There is room in photography for differing points of view. These reflect my photographic point of view. It is nothing new, it’s as old as photography itself. However, it not a point of view that you will generally discover in a camera club, on an Internet forum or in most how-to books. Am I an outstanding photographer? Absolutely not. It is not a matter of being outstanding or mediocre; it’s a matter of bringing something of value to my life regardless of my photographic abilities.
Elliott Erwitt "It’s about time we started to take photography seriously and
treat it as a hobby." --Elliott, Erwitt
"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about
finding something interesting in an ordinary place.... I've found it has little
to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." --Elliott, Erwitt
May I repeat that last one? ? "...little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." Robert Frank “It is always the instantaneous reaction to
oneself that produces a photograph.” – Robert Frank
"I am not interested in shooting new things - I am interested
to see things new." -- Ernst Haas
"There is only you and your camera. The
limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we
are." --Ernst Haas
Gernsheim was a photography historian and collector. A
German Jew, he escaped to England just prior to the outbreak of WWII.
As a ‘friendly foreign alien’ he was interned with other German nationals in
New South Wales, Australia where he wrote his first book New Photo Vision.
Helmut Gernsheim recognized very early on that the medium of
photography could stand as an art form in its own right, and he devoted much of
his life to rigorous research in the field. In 1945, he laid the cornerstone
for the now-famous Gernsheim Collection with his discovery of long-forgotten masterpieces
from the early years of photography. Ultimately this collection, along with an
estimated three to four million words of notes on the subject led to his
writing the 180,000 word book The History of Photography. When the first
edition was published in 1955 it became an instant classic and the definitive
reference work for historians of photography for decades afterwards, being
described by Beaumont Newhall as "a milestone in the history of
It was Gernsheim that rediscovered the long-lost hobby of
Lewis Carroll when in 1947 Helmut stumbled across an album of Carroll's
portraits in a junk shop. But his most important contribution was the rediscovery
in 1952 the ‘first photogragraph’ taken from his view from the window at Le
Gras in 1826 or 1827 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. This established that it was
Niépce, not Daguerre, who first discovered a method of preserving the
photographic image. This photograph is now in the Gernsheim Collection at the
University of Texas at Austin.
Gernsheim has played a very important part in the history of
photography but this is really a long way around getting to what I really want
to talk about.
In reading Dialogue With Photographers, in the
interview with Gernsheim he recounts a story about comments on a print at the
Royal Photographic Society that I found interesting. He doesn’t give a date but
it would have been in the late forties or very early fifties since he resigned
from RSP in 1952. Gernsheim had a much more modern view of photography than was
generally accepted by the membership. He recounts that he was often asked to
sit on the exhibition committee for political reasons. With his presence no one could
suggest that the more modern thinkers were excluded from the process. They knew that he would
always be out voted by (his term) the ‘old fogies’. He tells a tale about one
of the members calling him aside at one such committee meeting and showing him some
superb pictures of sand dunes—rippling sand in strong light, divided by deep
shadows, very graphic. Gernsheim was asked how he felt about the pictures to
which he replied, “We should be honored to have the great man in our company.”
Then the member pointed at the shadows and muttered, “No details whatsoever. I
don’t think he will get an exhibition.” And he didn’t. The photographs were by
the American photographer, Edward Weston.
The conventional impediments that I so frequently rail about are well ingrained into the fabric of photography.
Holmes Smith is among the most influential photographic art teachers.
Interested in the German Bauhaus, in 1937 he was asked to teach at the New
Bauhaus founded in Chicago by Moholy Nagy. After World War II he taught for
several years at Indiana University.
an early experimenter with electronic flash and with color photography. His
later photography was almost all abstracts made directly without a camera, in
the tradition of the photograms of Moholy Nagy and the Rayographs of Man Ray.
