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Art, Thoughts

Art & Rules


The quote below is from “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind“.
I find it pertinent to our times, as it seems it’s becoming very common to think Art doesn’t need rules.

[…] perfect freedom is not found without some rules. People, especially young people, think that freedom is to do just what they want, that in Zen there is no need for rules. But it is absolutely necessary for us to have some rules. But this does not mean always to be under control. As long as you have rules, you have a chance for freedom. To try to obtain freedom without being aware of the rules means nothing. It is to acquire this perfect freedom that we practice zazen.


What is photography?


Trying to answer this question is obviously challenging. I’m not approaching the task with the assumption to wind up with an ultimate answer at the end of the journey. In fact, I don’t even think it’s fundamental to come up with a definitive conclusion, most likely all the opposite. As with any journey, we can learn more as we go through it than at the end of it. There are things we learn during the transition that can definitely enrich us, regardless of the outcome.

Each time I asked myself what is photography, my mind started wandering on territories like art, techniques, technology, truth, society, medium: can a photograph represent the truth? Is it OK to use Photoshop to manipulate a photograph? How much manipulation is enough? How has photography changed after social media? Is photography art? What is art in the first place?

These are not easy questions to answer, but I’ll try to expand on a few of them.
In regard to how social media has affected photography, I wrote here and here. This time, I’ll focus on what is photography.

As with any discipline, there are two aspects to consider: the theory and the technique (as for the practice, we all know the mantra “go out and shoot”).
The principle of the technique is that the camera, through the lens, captures the light and impresses the film. With a modern digital camera, the light received is processed by an image sensor and stored to a memory card, though the idea is basically the same.
Despite the process is so simple, it is the reason for many debates.

The thing is, a photograph is technically never finished in camera. There is always a posthumous process that takes part, which is the development. The most basic setup requires a stage where the photograph goes through a chemical process before it becomes the final print. Again, this process is not much different from what we do today, taking the digital file into a raster graphics editor (such as Photoshop, Capture One, Lightroom, etc.) to ultimately develop the raw file into the more elaborate final image. If we take into account another option that lies in between, which is the presets the digital camera comes with, allowing the photographer to use a filter which somewhat alters what the camera captured in the first place, then you can easily see how things get complicated. Not to mention the camera itself! Each camera is built according to the manufacturer’s preferences, hence a brand can render more vibrant colors, another more muted ones, a third one can enhance the contrast and so on.

If there’s a process at work that somehow alters the nature of what we captured, that is the true image that we experienced at the moment we took the photograph, what’s the point of being prescriptive? The result will not be the exact representation of the source anyway. That said, there’s a big difference from, say saturating the colors vs, replacing a sky. I believe that tweaking the contrast, the saturation, adding a gentle vignette or a subtle dodge and burn are all operations that lie in the world of basic post-processing, as long as they are not pushed too much. There are adjustments we do to correct part of the photograph that might be weak, such as exposure, sharpness, contrast. But even these basic adjustments can be pushed to a point where they twist the nature of the image. When the post process can be considered exhausted falls into the vast, foggy reign of “this is art, how much I push it’s up to my taste”.

There’s art and there’s technique.


People who approach photography, or more in general art, from a taste standpoint, are confusing art with food. This attitude, which usually comes from people who, in this type of conversations back up their mentality with an argument based on freedom, and most likely will react negatively to any type of rule-based response, is actually a very poor, naively constructed statement. Whoever remember some art history, and hence will connect the dots, will notice how this misunderstanding grow its roots from a rather superficial reading of the Avant-Garde. When Dadaists brought the ready-made into galleries, it wasn’t in response to a taste need. But that very moment, which now goes back to more than a century ago, has been misread by many as a form of “I can do whatever I want as there are no rules”. Actually, even Dadaism had its own rules. In fact, its principle was to annihilate itself, for Dadaism in order to succeed, had to die, which is exactly what happened. Taking that approach (most likely without even knowing where the principle originates from) is a convenient way to barricade themselves behind a wall in order to prevent any possible critique. Then the Pop Art made the confusion even worse. Anyway, I personally find that attitude rather pretentious, because it actually sounds like “since other artists did it before me, therefore I can do it too”. Those who follow this principle are basically considering themselves nothing less than artists like Picabia, Tzara, Duchamp, Man Ray to name a few. But other than personal glorification, which after all it’s purely naive and actually can be more harmful than helpful, the worst effect this mentality has is preventing people from learning and understanding the rules, especially in the case they want to later break those very rules, and considered all the people who break them today, the world should be filled by artists. The truth is, most of the time the rules are broken to save the image, to create what wasn’t there in the first place, to push the post process as far as it can go, to depict an idealization of beauty: over-saturated landscapes, glowy-bokeh portraits, unrealistic sharpened macro, in other words, to lie.

