Colin Lewis wrote:
I look forward to the day when a virtual tree does win one of these photography-based bonsai competitions.
Could you expand on that statement a little' It seems not to coincide with your argument that virtuals are a design tool only.
Now Colin, if you expect me to be consistent and logical what fun would that be!
Seriously, I think bonsai tree competitions where the judging is based on only one photograph do the art of bonsai a disservice. There are problems with depth and solidity, temporality, and integrity.
Depth and solidity - a photograph is a 2D rendering of a three dimensional object. It neither provides depth in dimension nor space. A great feature of appreciating a bonsai in person is the ability of a viewer to move one's head, change the vantage point and see various subtleties of presentation. For instance, in person one can look at the canopy from underneath to see the branch structure, or to move closer to examine the bark or nebari. Even though a tree has a front, good trees should look good (or at least decent) from any angle. Photographs can't provide this depth- maybe in the future a holograph will, but not yet.
Temporality - another aspect of bonsai is that the trees are alive - one of the few art forms with this asset. Life means the bonsai exist in time - that is they vary little by little as time passes. Now granted the change is usually imperceptible but not always. The best example I can give for this I experienced on my last visit to the Kokufuten. I was looking at a magnificent Prunus with white flowers and while I was looking at it, a flower petal fell and fluttered to the moss. The next hour or so, the moss was full of discarded petals - a temporal event that added to the presentation. That evening, the owner and his apprentices climbed on the display table (they took their shoes off) and removed the remaining flowers and swept up the fallen ones so that the next day the tree looked very different. Other examples include the rustling of leaves in a gentle breeze, or the traipsing of an occasional insect that might crawl or fly into the tree's space. Or even better, visit a tree over the course of a year and appreciate how it changes. Photographs don't show what happened before or after they were taken and hence limit appreciation.
Integrity - Forgetting about virtual enhancement for a second, there are a myriad of techniques in basic photography that can alter, enhance or distort a tree - lighting, filters, burning in, good equipment, dark room tricks, air brushing, etc. I learned well before Photoshop came into being not to trust a photograph. On the other side of the issue, poor photography can actually make a good tree look worse - I know I'm good at poor photography. In setting up a bonsai photograph one can potentially build a non-existent tree - add a piece of driftwood here, a branch from another tree there, etc. Now add the element of virtual enhancement and the purpose of a photograph becomes very blurry indeed.
Put these three issues together and a bonsai tree competition based on a single photograph leads me to conclude this is not a tree competition but a photography competition. Hence, as a photographic competition, may the best photograph win. If it happens to be a photograph of a virtual tree, then maybe other people will see it the way I do.
I use virtual manipulation as a design tool and my use has nothing to do with photography competition. But virtual art in of itself can be very beautiful and convincing - to wit, the Battle of Plentior Fields in the Return of the King. It is very possible that a virtual tree could win a photography competition.
I understand fully why organizers choose to use photographs for global and national competitions. The logistics otherwise would be difficult. I'm on the BCI Board and we are looking at ways to improve bonsai competitions (a global photofest will not be one of them. Oh I know, there could be photographs from various sides and other machination, but I think not.) We have some good ideas that we will be discussing in our upcoming meetings. As an aside, if anyone has any ideas I'd like to hear about them.
Photography does have it place in bonsai - as other have said, it can document a portion of the tree's history, it can help promote events, share information, or even display an assortment of trees from around the world. But it doesn't have a place in definitive judging of relative worth.
Phew.... well you did ask me to expand on it........