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Author Topic: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article  (Read 2580 times)

Paulo Bizarro

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Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« on: April 10, 2017, 10:18:52 AM »

Very good and interesting read. I am happy to see a Portuguese photographer mentioned, José Ramos. I am an admirer of his photography. However... I do not agree fully that his work is not "embellished" or "augmented".

It is hard for me to believe that such photos as:

http://www.joseramos.com/portfolio-image/dissolution-of-eternity/

mentioned to in the article, have not underwent extensive processing in the computer.

Kind regards.

Larry451

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2017, 10:36:54 AM »

+ 1  Jose's work is certainly "embellished" and still works
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alainbriot

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2017, 12:09:49 PM »

For me Art has no limits.  There is nothing that cannot be done in art because the guiding principle is our vision and our vision can take us in any direction.  The goal is to express ourselves and have fun in the process, not be bound by limitations.  I do 'unspeakable things' (my term) to my photographs, I love every second of it and so does my audience.  Have fun with your art and let go of limitations, whether self-imposed or 'powers-that-be' imposed.  Free yourself and if someone asks if your work is manipulated (or embellished) just say yes! Doing so has made me successful and it will make you successful too.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2017, 01:07:33 PM by alainbriot »
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Alain Briot
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EricV

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2017, 12:23:52 PM »

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  In this case, the two pictures by Ramos completely obliterate the argument in the text that photography should faithfully represent nature.
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alainbriot

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2017, 01:20:14 PM »

The definition of art is simple: Art has no limits.
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Alain Briot
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Mark Lindquist

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2017, 11:08:55 AM »


The writer writes well.  Yet there is so much that is distorted in this article I can't begin to know where to start.
All photography is a distortion of nature.  The first glimpse through the lens mars perfection.

In my view Mr. Stearn is actually discussing content-based documentation rather than "Fine Art".  It is no small feat to re-define that moniker given all of the water that has run over THAT dam.
Mentioning Weston (a Group 64member) and Steiglitz (a proponent of pictorialism) in the same breath is odd.  (The F/64 crowd with the attendant law of reciprocity)and hours used to make one exposure is the ultimate equivalent of saturation and vibrancy sliders.

("Group f/64 was more than a club of artists; they described themselves as engaged in a battle against a "tide of oppressive pictorialism" and purposely called their defining proclamation a manifesto, with all the political overtones that the name implies.")

Using filters and graded papers in the darkroom shoots the theory that  these guys were reproducing nature "responsibly" or "ethically" when in fact much of the work was bleeding edge experimental.  They had a creative vision and they followed that vision using what techniques were available to them at the time.

Stearn writes: "In support of creative experimentation, exaggerating these aspects may be appropriate if the objective is to create alternate realities and perspectives, and the resulting image is presented and classified as “Computer Graphics” rather than as photographs. But, often this distinction is not made. Failure to make it undercuts the longstanding tradition of nature photographs as honest and faithful portrayals of striking scenes and special moments."

I don't think I've ever see a black and white image of nature that is an honest and faithful portrayal of nature.  Last time I checked, the world was NOT black and white... nor have I ever seen a waterfall with billowing clouds spewing down and out where flowing water actually was.

"But, for some there seems to be a prevailing “anything goes” attitude that values concept more highly than craft, and sometimes prefers short-cuts over study and hard work. Those who prize both creative interpretation and craft, and who are also honest about the nature of their creations, are most likely to produce fine art. Lazier photographers may produce art, but rarely fine art."

Art is as art does.  I'm not quite sure what the motivation is to govern and standardize photography other than to qualify one approach over another to achieve market superiority."  The market does ultimately make those distinctions despite the attempts of the real arbiters of taste, the art historians. 

I find it ironic that Mr. Stearns mentions the Impressionists:  "Ironically, it also played a part in the development of the Impressionist movement that started in Europe, as painters had to find ways to differentiate their product from the new more efficient art form."