In photography’s early decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images. This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset.

Susan Sontag, On Photography

After all, this type of approach pays off when it comes to collect new likes on Instagram. A fake image that obeys to the current standard of beauty, approved by fake likes and that live only for a short moment. What an irony!

(and Technicality)

As we have seen, even the most basic of the post-processing can take the image to extreme results. What then? In order to keep the photograph balanced, there are tools that can help us in that sense. The zone system and the histogram can be a solid guide. Of course, there are situations where the histogram can be misleading, and we have to let our judgment lead us. Now, these tools give us a reference in terms of what range we can use, although that doesn’t mean we have to stick to it. But if we want to take the freedom to disregard that reference, it must be for a valid reason.

© Eric Kim

Perhaps the picture above might have some impact on someone. The author painted that silhouette (or crushed the levels with a rather approximate selection I would add) in order to make it stand out. Without this intervention, the image would be just another snapshot of a man walking in a street. Is this still a photograph?


Another debate you may hear quite often, still in the post-processing context, is that photographers have been post-processed their work since the dawn of photography through techniques such as Pictorialism, Photogram (with some adaptations like Rayograph, Schadograph) and so on.
These techniques have been around for more than a century now, why should it be different today? The principle, after all, is the same.

Coming to the conclusion that post-processing of any type is still photography because it has been done for decades before us, doesn’t actually look at the nature of the post-processing itself, hence it doesn’t answer whether those techniques are part of what can be considered photography or not. The artists who elaborated those techniques didn’t call them photography, but rightly gave them a different name. If photography is capturing what is in front of the camera, through the lens, in which way a Photogram would still be photography? Furthermore, in which way Pictorialism should be considered photography? Manipulating the photograph by adding elements (for instance, with the use of brushes in the case of Pictorialism) is changing the nature of the photograph itself by adding something that wasn’t there in the first place. It’s very different from, say, increasing the contrast or burning an area of the picture. When we introduce a new element we are taking the photograph into another territory which can be graphic design, pictorial, collage, and so on. It is not photography anymore, rather photography is used, among other techniques, in order to create something new or different. Whether the outcome is art or not, is another topic and has nothing to do with the discipline. But what the discipline is called is crucial, otherwise, the risk is to distort the very principle that gave birth to the discipline. Manipulating the words is manipulating the meaning.

If we take into account this basic, but quintessential concept, we look at the photo in the example above under a different light. Naturally, all of this is for me an epistemological curiosity, not an evaluation in terms of quality. I’m not here to judge whether that image is a nice photograph or not. I find it extremely useless to evaluate a piece of work from an appreciation standpoint. This type of approach is cold, it prevents the discussion to move forward. What I find intriguing is if I consider that image a photograph at all, and at this point, the answer should be rather obvious.

The illusion of truth

Photographs don’t tell the truth. In the best case scenario (when all the possible alterations discussed above don’t take place), a photograph represent a portion of the space, converted to a flat surface, framed uniquely by the photographer, capturing a frozen moment in time and lastly, distorting to some extent the perception of the physical space in relation to what lens is used.

Most likely the same photograph of the same subject matter taken by different photographers will be different from each other, or actually will look oddly similar if preconception and cliché take place:

The immensely gifted members of the Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930s (among them Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee) would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film—the precise expression on the subject’s face that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry. In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects. Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are. Those occasions when the taking of photographs is relatively undiscriminating, promiscuous, or self-effacing do not lessen the didacticism of the whole enterprise.