He created images by refracting light through splashes of water and corn syrup
on glass plate. A limited number of prints were made before the syrup was
scraped off to make way for a new image. He would make positives from those that he felt worked and the positives would be copied to 4x5 negatives. Smith’s photography gained little
recognition and there is very little in print regarding his career, at the end of
which Smith questioned the value of photographic education, noting that unlike,
say a medical degree, a degree in the fine arts didn’t lead to some useful role
following is from the book Dialogue With Photography, a collection of
interviews with important photographers by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper
published in 1979. I found the following portion of the interview with Smith
interesting and every bit as true today, if not in an even worse state. Even
though Smith is talking about a formal photographic education I personally
believe that what he says is applicable across the entire spectrum including
peer taught amateur photography. The egalitarianism of digital imaging
technology combined with the influence of immense amounts of images posted to
the Internet, most of which fall within Smith’s following definition of routine
and redundant, has greatly exacerbated the homogenization of photographic
thinking and consequentially the routine and redundant have only proliferated. At least that is my opinion.
are your thoughts on photographic education today?
think it’s excessive, I think people all over the country are busy teaching
people things they don’t need to know. They are incapable of teaching students
things they need to know and if they taught them things the student needed to
know the culture would see that it was quickly extirpated.
how do you see the future of photographic educations?
would like to see it less institutionalized, less victimized by manufacturers
and less addicted to routine and redundant imagery.
do you mean by redundant photographic imagery?
kind of pictures that come out of 99 percent of the 35mm cameras and 2 ¼ square
cameras has very little to do with creating and the sense of humanity which
could unite individuals. People are competing to win at a game that is a
loser’s game. The game is to have better routine images than somebody else’s routine
images. If you want a prescription for routine images, you just have to go
through any student’s portfolio.
At a certain point, human beings
creating art no longer need to be told what they’re supposed to do… The
predicament of photographic education in the country seems to revolve around
false rewards. It doesn’t create a bunch of free people; it creates a bunch of
people with a terrible burden on their back, like the Old Man and the Sea or
Sinbad the Sailor, and it’s a cultural commitment to an unrewarded activity.
The rewards are at best nominal. Somebody said recently that the best thing a
student could do was get in some shows and publish a book; but nothing about
becoming a human being, nothing about having important feelings or concepts of
humanity. That’s the sort of thing that is bad education. I’d say be a
human being first and if you happen to wind up using photography, that’s good
for photography. [emphasis mine]
Ralph Hattersley Jr. used the term
'imitative' to describe much the same thing as Smith calls routine and
redundant. I frequently use the term 'safe' because that is what it
is—confirmed acceptable subject matter, visionless, leaving little room for
judgment only critique, non-revealing—safe because it is depersonalized.
I know I am a very bad example
because I fall much too frequently into that same trap. So I cannot set myself
up as an example nor would I wish to. I do wish that I could find the words to
even if only occasionally persuade a photographer from looking for photographs
and to start looking for personal statements. To find the photograph inside him
or her selfand only then to press the shutter release. Maybe I would be
more persuasive should I be able to accomplish that feat more often myself—then
I do not generally post photographs to this
blog, but this is an exception. Henry Holmes Smith work is not well known and
it should be. Here is the best link I found to his work. It also describes his
working method. http://www.nmcn.org/alextraube/It is well worth the look even though I
doubt that many of you will be using Karo syrup in your photographs.
“Photography is not about the thing
photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.”
“I photograph to find out what
something will look like photographed.”
“The photo is a thing in itself.
And that's what still photography is all about.”
“I photograph what interests me all
the time. I live with the pictures to see what that thing looks like
“...In the end, maybe the correct
language would be how the fact of putting four edges around a collection of
information or facts transforms it. A photograph is not what was photographed,
it’s something else.”
“You have a lifetime to learn
technique. But I can teach you what is more important than technique, how to
see; learn that and all you have to do afterwards is press the shutter.”
