thinking with pictures

Verisimilitude, really. (reality tastes like…)

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famous young lady at 100-200-400% of source jpg displayed - does coarse or fine display affect meaning

young lady at 100-200-400% of source jpg displayed – does coarse or fine display affect meaning

Facsimile to being there in person; that is one way to define verisimilitude or simulacrum. Striving to express one’s vision or experience in ever more vivid, authentic, persuasive ways has driven the steady march of tools and methods onward. For example, production quality of movies has improved from silent black and white films at 10 or 15 frames per second to the recent options for tickets to Peter Jackson’s direction of the Hobbit: 24 or 48 frames per second (for more fluid motion sequences), 2-D or 3-D, normal screen size or Imax (size of a barn side, 70 mm film stock instead of 35 mm in its diagonal dimension), perhaps there was also the choice of audio in Dolby surround sound 7.1 (sounds emitted from above, below, behind, all sides in addition to front/normal stereo). But with each increase in vividness and data required to convey the sensory details, was there any effect in the story line or composition or lighting or acting?

Likewise for still photos, the shift from pinhole to simple lens, to sophisticated optics and coatings for glare or color accuracy; and the shift from recording medium Daguerreotype and other bulky wet-plates to film of higher performance qualities and sizes to digital sensors of increasing accuracy and scale has affected “form factor” (how much functionality can be packed into how small or flexible or durable a camera). In this transition the tools of the trade allow higher production quality, but the same distinction with the movie example, above is true: changes in physical, technical, quantitative details do add up to magnitudes of difference (qualitative effect). However, the “eye” of the artist or author for composition, plot, tension, subject handling, and mastery of the craft also are important and perhaps are equally or even more important than the tools in hand. Pianist and landscape photographer Ansel Adams is said to have led workshops in seeing, capturing, and producing (darkroom and chemicals) pictures in which he relied on point and shoot camera, while students used large format or at least SLR cameras. In the end all pictures were displayed and even the point and shoot drew praise; not so much for rich detail and high resolution or dynamic range expressed, but for the response to light and composition and moment of shutter release.

The same rise in production values can be traced for music technology for recording and playback. Ever improved state of the art and tools allow closer and closer approximation to reality lived at moment of capture; and functionalities along with handier form-factor have permitted artists and authors to express thins that bulkier or low-fidelity gear could not do justice to. And yet some of the earliest recording media (wax cylinder or paper rolls or wire recording devices) can still communicate something across the decades to us.

Then there is the field of live musical performance: compare the melody line for something like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture played on a tin whistle, mouth harp or simply hummed or whistled on lips to the version performed by middle school band, college orchestra, or multimedia production enhancements (cannon, smoke, lights) to a major city’s symphony performance of the same sheet music annotations given by the composer so many generations ago.
In each instance, audio, images, moving pictures, or indeed in the degree of elaboration and vocal mimicry of telling a given tale by one person (the journalist version; the raconteur version; the kiddie version; the professorial version) there seems to be an assumption that more is better; more detail, high resolution and dynamic range, bigger dimension of source files is unequivocally better, despite the limits of display, playback and indeed human neurological capabilities to discern differences (who can really distinguish digital audio recorded and played back at 196 kbps versus twice the sample rate or sample size; between “FM quality” and “CD quality” perhaps, but above that resolution?)

In the end the matter comes down to balance: yes it is good to have high enough quality that the viewer or listener or reader is not distracted or encumbered by the medium. The expression should transparently and effortlessly come to the person. To go over that threshold and add more and more depth and dimension will not necessarily lead to a more convincing virtual experience (so that live and reproduced/recorded are nearly identical). At the heart of the matter the author or artist will concentrate on mastery of the medium to achieve fluency, confidence and competence. But then the creative part comes from what lies beyond those tools and methods. That is where the story lies and the energies should focus. Sure, the advances in capture and display/playback will lead to smaller devices or greater capacity and thus form-factors as well as brute facts of added functionality may open up creative expression that so far was not yet been imagined. But the central message of communicating delight, consequence, context and contemplation, wonder and beauty will forever beckon.


Author: gpwitteveen

Better Outreach is my aim. See to know more.

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