Real world imperfections and aesthetics

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Supriyo, May 13, 2016.

  1. I think many of the post-processing edits done in landscape and other genre of photography are not only to remove distractions, but to make the picture pristine or ideal, like a painting. While I am not questioning the freedom of the artist to do so, I am thinking whether it is really necessary to make a photograph pristine and perfect. Can we not enjoy a landscape photo (or architecture for instance) that has all the quirks and imperfections of the real world? Is it really necessary to remove a tree branch (except in the most extreme cases) or add a sailing boat where it did not belong? While I am not a staunch adherer of aesthetic realism, I think some principles of it are worth considering when applied to photography. For example:
    First, the deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis. Second, the greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it—contempt defined as the false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself. Third, the study of what makes for beauty in art is a guide for a good life: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." - Wikipedia​
    Again, I am not saying I staunchly believe in these principles. I just want to give it a thought. I don't believe "honest and accurate basis" is equivalent to saying "all photography should be photojournalistic". I am proposing using photography to depict the world with all its blemishes and imperfections, which adds an extra illusion of realism and with it a new aesthetic. While in painting, one has to really put an effort to add such imperfections, photography makes it easy. So I am wondering whether we should move away from such imperfections in photography, or celebrate them.
    I would be curious to know what others think. Looking at existing threads, principles of aesthetics have been discussed in the past, but may be not in these exact lines. Of course I may have missed something, so feel free to direct me to previous discussions if you feel so.
  2. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Probably need to ban makeup and good clothing for models too. Maybe avoid "flattering" angles and perspective. Shoot buildings before the garbage out front is picked up. Make all those imperfections show!
  3. Jeff,
    I think you are taking it to the extreme. E.g. I am not asking models to forego makeups, but wondering whether portraits have to be perfect. Whether that pimple on a person's face must be removed in photoshop.
    I am referring to imperfections in an otherwise interesting composition, I am not suggesting we forego creative or interesting compositions.
    BTW, photographing a building with garbage in front can be quite exciting. I would try to shoot it in an instant.
  4. Can we not enjoy a landscape photo (or architecture for instance) that has all the quirks and imperfections of the real world?​
    This is a key question. Any photo can show the quirks and imperfections of the real world or not. Any photo can want to be about the real world or not. Some photos are not about WHAT a photographer sees and seem more about HOW he sees or what he wants to MAKE. Art is usually some sort of creation.

    Pictorialists didn't show the quirks and imperfections. Modernists did. I'm glad we have both and will continue to allow both these sensibilities to influence me in the future.

    I can appreciate a romanticized Pictorialist rendition of a scene as much as a gritty and realistic rendition of a street scene. Why do I have to choose?

    Photography can have a unique relationship with the world and can be used forensically and photojournalistically. Because of that, art photographers can use or discard photography's uniqueness in that respect as they please. There are all degrees of the use of the original reality the camera was pointed at.

    Romantic comedies of the thirties and forties weren't showing as many quirks and imperfections as film noir of the same period. I love both genres.

    Richard Linklater often allows and encourages his actors to determine their own dialogue in the moment. Hitchcock was much more deliberate and controlling in his approach to making films. Linklater's films have a much more real and spontaneous feel and Hitchcock's tend toward more artifice. And yet Hitchcock, like Linklater, gets to such a human and real place. It's just different methodologies, different styles.

    Art is not necessarily in how true or real something is. It's in what it does to you and where it takes you.
  5. Let's look at the difference between some "golden age of Hollywood" portraits and some of today's magazine fashion stuff. There were plenty of quirks and warts left out of the Hollywood stuff as there are of today's fashion stuff. Yet, I love much of the old Hollywood stuff and hate much of today's fashion stuff. That's because the great Hollywood portraitists of the 30s and 40s were being expressive. Today's fashion stuff is selling something and seems often to be wiping expression away. (Of course, there are exceptions in both cases!)
    Now, those are extremes. But I look at cloning the same way. It can be done to purify and wipe expression away or it can be done in the service of a larger expressive vision.
  6. Fred,
    I am for both ways, expressionistic, or idealistic. I think it should vary from case to case. I am against following one ideal throughout. One thing you mentioned in a recent post that made me think: Photographers tend to wait for the ideal weather and conditions for shooting landscapes. However, you said it doesn't have to be. One can find beauty in non-ideal situations as well if one searches.
    I think, photography gives us a natural way of depicting a scene with its inherent imperfections. I find a new aesthetic beauty in it. I was wondering if others feel the same way. Of course, I also enjoy looking at pristine landscapes, whether paintings or photos.
  7. I posted this photo to PN where I removed the post in the middle. Later on, while comparing the two versions (with and without the post), I still like the version without the post, but I am wondering whether the original photo should never be presented as is, or whether the post adds any aesthetics to the photo because of the 'imperfection' of the post.
    This is not meant to be a critic of my work. I just wanted to give an example.
  8. Edited:
  9. Original:
  10. Aren't we beating (repeatedly) the dead horse? It's a subjective medium....whether you accept it or not.
  11. Aren't we beating (repeatedly) the dead horse?​

    To some extent yes, I agree. However although you say (and I don't disagree) that it is subjective, the general trend is to remove such imperfections. Just post a photo with an obvious distraction to PN and look at the majority of the comments. Sometimes people just religiously remove blemishes from photos without thinking out of the box. I have also been a victim to that. However I want to know better, hence the question.

