DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Stereo Botanicals

Filed under: Photography: Stereoscopic — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 21:43
Looking Down, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Looking Down, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

If you’re ready for a new life drawing post, click over to Museworthy, where the great art model and my blogging mentor Claudia has posted about our recent session working together in my studio, with photos and drawings!

I like to use stereoscopic photography to study the shapes of things in space – especially complex forms like those of trees and flowers, which can only really be understood in three dimensions. Flat photographs of plants are like pressed flowers – still lovely, but a certain violence has been done.

Stereo photographs reproduce human spatial perception. To see depth in the images in this post, you’ll need a pair of common red/cyan 3D glasses. If you don’t have a pair lying around, you can get one for free here. Ask for red/cyan anaglyph 3D glasses. If you look at these photos without the glasses, you’re missing a lot!

The originals of these photos were in color, but I don’t like any of the methods for presenting stereo photos in color on the web, so I’ve converted them to monochrome for this post. Most pictures of plants and flowers dazzle us with colorfulness, but here we’ll get rid of that distracting factor the better to study forms in space.

Lyman Conservatory at the Botanic Garden of Smith College, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Lyman Conservatory at the Botanic Garden of Smith College, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

My brother Frank lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, a lovely and lively town that is the home of Smith College. The campus has wonderful landscaping and botanical gardens, including this magnificent victorian-era Lyman Conservatory, which houses over 2500 species of plants from around the world. It’s one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in town to hang with Frank, and all of the pictures in this post were taken on the Smith College campus last June.

Conservatory Door, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Conservatory Door, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

This tree forms a kind of leafy dome under which one may take shelter from sun or rain.

View from Under the Weeping Beech, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

View from Under the Weeping Beech, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

The campus has a good-sized lake surrounded by woods where students can wander the paths and ponder on questions and wonder at the glorious diversity of earthly lifeforms.

Paradise Pond, Smith College, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Paradise Pond, Smith College, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

The shapes of the land itself are organic forms, just as much as are the living things that adorn the hillocks and hollows of that sod.

Grassy Slope, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Grassy Slope, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Whatever dies falls down and is recycled in water and earth and its vitality bursts up out of the muck.

Marsh, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Marsh, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Every kind of plant has its own characteristic kinds of leaves and patterns of growth, and there seems to be no limit to the variations that can thrive given the right conditions.

Japanese Maple, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Japanese Maple, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Some are soft and some are spiky, some yielding and some aggressive. The different forms are like different personalities.

Fir Tree, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Fir Tree, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Plant forms reach out into space to gather energy from light and air and matter from earth and water. Every plant is an alchemical flask of transformation.

Negative Spaces, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Negative Spaces, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Contemplating nature requires all the senses: smell and taste, touch and sight and hearing, intuition and reason.

Mixed Leaf Types, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Mixed Leaf Types, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Nature is reaching out to us, asking us to reconnect, to remember that we are beings of Earth. Alas, we have isolated ourselves in pods and given all our attention to things that flash and sparkle and pretend to respond to us.

Lanceolate Clusters, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Lanceolate Clusters, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

If soft nature cannot touch us, sharp and prickly nature will some day come to bear.

Agave, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Agave, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

The world seems to be a perfect laboratory for generating changing conditions, to which life must respond by adapting into astonishing and wondrous forms.

Cacti, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Cacti, 2013, by Fred Hatt

While we dispute over abstractions, the ever-flowing life force manifests all around us in a billion ways, always aborning, dying, and being born again.

Four-Way Bud, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Four-Way Bud, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

We dream of being visited by alien spacemen that talk and use technology like we do, imagining they will bring us wisdom, while the real deep wisdom shows itself to us in the ever-changing costumes of thriving things and feeling creatures.

Purple Iris, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Purple Iris, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

Stop for a moment, stop using and consuming everything, stop entertaining yourself, stop competing with everyone. Look, and touch, and smell. You don’t need to meditate on a mountaintop. The magic is right here.

White Irises, 2013, photo by Fred Hatt

All of these photos were taken with a regular digital SLR camera, by taking one shot as a left-eye view and then shifting a few inches to take a second shot as a right-eye view. Alignment and conversion into anaglyphs was done with the great free software StereoPhoto Maker, which can also convert to many other formats of stereo photography.

Previous posts of stereo photography are here and here.

I love looking at plants but I’m no expert. If you notice that I’ve mislabeled anything here, please let me know in comments.




