Bonus Post!- My Results so far…

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Even though we aren’t required to post these, I thought it might be useful for everyone to see them. I’ll explain my process once I return from work. I am pleased to note now that I found the font optima, which was no easy task!

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Objectivity and Patriotism

I would imagine that everyone is feeling patriotic over this long weekend! I wanted to use the opportunity that the Fourth of July provides to raise some questions about the nature of the word “patriot”. I think that after our class discussion of the word “hero” and how it is frequently used out of context, I wanted to explore the implications of more words. Dictionary.com defines a patriot as “a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion” (see the full entry here: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/patriot?s=t). Similar to the problems experienced with the word “hero”, it is not always clear to determine who is a true patriot. Some conservative talk-show hosts use the term liberally to describe politicians or other individuals who hold “an acceptable position on key issues.” Certainly, the individuals do feel an emotional attachment to the well-being of the nation, but are they true patriots? Someone considered a hero is courageous, but that fact alone does not make someone a hero. A portion of the discussion hinges on the fact that the hero goes above and beyond the ordinary call of duty.

Similarly, the patriot cannot simply provide verbal support for the nation. While verbal support is necessary for a patriot, that individual must defend and support their nation by every means necessary, with devotion. In order to be a patriot, the actions described in the definition must be acted upon. Anyone can feel patriotic, but only a select few defend the nation by any means possible. As was the case with the word “hero”, it is incredibly difficult to determine who makes it into the “hall of patriots”.

I also think that an element of word usage is subjective. Each individual has the ability to determine the appropriate language to employ in a certain situation. There is not an objectively correct moment to use the words “hero” or “patriot”. We have the ability to make a case for a certain usage of a particular word, but it will not matter unless there is a widespread cultural acceptance of a certain type of word usage. Historians encounter similar difficulties. Errol Morris, in his work entitled Believing Is Seeing, almost seems to suggest that the truth can be found through empirical questioning and reasoning. To be sure, more details can be discerned in a photo through good questioning, but hard truth will remain unknown. Historians are interested in small nuggets of objectivity in order to create a larger interpretation. The interpretation is, like word usage, ultimately subjective in nature. It is comforting to know that there is a degree of objectivity in oral language (and history); otherwise, oral language would be rendered meaningless. We are able to transmit and receive meaning hanging in between a balance of subjectivity and objectivity. Therefore, while we may or may not be the fullest embodiments of the word “patriot”, I think that we would all rightfully describe ourselves as Americans to some extent. I also would wager to say that many of us would call ourselves proud Americans, which is satisfactory to me. I hope that everyone enjoyed their holiday and reflected on the ideals upon which our nation was founded.

Image Restoration Assignment

It is finally time to put the photoshop skills to the test! For my assignment, I used this picture of a Civil War Officer (more about this image here: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002698067/ ). It is a picture of Union Officer Theron E. Hall. The image was a part of a group of images devoted to depicting Union Officers in the field. I found two major improvements that could be made to this image. The picture was quite blurry and featured a distracting wood panel background where the image was staged. I immediately realized that my primary objective would be handling the blurriness associated with this image. After I dealt with that issue, I manipulated the image as necessary.

 

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I started by cropping, re-sizing, and restoring the image. I enlarged my image slightly to make the character in the image bigger. I cropped the image so that the viewer could more fully focus on the figure in the image, and not so much on the wooden background. I used the sharpen tool to carefully remove much of the blurriness that could be found on the picture. I probably would not have been able to use this picture without the sharpen tool. I also used the burn tool and the curves tool to salvage more details.

 

Crop-Resize

 

Next, I decided to “mat” the image on a green background. I created another layer and filled it with the green that I used. I found that the magnetic lasso tool was the best option to select the figure on my new layer. Then, I used the blending options slider to get the desired effect (shown below). I also used the spot healing tool and the “tragic wand” to fill in some of the extra spaces.

 

Matted-Restored

 

After that, I decided that it was expedient to simply color in my figure. I found another picture in color from the Library of Congress in order to  get the requisite Civil War colors for my character. To be sure, coloring is one of my weaknesses on photoshop. After all, I was never good at coloring in elementary school.

 

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I then went back to the original image for the feathering operation. I wanted to utilize the extra space for the vignette. I simply selected the feathering settings, used the elliptical marquee tool with my helpful ruler and filled the inverse area with the feathered color. I was pleased with the result as the focus really is on this officer.

 

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I also did not find this process to be detrimental to the image overall. I think that many of the edits supported the overall message of this image. I also think that this image was perfect for this assignment in that it required a sound knowledge of the essentials, but was not overly taxing. With the exception of my coloring, I was pleased with the results of this assignment.

