to the next section. Knowing a bit about the data might help understanding the conclusions.Alfredo Gonsalez in deep trouble

The Original Data

This post wouldn’t be possible without the tremendous amount of work put into the “Political Graveyard” web site. Lawrence Kestenbaum has done a phenomenal contribution over at least ten years. I only use a small part of the site’s information covering some 138,150 US politicians: the listing “Politicians Who Got into Trouble or Disgrace” of about 420 individual “troubled” politicians. The information was last updated in March 2005. The US election data comes from the records of the US Senate and Congress. The presidential data originated, mostly, from Dave Luid’s Presidential Election web site.

A Database, Updates and Additions

The Graveyard web site provides a plain listing of the “troubled” politicians. I needed a simple database so I could do some analysis. That means taking the listing and organizing it into standardized categories such as the politician’s name, life span, residence, party and position, reason for the “disgrace”, its severity and punishment if any.Bill Clinton gertting damnded

This naturally surfaced a lot of missing information which was added both to the existing information and as completely new entries. In particular, about 25% of the entries lacked party affiliation, crucial to my particular question. So I added a mechanism to allocate a party affiliation wherever missing. The mechanism is completely mechanical, building on the prevailing political climate at the time and in the state from where the politician came. If the state was solid Republican I simply assumed so was the politician in question. Currently, the database contains complete information on 547 politicians.

Analytical Ideas

The most important analytical issue was attempting to make comparing the crime of one politician to Torture suddenly part of policyanother as fair as possible. The result is a ranking of each individual composed of three weights. The first weight is the level at which the individual served. Fair or not, a US Senator’s crime has a higher weight than that of a dog catcher in Crawford, TX. The second weight is the actual crime itself. Murder is more serious than refusing to wear a tie. The third weight is the level of punishment suffered. A conviction followed by jail has a much higher weight than losing the next election or being pardoned. Being acquitted, for instance, nullifies the whole entry in terms of “disgrace”.

The result is an index for each politician and his crime (out of 547 entries, less than 10 are women) that is fairer than just saying that being on this list is a crime, acquitted or not. Most, not all, of the graphs in this post are derived from these indices.

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General Elections and Presidential Sins

In a US presidential election, the candidate that secures the most votes in a state wins that state. No one is in second place. Each state has a number of electoral votes – more in a large populous state then in smaller states with fewer people. The next president is the candidate supported by the most electoral votes. This post and its database use electoral votes to approximate relative size of the states. The following two graphs sums up the number of states won by each party, ignoring electoral votes.

State Wins By Party 1789-2004

The US conducted 55 presidential elections from 1789 to 2004 with 42 presidents taking office. In 1789, there were 10 states voting, today 50 states plus DC vote. In total, 2081 state level elections for the US presidency split into 946 state wins for Republicans, 856 for Democrats and 179 for the 10 small or short term parties.

However even that the distribution may be between Democrats and Republicans, what counts is the balance at each election with the winner taking it all although, of course, we may have different parties winning in the Senate, Congress and the White House or indeed gubernator races and state governments.. Such is the situation in 2007. The Democratic Congress presented a bill to the Republican White House containing time limits on the US involvement in Iraq. Bush vetoed the bill and neither party can impose their wishes, requiring some form of compromise across party lines.

State Wins By Party Over Time

Up till 1950, the Democrats’ fortunes rose rapidly. That was the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal in the 1930s, followed by a united wartime country. Before that, Woodrow Wilson was theLyndon B. Johnson with Richard Russel strongest Democratic president in the 1870-1920 slots. After 1950 and Harry Truman, the Republicans largely took over, starting with Eisenhower, then Nixon, Ford, Reagan and the Bushes. It turned into an era of many failures, scandals and some successes. By 2007, the failure ratio reached higher than ever and government ethics hit new lows. The outlook sadly approaches frightening levels.

Here is a list to help with the next discussions about the doubtful ethics of recent presidents. The history challenged among us may not quite remember who was president when:

Harry S. Truman (D): 1945-1953; Dwight D. Eisenhower (R): 1953-1961; John F. Kennedy (D): 1961-1963; Lyndon B. Johnson (D): 1963-1969; Richard M. Nixon (R): 1969-1974; Gerald R. Ford (R): 1974-1977; James E. Carter (D): 1977-1981; Ronald W. Reagan (R): 1981-1989; George H. W. Bush (R): 1989-1993; William J. Clinton (D): 1993-2001; George W. Bush (R): 2001-2009.

The Sins of Presidents

Considering the period from the end of WWII to today, there is plenty of evidence of presidential lies and ethical challenges that mare the records: Harry Truman concealed the truth about the Hiroshima and Dwight Eisenhower in ConferenceNagasaki bombings by claiming: “The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.” 215,000 mostly civilians were killed by the two bombs. His administration suffered from corruption, including the firing or forced resignations of 166 appointees in IRS.

Dwight Eisenhower famously lied on national TV about the U2 over flights of the Soviet Union just as a U2 was shot down over the Soviet Union. He started the covert CIA actions against Cuba, including authorization to kill Fidel Castro using exploding cigars and other creative devices.

Eisenhower made a good start on the nuclear arms race by advocating the only war the US should fight be all out nuclear hydrogen annihilation – even though he knew very well that would kill most Americans as well as most Soviets. His war plan said simply required “the simultaneous use of over 3,000 nuclear warheads against all communist countries”. Of course, he never told the American people or the international allies about that little secret.

John F. Kennedy wildly exaggerated his wartime PT boat successes. In the early 1950s, he was quite close to, and supported the McCarthy madness, including the mighty Senator himself. He concealed a John F. Kennedy The Lonliest Jobmajor drug dependency. Kennedy was a major Communist fear monger: he lied about a nonexistent Soviet threat: “We are now threatened with a missile gap that leaves us in a position of potentially grave danger.”

He very much avoided discussing his support of, and interference in, the Bay of Pigs disaster, claiming “I have previously stated and I repeat now that the United States intends no military intervention in Cuba.” His administration continued to plan Operations Northwood and Moongoose, both consisting on faked Cuban terrorist attacks on the US, followed by US retaliation.

Kennedy sent the Green Berets to Guatemala, eventually killing some 20,000 up till 1976 – continuing the long standing US policy to violently meddle in Central and Latin American countries. He sent the first significant troops to Vietnam. His acts contributed to the assassination of Vietnamese president Diem – earlier he favored Lyndon B. Johnson Sworn in on Airforce 1assassinations of Prime Minister Lumumba of the Congo and Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Continuously, ethical issues hurt his short presidency contradicting his cult status.

Lyndon Johnson, viewed as one of the most treacherous (or skilled as some view it) of politicians, misrepresented his WWII record, receiving a Silver Star for nothing. He claimed his great-great-grandfather died at the Alamo – although no doubt he had a great-great-grandfather, that person died nowhere close to the Alamo. He hid the frauds of his first election to the US Senate. He concealed the truth about the Kennedy assassination, altering key documents.

Johnson lied about the Tonkin Bay incident, using the fictitious event to escalate the Vietnam war dramatically: “As President and Commander in Chief it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against Lyndon B. Johnson in VietnamUnited States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.” There were no hostile acts in the Tonkin Bay by North Vietnam at that time, much less renewed hostilities. Hard to believe, but his extramarital sex life apparently beat both JFK and Bill Clinton heads down. The standing DC joke was “How can you tell when Lyndon is lying?” The answer: “When his lips move.”

Richard Nixon – Tricky Dick – started his career by lying about campaign slush funds. Later, he concealed support to overthrowing a legal government in Chile, resulting in several thousand political killings and some 30,000 incidences of torture. He lied about tax evasion, campaign contributions, harassments and wire tabs. He concealed many aspects of the Vietnam War, including expanding it into Laos and Cambodia. The Watergate cover up is an American landmark of the worst kind. He Richard Nixon on a Good Dayfamously claimed not to be a crook. He did make a cocker spaniel named Checkers famous.

Jimmy Carter lied about the Iran hostage crisis and his earlier relationship with the Shah. In spite of his pious character, his administration was not as snow-white: his OMB chief, Bert Lance, had to resign; the Chief of Staff, Scott Hamilton, was scrutinized by a special prosecutor. His deranged brother Billy not only invented his own beer but acted as a paid agent of Libya. Add Debategate and Abscam to the record.

Gerald Ford, one of the more inoffensive presidents in recent memory, pardoned Richard Nixon which was legal although not very ethical. Known for tumbling down airport ramps, a murderous golf game and endless SNL jokes, his administration, not to mention himself, was the cleanest in ages.

Ronald Reagan like many others falsified his war record: He claimed he was an Army photographer filming Nazi death camps – that never happened; he spent that war in Hollywood. He presided over and lied about the Iran-Contra affair: “We did not – repeat – did not trade weapons or anything else for hostagesRonald Reagan wins the Cold War – nor will we.” Later, foolishly: “I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by other’s recollections, not my own.” He was the president during most of the Nicaragua disaster where CIA and other US agencies went haywire, violating human rights and treaties, leading to a conviction in the International Court of Justice. He also reached fame for having 225 subordinates, such as Edward Meese, Michael Deaver, Samuel Pierce, James Watt and John Poindexter quitting in disgrace, being fired, arrested, indicted, convicted or in contempt of ethical standards.

Reagan also merrily stated: “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do” and “In England, if a criminal carried a gun, even though he didn’t use it, he was tried for first-degree murder and hung if he was found guilty”.

Reagan’s tax policy contributed to the Savings and Loans scandal at a cost of $150 billion to tax payers or as much as $500 billion as viewed by some. Over 1,000 savings and loan institutions failed, leading to the 1990-91 recession. Senators Cranston, Riegle and DeConcini lost their jobs due to their relationship George H. W. Bush Worries Not Prudentwith Charles Keating – John Glenn and John McCain had close calls.

George Bush Sr. lied about taxes (“Watch my lips”), the Iran-Contra affair (“Out of the loop”), political murders by Chilean assassins and Koreagate. He did not readily discuss his relationships with Saddam Hussein (“Not prudent”), the bin Laden family or controversial Sun Myung Moon, who incidentally also had relations with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Nor does he touch on the many rumors of his involvement in virtually hundreds of scandals during his long tenure with CIA. His pardon of six Iran-Contra figures did not go over well. His betrayal of the Shiite Intifada uprising against Hussein right after the first Gulf War is truly shameful even by the Bush family standards.

Other Bush Sr. lies include showing crack cocaine props on national TV, claiming they were seized across the street from the White House. DEA had set up a teenage drug dealer who voiced: “Where the f**k is the White House?” Also, Bush claimed the Patriot missiles saved Israel by blowing away 41 of 42 incoming Scud missiles during the first Gulf War. One Scud was hit.

Bill Clinton also fantasized about war records: “I wound up just going through the lottery, and it was just a pure fluke that I was never called”. He had important recollections from his childhood: “Since I was a little boy, I’ve heard about the Iowa caucuses.” and “I have vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child.” Clinton went to England to avoid the draft, among Bill and Hillary Clinton - A Curious Marriageother evasive tactics. There were no Iowa caucuses when Clinton was a little boy. No black churches were ever burnt in Arkansas.

Clinton got caught in Monica Lewinsky (“I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”). Then there were various other ladies of fortune, cigars, land holdings, campaign contributions, stock affairs, the White House travel firings and who knows what else. Impeachment and disbarment followed. The Lincoln Bedroom sales were not generally admired. The mystery of Vince Foster’s suicide and the investigations of Ron Brown, Commerce Secretary remain foggy items. Then there was Chinagate, Pardongate, Filegate and Whitewater.

The Eventual Legacy of George W. Bush

George W. Bush is likely the least ethical and the most incompetent president ever. He lies about, distorts or hides anything not promoting his distorted world view (Wars on Terror, Terrorists, Iraq, the UN, the international justice system; the Constitution, various laws and treaties, Civil Rights, Afghanistan, Islam, Gays, Pro Choice, Stem Cells, Mexicans, Climate, Environment, Social Entitlements, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, China, the poor, the mentally ill, the disadvantaged, the middle class…..), self image (Decider, Commander Guy, Dictator, No Mistakes, Christian Crusader, War President….) and self interest (Power, Avoid War Criminal charges, George W. Bush Reverse GrinFinancial…..). Stubborn, blind sided, intolerant, inflexible and lacking curiosity, he does not even tolerate the advice of his dwindling supply of supporters. Blurring the Constitution on State-Church separation, he apparently prefers a joint venture with God to one with humans: “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.” Modest, isn’t he.

His Vietnam (non)war record is hidden in deep smoke screens – joining the Texas National Guard was made possible by the power of his father, followed by a career in the Guard with illegally unfulfilled attendance. Later, he was accused of insider trading of Harken Energy stock. He is close to many implicated in the Enron scandal – Kenny Lay, for instance, was a major donor to Bush campaigns.

He misunderstands terrorism and how to fight it. He declared war on Islam believing Islam = Terrorism, successfully, as it turned out, in creating a spirited insurgent and terrorist response, killing thousands a month. As he said: “The United States of America is engaged in a war against an extremist group of folks”. Utterly failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan kill Americans on a daily basis, costing billions with zero benefit and a disastrous outlook. For example: “The BritishGeorge W. Bush Chin Up Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”; “You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror”; and “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons.” All lies. No foundation in reality. Still mindlessly defended.

He is hard at work spreading nuclear arms all over the globe. Today, the issue is North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India and Israel. Tomorrow, it might be Lebanon, Syria, Alaska intuits, Congo, Parisian suburbs, Denmark and Ohio. He is destroying relations with China and Russia, losing long standing allies, insulting every one in the process. Every responsible leader wants the US out of Iraq, including his father, James Baker, most of Congress and the American people. He responds by increasing troop levels: “The solution to Iraq is more than a military mission. Precisely the reason why I sent more troops into Baghdad.”

