April 11th, 2011, 08:44 PM
The Reflective Photographer: getting all facets in focus - the visual and the gear.
Originally this was to be a "group" down in a different part of the forum, but it's been decided that it will be more active up here. Don asked me to move everyone's posts up here so that's why this initial thread is under my name, but it isreally Don AKA Streetshooter who has started this discussion going.
So here is where we are so far, but I know we're going to end up somewhere else. So, please add your thoughts and reactions to the thread.
Streetshooter - 04-07-2011, 06:51 AM
Streetshooter - 04-07-2011, 07:13 AM
Let me start by welcoming you to the group. The idea for this comes from reading the threads both here and other places. I see many of the same shooters that are on a quest for a more clear definition of their photography. It normally gets frustrating on a forum. Sooner or later, the forum will lean more towards Gear or Images without a clear dividing line. Then the shooter feels that they are being drained of energy.
There needs to be a place that one can put it all together. I'd like this group to be one port in the sea of ideas, where you may come in and dock for a spell. Share your ideas. Learn from us and teach us what you have found along the way.
BBW - 04-07-2011, 09:08 AM
I've been very lucky in my journey as a photographer to have met many really great shooters. I've spent time with famous and not so famous people and basically, this has steered me along the way. The experiences shared has kept me from being s\lost in the sea of ideas.
What is the sea of ideas? For me, it's the world around us. It can provide a wave of energy that inspires us to continue on our journey. It is also a vast place that can swallow up a wave and keep us lost at sea.
I'll try to keep this on a Forum Level. Of course it's easy to expand this to everything in life but we want to focus on the reason we are at forums in the first place. The reason is simply the thirst for knowledge. The thirst for recognition by others, that what we are doing is appreciated by others. This keeps us driving on and trying to find a common ground that we can feel at home with.
Please free to add in the conversation at anytime. Your thoughts are what drives you and others.
Djarum - 04-07-2011, 10:43 AM
Don, great idea. I like this idea of a group...a nice quiet place where we can meet in comfortable chairs...share a cup of coffee, or something stronger, have some refreshments and talk about where we're going, or where we are.
It's still morning here in NY, but I'll be back in here later. I'm imagining this as a kind of pub - or it could be a classic 1950s diner...or a big kitchen table looking out at a bucolic vista...or maybe it's evening, the lights are lit but on low... Anyway, it feels like a comfortable place to be. Hats off to you for creating our virtual meeting spot. See you later on!
Country Parson - 04-07-2011, 10:10 PM
I'll try and jump in, though I might land on my head.
One of the struggles I've personally had with phography, and as much as I enjoy it, is not figuring out what I want from it. Like any other journey we take, there are always struggles. I think the more I venture into photography, I think I more or less know what I want from it.
I do a good bit of hiking, and this was one of the main impetus' to getting better gear and getting more active into photography. When I look at the pictures of my hiking, I always end up wanting more. The problem as I see it, is that a picture is a moment in time. It expresses an idea. It can capture the natural beauty around us. However, what I want from photography, or more importantly, what I'd like to see in my own photography, is the expression of the journey, not the end of the journey.
If there is anything that I'd like to do better with my photography, I want to express more of the journey.
Streetshooter - 04-08-2011, 01:05 PM
It is useful for me to think about what got me started in photography. Why did I want a camera when I was a teen, but could not afford one? Later, in my early married life the camera was for recording family life, but it always seemed like it should be for more than that. When I finally could buy good equipment my preoccupation was the beauty of creation. That continues to be a significant interest but now I think that people of all types and kinds and ages are endlessly interesting subjects. (But do they then become objects?) The camera can become an escape, or an excuse to observe rather than participate, or it can be just a tool for creative expression in an endlessly fascinating world of pleasure, pain, love and indifference. Like all tools the camera is neutral. We the photographers give it whatever meaning it can have for us. For my part, I keep coming back to photography because it serves some kind of creative need in me. Why?
