Landscape photography tips

I promised that I’d circle back to the topic of landscape photography before the fall colors arrive so today I want to pick up where I left off a few weeks ago. When last I wrote about landscape photography, I wrote about big picture kinds of considerations. Today I want to give you a few tips to consider for the individual photos.

First, I promise not to recommend a lot of gear to you as I write to you each week but today will be an exception. The one piece of gear (other than a camera obviously) that I recommend for every photographer is a polarizing filter (a circular polarizer in most cases). I’ve written about the magic of Photoshop before and in most cases, there are ways to achieve the same effects that you can when you use filters but the polarizer is the exception. Simply put, it affects the way that the light hits the sensor in a way that cannot be changed in post-processing. I could go into this in more detail but I suspect that you are not really interested in a physics lesson so I’ll just tell you what it does to for a photograph.

First and foremost, the polarizing filter is a tool to reduce or eliminate reflection. A classic example is that if you photograph a body of water, with the polarizer off, you’ll likely see a reflection of the scene on the surface of the water whereas if you have the polarizer on, you will see into the water (assuming it is clear enough). Angles of reflection are a factor here and you just need to practice in order to get a feel for it but reflections can be manages on all surfaces including glass and (key point coming up here) leaves. You may not realize it but a lot of light is actually reflected off of the waxy surface of the leaves. If you use a polarizing filter, you’ll be able to manage that reflection in order to get brighter and more saturated colors. Polarizers are also useful for helping to darken the blue sky. This is a nice look for many images but also, it helps to give you contrast between the sky and the clouds giving the clouds more impact in the scene. Oh, and have you ever had a hard time photographing a rainbow? Yep, the polarizing filter will help there too.

The main rainbow was easily visible with and without a polarizing filter but by using the filter, I was able to bring out the detail in the second rainbow and I was able to add contrast between the primary rainbow and the clouds.

The main rainbow was easily visible with and without a polarizing filter but by using the filter, I was able to bring out the detail in the second rainbow and I was able to add contrast between the primary rainbow and the clouds.

One key bit of information for using polarizing filters is that the effect is strongest when the sun is 90 degrees away from the direction that you are shooting. A quick tip to use to see if a polarizing filter will help you is to hold your hand like a child pretends that it is a gun. Point your thumb at the sun then everywhere your index finger points might benefit from a polarizing filter.   Oh, and since you asked, yes, I even use a polarizing filter on my cell phone camera for landscape photos. It makes that much of a difference. One last thought here before I move on. You absolutely can use the polarizer at the point where it has the maximum effect but sometimes the best effect is achieved somewhere between the maximum and minimum effect that it is capable of producing.

This is an example of an image made with my cell phone camera.  The only difference between the two is that I used a polarizing filter in one but not the other.

These photos were made with my cell phone camera. The only difference between the two is that I used a polarizing filter in one but not the other.

Next I want to briefly mention the value of composition guides. The big one that is most often cited is the rule of thirds. Imagine a tic tac toe grid overlaying your scene. Every point that two lines cross is a minor focal point in the image – that’s just the way our brains work. Now imagine putting something important in one of those intersections. That is how you use the rule of thirds in an image and believe me; it can add a lot of impact to an image. This is a very useful tool for helping photographers from falling in the trap of always putting the most important part of an image in the center of the photograph. The center can work but oftentimes central placement tends to work best for an image that has natural symmetry. If there is no symmetry, pushing your main subject off to the side is usually a good idea (keep that in mind for portraits too!).

I added an overlay to this photo of the saguaro and sun.  Note that the saguaro hits two of the four cross points.  Also note that the sun is about a third of the way down in the image and the major flare is about a third of the way up in the image.

I added an overlay to this photo of the saguaro and sun. Note that the saguaro hits two of the four cross points. Also note that the sun is about a third of the way down in the image and the major flare is about a third of the way up in the image.  Also, getting back to the polarizing filter – in this photo with the sun in the composition, the polarizing filter would have no real effect on the image

The rule of thirds and the use of symmetry are both great tools to use for improving your compositions but they are not the only choices.   You could also use the ‘snapshot aesthetic’ which loosely means that you are consciously avoiding using compositional guides but as with any tool, you should only use it when you have a reason to use it. Another formal compositional guide that you might consider is the ‘golden spiral’.

