High Dynamic Range Artworks
All images copyright Barnaby Jaco Skinner
The foundations of my photographic art are firmly embedded in a world of colour, line and shape. I take inspiration artistically from the vivid graphic novels of 1980s Japan, abstract world film, off-beat scores, historical references, streams of consciousness, empathy, sexuality, humanity and solitude. Shooting a commercial image for a client is something that takes planning, years of experience and a whole lot of gear, but shooting an artistic piece from the heart is a totally different ball-game. It has to mean something more than the sum of it’s parts, it has to have a deeper purpose. Associated texts have always helped to place my images mentally, with texts taken from my travel journal entries, personal observations, historical references, personal artistic interpretations and even the occasional quotation from some of my favorite authors. Each image has a logical purpose within their own relative image collections, however on this page they may seem a little diverse.Barnaby Jaco Skinner
Nikon D700 / Nikkor 50mm f1.4
Rising high above Tiananmen the dominant Red Walls of Beijing’s most revered Hutong keep out the prying eyes of passers-by. The once bustling inner courtyards link one another through ancient stone arches, each emerging to wide open spaces filled with an emptiness of biblical proportions.
/ Journal entry – The Forbidden City
The Temple of a Million Years
Nikon D4 / Nikkor 14-24 f2.8
Traveling the world, It’s hard not to reflect on your own life as you pass through others’. As a young archaeologist in the nineties I once sat studying Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in the dusty basement of the British Institute for Archaeology in Amman, Jordan. Surrounded by newly unearthed pottery sherds, stone tools, bronze and flint from Jordan’s ancient history, it was hard to fit in my passion of Egypt before one of the directors shooed me off to catalog medieval pottery instead. Eighteen years old and I could already decipher a fair number of glyphs using eighteenth century text books from a small library time seemed to have forgotten. One evening I found myself gazing at the inscription of a stele dedicated to Ramses the Second, a decree regarding the state of his memorial temple, his ‘House of millions of years’. As fate would have it, Christian Jacq, French author and Egyptologist, had just that year stoked my imagination with his latest novel Ramses and the Temple of Eternity, a gloriously descriptive account of this exact temple, built for Ramses during the New Kingdom era. The novel and stele would stay with me until one afternoon in Asia, some fifteen years later.
Deep in southern China, standing somewhere off the tourist route just outside Dali, I think of Ramses and his magnificent memorial temple as I point a lens at southern China’s dynastic architecture. The grandeur of these buildings alone is breathtaking in itself, but it’s the concept of constructing a temple to last for eternity that rings in my ears, and southern China does not disappoint. A momentary memory unearths from a university seminar, that the world is full of similarities, from Egypt to Mexico to China to India to Easter Island, our ancestors strove to be remembered until the end of time, it was their purpose in life, their gateway to the heavens. Fifteen years of thought, a university degree, field work and friendships came together to form this image, and that’s the first thing I teach my students, that art can happen when you least expect it.
This particular temple sits towards the back of the Three Pillars complex just outside Dali in China’s Yunnan province. One would be forgiven if they missed it whilst visiting, the main thoroughfare takes you past the core attraction, three large pillars, and then on to a larger temple to light some incense and buy the obligatory wrist bangle. Venture off the beaten track however, and you’re rewarded with this majestic scene, and not a soul in sight. Okay, maybe one.
/ Journal entry – Dali
Four Elements – Fire
Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8
A stark metallic bulge emanating from behind Tienanmen, the National Center for Performing Arts could very well be an escape platform for times of alien invasions, zombie infestations or an all-out meltdown. Skirting it’s circumference runs a medieval moat that stops all but the brave, or stupid, from approaching the blemish-free paneled hull. Orbiting like satellites, small electric police cars wizz by, chasing would be intruders who step too close to the water’s edge.
/ Journal entry – Beijing
A Tolkien Landscape
Nikon D700 / Nikkor 14-24 f2.8
Traveling the Karakorum Highway from Kashgar up to the snowy peaks of the Pamir mountains, our clapped-out thirty year-old car sets a speedy pace through the windy lowlands, the peaks in the distance promising stories and adventures in equal measure. The gateway to Pakistan resembles a landscape from Tolkien’s middle earth. A handful of bored Chinese guards keep a careful eye on us as we pick our way around the farthest outpost on china’s western frontier, nothing exists here except for the occasional rhythmic chugging of an over-laden mini-bus heading for the border.
/ Journal entry – China/Pakistan border
The Witches Hut
Nikon D4 / Nikkor 14-24 f2.8
They walked through the entire night and the next day from morning until evening, but they did not find their way out of the woods. They were terribly hungry, for they had eaten only a few small berries that were growing on the ground. And because they were so tired that their legs would no longer carry them, they lay down under a tree and fell asleep. It was already the third morning since they had left the father’s house. They started walking again, but managed only to go deeper and deeper into the woods. If help did not come soon, they would perish. At midday they saw a little snow-white bird sitting on a branch. It sang so beautifully that they stopped to listen. When it was finished it stretched its wings and flew in front of them. They followed it until they came to a little house.
