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The High Concept Image...

Discussion in 'Philosophy of Photography' started by EasyEd, Mar 3, 2014.

  1. EasyEd

    EasyEd SC Regular

    143
    Dec 22, 2010
    Hey All,

    Latest Outdoor Photographer article by Ian Plant. Here: Click High Concept

    MODERATOR NOTE: Long quote removed. Please follow link provided.

    To me this is what photography is all about.

    It is why I own a relatively expensive (to many of you cheap as no it isn't a Leica) camera and not those disposable ones. If all you do is document why spend money on any good equipment? Why? When you look at a family related picture from 50 or 100 years ago does sharpness really matter? At all?

    But on the other hand you want to show yourself and others present and future that you really were good - then this article and the concepts expressed should matter. Old people die memories fade so do photos but not digital... So say you were here and that you were good with a camera. I think.

    I'm going to try. Any other opinions?

    -Ed-
     
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  2. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    BB
    For myself, I studied photography in college as a fine art. However, I do not set out with an outcome in mind. I just see and do what comes naturally because photography is what I do for myself, first and foremost.

    Thankfully I also take plenty of pictures of my friends and family (fur and human) that I do believe are often part of my artistic expression. They really are the most important expression of my life when it comes down to it. When I pass on, my guess is that these are the images that will mean the most to my daughter (probably the only one who will really ultimately care) because these will be the most important memories, though I know she enjoys my photographs for their artistic merits as well.

    *I have to add in here that I am not a professional photographer, though I have sold some pictures now and again over the years, and used to exhibit... Do I care what other people think of my photos? Yes, honestly, I do, however I don't do this stuff for other people. I'd still be doing what I do even without the Internet or showing my work to anyone but myself.

    As for photos from 50 or 100 years ago not mattering if they are in focus - well, for me, I do truly enjoy seeing the details of my mother's face when she was about 10, in 1927, etc,...so I have to say it's always worthwhile having a good photograph no matter what means someone uses to get it.

    From my point of view the camera is merely the means to the end. The key to the image is the person behind the camera and how they use whatever kind of camera they have - that camera could be a plastic Diana (for those who remember that camera) or a Leica... But there are plenty of bad expensive camera photos out there and many really good point and shoot ones.

    So, I suppose you could say I subscribe to the belief that there are no absolutes - except for a dog's love.
     
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  3. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    olli
    Sorry doesn't work for me. As far as I can see he's basically saying what every 'how to take better pictures' book that has ever been published is saying but dressing it up more. I wonder why it's so often landscape photographers who come up with this kind of stuff?
     
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  4. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    The first sentence is quite damning enough so as not to invite me to read any further.

    It's pretty dim to suggest that photography should "go beyond mere literal representation": no photograph is a literal representation, mere or otherwise.

    Building an argument about "high concept photography" on such shaky foundations reveals the author someone who doesn't appear to be capable of sophisticated conceptual thinking at all, or at the very least hasn't really read anyone who really can (or could) think.

    The rest of what he has to say is simply trite and unoriginal.
     
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  5. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    First off, the very phrase "high-concept photo" makes me throw up a little in the back of my mouth.

    I think the author makes some decent points and the one over-arching one that I would take away from his article is that one should try harder to make a great image. I think he means well, but maybe he didn't really fully think everything through before he said it. I vehemently disagree that every image needs to tell a story (and I would hope he would agree......otherwise what story is his overprocessed blue-tinted waterfall photo telling us?).

    I enjoy a great photo that hints at (or reveals) a underlying story, but that is (to me) only one kind of photograph. And there is nothing inherently better about that kind of photograph than a more representational photo.

    I think he may be mistaking "different" for "better". His bird photos are a fine illustration of the point I am trying to make. His photo of the multiple birds is striking for its' "unusualness". It's a great photo and one I'd love to have taken. But there is nothing quantifiably better about that photo than the one of the single egret. Sure there may be a lot more good photos of a single egret, well composed and properly exposed, but that doesn't make that photo and less "good" or pleasing. It's OK to recognize the scarcity or singularity of a photo (or type of photo), but it doesn't make it any better....at least not to me.

