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Art Critique and Community: Vol. 4 Landscape

“Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?”

-Ansel Adams

 Thank you for joining us for the fourth volume of Art Critique and Community. This month we are looking at the genre of landscape and our submitters have brought beautiful, diverse work to the table. We do hope you are enjoying this series and are learning along with us.

 Photo by Daniel Berman

Critique written by Senda Shallow
LAKE AND TREES This is an asymmetrical image of trees reflected in water.   The photo is focused well, and the color variation effectively draws the eye into the photo.  It’s very warm and has the feel of an antique photo without the wear.  The reflection of the trees on the lake creates an almost abstract shape reminiscent of a sound wave close up, moving from silence to sound, a beginning point.  The light is calm, warm, and peaceful, although on closest inspection some of the very tops of the deciduous trees are more blown out in the air than their reflection in the water.  Simply because of the levels of the photo, my eye is consistently drawn from left to right across it — from the pale distant shore to the close, dark trees.   The mist and bright levels keep the photo ethereal and idyllic.  It reads as the story of a quite afternoon in the sunlight, maybe on a dock, maybe with my feet in the water watching for little fish nibbling. Because of the weight and draw of the dark right hand side, I find that there is an excess of empty space to the left, and nothing to bring me back to that side.  I’d question the crop here — if the photo might not be more powerful with a little less emptiness there.  There is also one splash of blue that jumps out against the warm browns of the edit in amongst the trees that distracts from the powerful cohesion and vertical symmetry. Overall there is a lot of impact in the shape and horizontal asymmetry of this picture.  It jumps out and you while remaining so very still.

Critique written by Gemma Anton
When looking at the photograph we see a peaceful autumnal landscape. A river which brooklet is fulfilled with trees and cabins. The quietness of the flow allows a perfect reflection of the border line creating a strong horizontal symmetry.

The theme and composition is clearly based upon classical occidental landscape paintings, with a strong use of perspective. The focal point is placed in the center part of the rectangle and the main vanishing lines frame the trees and constructions in an acute isosceles horizontal triangle on the right part of the picture.

Symmetry is also the key for the negative space. The river being a reflection of the sky where a homogenous ochre tone provides a neutral background which highlights the scene on the right.
The edit enhances the composition. A slight foggy treatment helps to blur the horizontal borderline. The nearly monochromatic use of color accentuates this idea.

The use of classical rules of composition as symmetry and centered perspective, and the use of color gives the frame a unitarian character which reinforces the peaceful atmosphere of the photograph.

Technically the picture is remarkable, but in my opinion the question here might be if this picture says something personal, distinctive. Everything in this photograph takes us to “The pictorialism” movement, that dominated photography during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and worked photography as “paintings”. It’s been a while since and lots of research and experimentation has been done. Now that the technique is obviously in control, maybe the key is trying to take all the possible advantage of the medium.

Critique written by Shaun
Description: A gorgeous foggy shoreline, reflected over still waters. Beautifully subtle colors and warm tones, along with the sparse leaves on the trees, give an autumnal feel.

The shoreline fades as it curves into the distance and in the thickness of the fog. Trees, both deciduous and evergreen populate the shoreline, with hints of houses between the trees and small docks with chairs on the water show that this is a peaceful place and a favorite of spot to come and rest and reflect.  Ambient light coming through the fog suggest a morning time.

Analysis: Both the luminance, and the white balance have been significantly boosted. I enjoy the mood it gives, but personally would tend to a more subtle hand on these. Particularly with the “curves”, or luminance brought up so high that I feel that some detail was lost, in the tops of the trees, that would have added to the beauty of the natural scenery. The line of the shore is very pleasing as it leads into the distance and vanishes in the fog. The negative space used in this crop feels a bit much. It doesn’t quite feel balanced and the beauty of the shoreline gets minimalized slightly.

I like the wide format of the frame, but to balance it I would bring it, from the left of the frame, at least 15%, and crop a little tighter to the trees and shore.

Overall, the first impression when I see the photo is that it is a lovely scene, and it is well seen by the photographer.  When I spent a little more time with it, I felt a little more efficient use of the framing and lighter hand on the edit would have made it even better.