He refuses to deal with Global Warming especially as his Supreme Court ordered him to do so and a united world demands it. He wants to drill for more oil domestically, increasing carbon emissions. He engages in a meaningless ethanol agreement with Brazil while keeping a huge tariff on Brazilian ethanol. His George W. Bush scofflesdomestic ethanol policy is controversial indeed as ethanol production requires more energy than produced and causes more pollution than gained. His own Generals are concerned Global Warming is a national security issue, not to mention the warnings of thousands of scientists and the UN. He directed the EPA to break pollution laws. He ordered EPA scientists to falsify climate data and lie to the world, including Congress.

Bush continues his attempts to dismantle the Geneva Conventions in favor of water boarding and other forms of torture. He maintains illegal prisons all over the world, filled with illegally detained prisoners without legal representation, charges or trial. He ignores international laws and treaties, not to mention the US Constitution, Civil Rights and Privacy laws. He maintains support (so far) for a lawless Attorney General and Dirty Harry Karl Rove, just as he did with a megalomaniac Secretary of Defense.

On a positive note, it appears he is not contributing to the 137 count of known presidential mistresses over the last 218 years. It is not clear why that is the case.

This is a very brief discussion of the Bush White House and the man himself. Those interested in a more complete list might check out Wikipedia’s page on Bush “controversies”, listing about 250 specific entries. Happy reading. It’s not very funny.

US Election and Politics over Time

Returning to a historical perspective, following is an overview of the US national political scene as it developed over the past 218 years in the senate and house elections and sessions. Here are a few short term spikes as they happened over time: Southern Congressional Democrats lost out, for obvious reasons, during the Civil War. Republicans lost ground during the 1880s, during WWI and in the depression of the 1930s.

Overall, Republicans influence in the House trended down from the end of the Civil War till the 1970s, when their luck reversed, starting with a peak after WWII and FDR’s death.. Then the Democrats (top blue part of the graph) crawled back in the early 2000s. By 2007, Democrats dominate the Congress as Republicans continue to be plagued by one after another scandal and Bush’s low standings.

Politicians Composition US Congress 1789-2007

Most of the small parties in the 1700s and 1800s were allocated to the Republican Party for in the graph above – the Democratic Party didn’t really exist Robert Frank - Pair on Motorcycletill after the Civil War. Incidentally, a few “small” parties were not small in their glory days: the Federalists dominated or were strong contenders till 1816 and then Democrat/Republicans took over for 8 years, followed by the Whigs being a significant factor going into the 1850s. Recently, the candidacies of Ross Perot and Ralph Nader played spoilers in the elections where they competed without winning a single state.

The Senate picture is similar but not identical. This time I choose to show a more complete picture of the political turmoil, party wise, from 1789 through the late 1850s. Unlike the proceeding, long lasting two party system, major parties come and went quickly.

Politicians Composition US Senate 1789-2007

Senatorial Republicans lost in the 1880s, WWI and the Great Depression, just like their House counterparts. However, the Senate races turned around, favoring the Republicans, right after WWII, some thirty years before the same turnaround in the House. Currently, Democrats (top blue part of the graph) dominate both the Senate and the House, partly because of the widespread disappointment with George W. Bush and partly because of the continuous scandals.

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Who Are the Worst – Democrats or Republicans?

Here is the question that brought on this post. Someone writing a blog claimed there was evidence that Democrats are ethically worse than Republicans. True or false? The “Political Graveyard” site supported the statement, according to the blog. Now, does it really? Haven’t we all heard such vague statements with any old issue?

To the best of my knowledge, the Graveyard site does not draw generic conclusions, so the blog writer or someone else must have done some counting and interpretation of the data. I have found no direct support for the “bad Democrats” theory on the Graveyard web site. That site does not seem to have any political agenda. I did my own counting and the initial result suggested that the theory might, just maybe, be valid, based a cursory peek at the Graveyard data.Political Offenders By State, Original

It sure looks like the blue Democrats hold a clear lead over the red Republicans in the scoundrel department. Twice as many Democrats look disgraced compared to the apparently more honorable Republicans. So it seems until you notice the green block of “Unknowns”, making up a Robert Frank - Women Chattingquarter of the total. Also, you might remember the mention this information is over two years out of date. In the past two years, Republicans have had a spectacular run of poor ethics.

There is more to the political scene than Democrats and Republicans. A few Communists, Socialists, Fascists and Independents have left a minor mark here and there. Some tend to get arrested a lot, thereby reaching fame in our essay.

The data set does not, so far, distinguish between the Crawford dog catcher stealing a ballpoint pen from his supervisor and the five US law makers convicted of serious sexual offenses: Donald Lukens, Philip Giordano, Melvin Reynolds, Fred Richmond and Allan Howe. That does not seem equitable. Let’s correct that imbalance and bring the data up to date for a fairer picture:

Politician Offenders By Party, Updated

Suddenly, the Republicans lost their moral advantage and ended up largely even with the previously filthy Democrats. This is pretty much thanks to the efforts of Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff, Newt Gingrich up closeScooter Libby, Tom DeLay, Tom Feeney, Pete Sessions, Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz, Dennis Hastert, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, Bob Packwood, Chris Cannon, Bill First, Donald Rumsfeld, Ralph Reed, Randall Tobias and many others. Republicans have had quite a bad run lately.

Take one example: Dennis Hastert (R) from Illinois, succeeded Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. After the turmoil of Gingrich, everyone wanted peace and quiet. Hastert seemed to fit the bill and assumed the Speaker position in Jan, 1999. He continued his low profile approach to the point of being practically being invisible. Tom DeLay grabbed the opportunity to become the bully of the House till he fell off the wagon, tumbling towards prison in 2006.Dennis Hastert looking grim

Behind the scene, Hastert was not quite as invisible. He used his position to place a new highway close to a property he owned, netting a nice profit – the classic pork hit and run. He played Congressional kingmaker in a perhaps not completely ethical manner. In a rare moment of visibility, he declared that what remained of New Orleans “could be bulldozed” and rebuilding “doesn’t make sense to me”. Finally, he ignored the Mark Foley pursuits of under aged pages for three years. He did get reelected in 2006, but is digging a deep foxhole in which to hide for what he declared to be his last term. He now carries no leadership mantles.

There is not much difference between Democrats and Republicans in the overall picture. Both parties Tom DeLay arrest photohide mountains of skeletons in their respective closets. Differences are usually easily explained or at least understood. For instance, Democrats suffered in the Civil War by having their Democrat US law makers expelled by the North. After the War, many Southern Democrats were imprisoned by the Union for, usually, short periods of time. Later, Democrats have been hurt by mob connections in New Jersey, New York and Party Bosses in other areas. Republicans, on the other hand, lost ground during the Great Depression. Today, they seem out of touch with their inner ethics and sex feelings.

Compare the pie graph above with the two pie graphs below. All three are remarkably similar. The two graphs below show the party composition of the US Senate and the US Congress over the 1789-2007 periods. They support the view that the crime rate among Republican lawmakers is about the same as that of Democrats. In addition, as we’ve seen, there is no real evidence politicians are more criminally minded than people in general. First, here is the Senate composition: Politicians US Senate Partis 1789-2007

Here is the same graph for Congress – looks quite the same: Politicians US Congress Parties 1789-2007

They all look about the same, right? But there is a problem with saying high level politicians are no better, no worse than the common man based on a similar crime rate:

The Answer

I found the answer I sought. Both parties are guilty, neither is dominant. Big deal: it’s a draw as any reasonable person would expect. No smoking gun found to bring blogger fame and a glorious scoop hitting NYT front page. Life isn’t fair.

A crime by a president or senator has far more serious consequences than when Uncle Ben from Wichita went nuts. When Alfredo Gonzales, as the Attorney General, lies or breaks the law he makes the whole legal system look corrupt. Lies by the White House regarding Iraq caused well over 3,000 dead Americans and put hundreds of thousand Iraqi in premature graves. When Bush chooses to ignore the Geneva Conventions, every member of the US military faces horrible POW treatment as now the enemy, be it insurgents or states, can ignore the Conventions.

But let’s see what else we might be able to learn from these not so glorious characters now that we have this great little database. When did these hideous crimes take place? From where did the offenders come? What precisely did they do and were they punished fairly?

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Now and then

Since our data goes all the way back to 1789, is there a story in how the offenders’ behavior changed over time? Here is a straight count of offenders over time, adjusted to an annual, comparable per capita level:

olitician Offenders Over Time, Annualized, Per Capita

The forefathers were anything but innocent. The 1800s through the Civil War were not Robert Frank - A Political Rallyaltogether ethical either. All robbers, no coppers! Much of the high rate for the 1790s is due to only 2.5 million people residing in the US, compared to 300 million today. But the 2.5 million produced more than their share of crooks. The early split between Democrats and Republicans is arbitrary until after the Civil War. Earlier, no party resembled today’s configuration.

Here are some of most serious offenders in each time period:

  • 1750-1800: Joseph Galloway: Treason; Robert Morris: Bankruptcy and Oliver Wolcott: Arson.
  • 1800-1870: Clement Clay (D): Conspiracy; Lawrence Hall (D): Disloyalty; Michael Walsh (D): Libel.
  • 1870-1920: Caleb Powers (R): Murder; Ernest Jahnke (R): Revolt; William Lorimer (R): Bribery.
  • 1920-1950: John Thomas (R): Embezzlement; John Hoeppel (D): Conspiracy; Daniel Flood (D): Conspiracy.
  • 1950-2007: Duke Cunningham (R): Bribery; David Rostenkowski (D): Fraud; Donald Lukens (R): Sexual.

Joseph Galloway was an American Loyalist during the Revolutionary War and served as Speaker of the Robert Frank - Flag By WindowsPennsylvania House of Representatives from 1766 to 1774. At that time, his loyalty image suffered a bit as he favored that the Colonies should not be independent but recognize the British King. By 1776, he openly joined the British side as they occupied Philadelphia. By 1779, he took up residence in London. He remained in Britain till his death. Meanwhile, he was stripped of US assets, estates and convicted of treason in his old neighborhood.

There actually were two Clement C. Clay, father and son, in American politics in the early to mid 1800s. The father was Governor of Alabama and later served in the US Senate with no apparent ethical issues. It is the son that is of interest. He too was a Senator from Alabama, withdrawing to the Confederate side during the Civil War. In 1865, he was suspected of being a principal part of a conspiracy leading to the assassination of Robert Frank - Band At RallyAbraham Lincoln. He and his wife spent a year in prison.

Caleb Powers briefly served as Secretary of Kentucky in 1899. He was convicted in 1900 of complicity in the assassination of the Kentucky Governor and sentenced to prison. His sentence was overturned and reinstated several times in no less than four trials. Pardoned in 1908, he went right back into politics and won several terms to Congress.

John Thomas, a right wing US Congressman from 1937 to 1950, was mostly known for opposing FDR’s New Deal, claiming it “sabotaged the capitalist system”. Being an early version of Joe McCarthy, he kept summoning suspected Communists to hearings, in particular from the movie industry. Meanwhile, suspicions rose that perhaps Thomas’ view of the capitalist system condoned corruption. After exposure by his secretary, he pleaded no contest on embezzlement charges and was promptly sent to jail. Truman eventually pardoned him but Thomas did not succeed in reentering politics.

Duke Cunningham was a Navy flyer achieving ace status in the Vietnam War. A San Diego District elected him to Congress in 1990 and reelected him six times in a career known for colorful incidences. He favored death penalty for drug dealers but temporarily changed his mind when his son was caught with 400 lbs of pot. Robert Frank - Guy Crossing SteetBy 2005, allegations of corruption started to surface, one after another. Late in 2005, after plea bargaining, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud. He resigned from his seat, forfeited some personal property and is currently in prison.

Duke generally is not viewed as the brightest star of them all. For instance, the former Top Gun flier resided, inconspicuously he thought, in Washington on a luxury yacht named “Duke Stir” belonging to private sector coconspirator and sponsor who also ended up in prison. Duke paid no rent, but entertained numerous ladies of dubious character to champagne wearing his pajamas bottoms, no doubt inspired by Hugh Hefner. The aftermath of the Cunningham scandal is still, in 2007, going on with several recent indictments.

Leaving Duke in his cell and continuing our journey into the shame halls of the Republic, the evolution of punishments suffered by the politicians makes a point which is somewhat good news (maybe):

Politician Severity Of Punishment Over Time

The minor punishment category consists of acquittal, dropped cases and similar non events. Its share is essentially unchanged since the 1790s at 25% of the total. The big change is the drastic decline in “medium” punishments and a corresponding increase in the “major” category from 1920 and on. Today’s conviction rate – and carrying out the sentences – in the “major” segment is three times as high as it was in the 1800s up till the 1920s.

Here is what happened: Early on in our time frame, “punishment” was a pretty flexible concept. A culprit might be convicted but that by no meant life was over. All kinds of deals were made and Robert Frank - Running Down the Streetrarely were the sentences carried out to its official scope. Many were pardoned and others fled overseas or underground for a suitable period.

By the 1940s, this practice started to decline drastically. Those sentenced generally served a reasonable amount in jail. Ethically, that may be good news although some pardons are no doubt required for justice to be fair.

The drastic decline in pardons shows up in presidential pardons of not only politicians but people in general. A steep rise from 1789 through the early 1940s reversed to a rapid decline. Under George W. Bush pardons have almost disappeared as you might expect from his record as Texas governor. Is this decline good or bad news? Does it mean that criminals serve the punishment they deserve or does it mean presidents are more intolerant and unfair, leaving innocents to rot in prison? I’m sure it is a combination of both. It does seem obvious, though, that many convicted politicians in the past got off far easier than they deserved.

