Unreal Nature

January 31, 2008

Loving the Irony

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:15 am

If you look into photorealism in painting, you often see a reaction that is approximately, “It’s not art because it’s just a copy of a photograph. If they paint from reality, then that’s  art.”

At the same time, many non-photographers say that photographs are not art because they are taken directly from reality.

For some entertaining reading on the subject, here are some links:

Deputy Dog’s blog with a wide variety of photorealistic art (painting and sculpture). Be sure to read the comments that are below the images.

Photorealism Inside a Virtual World? … more irony

NY Times “Art Review; Photorealism: Is That All There Is?

My favorite photorealistic painter, Rod Penner  (or R.E. Penner)

Not truly photorealistic, but some cool pavement art anamorphic illusions by  Julian Beever



January 30, 2008

Volunteering Ones Expertise

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:46 am

The internet is bursting with freely volunteered help on almost anything you can think of. Forums, blogs, personal sites with huge amounts of freely offered knowledge … everybody wants to help those less experienced, less talented or less knowledgable than themselves.

Everybody, including my Jack Russell Terriers. They want to help me learn how to properly dig holes. Below, you see Munchkin and Cookie (behind the screen door that they have destroyed) waiting for me to come out and do some digging.


Whenever I do any gardening, they sit behind me, beaming like proud parents. As soon as I go inside, they then dig up whatever I have planted. (They think I filled in the holes by mistake.)

They especially like it when I watch them dig. They can work for hours on a hole, sometimes stopping for a conference on tactical planning. I’m not allowed to help. Maybe someday, but right now, I’m just not ready.



January 29, 2008

“Art” is a Zero Sum Quality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:22 am

When I claim that photography is art, then I am taking something away from the traditional arts. The value or sum of their “art-ness” is diminished to the extent that my type of imagery claims to have “art-ness.”

Do you see how ridiculous that statment is? Yet it seems to be the way many non-photographic artists feel. As if there is some absolute quantity of “art-ness” available in the world, and we have to fight over who gets it.

In a lovely irony, the airbrush artist, Dru Blair, who has an excellent, illustrated step-by-step description  of how he makes a photorealistic portrait, then claims that while his picture is art, the photograph from which it originated is not:

“As a style, Photorealism has a few detractors, who often dismiss it as pointless, or non-art. They fail to realize that many photorealistic paintings are not mere copies of photographs, but interpretations of reality based on the artist’s vision….

… Art is the selective re-creation or conversion of reality by the human mind into concrete imagery according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments. Real or imagined concepts are filtered and altered through the human mind to the artist’s hand to create an image or sound that did not exist before. The reason photography does not qualify as art is that the process removes the filter of the human mind as an interpretative element. Although photography requires technical skill, in the final analysis it is only a mechanical recording of reality.”

Don’t you just love the anti-photography logic of these people?

Obviously, he doesn’t know much about photography and the ongoing straight vs manipulated wars, but even before that, as has been said ad nauseum, photography was never a mechanical recreation of reality.

(Nevertheless, I highly recommend his illustrated page. It’s very interesting.)



January 28, 2008

Camera IN Your Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:41 am

Coming soon!!

In this week’s Economist, there is an article describing the development of contact lenses that can include something like the ‘heads-up’ display that fighter pilots have. All built into, and powered by, the lens itself.

“… not only can LEDs be laid down, but also tiny solar panels and antennae that convert radio waves into electrical energy. Everything is thus in place for a display unit that can extract power from the outside world, and also receive signals from it. All that need then be done is to encapsulate the result in Perspex (chosen because, being the material from which hard contact lenses are routinely made, it can protect the circuitry with harming the wearer’s eye) and shape the whole thing on a heated aluminium mould, so that it fits the eyeball of the wearer.”

How long do you think it will take them to install a camera in that contact lens? But where to put the CF card….?

I’m holding out for the camera in my visual cortex.



