Beartown Rocks/Photography    Edward Frank
   Jan 01, 2005 21:12 PST 

I went for a short trip today to Beartown Rocks, PA. It is a "rock city"
near Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Park. People coming to the April
Rendezvous should take time out to visit the spot. I posted a gallery on
the ENTS website last summer from the place, although the compression
necessary to make the photos fit the webpage and load in a reasonable time
cost them some of their aesthetic appeal. I took a few pictures and talked
with a family group visiting the there.   One photo I took today I am using
for a desktop image. As I am sitting and looking at it I am wondering what
many of the photo magazine editors would say about the image. I have
looked at their markups of images sent in by various photographers in a
monthly feature in Popular Photography. Various editors each mark up an
image and tell the photographer how the image would be improved if it were
cropped differently, or if certain areas were darkened or lightened. Some
even suggest distracting elements be removed digitally.

The photo I took (a small version attached - I will post a bigger one to
the Beartown Rocks Gallery later this week - the size of the image does
make a big difference on how it is perceived) is of a group of ferns
growing on the edge of a large rock. The ones in the forefront are shaded,
the central ferns above are back lit by sunlight along with a patch of
brown fallen leaves intertwined in the ferns. Out of focus twigs and tree
trunks form a background. I am thinking if this image was submitted to the
magazine for the review, I am sure it would not come close to making the
cut. If it did - the fern leaves are not perfect, the fallen maple leaves
have stems jutting out at angles - twigs cross in the background. What I
see in these magazines is in many cases a search for perfection. Many of
the editors want images that are perfectly groomed, not a leaf out of
place, perfectly exposed, neat, and organized. As I look at the photo I
took - I like it. I like the jumble of fern leaves. I like the twigs
framing the back lit highlights. I like the disorder. The natural world
is not as neatly groomed as an English Garden and to some extent that must
be reflected in the images we take of it.   I can look at an image like
this and with each viewing find elements of interest, things I haven't
noticed before. It is not insipidly well groomed and bland. I make an
effort to frame the pictures to capture the image I perceive. That is a
choice. Taking a picture is in effect an act of "editing" when you choose
the composition, subject, and exposure. But while trying to compose a good
picture I am trying to capture an essence of what I see, not create
something that is untrue to itself.

What has this to do with ENTS? I suppose it is a comment on how we
experience and perceive the world around us - What do you notice when
visiting the forest.

Photography and tuliptrees
  Jan 02, 2005 06:43 PST 
Ed Frank:

   Your e-mail strikes a resonant chord with me. Photos that are too perfect and give the appearance of having been manipulated often lose their interest for me. The market is flooded with postcard images that are just too perfect and consequently are more about the process of photography, the equipment, and the photographer than about the subject. For some people it may be a spin off of the phony virtual reality thing - a way of thinking that one is capturing essence without getting mud on one's boots. That route doesn't work for me.


Re: Beartown Rocks/Photography   Miles Lowry
  Jan 02, 2005 07:25 PST 

By sending us a rectangular image, you (and every other image maker,
regardless of medium) force upon the viewer rules of composition that
affect our ability to enjoy an image.

Humans have wired into them a need for visual balance, either
symmetrical or asymmetrical. When a tree trunk intersects the background
of a scene it forces us to see it in two halves. If the foreground
does not compliment that separation, the image will seem yours does.

Visual chaos is good - especially when dealing with the natural world.
The uninitiated see visual chaos as expressive chaos. I think it is our
(folks who love the visual within the natural world) responsibility to
help the newcomer recognize that there is a sublime order out there.
But we have to do it within the visual rules we all live by.

I could recommend some books about composition and other visual
dynamics, if you like.
Miles Lowry
Re: Photography and tuliptrees   Miles Lowry
  Jan 02, 2005 07:31 PST 

Your concept of "manipulated" is an interesting one. Do you consider
James Balog's new book "manipulated" images of trees. How about those
images of roots descending into the abyss in the book SUBTERREANEA? How
about my stuff made of three separate images. Are Ansel Adams' images
manipulated? Mark Klett? Michael Kenna? Linda Connor?

What is photographic reality?
Are "stitched" images made by our guys as they gaze straight up a
monster, shoot multiple scenes and then ahave a computer assemble them

What is an image but the creator's reaction to things around him?

I find saccyrin (sp?) overly romanticized imagery boring. Others value
accuracy over emotion. What's your take?
Re: Beartown Rocks/Photography   Edward Frank
  Jan 02, 2005 18:17 PST 


I recognize that the image is not the ideal. I have enough books on
composition. I favor in particular many of the books by John Shaw. My
computer desktop is rectangular, and therefore that is the format most
appropriate, in this case, for the usage of the image. Most of the
interpretation of what is good or bad about a photograph is very
subjective. That is the point I was making. I like the image, which is
what is important in my comments. You are not required to like the image.
I could make a plethora of arguments about composition, about framing, and
so forth and justify the composition of the picture in a rush of
terminology. I choose not to do it.