Extract from ‘Hansel and Gretel’ – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
The North Gate
Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8
A heavy summers rain sets in, all too soon filling the sunken stone passages to bursting. Water spills from the foreboding entrance of this stone-hewn labyrinth, oppressive dark clouds dissuading the dying light from illuminating what lurks within. Dancing shadows draw a maze of black twisting tunnels blocked and barricaded by rock-fall and mutant trees. At the centre of this Tomb-Raider puzzle stands a small stone alter surrounded by four passageways, each twisting off to black oblivion. Light particles rain down from a crack in the stone ceiling, a single beam of amber illuminating the ancient stone alter.
A child’s laugh echos momentarily somewhere within the underground maze, shrill sound waves bouncing off cold wet walls, beckoning me deeper. I pick a tunnel and venture down the causeway, knee deep in water, following the eerie echos from behind the gloom. Tripping hard on an uneven stone I stumble through dense wet vines, falling through a small opening in the thick stone wall out to another world I emerge, the light of a mid-afternoon monsoon flooding my senses. The jungle here lays heavily over hidden red and green stone, a place of worship once devoted to monks and their daily routine, the entire area now laying derelict and eroded by zealous Fords and would-be Angelinas. Climbing large sodden stone steps, I make my way up to the tree line in an attempt to get a feel for the direction back out to civilization. I’m mildly lost, and it’s started to rain again.
/ Journal entry – Cambodia Siem Reap
An end to a beginning
Nikon D700 / Nikkor 500 f4
Pounding. Throbbing. Pulsating. Ragged breathing but no air to douse the clawing fire in your lungs, a fire whose flames consume pride and love and faith. Tunnel vision obscures uncontrollable thoughts of fear and hate, a chaotic orchestration of white noise disrupting reality. Existence should be nearing an end, but it never arrives.
Skinner – The Descent (2014)
The Long Walk
Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8
Dark matter sits in the depths of your soul. Weighing you down, it drags its feet with every punch to the face. Imploding under its own mass, a moment of isolation erupts in a supernova, consuming all that you hold dear. Disrupted and warped and bent and broken, life becomes meaningless. To live pointless. To exist, a statistical improbability.
Time heals wounds, we are told. So we heal. Our dark clouds dissipate, tumultuous mountains crack at shadowed seams. White cuts black. Retreat. Cracks to chimneys, rifts to valleys, darkness recedes, afraid of this new world. The Nothing has become nothing, and with it, I something.
Skinner – Alone Amoungst The Saints (2014)
Nikon D90 / Nikkor AF-D 30-700 f5.6
A swell stirs from untold depths.
Enveloped in an ocean of order we hunger for a chance at chaos, arms nailed to a frenzied wind our blood drips in binary.
Relentless, focused Pounding. Answer the call.
Vicious tidal-forces radiate from within, an energy that threatens to tear down systematic consciousness, detonate ordered demise.
Time pulsates to this arcane thump, chaos seizing an unfolding horizon.
Loss is inevitable.
Crescendos peak high above the heavens, sonic soul-fire pouring down over our pinned and beaten bodies. Enveloped and torn, we awake.
For that single moment, from the very essence of our infinite universe, you taste life.
And you dance.
Skinner – A Blinding Ascent (2014)
What is High Dynamic Range photography?
The human eye is so fantastically evolved for it’s purpose in life that any hope of matching it’s capabilities using a ‘man-made’ object is still seemingly far off in the domestic market. Our eyes can see detail in both shadows and highlights at the same time, or at least within a few micro-seconds of each other, and they adapt and respond so very quickly that we’ve forgotten just how clever they are before we’re even old enough to string a sentence together. A seemingly simple act to follow has spurred the creation of a myriad of techniques and technologies to replicate this innate ability, however none are perfect.
An experienced photographer approaches a scene (non-studio) and starts the process of working out how best to capture the moment. We check camera settings, angles, composition, light and subject-matter and then time slows down and we wait patiently for that moment to converge. If we’re patient, and perhaps a little lucky, we capture that moment within an acceptably satisfactory ‘range’. Very occasionally it’s even close to perfect. But the elements are generally unkind, and whether natural or man-made the photographer does battle with forces beyond their control on a daily basis. It’s this lack of control combined with an appetite for success that helps drive forward technological advancement to enable our medieval machines to match our natural ability to ‘see’.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) as a process is merely the combining of multiple images taken of the same moment, at the same aperture, but at differing shutter speeds. The result is that single moment combined using a set of different exposures. Once you combine the exposures you afford the viewer a glimpse of that moment rendered with a higher dynamic light range; the shadows now exhibit more detail where before there was only deep soulless black, and the highlights are now less blinding, allowing us to see what might really be there. Interweave this technical wizardry with the power of memory, imagination and passion and the artist can begin to recreate that moment the way it actually was. The way we saw it with our minds eye.
HDR images look like traditional images if conservatively processed, but push that processing further and we begin to create more artistic ‘painterly’ works, where the photos take on a more hand painted effect. In my opinion, this is when we cross the boundary between traditional photograph and unique artwork.
You can buy metal poster prints of these images over on my Displate gallery…Barnaby Jaco Skinner