Friday, March 13, 2015

Abbott Thayer and Background-Picturing

Background-picturing experiment with G.H. Thayer painting
Above Roy R. Behrens (©2015), an experiment using Adobe Photoshop software in an attempt to replicate a camouflage effect that artist/naturalists Abbott Handerson Thayer and Gerald Handerson Thayer (father and son) referred to as background picturing. The initial illustration (top left) is a watercolor painting by Gerald Thayer that was originally reproduced in Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909). The actual painting is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The following is an excerpt (in reference to the image above) from an as-yet unpublished essay by Roy R. Behrens, titled "Seeing Through Camouflage: Abbott Thayer, Background-Picturing and the Use of Cut-Out Silhouettes" (©2015)—

Years ago, I published an article in which I suggested that Abbott Thayer had anticipated a computer-based method of working on multiple solutions to the same art or design composition, by which we use the SaveAs command on computers.• In drafting this article, it occurred to me that he may also have anticipated another digital practice, as suggested by background-picturing. This can best be understood by looking at a series of illustrations.

The first of these illustrations is an unaltered reproduction of a watercolor painting by Gerald Thayer, titled Male Ruffed Grouse in Forest [top left]. First published in full-color in in 1909 in Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, it is a masterful demonstration of the intricacies of background-picturing, or (figuratively speaking) of “seeing through” an animal as if it were transparent. In the next two illustrations, the woodland setting [top right] and the bird [bottom left] have been selected and removed, using Adobe Photoshop. In the final stage [bottom right], I have instructed the software to fill the empty silhouette of the bird, using a setting of ContentAware, based on information in the shapes and colors in the background. The result is surely successful, albeit less than equivalent to what the Thayers intended, since the source of this solution is a single particular background and not, as they hypothesized, an average of “innumerable landscapes.”

• See R.R. Behrens, “Abbott H. Thayer’s anticipation of a computer-based method of working” in Leonardo. Vol 34 No 1 (2001), pp. 19-20. Available online here. See also and "Abbott H. Thayer's Vanishing Ducks."