The impressionists were a group of upstarts who railed against the government sanctioned salons, the "standardised" boring academic art institutions.  The plein-air artists rejected past conventions in favor of a new way of seeing and painting:

"Scientific thought at the time was beginning to recognize that what the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different things. The Impressionists sought to capture the former - the optical effects of light - to convey the passage of time, changes in weather, and other shifts in the atmosphere in their canvases. Their art did not necessarily rely on realistic depictions."

As well written and presented as Mr. Stearns article was, I'm afraid there was a more than condescending tone about it, and I question, again, the motivation to "upgrade" what is granted, well crafted documentation work, over any other interpretation of a scene as being superior.

I suggest a "live and let live" attitude.  On the other hand, jump out there and form a society of like-minded photographers who share in your views and approach to your vision of art.  But before you can legitimately call what you and others make "Fine Art", superior to all other approaches, perhaps it would be best to authenticate that claim with evidence other than your opinion, backed by art historical documentation and extensive museum holdings of your claims.

There are good points in this well-written article.  Yet I believe that to use a colloquial southern expression, it appears Mr. Stearn "has quit preaching' and gone to meddlin'."

"We work in the dark.  We do what we can, we give what we have.  Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task.  The rest is the madness of art"  -Henry James
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alainbriot

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2017, 01:25:13 PM »

 'I don't think I've ever see a black and white image of nature that is an honest and faithful portrayal of nature.  Last time I checked, the world was NOT black and white... nor have I ever seen a waterfall with billowing clouds spewing down and out where flowing water actually was." Mark Lindquist

Right on!  Plus, no matter how large the print, I have not seen a print that shows a waterfall life size... I always keep in mind the story in which Picasso is debating with a friend the 'realism' of photography.  His interlocutor believing that photographs represent reality, Picasso asks him to show him a photo of his wife.  The person pulls out a passport-size photo of his wife.  Seeing it Picasso asks 'why is she so small?' The person answers that it is a photo.  Picasso then says 'I thought you said photos represented reality?'
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Alain Briot
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luxborealis

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2017, 02:32:40 PM »

+1 to Alain and Mark

Standards in any art form only exist because people are constantly trying to pigeonhole and classify things; case in point: photo contests and juried shows that have boundaries regarding what can and cannot be done. There are no boundaries in art (for better or worse, depending on one's p.o.v).

Furthermore, what was cutting edge decades ago is standard practice today. While one may be thrilled with a compliment like, "Wow. That's just like an Ansel Adams (or an Eliot Porter)!", if it's just like someone else's work, you may have achieved great technique and vision, it's lack of originality precludes from being "fine art", more "decorative art".

Most of what we see in photography (here and elsewhere) is "decorative art". The truly artistic photographers usually scares the hell out of people or it's simply misunderstood.

I don't fault Mr. Stearn; what he has written is the commonly held p.o.v. misguided as it may be.
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alainbriot

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2017, 02:42:32 PM »

Thank you Terry.  Regarding photo contests, while I confess participating in some in the past, I know better now and refuse to be a judge even though I am asked regularly.  If I want to enter in a competition, either as a judge or a participant, I will enter one in which a stop watch, a finish line, or a measuring stick are used.  Those include track and field, car racing and the like.

To enter in a competition in which the 'winner' is decided on the basis of the judges' opinion is simply ridiculous.  While it might make some (very little in fact) sense in regards to beginning artists' work, it makes absolutely no sense in regards to accomplished artists' work.  Can you imagine the outcome of an art competition in which the participants are Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh, to name but three painters?  Or of one in which the participants are Ansel Adams, Cartier Bresson and Edward Weston to name but three photographers? Remember, there can only be one winner. No ties!  Good luck judging that one!

The outcome of the vast majority of art competitions is to wrestle artistic creativity into a mold shaped by the judges opinion of what art should be. Forget that!  I create art because I want to be free to express myself, not because I want to kiss someone's behind in order to win a ribbon.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2017, 03:14:27 PM by alainbriot »
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Alain Briot
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Mark Lindquist

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2017, 03:10:48 PM »

+1 to Alain and Mark

Standards in any art form only exist because people are constantly trying to pigeonhole and classify things; case in point: photo contests and juried shows that have boundaries regarding what can and cannot be done. There are no boundaries in art (for better or worse, depending on one's p.o.v).

