Monthly Archives: March 2015

Comment on Elizabeth’s Image Assignment

Elizabeth’s Portfolio Web Page

This week’s blog required an evaluation of a fellow student’s Image Assignment Web page.  I was assigned to evaluate Elizabeth Moore’s image work by identifying three areas of strength and three areas for possible improvement.  Here is my feedback on her Web page:

Areas of strength:

1. Elizabeth’s ability to matte an engraved image onto a clean background is nothing less than remarkable.  I would rate her results in this endeavor as the strongest skill she demonstrated for the assignment. She took an extremely difficult image; pulled it from a scrapbook; re-sized it; and eliminated, with impeccable attention to detail, all vestiges of the old, foxed, and water-stained background. Not only did she re-matte an engraving with near perfection, but she did it with a color image — a difficult task. I re-matted a color image for my assignment, and it was much more difficult than re-matting a black-and-white image. Wow.

2.  Another strength of Elizabeth’s re-matted image was her ability to maintain the original texture in the colored areas and, more importantly, in the shadows at the soldier’s feet.  She could have taken the easy way out and erased those shadows to avoid having to clean up (or restore) that area for re-matting, but she took the harder path and created a better outcome. Terrific!

3. Elizabeth’s colorized photograph brought out some great background details, particularly the frieze bordering the large poster behind the seated man.  Elizabeth’s color choice in this case was superb and really brought out both the details in the porcelain and the type of bright colors one might expect to see in 1940s Paris masonry. Very nice!

Areas for possible improvement

1. The colorized image of the seated man was good, but the details in his jacket became lost in the heavy application of blue color. I learned the hard way that the lighter touch is best, and Elizabeth certainly has that skill as evidenced by the excellent coloring job on the frieze. I would recommend re-coloring the man’s jacket using a lighter opacity and a judicious use of the Burn Tool.  A lighter color might have also allowed Elizabeth to bring out in starker relief the blood stains on the man’s jacket. More red to signify blood from the man’s injury might have given the image greater visual impact.

2. I understand fully that the shadows at the feet of the seated man precluded a clear picture of his left foot, but I recommend that, in the absence of such detail, Elizabeth use some freestyle coloring to draw at least an outline of where the shoe should be. She did it for the right foot, and it worked reasonably well.

3.  The vignetted photographed is perhaps the one thing that needs the most attention. Frankly, I had trouble seeing the difference in both images. Elizabeth described how she darkened the area surrounding the two men to make them stand out, but I did not see the effect all that well. I would recommend a less opaque darkening effort to achieve the intended effect.

Overall, Elizabeth did an excellent job and has demonstrated an impressive grasp of Photoshop and her ability to include “Photoshopped” products in a highly attractive and engaging Web page.  My thanks to Elizabeth for the privilege of providing feedback on her excellent work.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Alyssa’s Typography Blog: “Typography Assignment”

Alyssa’s Typography Assignment Blog

I’m happy to say that Alyssa’s Columbine site, which she, like me, used as a practice site for the Typography assignment, turned out extremely well. Her colors, image position, and general site structure looked remarkably good — far better than my attempts! And, like Alyssa, I struggled to get my footer into the body container, but I eventually cracked the code by giving the footer its own class and styling it using the CSS Designer in Dreamweaver. I also used the CSS Designer to solve several of the other problems that Alyssa and I both seemed to have encountered in creating our Web pages.

Moreover, Alyssa followed the same approach I used to match fonts to period newspapers.  Since her period is 19th Century Richmond, she relied on the Richmond Times Dispatch for font inspiration. I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one to follow this same approach. I only wish that Alyssa would have tipped us off to her font choices in her blog, because she has a great eye, and I learn so much from her. In fact, she has been a great help to me by teaching me how to FTP and how to create site links — among other things! I am grateful for all of her help and, above all, for her incredible patience in answering my numerous questions and emails. Thanks, Alyssa!