I spared you from the physics lesson but now it’s time for some math. Have you ever heard of the Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci Sequence, or the Fibonacci Spiral? They are all variations on a theme.   It seems that nature likes order and efficiency and the Golden Ratio is something that can be seen over and over again in nature. Anyhoo, back in 1202, Fibonacci published a book entitled Liber Abaci. It was a math book and he realized that a particular sequence of numbers (which we now call the Fibonacci sequence) was reflected over and over in nature. That sequence is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on. The formulate is Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2 so the sequence continues infinitely. That sequence also can be represented as a ratio 1.618 (rounded to 3 decimal points but also continues infinitely). So then, how does that help us with landscape photography? Just like the rule of thirds can give us a graphical representation, the advanced math that Fibonacci taught us can be presented as a graph. When graphed out, they look like these examples and as you might have guessed, placing important elements of your image along those lines and intersections can lead to stronger compositions.

270px-FibonacciBlocks.svg

This is how the Fibonacci sequence can be graphed out as blocks. It is of limited use for photographers this way but…

915px-Fibonacci_spiral_34.svg

… see how it can be used to form this spiral? That’s referred to as the Golden Spiral and it can be a very useful way to help you organize your compositions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That seems like a lot to take in so I’ll wrap it up here and leave you with some examples. Happy shooting!

Real world landscapes will probably never fit exactly into the neat confines of a Fibbonacci spiral.

Real world landscapes will probably never fit exactly into the neat confines of a Fibonacci spiral.  One of the main uses for this tool will be to get you to think about having major lines resolve neatly into the corner of the frame.  Your viewers might not appreciate exactly why the image looks ‘right’ but very often viewers will appreciate the composition.  As a photography instructor, when I see that a student has one or more of their lines resolve neatly into the corner, I know that they were paying attention to the details of their composition.

Consider these slightly different crops of the same photograph.  The one on the left has the mountain resolving neatly into the corner while the other leaves open sky.  Which do you prefer?

Consider these slightly different crops of the same photograph shown above. The one on the left has the mountain resolving neatly into the bottom left corner while the other leaves open sky. Which do you prefer?

This one mas o menos follows the rule of thirds.

This one (más o menos) follows the rule of thirds.  The grain silo is near a cross point and the horizon line meets the wheat field about a third of the way into the composition.  I included this one because I wanted to stress that these compositional guidelines are there to help you compose and not to be rigid rules to be exactly followed.

 

 

 

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This is art because…

Last week I shared with you a series of work that one might or might not consider art and asked for your opinions.  Today I want to discuss those results.  As one might guess, you universally considered some but not all of those examples as art.  Interestingly (to me at least), none of the examples were universally rejected as art.

Before I go any further, I think it might be time to define art.  If you look up the word art, you’ll likely find something along the line of ‘an expression of human emotion’ or perhaps ‘an application of creative skill and imagination’ but those lines seem a bit lacking.  Worse, some definitions try to link art with aesthetics (a set of principles concerned with the appreciation of beauty) but some art is decidedly ugly so surely that can’t be right.

The problem is, ‘What is art?’ is really more of a philosophical question than something that can be precisely defined.  For example, if you state that art is the product of ‘an expression of human emotion’, then does that mean that other animals cannot create art?  Alternately, if you believe art is ‘an application of creative skill and imagination’ then how do you consider something like the GPS navigation?  Surely it took some creative skill and imagination for someone to think if they put some satellites in orbit then we could use these little devices in our cars to help us get from one place to the next.  Still most people think of that as science or engineering and not art.

Elephant painting. http://luigiburks22.blogspot.com/2010/01/elephant-painting.html

The art question is actually one that’s been considered for a LONG, LONG time.  Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle famously pondered it as have many philosophers since.  For the sake of keeping this somewhat shorter than a doctoral thesis, I’m going to share with you just two lines of thought on the subject.