I post things to this blog that I personally find of value to my thinking about photography. Sometimes what I post are things that I want to think on, retain, understand. Sometimes they are things that reinforces my personal thinking on photography, or reinforces how I wish to think about photography, and sometimes they are things that I find inspiring. I have no idea whether or not anyone else finds them the same but I do hope so. Let's just say, they are things that I find important for different reasons. I just downloaded issue number five of the Craft and Vision's quarterly magazine, Photography. As always the articles are absolutely great. Spent an hour yesterday reading a piece, Creativity, from David duChemin with a couple of friends. Today I am reading Aspire and Learn an article on creativity by Chris Orwig. I haven't finished the article yet but I came across this paragraph that I would like to share. "Getting better at photography is more like digging down and less like climbing up. We need to stop comparing photographic growth to climbing a corporate ladder. There is no ladder in photography and there is no top rung. Becoming a better photographer requires excavation, like digging a trench. Dig deep into who you are and into what matters most, and you might just discover a fresh spring. " In both of these articles it is emphasized that the important center of photography is inside us, from the gut, the soul. Everyone quotes Jay Maisel's "...to become a more interesting photographer, become a more interesting person." Joe McNally has a take off, "...to become a more interesting photographer, stand in front of more interesting things." Both offer wise advice. But if I may take-on or at least rephrase Joe's statement, "...stand in front of things that you are more interested in." I know that I might seem obsessed with many of the things that I am currently enjoying photographing such as cemeteries. Maybe I am. I have always been interested in life and death probably more so since Janet's passing. But I see that theme in photographs that I took over fifty years ago so it is not necessarily a new interest. What may be new is that at my advanced age death is closer and possibly I am looking deeper for symbolism in my photography that says what I am feeling and thinking about death, my own as well as the deaths of others. It's a new adventure to look forward to and darn it I probably won't be able to take along my trusty Nikon--but then again, who know for sure. Maybe it will even surpass Google glasses. I know that I am promised to be able to put away my current vision as I was supposed to put away my childish ways of seeing and to see more clearly--isn't that what photographers really want to do?
Addendum: I have to apologize to David du Chemin. I just reread the article he did on creativity and found this:
"So how then do we get better at our ability to both come up with new ideas and execute them?
...I think 'become a more interested person,' also applies. Life is not about photography; photography is about life."
I have been reading an article published in Aperture from a
speech Fredrick Sommer gave at the Chicago Institute of Art. Sommer is not much
easier to understand than Minor White but I find what he says very interesting.
I made a note on this page to try to understand my photography from what Sommer
has written and to try to understand what he has written from the point of view
of my photographs.
The speech is loosely woven but I find the following
“I have a feeling that as I get a bit more acquainted with
the things with which I’m dealing, or happen to find myself surrounded by, I
get imprinted with them. The things that we are, are environment-making towards
us. We reinforce that... so it’s a question of how far you dare to venture from
the thing that you think is your thing. It’s a question of taking some chances.
Yet let me assure you that nobody ever goes into far country. If you find
yourself going to a zoo too often, it’s because you belong in a zoo in the
first place; you’re at home there. We never go to strange places… We think
we’re in exotic country, but, if we are somewhat comfortable there, it’s
because we took a chunk of ourselves and found something of ourselves again… I
know now that we are completely incapable of ever seeing anything.
Consequently, we would never photograph anything unless we have become
attentive to it because we carry a great chunk of it within ourselves… we are
only paying attention to those things which already have busied us, occupied
us, or better still, are so much a part of us that we lean into another
situation which is already ourselves.
Perhaps we walk around with a camera. We find something
that we want to photograph. We have photographed something of that already; we
may have already lived that kind of feeling; and what we are really doing is
intensifying that feeling and carrying it further. What then are we doing? We
go on an excursion; we are not looking for the new, the different, the exotic.
When we talk in those terms we are only propagandizing ourselves. Growth is the
only modification; it is not change. It is important to make that distinction.
So, we are trying to reinforce our moods. We underwrite
feelings in other people and in other conditions which are congenial to us. You
don’t ever see anything that is not already something of you. Although, how you
go about this, the techniques of this, may vary with people.
How do you do something? How do you get involved in
something? The answer is that you don’t get involved with something in which
you are not already involved. What appears to be a new exciting condition you
recognize as such because it is alive in you already and a great part of you.”
I have a certain confidence in what I do photographically.
By that I mean that to a great extent I know why I do what I do, why I
photograph what I photograph and what I want out of those photographs—what
Sommer is calling ‘intensification’. That confidence I have always known comes
from what Sommer is writing about—that part that is in me that I find in the
objects I photograph. Yes, I do a lot of totally useless photography. What I am
talking about here is not camera club assignments or field trips. I am talking
about the photography that I do that is for me personally—the only photography
that I do that has value to me.