January 27, 2008

Photorealistic Vector Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:23 am

If you want to make (as opposed to ‘take’ or photograph) photorealistic art, you can paint it, you can generate it out of a 3D application using mesh models and sets, you can composite it from multiple photos as I do, or you can make it out of vector art. I find the limitations on 3D renders (the modeling, the texturing, and the problems with fine/thin detail) to make that route not very satisfying.

Though I don’t have hands on experience with photorealistic (non-digital) painting, I have enough experience editing vector art to know that it is extraordinarily slow, painstaking work to do photorealism via that route.

Therefore, I find the collections you will see at the sites linked below to be truly amazing:

Paintalicious: A Pyrotechnic Showcase of Photo-Realistic Art

Basang Panaginip: The World’s Most Photorealistic Vector Art

I don’t think vector can compete with raster composites for true realism because it is too precise, too perfect, too … vector. But for commercial use, and for just plain blowing your socks off, this stuff is top of the line.



Compositing Guideline Number 6: No Jokes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:10 am

In my January 21 posting, “My Compositing Guidelines”, I listed five descriptions or limits on how I work. Here is a sixth guideline, which is perhaps the most important of all:

6. No jokes.

Why? First, because I don’t want to be thought of as a cartoonist. I want to make art. Once people associate you with spoofs and light fun, it’s hard to ever be taken seriously.

Second, because it is my hope that realistic (as opposed to fantasy) photographic composites will develop into an accepted category of fine art. If the field is overwhelmingly associated with humor, or worse yet, with lies, this is not going to happen. Unfortunately, that is the case right now. Do a Google search on Photoshop+Jokes and you’ll get 614,000 results. Look for non-fantasy photo-realistic composites and you’ll be a long time finding anything that is really good and that is also not a joke.

I feel a huge temptation to make jokes. They almost always get an immediate and positive response (assuming they are not offensive) and they are ridiculously easy for me to do. Just like most of life’s temptations, instant gratification can be followed by a lot of long term regret. Wasted time; wasted talent; damage to ones reputation; damage to the whole field of compositing …

I do make jokes once in a while. If you go back far enough in this blog, you’ll find the Infidelity image, which is a joke. I can protest weakly that it’s well executed and a pretty image, but it’s still a joke (and I had a lot of fun making it).

For new compositors; for Photoshop beginners, joke-making can be a great way to motivate yourself into practicing more, and experimenting with new directions. But once you get “out of school”, I hope you will stop. Get serious. Make something of enduring beauty.



January 26, 2008

Zipper Rage

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 12:41 pm

What is the deal with the *bleeping* double-zippers on winter coats? I can never get them to zip on the first try. Four, five six times, I do the zipper thing with them and it jams or one side goes up without zipping. Every double-zippered coat that I have … same thing. My life is spent trying to zip.

Google does not find legions of other enraged zippers, so I must be the only zipper-impaired person in the world. Even Amazon does not have a “Zippers: the Missing Manual”. No 800 help numbers, no remedial training. I may have to dial 911 to get my coat zipped up.

Yes, I know there are buttons, Velcro, string … staples. But I want to do like the grown-ups do and wear double-zippers.



Titmouse Does Shakespeare

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 12:32 pm

Today, two purple finches showed up at my photo feeder. This is exciting because they didn’t show up last year. I seem to get less variety every year. The first year I had my bird blind, I had rose breasted grossbeaks. They haven’t been back since.

I always have cardinals, but the rest of what regularly shows up are what I call “LGBs” or little gray birds; slate colored juncos, chickadees, tufted titmouses, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers. The occasional wren or sparrow doesn’t add much color.

Back in the beginning, I thought the LGBs were a nuisance. The ones that I wanted to photograph were the big, colorful birds. But once I started making composites with more than one bird, especially the big groups in the Judgement Day series and the Bird House series, I gained a new appreciation for the LGBs.

Cardinals, blue jays, towhees, red-bellied woodpeckers and even the grosbeaks don’t have much variety of expression. They have chunky shapeless bodies with thick stubby necks. They’re either munching placidly, or they’re bug-eyed on alert.