  • Family Resemblances – You know that XXX (say the Mona Lisa) is art. You then see YYY (say Girl with a Pearl Earring). Since you know that the former is a work of art (because Leonardo da Vinci was a famous painter), even though you may never have heard of Johannes Vermeer, you understand that there are similarities between the two paintings so if the former is art, then the latter must also be art. (Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory)
  • Institutional Contexts – Something becomes art because an authority deemed it was art (George Dickie’s theory)

While these two concepts do not define what art is, they at least give us some useful guidelines.   In our cumulative experiences, we’ve all come to recognize certain objects as art and that knowledge provides a foundation for how we experience new work.  If we find two works to be sufficiently similar, then we conclude that the new work is also art.  So on and so forth.  The second and no less important idea is what Dickie called Institutional Context.  Simply put, if someone in the ‘Art World’ deems a work is art, then it is in fact art.  I like this idea because it gives us a starting point for developing our foundation of what is or isn’t art.  We were not born knowing that Michelangelo’s David is art – someone had to tell us but now because we recognize that sculpture as art, we can now consider how, for example, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker might also be art even though they are stylistically quite different from one another.

So then, one final thought before I get back to the survey.   Art is not a value judgement.   Just because we might recognize something as art, doesn’t mean that it is automatically imbued with value.  There is art that you will like and art that you will not like.   And believe me, that can be very subjective.  So why is some art worth so much more than other art?  Well there’s no simple answer to that either but a few factors are historical significance (Vincent Van Gogh died a poor man because his work was not appreciated in his time but now sells for millions of dollars), luck (sometimes it there’s no getting around the value of being in the right place at the right time), and marketing savvy (some people just know how to sell).

The survey then – everyone agree that the following are art:

  • Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture
  • Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam
  • The petroglyphs made by the Hohokam people
  • Pollock’s Eyes in the Heat
  • Dickinson’s Little Arctic Flower
  • Michelangelo’s David
  • Mondrian’s Composition No. II, with Red and Blue
  • Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera
  • The ceremonial mask of the Pwevo people

Of the disputed items, I want to focus on just a few of them before wrapping things up for the week starting with Duchamp’s The Fountain.

Yes, it is a urinal that he signed (albeit with a pseudonym) but it plays a very important role in the history of art.  Think back to the time of the Great War (they didn’t know it was going to be a series at the time).  As you might imagine, there was a lot of unrest (over 37 million people died in the war so rightfully so) and out of that unrest sprung the Dada art movement.  Dadaists thought that in a time of such destruction, that the world didn’t deserve beautiful things like art.  And so they started making things like collages (some in protest) but more and more often, they started to make things that seemed not to make any sense at all.  In fact, they chose the term Dada to represent their movement because it was a nonsensical word.  With that as a background, Marcel Duchamp learned about an unjuried art exhibition (i.e. all work submitted was accepted into the show) so he went to a plumbing store, bought the urinal, signed it, and submitted it to the show.  It was rejected (no surprise there) and Duchamp used that rejection as a platform for furthering the agenda of the Dadaist movement.  And what happened was that, over time, people started to think that an idea itself can be art (Institutional Context at work).  That was hugely freeing because now EVERYONE could be an artist regardless of whether or not they had any skill.

Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ
http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/library/images/502.html, accessed 1/7/13

The next piece that I wanted to comment on is Serrano’s Piss Christ.  Yes, it is vulgar.  Serrano put a Crucifix in a jar, filled it with his own urine (I guess I’m working on a theme here), then photographed it.  That photograph earned a Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts award (which was partially sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts – i.e. with your tax dollars).  As you might assume, the work has been controversial.  The Catholic Church doesn’t like it (Crucifixes are an important symbol for the Church) and conservatives in general hate the idea that their tax dollars went to Serrano because of it.  On first blush, it seems like a huge slap in the face to Christians everywhere but like much art, there’s more to the story.  Like the Dada artists and artists even before that, some artists use their work to address a broader concern.  Read what Serrano has to say about the piece:

“At the time I made Piss Christ, I wasn’t trying to get anything across,” Serrano told the Guardian. “In hindsight, I’d say Piss Christ is a reflection of my work, not only as an artist, but as a Christian.”