Three Worlds, 1955, lithograph by M. C. Escher

Recently, a cluster of unrelated events have turned my thoughts to the visual perception of space.  To be honest, it’s always been a preoccupation.  For several months I’ve been using the Escher print pictured above as my computer desktop image.  It’s an elegant depiction of the world of the surface, a higher world that is seen mirrored in the surface, and a third world that is glimpsed in the depths.  This can be taken as a simple image of the beauty of transparency and reflection, or it can be related to the cosmology that is common to shamanic cultures worldwide, where the world of our everyday experience exists between and influenced by both an upper realm of celestial patterns and an underworld of earthly spirits.  Our prehistoric and ancient ancestors have left us evidence of their engagement with the upper world through their sophisticated models of the movements of heavenly bodies, and of their journeying in the lower world through caves populated with powerfully rendered animal spirits.

I’ve always been fascinated by paleolithic art, and have posted about it previously, so of course when I heard that Werner Herzog had made a documentary film about the Chauvet Cave, the oldest painted cave yet discovered, I knew this was a film I had to see.  Here’s a publicity still of the director posing with an archaeologist who appears in the film dressed in an ice age fur suit and plays a reconstruction of a 35,000 year-old vulture-bone flute (sound file at the link).

Film director Werner Herzog, cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger, and archaeologist Wulf Hein on location for the 2011 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams

You’ll notice that Herzog’s cinematographer, in the background, is holding a camera that has two side-by-side lenses.  That’s a 3D or stereoscopic camera.  We perceive depth partly through the way our brains process the input from two eyes offset from each other by a few inches, and 3D photography, which has been around nearly since the invention of photography, simulates depth perception by showing each of our eyes a slightly different view of the scene.

(I’ve also had a long interest in stereoscopic photography, and have posted some of my own 3D images in the posts “Shapes of Things” and “Depth Perception“, and even a 3D video in “3D or not 3D“.)

I’m not particularly fond of the current 3D digital projection processes –  there are several variants, all of which I find rob the cinematic image of much of its brightness and color, and are generally distracting and tiring to the eyes.  (Not to mention that a lot of films these days are shot normally, and then turned into fake, simulated 3D, which can look really terrible.)  But in Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the technique is effective in giving us the feeling of what it’s like to be inside the cave, and of how the artwork is integrated into the organic bulges and hollows of the limestone walls.  It’s the closest most of us will get to being able to be inside a real paleolithic painted cave.

One effect of seeing a 3D film is that it can make you more conscious of depth perception in everyday life.  But here’s something different and odd.  I went with a friend to take a look at this new sculpture, Echo, by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, that’s been installed through August 14, 2011, in Madison Square Park in Manhattan.  It’s a 44-foot (13.4 meter) tall head of a child, with eyes closed and a tranquil expression.  My friend said she couldn’t escape the illusion, when seeing the statue from a distance, that it was flat, like a cutout, and I had the same experience.  Seen from up close, it’s clearly three-dimensional, but from a distance it has an eerie, unreal quality.  It is surely an uncanny object.

Echo, 2011 sculpture by Jaume Plensa, Madison Square Park, New York City, 2011 photo by Fred Hatt

It appears that the scale of the vertical dimension is approximately double the scale of the horizontal dimensions.  Plensa uses 3D computer modeling to create his works, and here he has started from a realistic form, elongating it and softening the edges of the features.  The surface of the sculpture is cast in polyester resin and coated with white marble dust.  The reflective, almost translucent-looking whiteness, the simplicity of the forms and the serene blankness of the expression, the monumental size, and the lack of a pedestal all help to make Echo look like an eerie vision.  I believe the illusion of flatness is caused by the elongated scale.  We’re used to seeing huge flat pictures on billboards, and often from angles that distort the images in ways similar to the distortion of Echo.  When we see a huge face distorted, our minds assume that we are seeing a flat image from an oblique angle.  We are so habituated to seeing things that way that it is difficult to overcome the illusion even when we know what we are looking at.

Another eerie white object that appears flat even though we know it is round is the moon.  I came across this photo recently on the fantastic Nasa Astronomy Picture of the Day site, a bottomless fountain of beauty on the web.  If you look at this picture with cheap red-cyan 3D glasses (available free here), the moon looms out at you like the sphere it is.  Of course the moon is far too distant for the normal parallax separation of our eyes to reveal its shape through stereoscopic vision.  The picture here is constructed from shots of the moon taken two months apart.  The natural wobble, or “libration” of the moon provides two angles of view, producing a 3D image that could never be seen in reality.

