Author Archives: Leigh

TRASH OR TREASURE: Reviewing iPhoto 3.0’s Filters



Being the first option, Vivid sensibly offers a simple boost to both contrast and

The post TRASH OR TREASURE: Reviewing iPhoto 3.0’s Filters appeared first on Messy Musings.

PHOTO PROMPT: Domestic Re-Imaginings

A simple exercise to improve your visual eye, without leaving the house.

The premise is pretty straightforward; if you’re in a photographic funk, parameters are your best friend. These images were created within the constraints of my own self-imposed challenge. In just 15 minutes,  I produced over 30 images without leaving the house (therefore averaging less than 30 seconds per image). What can be gained from this kind of activity? By imposing limitations to time and setting, I was able to explore unique choices in content that may not have occurred to me otherwise––achieving this creative mindset is sometimes trickier than you would think.

This is both a useful and liberating exercise for anyone looking to expand, reinvigorate, or practice compositional techniques. For myself personally, there have many upsides the more I have trained my artistic mind to approach the world in this way. Because oftentimes when I am in the midst of a creative block, this is due in part to existential struggles that are infiltrating the rest of my day. So the beauty in this exercise is that it is also a kind of mindfulness strategy as well. Life is a little easier when we can see the beauty in our humble surroundings. 


Here’s what you should keep in mind to get the best outcomes:

  • Use a convenient, portable camera instead of a fancy one. This allows you to focus on the frame instead of technicalities such as ISO and depth of field. (I used my phone.)
  • Imagine that you are creating a sculpture or an abstract painting.
  • Investigate all possible angles: top-down, bottom-up, and eye-level, amongst others. Approach things abnormally. 
  • Combine those unusual angles with odd cropping. Ignore perceived beginnings and ends of objects.
  • Turn your attention towards appealing combinations of texture and negative space.
  • Avoid pre-grouping images in your mind as you shoot. Avoid thinking about thematics or symbolic interpretation. This is about producing and following instinctual impulses.
  • Remember, these images don’t need to be capital-A artworks. It’s okay if you never show these to anyone. But I don’t recommend deleting these; stash them in a sketchbook, virtual or printed out.
THE AFTER: Groupings & Gestalt

Although you can leave this activity after the shooting stage, I recommend taking a moment to review the photographs. I find it useful to bundle these images and begin to experiment with their interactions amongst one another. Personally, I find this secondary stage to be very relaxing and rewarding, so I encourage you to arrange and rearrange your snippets. Good consider-ations include colour palettes, textures, and leading lines. If you’re confused by that last term, hopefully the images down below
give you an idea of what is meant by this.

When grouping your images, consider the famous Gestalt principles relating to perception. In case you’re unfamiliar, these are very helpful guidelines when it comes to UX and design more broadly. (Check out DePaul University’s online resource for more detailed information––the site design itself is extremely outdated but it does provide comprehensive explanations with art historical examples.)

Though all the principles may be at play, I want to draw your attention to a few key interactions:

First, closure tells us that our brains seek out a connection, regardless of whether the elements touch. So we read all these images as one, in part due to their proximity as well. Both closure and proximity are virtually inevitable due to my snapshots up being lined up in this row/column structure (something to be aware of if you choose differently).

However, you will find that various potential arrangements within this structure will provide equally varying levels of compositional success. What you should aim for is a good sense of continuity, so that proximate images almost “talk” to one another as the eye flows from one area to the next. Again, have a look at my visualization of exactly this, below. 

Overall, experimenting with the order of your snapshots within a grouping structure can lead to a really satisfying visual impact. 

Enjoyed this post? Check out my other photographic challenges:

FIGHT CREATIVE BLOCK: 3 Unusual Experiments in Photography

PEER REVIEW No.3: Eats and Feats

After a long semester of hard work, Eats and Feats has produced a useful series of food and location reviews for Vancouverites looking for adventure. The title is so terrifically catchy while the subtitle–”explore Vancouver, BC”––does a nice job of orienting any passerbys as to the overall thematics.

“I genuinely believe Vancouver has so many things to offer, delicious food, amazing events and gorgeous sceneries and I love to explore so I decided on that. I wanted to write a blog that would help people see what there is to do here because there is never a shortage of things.”

–– Eats and Feats author Helen writing about her purpose

Let us jump into the review below, which will gradually unpack the visuals, written word, and overall premise of my classmate’s great blog.