Streetshooter - 04-08-2011, 01:05 PM
The issue of Need for a Creative Release, I think effects many photographers. Photography in a simple sense, has almost an instant gratification attached to it. I know, we as shooters don't believe that but many other artist in other arts do.
The thing photography does that almost no other art form does is, proves that we were there, at a certain time and place. It's our make on humanity. It proves we existed. It lets others see what we saw during our time we spent here.
Streetshooter - 04-08-2011, 01:05 PM
One image that lives in my brain as well as other parts of my presence is, The Traitor, The Young Lewis Payne. I won't post the image but he's sitting in a cell waiting for execution. It's during the Civil War here in the States.
I look at that image and feel his pain and his apprehension of the uncertain future. I feel the photographer viewing the subject, framing, adjusting the camera, clicking the shutter.
It proves in fraction of a second that both lived and that both did not escape death.
Streetshooter - 04-08-2011, 09:55 PM
Photography does that. It keeps one aware of the future as well as the past. We look at our family snaps from years ago and think, geeze, my kids have grown right in front of me. The photos mark a period of time. They mark the end also.
As each image becomes a mark to a proof of life, so it has to become, a mark for the proof of death. We can't escape this simple process in photography.
So, shooters that are aware of these facts, are also more attuned to their surroundings and better yet, more attuned to their own existence and their own process of making photographs.
You can dispute this all you want but in the end, your images will outlive you by 10 fold.
Then, if that in fact is an acceptable truth, it should be an easier journey as to what to do with your camera. Pay close attention to your Here and Now, that's all ya have and all you'll ever get.
Make photographs of it so that those who follow in your tracks can see what you saw.
Country Parson - 04-09-2011, 08:44 AM
Your turn guys.... lets get this going.... Post your thoughts.
Country Parson - 04-09-2011, 08:45 AM
Don's emphasis on the "here and now" is a good one. We can only live one minute at a time, and it is such a wonderful gift that we can preserve a part of those minutes visually, even the tragic things. We watched the Ken Burns films on the American Civil War recently. One cannot help but be moved by those early photographic images of bodies on the battlefield. There are many books published that depict world history from that time to the present. They are reminders of lives lived for better or for worse. They give us a sense of the linear movement of the "arrow of time" (as the physicists call it).
Djarum - 04-09-2011
As Don refers to family pictures, mine remind me of the blessings and losses of the past, as well as lessons learned. But much of that kind of photography is about a kind of record keeping and documentation. Many of those family photos were not taken with the thought of them becoming "art." Whereas we put pictures on a site like this one because we do think there is something artsy about them, don't we? So, my fellow photographic artists, what does art have to do with all this philosophizing?
pdh - 04-09-2011, 04:16 PM
If we are talking about taking photos of the hear and now, which might include family, friends, or just the general sense of where we are, the photos we take are not necessarily art. In writing, the audience always has to be considered. I believe these sorts of pictures can be considered art as long as a wider audience is considered. More specifically, the photos have a wider appeal than just family and friends. The photographer is using good photographic techniques to take the photos. Like anything else however, art and what is defined as good art is completely subjective. I've seen many films that I thought were great that the general public thought were horrible, and vice versa.
pdh - 04-09-2011, 04:16 -04.17 PM
Briar commented on one of my PAD blog entries that she couldn't understand why I took some of the photographs I did. (Success!)
There are a number of things I think I'm trying to do, taking photographs. I've only really understood this after gaining control over all phases of the process (I never learned to use a darkroom, so digital has been rather significant to me), and being forced to think (by a thread of Don's over at mu43) about Intent ... I haven't worked out what all of these things are mind you, but I am reasonably clear about two of them.
One is what I like to think of as snapumentary ... a simple (!) record of what has come in front of my nose ... a nice set of colours and shapes, or a strong texture, or a striking landscape, or maybe a macro of a flower bud or seedhead.