Images posted to the web are restricted by many factors. One of the most
important is size. I have limits on how big a picture may be in terms of
kilobytes, therefore also limits in terms of dimensions, amount of
compression, that is practical to post to the ENTS website. How an image
is perceived is dependant on the size of the image and the medium in which
it is presented. Surely you can not argue that an image looks differently
if presented as a 3 x 5 photo versus a poster sized image.

In regard to comments about manipulating the image. You are manipulating
the image when you decide what you are going to shoot. You are
manipulating it when you choose to your exposure. You are manipulating the
image when you chose your focal length. Do you want to have barrel
distortion with a wide angle lens? Do you want to compress the distance
with telephoto lenses? Do you want to stop down to increase depth or open
up to have a shallow depth of field? Do you want to expose for a full
second to get the feather blur on that riffle of water or do you want to
shoot with a flash to stop the motion in a ten-thousandth of a second? When you process the image you are manipulating it every time you crop it,
whenever you dodge or burn in the darkroom to darken or lighten parts of
the image. You are manipulating when you choose what tonal range will be
emphasized and play with extending or sharpening the contrast. Whether you
do this using chemicals in the development of the film and printing of the
pictures, or whether you do it digitally with your computer. You are
manipulating the image.

You said to Bob, "Your concept of "manipulated" is an interesting one. Do
you consider James Balog's new book "manipulated" images of trees. How
about those images of roots descending into the abyss in the book
SUBTERREANEA? How about my stuff made of three separate images. Are Ansel
Adams' images manipulated? Mark Klett? Michael Kenna? Linda Connor?" I
don't know who most of these people are off the top of my head. I could
find them by looking on the internet. I would say Asel Adam's manipulated
his images. I would guess the others are as well. The stitched images are
manipulated - I do many of them myself. The images you sent for the
website are in black and white, that is definitely a manipulation of the
image as eliminates color from the photograph. Black and White is making a
comeback these days. That is a fine thin, because it allows you to
emphasize form, shape, texture, and contrast over color. Many images are
much more powerful in that form. But yes these are manipulations.

There was a nice discussion on the photography
discussion list a few years ago by a group pushing the idea that they were
having their photos labeled as not digitally manipulated. I thought ut was
funny considering how many other ways they were choosing to alter how the
final image would appear - a representation of reality as opposed to
reality. Alteration of an image to my mind is something different. I
don't feel in nature photography that objects should be digitally added or
subtracted from an image to make it look more "perfect." I don't think
parts of the image should be stretched and elongated beyond reasonable lens
distortion to create an image. I don't think objects should be composited
from different skies, different foregrounds, and different subject to make
a perfect nature image. These are perfectly valid forms of photographic
art, but it is not to my mind nature photography. Honest nature
photography may emphasize certain aspects of an image, but should not be
adding elements that are not there, and should not be removing objects that
are to attain a more banal image.

Ed Frank

RE: Beartown Rocks/Photography MY TAKE   Will Blozan
  Jan 02, 2005 19:29 PST 

Well said, Ed. As with all forms of art, the piece- whether it be clay, oil,
paper, a CD, or a photo- are all personal representations of perceived
reality. I like some, hate others. It is all personal and just as an oil
painter painting a scene can add one more brush stroke or not paint the leaf
in the view, a digital photographer can do the same. If the ultimate goal is
to present a message and save a place of the Wild, manipulation may be
necessary. I agree with you about the depth of manipulation types, and about
not adding features not inherent in the image to begin with. I have no
trouble deleting an errant limb or leaf that distracts from the message (a
misspelling???) I am trying to deliver.

Re: Beartown Rocks/Photography   Edward Frank
  Jan 02, 2005 20:23 PST 


The small image I posted was a reduced version of the full image from the
camera. I change my desktop image frequently. One thing putting the full
image on the desktop helps me do is to explore the image over a period of
time. I use a program called Thumbs Plus to make quick edits of the images
I take. As an image stays on my desktop over the course of several days, I
can play with different crops that highlight different aspects of the
image. I may try ten different crops to look at on the desktop. I am sure
there are better crops to be found in the image I sent than the full image

In many images when you take them and get them home or on your computer,
they are right - they don't require much work. The image as you framed it
in the field is close to the final version that satisfies you. Other
images, like the one I posted, have some quality about them that I like. I
am not always able to point at it and say this is what I like about the
image...but there is something there. If I don't find what it is about an
image I like the first time around, I may look at it again months later and
find the quality that attracted me to the image. I don't think it is
strictly about composition. Composition is not unimportant, but it is not
the only thing, nor is it necessarily the most important thing in a
particular image.

