Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Technology and New Ways of Seeing

In my HDR Manifesto, I proposed that a relatively recent technology, HDR and tonemapping, could be applied to create a new aesthetic vision. This has happened before.

Street photography was enabled by two things, fast film emulsions and the Leica camera. Without the fast emulsion you couldn't freeze motion in the necessary way, and without the small 35mm camera first available in the form of the Leica, you could not be discreet enough to accomplish the "street" way of envisioning the world. The essential new idea in "street" is the notion of an image which is present only for an instant, the momentary coming-together of things in motion (usually people) in a fortuitous way to be an image worth shooting.

Prior to "street" as "street" we have many urban scenes. Some of the earliest photographs made were of city streets, but they were not "street", envisioning the world instead in a painterly way: here is a street, it is picturesque, or otherwise worth recording. I will wait until the light is so, and then I will set my camera so, and I will record this street. This is a fine way of seeing and working, it produced many excellent photographs. It is how landscape done. These photographs were not "street" in the way we understand it today.

I maintain that the very idea of "street" was a new and essential thing -- before this, it had never really occurred to artists that there could exist these fleeting compositions. Things either were or were not good compositions. It is this essential idea of the instantaneous composition of people going about their business, a composition here and in the the next moment gone, that defines and motivates "street". This idea would have been difficult to even conceive without the Leica and without the fast film emulsions of the early to mid 20th century.

In the same way, creating an image without a strong key light is largely inconceivably to photographers of my era, photographers who learned prior to the techniques of HDR. Most practitioners of HDR are simply in love with the process and the look, they are creating images which please them are their cadre. This is fine. They are, I think, missing what the truly have in their hands, which is a technology that truly enables a new way of seeing, a truly new aesthetic, in the same way that the Leica enabled the idea of the instantaneous composition that is "street."

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