Underneath the horizontal menu bar, Helen has good combination of three main visual elements (the title and then two featured posts), which align with the suggestions proposed during our guest lecture by Mauve Pagé. The featured posts are well-selected as some of the blog’s finest, with bright and attractive imagery of food. Not only do those pictures attract the eye, they also activate viewer engagement given their “clickability” (scroll function). So, as a visual element, these featured reviews seem to be integral to the website’s immersive capacity and accessibility, while also being foundational to the website’s success as a whole system––specifically if we consider encouraging desirable outcomes for page traffic and bounce rate, which were outlined as important factors to growing a business according to our other guest lecturer by marketing expert Monique Sherett.

In addition to what has already been mentioned, I would like to commend Helen on the use of her sidebar which really encourages readers to conveniently explore other posts from the blog. Not only does she include a juicy little glimpse of her longer About Me, there are many links (in the form of both tags and titles) which make navigation from one page to the next a lot smoother than in other websites I have seen (including my own).

Also, I would be remise not to highlight the extremely comprehensive and necessary use of food and site photography. Particularly when it comes to images of meals, Helen is careful to crop and angle her photos, and ensure that other factors like contrast are tweaked so that all the relevant textures and colours are accurately conveyed. This plays a crucial role for the viewer as they imagine themselves interacting with what is described, and the images are always well arranged so as to perfectly complement the written descriptions.

While there is always some room for improvement that could be considered, namely in the form of customizing the visuals, the visual structure of the site mostly serves the viewer quite favourably.


Although the grammar is not completely consistent throughout the blog, Helen’s careful use of descriptive language really illuminates the scenes she describes and does a good job to pique viewers’ interest.

The immediate impression is that Helen has an excellent sense of paragraph structure and dispersion, something that I struggle with personally. She is thorough when including important information such as location, menus, and pricing, although I would suggest potentially bolding, italicizing, or adding icons to these areas for “skimmability”.

I have to respect that Helen has committed to creating a positive “public sphere”, if we can recall Nancy Fraser’s description of this term coined by Habermas. She gets to the point while impressively weaving in a tone of warmth and welcome for her readers.

Given some of the sinister things we have read about the internet this semester, I think we can all agree that websites with more upbeat attitudes, such as Eats and Feats, are probably needed in the larger scheme of things. Importantly, from a strategic standpoint, this could potentially help Helen achieve some form of monetization either through sponsorships or the kinds of affiliate ads debated by Tom Bleymaier in his article titled On Advertising –– Maria Popova.

However, Helen’s “favourites” will have more value if they are allowed to shine through comparison and contrast. By this I mean to suggest that introducing some experiences that are more negative could potentially suggest more credibility in the minds of Eats and Feats’ readers, and potentially even contribute some playful humour.


In a city often critiqued for a supposed lack of activities and cultural opportunities, Helen is clever to centre her blog around dispelling this mischaracterization about Vancouver––one blog post at a time. It is a solid initial premise and one that can also serve her well in the long term.

This foundation works well because it allows Helen to better tailor her content towards a specific audience, very much in line with . In short, the blog knows it It is a solid initial premise and one that can also serve her well in the long term.

With that said, going forward I would encourage her to ponder the following questions: What makes this content well-suited to the blogging format? What knowledge is imparted that distinguishes my posts from Yelp reviews or a “foodstagram”? By brainstorming some answers to these questions, I can envision an exciting future in which Helen leans further into her own unique opinions and investigates new possibilities for content.

Beyond the food/activity review structure (which seems to be the blog’s “bread and butter”), investigating other thematic pathways could present exciting avenues for readers to live vicariously though the author. For example, potential premises for engaging content might include replicating favourite restaurant dishes at home, trying out intimidating new activities like paddleboarding around English Bay, or chronicling a week of eating out on a relatable budget. Of course, it is perfectly okay if the author dislikes those specific suggestions: The point is that there is still somewhat of a need for Eats and Feats to distinguish itself as a unique voice amongst all the noise. I am simply suggesting that one way to “stand out from the crowd” would be by diversifying the scope of subject matter by incorporating an element of risk or challenge into future posts.

Granted, we must keep in mind that is always easier said than done! And, in fairness, Helen has made some subtle disclaimers that she views this website as a first step into navigating herself within the digital landscape. Thus, the everyday casualness to her tone is a natural and understandable extension of such a context.

