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Author Topic: Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?  (Read 6258 times)

DougMWolf

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« on: November 08, 2008, 10:12:07 am »

In looking over the material linked to in the recent Impressions of Light and then looking back at what he's posted on line of his Landscapes of the Spirit photos I was struck by how these two bodies of work appear to represent two almost diametrically opposed photographic philosophies.

Landscapes of the Spirit would be right at home (well, it would be if they worked in color) with the work of many of the group f/64 artists, whereas Impressions of Light would be in a gallery across town populated by the pictorialists whose work was so vehemently eschewed by the f/64 folks.

I'd be interested in hearing folks' thoughts on this contrast - a natural evolution of style, a deliberate contrast by Mr. Neill, or coincidence in the portfolio choices made by collecting images of different styles actually taken over a lifetime of work.  Or maybe just too much armchair analysis on my part.

At any rate, I enjoyed looking through the images, though I'll say that in the main, the Landscapes work resonates with my tastes rather more than do those from Impressions
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JDClements

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2008, 06:43:34 pm »

I'd just call it artistic freedom. It would terrible if artists were forced to stay within some narrow scope based on what they had done previously. I purchased both eBook versions, and thoroughly enjoyed both.
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John Camp

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2008, 11:51:57 pm »

Made me smile to read his post -- the guy has rediscovered a whole style of photography, once a dominant style from the 1880s through the early 20th century. Pictorialism was thoroughly reviewed a few years back in a traveling photo exhibit and a substantial book called "The Impressionist Camera," published through the St. Louis museum of art. The style was crushed (deliberately) by modernism, which made an unnecessary enemy of Impressionism. What Neill used to practice (the sharp hyper-detailed style) is exactly that modernist style that destroyed Pictorialism, and quite a few careers along the way...It was actually ridiculed by leading modernists, including Ansel Adams...

What he (and several other pictorialists) bring to the party that is new is the color -- which in this context is extremely difficult to do well, without  becoming sappy. Happy to see Pictorialism coming back -- it was always a legitimate way of seeing, whatever the modernists might have to say about it...very romantic...and maybe closer to the way the eye-brain combo actually works.

JC
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wolfnowl

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2008, 12:38:27 am »

This may not seem related, but I think it is.  A number of years ago I was talking with an Iroquois man who does contemporary art.  In the course of our conversation he told me that once he had this anthropologist come up to him and tell him that what he was doing was not 'Native art'.  His reply was, "Lady, I'm Native.  Everything I do is Native art."

Both styles of Mr. Neill's work are quite different, but they're both a part of his vision.

Mike.
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john beardsworth

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2008, 04:29:14 am »

I disagree that the recent impressionistic images are diametrically opposed to his Landscapes of the Spirit set. I've owned a much-leafed copy of the book since 1998 and always felt that it contained two different bodies of work. On the one hand are the traditional, pin sharp big landscapes, but on the other you've a lot of small landscapes which are more studies in pattern. Some are sharp, such as those of bark or lichen, while others such as branches over flowing water or the lava shots contain movement. But the sharpness is incidental - they aren't macro or have a technical or scientific concern - and one admires them by almost defocussing the eyes and remembering their impression. Equally the blur is incidental to the pattern and composition in the recent impressionistic images. So difference and development, yes, but no to diametrically opposed. I enjoy both. For such a total divergence, I'd point you to some of his recent grungy HDR landscapes.

John

barryfitzgerald

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2008, 04:20:23 pm »

I am not too keen on HDR in general, and having seen some of his work in that area, it left me a tad cold. But he does have some very nice shots, has to be said. As for the article and abstract work, interesting read. Not really my cup of tea..but, I won't knock someone for branching out, and trying different things, it's part of the fun of photography. Even if it does not appeal to a broad audience.

I look back at some of my own shots, and I am less than keen on a good few, so no shame that not everything hits the spot...


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hubell

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2008, 06:21:25 pm »

The apparent change in the style of his work may have a lot to do with the change in his equipment from a 4x5 view camera shooting film to a Canon 1Ds III.

GerardK

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2008, 03:26:08 am »

Quote from: hcubell
The apparent change in the style of his work may have a lot to do with the change in his equipment from a 4x5 view camera shooting film to a Canon 1Ds III.


Possibly, but I very much doubt it. It's not either/or, it's and-and.

First, although Mr. Neill's contribution is well-written, eloquent and clear, what he describes isn't new or unique, as he himself indicates, others have experimented along much the same lines.

For me personally, I recognise every line and thought in his article, I went through much the same process and wrote a bit about it on my website in September 2006. I'd bought a large format camera to make hyper-detailed landscape studies, but at the same time I also started to experiment with in-camera motion (not even digitally - I did motion images on medium format Fujichrome Velvia. Stunning autumn colors without detail). I found it's two sides of the same coin.