Steve Rusiecki

 

 

Assignment Blog: Typography

My greatest struggle with the Typography assignment was finding the best two fonts that would represent the World War II era and, more specifically, my focus on the print media of that period.  Since I subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, I have Typekit available as an application. I scoured the available fonts in Typekit for letter styles that would best represent World War II and the fonts used primarily in the headlines and print columns of newspapers.  Since I own original copies of many World War II-era newspapers, I used several of them as comparison pieces for the different fonts in Typekit. Luckily, I found one — a sans-serif font — that matched almost perfectly the font style used in  headlines of the period. The name of this font was League-Gothic, and I downloaded it into my Typkekit “kit,” which could hold only two fonts for the Web at a time.

My next search was for a serif font that would match, or at least resemble, the main-body type found in the  main columns of period newspapers. But, more importantly, I wanted a font that would be easy on the eyes and large enough to keep each line of text on the Web page between 14 to 17 words. I had difficulty finding good examples; but, after switching back and forth between and among several “candidates,” I stumbled upon a font that seemed perfect: Leitura-News. It had a unique style that was easier on the eyes than the actual type found in the bodies of World War II newspapers, but it also evoked an art-deco feel that channeled the era. I was hooked! I downloaded the font to my Typekit “kit” and prepared to embed it in my page using the enabling code provided.

But before I settled on these two fonts, I had heard several of my fellow students in class, when critiquing my rather blandly styled Portfolio page (lots of blues and grays and, yes, dare I say it, Arial font!), state that for them, World War II type evoked a kind of “stenciled” look backed up by lots of “green” colors.  My experience with World War II images and artifacts over the years did not necessarily support this stylistic impression of the era. “Green” was actually an olive drab that leaned closer to a brownish tint. In any case, I wanted to see if I could locate any fonts that supported both my historical impression of the period and my fellow students’ impression of it. I located online a Web site for free fonts (www.dafont.com) that actually carried a selection named “D-Day” — the subject of my primary research interest. Amazing! But I must admit that when I opened the D-Day font, I found it to be awful. I knew instantly why my fellow students invoked a stencil-type image of fonts when thinking about things of a military nature. The font style resembled the letters used in the title image of the old TV show, MASH.  Not only did the MASH letters not resemble the stencil style used on World War II footlockers and vehicles, but it was more closely reflected the font styles that I knew were uniquely associated with the Vietnam period. In short, the D-Day font was “ahistorical” in the extreme and, dare I say it, anachronistic.

After searching for other fonts on other sites, I realized that my first two Typekit choices — League-Gothic and Leitura-News — were the best options. I pasted the embed code for each font into my Typography page’s HTML code. Strangely enough, League-Gothic was already a font selection in Dreamweaver, so the embed code was unnecessary for that font choice. Unfortunately, I would have to upload the files and view the site in a browser in order to see Leitura-News in action. This aspect of Dreamweaver is a downside for me. But when I viewed my font choices live on my Web site, I was very pleased with how they appeared and, most importantly, evoked the World War II era of print media. Not a bad start for a Web-site novice!

Steve Rusiecki

Reading Blog 7 (History 697): Maximizing Accessibility for All Comers

The readings for this week — from Joe Clark’s “How Do Disabled People Use Computers” to WebAim’s 10 accessibility tips to Mark Pilgrim’s “Dive into Accessibility” — all brought to the fore for me the importance of taking deliberate steps to make our historically focused Web sites accessible to all comers.  Joe Clark helped set the stage by defining the operative terms inherent in discussing various disabilities, and Mark Pilgrim’s personalized vignettes drove the nature of those disabilities home for me. But of the various disabilities discussed,  I was most struck by the remarkable challenges faced by blind people. During Clio-Wired I last semester, I sat next to a fellow PhD student who is blind, Andrew Salamone, and learned from him the obstacles he faced in making sense of online visualizations. His struggles with several of the digital tools we used further highlighted the significant challenges he and other visually impaired Web users face each day.  Although Andrew was able to do nearly all of the work in Clio-Wired I quite well, to include making effective use of several visually based digital tools such as Voyant, I witnessed his frustration at not being able to make sense of other tools that could have been accessible  if certain digital guideposts had been in place to help him . Those types of digital guideposts became much clearer to me after reading through “Dive into Accessibility,” WebAim’s 10 accessibility tips, and Paul Ryan Bohman’s unique CSS code that hides HTML needed for blind people from the visual users of the Web site.  In effect, they amounted to a word-based “breadcrumb trail” within and among the HTML that turned visualizations into word pictures for the blind.

