RE-SETTING THE CONVERSATION
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE THE TEMPTATION TO USE PROCESSING TO AMPLIFY THE POWER OF MEDIOCRE IMAGES. Let’s just acknowledge that. In the digital age, when you produce something that is merely okay, there are lots of places, from apps to processing hardware, where you can take that measly morsel of an image, and hang a Christmas ball on it, drown it in gravy, or slap on a decal of fake hipster irony. Somehow, though, you always know if you were dressing up a monkey in a silk suit and trying to pass it off as Colin Firth. As Old Lodge Skins says in Little Big Man, “sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
A few weeks back I was shooting in the larger open spaces at Phoenix’ magnificent Musical Instrument Museum, trying to take the simplest images possible in terms of tone and texture. This is the only way, in my opinion, to match the streamlined, quiet way that the “MIM” cradles its exhibits. The gently curving lines and wall-height windows of this desert flower stand in stark contrast to older museums back east, which, with their stony gravitas and grandiloquent design, can threaten, at times, to shout down the treasures that they are supposed to be showcasing.
So, again, the mission was, keep this simple.
The MIM’s performance theatre is, like the rest of the museum, trim and clean to the eye, almost like a private recital hall. No garish private boxes, no Graeco-Roman splendor, just simple space arranged modestly. I loved having a private shot at the bare stage adorned only by the house piano, but my first shots were giving me too much for the eye to do. Wood grain, the physical details of the piano and seats, different shades of light from orange to gold to beige to off-white…I felt the whole thing needed to be turned down somehow. However, by the time I came to this decision, I was back home.
Took the fastest way out. First, manipulate temperature and tint to convert all the competing tones in the house lighting to a uniform, deep crimson. Then, although the image was shot at f/1.8, and ISO 100, and thus fairly free of noise, I elected to add more noise reduction to soften everything and kill off some detail that the image simply didn’t need. Minus the harder edges, I got a simple two-tone composition. The piano’s shape was enough to sell the whole thing, and, although the shot will never be my magnum opus, it’s graduated to slightly better than okay as a mood piece.
Was this cheating, or merely finishing what I started in the original frame. And what is “cheating” in this context anyway?
And you thought there would be no philosophy on the test……
(Follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @mpnormaleye)