Furthermore, what was cutting edge decades ago is standard practice today. While one may be thrilled with a compliment like, "Wow. That's just like an Ansel Adams (or an Eliot Porter)!", if it's just like someone else's work, you may have achieved great technique and vision, it's lack of originality precludes from being "fine art", more "decorative art".

Most of what we see in photography (here and elsewhere) is "decorative art". The truly artistic photographers usually scares the hell out of people or it's simply misunderstood.

I don't fault Mr. Stearn; what he has written is the commonly held p.o.v. misguided as it may be.

Yes, thank you Terry.  Conformity in the art world is often the kiss of death unless you happen to part of a group on the cutting edge (Pop Art while it was happening, etc.).
Today, landscape images are mostly classified as being a part of "the school of" as they largely adhere to certain criterion that judges seem to be looking for.

Agreed Alain, contests are a fool's errand, especially if you are at all original.

The real "prizes" in photography are inclusions in important publications, or museum permanent collections.  Lifetime achievement awards don't hurt either  8)

Sharon VL

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2017, 12:35:32 PM »

Very good and interesting read. I am happy to see a Portuguese photographer mentioned, José Ramos. I am an admirer of his photography. However... I do not agree fully that his work is not "embellished" or "augmented".

It is hard for me to believe that such photos as:

http://www.joseramos.com/portfolio-image/dissolution-of-eternity/

mentioned to in the article, have not underwent extensive processing in the computer.

Kind regards.

Where I live, we get such amazingly intense sunsets and sunrises as Mr. Ramos shows. The entire sky is like being under a dome of incredible contrasts and colors. Some of the intensity of Mr. Ramos work is from the long exposures in the camera. I don't think that the majority of them are heavily processed.

Sharon

Mark Lindquist

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2017, 01:38:03 PM »

I was interested in finding out what Mr. Ramos has to say about processing. 
I was delighted to read his "Seven Tips For Fine Art Landscape Photography" on his blog, where he basically advocates editing according to one's own vision.

7 Tips For Fine Art Landscape Photography

"I couldn’t leave this one out, even though I’m quite tired of the good old debate about post-processing in the modern age. I will avoid stating my personal opinion on this subject, but I can tell you for sure that editing is an absolutely essential tool to create remarkable images. Everyone who spends a lot of time on the field, constantly looking to his LCD to review images, knows right from the start that as soon as the light enters the lens and hits the sensor, everything changes, and one of the most reality-altering processes as already taken place: light transduction into a digital form. Then you come home with what we should call a digital negative (and yes, you need to use RAW to get the most out of your images), where contrast is low, shadows are dark and some highlights might be blown, among other aspects needing correction like white balance, vibrance, and others. This is the time where you need to keep feeding your creation with love and tweak the image to your liking, turning it from raw to deliciously cooked. There are endless ways to edit an image, and everyone will find his own path to do it, from simple Lightroom tweaking to complex Photoshop editing, so you should keep in mind that you need to make the most out of your image to maximize its visual and emotional potential."  - José Ramos

joseramosphotography

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #12 on: April 14, 2017, 08:37:29 PM »

Good evening from Portugal.  :)

First of all, it was a big honor to see two of my images in such an elegant article by Harvey Stearn!

I don't think Harvey tried to demonstrate in his article that "Fine Art Landscape Photography" should not be post-processed. The simple fact he mentioned Ansel Adams easily shows this. Throughout his article it's quite clear that he defends that one should avoid turning landscape images into clearly unreal scenes, achieved through heavy post-processing, and this is where I think he euphemistically uses the term "embellishment".

Like Sharon already said, sometimes Nature presents us with the most unreal displays of light. It is unfortunately a rare occurrence, but perseverance will occasionally bring us scenes where we could easily say that "the Creator must be using Photoshop today".

Using long exposure techniques and ND filters will further intensity many visual aspects of landscapes, while still preserving the natural interplay between light and colors.

