Tuesday 31 July 2018

Arachnophobia III: You are like an evil Bob Dylan!

I have gotten a some interesting comments on my recent pictures. I thought it might be fun to share them.

Here are comments on Arachnophobia III:
"You are like an evil Bob Dylan!"
- Tim Mårtensson, my son, and my harshest and most brutally honest critic.
"Dude! I don't have a clue what kind of childhood experiences you had with spiders, but your series is awesome!"
- Luis Carriere
 " I'm torn here. These pieces of yours are genuinely unsettling and well-crafted, so I'm happy that great art is being added to the world. On the other hand, SPIDERSPIDERSSPIDERS UGH OH GOD THEY'RE IN MY HAIR THEY'RE IN MY HAIIIIIR"
-Joel Clark
 Arachnophobia II also got comments. Here are a few of them:

"The sky didn't need so much texture but apart from that, stunning work."
-Barry Manowar
By the way, Barry is right. The sky should have less texture, because the texture distracts a bit from the point-of-interest, the battle with the giant spider. The reason that I haven't fixed it is that I generally prefer to leave a trail of imperfections, and instead try to do better on the next picture. I'll try to remember Barry's point the next time I create a picture with blue skye in it.

"Reminds me of the art from early AD&D."
-Michael Summers
"Like it, has a very vintage sci-fi novel cover feel. Awesome!"
-Corey Fuchs
 When I re-read these comments, I realized that what I wrote yesterday about not being sentimental, and not creating sentimental pictures, is wrong. I am very sentimental.

It's just that while many other people get sentimental about sunsets, I get sentimental about my friends in my old gaming group, my friends in my old software development team, I get sentimental about the debates we had about Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and science.

Here is a comment about Arachnophobia I:

"Hahha nice Really fun and exciting image."
-Jonas Henriksson

When I did the analysis of Arachnophobia II, I wrote about how I used guidelines from a 1937 book on photography to create pictures with a broad appeal. So far it seems to be working.

I'll return with more arachnophobic pictures soon. You can stay tuned by following my Facebook page, by following me on Google Plus, or by following me on ArtStation.

Monday 30 July 2018

Arachnophobia II: Pictorialist design breakdown

I recently re-read The Command to Look, a brilliant book on photography by William Mortensen. The book was published in 1937. It is well written, Mortensen had a wry sense of humour, he understood people much better than I ever will, and as for the photography...he was well ahead of his time. If he had written the book today, he'd still be ahead of his time.

When I read something I am really interested in, I often make a breakdown of the major points, and how they relate to each other. Sometimes I create a mindmap, at other times, I scribble notes on a large sheet of paper.

With The Command to Look, I took the scribbling-on-large-sheet-of-paper route.

Early in his career, Mortensen photographed movie stars in Hollywood. The only trouble was, he wasn't happy with his own photos.

Mortensen set out to discover how to take a really good photo. After a lot of hard work, and going down a number of blind alleys, he constructed a simple formula for how to make a memorable photo:

  1. The picture must make you look!
  2. Having looked - See!
  3. Having seen - Enjoy!

Fortunately, he elaborated quite a bit on that, and that is what The Command to Look is all about.

In Arachnophobia II, I have used several of Mortensen's ideas about how to construct a picture.

To make people look, I use a large, dominating mass. Mortensen's idea was that a large mass draws attention, because it is instinctively perceived as a threat. The large mass does not have to be threathening, it just has to trigger the instinctive response.

Getting people to look is not enough. Once people look, there has to be something there to see. Mortensen defined three broad categories of pictures that are of interest to most people:

  1. Sex
  2. Sentiment
  3. Wonder
Sex is any picture that has a sexual component. A seductive smile falls into this category. So does porn, and a lot of things in-between.

Have a look at ArtStation, and you will see a lot of contemporary art with a strong sexual component, without having actual sex in them. For a classic painting, do look at the beautiful Le Sommeil by Gustave Courbet.

Sentiment is probably the most popular category. All the cat, dog, and sunset pictures you see on Facebook have a strong sentimental component, at least in the mind of the photographer.

Personally, I do not like overly sentimental pictures. They tend to be bland and boring. The biggest problem is not with any single picture. The biggest problem is that there are so many of them, and that they are nearly all boring.

I have never understood why it is a great thing to be bored out of your skull, but apparently, I belong to a rather small minority.

Wonder is where imagination and creativity lives. Pictures that  show you things, creatures, people, and worlds that exist only in the imagination. Here you will find pictures of John Carter battling four-armed giant apes on Mars, H.R. Giger's Alien, majestic starships by Chris Foss. The limit is only the limit of imagination.

The Arachnophobia series of pictures belong squarely in the Wonder category. Unless, of course, you live in Australia. (Don't look if you really have arachnophobia.)