Sommer also goes into ‘thinking about thinking’ but that’s
another topic. I am a person that thinks a lot about my life and how
photography relates to who I am. The two, my life and my photography seem to me
to be inseparable. Lately I have done a considerable amount of photography in
cemeteries. They have a very strong hold on me right now. I have a whole pocket
full of themes that I pursue while photographing in cemeteries. But all the
themes are functions of how I think about cemeteries, how I have experienced
cemeteries. I photographed in cemeteries long before I discovered why, or at
least think I discovered why I photograph in cemeteries. I photograph people
because I have an emotional connection to people. When I don’t have people to
photograph I photograph metaphors for people that hold those same emotions. I
know that I do that in cemeteries. So is that the part of me that Sommer is
writing about? Now I need to examine my cemetery photographs in light of
Sommer’s article. I need to examine all of my photography. Do I need to take
more chances in order to find other pieces of me?
“You don’t ever see anything that is not already
something of you.” I find that a very interesting statement. As
personal as I find my photography I have never looked at it specifically from
that perspective. It would certainly explain why certain genre of photography
holds little or no appeal to me.
If I were to begin a school of photography
right now it would send the geeks screaming for the hills . . . or at least
avoiding my school in droves. Every student would spend one year with one
camera: a fully manual 35 mm camera like the Pentax Spotmatic, or the Canon
AE-1. It would have one prime lens and a light meter. Students would be
restricted to black and white film only, and they’d be restricted from using
anything digital except an iPhone. There’d be no magazines, and no how-to
books. Students would spend a year making photographs and talking about them,
and would study the work of photographers—past and present—who had something to
say and made their mark in some way. They’d study stories, painting, and some
art history beyond merely the annals of photographic history. For some people
it would be a long, long year.
No magazines, no how-to-books, no internet forums (okay I
added that one)--…spend a year making photographs and talking about them and
would study the work of photographers—past and present—who had something to
say... What an idea!
The following is from an article in Aperture where photographers discussed their methods for handling workshops.
A person interested in expressing with a camera should have
a wide range of interests; joi de vivre is vital ingredient too.
Everything we know, feel, have ever experienced provides the basic elements for
One of the first assignments I set for my students involves
the question of communication. We begin at the verbal level because
photographers, regardless of their ability, are usually more word-minded than
visual-minded. Even so, since we are dealing with something which is deeply
important to them, few students are able really to be articulate when talking
about their own work. This, of course, creates a block when, for example, I may
ask a student to tell me why he chose a stairway to photograph. Usually we do
not get very far. But in general discussion the group as a whole can analyze
the pictures freely, for they feel more detached from the image. But they are
not as detached as they believe; at this point they simply are unaware that in
talking about photographs they really are talking about themselves.
By this and other exercises I try to bring to the students a
fuller awareness that photographic images can reach into dimensions that words
cannot touch. As the Haiku poem of Japanese literature, the expressive
photograph provides many implications to carry the viewer to poetic imagery.
The beginning student, however, finds that before he can reach out to others he
must first become acquainted with his own feeling and clarify his relationship
with himself. In the process of visual exploration he discovers himself in
photographs which cause him to respond.
For most of my students this is a new approach to
looking at photographs. All have had some experience with the camera and know
at least a little technique, but with this method they soon realize that, although
taking a photograph is easy, putting one’s vision into film and into a print is
quite a different matter.
The following is from an article written by Michael Gregory
for Aperture Magazine.
"It is important to understand that the photograph is
not merely the recording of that experience, but rather its symbolic
"What do we mean by “symbolic equivalent?” The nearest
definition, I think, is that which T.S. Eliot provided for poetry: that poetry
is the “objective correlative” of an experience which is in itself
unveralizable, beyond rational, logical language. The poem, Eliot says, is a
kind of formula for the experience which, though it uses language, surpasses
it, and enables the poet to communicate the incommunicable."
"The same hold true, I would assert, for photography.
How do we know when we are in the presence of a photograph which is symbolic
equivalent for an experience—a photograph possessing “style”? We know it by the
quality of our response: the depth and intensity and unspeakableness of the
emotional reaction we feel within us as we view the photograph.. We can tell,
too, by the uniqueness of that response. If we feel what we have never, in just
the same way, before, we know we are confronting style. For style can never be
cliché: these are the old irreconcilable enemies. If we are viewing, let us
say, the photograph of a forlorn child holding a torn and grimy doll and we
say, “the poor thing!” we are in the presence of cliché, not style. If, on the
other hand, we say nothing and feel a strange and unique admixture of emotions
to which the cliché exclamation would be blasphemy, we know that we are in the
power of photographic style—the exact equivalent of an indescribable, memorable
"I nevertheless conclude that a better definition of
photographic style might be something like this: the recorded insight.
