I posted so many blogs today on my "image only" blog that Google demanded I prove I am not a robot. More difficult than I thought....


I'm building a blog site that's different from this one. It's all portraits with captions as titles. No comments, no feedback, etc. I've put up the first 50 today and you can go see them at the link above.

I'm building that blog so I can send clients there to look at work I like but without the usual commentary from me or anyone else. It's a fun experiment since I also get to use the dynamic views offered by Blogger.

Drop by and see what you think. Comments here remain open.

The disconnection between what we see online and what we see in a big print.

©1995 Kirk Tuck

It's so hard to have conversations about what we show and see on the web. Sometime in the future, when everyone has a Retina screen and everyone's computing machine auto-calibrates that screen and we all adjust the rooms we sit in while viewing on screen artwork to the same basic parameters, we'll be able to have meaningful conversations about technical issues with imaging. And by extension more in-depth discussions about aesthetics, but right now? It's all a crap shoot. 

This is an image I shot in Rome with a Mamiya 6x6 camera and their amazing 150mm lens on Kodak 400 CN film back in 1995. When I got back home I headed into the darkroom and worked and worked on getting a perfect print of the image. I exposed so the highlight areas had plenty of detail and I dodged at least a dozen prints to open up the shadows and get detail into the dark area of the young woman's hair just to the right of her face. I also dodged and dodged to get more discernible detail from the trees that line the steps in the background, in the upper middle and right side of the frame. I'm looking at a final, vintage print of the image right next to my desk. It's 24 by 24 inches of double weight fiber paper and it has an apparent depth that I can't adequately describe with words. 

The web image is made up of infinitely fewer points of information. The whites are on the verge of blowing out and the trees and hair shadows go to black way too quickly. But, frustratingly for me, the web image is the only venue most people will have to look at an image that I really love. I love the actual print not only for the visceral sensuality of the young Russian woman's look but equally for the complexity of tones and the sense of depth I see everyday when I walk into the studio and look at the print. The web representation is like placeholder or an avatar for the image on the print. A thumbnail representation of the original intention. 

In art history classes I had been shown a large number of Caravaggio paintings via projected slide copies of the original paintings. I understood intellectually what my professors were saying about chiaroscuro and the dark to light translations but I didn't really have an affinity for the painter and his work. The slides were generally copies of copies and didn't deliver the power and detail of the actual work. A few years later I had the opportunity to see a good collection of Caravaggio paintings in Florence and I was spellbound by the work. I went back to the gallery again and again to soak in the work. The work itself was worlds different than the slides we looked at in representation. 

Last year I confronted for the nth time just how big a disconnection there is in our lives between the screen image and reality. I heard that there was going to be a show of Arnold Newman's work at the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It was a comprehensive show of his work; hundreds of prints perfectly presented. I spent some time re-acquainting myself with Newman's work in the books I own of his images and also on various web sites. In fact, even though Arnold Newman had presented a slide show of his work to my ASMP chapter here in Austin back in the 1990's I don't think I had ever seen an actual presentation print of his in person. Photons bouncing off the front surface of his paper prints and hitting the rods and cones of my own eyes unimpeded by layers of technology, current or primitive. 

When I went to the show I was stunned at how wonderful the actual prints were. Not just the content of the prints or the composition but the prints as objects themselves. They were remarkable. It had nothing to do with relative size because many of the images were shown as 8x10 inch prints. But the prints were engaging and captivating because they possessed what seemed to be an almost infinite range of tones and effortless transitions between those tones. The heart of the work was more than just good printing or prints as jewel like objects. It was the combination of a artist so far beyond the need to overthink technical details that he was able to concentrate almost solely on the engagement with the people in the prints coupled with a time in our culture when people could take time to make images in an unhurried and thoughtful amount of time. A luxury of temporal space in which to come to know the subject and thoughtfully interpret the subject. 

I still have the memory of just how wonderful the prints were and how different they are from our experiences of seeing things on the web. Yes, the web is flatter and more people can experience an artist than ever before but the experience is diluted and reduced. 

