Friday, February 19, 2010

History Has No Buttons

One of the things I've done as a result of thirty plus years of interest in photography is judge a lot of photo competitions. Something that's sure to garner a photographer a lower than possible score is obviously punching buttons without knowing a little of the history of what the effect is. In Photoshop there's a filter called Solarize. People will click on it, see an interesting effect and say they created an artistic image. Some think solarization, or more accurately the "Sabattier Effect", is something out of the minds at Adobe. The reality is that it's an effect that's been around for about 180 years. Some of the legends of photography are names associated with early experimentation with image manipulation. Have you ever seen, or heard of, a "Daguerreotype"? Louis Deguerre mentioned the effect in some of his notes. He didn't have a name for it, but through experimentation he described it. One of the attributes of solarization of an image is the development of Mackie Lines. Lines of contrast around the most prominent edges of elements in the image. Alexander Mackie is credited with being the first to describe the lines found in the effect. Today's image is obviously not a solarization of the scene, but is another old, wet darkroom effect. To find out what the effect is and how it has become a "button" to push in Photoshop, hit the "read more".

The effect used on today's image had its roots (for me) in high school. It didn't have anything to do with photography, but something I became pretty good at. It was a design class and the first time I had ever made a "blueprint". The smell of ammonia from that class and classes all the way through college defined my early career. I was fairly good on a drafting board throughout school and only discovered that doing it for eight hours a day got to be pretty boring, pretty quick after I got my first job as a detail draftsman. Sorry, but "yuk".

Today's image has an effect called "cyanotype" applied to it. A cyanotype is a "blueprint". Very closely related to the job I found so boring. In Photoshop, it's simply an effect that can be found as a preset in a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. That doesn't mean it's "cheating" to use it, just that it has become a button to be pushed without any knowledge of the history behind it. It's another process that has it's roots back close to 160 years ago.

There still seems to be a debate about what is called "Photoshopping" an image. What most of the most passionate, ardent, strident anti-adulteration of an image folks don't know is that just about everything that can be done in Photoshop comes out of work in the wet darkroom.

So, today's image was made by punching a button in Photoshop. The trick is having the knowledge of where the effect comes from. The use of the heavy vignetting is something that was often found in images of this type. It's paying homage to the past, and knowing that it comes from long, long ago in a far off wet darkroom.