Friday, November 27, 2015

Photo Book Review: The Noir Style

The Noir Style by Alain Silver and James Ursini is a seminal book for anyone interested in creating atmospheric photographic lighting and should be part of any photographer's library, most especially those who still shoot with black & white film.

The book consists of publicity stills, largely taken from the golden age of Hollywood film noir. The authors carefully analyze each photo to show how lighting is used to create an atmosphere of dread and suspense. Along the way, the book pays tribute to the masters of noir lighting, particularly the great John Alton, whose contributions have not received nearly the credit due them.

As anyone who has read Cornell Woolrich knows, there is an existential component to noir as it follows its protagonists down a rabbit hole, watching as they are pulled from their everyday lives and entrapped in a senseless world of crime and violence. Almost always, this fall takes place in a big city environment where individuals are reduced in size among towering skyscrapers that symbolize the megalithic forces threatening to crush them. And the action is almost always set at night in order to better emphasize the protagonists' distance from the sunlit workaday world where all is neat and in order.

The photographs included in The Noir Style are definitely not a nostalgic tribute to the big stars of Hollywood's studio era. Most of the films were intended as "B" movies and star character actors whose hardened features are hardly flattered by the films' harsh lighting. This is entirely appropriate since noir films were never intended as escapist fare. Instead, they show the underside of the American dream and the ease with which an ordinary person can slip off track into a milieu where murder takes the place of law.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Corel Painter: Saving Files Without Original Source Material (Third Example)

In my third example of saving files without source material, I proceeded a bit differently.  I went directly to Painter and opened there the original image shown above.  Note that in all three of my examples on this topic, the term "original image" refers to a full size (i.e., high res) jpg that has already been edited for color balance, brightness and contrast in Photoshop using the Levels and Curves adjustments to create a finished "straight" photograph.  Once I'd opened the image in Painter, I again used the autoclone feature with the image itself chosen as the clone source on the clone panel.  (If the image is not chosen as the clone source, Painter will default to whatever pattern was last used.)  This time I stopped the autoplay feature very soon after it had begun so that all I obtained when I saved the file as a jpg without the source material was a series of squiggly lines that corresponded in color to the cloned areas on the original image.  See photo shown immediately below.

Back in Photoshop, I opened the new image that showed only the Painter effects.  To heighten the color effect, I applied the Saturation adjustment at +20.  I then opened the original file, selected the entire image, copied it and pasted it as a layer on the Painter image.  After having made a few adjustments with Curves, I flattened the layers and obtained the final photo shown below.

Prints of the final image are currently available for purchase from my page on Fine Arts America.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Corel Painter: Saving Files Without Original Source Material (Second Example)

In my last post I discussed saving files without the original source material and want now to provide another example of the method I used.  To arrive at the final image I first opened the original image (shown above) in Photoshop and applied to it the Find Edges filter, then used the Curves adjustment to emphasize the dark edges, and finally saved the result (see image below) under a new file name.

Having done this, I opened the original image in Painter, did a Quick Clone and applied a few broad strokes of the Watercolor cloner (with the Tracing Paper turned on) to give back to the image some of the coloration in the leaves that had been lost when applying Find Edges in Photoshop.  I then saved the file as a jpg so that only the effects generated in Painter remained.  The result can be seen in the image immediately below.

Returning to Photoshop, I opened the Painter file shown above and then used Apply Image with blend mode set to Normal in order to partially place the Painter effects within the file that had been saved after having applied Find Edges in Photoshop.  I then used the Curves to adjust the contrast and arrived at the final image shown below.  Compare that with the original image to see the full range of changes effected.

Prints of the final image are currently available for purchase from my page on Fine Arts America.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Corel Painter: Saving Files Without Original Source Material (First Example)

I recently began experimenting with Corel Painter 12.  I've had the software on my hard drive for years but have rarely used it, preferring to make all my edits in Photoshop instead.  When I began to explore Painter's features, however, I discovered I could create effects that were not possible when working with Photoshop alone.  In one such situation, I found that if I opened a file in Painter, then chose the command "Quick Clone" from the File menu and went to save it as anything other than a RIFF file, I would get a warning that the source material would not be saved in the resulting jpg (this also applies to tiff and PSD formats).  In other words, only the effects created in Painter would be saved in the jpg.

I actually liked the original image shown above and thought it quite satisfactory just as it was.  But I wanted to see what alternatives were possible.

I began by opening the image in Photoshop CS6 and then applied to it that program's the Oil Paint Filter, which incidentally had a much more pronounced effect on a reduced size image, i.e., the filter created more radical distortions on the reduced size photo content, than on the full size.  The result is shown immediately below.

The next step was to open the Oil Paint image above in Painter and make use of the Auto Clone feature.  I made sure the photo was selected as the source in the Cloner panel and chose Camel Oil Brush as the cloner to be applied.  I stopped the autoplay before the process had finished and then, disregarding Painter's warning message, saved it as jpg.  By looking at the image immediately below, it's readily apparent exactly how far I let the autocloning progress before halting it.

Once I had saved the above jpg without the source material, I went back to Photoshop and used the Apply Image command (using blend mode Normal) from the Image dropdown menu to arrive at the final image shown below.  The total amount of alteration effected can be determined by comparing the original image below to the final image shown at top.