3D Full Moon, 2007, red/cyan anaglyph by Laurent Laveder

Yet another recent stimulus to my thinking about the visual perception of space and depth was Daniel Maidman’s recent post about approaches to pictorial space in painting.  I urge you to click the link and go through the well-chosen example images – click on the small pictures to embiggen them.  You’ll learn a lot about the subject by reading through Daniel’s entertaining overview, and if you’re a visual artist of any kind yourself, you’ll probably also find it highly stimulative of creative ideas.  Daniel’s blog is really worth following.  He’s as good a writer as he is a painter, easy to read, funny, and thought-provoking.

Model with Unfinished Self-Portrait, date unknown, by David Hockney (featured in Daniel Maidman’s blog post “Egyptian Space”

A lot of what I learned about pictorial space I learned by studying photography.  In photography one of the biggest factors affecting the way space is presented is the choice of lens – a shorter focal length, or wide-angle lens, gives a very different effect than a longer focal length, or telephoto, lens.  Here’s a street sign photographed with a wide-angle lens.  A wide angle lens literally takes in a very broad cone of vision.  For an object to appear large in the frame, it needs to be seen from very close, while the wide field of view includes a generous swath of background.  Perspectival angling of lines is emphasized, and the apparent distance between background and foreground is exaggerated.

Sign Back, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

A slightly longer focal length lens allows us to fill the frame with a similar-sized object from a greater distance.  Here the cone of vision is narrower, and thus the amount of background we see is limited and the perspective appears compressed, with the background seemingly right behind the subject.  Many professional photographers tend to favor long lenses, because they isolate the subject from all the distracting stuff around it.  Long lenses also make it easier to throw the background out of focus, which enhances the isolating effect.

Angled Planes, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

A wide lens lets you see a whole tall building from right across the street, or to get a feeling of space within a tight interior.  Any angle that’s not straight-on will show perspectival diminution.  Translating the view below to a drawing would require three-point perspective, with vanishing points to the left, right and above the frame.

Church and Tower, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

A long lens keeps straight lines straight, but tends to flatten the space of objects seen from a distance, as in this view looking towards the Manhattan Municipal Building from Canal Street.

Downtown Cluster, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

Finally we get to some figure drawing.  Aside from perspective effects, which you can sometimes observe in seeing the body from a foreshortened angle, there are several ways to convey three-dimensionality in a drawing.  I generally try to make my shading and coloring lines follow the surface contours of the subject.  These lines are called cross-contours, and they’re a very effective way to create the illusion of solidity.

Rounded Back, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Lighting effects also help to show the spatial form of a subject.  Just as the differing angles of the two eyes create the stereoscopic effect, different colors or qualities of light coming from more than one angle can give solidity to a two-dimensional depiction.

Night Back, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In the drawing below, perspective, cross-contours, lighting, and negative space are all combined to give a sense of the model as a solid presence occupying space.

Smoke, 2010, by Fred Hatt

This is probably one of the most wide-ranging posts I’ve ever done, but I hope it hangs together around the concept of spatial perception.

All the images that are not my own link back to their sources on the web if you click on the pictures.


3D or Not 3D

Still from “Convergence”, 2010, video by Fred Hatt

I love stereoscopic or 3D photography for the way it turns a picture into a window.  I’ve posted some of my 3D photographs on this blog (here and here), converted from side-by-side pairs to the anaglyphic process, which can be viewed with cheap old-fashioned red/cyan 3D glasses (available free from this site).  I noticed that the more abstract shots were quite beautiful as anaglyphs without the 3D glasses.  This led me to imagine ways of making simple and abstract anaglyphic 3D images that could be appreciated either with or without the glasses.  One form of simplified image that has long fascinated me is the shadow, and I’ve done several shadowplay performances, including this one.  I’ve also noticed that two colored lights will produce overlapping colored shadows.  So it occurred to me that if the light source for a shadowplay performance were not a single white light, but side by side lights, one red and one cyan, the shadows would appear as 3D if viewed with red/cyan 3D glasses.

