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 Post subject: Technology Killed the Bonsai Show Star
PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2005 8:16 pm 
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This thread is for discussing the article by Will Heath: Technology Killed the Bonsai Show Star
http://www.artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/techkilledshowstar.php


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 3:14 am 
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Will,
Despite my own interest in artful bonsai photography, I feel that the three-dimensional physicality of a tree is a critical component of the full experience of apprehending and appreciating bonsai. For this reason, I see no clear or present danger of bonsai being
replaced by airbrushed cyber-bonsai. As much as I enjoy looking at photographs of bonsai, I would much rather stand in the presence of the real thing.

Nonetheless, I appreciate the warning that you've posted here. Even for those of us who are lucky enough to live in cities with active bonsai communities, opportunities are more plentiful for showing bonsai on the internet than in "real-life" shows, and these internet forums may reach larger and more vocal audiences. As a result, I can see how some enthusiasts could start to view the finished photograph - rather than the full tree - as the ultimate end or goal of the artistic process.

In past years, I have fallen prey to this sort of thinking with some of my kusamono, for example. I am almost certain that I have spent more time looking at some of my photographs of these kusamono than I have spent looking at the actual plantings themselves! (Here I of course refer to truly looking, with the intent to appreciate them artistically rather than with the intent to check on them horticulturally.) Your article serves as a reminder to find the time and space in which appreciate my own bonsai and kusamono creations in their natural and three-dimensional forms.

With my best regards,
Carl


Last edited by Carl Bergstrom on Fri Feb 18, 2005 12:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:59 am 
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Will,
An interesting problem that you have brought up.
Will the photograph be considered the equivalent of the tree? Many judged contests now have photographic winners. These trees may or may not look like their carefully orchestrated picture or in fact may no longer be alive!
As with all new technologies, time will sort out the good and the bad and impose "rules" to live by. Then we can all argue about the rules.
Appreciate your bringing this up for discussion.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 12:47 pm 
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Carl,
A conversation I had with you recently brought a new perspective to this for me.

I remember when I first started with bonsai and was buying every book I could get my hands on. I would spend many hours fascinated by these little trees and many more trying to make my own creations look like those in the book, to no avail. Once I realized that the 8" bonsai I was looking at in these books was actually a 42" bonsai, my perspective changed dramatically.

When I now view a picture of a bonsai in a book or on the Internet I find myself asking many questions, the first and foremost being, "does this tree even exist?" Seriously, am I looking at a bonsai long dead, one that has been 'photoshopped', one that was enhanced for presentation purposes, one that is truly two dimensional and would be quite ugly and unbalanced if viewed in real time, or one that is nothing more than computer art?

Face it, pictures can and often do lie. These lies make for beautiful if impossible bonsai. They set expectations that just may not ever be obtainable in real life and by doing so, they set bonsaist and the viewing public up for disappointment.

In these days of the internet, technology and the publics ever increasing need for faster and faster gratification, the bonsai community responds by setting up photo categories in bonsai shows and competitions, there are even bonsai competitions now that allow only photo submissions. This only serves to encourage better photos of bonsai even if a few flaws are left out and maybe a couple attributes are put in.

Is it ethical? 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?

The solution? A split of the Art of Bonsai, one discipline being real, actual bonsai viewed as they have always been and judged as such. The other being photographic representations of bonsai judged accordingly. This would not be much different than comparing computer generated art to oil paintings.

Jerry,
I have to agree with you, time will most likely sort out the rules for us or at the very least, tell us when the time to do so is. Your comment "Will the photograph be considered the equivalent of the tree?" goes right to the point and says volumes, thank you.
Will Heath


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 1:08 pm 
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I look at digital bonsai as a separate art form albeit very closely related to the art of live bonsai. Beside its identity as a visual art form, it also serves as "an introducing band before the main gig". And as sometimes happens, these sidekicks can outdo the real show.

The reason why I see it as separate is that in this age of digitally enhanced photography a slight touch-up of the tree in the picture can make a world of difference in the looks of the bonsai. If you had to do the same touch-up on the real tree, it could take years of work. An example would be to enhance the taper slightly, or add a little texture to the bark. These things take a few minutes on the computer, but can take ages on the real tree. These things can separate a vintage specimen from an upstart tree. In view of this, how can one look at a picture and identify it with the real tree? In my opinion, one cannot. Once the picture of a bonsai is called art, the genie is out of the bottle and the picture has a life of its own, separate from the real tree.

There was a time when a picture had one purpose only: to document the tree. That time is gone, but I see it as a positive thing, an advancement in the art of bonsai.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 1:51 pm 
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Will Heath wrote:
Carl,
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://imagesource.allposters.com/images/ENO/EA080.jpg
http://www.posterversand.de/out/oxbases ... 237_p1.jpg
http://www.caramelito.cz/img/5272.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,
Carl


Last edited by Carl Bergstrom on Fri Feb 18, 2005 2:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 2:08 pm 
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Carl Bergstrom wrote:
The camera is no impartial recording device; it is itself a tool for producing necessarily subjective representations.

When we introduce our subjective representations, where is the line we need to draw between being objectively subjective, and being creatively subjective? Is there a temptation to overshoot in order to earn accolades?


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 2:16 pm 
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Attila Soos wrote:
When we introduce our subjective representations, where is the line we need to draw between being objectively subjective, and being creatively subjective? Is there a temptation to overshoot in order to earn accolades?