Presidential Pardons 1789-2007

Even today, quite a few politicians escape by resigning or fingering someone else. Pardons still are alive although rare. Here are a few of those pardoned in spite of some pretty heavy convictions: Albert Lange ((R): Conspiracy; R (D): Conspiracy; Andrew Jackson May (D): Bribery; Richard Nixon (R): Perjury et al.Robert Frank - Guy In Backyard

Andrew Jackson May was a New Deal Democrat in Congress from 1931 to 1947. He gained fame mostly through two incidents, both related to WWII. First, during the war he managed to release secret information about the deficiency of Japanese depth charges dropped on US submarines. May, at a press conference, let it be known that the Japanese set their charges to explode at too shallow depth. Known as the May Incident, the secret information was widely published, magnifying the disastrous breach of secrecy. About ten US submarines were sunk with 800 hands as the Japanese promptly reset their fuses.

Second, May used his influence as Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee to steer munitions contracts to friendly companies in exchange for a generous bribe. He was convicted, sent off to prison and served nine months. Harry Truman was kind enough to grant him full pardon in 1952. May was unable to revive his political career and returned home to practice law.

Summarizing the different offenses over time brings up a new point. First, about the data: the “Crime” part in the graph below includes the typical non-monetary white collar crimes ranging from conspiracy, corruption, arson and forgery to treason, DUIs, bigamy and dueling. The “Rules” part covers items such as misconduct, mismanagement, disloyalty, conflict of interest, neglecting duty and the like. “Money” summarizes embezzlement, tax evasion, money laundering, campaign money issues and bribery. “Violence” includes murder, manslaughter and other violence. The “Sexual” item adds up frequenting prostitutes, homosexuality, sexual harassment, pedophilia and molestation.

Politician Summary Offenses Over Time

The white collar “Crime” part, except for the very early time period, was stable at around 35%. The “Rules” part declined as “Money” issues climbed dramatically up till 1950. After 1950, it looks like sex became more important to law makers than money – from one sin to another. It’s probably more likely that sexual infringements went unreported before, say, the 1980s – few cared except the victims. Recent years have seen a great increase in awareness about sexual harassment and child exploitation.

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Coming from where?

Which are the wicked states? Where do these disgraced politicians reside or get elected? As might be expected, the large states elect most of the losers. New York, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio together put over 25% of the total bad guys into power, three times the national average rate. Expand to the top ten states: they elected 57% of the culprits.

Then there is the other end. Three states – Vermont, North Dakota and Delaware elected no disgraced politicians. More accurately, that’s the case given the database sample – these states might have a few skeletons too. Still, the ten most honest states elected less than 1.5% of ethically challenged politicians.

Politician by State and Party

The chart above counts the number of politicians from each party. One step further shows which party received its sleaze balls from a particular state. The graph below uses the same data as above but shows the difference for each state: one party minus the other: California, for instance, elected 39 bad guys, of which 11 were Democrats and 28 were Republicans. Thus, the graph displays 17 bad guys in (dis)favor of the Republicans. On the other end, Arkansas elevated a net of 11 bad Democrats into power.

California, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Indiana are bad news for Republicans. Arkansas, Mississippi and New York elect many of the rouge Democrats.

Politician Net States

The next issue is that you obviously expect the larger states to have more bad guys than the smaller ones. The graph below allows for that by dividing the state data by the number of electoral votes for the state. The graph uses data corrected for the rankings (the position of the politician, the severity of the disgrace and the punishment). That changes the picture quite dramatically: suddenly, the big states drop way down, in fact so far that they almost appear honest.

The Republican bad apples now come out of New Hampshire, Indiana and Nebraska. Democrats suffer disgrace originating in Arkansas, DC and Louisiana. California, New York and New Jersey no longer stand out as centers for political halls of criminal pursuits.

Politician State Relative Indices

There is one final step to be taken. A state such as New York elected politicians as early as 1789 while Alaska elected no one federally till 1960. It would seem Alaska is getting a free ride since the option to elect crooks to federal office was limited for most of our time frame. The last step takes the data from the above graph and divides it by the number of federal elections in which the state participated. That number ranges from 55 elections for New York to 12 for Alaska and 11 for DC.

Politicians Republicans vs. Democrats Offenders by State, Size and Time

Watch DC jump into the limelight! The city of Marion Barry takes the top spot. Actually, Washington DC is not a particularly crime ridden metro area, contrary to what you might have heard. It does suffer from being the residence of some disgraced politicians elected (or hired – not all politician are elected) elsewhere. So the shame rate is a bit biased upwards for that particular area.Robert Frank - At the Deli Counter

Here are a few of the worst offenders by the top and tail states by party:

  • New Hampshire (R): Mark Seidensticker: Sexual; George Ordway: Corruption; David Brooks: Perjury.
  • Arizona (R): Steve Aiken: Sexual; J. D Hayworth: Corruption; Rick Renzi: Corruption.
  • DC (D): Marion Barry: Violations; Albert Rhodes: Disloyalty; Walter Fauntroy: Campaign money.
  • Arkansas (D): Bill Clinton: Perjury; Roy Lewellen: Murder; William Sebastian: Violations.

Mark Seidensticker of Concord, NH, was arrested in 1992 after he picked up two teenage boys and drove them to the woods to listen to some music. The boys managed to escape and called the police. Seidensticker was found guilty and required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. He violated that requirement in 1998, 2002 and 2004. He was also convicted of criminal trespass and indecent exposure. In 2004, he was court ordered to have no unsupervised contact with minors for a year.

In 2005, he approached three teenagers in his car. He managed to pick up a 14 year old boy. Later released, the teenagers had an adult contact police. The police found Seidensticker driving around in a car equipped with jelly, blankets and ropes. He was jailed, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail.

Now, Seidensticker worked as a long term campaign worker to a local politician. The politician was quite aware of Seidensticker’s status as a sex offender and claimed to have personally supervised him during campaign events. In light of his ties to Seidensticker, the politician was asked to step down. As one might expect, a political storm broke out which as most do petered out into nothing.

Leaving NH politics and sex offenders to their fates and continuing to a summary of this section:

 

As viewed by

Producing Bad Republicans

Producing Bad Democrats

     

 

Sheer Number

California, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Connecticut

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, Alabama, DC

 

Consider Size

New Hampshire, Indiana, Nebraska, Connecticut, Arizona, Iowa, Montana

Arkansas, DC, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia

Consider Time

New Hampshire, Arizona, Nebraska, Alaska, Montana, Indiana, Iowa

DC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana., Alabama, Utah, Tennessee

Common states

New Hampshire and Indiana

Arkansas, DC, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama

Each of the three ways we reviewed has pluses and minuses. The table above summarizes the three ways by listing the top seven states for each of the two parties. Then identify which states are present in all three methods: we should be pretty sure those are quite wicked. As it turns out, New Hampshire and Indiana made some bad Republican choices while Arkansas, Washington DC, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama caused the Democrats considerable grief.

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Did what?

Once these losers managed to get themselves elected or hired, what exactly did they do to deserve inclusion in this undistinguished gang of disgraced politicians? As you’ll see in the next graph, they did all kinds of horrible things:

Politician Crime Categories by Party

Some Republicans and a few Democrats have trouble keeping their pants on and zipped up at the appropriate Robert Frank - Lady Looking Aroundmoments, resulting in sex crimes being the biggest category. The politician sex offender category is far larger than implied by the comparable national rate. Among federal law makers, the sex crime rate is in the order of 10 per 1,000 compared to less than 1 per 1,000 in the general population. That is, law makers in Washington DC are over ten times more likely to commit sex offenses than the average Joe. If there ever was a smoking gun, here it is.

The number two offense, bribery, hits an equivalent number of Republicans and Democrats, followed by hodgepodge category of “Violations”. Summarizing, Democrats are a bit fraudulent and murderous; Republicans lead as corrupt, lying, conspiratorial, treacherous embezzlers.

“Name the scoundrel” continues for a few of the top categories:

  • Sexual: Donald Lukens (R); Philip Giordano (R); Melvin Reynolds (D).
  • Bribery: Richard Hanna (D); Percy Giles (D); Mario Biaggi (D).
  • Fraud: Edward Pritchard (D); Marvin Warner (D); Carroll Hubbard (D).
  • Corruption: William Vare (R); Ken Calvert (R); Jerry Lewis (R).

Donald Lukens, was a US Congressman from Ohio in the 1960s, a Ohio state senator in the 1970s and 1980s and, again, a US Congressman in the 1990s, He was caught on camera by a local TV station, Flag In The Officediscussing having sex with a teenage girl against a $40 “gift”. The discussion in question was with the mother of the teenager. Lukens was found guilty on a minor charge, but refused to give up his Congress seat in spite of pressure. He was defeated in the next election. During his last months in office, he fondled an elevator operator, landing him a month (reduced to 9 days) in jail. Some years later, he was convicted on bribery and conspiracy charges in the Rubbergate scandal (more below).

Richard Hanna, US Congressman from California from 1963-1974, accepted a $200,000 bribe from South Korea businessman Tongsun Park. Hanna was convicted and sentenced to prison for up to 30 months. As it turned out, this was only the tip of a very large iceberg, known as Koreagate. This money for favors scheme allegedly involved 115 members of the US Congress. The 115 shrunk to 30, then 10 members and finally 7 and only one conviction: Richard Hanna (D) was convicted as per above; Edward Roybal (D) was censured; Charles Wilson (D) and John McFall (D) were reprimanded. Edward Patten (D) was found not guilty while Otto Passman (D) was spared indignity due to illness. Later, Mr. Park was convicted of corrupt dealings with very senior UN officials in the Iraq oil-for-food program, directly tied to Saddam Hussein. Park was sentenced to 5 years in prison in early 2007.

Carroll Hubbard of the US Congress from 1975 to 1993 became a person of interest as the Rubbergate banking scandal broke in 1992. Rubbergate referred to a congressional “house bank” run on extremely loose practices to the convenience of the law makers. Few records were kept or dispersed. Overdrafts were allowed with little control. Newt Gingrich and the Gang of Seven soon saw an opportunity to get rid of democrats by making the scandal public. This move backfired as it turned out Gingrich wrote overdraft checks himself. Ultimately, over 450 representatives were involved but only 77 were either forced to Jerry LKewis Official Photoresign or lost the next election. Four ex-Congressmen were convicted: Donald Lukens (above), Carroll Hubbard, Carl Perkins and Mary Oakar – all Democrats except Lukens.

Jerry Lewis, not to be confused with the actor, is a conservative Republican US Representative from California, having served since 1979. He is under investigation for funneling hundreds of millions of federal dollars to friends, relatives and anyone willing to kick back a generous campaign contribution. The money allegedly is laundered through the lobbying firm Copeland Lowery which is lucky enough to earn millions in fees. Lewis’ links to the firm are very close with employees go back and forth from his staff to the firm, earning millions in the process. He is also investigated for other possible ethics violations, being declared one of the most corrupt Congressmen by several organizations. One area of investigation concerns his ties to the activities of Duke Cunningham (see earlier discussion). Although not charged yet, he stands a good chance of indictments for bribery, fraud and violations of various House ethical rules. One of the US DAs investigating Lewis was Carol Lam, recently and controversially dismissed by Alfredo Gonzales.

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Punished how?

For most of us, if we commit an offense we end up in court and are either found not guilty or we face a well defined punishment, be it community service or death row. Not so simple if you are a well placed law maker. The US Senate, for instance, has the power to impeach, convict, expel, reprimand, subpoena, censure, reject, remove from privileged committees, force a resignation and take various disciplinary actions. Of course, the Senate may also choose to ignore the matter, acquit, drop the charges, plea bargain or refer the incidence elsewhere at its discretion. Politician Offender Punishment USA

If the crime is serious enough (by the standards of the law makers) the matter certainly is surrendered to the regular authorities. In practice, that is not a given. If a member resigns, the matter usually is Mark Foley looking innocentclosed. Newt Gingrich faced 84 counts of ethics violations, including violations of tax laws and perjury. He resigned with no further action taken. Mark Foley’s sexual advances towards minors resulted in his resignation. Although law authorities such as FBI are said to investigate the Foley case, there is no sign of indictments or active pursuit of investigations six months later.

My database lists 42 politicians resigning and thereby avoiding most punishments.

  • The crimes involved include: Bribery (4), Corruption (4), Fraud (2), Murder/Violence (3), Perjury (2) and Sexual (11).
  • Top names include: Mark Foley (R): Sexual; John Eaton (D): Violence; Oliver Wolcott (R): Arson; Spiro Agnew (R): Bribery and Rick Renzi (R): Corruption.

Does anyone remember Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s VP from 1969 to 1973? The son of a Greek immigrant, Agnew fought his way uphill to become Governor of Maryland. He was the American Success Story – the first Greek-American, not to mention son of a poor immigrant, to reach the post. With that image and because Agnew was perceived to catch Southern votes, Nixon took him on as VP in the 1968 election. Agnew quickly became Nixon’s hatchet guy with a rich vocabulary of insults for Blacks, Vietnam protesters, political opponents and Spiro Agnew with Young Barry Goldwaterjournalists. The balloon burst when he was forced to plead no contest to tax evasion and money laundering. He ended up convicted, on probation, disbarred and forced to pay hefty fines, as well as losing the VP position. Life by no means ended, he continued to live the American Dream in four grand homes coast to coast till his death at 77.

Another punishment category is called “Slapped”. That means there was some punishment involved but nowhere close to a normal sentence. The database lists 62 individuals being “slapped” in lieu of a regular punishment.

  • Crimes include: Bribery (2), Campaign Money (3), Conspiracy (6), Corruption (2), Embezzlement (3), Fraud (6), Murder/Violence (3), Perjury (3), Sexual (4), Tax Evasion (2) and Treason (4).
  • Top names include: Andrew Jackson May (D): Bribery; Benjamin Harris (D): Conspiracy, John Langley (R): Conspiracy and Rudolph Tenerowicz (D): Conspiracy.

Rudolph Tenerowicz served as the mayor of Hamtramck, Michigan from 1928 to 1932. Convicted in Robert Frank - New York City Teenagers1932 on vice conspiracy charges, he was sent to prison. Soon, he was pardoned by the Governor and returned to serve as mayor from 1936 to 1938. He continued his political career as a US Representative, lasting till 1943, after which his political career was over in spite of reelection attempts through 1954 as both Democrat and, occasionally, Republican.