“The thing about the crucifix itself is that we treat it almost like a fashion accessory. When you see it, you’re not horrified by it at all, but what it represents is the crucifixion of a man,” Serrano told the Guardian. “And for Christ to have been crucified and laid on the cross for three days where he not only bled to death, he shat himself and he peed himself to death.

“So if Piss Christ upsets you, maybe it’s a good thing to think about what happened on the cross.”

Well, he’s got a point.  Sometimes the horrifying can become such a part of our every day lives that we don’t stop to really think about what that means.  If a photograph, painting, sculpture, et cetera, can make people stop and take notice, is that such a bad thing?

I’m afraid I’m getting a little long here so I’ll wrap it up.  I didn’t find it too surprising that you all tended to lean toward thinking the parody and the flash mob was not art (I think arguments could be made either way) but the one that did surprise me a bit was the Milwaukee Museum of Art.  To my mind, architecture can be an art form (although clearly some designs are more inspired than others) and the design of this building in particular is art.  The design of this building is sculptural in appearance but then again, I didn’t take the survey.  Of those of you that did, 40% felt that it was not art.  And that’s okay too.

Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Calatrava, photo by Carol M. Highsmith,
http://www.factmonster.com/us/history/milwaukee-art-museum.html, accessed 1/7/13

Thanks for bearing with me on for a long one this week.   Check back next week and I’ll share some additional pointers for landscape photography.

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Yeah, but is it art?

As a grad student I was exposed to a LOT of art.  I know, big surprise – art students look at art (okay, yes, it was as much fun as it sounds).   And the thing is, even in the years since, I’ve really only scratched the surface.  I’d guess that even if I spent an hour a day for the rest of my life researching new art, I’d never come close to experiencing all that the world has to offer.  Anyway, in that time, I’ve found works of art that absolutely blow me away and I’ve discovered works that have left me wondering how they could possibly hold so much value.  I think that’s normal.  In fact, if one of my students proclaims that he or she loves all art, then I know for a fact that their experience is very, very limited.

At the beginning of the semester, I always ask my students to write the essay ‘What is art’.  It’s a deceptively simple question and I’m sure than when I first introduce the assignment, that many of them think – ‘Yeah, baby!  Easy A!’ but then they start writing and reality hits.  The good students will have their realization with weeks to spare before the deadline.  The worst students, well, I actually had one student write their entire essay in 45 minutes starting less than two hours before it was due.  But that’s neither here nor there.

This week I am going to keep it short and I’m going to give YOU some homework.  (No, not an essay.)  Take a look at the content (no, you don’t have to watch the videos in their entirety) that I’m posting below (yes, you might find some of it offensive but it is all safe for viewing in mixed company) then tell me if you think each one is or is not art.  Next week I’ll pick up the topic and share my thoughts on the images and videos.  I’ll also give you some food for thought on how you might decide for yourself whether or not something is indeed art.

Enjoy!

1)

2)

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968,
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573, accessed 1/7/13

3)

The-Creation-of-Adam-Michelangelo-520,
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/The-Measure-of-Genius-Michelangelos-Sistine-Chapel-at-500.html#, accessed 1/7/13

4)

5)

Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Calatrava, photo by Carol M. Highsmith,
http://www.factmonster.com/us/history/milwaukee-art-museum.html, accessed 1/7/13

6)

2012 Photograph (Michael Kloth) of petroglyphs made by the Hohokam people in the Tucson Mountains between 500 and 1100 AD,
http://www.protrails.com/trails/view/214/saguaro_national_park/signal_hill_trail, accessed 1/7/13

7)

Jackson Pollock (1946), “Eyes in the Heat”,
http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/pollock/, accessed 1/7/13

8)

22 month old Child’s scribble (apparently uploaded by a proud parent),
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Child_scribble_age_1y10m.jpg, accessed 1/7/13

9) As if some Little Arctic Flower, by Emily Dickinson (http://www.bartleby.com/113/3010.html, accessed 1/7/13)

As if some little Arctic flower,
Upon the polar hem,
Went wandering down the latitudes,
Until it puzzled came
To continents of summer,
To firmaments of sun,
To strange, bright crowds of flowers,
And birds of foreign tongue!
I say, as if this little flower
To Eden wandered in—
What then? Why, nothing, only
Your inference therefrom!