Susan Sontag, On Photography

Photography is the first example of the modern, technological extension. What the camera captures is not the thing, but the auto-referential representation of photography itself. When we look at a picture what we’re looking at is the photograph as a container, a manifestation of the medium itself, the photograph becomes the content. When we browse through the multitude of pictures on Instagram, we are not looking at photographs. What we look at is Instagram.

As Wittgenstein argued for words, that the meaning is the use—so for each photograph. And it is in this way that the presence and proliferation of all photographs contributes to the erosion of the very notion of meaning, to that parceling out of the truth into relative truths which is taken for granted by the modern liberal consciousness.

Susan Sontag, On Photography

Our distorted perception starts even before the shoot, the moment we prepare for the photo we pose using the best possible light and location as if is not the medium to have to adapt to our condition but the opposite.

They take me outdoors (more “alive” than indoors), put me in front of a staircase because a group of children is playing behind me, they notice a bench and immediately (what a windfall!) make me sit down on it. As if the (terrified) Photographer must exert himself to the utmost to keep the Photograph from becoming Death. But I, already an object, I do not struggle.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

The Story that Never Was

A photograph can’t tell a story, is only a frozen moment in time which gives us no clue of the events before and after nor the surrounding circumstance as the image is restricted to a frame, a portion of the space experienced at a given time. When people refer to the story behind a photograph, they are being only hooked by the feeling or the sentiment the photograph can evoke. There’s no story that can be narrated by a single frame.

The thing is, photographs garner some marginal pseudo-value, storytelling-wise, as long as people build the story after the fact, or a strong lexical connection takes place as images are tied to words. Pictures have become the shortcut to the meaning, especially today, since the lack of meaning has surrendered to the language of signs. That is why it is so common to see titles going along with photographs. The flatter and duller the photograph, the stronger the title: the final step of a post-processing stage meant to create a pseudo-value.

There can be no evidence, photographic or otherwise, of an event until the event itself has been named and characterized. And it is never photographic evidence which can construct—more properly, identify—events; the contribution of photography always follows the naming of the event. What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness. Without a politics, photographs of the slaughter-bench of history will most likely be experienced as, simply, unreal or as a demoralizing emotional blow.

Susan Sontag, On Photography


I think that there isn’t a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability… They do not tell stories. They show you what something looks like. To a camera.

Garry Winogrand

Social Media, Thoughts

Photography as a currency exchange


Considering how photography is being experienced, with a consequent loss of value, it also occurred to me that more than a loss, there’s been a mutation of that value into something different, a substantial change since the system has changed itself.

The main use of social media like Instagram is mostly to grow hordes of followers, therefore the real objective is not photography itself but the numbers of followers. There are a few techniques to help the process, nevertheless, the main vehicle is still the images that fill up the feeds.

When the images become a value in order to achieve a second purpose (the real one), the images themselves cease to have a photographic quality (by the way, already dismounted in the first place by the very semantic value that Instagram carries) and surrender their signic charge to the real purpose (that is, to increase the followers). Heterogeny of ends is what describes this situation in a rather accurate way.

Besides automated tools created to increase the number of followers (bots), there are methods that people regularly use. The mechanism is really simple: I like your image if you like mine. The consequence of this approach is that images are now being used as a currency value (and I’m specifically using the word images and not photographs because it’s rare, if not impossible at this point, to see photographs that have not been manipulated one way or another – Instagram itself is a container that manipulates and changes the nature of what people publish regardless of what has been done at the source).

For reasons discussed here, and for the fact that images on social media can also assume a currency quality, it follows that they can hardly be considered photographs anymore. If on top of that we also take into account McLuhan and Baudrillard insights discussed before, it’s easy to infer that not even in the best case scenario (e.g. when an honest example of photography ends on any type of social media post) we can consider what we perceive as a true photographic experience.

Social Media, Thoughts

The day Social Media killed Photography


I’ve been wondering for quite a while now whether I should keep my Flickr account or not. One of the reasons why I didn’t close it yet, is because going on Flickr and seeing what others were doing made me feel I had to work harder in order to improve.

