Nick Brandt

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Dan Henderson, Dec 26, 2009.

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  1. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    I am fortunate to have in my possession Nick Brandt's latest book, A Shadow Falls. This book is, in my opinion, full of wonderfully conceived and executed photographs. At first look, I assumed that they had been made with a large format camera, but according to the preface to the book, he works with medium format equipment, and nowhere else in the book are the technical details provided.

    Something about the photographs in this book do not seem straight "medium format " to me. The area of sharp focus is very small in some photographs, and seems to fall off very quickly to very unfocused. It is making me wonder if the negatives were scanned and digitally manipulated. Does anyone know what sort of workflow Brandt uses for his work?
     
  2. qtluong

    qtluong Member

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    I saw a thread on photo.net where he categorically denied digital manipulation... but he also stated that he will not reveal his "trade secrets". All he said was that his process was "very manual" and caused him to miss many opportunities.
     
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  3. jamusu

    jamusu Member

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    Dan.

    You are correct in your assumption that it is not straight medium format. He shoots with a Pentax 67 ll and uses a Wacom tablet and photoshop to manipulate the film. He prints them digitally as well.

    Jamusu.
     
  4. Solarize

    Solarize Member

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    He shoots T-Max 100 in 120, on a Pentax 67 with relatively short lenses. I've read that most of his 'look' is 'in camera', although he does manipulate digitally. 'Giraffe Fan' had the sky added in post, Prints are made with an Epson 9600 printer on Hahnemuhle paper, and for smaller editions (25), printed in Platinum/Palladium at 30x44ins, and priced between £6,000 and £25,000. Source: Photo Pro Magazine, December 09. I love his work.

    Ciaran
     
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  5. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    IIRC, he said he stitched some negatives together to create a panoramic format image, IIRC. And I believe I read it some time ago in Lenswork, but I could be wrong. It'd be a stretch to say he doesn't manipulate his images, and whether he does it digitally (my guess) or not isn't really the point. What do you think of the work? I've been a bit on the fence about pictures... I find his them too decorative, and they idealize wild animals in a way to make them seem tame.
     
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  6. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    I have his earlier book, "On This Earth"; and find his work outstanding - some of the images are mesmerizing. The overall image quality is excellent, though I'm put off by those fake borders which are on some for god knows why. Many of the images look like animals sitting for portraits, which is amazing considering that he used a normal lens.
    With the newer book it sounds like he may be going too far away from straight wildlife documentary, which is unfortunate.
     
  7. jamusu

    jamusu Member

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    Suzanne.

    I was a big fan of his work until I learned that most of his post processing was done in photoshop and that he prints digitally. I saw it for the first time in 2006 from an article in Black and White Magazine. I was relatively new to photography at the time and could not tell the difference between a hybrid and traditional print. I was naive and thought that since he was in Black and White Magazine and was using an Pentax 67 ll that he had to have made his images in the wet darkroom.

    Imagine my shock after learning that the only thing analogue about his work are the Pentax 67 ll camera and 120 film that he uses to capture the images. Everything else other than developing the film such as burning, dodging, masking, contrast, shadows, etc.. is done in photoshop and printed digitally. I leaned this from an interview that he gave in 2005 that I read sometime back, but can't remember the link. His work-flow is more hybrid than analogue. I guess I am kind of on the fence as well.

    Jamusu.
     
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  8. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    First, thanks to everyone who helped answer my question. The "fake borders" were my first clue that these were not straight analog photographs, and made me start looking closer and thinking harder about them.

    Suzanne, to answer your question, I still think these are stunning portraits of wild animals, even though the luster has dimmed a bit now that I know they are probably as much a product of digital as analog. That is my personal bias. As far as idealizing the animals and making them seem tame, I think that there are many photographs that present animals in their natural environment and exhibiting their natural behavior...at least one such series of pictures in every issue of National Geographic. I think that Brandt has developed a different way of presenting his subjects that reminds me that although these are wild animals, they also feel pain, joy, and many other emotions that we humans do. Brandt articulates this idea well in the opening narrative to the book where he describes the birth of a baby elephant and the very human-like reactions of the other elephants in the group.
     