All of this is only to say that I would encourage Helen to really go for it. Perhaps she wants to lean more into the diary-like lens of everyday adventures or perhaps her angle will be to illuminate the underrated underbelly of Vancity: Either way, she is already off to a solid, well-reasoned start, complete with enticing imagery and relevant information. Well done, Eats and Feats––I hope you continue your blog after our course wraps up so that I know what adventures I can explore during those long summer days!

Check out her extremely generous review of my blog here.

The post PEER REVIEW No.3: Eats and Feats appeared first on Messy Musings.

INAUTHENTIC INDIGENEITY: Ricky Gervais’ New Netflix Show Slammed For Featuring FAKE Australian Art

Why does indigenous art from around the world continue to be tokenized, misunderstood, and ripped off by creatives from the Western world?

This month, Ricky Gervais released his new miniseries, After Life, to critical acclaim. The darkly comedic Netflix show follows a recent widower, Tony, as he struggles with the death of his wife. In an attempt to cope, he turns to drugs in many living room scenes––all backgrounded by a large painting in the traditional style of Papunya art (from Indigenous Australians, commonly referred to as “Aboriginal” people).

However, much to the shock and dismay of many, fans of the show discovered that this artwork was a fake. It had instead been painted in 1999 by English artist Timna Woollard to be used by a prop company for film and television. In other words, there could not even be a claim of cross-cultural communication: Woollard’s poorly-researched “Aboriginal dot style painting” was explicitly created as a stand-in, selfishly and inconsiderately created to mimic and replace the real deal.

How did this happen? Why does it matter? Who is at fault? And how come this is far from the first time indigenous artistic traditions from around the world have been imitated without permission, credit, or financial benefit? This post will touch on all of these considerations.

The details in this case:

Firstly, I should acknowledge that the only reason this has come to our attention is thanks to an exclusive article by ABC News Australia’s national indigenous affairs reporter Isabella Higgins. I also recommend reviewing this excellent opinion piece by Ella Noah Bancroft, a Bundjalung artist. It provides a much-needed outline as to the impact of After Life‘s mistake.

We need to remember that this situation only arose because of the vast ignorance of non-Indigenous creatives. This screw up happened because several tiers of people in the artistic industry just couldn’t be bothered. They were not concerned with the ways in which oppression might be furthered through our attitudes to cultural artifacts (such as paintings), despite being in the arts themselves. It is worthwhile to review how many individuals’ laziness can collectively spiral into such a massive error which goes beyond a mere lapse in judgement.

First, there is Wollard, who seems to sample a wide variety of artistic traditions without much research or appreciation. Her bio suggests that she prides herself on being able to replicate any number of styles, claiming these skills to be a “best-kept secret” of the props industry. As follows, there was the original props company itself, who commissioned the fake no doubt because they felt they could not afford the real thing. Why didn’t they stop to question this? Perhaps because our culture tells us that good intentions trump all other wrongdoings (not so, if you ask me.) Finally, there were the set designers from Gervais’ show, After Life. Their responsibility is to create a built environment that suggests the protagonist has had a rich life. In their minds, perhaps he was a world traveler––someone who had gone to Australia and purchased the real deal, nevermind that this had no place in the script. Their error has less to do with researching the origins of this painting and more to do with their blatant acceptance of “exotic artifacts” as a useful tool for enriching these (white) characters’ inner world. In sum, these attitudes tells me that there is not much emphasis on due diligence when it comes to set design.

It is important to recognize that this form of painting is not simply a technique that can be mimicked. These paintings are a modern representation of ancient rock art that is thousands of years old, which served to preserve oral history of lands and beliefs of its people. Given the atrocious genocide and subsequent assimilation that Australia’s first peoples have been forced to endure, I would argue that this artform is deserving of far more respect and reverence than what little consideration the prop artist (Woollard) or Gervais’ show have failed to display.

While some people might say that imitation is a form of flattery, I would urge those people to remember that such tropes about art are largely constructed through a Western attitude towards this medium; its boundaries and its ethics included.

Similar instances in Canada:

For many marginalized Indigenous communities around the globe, there exists this particularly frustrating struggle. On the one hand, age-old artistic practices bring tourists and cultural distinction. On the other hand, these artforms are often plagiarized for cheap in a way that appeases consumers but fails to reward the real creators. This dynamic could be framed within the larger context of “misappropriation” or, as it has been termed more recently, “cultural appropriation.” The heart of the issue is that no meaningful cultural exchange occurs when outsiders mimick these cultural traditions for cheap; not only is it disrespectful to that cultural object’s dimensions of value, it is especially damaging in the practical sense that the money for Indigenous art does not flow back to Indigenous artists.