Another is a bit less easy for me to find straightforward language to express, but is about using what's found to make a different way of looking ... hmm that sounds pseudy ... try again ... abstraction interests me: it's worth having a look at the paintings of Peter Lanyon (died in his prime unfotrunately); there you see apparently abstract shapes on a surface that are, with a bit of effort and imagiunation by the viewer, resolvable into (in some cases) almost a documentary.
The painter might take some elements seen in their environment and place them on a surface; there is an act of imagination involved.
Other abstractions are more about balance and tension (anyone can draw some black quadrilaterals on paper and colour a few of them in; the tricky bit is arranging so that you can look at it for more than a few moments without getting bored - which is why there was only one Piet Mondrian)
Sometimes I think what I try to do is find the abstraction in a scene and represent both the abstracted bit and the representational bit. This is difficult for me as I'm neither an artist (though I've looked at a lot of art), nor a very good photographer. Also, this isn't particularly original , and is better executed - techincally and artistically - by others (you only have to look at the photostreams of one or two of my Flickr contacts to see that)
It's also difficult because someone who takes photographs is limited to some extent by what is present in the world. Lanyon and Mondrian could arrange their lines and textures and colours and surfaces as they wished ...
I rarely take photographs of people.
And I'm sorry this is so many posts but this thing won;t let me post more than 1000 characters at a time ...
April 11th, 2011, 09:02 PM
EasyEd - Yesterday, 10:30 - 10:35 PM
Country Parson - Today, 10:55 AM
If you don't mind I'll play.
The challenge I'm trying to figure out is how to translate the photography that truly "speaks" to me into today's world. My favorite photography is that of the FSA photographers and others of that era.
Walker Evans said it well for me: (from Evans' Images: Architecture
Evans, in a 1971 interview said: "When you say 'documentary,' you have to have a sophisticated ear to receive that word. It should be documentary style, beacuse documentary is police photography of a scene and a murder...That's real document. You see art is really useless, and a document has use. And therefore art is never a document, but it can adopt that style. I do it. I'm called a documentary photographer. But that presupposes a quite subtle knowledge of the distinction."
Thus, Evans (and other photographers of that era) fused the gap between photography as an art, and photography as a research method, by taking the regular and making it unique, by taking the common and making it beautiful, and by taking the specific and making it speak for the broad.
Italics - my comment.
In my case the theme is simple - Man and the Land. The hard part is thinking of and finding the place and the message and then seeing the image because as so aptly put by Walker Evans - I agree - art is really useless other than self indulgence and momentary gratification. I see the task as so beautifully put by Dorothea Lange:
"As photographers, we turn our attention to the familiarities of which we are a part. So turning, we in our work can speak more than of our subject – we can speak with them; we can more than speak about our subjects – we can speak for them. They, given tongue, will be able to speak with and for us. And in this language will be proposed to the lens that with which, in the end, photography must be concerned – time, and place, and the works of man."
I had to read this several times to get the full impact.
Streetshooter - Today, 07:13 - 07:14PM PM
Interesting reflections, but I would not agree that art is useless. That position reflects a pragmatic emphasis on production, without considering human benefits that are not easy to measure.
Let's not forget that when Evans wrote those thoughts, it was 80 years ago. Times change, people change and so does the way we need to think about what we are doing. The important thing is, not what everyone else is doing but what you are doing. How focused are you in what you are doing? That's what I call intent. You could be a portrait shooter, landscape shooter, fine art shooter whatever. It doesn't matter. You are a photographer and as such you have a responsibility to carry on and improve the traditions that forged you. So, the real difference between the shooter doing ART and the shooter doing DOCUMENTARY is a very defined line called intent.
Without intent you are aimlessly pointing your camera in hopes of finding the perfect mistake.
I started playing the guitar when I was around 13. Many years later I started to enjoy what I was hearing and feeling....sometimes. I became aware that there are 2 ways for me to play the guitar.
The first is that I feel like I'm practicing. I am aware that I am playing but I can feel that I am connected in a certain defined way.