This is probably no worse, and perhaps a little better, than most of the
definitions we have. It nevertheless returns the emphasis where it belongs: out
of the camera, away from the object, back into the very eye of the
Regarding architectual photogaphs but applicable to all subject matter,
"...try for a record of an emotion rather than a piece of topography. Wait till the building makes you feel intensely. ...Try and try again, until you find that your print shall give not only yourself, but others who have not your own intimate knowledge of the original, some measure of the feeling it originally inspired n you." --Fredrick Evans from an article published in Amateur Photography in 1903.
I bought this book when I was doing book reviews for NWHPC but
somehow it got put aside. That is a shame. I would not be an easy book to
review but it is an excellent book if you like to think about photographs.
Shore examines very succinctly four aspects; The Nature of
Photographs, The Physical Level, The Depictive Level and the Mental Level. I
want to share the opening of The Depictive Level. Photography is inherently an analytic discipline. Where a painter
starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the
messiness of the world and selects a picture. A photographer standing before
houses and streets and people and trees and artifacts of a culture imposes an
order on the scene—amplifies the jumble by giving it structure. He or she
imposes this order by choosing a vantage point, choosing a frame, choosing a
moment of exposure, and by selecting a plane of focus. That is it. A vantage point, a frame, a moment and a
plane of focus. Sounds so simple but how often do we actually discuss any of
these elements in talking about photographs? Do we even know how to think about
these four elements? Do we know how they affect the image?
As everyone who knows me knows, I think that after a long, long dry spell in worthwhile photographic literature we now have a half dozen outstanding photographers writing on the art of photography. At the top of that list and only because he is the most prolific is David duChemin. Not since the days of Minor White and Ralph Hattersley Jr has there been as much written on what photography really is--not a craft but an art. Anyway, I want to keep duChemin writing so I have a tendency to highly recommend what he writes--the latest of which is The Visual Toolbox--Fifty Lessons for Stronger Photographs. It is a 40 page e-book available on the Craft and Vision web site. The price is $20 but if you use the discount code TOOLBOX you can get it for $17 for the next few days. It is worth every penny. Here's the introduction If I were to begin a school of photography right now it would send the geeks screaming for the hills . . . or at least avoiding my school in droves. Every student would spend one year with one camera: a fully manual 35 mm camera like the Pentax Spotmatic, or the Canon AE-1. It would have one prime lens and a light meter. Students would be restricted to black and white film only, and they’d be restricted from using anything digital except an iPhone. There’d be no magazines, and no how-to books. Students would spend a year making photographs and talking about them, and would study the work of photographers—past and present—who had something to say and made their mark in some way. They’d study stories, painting, and some art history beyond merely the annals of photographic history. For some people it would be a long, long year. Craft and Vision
NOTE: I wrote this post then had a difficult time deciding where I should post it. I originally intended it for the GW-Images Blog but then decided that it is about what I talk about on the Photovisualize Blog. Tossed a coin and it ended up here.
I often mention to people that one of the things I most
enjoy about photography is what it teaches me about me. You would think that at
seventy-four I would know a lot more than I would ever want to know—and I
probably should but I don’t. Well, there are some things that I know that I
wish I didn’t but that’s just me. I do know that I am not the same person I was
five years ago or ten or whatever time frame you would care to pick. Even sot
in their ways old farts like me change whether we want to or not.
Well, I got into an argument with a poster on Photonet.
Nothing unusual about that but I did come out the winner—maybe not in the
argument but at least in the end because I had an epiphany. I do enjoy having an epiphany because I know I am about to learn something I didn't know. A newbie asked about lens focal length for
shooting portraits. I shared my opinion that focal length is immaterial and
some techno geek decided to take me on by explaining that if I would look at my
photographs from the diagonal of the image I would possibly change my mind.
Yeah, like I’m going to worry about such minutia. I look at my photographs from however far or close I happen to be positioned away. I am not someone that you can
suggest should change their mind—I have made it my place to change everyone
else. Okay to straighten them out. Yeah, that is pretty much what I told the
However, in the process I was browsing through the ‘portraits’ I call them people
pictures that I have posted to Photonet. I realized something that I was not
aware of—I am backing off. I often joke that if I am going to take your
photograph I want to sit on your lap to do it. I do like working in close to
people. I like to get inside comfort zones. I attribute that to the fact that
photographers have an easier time relating to photographs than they do to
reality and being reclusive, I needed that intimacy, that closeness when I
look at my photographs.