“Impeachment” by itself means little in terms of an actual punishment which requires an additional conviction phase. Bill Clinton was impeached but eventually acquitted. Andrew Johnson is the other impeached president who also was acquitted. 15 other officials have been impeached – almost all serving in the Justice system and most were removed from their duties.

“Censured” means nothing from an actual punishment point of view. Nine US Senators have been censured. Expulsion is a more serious punishment – similar to being fired – but is a very rare occurrence: 13 Senators were expelled due to supporting the Confederate side during the Civil War. That meant little since the Senators had already left the capitol for Southern pastures. William Blount is the only other expulsion for favoring British interests in Florida in 1797. Blount recovered in Tennessee to become speaker in the state Senate.

Polotician Offender Punishment by Party

The bottom line in crime and punishment still is the conviction rate where significant punishment is imposed and the sentence is largely carried out. That definition leads to 173 or about 32% convictions of the 547 individuals in our survey. Clearly, law makers have a pretty good chance of avoiding punishment. But 173 law makers found out that did not apply to them. Further, signs are that the favored treatments have declined over the last fifty years. Today’s society of merciless blogs, YouTube and mass global, instant communication through an ever increasing array of media that did not exist even five years ago makes life even more difficult for the shady politicians.

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Next and previous

What’s to Learn?

Based on the data available to this post, there is no overall evidence politicians are more criminal than average Robert Frank - On The Ferrypeople. However, crimes by politicians usually have far more serious consequences than those of an average citizen. Crimes by politicians are also much more visible, when exposed, than crimes by ordinary people. There are signs that “Power corrupts”: once a politician goes over the edge, he just keeps going, imagining immunity, reaching for more and more till the bubble bursts.

There is a major exception to the above. Federal elected law makers are up to ten times more likely than the average population to commit sex crimes. A fair part of that are crimes against children and underage teenagers.

Both Democrats and Republican carry a heavy load of highly visible skeletons, from the presidential level down. Politicians have committed every conceivable crime but most are in the white collar area: bribery, embezzlement, treason, perjury, corruption, conspiracy and breaking various, usually ethical, rules. Some are not white collar: murder, violence and sex crimes.Robert Frank - Man At The Funeral

Presidents, of course, are the most scrutinized individuals on earth and none in the last 60 years come through as innocents. Every single president has committed some ethical violation and most committed many. Only rarely are they punished for their acts. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton did suffer some. George W. H. Bush Sr., Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson did not get reelected. Ronald Reagan sailed through any rocks effortlessly as did Dwight Eisenhower, each doing as little as possible. Incredibly, George W. Bush will not suffer for his many sins in spite of some impeachment efforts.

Perhaps you notice a bit of a contradiction here. On the one hand, federal level politicians are no more criminal (convicted) than the average population, yet every single president is clearly ethically deficient, perhaps with an exception or two. Here is the rub: presidents may be totally corrupt but they almost never suffer the consequences. Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. Bill Clinton did not back down and was impeached but suffered no punishment. George W. Bush is guilty of war crimes but will go unpunished – he massaged US laws to ensure that happy outcome. Hence, there are no consequences to suffer, and these guys know it.Robert Frank - Man Driving

Geographical differences abound: some states are far more likely to produce bad politicians: on a sheer numbers base, look out for New York, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio while Delaware, North Dakota, Vermont are all snow white. Historically, Republicans have been hurt by bad apples from New Hampshire and Indiana. Democrats have suffered from some ethically challenged individuals out of the Deep South. Links to organized crime and party bosses does not pay out as is evident from many events in New Jersey, New York and Chicago.

Many scandals, ethical or criminal, involve not one but many politicians. There is a herd mentality that easily crosses party lines. Examples involving many, some hundreds, of law makers: Abscam, Rubbergate, Koreagate, Chinagate, Watergate, Debategate, Filegate, Monicagate, Iraqgate (several versions), Attorneygate, Foleygate, Robert Frank - By The BeachHookergate, Hostagegate, Pardongate, Teamstergate, Travelgate, Katrinagate, Plamegate and Enrongate plus the Iran-Contra, Savings and Loan, Abu Ghraib and Abramoff scandals . All of these examples are on the federal level – imagine adding in state and local scandals.

There are some encouraging signs: more law makers are convicted of their crimes. More have to serve their punishment as abuses of pardons and plea bargains declined. Even so, the latitude of law maker punishment is far greater than for ordinary people. Many lawmakers end up with far smaller punishments than would ordinary citizens. The evolution of the web with all its bloggers, videos and instant communications have created a whole new set of accountability rules that perhaps not all culprits realize yet.

Who Are the Worst?

 

Judging ethics, in the final analysis, is not a matter of statistics. It’s a matter of enlightened opinion, a very personal possession. That opinion is based on a great Robert Frank - Two Men Drivingmany moral and ethics factors, many of which are covered in my post On Ethics 6: We the People. In this particular case, one’s political leanings also come into the picture. These may or may not be related to ethical beliefs.

I wanted to disclose my own view on the worst of the worst because it illustrates my biases which, I’m sure color this whole post.

Having done the analysis, pondered the ethics not necessarily visible in the analysis and applying personal biases, here is my list of the top 6 worst of the worst by category from 1970 to today, delivered without further comments:

  • Presidents and VPs: George W. Bush (R), Richard Nixon (R), Jimmy Carter (D), Dick Cheney (R), Spiro Agnew (R), Bill Clinton (D).
  • Congress: Newt Gingrich (R), Duke Cunningham (R), Gary Condit (D), Donald Lukens (R), James Inhofe (R), Tom DeLay (R).
  • Other: Pat Robertson (R), Ann Coulter (R), Jack Abramoff (R), Karl Rove (R), Donald Rumsfeld (R), Marion Barry (D).

Feel free to agree, disagree, accuse and add or whatever you might wish to submit as a response. Ethics are subject to diverse and personal factors, none of which are precisely the same in any of us. Thank you all.

Other Ethics Posts:

This is the 7th post in the Ethics series. Previous posts went through a wide selection of ethical questions and issues. Here are the mRobert Frank - Cowboy In The Cityain posts:

  • On Ethics 1: Just A Point Of View? This post kicked off the Ethics series. It starts with a street photography issue but quickly veers into philosophy as related to life and politics.
  • On Ethics 1A: Art and Descartes – What About It? This post discussed two reader questions: the first one dealt with a quote “I think, therefore I am” by Descartes. The second question asked who does one know what is art.
  • On Ethics 2: Ethics and Morals of Torture. Suddenly US policy condones the use of torture, one of many violations of human rights practiced by the Bush administration. This post takes a look at the ethical consequences of that fatal decision.
  • On Ethics 3: Clashes of Giants. Combining views on Ethics, Reality and Morals; the post covers ground from philosophy to torture with a bit of politics thrown in.
  • On Ethics 4: Violence of the Ivory Towers. Governments, here known as Ivory Towers, commit unspeakable acts of violence. The post looks at the justifications for different types of War from an ethical stand point.
  • On Ethics 5: Ivory Towers in Peace. Going from War to Peace, the post covers government influences, such as those of the Ten Commandments, the Geneva Conventions, Magna Carta, the UN, the Kyoto Protocol and Global Warming.
  • On Ethics 6: We the People. Having covered the lofty atmosphere of the Ivory Towers, here is a discussion of personal ethics, such as ethnics, race, racism, culture and religion.

Thank you, Karl

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Robert Frank - Car Covered

Jeff Wall is a photographer from Vancouver, BC. He is exhibited, represented and respected around the world for his unique art. He will serve us as a deep dive into the far reaches to which creativity might lead. Jeff Wall is not your average photographer in any sense of the word. His 25 year career produced, so far, only about 130 images, sold in extremely limited editions for around $1 million each.

Please note: This post has been updated.  Follow this link to the update “On Reality 6 Rev. – Jeff Wall Magic Revisited”. Thank you and enjoy. 

  • Jeff Wall uses state-of-the art photographic and computer technology to create images that share the composition, scale and ambitions of the grandest history paintings. His works often have the formal clarity of documentary photography. He exclusively stages his scenes, sometimes reproducing or interpreting paintings or specific events.
  • He does not seek the decisive moment or the picturesque scene. Nor does he create symmetry, lyricism, formal perfection or abstraction. He does not deceive you, hide his intentions or use the work of others except as visual inspiration. He avoids pop culture images and enjoys some irony.
  • Each of his images is the result of immensely elaborate creative explorations. He may spend from weeks to years on completing a single finished image. He never repeats himself and is always unique. He tells the obvious story or none at all.
  • The subjects range from very complex to surprisingly simple, even banal “every day” slices of life. He moves from landscape and street photography to still life and genre painting, to Japanese woodblock prints and medical illustration, to Impressionist and Baroque painting.
  • He views himself as part painter, part movie director and part photographer, all three being part, in his opinion, of a single pictorial tradition. Some images are shot on location, others in his studio. The process may include paid actors and consultants such as marine biologists, stage builders and Hollywood special effects experts.
  • His images are very large even considering his frequent use of large format cameras and medium format Hasselblads – often in the order of 6 feet by 6 feet or 2*2 meters. Some measure 10 feet by 16 feet. The people in the images are often life-size. He can combine hundreds of images into one. The images may be prints (traditional or inkjet) or transparencies mounted in light boxes.

This post is part of my Mysteries of Photography series. Among many other subjects, I explore the mystery of creativity and visions in photography. Studying the work of Jeff Wall certainly is a very worthy endeavor if you care about photographic creativity. So I offer this post as yet another preview to the upcoming main essay “Mysteries of Photography”. Here are links to other photographic posts on this blog.

Here is a sample of Jeff Wall’s art – “A View from an Apartment (2004-2005)”:

Jeff Wall View From An Apartment

The present material partially depends on an outstanding article, dated 2007-02-25 and titled The Luminist, published in New York Times by Arthur Lubow. This original article is outstanding. I hope my summary, additions and reorganization hasn’t completely destroyed the spirit of it.

First, here is a simple Table of Content for this post. You can reach the TOC through the “TOC” buttons throughout the post.

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Images

The Destroyed Room 1978

“The Destroyed Room,” shows an extensively vandalized bedroom, made in 1978 as his wife, Jeannette, had left him temporarily for another man. The ransacked room contains a strewn heap of women’s clothing. This tableau of violence, directed against a woman’s possessions, acknowledges feminist art criticism. Wall used Jeannette’s clothing to construct the scene. “I borrowed her clothes because we were still on good terms and she had the good clothes,” he said. You can easily detect the scene is staged in a studio.

Jeff Wall The Destroyed Room

Wall based the image on a 19th-century painting, “The Death of Sardanapalus” by Delacroix. Sardanapalus, an Assyrian king with his armies defeated, preemptively destroys his court and harem. The influence is obvious in the diagonal lines and the rich, red palette. Wall wants you recognize the reference to the painting. He pushes his claim to belong to the great tradition of Western art as hard as he can.

Delacroix The Death of Sardanapalus

In spite of the allusions to Delacroix and feminist art criticism, did the image revolve around a spurned husband’s rage? The question doesn’t shake Wall. “I don’t find my own experiences very interesting. I find my observations interesting. Maybe that’s why I’m a photographer. Maybe an observation is an experience that means more to you than other experiences.”

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Picture for Women 1979

“Picture for Women” (1979) interprets Manet’s masterpiece “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” by changing the setting to a photographer’s studio. In Manet’s painting, the central figure, a barmaid with downcast eyes, is the object of a gaze from a male customer who is seen reflected in the mirror behind her. The customer is located in the upper right corner in an impossible perspective that simulates the one occupied by the viewer of the painting. The key features are the male gaze by itself, the relationship towards the female and the viewer as an active, involved onlooker.

Manet

When Wall composed his photograph, he set his camera, seen as a mirror reflection, at the center; the woman stands at the left, coolly studying the camera and the photographer beside it. The camera and its operator become the central subject of the picture and the object of feminine scrutiny. Wall converted the receding globe lights of the Folies-Bergère bar into regularly positioned overhead bulbs, deepening the space in the photo as Manet did in his painting. The beauty of the seven-foot-long glowing image enthralls even viewers unfamiliar with the art-historical allusions.

Jeff Wall Picture for Women

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Dead Soviet Soldiers in Afghanistan 1992

Wall created an elaborate battle scene based on the Soviet Union’s conflict with Afghanistan in the 1980s. The image has a strangely old-fashioned look, as if just exhumed from a war museum. Until you notice that this is a macabre vision: the dead Soviet soldiers strewn about are all awake — laughing, crying and fingering their gruesome wounds.

Jeff Wall Dead Soviet Soldiers Afghanistan

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A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) 1993

“A Sudden Gust of Wind” is based on a famous Hokusai print in which several travelers are buffeted by unexpected turbulence that sends the sheets of a manuscript spiraling through the air. He used more than a hundred shots in the painstaking composition of the final 12-foot-long picture.

Jeff Wall A Sudden Gust of Wind

Here is the Hokusai wood print:

Hokusai

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Diagonal Composition 1993

Documentary-style photographs of old, ordinary and neglected spaces and cleaning areas are an ongoing theme in Wall’s work. The works entitled “Diagonal Composition” explore the still-life genre with inspiration from early twentieth-century art, particularly the abstract images of artists such as El Lissitzky, Theo van Doesburg, and Alexander Rodchenko, whose paintings typically comprised grids of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.

Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition (Original)

They also invite a social reading. Capturing the long passage of time that has scarred and degraded these surfaces, they evoke traces of lives lived by unknown inhabitants. Wall focuses on ‘the un attributed anonymous poetry of the world’.

