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My introduction to the landscape was fortuitous and happy, although a bit unexpected.

My training was in engineering although nature was a constant attraction, my mother being an avid gardener. But a combination of three experiences did the trick.

Perhaps first was seeing what dye transfer prints looked like. The second was an exhibition by Eliot Porter and the third was a view of some budding maple trees from the breakdown lane of the Mass Pike of all places.

1. Why Adjust


It’s Different From Being There

No photograph will look its best without adjustments to contrast, color saturation, brightness, etc. simply because of the differences between seeing the real thing and the various alterations that happen in the making and displaying of the photograph. There is still some discomfort in doing this, possibly a holdover from the unrealistic ideal of a “straight print,” there being no such thing.

There is an extraordinarily interesting example in the fine arts, the restoration of Michaelangelo’s stunning work in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

In this case the paintings have been covered by centuries of varnish and soot and I had the extraordinary luck to be there while the restoratio was in progress so I could see for myself the before aned afrter.

This came to mind when I remembered my visit to the Sistine Chapel in 1987 while restoration of the ceiling was underway and I could study with my own eyes the effect of removing layers of dark and smoky varnishes from the magnificant works of Michaelangelo.

This restoration is still controversial, but has a parallel to what photographers do every day to make their work more beautiful.

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A portion of a Michalango fresco before and after restoration.

Color In Fine Art


The restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

In 1987 I had an exhibition of my photographs in London. It was an opportunity to do many things: explore and photograph the English countryside, explore Europe, ski Switzerland and explore Italy. I had arranged to meet an American friend in Milan and then to tour Rhome and Florence by car. Although unplanned, it became one of the most memorable experiences of my life for it was right at the time the Sistine chapel was undergoing restoration. An excellent reference is Wikipedia: Sistine Chapel Restoration. The Chapel is magnificent beyond words.

Quoting from this article:

“Together the paintings make up the greatest pictorial scheme of the Renaissance. Individually, some of Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling are among the most notable works of western art ever created.[a] The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel and in particular the ceiling and accompanying lunettes by Michelangelo have been subject to a number of restorations, the most recent taking place between 1980 and 1994. This most recent restoration had a profound effect on art lovers and historians, as colours and details that had not been seen for centuries were revealed. It has been claimed that as a result "Every book on Michelangelo will have to be rewritten".[3] Others, such as the art historian James Beck of ArtWatch International, have been extremely critical of the restoration, saying that the restorers have not realised the true intentions of the artist. This is the subject of continuing debate.”

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I quote part of the Wikipaedia commentary (above) because of its surpassing significance. However, I cannot find on the web a photograph that represents what I saw.

The chapel was crowded with visitors and the restoration was on-going. It is a bit hard to believe my good fortune to stand near the restorers and see about one forth of the ceiling bright and cheerful with the remainder dark and moody.

I have two observations: one is the description of Michaelangelo’s work as “among the most notable works of western art ever created” and the opportunity to see the effect of removing centuries of varnish and smoke. Although it has been controversical, for me it represented art gloriously reborn to the original intent of the artist. I cannot imagine it being anything but this. About 1/4 of the ceiling was complete and a scaffholding was in place and restorers continued to work while I was there.

It may seem far-fetched to apply this obseervation to my own photographs yet this was comparable to the differences one might observe between a print of process A vs a print of process B, where A and B may be either two completely different methods or the difference resulting from a casual application of one process vs a studied and careful one. Knowing that it took me 10 years to realize a pleasing version of one of my best images will tell you that I took printing very seriously, for I knew the potential effect upon the final result. However, to be able to realize such differences required using a printing method that made it possible.

I had begun photographing in 1974 and until the early 1990s, there was only one photographic printing process that could give the range of control I needed. I had begun dye transfer printing in 1978 so I could imagine “restoring” a photograph when necessary the the example of Spring Sunrise below is a perfect illustration.

In the example below, the original photograph (left) required that I shoot directly into the morning sun and so I deliberately underexposed by two stops to avoid loosing the subtle shadings in the mist. This in turn required an extremely careful inch by inch restoration of the remainder of the image.

This kind of manipulation is straight-forward today, but in 1983 when the photograph was made there was no Photoshop to fall back on and so my reliance on dye transfer printing paid enormous dividends.

A dye transfer print of this image being made can be seen by clicking HERE

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