So, it is my hope that a picture of two medieval warriors fighting a giant spider will be strange enough to create a sense of wonder in you when you look at it.

The third part of Mortensen's recipe is enjoyment. He was rather specific about what that meant: Create a path for the eye to follow, guiding the viewer from discovery, to discovery, with the occasional obstacle to keep things interesting.

This is definitely something I need to work more on, and I will, in pictures to come.

If you haven't seen Arachnophobia I, click on the link to check it out.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Arachnophobia I

I am starting off a new mini-series of pictures, Arachnophobia. I sat down to make a picture involving a T-Rex, but the ideas kind of morphed while I was working.

Spiders are fascinating. Looking at a spider is looking at a completely different form of life. It might as well be from another planet.

Giant arachnids have been popular in monster movies since Tarantula (1955). One of my favorites is Eight-Legged Freaks (2002). Tolkien created Shelob, and Peter Jackson put it on the silver screen in The Return of the King. Another fairly recent giant spider is Aragog, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Obviously, giant spiders are a lot of fun, unless they eat you, of course.

The setting for Arachnophobia I is Primus Vicus, a medieval village not far from Halmstad in Sweden. I'll vary the environments quite a bit in the series, but I plan to stick with the medieval Fantasy theme I began with.

Here is the photo composite I constructed to have a base for the digital painting process.

As the series progresses, I will test and use various ideas from the early 20th century pictorialist William Mortensen. Specifically, from his book The Command to Look (1937). More about that next time.

Friday 20 July 2018

Pictorialism vs. Neo-Pictorialism vs. Contemporary Pictorialism

Bareback Riders - Pictorialist Version
In this article I will use the same basic photo to create three very different pictures, a pictorialist version, a neo-pictorialist version, and, for want of a better term, a contemporary pictorialist version.

Hang on! You are in for a ride!

The slow bit: A brief history of pictorialism

 Pictorialism is a photographic style that was popular from 1885 to about 1920. The style all but disappeared for a long time, but it was rediscovered in the 90's.

The rising interest in the original pictorialists and their pictures, also kindled an interest in recreating their style. Behold, neo-pictorialism was born!

Neo-pictorialist pictures are stylistically very similar to pictorialist pictures, but there are important differences. If there weren't, this article would end here.

What about contemporary pictorialism? First of all, I invented the term. There are people today, who do what the pictorialists did a hundred years ago. Because there is a 100 year gulf separating the original pictorialists from the contemporary ones, the technology has changed, our society, and social norms, have changed. Therefore, a contemporary pictorialist picture can look very different from a pictorialist picture from 1918.

Enough with the history lession! Let's get on with creating the pictures!

The boring base photograph

Base Photo: Bushes and Borgholm Castle
The base photograph is a picture of some boring shrubs. You can see the Borgholm Castle in the background, but as castle photos go, this one is pretty much a dud. The castle is very interesting, but you cannot see that in this picture.

Let's take this unremarkable photo, and have some fun with it!

Neo-pictorialist version

Bareback Riders: Neo-Pictorialist Version. Note the absence of horses and riders.
Let's begin by giving the picture the neo-pictorialist treatment. When people talk about creating pictorialist pictures today, they usually mean neo-pictorialist pictures.

Neo-pictorialism is mostly a technical exercise. The objective is to make a picture stylistically similar to an old pictorialist picture. The closer you get, the more you have succeeded.

Pictorialists in the early 20th century wanted to evoke emotion. They wanted to create art. To do that, they turned to painters for inspiration. Consequently, they often wanted their pictures to look like paintings.

To create painterly effects, the pictorialists used a great variety of tricks. Anything that worked was okay to use. They often blurred their pictures, they hand-colored them, dodged, burned, used early composition techniques...

Neo-pictorialists recreate the look of the pictorialist photos, much like historical reenactment societies recreate old battles.

Thus, if we take our base photo, and make it look stylistically like a pictorialist photo, then we have a neo-pictorialist photo.

Why are there no horse and riders in our neo-pictorialist version of the photo? Because there is no reason to have them there. Only the style is important. The content does not matter, as long as it does not look too modern. Consequently, neo-pictorialist pictures are often pictures of nature, landscapes, forests. A really old car is okay to shoot, but a modern car is not. To some neo-pictorialists, shooting with old lenses and using the original processes is a matter of pride.

Pictorialist version

Bareback Riders: Pictorialist Version
In the pictorialist (1920) version of the photo, the style is exactly the same as in the neo-pictorialist version, but the content is different. Why?

Because, to a pictorialist, content was important. Pictorialists asked questions like:

Is it beautiful?
Is it scary?
Does it tell a story?
Does it convey an idea?
...and so on

A pictorialist uses whatever means available to further the purpose of the picture. It is that simple.

