Rey Cuba, Cartier-Bresson, and Voja Mitrovic

Nikon D300s

I read various blogs and engage with other photographers quite a bit. On a recent tweet exchange with my friend Rey from Cuba I had told him to send me some raw files from various scenes from different regions and Rey happily obliged. I really didn’t specify to much until I saw the first .nef file. Yes, Rey is a faithful Nikonian and Nikon gear runs deep within his veins. Then I saw this first image, some ruins and I loved the composition it totally blew me away. I immediately recognized that its potential had not been reached. Like many us, Rey has a multitude of files he simply has not gotten around to process. I won’t speculate as to the reason why Rey hadn’t gotten around to touching these files but I can only imagine life itself sometimes doesn’t give us enough time along with our other responsibilities of adulthood but I can totally relate when I peruse my own Lightroom files[Don’t forget to read the morale of the post below].

Nikon D300s

First of all, I think its quite apparent that the composition is simply delightful. The road ahead as the suns sets, the beautiful ruins probably dating back 400 years, the textures, it all needed a makeover in order to come alive. So right into Lightroom it goes and I started from a preset and started tweaking from there, adding some brushes and boom I finally arrived at this.

Nikon D300s

I rather like it and so did Rey, he communicated to me that the new image got a dimensional makeover which it didn’t have. I’m hoping he chimes in on the comments with some background information on how he saw these shots.

Subsequent to this first processing job, I immediately tweeted Rey to please send me something that would qualify as street photography as I wanted something else and again Rey obliged. Gotta love this intercultural photography exchanges! Here’s the original frame and it was again apparent to me that the composition was great but the frame was missing some tender loving care.

Nikon D300s

I debated whether to process this image in black and white first after a few exposure corrections but immediately I knew it need to be in color. Cuba is a country riddled with scenes and scenes some of us have never seen before and I didn’t want to leave it to the viewers imagination. Here’s my version of this image.

Nikon D300s

Again, I’m happy Rey loved them and I think the morale of the story here is to never throw away your files. You never know what will happen with a little time on your side. Another thing that blew away was the astounding amount of details that can be extracted from a Nikon D300S. Processing these files was simply delightful, I felt like I was drawing and had a great brush and canvas.

Nikon D300S

Nikon D300S
If you have not visited Rey’s blog Desde Mi Habana make sure to have a look. Rey’s site is filled with wonderful idyllic scenes from Cuba from all genres. Thanks Rey for being such a sport.


Twitter Conversation with Wouter Brandsma

Above is our conversation and I wanted to expand on a few points because my initial tweet generated the discussion between Wouter and myself. Photography, the actual act of photographing, is undoubtedly a seperate process from the art of actually post processing ones images. As John Sexton once said:

For me the printing process is part of the magic of photography. It’s that magic that can be exciting, disappointing, rewarding and frustrating all in the same few moments in the darkroom.

You see I too agree with my friend Wouter. Moment, composition, and lighting are all important but its my humble opinion that you can’t really separate it from another aspect – the actual printing or post processing. What good is to have a wonderful exposure if it lacks on the print or processing quality. Some may argue that it needs very little but its my contention that even great exposure benefit tremendously from post processing. Just look around but if you must just look at photography images from just about any photographer, what we see, is the glorified printed or post processed version. So that discard post processing as not “photography” is a tricky path to follow.

A little known fact is that even the greats but we’ll focus on one, Cartier-Bresson, didn’t print any of his images. Yes, the iconic images we’re use to seeing all over the web, photography books, posters, and more. It turns out HCB et al. delegated such a task to a master printer. Someone that could extract all the image had to offer in the most creative and representative manner in accordance with the artist’s vision. His name, Voja Mitrovic, a Yugoslavian master printer who dedicated his life to printing the masterpieces of many world renowned photographers. To quote a paragraph from a post published on the great site “The Online Photographer” titled Voja Mitrovic, Printer to the Greats (Part I). [Part II here]

A large number of the signed prints of H.C.-B. on any wall in the world printed from 1967–1997 were made by Voja—this fact is little known. He also printed at various times for many of the world’s other master photographers: Sebastio Salgado, Werner Bischof, René Burri, Marc Riboud, Robert Doisneau, Edouard Boubat, Man Ray, Atget, Helmut Newton, Raymond Depardon, Bruno Barbey, Jean Gaumy, Frederic Brenner, Max Vadukul, and Peter Lindbergh to name a few. I have had the great fortune that Voja has been my printer for the past twenty years.

