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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The sculpture is believed to contain a thumbprint of Leonardo.

EXCLUSIVE: Metal casting from Leonardo da Vinci’s 500-year-old ‘Horse and Rider’ sculpture unveiled

The first bronze casting of Leonardo da Vinci's original "Horse and Rider" wax sculpture (Jolson PR)A metal casting of a  504-year-old Leonardo da Vinci beeswax sculpture was unveiled to the world in a  ceremony on Monday in Los Angeles. "Horse and Rider" is the only known three-dimensional piece of art created by Leonardo to still exist in the world and one of only about two dozen authenticated Leonardo works in the world today.
"It's a momentous occasion," Art Encounter's Rod Maly told Yahoo News before the unveiling at the historic Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. "The beeswax sculpture has been in private collections for nearly 500 years, so it has not been promoted. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of mankind."
And in a development that is sure to intrigue historians and art fans alike, the sculpture is believed to contain a thumbprint of Leonardo.
The original beeswax sculpture measures 12 inches high, 12 inches long and 7 inches wide, and is believed to have been intended as the model for a much larger sculpture. The Renaissance military figure riding upon a horse was created in 1508 by Leonardo as a gift for his friend and benefactor, French military governor Charles d'Amboise. After Leonardo's death in 1519, the beeswax sculpture was given to his apprentice Francesco Mezi and is believed to have remained with his family in Italy until the 1930s when it was moved to Switzerland for safekeeping.
A thumbprint believed to belong to Leonardo Da Vinci (Eric Pfeiffer/Yahoo! News)
In 1985, American businessman Richard A. Lewis purchased the beeswax sculpture but says he wasn't aware of its historic value. "In all honesty, I was very naïve to what I had," Lewis told Yahoo News during an interview before the new bronze casting's unveiling. That same year, Lewis contacted Dr. Carlo Pedretti, widely considered the world's foremost living authority on Leonardo and professor emeritus of art history and the Chair of Leonardo Studies at UCLA. Dr. Pedretti studied and eventually authenticated the beeswax sculpture.
"For someone to call up and say 'I think I own a Leonardo da Vinci sculpture,' you're like yeah right, I'd like to put it next to my Mona Lisa," Brett Barney, president of the American Fine Arts Foundrytold Yahoo News. "But when he brought it in, right away we knew we had something."
Using what is called a "lost wax casting process," Barney and his team at the foundry spent three years working with the beeswax sculpture and eventually created a working mold from it. From there, a master bronze sculpture was created. In essence, they have created a new piece of authenticated work from one of the world's artistic masters, nearly 500 years after his death.
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime," Barney said. "To be part of a masterpiece by da Vinci himself, I can't think of anybody that would be more prestigious."
When the beeswax sculpture was studied in detail, it was discovered that along the horse's right breast a thumbprint exists. And while there is currently no way to verify, the print is believed to be Leonardo's.
The beeswax sculpture actually sat in Lewis' closet for more than 25 years before he contacted the foundry. And now, Lewis is determined to share the discovery with the world. And along with the piece's historic value, Lewis is using the unveiling for a good cause. Several hundred metal castings have been made from the newly created mold, which Art Encounter will make available to interested collectors. Lewis himself has committed to donating $1 million of the proceeds to the Salvation Army's substance abuse program.
"It is a magnificent piece of art and I'd like to have as many people as possible be able to appreciate it," Lewis told Yahoo News. He said he eventually plans to donate the original beeswax sculpture and master casting to a museum.
After it's unveiling in Los Angeles, the new mold and master sculpture will be displayed in New York, London and Las Vegas, home to a new Leonardo exhibit at the Venetian Hotel.
The new "Horse and Rider" mold taken from Leonardo's beeswax sculpture. (Jolson PR)

There are many of us working away quietly, selling ebooks to readers who give every appearance of enjoying them.