They did not care about using the "correct" process, or whether the picture conformed to genre conventions. They used whatever means they had. The style is as much a result of technical limitations, as of aesthetic considerations.

For this picture, I have stuck with the convention of making the photo look like a painting, but the technique I use for doing so is completely modern. In case you are curious, I used Dynamic Auto-Painter, a tool that analyses the photo, and with a little guidance from me, recreates it from scratch, as a painting.

Making their pictures look like paintings was a means to an end, not an end in itself. It was a convenient way to help viewers relate to the photos by relating the photos to something the audience already knew. (A bit like when the iPhone was introduced. The iPhone is a miniature mobile multi-purpose device. Most of the time it is used, it is used as something other than a phone. Calling it a phone made it easier for people to relate to it.)

Nudes are common in pictorialism because the nude human form evokes feelings. Most pictures are of nude women, because most of the photographers were male. There are exceptions though. There were female photographers, and photos of nude males.

Note the difference between pictorialist and neo-pictorialist:
  • The pictorialist uses cutting edge technology and processes to express emotion and ideas.
  • The neo-pictorialist tries to emulate the results of processes used by pictorialists in the period 1885-1920.
What would a pictorialists do today? I am glad you asked.

Contemporary Pictorialism

Bareback Riders: Contemporary Pictorialism
A contemporary pictorialist would ask the same, or similar, questions that a pictorialist would:

Is it beautiful?
Is it scary?
Does it tell a story?
Does it convey an idea?
Do I have to ask exactly the same questions a pictorialist would have asked 100 years ago? (Hint: The answer is NO!)

If you have read my blog posts about the Gothenburg Nudes series, you know that the basic idea was to separate nudity and objectification, for the purpose of making room for appreciation.

This basic idea guided the design of each picture, and of the series as a whole. The Öland Nudes series uses the same basic idea, but it is tailored for a slightly different audience.

People tend to relate to places they know, so I use familiar locations to trigger interest, before I hit t
hem with abstract concepts.

I admit, it does not work perfectly. Some people see nipples, and after that, they see nothing else. This happens both with those who like nipples, and those who don't. Neither group is my target audience.

My target audience is the group of people who appreciates both the beauty of the human form, and abstract reasoning...and especially those who either live in Gothenburg or on Öland.

If you live elsewhere, please do not feel left out. You can appreciate Gothenburg and Öland even if you do not live there.

That is the difference between pictorialism, neo-pictorialism, and contemporary pictorialism as I see it. Feel free to disagree. If you do, please also feel free to comment. I am interested in your opinion, whether your argument changes my mind or not.

Öland Nudes II: Bareback Riders

This picture has been stuck in development since 2016, so, yay! Done!

As I continue to work on my nude pictures, I add variation in body types, skin tones, and other factors. This is intentional. I want a lot of variation.

At the same time, I am held back by my fear of botching it completely. I understand that my never-quite-sufficient skills dooms me to produce pictures that are a pale reflection of reality.

I keep trying, because that is the only way to suck less at it.

While I worked on this picture, the discussion in Photo Meetup in Gothenburg turned to pictorialism again. Sara Liljegren mentioned photographers like Don Hong-Oai and Barbara Cole. (Do click on the links. Both are very interesting photographers.)

The discussion got me thinking about the relationships between pictorialism, neo-pictorialism, and contemporary pictorialism. (I made the term "contemporary pictorialism" up, to describe what Barbara Cole is doing, and I try to do. Nevertheless, these are three distinctly different approaches to creating pictures.)

So, using the picture above as an example, I set about creating three different versions of it, based on the three different branches of pictorialism.

I'll blog about that next time.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Öland Nudes I: At the Beach

I needed a change of pace from the Gothenburg Nudes series of pictures, so I cunningly switched to a series of nudes from Öland.

Seriously, a few of my friends, Petra Brewitz, Julia Reinhart, Petri Olderhvit, and held exhibitions in Borgholm, in 2016, and 2017, at the Öland Harvest Festival.

Petra and I were discussing our trips the other day, in-between coffee breaks (Sw. fika.). Swedes normally work, and break for coffee. Petra and I have coffee and break for work, so we talk in-between the breaks, instead of during the breaks. Somewhat surprisingly, the system works, and we are more productive than you think. Even when we do not produce anything, we still get coffee, so, upsides only.
Julia Reinhart, Petra Brewitz, and Petri Olderhvit, looking like the photographers they are. I tend to look like the photographer I am, which is why I am not in the picture.
When we visit Öland, we make sure to have time to go on photo walks, and the occasional trip by car, to get some cool photos. The landscape is fantastic. Öland is a rather flat island, with the occasional windmill, or iron age fortress, sparsely and randomly distributed through the landscape. Well, not really randomly, but it feels that way when you are on foot.