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  9. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    They are striking portraits of the animals to be sure, and as images, far more interesting than the straight documentary (with the possible exception of Nick Nichols work) found in the pages of National Geographic or, say, National and International Wildlife Magazines, but there is something that simply feels false to me about the work. I haven't read the opening narrative, and perhaps he expressed better in words the animals emotions than he ultimately does in the pictures? Although, I find them quite beautiful, that's about all I see in his pictures. I don't see the emotional lives of the animals. And I think it's quite an extraordinary thing he's done... making art pictures in the wild is a unique (and a big D'OH!! why didn't anyone else think of it sooner??? :surprised: ), so I admire the work for that. It's disappointing that they feel so emotionally flat to me, and don't make me think or ask much more about the animals he observed.
     
  10. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    As someone who grew up around these animals, I find these depictions rather disturbing. It's such a western, Hollywood thing to try to impart human emotions and characters to these animals. They are a lot more authentic than Greenberg's monkeys, but.... any way you slice it, it's not nature if somebody spent time making it look like something other than what it was.

    Of course, you could say that it isn't meant to be nature photography, in which case I have no valid complaint: it is well executed and delivered. It's just that there is an enormous disconnect between the feeling I get from a Brandt lion or elephant and what I felt when confronted by the real thing on their home soil. That's all. Of course, Brandt is under no obligation to reconcile that for me.

    Frankly, I wouldn't even mention Nick Nichols in the same context. His work is very different. Having just attended a sort-of-retrospective of his, I was impressed that not one... not one... of his images were untrue to his subject. It was all very much in camera, though he did have a few words to say and a few examples of the effects of cropping. But that was it. For this reason I wanted to ask if he felt anything disappointing about the redwood stitches (I certainly did), but... why ruin a good evening. The amount of discipline and patience Nichols showed was truly inspiring.
     
  11. DanielStone

    DanielStone Member

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    I like Brandt's work, well, at least his work before this latest book, which I haven't seen yet.

    but I beg to ask the question: "Would you think any different of him, or his images, if he told you he printed them in the darkroom, with an enlarger that allowed him to have movements, like some of the DeVere/Durst models did, so you could throw things out of focus/shallow D.O.F."?

    but being that he is expressing what he wants to through his photographs, we can lambaste him all we want to, just because he isn't a 100% analog workflow? No, well at least I can't. He has a certain style that others have tried to copy(from what I've read and heard), but to no luck.

    what if the tables were turned, and he was to not like YOUR work, because you spend many hours in the darkroom, with an aching lower back, and using more paper and water than you should, in the name of YOUR art? I'll bet you wouldn't like that all that much. But I don't see him here, spouting out about how 'untrue' YOUR photographs are. so.....

    I guess what I'm trying to say is this: "We can make fun of his work, like it, dislike it, love it, want to tear it up; but in the end, he's doing what he likes to do, and the way he wants to do it. We shouldn't think any less of him as an artist, just because he has a different method of bringing his work to print. Prints that sell for much more than most of us sell ours for, well, at least me!

    so, let him who has no faults cast the first stone....

    -Dan
     
  12. DanielStone

    DanielStone Member

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    besides, I'd imagine he's using a good bit of TMAX 100(if that's the film he does use?), so he's helping to keep that alive by purchasing it for his workflow.

    -Dan
     
  13. Roger Bulcock

    Roger Bulcock Member

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  14. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    Daniel: when I started this thread, I tried to write so as not to be negative toward the photographs in any way. I hope that my words have not been taken that way. I will say again that I love these photographs. But I also have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I began to understand how digitally manipulated they seem to be. To answer your question, yes, I would think differently of the photographs if I knew they had been produced 100% in the darkroom with traditional methods. I simply appreciate the traditional method more than the digital method. That said, I do not think his photographs are any less "true" than mine, yours, or anyone else's. As you say, he is achieving his vision using his method, and that is alright with me.
    Dan
     
  15. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    I too do not fault anyone for their methods.
     
  16. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    A couple of issues with some prior posts:
    1) Its not whether the prints and/or book are printed digitally, its whether digital manipulation was done that refutes the very purpose of Brandt's series. If Brandt is trying to show the dwindling numbers of wild animals, then adding some elephants to a herd undermines his thesis. He could start with same picture in 1st or 2nd book with added elephants, then remove the additions for the 3rd. But this is cheating and deceitful if his intent is other than creating artistic work.
    2) These are wild animals and Brandt has captured a second in their lives. Was that second an anthropomorphic moment that is an illusion; or, as Jane Goodall states in intro to 1st book, a recognition of a spirit among all animals? I'd like to think the latter.
     
