Spotlight On: Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Copyright: Yann Arthus-Bertrand

During a little surfing trip (I mean the Internet – I don’t do sea!) I tripped over this site and found it truly inspirational, so I thought I should share it. I confess I have never heard of Yann Arthus-Bertrand but I really feel I should have.

The shots from the air are stunning and I also love the study of French people. However, I really can’t do the photos justice with words – you need to go take a look. You will need Flash installed to view the site.

Update: Thank’s to Charlie’s comment I went searching and it turns out Yann has a series of books – Earth from Above, The New Earth from Above: 365 Days and Earth from the Air: 365 Days to name just three.

My, How Far We’ve Come

View from the Window at Le Gras

I was doing a bit of browsing – as you do – and came across the oldest example of a permanent photograph. If you click the image above youâ??ll get a large version to look at.

It was produced in 1826 by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. The photo is called, “View from the Window at Le Gras” and took eight hours to expose.

It’s remarkable that not even two hundred years have passed and yet technology has advanced so much that we can now not only create images with thousands of times more detail but can go from pressing the shutter release to having a processed and printed image in seconds.

If youâ??d like to know more about the history of photography check out this great entry on Wikipedia.

Come On Now, Back Me Up Here!

External Hard Drive for Backup

Now I have to confess, I am one of those people who really meant to do something. Just been waiting for the right opportunity. Like backing up all those valuable and irreplaceable digital photos living on my computer’s hard drive.

Well, not so long ago, my hard drive actually did go bang and (in spite of calling in the help of a buddy who knows far more about the hardware side of PCs than I do) the files were completely lost. Included among those files were almost 4,000 pictures of my kids (4,000 in four years – I know, I know, it’s pathetic!) which, apart from a very small handful, had not been printed.

This is the nightmare all of us digital photographers fear and yet I’m willing to bet the vast majority of us do little about it. I was very lucky. About four months before the exploding hard drive, my wife’s uncle and aunt lost many of their most prized possessions in a house fire. The realization that I could so easily lose all photographic records of my kids since birth hit me like a wet kipper in the face; I rushed straight out and purchased an external USB hard drive, backed up all my photos and took the drive to my office.

Like I said, I was very lucky. Think about how much your photos (not just the digital ones) mean to you and do something about securing them. Backing up photos regularly takes a little thought and planning, but the alternative makes it worth the work.

I’m about to embark on a project to see if we can restore the photos which were damaged but rescued from the fire. I’m hoping I can clean up the older photos, or possibly scan them and digitally restore them. I’ll be writing an article about the experience, but if anyone can offer any advice I would be really grateful.

But Is It Art?

A guy putting on lipstick

Weâ??ve been discussing the recent controversy surrounding one of Nan Goldinâ??s photographs that was recently seized by police from an exhibition due to fears that it might breach pornography laws. We ended up asking if the work was even really art or just a snapshot. This got me thinking about what constitutes art so I thought Iâ??d write a post about.

So what does count as art? Well my trusted Pocket Oxford English Dictionary says, â??art â?? n, 1. the expression of creative skill in a visual form such as painting or sculpture. 2. paintings, drawings, and sculpture as a whole.â?? Well I guess that should include photography too (goes to show how old my dictionary is). So by definition it doesnâ??t really matter what I paint, draw or photograph or indeed how I go about doing so, it can all be classified as art.

I donâ??t think thatâ??s a good enough definition though. I think art needs to be more than that to be called art. Surely for something to be art there aught to be some sort of expression within it or at least some sort of meaning to it, and not just that, but a meaning or expression that the artist intended to be in there and is in someway communicated by the piece.

Is the definition of art a personal thing? Often Iâ??ve heard people say that something isnâ??t art, seemingly just because they donâ??t like it, so is the reverse true? Can something only be art if you like it? There have always been artists who have challenged our perception of art. Artists like Andy Warhol and more recently Damien Hirst, to name just two, have created pieces that have caused uproar within society. Does this mean they canâ??t really be considered art?

Is the question answered by the subject of the piece? For instance is a photograph of starving children in a war torn country taken by a news reporter art? After all the primary function of the photography here would be reportage. The most important thing is that the photograph offers a realistic portrayal of the situation. Is it even wrong to call it art? If it isnâ??t wrong to call it art, isnâ??t it at least disrespectful to the subjects of the photo to consider it as such? Would a photographic reproduction of Constableâ??s â??The Hay Wainâ? support the opposite argument?

What counts as art for you?