While Petra and I were talking, it struck me that I just might have enough pictures from Öland to start doing something with them, like a series of pictures.

Because I am still in nude mode (that sounded better in my head than it reads from the screen), I am eschewing the vikings and monsters for a while, and create a few Öland Nudes in parallell with the Gothenburg Nudes series.

We'll see how it goes.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Author Portrait: Fred Brooks

Fred Brooks
I had the great honor to photograph Fred Brooks recently. Fred Brooks is the author of The Mythical Man-Month, one of the most famous project management books of all time. The book inspired what later became the agile movement in software development.

In addition to writing several very influential books, Fred Brooks is one of the great computing pioneers. He worked at IBM, on developing the IBM 360 series, and it was his idea to switch from using 6 bit to 8 bit bytes. This change made it possible to support lowercase characters, something computers had not done before.

Brooks founded the computer science department at  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is still active.

I read The Mythical Man-Month many years ago. I was interested in agile software development, and Fred Brooks was a favorite author of my favorite authors of books about agile. Meeting Fred Brooks was great, even though the meeting was very brief.

The photo shoot was a panicky thing. As sometimes happens, I had set everything up for the shoot in one location, and then had to shoot very quickly, in a completely different location, that was unsuitable for photography, to say the least.

This happens from time to time. When it does, you simply do your best.

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Gothenburg Nudes XI: Reflections at the Pond

 Reflections at the Pond is the eleventh picture in the Gothenburg Nudes series.

I had planned a visit to the Gothenburg Botanical Garden to find a suitable environment for one of the pictures.

Two of my friends in Photo Meetup in Gothenburg, Kristina Johansson and Sina Farhat arranged a Short Depth-Of-Field themed meetup in the Botanical Garden. That was perfect for me. It was an opportunity to dust off my macro lens, which was long overdue. Even better, it was an opportunity to meet a few of my friends.

I do meet my friends more often than I bring out the macro. Still, meeting them was long overdue too.

And, I got to photograph two birds with a single click. (Killing them with a single stone sounds too harsh.) After practicing shooting with short Depth-Of-Field, we went exploring for a bit. I got separated from the others, stumbled on to a pond where the water was a still, perfect mirror, and...voila! I had exactly the environment I was looking for.

After shooting the pond, I discovered I was actually just a few meters from the rest of the gang. I joined them, and we left the garden together.

If you want to see how I created the picture, check out the project at ArtStation.

Sunday 1 July 2018

Gothenburg Nudes X: The Real Secret

What is the real secret? It depends on how you interpret this picture.

I am sure you have heard that there is no right or wrong way to interpret a work of art. That may be, but to create a piece of art, is to create with purpose.

If the artist manages to convey that purpose, there is communication. If the purpose cannot be discerned by the viewer, the viewer may still like, or dislike, the work, but as a means of communicating ideas, the thing is a bust.

Just for fun, have a look at The Real Secret. What do you see? What does it mean?

Write it down, just so you remember clearly what you saw, before I explained my intent when I created the picture.

Are you done?

Good! Here we go!

The Gothenburg Nudes series as a whole, is about separating nudity from objectification. In order to do this, I create pictures where the women have a purpose of their own. They are doing their own thing. They do not pose for an observer. This idea holds for The Real Secret too.

Note how the woman walks past the store without even looking at the lingerie. That is intentional. You have to accept her on her own terms, without adornments. She is not dependent of anyone else's approval.

She is walking nude in a city, so she either ignores or flaunts conventions. However, she just walks at a brisk pace, she seems intent on going somewhere. She is not showing off. So, no flaunting, which means she does not care much about conventions. Well, at least not nudity conventions, but they are themselves a symbol for other conventions and opinions that are based on habit, not thought.

Did you notice the dab of orange in her left armpit? That is hair. She does not shave her armpits, and that is another convention that she ignores.

I personally find her interesting because the way she thinks is way outside the box. The nudity is merely a symbol for the ability to think outside given parameters.

Have you looked at the man looking into the store? He checks out lingerie, none of it having a woman in it, but he completely misses the interesting woman outside the store, that is, outside the box.

So, he represents people oblivious to beauty outside the norm. He is trapped by the conventions and expectations he is used to.

So, what is the real secret?

What is it that makes her interesting, and worthy of appreciation?

It is obviously not lingerie, or willingness to please anyone else's expectations.

It is her ability to think outside the box, and the confidence and courage that allows her to follow through with it. That is her secret, and it is in plain sight, if one really looks.

So, what was your interpretation? Feel free to comment.

Oh, one more thing! Most of the women in the picture series are redheads. Why? Try to figure it out. The answer may surprise you. I'll write about it in another blog post. Maybe the next one. Maybe not.

I have put a breakdown of the picture into its elements on ArtStation.