    And regarding his other 3 examples, I think he should let his compositions speak for themselves without relying so heavily on grotesque color casts. But that is just my personal preference (and I'm generally fine with over-processed images).
     
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  6. snkenai

    snkenai SC All-Pro

    Oct 5, 2010
    kenai, AK
    Stephen Noel
    "High concept" are just words, with no meaning, unless taken in the appropriate context, or explained to the listener. And therefore of no value to me, because I wasn't interested enough to read the whole post. But, the words mean something to the OP, so they are just fine with me.
     
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  7. EasyEd

    EasyEd SC Regular

    143
    Dec 22, 2010
    Hey All,

    Well good - this forum does have a pulse...

    I hardly know where to start....

    So I'll start at the start - I think ian (I do not know him by the way) is right in his encouraging people to try to make the best photo they can every time they pick up a camera. To me it is the art of learning to see. His quoting Minor White "One should photograph objects, not only for what they are but for what else they are." is I think exactly right on the money. Whether the "tips" are trite to me is irrelevant - it comes down to purpose.

    As one example anybody who cannot grasp what high concept photography is will not ever "get" this classic image by my all-time favorite photographer.

    Link to image by "Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange:
    http://www.americaslibrary.gov/assets/jb/modern/jb_modern_lange_2_e.jpg

    Note this image is in the public domain. PLEASE SEE MODERATOR NOTE BELOW.

    This photographer knew what was being photographed - the photographer knew what to see and compose. This was not just a documentary photograph to someone like this photographer. This is a photographer who understood Minor White.

    This photographer was once asked by Ansel Adams who knew how good this photographer was to teach at his "school" but this photographer told Ansel Adams no. Most here should know who this photographer was.

    It is the ability to add to the object/subject that defines someone who understands Minor White - look at the portraits by Yousuf Karsh. He really understood Minor White. And it isn't just people but people are what most relate to.

    -Ed-

    Moderator note: Direct image removed and link substituted; photographer credited. Please note that "Public domain", like "fair use" is not a universal concept and this is an international forum. Thank you.
     
  8. Ripleysbaby

    Ripleysbaby supernatural anesthetist

    Sep 9, 2011
    Cumbria UK
    Garry
    Hi Ed. Do you have any high end concept images you could share with us ?
    I am one of those people that will never "get" that image above. Great piece of portraiture it is without doubt. But what is there about it to "get" . The photographer was there. She took the shot. It's a portrait of an impoverished mother and her children. ( I have read the story behind it) I don't see it as high concept .
    And Ed. The forum has a pulse statement. With respect, that is a little rude.
     
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  9. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    I wish I did that. I would've loved the experience.
     
  10. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    the arrogance of this statement is quite breathtaking
     
  11. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    ditto
     
  12. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Decorum, gentlemen, please...
     
  13. EasyEd

    EasyEd SC Regular

    143
    Dec 22, 2010
    Hey All,

    1) About the pulse statement I only mean't that this part of the forum doesn't get a lot of use. I personally think it should get a lot more, When i went to college I took a 3 month photography course. Two hours a week in lecture/discussion and 3 hours in lab for 10 weeks. Then I took the Chemistry of Photography which today would be the Physics of Photgraphy. School only cost $500 a year books and tuition and student fees and insurance plus room and board so I went to a fair bit of school. This was the late 70s. Point is those hours of discussion of photograph after photography both by my classmates and by "masters" were the best learning time of my photographic life. I long to find a way to bring those days back.

    2) About the copyright. Everyone who knows that image knows that it belongs to the people of the USA as it was taken well over 70 years ago and by a US government employee. There is no copyright issue in play at all in this case. None. To not be able to link to a US government image is getting ridiculous with respect to copyright. Here is a link to a national archives document showing the image and other related links.

    http://www.archives.gov/nyc/education/picturing-america/18b-migrant-mother.pdf

    Even has some fun questions at the bottom.