An experiment

If you would, take a look at the photo above. I took it a few years ago and at the time I had every intention for it to be labeled art. I wonâ??t share with you what I think of it now, but I will when the results are in. Is it art? Let us know what you think, leave us a comment.

RAW! Huh! What Is It Good For? (Absolutely Everything?)

Lightmeter

Firstly, I feel I should apologize for the appalling title of this article – to you for insulting your intelligence and to the family of Edwin Starr for causing him to turn in his grave!

I’m not going to bang on about the benefits of shooting your digital photos in RAW mode or what you can and can’t do in the processing stage. This is all pretty well documented elsewhere. Really, I just want to underline the simple, fundamental and yet apparently often overlooked truth about shooting RAW:

RAW is there to allow you to achieve the best possible quality from your digital camera, not to allow you to compensate for shoddy technique.

Yes, you can tweak the exposure, the contrast range, the sharpness, blah, blah, blah to “fix up” the under/over exposure, poor lighting arrangement, etc. However, capturing the “perfect” RAW image in the first place allows you to manipulate the photograph to express your creativity instead of forcing you into a rescue attempt.

In the days of film (oh, here we go again!) you paid a much higher price for shoddy workmanship. You learnt that your method of capturing the image was directly relational to the finished picture. Perfecting your exposure technique would save you time and potentially a huge amount of money.

Now that many of us work in an entirely digital workspace, we don’t consider cost in terms of materials. We can shoot as many pictures as we like, load them on our computers, manipulate them and only commit to paper those images we are happy with. But there is still a cost – pride. Have you ever presented a client with a picture you knew was not really up to the mark? One that you did a pretty good job of rescuing, considering what you had to work with? Did it eat away at you?

Modern cameras, whilst they are truly technological wonders, do not “understand” light, they merely measure a small sample of it as a guide. It is up to you how that image is captured. Stop and think for a moment before you release the shutter.

Strive for perfection. The processing stage will become much more enjoyable, I promise you.

When Did We Forget That Nudity Isn’t The Same As Pornography?

Gallery

Unless youâ??ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months you will have undoubtedly heard about the controversy surrounding one of the pictures in a recent exhibition of Nan Goldin’s work.

For obvious reasons we can’t show the photo here but for those of you who havenâ??t seen it, it’s a picture of two young girls belly dancing; one of them is naked and in what could be considered a compromising position.

The photograph, Klare and Edda belly-dancing, was taken away by police on September 20th due to concerns that it might breach child pornography laws.

Firstly, please understand that I (and everyone at TDM) certainly believe that the matter of child pornography should be taken very seriously and I donâ??t believe that there can ever be a severe enough punishment for these kinds of offences, but when did we, as a society, completely lose all common sense? Whilst I understand that we need to protect children from abuse and exploitation, I don’t understand how anyone who has actually seen the photograph could see anything pornographic about it, or even feel the need to question it’s validity in relation to the law. When did we forget that nudity doesn’t mean pornography? And when did we decide that it was a good idea to turn a common depiction of the innocence of youth into something sinister?

Throughout history there have been countless occurrences in art of all genres of nude children. Some of the most famous pieces of work created by the old masters contain nude children. Why is this any different? Surely any “normal” person would take one look at the piece and realise that there is nothing sinister about the photograph?

Right, everybody close your eyes. Now think back. As a child did you at any point run about, playing, doing silly things without your clothes on. If you did, put your hand up. Now open your eyes. Yup I thought so. It wasn’t that uncommon a thing was it. How many of your parents have a photo of you like that. You know that photo that your mum always gets out and shows your significant other the first time you take them home to meet your parents. I thought so. Now, it could be argued that that isn’t the kind of photo you really want to display in an art gallery, but except for the embarrassment it would cause is there really anything wrong with that?

If the photo wasn’t clearly the type of photo above then I absolutely agree it should have been removed. If it had been removed just in case a paedophile should see it then that would at least make some sense, but to potentially brand a piece of art like this as paedophilic and then in turn brand the photographer as a paedophile is moronic at best.

Personally, Iâ??m not a fan of Goldin’s work. I can’t say that I particularly care for the photograph in question either, but I believe itâ??s important that as photographers we support one and other’s right to be creative. Furthermore I think it’s our duty as humans to support our society’s values but also to remember that common sense should prevail over political correctness and that we shouldn’t live in a society where we are afraid to go about normal daily life because of a minority who would cause trouble because of it. After all, isn’t that what the fight against terrorism is all about?

This is obviously a potentially controversial subject and there must be other important points of view to consider. What do you have to say on the subject?