    The bottomline is, I know it is subjective, but people may not always realize that. I feel I am a minority in thinking that blemishes and imperfections could be aesthetic elements. Is that a true feeling?
    If it is not an interesting subject for you to discuss, I understand. However I am still learning, and sometimes I have childish curiosity.
  12. Supriyo, in terms of your photo, I find the one with the post a much more compelling image, but it all depends on what YOU want out of the photo. I don't see the post as a distraction adding to the reality of the scene. I see the post as a fascinating companion for the man and as a somewhat subversive element which impacts the entire story. So, it depends if you want that kind of tension and statement and story or the more placid and peaceful rendering that taking away the post gives. Again, I don't see the post as an imperfection but as a major player in its own right when left in the photo. In some ways, even though the post was "really" there, there's a sense of artificiality which I like when including the post. The artificiality of including a post in that manner in the center of a scene where such a thing would usually be avoided. We can play around with the notions of what's real-looking and what's artificial-looking a lot. Your photo, for me, feels more staged and yet more thought-provoking with the post than without.
  13. Phil, Fred,
    Thank you very much for the lively discussion. I agree that the post mimics companionship to the boy and (I realize now) as a staging element too. However when I took the photo, my primary staging element was the framing of the tree branches. My primary logic for removing the post was, it divides the frame into two parts, one with the boy in it, but the other part does not have anything worthy. Phil, you brought up the example of a tourist brochure (vs a displayed artwork), and it is a very good example. In a tourist brochure, people want to see photos that make them dream of visiting a place. perhaps too much reality is detrimental to dreaming?
    Phil, thank you very much for your creative suggestions, and I will try the idea of removing the boat. Again, this thread was not meant for critic of this particular work, but I think it has helped the discussion a lot. Both you and Fred have given a different perspective of looking at the inclusion of the post, that it looks artificial and staged (in a positive sense) rather than realistic.
    Let me give another example which I think is relevant to this topic (sorry for posting too many of my images, but giving real examples would help the discussion). I posted this image from Utah many years back, and I think one of the comments is relevant: (please excuse the colors)
    Shilesh Jani writes:
    Too often lanscape photographers exclude any man-made objects (I am guilty) or worse still clone them out.​
    When I see the majority of landscape photos, I feel I am dreaming or meditating. I can't imagine myself to be there (not that I think thats a requirement). I am thinking how it would be to include a national park sign or the barrier at the viewing deck in a landscape photo. I know it is subjective, but the general trend is not to.
  14. Regarding your two photos above, Supriyo. One, they are YOUR images. You can do whatever you want to them, to look any way you want, to say or bring attention to anything you want. It's OK. Photographic images have been manipulated for this purpose since the beginnings of photography. It's part of the charm of the medium. Like clay, it's malleable. Two, the only "rule" is there are no rules. It doesn't matter what others think of your work. What matters is what you think of it. Other photographers have those same rights. Some photographers like to include junk in their landscapes, Hockney's Pearl Blossom Highway comes to mind, some, perhaps many, like a pristine view that invokes depth, or peacefulness, grandeur or whatever. It's all correct, it's all good.
  15. [​IMG]
    Here's a comment on this photo from someone I respect and have shared many critiques with back and forth, though we have somewhat different visions of the world:
    "It's one of the best portraits I've seen for a long time. But that background on the right? I mean really, that should have been easy to get around. Nevertheless it's not enough to make me change my mind. Great."​
    I saw this no other way. What others think of as distraction or non-harmonious composition, I find endearing and adding to the story. If a portrait is sometimes to go below the surface and into the person himself, storytelling is important and not everything inside us is organized sweetly.
  16. It doesn't matter what others think of your work. What matters is what you think of it. Other photographers have those same rights.​

    Louis, To be clear, I do not presume to tell other photographers what is correct and what is not. I am simply discussing new ideas to apply in photography. I am surely not in favor of including a lot of junk in a landscape, but would like to experiment by including a bit of distraction or imperfection here and there, to see how it affects my emotions on viewing the picture.
    What others think of as distraction or non-harmonious composition, I find endearing and adding to the story. If a portrait is sometimes to go below the surface and into the person himself, storytelling is important and not everything inside us is organized sweetly.​

    Fred, I am very much in line with your thinking, although I can appreciate pristine and flawless images too. However I think what you wrote is perhaps easily conceivable in certain genres of photography and maybe less in others (say landscape or architecture?). If you see the top prizes in these genres from sites like, they are all so pristine and flawless. I would like to break the rules and experiment with inharmony and imperfections.
    In landscape photography The New Topographics movement has dealt with the man made and man altered landscape of the American West. One of the photographers working in this style and that I find very inspiring is Robert Adams, and one who interestingly also argues for beauty in this book.​

    Phil, Thank you very much for referring to Robert Adams' work. I went and saw a small subsection of his work, and quite impressed. There is a photo which shows a discarded McDonalds box in the dirt. His works do give a new perspective about American West other than Monument Valley and cowboys on horses.
  17. If you see the top prizes in these genres from sites like, they are all so pristine and flawless.​
    Yes. Prizes are usually given as the reward of a popularity contest of some sort. I don't doubt pristine landscapes are popular. That may be reason enough to make landscape photos that aren't pristine.

    But I'm very aware that when I'm out in nature, far away from the garbage cans in the main parking lots, and on trails deeper into the wild, there IS a sense of the pristine or unharmed natural beauty. So I can understand why that view is something photographers might often offer. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with pristine views of nature, or idealized views of anything. They can be that and still be given some sense of personality and some personal touch of the photographer. Showing garbage is one way of bucking the trend. But showing pristine in a new and compelling way would be another way to go.

    Look what Meyerowitz did. His photos are still pristine and somewhat idealized, for the most part. But his use of color is incredibly adept, somewhat unique, and gives the viewer a new view of the world still unencumbered with garbage or "distraction."

    When I'm around the city, garbage seems an integral part of it. The little bit of garbage I might see on a back trail somewhere feels more like an anomaly. When I hike those trails, my senses dispense with the occasional bit of garbage as I concentrate on what I'm there for, which is the relationship with nature. So, often, including the garbage wouldn't necessarily be what the lived and photographic experience is about.