    Yes it would mean checking the source of every photograph but whoever posts the image can demonstrate that it is public domain as I have. To not be able to show a classic - even high concept government owned image - like this on a photography site is pretty astounding. Just sayin...

    3) Sorry it is a high concept image. One does not say that the Mona Lisa is just another painting and expect that opinion to be as legitimate as the verdict of history. Why because it isn't - only in the realm of personal taste does it hold sway.

    Sorry some took offense.

    -Ed-
     
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  14. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    olli
    I think part of the issue with the phrase 'high-concept'. I haven't come across it before and I assume it's one the writer of the piece came up with himself. There are two problems. First, the contrast of 'low' and 'high' is always going to come across as judgmental and potentially arrogant, even if there is no intention on the author's part. Second, talking about 'high-concept' photography makes it sound like this should in some way be related to conceptual photography, which it very emphatically isn't.

    If he were to stick to discussing it in terms of perhaps reactive vs deliberative photography or some such alternative it might work better. The basic idea of how to make images that are not only about saving moments in time that matter to us - the snapshot, the family picture, the holiday photograph etc - but have an impact or a value beyond that which they have for the photographer is sound. i just think other people have said it many times before and said it better.

    My own personal disagreement with the writer (and with others) is his claim that photographs should tell a story. As I see, one of the key strengths of photography is that photographs don't tell stories. To quote Clive Scott:

    "because the photograph is so weak in intentionality, in its ability to say what it means, so it must either outbid itself, make its case with the crassest obviousness, or it must fall back on language to make its case for it. More particularly, the photograph shaves context down to something wafer thin."

    Photographs can be made to tell stories when collected together thematically and accompanied by a written text but a single image does not do that. To take the example Ed quoted of the Dorothea Lange picture, how we read this single image is defined by our knowledge that it was one of a large number of images taken in a particular context - a commission from the FSA - and by our knowledge of some of those other images. If we were able to view it in its singularity with no knowledge of that context I suspect we would view it differently.

    PS. The quote from Scott is taken from his book Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. This is more a critical look at the concept of street photography, not a history, and as it's written by a Professor of Literature it is, inevitably, ponderously written with lots of overly complex sentences and critical theory jargon. However, get past that and it's a fascinating book well worth reading. Probably best to get it from your local library though.
     
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  15. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Absolutely no offence has been taken. However please remember that this is an international forum. Remember also that the right to distribute is granted, not assumed. Many of your audience are not "people of the USA" so have no "ownership" of this image, express or implied. International copyright law is not the same as domestic.

    [Moderator hat off] It may prove fruitful if you were to state clearly just what it is about Dorothea Lange's image that you feel is "high concept" - not a term in common use.

    Certainly Lange was working for the government along with many others at the time it was taken - she was specifically working to a brief to record, rather than interpret what she witnessed. If "high concept" requires artistic intent or pre-meditation on behalf of the photographer I would argue that this image has indeed been accorded iconic status over the years, but "high concept"...?

    As has already been suggested, why not illustrate your point with an image or two of your own?





    Sent from another Galaxy
     
  16. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    One person's "high concept" is another's "useless concept", so I don't like the terminology. But I certainly get the point about "learning to see". To see photographically - to see images rather than just pictures. To make an image out of what one sees rather than just "take a picture OF" what one sees. That's what I strive for in some of my shooting and only rarely succeed.