Slowly this feeling vanished, nonetheless I thought it was an opportunity for me to compare my work with the work of other photographers. But then I realized that there’s no reason to have a Flickr account for that. I can simply look at those galleries without necessarily having one. Or better, go to a real gallery and see actual printed photos. For what concerns having my work in a social media gallery, there isn’t much reason either, really. What would be the point? Let’s do a quick analysis.

Two good things about social media which aren’t so good.

  1. Followers. There are techniques to gather a growing multitude of followers. It is simply questionable the morality of such methods. In fact, the very understanding of those techniques made me question the sense of a Flickr account in the first place, or more in general, of any social media.1)
  2. Gratification. How nice when we get that comment, or we see our Like’s counter increasing! Well, assuming I didn’t go the dirty technique route (which I will explain later), and I’m playing a clean game, than I shouldn’t feel bad for some appraisal. After all, I worked for it! But the thing is, a comment like “Nice capture” doesn’t help me get any better, it may only help my self-esteem which, if that’s the case, it means it is not photography what I need in order to feel better, but some evaluation of what I am as a human being. In other words, I believe whenever people look for an “Awesome work!” comment, their main aim is not the work itself, but something personal that goes beyond the nature of the job they’re doing.

But why we never get a comment about the composition, the light, or what we could do in order to improve the photograph? Two reasons: people are not interested and people don’t know. To be precise, we must take into account a third reason: the time. There isn’t much time to go through all the things we have to do every day, and also give some random dude we don’t even know an elaborate, serious feedback about one among the myriads of pictures we’ll see in just a week. And that’s the problem with social media, an intrinsic one and to be clear, this is not the case of “there’s nothing wrong with it, it is how we use it that makes the difference”.

Some things are built wrong.

General David Sarnoff made this statement: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.” That is the voice of the current somnambulism. Suppose we were to say, “Apple pie is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value.” Or, “The smallpox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value.” Again, “Firearms are in themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.” That is, if the slugs reach the right people firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the right people it is good. I am not being perverse. There is simply nothing in the Sarnoff statement that will bear scrutiny, for it ignores the nature of the medium.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

So, what is wrong with social media? Let’s consider the popular Facebook. Hundreds of posts every day, many of which irrelevant. Some selfie here, some photos of cats there, a status update, some life logging. Then there’s a little conversation, which usually involves a few “likes”, perhaps a link or two to some website, and that’s it. This is the average scenario. Facebook has not been created in order to provide people an exhaustive means to communicate. It is a platform where people can experience little samples of Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame phenomenon, but it is not meant for any serious conversation.
It is also permeated by a narcissistic attitude, although it is a deceiving idea of narcissism. Of course, we do like feeling appraised, but it is not just that. McLuhan has a better explanation of narcissism. For him is what we perceive as an extension: not being able to recognize the image reflected, there’s a deceptive perception of the other than the self, hence a fallacious certainty that the image is an extension which eventually will anesthetize our perception.

The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

A large part of the tools we use nowadays, especially the most appealing ones (technological tools, electronic devices, social media, and so on), fall into the McLuhan’s narcissistic interpretation. The tools we use have become extensions, hence we can’t disconnect, we experience them in a sort of endless loop, a closed system as McLuhan describes it, where the input and the output overlap, and what could be expressed with the own sentences and words, becomes a link to a website, a quote, an image, a photograph. And since the tool is our extension, hence the idea that a professional tool makes us professionals. We all, at some point, saw someone with a big, expensive camera and thought, even if for a moment, “he must be a professional”.

We experience signs, not symbols.

The need to speak, even if one has nothing to say, becomes more pressing when one has nothing to say, just as the will to live becomes more urgent when life has lost its meaning.

Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication

Considered a significant part of our communication is today experienced through the use of images, the quote above is pertinent to photography as well, thus “nothing to say” sounds particularly appropriate looking at the plethora of images produced every day. How many accounts on Instagram, Flickr, 500px and so forth, are really needed? Let’s rephrase it better: how many of those accounts really add something significant to the language and the evolution of photography?
Now, of course, we can’t evaluate all those galleries from a quasi-elitist standpoint. A lot of them simply fall into the category of people who does it for fun; after all, life needs some amusement. The problem is, there is no difference between a gallery by a truly passionate and one by somebody who has no particular interest in the photography per se, but rather in the social experience that the network fosters. Social media really are a leveler. What really matters are the numbers, and those numbers have little or no relation to the quality of the gallery itself or with the content.

