"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Begonia Leaf, Backlit, in a Window on a Rainy Day

Begonia Leaf, Backlit, in a Window on a Rainy Day

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“In photography, as in every other medium of art and communication, the finished work can never contain every fact found at the scene. If the artist is skilled enough, however, he may unfold a complex experience by arousing the right kind of connotations in his viewers. To do so, he must possess an understanding of, or intuition for, visual perception — how their viewers’ brains relate visual information to experiences, emotions, and sensations.

“Through the power of perception, an artist may literally control the brain of the viewer, prompting them to produce a desired experience and reaction, oftentimes far exceeding the simple recognition of what is contained within the frame. This is a concept known as Equivalence, originally described by Alfred Stieglitz and later expanded upon by Minor White.

“Viewers of a work of visual art are no different from viewers looking out a window. They may not have the actual experience of being on the other side, but they have enough information for their mind to form an idea of what it might feel like. Art goes beyond that. More than just a window, it is a deliberate arrangement that can be consciously designed to prompt desired reactions.”

Photography subjects are everywhere; you just have to look, right? It occurred to me over this past weekend — one full of clouds, rain, cold wind, and temperatures sticking pretty close to the thirties — that I could have just as much fun taking pictures of eclectic household objects in my makeshift photo studio of macro and zoom lenses, LED lights, and flashlights as I would wandering the garden or the parks nearby. And I’d stay warm and dry in the process!

While trolling my curio cabinets and bookcases for subjects to frame, I noticed this begonia leaf near my living room window standing out from the others, having caught a splash of sunlight diffused through the drizzle outside. It was a new leaf, one that appeared about a week ago as a tiny cone at the end of its stem, fully opening over the weekend. The begonia gets moved away from the window every year when I put up the Christmas tree and decorations, gets a little thin and wobbly while the tree occupies its favored spot, then starts putting out new leaves as soon as I move it back in front of the window.

While searching for quotes about windows and natural light for this post, I found the one I included above that refers to “equivalence” — an artistic concept developed by Alfred Stieglitz initially through a series of photographs of clouds. He called this series “Equivalents” and characterized the concept as one about abstraction in images where, theoretically, there is no need to engage in further interpretation of the subject or meaning of the image. The object represented in the image is simply what it is, and its sole intention to evoke a state of mind or emotion. Theories of photography, of course, are constantly churning around the meaning of images, whether they’re actual or abstract representations, their symbolism and their relationship to other arts — and the Equivalents of Stieglitz are perhaps best situated in that context, as a developmental step in photographic theory and as a technical development where Stieglitz pushed through limitations of film and darkroom capabilities available at the time.

Here are three photographs of the same begonia leaf from different angles; my goal with these photos was to retain the sense that the leaf was glowing in the window, while it was cold, cloudy, and wet outside.

Here are black-and-white variations, where the conversion from color emphasizes the leaf detail in a different way. The slightly silver overtone comes from adding a bit of blue color to the images’ shadows, highlights, and midtones using Lightroom’s Color Grading tool, a function that replaces the split-toning tool available in earlier versions of the software.

Enhancements were made (!!), of course, and here are before-and-after versions of the three photos — where I shifted the overall tone from warm to cool (it’s winter, after all!), added some detail, and brightened the leaf colors while softening the background.

More soon, thanks for reading and taking a look!

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