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Klecksography is the art of making images with inkblots. Spots of ink are dropped onto a piece of paper, which is then folded while still wet to create mirrored patterns. Symmetry most powerfully stimulates, apophenia, the human tendency to see meaningful patterns in random data.

The history of using inkblots as tools for stimulating imagination can be traced back as far as the late 1400’s. Both Leonardo da Vinci and Boticelli used them.

Interest in this practice grew wider in the late 1800’s when physician and poet Justinus Kerner collected his studies in a book Klesksographien, which was published posthumously. Kerner, also a mystic poet, felt that such drawings not only brought him in closer contact with deeper aspects of his nature but also drew him closer to the spirit of nature.

Around the same time, a similar game was described in the book Gobolinks or Shadow-Pictures For Young And Old (Stuart and Paine), which explained how to make inkblot monsters and use them as prompts for imaginative writing.

Some years later, psychologist Hermann Rorschach made the most enduring contribution to this practice. As a child he enjoyed klecksography so much that his friends nicknamed him “Klecks” (inkblot). While studying Freud’s work on dream symbolism (under the tutelage of Eugen Bleuler, who also taught Carl Jung), Rorschach’s interest in klecksography was rekindled. He published his book Psychodiagnotik (1921) and invented his now famous Rorschach Test, seeing it as a potent tool to stimulate visual free association, which would in turn uncover unconscious tendencies and desires, much like Freud used verbal free association. (From hundreds, Rorschach selected ten inkblots, designed to be as ambiguous and “conflicted” as possible.) Since then, many other psychologists have refined the Rorschach Test and used it as a tool for studying the subconscious. In the 1960’s it was the most widely used projective test.

I’ve found exploring inkblot symmetries extremely rewarding. The perceptual transformation that occurs when making them and the visual skills this practice kindles has influenced my art in many ways.

Here’s a sampling of my most recent digital inkblot studies.

What do you see in them?

View more of my inkblots here.

View some of my finished works of art that were influenced by klecksography here.

See more in my exhibit New Work 2016.

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Get an inside look at the vision Lois Greenfield in these videos.

View 12 Great Photographs By Lois Greenfield here.

View more in The Essential Collection Of Photographers Videos.

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Sham Mosher

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Jennie Clutterbuck, 2002

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Enjoy this collection of photographs by Lois Greenfield.

View 12 Great Photographs Collections here.

Read more in The Essential Collection Of Photographers’ Quotes.

View more in The Essential Collection Of Photographers Videos.

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There are many things you can do in Photoshop to make the most of shadow and highlight detail in images, even if you didn’t bracket exposures for HDR.

Curves

Curves, the most precise tool for modifying brightness and contrast, allows you to target and adjust shadows and highlights independently of one another. You can use it to reduce contrast and render more detail in very bright highlights and/or very dark shadows. The Curves interface has a feature (The icon looks like a finger with up and down arrows.) that allows you to click on any area of an image to place a point and adjust those values. If you’re adjusting highlights and shadows, it’s quite likely that you will also have to adjust values in the other end of the tonal scale and possibly midtones to generate the best results. Keep it simple; it’s surprising what you can do with just two or three points. Keep it smooth; avoid posterization by not flattening areas of a curve. The Blend Mode Luminosity can be used to remove any unintended shifts in saturation; more contrasti increases saturation while less contrast decreases saturation.

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Curves can be used to lighten shadows and/or darken highlights

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Before Curves

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After Curves


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Insights on Chris Burkett's photographs from his wife Ruth.

Read our conversation here.

View 12 Great Photographs by Chris Burkett.

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Two exposures blended

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Dark exposure

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Light exposure

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The layer stack

Sometimes Two Exposures Are Optimum

There are a variety of ways to extend the dynamic range of a camera. The four classic ways are selective adjustment, double processing a single file, layering two exposures, and merging multiple exposures with HDR software routines.

Layering two exposures produces the best results when a scene has areas of dramatically different brightness separated by clear contours, like but not limited to horizons. For these types of scenes, layering two exposures avoids artifacts that are common in HDR merges, such as saturation distortions, midtone compression, localized vignetting, and detail / noise exaggeration artifacts.

Make Two Exposures Each Optimized For Select Areas

To exceed the dynamic range of a camera’s sensor (or film) you need to make at least two exposures. During exposure(s), rather than rather than striking a compromise between very different brightness values, instead optimize one exposure for each area of brightness, the highlights and the shadows. For each area, expose to the right. Monitor clipping differently. The exposure for the highlights will be clipped in the shadows. The exposure for the shadows will be clipped in the highlights. (If this is not the case, then you may be able to use a simpler technique such as selective adjustement or double processing.)

For this technique you only need two exposures, a very dark and a very light one, but to be on the safe side, make additional exposures in between them. It doesn’t matter which end of the tonal scale (dark or light) you start with. Simply work your way up or down from one to the other. Remember, using a tripod, locking down zoom lenses, and turning off auto focus will all help you register the two exposures more easily.


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