You might want to have a look at the series Motion, Large Format and Memories on my website and click on the intro ("About-") texts on those three index pages. There was a lenghty thread on abstract pictures in landscape photography a while ago on this forum which discussed much the same techniques.

Motion-blurred images require strong, balanced compositions in order to work well. Mr. Neill's work contains excellent examples. Out of the hundreds of images you take using this technique, only those with strong compositions seem to work well.

However, as I saw more and more of this kind of motion photography on the net, I found it is very difficult to tell the one apart from the other. I started clicking from link to link from one motion photographer to the next, and soon found I couldn't tell which was which, myself included, and that's where I sort of lost interest in this technique. To me, landscape photography, or indeed any photography, should be a personal statement, but I found I couldn't make motion photography personal.

I do still sometimes take a series of motion images, because in some aspects it is a very valid and worthwhile technique. For instance, it allows you to take pictures not of 'a forest' but of 'any forest', if you see what I mean. In one successful image, you can show what any forest looks like. You can get to the heart of what the concept of 'forest' is about. If that makes sense to anyone, I hope,


Gerard Kingma
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john beardsworth

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2008, 03:50:50 am »

Let's throw a spanner in the works.... I do feel great satisfaction when I first see a successful motion-blurred image on the camera's LCD screen, yet I can never scape the thought that one can usually replicate the motion-blurred result perfectly in Photoshop with the motion blur filter. So why just not take proper photos? My own answer, rather than agonizing over aesthetic development or other big words, is that it's a technique which seems to come your rescue when the weather turns grey, and most of all there's simply a great buzz from knowing you did it in camera. Is there really more to it than that?

John







GerardK

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2008, 05:28:25 am »

Quote from: johnbeardy
yet I can never scape the thought that one can usually replicate the motion-blurred result perfectly in Photoshop with the motion blur filter. So why just not take proper photos?


Well yes John, but that goes for many other techniques that can be replicated in Photoshop. That's not what the strength or weakness of motion photography is about. For me, the fun in photography lies in wielding a camera, not in wielding a mouse.

Also, I don't see it as a technique that comes in handy when the light is bad. Some of the more successful motion images I made are about great light and great color. The lack of detail and the painterly feel of the resulting images seem to emphasize the role of color, light and composition in the image, where detail might detract. But whether there really is more to it than that... I'm not sure yet.


Gerard Kingma
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john beardsworth

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2008, 06:55:36 am »

You slightly change what I said, Gerald which wasn't that it is only for lousy weather days. On more than a few occasions I've been out with the camera and intending to get "proper" photos in good light, when the weather has closed in and I've wondered about heading back to base. At times like that, going for motion blur shots so often makes the best of a bad day, and you're often still on location when it all clears up.

As for Photoshop, unlike other techniques such as infrared which can be simulated more or less perfectly, camera motion is inherently so hit and miss that, as Neill says, you inevitably shoot such large numbers of utterly worthless pictures in the hope of getting a few you'll keep. It's hard not to wonder why you're not just taking one deliberate photograph. On the other hand, such cynical thoughts don't stop me chasing the buzz of the happy accident.

John

eleanorbrown

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2008, 10:13:50 am »

What an interesting topic!  I say this because I have so many different styles that it's something that I question in myself---should I be "spreading myself so thin" style wise...trying something of this, something of that.  I also have a "painted light" series, but also do lots of very finely detailed work as in my trees portfolio.  I also do a lot of black and white/sepia/aged images...and on and on.  I enjoy doing them all!! Is this a bad thing?  should I concentrate on one main style?  I've never answered this question for myself.  Interesting to hear how others feel about varying styles to a great extent.  Eleanor

Quote from: DougMWolf
In looking over the material linked to in the recent Impressions of Light and then looking back at what he's posted on line of his Landscapes of the Spirit photos I was struck by how these two bodies of work appear to represent two almost diametrically opposed photographic philosophies.

Landscapes of the Spirit would be right at home (well, it would be if they worked in color) with the work of many of the group f/64 artists, whereas Impressions of Light would be in a gallery across town populated by the pictorialists whose work was so vehemently eschewed by the f/64 folks.

I'd be interested in hearing folks' thoughts on this contrast - a natural evolution of style, a deliberate contrast by Mr. Neill, or coincidence in the portfolio choices made by collecting images of different styles actually taken over a lifetime of work.  Or maybe just too much armchair analysis on my part.

