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Author:  Thomas J. Mozden [ Sun Jun 26, 2005 7:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Juniper

A little something with a juniper procumbens.

Author:  Michael Thomas [ Mon Jun 27, 2005 3:15 pm ]
Post subject: 

A brief disclaimer before I share my thoughts. I'm not an expert and I currently don't have any trees close to the quality of this one.
The only reason I share my thoughts on member's work is to perhaps provide a "novice" or "layman's" view of the work in question. If your purpose in presenting this tree is to appeal to "those in the know", then you may want to skip over this post completely. However, if you are interested in what someone who doesn't really know all the rules and status quos thinks then read on.
At first I am impressed with the scale of the tree. I am drawn immediately to the apex. However, shortly afterwards I notice the large black holes created by the lighting. I wonder "Why?". The next thing I notice is the rather thin trunk as compared to the grandiose foliage. I expected a thicker trunk and was not gratified with what I found. Not that I think it should have some misshapen sumo trunk, but something that comes off sturdy and stout like the foliage would be a nice compliment.
Once I get to the nebari I am again disappointed. There, again is an unfriendly shadow hiding from view the details of whatever impressive root structure must be there holding up this tree with a skinny trunk and much heavy foliage and branches as it leans over to the right.
So I have to wonder if these shadows are hiding flaws or lack of substance. They seem to be right where I want to see. In the middle, I want to see how the trunk moves in order to balance the tree and it's branches. And at the bottom, Is there actually a good nebari, or is it plain and bare?
In addition to that, the stand is shiny and ornate and I can pick out lots of detail on it. And the accent stone is also unusual and unique and I can see plenty of detail on that and I want figure out what it is. This only further enhances (or distracts, depending on your point of view) from the lack of detail in the tree itself.
Overall, this tree left me feeling cheated and slightly annoyed. My initial gut reaction is one of someone trying to trick me. If I squint my eyes and fill in the blank spots with my imagination, then this is indeed an impressive tree. But frankly I don't think 'fill in the blank bonsai' will be catching on anytime soon.
Please refer to my disclaimer at the start of this post. My words mean nothing in the bonsai world, and I am a self professed ignorant. However, since there are more of me out there, than there are Walter Palls or Carl Bergstroms you can draw your own conclusions as to how relevant my opinion of your tree is.
I also understand that it could just be a poor choice of lighting. I've dabbled in a bit of photography myself and I know that lighting can sometimes be very difficult.
Also understand that I wrote this immediately after viewing the picture, I started typing within seconds so as to capture my initial impression. My thoughts carry no malice and I only mean to offer whatever constructive criticism can be garnered from the untrained eyes of a humble beginner.
I look forward to your own thoughts on this picture and tree and I would love to hear your reasons for the choice of lighting. Sometimes a few thoughts from the artist can help clear up many initial misunderstandings.
Respectfully yours,

Author:  Thomas J. Mozden [ Mon Jun 27, 2005 10:55 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Michael,
Thanks for taking the time to give such a lengthy reply. Whether your a novice or not makes no difference when it comes to something your viewing as likeable or not. In this case I get the feeling that you can't make up your mind because of the way I'm presenting the picture to you.
Almost like watching a good movie and when the end comes, your left wanting more, or wish it would've ended better.
I was tempted after reading your reply to just post a pic with a little different lighting, but then that would make this forum just like any other bonsai forum.
In this case maybe it's alright to use the imagination on this tree and display, rather than just post a pic with a juniper that has a thick trunk,
which it doesn't by the way. After all, isn't art supposed to stir up the imagination and leave you wondering, "do I like it or do I hate it"?
As with most trees posted in 2-D, it's really hard to see what's there because everything is so flat. In this case what appears to be masses of foliage, is actually little masses on each branch, but you can't distinguish front middle or back branch in 2-D so it all looks like one big mass, and of course you would need a large trunk to balance it right?
For this reason I chose to use this type of lighting to mainly bring out the outline of the tree rather than just show a bunch of green foliage that looks overgrown because of the flatness of the picture.
I hope this answers some of your questions.
Thomas J.

Author:  Carl Bergstrom [ Mon Jun 27, 2005 11:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

This is a very interesting discussion!
I was pleased to see the original picture, I enjoyed Michael's thoughtful critique, and I also find myself intrigued by Thomas's response. This response seems to get at something I've been thinking about lately: the photograph itself as art, rather than simply as a best-of-a-bad-job way to share a three-dimensional tree on in a two-dimensional (low resolution, digital) medium.
My first response to this picture was similar to Michael's. I wanted to see the "whole tree" and found myself frustratedly peering into the darkness rather than embracing that darkness as a design component of the photographic image. But revisiting this picture and having now read Thomas's thoughts, I can better appreciate the shadows as an integral part of the composition. It really is a nice image, seen that way. I guess in some ways I was playing with the same thing myself in this kusamono photograph, albeit with framing rather than with light. As with Thomas's image, that one does not attempt accurately portray the planting as you would see it in person. Rather, it tries to capture a certain emotional aspect of the planting, and in doing so, some aspects are concealed, other brought to the fore.
With my best regards to all,

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Jun 28, 2005 11:39 am ]
Post subject: 

As soon as I saw the picture and thought about it for a moment, I was "resigned" to take it at face value and not let my skeptical mind trying to find hidden faults. It is also unfair to do that, I think, sounds like the prejudice of the bonsai craftsman who knows about the challenges of growing a bonsai and became jaded in the process.
Instead, I enjoyed the voluptuous and elegant layers of foliage and let my mind fill in the blanks provided by the dark spaces. The mature foliage calls for a massive trunk, and I can easily imagine that the visible portion of the trunk is just part of the whole, much bigger trunk that is hiddent in the shadows. There is plenty of room on the right side of the trunk base to imagine a large nebari.
I like the stand, it has little bright spots reflecting the light, but also darker areas, just like the tree.
The rock reminds me of the moon, for some reason. It is very fortunate that it does, since this completes the whole image. The picture of a tree in the moonlight: the bright green foliage reflecting the moonlight, but the inner parts are hiddent in the dark of the night.
It works very well for me. I think Thomas did a great job bringing out the strenght of this tree and diminishing the shortcomings.

