adventures in lo-fi

Posted: July 5, 2011 in Photography
Tags: , , , , , ,

In the five years since I took up photography as a hobby I’ve learned a few things. Not many, but a few. One of the basic nuggets which penetrated through the many layers of dense membrane is the concept – dare I say the goal – of producing “tack-sharp” photographs. In simple language (always a sure bet with me) tack-sharp refers to the sharpness, or crispness, of an image. It’s a term bandied about by professional photographers and enthusiastic enthusiasts.

Tack-sharp photographs, the kind you’ll find in the likes of National Geographic , Condé Nast Traveler or in many print advertisements, are free of blur, soft focus, diffusion, pixel bleeding (when talking digital) or any other visual fuzziness which results in a photo that is less than crystal clear. And nowadays with some point and shoot cameras delivering upwards of 14 megapixels per shot and powerful post processing software which can clean up those blips and blurs, it has become much easier to produce a tack-sharp image. I know when I upgraded to a medium end DLSR several years ago (the Nikon D80, now approaching relic status) I was thrilled with the newly minted crispiness of my photos.

Caryn in low-fi

Nowadays I still appreciate a good tack-sharp photo. However, over the past couple of weeks I’ve rediscovered (or reaffirmed or revived…it’s re-something) my love for photos which toss sharpness to the curb. I find the images I’m most drawn to, the images which get me excited, have little or nothing to do with clarity. Since this realization (picture the proverbial incandescent light bulb popping on above the proverbial image of my head) is a quite recent development it hasn’t had proper time to sit and percolate in the cauldron of my over-active brain. Nonetheless, I feel the familiar stirrings of exhilaration which accompanies any personal discovery where the stars are aligned. In this hi-fi world I’m suddenly embracing a low-fi attitude. My gut is telling me things my mind cannot yet fully articulate. And in this case articulating them perhaps diminishes them.

But let me try. Briefly.

chainatown nap in low-fi

Sometimes I stumble across a photo which, to my admittedly amateur eye, shines with technical perfection. I note the ideal composition and the stunning use of shadow and light. No distractions crowd the frame. The lines and geometry are an aesthetic marvel. If color is involved the hues complement each other like Garfunkel complemented Simon. The balance is spot-on. If there’s no color, the gradients of black, white and gray interplay flawlessly. And yes, they are tack-sharp. I look at these photos and think to myself, “Now ain’t that purdy.” That’s it. “Now ain’t that purdy.” Somehow I’d expect a creative work which is so technically superlative would elicit more than a cursory “Now ain’t that purdy.” But it doesn’t. I look, briefly admire, internally comment, and move on.

Then there’s the shot which is completely off-kilter or partially blurry or over-processed – and it snares my attention. I don’t care about the flaws. Yes, the white balance is out of whack. Or yes, the color bleeds. Or yes, the angle is downright odd. Still, there’s a marvelous beauty in its overall effect. You see there exists a marvelous beauty, a magnificent glory, in imperfection. Perhaps it’s because our lives are filled with imperfection. Perhaps photography, in many ways an ultimate reflection of life, is most effective when it sheds the façade of perfection and gets down in the mud with the rest of humanity. Maybe in life we strive for tack-sharpiness, but it’s the undefined blurs which really give it character.

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