At any rate, I enjoyed looking through the images, though I'll say that in the main, the Landscapes work resonates with my tastes rather more than do those from Impressions
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jjj

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2008, 07:23:03 pm »

Quote from: johnbeardy
Let's throw a spanner in the works.... I do feel great satisfaction when I first see a successful motion-blurred image on the camera's LCD screen, yet I can never scape the thought that one can usually replicate the motion-blurred result perfectly in Photoshop with the motion blur filter. So why just not take proper photos? My own answer, rather than agonizing over aesthetic development or other big words, is that it's a technique which seems to come your rescue when the weather turns grey, and most of all there's simply a great buzz from knowing you did it in camera. Is there really more to it than that?
Actually you cannot replicate in camera motion with PS motion blur, as camera motion is rarely in a dead straight line nor is the camera moving at a constant velocity, both ofwhich affect the end result. PS's motion blur does not emulate either of those things.

As for the general let's shoot straight images and manipulate them later idea, it suffers from the fact that how you take the shots influences how you shoot in two ways. One is the equipment and it's particular quirks will alter/affect how you can shoot. Secondly with digital, the instant feedback may inspire you further or alter how you take subsequent shots.

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john beardsworth

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #13 on: November 11, 2008, 04:00:53 am »

Not really. While my keepers tend to be the straight and constantly-panned ones, which are clearly easy to simulate, I'd just use Transform and the Warp option if I wanted to simulate a wobble or two, and perhaps a layer mask to limit the effect and make it look as if the camera was moving less at one point in the panning motion. Obviously, though, a lot depends on the precise movements you're trying to replicate, but I think many other effects are harder to simulate so effectively. I could certainly simulate all the extra dust spots too.

The strongest point seems your last one. By my logic (which as I say, I  don't follow) I'd probably get my straight image and move on, and not chase after all those promising alternatives.

John

DougMWolf

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #14 on: November 11, 2008, 09:41:04 pm »

Wow - thanks for chiming in everybody.  I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.  I will have to rethink my assessment of "pictorialist"-esque work, perhaps.  I must say that I rather instinctively prefer well executed "straight" photography to any of the other types - pictorialist/impressionist, painting with light, Stieglitz's (in my opinion) ghastly equivalents period, etc.

The funny things is if you were to look around our house, every painting and sculpture but one that we have hung or displayed is distinctly abstract (though not strictly "impressionist" per se), whereas every displayed photo but one is an example of black and white straight photography.  Perhaps I need to broaden my horizons and not pigeonhole my art choices so obviously.

As an aside - that's why I love this forum, and why it is so refreshingly different from so many others.  Though equipment was mentioned as it may have played into the style choices of Mr. Neill, the discussion stuck primarily to thoughts about the art form, and not sniping about which tool has the greater iconic significance.
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jjj

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Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #15 on: November 11, 2008, 10:05:53 pm »

Quote from: johnbeardy
Not really. While my keepers tend to be the straight and constantly-panned ones, which are clearly easy to simulate, I'd just use Transform and the Warp option if I wanted to simulate a wobble or two, and perhaps a layer mask to limit the effect and make it look as if the camera was moving less at one point in the panning motion. Obviously, though, a lot depends on the precise movements you're trying to replicate, but I think many other effects are harder to simulate so effectively.
It;s the lack of precision that is hard to emulate. Subtle little variations that are not too obvious but they add to the image quality.
It's like adding noise to simulate grain, very even and precise, unlike film grain.
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William Neill

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Re: Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #16 on: April 16, 2019, 11:53:56 am »

Wow, I just found this thread after 11 years! As my interview with Josh was just posted, I jumped onto the forum. Now that my latest book is out, which spans 40 years, one can see my various bodies of work, of which Impressions of Light is a part. My intro to the ICM work helps make my thoughts more evident:

"No matter the tool, however, my goal has remained the same to inspire passion for the natural world and convey my emotional response to the subjects I photograph that of awe and wonder."

Thanks for your interest in my work. You might consider checking out my blog and signing up for my e-newsletter:  http://portfolios.williamneill.com/blog.

Cheers, William Neill

Rob C

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Re: Two facets of William Neill (the pendulum swings)?
« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2019, 09:14:32 am »

It;s the lack of precision that is hard to emulate. Subtle little variations that are not too obvious but they add to the image quality.
It's like adding noise to simulate grain, very even and precise, unlike film grain.

Nice to read you again; my way of trying to emulate noise is to mask out the really high highlights before adding noise. Funny how burned out film highlights look fine, even created once upon a time with Farmer's Reducer, whereas digital highlight cut-off is horrid!

(On the silent topic of dance: I discovered some shuffle dancer videos and they blew my little mind!)

Rob
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