Self-published authors react with anger to 'laziness' charge

Comments by novelist Sue Grafton, dismissing the 'short cut' of self-publishing, have provoked a storm of anger
Sue Grafton
Sue Grafton: 'I am still learning'
Bestselling American crime novelist Sue Grafton has back-pedalled on her description of self-published authors as "too lazy to do the hard work" following disbelief and anger from the independently published community.
Speaking to her local paper earlier this month, Grafton, the author of the A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar series of "alphabet" crime novels starring detective Kinsey Millhone, advised young writers not to self-publish, because "that's as good as admitting you're too lazy to do the hard work". The self-published books she has read are "often amateurish", she said, comparing self-publishing "to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he's ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall".
Becoming an author, according to Grafton, is about hard work: "taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time". Having had her first three novels rejected, she said she sees "way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they're sure they're entitled to".
"To me, it seems disrespectful … that a 'wannabe' assumes it's all so easy s/he can put out a 'published novel' without bothering to read, study, or do the research," said Grafton. "Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not a quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don't believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts."
But Adam Croft, a British self-published thriller author who says he has sold 250,000 copies of his books in the last year, called Grafton's belief that taking the DIY route was lazy "outrageous". "The complete opposite is true," he said. "Self-publishing means finding your own proofreader, finding your own editor, finding your own cover designer (or designing your own), doing all your own marketing and sales work, etc. Having a publisher is lazy as all you need to do is write a half-acceptable book and allow your publisher's editor to make it sales-worthy. Self-publishers must do it all – we have no one else to pick up the slack."
Even so, Croft has no intention of taking the publisher route: self-published authors take 70% of the royalties, he said, while traditionally published writers get around 15%. "I've been approached by a number of publishers but have rejected contact every time. I don't even have the slightest desire to enter the negotiation stage with any publisher as there's no way any of them could offer me anything like what I'm able to do for myself," he said.
Croft believes that the fact that "every author can now find every reader" is a "fantastic" thing. "People like Sue Grafton are elitist, trying to quash new writing due to some sort of perceived threat. The industry is changing – has changed – and for the better. We have a wonderful open market through which all manner of books can be read by anyone. How can that be a bad thing?"
Independently published novelist and playwright Catherine Czerkawskaalso took issue with Grafton's comments, saying they displayed "a profoundly amateurish and unacceptable ignorance of changes to the industry in which she claims to work".
"I've had 40 years as a novelist and award-winning playwright, I've been a Royal Literary Fund writing fellow and I'm currently serving on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland. Is that professional enough for her?" said Czerkawska. "I still found myself at the mercy of an increasingly restrictive and blockbuster-focused industry. There are many of us working away quietly, selling ebooks to readers who give every appearance of enjoying them. For us and our readers, the indie publishing movement has been nothing less than an inspirational and creative godsend."
The recently formed Alliance of Independent Authors, which represents self-published authors, said that Grafton had not kept up with developments in the sector. "Some self-publishing writers fit her description but many writers are now choosing this route to readers after a long career in trade publishing, for reasons of creative freedom and greater financial reward," said director and founder Orna Ross, an author who was published by Attic Press and Penguin before turning to self-publishing. "Certainly, self-publishers need to guard against the temptation to press the 'publish' button too soon. One of the core objectives of the Alliance of Independent Authors is to foster excellence in the self-publishing sector. We encourage writers to perfect their craft and hire good editors before publishing. Humility, hard work, craft skills, creative development – and their opposite – are found in both the self- and trade publishing sectors. It is impossible to pre-judge an individual writer, or work, on the basis of how they are published."
Grafton is by no means the only traditionally published author to hold negative views about self-publishing. "DO NOT SELF PUBLISH," Jodi Picoult advised in an interview earlier this year, while Richard Russo said the thought of self-publishing "literally chills my blood". But after the uproar which followed her comments, Grafton has since backed off, telling her local paper that she "meant absolutely no disrespect for e-publishing and indie authors" and that she was "uninitiated when it comes to this new format".
"It's clear to me now that indie writers have taken more than their fair share of hard knocks and that you are actually changing the face of publishing. Who knew?! This is a whole new thrust for publication that apparently everyone has been aware of except yours truly. I still don't understand how it works, but I can see that a hole has been blasted in the wall, allowing writers to be heard in a new way and on a number of new fronts," she said. "I will take responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant. I have always championed both aspiring writers and working professionals. I have been insulated, I grant you, but I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face. I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The exact reasons for his forced exile are still unclear, but are definitely linked to the fact that he was gay.