    Blemishes are so much a natural part of people (whereas garbage is not so much a natural part of nature) that I can express my relationship to people and something about other people themselves by including such blemishes and including "distracting" elements that they themselves surround themselves with in their homes. I think the relationship of garbage and nature is somewhat different, so it makes sense to me that garbage wouldn't as often be included in landscape or nature photography.
  18. To the OP:
    Poodle or tiger? Lap dog or the wild?
  19. Lap dog in the wild??
  20. In citing the quotation, the OP should have noted that it is a tenet of Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy founded by poet and critic Eli Siegel (1902–1978) in 1941. I had never heard of Mr. S. and have no impression that I have missed anything. A truer statement would be that "the deepest desire of most people is to surround themselves with a bland and anodyne comfort zone and avoid every intrusion by reality, which is seen as threatening and terrifying".
    The single most crucial definition of an artist is someone who is willing to step outside his/her comfort zone and has a commitment to probing the unknown and welcoming new experience. Comfort zone lovers will welcome and exploit any excuse for their behaviour - chief among these is likely to be a perceived lack of technical perfection in the work they are seeking to dismiss.
  21. Thanks for that link, Phil. It often strikes me that the inclusion of garbage in landscapes is done with that sort of self-consciousness irony the author speaks of. Gossage's seems a refreshing departure. The more self conscious irony in much inclusion of garbage on the landscape is not unlike the many awful and exploitive pictures we see of homeless people on the stoops of Madison Ave. homes or glassy, modern skyscrapers. How often are homeless people treated with equanimity rather than pity or irony?
    Irony is tricky, as the author notes. It can be as sophomoric as taking one more photo of a man smoking a cigarette in front of a no smoking sign or as sophisticated as the audience knowing what Oedipus's acts mean long before he does. If an artist is going to use irony, it helps for it to be textured and layered. On occasion, the quick and easy irony will work, but it often fails miserably.
    There are not only man-made intrusions of the "darkness" spoken of in the article in terms of physical things tossed into the wild. We have certain "dark" fears of nature and readings of nature, for example some killing that naturally occurs in the food chain looks horrible to us but that's OUR imposition of horror onto something potentially necessary, natural, and beautiful in its own right.
  22. Art is usually associate with aesthetic and sensual feelings. Accentuation of strength, beauty, power, etc are appreciated.
    Secondly, the brain tends to eliminate obstructions in views of the real world. It doesn't do that very well when the image is reduced to a 2D print. We can look at a beautiful sunset in real time and totally ignore the power lines running through the sky. But the moment you see a print of the same view, those power lines pop out and detract from the beauty. So the photographer has to aim his camera in a way that eliminate things that take away from the picture. A painter has the luxury of starting with a blank canvas and he can just add in the beauty he wishes too. In both cases though, there is an aim for "perfection". In many respects both artists and viewers are looking for representation of perfection to accentuate the effect.
  23. Thank you for all your comments. I am in a hurry, so I will post a short comment. I will write a more elaborate chronicle of my thoughts later.
    I agree, when one is in nature, an occasional sight of garbage does not affect ones' sense of serenity, because the mind can ignore those. Thats why I was wondering if these small imperfections are really so detrimental to the emotional response one gets by looking at a photograph.
    Alan has raised an important point, the distinction between looking at something in 3D vs 2D. Many scenes look great in 3D, but not so much in a 2D projection. So that could be a reason why imperfections in a 2D image are more revealing than the 3D counterpart. I will think about it, and will come back at it again.
    How about the tiger within a poodle?

    I think you did not read the OP fully, or I am missing something. I clearly stated that the quote is from aesthetic realism. In fact the quote is directly from an article in wikipedia about aesthetic realism. The reason I did not write a lot about aesthetic realism is, although my thinking has elements of this school of thought, they are not identical. I am not fully convinced about all the tenets of aesthetic realism. I think you can still be an artist without wanting to see the world on an honest and accurate basis.
  24. I clearly stated that the quote is from aesthetic realism.
    You did, but I did not realise until I followed the link that "Aesthetic Realism" was a movement started by one particular person.
    I think you can still be an artist without wanting to see the world on an honest and accurate basis.
    I disagree strongly here. For me the only interesting artists are the ones committed to breaking out of their comfort zone. Without this, pursuit of technical excellence or a conventional view of beauty is craft, not art. Craft skills can be impressive at a high level but are ultimately sterile and boring.
  25. Thats why I was wondering if these small imperfections are really so detrimental to the emotional response one gets by looking at a photograph.​
    Doesn't it depend on the photo? In some photos, it might be a detriment if the purpose is to present nature as pristine. In other photos, it might be a bonus because it sends some sort of message, invokes some sort of irony, or gets me to look at either garbage or nature a little differently, or emphasizes some political or ecological point.

    What may be an "imperfection" (I see garbage in nature as an imposition, not an imperfection) in nature could be completely transformed by a photo into something significant.

    For me, it's not about garbage being detrimental or not, as if there's some general goal for landscape photos that garbage would undercut. It's about how the garbage is felt and what it brings to the photo in each case or in each series.

    Things like garbage and phone wires are heightened in photos by the move from 3-D to 2-D and also for other reasons. Framing and excluding periphery and much outside context makes everything in the frame often take on more prominence. The way we attend to photos is often different from the way we attend to our surroundings, which we move through very differently. Photos stand stiller than life and we focus on them differently.

