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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Visualizing Art Series: Post-production software use in photojournalism and fine art photography: Believe what you see?

In my opinion, culturally, we have entered into a paradigm shift in how we approach and look at photographs.
Using an assortment of post-production software - and even some in-camera programs - a plethora of different image file manipulations are at every one’s finger tips. Thus, the temptation to use (or abuse) these tools is seemingly hypnotic: from the casual cell phone camera user to professional photographers, there seems to be an urgent need to morph almost every picture that populates review screens. In my opinion, and within certain genres of photography, post-production manipulative tool usage is not just prolific, its more abusive than ever, making us question what is genuine photographic art or what is real in newspaper and magazines articles and the photographs that accompany them.

From the removing of dust particles to distorting the original psycho-physiological photographic characteristics in “realist” style photographs (these examples commonly seen as High Dynamic Range compositions, where ordinary portraits, structures or events is presented in a hyper-reality), we are inundated with these altered realities being published and promoted (and accepted by some), as a new norm. Another software example that was created to take the “artist” out of photography (in my opinion) is “LandscapePro”, an advanced post-production software created by Anthropics Technology Ltd, in London, had me falling off my office chair in anger (not shock!). The software can change almost any landscape photo into a fully realized balanced composition with just a few clicks! Amazing, yes! Disturbing, genuinely!   

And addressing the manipulation of images in photojournalism – it has been well documented, indeed. Believing Is Seeing (Observations On The Mysteries Of Photography) by Errol MorrisPenguin Press 2011, investigates topics such as, ‘intentions of the photographer’, ‘capturing propaganda and fraud’, and ‘photographs reveal and conceal’, documenting cases of journalistic fraud with text and accompanying photographs. This book is an eye-opener on the prolific use of manipulation in journalism to twist or otherwise obscure the truth in trying to create alternative narratives that only serve the authors' left or right wing agenda. 

In my opinion, culturally, we have converged to a paradigm shift in how we approach and look at photographs: we are now conditioned to stop and look at a photograph and ask, was it captured naturally or digitally manipulated to create the final piece of photographic art or the news photo and accompanying text. In fact, this is so prevalent, when visiting galleries and museums - especially when viewing new fine art photography from photographers that have been shooting, maybe the last 20 or 30 years, a disclaimer is often posted along with their bio stating all photographs are rendered without extensive post-production manipulation! Something the photographic artist never had to think about, even as late as 12 years ago.   

There is a lot more for us to discuss and debate here, but for now, I am suggesting that a cultural shift, if you want, is making us question the “narrative-validity” of most photographic art and news related photos: from so called “fake news” to the morphing of reality through the use of techniques like High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography in creating hyper-realities, we can no longer freely interpret what we see and read as real, but instead, pause and contemplate the validity or authenticity of a piece of photographic art, and photojournalism that inundate our space through television and more perversely through social media outlets. 

As always, I look forward to hearing your response: whether you agree or have alternative points of view - I hope to hear from you, all.  Thank you.

Kind regards,
Lance A. Lewin 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday's Photo Tech: Fine Art Photography Technique & Inspiration

Photo1: Portrait: Beverly Appell Witkin by L.A. Lewin 2012
Photographer, lecturer and professor at the College of DuPage, Jeff Curto, asked four questions in one of his classes: intrigued, I decided to present my thoughts that best answer these questions giving the reader insight into what I believe is currently defining photography in our digital culture.

1. When does a photograph cease to be a document? It depends upon what is being recorded: 1. If we are looking at journalistic type photographs, once the image misleads the viewer of the actual event, person or location – the photograph ceases to be a document. These types of pictures inundate us everyday – most commonly seen in tabloids where the meaning of the subject (commonly, a person) is purposely twisted: the photograph is either captured or cropped to mislead the true context in which the subject is surrounded, thus the photograph and story behind it becoming ambiguous: misleading the reader towards the magazine or newspapers alternative agenda.  2. When traditional fine art photographs, including landscapes, street, and portrait photography is altered by digitally manipulating pixels, the photograph is no longer a document. That is to say, when the portrayal of the subject becomes abstract or otherwise change the overall appearance of a photograph to the extent of transcending its original psycho physiological photographic characteristics engenders digital art, and in some cases obscures the truth or altogether changes it, in my opinion. In both of these examples the documentary is falsely presented thus rendering them useless as a document. 
Photo2: Digital Art
2. Should altered photographs come with warnings? Well, “Warning” is a bit too strong for me, but include in the photographs description a statement indicating the use of heavily pixel manipulation or simply: present the work as digital fine art, as apposed to fine art photography.