Midwestern Futurism: The Endangered Legacy of an Avant-garde Architect

The Ford House in Aurora, Illinois, designed by Bruce Goff. Photograph from 1951 by Eliot Elisofon. (image via Life Magazine)
“Architect Bruce Goff, one of the few US architects whom Frank Lloyd Wright considers creative, scorns houses that are ‘boxes with little holes’.” So starts a 1951 Life Magazine article on the Ford House in Aurora, Illinois, one of Goff’s many astounding and imaginative designs that are some of the most structurally forward-thinking of mid-century modern architecture.
Bruce Goff (via prairiemod.com)
Quonset ribs form the Ford House’s birdcage dome, with interior circles looping through with bedroom wings, supported by coal walls decorated with ordinary marbles and an iridescent glass cullet. Cullet is a hardened deposit that forms in glass furnaces and has to be periodically cleaned out. A great innovator who found many ways to elevate found and discarded materials, Goff often used the luminescent cullet and it became something of a signature on his buildings by providing a light accent with an unusual organic texture. When the house for Albert and Ruth Van Sickle Ford was built, it was met with derision by the local community. The unwanted attention of lay architecture critics lead the couple to eventually put up a sign that read: “We don’t like your house either.”
That divisive nature of Goff’s work, coupled with the location of many of his completed design projects — most in rural or residential areas in the Midwest — has limited his work from receiving the recognition it deserves. Goff’s name has faded into the geeky obscurity of architectural reference books and he doesn’t have a centrally located and breathtaking showcase building similar to his friend and mentor Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum to keep him in the public eye — the closest to a Goff landmark is the Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles Museum of Art, which was completed in 1988, six years after his death, and is his final work. When the LA structure was unveiled, the New York Times architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, wrote that he hoped that it “will surely bring Goff’s flamboyant architecture to a wider public than has ever seen it before” and added:
“There is a long tradition of highly personal, idiosyncratic, even wild, architecture in Los Angeles; this is one of the only cityscapes in America in which Goff’s expressionistic forms fit right in. In Los Angeles, nothing looks all that bizarre.”
Yet Goff’s bold gestural designs and masterful manipulation of geometric form still inspire, and his influence is particularly felt in the work of advocates for outside-the-box forms like Frank Gehry. Even if much of his best architecture has been lost to exceedingly strange circumstances, including arson, vandalism and deliberate destruction, his other buildings are often in perilous condition and may be lost as well.
Shin’enKan in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. (photo via Bruce Goff Bartlesville)
Growing up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I saw traces of Bruce Goff’s imagination everywhere, from the Redeemer Lutheran Church where I went on Sundays, its walls pocked by blue glass cullet and diamond windows, with massive arrows jutting up from the entrance overhangs as if shot down from a giant’s bow. In the city park is his airy 1963 Playtower, with a spiral staircase leading to an observation sphere (although the door has long been locked due to deterioration). The most astounding, however, was Shin’enKan: ”The House of the Far Away Heart,” an intricately detailed architecture collage of glass mosaics, goose feather ceilings, a white carpet sunken living room, secret passageways, growths of glass cullet, pagoda-like angles and interior and exterior ponds. It was designed in 1956 for Joe Price originally as a bachelor’s pad, then expanded after he married Etsuko Price, and shows how some of the wealthiest people in Oklahoma were taking risks on Goff in a sort of modern architecture patronage, knowing that whatever he created for them would be utterly unique.
Ledbetter House in Norman, Oklahoma. Photograph from 1948 by Michael Rougier. (via Life Magazine)
Goff lived in Bartlesville after being forced to retire from the University of Oklahoma where he was department chair at the architecture school, which he had invigorated as a center for avant-garde thought on design. The exact reasons for his forced exile are still unclear, but are definitely linked to the fact that he was gay. He was accused of endangering the morals of a minor, although it is fair to say in 1950s Oklahoma, a state which remains highly conservative to this day, that any lifestyle outside the “norms” was likely to cause some hateful prejudice and irrational fear for his young students’ “morals.”
Bruce Goff in his office at the University of Oklahoma, under a ceiling made of tumbleweeds. 1954 photograph by Philip B. Welch. (via Art Institute of Chicago)
Goff was born in Alton, Kansas, in 1904, although he would mostly grow up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he got his start in architecture, apprenticing at Rush, Endacott & Rush while still a teenager. His first significant contribution was in his early 20s, working on the Prairie School Art Deco wonder that is the Boston Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church. He would never obtain any formal architecture degree, although he would gain experience in the construction battalion of the US Navy during WWII, where he learned to scrape by on unconventional and discarded materials.
In 1947, he was appointed OU’s department chair, where he drove his students to respect their creative impulses, often referencing Gertrude Stein’s idea of the “continuous present,” using it to emphasize the fluidity and flexibility of ideas, introducing masters of classical music along with the ideas of architecture. ”He never told students what to do; he led them back to their own sense of self and let them work it out from within,” wrote former student Philip B. Welch in his 1996 book Goff on Goff: Conversations and Lectures.
Inside Shin’enKan in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Photograph from 1956. (copyright the Art Institute of Chicago)
Yet the most lamentable loss may be the Bavinger House in Norman, Oklahoma, arguably Goff’s masterpiece, which was destroyed just this past year under very unusual circumstances.