Stereo photography has been around almost as long as regular photography.  The stereoscopic 3D effect occurs because each eye sees from a slightly different angle, and the brain uses the difference between these views to perceive depth or distance.  3D photography or cinema uses various techniques to show separate views to each eye, creating the illusion of depth.  If you see a 3D movie at your local multiplex nowadays, the views are separated through the use of polarizing filters.  The anaglyphic technique is an older way of separating the views using colored filters.  In the shadowplay video I’ve made here, the slight offset between the two adjacent colored lights casting the shadows differs in exactly the same way that the views between your two eyes differ, and when the video is viewed with red/cyan glasses the shadows take on an illusory but very convincing depth.

Still from “Convergence”, 2010, video by Fred Hatt

But of course my intention here was to create something that would be equally, if differently, beautiful when viewed without glasses.  Seen in that way, the shadows are fringed in red and blue, and the lighter areas are in various shades of pink, purple and violet.

The title “Convergence” refers to the coming together of contrasting principles: red and blue, light and shadow, male and female, giving and receiving, and also to the convergence of the eyes that is the basis of the 3D effect. The film portrays the fertile moment, the magical conjunction of opposites.

Still from “Convergence”, 2010, video by Fred Hatt

This film was produced simply and quickly, shot in one day in the studio at CRS, where I had my most recent art exhibit.  The performers are dancers Aya Shibahara and Masanori Asahara.  I was assisted in the production by Ignacio Valero, Yuko Takebe, Lili White and Alex Kahan.  The music is derived from music played at a ritual body painting performance I did at the Didge Dome at Brushwood Folklore Center back in 2002.  Drummer Daveed Korup got a bunch of percussionists, didgeridoo players, and others to play for that performance, and I sampled and remixed sound from a rather low-fidelity video made at that performance.

Stereoscopic or 3D cinema has been a passing fad several times over the past 50 years, and it’s currently enjoying its greatest possibility ever.  It’s a natural for computer-generated animation, which uses 3D graphics anyway, and James Cameron’s Avatar featured the most technically advanced form of 3D ever seen in mainstream commercial cinema.  I also recently had the opportunity to watch one of the FIFA World Cup games on ESPN 3D.  Unfortunately, most live action films now being released in 3D are really in fake 3D, a computer simulation applied after the fact to a movie shot in 2D, and I suspect the current 3D craze will be, once again, a passing fad.

So here I present my own very simple, very low-budget version of 3D cinema, that can be viewed equally well with or without the 3D effect:  “Convergence”.

convergence from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.


Depth Perception

New Leaves, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

The image above may appear a mild abstraction on a natural scene, some curling leaves fringed in red and blue.  But put on a pair of old-fashioned 3-D glasses, with a red filter over the left eye and a cyan filter over the right eye, and a window opens up in your monitor, offering a view down upon a sensuous early spring plant, reaching towards you from a vivid texture of dirt and twigs.

Last year’s post, Shapes of Things, featured stereoscopic photographs I took seventeen years ago, in 1993.  This year I’ve been taking new ones, now using the Canon G11 that I usually carry with me as I move about the city going to jobs and visiting friends.  To take a 3D or stereo photograph, I just take one shot, then move the camera a few inches to the right and take another.  I use free software called Stereo Photo Maker to align them and to convert them to various viewing formats.  For these samples on the blog, I’ve chosen to use the “gray anaglyph” format, for viewing with traditional anaglyphic 3D glasses.  If you don’t have a pair, you can get one for free at this site.  Ask for Red/Cyan Anaglyph 3D Glasses.

Snow Tree, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Here, a snow-covered winter tree spreads elegantly in front of an apartment building, while below a bare tree adds its complexity to an otherwise geometrical landscape.  The branching patterns of trees resemble the neurons in the brain, as well as the patterns formed by electrical discharges such as lightning.  Although they form much more slowly, trees express the same motion of formation as these examples of instant impulse.

Treeburst, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Old trees can express as much character in their trunks as in their branches or leaves.  This one’s had  the initials of generations carved into it.

Elder Tree, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Below is an early, tripartite stage of something that might one day fuse into something as majestically bumpy as the one above.

Trunk Trio, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Here’s an old tree that has been hollowed by rot into a sort of vertical canoe form.

Tree Shell, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Rolling hills and trees reaching and leaning in all directions create a dynamic spatial environment that makes the experience of walking through woods invigorating in any season.

Downhill, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Garden, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Here you can see the form of a hedge in early spring.  Last year’s leaves are broad and flat, dark and shiny.  Newer leaves, lighter and much smaller, sprout in clusters from among the old leaves.