So to conclude, by saying “its not photography” I beg differ, its just as important as the actual process of capturing the images. I don’t think we can separate the two, photography & post processing, because what would these pillars have done without their Mr. Mitrovic. Certainly there were other great printers but I think its clear that these giants trusted the hands and also the vision of set forth by Mr. Mitrovic work to such a degree that they delegated such an important part of the creative process.


Addendum

I think its great to use one’s blog to expand on thoughts that sometime Twitter can’t really be used for. I welcome a friendly exchange of a different perspective Wouter if you would like a follow up post on this issue.

21 thoughts on “Rey Cuba, Cartier-Bresson, and Voja Mitrovic

  1. This is a subject matter that is very close to my heart. I have seen this strange idea that post processing somehow devalues photography, and I just don’t understand it. I have had people who use the effects and auto settings on their expensive dslr cameras tell me that it takes more talent to take a “good photograph” with a camera then to adjust it afterward. However, when i look at these “good photographs” all I see are the areas that I would improve in post processing. This is very confusing to me. Aren’t we all just utilizing tools? Isn’t a camera just a tool to be mastered just like photoshop? Isn’t it the way that you use your tools to create a final end result the same, whether it is using lighting, backdrops, lens or brushes, filters and effects? Isn’t the end result what determines the ultimate worth of the art/artist, not how they arrived at that conclusion?

    1. I agree with you 150% because you’re correct in all those assertions. The final print is the one that counts or just Ansel Adams or any of the greats. 🙂 Thanks for you chiming, I certainly appreciate your comment. I blog to share but also to engage in meaningful conversation with like minded folks like yourself and others. Cheers

  2. Jorge,
    Your photography and interpretation of seemingly (and only that) ordinary compositions are elegant and eye-boggling, and door openers for amateur photographers and/or aesthetically demanding viewers. I might be one of those though i am not convinced of having any real talent. I would like to try to post process some of the photos that I have snapped. Up until now – don’t laugh ! – I have been using Picasa for editing before printing or creating albums. Where should I go from here ? I’m eager, thanks to you, to move on but don’t know where to start. Lightroom ? I love what you did to Rey’s “ruins in Cuba” photo.
    Thank you so much for reading this and for your help.
    Regards, Nathalie

    1. Nathalie you’re welcome and again if you’re on the Mac, try Snap Seed from Nik Software or Analog Color(mac and pc) and you’ll be on your way. If you need help don’t hesitate to ask. Cheers.

  3. It is, for me anyway, interesting to realize that both HCB and AA were classically trained in other art forms prior to taking up photography.  Cartier-Bresson, spent several years of classical art training in the painting salon(s) of Paris.  The sense of composition and proportion he learned there were nearly always evident in his photographs.  And he also learned that what the artist put on his canvass was not later to be trifled with.  His whole career he fought to prevent publications using his images from cropping them and thus upsetting the balance, proportion, and human context that he put on the film/canvas.
     
    AA, by contrast, was trained as a musician. For many years as a young man his intent was to become a concert pianist. He learned that the notes put on paper by the composer were a starting place for a largely spiritual interpretation of the emotions those notes invoked. His photography was mostly of the natural world and he was confronted by several limitations in his materials when trying to invoke in the viewer of his images the same sense of awe and wonder and outside of man spirituality he had felt when confronting the scene live. He knew that the human eye/brain combination was much more able and subtle than his film. Thus he worked years to develop the zone system, essentially an exposure discipline in light of intended development and printing protocols, in order to facilitate his ends.
     
    The painter HCB wanted no subsequent messing about with his original canvass which, if he was successful, caught that fleeting critical moment when something particularly human, from absurd to grandiloquent, unfolded before his viewfinder and in service of which he had applied all of his considerable compositional skills to provide an appropriate proportion and context.
     