3. Why do we want to alter the real? 1. For the corrupt journalist it may be a matter of getting the “Big scoop”, as it were. Altering a scene to help enhance a story or worse, crating a fictitious narrative. (For example, the manipulated photo credited to Ben Curtis capturing the Beirut, Lebanon conflict in 2006: additional smoke was added to photo to make the scene more intense then it actually was. The photo cited below.)  2. The “real” can also be heavily (digitally) manipulated the purposeful attempt of a digital artist creating an alternative reality, for example. (See Photo2 and Photo3)
Photo3: Michal Macku's Digital artistic interpretations
4. Where is the digital photography revolution taking us? Beyond boundaries: stretching our boundary of knowledge in photonics to unravel mysteries that lead to solutions in the creation of new ideas. Surrounding our world with an uncompromising wealth of creativity bringing beauty in the visual arts and scientific achievements yet to be envisioned.

Again, these are my opinions and you may have your own thoughts on how photography has changed as the digital culture around us continues to influence artistic expression and how we communicate.

I look forward to reading your comments.  Ciao.

Best regards,

Cite 1. From Errol Morris "Believing is seeing (Observations on the mysteries of photography) The Penguin Press 2011
Beirut, Lebanon, July 26 2006

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday's Photo Tech: Looking back at 1982 Amish Country

Amish Lad Photo & Text by Lance A. Lewin 2015

I stare at the image below often – the 16x24 print sits propped up against a wall left to my desk – the rosy cheek lad forever looking back.  He speaks to me – eyes so riveting as to seemingly pierce me – deliberately painful – as punishment for infiltrating his space and snapping this image.  

Amish Lad Photo by L. Lewin 1982
You see the young boy is fishing with his brother’s are in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania: Amish country.

Lancaster Pa - L. Lewin 1982
For the most part the countryside is flat and dotted with farms with old-order Amish men plowing fields – standing or sitting behind horse-drawn blows turning up the earth in preparation for spring seeding.  If I remember correctly, we turn right onto a smaller – narrower – paved road when we see six young boys dressed in traditional old-order long coats and straw hats scamper across the road in front of us.  We drive slowly towards the spot they disappeared.  

Now, I was well aware the Amish populations, especially the old-order Amish families, do not respond well to outsiders photographing them.  However, while Anne waited behind the drivers seat I followed three of the boys. The image was so inviting: three straw hats atop of identical long broadcloth coats, each boy carrying a simple fishing pole.  I snapped off two or three shots (Minolta XD-11 affixed with 100mm lens and loaded with K64 Slide film.). They kept moving about, but I was confident it was not from being pursued, but rather finding the right spot to settle down and cast their lines.  However, feeling their uneasiness I kept my distance.  The 100mm lens was perfect in this situation. 

Lancaster Pa - L. Lewin 1982
As close as I was going to get – I stopped and arranged a composition through the viewfinder – the lad turned and looked through my lens – It was the shot I was hoping for – I pulled the trigger.  In an instant I pulled my eye from the viewfinder and gave the young boy a smile.  I hear yelling behind me – father was calling the boys – I quickly pulled myself up the embankment  - the father was toting a rifle and yelling at me to leave – sliding into the passenger side of our car – Anne made a quick u-turn and we were gone.

However, if my plan were to visit the region again to complete a photo-essay – perhaps following one family for several days or weeks – I would work hard to introduce my intentions, gain their trust and hopefully be rewarded to follow and photograph their lives.

And so, the endless one-way exchange between the Amish boy and myself continues: does the Amish lad – now a grown man likely in his 40’s – remember me?  If we met would he nod and approve of the photograph, or would I be lectured, or worse, quietly admonished through his stare. 

“Amish Lad” Captured in the Amish landscape of south-central Pennsylvania – L. Lewin 1982

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Excessive-Compulsive Shutterbugs: is photography replacing reality?

Everyone is surfing on the digital photography wave, and why not, the entire process of taking photographs - from pressing the shutter release button to viewing an image - has become as easy as throwing a sealed container of frozen ingredients into a microwave oven and presto, dinner is served in a few seconds!