Mark decided to quote one of my seven tips from my blog article, but he forgot to emphasize the point where I write that "I will avoid stating my personal opinion on this subject". Well, my personal opinion is that we always need to post-process images, as the RAW file will always be an extremely bland representation of what we saw but, when I mention complex Photoshop editing, I'm talking about accomplished Photoshop users who dominate luminosity masks, advanced local contrast enhancements, blending masks, etc, while still honoring the integrity of the original image, and not about complex editing/digital manipulation where you mix skies from different scenes, remove relevant objects or totally change the colors or light of the original image. Once more, the omnipresent argument that Ansel Adams created reproductions of Nature filled with integrity and beauty, while using extensive darkroom processing, is a great example that post-processing doesn't keep one image from being "Fine Art Landscape Photography".

Since my blog article has been quoted, I think this reply would be incomplete without adding two other tips I wrote about, that are pertinent to this discussion:

2- It will always be about the light…

You should have seen this tip being mentioned quite often, but it is still as true as on the first time it was written. Unless you have the talent of a landscape painter like Turner (and if you do, then why are you doing photography?), you will always need to get the best possible light to turn mundane scenes into remarkable images. Special light creates special images, and this is absolutely true in landscape photography. Shooting a gorgeous scenery under harsh light and clear skies will create a good photo, but certainly not a remarkable and unique image, as it will lack contrast, depth, tonal range and “emotion”. Creating “art” requires the presence of an “Artisan” who is also an “Artist”, meaning that he is both skilled in his craft and passionate about his subject. One of the most important raw materials a photographer should work with is light, so you should always spend as much time as needed to find the perfect light conditions to shoot a scene. Even though every now and then you might be lucky and find stunning light by chance, this is a chase that invariably needs many hours of preparation and scouting.

5- Patience and persistence will always pay off

Landscape photographers work with the most stubborn and unpredictable light assistant ever, so you should be ready to cope with frustration, cold, stress and physical pain. People always think about landscape photography as a very zen-like activity, but if you want to get the job done, then be ready for a delicious adrenaline rush when you are trying to deal with temperamental gear, harsh environment, physical obstacles and quickly changing light, where the famous golden hour should unfortunately be called “golden minutes”. You will need to return to the same place quite often, and frequently return home with no interesting images. You will be the first person arriving or the last one leaving your location, and meals will probably be skipped or made during odd hours. It’s not romantic or easy most of the times, but when all elements combine and you capture a great image, there’s nothing that comes close to that feeling of oneness and meaningful purpose!
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John Camp

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #13 on: April 15, 2017, 07:17:14 PM »

Thanks for Mr. Stearn's excellent article. He didn't use these exact words, but I think another way of expressing what he says is that he advocates for craft and authenticity, as opposed, say, to what will produce the most sales or make the most popular calendars. The idea that all photography is a distortion of reality is the kind of navel-gazing that I really don't have much time for -- it's like a bunch of sophomores sparking up and arguing about God. Instead of a lot of verbiage about art, look at the images. How many people think the latter-day Arizona Highways over-punched slot canyon images are really good art? Then look at Moonrise, Hernandez New Mexico and say that it isn't. I don't entirely believe in Martin Mull's maxim that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture," but I think people should keep it in mind when putting down their ideas about photography. It's perhaps impossible to say or write exactly what you mean by "fine art," but it's not impossible to point out examples, and to discuss ways that serious artists have produced what is distinctly and unmistakably art. I think that's what Mr. Stearns was going for, and largely achieving, in his fairly direct language.   
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vartkes

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Re: Harvey Stearn's Fine Art Nature article
« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2017, 09:46:10 AM »

Mr Stern's article has produced some insightful discussion above. I would like to raise two ideas that may draw more discussion;
1- Is 'fine art' about originality that resonates with a viewer? Bringing the insight of the viewer of a photograph, the viewer's cumulative mental library of images seen in the past and the viewer's interpretation based on their own context and history into the discussion is I believe, important.
2- Mr Briot's observation that scoring, grading and declaration of a winner in competitions and juried judgements are absurd is right on. This very pervasive and popular form of photographic enterprise especially in amateur camera clubs results in restricting and often preventing creative, original, fresh ideas developing, just at a period of a photographer's developing their craft and artistic expression.
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