I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...

Started May 24, 2013 | Discussions
Detail Man
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Re: I would like to discuss the anesthetics of photography ...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

Great Bustard quoted:

... they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

I can see it now. Future DPReview subject titles:

"Question: Is my new Rottweiler Primo Lens Soft Enough ?"

"User Review: The new fangled Whizbang XYZ-1 sports the Lowest Resolution Yet !"

"Article: The Exposure Triangle - Secrets to increasing your Noise/Signal Ratio."

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MoreorLess
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to jbf, May 24, 2013

jbf wrote:

I only take digital photographs and I'm primarily a hobbiest.  I'm not a pixel peeper and don't get involved in discussions about image quality.  The reason I'm commenting here is because I agree partially with the original quote, but I have a slightly different take on it and I'm curious what others think.

In my opinion, some film photographs have a quality that most digital photographs don't have.  I wouldn't call it "unnecessary detail", so that's where I differ from the original quote.  The closest adjective to what I see in film photographs that was used in the quoted discussion is "smooth".  It's kind of like the contrast is reduced in the film photographs but they aren't flat.  They still have great contrast, the tones are just smoother.  It's difficult to describe.  Hopefully that makes a little sense.  I'll reiterate that it's not all film photographs, just some of the very high quality ones.  Not having much expertise with film, I don't know if that quality is related to a certain type of film, or something to do with medium format film cameras, or other factors.

I've seen numerous people attempt to use post processing to replicate the "film look" in their digital images.  Most involve tweaking specific ranges of lights, darks, and midtones via Curves adjustments.  They usually add grain as well.  It's a difficult edit to do well.

Thoughts?

jbf

I'd agree with this but I'm not really sure it relates to the original post. Smooth tonality is I'd guess the product of using a larger film format or maybe a very fine grained slow 35mm film, I find it unlikely that a E-3 is going to provide a similar kind of smooth tone.

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MoreorLess
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography ...
In reply to Detail Man, May 24, 2013

Detail Man wrote:

Some of those pre-ceptive expectations (I suspect) exist as result of previous viewing experiences (environmental nurture). People more familiar with film photography (may) approach more modern technologies, resolution, and signal/noise ratios with with a pre-formed set of expectations. I am doubtful that there exists some "golden eye" as a universal objective template.

This would be my guess as to whats happened in this situation, photographs processed in a fashion that mirrors film meet the expectations of those used to film.

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John1940
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Re: I would like to discuss the anesthetics of photography ...
In reply to Detail Man, May 24, 2013

Detail Man wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

... they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

I can see it now. Future DPReview thread titles:

"Question: Is my new Rottweiler lens soft enough ?"

I've got a couple of Canon EF lenses from the 1990s that might just get a second life. One is the original (and first) image stabilized lens, the 75-300 zoom. Then, even better, there's the EF-s kit zoom lens that came with the 300D almost 10 years ago. Yahoo! Where did I put that thing anyway...

"User Review: The new fangled Whizbang XYZ-1 sports the lowest resolution yet !"

"Article: Secrets to increasing your Noise/Signal Ratio."

John1940

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Ron Poelman
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I think it has less to do with softness ...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

than the excellent word used, smooth.
Visually, I am happier with the "look" of recent shots, using older Minolta lenses,
than their more modern equivalents, right down to the softness on the edges
quietly drawing attention to the main subject.
Technically backwards, but the final product just works better.
If my Sony cam is a relentless marvel of ruthless technical excellence in accuracy
and my Minolta lens is a flavoured product from a company developed over decades,
why would it not produce something more than the sum of the parts ?
It's not far removed from picking the right film stock for your SLR, all those years ago.
Software has gone backwards too,
IMHO most sharpening software still doesn't cut it.
Nothing I have tried recently deals with surfaces and edges as well as
the old Raw Shooter Essentials, now long gone.
It at least could preserve some subtlety of form,
the newer ones are still too obvious and not "smooth".

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panos_m
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to brianj, May 24, 2013

brianj wrote:

panos_m wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

panos_m wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

Is this a question on realism?

Not really.  The question is on the relationship between the detail in a photo vs the appeal of the photo.

Yes but isn't more detail another step closer to reality?

When I look at a landscape or scene with my eyes I don't see every blade of grass etc but that is what people want when they zoom right into an image and inspect every pixel, so I don't think getting a lot of detail is getting closer to my reality.