After reading these various pieces, I opened the draft version of my Final Project Web site for Clio-Wired II and began examining my HTML code for ways to enhance accessibility for blind people. Bohman’s hidden HTML coding was a bit more involved than my novice coding skills permitted, so I went straight for WebAim’s 10 accessibility tips and began evaluating my site against those guidelines. A few of them did not apply, but I seized on three that I worked into my site immediately: adding captions to all images, adding basic landmarks, and making the title page into an “<h1>.”  First, I ensured that all of the images I used (mostly magazine or newspaper cover images from World War II publications) had a clear title and date so that a visually impaired user would know what I had placed alongside my text. What proved infeasible, though, was a lengthy word description of each image, which would have significantly altered the site’s visual and design impact. Next, I ensured that my main page began with an <h1> header and then cascaded downward with <h2> headers and so on. These headers would make clear the structure of the main page and each subsequent page to someone who had to navigate the site based on these guideposts. Lastly, I ensured that my navigation, body, and paragraph sections were all clearly marked  so that they fell under the appropriate headers. For the most part,  I simply needed to “clean up” and organize my HTML  and CSS code carefully and then validate it for errors. Lastly, I  reviewed my changes against WebAim’s 10 tips and felt satisfied that I had made some decent progress toward making my site reasonably accessible for visually impaired users.

After uploading my changes to my online Web page, I evaluated the site’s accessibility by plugging my URL into WebAim’s WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (http://wave.webaim.org). The results were much better than I expected. For example, on my main (home) page, I had only three errors on a red alert bar, primarily because my alternative text for each of the page’s three images was insufficient.  Clearly, my captions were not suitable; but, if I expanded the captions’ text significantly in the HTML, I would alter the visual design of my page. In this case, Bohman’s hidden HTML would likely come in handy, so I will explore that possibility in greater detail later. I received one “green” feature (a kudo!) for having clearly labeled my navigation bar, but I also received one “yellow” alert for each of my navigation links, because my HTML mentions each one twice in the code. That redundancy might be useful to a visually impaired user, so I decided to leave it in place.  I also received one “blue” (or positive) alert on each of my headings (<h1>, etc.) for having identified each one clearly and making the structure clear. The last alert was a “red” word-bubble icon that, when clicked, told me that I had not identified the site’s language (English, French, etc.).  First, I need to figure out how to do it. More to follow!

Overall, the few simple adjustments I made to my code actually made my site reasonably accessible to someone who is visually impaired.  Naturally, my site does not use complicated logos or visualizations, and those areas (like my cover images) need the greatest attention.  My charter for the near future is to figure out how to “crack that code” (no pun intended!) and make my project site as accessible as possible.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Michael’s Blog 6: “Playing with Historic Photographs”

Michael’s Blog 6: “Playing with Historic Photographs”

I must say that I’m extremely impressed with Michael’s ability to color the image of the man with the cat.  In fact, Michael’s efforts to restore the photograph are quite good.  But I can’t get over how well the blue color on the man’s coat fits so nicely on the image. And Michael’s coloring of the cat is amazing.  Everything seems so natural and true to the period. Well done! Michael has certain mastered the one thing that has eluded me:  bringing the details through the colors. Amazing!

Comment on Alyssa’s Blog 6: “Images Pt. 2″

Alyssa’s Blog 6: Images Pt. 2″

I sympathize with Alyssa on her exploits with Photoshop.  I have certainly mastered cropping, many aspects of restoration on a black-and-white image, and re-matting a cartoon image. However, as for colorizing a black-and-white image — forget it! Like Alyssa, I made the man with the cat look far worse than when we started.  I have no problem using the magnetic  lasso or applying colors lightly. The problem for me comes in identifying the correct opacity and then getting the detail lines to come through the color.  Even after coloring his suit blue and using the burn tool to bring out the detail, everything looks phony. And what I did to that guy’s face is a crime. I probably would have made a better mortician prepping that guy’s face for an open-casket viewing. I decided to free-style the cat’s color, which actually worked pretty well. Over the weekend, I tried to colorize another image from my collection of D-Day JPEGs. Unfortunately for me, I chose a rather challenging one: the troops offloading a landing craft onto a smoke-filled Omaha Beach.  The image now looks like a bunch of green blobs in a sea of bright blue. Uggh! Once again, making the colors look realistic became my biggest challenge.  I’m in the same boat with you, Alyssa. You grab the left paddle, and I’ll grab the right one!

