Energy Plant by Jim Laurence
One of my favorite stories of all time is the one about the soldier complaining to Picasso that his paintings of people didn't look like people. "Why do you paint them with two eyes on one side of their face?" he queried. Picasso supposedly answered, "Do you have a girlfriend? Do you have a picture of her I could see?" The soldier replied that he did, pulled it out of his wallet and handed it to Picasso who responded, "My goodness! Is she so small?"
Art is not the thing — it is a representation of the thing. The magic question for photography, of course, is what should that representation of the thing be? Should it be "real" or "emotive"? Both are equally correct answers, but will produce far different photographs.
This image by Jim Laurence is anything but photographically real. Because it is a so-called "HDR" (High Dynamic Range) image, the tonal scale is compressed. If we had been standing in his shoes, I suspect the view before us would have included far deeper shadows and far more contrast than we see here in his photograph. That said, I have no doubt that this image more accurately represents how this place would have felt had we been standing there. Looking at the actual scene, it would be all about the shiny, new ventilation ductwork, the metallic glow, the line and form — and isn't this precisely what his photograph emphasizes? In which case, I would say that his choice of photographic technique was exactly right for the subject matter at hand.
HDR has become one of the new tools about which there is a great deal of buzz. In fact, there is so much buzz that it has already become fashionable to denigrate it. (You can always tell when something is really popular because a backlash against becomes a way to win at the game of petty oneupsmanship.) With some detractors, I agree — it is a technique that can easily be applied over-enthusiastically. Too much of a good thing, as they say. However, a knee-jerk reaction against any use of the new tool is equally too much of a good thing. Know when to use a technique, knowing how much to use it, and knowing when not to use are all part of the creative process. In fact, the measure of the success of a piece of artwork is often nothing more than a judgment about these aspects of the finished creative piece.
I'm not surprised that HDR has, of late, been overused by many. This happens with any new tool. Collectively, we are all learning how and when to use it. This portfolio by Jim Laurence is a good place to start your study, if you've not already done so.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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