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« man & nature # 61 ~ love sick for wow - that's not amoré | Main | ku # 537 ~ why "photographers" suck »

man & nature # 60 ~ the whole picture and nothing but the whole picture

A potpourri of foliage and an approaching stormclick to embiggen
It occurs to me that with my "photographers suck" rant I may have sounded a bit too much like the McCain / Palin ticket's personal character assassination machine.

That was not my intent - as I noted, I actually liked the 2 anonymous "photographers" whom I mentioned in yesterday's entry. So, in order to look more presidential, I will address the issues as practiced by "photographers" rather the "photographers" themselves .....

Therefore, ISSUE NO. 1 - sharpeness. It seems that in the rank and file of the photography world there is a near universal fetish for sharpness. Sharpness has become the litmus test for determining which cameras and which pictures are "excellent". The proof is in the pudding - have you ever read a camera test / review that did not have multiple 100% crop enlarged segments of a test picture? (FYI, and BTW, I hold the jerks who have been doing this for the past zillion years to be personally responsible [oops, there I go getting all Rove-ian again] for the practice of viewing prints at nose length)

The idea that what a tiny segment of a picture looks like when isolated and enlarged has anything to do with what a picture has to say is absurd. Pictures, while they may be composed of numerous visual "parts", are meant to viewed as all-of-a-piece. IMO, when viewing a picture, if one gets all wrapped up in a one (or a few) isolated elements of that picture, one is most likely to miss the intended point / message / meaning of that picture.

As has been said, the genius / beauty is in the details and I agree with that notion but .... in a photograph, the beauty and the genius is found in the sum total, the convergence, the amalgamation of the details.

Consider today's picture. Does anyone think for a moment that the picture, on a purely visual level, is about any one element, any one tree contained within the frame? If anyone does, let me clue you in - it's not about all of the various elements as separate things. It's about how all the different things work together to illustrate the diverse and robust nature of nature.

Does it matter one bit that the camera I chose to use to make this picture is not the equal, sharpness-wise, to that of a full-frame size sensor camera? Does it matter that every vein in the yellow leaves is not tack sharp? Or, ask yourself this question - standing where I stood when making this picture, would your eyes have seen that level of detail in the leaves (or any other element in the picture)?

Garry Winogrand opined that -

A still photograph is the illusion of a literal description of how a camera saw a piece of time and space.

I agree completely. A photograph is not the thing itself. It is a copy, a trace, a representation, or as Winogrand suggests, an "illusion of a literal description" of the thing depicted. So, based on that belief and when it comes to ISSUE NO. 1 - sharpness, as far as I'm concerned -

if a photograph, when viewed from a distance that allows the viewer to see the picture in its entirety, exhibits the illusion of sharpness in a manner that is sufficient to get the idea that the picture maker intended (or at least a part thereof), then it's sharp enough for me.

With the exception of scientific or forensic photography, what more do you need?

Reader Comments (12)

Just a little comment:

" how a camera saw "

in Winograd's citation. I would prefer:

"how a photographer saw through a camera"

which is more relativistic and less on the machine's objectivity. Something as "car driving" versus "car driven".
That is one a facets of winograd's thinking on photography i am more doubtful about.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMauro

"Pictures, while they may be composed of numerous visual "parts", are meant to viewed as all-of-a-piece." This is so true! Also seems so obvious.

Many of the "rules" of composition break this (the all of a piece vision) down into parts, and I think lead to corresponding "rules" of interpretation.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Allshouse

You should spend some time with high-end audio nerds. In general they can't tell a major chord from a minor chord, but they will whip out their oscilloscopes and show you a graph depicting just how bad your speakers are rendering a certain frequency range. They focus so much on the technical minutia that they often seem as though they could care less about actual music.

But you know what? Who cares? If all their obsessing means that I can get a decent pair of bookshelf speakers for a good price, then let them be audio wonks and let me listen to music.

I feel the same way about camera gear. I'm glad there are a bunch of people out there who are concentrating their efforts on the technical issues. I'm not quite sure what you would have reviewers of cameras write about. It would be a funny review that talks about how well a camera 'sees the whole picture.' I agree that judging pictures by the minute details is absurd, but I won't concede that judging equipment by the few objective metrics available is a bad idea. People may take the criterion for evaluating equipment and use it to judge art, but they've always done that. As long as I've been showing people photographs people have commented on what a nice camera I must have. You're shaking your fists at the wind with this one.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark M

oh noooo... did Mark M. just say what I thought he said?

apparently he didn't know gravitas owns speaker wires that cost $60/ft' and that he'll tell you why they're necessary?