10)

11)

Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent,
http://www.momastore.org/wcsstore/MOMASTORE1/images/products/40504_A1_Gursky_99_Cent.jpg, accessed 1/7/13

12)

Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ
http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/library/images/502.html, accessed 1/7/13

13) Michelangelo’s David

Michelangelo’s David
http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/micheldavid/david.html, accessed 1/7/13

This next one is a detail shot of the above.  Check out that intricate detail in the hands!

Detail shot of Michelangelo’s David,
http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/micheldavid/david.html, accessed 1/7/13

14) Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (a.k.a. – The Bean)

Cloud Gate, sculpture by Anish Kapoor (2006), photo by Michael Kloth (2006) Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

Cloud Gate, sculpture by Anish Kapoor (2006), photo by Michael Kloth (2006)
Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

15) Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. II, with Red and Blue

Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. II, with Red and Blue
http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A4057&page_number=13&template_id=1&sort_order=1, accessed 1/7/13

16) Paper airplane

Paper airplane
http://www.playgameshavefun.com/2010/08/how-to-make-the-harrier-paper-airplane/, accessed 1/7/13

17) Origami flower

Origami flower
http://origami.about.com/od/Holiday-Origami/ss/Easter-Origami-Project-Ideas_5.htm, accessed 1/7/13

18) Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”

19) “Puttin’ On the Ritz” flash mob (consider the flash mob itself and not the music)

20) Pwevo Ceremonial Mask

Pwevo Ceremonial Mask
http://www.arttribal.com/Pwevo/102Pwevo.htm, accessed 1/7/13

So that’s it.  Take the quick yes/no survey to let me know if you think each of the 20 items are art.  I’ll share the results and my thoughts on them next week.

Is it art?

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Three tips for landscape photography

I’ll take a wild guess here – at one time or another you went to this AMAZING place and you took some photos so that you’d be able to look back at the beauty only to find out that your photos didn’t quite match your experience.  Or how about this, you now have this amazing (according to the specs anyway) camera that you carry around with you everywhere you go but somehow the photos you take with it barely inspire a second look.  Believe me, it happens to everyone.

So what can you do about it?

Well, it’s probably not as simple as just one thing but if you pick up one tip here and there, eventually you’ll start building a solid portfolio – even if your primary camera is also your phone.  So here’s a few pointers to get you started.

Cable Bridge at Sunset - this is the photograph that I had in mind when I went out to photograph the Cable Bridge that spans the Columbia River between Kennewick and Pasco.

Cable Bridge at Sunset – this is the photograph that I had in mind when I went out to photograph the Cable Bridge that spans the Columbia River between Kennewick and Pasco.  I knew I wanted to photograph the bridge as a silhouette against the sunset.  I arrived just as the sun was dipping below the horizon and quickly set up my camera and tripod.

1)  Find someplace else to shoot.

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit harsh, but think of it this way – how often have you arrived at your destination only to find yourself in the exact perfect spot that you needed to be?  I’ll bet even when you meet up with your sweetie that you take a few steps to get to that hug.  It’s like that with photography too.  Sometimes we end up at this amazing location, take out our camera, and start shooting but if you take a moment or two to move around you might well find a much stronger composition.

Cable Bridge Moonrise

Cable Bridge Moonrise – It wasn’t an accident that I photographed the bridge on the evening that I did – I waited until there was a full moon.  I had this second shot in mind before arriving too but in order to take this image,  had to walk about a quarter mile from where I started out.

2)  Consider what makes a scene special.