    AA, the musician, took the scene to be notes on paper that his images interpreted in search, not of the quintessentially human, but of a universal spirituality that transcended everyday man and called him higher. In so doing he controlled all that he could control in the hope that his image could provide to the viewer a substantial portion of the emotional response that his eye/brain combination had allowed him in the first place. Since he was photographing the natural world, he was constrained in this endeavor by the need that his image not look unnatural. Still, his was a fundamentally interpretive process.
     

    In my view, both “methods” were entirely appropriate and effective in service of the aims of their practitioner.  
     
    I would suggest that the pixel level “processing” currently available is several degrees beyond what AA could accomplish with careful exposure, specialized development in support of that exposure, and agonizingly precise printing. Thus the new computerized processing engines contain what can be a sirens’ song calling the would be artist to disaster on the rocks of “because I can”. As I have viewed your site, Jorge, (love it, btw) I see no other images as evidently highly processed as these three by Rey. Only you can appropriately judge why that is.
     

    1. Thanks for chiming in Greg, I appreciate it. Wonderful comparison between HCB & AA, most definitely two worlds apart but yet so close. Processing someone’s images a tricky thing and as the initial tweet mentions it was an experiment on two fronts, one the visual imagery and two, the actual nikon raw file from the D300S. I was genuinely impressed with the level of detail that can be extracted from these cameras and something that was completely new to me as I shoot with Micro Four Thirds and small compacts.
       
      On the first, the visual imagery, its a tough scenario because I was not there to interpret the scene as the original photographer’s eyes. My view is a conflicted view because I’m trying to make something out a raw negative which my eyes were blind to its creation. I suppose its a catch-22 but such is life and I wanted some Cuban imagery I had not seen before.
       
      On the second point, the raw image and its data extraction, I must say I was blown away. I know its not an apples to apples comparison but the differences between formats is truly enlightening [ a fact I’ve always known but had not really taken it to this degree ]. Was I successful in the let us say “final print” I think so because I applied my preconceived vision to something completely not mine. Was it too much, hmm, perhaps, was it a departure as you’ve clearly notice, for sure, but that’s the beauty, its all a path with trials and tribulations, moods swings, and in the end a final vision. Cheers Greg.

      1. But for that path of personal vision you can’t ignore the personal intent of the photographer. Mitrovic likely knew well enough what HCB wanted so he became an extension of HCB’s path. I have tried it before to process photographs taken by others, but I struggle. I need to know that path. Reason for me why I emphasize the photographic process until I press that shutter even more.

        1. I agree with you Wouter. Processing someone else’s images is certainly a struggle for all the reasons I’ve already expanded on but more so than that its the fact that we lack the photographer’s vision and ultimately use our own. In the case of Mitrovic & HCB I think they probably spent many hours working on that vision as a team, hence their run for 30yrs. Isn’t that incredible, throughout that process, they became one, but I wonder how much did Mitrovic struggle to maintain HCB’s vision and perhaps not put some of his own which I think its an inevitable fact wouldn’t you say.

          1. I think Mitrovic must have been full of doubt, almost always. After so many years he must have known HCB a bit, but I think there were many things HCB didn’t tell. The little things that made sense to understand HCB’s memories and thoughts.
             
            So what you can extract in the raw image is just the ones and zeros, but never the true essence of a photograph.

          2. I know right, the mysteries of HCB and his decisive moments will probably elude for us and the future generations of photography admirers. I wonder if he confided in his wife with such secrets or ultimately he took them to the grave, it most certainly makes for an interesting discussion with cheese and wine and viewing a few projected slides of HCB.

  4. I didn´t finished yesterday my comment sorry about that, but i haven´t said yet that after reading your so well documented story about Voja Mitrovic and it´s unknown life behind the end result of the job of so many talented and acknowledge photographers, it remains me how much of our present digital job could be diminished by the ultra defenders of the old school photography.

    I´ve been an admirer of Helmut Newton´s job, how much of this credit could be in Mitrovic´s hands and sensibility, I guess that all part of the photography process should be take into consideration, all of them with respect.

    A friend of mine is an excellent creative artist and he love photography as part of the creation process, but he didn´t know what´s going on behind the raw file, what´s the essence and how take the best of it. We can´t give tech aspect more than they deserve, but we shouldn´t get reluctant to understand it and apply.

    Technology is part of the evolving process of humanity and photography is not behind the wheel, all of the aspects should be take into account.