  17. mikebarger

    mikebarger Subscriber

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    I think on this forum it does make it a difference, it started as a digital print, not a photograph. :smile:

    Mike
     
  18. nate.m

    nate.m Member

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    It seems to me that digital images which try to mimic analog photographs are undermining both mediums at the same time. There is a distinct difference between the two, and each should be used for their pros and cons, but not to mimic another (unless a political statement is clearly the objective).

    They are beautiful, striking images, but they don't evoke the same set of emotions in me which an analog photograph does (which I'm not sure if that's what brandt is going for anyway). Digital imaging is working with a different artist's pallet of understandings and emotions. Brandt is a digital artist more than a photographer to me. Not bad in any way, but a distinction worth making.
     
  19. billbretz

    billbretz Member

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    I think the fault people are voicing is not with his methods, but how disingenuous Brandt may or may not be about his process.
     
  20. DanielStone

    DanielStone Member

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    Hey Dan,

    no worries, it just seemed like some people were drawing their knives in anticipation of a fight :surprised:.

    no worries, I wasn't pointing anything at you or anyone else, just stating what I personally observed.

    -Dan
     
  21. mikebarger

    mikebarger Subscriber

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    Sure glad I brought my model 39 then :wink:

    mike
     
  22. Brandon D.

    Brandon D. Member

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    I've flipped through his latest book a couple of times (in fact, even tonight :D), and I think the work and his skill is excellent. But, it's just not the kind of imagery I'm gung-ho about seeing all of the time -- and that has nothing to do with the infamous "digital vs. hybrid vs. analogue" debate or anything. He can shoot and process however he wants for all I care. As an artist he should conform to his own standards, not anyone else's.
     
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  23. Shawn Rahman

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    I have been a long time admirer or Brandt's work and find much of his quite compelling. I've read many interviews with Brandt and do not ever recall him stating that his digital work is outright manipulation in the sense of adding animals or other objects in the photos that weren't already there. As to the stitching of multiple shots into a wide panoramic shots, perhaps that is stretching credibility in terms of trying to overcome the limits of our craft, but he is at least up front about it.

    While I am not a fan of all of Brandt's photoshopped burning and dodging, I find it curious that people could decry digital dodging and burning yet think it is perectly fine in the darkroom. There are many, many reasons for so called analog purists to dislike digital manipulation of images. Heavily expressive dodging and burning should not be one of them.
     
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  24. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Nick Brandt here. I just discovered this thread and felt compelled to enter the fray and clarify some points and misinformation.

    I shoot with a Pentax 67II and scan my negs. Photoshop is a fantastic darkroom for getting the details out of the shadows and highlights with a level of detail that I never could obtain in the darkroom. However, the integrity of the scene I am photographing is always unequivocally maintained in the final photograph. Animals and trees are not cloned or added. The sky is the sky that was there.
    In panoramic photos, I take two consecutive frames and stitch them together. They are taken consecutively, and as quickly as possible. In the past, I tried working with a Fuji 6x17 rangefinder camera, and if you know the camera, you'll understand how impractical that is with animals on the move.
    I have no interest or desire in cloning or adding animals. It would indeed defeat the purpose. Anyone is welcome to trek up my to my house and look at my contact sheets to see that the final photos are what I am shooting.
    Some people think that what some of what I shoot could not possibly be real. If you wait long enough, and are lucky enough (and don't use a telephoto lens and therefore look at the literally bigger picture) you'll also see scenes just like in those photos. (Many times, those scenes were taken with many other vehicles there). However, hurry, because with every passing year, those sights are disappearing.

    However, I do agree with the criticisms of those borders on the early photos, damn it. There is a good reason I originally used them - to try and further convey that these animals were from another bygone era, but I now regard that particular effect as overly cheap, tricksy and ubiquitous, and now print those images without the borders. Live and learn.

    I also agree with some criticism of overly zealous dodging and burning, but only in early prints. These were the work of a new photographer getting over-excited with the tools of the trade. However, a lot of what you see is due to use of the heaviest ND Grads and red filters. If you think there's too much dodging and burning in later work, fine, we'll agree to disagree. (Until maybe I agree with you in another few years....)
     
  25. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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