HDR Photography and Memes

Posted in Uncategorized by Eric on February 4, 2010

Whenever I’ve tried to start a blog (and several times throughout my Livejournal iterations,) I spent the time to try and set a focus or ground rules. I am going to skip that this time, and jump right in. I am betting it’ll have no effect on my success at sticking with it.

On Monday, Trey Ratcliff came to speak at Google as part of a program that brings authors in to speak about their books. Video of the talk should be up on Youtube in a couple weeks. Trey started off immediately talking about the controversy around HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography and tried to justify it with an appeal to the “right brain;” that is, HDR to him is about art and conveying a feeling. He was pretty dismissive of critics as “old school.”

His talk was a little disorganized, as he jumped from topic to topic and I noticed that he is a pretty strong product of the geek internet culture these days. Internet memes even seep into his book, with a reference to the infamous “internet is a series of tubes” speech. This bothers me a bit because it’s easy. I fall into the same trap some times, but memes are getting really annoying to me. It has created what feels like a very thin and weak culture. A culture of repurposing, remixing, and repeating a small set of content. Most of the content is lacking any intellectual value, even when it’s a joke that only software engineers get. Working in the IT industry, especially in search, I’m bombarded with this culture every day, as it’s the only way some of my too-geeky-to-function-socially co-workers can relate to other humans.

Fuck, I started off my blog with a rant. I think often about the speed at which culture transmits these days and the positive and negative examples and effects, but I think I should get back to HDR…

It is fair to argue HDR works can be art and can be respected; even the most basic forms of photography have a way to manipulate reality by reducing the world to 2D, cropping it, compressing, and selectively representing color (out of necessity… film and digital sensors can’t capture the full range of visible color.) Infrared photography takes invisible-t0-us light and re-maps it in the visible space. But HDR’s internet-fueled rise to popularity has led to its abuse; many of the examples seriously lack technical refinement, artistic intention, or originality.

I remember an art teacher in elementary school trying to explain the concept of “artistic license” to us, all young and not really able to understand (and probably not in need of artistic license, still possessing some of our uncontrolled childhood creativity.) The word license implies freedom to do something, but only because you’ve proven you can act in a deliberate way.

Maybe I’m just bitter because my attempts at HDR so far have been crap. (The example above wasn’t a serious attempt; I mean, come on, I even cropped around the photomatix watermarks.)


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