If we acknowledge that the photograph is the work of art and the bonsai is just the subject of the photograph, then perhaps there is no such thing as overshooting. (Not to say that there is no such thing as heavyhandedness! I have myself been a harsh critic of "virtual virtuosity" in the form of artificial lens flares and other photoshop flourishes)
Examining my own feelings about the matter, I think that I have some unresolved conflicts about the purpose of bonsai photography. On one hand, I really want my bonsai photographs to serve an archival purpose, as a record of my trees, and in this sense I could "overshoot" by cranking up the color saturation on a fall maple, for example. On the other, I do want the photographs to be beautiful artistic creations in their own right. I feel this most strongly for my kusamono photographs, perhaps because these plantings are so emphemeral in the first place. I do not really feel that it would be dishonest or inappropriate to perform any manipulation that I could in order to genuinely improve one of my kusamono images.
With my best regards,
Carl


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2005 2:28 pm 
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Very good points Carl, intelligently put and remarkably easy to understand, I envy your gift with words and your vast understanding of art that enables you to explain these points so easily.

Carl Bergstrom wrote:
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 this statement you talk of the print and the negative, yet leave out the subject. I think we would agree that it is the bonsai that is the work of art and for our purposes, the picture is but a means to convey such.

At what point does manipulation of the photograph separate the picture into a work of art all of it's own, distinct from the bonsai? At what point does the altered picture stop expressing the bonsai and become art on it's own without need for the subject. Would it indeed not be the same just to create a bonsai without a subject at all?

Carl Bergstrom wrote:
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.


On this I agree totally, the picture should be adjusted to convey the experience of viewing the subject in person, in fact this is the basis of my argument. It is when the Mona Lisa is given blue eyes, or the horizon is made level, or when the sky is painted pink that the photograph leaves the reality and becomes something other than a representation of the art.
Which Edward Hopper painting that you referenced most represents the actual viewing experience? What then do the others represent? Are they all separate works of art, having little being on the original except their use of the same as a guide?

In closing, there is a fine line between capturing art in a photograph and creating art with a camera and computer. Adjusting the brightness to better convey the subject is one thing, adding nebari on an otherwise lacking bonsai, is quite another.
Will Heath


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2005 12:39 am 
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Will Heath wrote:
In closing, there is a fine line between capturing art in a photograph and creating art with a camera and computer. Adjusting the brightness to better convey the subject is one thing, adding nebari on an otherwise lacking bonsai, is quite another.

I think it all depends what the resulting image is used for. Image editing software is great for trying out different things on the image in the computer before committing oneself with a pruner.
I fully agree, of course, that such doctored images are pretty well limited to private use, or for discussion purposes when everyone is aware that the image has been digitally altered.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Feb 22, 2005 4:37 pm 
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I stopped using the Internet Bonsai Club forum when people started posting so-called visuals of their trees. 'Nuff said.
Colin


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:06 pm 
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It was about 1999 when I logged on to the internet for the first time. I had typed "bonsai" into the search field and found a whole list of links to sites from all over the world. Without this medium, I would never have known that bonsai was so popular.

As for photoediting software, I find it useful as a teaching tool for visualizing a tree's (possible) future image, and developing my art skills (since I'm terrible with pen and paper).

I've seen plenty of virtual tree images with added lighting, scrolls, shadows, etc. But, the author (or artist) has honestly qualified the image as a virtual and not an image of the actual tree. I don't believe that I've found otherwise.

As for the question of cyber-bonsai images replacing the real thing, I don't see this happening among enthusiasts or professional bonsai artists. As an enthusiast (I don't think I'm alone in believing this), I find joy in seeing an actual tree's flaws, as well as strengths - not just an image. To me, the flaws, as well as the strengths tell the story of the tree, whether it is complete, needs further refinement, a change of planting angle, etc. To me, this is what the art of bonsai is all about.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sat Feb 26, 2005 12:49 am 
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Colin Lewis wrote:
I stopped using the Internet Bonsai Club forum when people started posting so-called visuals of their trees. 'Nuff said.

The 'visuals' are usually not posted by the owners, but by Photoshop-adept cyber stylists. Most of those go way beyond what I would consider useful and helpful, because they show the result (assuming it is possible) without giving detailed instructions of how to achieve it.
For that fact, I think they do more harm than good.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sat Feb 26, 2005 12:10 pm 
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Reiner Goebel wrote:
Most of those go way beyond what I would consider useful and helpful, because they show the result (assuming it is possible) without giving detailed instructions of how to achieve it.
For that fact, I think they do more harm than good.

Now that's a thought that somehow should be reiterated more often.
Usually the scenario is that someone posts a tree with a few branches (often nowhere near the right places) and huge scars. Then a few virtuals follow, and after a few attempts, we'got the perfect tree. Problem solved, everybody is happy.

Of course, chances are that the tree will never become even close to those virtuals, but nevertheless, the common perception is that it's only a matter of a few years and some easy wiring.

So, the virtuals can be very deceiving (and misleading), although nobody seems to have a problem with that. It seems to be much more important to learn how to become a virtuoso with Photoshop.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 26, 2005 3:30 pm 
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For that reason I think it is incumbent on the poster to only offer reasonable renditions that are likely achievable. Perhaps even a couple of versions of intermediate steps, and caveats that 'this will take a while'... I don't see the harm if they are offered and taken for what they are.


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