    BTW, for me nature is not necessarily serene when unencumbered by garbage, though natural serenity is great to experience. It can also be raw and wild, agitated and turbulent.
  26. I think of Warhol, who always seemed to me pretty comfortable in his zone. Warhol's art may have been, among other
    things, about getting viewers and audiences out of their comfort zones, not so much about him getting out of his.
  27. Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek interviewed by Krista Tippett, my transcription beginning about 9:12 into the episode where Wilczek expounds on our being accomplished practitioners of projective geometry:
    Humans do an astonishing feat routinely and very quickly. That is, they interpret the messages coming through little little openings in their eyes and projected on a two dimensional screen - the retina at the back - which then the light gets turned into electrical signals. And from that crazy, scrambled encoding we reconstruct an external world of three dimensional objects in space. We recognize that if we move our heads they're still the same objects and we determine these effortlessly.​
    So our 2 dimensional sensors, our retinas, provide sensory data in the form of 'flat' electrical signals from which the brain creates 3D visual representations, an interpretation. A photograph is then a 2D representation of a 3D representation of what biologically will always to us be 2D sensory data hitting our retinas. That distinction is somewhat trivial given how well vision works. My point in bringing it up is to emphasize how deeply interpretation is linked to sense perception.
    I like Amy Tan's Ted Talk on creativity. About 5:30 into the talk she discusses herself as a writer who delivers a narrative world within the pages of a book. So too a photograph captures its author's narration.
    Tan also considers that, in her writing process, the more she focuses on what a story is about the more the story becomes only what the story is about, such excessive focus on "what it's about" dampening Tan's creative writing process.
    Tan also offers that she creates a world in a novel and offers that she develops a cosmology for the narrative universe she creates. Regarding arriving at a cosmology of her created universes, 6:23 into the talk she says "And you see there's a lot of back and forth in trying to make that happen, trying to figure it out. Years and years often times."
    Supriyo "I feel I am a minority in thinking that blemishes and imperfections could be aesthetic elements. Is that a true feeling?"
    It's an interesting feeling, true enough. Where will that feeling lead you and will it be exciting as you develop your own cosmological interpretations photographically? How are we to interpret our worlds?
    I drifted away from photography when I got a second dog. My wildlife/bird subjects would flit off before I could stand the tripod and settle two dogs. I then started hand tool woodworking and took a couple years of Sunday classes at community college. The first aesthetic dilemma I ran across was similar to that raised in the OP.
    I wanted a uniform clear finish, whether an oil, varnish, shellac. Some species, like cherry, don't take such finishes uniformly and there are ways to treat raw wood such that absorption of a clear coat is more uniform, less blotchy. But an aesthetic question. Is blotch really blotch, or is blotch really 'character'. At first I was appalled by the person who posed that question to me. Later I came to like character in finished wood. Wood isn't uniform, it's a mess and interpreting a piece of wood is part of the creative process. How to frame it, how use reveals as design elements for show.
    Now I'm getting active in photographs again, partly because I want to integrate a photo with a wooden frame I design and make for a photo. It fun playing with a photograph and customizing a frame for it, where the frame becomes part of a narrated world I author.
  28. I think you are taking it to the extreme. E.g. I am not asking models to forego makeups, but wondering whether portraits have to be perfect. Whether that pimple on a person's face must be removed in photoshop.​
    Only you can decide, and if you are shooting for a client, they may have some say as well. Are you asking for some rule or guideline or permission to justify you aesthetic decisions? Its kind of an open ended question with no right answer.
  29. I think you are taking it to the extreme.​
    Even when some people are right, they can't help always taking it to extremes. It's called Reductio ad absurdum.
    Don't worry about it or the manipulation.
  30. Supriyo, a tangent question for you (I'm genuinely interested to hear your response): have you considered that "imperfections," this "garbage," might be particularly interesting to you? Not just an equal partner in the image, but something more than that, a key part of it?
    Photography is about fixing a moment, and the content that's "not garbage" is going to be that which has some permanence or some sense of belonging in that fixed state. What does not "belong"; what is transient, fights fixing, fights what a photograph does and therefore is a seed of irritation and attraction. The mind worries it, tries to conform it or get rid of it. If it doesn't "make sense" it remains independent, wild ...
    This quote from Giacometti gets to the issue of impermanence and picturing:
    ... I see it as if it disappeared ... reappeared ... disappeared ... In other words, it really always is between being and not being. And this is what we want to copy ... All the trajectory of modern artists lies in the will to capture, to possess something which is consistently fleeing.​
    I would suggest that "garbage" is "something which is consistently fleeing." It does not stay.
  31. Phil, Fred,
    Thank you very much for the essay on Grossage's Pond and the ensuing discussion. When I started the thread, I thought of imperfections as an enhancing element that could make an otherwise picture-perfect image lively. You have brought the concept of including garbage as a key element in it's own right, to reflect an irony as discussed in Robert Adam's essay. In such scenarios, garbage is the antagonist (and through it the human civilization), nature the protagonist. My thought is somewhere a middle ground. I don't want to distinguish nature from civilization (we are all products of evolution). I accept the fact that in their struggle to coexist, both will clash with one another and such clashes are unavoidable even if man uses his higher consciousness to mitigate such battles to some degree. I think, the real world in which we live, there coexists the artifacts of civilization along with pristine natural beauty and isolating one from the other could be artificial depending on the context. It is something I feel when seeing certain photos of my own, and it made me think.
    I am not discounting photos that show pristine nature without distractions and I very much appreciate those images. I just think, including imperfections (or man made artifacts) in nature photos could invoke a different sense of empathy that is more akin to a living breathing world of which we are part of. Serine nature is sort of timeless, and you could lose the feeling of being contemporary. I think many will consider this a radical statement, and I don't mean to say that all nature or landscape photos should include artifacts. It is just an idea that I am considering.
  32. Charles,
    I think we are on the same line of thinking. In your case, it is the ruggedness of the wood that imparts 'character'. In my case, inclusion of imperfections could potentially introduce that character. What is character? It is the property that imparts individuality over what is considered the canonical look. When we see a landscape photo for instance, we expect it to be pristine, symmetric (with exceptions of course). My idea is to include what is usually left out from the traditional boundaries of framing to impart character to the otherwise canonical view.
    A very important bottomline is, it all depends on the context.
  33. What others think of as distraction or non-harmonious composition, I find endearing and adding to the story.​
    That is so often the case, Fred, and definitely the case in the photo you posted. The area on the right does add to the photo, which was truly great to begin with.
  34. Julie,
    I like your comment very much. While replying to you, I realized that I have discussed things in response to Phil and Fred that could be relevant here, for instance:
    "I just think, including imperfections (or man made artifacts) in nature photos could invoke a different sense of empathy that is more akin to a living breathing world of which we are part of. Serine nature is sort of timeless, and you could lose the feeling of being contemporary."

    The imperfections are thus reminder that we are a fleeting entity in this timeless natural setting.