Prints of the final image are currently available for purchase from my page on Fine Arts America.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Photo Book Review: The Artist and the Camera

The Artist and the Camera: Degas to Picasso is, in spite of its often abstruse text, a fascinating look at a number of late nineteenth century artists who interacted with the relatively new medium of photography and whose work was thereafter strongly influenced by it if not totally transformed. Based on an exhibit held in 2000 at the Dallas Museum of Art, essays by several scholars trace the revolutionary impact photography had on the nineteenth century art world. The stories of several of the most prominent artists, such as Degas, Rodin, Brancusi and Picasso are already well known; but the influence photography had on a number of others, such as Moreau, Munch, Khnopff, Mucha and even Gauguin, has been more obscure.

What's most interesting is the artists' almost unanimous insistence that photography was not an art form in itself but merely a mechanical means of reproduction that could assist traditional artists in the development of their own work and document it more thoroughly than had hitherto been possible. This was true even of artists, such as Degas, who vigorously pursued photography for its own sake and built up a considerable body of work. What comes across here is the fear these artists had that photography could one day supplant their own processes to offer a more faithful vision of the world about them. Perhaps the best known case is that of Rodin who began by totally distrusting photography only to arrive at the conclusion that use of the medium by a great photographer like Steichen could result in a collaboration that would create new levels of meaning to those who viewed both his sculptures and Steichen's photographs of them. Certainly, Steichen's nighttime photographs of Rodin's Balzac are masterpieces in their own right. The gum bichromate and direct carbon printing techniques that were used in creating the original prints are incredibly complex.

The reproductions of both artwork and photographs in the book are of high quality and present their arguments much more forcefully than does the accompanying text. Unfortunately, many of the essayists, while no doubt quite knowledgeable on the subject at hand, write in a forced academic style that can be quite difficult for the general reader to follow. This is a shame because so many of the ideas presented are of interest not only to scholars but also to photographers and artists who wish to learn more of the interaction between early photography and other forms of artistic media.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Gallery: 19th Century Landscape Photography

The following review was also posted on my blog The Aesthetic Adventure on November 6, 2015.

I walked across Central Park on Thursday afternoon to view the exhibit of nineteenth century landscapes from the Jay McDonald collection now on view at Hans P. Kraus, Jr.  The gallery specializes in showing work from the very beginning of photography and so offers visitors a rare opportunity to see images otherwise locked away in private collections or only occasionally put on display at the Met Museum.

The photographs shown at the current exhibit were all landscapes, most of them taken in the 1850's less than twenty years after Talbot's invention of the medium.  The process still in use at that time was Talbot's original "salt print" method in which paper was hand sensitized with a solution of silver chloride.  This was a printing out process (POP) distinct from the calotype negative, a developing out process (DOP) in which the paper, after having been first sensitized with silver iodide, was dried and then coated with potassium iodide before being allowed to dry a second time.  The calotype method was preferable for use in negatives because it greatly shortened the necessary exposure time in the camera.  The earlier salt print method, on the other hand, was generally used for positive prints because it was easier to use, less expensive and, at least in Talbot's opinion, gave more attractive results.

Obviously, the taking of landscape photos was much more problematical in the mid-nineteenth century than it is today.  The equipment - consisting of large format view camera, tripod and plate holders - was cumbersome to carry even to a nearby location in the countryside.  How much more amazing then are the photographs of Ernest Benecke - represented here by Coptic Village in Upper Egypt (1852) - who worked in the Mideast and Linnaeus Tripe who created portfolios documenting his journeys in India and Burma.  The primitive conditions in which these photographers were forced to work, not to mention the extremes of heat to which they were exposed, were much more arduous than any faced by modern day shooters working for National Geographic.  

Benecke and Tripe are celebrated today for having been among the earliest travel photographers. In spite of this, little is known of Benecke's life other than the bare facts of the Grand Tour he took through the Near East in 1852.  It was only in 1992 that a portfolio of his work was located and the extent of his accomplishment in ethnography made clear.  A 1994 New York Times article details the discovery and the subsequent purchase of the portfolio by the German collector Werner Bokelberg.  More is known of Tripe who was an officer in the British East India Company and official photographer of the Madras government.  In 1855 he accompanied an British expedition to Burma where he photographed sites previously undocumented by Westerners.  Tripe was also incredibly proficient at his craft.  Though he also used the salt print process, he achieved greater sharpness by apparently treating the prints with a coating of albumen.  (Though I have a working familiarity with some of the alternative photographic processes, I have never come across a description of this particular method and am curious to know how it is achieved.)  Also, in contrast to other photographs from this period in which the sky shows no detail at all, only a blank white surface, Tripes's prints - The Hill Fort at Trimium, Poodoocottah, India (1858) and Beekinpully, Veerabuddradroog, Madras, India (1857-1858) - have a great deal of detail in the sky area.  When I asked at the gallery how this was possible, I was told he touched up these areas of the print with watercolors.  If this was indeed the case, Tripe was masterful in his use of paints.  Even on close examination, no trace of brushwork can be seen in the finished prints.

The works of many other photographers were on display at this exhibit.  The most notable of these were Charles Nègre, who once studied painting under Ingres and whose medium format (9,3cm x 10.8cm) Woman at the Seashore (1860's) was my personal favorite among the images shown, and Roger Fenton, who shortly thereafter gained great acclaim for his photographs of the Crimean War.

The exhibit continues through November 20, 2015.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Día de Muertos

I took this photo today in honor of Día de Muertos.  I put myself at an odd angle and got in close at maximum focal length (equiv. 250 mm) and aperture at 5.6 to keep the depth of field as shallow as possible.  I wanted the skull out of focus to keep the viewer from realizing that it was just a leftover Halloween decoration.  I edited the jpg in DxO FilmPack 3 using the filtered Kodak HIE effect.