In all fairness, some locations are so amazing that you might well want to capture EVERYTHING about it.  The problem is, that amazing three dimensional space isn’t going to translate very well into a small two dimensional image.  The key then is to figure out what is that makes a location special and work to photograph that.  Sure, take some establishing shots of the entire location but then also take some detail shots.  Chances are, it will be those detail shots that you’ll want to come back to time and again.

Detail shot of the Cable Bridge

Detail shot of the Cable Bridge – In this example, it is the nature of the bridge that makes it special – after all, it is called the ‘Cable Bridge’ so I wanted to get a detail shot of the cables and the support beams.  In this and the next photo, the images adds to the visual story but the establishing wide angle shots are needed too.

Detail shot of the Cable Bridge

Detail shot from below the Cable Bridge

3)  Consider your framing.

This one is obviously closely tied to the first two but while they are about the ‘big picture’, here I want you to think about the details.  When you look at the image in your viewfinder or on the screen, take a look at the edges of your frame.  This is easier to do if you have your camera or phone on a sturdy surface like a tripod but even if you are hand holding, take a moment to look at the edges of your composition.   A good rule of thumb here is that if it doesn’t need to be a part of your photo to tell the story, then it is probably hurting your composition.  Common things to look for at the edges of your frame might include trash cans, light poles, cars, and more.  Sometimes you’ll find those things are unavoidable and if that’s the case, go ahead and take the shot anyway but I think you’ll find that by taking a step or two closer or perhaps rotating your body just a bit, you can remove the distraction from the frame without much difficulty.

St. Augustine Cathedral

St. Augustine Cathedral – I included this as an example that includes some distracting elements but one that I chose to photograph anyway.  In this case, I waited until there were no cars passing by the front of the church since that was something I could control but there is a streetlight in the frame and an air conditioning unit on top of the building on the right  – both distraction from the church itself.  Those things are not going anywhere so I decided to photograph the church as is.  At some point down the road, I might decide to remove them from the photo using Photoshop.  The air conditioner will be an easy fix but the streetlight will take a bit of work.

That’s it – three simple tips for better landscape photography.  Practice working on these and I’ll revisit the topic in time for you to photograph that fall color that you know is right around the corner.

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Can I/Should I – The ethics of street photography – part 2

Welcome back!   I hope you found part one of the series interesting and that my post didn’t inspire any bouts of paranoia.  If you made it though the week without keeping your drapes closed the whole time, I think you’ll be okay.

Before I get going this week, I want to recap last week’s post:

  • It is probably legal to photograph someone without their knowledge so long as you are on public property or have permission to be on private property
  • This right is based on the US Bill of Rights

So then, if last week was about the legalities, today I want to write more about the ethics but rather than give you hard and fast rules, I’ll just share my opinions and suggest that you draw your own lines in the sand because after all, YOU need to be comfortable with what you are shooting and own up to your own choices.

First I want to get back to a part of the original question that I completely ignored last week – namely do our responsibilities change if our subject is underage.   I don’t think there are many set rules here though you have to understand, that I approach the subject from a fairly conservative point of view.  That said, I do think that there is a difference between shooting adults and minors BUT I do not think that photographers need to completely avoid photographing children – I just think that context and common sense needs to play a role.

Before I go any further, I want to introduce you to the work of Sally Mann.  Mann is an established American fine art photographer.  She began working in the 1970s and 80s when she was a young mother.  To date, she has created a solid body of work but still she is largely known best for one of her original series depicting her children growing up in rural Virginia.  She photographed her kids doing regular kid things but that isn’t to say that she complete sat back and made candid portraits because by her own account, she did sometimes actively pose her children to achieve a certain look that she had in mind (see image 15 in the series for example).  You can check out this series at http://sallymann.com/selected-works/family-pictures (Her work is often NSFW- this series does contain child nudity and the Body Farm series was created at the UT-Knoxville Forensic Anthropology Center’s research facility so the images are of actual dead, decomposing bodies).

