Today I was able to test out the linear tripod setup to see if the results for my panoramas would be better than the old method of moving the tripod by hand and guessing where the next frame should be. Let’s just say the results were mixed.
The mechanics of the setup worked just fine—I attached my tripod quick release mounts to a 2x6 I had, and I then took it out to the same small pond near the Maumee river I photographed two weeks ago. When I get to the spot I’m interested in, it’s easy to extend the legs of the tripods, attach the board, and then level it up. Framing a view is easier with this apparatus because I can move the camera back and forth along the axis I’m making images from, and start to understand better what my final image will look like. I also have much more confidence that I won’t miss a frame this way.
To take the image, I started on the left side and made the camera’s back (and therefore the image sensor) parallel to the board. I then took a series of roughly 10 images at different focusing distances before moving to each next framing position, to the right. I moved the camera about 6” each time, roughly the width of the camera body, which gave me around 50% frame overlap from one image to the next.
The results in the field seemed to be much better, but when I got home to process the images, I realized that I had made a few choices that would result in a poorer image overall. The first issue was a determination to stay with a low ISO rating - this in itself was not a problem, it always results in an image with less noise, but it forced me to sacrifice by aperture opening (f/5.6 in this case), which made focus stacking very hard on Photoshop, giving me far more blurring than last time. Additionally, I kept my shutter speed low, which allowed the slight breeze to move some of the branches around, blurring information further. Nonetheless, I processed the image and stacked it together as you can see below (the preceding blog post’s image is just below this week’s for reference.)
I think that this setup will work better in additional tries, if I can avoid the rain and sleet that has been falling lately, I’ll make some more trial images this week. I can easily bump up my ISO sensitivity rating to gain a deeper aperture and better shutter speed for the conditions and see if I can make this work out.
I’m confident in the process, it has just been a slow evolution with widely spaced experiments. Here’s hoping the next (last) blog post will have a truly successful image of trees that engages a viewer in a new way.
The last two weeks have spanned the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and I took the opportunity afforded by a two-week vacation from work to read a couple of books on photography. First, I plowed through Mary Warner Marien’s Photography: A Cultural History, which Eric had pointed me toward at the beginning of our Bridge Residency. This comprehensive, thoughtful, and richly illustrated textbook not only covers key highlights of the history of photography but also situates its different developments in their cultural settings. As I’ve never taken a survey course in the history of photography, this was a welcome introduction to an artistic and documentary medium that I’ve worked with for more than 50 years.
Second, I read Hagi Kenaan’s new book, Photography and its Shadow. In contrast to Marien’s Cultural History, Kenaan’s Photography and its Shadow is a dense philosophical argument about how photography literally instantiates the relationship of people to nature, time, and death. Through a deep dive into the meaning of William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1839 description of his “photogenic drawing” (one of the key first inventions in the history of photography) as the “art of fixing shadows”, Kenaan argues that photography “is a medium that, while appearing within the bounds of culture, allows nature to show itself from within” (Shadow, p. 131).
Kenaan goes on to suggest that “the shadow [i.e., the instantiation of the visual in a photograph] is an instance of nature’s ability to represent itself” (Shadow, p. 135) and that “photography’s inner logic has no sense of the contingent values, practices, or forms of meaningful involvement that constitute the human world” (Shadow, p. 154). This approach is somewhat at odds with Marien’s emphasis on “the historical and cultural context in which photographers lived and worked” (Cultural History, p. x). Indeed, Kenaan devotes one chapter (nearly half of Photography and its Shadow) to a discussion of the importance of Oscar Gustav Rejlander’s 1857 photograph The First Negative as an illustration of the distinctiveness of photography relative to drawing (see Joseph Benoit Suvée’s 1791 chalk drawing/painting The Invention of Drawing) and painting (see Jean Raoux’s 1714-1717 oil painting The Origin of Painting); The First Negative (nor the tale of The Maid of Corinth, from which each of the aforementioned works is derived) is not mentioned in Photography: A Cultural History.
For me, Kenaan’s analysis of photography lays out the beginning of a route to the non-anthropocentric aesthetic that I discussed in my previous blog post. Kenaan writes that photography has the “ability to conjure views that are indifferent to man’s being-in-the-world” and its “space consists of an indefinite multitude, a plurality of viewpoints that refuse to coalesce” (Shadow, p. 157). In this, he echoes Emerson, who’s fundamentally uncaring nature is “something mocking, something that leads us on and on, but arrives nowhere, keeps no faith with us” (Nature, in Essays II  p. 396 in 1981 edition). In the same way, photography for Kenaan “moved to erase the specific conditions that were traditionally associated with the artist’s ability to create images out of natures imagistic potential (Shadow, p. 33), creating in photography not only Kenaan’s “separation from the natural world (Shadow, p. 37), but also a separation of its aesthetic from the requirement that beauty requires an (human) observer.