Brian

The key word here is zoom I think. I prefer to look at the full picture and make a judgment and not a part of it. On the other hand there are photographs that are presented at huge sizes (covering walls) and you are obliged to watch a part of them at a given time . I am not sure how to approach these yet. I am thinking a lot on this. An example from an exhibition of Craigie Horsfield:

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Panagiotis

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SuvoMitra
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Detail as a virtue
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

I think the quote says something important about how people view prints when it is the image content that matters to them. Content, composition, colour, and lighting take precedence over sharpness/detail as a virtue in itself. If the depth of field is not well suited to the scene, or camera shake is obvious, then these rise up and detract from the viewing experience. If there are sharpening artefacts or hyper-real details, these can also draw the viewers' attention away from the whole image by violating their expectations of how much detail should be accessible when they foveate an image element. This can distract viewers and give a feeling of being interrupted from their viewing. On the other hand, if the content appeals, viewers' brains can be quite tolerant of less-than-optimal detail. Of course, all this is different in some macro, still life, or some fashion images where sharpness/detail beyond normal viewing expectation can be a key quality in the image.

Images on film couldn't exceed the naturalistic detail threshold (being contained by the medium's construction) but only approach it with good optics and excellent technique. Digital images can be, and often are, tweaked past that point, and are also often viewed at larger sizes closer up than is comfortable to view prints.

A good question to ask when working on an image may be whether the lack of sharpness somewhere in it is drawing attention (much like bright patches in the background or periphery can do). This could be by losing detail that the eye wants to see, or by losing contrast that lowers the image's overall impact. If not, then sharpness is a non-issue. However, it gets harder to know where the line is the more familiar the image becomes.

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Glen Barrington
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Didn't comedian Robin Williams once say. . .
In reply to Detail Man, May 24, 2013

Reality!  What a concept!

I'm thinking that reality is as much an artificial construct as anything else in the universe.  Reality is what we choose to believe it is.  Arguing about the nature of what is real is pretty useless in my opinion because there are so many definitions and nuances in just the language used to describe reality, that it gets bogged down in endless "Yes it is"/"No it isn't" arguments.

Which on second thought, means it's the perfect topic for most DPR forum users!

   By the way, this emoticon is real.

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Glen Barrington
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

It is interesting, but it should have absolutely no effect on how we pursue our own vision regarding photography.

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brianj
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to panos_m, May 24, 2013

panos_m wrote:

brianj wrote:

panos_m wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

panos_m wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

Is this a question on realism?

Not really.  The question is on the relationship between the detail in a photo vs the appeal of the photo.

Yes but isn't more detail another step closer to reality?

When I look at a landscape or scene with my eyes I don't see every blade of grass etc but that is what people want when they zoom right into an image and inspect every pixel, so I don't think getting a lot of detail is getting closer to my reality.

Brian

The key word here is zoom I think. I prefer to look at the full picture and make a judgment and not a part of it. On the other hand there are photographs that are presented at huge sizes (covering walls) and you are obliged to watch a part of them at a given time . I am not sure how to approach these yet. I am thinking a lot on this. An example from an exhibition of Craigie Horsfield:

-- hide signature --

Panagiotis

Too much minute detail could distract from the message in this type of display, detail in my view is last on the list of important artistic atributes.

As this image demonstrates: Move back in your chair and be drawn into the image, imagine yourself in in a rickshaw seat like the one on the left passing you, then look ahead into the distance, and the thrill of what is to come.

Racing in the Streets

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Jeff
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

First off, it's a provocative observation and fine grist for an interesting conversation.

There's something very appealing about this fellow's impressionistic style.  However their photographic attributes might be described (smoothness?), the images don't require the eye to work so darn hard processing all that fine detail. They are images with all of the conventional attributes of color and formal composition, but the impressionistic quality keeps attention focused on the macro rather than the micro scale.

Maybe another away of the making the point is to imagine comparing them side by side with a super detailed version of the same subjects composed the same way. Of the trees, for example, one might be drawn in to look at detail in the bark. In Cole's images that becomes irrelevant not because the detail is missing, but not by a technical flaw. It's not there by intention.

Now that sensors, lenses, and software, etc., have advanced to the point that incredible detail is within reach of the masses -- has it become too much? We all look at pixels all day, at work, at play, at the movies, on the weekends shooting images. Maybe the appeal is to back off a bit on the micro contrast and learn how to photograph the forest, not just the trees.

Much food for thought here.

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ZOIP
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Re: I think it has less to do with softness ...
In reply to Ron Poelman, May 24, 2013

Hi Ron and others.  I know where you are coming from with regard to the lenses.

If I may I would like to add a few points to ponder that really set my mind to work around 10 years ago. Whilst attending a particularly boring conference my mind began to wander, (it needs little assistance and prodding to do so) and I began to wonder how might one achieve images that had that "being there look" and why was it that virtually all digital images I came across lacked it.