Where it gets really dangerous is when we realize that the quality itself really doesn’t have much relevance anymore, because the very signified is being exhausted by the signifier.

Information devours its own content. […]
Rather than creating communication, it exhausts itself in the act of staging communication. Rather than producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning.

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

In other words, what really matters is the means itself rather than the outcome. Whatever the meaning may be, it is the signifier that now takes over. It is not what we read or see on Facebook, it is the very experience of Facebook that in the end overshadows its own content. It is not the gallery on Flickr with our work and hours spent in order to produce it that really matters, it is the number of followers, favorites, comments that come into play here. Also, notice what happens to your picture when you post them on Instagram: they suddenly look different. They have to adapt to a format, and that format is what gives them a new form, almost as if those pictures were taken by someone else.

The symbolic power of the work of art has surrendered to the subduing speed of the sign. What we experience on any social media ceases to have any meaning and becomes a strand which is part of the flow that travels faster than any form of media we experienced thus far in our entire history. Ever wondered why so many copycats nowadays? And yet, rip off is not even an issue anymore. If a sign is floating on the Internet, then is practically available to anyone. Mantras such as “steal like an artist” are all over, there’s no copy anymore, there’s only the illusion of the real. The output and the input are now part of a closed circuit, whatever goes out, comes back. There is no source, as the user is the source and the destination at the same time.

By crossing into a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor that of truth, the era of simulation is inaugurated by a liquidation of all referentials – worse: with their artificial resurrection in the systems of signs, a material more malleable than meaning, in that it lends itself to all systems of equivalences, to all binary oppositions, to all combinatory algebra.

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

The sign is indeed more malleable than meaning. Being the sign less abstract (the name is the thing, the swoosh is the shoe, the flag is the nation, money is power, and so on), being the sign a closed circuit, it is paradoxically more open than the meaning as I can virtually use anything since there is no need to expand on the absence of a concept.
The system we experience has, ultimately, become self-referential. We, the so-called “content creators”, are at the same time producers and consumers. In this unprecedented continuous overflow of signs which along their path have to cross no boundaries, it has become indiscernible where they originated from and where they are headed to. It is a liquid network, where no boundaries exist and no differences either.
We believe that having a faster way to communicate at our disposal, it also triggers a more creative environment. I don’t agree with that. More often than not, I find that disconnecting and be my myself is the only way to cleanse my mind from all the so-called references, which I believe have just become repeating patterns rather than inspirations.

How to increase your followers.

So, what about the techniques I mentioned earlier?
They are very basic, and they work. Let’s take the case of a Flickr account (but it may well apply to other social media).
First, you need to start following people, the more users you follow the better. Then, you want to start picking your favorites, loads of favorites. Now you start slowly posting your own images and, as you do that, you won’t stop doing the first and second step. And now comes the best part (you might not need this) as, among the steps mentioned here, this is the most embarrassing one: you now have a good amount of followers, and you want to keep growing your audience so you keep adding other users, with a difference, though. Check if they start following you as well, if not then unfollow them. Basically, what other people’s galleries look like has no importance, because once you have gained enough followers, they are just numbers. Hence, if they follow you, they are worth it, otherwise, don’t give them anything for free.2)

The outcome.

Is photography dead?
Being photography subject to the culture where it’s produced, experienced, and used, to give a proper answer we need to look at the context where it is employed. The nature of the Internet, and more specifically of the social media, works as a filter which turns virtually anything into its own byproduct. It makes more sense asking: have the social media changed the way we experience photography? Definitely, and it’s been a drastic change to a point of no return. From this standpoint in a sense, photography is dead, although it is insofar we keep experiencing it the way we currently do.