Unfortunately, there are some relevant local examples for those of us here in Canada, and particularly on these unceeded Coast Salish territories. There has been outcry against both blatant rip-offs and controversy surrounding supposedly well-intentioned non-Indigenous artists who have incorporated First Nations styles. So just because we North Americans may not feel personally involved in an Australian controversy does not mean that we are any better. The same injustices occur here and elsewhere around the world.

The take away:

Such cases must serve as important reminders for non-indigenous creators worldwide. We must all do better to acknowledge several things:

1. Western art history has a deeply problematic relationship to Indigenous art: For centuries, it was not seen as art. Then, it was imitated by now-icons (think Picasso and ‘primitivism‘), and that tradition of disrespect under the guise of inspiration continues today.

2. Colonialist and imperialist history necessitates special considerations for Indigenous art. These artworks are not just creative expressions done by individuals, but often have a profound connection to spirituality, ancient history, and community identity.

3. We need to emphasize education. Indigenous art deserves the spotlight, but that attention could perpetuate more rip-offs. Ignorance can be prevented if and when the institutions educating artists, set designers, etc., responsibly educate their students. As well, much more can be done to support ethical buying by raising awareness amongst tourists and local publics.

4. Our legal systems often fail to protect Indigenous art. Although Australia’s federal government has discussed these issues of inauthentic art and its consequences, its eight conclusive recommendations have yet to be implemented. There is still a need to clarify and specify protections through law in order to legitimize and prevent this cultural theft.

Art is not born in a vacuum, exempt from history and power dynamics.

At the end of the day, we would do well to remember that our individual attitudes towards artworks and contemporary social injustices can have more impact than we may realize. This story should not serve to shame, but rather to impress the necessity of personal responsibility. So, whether you are a collector of cultural objects, an art-maker, or a mere Netflix-binger, please remember that your critical reflections do matter. We are all implicated in these cultural controversies.

SELF AND SKY: Digital Collages

Women silhouettes jumping over a mountain range

Jellyfish with eyes overlooks a tent

Little boy looks out the window at the cosmos

Photographic sources (links):
> the women > the mountain range
> the jellyfish > the outpost > the aquatic eyes
> the child > the cosmos

Hope you found these my new collages to be enchanting. Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comment section below!

OPINION: How Adobe’s Misguided Subscription Model Reinforces Global Inequality

The move away from one-time purchases to monthly subscriptions (known as the “Creative Cloud”) has hindered creative opportunity for countless users across the world.
Mikaela Shannon

Ask anyone in the creative industry and they will tell you that the leading software comes from Adobe Inc. Their programs have become so ubiquitous with contemporary digital arts that the word “photoshopping”––a verb which references their famous photo retouching application, Photoshop––has become part of the lexicon. It almost goes without saying that their graphics software is considered unparalleled in quality, and I myself have grown up loving their range of applications and the seemingly endless artistic possibilities they afford.

As with any company, Adobe is understandably looking to make money and stay at the top of the game for as long as possible. However, in certain circles, there is also an unspoken attitude that Adobe’s go-to status amounts to somewhat of a monopoly over the creative industry.

We all know that great power comes with great responsibility, but I wonder if Adobe has really earned their seemingly untarnished reputation: Unlike other massive tech companies who have all been met with numerous disparaging headlines, whether from Google to Windows to Amazon, this company has managed to avoid the harsh reckonings of such a spotlight. And yet this absence of scrutiny is not due to a lack of questionable business decisions on their part.

Most notably, Adobe has tried to preemptively eliminate their competition by buying them out––specifically in a 2011 move that forced the FTC to intervene. Oddly, Adobe has managed to avoid appropriate critique given that the story was not championed by many (if any) major news organizations. Ask the average person and they have almost certainly never heard of any such controversy, despite likely having the latest version of Adobe Flash Player installed on their laptop.

So the real question is how has this unchallenged position affected their consumers?

In 2013, the company was well aware of its premiere status when it made a very controversial decision amongst their user-base: Adobe switched to a subscription-based model. Prior to the change, users regularly purchased application in bundles to be uploaded into harddrives. Any updates were made available through an internet connection, which Adobe eventually realized could be used to ensure that the software had indeed been legally purchased. After 30 years in business, this premise was what Adobe users had come to expect, so there was rightful outcry when Adobe announced their monumental change.