From that point after several years of testing and experimenting I developed a complete system of image creation that basically works on a completion backwards principle.  I am not going into that here, it is the subject of a 4 day workshop I run once a year but I will suggest a couple of things that I feel relevant to this subject.

Most modern lenses produce files that are too high in overall and local contrast, add onto this that the files then get further sharpened to add a little extra contrast and the images are pushed over the edge so to speak.  It is a very subtle thing but that higher initial contrast leads to a certain synthetic look that is almost impossible to tame.  Low contrast lenses sort of add a toe and curve to the file that makes post editing far more successful if one is after a natural realistic look.  Files from old Minolta glass can be in my experience and opinion particularly beautiful, and I will happily put my money where my mouth is, I have made more money out of my old Minolta 28-85 than any other lens I own.  Even those with little concept of photographic quality etc look at the resulting prints (and lets keep the talk to prints, web images are another breed altogether) and comment how "real" they look.

Another related issue, which someone sort of touched on is sharpening.  The issue is I feel that most sharpening is global in nature, which means you end up with things sharp that really shouldn't be, for example backgrounds that sit beyond the eyes natural ability to see clearly in real life, meanwhile closer up areas display the wrong sort of sharpening, often at a radius that it far too high.  Additionally most sharpening expands the brightness values of the highlights thus looking quite fake. One could spend a week discussing sharpening but agree with a previous poster most methods and peoples efforts are deficient and in the end really really good methods of sharpening defy automation and pre setting.

Going further I feel most exhibited digital work I have seen for sale and indeed much of what is placed on the net has the colour turned up to 11, it gives immediate punch but in the end draws far too much attention to itself and degrades the long term visual experience for the image in question.

In the end, reality (for want of a better word) is the hardest thing to acheive in photography, much easier to throw a pre-potted effect over the file or cover it with visual sauce and call it art, than to do the hard yards of actually creating an image that stands the test of time and subtly conveys the full emotion and message of a scene through thoughtful and subtly applied tools.

Noise is another factor that gets treated badly, noise of the right type is actually a positive in terms of real world print output, but most cameras are set up to virtually kill it stone dead so the files look good at 100% on screen views......

and on it goes

Digital processes are perfectly capable of delivering but I feel many modern tools, methods and short term instant approaches work against the end result.  I have little doubt that some camera/lens combination probably bring folk closer to the end we are talking about here by virtue of their supposed shortcomings.

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Trying to make the complex simple

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Detail Man
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Re: Bokeh Schmoka ...
In reply to Detail Man, May 24, 2013

Skip the newly neutered DPReview "Image Smoother" interface, download the Originals, fire up a real Image Viewer at 100% view, and bleed your golden eyes on some of that "unecessary" detail.

GH2 + LGV 14-45mm + mono-pod, cherry-picked ETTR RAWs, DxO Optics Pro with "Lens Softness" corrections, 16-bit Lanczos-3 decimation by an integer down-sampling ratio of 3, 16-bit mild post-USM (Radius=0.33, Strength=0.6), JPEG encoding with no Chroma SS or Quantization Compression.

Download Original: http://www.dpreview.com/galleries/4464732135/download/2567638

.

Download Original: http://www.dpreview.com/galleries/4464732135/download/2567639

.

Download Original: http://www.dpreview.com/galleries/4464732135/download/2545617

DM ...

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AlbertInFrance
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That is soooo 2012!
In reply to Detail Man, May 24, 2013

Looks like I'm a trend-setter.

Lovebirds

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Albert
Every photograph is an abstraction from reality.

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Calinature
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

Thanks for the interesting discussion.  Here's my take:

The human mind selectively sees just a few objects/scenes at any one time.  A good photograph should limit the scope of presentation through selective composition, effective contrast of lighting, etc.  Perhaps modern digital photography has fostered an overly ambitious, overly expansive, overly saturated look...because we have the technology to do so.  Mark Twain once said of Bierstad's paintings that they were better than the original. When I see photos like Galen Rowell's (which was originally film), I wonder if these brilliant scenes would eventually be too much as a print on a wall?

Another way to express this concept is fractals. Landscape studies have shown that an intermediate level of complexity is more appealing that either too simplistic or overly crowded, detailed scenes. Perhaps the appeal of black and white is that one element, color, is removed to that the composition can be accentuated.

Good photographs, as "art", should be somewhat stylistic/impressionistic/symbolic that leaves a little imagination for the particular viewer.  With too much detail and clutter, one cannot see the forest for the trees.  Or perhaps showing just a few trees is more effective than a whole forest. This is not to say that detail isn't important in some parts of the photo.