Author:  Michael Thomas [ Tue Jun 28, 2005 1:11 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thomas, Attila, and Carl,
This is exactly what I meant about a few comments from the artist helping out a lot in some cases.
Perhaps, "fill in the blank" bonsai will not be catching on anytime soon. However, perhaps there is a vacancy for "fill in the blank" bonsai photography.
My initial thoughts about this tree were based on all previous pictures of bonsai that I had seen, which aim to portray the tree as it is. The pictures I've seen in the past, and the things people have said about them has led me to the assumption that the purpose of a photograph of bonsai is to show you what it looks like.
This photo and the following discussion has brought to light (no pun intended) an array of other ideas, for instance:
Perhaps the art of photographing bonsai in some cases could be held up as an entirely different art form than creating the bonsai itself. Without any conscious reasoning, up to this point, I have always, on some level discounted the actual art of photographing bonsai as a necessary by-product to show your "bonsai art" to the world.
I have to wonder about something. How would our critiques differ if this were the situation:
We didn't have cameras. We didn't have internet, but instead once a month we all met at a central place in the world to discuss bonsai, critique trees and talk about art, ect..
Only, we all didn't bring our trees, but rather paintings of the trees that we wanted other people's opinions on. I'm sure that there are some here that could paint it themselves, others would have to hire and artist. Without exception, everyone of those paintings of trees would not only depict the tree, but also the artists rendering of the "essence" of the tree.
In a sense, what I'm getting at is that the medium for expressing bonsai follows the same path as bonsai itself. By that, I mean in bonsai most of us have come to the agreement that it's not so much about creating an exact replica of a giant tree in miniature, but rather creating the illusion and capturing the essence of that large tree in miniature.
Does this philosophy indeed carry over to the medium used to portray bonsai today? Some people do in fact try to light their trees in order catch all the details that they are proud of, ect. But is there a need for some leniency and tolerance of "essence photographs"?
If you have two trees, one is incredible in person and the other is 'so-so'. The owner of the "incredible" tree doesn't really know how to take a photo and even though his photo shows all the amazing parts of his tree, it's lacking something (we've all seen pictures like that). But the owner of the "so-so" tree takes a photo like the one above and photographically speaking, the "so-so" tree blows the other one away.
Which is the better tree?
So, Thomas. In my first post I gave my opinion of what I thought of the tree, itself. Attila, whether he realizes it or not gave his opinion of the photo of the tree. Which were you looking for? In your topic you titled it "Juniper", and in the post you wrote A little something with a juniper procumbens. All of this led me to believe you wanted to know what we thought about the tree. So, as far as you're concerned are you displaying the tree or the photo? Also, I would be interested to know if the question I'm posing is actually of any importance?
And you are exactly right Thomas, the fact that your tree has sparked this discussion makes it a valid work of art in my eyes. When I used to play in a band in New Orleans we would write songs not to please people, but we tried to make them as potent as possible. We wanted to elicit some sort of reaction. Either like it or hate it. If we asked someone what they thought and they said "It's alright, I guess" or took some middle of the road approach then we weren't accomplishing our goal. The point of art is to elicit some sort of reaction. If a piece draws nothing but luke-warm attitudes then it probably isn't worth the canvas it's painted on or the pot it's planted in.
Looking forward to the continuation of this discussion,

Author:  Thomas J. Mozden [ Tue Jun 28, 2005 2:04 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi to all who have commented on this thread, and I'm glad for the most part, everyone likes what they see.
You asked whether I was wanting comments about the tree or the photo?
I would have to say the photo since this is not your regular bonsai forum,
and the photo would be more or less a composition of something I put together to try and move the imagination, and hopefully be pleasing to the eye at the same time.
I'm glad you mentioned the part about your being in the band and composing music, because I was tempted to mention something of this sort in my first reply to you. As I was growing up in the sixties, Beatle music so moved me because of their artistic ability to compose songs and leave you wanting more, yet having to use your imagination to try and figure out exactly what the song was about in many cases.
I guess if an artist can do both of these, he must be on to something.
For anyone interested in the history of this tree, and if your registered at bonsaiTalk, here's the link:

Author:  Michael Thomas [ Wed Jun 29, 2005 9:39 am ]
Post subject: 

Thomas wrote:
I would have to say the photo since this is not your regular bonsai forum,

Excellent! The photo is very good, my friend. And for exactly the reasons that I was initally not attracted to it as a "bonsai tree" I am attracted to it as a "picture of a bonsai tree".
A lot of my thoughts can be summed up in Attila's post. I think you have accomplished the effect you were going for and thank you for posting your picture and having this discussion as it brought up some interesting ideas and new perspectives, to me at least.
Looking foward to seeing more of your work.

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