    However this sense of "fleeting" doesn't have to be the only feeling for all images. For example, when I think of my old neighborhood in India where I was born, garbage on street is a natural occurrence. It was there for a long time before I was born, and I presume it will be there in future too (hopefully at a reduced scale). So while photographing such a neighborhood, inclusion of garbage could also indicate a continuity and with it an assurance of the familiar cycle of daily life. At the same time, it would also portray a sense of 'fleeting', an uncontrollable element as you mentioned.
  35. While discussing elements of garbage in an otherwise nature photo, here is an example of the reverse, a photo about a garbage bin with elements of nature.
  36. Supriyo, if you read these lines, from a love poem (I hope you don't mind love poems ...):
    But always I saw myself walking toward you,
    as a drop of water touching the earth immediately
    turns toward the sea. — Stephen Dobyns
    Do you understand that kind of helplessness, "as a drop of water touching the earth immediately / turns toward the sea'? Have you felt that in your own life, whether from love or hate or other forces much larger than you, over which you have no control? Isn't that most of what provokes, motivates, compels one throughout a life?
    To include acknowledgement of those invasive uncontrollable forces in your pictures is to include a fullness and richness of life.
    On the other hand, a picture that excludes all over which the maker had no control, which claims full control, whether flexibly or not, ignores any suggestion or inclusion of those forces which are greater than the maker of the picture, of that which escapes control. Their drops of water do not turn toward the sea.
  37. Julie, Can you provide pictures of both types?
  38. Manmade features can complement landscape photography. Not sure these work, but I thought so when I shot them.
  39. Not only manmade features, Alan—and I like the second one a lot, with the two chairs . . . nice scene and suggestibility by the chairs—but also camera-made features in the first one, which is the purple tree shadow on the snow! ;-)
    [The latter is not a criticism, by the way, in case you might take it that way. It actually goes well with the photo but it's an interesting twist on the topic in that it's an addition but not one put into the scene, only into the picture of the scene!]
  40. forces much larger than you, over which you have no control? Isn't that most of what provokes, motivates, compels one throughout a life?​
    Who knows? I suppose each of us would have to answer that for ourselves. And regardless of how we answer that, it may or may not be what one wants one's picture-making to be about.
  41. Supriyo, what if your last photo turned out not to be about a garbage bin with elements of nature but about a cacophony of textures?
  42. Thanks Fred for your comments. I really should have toned down blue (purple) in post processing which is always a problem in shadows especially with Velvia 100 film. On the other hand, in winter scenes where you're trying to show freezing conditions, leaving the blue psychologically makes the picture look colder. If you turn it to gray, the picture warms up. Blue isn't required in this scene, but might work in others. In keeping with this thread, this is the kind of "artificial" element that can effect the interpretation of a picture.
    Let me mention in fairness that shadows where there are blue skies are in-fact bluer even in real life. But just with other things the brain dismisses, the bluing is dismissed psychologically by the eye but not when its recorded by a camera.
  43. Julie,
    Thank you for the little poem and the adjoining insight. Your description reminds me of the phenomenon of natural diffusion where every molecule dances and bounces randomly, but all of them moves in a definite direction. I get the point - including uncontrollable quirks could instill a sense of dynamics in a picture which otherwise can feel lifeless. This is very much in line with what I was thinking, and you have reflected on it from an unique perspective.
    I think, using the elements of randomness or chaos to impart a sense of liveliness stands on a very fine balance between fullness and inharmony. Also the challenge is that while the idea is very sensible, the implementation could be subjective.
    However, that said, I think flawless symmetry is also a very powerful element for portraying dynamics. This simulated image of a carbon nanotube is probably a good example.
  44. Alan,
    Thank you for the nice examples. Your first image could serve as an example of what Julie was suggesting, the uncontrollable quirks of everyday life. My eye is immediately drawn to the small traffic cone without losing the sense of serenity in the atmosphere. It is as if the red cone is purposeless, yet so bold and deliberate. The relative dimension of the cone with respect to the trees gives a sense of space and perspective. Great idea.
    The second image shows a sense of harmony and nostalgia, and also a sense of loneliness. The chairs blend very well with the landscape and I see no sense of imperfection or inharmony here.
  45. Fred,
    I agree that the roughness of the texture of the garbage bin in contrast with the sleekness of the vegetation gives a sense of cacophony, if thats what you are seeing here. The harsh light also probably highlights the rough texture.
    When I took this photo, I liked that the garbage bin was sitting happily among a bed of wild flowers and how the flowers embraced it and made it their own. Non one gives a second look at a garbage bin. It reflects so many individuals who nobody cares for, but still they have their places in this world.
  46. Perhaps a good example of someone who makes important landscape and industrial photos is Edward Burtynsky. They are often of good composition or unusual perspective on his subjects and the inclusion of some elements is not meant to idealize the image, which I think adds credit to his approach and work.
    I once showed the following photograph and was quite surprised that a few comments related to a very minor element in the image, the briefcase or small valise at the foot of a secondary subject (The comments were made in a forum the reference to which I have mislaid). To me they were interesting comment sand I thanked the commenters, but it remained in my mind a non issue, in fact I even regard it as a minor positive addition to the dynamics of the varied human gathering in the image.
    Another thing I find too "perfect" is the oftimes suggestion that I should reframe my principal subject to comply with some pre-conceived rule of thirds, or the like. Yes, the ancient concept of the "golden triangle" is an established trigger of perceived aesthetic harmony, but it should be employed I think only in the images where it's effect is high value-added, and not just automatically.
  47. That's what I meant in response to the OP when I said that there's a difference between the subject photographed ( which may be imperfect ) and the photograph as subject ( which always strives towards an ideal, an intention ).​
    Which can't be reverse engineered, dissected and applied to one's own way of photographing a subject from inspiration by another's work. I don't understand why other photographers think they can learn something from looking at other photographers photos they admire just from merely viewing their body of work. There are those that can copy another photographer's image exactly through reconstruction of the scene, maybe using the same equipment and processing, but they will never be able to copy their intent and way of looking and interpreting the world.
    A photographer can spend hours looking and composing for a subject to photograph derived from inspiration from another photographer's work and yet if the results do not seem as a moment's thought, all the stitching and unstitching as been for naught. The photographer has to find their own way of seeing and interpreting the world and convey that in their own images.
  48. To me, imperfection is a recognition or inclusion or celebration of the photographer's knowing that he doesn't really know what's there. That he doesn't have an interpretation; that he doesn't fully understand; that he doesn't have to understand in order to feel -- what's there and what he's offering to a viewer.
    "Here I was roused to exultation ... I know not why, and not knowing why is most (if not all) of it's glory!" ... or something like that.
    An unvarnished mess can be more powerful because it is an unvarnished mess, than a neat and tidy machine.
    ... I'd rather
    taste blood, yours or mine, flowing
    from a sudden slash, than cut all day
    with blunt scissors on dotted lines
    like the teacher told.
    Adrienne Rich
  49. So, it seems like a case is being made for "unvarnished messes" as the means for photographers not to know what's there and not to fully understand or interpret their work. It also seems like the only alternative to unvarnished messes are "neat and tidy machines."
    The latter is false on its face. There's plenty of room between an unvarnished mess and a neat and tidy machine without needing to go to such extremes.
    The former can be questioned with a good counterexample, of which there are too many to name all. Edward Weston's work could never be referred to as an unvarnished mess. It's pretty deliberate and neat yet still very open and offers the viewer and the photographer himself unlimited possibilities. That shadow on Charis Wilson's arm always bothered Weston even on a photo he otherwise so admired. Why? Because it messed things up in his mind, which was not a good thing in that instance.
    Work messy sounds like a terrific way to break rules, which seems to be a wanna-be-artist mantra as one searches for a secret sauce to gain entry into the club. But, in fact, it falls flat when it just becomes another rule, another mantra, another way photographers who really want to be artists must now approach things as they ignore or revise history to suit their current agendas.
    Weston, Bach, Mozart, Michelangelo, DaVinci were all ok knowing that art could have order and be just as effective as the more spontaneous and messy practitioners of their mediums.
  50. Ansel Adams was renowned for his efforts to get to the right place, at the right time, with the right light, equipment, film, etc., and then manipulating his images to have them show the scene as he imagined/remembered it. He returned time and again to the same locations and subjects, looking to further perfect his work. And yet, some of his most famous images were captured in the moment, almost by happenstance (as in Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941). Such images are only possible due to the experience, technical prowess, insight, and creative mastery obtained over a long period of time. Adams stated that it "combined serendipity and immediate technical recall." It is that mastery of one's craft that allows an accomplished photographer to both recognize and take advantage of the serendipitous opportunity, whatever the theme or subject.
  51. I just found out there has been fresh discussion in this thread. Thank you everyone for showing interest in this topic. When I posted the OP, my intention was to experiment with an idea that I thought was unconventional, at least relative to how I had been photographing. However it is just that, another idea or an approach to look at things. There can be many ideas or approaches.
    I like Julie's comments and find them inspirational. She has introduced insights into the OP's idea and I am very much going to experiment in these lines. However I am NOT denouncing other approaches, for example photography that strives to show symmetry or flawless beauty of the natural world. I think one has to judge which approach to be taken on a case by case basis.
    BTW, when I posted the OP, I specifically had photography in mind, not any other art form. Photography naturally captures the living breathing world, which usually comes with all it's imperfections, while in other art genre the artist creates the work entirely from his/her imagination potentially smoothing out any imperfection in the process. In such works, imperfections can still arise but those could be quirks of the medium like grains in a woodwork which makes the artwork itself tangible, but not necessarily reflects the real life it represents.
    I recently stumbled upon a photo taken by photographer Grant Nixon on PN. I like the fact that the photographer did not try to clone out the piece of paper or the blue post sticking out in the foreground. I think these 'imperfections' work for this particular image without taking away from the beauty of the sunset at a distance.
    Photography by Grant Nixon
  52. Phil,
    I understand when you say, "imperfect subject vs imperfect photograph". Imperfections in the subject may be essential to make the perfect photograph, that's what I envision.
    Many thanks for referring to Edward Burtynsky's work. I tried to view his portfolio on my iPad but could not for some reason. I will try again in a mainstream computer.
  53. What's the difference between a perfect and an imperfect photo? And how do I tell if a subject is perfect or not? Does a
    stray piece of paper on a landscape make the landscape imperfect? Was it perfect before the paper got there? Will the
    photo I make be more or less perfect if I bend down to pick up the paper before I shoot or if I clone the piece of paper out
    after I shoot?
  54. Supriyo; I can't help wondering if our discussions of two of your excellent photos might have spurred this discussion, at least to some extent. I am referring to two of your California Mission images, in which I identified modern bits that seemed in conflict with the timeless, historic nature of the subjects. My critiques/comments were not in any way intended to suggest the images were not excellent representations of what is there today. My thought was that, for a truly historic subject, my own preference would be to omit features that I felt distracted from the historicity of the image. That is my own taste and preference. The Grant Nixon image you posted is an excellent example of how the details of the here and now contribute realism and depth to images, even if they represent and "imperfect" subject. Some of my own images attempt to make art of the derelict and debris, as in many of my images from Route 66. It has been said that the perfect face is made even more beautiful by the tiny flaw. Perhaps the same can be true of photographs.
  55. Fred, I am not sure what would be a perfect subject, but what I meant by a perfect photo was one which matches up to the vision of the photographer to what he/she wanted to portray (in a perfect way?).
    I remember our discussion of the photos you referred to. I don't mean to cite those photos as examples in this discussion, and they also did not trigger this thought in me. You had a valid point when you made that suggestion and I completely agree with that.
    It has been said that the perfect face is made even more beautiful by the tiny flaw. Perhaps the same can be true of photographs.​