I am not sure that is still the case. The photographs posted
are in roughly a chronological order with the newer photographs at the top.
Next to each other I have two folders, My Favorite Model, photographs of
Janet and Friends, which is as it says photographs of friends. I first
noticed it in the photographs of Janet compared to recent photographs of Alcy.
The photographs of Janet are much closer—much more intimate. Okay, that can be
expected because the relationships are considerably different. But then I noticed that
the earlier photographs that I did of Alcy were much closer than the more
recent photographs. Nowhere as close as the photographs of Janet but still
noticeably closer than the newer ones.
So I started looking at all of my people pictures from
bottom to top and they are all getting farther away. I find that interesting.
Not exactly sure how to interpret that just now but it something that I will
keep an eye on. It is simply not possible that I am becoming more reclusive—had
practically maxed out on that years ago. Maybe I don’t need the closeness that
I once thought I did. I mean, like I realized that I have not sat on anyone’s
lap in a very long time. But I do believe there is a reason I am getting farther away and it is
going to be interesting to try to understand why it is. Maybe it is age. Maybe
it is preparation. Maybe it is premonition. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with photography.
I will make this statement. When you move beyond seeing
photographs as the object photographed photography becomes really, really interesting. I am not sure you can have an epiphany if you see the photograph as the object photographed.
The problem with most of us is that we are too soft. We follow popular option
and listen to the voices that predetermine what is good or bad. We defer to the
experts and neglect to nurture our own talents. We abandon our nascent curiosities,
which impedes the growth of many of our best ideas. We forget that being a good
photographer doesn't flow from following another's path.
Good photography comes from inner strength and
resolve. It comes from your gut. It requires a private tenacity that constantly
chants, I will not give up. And it comes from an unquenchable desire, no matter
how unlikely, to create something magnificent and maybe even profound. -- Chris Orwig, People Pictures, p. 12
Okay, for the next two hundred and fifty pages or so I am
going to explain why camera club photographers are so hung up on the Rule of
Thirds—I generally preface that as the asinine rule of thirds.
Let me start by saying that if you think there is something
special about the rule of thirds that is okay. There is nothing wrong with
that. But it would be best if you avoided reading the rest of my comments. I
simply have a different way of seeing photography.
Actually it will not require two hundred and fifty pages,
only one paragraph of one sentence:
Photography is hard.
It is very hard. The easier cameras become to use the
harder photography becomes. To move beyond a picture taker who does point and
shoot [which incidentally does not require using a point and shoot
camera—an expensive DSLR will work just fine for point and shoot] requires learning not only
camera technique and post processing; it requires understanding the visual
language of photography and being able to use that language.
Because it is hard some people look for short cuts like
the rules about thirds, rules about subject placement, rules about the horizon
line, rules about color, depth of field, sharpness—a lot of very simplistic
formulas for creating simplistic, mediocre and boring photographs. These people
are not photographers—they are rule bound picture takers. I would go so far as
to say they never see photographs. They don’t look to see photographs; they
look to see rules or infractions of rules. Some people never understand what a
disservice they are doing to their creative energies, abilities when they
become embroiled in these rules. Some will never ever get past them. They will
be destined to lifetimes of imitating the clichés that have been done millions
of times before. Nothing, absolutely nothing that adheres to rules comes any
place near being art—never has, never will.
There is purpose in these rules with the following caveat:
for beginners. They do help the beginning photographer who is so overwhelmed with
all that has to be learned. It is baby talk to be set aside as the photographer
becomes more knowledgeable. No one
should be doomed to baby talk their entire lives yet photographers seem very
willing to give themselves up to nothing less. I used to refer to these rules
as the conventional wisdoms I have decided they are really the conventional
impediments. They stand in your way of ever realizing what photography is,
of ever discovering your personal vision.