The way social media work doesn’t allow the luxury of any suspension. There’s a massive loss of meaning, a staged illusion took its place. How can photography outlast then?
Despite photography by nature is a fast means of production, on the other hand, the complete assimilation of a photograph as a work of art would presume the very suspension which we seem to lack nowadays. Experiencing photography as we do these days undermine its very nature.
I have personally lost any optimism in the social media idea. I deleted my Facebook account already 6 years ago. I keep a Tumblr account only as a repository for things I find around which I consider interesting, or stuff that might be useful for my work.
The two accounts left are Flickr and LinkedIn, and I’m seriously considering closing the former.


Aesthetic, Thoughts

Streets of Los Angeles and a side note on picture perfection


This is a challenging city for people who want to take photos in an urban environment, or maybe not, depending on what the photographer is looking for. Still, it’s kind of a unique place. One may find similarities between, say, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and so forth, but not with LA.

Distances are really something here. You can see lots of cars, but not a lot of pedestrians. And even the streets, which you would expect full of cars, suddenly might look empty.

LA West Pico, an usual busy road
LA West Pico in broad daylight, commonly a busy road.

Alright, that’s a street of no particular interest.
Let’s see what’s going on in Downtown then:

Clifton's Cafeteria, Downtown LA
Historical Clifton’s Cafeteria, Downtown LA

That’s as busy as it can get on a Saturday on Broadway, in front of an iconic LA place.
Back on Pico:

Pico Blvd

Now, considering I don’t take pictures of homeless people, I’m not interested in landscapes, buildings, flowers, wildlife, staged pictures, portraits, the only thing left, which is people, is not an element easy to find here.

Anyway, I keep trying although I have to admit sometimes it gets a little discouraging. These might not be the streets of my beloved European cities, nor Tokyo or other majors, more traditional urban-like style cities such as New York, nonetheless there are people
though, because of a different environment (i.e., physical space and the way people relate to it), habits and behavior are different as well.

People of LA

The back view issue.

Another thing I tend to avoid, besides photographs of homeless people, is back views. It just feels effortless, an act of a lazy person, it’s a frame that lacks interest as we don’t see the face. That said, I took the picture shown below because I thought that, despite we only see the back of the two gentlemen, their posture and the rotation of their heads, should be enough to make the connection with the sign the woman is holding. Whether that’s enough to turn it into an interesting picture or not, well, that’s a different story.

Is it the arms enough to avoid the lack of interest of a back view?
Is it the arms and the heads oriented toward the sign, enough to avoid the lack of interest for a back view?

Things I don’t consider.

My own pictures.

All in all, I don’t care too much about the pictures I take. I enjoy taking them, I have fun when I edit them, but that’s it. The interest I can have wondering whether a picture works or not is strictly because of my interest in the discipline itself, not the picture in particular. In other words, when I look at my photographs, I look at them as a means to figure out what photography is to me, not the photograph itself.

Picture perfection.

In the Clifton picture, as well as in the Auto Repair one, there’s some quite noticeable lens distortion going on. I just don’t care. And I don’t, not because the pictures I posted here are among those I don’t consider good enough to end up in my gallery. I’m not obsessed with perfection for the pictures that go in the gallery either.

I think nowadays we have become obsessed with perfection.
To begin with, it’s just annoying and boring. It seems everything needs to fall into the perfection rule basket, turning the majority of the images we experience every day, treated as they were clones or as if they have been produced in a factory. But even more terrifying, is the idea of perfection itself. What is perfect and how we judge that anyway? “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, someone might add. As if the beholder doesn’t have his own prejudice, as if his notion of beauty has not been trained over the years by what the beholder experienced around him, his culture, his level of knowledge.

What makes one’s idea of beauty more valid than someone else’s? Here it gets complicated. It is not the intention of this post to investigate further into this topic.
For now, let’s just say that distortion can be part of beauty. Greeks did this centuries ago when they built their columns. I still remember my high-school teacher explaining that there’s a connection between the oval shape of our eyes and the way we perceive, which is why we don’t see perfect, straight lines, but curved lines and that’s what Greeks have done with their columns:

Entatis – Convex curve to “fix” the optical illusion

That explains also why in theaters screens are curved, which is in order to compensate the distortion along the edges at the peripheral areas.

