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Does the screen shape your work?

In a recent TED talk, David Byrne discusses the ways that architecture-the nature of the rooms music is performed in-shapes the content of the music. Most traditional european choir music is influenced by the reverberations of the music echoing through the hard walls of a cathedral which shape and enhance the long notes of the pipe organ and the singer’s voices. Compare this to the noisy riverboats and bars the early jazz bands played in which required sufficient volume to be listened to above the sound of the dancers and the chatter in the bar.

In the presentation he asks, “do we all make things with a context in mind?” Meaning, do musicians, consciously or unconsciously, shape their music based on the eventual venue of their performance?.

To me, this begs the follow up question, do we as visual artists think about the medium or location our photos will be viewed?

I’ve noticed over the years, my compositional style has changed from one better suited to a two-page spread or large-format print, to a simpler, more immediate style well-suited for the Web and even smaller-format mobile devices. Speaking for myself, most of this has been unconscious. Though in hindsight, this change probably began when I switched from film to digital and began editing not with a loupe, which blocks out the reset of the world and magnifies the image, to a computer monitor with a limited preview size, thus favoring simpler compositions with larger subjects and a less-detailed background.

As we move toward preparing more images for multimedia presentations and mobile devices, how will we, as visual artists, convey the subtleties we perceive in the world around us, on a tiny, low-resolution screen? I look forward to seeing how we adapt to, and take full advantage of, this new medium.


One comment for “Does the screen shape your work?”

  1. I think you are onto something important, Jay, that is influencing us all, regardless of how conscious of it we are or not. I would think that being aware of these factors consciously would be important for serious photographers, but then I realize, maybe not. After all, you evolved without being aware of why.

    I’ve found myself thinking recently, “The Web has made us all black and white photographers,” which might seem odd considering how popular vibrant, saturated colors have become. My thought related to the realization, like yours, that simpler compositions read better on the Web, and that we also probably respond more to general tonality than to subtle color differences — more “black and white.”

    The fact that we might evolve to be less picky about more subtle color differences seems like it would happen as a matter of course given the lack of standard color experiences due to extreme variations among monitors — even when dealing with color calibrated machines.

    While evaluating an image through a loupe once made great sense, if we are on to something with this thinking, it might make good sense for today’s photographers to evaluate images on a monitor crowed with other images, and then to squint fairly tight to bring out the compositional elements and downplay the color.

    Posted by Ethan G. Salwen | October 28, 2010, 3:33 pm

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