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Diagonal Composition No 2 1998

Simple as this image is, perspective, composition and staging is as elaborate as in any of Wall’s works. This is a relatively small and bare picture of the corner of a sink, some sort of rough wooden shelf next to it, and a pale green wall. On the extreme right a small finger of 1/4” plywood lays on top of a white rubber glove. It is placed at an acute angle to the main thrust of the sink. Just left of center, the dark side of the sink produces diagonal lines. The beige linoleum above has traces of glue around it, breaking up the straight lines dominated by the pine molding, the diagonal trend of the work top, the shelf, the linoleum and the plywood stick.

Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition No. 2

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The Flooded Grave 1998-2000

Unrivaled in its technical complexity, the “Flooded Grave” is the product of nearly two years of work. The strange, poetic, hallucinatory and surrealist image shows an open grave in a sodden cemetery filled not only with water but also with orange starfish and sea urchins. It comprises images taken in two Vancouver cemeteries that are seamlessly merged with photographs of a living aquatic system created in his studio.

Jeff Wall The Flooded Grave

Wall clearly enjoys going to extraordinary lengths. “The artistry of doing something is just fascinating,” he says. “If you don’t like the artistry, why are you an artist? It’s fun.” For “The Flooded Grave,” he kept an oversize custom-built aquarium in his studio for more than six months. The concept of the photograph was to depict a watery world within a freshly dug grave. Wall retained two marine biologists who fished out sea anemones, sea urchins and octopuses from a single offshore spot. “I wanted to make it just like a moment in time undersea, not a compendium or display,” he explains. “I wanted to make it as real as I could.”

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After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2000

Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man” centers on a black man who, during a street riot, falls into a forgotten room in the cellar of a large apartment building in New York and decides to stay there, living hidden away. The novel begins with a description of the protagonist’s subterranean home, emphasizing the ceiling covered with 1,369 illegally connected light bulbs.

Jeff Wall The Invisible Man

The image is an over-the-top re-creation of the light-festooned basement dwelling of Ellison’s character. The use of photomontages is invisible without being truly hidden. There is much detail and position is everything in “Invisible Man”. Its incredibly cluttered and overcrowded nature gives a claustrophobic sense that the whole place is caving in. Yet the creation provides an odd feeling of space and room within the restricted confines. Some viewers felt the picture has a racist aspect since the man is Black.

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Outside a Nightclub 2004-2005

Wall devoted a full year to “In front of a nightclub” — a picture of young people standing outside a Vancouver club at night. The shoot took so long because the club Wall found, on a heavily trafficked thoroughfare, could not be photographed as he wished. There was no place for him to stand with his tripod and large-format camera.

So he had the club exterior – the columns and grille, the facade, gum-spotted sidewalk and concrete curb – reconstructed in a studio. One assistant worked for six months constructing the set. “Of course, you can’t see everything he did, but that doesn’t matter,” Wall says. “There is dirt and moss growing in the cracks where the bottom of the building is crumbling, but you can’t see it. The discoloration of the sidewalk is extremely accurate, and it took many layers of application. Wall placed his strobes in the precise locations occupied by the street lamps and other lights that shine opposite the real nightclub.

Jeff Wall Outside a Nightclub

Concealed in a van with blacked-out windows, he and his assistants parked outside the actual club on several nights and, using a telephoto lens, took 300 or 400 snapshots of the kids gathered there. Wall scrutinized the photos for characters and clustering he liked and then hired 40 extras from a casting agency. Dividing them into two groups and giving them general directions, he photographed them over the course of a month on alternate nights. (“People’s metabolism is different at night, their coloring is different,” he explains.) For each group he finished with only one frame that satisfied him. “You only need one,” he points out. Using digital technology, he combined the two photos of the crowd with a third one of the building into his final picture.

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Men Waiting 2006

Here is how the story goes: On a damp winter morning, 20 weather-beaten men waited at a bleak corner in east Vancouver. Jeff Wall stands behind a tripod-mounted camera, patiently waiting for his vision of men waiting at a cash corner to come true. He had hired the laborers at an actual cash corner where the men normally hung out and bused them to the shooting location, a cash corner stand-in. The men were waiting for Wall to determine that the rain had become too heavy, the light too bright or the prevailing mood too restless for him to obtain the feeling of suspended activity and diffused expectancy that he sought in the picture.

Jeff Wall Men Waiting

He was prepared to come here, day after day, for several weeks. On any given morning, typically after three hours elapsed, he would adjourn until the next day, authorizing the men to receive their paychecks of 82 Canadian dollars and get back into the bus. “Men Waiting” is a small-scale Wall production in spite of its cast of 20 laborers plus Wall himself, assistants and equipment, its two-week shoot and on-the-street location.

Overpass:

Jeff Wall The Overpass

The risk in these “cinematographic” pictures is that Wall will overly manipulate the laborers, transforming them into lifeless puppets. Asked how he related to the day laborers, he revealed: “My pictures are obviously related to my own life. Why would I be interested in them otherwise? I’m not a sociologist. I must identify with these figures, even though I often don’t like them, I don’t even feel that sympathetic to them sometimes. But I must identify with them in some way because they keep coming into pictures that I want to make.” Wall was fascinated by “the physical animal energy that is present on the street and waiting to be disposed of.”

The Storyteller:

Jeff Wall The Storyteller

He likes to plan for all contingencies and command a situation start to finish. Yet he has chosen an art form that is not controllable. Unforeseen events will occur. Some events are beneficial, such as the recompose of “Man Waiting”, which, even so, took several days to create:

  • In spite of his elaborate planning, he changed the frame of the picture. One of the reasons he liked the location he had selected was a scraggly little tree (in the middle right of the final image) that had shed its leaves for winter. Further down the street was another tree, a giant fir (in the extreme right of the final image). After taking five days to find his camera position, he concluded that he couldn’t eliminate the unasked-for fir from the picture, but by including only part of the trunk, he would minimize it.
  • On one of the first days of the shoot, the rain increased, and several of the men huddled beneath the evergreen for shelter. When that happened, Wall realized that the fir had a role to play in the picture after all. He changed the camera setup to encompass the entire trunk, allowing the crowd of men to continue to the edge of the picture and, by implication, beyond. “That tree bothered me all along,” he told me. “If it hadn’t rained hard, I might never have noticed it. Now I’ll just include it. It’s stronger for it.”

Throughout the shoot, he would perceive undirected movements — an umbrella stuck in the mud, a hooded head lowered — and choose to keep them. Speaking softly on a walkie-talkie, he would ask his three assistants to adjust the position and behavior of the waiting men. The final picture was structured by his artistic sense, but it was also animated by the unpredictability of his living subjects. “You can’t make these things up,” he said.

Mimic:

Jeff Wall The Mimic

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Techniques

Paintings

He aspired to make photographs that could be constructed and experienced the way paintings are. “Most photographs cannot get looked at very often. They get exhausted. Great photographers have done it [their masterpiece] on the fly. It [the on the fly opportunity] doesn’t happen that often. I just wasn’t interested in doing that [the on the fly shooting]. I didn’t want to spend my time running around trying to find an event that could be made into a picture that would be good.”

Insomnia:

Jeff Wall Insomnia

The art that he liked best, from the full-length portraits of Velázquez and Manet to the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and the floor pieces of Carl Andre, engaged the viewer on a lifelike human scale. The paintings could be walked up to (or, in Andre’s case, onto) and moved away from. They held their own, on a wall or in a room. “If painting can be that scale and be effective, then a photograph ought to be effective at that size, too,” Wall concluded.

Jell-O:

Jeff Wall Jell-O

In Spain, “I saw the Velázquez, Goya, Titian — I loved it and wanted to be part of it somehow,” he said. “Every time the bus stopped, you were looking out the window, and there was a sign in a light box. I began to think, it’s luminous, Velázquez was luminous and I’ll try it.” When he emerged in 1978 as a fully formed artist, he presented photographs that demanded equal status with paintings. In sheer size, they were measured in feet, not inches.

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Large Size and Staging

He dislikes the way photographs were typically exhibited as small prints. “I don’t like the traditional 8 by 10,” he says. “They were done that size as displays for prints to run in books. It’s too shrunken, too compressed. When you’re making things to go on a wall, as I do, that seems too small.” Many of his images exceed several feet in any direction. Some are over 10 or even 15 feet wide.

An Octopus:

Jeff Wall An Octopus

He desires the sharpness of large formats. The sharpness of such an image comes close to what the ever-adjusting and compensating eye perceives. Moreover, the size of his final images requires sharpness. This precision usually eludes the documentary photographer who catches fleeing, split-second moments. We know the grainy, blurry images of Robert Frank, Weegee, Cartier-Bresson and other documentary photographers. We somehow deduct these deficits are signs of authenticity. Although grainy, blurry pictures may convey a desired mood, they do not reflect authenticity.

Some Beans:

Jeff Wall Some Beans

In his early methodology, Wall sidestepped the challenge haunting the street photographers: how to impose a technically satisfying formal composition on a subject captured instantaneously. Rather than hunt for material to photograph, he initially manufactured all his subject matter in the studio.

Very soon he moved out of the studio to shoot landscapes and street scenes on location. He looks for “the indeterminate American look”, which he says he can find by not looking for anything in particular. “You have to forget about the idea of the spirit of the place,” he says. “It’s one of the big, consoling myths of people who live nowhere.”

Using a large-format camera on a tripod severely constrains street photography. Beginning in 1982, he circumvented the problem by re-create subjects using that he calls “cinematographic photography.” Typically, he would see something, often a small event with compressed human drama and political overtones. Rather than snap it, he would go home, think about this glimpse of everyday life or popular culture. If he wants to proceed, he hires performers to re-enact the scene.

Stumbling:

Jeff Wall Stumbling

But staging a street scene and then photographing it as if it had “really” occurred: Wasn’t that a pretense that betrayed the honest parameters of photography? Shouldn’t a photograph be a document of things the photographer found in the world? “Not necessarily”, Wall says. “What an artist could do with photography wasn’t bounded by the documentary impulse”. He pointed out that in the visual arts only photographers and cinematographers are criticized for staging rather than directly recording scenes. Other arts always offer re-creations of the outside world.

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Light boxes

By the late 1970s, Wall worked furiously on the light-box transparencies that still characterize his artistic career. His images of the late 1970s and 1980s were enormous transparencies lit from behind by fluorescent bulbs, a “light box” format that was typically used for advertising. Like a commercial light box, a Wall photograph grabbed you with its glowing presence and, unlike an advertisement, held viewers with its richness of detail and harmony.

The Vampires’ Picnic:

Jeff Wall The Vampires' Picnic

His use of a light-box format derived from advertising and might have suggested a critical analysis of consumer culture. “I was not especially interested in doing a critique of advertising — it was an accident.” His concern with the physical beauty of his images also set him apart from most of the contemporary avant-garde photographers and closer to the painters he revered.

Cardplayers:

Cardplayers

He was ready in late 1978 for his first one-man show. Presenting his exhibition as an “installation” rather than as a photography show, he placed “The Destroyed Room” in the storefront window of the gallery, enclosing it in a plasterboard wall. You could see it only from outside, where, especially after dark, it resembled an actual vandalized room. Before the show closed, the piece was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada, a great send-off to his career.

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Digitalization and Special Effects

Wall no longer restricts himself to light boxes. Over the last decade, he acquired four small buildings in a convenient if drug-infested downtown Vancouver district. There, helped by two full-time assistants and others as needed, he develop and print all of his work. He began making large, beautifully gradated black-and-white photographs on paper in the mid-’90s and more recently inkjet color prints. Many recent images, such as “Men waiting”, are presented in black and white, breaking his past reliance on color.

Volunteer:

Jeff Wall Volunteer

In his studio he recently staged a vampires’ lawn picnic and, extravagantly, a conversation among resurrected Soviet soldiers slain in Afghanistan. He imported Hollywood special-effects consultants as part of his team. “I used up a lot of blood,” he says. He quickly grew tired of these outlandish subjects, but computer technology remains an important part of his artistic arsenal. By converting his film exposures into digital files, Wall can then superimpose them invisibly and endlessly, often assembling a final image on film from many different shots.

Citizen:

Jeff Wall Citizen

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Critique

Not everyone loves Jeff Wall’s work. Some find his obsessive micro management plain out of sight, not to mention a monumental waste of resources. Others find that his work lacks in depth and simply consists of elaborate snap-shots. Here is Walter Robinson:

  • “The critics love his light boxes, which I think are obnoxious, and say his photos are beautiful, when I think they look like big snapshots — but I guess that’s the point of their being so laboriously constructed.”
  • “Many of his images, much reproduced, are less than thrilling. ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)’ is a yawn, as is his illustration of a scene from Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’, a set piece showing a shabby apartment with hundreds of light bulbs on the ceiling. ‘Dead Troops Talk’, a scene of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan, is in poor taste, to say the least.”

Other critics chime in:

He is an intellectually ambitious, morally earnest perfectionist navigating through the shoals, fevers and chills of avant-gardism. A control freak who smothers the life out of his picture, hung up on his process, he is seduced by the elaborateness of his techniques and the gorgeousness of his images. The effort to make viewers think hard in a Modernist way about the gaps and distortions inherent in perception is ignored.

A Fight on the Sidewalk:

Jeff Wall A Fight on the Sidewalk

His shift into narrative representation and Pop versions of subject matter in the light boxes was a strategy to make conceptual art more communicative. It eventually became so grand and so glamorous, aimed so much at redeeming pictorial traditions, that the original intention was lost. Wall tries to do as a 21st-century photographer what 19th-century painters like Manet and Seurat did in their elaborate depictions of contemporary life which is a historically absurd undertaking. “His claim to be a new history painter is very problematic for me,” a critic says. “The pictures have become very overwhelmingly spectacular objects. There is a kind of Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk quality. You have the set and the narrative; all we are waiting for is the sound.”

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Me

What do I think? First, to me it is impossible not to admire the immense creativity of his visions and execution. Second, the dedication of spending weeks or years to find the perfect or near perfect image is a lesson to every photographer. Third, the combination of many expressive means, from large format cameras to digitalization to light boxes and huge prints with the references to other art forms is quite humbling; at least it is to me.