Unfortunately I don’t remember the details, but I saw an exhibition of her work a few years back in Chicago.  The exhibition included quotes from the now adult children – two of the three seemed perfectly fine with the widely published series while the third was a bit uncomfortable with it.  It’s worth noting that she waited until the children were older before she published the book and she reportedly gave the children veto power or the inclusion of any photo in the book.

So what do you think of the series?  And did you look at any of her other work while you were there?  How do you think it compares to Svenson’s The Neighbors?  Does it matter that it Mann made those images as their mother?  Would it have been different if it had been their father?  Certainly and regardless of how you answered the previous questions, we can all agree that if those images had been created by a photographer unbeknownst to the children and their family that an obvious line would have been crossed.

Here’s an example of street photography – when I lived in Kentucky, I was at a public park on a warm summer day making photos for one of my earliest photography classes and saw some children playing in the fountain.  They were having a great time playing and I discretely photographed them from a distance.   Was that crossing a line?  I don’t think so for several reasons.  First is intent.  My only goal was to capture some street photography to hone my skills.  Second is that I was in a public park and the family had no expectation of privacy.  Had the children been playing in a sprinkler in their back yard that would have been another thing all together but because they were on a busy street corner, I believe it was fine.  Third, I was unobtrusive.  Had I chosen to get close and photograph them with a wide angle lens instead of from a distance, I might have crossed the line.  Might being the key word because it would depend on the adults caring for the children.  When doing street photography of children, I think it is important to respect the wishes of the people responsible for the children.  If they don’t have a problem with the photography, then great but if they do, I think it is important to respect their wishes and move on.  And last but far from least, I did not photograph the children in a way that would be construed as compromising.

Kids playing in the fountain

Kids playing in the fountain at Broadway and Main in downtown Lexington, KY.

So is that so different for adults?  Yes and no.  Certainly I think that adults also have the right to ask you not to photograph them and unless you have a compelling reason to continue photographing, it might well be best to move on to a new subject.  The biggest difference I think is that we (as a society) need to look out for the interests of little ones because they are not mature enough to make those kinds of decisions on their own and we can’t necessarily assume that they are with a guardian to look out for their best interests.   The bottom line is that I think it is more important to err on the side of caution when photographing minors.

Before I wrap it up for the week, I want to at acknowledge a related issue that I touched on last week, namely what  Judge Rakower wrote in her decision in favor of Svenson:

An artist may create and sell a work of art that resembles an individual without his or her written consent.

I think that has the potential to be a sticking point for some people.  After all, why wouldn’t someone be entitled to compensation if someone else was going to make money off of their likeness?  Unfortunately, I don’t really have a good answer for you except to say that is the way that fine art has traditionally worked.  Commercial work (think advertising) requires a legal contract (a model release) and oftentimes includes compensation but other genres of photography follow the model of the art forms that predated the technique.  That isn’t to say that money or other valuable compensation is never a part of the equation, just that it isn’t a necessary part of the equation.

Now that you’ve had some time to think about the work of these three artists, I’ll chime in with my own opinions.  While I wouldn’t have wanted to have been included in Svenson’s series, I think that he was very, very careful to show his neighbors in real life moments yet, importantly, he worked to obscure their identities and he did not (at least in the images I’ve seen) depict his neighbors in a compromising manner.  As such, I think he came right up to the line but didn’t cross it.  Calle’s series in the hotel rooms and where she followed around her subjects without their knowledge pushed that line a bit farther but like Svenson, she did not depict her subjects in a compromising manner.  I have a harder time with Mann’s work (and believe me, I’m not alone here).  I do believe that she mostly just documented her children’s lives as they lived them in the rural Virginia towns.  I also think that the nude photographs are fine for a personal series but I would never have published the book or exhibited the photographs.  Reportedly she obtained legal counsel prior to publishing the book because she was worried that some images could be construed as pornographic.  While I wouldn’t say any of the images I’ve seen from the series crossed that line, I think the fact that she needed to ask prior to publication meant that they should not have been used in such a public way.

I think I’ll leave it there for the week.  Check back next week when I’ll discuss things you might consider when composing your landscape photographs.

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