It’s a Love/Hate Kind of Thing…

your grandfather’s barbershop, photograph

“Here’s the interesting thing about HDR images – a lot of photographers seem to dislike them, it’s a love it or hate it kind of thing, sadly. But the general public, the non-photographers out there, love them. And we should be asking why.”

David DuChemin

This is an interesting observation from a well-known photographer about HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. HDR has become very popular and controversial at the same time. My experience is just as he says: this technique and resulting style of images polarizes photographers but non-photographers seem to really, really like the images.

This post will not discuss the pros and cons of HDR nor discuss how it is done. Rather DuChemin’s comment makes me wonder why this difference exists and why it should matter to us as photographers. This discussion extends to artists working in other mediums because the differences I’m talking about can just as easily exist in their world.

Photographers too often lose sight of the emotional impact their images have on others – we become focused on technical details (of which there are a lot in our world) and we become attached to the traditional approach. The former is a well known trap photographers fall prey to. Being in the printing business, I have a lot of experience watching photographers obsess about minute technical details in their prints that I guarantee you no one else will ever notice. While attention to detail can be important, sometimes it becomes nothing but trees hiding the proverbial forest.

The general public rarely cares about how you made an image and they don’t usually care too much about many of the minor details or technical imperfections in a print or painting. They care about how the image makes them feel. The artist is always looks at their work with a more critical eye than the general public. How many great images would have seen the light of day if the artist could only look at them with the eye of the general public?

Which leads to the other question – if a general style of image makes the public feel good, shouldn’t we be interested in understanding that better? Maybe we don’t have to embrace the HDR style in our own work, but perhaps if we understand what it is about this style they like, we could find ways to move in that direction. Assuming, of course, that that direction isn’t totally contrary to our own style.

If you are an artist of any stripe who has an interest in sharing their work with the public, it is in your interest to understand as much as possible about their preferences. Artists who say they do what they want and don’t care about the public’s desires either don’t really need to sell their work, are incredibly lucky to be doing what the public wants, or are very unsuccessful.

By the way, the reason I think the general public likes the HDR style so much is that it combines the verisimilitude of traditional photography with a heightened surrealistic quality that creates a new visual experience.

And a final note, do you miss the good old days when your local barbershop had a stuffed deer head mounted on the wall?

The New Medium for Art

Weight of Time Passed, photograph

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”

– Stewart Brand

I spend most of my day looking at paintings and photography on a computer monitor and have been researching various aspects of publishing artwork, both online and in more traditional mediums.

It has struck me that the computer monitor is becoming (or has already become) the most common medium by which we view art. It’s not galleries and museums, and perhaps not even books anymore. Our common visual reference is the monitor.

This has some potentially far reaching consequences. Monitors (assuming it’s a good one, which is becoming more common) display images with a dynamic range and quality that reproductions cannot match. Viewing a piece of art on a large, good monitor has become a really nice experience. Because light is streaming through the image instead of reflecting off of it, their is a luminosity to images viewed this way that cannot be matched when the image is on paper or canvas.

I suspect many will agree that the images on a monitor beat images in a book or a print. Now for the controversial part of my post…

How does this experience compare to seeing the original piece of art? I’m wondering if our visual taste buds are becoming accustomed to seeing art with the luminosity and quality of a monitor band whether we will become “disappointed” when we see originals. I know that I’ve already had this experience in certain museums, where my first impression of certain paintings or photographs has been one of great disappointment. Perhaps a copy I saw on a poster or in a book had been somehow more vivid and the real thing is a letdown.

I know that there are definite tactile qualities that a piece of original art has that a display cannot reproduce. This is more true of paintings than of photographs, which have no three dimensional character and are all, after all, reproductions. But I wonder how the increased use and quality of monitors and the resulting experience of viewing art might subtly influence how painters paint and how viewers react to original work?

I can’t imagine monitors will ever replace original art, but I also can’t imagine that how we see original art hasn’t been affected by this relatively new way of experiencing it.

Inductive Creativity

well travelled, photograph

“One does not stand still looking for a path. One walks; and as one walks, a path comes into being.”

– Mas Kodani

Often as artists we reach a standstill when we feel we’ve lost our way.

One tendency is to stop working because we know that what we’re doing is not right for us. We feel the need to stop doing what is frustrating or not rewarding. We can easily get blocked and lapse into inactivity.

I have found that it is best to keep working even when I feel rudderless. What eventually emerges from this seemingly random activity is meaning.

It’s a kind of artistic inductive reasoning, whereby we reach the truth through observation. I think it is much less fruitful to take a deductive approach to creativity – to try to manifest our artistic expression from some higher rule or law.

The more we try, the more we experiment, the more steps we take – the greater the chance that our path will emerge. Remember this when you next feel stuck, lost or uninspired. Just keep walking, keep observing what you find and suddenly you will find that you are, indeed, on a path.

Out with the Old and In with the New


The Weary Traveller, photograph

“People are very open-minded about new things – as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.”

– Charles F. Kettering

There is a new wave of innovation going on in the photography world known as HDR – stands for High Dynamic Range. I won’t bore you with the technical details. The reason I bring it up is that the resulting photographs often have a “unusual” look to them. Sometimes they don’t look like traditional photographs. This has caused concern and even anger among many in the photography world. HDR images are decried as an abomination, an evil which undermines the world of photography.

I wonder at this – why do people hang on so desperately to how things have been done in the past when it comes to art. I would think that art by it’s very essence is all about new ways of seeing things. But history has shown that this “re-visioning” takes time and comes at a cost to those promoting it – consider the impressionist and cubist painters of the late 19th, early 20th century. The establishment didn’t welcome their innovations.

I am part of a photography “salon” (a group of serious photographers) which meets monthly – each month we decide on an assignment which we’ll all shoot and then share our results. This month the assignment is HDR. One of our members predicted that even though today these images can seem a little otherworldly, in 5-10 years most photography will look this way. We’ll retrain our visual systems to view this as normal. This has happened before in the history of painting and photography.

I think it’s an exciting process to be part of. Of course, one never knows which innovations will stick and which won’t. Only the timid wait to see who the winners are before trying them out for themselves.

Needless to say, the above image was shot using HDR. The lighting conditions were such that HDR was about the only way to get an image at all, much less one with the atmosphere seen here.