    Nice thought!
  56. Supriyo, what if the photographer didn't know what she wanted to portray until the photo was made? Matching perfection
    with intent is not always the way I would go. I don't even necessarily match success with intent. I think perfection is much
    too idealistic a term for a lot of art. I think in terms of significance and other things, not perfection.
  57. Fred,
    I agree that photos can turn into something else and surprise the photographer pleasantly. I recognize that photos make the photographer as much as the photographer makes the photos. I was commenting in reference to Phil's comment about imperfections. Often times, when I go out to shoot I try to be as open as possible, but I still have some residual intent or ideas in my head. If a photo defies my expectations and surprises me, that is always welcome, but usually the least I expect is to capture close to what I envisioned at the moment of pressing the shutter. For example, while shooting inside the California missions, my general intent was to capture the humbleness and poverty practiced in these missions although I diverted from that intent at times.
    Fred, you raised a very good point and I think it is more evident in shooting scenes involving people, either portraits or on the street. In shooting subjects specially with a mind of their own, I think it would be counter-productive to stick to pre-conceieved intents, better to go along with the evolution of the scene as it unfolds.
    I have seen photographers who like to control every aspect of the scene they are capturing if necessary by elaborate staging, in order to portray their viewpoint. While my photographic philosophy is not akin to that, such an approach might work for some people, who knows.
  58. Supriyo, here are some well-known examples (there are more; these come to mind this morning):
    Fukase's deservedly famous Solitude of Ravens
    Atget's landscapes
    Sally Mann's Deep South
    Rinko Kawauchi's landscapes
    Terri Weifenbach's landscapes
    John Gossage's landscapes
    Ron Jude's Lago (and other works)
    Joachim Brohm's landscapes
    Daido Moriyama's occasional landscape (I'm not a fan, but he's beloved by many)
    An interesting example are Timothy H. O' Sullivan's photos of the Civil War and the American West in the nineteenth century. Did he know his pictures were beautiful?
    An easier example for you to consider might be the landscapes of Jem Southam. His pictures are gently unstructured.
  59. Supriyo, there are two different issues here. I agree with you that many photographers have a particular intent they may want to see through. But I'd also suggest whatever that intent is gets broadened as the picture is made and seen by others. The original intent and its successful execution, in a good photo, will just be the beginning. I think that's true for any genre of photography.
    Perfection, IMO, is a separate issue. Seeking it, IMO, is a fool's errand because it doesn't exist in things like photography. I'm not much into absolutes.
    I have seen photographers who like to control every aspect of the scene they are capturing if necessary by elaborate staging, in order to portray their viewpoint. While my photographic philosophy is not akin to that . . .​
    I have also seen photographers who like to control every aspect of the scene they are capturing even with elaborate staging in order not to portray their viewpoint, in order to put forth a very ambiguous story or take on things. Staging is often a fabrication meant to open up possibilities, not necessarily close them off. I don't think exerting a lot of control over what's in one's photos necessarily guides a viewer toward the viewpoint of the photographer than shooting much more spontaneously does.
    In any case, working more deliberately and with more specific intent or more staging mechanism may simply be a chosen way to work without being a philosophy. My philosophy of photography is much, much broader than the particular ways I choose to work at any given time or on any given shoot.
  60. I am NOT denouncing other approaches, for example photography that strives to show symmetry or flawless beauty of the natural world.​
    Supriyo, I'm thinking of some of the more classical conceptions of beauty that have to do with the functioning of parts relative to a coherent whole. Not beauty in the sense of flawlessness or the pristine or untouched. But beauty in the sense of significant relationships that work together for a greater purpose. In this sense, a picture of garbage on a landscape can be just as beautiful if not more beautiful than a more pristine or "perfect" landscape if the garbage as pictured works with the landscape as pictured to some purpose of significance.

