Visions of Nature Book

I have a number of copies of my book, Visions of Nature, available for sale at $50. This is less than half the original publication price. (But you have to order directly from me, not from Blurb or Amazon.) Visions of Nature is a great coffee-table art book; it makes a wonderful gift, for yourself or others!

Visions of Nature is a wondrous collection of more than fifty digitally processed abstract expressionist and impressionist photographs revealing nature in stunning colors and provocative visions. There are landscapes, florals and botanicals, closeup images, and more.

72 pages, with an Introduction. 13×11 inches, large landscape format, hard-bound with dust jacket, printed on high quality fine art paper.

Go ☞ here for a preview. But don’t order from Blurb; you must order directly from me. (Sorry; continental US only.) Quantity is limited.

(If you don’t want the big book, there is a PDF version available, as well as an e-book version. And these you can order from Blurb, ☞ here.)

Red Tree

Red Tree

Back in the edited-watercolor-and-painterly mode of last month. I can’t say whether post-capture editing in this case creates a “new” image or an improved image or just a different image. The original tree was just as striking as this image suggests. But I do like the effect that editing produces here, particularly since it hasn’t rendered the image “unnatural.” This tree – pictured here in fall colors – is lakeside in Bruce Park in Greenwich.

Larch Tree in Winter

Larch Bough

This is a Larch bough. The larch tree is distinctive in that it’s a needle-bearing coniferous tree that is also deciduous, i.e. it drops its needles in winter. The image reminds me of some works by the American painter, Andrew Wyeth, whose work I’ve always liked. I can’t say I had this in mind when I shot the image, but as it emerged in post I found myself thinking of Wyeth and wanting to achieve this particular look.

Country Lake

This image was shot a few years ago (in New Hampshire near Peterborough) but I’ve only just processed it. The image should be in the impressionistic Visions of Nature series but is not currently included in the collection. I had not thought it would be a black and white image when shot or when initially viewed. Trying to get the sky color the way I wanted it, I continually – and unsatisfactorily  – played with color editing until on a whim I tried it in monochrome. After working it some more, I find I quite like the monochrome. Selenium toning. (Best viewed full-size; click to enlarge.)

On Vision in Photography and Art

What do we see when we look at a photograph or a work of art?

For some time I have been influenced by the Twentieth Century Russian writer, Viktor Schklovsky (1893-1984), a prominent member of the Russian Formalist School of literary criticism. For Schklovsky, a purpose of art is to make the familiar unfamiliar (ostranenie = “defamiliarization”) (Art as Technique, 1917). As a consequence, the viewer is made to look at things differently and in so doing to see deeper layers of reality. My Visions of Nature series is explicitly an effort to suggest new patterns, colors, and textures of nature that we do not see when we look at nature as we usually do.

Schlovsky suggests, for example, that when we look at, say, a mountain, we usually do not actually “see” the mountain; at least at first we are seeing what we generally think a mountain looks like. The same is true of vision in general. Unless we look sufficiently deeply and long we see not the mountain, but our “idea” of a mountain. The artist’s purpose is to help the viewer move past this level of seeing to a more full, richer, and complete vision of the mountain.

Thus, the rather tautological phase I came up with:  To really “see,” we must see that which is “unseen.”

It turns out, today, that this way of thinking actually has a sound basis in science. Biologists studying human vision have begun to develop detailed and increasingly accurate physiological and mathematical models of how human vision actually works. (See Quanta Magazine: Kevin Hartnett, “A Mathematical Model Unlocks the Secrets of Vision.” August 21, 2019.)

The eye … receives light from the outside world and projects a scale replica of our visual field onto the retina, which sits in the back of the eye. The retina is connected to the visual cortex, the part of the brain in the back of the head…. However, there’s very little connectivity between the retina and the visual cortex. … [T]here are only about 10 nerve cells connecting the retina to the visual cortex. These cells make up the LGN, or lateral geniculate nucleus, the only pathway through which visual information travels from the outside world into the brain… Not only are LGN cells scarce — they can’t do much either. LGN cells send a pulse to the visual cortex when they detect a change from dark to light, or vice versa [which identify edges], in their tiny section of the visual field. And that’s all.