The gravity-defying Bavinger House was designed as a logarithmic spiral of sandstone and glass cullet around a steel pole, with all its rooms suspended by cables above a sitting area with a pond and plants, the same types of plants that grew just outside the walls of the house, blurring the line between interior and exterior. It was designed for Nancy and Eugene Bavinger, both art faculty at OU, and completed in 1955, at which time it was widely celebrated by both popular and architectural publications, even going on to receive the 25-Year-Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1987.
Design for the Bavinger House. (Copyright the Art Institute of Chicago)
In recent years, the house had suddenly opened for visitors, but that all ended in June of 2011. At first there were reports that a spring storm had damaged the home, bending the spire at a 45 degree angle. However, it soon came out that it was likely Bob Bavinger, the son of Eugene and Nancy, who had himself destroyed the house. A story on This Land Press from November 2011 documents thoroughly the series of shocking events, including when journalists from Oklahoma City’s News 9 showed up and were met with gunfire. Apparently Bavinger had threatened people associated with the OU School of Architecture with its destruction, possibly fearing they would take ownership of it like they had with Shin’enKan in Bartlesville. In the Oklahoma Gazette on June 29, 2011, Bavinger is quoted as saying, in regards to tearing down the house: “It was the only solution that we had. We got backed into a corner.”
Bavinger House, photograph from 1950. (copyright the Art Institute of Chicago)
A year later, and the strange story continues, as the Bavinger House website has returned after disappearing following last year’s controversy. Apparently a “filmed interview with the son of the Bavinger House” is coming soon, and the news section has some telling unlinked stories such as “the promise made to Eugene Bavinger,” “the past and current political situation,” and “the House will never return under its current political situation.” The last one suggests the home is gone, but still exists somehow in pieces, dismantled as many suspected, although it would be impossible to rebuild it exactly how it was, and likely outside the resources of the current owner.
The only time I saw the Bavinger House, I got a strange sense of unease. It was in December 2010, and I remember me and my brother driving down a narrow rural road through a woods, past several identical old cars lined up under the trees, with other junk and and old house appearing like any hard-on-its-times off-road Oklahoma home. A man approached our car, but we didn’t get out, there was something odd about the place, although I snapped one photo from the window. I do regret not venturing inside to see its curious organic interior, but I was also not completely surprised to hear of its unfortunate and unusual fate.
Hopewell Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Thankfully, there are still many buildings by Goff that can be saved, although their deterioration would require some serious funding and concentrated preservation efforts. One of these is theHopewell Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, designed to reference a teepee and built by volunteer members of the congregation after Goff’s design using discarded oil field pipes. (Goff’s buildings, including the Bavinger House, were often built by the hands of their owners under Goff’s direction.) This past winter while I was visiting Oklahoma City, I decided to finally see it. It happened that the pastor of the church was there while I was taking photos and was incredibly generous in allowing me to see the interior and also describe how it was in its original glory (these photos on PrairieMod from 1959 show how dilapidated it has become, due to a roof leak that is beyond the financial resources of the congregation to fix).
Dome of Hopewell Baptist Church (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Inside Hopewell Baptist Church, looking towards baptismal font (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
The church was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Looking at the broken floors and open ceiling, it obviously needs a lot of work, yet even in that state it is awe-inspiring. The oculus at the peak of the dome warmly illuminates the room, a perfect example of how light was as much a material for Goff as anything physical. It must have been very impressive to be under the soaring dome when it was in better shape, and hopefully it can get the funding it needs before it goes too far beyond repair.
Grave of Bruce Goff (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Even as I’ve moved out of Oklahoma, Goff and his work continue to linger in my mind, and I long for some of his whimsical experimentation in the sterile, uniform buildings that crowd the country’s cities and towns. Goff recognized that the spaces people inhabit can be challenging and still livable, that four walls don’t always have to make a room, that a room doesn’t necessarily need walls at all.
When I was visiting a friend in Chicago, we were walking in the historic Graceland Cemetery, when I saw a gleam of aquamarine glass on a small headstone, the same glass I immediately recognized from Goff, a glass that is simultaneously beautiful and broken, both smooth and sharp, and like his work never exactly the same. But why would he be buried in Chicago? He wasn’t even on the cemetery map, losing out in the architects category to Louis Sullivan and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. I later learned the glass was salvaged from the scorched remains of Shin’enKan, and Goff’s own ashes were only finally buried in 2000, nearly 20 years after his death. He had no immediate family, his estate going to Joe Price, and a burial just never happened. He was finally interred through the efforts of a former apprentice, Wayne Gustafson, who selected Chicago as the hub of Midwestern architecture and the site of some of Goff’s significant works. Gustafson designed the tombstone that perfectly reflects Goff’s aesthetic.
The fact that the destruction of the Bavinger House didn’t make national news — even local news appear to have jettisoned the fact down the endless hole of the 24 hour newscycle — and that his standing structures continue to rot, does not bode well for the future of Goff’s work. However, the rural and residential nature of much of his architecture may be a blessing in disguise, as there are still many people living in his homes who love and care for the unique places. Beyond the physical remnants of his singular career, I also hope that current and future architecture students will stumble upon his organic modern architecture and be intrigued or inspired by the odd buildings that look like they may have landed in the red dirt of Oklahoma thinking it was Mars.