If you've grown up with photography being exclusively a web based construction it might really be an amazing and wonderful thing to go see real prints well displayed. In Austin the logical thing is to go see shows at the HRC or the Blanton. But everyone would be well served standing directly in front of actual art as many times in a year as they can. A trip to NYC will give one ample opportunities to see a wide range of photographic shows and collections. For about the price of a decent new camera body one might just have an eye opening and transformational experience that adds new levels of awareness in their own pursuit of this most curious art form.

What one sees on the web is not what one sees in real life. In art this is a critical thing to understand. 

Off the topic of photography. Working on that pesky freestyle stroke.

The heck with cameras and silly arguments about megapixels. Let's talk about something more important: good freestyle technique! Practicing a stroke incorrectly, day after day, makes that stroke harder to correct down the road. Today is a good day to start working on better technique.

I've been swimming for a long time and I'm here to tell you that your impression of your arm position and its actual position in three dimensions can be completely different. Case in point, I thought I was placing my arms directly in front of me on my freestyle recovery and had been practicing that way for years. A month or so ago one of the coaches stopped me mid-set and told me that I was "crossing over" way too much. That meant that if you drew a line from the top of my head down the center of my body my arms were crossing over that center point in front of my head as I placed each hand in the water. Crossing over reduces the efficiency of your stroke because a certain amount of your catch and pull is spent pulling your body left and then right instead of having all the power of the stroke pushing water back in the direction of your feet. That side to side wiggle is just lost energy and requires even more energy to keep pulling your body back to center.

If you want to see just how much you are crossing over a good drill is to have a fellow swimmer walk backwards in front of you in the pool holding a kick board at the center point of your head. (The board is held perpendicular to water instead of its usual flat on the water position). As you stroke, if you are crossing over, you'll repeatedly hit the board with one or both of your hands. That's a sure sign that you are crossing over.

The cure is to swim wide. You have to swim with the feeling that your arms are entering the water much wider. And even better is to tilt your head back and watch your initial entry to make sure you are getting wide enough. Over time what felt awkward will become normal. (don't keep tilting your head up, you don't want to affect your overall balance in the water...).

Another thing to consider is that the pull of the stroke, from the entry to the final push at the top of your thigh, needs to be more or less a straight line with the intent of anchoring your hand in the water and pulling your body past that point. Moving your arm in a wide "S" curve during the front end of your stroke takes time and uses unnecessary energy to move the body laterally. Every unintended lateral move has to be corrected by use of power expended in the opposite direction.

A quick catch, following by a pull with a high elbow position, and increasing speed and power at the end of the stroke is the optimal way to swim freestyle, provided you don't waste energy and mess up your body position by crossing over.

When you are working on correcting or fine tuning a stroke you may find it uncomfortable at first. The key is to drop down a lane and swim with slower swimmers so you can concentrate on technique instead of speed and endurance. Trying to do a stroke correction while maintaining training at a high level is a recipe for failure as you'll get tired and allow your stroke to fall apart. When the workout is tough most swimmers working on strokes revert to what's familiar and that's exactly where you don't want to go. If you normally workout in a lane that repeats 100's on 1:15 you might want to drop down to a lane that repeats on 1:25 so you have the energy to focus on your course correction. 

And now a photographic tie-in: It's helpful, when reconstructing your freestyle, to see what your stroke looks like both when you are doing it right and when you are doing it wrong. Get a friendly swimmer or coach to video tape you swimming toward the camera. Best to get your person to stand at the end of your lane and for you to swim toward them so you can see clearly your arm entry and catch. Watch the footage pool side and then hope in and fine tune it.

I spent the morning workout really concentrating on my stroke technique. I've been at it for a month. It's feeling easier and more efficient every day. It was wonderful to be in the pool early this morning and to watch the sunrise as we swam. Coach, Tommy Hannan, (Gold medals at the 2000 Olympics) was on deck and coaching with gusto. It's a great day to be a swimmer.