Archive for February, 2012

Photoshop Ethics and Aesthetic Angst

Reading the step-by-step guides to image manipulation in Robin Williams and John Tollett’s “Non-Designer’s Photoshop Book,” as well as several thoughtful posts this week, raised a number of questions for me about the ethics of photographic enhancement. As a darkroom photographer, I’ve come to begrudgingly accept the ubiquity of digital manipulation, and even occasionally experiment with it (although I am still very much a Photoshop novice). What takes me hours to do using contrast filters, dodging and burning now takes mere seconds using the digital toolbox. But I’ve always been proud of my inevitably flawed prints, and I can’t help but wonder if, in touching up historical images to make them more legible, we risk homogenizing them to the point of devaluing the technical limitations faced by the artist, a factor that is especially important for an art historian.

In this debate, I think it’s also useful to consider the turbulent history of art conservation practice. An exhibition two years ago at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “An Eakins Masterpiece Restored: Seeing The Gross Clinic Anew,” highlighted how the ethics of conservation has shifted over the past century. In the 1960s, conservators attempted to “restore” Eakins’ masterpiece by brightening its warm tones and illuminating figures in the background who they argued had been obscured over time. As decades passed, the practice changed, and after applying x-rays to the work and undertaking new scholarship, the museum chose to undo the restoration project, arguing that Eakins had never intended for the figures to be illuminated and the earlier conservators had intervened in the painting to its detriment.

By exhibiting this history, the PMA highlighted both the inconstancy of ethical practice in the field and its latest fad: transparency. And while an art museum will inevitably contextualize its images differently from a web designer, I think transparency is a viable solution for the latter as well. When we introduce an old photograph or print to the web environment, whether manipulated or not, it inevitably takes on new meanings, and I suppose it is the job of the digital historian to reconcile these with the original context.

I think a powerful way to begin this historical contextualization is through color, another focus of our readings this week. Now that designers are no longer limited “web-safe colors” in their graphics in design, there is far more room to experiment with color schemes. (While I didn’t realize these colors had a name, I do experience a distinctly ’90s nostalgia when I think back to the color palette of early websites.) I have continued to experiment with color in my website, with the goal of hitting upon a combination that a) hints at the scholarly content, b) interacts with my images and c) avoids exoticizing the Latin American subject matter.

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Type Assignment Trial and Error

In working on this week’s type assignment, I notice myself becoming more and more adept at CSS problem-solving. While I still think my styling could be more concise and “less specific” (I hate having different floats for images without captions and images with captions, etc.), I think I’m on the right track in terms of understanding how to differentiate between each element.

For my header, I finally managed to snag Pan Am, the P22 font of my dreams. I had given up hope on it last week when I realized that P22 licenses don’t allow @font-face embedding, but it turns out they’d licensed it to for sale as a webfont. I also embedded Calluna, a nice, clean sans-serif that I think is quite readable. I haven’t decided whether to buy its italic and bold counterparts, so for now I’m having to improvise within my content.

At this point, I’m just trying to cut down my research paper into something the casual visitor might actually be willing to peruse, while putting finishing touches on my footnotes. Feel free to comment with suggestions for the page.

UPDATE: If anyone is struggling with embedding multiple styles or weights of fonts, this post by Metal Toad Media kept me from pulling my hair out. In my case, I kept creating new rules for “em” tags so that the Italic style of my font would apply, but online all my italics kept showing up as ugly obliques. Apparently you have to reset the font-weight (for bold fonts) or the font-style (for italic fonts) in order for the embedded fonts to do their thing. If my explanation is nonsensical, just check out the Metal Toad site.

This week I commented on posts by Claire, Amber and David.

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Cutting Out the Middle Man

Having delved deeper into Zoe Gillenwater’s guide Stunning CSS3, I am already feeling less anxious about my ambitions for my final page layouts. First, the section on embedding web fonts was a useful supplement to the videos and managed to answer my question about license agreements. Gillenwater notes that most of these licenses were written before the @font-face rule was established, which explains why I’ve had trouble finding references to embedding fonts on the web. I’ve decided to follow David’s lead and be safe rather than sorry, although this means giving up hope on the Pan Am font from P22, which just screams Parisian avant-garde exhibition brochure to me.

The “Graphic Effects Sans Graphics” section of the book was also especially illuminating. As someone who feels much more comfortable using CSS/HTML syntax than a magic lasso or layers or levels or whatever tools one wields in Photoshop, I am always interested in cutting out redundant graphics. So I was thrilled to learn that aside from giving me a break, creating graphic effects like color gradients and rounded edges in CSS actually results in fewer HTTP requests to the server and thus a quicker load time.

Of course I would still like to improve my Photoshop skills, but this kind of efficiency seems essential to web design, just as it is for presenting scholarly work in any medium. Prof. Petrik emphasized this last week in her discussion about employing style sheets for thesis or dissertation writing. In both cases, the best way to avoid distracting and burdensome mistakes is to rely on a single clean set of styles. As it is, my portfolio page is rather bulky with redundant coding, but my goal is to trim it down significantly over the course of the semester.

Addendum: This week I commented on posts by Rosendo and Celeste.

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A quick question

P22 Foundry’s license allows for font embedding “only if the document created is set to ‘Print and Preview’. If P22 fonts can be extracted, edited and therefore transferred in any way, an additional license is required to account for each recipient of the document and font file(s).” I don’t fully understand this. Can I use these fonts for my site or will I need to limit them to graphics within the site? I would appreciate any thoughts.

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Textual Healing

Comic Sans noteApologies for the musical title puns, but I’m on a roll.

This week’s reading and viewing assignments highlighted the semantic power of typefaces. The tutorials and Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type presented some especially convincing examples of the way type can evoke specific emotional responses. And maybe this is obvious, but it’s easy to take for granted the extent to which we’ve been culturally conditioned to, for example, react derisively to Comic Sans. Even typefaces that are far less familiar carry meaning in the way they reference other iconic aesthetics, be it through the monospacing of Courier or the stencil mimicry of Grunge fonts.

For my site, I ended up with a Slab Serif font from Font Squirrel called Crete. I am already concerned about its applicability to a scholarly project – something about the combination of the curved forms with the very hard serifs seems a few degrees too playful – so I will probably continue exploring options as the semester progresses. I think I would have experienced the same reaction without having had this crash-course in typography, but I now have a better grasp on why the font and the content may ultimately clash and what direction to go in order to remedy it.

Addendum: This week I commented on posts by Christopher, StephanieJohn and Geoffrey.

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We’ll All Float On

Just put the finishing touches on the first iteration of my portfolio site. I started out with a two-column liquid layout template from Layout Gala, but wanted a horizontal navigation bar running beneath the header. My first attempts yielded some pretty wacky results:

But thankfully, with some extensive review of float techniques, I managed to salvage my desired layout from that mess. I think there still remains a lot for me to do in terms of integrating my layout with the theme of my project (Latin American art exhibitions in 1920s Paris), but I’m happy to have this to work with. I always enjoyed coding when I was younger, but got discouraged by a dull Comp Sci class in undergrad. I’m looking forward to getting my HTML and CSS up to date.

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