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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Impossible Photos

Relativity, 1953, M.C. Escher
Icon for the impossible.
We've all seen the line drawing at right and cocked our heads like mystified puppies, trying to make sense with our eyes of what our minds tell us is impossible. For years we've marveled at the richly drawn art of M.C. Escher, who made such visual nonsense seem logical and sensible. Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali went from drawing such images to painting them. They called it Surrealism. Since the coming of age of photography in the past hundred years, a few talented darkroom technicians have worked tediously to do the same. As we all know darkroom technicians are a thing of the past, or at least, the bleak dungeons where they once worked have given way to home computers which can accomplish far more with far less in creating believable photos of impossible scenes. In effect, they attempt to make the impossible appear commonplace.
Impossible Buildings, Victor Enrich
Those of us over twenty have come to instinctively trust photos. Art, on the other hand, has never had that luxury. Artists, even those as technically adept as Escher, can paint and draw virtually anything yet in viewing their work, we have come to place our naturally skeptical minds between the artist and his or her creation. That has traditionally not been the case with photographs, even though we've all heard of "retouched photos." In the past, the technical aspects of this "art" have been so demanding that its appearance has been rare. Then came Photoshop. Anyone who has ever tackled Photoshop or its imitators will tell you the learning curve in using it is quite steep. Nonetheless, artists having mastered it, as they say, are coming out of the woodwork. And though I've often bemoaned some of the manifestations of the digitalized of art, in this case my reaction is WOW! Fantastic! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Broken Vase, Eric Johansson (see video at bottom)
As with all types of art, there are several levels and depths to the art of making impossible photos. Even the very tag we use, "impossible" is inadequate to encompassing it all (left). At best, it means impossible with just a mere camera. The most common level in such art is that of photographic surrealism as seen in the work of Enrich and Johansson. On a slightly higher plane, is that which merely uses photo manipulation to show and tell, utilizing a photo where otherwise hand drawn art, with all its intrinsic viewer skepticism, would be required (below). And finally, there is the depiction of beauty, surreal, believable, exquisite, and wondrously enticing simply because it is photographic to a degree, the best synthesis of art and science, wherein the artist builds upon the photo (or photos) to achieve a whole new level of aesthetic excellence (bottom).

Old theme, new approach, the first ever photo of Medusa.
This......................................becomes this in the hands of the artist
The best of the best, Eric Johansson explains how it's done:

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