A civil rights group in Togo is urging women to participate in a weeklong sex strike

Do Sex Strikes Ever Work?

“Lysistratic nonaction” can be surprisingly effective.

Illustration of Lysistrata.

Illustration of Lysistrata by Aubrey Beardsley, 1896.
civil rights group in Togo is urging women to participate in a weeklong sex strike to put pressure on the country’s men to urge the president to resign. Do sex strikes ever work?
Yes, but mostly as a means of garnering media attention. The Togolese group cites as its inspiration a strike organized in 2003 by a women’s peace group to encourage the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. (The effort was chronicled in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.) Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace did force an end to the war, but their tactics were more complicated than a simple sex strike: They also staged sit-ins and mass demonstrations, which were arguably far more effective than the sex strike. Leymah Gbowee, the leader of the peace group, wrote in her memoir that the months-long sex strike
had little or no practical effect, but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention. Until today, nearly 10 years later, whenever I talk about the Mass Action, “What about the sex strike?” is the first question everyone asks.
Generally, sex strikes—known in activist circles as “Lysistratic nonaction,” a nod to Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy—appear to be more successful when the women involved have little economic autonomy, when their demands are specific and realistic, and when they possess endurance and strength in numbers. In the tiny, rural Filipino town of Dado last year, women belonging to a sewing collective successfully brought an end to violence on a thoroughfare connecting Dado and a regional market center by withholding sex from their husbands for a week. And a four-month, 300-woman sex strike in the Colombian town of Barbacoas last year succeeded, with local authorities promising to improve conditions on the roads connecting Barbacoas to the nearest town. (Compare this to a highly publicized 2006 sex strike by the girlfriends of gangsters in a violent region of Colombia, which was called off after 10 days with no indication that their demand—an end to gang violence—had been met.)
Recent sex strikes in Western countries have been unsuccessful. A call for a sex strike by a Belgian senator to end a political stalemate last year was widely reported seriously butturned out to be a joke. And a similarly tongue-in-cheek call this spring by a progressive women’s group for a sex strike in favor of reproductive rights did little to quell America’s abortion- and contraception-related political squabbling.

