Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Manifesto for HDR

I was pondering my remarks in the previous post, talking about new ideas and new ways of photographing old things. Naturally one cannot really give a firm example of such an idea, since it is by definition something that hasn't been thought of yet. You can talk about past ideas, such as street photography, which perhaps I will in the future.

In any case, what came out of my fevered brain was the idea of using HDR to create a truly new but undeniably photographic vision. It's not something I want to do, and I strongly suspect that I would hate the results. I am part of the old guard, this is inevitable.

I submit to you a manifesto for a new aesthetic built around HDR.

While you read it, I want you to imagine an HDR image of Half Dome, that reveals it completely, without deep shadows or strong highlights. An image with the strong contrasts of Ansel Adams, but without the shadows. An image that renders Half Dome as if it were a hyper-detailed architect's pencil drawing of a mountain shaped structure. An image which conveys the hugeness of Half Dome, its power and majesty, by revealing every detail of its forms and textures completely. In particular, I want you to imagine that, somehow, the usual muddiness and visual confusion of such HDR images is not present, because of an extremely carefully selected point of view, and very careful processing.


We propose to do nothing less than to destroy light in photography. Not to literally eliminate it, but to eliminate its tyranny over the photographic image. We choose to reveal subjects, not to conceal. We choose to strip away, as far as possible, the shadows and the highlights, to nakedly reveal the structure and form of our subjects. To reveal form by placing texture against texture, color against color, tone against tone, rather than through the modeling effects of a strongly directional light.

Our ideals are the engineering drawing, the blueprint, the exploded view, the architectural plan. Ours is an era of technology, we choose to embrace the visual idioms of technology. We choose to fully reveal the structure and form of our subject, and by doing so, to fully reveal the idea of the subject, and our relationship to the subject. The form without the idea is of no interest to us.

The obliteration of light should never obliterate form, instead it should reveal and clarify form. This is no easy task. It requires careful attention to every detail, it requires a new way of seeing and thinking about imaging. It requires careful application of technology. The techniques of HDR are one way to realize this aesthetic, but there are other ways. One might also choose to reveal structure and form with many light sources, or with very long exposures, perhaps.

In all cases, the dominance of the directional light shall be crushed.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thought. New technologies always have new affordances, and it takes time for practitioners to move away from the old ways of thinking. With more digital processing we may start to see photographs which encode the movement in a field, or just the shadows, or just the changes in the shadows, or whatever. What is also of interest is the effect it has on the old technology and the way it is used. For instance I think its not a coincidence that the rise of abstract art coincided very roughly with the birth of photography.