However, because Adobe had come to dominate the creative industry, the backlash could simply ignored. This is still true today, five years after the new dynamic was introduced, despite sometimes drastic hikes to the monthly fee. (At present, you can pay $20USD/month for a single app, or $52USD/month for all apps excluding Adobe Stock.)

To their credit, subscription services seemingly unavoidable these days and many new companies have revolutionized their industries through this model. But the key difference is that hugely successful giants such as Spotify and Netflix are companies that provide professional, pre-made content for the sake of entertainment. Conversely, Adobe only provides software, or the gateway to creation, to businesses across the creative industry.

It is not as though a graphic design firm, whose entire staff will have spent thousands of dollars in schooling to become expertly familiar with this software, is going to have any alternative than to comply with Adobe’s decisions. This company knows that we are dependant and, unfortunately, they know that they can exploit that reliance.

I am not the first person to write about Adobe’s subscription controversy, so I won’t delve any further into the details of the switch. Instead, I’d like to point out a key issue that has gone virtually unaddressed in all of this uproar: Adobe subscriptions are not available worldwide.

In fact, prominent countries such as Iceland, Nigeria, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Jamaica lack any access through their website. While it is understandable that licensing agreements may be hindered by particular governments, Adobe doesn’t seem to be picking and choosing its licensing choices based on the ethics of a country’s governance.

Instead, Adobe would probably argue that their lack of availability issue of demand, but even that reasoning doesn’t acknowledge Adobe’s role in widening the disparity between “developed” and “undeveloped” nations. Even with a quick glance over the unsupported countries, it is pretty obvious that a lot of these countries are in Africa; a continent which should no longer be ignored given its immense predicted growth.

At the end of the day, the issue is this: Prior to Creative Cloud, Adobe users had much better access to these valuable applications, regardless of where they live. I have seen firsthand that these technological barriers are hindering artistic entrepreneurship and opportunity in these countries, particularly for creative teams.

Going forward, I would like to see Adobe spearhead some initiatives to counterbalance this discrepancy. How is the rest of the creative world supposed to catch up when they don’t have access to the same tools? The answer is that they can’t, and that is deeply disturbing.

PEER REVIEW No.2: Aylin Gis’ Blog

Examining the design of a fashion & lifestyle website.

This week, we will be taking a look at my lovely classmate’s blog, Aylin Gis. Named after the author herself, this website covers a variety of topics––from fashion trends, to product reviews, to lifestyle photography––all seamlessly unified under her personal identity and brand! My task will be to identify her stylistic choices and offer feedback as to whether these decisions either advance or detract from her content overall. For clarity, I have gathered my thoughts into three sections; atmosphere, imagery, authorial presence, and formatting.

A view of the homepage.


Aylin has chosen a refreshingly minimalistic, crisp look for her website. This is a strong decision that makes every subsequent visual element much more prominent, therefore presenting both opportunities and challenges. The overall impression is fairly light and airy thanks to the choices in typeface; thin sans serifs that are appropriately modern without being too trendy and an excellent initial decision for this blog. Because the text is always black on white, the only colour on the page comes from the images (more on those later) which certainly draws the eye towards the content, encouraging us to click. These are all important aspects to the overall look of the website that do function well to establish the perfect mood for us to enter into Aylin’s content.

However, I would love to see a bigger impact from Aylin’s homepage. Besides the title, there is no establishing focal point for readers to grab onto, and as we learned from Mauve Pagé’s guest lecture, this makes things a bit disorienting. So, a more dramatic and unifying element is necessary; both to more immediately convey a sense of uniqueness and to distinguish the homepage from subsequent pages.

Seeing as Aylin has a passion for photography, the natural solution to this focal point problem would be to introduce a website-wide area for banner imagery. If we take a look at Aylin’s theme, Kale, this can be easily accomplished by selecting some featured posts with strong imagery to be highlighted. Luckily, Aylin has a variety of photography posted already and this is the perfect opportunity to highlight past efforts and ensure that these posts don’t get lost. Assuming these are original images (it is unclear), I think this seascape, these barnyard outfits, and this flat-lay would be perfect stars.

In sum, it is clear that Aylin has the right mood in mind but she should consider making a stronger impression by introducing a focal point to convey a unique sense of place, which is lacking at present.


