~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I Can Die Happy Now

"Moonrise, Hernandez" by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams, eat your heart out (if you're not spinning in your grave).

There is a web site out there now called ACQUINE, short for "Aesthetic Quality Inference Engine." Some really smart folks with a serious interest in computer science, programming, and art are attempting to create an image analysis program that analyzes and then rates photographs on a 0 - 100 scale. Sort of like a engine dynamometer for pictures. Cold, dispassionate, it's just about the numbers. As horsepower junkies like to say "The dyno doesn't lie."



Naturally I ran the URL for my 1977 BMW R100RS photo through there and low and behold it rated it 99.8 putting it in a three way tie for highest rated picture. Zowie! It's a death match between the BMW, a sunset, and a roll of twine. Palm trees, McDonald's arches and all it's a good photo according to the computer and we all know computers can't be wrong.

The next thing I did was run a link through pointed at ├╝ber-Meister photographer Ansel Adams' classic image "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico." "Moonrise" is considered by most devotees of photography to be one of the great photos of the 20th century and Adams is generally considered to be one of the four or five greatest photographers ever.

As it happens, I'm a bit of an Ansel Adams fan and have two inexpensive prints of his, including "Moonrise," hanging above my desk. I don't have a real Adams print because an original print of "Moonrise" fetches somewhere in the solid six figure$ a for a nice example and if I had that kind of money to throw around I'd be riding better motorcycles.

So the computer rated "Moonrise" at 68.4, apparently a competent professional photograph. Another favorite Adams picture of which I am fond is "Rose and Driftwood" and that one garnered a 93.5. Better but still not as good as my BMW shot. I may need to get a larger helmet soon.

"Rose and Driftwood" by Ansel Adams

It then follows -- because really smart people and computers are not generally wrong -- that at least once I was a better photographer than Ansel Adams at his best.* And if you believe that I'll be happy to sell you a signed print of the BMW R100RS, complete with palm trees, for half of whatever the going price is for a pristine, signed, original, Ansel Adams original print of any subject. Hey, you're my friends, only for you! Order in the next ten minutes and I'll throw in a set of Ginsu knives, a used ShamWow, and a picture of me naked.


In truth, what the folks at ACQUINE are trying to do is very interesting and I can't even guess the philosophical and mathematical debates going on behind the scenes at ACQUINE. Just how do you mathematically quantify what is art and what is esthetically pleasing? Personally, I don't think it can be done. You can lay out rules and principals of design like the "rule of thirds", use of colors, and so on but in the end it comes down to what one person sees and whether or not it pleases him or her. Andy Warhol said "Art is what you can get away with." In my world motorcycles are an art form and that is why to me it makes no sense to say that one brand is better than another or that one style of bike is better looking than another (Bultacos are best, by the way). "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and all that other happy horse doo doo.

*Disclaimer: The 72 dpi web based version of Adams' photos I linked to may not have quite equaled the original Adams print. As it happens, I've seen more than one original print of "Moonrise" along with a number of Adams' other masterpieces and they are so good, beyond good, it made me want to throw away my camera gear and just stick with riding motorcycles. That was 25 years ago though, so you see I'm at least stubborn if not another Ansel Adams no matter what the "dyno" says.

2 comments:

Jac Brown said...

Well dude, your loyal reader told you that you have a knack for photography. You need to listen to us, man.

Seriously, keep a camera with you at all times. We enjoy it as much as you do.

Chris Rust said...

Hi Doug, You said that "I can't even guess the philosophical and mathematical debates going on behind the scenes at ACQUINE." You may be right about the maths but if you read their publications there's not a lot of philosophy. They found that aesthetics is rather complicated and subjective so decided to just assume there was some kind of universal measure of popular aesthetics and the ratings on photo.net were a reliable guide to it. I've written a critique at http://chrisrust.wordpress.com/2009/05/16/acquine-is-this-how-to-engineer-affect/ starting with the same kind of fun exercise you did (I guess a lot of people have given in to that temptation) but then I've tried to relate what they are doing to my own professional understanding of aesthetics and science.

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