Monday, August 27, 2012

unless you're a mad man, you can't make do in the art fields!

Story of a Writer: Ray Bradbury on Storytelling and Human Nature in 1963 Documentary

"Man has always been half-monster, half-dreamer."
Beloved science fiction author Ray Bradbury, whom we lost earlier this year, would've been 92 today. A passionate advocate of doing what you love and writing with joy, Bradbury was the subject David L. Wolper's 1963 documentary Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer, in which he shares a wealth of insight on writing, some advice on perseverance, and his singular lens on the storyteller's task. Enjoy.
Speaking to a group of students, Bradbury offers some priceless, timeless advice on the life of purpose:
The first year I made nothing, the second year I made nothing, the third year I made 10 dollars, the fourth year I made 40 dollars. I remember these. I got these indelibly stamped in there. The fifth year I made 80. The sixth year I made 200. The seventh year I made 800. Eighth year, 1,200. Ninth year, 2,000. Tenth year, 4,000. Eleventh year, 8,000 …
Just get a part-time job! Anything that's half way decent! An usher in a theater ... unless you're a mad man, you can't make do in the art fields! You've gotta be inspired and mad and excited and love it more than anything else in the world!
It has to be this kind of, 'By God, I've gotta do it! I've simply gotta do it!' If you're not this excited, you can't win!
A writer's past is the most important thing he has. Sometimes an object, a mask, a ticket stub – anything at all – helps me remember a whole experience, and out of that may come an idea for a story. So I'm a packrat – I've kept everything I've ever cared about since childhood.
On the practicalities of making a living with writing:
A story sells itself – but not when it's sitting in the files. A writer needs an agent to go out into the marketplace and sell his wares.
On driving – which I, as a sworn lifelong non-driver, particularly enjoyed, and which Bradbury revisited four decades later in a rare 2003 audio interview:
I never learned to drive. As a kid, I saw too many fatal accidents and I grew up hating the idea. Automobiles slaughter 40,000 people a year, maim a hundred thousand more, and bring out the worst in men. Any society where a natural man – the pedestrian – becomes the intruder, and an unnatural men encased in a steel shell becomes his molester, is a science fiction nightmare.
On storytelling:
A story should be like a river, flowing and never stopping, your readers passengers on a boat, whirling downstream through constantly refreshing and changing scenery.
On the necessity of shifting mental tasks, taking creative breaks, and making "no effort of a direct nature" on the creative problem at hand:
Painting fulfills a need to be non-intellectual. There are times when we have to get our brains out in our fingers.
On motive, an alternative perspective on George Orwell's four universal motives for creation:
I'm a storyteller – that's all I've never tried to be. I guess in ancient times, I would've been somewhere in the marketplace, alongside the magician, delighting the people. I'd rather delight and entertain than anything else.
On the perils and promise of space exploration and our the relationship between technological progress and human nature in general:
We live in a time of paradox – man is confronted with a terrifying, magnificent choice: destroying himself utterly to the atom, or survive utterly with the same means. Man has always been half-monster, half-dreamer. The very real fear is that now he'll destroy himself just as he's about to attain his dreams. Today we stand on the rim of space – man is about to flow outwards, to spread his seed to far new worlds – if he can conquer the seed of his own self-destruction. But man, at his best, is a mortal, and from his beginnings, he has dreamed of reaching the stars. I'm convinced he will.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The original purpose of HDR was to allow the photographer to obtain great images in extremely difficult lighting situations