 

Wedding Photos

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Today, I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of one of my friends from my undergraduate university. It made me think about the ubiquitous nature of the wedding photo and the significance that these images carry in our society. Obviously, people want to capture moments from a wedding in order to remember such a joyous occasion. Most people do not experience a marriage on daily or weekly basis. Obviously, these images are unique. I wasn’t quite able to wrap my head around the fact that some images appear to be more valuable than others. This appears to be particularly true when the photos are not from a once in a lifetime event. Even during a once and a lifetime event, the result can serve as a reminder. It is often forgotten that the photos can serve as a positive or negative reminder. The photos of a marriage that does not last may be cast aside like the marriage itself. Here again, the image symbolizes the marriage, not the actual activity happening in the picture. An image is symbolic. This convenient fact is something that historians need to contemplate when an image is used a source.  Hence, the most important images are carry the most significant symbolism. While most images taken on a daily basis continue to exist, but are not held in such high esteem. For example, we don’t usually place a “selfie” in a place of honor in our households. Wedding photos, however, usually occupy a place of prominence. Why then, do we take so many additional photos? How often will we examine them? Do we take photos just to be comfortable?

 

 

Check out this picture of a wedding party that I found from the LOC. It is not a daguerreotype, but it is typical of a wedding photo.The party is neatly arranged and posing for the picture. The picture has been staged in  a nice, large outdoor area, which seems to suggest that the wedding is being held at an upscale venue. What is striking is that the wedding party looks very serious and stone-faced. I’m not sure why this would be the case during such a joyous occasion. The bride and the groom are in the center of the mix, and they are visible because of their outfits. They rightfully occupy the center of the photo. This is just one example of a wedding picture.

 

 

Most wedding photos appear to be staged, because individuals want to remember them in a certain way. Wedding images clearly hold more meaning than others. I also can’t help but wonder what historians would think if they examined my friend’s wedding pictures in the future. I also wonder how the image changes over time in the eyes of the beholders. I would not be able to address this question since I’m not married. What does a wedding picture mean over time?

The Image Hunt!

As a preface to the actual project itself, I should mention that I had two excellent options available to me for this assignment. I could have used the textbook that I use in my classroom for lessons and background information (http://www.fivepondspressbooks.com/studentbooks/G5_silent/contents.html). Although the book is practical, it could use some constructive criticism from historians. I also had the option of using an online exhibit from Dumbarton Oaks, a center for Horticulture, Pre-Columbian and Byzantine Studies conveniently located in Washington, DC. This option was the edgier option, which is why I selected it. The images contained in the online exhibit (see the full exhibit here: http://www.doaks.org/resources/seals/gods-regents-on-earth-a-thousand-years-of-byzantine-imperial-seals/rulers-of-byzantium) are photographs of different artifacts which are somewhat homogeneous in nature, but still important nonetheless. In this post I wish to discuss the importance of photographing artifacts like documents. In this case, the Imperial Seals presented in the exhibit have legible text on them which can be used as a resource. Through my brief discussion of six Imperial Seals, I want to make a case for the importance of photographing artifacts like documents or maps. The images displayed here present a divine picture of the office of Byzantine Emperor in a way that words cannot necessarily describe. The exhibit is extensive and generally well done, but it requires a significant amount of reading on the part of the viewer to digest all of the information presented. For those who are not familiar with Byzantine History, imperial seals were produced on behalf of the reigning emperor as a display of imperial power. For the most part, the seals display an engraved portrait of the emperor on one side with a religious image usually located on the other side of the seal. The seals and the images on the seals change with the culture and politics of the Byzantine Empire over time.  Every component of the imperial seal tells the viewer about the state of the Byzantine Empire at that particular moment in time. The seals are also easy to date as the ruling years of each emperor are known to historians. I also selected seals that I believe were very well placed in the exhibit. I apologize in advance if this seems to be confusing…there is a significant amount of obscure contextual information needed to comprehend everything. The descriptions are below each image. Byzantine Christ

 

#1- This is an image of Christ which appears on a few seals. It is mentioned in the exhibit that Christ is surprisingly not on every seal. The emperor was usually considered the earthly embodiment of Christ. Interestingly, Christ becomes more common in later seals, while earlier seals tend to feature pictures of saints. An image such as this is essential to understanding the Byzantine world. Christianity was a central part of Byzantine life. Many images of Christ exist, but it is impossible to understand this fact without seeing Christ in the way that the Byzantines themselves saw Christ. Obviously, this image is well placed in the exhibit.