Steve Rusiecki

Reading Blog 6 (History 697): When Does Photograph Tinkering Cross the Line?

I am fascinated with the various techniques that Photoshop offers for restoring, colorizing, and aging photographs and images. The possibilities and variations seem endless. In many instances, the techniques are fairly simple, such as Cameron Moll’s guidelines for adding wear to images and photographs — all to create that ‘wicked worn look.’  But other techniques demonstrated in the Lynda.com tutorials on restoring and coloring photographs seem a bit more complex  and challenging. Up to this point, I’ve tinkered in Photoshop with cropping and coloring photographs and matting a cartoon-style poster image. My results have been mixed, principally because the functions of the various layers  are not always clear to me.  But, more importantly,  I find that the tutorials are often using earlier versions of Photoshop that don’t quite line up with the 2014 version that I’m using. The newer version seems to have made changes or, for the expert designers, “improvements” in the functionality of the software. For a novice like me, those differences all add up to some level of confusion. For me, overcoming that confusion becomes the real challenge.

Photoshop’s ability to alter images and photographs not only sparks my imagination at the seemingly  endless design and restoration possibilities, but it also gives me pause. At what point does tinkering with the integrity of a photograph cross the line? And by “line,” I mean the complete alteration of what the original photographer intended to capture, or what he or she ended up actually capturing, in the original photograph. My fear is that anyone, particularly historians, can go into Photoshop and alter an image significantly by erasing content, shifting the subjects’ positions or poses, replacing backgrounds, etc. And these things are happening now throughout the world for propaganda reasons. Just look at the images of missile tests thrust upon the world by Iran. We now know the Iranians altered those images significantly in order to create a false impression that hid the failures inherent in those launches.  Detecting altered images seems to be a more daunting task today as the software becomes more sophisticated and new techniques emerge, such as Cameron Moll’s ‘worn’ methods.  Who’s to say if that photograph of a flying saucer is real or “Photoshopped”?  I know imagery experts in the Department of Defense who tell me that altered digital photographs are becoming nearly impossible to detect. Or maybe there really are aliens visiting us! I think a couple of them may be working for me.

My concern  with the tinkering of photographs in the historical realm clearly concerns an ethical code that I believe is inviolable. To what degree should a historian alter or restore a photograph used to supplement a historical argument? At what point might such “image tinkering” be deemed revisionist? Granted, photographs begin decomposing and changing within seconds of the shutter’s click.  But I think that we historians take comfort today in the fact that most photographs taken before 1995 existed almost solely on film, which is much more difficult to alter significantly without detection. If we want to tinker with one of these film-based images, we must digitize it. But we can feel secure in the fact that the unaltered negative still exists as a frame of reference. But what about those post-1995 (my date is a bit arbitrary here) images that exist strictly in the digital medium? How will we ever know what the original looked like?  The scenario that plays over and over in my mind is this one: What if digital-image technology existed during World War II? Could a historian today who happens to be a Holocaust denier go into a nationally archived digital collection of World War II photographs and possibly alter some of them to support his or her revisionist inclinations? I know that this scenario seems far-fetched, but people have attempted to do similarly outlandish things to influence the historical record. A few years ago, Sandy Berger, a former member of the Clinton Administration,  pilfered from the National Archives several potentially incriminating documents in the name of his old boss, President Clinton.  Naturally, Berger was caught. But for every  “document thief” the archivists have caught, how many others have been successful? What would keep someone from possibly deleting or altering a digital image forever?