    Flawlessness as a default measure of beauty is much less significant to me than flaws that help create a picture with some kind of new or important meaning. At the same time, more pristine landscapes can show such significance of relationships as well, but that requires some amount of depth suggested by what's pictured on the surface. Can the photo of the pristine landscape go beyond the prettiness of that landscape on the surface? If not, it may not be as beautiful as it is pleasant or decorative.
  61. Thank you for all your comments. I will be back in two days (going on a trip) to respond to all of them.
    Julie, thank you for the examples. I will review them and let you know my thoughts on them.
    Thank you for your thoughts. I think this discussion is opening up a lot of insights. I will think about them and write more elaborate response.
    When I posted the OP, my feeling was that imperfections could act as an aesthetic element, I think it is in line with what you referred to.
    I will come back with more elaborate thoughts.
    Have a nice weekend!
  62. Julie, some good references. Southam's photographs may be of exquisite detail seen large, but I wonder if he really is showing beauty or aesthetics in an environment of some imperfections (broken tree branches, nude branches, wild growth, and all) or anything that we do not normally observe in looking at natural subjects. Perhaps, as the Victoria and Albert description suggests, his work showing changes with time are of most importance. O'Sullivan's portrait of John Burns, soldier in the 1812-14 war and hero at Gettysburg, 1863, shows me beauty in the resolve and seeming force of the person (also living in poor conditions), whereas if one can call it an imperfection I see just death in his face, not his demise but those of the 70,000 needlessly killed in that great battle. Hero he no doubt was, but with the advantage of history his face reveals both the beauty and imperfection of his experience.
    Maybe the OP refers to imperfection of a different order. I admit to not following the full discussion here. So, re raading the OP and
    "While in painting, one has to really put an effort to add such imperfections" (Suprriyo),​