Sprouting Hedge, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

We’ll turn now to the shapes of man-made things, letting this shop window with potted plants behind a neon sign serve as a segue.

Qi Gong Tui-Na, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

Shop windows are a natural subject for stereo photography, since we look through them into enclosed places where objects have been composed in spatial arrangement.

Pastry Shop, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Lamp Store, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

The window below has been decorated with a huge transparent photographic image, which we look through to see a dress on display within the open space of the store.

Calvin Klein Store, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

This antique store has arranged a family of wooden manikins on a leather upholstered bench.

Manikins, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Instead of looking through a glass window, we can look through a steel mesh gate to see the receding space of a narrow passageway.

Passageway, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

This chain-link fence slides on a track to let trucks in and out of a loading dock.  The framework of the gate produces a beautiful geometric shadow.

Rolling Gate, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

This frame was put up to support multiple billboards.  It’s now being a bit under-utilized.

Sign Frame, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Here, a huge, mottled block supports a cast-iron bannister for a set of brownstone steps adorned with a ratty carpet.

Stoop Steps, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

A construction shovel is another rough form on a residential street.

Shovel, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

The rough form below reminded me of an aging roué with a young mistress.

Beauty and the Beast, 2010, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

I find that looking at 3D photographs makes me more aware of three dimensional form and texture, and the topological complexity of the landscape, aspects of the world we may often overlook.


Shapes of Things

Filed under: Photography: Stereoscopic — Tags: , , , — fred @ 16:56

Pieta, 1995, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Stereo photography has existed almost since the birth of photography.  It works on the principle that the brain perceives depth by interpreting the slight difference in views between the two eyes.  So two photographs taken from a few inches apart, with the appropriate view seen separately by each eye, shows shape and depth.  As a kid I loved ViewMaster reels and old-fashioned Stereoscope cards.  Starting around 1990 I began taking my own stereo photographs.  Using a standard 35mm camera, I would take two shots with a small lateral shift in point of view.  As long as the subject keeps still, it is not necessary to use a camera that takes two shots simultaneously.

The original photographs have hypnotic color and depth when viewed in a special viewer.  Online, the easiest way to present them is as “anaglyphs”, for viewing with a red filter over the left eye and a cyan, blue or green filter over the right eye.  The beautiful colors of the original images don’t survive the anaglyph conversion well, so I’ve chosen images that work well in black and white, and taken the color out.

I think I have a sculptor’s eye for form and space, but I’m more interested in preserving images or experiences than in collecting or making objects.  Stereo photographs render complex forms quite beautifully.  The fungus shown here is bright yellow in the color version of this photo:

Fungus, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Fungus, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

It’s also interesting to look at structure, whether a somewhat haphazard stack of bricks, a complex steel lattice, a neoclassical dome, or medieval stonework.  The second you may recognize as being from New York’s Jacob Javits Center, the third as the Washington State House in Olympia, and the fourth as the Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan.

Bricks, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Bricks, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Framework, 1993, photo by Fred Hatt

State House Dome, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

State House Dome, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Columns, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Columns, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Trees are amazingly complicated forms in space, and they come in an endless variety.

Flame tree, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Flame Tree, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Plush Trees, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Plush Trees, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Roots, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Roots, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

All the shots in this posting are from photos I made in 1993, on 35mm color print film using a Canon AE-1 SLR, for a project to create stereo photos for use by optometrists for eye training exercises.  Looking at a stereo photograph, your eyes converge or diverge as your attention moves between foreground and background objects, so spending a lot of time looking at 3D images may be good for your eyesight.

When I mentioned to my brother, Frank, that I was preparing a post of stereo photos, he recalled that when I used to present 3D slide shows, he had the experience afterwards of a heightened awareness of depth perception in the real world.

Also interesting in stereo pictures are scenes that have pronounced perspective, seeing distant things through windows or between closer objects.

Hilltop, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Hilltop, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Rainy Window, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Rainy Window, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Parked Cars, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

Parked Cars, 1993, stereo photo by Fred Hatt

The compositional dynamics of a flat photograph are simple, their impact immediate and graphic.  A stereo image is more complex.  Looking at it, we feel we are looking through a window, perhaps into a world that has been miniaturized and frozen in time.  The eyes caress the forms or penetrate the space of the image.  Enjoy these images, then go out and revel in the spatial complexity of the world.

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