Photo by Stewart Butterfield
As a result, a world-wide subculture of picture-taking fanatics have taken post behind camera viewfinders and handheld device screens, and seem to be hiding around every corner and behind every tree. Never mind the intrusion of “Big Brother” watching over the fictional dystopia super state, Oceania, (depicted in George Orwell’s 1949 novel, Nineteen Eight-Four), present reality has everyone watching and capturing everyone else, and accepted as a normalcy! Yes, it really is funny and actually quite amazing when we step back and view digital photography as a new dynamic influencing culture across the globe.

So yes, there is an overwhelming need to record every thing from the lunch plate in front of me to cousin Sally’s dance rehearsal later that evening. A lot of images are snapped up everyday, and many will be reviewed and deemed special enough to be uploaded to lap tops and other more permanent residences in wait for post-production manipulation and storage for later viewing by family and friends. 
Collectively, the catalogue of hundred (and more likely, thousands of images; a result from the compelling habit of pressing and holding down the shutter-release button; a compulsion manifested out of the digital photography revolution, indeed) of pictures depicting family gatherings such as backyard birthday celebrations, snap shots of a newborn, a student celebrating his or her graduation, the rebellious teenager throwing rocks during a demonstration, documenting a do-it-yourself-project, or as simple as photographing a high-dollar dessert at an expensive restaurant, forming sentences and ultimately chapters in our lives that culminate into a final publication of life-long memories.

Photographs share a fundamental sociological dynamic; the catalytic effect of photographs elicit and then collate stowed parcels of time exposing our past; rekindling memories from an enormous catalogue of life events. As time recedes, sometimes so do our memories. As a result, we loose the ability to reminisce about experiences we once held dear. Photographs provide a point of reference to assist in recall to provoke the subconscious collection of emotional diversities of our past, into conscious heart felt experiences.

Photo by Julien Constans
It has always been my standpoint, one of the most effective means of enjoying the prolong sense of time is to capture and then regularly view photos with family and friends, together stimulating memories and experiencing the emotional journeys that result. “The thrill found in a photograph comes from the onrush of memory” (John Berger – Keeping a Rendezvous – Vintage 1992).

As a family we still plan an event where I pull out the old slide projector – and more recently scanned slides presented off a 47 inch TV screen, as opposed to yesterday’s projections onto a silver screen. But whatever the method, watching each photographic image flash by, and with it a small piece of our history, never failed to bring incredible enjoyment. When these “slide shows” are shared with close friends and extended family the experience is – well, like living the event all over. We spend sometimes a quarter of an hour on a series of just three or four slides as the whole clan gets caught up in the details. Each participant is engaged in photo elicitation; extracting specific memories from each projected image - smells, taste and light are relived creating a wonderful experience sometimes provoking extreme laughter or tears of sorrow.

Taking a break from our photographic devices – or photo-detox – as many have suggested, in an attempt to help us reengage the present, consequentially disengages our connection in preserving it. In my opinion, we do not consciously disengage the “now” when photographing a person, place or thing in hopes of experiencing it in the future. We photograph to experience the emotional impact these people or events gave us again and again long after the particular space and time has vanished.

This being said, we must remind ourselves to enjoy the actual event while it is happening. Fully experiencing the event in our present space and time is the essence of life. Missing out on wondrous moments are moments of loss memories to be shared with others in the future. Capturing these moments as a photographic image is only a tool to help us in recall, and as such, should only serve as a supplemental to, and not a replacement for experiencing life in the present.

Photo by Debbie McDougall
So, don’t pay mind to critics that suggest all you folks are excessive-compulsive and loosing touch with reality. Keep on snapping away, recording life from behind trees, light posts, in front of grandma or baby Catharine, and by all means, the beautifully presented dinner the waiter just brought to your table. Societies have adopted the need to record life as part of their daily culture, and I think this is wonderful. And honestly, for all this need to record everything and everyone, perhaps a stronger cohesion between societies is developing as a result, creating a clearer focus of each other and our place in the cosmos.

By Lance A. Lewin

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Merry Christmas in NYC

NYC skyline seen from the Brooklyn Bridge - 2014 L. Lewin
Anne and I enjoyed a few (cold) days in New York City.  There is something special experiencing the Christmas holiday season in NYC - nothing like it, indeed.

Whether while sipping hot chocolate you view Macy's holiday window exhibits or gaze at the magnificent tree at Rocker Feller Center (along hundred of thousands of others), there is an excitement one experiences no other location in the world can provide. 