As long as you look at only photographs produced by camera
clubbers or on the Internet forums you will never understand that is not
photography—it is very imitative, very formulated mediocre picture taking. If
that upsets you or makes you mad; that’s too bad. No, it’s sad. If I am
stepping on toes you have a choice, look to a different source for your
photographic inspiration—inside yourself, to the history of photography, to the
work that led up to today’s photography, to writers that talk about the
meanings of technique rather than how to achieve techniques. I started this group for those that want more from
their photography. It is a waste of the time to argue with those that think
there is something special in the rule of thirds.
The following is from
the current issue of Photograph, A quarterly magazine for creative
The very idea that seeing is an art to be learned
appeals to me, for one of the great gifts of the camera is that it teaches us
to see the world around us in new ways, and the more we spend time with this
silent tutor, the more we see, if we’re willing to be taught. How, then, do we
learn to see? I’ve read plenty to suggest we can’t learn this at all, that you
either have an artistic eye or you do not. I don’t buy it. True, we all see
differently, and some see the world in a way so perpendicular compared to most
of us that we call them geniuses. It’s equally true that some people will never
see much differently than they do now, but I think that says more about their
willingness to learn than it does about whether a change in seeing can be
How do you feel about the way you see? What do you do
that you feel helps you see better? Do you believe that ‘seeing’ is a innate
talent or can a person learn to see. Photography is available as download as ebook from Craft and Vision.
The best part of us is not what we
see, it's what we feel. We are what we feel. We are not what we look at . . ..
We're not our eyeballs, we're our mind. People believe their eyeballs and
they're totally wrong . . .. That's why I consider most photographs extremely
boring--just like Muzak, inoffensive, charming, another waterfall, another
sunset. This time, colors have been added to protect the innocent. It's just
boring. But that whole arena of one's experience--grief, loneliness--how do you
photograph lust? I mean, how do you deal with these things? This is what you
are, not what you see. It's all sitting up here. I could do all my work sitting
in my room. I don't have to go anywhere. - Duane Michals
If you look at a photograph, and
you think, 'My isn't that a beautiful photograph,' and you go on to the next
one, or 'Isn't that nice light?' so what? I mean what does it do to you or
what's the real value in the long run? What do you walk away from it with? I
mean, I'd much rather show you a photograph that makes demands on you, that you
might become involved in on your own terms or be perplexed by. - Duane Michals And in not learning the rules, I
was free. I always say, you're either defined by the medium or you redefine the
medium in terms of your needs.- Duane Michals
The only thing we know for sure is
what we experience. If you look at a photograph of somebody crying, you
register grief. But in fact, you don't know what people are experiencing at
all. You're always protecting your version of what that emotion is. What is
known is only what I know. The only truth I know is my own experience. I don't
know what it means to be black. I don't know what it means to be a woman. I
don't know what it means to be Cartier-Bresson. So I have to define my work in
terms of my own truth. That's what the journey is all about, if you are to use
your own instincts. The great wonder is that we each have our own validity, our
own mysteries. It's the sharing of those gifts that makes artists artists.
- Duane Michals
My gift to you is that I am
different.- Duane Michals- in an
interview with Anne Tucker
I am an expressionist and by that I
mean that I'm not a photographer or a writer or a painter or a tap dancer, but
rather someone who expresses himself according to his needs. – Duane
Michals Duane Michals bio on Wikipedia
I never liked photography. Not for
the sake of photography. I like the object. I like the photographs when you
hold them in your hand. - Robert Mapplethorpe
If a day goes by without my doing
something related to photography, it's as though I've neglected something
essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. - Robert Mapplethorpe
I like to look at pictures, all kinds. And all
those things you absorb come out subconsciously one way or another. You'll be
taking photographs and suddenly know that you have resources from having looked
at a lot of them before. There is no way you can avoid this. But this kind of
subconscious influence is good, and it certainly can work for one. In fact, the
more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer. - Robert Mapplethorpe Robert Mapplethorpe bio on Wikipedia
[photographs] teach you about your own unraveling past, or about the immediacy
of yesterday. They show you what you look at. If you take a photograph, you've
been responsive to something, and you looked hard at it. Hard for a thousandth
of a second, hard for ten minutes. But hard, nonetheless. And it's the quality
of that bite that teaches you how connected you were to that thing, and where
you stood in relation to it, then and now. - Joel Meyerowitz, Visions and Images :
American Photographers on Photography by Barbaralee Diamonstein , Page: 112
Henry James proposed asking of art three modest and appropriate
questions: What is the artist trying to do? Does he do it? Was it worth doing?