As mentioned earlier, Aylin is clearly well-tuned to the nuances of images, I suspect in a manner that is akin to Tara Chittenden’s explanation of “aesthetic socialisation” whereby bloggers utilize the right visual codes to convey their familiarity with culturally significant trends. In selecting the thumbnail imagery for her posts, Aylin expertly utilizes photo curation and filtration techniques to convey a desired impression to her viewers. It seems these images are fairly consistent in that they are distinctly feminine, approachable, and a tad romantic––all qualities that work well to enhance the written content. In sum, Aylin’s confident selection of both stock and personal pictures is an important foundation to her website’s success given that she has chosen an otherwise sparse layout.

On the whole, Aylin’s colourful thumbnails jump from the page, sparkling like enticing little jewels, all lined up in rows. This orderly appearance, whereby all the posts appear as the same size on the homepage, could be slightly better maintained by making sure all the thumbnails are always properly cropped and scaled to be the exact same size. This inconsistency unfortunately appears repeatedly on this blog. While that may seem a minor adjustment, it is an important consideration when using a minimalistic layout.

Which one is Aylin? After clicking into the posts, I am pretty sure
that is her on the bottom left (the others are stock imagery).

(via visuals to enhance brand)

These chosen images (above) seem to indicate that Aylin wants to integrate a sense of personhood into the visual vocabulary of the website. I feel the often personal perspective to Aylin’s content is not yet fully reflected in the visuals: There is perhaps a disconnect between the title of my classmate’s blog, Aylin Gis, and the fact that viewer’s don’t have a clear sense of who she is. (It is fine that Aylin seems to be a bit camera shy in her poses, but I find this puzzling because Aylin Gis has previously stated her affection for another fashion blogger, Aylin Koeing, whose coy positioning of face and body is the great uniting factor of that aspirational blog.)

After all, recognition brings familiarity and a sense of legitimacy that I think could be useful here; differentiating from stock imagery would also be key if Aylin is interested in partnering with brands or building up a fanbase. (Chittenden refers to this ideal position as “prosumer”––a hybrid of consumer and producer that acknowledges the monetization of blogs, whereby imagery is a key player in that success.) In brief, I would encourage Aylin to produce more original imagery of products, everyday life, and herself, whenever possible. In prior posts, when she has had the time, I better understood the future potential and look of Aylin’s blog.

There is one simple thing that can be done right away to enhance the personal aspect: I would encourage Aylin to make the About Me a more prominent visual element. She already has a brief About Me page, along with its charming picture, which could communicate a sense of orientation and permanency by being positioned into the right side of the blog (again possible according to the Kale theme demo). This would also add a sense of balance to the front page and is much more do-able than designing a logo.


The trouble with formatting is that it can be very tricky to achieve good-looking text using WordPress. However, by looking back to the beginning of the semester as compared to now, I can see that Aylin is doing a great deal of necessary experimenting to appropriately improve the legibility of her text.

In the beginning, the text was very small with unappealing proportions and little spacing, but Aylin’s latest posts have enormously improved by increasing the type size. Her site is legible across devices as well. One small improvement that could be made is by increasing the spacing between text paragraphs and images. As you can see below, Aylin is careful to create wonderful spacing between images themselves (right) but her text could use some breathing room and a better proportion between line length and image width (left).

Overall, as demonstrated through our above discussion of her visual choices, Aylin clearly has a great aesthetic sensibility! I have every confidence that this will help her navigate future design decisions with clarity. With that said, there are a lot of easily-accessible customization options for her theme that have yet to be explored. My hope is that she will implement some of my suggestions, with the primary goal being a more impactful and considered representation of her content. Although there is certainly room for improvement, we can see that Aylin has already taken it upon herself to steadily improve the look of her digital space.

I look forward to seeing Aylin’s body of content grow by the end of the semester. Please have a look at her review of this website, which offered up some tremendously insightful suggestions. (Thank you, Aylin!)

Beauty in Blur

Sometimes, rules are meant to be broken. Contemporary photography no longer needs to be in focus to prove its excellence.
Rinko Kawauchi’s Untitled, from the series Murmuration (2010).

Humour me this: Have you ever wondered why those really, reaaally old photographs from the 18th century seem so creepy? When we see the stern faces from that era, it is natural to misinterpret their tense, expressionless demeanours as indicative of the times––often perceived as darker and more dismal. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth! People from back then were just as jovial as we are today, but these emotions simply had no place in photography at the time.