For me, the ethics of photograph alteration in the context of historical representation are clear: Do as little tinkering as possible. If someone colorizes an old black-and-white photograph as part of a business-related Web site, then I see no problem. The design principles behind creating an eye-catching Web design for most folks should be obvious. But tinkering with an old photograph by a historian who intends to use it in support of a historical argument requires much greater care and discretion. If the restoration or other tinkering helps to clarify the image’s original content, then so be it — as long as the historian overtly and clearly documents those alterations. Anything beyond that approach is, for me, strictly taboo. As historians, our ethics must remain above reproach, especially as we venture into the digital history realm, where sometimes not all is as it may seem.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Rob’s Post 5: “Errol Morris and the Case of the Inappropriate Clock”

Rob’s Blog 5: “Errol Morris and the Case of the Inappropriate Clock”

I found Rob’s analysis of Errol Morris’s seven-part reading to be informative and in line with my thinking. I agree that a photojournalist, when faced with the task of capturing something on film properly, has some clear choices to make, starting with angle, composition, arrangement, etc. But introducing something into the photograph that doesn’t belong in the first place (like the alarm clock) is taboo for me.  As I stated in my own blog for this week’s readings, the less that one tinkers with a photograph, the better — and that means even before the photographer has clicked the shutter.

I’m very intrigued by Rob’s discussion of Robert Capa and recent allegations that Capa faked his famed photograph of a Spanish Civil War soldier at the moment of the soldier’s death. Aside from the obvious lapse in ethics that such an allegation represents, the greater concern for me is that Capa took the only 12 surviving photographs of the troops landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. These images, corrupted somewhat by the nervous hand of the developer in London, quickly found their way into American newspapers as true representations of the landing and its inherent horrors. Since my dissertation will analyze the ways in which the American print media constructed for the American public a very specific memory of D-Day as it was happening,  the Capa flap gives me pause.  The Capa photographs are a key component of that constructed memory. I have no doubt whatsoever that Capa’s D-Day images are the real deal, but what if the allegation about his earlier 1936 photograph in Spain is substantiated? How might that fact affect how we as historians  view his subsequent work? This is one question that I will have to contemplate carefully as I begin to explore this controversy in greater detail. My thanks to Rob for making me aware of it.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Stephanie’s Post 5: “The Glory of Photoshop”

Stephanie’s Blog: “The Glory of Photoshop”

I enjoyed Stephanie’s excitement and enthusiasm over Photoshop. I know lots of people who have used the program for years, but they always seemed frustrated at learning to do new things with it.  I’m glad that Stephanie has prompted me to search the Web beyond Lynda.com for other “how-to” sites and tutorials. I was generally sticking to the Lynda.com tutorials; but, after searching the Web based on Stephanie’s blog, I found numerous blogs, sites, and videos explaining how to use different techniques in Photoshop. Thanks for the heads up, Stephanie!

I also appreciated Stephanie’s advice on keeping Photoshop well beyond Clio-Wired II.  She is absolutely right that using Photoshop to make unaltered images and photographs “Web ready” is perhaps the most important function the program will serve for me in the future.  Since I intend to use the Web to present more and more of the history I do, Photoshop will be just as invaluable as Dreamweaver for me in the coming years.  Stephanie is clearly correct in implying that for all of us historians, Photoshop is a tool that we won’t be able to live without.

Steve Rusiecki

Reading Blog 5 (History 697): Image Power

Images are extremely powerful, especially clearly rendered, well-framed photographs.  My belief is that historians who make no attempt to marry up the written word with visual representations  of their period often fail in their craft. The written word can only take our mind’s eye so far; images fill gaps and excite our imaginations. As anyone can tell from my Typography site, photographs of actual events or period artifacts (such as front-page newspaper headlines or period magazine covers) are very important to my efforts to bring the interested reader / user into the fold. And, like Rebecca Hagen and Kim Golumbisky aver, content and image quality for photographs on Web sites mean everything (H&G, 136-138).  Simple, clearly represented subjects — in either color or black and white — can set a powerful tone not only for the Web site but also for the history the site represents.  I tinkered with using as a background image for my site a landing craft filled with GIs approaching Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944. I was unaware of what to expect; but, once I loaded the image, I was astonished to discover how powerful that photograph’s composition proved to be for the subject of my site. The image gave me (and hopefully my soon-to-be users) the feeling that I was on that landing craft with those men heading on a direct journey into history.  If not for the quality of that image, the composition skill of the photographer,  and the image’s immediately recognizable subject matter, the background would not have worked so well. And, frankly, it was dumb luck on my part — but I learned something new about Web-site design and the power of good, effective images from that “tinkering” exercise.