From this very limited amount of information the eye sends to the brain (to the visual cortex), an image is constructed by the brain. This is a very compelling idea for photography. Since the brain has to work with what are really suggestions about the detailed content of an image, it seems likely to me that there should be some overlap in with the active imagination, with the brain’s powers of creativity.

Not only does this make it quite literally true that when we present a photograph to the viewer, the viewer and the photographer both participate in an act of co-creation. The photographer and the viewer are having a conversation about the content and meaning of a photograph (as must be true for any work of art). Additionally, this idea reveals how the brain likely makes use of the “idea” of a thing in creating vision, just as suggested by Schklovsky.

What else can we as photographers and artists take from these ideas? I believe our photography-as-art benefits from our thinking with intent about the cues we are feeding to the viewer’s brain. Patterns of light and dark, contrasts and contrast, variations in tone and shade, patterns both small and large provide suggestions to the brain on how to construct an overall image from the limited information it receives. At least in theory, a flat image with little or no variation in tone or lightness/darkness will present difficulties for the brain. Though we should keep in mind that the eye is probably capable of detecting very minute changes of light and dark and sending the corresponding information to the visual cortex. Though, conversely, if we want to elicit a response from the viewer that is ambiguous, uncertain, questioning, then a photograph with little or no tonal variation at all is certainly the way to go.

I am excited by the support this recent science lends to Schklovsky and to my interpretation of his ideas. I am interested and eager to hear other views and responses. Please leave a comment.

Summer Sky with Tree Branches

Imagine a summer day in the mountains. You’re laying in a meadow, gazing up at the sky, looking through these picturesque tree branches. What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon! Shot near the Angeles Crest in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Orchids / Capture One

I’ve posted orchid pictures before (New York Orchid Show), but these have been reprocessed. The images were captured raw in the Fuji XPro-2 (handheld) and processed completely in Capture One Pro. (Click images for larger.)

Along with the transition from Nikon to Fuji (From Nikon to Fuji), I have recently decided to drop Lightroom (along with other Adobe applications) and try Capture One. There were several reasons for leaving Lightroom, among them the possibility that Adobe was going to increase the subscription prices for the photographer’s bundle.

Additionally, Fuji’s X-series cameras use an unconventional and unique sensor array, and Lightroom has difficulty handling Fuji raw images. Capture One claims to be better at processing raw Fuji images. Both Capture One and Fuji have been promoting this and other benefits. A customized Fuji version of Capture One is now available, an Express version free, and a Pro version at a substantial discount.

I was also becoming dissatisfied with Lightroom. Even with (and maybe because of) an endless stream of updates to Lightroom, Lightroom has continued to be more and more complex. I don’t think performance has kept up.  Lightroom wasn’t the complete editing tool I wanted, as I seemed to be constantly going to Photoshop and to the Nik tools to do the editing and processing I wanted. Lightroom’s digital management (cataloging) tools were also reatively limited, and I was tempted by the great things being said about Capture One. 

So I decided to try Capture One. I have been more than satisfied  – Thrilled actually. Both as a catalog management tool and a raw processing/image editing tool Capture One excels. There’s a learning curve for sure, but I’m finding that Capture One organizes its tools and workflow in such a logical and systematic manner, that learning is proceeding readily. As for raw processing and image editing, Capture One offers an incredibly high degree of control without the need for any supplementary tools. And if I do want to do some especially exotic digital manipulation, Capture One’s plugin architecture seems to work more smoothly than did Lightroom.

This really isn’t a sales pitch for Capture One, but I couldn’t be more pleased. The above orchid images are examples of what I’m getting working with Capture One. I’m excited about the clarity and colors of images from the Fuji + Capture One. 

Flowering Tree by Lake

I am always conscious of composition in outdoor photographs. This image kind of composed itself, with the tree spreading horizontally across the water as both the dominant picture element and the main picture composition framework. The lake is in Bruce Park, Greenwich.

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