    I want to thank you once more for using some of my images to illustrated your point and created this time after the captured process ended.

  5. My statement was bold and maybe exaggerated. In physical terms post processing is part of photography. It is necessary to get from A to B, from recognizing a moment to a finished print.

     
    But there is also a mental photography process and their emphasizes might change over time. Where Ansel Adams photographed with the finished product in mind, I think it was absolutely of no interest to HCB. For him the moment, the decisive moment, was everything in photography. And sure he knew how the finished product should look like, but he trusted his printer to do that physical part of photography. For his printer it likely wasn’t photography.
     
    One other very important reason for me why I made the first statement too was the distinction between exposure correcting and color grading (terms from the film industry). While I think you succeeded successfully in applying a distinctive look to all images (color grading), especially the first two images needed heavy exposure correcting. And for me personally there is something with fixing images. I used to do so too, but with gaining more experience and knowledge I learned that the essence in photography is more on exposing intentionally, recognizing the moment, and composing thoughtfully. I believe the intentions in post processing should be for most in color grading and not too much in fixing a wrong exposure or bad framing.
     
    It is all about priority I believe. A good read, Jorge, and much appreciated.

    1. I tend to agree with you on these point but in the end, I think I rather go with the “final print” as they say, which is the one that seals that indelible imagery behind in your thoughts. Priorities are great and are certainly a nice framework from which to establish a workflow from beginning to end but that’s what makes each photographer different, their priorities, as they evolve in this craft. Thanks for elucidating your thoughts more Wouter!

      1. I saw a short documentary at flakphoto and a man made a truly thoughtful statement. He said: “If you don’t have memories, you don’t have anything”.
         

        To look beyond the post processing it only makes sense to me when the images being processed are my memories.

        1. I most definitely agree Wouter, excellent addendum and a wonderful conclusion to this exchange. Its these kinds of exchange I look forward to being a part off, you know what I mean. Cheers.

  6. First of all I need to give you the biggest of thanks because this opportunity you gave me, sometimes as a photographer you move from one place to another as life move you through a certain road. Since a few years i´ve been studying, learning and digesting light, manners, rules, laws, experiences from a lot of photographers.
     

    Getting in touch with your approach to photography made quite an impact in the way I look at this complex and wonderful world of images, your knowledge, own experiences, the photographers you admire and follow or lately our twitter conversations about the programs you use have opened my eyes to a new philosophical base.
     

    I´ve been following your blog and flickr experiences, because your images, it´s treatment had always amazed me, I always wanted to know how deep you go on the creation process, how you turn the daily life in alter experience and as soon as you mention me the possibility of using some of my nef files I started wondering which of my many archives could be turn into something else by your hand.

     
    The first image was shot in Cojimar a little fisherman town, who is close were I live. It´s the place who inspire Hemingway to writte his novel “The old man and the sea”. Looking at this old building at a summer afternoon and smelling the near sea was magical, how much history in it´s walls. Across the street Hemingway got an spot to look at the sea a find his inspiration. When Ledesma sent me back the file with his own version, I realize somehow he captures lighting magic that surrounds this spot, turning history into a big actual breeze.
     
    The second photo was in Matanzas city, the called city of bridges, I always been enchanting by the magic of his narrow streets and the hill views, in this particular time we were travelling near “Puente de la Plaza” bridge and it was really a sunny afternoon almost 2pm, the sun strikes really hard, so I tweak my Nikon D300s to avoid missing any details of the street scene, at the background is located an small bar and this couple went out and started walking in my direction, so I started shooting at the truck behind and waits until they came into the compose scene.
     
    Matanzas man have a reputation in Cuba to be fierce and problematic, so I dind´t measure light on his white clothe but his wife and this guy give me an strong look, so i made my shot and continue in the same spot shooting at the truck once they continued their Sunday afternoon walk. Once Ledesma gave me back the working file I was again in the scene feeling the same as this Sunday, but the most amazing is that light was the major character here, he turn the place in one of the Ledesma´s dreamed fantastic scenarios and the main characters actors from a film.
     

    1. Rey, thanks for sharing these images, they certainly give us a view which I would dare to say, most of us have not seen. Excellent stories behind the “clicks.” Sometimes, the story behind the images is the most interesting bit, but then again, imagery with a story goes a long way.

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