The second way is that I am playing the guitar. I'm just in the here and now with the Strat and we're making music. So what is the difference? I suppose it's the same as the way I make images.
If I want to see what something looks like in a photograph, well that is one way to connect.
If I am just out at one with myself, camera in hand...that's when Im seeing and making images.
Would it matter if I were doing a portrait, a landscape, documentary, street.... I think not. It's not about style, technique, subject matter at all...it'a about me being aware in the here and now.....
Any of youse fine peoples ever feel that way?
April 11th, 2011, 10:59 PM
I think I understand. There are times where I am really connected to a scene. When I am connected my images usually turn out pretty good. Other times I feel like I should take pictures of a scene and do but they aren't usually all that good. I think I need to do a better job of trying to connect.
April 12th, 2011, 06:40 AM
DJ, That's exactly it. The fact that you are aware of this means that you will be able to connect more in the future....
April 12th, 2011, 10:59 AM
I really think the problem is that there are many things in this world that I find trivial and very uninteresting. I see photos of those same things and they are really good and I like them. I'm starting to wonder if there is a difference in this sort of connection. The connection of our everyday life and the environement around us, or the connection in which we take pictures.
Something I suppose I need to ponder on.
April 12th, 2011, 11:46 AM
I think that is a good example of how a camera sees things differently to how we would normally see them. With familiarity you can begin to visualise what 17mm @ f5.6 (etc.) looks like before you raise the camera. What doesn't automatically appeal to my eye might appeal to my perception of what the camera sees, and vice versa.
Nic (Canonite, Olympian, Panasonian, Samsunite) ~flickr~
April 13th, 2011, 01:42 AM
SS yes Evans wrote those words long ago - 40 odd actually but I think his point completely valid even today - from a documentary photographer's perspective art is useless as art is never a document however art can assume a documentary style - this is what Evans did - artistic photography in a documentary style thus achieving both his artistic goals and the utilitarian goals of the FSA - which had very clearly defined intent(s) - basically to provide photography to support FDRs New Deal. The FSA photographers as a whole had purpose and intent and even photographic scripts to follow yet they still produced art. How? Simple - they were passionate and connected with their work which provided the means (including scripts) for them to express the art they were capable of through their compositional skills. Dorothea Lange wrote "Art is a by-product of an act of total attention."
My point is that you need to go out the door armed with passion and intent and scripts in mind which contribute to your intent and then learn to see those scripts in the world you are trying to photograph within. This I think is some of what Dorothea Lange may have mean't when she said the camera is an instrument that teaches you to see without a camera. My challenge is identifying and retaining in my mind enough scripts consistent with my intent so that I can learn to see and compose them. To me your passion and intent says why you go out the door with a camera in hand, scripts are the photographic concepts (photographic whats if you will) that contribute to your intent and composition pulls it all together when you click the shutter.
You can have all the passion and intent in the world but without scripts (what(s) to photograph) and compositional skills you will be frustrated. Composition can be learned - the elements are fairly well known, identifying scripts or all the whats to photograph or elements to include in a photograph that contribute to your purpose (intent) in even being a photographer can be tough depending on what or how well you actually know and can articulate what your purpose (intent) in being a photographer is. To simply go out the door with a bunch of feelings doesn't work.
This to me is what Djarum expressed - he didn't realize how common objects that he saw as uninteresting when skillfully photographed could contribute to his passion and intent for photography. In other words how do you recognize the potential scripts that contribute to your passion and intent. Largely my dilema as well.
Last edited by EasyEd; April 13th, 2011 at 02:01 AM.
April 13th, 2011, 05:32 AM
For me, photography serves three purposes:
1. The capture of my life as it unfolds. Everything from the sublime to the prosaic, considered photos to snapshots, I take them. Photography is a part of the overall recording of my life, and I also take video and audio recordings. I have maintained extensive journals for a very large proportion of my life. Hence, my handle of 'Archiver'.