My desire to marry up imagery with historical narrative has had a long and frustrating history.  But I’m happy to say that both the Web and digital history more broadly have offered an effective solution. As the author of two books on World War II subjects, I selected for each book no fewer than 40 photographs for inclusion in each final published work.  In both cases, my publishers came back with the standard response: cut the photograph count in half.  Why? Money. Photographs were expensive to reproduce in hardcover books. Fewer photographs meant a bigger bottom line. In both instances, I fought with my editors to keep as many of the pictures as possible. These images were not run-of-the-mill, stock photographs but unpublished, never-before-seen images that I spent years locating and linking to my  historical analysis.  But my appeals to “good history” fell on deaf  ears. And, yes, these publishing houses were of the peer-reviewed, academic sort. Go figure.  More astonishingly,  they tried to get me to cut down heavily on the ultimate “infographic” for military historians — the map.  For my last book, I spent hundreds of man-hours creating a dozen maps that were anything but “window dressing” for the book.  They were critical to the narrative by “delivering content,” as Hagen and Golumbisky explain, in a way that words often cannot do (H&G, 160).

But today, the ability to do history on the Web opens up many, many possibilities in the visual realm, most notably the ability to supplement printed history tomes with more and more images made available on the Web at little to no cost.  Thanks to Clio-Wired II, I can actually build a somewhat respectable Web site; and, in the near future, I plan to construct a site for each of my books that will allow me to post those photographs (and some maps) that didn’t make the cut. Many members of my reading audience have contacted me through my Facebook page; therefore, I plan to add the Web links there in order to reach out to readers past and present with a plethora of images that can further enhance their understanding of the history I worked so hard to convey in my books.  In fact, some publishers are starting to establish such sites to coincide with their hard-copy publications.  These publishers seem to be using these sites to provide the reading public with more images, maps, and frequently omitted bibliographies. A good deal all around.

The ethics of using photographs and other images in the service of the historical narrative is also of particular importance to me. Granted, Hagen and Golumbisky state that the photographic ethics of “truth, accuracy, fairness[,] and balance” (H&G, 144) are not as important for images used in advertising.  Fair enough. But I think  you can still get into trouble if you take license with any image — no matter the purpose behind its use. As historians who are now moving into the Web’s digital arena, we need to play it “straight” in all instances. In other words, we have to balance strictly our desire to “advertise” our sites using good design imagery with the historical message we are trying to send.  In other words, the desire to entice users to our sites might come into conflict with our choices of proper photographic imagery.  The eye-catching image may not always be the best choice. If we are good historians, then we are trying to advance an argument with imagery and the written word. For some people, though, our arguments may seem “propagandized” and adorned with images that appear to advance one version to the exclusion of another. The potential result is the same situation that Errol Morris discusses in “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock” regarding Arthur Rothstein’s dust-bowl photograph of the cow’s skull.  The image is eye-catching, simple, and powerful — and it advanced a political point of view favorable to FDR’s administration. In other words, it became sheer propaganda.  As historians, we cannot afford such branding. More mundane, ‘un-staged’ photographs of dust-bowl life would have been more historically accurate but probably not as evocative. Where’s the balance? Do we want to attract readers to our subject matter at all costs? The scholarly message can get lost in the imagery if the imagery itself comes into question.  In other words, a bad picture can implode a brilliantly insightful, well-crafted historical narrative.  I know of one instance in which a misidentified, and somewhat misrepresented, photograph in an otherwise excellent history of a particular World War II battle caused the book’s credibility to collapse. The author is a friend, and the damage done by that judgment error still haunts him today. As historians, we must exercise extreme care in how we choose images for our Web sites and use them in the service of our historical arguments. I love good, crisp images, especially black-and-white photographs that are rich in detail.  But I recognize fully that, in some cases, I might have to choose the lesser quality image over the more “design-worthy” image simply because that lesser image is more accurate and better serves the greater historical good.

Images are important and powerful, and the Web allows us to use as many as we want with wild abandon. And, for that very reason, we must be extremely cautious and demonstrate a scrupulousness that is beyond reproach.  Our historical subjects — and our reading public — deserve that kind of exemplary conduct.

Steve Rusiecki