Just about everything he does makes sense – if you are him. His techniques are not for everyone but they should provide food for thought to any photographer. After all, providing food for thought does not impose the techniques on anyone. Although his influence on individual photographers is quite substantial, I won’t adopt his ways in my own work except as an inspiration to try new things.

Milk:

Jeff Wall Milk

My reaction to what counts – his images – is mixed. Admiring what it took to get there is not the same as falling in love with the result. The extreme staging leaves me with a feeling of aloofness and lack of spontaneousness. It is too deliberate even if he intended it that way. Some of his subjects leave me wondering if they are worth the attention.

What exactly does “Men Waiting” tell us? What do the links to Delacroix, Manet or Ellison contribute to the images? Are the subjects “better” or more interesting because of these links? I doubt it. I find, for instance, “Picture for Women” to be of little interest, Manet or not. “The Flooded Grave” is impressive in its many contradictions – but why? A few subjects are, to me, utterly banal and uninteresting. Perhaps the answer to that is, so are those of others avant-gardists including, say, Andy Warhol with whom, I think, Wall has more in common than he has with Delacroix.

I do like quite a few images for what they are, not for the elaborate staging or art links: “Outside the Nightclub” is great, as are the “Milk” and “Mimic” images. I enjoy the “Octopus” and “Some Beans” scene and the “Sudden Gust of Wind”. The original “Diagonal Composition” is much more interesting than the later No. 2. “The Vampires Picnic” is intriguing indeed.

I do not believe painting, cinematography and photography are of the same pictorial tradition, not in execution or in vision. Ultimately a photograph is the result of releasing a shutter, freezing a moment. That’s the uniqueness of photography. Combining a bunch of such moments into a new image perhaps resembles the brush strokes of a painting. It still does not change that frozen, unique moment.

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Previous and Next

Here are more posts from this blog that deal with photography. The posts are newer as you go down in the list:

Explore and enjoy.

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A recent comment on this blog questioned whether a meme is a blessing or a curse. Having no idea what a meme might be, I was relieved that it was Fencer, a blogger I hold in the highest esteem, who wrote this mysterious comment. Obviously, whatever the curse might be, it couldn’t be all that bad. And who doesn’t want a blessing?

Intrigued, I did a bit of research on what on earth this meme thing might be. Of course, I found out I’m totally out of touch with recent science. You esteemed readers probably have known about memes for years. After doing my research, it seemed to me that memes are a rather harmless variation on pyramid schemes (minus the money aspect). Well, that sounds a bit suspicious. You send someone a meme and that person will, in turn, send a meme on to a specified number, such as 5, of others, who in turn passes the torch on to (now) 25 others, who in turn…. you got it? Eventually every soul on earth will be memed, unless the meme succumbs to a timely death as pyramid schemes tend to do.

The Thinking Blogger Award

The memes create clusters of people with common interests and/or skills. In this particular case, Fencer awarded me a meme called the “Thinking Blogger Award”. The idea is that your blog is sufficiently intriguing to earn this reward from someone who earned the same award from someone else. I am grateful to Fencer for bestowing this honor on me.

Should I choose to accept the award (which of course I will), the next step is to 1) follow the general guidelines for the award, and 2) pass the torch to five other bloggers who “make me think”. Now, in my case, passing the torch is a hard one because I really only read a smattering of blogs. Then, I apparently have to think when reading these blogs. Ouch!

My Nominations

Who should I nominate? After pondering that for a while, weighing different possibilities, ranking various factors, consulting my Scottish Terrier Angus on the matter (who couldn’t care less since no food seemed to be involved), sleeping on the matter (twisting and turning) and worrying about making a fool of myself, here are my nominations:

  • Suresh Gundappa and his meditative blog. It’s a gentle blog that does make me think.
  • A Swedish blog in which a mother and a daughter collaborate. High in emotional content, the blog covers the frustrations and horrors of a close relationship under the gun. No names are available and the blog is in Swedish.
  • Jonathan Schwarz’ blog A Tiny Revolution because it does make me think. This is a pretty big time blog that may ignore, or not, this nomination. So be it. It’ll be interesting to find out.
  • Odiyya’s blog The Conscious Earth out of Vancouver, BC provides great thoughts on Global Warming and various environmental issues. He also has a good taste in books. His movie favorites are not quite up to snuff in my book. Great blog, though.
  • Finally, I nominate another pretty big time political blog: Blogs for Bush. It is safe to say I disagree with almost all the views expressed in this blog. But the requirement for nominating blogs is simply “they make me think”. That this blog does. I won’t detail my thoughts. This is a family friendly blog.

The Rules (for those nominated)

Here are the rules for accepting the nomination if, and only if, you are nominated. Fulfill the requirements; then you can display the “Award” button and pass on your own five selections:

  • If you are nominated, write a post linking to 5 blogs that make you think.
  • Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
  • Optional: Display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ linking to the post you wrote.

To those nominated: Pass the torch by nominating (tagging) five blogs with real merits, i.e. relevant and interesting content which does make you think: be it good, bad or ugly thoughts.

There’s a slightly coercive element to this meme with its tagging/chain mail mechanism. It is up to the nominated blog to decide whether or not to participate. In my case, I think this is a way to honor a few blogs that made me think although I don’t necessarily agree with the blogs’ ideas. Thus, the pluses outweigh the one minus, in my view.

The 50 Post Milestone

This is the fiftieth post published in this blog. That means an average of a little less than 1 1/2 post per week since the blog was created in August of 2006. That may be below the posting rate of many blogs, but my posts are generally much bigger than average – up to 40 pages in print format.

I started the blog as a vehicle to share my thoughts on being an artist in the 21st century. That still is a major driver, but I quickly veered into new territory where this blog is divided into three major areas: Artist life, Photography and Politics. There are four parallel series of essays: On Reality, On Ethics, On the War on Terror and On Global Warming.

The Reality essays cover art, artistry and photography with a touch of science. The Ethics part explores similar issues but adds politics and, of course, Ethics. The War on Terror essays wonder how we got into the mess of Iraq and why we claim to fight terror when in fact we do not. Global Warming is today’s prime subject. I hope to raise awareness of its potentially catastrophic impact.

From a real modest start, this blog has attracted well over 30,000 readers. That still is quite modest compared to the big guys, but to me it is amazing and humbling so many have found the blog and perhaps got some benefit out of it.

Here is a link to a Table of Content for the blog. Enjoy and my gratitude to each and every, past or future, reader. Do keep me on my toes by coming back. Give feedback by commenting as much as you can.

Thanks, Karl


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Vision, vision, where art thou? Calling it the Vision Thing, George Bush the elderly had no idea. Luckily GHB was not a photographer because to us, visions are crucial. Fence by KGLIn contrast to the Bush Presidents, an artist has to have not only a vision (know what the heck you do) but also a path to make the vision into actual art.

Leaving the Bushes to their fate, this post is a preview of the upcoming “Mysteries of Photography” essay which covers a great many, well, mysteries of photography. This essay should come out in a week or two. Lately I’ve written a lot about the War on Terror and Global Warming. I wanted to get back for a while to my real passion which happens to be photography. I’m a pro documentary and fine art photographer, after all. This preview gives you a first look at a few of the full essay’s many subjects.

Photos in this preview are by myself, Ansel Adams, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Leni Riefenstahl. How is that for a mixed company?

The Mystery of Photography

The mystery of a great photograph is why and how it touches the photographer and an audience. Such a photograph is not just a piece of paper treated with light and chemicals or covered with ink applied using a stream of computer bits. It truly is a piece of magic, as is any real piece of art.  by Leni Riefenstahl

It is often easy to look at a photo and exclaim “this is a great shot”. It’s much harder to say why that is the case. Then it’s even harder to go out and actually shoot a great photo, especially if you don’t know what makes a good photo in the first place.

The mysterious magic of a great photo does not just happen in a random fashion. You don’t suddenly take a walk and come back with a great photo. For one thing, you need to take a camera along, meaning you have some purpose which is a good start. Next, bringing that camera along may be subject to a deliberate and soul searching artistic vision. Then the probability of returning with some decent shots improves tremendously. Therein lays the subject of this essay.

The Metaphysical Process

To any photographer or artist, this soul searching vision is the life line. Consider Ansel Adams versus Henri Cartier-Bresson, both masters but with hugely different visions in place. One was a large Metaphysical Worker by KGLformat nature photographer and technical guru, the other a Leica street photographer and painter. One was deliberate in approach to the nth degree, the other hoped to encounter the split-second Decisive Moment. One took hours to set up a shot, the other achieved success in fractions of seconds. One spent endless time in the darkroom; the other viewed a simple camera as the principal tool. Both are legends. Both produced magic. Either approach is valid.

However different these two approaches might seem, they share features such as: their images present a multi dimensional, engaging, complex image, modified to the specific, personal vision of the artist. Hang on for details on this somewhat bold statement.

Be Artistic

Creativity is about you being creative. Creativity is your mental process of discovering new ideas or concepts, or finding new associations between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity derives from Ansel Adamsdivine intervention, cognitive processes, spirituality, social environments, your personality traits and chance. It associates with your genius, mental illness and humor. So goes one definition.

Artistry has two components. The first is creativity. Creativity provides visionary ideas. The second is innovation. Innovation provides the means for creative ideas to become actual works of art. Most artists create art that is unique and very different from that of the next guy. Yet the basic thought patterns tend to be similar. Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson created art with almost nothing in common. But read some of their thoughts on their art and you will find great similarities, not in everything but in spirit:

Ansel Adams said:

  • In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular…. sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
  • All I can do in my writing is to stimulate a certain amount of thought, clarify some technical facts and date my work. But when I preach sharpness, brilliancy, scale, etc., I am just mouthing words, because no words can really describe those terms and qualities it takes the actual print to say, “Here it is.”
  • When I’m ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.
  • Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Do these subjects move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?
  • I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term -meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching – there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.

A vision is not an analytical notion. It very much contains an emotional aspect which reflects and synchronizes where you are mentally and emotionally. You cannot fake a happy documentary Edith Piaf by Henri Cartier-Bressonunless you actually are happy. The emotional context also reflects your connection with a particular subject. If you hate clear cutting, that should be reflected in your images of clear cutting. One reason your emotional stance is important goes back to another vital concept: honesty. If you can’t convince yourself the vision is truly honest and a reflection of your innermost feelings, then it is unlikely you will convince anyone else. You end up being a fake.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said:

  • They asked me: “‘How do you make your pictures?” I was puzzled and I said, “I don’t know, it’s not important.”
  • I prowled the streets all day,feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life – to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.
  • This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.
  • If the photographer succeeds in reflecting the exterior as well as interior world, his subjects appear as “in real life.” In order to achieve this, the photographer must respect the mood, become integrated into the environment, avoid all the tricks that destroy human truth, and also make the subject of the photo forget the camera and the person using it. Complicated equipment and lights get in the way of naive, un-posed subjects. What is more fleeting than the expression on a face?
  • To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression. I believe that through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds- the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate. But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean the rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.

To both photographers, the making of a photograph is a spiritual act, an inner conviction and a desire to abstract essence beyond the material world. Neither of them mentions tools or techniques except to say those are not important. I’d imagine they would not agree on whether a particular photograph is great or not. I’m sure they had vastly different approaches on just about any lower level photographic technique. But the basic creative thought is quite similar.

Creative Artists

Creativity is never static; it evolves in different directions and changes over time. Take Pablo Picasso and his periods: the Blue, Rose, African, Analytical Cubism, Synthetic Cubism, Classicism and Surreal Periods. Igor Stravinsky, shocking audiences, covered a vast musical landscape with hisDance by Henri Cartier-Bresson Russian, Neoclassical and Serial Phases. Arnold Schoenberg went from late Romanticism to Twelve Tone Music without stumbling one bit although perhaps his audience did.

In the same vein, Cartier-Bresson covered Cubism, Surrealism, went through an African Period, returned to Surrealism, became the Leica symbol in his cross-Europe Period, moved into photo journalism, founded Magnum Photos (with, among others Robert Capa) leading to his Indian, Chinese, Mexican and East Indies Periods followed by refining the Decisive Moment idea. Then he abandoned photography in favor of painting for the last 30 years of his life.

Leni Riefenstahl was a dancer, actress, film producer, director and a photographer. Starting as a dancer, she moved on to starring in the German Mountain soap operas, climbed her way to her own Track by Leni Riefenstahlproduction company, became a Nazi (later denied), a friend of Hitler, covered Nazi Party conventions and the Berlin Olympics as a documentary film maker and an artistic symbol of Nazi propaganda. Her film work was visually and artistically stunning. After a short imprisonment following the war, she became a Non-Nazi and gravitated into photography; no doubt a camera was friendlier than post war movie distributors. She achieved renewed fame with her African photos. In her later 70s, she learnt to scuba dive and turned to underwater photography (and some film work). An infamous liar, social climber and self serving turncoat, she was, to her death at 101, an incredibly talented and multi faceted artist.

Other artists stayed in more or less one arena: Robert Capa was the War Photographer. Ansel Adams was the f/64 Yosemite Valley Genius. Diane Arbus fame came from disturbing portraits of society’s fringe. Robert Mapplethorpe showed an in-your-face, explicit homoerotic scene. CindyD-Day by Robert Capa Sherman staged portraits, often starring herself. Annie Leibovitz made inventive, staged and much published portraits. Ralph Gibson redefined the photographic language of symbolic simplicity.

Other one subject artists: Ingmar Bergman introduced his brand of intuitive existentialism and misunderstood Lutheran faith to an unsuspecting audience. Olivier Messiaen made strange music resembling birdsong. Rolling Stones “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” in spite of trying for the last 42 years. The Beatles quit. Richard Wagner locked in High German Mysticism and Romance. Haydn and Mozart found their grove and mostly stayed there. Ernest Hemingway’s language of concise clarity never changed.

