Monday, February 11, 2013

The murky line between realism and fantasy

Between the wonders of science and the arts, I've always enjoyed so much stimulation that I never felt any need to explore mind altering drugs. Some of the poster art of the 1960's and later clearly does show the influence of psychedelic experience, though, and the genre is so much a part of our culture that strong colors without gradation can be imposed on an image that begins as a photo with full range of tones, and a typical viewer won't bat an eye.

This "outdoor still life" was pretty carefully composed. I used a Canon 17 mm TS-E lens so that I could shift it down to devote most of the image space to the terrazzo floor while keeping the camera level for true verticals. I also tilted the lens downward to make the plane of focus parallel to the floor.

After all the detail work, I thought that the image could use the balancing influence of sprezzatura. Pardon the fancy buzzword, but it seems just right: some appearance of carelessness was needed, but without interfering with any of the geometric accuracy. And as for calling it sprezzatura, well, we've already got some chiaroscuro going here, so...

Only a very small proportion of my photos go through Adobe Photoshop®, but this one cried out for special treatment. I made two copy layers above the original. The middle layer was posterized to four levels. The top layer was converted to a Threshold mask, set slightly above mid tone level. Mode for that layer was set to multiply. Then the opacity of the two new layers was adjusted until I got this result:

The posterization brought out little specks of disorder among the water drops and emphasized the irregular edges of the tiles. Just enough! It also led to the three major color bands on the floor, which added leading lines to the composition. Entropy and order.

With everything balanced just right, it looks as if there is a line separating the reality of the outside world from the psychedelic fantasy of the mysterious porch. As for the shell, I don't know what it means. It's just there. My eyes tend to move between the shell and the bench, with the shell the main subject...but I still can't say that it has any symbolism. I'd be happy to see your ideas in the comments below.



  1. Love the photo and the creative side, Jess, but sprezza-what! Your vocabulary...............


    1. Thanks Ken. I guess I like to play with words, too. At least I included hyperlinks to the meaning of sprezzatura and chiaroscuro!

  2. I've made a format change to make hyperlinks easier to see. Looks a little gaudy, maybe, but I can select more subtle colors later. There's one for an unvisited link, another when you hover the cursor over it, and a third for a link you've previously followed. As before, links will open a new window.

  3. "Softened" the link colors a little. Now I can live with it for awhile.

  4. Speaking of spezzatura: Don't you think that in addition to it being a characteristic of some people to act as though their mastery of a skill came easily to them,it's also hoped that the work itself should not look "worked at"? Like Shakespeare"s "quality of mercy" art should not be "strained." No dancer wants her effort to show in the performance.

    1. Very good point. I hope I can achieve some degree of ability to make images that are effective and emotive, but look completely natural, in the sense of not artificially "worked". I've often wished that I had a painter's ability to create directly what I see in my mind's eye. Failing that, I try to be inventive with how I see through the camera lens. Then if image manipulation can bring it closer to what I imagined (or even nudge me in a new direction that I like), I go for it.


You may comment anonymously if you wish. Comments are moderated. Spam will be blocked or removed.