Juncos, chickadees, and especially tufted titmouses, on the other hand, are incredibly versatile. They are what make a group composite work; the glue that holds it together and the spice that livens it up. Big birds alone are like those Hollywood action-movie stars that look pretty but can’t act. The LGBs aren’t fancy enough to carry a show on their own, but they can flat out perform.

A titmouse could do Shakespeare.

Here’s some examples:


(above)  “What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?” – from Much Ado About Nothing


(above) “I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.”
-from Macbeth


(above) “And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ,
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”
-from Richard III


(above) “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
-from Romeo and Juliet



January 25, 2008

Photographer as Mime

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:21 am

There is a party game called charades where one or more people try to convey a word or phrase by nonverbal means; pantomime or mime for short. When editing photographs, I often feel like I’m miming visual sensations. The big difference being that neither I nor my audience can fully verbalize what it is that we are after. So, my progression might go as follows, with the quotes being from the viewers to which I am ‘miming’ my image:


“Pretty bird. Sort of dull, though. Not getting much of a feeling from this one.”


“Swoopy patterns. Sort of a lifty motion to it. Still, that railing is overpoweringly stable.”


“Yeah, now he’s less grounded; more floaty, but you lost the wood texture lines that brought out the bird’s texture. There is some good ‘wild’ stuff starting to go on, though.”


‘Getting there. Starting to feel that mountain air. That is one big siskin, though. Looks sort of like super-chicken…”

And so forth. I am feeling something from my picture. I want you to feel that same something. I caper and contort; I gesture, I use all the body-language I have. You look puzzled … but sometimes I do the perfect mime, and you know exactly what I mean. Bingo.


January 24, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:40 am

Chain-saw massacres, zombies, aliens, or serial killers are the kind of things that probably top most people’s list of scary things. Not me. The top of my list is the cold. In severe cold, you can just stand still and it will kill you. We had a single day (Sunday) with temps in the teens here in Virginia and you would have thought Freddy Krueger was outside my door. Bitter cold scares me.

Therefore, my idea of a thrillingly horrible horror story is something like Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance” about Shackleton’s disastrous voyage to Antarctica, or better yet, Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s  book, “The Worst Journey in the World”  about Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica .

In the “Winter Journey” chapter of the book, Cherry-Garrard describes going on foot, with two companions, from their base camp (hut), to a location sixty miles away to collect penguin eggs. They dragged about 750 pounds of supplies on two sledges in temperatures of between -40° and -70° often in high winds and in near total darkness. It took them 19 days; they did not expect to survive. (The Wikipedia article says the temps were ‘only’ -40° but the book describes -70° temps not including wind-chill.)

Later in the book, both of Cherry-Garrard’s companions from the Winter Journey die with Scott on their return from the South Pole. (Cherry-Garrard was left behind at the base camp.)


Recently, I bought a set of all of the back issues  of LensWork Extended magazine, which I am now looking at — slowly. (I don’t care for the type of photographs generally found in LensWork; they remind me of surgical steel, hard, shiny, sterilized…).

One of the portfolios featured is Joan Myers’ set on Antarctica. I approached it with great reluctance because, along with Iceland, Antarctica has become one of the trendy destinations for art photographers. Everybody has Antarctica pictures.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by Ms. Myers’ stuff. She shows things, not just ice and penguins and more ice and more penguins… There are good pictures (aesthetically, technically, and compositionally) of the research stations, of mountains and scientific instruments. And of historical locations, including the hut in which Cherry-Garrard’s expedition spent the winter! Wow! She also shows some of the Shackleton locations.

Right now, in Virginia on January 24, 2008 at 7:30 AM it is about 26°. Too cold for me but at least I’m not in McMurdo Bay (or even in Vermont). For all you northerners who think I’m a sissy, try visiting Virginia in August —  when temps are 100° and humidity makes the air thick as wet cotton. Just right for me.


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