improve upon nature, by control and arrangement

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by markbarendt, Jan 19, 2013.

  1. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Reading this: http://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/handle/10023/505

    I found this:

    In your photography, do you try to "improve upon nature, by control and arrangement"? (And how?)

    Do you agree with the premise of the quote? Why?
     
  2. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I can't seem to open the link, so not sure what the quote is really all about.

    "Improve upon nature by control and arrangement"............wow, that's heavy. It appears to me to mean that photography simply can only "record" nature and present the viewer with only what is factual and literal about nature, whereas the painter or other type of artist is more free to present nature the way they see it or that they have the ability to take the viewer in so many more directions. And therefore we pay a price because we are relegated to a mere recording device. If anything I just said is even remotely close to the actual meaning of that quote, then I would have to say, no, I don't agree with that premise. Sounds like a "pictorialism" vs. "straight photography" argument to me. But I'm probably way off base, IDK.
     
  3. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Actually you are very close.

    Don't know why you can't see the link try copying and googling the following. " william russel young st. andrews soft focus " it came up for me as the top link.

    The quote by Firth is in Young's PHD Thesis.

    What actually flashed through my head first was formal portraiture versus candid photo journalism. Steve McCurry is an interesting example. Many of his shots that look candid are actually setups. I know several people who have worked along side him and were taught by him to grab a subject person you like and then put them into the setting you want. McCurry seems to "dispense very well with the middle term" as Firth puts it, and "Improve upon nature by control and arrangement" quite nicely.
     
  4. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I tried again, keep getting: "Bad Gateway, the proxy server received an invalid response from an upstream server."

    I googled it with your search and saw the links, but it did not open for me, strange. Other google searches are not giving me a problem.

    Well, as long as McCurry is not trying to pass them off as candid, no bother I guess. I'll try the google link again later.
     
  5. whowantstoast

    whowantstoast Member

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    I wouldn't say "improve upon nature" so much as "act upon nature," but there's a good point here outside of the straight photography argument. In landscape and nature photography I don't think we ever just record nature. We make choices about camera position, composition, depth of field, focal length, film type and more that all greatly affect the appearance of the photograph. Something as simple as focal length changes the entire scene by changing the perception of distance, and we use this to create the atmosphere we want. I think these are as much tools of creation as a painter's brush. And if we consider living subjects, even in natural light, we are making lighting choices that drastically change the viewing perception. So I agree that we "act upon nature," but I think "improving nature" is a bit naive and part of an older human-centered way of thinking. The "disadvantage" to art is old-school bull though.
     
  6. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    whowantstoast I don't think they are saying literally improve on Mother Nature's works.

    I think what Frith is getting at is that painters are less constrained with regard to many things. For example in photography we can minimize the background, to a great extent with DOF and other choices, but in contrast a painter simply never adds the background.

    Another example is perspective, any single shot with a camera only gets one. Painters have no such constraint.

    These constraints are imposed by the tools we have chosen.
     
  7. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    CPorter I have a downloaded copy of the PDF that I could e-mail if needed.
     
  8. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Thoreau said "art is the expression of our love of nature."

    'Improve' could be better substituted for 'understand' I feel. Nature doesn't have any meaning to us without an emotional filter - communicated through arrangement - which indicates to the viewer familiarity, comfort, safety. Nature, without art, is only hostile or indifferent.
     
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  9. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I don't buy Thoreau's premise actually, much too narrow a definition for me.

    Understand is a reasonable word though. Using the McCurry example I think he understands his subject matter, he combines elements that "belong" to the same subject matter, say India, but that might not normally cross paths, like a particularly photogenic person being in a particularly photogenic setting. McCurry's art, his act of improving upon nature, IMO is in combining the all elements required into a single frame.
     
  10. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I'm just not comfortable with the word 'improve' at all. Using Steve McCurry as an example is interesting. The idea of the unrelated meeting (perhaps a well-off Indian boy against a backdrop which connotes poverty) would be a fabrication of physical or social truth, but visually, might sing. Nature has only been 'improved' upon in that case, by telling us stimulating lie. The word 'improve' then becomes a little too provocative, political even. It's difficult for us to comprehend the culture and diversity of a massive country - we can only have some visual understanding of its nature, through control and arrangement - a Steve McCurry picture.

    Also, thinking of airbrushing on magazine covers - is this 'improving upon nature, through control and arrangement'? It's a dangerous word.
     
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  11. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I believe all photographers that are any good, manipulate the subject, otherwise they are just taking snapshots. This is where the "make a photograph, rather than take a photograph" comes from.

    Even simple things like cropping, lens choice, depth of field etc manipulate a scene. After that burning and dodging take it farther. Controlling all the elements in a photograph is manipulation and the creative photographer is in charge of all of it.
     
  12. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I think that Frith's word, improve, is used in relationship to expression of an idea, art.

    Art does not necessarily need to "tell the whole truth". In my mind neither does photography, that expectation is artificial. That expectation may be of value for a news organization but for the rest of us it is more a choice about our style than something that is right or wrong.

    Even the f64 crowd can't be said to be representing "the whole truth". Compare the straight versus the final prints of Ansel's Moonrise and it becomes hard to think hat Ansel was telling "the whole truth" rather than expressing an idea. http://www.jimalinder.com/portfolio...h straight and fine print of Moonrise.psd.jpg

    One of the big drivers of soft focus photography was that through improvements in technology, resolution had gotten "too good". The lines and imperfections in a sitter's face had become a real problem for portraitists, just as they are today. Soft focus helped keep studios in business because, as sexist as this may sound, women don't generally buy portraits that make them look fully their age or portray their children with a bunch of zits. Right or wrong, Portraitists ignore social norms at their own commercial peril.
     
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  13. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    If the cover were a photo realistic illustration would you have the same objection?

    Why?

    https://www.google.com/search?q=photorealistic+drawing
     
  14. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    People don't hire portrait photographers for reality. Never have and never will.

    Besides what is reality?
     
  15. batwister

    batwister Member

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    We've strayed into the difficult area of context. The statement we're discussing is specifically about photography as art, so I shouldn't have mentioned magazines really.

    However...
    You wouldn't see a photo-realistic drawing on the cover of anything but an arts magazine, because ultimately, the viewer needs 'the big reveal' (that it's a drawing) for the image to have its full effect.
    With the cover of a fashion magazine, the viewer needs to believe the photo presents a flawless reality for the image to have its full effect.

    In the context of style and fashion magazines, the 'control and arrangement' of the images seeks to literally 'improve' the subject - which dangerously alters our expectations of reality.
    In the context of an art gallery, we would be conscious of these images as 'alternative truths', which seek to alter the way we perceive reality.

    I understand the writer wanted to keep it pithy, but for me, it would make better sense written as; 'to influence our perception of nature, by control and arrangement'.
     
  16. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    +1
     
  17. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Actually Frith was a painter and was trying to show photography's limits in relation to art, such as painting.

    The magazine cover issue is well inbounds in this thread. The premise you brought up with the cover question is directly related to whether photography should be considered primarily a record or if it can be considered art.

    Edit, Frith did transition into being a photographer.
     
  18. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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