All of these artists are or were hugely creative. All practiced their own version of art. I doubt many of them bothered putting vision statements down on paper but they certainly had a clear understanding of their art. Without creativity and the associated vision, they would not be the legends they all are. Luckily, they also knew how to share the results of their visions with their audience which leads to the next topic: from vision to results.

That’s it for now! Thanks, Karl

Previous and Next

Here are more posts from this blog that deal with photography. The posts are newer as you go down in the list:


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Bill Clinton never really acted on it although Al Gore was right in the house. George Bush deep-sixed it to the wrath of the world and eventually the Americans. The US continued being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, causing massive, unregulated contributions to warming temperatures around the globe. These emissions, if continued, will have catastrophic impacts. A new IPPC report from the UN will provide details by April 6th 2007.

Since I started covering Global Warming about a year ago, a major point of mine was that Global Warming could be dealt with in the same manner that sulphur dioxide pollution was successfully reduced to acceptable levels in the 1970s. That reduction happened because Congress passed Clean Air Acts. Emissions dropped by more than 50% compared to the 1970 level. Acid rain and health issues became much more manageable in most parts of the world.

The current problem is that EPA, which led the sulphur reductions, refused to do the same for green house gases. EPA cites some smoke screen excuses. The real reason was that George Bush directed EPA to ignore the existing Clean Air Act. This was part of Bush’s general denial of Global Warming. That denial led not only to muffling EPA but also to the suppression of facts about Global Warming to both Congress and the American people. Recent house hearings disclosed this misinformation and the Administration’s blatant lies.

The issue of the EPA refusing to regulate CO2 using the Clean Air Act and its mandatory limits became a case before the US Supreme Court. The suit was brought by 11 states and a few cities. The complete case goes back to 1999. The Supreme Court heard the case in late November 2006. We now (April 2nd 2007) have a decision.

A Glimpse of Daylight

April 2nd, 2007, the Supreme Court of the US ruled in a split decision that EPA must enforce the Clean Air Act on greenhouse gases originating from auto emissions. The court further ruled that EPA cannot ignore its obligation to regulate greenhouse gases in general unless they have a scientific basis for doing so.

This decision, if acted on, is a major and frankly surprising step forward towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the US. It is a very well deserved step backwards for George W. Bush and his do-nothing policy on Global Warming. No doubt the Administration will play a game of resistance and delays but it appears the case is quite solid. Do or you will be sued.

The Sulphur Case of the 1970s

The US passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, followed by a major amendment in 1970. The 1970 Act was amended and extended several times up till 1990. Ronald Reagan did his best to ignore the Act. The Candidate Bush promised mandatory reduction targets for SO2, CO2, mercury and nitrogen oxide. The President Bush forgot that promise immediately after taking office. VP Dick Cheney is doing all he can to ROLL BACK the Clean Air Act as a favor to his buddies.

The 1970 law empowers EPA to establish and enforce emission standards for certain airborne pollutants. These standards were quite demanding and in some cases overly ambitious. The auto industry, for instance, required extensions due to technical and economic issues. The law has four main parts: 1) a national air quality standard, 2) a performance standard specifying limits for different industries and regions, 3) limits specific to cars (90% reduction of certain emissions), 4) rules for engaging states in the enforcement of the law.

At the time, acid rain was quite an issue, destroying forests, fresh water supplies and soils. Acid rain is largely caused by industrial emissions of SO2. Power plants and the pulp and paper industries are examples of SO2 polluters. These industries faced major capital expenses to reduce emissions to the set standards. Typical remedies are elaborate scrubbers attached to smoke stacks. These are expensive, both as capital investment and as operating costs.

Emission trading is a related scheme: a polluting facility is issued a license to emit a certain level of pollutants. Usually, after installing clean up equipment, the facility can sell the surplus part of the license. This is similar to CERs but with the important difference that the emission trading is not a subsidy from one nation to some non-regulated country. It is a US company to a US company trade.

The 1970 Act resulted in major reductions in many polluting emissions. SO2, for instance, turned almost immediately from a rapid increase in the ’sixties to an equally rapid decline, starting very soon after the Act was passed. SO2 emissions today are only 25% of what they would have been without the Act. The Act was expensive to industry but very friendly to the environment. Here is the impact on SO2 emissions:

US emissions of SO2 in the 1900s

SO2 emissions spiked in the 1940s, no doubt as wartime production of aircraft carriers and tanks took precedence over pollution. By the mid 1950s, SO2 emissions had returned to typical levels but started a rapid growth that peaked in 1970-73. Acid rain and general pollution that actually killed people caused the passage of the Clean Air Act amendment of 1970. The CAA imposed mandatory caps on SO2 emissions and an emission trading system soon followed. Many other countries, notably the UK, following the leadership of the US under, believe it or not, Mr. Richard Nixon, arch Republican.

Several major industries were forced to invest heavily in cleanup equipment, mostly smoke stack scrubbers. It was expensive. It caused difficulties. Industry whined. Some obsolete plants closed. Did it cause serious damage to the economy? The answer is most assuredly no. Did it cause serious suffering? It definitely did not. Did it produce opportunities? Yes it did. Was industry in better shape afterwards? You bet.

Here is what happened. After 10 years of mandatory caps, emissions were down 17% compared to the 1970 level (upper percentages in the graph). The 1990 reduction reached 24% and today SO2 emissions are half the 1970 level. Compared to a case of continued increases in emissions at the trend rate of the 1960s (dotted yellow line in the graph), emissions were down 36% compared to such a “stay the course” trend. That extrapolates to 52% by 1990 and 76% today (lower percentages in the graph).

Those reductions are very close to what is required to eliminate the issue of Global Warming. Simply apply the same tools of caps and trade to GHGs. Question why this can’t be done. Write your Congressman, Senator, Deputy or Representative in the Bundestag, Congress, Senate, Sabha, Parliament, Diet, Folketing, Knesset, Eduskunta, Duma, Bundesrat, Seima, Assembly, Storting, Council, Riksdag or Politburo. Let’s get it done.

The SO2 situation is not identical to that of GHGs. Resolving GHGs and Global Warming is more complex. The SO2 issue was localized to relatively few and well defined industries. The villains of Global Warming cut through far more parts of society throughout the entire world. The SO2 spike in emissions largely lasted ten-fifteen years, not 250 years. The technology and economics are more complex in the case of Global Warming. Sadly, the political attitudes are far less proactive now than in the 1970s.

But no one can tell me it is impossible, crippling or unnecessary to take on and win the battle of Global Warming. All resources needed are present and accounted for: technology, science, R&D, political tools and structures, labor, experts, bloggers, champions, stakeholders, financial resources and real life organizations exist today. It’s just a matter of lightning the fire..

The Current Battle

The issue of the EPA refusing to regulate CO2 using the CAA and its mandatory limits is now a case before the US Supreme Court. The case is brought by 11 states and a few cities. The case goes back to 1999 and was heard before the Supreme Court in late November 2006. Transcripts from the hearing reveals total confusion, misunderstandings and an apparent unwillingness by the court to take on such a “complex issue”. Source: Slate and others.

Here is a piece of news that came in from Bloomberg late November 2006:

Nobel Laureates Pushing Bush to Act on Global Warming

[Nov 20 2006] Environmentalists concerned about global warming want the U.S. Supreme Court to turn up the heat on President George W. Bush.

The justices, taking their first plunge into the debate over emissions that scientists blame for increasing the Earth’s temperature, hear arguments Nov. 29 in a case brought by conservation groups and 12 states. Their goal is to force Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency to regulate so-called greenhouse- gas emissions from new cars and trucks.

Bush argues that the government needs more scientific evidence before it acts against such emissions. A victory for environmentalists in the case, which may scramble the court’s usual ideological lineup, would “light a fire” under the administration, says Carol Browner, who headed the EPA under President Bill Clinton.

Below is an extract from a letter to George W. Bush from Senators Boxer, Binganam and Lieberman:

[Nov 15, 2006] As incoming Chairs of three important Senate Committees on global warming, we seek your commitment to work with the new Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation in 2007. The U.S. must move quickly to adopt economy-wide constraints on domestic GHG emissions and then work with the international community to forge an effective and equitable global agreement.

Scientists are now warning that we may be reaching a “tipping point” beyond which it will be extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

The recent elections have signaled a need to change direction in many areas, including global warming. If we are to leave our children a world that resembles the earth we inherited, we must act now to address GHG emissions.

The issue is that the US EPA refuses to act on its responsibility to impose mandatory limits on CO2 emissions as regulated in the Clean Air Act. A case is brought before the US Supreme Court by 11 states and a few cities. The case goes back to 1999 and was heard before the Supreme Court in late November 2006. Transcripts from the hearing reveal total confusion, misunderstandings and an apparent unwillingness by the court to take on such a “complex issue”.

Under previous administrations [Clinton] the EPA did enforce these very same regulations [on CO2]. Now [under George W. Bush] they are saying they aren’t required to use this authority.

“The Supreme Court’s first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity — or lack of it — to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the ’standing’ issue)”.

Chief Justice John Roberts—whose distaste for the baby penguins, the polar ice caps, and anything else ….characterizes the scientific reports in this case as “spinning out conjecture on conjecture”.

Scalia shoots back that he’s not a scientist, laughing, “That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”….Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “When is the predicted cataclysm?”

The EPA’s argument, presented by Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, quickly sounds very familiar. 1) I can’t clean it up; 2) Even if I could, I don’t want to clean it up; 3) You can’t make me clean it up; and 4) China is making an even bigger mess.”

Roberts chimes in that even if the United States reduces its own emissions, it would be irrelevant if China doesn’t regulate its own greenhouse gasses. Scalia wants reassurance that a “reduction by two and a half percent in carbon dioxide … would save two and a half percent of the coastline.”

Garre insists that there is a “likely connection” between greenhouse gases and global warming but that “it cannot unequivocally be established.”…. argues that carbon dioxide is not a “pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.

“A decision dismissing the case on standing grounds is a real possibility.”

Now, in February 2007, the Democrats control Congress. They understand how the political might of Global Warming can undermine the power of the Bush administration. Some Republicans are sufficiently concerned about reelection and the miserable ratings of Bush to express support to some Global Warming issues. Here are samples:

The new House Speaker: Nancy Pelosi created the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to hold hearings and recommend approaches to mitigate the effects of global warming. “The science of global warming and its impact is overwhelming and unequivocal.”

The hearings: “White House officials micro manage the government’s climate programs and control what scientists are allowed to tell the public”; “It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change,” ; “The Bush administration routinely imposed their own views on the reports of climate change scientists.”; “Press releases about the findings of climate change studies had been delayed, altered and watered down.” ; “In one instance the potential consequences of climate change was entirely deleted from a report to Congress.”

Candidate Politics – 1: “This is a problem whose time has come,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., proclaimed. “This is an issue over the years whose time has come,” echoed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said “for decades far too many have ignored the warning” about climate change. “Will we look back at today and say this was the moment we took a stand?”

Candidate Politics – 2: “John McCain, the current front-runner for the GOP’s 2008 presidential nomination, is co-sponsoring legislation that would cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by two-thirds by 2050. Two of his co-sponsors are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Running for cover: Republicans are racing to voice their support for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Even corporate leaders are calling for mandatory caps, recognizing the problem’s gravity and fearing that state action will create a patchwork of confusing regulations hurting the bottom line.

That sounds quite good, doesn’t it? But several months later, not much changed. Hopefully the Supreme Court decision will fire up the stagnated efforts of Congress. We will have to see but the lame efforts so far are bothering.

Here Are Additional Posts on Global Warming

Thank you – Karl


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Junk science. Fascists, Holocaust Deniers, Heads-In-The-Sanders (HITS) , Liberal Kooks, Neo Con Kooks, Faggots, Rednecks, Right wing Maniacs, Religious Nuts, Anti Christs, Axes-to-Grind Snobs, Know-it-All New-Agers (KIANAs), Superior-Nose Socialists, Junk Scientists, Fashion Marxists, Politicized Scientists, Conspirator One-Siders, Self-Interest Activists, World-Is-Flat Sensationalists (WIFs) and Delusional Straight-Jackets. Flat Earthers, Control Freaks, Population Cullers, Global Warming Charlatans.REesitance Fighter

A recent journalist panel at an American Bar Association meeting declared Global Warming to be the hottest story of our time. It will get even bigger as the obvious effects become more visible. “We live in a country [the US] where more people care about the death of Anna Nicole Smith than the death of a planet; journalists must help explain the evolving story in terms that readers can understand, by showing them how the impacts will affect their lives”, the panel solemnly declared.

No kidding. Never in the history of mankind has so much junk about one single issue been printed, newscast, talk showed, spammed, copied, blogged, spoken, podcast, voice mailed, downloaded, uploaded, emailed, serialized, YouTubed, water cooled, chat roomed, Ann Coulter faggotized, eHarmonized, pdf’d, pirated, multi mediated, Flickr’d, socially networked, Bluetoothed, SMS’d, Before and Afterinvented by Al Gore or shared in any other of the thousands of ways humans miscommunicate these days. Everyone is getting into the act, often disregarding decency, morals, ethics, truth, facts, responsibility or brains.

Self-appointed Cultural Kingpins, Do-Gooders, Commie Saboteurs, Vile Propagandistic Personality Attackers (VPPAs), Force Feeding Dogmatists, Grant Seeking Automatons, Doomsayers, Brainwashing Repeaters, Fear Mongers, Spayed Intellectually Cheerleaders (SICs), Whiners and Whimperers, Lunatic Lefties and Wing Nuts, Bush-Haters (aka, sore losers), Tree-hugging Maniacs, Loony Liberal Leftists, Liberal Environmentalist Whackos, Parallel Universe Frolickers (PUFs), Crusading Alarmists, Hysteria Scientists, Liars and Propagandists (LAPs).

Pretty much, folks are in one of three camps. The biggest bloc contains those who don’t give a damn – hand me a beer and turn on the TV. Then we have the Deniers or Skeptics as they like to be called, thriving off the shrieks from the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs supported by a few thousand roaring storm troops. Finally you have the Noble Armies of those who have seen the Truth and KnLooking through the Wooden Fenceow What Is Best – the Believers. I’d guess perhaps we have a 75%, 5% and 20% split, or publicity wise, a 0%, 65%, 35% split? What do you think?

