Saturday, August 22, 2015

Transparency, Thein Style

So Ming has this concept of transparency. The idea of total immersion in a print, creating the sensation of looking through a window. More or less.

Set aside the obvious fact that this is a clever gimmick to allow him to nerd out about resolution and color management and all the other bullshit so beloved of the gear head, all while pretending it's about Art. Let's take it at face value, and evaluate the idea on its own merits.

There is flatly no way your visual cortex is fooled by a print for more than a few milliseconds. There are too many visual cues that you're looking at a flat object, with unrealistic colors. The objects refuse to move relative to one another when your head moves. The colors refuse to fluoresce and the light is all wrong. The scene is clearly static. The leaves do not stir in the breeze. And on and on.

It takes but a moment's thought to see that the idea of literal transparency, of a literal sensation of being there, is a chimera. It's not going to happen. Promoting is as a possibility, if only we apply enough money and technique, is disingenuous at best.

What can be done? One can use what one has to recreate in some ways the sensation of being there. You can't do it literally, obviously, but perhaps you can create a similar impression.

Hey, that's a nice word. Impression. Weren't there some painters?

Yes. Yes there were. And virtually the first thing they discarded was the idea that endless depth of detail was a useful idea for their purposes. It's not. More detail simply drags you further in to an uncanny valley (Google it) with an unscalable far wall.

I dare say one could use immense quantities of detail and sharpness to create an Impression of busy-ness, to create a picture in which the Impression of great detail is the point. But trying to use great detail as a substitute for motion or smell is silly.

If you want to explore the idea of transparency in any useful way, you'd do 1000x better to study the impressionists for an hour than read the entirety of Ming Thein's ideas. He's simply barking up the wrong tree, because he can't shake his faith that simply throwing more money and more technology at any problem is the right answer.

P.H. Emerson had some ideas that aren't all bad (use tilts and swings to put everything but the subject a trifle out of focus, for example). You can use softness or deliberate blurs to recreate the impression of motion. Not to look like motion, but to suggest it, to remind you of motion. You can fool around with color a lot. Rather than try to reproduce the literal colors, use a riot of pigments to suggest the riot of colors in that field of flowers. Etc. The impressionist gig is all about a sort of allegorical transparency.

In short: Discover and internalize the visual effects that are possible with the camera. Use whatever methods you like to work out, to guess, to divine, which effects are likely to produce the impressions you want. Then apply those effects.

Dump all a priori notions like 'well, first I must make sure I capture with plenty of resolution' or whatever. That is to place the cart before the horse.

Open your eyes. Think. Then, act.

1 comment:

  1. You know I could never pinpoint what was wrong with these ultraprint stuff. I always told myself, hey Alessandro first you get one of these prints then you can talk. But hey these are expensive... and yes I think I should give something back to Ming as it has been a constant source of inspiration (maybe not the word you would use maybe? but I do feel like I owe him something, for the amount of stuff he gives away for free); but probably I'd feel more ok to "pay him back" buying one of his videos first.

    So no chance for me to actually see these ultraprints, but this sense of unease that I had was due to the fact that I really don't understand how in practical terms he's doing this prints... he goes on and on on the way he does the magic with his magician printmaster but really at one point the technicalities are too many and I simply accept it as they were true.

    But "art"... I don't know??? And in here I guess you have shown me a new way to consider these aspects. When technicalities become predominant it becomes all very sterile for me (the Ansel Adams books for example, I have all 3 of them but to be honest, I have never got much out of them).

    Finally, the thing that struck me was this: one one side, a perfect forest or tree, ultra-printed; on another, the photo I took with an old SLR and b/w film of my daughter looking outside of a window, printed very hurriedly on my inkjet. It's all a concept, ok, because I don't actually have any ultraprint; but this inkjet print is very grainy, very little is in focus, and admittedly it's my daughter so I am surely very biased but, holy cow, the emotions and the evocative power that this picture has! Will it be bettered in any way if it was an ultraprint acquired with a 50Mp sensor and esotic Zeiss lens?