Same applies to the lens choice:

The Dark Knight - lens distortion
The Dark Knight – lens distortion


Bridge of Spies - lens distortion
Bridge of Spies – lens distortion

The two examples above might look exaggerated, especially the screen grab from Bridge of Spies. The thing is, when we watch a film, we don’t pay attention to these details, as our brain has to keep up with a lot of things happening at the same time (acting, direction, light, music, etc).

When I watched Bridge of Spies the second time, I wanted to pay attention to some details as it was kind of a more analytical watching. Even though I knew about the lens distortion and how the brain compensates for it, there are scenes from the movie which literally tricked my perception. When I was pausing on a frame, the distortion was there, clearly noticeable. When I was playing back the scene, the distortion was gone. That’s part of what can be achieved with a good camera blocking.

Art, Thoughts

Another blog about photography? Not really


It seems that lately, anyone with a website and a photo gallery needs to have a blog and share techniques, tips, and their own point of view about Photography.
I followed several of these bloggers, read many articles, went through the comments and almost every time I did it, I felt disappointed, annoyed, discouraged (and of course it’s totally OK if you have the same reaction while you’re reading this).

Either they are strictly technical (new camera vs old camera), hence not adding anything new to the plethora of blogs already out there, or when they try to get more philosophical, they deliver the same trite formula of advice, which is very popular nowadays: 5 techniques to become a better street photographer, 6 lessons I’ve learned from (add whatever photographer’s name here), how I overcome the fear of shooting in public.1)
Sometimes a tip or two might actually be useful. Most of the time, though, it’s nothing you can’t figure out by yourself already, which would also give you the joy of experiencing it first hand (the best way to learn something).

This is not a blog.

So, before I move forward, I want to be clear: this is not a blog. This is not a place where I share tips, techniques, reviews of the latest gears. I have nothing to share in that sense, neither I’m interested in it.
I’m learning, and I’m trying to understand what photography is to me. This is only a place I will use to keep my thoughts a little more organized. That’s it.

Now, despite I consider myself relatively new to photography, on the other hand, I have strong opinions on matters related to photography and the reason for that is my background as a painter. After all, considered that photography and painting are both visual languages, several aspects are common. For instance, I’m still learning the history of photography, nonetheless, I have a pretty good grasp of what surrealism is, and to me, this is not surrealism:

Jerry Uelsmann


Tommy Ingberg – Crow, 2011


Martin Stranka

This has more to do with a visual habit with signs that have saturated our culture (just hop over to this page and notice how many images there are with floating bodies among the works presented). But it also has to do with the idea of creativity. In fact, it has become very common to hear people saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, “it’s Art, there are no rules, it can be anything”, “steal like an artist”, and so on so forth.
The moment you argue with this, you are considered a person who has no creativity, as someone who’s trying to dictate rules (apparently, Art has no rules).

Why bother?

Side note: a dear friend of mine once noticed that Art, after all, is a bourgeois’ manifestation. It almost felt as if spending time tinkering with these matters is a quasi-futile activity (he didn’t specifically say that, and maybe it was just my assumption). Anyway, I partially agree with that, but regardless I believe that asking what Art is, is what makes men more aware about what surrounds them: the environment, the other human beings, ultimately it’s what makes us more sensitive to the matters of life.
If that’s true, there are reasons to be positive, as at first glance we could say nowadays we are experiencing more creativity than ever, with plentiful of innovative ideas, images, videos, overwhelming every field. I personally believe things are quite the opposite.

What comes next

So, to quickly recap, there are a few things I mentioned so far:

  • What is Surrealism?
  • Art and its rules.
  • Where we are at with Creativity.

Also, as I started digging more on photography, I’ve found myself asking questions like:

  • What’s the difference between photography and painting?
  • In what circumstance is a photographer allowed to do post process work on a photograph? And how much is too much?
  • Is it photography a big illusion? If so, does it make sense to talk about candid shots vs staged shots?
  • What is Street Photography? Is there such a thing?

I’ll write more on these topics in the following posts (not sure when).