If you check the list of insults spread around our marvelous communication systems, it is sometimes hard to figure out which insult belongs to what camp. Some are easy: anything Anti-Christ, Leftist or Liberal stands for the Believers. Religious, Presidential and Patriotic stuff belongs to the Skeptics. But then there is this grey area of Attackers, Flat Earthers, Charlatans, Whackos, Frolickers and so on where it is hard to tell which camp is referred to.

This Global Warming post deals with opinions. It may not be the most productive subject but consider the current chaos of misinformation and plain stupidity. Let’s understand why so much effort is wasted. Part of this post repeats content from my other posts. I wanted to collect most “opinions” in one place.

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The Vocals of Skeptics

Here is an interesting little set of statistics. In line with the previous section, let’s assume that people truly believing Global Warming is a serious issue that needs action represent 20% of the total. Maybe 5% are true Skeptics and the remaining 75% may or may not take Global Warming seriously but do not Family Gathering and Self Portraitreally care one way or another. This is extrapolating available poll data a bit but it seems to be a reasonable assumption.

Here is the first odd thing. Tracking the various views expressed in newspapers, magazines and blogs, it turns out that about 50% of the published views are coming from Skeptics expressing their very obvious and repeated biases. About 45% of the entries report the news straight-on while 5% of the writings come from the Believers.

That means that the publicity levels of Skeptics out weight their fair share by a factor of ten while Believers are underrepresented by a factor of four. Add the fact that many of the Skeptics arguments are almost identical article to article, in substance and even wording. How come the Skeptics are so dominant in publicity and so coordinated in their views? You tell me.

Then we have the second odd item. In recent polls, about 35% of Republicans believe Global Warming is a serious issue. Yet, based on statements and voting records, only 1% of Republican lawmakers share that opinion. 99% do not. So why do Republican lawmakers not reflect the grass root views of their constituents? You tell me.

Skeptics receive a lot of publicity. Republican lawmakers support Skeptic views far beyond what you’d expect from a level playing field. Why? Maybe there is a conspiracy; many vocal but secretive right wing Nazi and Catholic Priest With Victimorganizations routinely debunk Global Warming. They pressure followers to do the same. George W. Bush does his part by deceiving both Congress and the American people. The James Dobsons and Ralph Reeds of the world merrily follow their Texan leader, providing similar (coordinated?) misinformation.

Strangely, I do not see quite the same publicity skewness in the opinions on the Iraq War, where Bush faces increasing pressure from many that were supporters in the past. The same goes for other policy topics such as the tactics of the “war on terror”, minimum wages and deficit spending. Perhaps border security reflects an imbalance similar to Global Warming.

The polarization is getting worse, not better. The Believers, originally polite about it, start to fight back. The credibility of the Skeptics is increasingly challenged directly instead of conducting a meek debate of the merits of views. The Denier views have been thoroughly debunked so many times it is hardly necessary to do it again. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Senator James InTheHole, R. Okla., have zero credibility but the fight is not over.

Al Gore and Wrath of the Right

It is unavoidable given that this post discusses opinions and biases: We must deal with the phenomena of Al Gore. Al Gore, his The Inconvenient Truth and the attitude of the right make a powerful mix that is a symbol of the Al Gore Ranting Global Warmingcredibility of Global Warming. Conservatives and no doubt many others do not care for Al Gore as a person, perhaps because he won the 2000 election. There is insufficient consolidation to neo cons and other right minded individuals that he lost the Presidency.

Then Mr. Gore went on to a new career of exploring Global Warming, a subject close to him for 25 years, long before it became a world wide issue. Mr. Gore became a symbol for climate change and since he is deplorable, then Global Warming is deplorable and a liberal hoax. He created an Oscars winning documentary, is nominated for the Nobel Peace Price and travels the world with his PowerPoint presentation under his arm. He is receiving world wide attention. According to the Skeptics, all of this clearly proves Global Warming is a hoax.

Those with fewer biases might take issue with that idea. First, Al Gore does not present his own Global Warming research. He presents the work of others, in fact thousands of others. Second, Global Warming is about greenhouse gases and temperatures and a long series of issues caused by these two elements being out of control. That has nothing to do with Al Gore or, for that matter, any old PowerPoint pitch. Third, the real issue is not who is clueless about what, it is what we as the human race do about a looming disaster. Every one with a brain knows what needs to be done. All Al Gore does is acting as a spoke person for the Superman Al Goresolutions worked out by others.

Perhaps it is unfortunate that Al Gore became a symbol in the eyes of many for an issue that is not his at all. It’s possible Global Warming might be much more approachable to 1) Americans, 2) Conservatives and 3) the World in general if Al Gore was not as involved as he is. All the attention given to Al Gore hatred in all kinds of media certainly is a waste of time and effort. It takes away from dealing with solutions. It makes it harder to understand the real issues.

Al Gore is no doubt as amazed as others that he has been so wildly successful in the publicity game. Some even expect him to be the 2008 Presidential candidate wild card as a result. Be that as it may.

Perhaps he wonders as I do if he is part of the problem or part of the solution. The point, though, is Al Gore is not the main issue. Actually, he is not an issue at all in the real world. He did not cause Global Warming and he will not solve the problem of Global Warming. By now, it is irrelevant who caused the problem. The big question is who will solve the problem and if it will happen in time.

It is hard not to wonder about the sanity of the right wingers adding their hot opinions to the “debate”. Here is a sampler of what they say about Mr. Earnest Cardboard Gore: “Chubby nutcase Al Gore.” (Ann Coulter), “Al Gore – total fag.” (Ann Coulter), “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his Al Gore Laughinglithium again.” (Charles Krauthammer, FOX), “I think he’s lost his mind. … I think he’s gone daft because he’s a sad little man now.” (Dennis Miller, CNBC), “He’s a mental patient. … He should go back to the dayroom he came out of.” (Mark R. Levin on FOX).

More on Mr. Gore’s mental state: “Albert Gore Jr., desperately needs help. I think he needs medication, and I think that if he is already on medication, his doctors need to adjust it or change it entirely.” (John Podhoretz, New York Post), “Gore, in our view, has cracked under a crushing burden of guilt.” (James Taranto, Wall Street Journal) and “….It says a lot about Gore. It says he’s perverse,” (Rush Limbaugh).

The above was before the Global Warming controversy. On Global Warming: “Al Gore gave a speech on global warming ….the philosophy of a madman” (Ann Coulter), “Gore-Bal Warming alarmism is getting so over-the-top that it practically qualifies as a mental disorder” (Right Wing News), “Inhofe also compared An Inconvenient Truth to Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf” (James Inhofe), “Al Gore was full of crap,” (James Inhofe), “A heartbreak loser turned Oscar boasting Nobel hopeful globe-trotting multimillionaire pop culture eminence” (New York Times) and “The man could make playing a kazoo look like meditation,” (Time)”.

Finally, here is more from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (my comments in italics):

  • “Gore’s proposals would create a breathtaking expansion of government power over the lives of everyday Americans citizens and put the U.S. economy in a deep freeze.” Strangely, the Europeans are not in a deep freeze – in fact they seem to prosper. I suppose they are just that much smarter than Americans are.
  • “The former Vice President has had to rely on alarmist predictions which mislead his audiences and distort the relevant science.” The shoe is on the wrong foot here. Consult the House hearings on George W. Bush misleading the country and distorting the truth of Global Warming.
  • “Mr. Gore envisions a federal takeover of nearly every aspect of the economy and restrictions on people’s individual choices.” Consult the records of controlling sulphur emissions in the 1970s and the reductions in ozone-destroying agents in the 1980-90s – I don’t recall any restrictions on my freedom. But emissions went down beautifully.
  • “Socialism failed because it claimed control over the economy in the name of the people, but the people realized they could run the economy better on their own.” I assume the “failure of socialism” refers to the downfall of the USSR? The Soviets never claimed control in the name of the people. They claimed control in the name of the state. The Soviet people never realized they could do a better job on the economy. They still don’t. “The people” has not run the economy of any country in a thousand years. That includes the US for the past hundreds of years.

I do wish these “think tanks” weren’t so clueless about their subjects. The Institute above really used the wrong list of platitudes. It may be time to simply get mad about this politicized, moronic “Al the Maniac” and all the other equally silly head-in-the-sand junk:

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Scene from a Classic

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy. I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I want you to get mad! You’ve gotta say, Howard Beale of Network showing his rage“I’m a human being, goddamn it! My life has value.” I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,”

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”

Try it on; it may save your life or even your sanity. Perhaps a Skeptic will listen.

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Tables of Contents and Other Stuff

The complete Global Warming essay is split up in several individual posts. The following introduction simplifies navigation through the mass of material. If you have been following the series, you may Men digging in the Sand(or not) want to skip right to the main content to avoid repetition, although this introduction is constantly updated. If so, hit the “Bypass” below.

If you are new to the series, you may want to 1) start at the beginning of the series using this link: “Culprits, Scoundrels and Villains” or 2) check out the table of content and other explanations of what this is all about – just read on. The TOC button brings you to the essay’s Table of Contents.

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ByPass

About the Essay and Its Nine Main Parts

The essay is split into nine main posts due to its size. Click here for more details on each post.

  • The first main post examines the basic reasons why we ended up in this dreadful mess.
  • The second main post covers the political and UN scene.
  • The third main post deals with rising temperatures.
  • The “Sauerkraut” post dives into Europe and its mysteries.
  • The fourth main post bares dark secrets about the forecasting business.
  • The “Ann Coulter” post made some fun out of America’s favorite fascist.
  • The “Bleakest Outlook Yet” previews the April 2007 UN IPCC Report
  • The “Quick News” #1 issue of 3-14-2007 updates you on British, EU and other news.
  • The fifth main post explains the issues caused by rising populations.
  • The sixth main post probes the polarized attitudes to Global Warming.
  • The “Quick News” #2 adds to the discussion why Global Warming is so hard to accept.
  • The present seventh main post discloses opinions on Global Warming
  • The eight main post looks at the very real effects of Global Warming already present.
  • The ninth main post explores possible outcomes: cure or disaster?

Additionally to the nine main posts, a few other posts cover special subjects, comments and news. The “Sauerkraut” post looks at Europe and its peculiar history of early tribes, wars and more wars, deceit, Fuehrers, Generalissimos, Emperors, Kings and Queens, imperialism, strange food, democracy and greed, Windswept Abstractionfinally ending up as the world’s largest market. The post looks at how all of that, more or less, relates to issue of and attitudes to Global Warming. The post also evaluates, in detail, the recent EU proposal to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020.

I couldn’t resist doing a piece on Ann Coulter. She makes a splendid living out of out-chock-jocking Howard Stern, Bill O’Reilly, Geraldo, Moammar al-Ghadafi, Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Pat Robinson, Hugo Chavez, Baghdad Bob, Joseph Goebbels and Dick Cheney all at once. You gotta admire her ignorant persistence and ambition. Doing anything for a buck, she certainly managed to become America’s favorite fascist. Why not?

The “Bleakest Outlook Yet” is precisely that. There is nothing fun about this preview of the next UN IPCC report “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. These reports are getting more and more alarming which by itself is truly scary. All prior reports have underestimated the impact of climate change.

The “Quick News” features may become a regular service to keep us all up to date on recent news and to call the BS floating around. Currently, two posts are available.

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Table of Contents

An elaborate link and TOC (Table of Content) system helps you get around the mass of material in this essay of nine main posts. Use it to find what is of your most immediate interest. Just above, there is a TOC button that brings you to the navigation system. Enjoy.

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Odes, Ballads, Songs and Arias

This essay contains real life mini stories. They describe usually small, even insignificant, effects of Global Warming. The aim is to make you consider reality, survival, pain and your own future. I cite simple stories about how some of us (humans, animals, plants, oceans and everything else) are already in, or cause, deep trouble. Here are links to the various little puzzle pieces:

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Images in this essay

The images in this post differ from those in all the others, except Post 6: “Terror, Wars, Fears and Paralysis”, which follows the same format as this post. All images are paintings rather thanEnd of the Road - an Oven photographs, with the exception of a few photos of sculptures, the Howard Beale photo and the Al Gore images. The motif is pain, sorrow and compassion. The theme invokes awareness of the devastating future we may be facing. There may well be a lot of human suffering in our or our kids’ life time due to this ugly thing called Global Warming.

All of this art work is associated with another era of great suffering. The Holocaust. The paintings are by individuals close to that genocide. Some artists were in and survived the camps. Others are children of former camp inmates. Yet others have a different link to the camps. I believe the suffering endured in the camps may, in some sense, be repeated in the future of Global Warming. We won’t see a Dr. Mengele or Himmler, nor gas chambers or death trains. But the suffering from Global Warming may well exceed that of the Holocaust many times over.

I did not choose the images from a strictly artistic point of view. Not all paintings are masterpieces. Some are downright ugly. I choose them because of their emotional content and their impact, at least on me. I believe Earth will suffer major tragedies as it has in the past. Global Warming is one likely cause of such suffering, but probably not the only one factor. Of course, Global Warming is already harvesting its first victims. It would be fantasy to think there is not a lot more to come.

Using the Holocaust for this post is not politically motivated. Almost none of the artwork directly addresses the camps themselves or isolates the Jewish experience. The choice of the motif People in Cemeteryhas nothing to do with the cheap shots recently fired about so called Holocaust Deniers, a phrase I find repulsive in the context of Global Warming.

This blog, its design, text content (except quotes from others) and my own images and graphs are copyright © Leading Design, Inc 2006-2007. All Rights Reserved. I make absolutely no claims on images or quotes originating in other sources.

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To All You Skeptics

With George Bush of the US, Hu Jintao of China, Manmohan Singh of India and John Howard of Australia leading the way, the skeptics h