Is too much dynamic range also contributing to a digital look? Is lifting too much shadow giving a flat look to photos?

Again, thanks all for your many insightful comments.  JEFF

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ROC124
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

Have time only for a quick response right now. My original comments were about what I was hearing from actual buyers and potential buyers in a gallery. Other photographers had an opposite opinion.

I was interested in this issue of too much extraneous detail and too self-consciously photographic prints because local galleries have told me for years that photography generally doesn't sell well. I'm trying to understand why, so I always question potential buyers.

Easy to separate other photographers from potential buyers at the galleries: the photographers have their faces close to the prints looking at the details, and potential buyers are standing back looking at the whole image!

Thanks for starting this thread.

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Detail Man
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetes of photography ...
In reply to ROC124, May 24, 2013

ROC124 wrote:

Easy to separate other photographers from potential buyers at the galleries: the photographers have their faces close to the prints looking at the details, and potential buyers are standing back looking at the whole image!

There you go. The moral of the story is that the wages of image sensel worship are an eternal pit of hellish unfulfilled desire, ever searching for the elusive mythical Airy disks, but finding only motion blur, chroma noise, banding, frog spawn, halos, and jaggies. Repent while you still can, oh peepers of the pixel. Interpolate your wayward sensels forthwith, or perish by the cruel hand of fractalicious fate !

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SuvoMitra
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Dynamic range
In reply to Calinature, May 24, 2013

Calinature wrote:

Is too much dynamic range also contributing to a digital look? Is lifting too much shadow giving a flat look to photos?

Spot on, I think. Lifting shadows too much, as is all too often the case with HDR, can quickly make the scene unnatural (and unpleasant). Shadows without much detail (or lower contrast) balance a good scene. The brighter/lighter the highlights, the more the brain expects rich shadows.

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Jeff
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to ROC124, May 24, 2013

ROC124 wrote:

Have time only for a quick response right now. My original comments were about what I was hearing from actual buyers and potential buyers in a gallery. Other photographers had an opposite opinion.

I was interested in this issue of too much extraneous detail and too self-consciously photographic prints because local galleries have told me for years that photography generally doesn't sell well. I'm trying to understand why, so I always question potential buyers.

Easy to separate other photographers from potential buyers at the galleries: the photographers have their faces close to the prints looking at the details, and potential buyers are standing back looking at the whole image!

Thanks for starting this thread.

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Enjoying your intriguing observations.

As photographers we may find creative expression in the development of the medium, where detail and technique can carry a meaning distinct from the image itself.

I'm reminded of a question addressed to Susan Sontag that led to an essay in her book Regarding the Pain of Others. "Can photography stop war?" She was discussing a different type of photography, of course, but her response was about the overriding importance of narrative and context.  The unique aspect of photography is that it testifies to an underlying reality. The reality is established by the mere fact it is a photograph in the first place. Once the reality is established, everything else is about the response evoked in the person viewing the photograph.  In the context of photojournalism it's about narrative.  In the context of nature photography is may be more complex.

So I think you're spot on, photographers are likely to interpret photographs differently from others, just as an engineer is likely to view a bridge differently.

It's an important lesson to keep in mind.  And as you point out, a practical one, too, since it can make the difference in a sale.

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Osvaldo Cristo
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Photographic language
In reply to Great Bustard, May 24, 2013

Perhaps I have an odd point of view of Photography as I see the Aesthetics in Photography exactly like any language (natural or man-made):

  1. It is a form of communication between people so you have to arrange a common code in order to transfer information (Semantics)
  2. It is dynamic, so its vocabulary (elements) and syntax (rules of use) will change with the time
  3. Its real appreciation usually will happen only after the mastering on the language elements

It is the reason, for example, I cannot appreciate some kinds of "art Photography" from 60´s and 70´s. Almost all are crappy to me despite I read eventually some of them been purchased for hundreds thousands dollars! Certainly I am aware it is due to my ignorance on the used language (its vocabulary and syntax).

Of course, exactly as "natural communication language", several Photographic languages or Photographic Aesthetics can co-exist simultaneously in different niches but there is always a main stream where most of people will ship.

If you have a particular Photographic market to work on, your success will depend of your creativeness to deal with the elements the Aesthetics your target customers have to Photography and to maintain close follow up for the tendencies and changes in this Aesthetics.

I am not aware the actual modern tendencies changing the current language, but I am absolute sure the language is changing.

Best regards,

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Opinions of men are almost as various as their faces - so many men so many minds. B. Franklin

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