“I’m shooting Tri-X,” Tom said soulfully.
“I’m shooting Portra,” Tom said clothingly.
“I’m shooting film,” Tom said slowly and thoughtfully.
“I bought a Summicron,” Tom said glowingly.
“I need a UV filter,” Tom said protectively.
So I was sitting in my dentist’s waiting room, just paging through the latest Sports illustrated, and I came across this photo of The Masters. At first I started side-eyeing it since it felt kind of weird and HDR to me. But then I realized it was infrared instead and, while it still felt off to me, it also got a lot more interesting.
Since Kukkurovaca kind of fanboys about infrared but isn’t looking at anything sports-related, I flagged these with him on Twitter and we had a decent conversation about them while I was waiting to get my teeth drilled.
I’m not going to transcribe our conversation. But the basic premise involved discussing whether these felt off because they’re not the best infrared images* or because of the more interesting phenomenon that occurs when the content of an image does not match what we expect to find from the form of the image.
*There’s some weird contrast going on in many of them where parts feel way too high contrast HDR-like and other parts are still muddy. There’s also a lot of noise which suggests either ISO pushing or an unmodified digital camera where the hot mirror is causing the noise.
It was easy for me to file my initial reaction to these as a combination of “Ack, this isn’t the best IR I’ve seen.” or “Cool, I’ve not seen sports photography that looks like this.” But I had to step back and realize that neither of those was my actual first reaction. I didn’t recognize these as IR despite the glowing Wood Effect in the foliage.
And that’s because infrared just doesn’t look like this usually. My eyes expect infrared to be slow film landscapes or people caught from a “hidden” flash. And while infrared digital has much higher ISOs than film does, the digital work I’ve seen has been of the same look as the film work—which makes sense since moving to shooting digital IR is typically done because of a desire to emulate IR film.
I’m not used to seeing moving objects—let alone athletes and golf balls—get frozen.
I love that I misdiagnosed these though. Despite not liking the photos, I really like the idea of them. That we have the technical tools to apply a way of looking to situations where our eyes are not used to seeing that way is great. Any time our learned perspectives can be questioned and broken and our eyes trained to see more broadly is a wonderful experience.
Duchamp was about changing the way we think of art, and how we look at the world. In using pictures taken by robots, other photographers might think of me as a joke, but Duchamp faced that all his life—it makes me think I am doing something right.
— nick (@vossbrink) March 29, 2012
Also, Ed Ruscha and Google Earth #PhotographerMashups
— nick (@vossbrink) March 29, 2012
The sudden realization that Ed Ruscha is the most important artist in the post-Duchamp century.
— nick (@vossbrink) November 21, 2012
I really liked what Ed Ruscha said once, that all he wanted to do was photograph the facts. He just wanted to see if it was possible, with his gasoline stations and parking lots and all the rest of it.
I’ve found that quite a few of my projects have revealed a lot of the assumptions and judgements that a section of the photo community continues to take for granted about documentary. It really doesn’t have to be like that. There’s so much more scope for pushing the boundaries of what documentary can be.
Because I’ve been pumping my fist a little too much with each successive interview with Mishka Henner recently. I really like what he’s doing—both in his methods of approaching the overwhelming amount of robot photography out there as well as what he’s chosen to say with it. He’s going directly at the “what is art” question in a way which forces everyone to question their assumptions about the medium. Why do we think what’s “good” is good? What do we expect from certain genres? Are our sacred cows truly sacrosanct? We need voices and visions like his.
The Oil Fields and Feed Lots projects in particular speak to me. Partially because I like photography from space and the way patterns emerge from both nature and human impact. But also because of the scale of consumption that they present. It’s one thing to see close-up shots of the way our mass-comsumption industry had perverted nature. It’s another to see a satellite view and realize exactly how big the impacted area is.
That these photos are indeed illegal to take despite being freely available via satellite* adds that extra level of trickster fun which takes these from being just about the story of consumption to also including how these are big business—with tentacles into the government and a vested interest in our remaining ignorant of what they show.
*Reminding everyone what happened to George Steinmetz.
This is documentary photography which is about more than just what’s in the photos. Henner’s widening the frame to include the photographer and the editor and even the viewer as well.