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteraaron

| oh noooo... did Mark M. just say what I thought he said?
| apparently he didn't know gravitas owns speaker wires that cost $60/ft' and that he'll tell you why they're necessary?

Do tell! Do tell!

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEric Jeschke

uh oh.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark M

simmer down - yes, I do have what many might consider a "high-end" audio system. Yes, some of my components cost more individually than many might spend on their entire system. Yes, the double silver coated oxygen-free stranded speaker wire and balanced interconnect cables in my system cost more than some might spend on their entire system.

Yes, my speakers are bi-wired (but not bi-amped). Yes, my cd player has dual DACs and a low jitter clock with data relocking. Yes, I know all about things like attack and decay, upper and lower harmonic phase alignment, headroom, smearing, focus and separation, etc.

Sure. Sure. But ...

Every piece of the system is selected based on a 2 simple criteria - 1. how the music sounds when using it, and 2. value for money.

For me, just as it is with photography where it's all about the pictures, with audio it's all about the music.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergravitas et nugalis

Mark, glad to see this post. I thought you had gone a bit over the top yesterday and "sounded a bit too much like the McCain / Palin ticket's personal character assassination machine". I like today's more level headed approach. What we don't need is more "Rove-ian" discourse. Not if your intended purpose is a discussion (I don't think Rove is concerned with that).

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJack Nelson

You are in sore need of a browse through this book. Perhaps especially the last page.

The only really hard technical work in photography is done in the factories where they make lenses and film (or sensors). That leaves the tinkerers with nothing to do but window shop. Sharpness, like frames-per-second or focussing speed is a consumer metric: loosely based on measurement and need, but fetished well beyond the point of diminishing returns.

Let 'em shop. There are worse things about photography. Like insularity.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStruan Gray

Let me just say, if it makes you happy then I don't want to make a fuss about it, but you must admit a certain irony in the music/audio analogy.

One could just as easily say that they are interested in the technical specs of a camera or print because of how the pictures look and value for the money. Are things like attack and decay, upper and lower harmonic phase alignment, etc. that different from sharpness, dynamic range, noise? Isn't listening for these things the aural equivalent of putting your nose on a print? By taking the time to notice harmonic phase alignment does that make you emotionally and intellectually incapable of hearing and feeling anything at all about what the music maker may have been trying to express with their creation? Or is it possible to be tuned into both?

Back in the days when I was working as a musician, there were always pianists who were monsters of technique, those who could play anything as loud and fast as they wanted to, yet seemed like machines--disconnected from the music. There were also those who played with gorgeous phrasing and where rapturously connected with the emotional content of the music, but could never seem to hit all the right notes. The general consensus was that you tried to do both at the same time--and it was difficult. You worked as hard as you could on technique in the practice room so you could forget about it while performing.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark M

Lets face it. If I could afford the new Leica system and a Hassy with a 50+ MP back I would buy it and use it, but I can't, so I try to get by with whatever I can afford.

As for music, I was a pretty talented musician once, but I almost starved myself to death trying to make something of it. I decided in the end to get a day job instead of selling my soul to popular culture.

I know music sounds greater with the best of equipment, but sound isn't everything - the composition is. Just as photography is all about "the whole picture". Nevertheless, you can never have too much of a good thing. I chose to spend all my moeny on buying LPs and CDs instead of high end equipment to play them on, just as I now spend my money on taking time off from the day job to do photography with bottom shelf equipment.

I'm seasoned enough to know that better equipment would give me greater satisfaction - not a whole lot - but enough to crave for it, although I'll rather dream of it than work hard for it. Chasning money has never been my thing - I'd rather lie on the ground watching the clouds roll by. But if I were to win the lottery, I'd buy myself some very expensive gear and probably be very very happy with it. Why? Because I've been working for such a long time with "nothing" that I have the perspective and experience to appreciate it. There is no doubt that Bach sounds mighty finer on a grand Steinway than on my Yamaha Clavinova.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSvein-Frode

I shoulda kept my mouth shut. I've opened a can of worms.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteraaron

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