Photo by Josh Jones

Critique written by Senda Shallow
BLACK AND WHITE RAIN This is a black and white photo of rain and a lake. This photo plays with the depth of field, pulling the rain droplets into sharp focus while allowing the landscape to blur out.  The view is dark, giving only a hint of the passing landscape on the top right hand side, maybe a dock and an outcropping of trees.  The spread of the droplets suggests motion despite the stillness of the actual landscape.  The lighter values to the right guide the eye in that direction, while the the motion lines of the droplets and the line of the dock itself bring the eye back in. This photo feels very depressed, mostly because of the dark values and the dark mysterious shapes of the landscape.  It gives an impression of the world sliding past while the viewer sits still, protected but untouchable.  The jagged shapes on the right are reminiscent of teeth, of a huge beast with jaws that are reaching to close.  Overall this photo is extremely emotive and very effective in creating a mood.

Critique written by Gemma Anton
The background of the photograph seems to show a river which brooklet is fulfilled with trees while in the foreground we can hardly distinguish a pier. Each ground has a different perspective, breaking up any supposed unity within the image.

Here we sense more than we see. Neat raindrops turn the camera lens into a real screen that filters the information in the picture, maybe as a reminder of the inherent subjectivity of any glance.  The rainy weather, the lack of reflections, the heavy sky and moved water add strength to the concept of mental landscape.

The use of the black and white and the grainy texture help to remark the idea of interrelated abstract patches of different intensities, turning the lack of negative space on a whole non-space that waits for something to happen.

Everything in the composition highlights the plain surface of the photograph as an object, stressing on an abstraction that, having  to do with the oriental landscape paintings, takes us through the Greenberg’s influence in modern photography.

In my opinion, this picture makes the most of the possibilities of the medium in order to show a personal point of view, at the same time it creates tension with its search of abstraction. Against that I would say that maybe the lighting and the contrast should have been more accurately calibrated.

Critique written by Shaun
Description:  A somewhat abstract landscape in stormy weather, shot from, what appears to be either a moving car, or through a window with strong wind against it. The raindrops streaked across the window are in focus and give a sense of movement and wind, as the landscape is blurred and partially obscured by the vignette. This also is looking across a shoreline that fades in the misty distance, with pilings in the foreground sitting starkly in the water. It feels very minimal in it’s composition.  The dark gray and black tones with a strong vignette give a stark and bleak mood.

Analysis:  The dark tones accentuate the feeling and drama of the storm.  The plane of the glass, shown through the rain drops, along with the line of the shore give a sense of movement along the waterfront with a front row view to the power and magnitude of the storm. The heavily treed horizon is very familiar to me, living in the Puget Sound. I’m not sure where this was taken, but it could easily have been just down the road from me. The darkness has an almost oppressive feel to it, along with the thick layer of clouds overhead, and dense forest. I really like the contrast of the pilings against the water. They appear to be abandoned, as there is no discernable dock to be seen. The framing seems balanced between the dark and light, and the use of space in the clouds gives great context. Also the blank space of the water and the use of the shorelines to frame the pilings are very nice. It does not appear to be heavily edited, as it seems like it could have very possibly come out of the camera that way, with a simple black and white filter. The vignette could have been added, but depending on the conditions, it could have very well been natural with the use of the glass, from a dark car and with inclement weather. The little black specks streaking across the frame are a bit mysterious. I’m not sure if those are an effect of the glass, sand flying by or simply raindrops caught in mid-descent.

Regarding the subject of the photo, I would like to engage in a small discussion, as it is not entirely obvious at first, to me anyways, what the exact subject of the photo is. My suspicion is that others may have wondered this as well, so I hope this discussion can be useful.  I think I felt it intuitionally, what this photo was about, first before I could articulate it.  I acknowledge that sometimes the subject is not always a physical thing as it can be more of an emotion, or impression, or even a force.  I’m totally fine with that personally, but I do believe it takes a special skill to be able to pull that off successfully, without going too far into mere moodiness or sentimentality. Perhaps, here, a good replacement for the word “subject” could be “story”. What’s the story here? At first I was asking myself, is the subject the raindrops? The pilings? The mood? But, when thinking in story terminology, it makes me back out a bit, and it becomes clearer, I think: it’s a story of travel. This is interesting to me to consider, as the story is not exactly what is “in” the photograph, but rather the photo gives clues through all the contextual elements to what is not photographed.  It makes for a quiet, but I think skillfully made, point by the photographer. Because of its subtleties, I think this could be passed over by some as a weak photo, but I personally find it more enjoyable. The darkness of the photo can almost overshadow the story, and it’s close here to going too far. However, the emotional element is really important to me in making a photo more compelling.