After the sun fell behind the tallest buildings and eventually below the unseen horizon, the lights of New York City come alive and take over illuminating the greatest city in the world. On this night brightly colored-luminescence from the dozens of electronic billboards that encircle Times Square and line 34th Street reflected off snow flurries sprinkling the city landscape - tickling our nose and cheeks seemingly with multicolored glitter. It was magical - it was fun.

Holiday travelers: Grand Central Station, NYC - 2014 L. Lewin
And the most fulfilling emotion we experienced was one of hope. It did not take long for Anne and I to sense the love the world is really capable of: whether we were briskly walking up 43rd Street, scooting around another hand-clenched couple, meandering around hundreds of people making our way towards Macy's on 34th Street, or stopped, watching thousands of locals and visitors from all corners of the globe mingle like brothers and sisters as we all tried to get a closer look at the magnificent Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, it was clear something special was going on here, indeed. 

Visiting the city that took the brunt of terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent coming together of NYC, as a family, to rebuild their broken city has a profound effect on everyone that walks its streets. A Global Family: multiple ethnic groups representing religions from every corner of our small planet, harmoniously shared each others voice as one: we were here to 'never forget'. To celebrate the rebirth of a city, and show the world the steadfastness of its people overcome adversity, rebuild and forge ahead. A wonderful feeling. A memorable visit to one of the greatest cities in the world we will soon not forget.

Hope you all enjoy a beautiful holiday with your family, friends - and the world.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Lance and Anne Lewin  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday's Photo Tech: Fine Art Photography Technique & Inspiration

Bowman Lake L.A. Lewin 2013

One of the most popular lessons teaching how to create powerful compositions is known as the “Rule of Thirds”. I do not teach the art of composition using this convention. Instead, through the practice of visualization, we learn to interpret what we see and feel – from behind the lens - into a balanced, dynamic composition. Such is “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, the photographic artists may choose to present works as abstract, impressionistic or more closely to realism. How we “see” the subject or event through the viewfinder is our personal vision - our interpretation . Regardless on how the artist presents his or her photographs, a well thought out composition – including the effects of light onto the scene - is key to a successful piece.

No doubt our senses and brain function incredibly efficient as a team, taking in and then processing data and presenting us a front row seat to the world. But how do we capture the “Grandscape” of seeing through the lens of our camera?

Sometimes a solitary subject can lack the presence needed to throw forth the impact the artist intended when composing a scene. As an instructor, my lesson plans always includes discussions on the use of “space”, an essential component in creating dynamic compositions. Elaborating on the environment surrounding the subject within the frame , thereby projects the full emotional value envisioned by the artist.

The following examples illustrate techniques used to create a “sense of space”. They can vary, used individually or in combination, they capture the impact of what we experience in person, hence, generating a more complete visual experience for those viewing our work.

An hour North of Atlanta, Georgia is the city of LaFayette. Known for its numerous caves, including PettyJohn’s Cave, for beginners, and rock climbing and rappelling, my son, Max and his wife Ashley, ask me to join them to capture images of them enjoying their sport. From roadside we hiked a mile – wish I had remembered to take my hiking shoes – big mistake, as the sneakers had little in the form of grip. Max and Ashley took the high path to the top of a beautiful waterfall – from there they gave me a demonstration on rappelling to the river floor. I hiked along the riverbed and took position. I shot off about 24 frames and chose the one illustrated in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 for our first example.


The cropped photo in Fig.1 illustrates a nicely composed picture. The subject is off-centered to allow the viewer to see the rock formations identifying the space in which the person is rappelling, but something is missing to fully engage the impact I sensed on location.

On the other hand, the image in Fig.2 projects a more complete emotional experience for the viewer. Here, we can immediately sense the danger involved rappelling this waterfall. The image reveals height, menacing jagged rocks and cascading water confronting our subject.

Backing off the subject and taking in the whole scene captures the moment as experienced on-site. I captured the scene with a Canon f/1.4 50mm lens; though not a wide-angle lens, formatted vertically – holding the camera in a vertical or portrait position - captured the impact of seeing the subject skillfully, and I may add, carefully, rappel the jagged 70 foot waterfall!

Before we continue, let me share a painful reminder when not being careful during a photo shoot can get you in trouble: sitting on top of a small group of rocks layered on the river-bed, just outside the full spray of the cascading water, I just finished capturing the photograph in this illustration, and not paying attention after sitting so long, standing up, I slipped, dramatically falling 4 feet onto my back - cushioned only by solid rock! My Canon 5D Mark II flew in the air and landed some 10 feet to my left – thankfully, free from the gushing water – but, broke the 50mm lens! Banged up, but functional, I limped out of the forest and spent the next week recuperating in bed. Lesson: be cognizant of your immediate surroundings, not for just taking great photographs, but keeping yourself and your equipment safe from harm.

