Seeing with Artistic Interpretation In Contrast To Creating A Photograph with Realistic Intent
What does it mean to see differently as an artist and as an architect? And how can you benefit from both perspectives? These are the topics this article will address through the opposing standpoints of multiple award-winning fine art photographer, Sharon Tenenbaum and renowned architect, urban designer and photography teacher, Rick Hulbert.
Sharon and Rick will be presenting a Fine Art Urban Photography Workshop in Chicago Sep. 22-24, 2017. More details can be found HERE.
Publishers Note: Sharon has written a number articles for Luminous-Landscape. I have always respected her vision and artistic talents. I have signed up for this workshop as I am always trying to broaden my vision and as of late I’m enjoying long exposure photography. Check out this article and the details for the workshop in Chicago. It would be great to see you there.
Sharon’s Point of View
It helps when you start out not knowing the rules. I was never formally trained in photography; picking up the technicalities from textbooks I read came as second nature as I was educated as an engineer. The aperture, shutter speed and optics all made complete sense. So when I picked up a camera and started shooting I was left with my own intuitive interpretation of composition and light. I felt that I had to be my own and most strict judge of what was a great image and what not. One of my guiding principles was ‘to show an image in a way that has not been shown before.
When you are in front of scene that compels you to take a shot, close your eyes, ask yourself, what is it about this scene that grabbed me? Have that as a guiding principle to convey in your shot. As it is that thing that made you go ‘wow’ and compelled you to take a shot, have that be your vision for creating a shot rather than just capturing it. It can be the light coming through the trees along a meandering road, the curves of a modern architectural structure or the weathered wrinkles on an old face. Whatever it is, those are the features to accentuate in post-production, the rest of the details that are not relevant to the story you want to tell, those should be downplayed.
Now, how that is done in post production is an art in itself and requires skill, but having the vision of what you want to convey is like having a roadmap, without it you are wondering aimlessly with no certain destination in mind.
The Art of Exaggeration
Throughout history, art has proven itself to exaggerate reality. The first human statutes created by the nomads thirty thousand years ago grotesquely exaggerated the female breast and hips; Greek art exaggerated the strength and physical masculinity of the male form. Indian art exaggerated the female agility and hourglass figure as did Victorian England. Again and again, all over the world, independently, cultures have chosen to exaggerate in art what they found most compelling to express. Not surprising it had had a lot to do with the human body, as physical attraction is one of the most primate instincts we have.
However, with time, what cultures chose to exaggerate changed and the subject matter grew into areas of life beyond our most innate needs. As cultural values changed, what artists chose to exaggerate changed to. What we choose to exaggerate is where the science is left behind and art steps in. Impressionists exaggerated light and color rather than shape to express more than realism ever could. Cubism exaggerated with the use of perspective by breaking the shackles of realism. As modern society become more culturally diverse what we exaggerated changed further, and the instinct is still alive today: video games, Barbie, super heroes, catwalk models poses impossible proportions.
My point is, if you want to create art, you have to focus on an idea, feeling or concept you want to 2express and put that on the center stage of your canvas. By exaggeration and distortion, you raise the importance of the vision you want to express. This is the reason that when observing my architectural images, they tend to be minimalist, so to focus on one or a few elements at a time, and my play with light and shadow are the tools I use to exaggerate the beauty of lines and harmony.
Below are a few examples.
In this image, the use of long exposure photography aided in eliminating detail in the sky and water. Luckily when I shot this image, it was an overcast day, so the long exposure helped create a soft ‘lightbox’ effect. A streaky cloudy sky would have taken the attention away from the bridge as would ripples in the water.
This image was about the relationship of lines and balance, so my post processing was carefully chosen to express that vision. I selectively chose the elements I wanted to highlight and used exaggeration of light and shadow. As I mentioned in the article the importance of eliminating irrelevant details, this image had foliage that did not contribute to the ‘story’ I wanted to tell, so I eliminated it.
What captured me in this scene was the curves of the structure and the relationship of the curved versus straight lines. The curved beams, in my mind, seemed like fingers stroking guitar strings. Therefore, in post, I exaggerated the three-dimensional aspect of the curved beams and added a long exposure streak to complete the vision.
Rick’s Point of View
My photography is informed by my experience as a professional architect and urban designer. In order to plan and design parts of cities along with the buildings therein, I have to understand how people see and perceive their surrounding environment. That knowledge can have a significant impact on photography that attempts to portray a realistic and truthful intent evident in a scene.
Photographs are inherently artificial, in that they pose a dual reality. They are essentially lines, contours, and planes forming patterns that appear on a flat surface.
At the same time, urban photography generally depicts designed and constructed objects and elements in a 3-Dimensional spatial construct; thus, the paradox of visual inputs needing to be deciphered by the human brain.
My approach to creative image making combines an awareness of the very basic science of human vision along with an appreciation of the history of the two-dimensional arts. As digital photographers, we start with the 3-Dimensional world around us and portray it on a 2-Dimensional canvas or screen.
As a counterpoint to Sharon Tenenbaum’s approach to Fine Art Photography, I am going to introduce a number of visual challenges that will stimulate a creative approach to photography that is inspired by three disciplines. These sources of inspiration include the science of human vision, key intrinsic artistic values evidenced by the history of drawing and painting, and the 3-Dimensional spatial qualities inherent in designed and constructed environments.
We will talk about using spots and slivers of light along with edges of objects and elements to structure a fine art urban photograph
We will learn how to create and control the level of depth in images.
We will learn how to look for and convey the impression of volumetric spatial envelopes in a photograph.
We will then challenge ourselves to perceive and then capture a ‘slice of life’ and a ‘sense of place.’
My objective will be to provide you with a rational approach … a road map to revealing your inner artistic abilities.
We will be covering my top 10 suggested attributes of Fine Art Photography … a list of considerations that, for the purpose of this article, can be summarized as an ‘amuse-bouches.’
“Fine Art Urban Photography is non-iterative, purposeful, and enlightening.”
By non-iterative, we mean a photograph that is both creative and unique and not just yet another version of something that has been “done again and again.” This might likely mean interpreting ‘familiar’ in a unique way.
Photographic Art is purposeful. This involves asking ‘why.’ What was it that caused you to want to make the photograph. What emotion are you conveying or wanting the beholder of your art to sense? ‘Mindfulness’ is evident throughout the process of creating an image.
An enlightening photograph conveys a compelling and engaging message, thereby contributing to greater knowledge and understanding. Imagine a photograph that makes you stop and think. Imagine a photograph that answers a question or tells a story.
For Artistic images to be ground breaking or rule breaking, one has to first master the ‘rules.’ Oh, wait … there are no universally accepted rules of artistic composition.
However, if we look at the history of the 2-Dimensional Arts (drawing and painting) and then combine that with our emerging knowledge of human vision (allowing neuroscience to show us how we see and perceive the environment around us), it is possible to develop a short list of “principles” … tried, tested, and universally accepted over the course of human history.
Ultimately, Fine Art Photography is a collaboration of an artist in total control of the process of creating an image coupled with a beholder’s interpretation of and reaction to that image.
Those attending our workshop will be exposed to a host of artistic approaches to fine art photography, focusing on the urban scene including, but not limited to the following:
Examples of the most expensive photographs sold at art auctions
Examples of the most controversial and most talked about photographs
Images embodying a complexity of form
Images embodying a simplicity of subject matter
Photographs completed in 4 minutes
Photographs completed in 4 months
A fine art series of images that were all planned
A fine art series all of which involved happenstance and a bit of luck
Good Light and Good Luck.
We hope to see you at our Fine Art Urban Photography Workshop in Chicago this September,