The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

troubled jottings

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

The scenes depicted in today’s shots actually didn’t actually look very much like these presented photo. In general, I screw around with every shot a little bit- push or pull the exposure and midpoints of dark and light, alter the color temperature to neutralize and compensate for sodium or fluorescent lights, drop an exposure gradient into a sky or on the water to compensate for glare. I’ll do the occasional tilt shift here and there, but largely strive for the ability to do it “in camera” more than anything else. Nothing major is altered, by “retoucher” standards, who would define such adjustments as merely “helping” the photo.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

These photos, however, have had a whole bag of hammers thrown at them. One of the things I’m trying to eliminate from my mind these days is any fealty to the metaphor of film in creating a digital photograph. Even the term “photograph” is somewhat disingenuous as what these images actually “are” is a 23 megabyte computer file compiling the data captured by a sophisticated sensor. There is more information in the original file than is needed for reproduction, and the process of outputting the final image always involves a bit of photoshop editing work- deciding what to throw away, and that’s where the artsy fartsy stuff happens.

Losing this metaphor, the film one, leads one down the odd path of the so called “Uncanny Valley.” This term refers to a human perception bias which can instantaneously determine if something is artificially contrived, using CGI techniques to simulate a human face for instance. What I was “going for” in developing the shots as they are was a sort of old timey hand colored thing accomplished by a severely limited but quite saturated color range and an extremely high contrast regarding the black and white ratio. It’s a “formula” or “look” I’ve been asked to apply to other people’s files in my advertising life, by the way, usually for sports marketing stuff.

It beggars a certain question though- If it’s not a faithful rendition of the scene, a photograph by definition, what is it?

Also: Upcoming Tours!

Glittering Realms- Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

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3 Responses

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  1. It’s still a photograph. You can’t lose that definition. All those fancy-schmanzy editing-effects you perform now were indeed done in the days of film: hand-coloring and glitzy printing, air-brushing, use of filters on the lens, cropping, darkroom manipulations such as burning-in and dodging, etc. Your “beggared” question could have been asked before the advent of digital imaging.

    georgetheatheist...perspectively poignant

    April 18, 2013 at 11:44 am

    • True. The post was spawned by a conversation I recently enjoyed with an AP photographer who was describing to me the “rules” which she and her cohorts are forced to follow. It seems that according to the news photog “association” and the bosses at the “papers”, it has to be strictly what came out of the camera- dark, light, or indifferent. It got me thinking.

      Mitch Waxman

      April 18, 2013 at 11:47 am

      • That’s because it’s the realm of journalism where they paper doesn’t want to be accused of distorting the truth. If they did that, their credability as objective reporters would be jeopardized. Mitch, you have done on this site some “stitching” of imagery to produce panoramas. The NY Times, for example, will produce panorama views as well but they wont complete the stitching. For example, they will have three photos of a panorama but will separate them with a tiny white space so the reader can get the panoramic effect by looking at 3 separate photos. However, if the photographer used a panoramic camera, they would print that. Go figure. BTW, there’s an exhibit on your “concerns” currently at the National Galley of Art in Washington, DC> I wish I had time to visit:

        http://www.photoshop.com/events/faking-it

        georgetheatheist...perspectively poignant

        April 18, 2013 at 12:28 pm


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