Imperator Title

 

#2- This is an image of an emperor that has the title “imperator”. The focus of this portion of the exhibit is not so much the emperor as it is the Latin text surrounding on of the emperor in the seal. It is known that the Byzantine Emperors considered themselves direct descendants of the Roman Emperors, even though Rome was only briefly under Byzantine control. The Byzantines also spoke Greek, which was not the language of the Roman world. It is noted in the exhibit that this emperor assuming a Latin title indicates that he is still asserting himself as the emperor of the Romans. An image of this seal is necessary to complete the narrative presented in the exhibit. The image better informs the viewer as to the tensions between East and West that existed in the Late-Antique and Medieval World.

 

Seal Lineage

#3- This is an image of several seals that share a common style. There is an entire section of the exhibit that is devoted to explaining the reasoning behind the styles of the imperial seals. Emperors in different periods would include certain distinguishing features. For example, earlier emperors often depicted themselves with their junior emperors while later emperors preferred to be depicted alone. This image was wisely included as it exposes the cultural and political changes that occurred in the Byzantine Empire. The changes in seal style illuminates the shifts.

Justinian Seal

#4- This is an image of the seal of the Emperor Justinian, perhaps the most famous Byzantine Emperor to reign.  Under his guidance, the Byzantines were able to reconquer large swaths of the former Roman Empire. The image of Justinian’s seal is significant because it highlights longstanding pagan influences on the Byzantine Empire. It is also well-placed because it literally shows just how complicated the relationship was between Christianity and Paganism. It is noted in the exhibit that the image on the back of the seal is of the pagan idea of victory with crosses (for good measure!) to keep a Christian overtone.

Alexios Usurper

#5- This is an image of the seal of the Emperor Alexios I, who happened to be emperor during The First Crusade. The image of his seal is particularly unique because it is the seal of a “usurper”, which is the term for an individual not in the direct imperial lineage who seized the throne. This image is important to the exhibit because it depicts how a usurper could become a legitimate emperor. Indeed, Alexios had his seal fashioned in a similar style to his predecessor to indicate that he was a legitimate successor.

Thus, each image of an artifact tells a story that is verified in written source material, but, without the image, the clarity of the story is lost.

 

Quick Follow-Up

MD Speed Camera

As a follow-up to my previous post, I found an article that was published last week in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/some-maryland-towns-getting-less-revenue-from-once-profitable-speed-cameras/2014/06/09/d6a84244-ea6b-11e3-b98c-72cef4a00499_story.html) which discusses how human behavior does change in front of speed cameras. If anyone lives in Maryland, this might be useful information.

The Expectations of a Camera

How do cameras influence human behavior in a given moment? As we were discussing the ubiquity of cellphone cameras on Thursday, I began thinking about how cameras influence human behavior. Certainly, the intent of a camera is to capture a moment of behavior as it is happening. Many photos are often staged to avoid the awkwardness of a candid photo. It is customary to give the people in the photo a warning and a reminder to smile before the photo is snapped. How would a staged photo compare to a candid photo at a birthday party? Does a staged photo provide the viewer with a more or less accurate interpretation of any given moment? Wouldn’t the ordinary activities of the birthday party (ex. eating cake, hitting a piñata etc.) paint a more accurate picture of a birthday party? Trachtenberg draws attention to the fact that staging is most useful when the photographer is attempting to convey a particular message. Trachtenberg notes that, “Lawyers, for example, should stand in such a way before the lens, orators and preachers in another, poets should be seated at their desk, and so on. The aim was to have each sitter look like a conventional image of his or her social role” (Trachtenberg, 28). The camera was employed as a tool to reinforce social expectations. Accordingly, the subjects modified their behavior at the moment of the capture to accurately convey the message. The “photographers” of that period aimed to portray successful people in a successful light.  

Certainly, the subjects of the staged photos participated in prosaic, everyday activities similar to that of every other human being. Would the perception of the lawyer change if he was portrayed performing a different activity? A viewer might be more inclined to pass a moral judgement on the lawyer if he engaged in some deviant activity.  The fact that the lawyer is affluent and enjoys an elevated social status would certainly not shift, but the perception of the lawyer might shift depending on his activities. The gaze of the camera becomes an issue when an individual is caught in a moment that they do not desire to acknowledge. Law enforcement agencies use photography to catch deviant behavior frequently. In our area we are always under the gaze of traffic cameras. When driving in downtown DC, it is common for individuals to get caught “behaving badly” by the traffic cameras. Individuals are then hit with the consequence of that action, which in this case is a ticket. Although people are not always pleased with the outcome, these cameras are technically for our own good. It is an interesting, but stubbornly difficult question: is the ubiquitous nature of the camera harmful or helpful to society.