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Of course, HDR has been around for a number of years. In fact, the concept, although not in its present form, has been around since the middle of the 19th century. Until the digital photography age began in earnest in the 1990′s the only methods available to achieve an expanded dynamic range was by the use of multiple negatives to produce a single positive or by dodging and burning in the darkroom. Today, with digital cameras, post processing software such as Photoshop and a myriad of HDR software packages available to the photographer, the application of HDR has become widespread.
The original purpose of HDR was to allow the photographer to obtain great images in extremely difficult lighting situations –for example, scenes with very bright areas and areas with very dark shadows. You know the situations. We’ve all taken photos and looked at the histogram to find the whites and the blacks completely “blown out”. Using all the available tools, photographers being creative types to begin with, have taken HDR to new heights and produce images that look more like drawings or paintings than photographs.
While I’m not a fan of the “extreme” HDR images, I still find it fascinating what people are doing with the available tools as shown in the following three images.
Here the photographer remained closer to a photograph than a graphic arts image. With the camera pointed at the building and the sun behind the building, without HDR the building would be no more than a silhouette unless the sky was so overexposed that it had no detail at all. By creating an HDR image, the entire scene is recognizable and detailed.
In this image, the photographer has employed a few more adjustments to the image to the point that while everything in the image is recognizable and clear our eyes tell us that this isn’t really what the scene should look like. In this case the photographer has taken the image to the point that it’s somewhat unrealistic. Still, a nice image.
I call images like this one cartoonish. I don’t mean to be derisive by that description. It’s just that, to me, the photographer has made adjustments in post processing that take the image beyond looking like a photograph into looking more like what you might see in a comic book. Not my cup of tea but there are many, many photographers and observers that really like this treatment and there sure isn’t anything wrong with it.
I almost always use HDR for sunrise and sunset photography. Here are three exposures of a shot I took one morning in the Everglades. The first is the exposure the camera “read” set on Av or aperture priority. The second image was underexposed by one and one-third stop (faster shutter speed) and the third was overexposed by one and one-third stop.
No secret, I use Photoshop, right now CS5. I also use Nik software plug-ins and for the HDR images I used HDR EFEX Pro which is the Nik HDR software. Keep in mind that there are numerous HDR software products on the market and each gives a somewhat different rendition. I know some photographers that use three or four different products to create the image they like the best.
In the first paragraph I mentioned that before the digital age of photography really took off, there were only two ways to achieve an expanded dynamic range; dodging and burning using a single negative and the use of multiple negatives to produce a single positive. Guess what? That’s still pretty much the approach still today. The two methods are called Tone Mapping that uses a single image to create a HDR image (dodging and burning using a single negative) and Merging that uses multiple images to create a single HDR image (multiple negatives to create a single positive).
This image was created by Tone Mapping the “correctly” exposed image. This approach is especially useful when trying to create an HDR image from a scene that has a lot of movement like a street or beach scene.
For this image I utilized all three of the images above and the software merged them into a single image. For both images I selected the “Realistic (strong)” preset. There are many other presets such as “Vibrant Scenery” used in the next image. Of course, the software also allows the photographer to make his or her own adjustments to create the “look” desired.
Which one is best? There isn’t any right or wrong answer. It’s up to the viewer. I prefer the merged image with the Realistic Strong preset, but that’s just me. Besides, I was there and remember what the scene looked like and what I wanted to capture and the way it appears to you also depends on the monitor you’re using.
HDR is a lot of fun and often very rewarding, turning a so-so image into something really nice. Unfortunately, you almost have to have special HDR software to create the images. It is possible to create HDR with Photoshop CS5 but it requires more steps than most of the add-on products and I haven’t been as pleased with the results as I am with HDR EFEX Pro. If you don’t have HDR software and/or haven’t tried HDR photography, I recommend you put it on your to-do list.
Photo Credits
Gatico-HDR by milivoj on Flickr Creative Commons
Gran Café Zaragozano, Zaragoza, Spain by marco_dmoz on Flickr Creative Commons
Pier by evilaardvark on Flickr Creative Commons
All other photos by Steve Russell

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