    I must disagree with that part of it. Nothing is mandatory in painting, the brush does not feel obliged to record what the lens does. I guess it is neither easier or more difficut to make imperfections and to make them a matter of aesthetics, whether in painting or photography. It seems to me to be simply a matter of the intentrion of the artist or artisan. I commend Supriyo for his choice of topic as it is something we should certainly keep in mind, that imperfections (as we may consider them) can make both aesthetic and meaningful subjects or interpretations of them and can have an even greater message forthe viewer than, say, a cherry tree in blossom on an early spring day.
  63. A story from Allen S. Weiss:
    In 1989, at the Magiciens de la terre exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, I saw several of the extraordinarily simple, yet mysterious, Tantric drawings by Acharya Vyakul of Jaipur, India. These abstract images are not, strictly speaking, "art" works, but rather aids to ritual practice, meant to be tacked to a wall, meditated upon, and eventually replaced as they fade and tatter.
    [line break added] Vyakul's drawings renovate a mainly anonymous ancient tradition of works that are categorized into three types: the "terrifying," the "dynamic," and the "serene and sublime." Some years ago, I managed to obtain an anonymous drawing of the third category, representing pure consciousness. On a small sheet of crude hand-made paper, full of imperfections, was drawn, slightly above the center, a square of very pale, ethereal blue surrounded by a thin blood-red line: perfected consciousness separated from the chaos of the universe by the pulse of erotic life.
    [line break added] I framed the work — never again to serve its purpose of Tantric meditation — and hung it in my library. ... One day, while dusting the frame, I saw something that distressed me, initially because of the sheer physical damage, and ultimately because of its troubling metaphysical implications: the blue field of pure consciousness had begun to decay!
    [line break added] Absolute consciousness was dissolving into the general chaos of the universe! Utopia was transforming into dystopia. Had this happened because the existence of the cosmos depends upon the work of consciousness, and the transformation of a meditative device into abstract art effectively negated the powers of the drawing? Or was this simply a sign of the ancient wisdom that the perfection of the universe is founded upon its very imperfections, that chaos and order are the same?
    ... I have always related identity — the little of which I am conscious and wish to assume, beyond my identification with my writing — to displacement and the void. My parents were deracinated, having lost everything and suffered the worst in the Holocaust ... [M]y vision of their homes in Poland and Hungary is a mix of nostalgia for their bucolic small-town lives and trembling before a fiery apocalypse. ...​
  64. I have stopped dusting and vacuuming my house and I throw all my food wrappers onto my floors because the perfection of the universe is founded on its very imperfections, because my house should be abstract art and because chaos and order are the same. But now I'm getting ants and it's kind of a bummer. I don't know what to do. Woe is me.
  65. I was going to post that, but it works too well.
  66. And the photograph doesn't necessarily feel obliged either to show what the lens recorded.​
    Phil, on that I freely agree. Sometimes an apparent physical imperfection of recording is an advantage. Flare, coma and other imperfections sometimes add to what the lens was looking at. The photographer may or may not be aware of those limitations when making the photograph. Elsewhere, I have accidentally made some images by unintentionally double exposing two themes on the same film frames. Mostly they are candidates for the dustbin, but on a few occasions the chance mixing of images, an imperfection, is a thing of beauty or mystery (often the same). Not planned, just harvested.
    I adhere to the process that the final print (one description of your "the photograph") can be quite different from what the lens recorded, or even initial intentions in some cases, and some of the most beautiful work can be crafted in the B&W darkroom by creating imperfections using light manipulation by dodging and burning, adding or removing light to different masses or areas, highlighting subjects, etc., and we are familiar with "post production" in digital image or print making that can achieve similar results.
    Adding imperfections to life is one way of seeking beauty (I may adopt that as my motto or signature in my future work, I like that intention or exploration).
  67. I think even without light flares, without conversion to b/w, without dodging and burning or post process manipulations of any kind, the photo may very well not show what the lens recorded. There's a transformation that can take place regardless of other intervening factors.
  68. Related to the above . . .
    Is a pristine or untarnished landscape perfect or imperfect or can we choose which way we see it?
    Can I change the implication of a landscape by the way I look at it and photograph it. Can I see it and/or make it appear imperfect (if I want) even when there is no garbage strewn about? Can I see it and/or make it appear perfect (if I want) even when there is garbage strewn about?
  69. Tim, I don't think that looking at the body of work of other ( well known or not ) photographers and trying to learn something from it is in conflict with finding ones own way of seeing. It's complementary to it. I've learned a lot of things - a spectrum of sensibilities - not only from photography but also from painting, music, literature, philosophy,... and all of the other countless small arithmetics of the everyday.

    Part of finding ones own way of seeing is knowing how others have seen.​
    Phil, no one can "know" how others have seen and directly connect that knowledge with evidence that it improved or made them create new and original work.
    All that can be done is to copy, a form of mental contamination, or be inspired which has more to do with motivation to create new work from "knowing" they have something original that popped in their head compared to what they see in other's work that inspires them. IOW other works can motivate but they can't cause originality to manifest in the mind.
    I see way too much copying in my 56 years and very rare do I see something completely original especially in photography but less rare in other media like movies, paintings and music which may have something to do with those formats having more variety of options for expression.
  70. A photograph with bite is often a technically and even an aesthetically imperfect one. it provokes, disturbs, educates, amazes, somtimess with surprise and discovery of a simple unconventional beauty that is hard to ignore. I love my fellow darkroom photographers who freely experiment, take chances, produce many mistakes but also original work. Although I use PS it has mostly to date been in a fairly conventional and unexaggerated way, but I am sure I could find certain experimentations with it by others very persuasive and perhaps one day myself if I can ignore the presets of prearranged special effects. Imperfeftion and exploration often contribute to art and not very plentiful in quantity. Even with the well known photographers, mentioned maybe too freuently rather than turning the soil on new talents elsewhere or difficut to find, mastering imperfection and marrying it with aesthetic results is not all that common. Exploration means dealing with lots of imperfections and that may be considered unproductive as process or product by professionals or even advanced amateurs, or not saleable. We seldom see the photographs andprojects of artists or art majors at contemporary art institutions or professional art colonies. Another world, somewhat opaque at times. That type of creation is often shown in small groups, is part of subsidised research projects that negate need to sell to live, embodies approaches that are often quite esoteric or specialised and rarely is commercial enough to sell or circulated in popular visual media and so it is only seen occasionally. What I have seen in visiting those circles would often be considered to be full of technical impefections by many photographers, although not usually to those artists whose objectives lie outside or beyond that of technically perfect images.
  71. I was in no way denigrating darkroom work. I was saying that even photos straight out of camera don't necessarily match
    what the lens saw.

    I don't believe there's some sort of objective standard of technical perfection, so I don't understand talk of photos that
    amaze that are technically imperfect. Photos that amaze usually use just the technique required to be amazing in
    whatever way they are amazing. If that means using flare or stronger than usual highlights to amaze, or scratching or bleaching the negative to amaze, or creating wild colors to amaze, or using a very skewed gray tone scale to amaze, then they aren't technically imperfect. They are using technique as it's meant to be used.

    One might talk of traditional or classical technique or non-traditional technique, but I don't see it in terms of perfection and

    Stuff is stuff, be it landscapes or statues. Most of us were probably damaged by schools that measured things against a grade of 100%, that taught us to measure against perfection. Life and art aren't like that, IMO. Or at least I want my life and my art not to exist within that sort of parameter.

    The best ending line ever in a movie is in Some Like It Hot when Joe E. Brown is told that Jack Lemmon is really a man and he says, wryly, "Oh well, nobody's perfect!"
  72. Sorry, mistaken post.

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