- Robert Adams - Beauty in Photography: essays in defense of traditional values (Aperture) Ouvre l'oeil !
- Christophe Agou You've got to push yourself harder. You've got
to start looking for pictures nobody else could take. You've got to take
the tools you have and probe deeper.
- William Albert Allard, Photographic Essay (American Photographer Master Series) by William Albert Allard What we can easily see is only a small
percentage of what is possible. Imagination is having the vision to see
what is just below the surface; to picture that which is essential, but
invisible to the eye.
By knowing a person, you
know yourself. You become the person you photograph. You love that
person as you love yourself.
When I ask to photograph someone, it is because I
love the way they look and I think I make that clear. I'm paying them a
tremendous compliment. What I'm saying is, I want to take you home with
me and look at you for the rest of my life.
- Amy Arbus - On the question: "How do you get cooperation from your subjects for such wonderful portraits?"
Interview with Amy Arbus - Revealing Human Nature Through Portrait Photography.
I always thought of photography as a naughty
thing to do -- that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I
first did it, I felt very perverse.
- Diane Arbus, On Photography by Susan Sontag
Take pictures of what you fear.
- Diane Arbus
Every time I see a crowd of photographers surrounding a subject my impulse is to go in the opposite direction.
- Ignacio Aronovich
At the meeting last Thursday I was looking through and
discussing the photographs of Saundra Salter and she asked me how I would
describe her style. I am not accustomed to looking for style as such so I was
somewhat at a loss to answer the question. Saundra has very good control of
technique. She does beautiful work. Like myself, she likes to shoot a lot of
different things. I couldn’t say that I saw anything in her photographs that I
could ascribe to style any more than the fact that she is properly using
technique in light of the subject matter. So I off the cuff said eclectic.
Thankfully, she chuckled.
I asked her if style was important and she wasn’t sure. Well
I have given it some thought since and I have reached a personal conclusion
that having a particular style is not necessary—possibly even an impediment.
For a professional commercial photographer, it is important to have a
recognizable style. That is the only way that his clients can determine if
they want him for a particular job—where his style fits their concept. But for
an amateur photographer it seems to me like trying to pigeonhole yourself. A
commercial photographer has to create that pigeonhole and keep imitating
himself in order to acquire clients. That, to me seems terribly limiting,
really dull way to go about photography. As amateurs, we are much freer to use
whatever ‘style’ we feel is appropriate to the subject matter—or even to our
frame of mind at the moment. Which is exactly what Saundra is already doing. I
would not encourage her to change a thing. As she grows as a photographer, and
hopefully that will always be an ongoing process, I feel certain that her
approaches will change. That is as it should be.
Sorry to be so unoriginal as to repost. But this is very important comment taken from Ian Roberts Creative Authenticity. “Our painting will only be as
deep as the depth we uncover in ourselves. We’re communicating. We’re
translating our vision.” Yes Roberts is writing about painting--simply a different medium, not intent or purpose. This goes to my rant that photography must come from within the photographer--not from rules, not from competition assignments, not from imitation--to be worthwhile the photograph must be authentic from the "depth we uncover in ourselves."
I am working on materials for the reading group. I should be in bed but I would rather be reading the words of Minor White. What I am hoping to convey to the group is the use of photographic technique as a means of writing the visual language of photography rather than as a craft or technique for the sake of technique.
I get irritated when I see someone dismiss a photograph because they don't like it--meaning they don't understand it and are not willing to attempt to understand it. I tell people that you are likely to learn more from a photograph that you don't like than one that you do. "Explore the whole fanciful world of “what does
this remind you of.” This is subjective and subject to all the mild dangers of
flights of fancy, unfortunately. Board the train of associations—unknown
destinations can become familiar in no other way." [I have got to tackle that statement because I
think it is important. What he is saying, in my opinion and I will admit
narrowness of mind and purpose here. We are very familiar with the clichés of
amateur photography, the mantras of camera club photography. The visual pallet
can only be advanced by venturing beyond that simplistic genre. Minor is saying
that we can move forward only by studying more sophisticated
photographs and understanding the associations created within those
photographs. By doing that we become familiar with the unfamiliar.]