Overall, I love the photo. I love when black and white photography is used to it’s potential in creating shape and form, shade and mood. I appreciated how the contextual elements were used to tell a story about what wasn’t photographed, as much as what was.

 Our Panelists:
Gemma Anton. Born in Valencia, Spain, in 1974. After working for several years in Madrid, I have moved to Paris.

I am an Architect who sees public space as a “moving collage” of differences. A crossroad of endless disciplines addressed to serve as tools to understand the everyday of human existence. I understand Architecture practice as a lifelong learning process, a continuous questioning which will find its answer in social reality, as a net of different natures in progress connecting at different scales and multiple levels.

Active Iphone Photographer and collagemaker, I try to capture the glances of existence day-to-day life carries in its streets. Our epoch’s juxtaposition of heterogeneities. The contingence upon the temporary meeting points, their fugues and voids included. The disappearance of every kind of hierarchy and an the « assemblage » of inequalities. Overlapped messages which texturize ephemeral realities, only fulfilled if related with the environment. As a collage.

\\ IG \\ Flickr \\ Tumblr \\

Senda Shallow is a mom with a mountain commute and a love of photography.  She has worked for Apple and as a independent web designer, and is now in eBook distribution.  She sews, reads, obsesses over perfect birthday parties for her son, takes lots of pictures, and has a newly acted upon obsession with steampunk.

  \\ IG \\ Instacanvas \\

Shaun Swalley Photography is a relatively new, passionate hobby for me. I’ve always admired it and didn’t have the tools and time to pursue it before. The possibilities and ease of using the iPhone, along with inexpensive apps for editing, blew up the world of picture taking. I have been able to use style, technique and effects that were never before within reach for me. Also, the social networking aspect of Instagram helped inspire, challenge and teach me. Trees are a favorite subject of mine. I’m partial to the form of bare branches and the dramatic shapes they take. My wife and three kids make our home on Bainbridge Island, WA.

 \\ Flickr \\ Facebook \\ Twitter \\ Email \\

Our Submitters:

Daniel Berman is a fine art photographer, filmmaker & digital artist. With a background as a producer of music and nature programs for television, Daniel brings a lifelong passion for rhythm and the imagery of the natural world to his art.

Just a few of the many television programs he created and produced for his company Original Spin include Rhythm & Blooms a 39 part series on great botanical gardens for Discovery Channel, SOLOS: the jazz sessions a set of 39 hours on legendary jazz musicians and a 39 part series of rock concert specials called Beautiful Noise. His programs have been broadcast in dozens of countries over a 15 year period. Some of the musicians with whom he’s worked directly include Levon Helm, Sonic Youth, Bill Frisell, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Mickey Hart, Feist, Brad Mehldau, and My Morning Jacket among dozens of others.

In addition to his television productions, he works works regularly as a freelance photographer and as a creative consultant to corporations and universities.

Daniel is also the founder of the Mobile Photo Awards, the world’s largest competition and open gallery call for mobile photography and art.

He was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and now lives in the scenic hills surrounding Milton, Ontario.

// Twitter // Instagram // Web //

Josh Jones Husband. Father. Entrepreneur. Author. Innovative civil engineering CADD tech. iPhoneographer. Web designer. Follower of Christ.

\\ about \\ 500 \\ Flickr \\

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Art Critique and Community is moderate by Anna Cox. If you would like to be involved please send us an email. We would love to hear from you.

3 Comments

  1. This was great, love the idea of one pic critiqued by several views. Great job, all!

    • Agree with Jeff. Interesting to read how each reviewer interprets the image. Cool idea and approach. Great article!

  2. And I agree, to read different takes on the same image started me asking more questions about my feelings related to what I saw initially.
    Great series. Thank you for putting it together.

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