    But photography is many things to many people and it doesn't all need to be art or high concept or "well seen" or whatever in order to work and work well. This morning I took some quick photos of the place I'm staying at the moment for the owner to use in his ad for the place because I thought the ones he has up show the individual rooms pretty well but don't show the flow of the unit as a whole. So I took a few with a wider lens and emailed them to him and he was really grateful for them and they did what they were supposed to do. I take a lot of photos of family during holidays and other get togethers. I'm "the photographer" of the bunch so I do it. And I do it better than others might do it because I understand things like focal length and narrow DOF and exposure, etc. But they're still just basic family portraits, not high concept or art and they didn't really take a lot of "seeing" - just decent framing and composition. And when it's all said and done, I'm sure those will be my most treasured photographs, not the occasionally more artistic image I might make of something abstract or scenic or whatever or even of other people that I don't actually know, no matter how interesting or well seen one or two of those might be. Man, just the expression of love on a grandparent's face when they're holding one of their grandkids, or the grandkid's oblivious innocence and sweetness (or mischievousness) that comes through can be higher art than the highest art in my book. Suffering and pain are part of life and need to be represented, but it's not the part I want to wallow in with my shooting...

    I should also add that some of the most powerful photos ever made weren't really all that well "seen" and don't work all that well as "images" - they were just amazing "right time, right place" types of shots that just GETTING the shot was 99.9% of it's value. I think of two images from Viet Nam as examples, one of a little girl running screaming down the road after her village was napalmed, the other the sequence of a prisoner being shot in the head by the military / police officer and falling dead. Those aren't great photographs because they were well seen - they're great journalistic photographs because they were seen at ALL. I wouldn't call them high concept or art but I call them amazingly great photographs just based on the content of the moment. I think a lot of the best street photography is like that too - just relatively straight-forward photos of folks in a particularly compelling moment rather than a really well composed and artistic looking photograph of basically nothing in particular.

    So just because photography can be art and some of us strive for that in some of our shooting doesn't mean that's all it is or all it's supposed to be. I fully get what you're after here, Ed, but I really enjoy ALL of it - the attempts at art and the basic workaday type stuff that get's a job done or makes people happy or whatever. My basic pleasure is that I can do that stuff pretty competently and if I happen to hit on an occasional artistic shot along the way, so much the better, but that's only a small part of the whole ballgame for me...

    -Ray
     
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  17. Boid

    Boid SC All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    Rajiv
    Ray, interesting you cited those two examples. Both those images are interesting seen through the lens of this particular discussion (I'm ignoring the terminology of "high" or"low" art/concept here, which I find a bit umm... under cooked).

    The naplam girl image was cropped for emphasis -

    Cropped image (http://media.npr.org/assets/img/201...baad205d1edf5f19e683c39e6cb4df9c3c-s6-c30.jpg)

    Uncropped image(http://www.bagnewsnotes.com/2013/09/have-you-ever-seen-the-uncropped-version-of-the-napalm-girl/) and there's no denying that it improves the image without the distraction of the additional photographer in the vicinity desperately loading his camera.

    The second image you're probably referring to, Vietnam execution, this is what the photographer, Eddie Adams, had to say about the image -

    "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?"

    Wiki link - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Adams_(photographer)

    No denying that they are both fantastic images, but they brought to the forefront the issue of images conveying only a portion of the truth in journalism.
     
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  18. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey SC Hall of Famer

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    Kyle
    What Ray said.
     
  19. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey SC Hall of Famer

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    Kyle
    Also heads up, Boid - you labeled the links backwards (cropped vs uncropped).

    And really interesting, I'd never seen the uncropped.
     
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  20. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    olli
    And Dorothea Lange airbrushed a thumb out of the Migrant Mother image.

    And on the big question: art or not?

    "Was it...art? ...I've always avoided this particular controversy. Nothing strikes me as more futile...Was it sociology? I'm sure it was more than a little bit sociology. Ansel Adams, in fact, once told me, "What you've got are not photographers. They're a bunch of sociologists with cameras."...Was it journalism? Yes and no...Was it history? Of course...If I had to sum it up, I'd say, yes, it was more education than anything else...We...helped connect one generation's image of itself with the reality of its own time in history."

    From 'The FSA Collection of Photographs.' Forward to In This Proud Land: America 1935-1943 as Seen in the FSA Photographs. Edited by Roy Emerson Stryker and Nancy Wood. 1973. (Stryker was the man responsible for commissioning the FSA photographs)

    via PBS
     
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