When you are out in the field taking photographs, you are searching for a
subtle quality that somehow speaks out to you, that you strive to portray
in a photograph. Photographs like the one I posted bother me. There is
some aspect of these image that draws me, I just can't always figure out
what that factor is. I don't believe considering it from a strict
compositional framework will help me figure it out. One photo I looked at
many times this year was a large rock with a tree growing on it's side
taken on the Rhododendron Trail in Cook Forest. It never quite suited me.
A couple weeks ago while looking at the image, I desaturatd the color,
converted it to black and white. That was what the image needed.

I like the panoramic format, both vertical and horizontal, where one
dimension is much longer than the other. But it is not appropriate for
every image. I have some examples in the Beartown Rocks gallery. It is a
matter of what you like. The toadstools at the top of the Newest Updates
page are cropped to a much narrower vertical dimension than the original.
I liked this crop better. My mother for example is used to looking at
photos with a normal aspect and liked the full image better. I like to get
the widescreen version of the movie, so I can see what was happening across
the entire movie, many people hate widescreen and would rather view it full
screen and loose that portion of the movie, because it looks more "normal"
to them without the letterbox.

There are other shapes than rectangular, but they just look odd to me. Out
eyes don't really function like cameras. We glance around, composite all
the individual pieces into one image and it seems if we are seeing more
area than we actually are. Some areas have more detail than others. You
see a squirrel in the tree, your eyes don't zoom in like a telephoto lens,
but your focus you attention on it, to a very similar effect. While in
shooting video or film, a zoom on screen is considered a no-no. So you are
right when you say:

"Visual chaos is good - especially when dealing with the natural world. The
uninitiated see visual chaos as expressive chaos. I think it is our (folks
who love the visual within the natural world) responsibility to help the
newcomer recognize that there is a sublime order out there."   

But I do not believe your final comment is correct:

"But we have to do it within the visual rules we all live by."

There are certain arrangements that seem naturally pleasing to the eye. But
most visual rules are not there because they are self evident and
irrefutable, but are there because they are what we are used to seeing and
people are loath to see or do anything different than what they have always
done in the past. So overall I disagree. Our definition of art in the
context of painting has changed over time, from the classic portraiture of
the Renaissance to the cubism of Van Gogh, to the non-representational
abstracts of Pollack. Our understanding of paintings as art has changed.
Why should we be restricted to "the visual rules we al live by," especially
when there is evidence from other artistic endeavors that the rules we live
by are mutable and subject to change? It is an arbitrary limitation, and
in the end I believe an fruitless one.

Ed Frank
RE: Photography and tuliptrees   Robert Leverett
  Jan 03, 2005 06:11 PST 


   Your questions have prompted me to reexamine my thinking on the
subject of photographic manipulation and embarrassingly I find that my
thinking is literally all over the place and my real concern far removed
from the response I gave. First let me say unequivocally that I admire
and respect the work of James Balog, who incidentally, is a friend. I
admire your work and that of Pakenham's and others who seek to foster
understanding and appreciation of trees. So my objection is not to the
works of artists such as yourself or the techniques you employ.

    So, if I'm not talking about how each of you perfects his/her craft,
what IS my point? Well, in thinking about it, my main discomfort comes
from what I see lurking in the background and that is a growing societal
reliance on high tech gadgetry to be substituted for substantive
appreciation and understanding. That is happening in classrooms all over
the country. When the message starts to be the technology rather than
the subject, I find myself beginning to squirm.

    I think that what is at the bottom of my disgruntlement is our
society's increasing propensity to substitute virtual experience for
that of the real thing. This past weekend, a friend of mine gave me an
good example on his visit to the Smithsonian Museum of the American
Indian. Actual artifacts in front of a visitor were hardly noticed. The
visitor's attention was riveted to the computer images that she could
manipulate by rotating and flipping the images of the actual item. How
nice, how wonderful, the visitor was heard to proclaim. One can imagine
the visitor murmuring upon leaving, now what was that thing I was
playing with? Incidentally, my friend is a personal friend of Ken Burns
- not lightweight to artistry.

    For the scientist, the capability to examine items via computer
manipulation has become an incredibly powerful important tool. But for
the visitors, dazzling displays of technology are little more than
entertainment, which is okay to a point, but when is enough, enough?
Yet, I wouldn't want to forego the value of high tech devices that allow
us to peer into places that formerly we had no chance of seeing.

   In a circuitous route, I find myself at the door, not of technology,
but of mass marketing of what substitutes for understanding and the
corporate drive to turn what should be exercises in serious learning
into little more than entertainment. But then, maybe I'm just in a bah
humbug mood.