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  1. #1
    markbarendt's Avatar
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    improve upon nature, by control and arrangement

    Reading this: http://research-repository.st-andrew...ndle/10023/505

    I found this:

    We now come to the disadvantages of this attribute: for it happens, by a singular fatality, that upon it hangs the chief reproach to photographic reproductions as works of Art. The fact is, that it is too truthful. It insists upon giving us ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Now, we want, in Art, the first and last of these conditions, but we can dispense very well with the middle term. Doubtless, it is truly the province of Art to improve upon nature, by control and arrangement, as it is to copy her closely in all that we do imitate; and, therefore, we say boldly, that by the non-possession of these privileges, photography pays a heavy compensation to Art, and must for ever remain under an immense disadvantage in this respect.

    Francis Frith, in Newhall 1980, p. 117
    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?
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

  2. #2
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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. #3
    markbarendt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CPorter View Post
    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.
    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.
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

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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. #5

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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. #6
    markbarendt's Avatar
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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.
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

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    markbarendt's Avatar
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    CPorter I have a downloaded copy of the PDF that I could e-mail if needed.
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

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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.
    Last edited by batwister; 01-20-2013 at 10:21 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  9. #9
    markbarendt's Avatar
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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.
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by markbarendt View Post
    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. The art, the act of improving upon nature, IMO is in combining the all elements required into a single frame.
    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.
    Last edited by batwister; 01-20-2013 at 11:00 AM. Click to view previous post history.

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