Will Heath wrote:
Would the Mona Lisa be more valuable if I adjusted the contrast, the lighting, and the colors or would the world scream blasphemy? (I do however admit I was quite surprised the first time I seen the Mona Lisa in person, it was a lot smaller than I thought) Is simply adjusting the curves on a picture of a bonsai correcting a bad photograph or is it indeed correcting a bad bonsai?
I'd like to focus in on this question. It was one I grappled with when writing the section on photo editoring software in my bonsai photography tutorial.
I do draw a distinction between correcting a bad photograph and correcting a bad tree. I've done my share of darkroom work, and there no one questions the artist's right to choose among a broad range of papers, chemicals, contrast filters, and processing times. We even burn and dodge, and in doing so we know we are creating a good print, not faking our way past a bad negative. This is because in photography, artists and critics tend to agree that it is the print that is the work of art, not the negative. In bonsai photography, we hang on to the idea that the tree is the work of art and the photograph should be merely a dispassionate and objective record of that tree. But of course a photograph is not a dispassionate and objective recording in any sense, as photographers and photography critics have recognized for a long time.
Just as a bonsai is not a small copy of a large tree but rather a representation of the essence of a tree, a bonsai photograph is not a 2-D projection of a 3-D bonsai so much as a 2-D respresentation of the essence of a 3-D bonsai. This is not a radical idea at all. I am simpy arguing that the bonsai photographer is in a position similar to any documentary photographer: she is trying to capture an image that is both representative of the subject and relatively unobtrusive in calling attention to its own artistic manipulations.
I would like to touch upon a second issue as well. You mention adjusting the contrast on the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa, like any bonsai, is a three-dimensional physical object. Its appearance depends greatly on the light in which it is observed, on the angle of observation, and yes, sadly, on the reflection and refraction from the bulletproof glass that shields it. So a photographic image of the Mona Lisa is not so different from an image of a bonsai, in this respect. A photographic image of the Mona Lisa indeed should (for most purposes) have its contrast and brightless and hue adjusted to best represent the experience of standing before the Mona Lisa.
Let me offer an illustration. In his famous painting Gas
, Edward Hopper' uses subtle interplay of light from sky and electric bulb to capture, out of the entire day, one particular moment of early twilight. Below are links to a set of phtographic reproductions of this painting. Compare them. Look at how different the brightness, contrast, and color balance is in each. And look at how dramatically these differences alter the overall mood of the composition. In some, the sky appears overcast, in others, clear. In some, it appears to be day. In others, night. In all but the best of these reproductions (the first one below, in my opinion), we lose entirely the melancholy sense of impending twilight that is present in and vital to the original painting.
http://www.essentialart.com/mh/Edward_H ... s_1940.jpg
http://sunsite.tus.ac.jp/wm/paint/auth/ ... er.gas.jpg
http://www.posterversand.de/out/oxbases ... 237_p1.jpg
So yes, one does need to adjust the contrast on [any a photograph of] the Mona Lisa. The camera is no impartial recording device; it is itself a tool for producing necessarily subjective representations.
With my best regards,