2. The creation of beauty and the continual movement towards some kind of aesthetic or artistic expression. And the more I gain technical skills, the easier it is for me to capture what I want, in the same way that a writer with full command of language communicates the way they desire, and a musician with technical skill is further capable of greater expression. For me, skill in photography is not just about mastery of gear and technique, but of being able to see, both in the moment and by previsualization. If I see the moment when it unfolds, I can catch it. If I see the moment inside and then create it, then I can catch it as well.
3. A set of skills that help me make money. I have come from shooting compact cameras for fun to shooting DSLR's and large sensor compacts for jobs that include architecture, landscapes, products and portraiture. The greater skill I have, the more I am able to create a product that suits my client, the greater the number of clients I can serve, and the more I can get paid.
There is a fourth purpose that photography serves for me, something that permeates all three aforementioned things: I love photography. I love gear, I love learning about cameras and composition, about technique and timing. Photography is FUN! I practically live for this.
Currently, my favourite photographers are the classic Magnum photogs like HCB, Capa, Andre Kertesz, Elliott Erwitt, and more modern photographers like Mary Ellen Mark and Daido Moriyama. I also like photographers of the prosaic like Stephen Shore, Jeff Brouws and Seiichi Furuya. I prefer more natural looks to overdone studio productions, although I certainly admire the skills of Helmut Newton and Avedon. My own photography bears little resemblance to that of my idols, but I love them all the same.
April 13th, 2011, 06:45 AM
While working to a brief (or script) can have its advantages, the scenario you put forward would make me feel shackled, and incapable of the freedom I so enjoy and relish. Going out the door with just a bunch of feelings DOES work for me, and being contantly restricted to set of pre-established directives would make me want to give up photography, quite frankly.
Originally Posted by EasyEd
While I can understand that some would benefit from this focus and purpose for others it does not. It denies the ability of the photographer to respond to the world around them in an instinctive way, and to my mind creates a kind of "tunnel vision".
When learning, the concept of the brief or project can be a useful one, as it focuses on specific techniques and encourages, hopefully, a different way of seeing. But eventually surely the aim is to enable flexibility, creativity and the ability to observe and record those fleeting moments. Did Cartier-Bresson go out the door thinking I must get a shot of a man jumping over a puddle, or a man with a moustache looking through a hole in a tent? Or did he go out the door with a slightly less proscriptive attitude.
Photographers can work with a set of values certainly and these values can have a profound influence on their work. Sebastian Salgado uses his camera to make a point and to make us aware of the conditions in which our fellow human beings live. Ansel Adams on the other hand was bringing largely unknown areas of natual beauty to peoples attention and was influential in the creation of agencies that helped protect these areas.
However, having a set of values, while often contributing to our choice of subject matter, should allow for the widest set of possibiities. Personally, I often respect the person who changes his mind over the person who adheres to a strict set of beliefs without wavering. As photographers we must surely learn to be observers first. To see the whole picture and not just what we want to see.
Certainly much of professional photography requires an ability to be flexible, creative and instinctive. Even the best organised and resourced shoots have the possibility of disaster and many times I've been in situations where the intended shot list has been torn up and the whole thing has had to be improvised from scratch.
To me its the difference between sitting down in a concert hall to play from a score and getting together in an after hours club to jam. Neither approach guarantees a quality end product and there are many who can do one and not the other. But to me both are valid, and both are capable of producing an inspirational final product.
Obviously to be able to "improvise" in a photographic sense takes a certain amount of confidence only possible after a certain amount of practice and experience. While I appreciate the usefulness of working to a "script" my view is at some time you have to take the training wheels off and give it a go. You may get a few bruises at first but eventually you'll get the hang of it and feel able to work on your own.
April 13th, 2011, 07:30 AM
Working to a script sounds too constrictive to me. I prefer to be more opportunistic in my approach. Often my only intent when carrying a camera is to take pictures.
Nic (Canonite, Olympian, Panasonian, Samsunite) ~flickr~
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