Fig. 3
From the road where we parked our rental vehicle, high above San Francisco Bay, we strolled a mile across, and through tall grass, ragweed and sticker bushes, where the late afternoon sun lavished the rolling meadows in a sea of golden light; a beautiful place, indeed.  Above, Fig. 3 is a cropped version of the final (represented as Fig. 4) and robs the viewer of a full breath of this magnificent landscape.

Fig.4 Tech: ISO 100; 1/100 sec; F/16.0 @22mm
Fig. 4 exemplifies the opening description above. Two key components that helped translate what I saw and felt was one, applying a wide angle lens and two, and just as important, staying back and waiting for the two hikers to proceed far in front of me. Using a wide-angle lens allowed me to encompass a wide scope of landscape representative of my interpretation of the moment. In the distance we see two hikers making their way up towards the ridge; their distance from the lens – from my position – references the vastness in front of me. The hikers are used as point of reference against the rolling hills. Without this reference my interpretation of this grand-view would not be realized.

As always, I love to hear your comments and answer questions! Thank you.

Best regards,

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sunday's Photo Tech: Fine Art Photography Technique & Inspiration

Saint Mary’s Lake & Wild Goose Island is located near the Eastern side of Glacier National Park. The lake is almost 10 miles long and about 300 feet deep – a beautiful scene anytime of year. Our excursion through the area was in late June, and as a result we encountered a series of storms that brought in thick billowing clouds, strong winds, rain and at higher elevations, snow! Perfect!

Saint Mary's Lake L. A. Lewin 2013

Seriously, “weather” can make any land and seascape more interesting.
Of course, there is a limit to how much rain, wind and snow a photographer (and their equipment) can tolerate! So, a little common sense will go a long way in keeping your photo shoot exciting, safe and successful. Almost the entire 9-day trip to Montana and Glacier National Park included some type of stormy or at least overcast weather. I was thrilled! 1. Overcast (especially bright grey skies) saturate color and 2. It eliminates most shadows – adding a softer feel to some photographs due to less contrast. 3. In addition, billowing clouds, light rain or snow add a layer of texture to the scene that if captured properly through the lens can make a good photograph into a more interesting one.

The shot:
After a long day traveling and shooting, Anne and I traveled East and down the “Going-to-the-sun-road” towards Saint Mary’s to have a late lunch at this great little cafĂ© serving among other things, out of this world home baked pies! Thinking maybe I would capture a few frames at Saint Mary’s Lake later, or perhaps the next day, my right eye caught a glimpse of clouds hovering over the peaks that encircle the lake. Anne! I shouted, stop the car, now! Of course Anne is use to to this behavior, so her reflexes were sharp and instantly found a small spot to pull completely and safely off the main road.

The Canon 16-35mmL-II was already attached to the camera, so no time was lost choosing and attaching a lens – the weather was moving quickly and I was making haste back to the spot I saw a few moments ago – if I was lucky, the picture I envisioned was still viable.

Wow! Wind gusts was 30+ miles per hour; I found a position behind a narrow tree, just wide enough to block the wind overlooking Saint Mary’s Lake and the tiny Wild Goose Island, and still allow me to easily peek and quickly get into position for a shot. I worked quickly because the weather was rapidly changing and I literally had about 1 minute from the time I hid behind the tree to capture the interpretation I was after. I got off two shots holding the camera vertical, and 4 shots horizontal. Many iconic pictures of the lake span the entire girth to include the mountain range on both sides and centering Wild Goose Island in the middle – this was not my vision. This less photographed frame or view (Fig.1) represents my vision as I saw the lake, this day.

Though the original color photograph is beautifully rendered, the GNP series will be mostly finished in black and white, with few photographs published in color. The photograph shown here will most likely be printed in a limited edition of five 24x36 unframed pieces.

Hand held
ISO 100
Captured @32mm
F/4.5 @320 sec
+1 exposure compensation
Post Production:
CS5 used for basic dodge & burn and polarizing filter
B&W conversion via Silver Efex Pro-2: yellow filtering and custom silver dip

Please, your comments are welcomed – I look forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,