Peculiar as this may seem, it all makes sense when we consider the inadequate photographic technology they had at their disposal (namely, the Daguerrotype). People had to hold very still for their pricey portraits, which even required several long minutes to expose. A somber face was not only easier to capture but also followed the painterly tradition of the perfectly posed subject. Most importantly, with crisper detail came an enhanced likeness.  

As a result of the above attitude, the next century brought about photographic improvements which sought to improve on the medium’s capacity to best reflect reality. Keeping in mind that photographs were two-dimensional preservations of a moment, the logic that followed was that the best preservation of memory came with a sharper rendering.

Now that we have reached the twenty-first century, we have absolutely perfected the techniques of high-definition photography. With this mastery achieved, the time has come to question the long-held belief that photographs should always be in focus.

Here are outstanding contemporary photographers whose work subverts that outdated ideal:


Rinko Kawauchi’s Untitled, from the series ‘HANABI’, 2001.

Widely recognized as one of Japan’s foremost photographers, Kawauchi is known for her ambiguous and poetic style. Her selected photographs undeniably evoke feelings, often nostalgic ones, despite photographing fairly ordinary subjects. In the case of Kawauchi, blur perfectly compliments the luminous washes of colour that distinguish her photographs by highlighting the temporal nature of the moment. This artist’s practice is founded in her extraordinary ability to capture the world as if filtered through memory.


Ground #70 (1996), by Uta Barth.

Berlin-born Uta Barth seeks to puzzle her viewers into further contemplation. By focusing her camera on areas seemingly devoid of meaningful subject matter, this artist consistently seeks to call the viewer’s habits of looking into question: “How can I make you aware of your own activity of looking, instead of losing your attention to thoughts about what it is that you are looking at?” Barth expertly toys with traditional compositional rules and upsets standards of foreground/background relationships. For her, since photography (in its purest form) has always been an endeavour to collect light itself, and her mundane subject matter allows this conceptual premise to be highlighted over anything else.


Untitled, from the series New Now (2009), by Gaston Bertin.

Parsons graduate Gaston Bertin creates curious interactions between colours which, although reminiscent of pop art’s commercialized delights, still investigate a more contemplative relationship to the photographic medium. By abstracting some initial collages, his nonfigurative photographic creations do inevitably pull from both painting and sculpture as well. However, Bertin seeks to remove us from their materiality through effacing that recognizability, calling into question the fundamental ways we seek to identify reality through sight and its more tangible offspring, photographic prints. In his artist statement, he concludes that “[his] photographs do not transform reality into images, but transform images into reality.”


Lauren Nakadate’s #172, from the series Lucky Tiger, (2009).

This multi-disciplinary artist treats her printed self-portraits as documents less as extensions of self and more as material actors capable of acquiring their own histories; gathering fingerprint evidence of everyone who has (literally) laid their hands on them. Overall, Nakadate’s practice seeks to complicates the charged theme of women’s objectification. In this series, she invites a strangers from the internet (middle-aged men) to handle her coy self portraits (akin to soft pornography) so long as they agree to inking up their fingers beforehand. Through this consensual process, she materializes and complicates the sexually charged power dynamics at play in photographic representations of women’s bodies, thereby merging that discourse by locating it both within fine art and popular media.

Nakadate explores the same goal as all of the photographers above in that she seeks to draw our attention to the ambiguities of viewing through the use of two kinds of blur. Firstly, with the gentle, homemade aura of her camera’s soft focus as it skims the contours of her body. Secondly, in the disruptive fingerprints on the surface of the material photograph, which materialize and mimic the hasty and sometimes messy way that a viewer’s perception interacts with what is represented. While Nakadate’s process is not so much an overt example of the camera’s ability to blur, her premise still interestingly pin points the main conceptual pulse behind that act of “blurring a photograph”.

All of the photographers above seek to draw our attention to the ambiguities of viewing through the use of blur. So, whether this is done to capture a sense of motion that implies an relatable sense of ephemerality, or to complicate conventions of a subject’s representation, such acts of blurring all effectively challenge their viewers. These blurs enable the photograph to demand a more considered contemplation, beyond aesthetics and composition; one that prompts deeper questions as to the purpose of photography. Each of these artists prove that a well-executed photograph is not necessarily a sharp one.