Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Portfolio Review Time

I haven’t done much with this blog in a while. When I quit the camera club and the reading meetings ceased it didn’t seem as important to continue writing. That doesn’t mean that I quit thinking or writing--it's just not getting to the blog. As Leibovitz said, it (photography, seeing) never goes away—there is no turning off and turning on, it is on all the time. That is just the way it works.

I am in the process of putting my portfolio together. October is almost on us and I still have lots to do. I have about half the photographs printed but I need to get the rest to the printer. I will print a couple dozen and then narrow them down to possibly eight or ten. The problem is that II can’t quit shooting and just know that tomorrow I am going to hit a treasure trove and have to replace everything that I have done.

There are all sorts of rules about the Review—most of which I ignore. I am not going to mount my photographs so that is time that I will save. However, I am having them printed at Blurb as a book. I will have both the flat prints and the book (which will have many more images) at the Review. And as always with Woodard it requires a lot, and I mean a lot, of writing. The artist statement that will be presented with the photographs is the shortest that I have ever written—simply two fairly short paragraphs. Yeah I know, no one thought I could just write two paragraphs. At the end of the book there will be a more detailed what I call ‘working statement’ where I reveal in great detail the half century gestation period of the portfolio.

I ended my working statement with a reference to photographer Robert Frank’s comment that we never venture into unfamiliar territory. Wherever we go, regardless of how exotic. we only see what we would have seen at home. Yeah, I know you don’t believe that. But Frank is correct. We can only see through the prism of our personal experience. We do not see the unfamiliar because we cannot see the unfamiliar—we have no reference point for the unfamiliar. We carry ourselves with us regardless of where we go.

Emerson said that if you can’t find art at your own door you will never find art. This is the first time that I have traveled more than ten miles from home to shoot a portfolio. I joke with my globetrotting friends that I never travel beyond Conroe (40 miles north of Houston). This time I have made several day or two day trips not specifically to shoot for the portfolio but during which I found some time to work on the portfolio.

As always, this portfolio is damn personal and few will understand the photographs or even care to but that is okay. I am pleased with a few, maybe four or so. The rest are okay but could be improved. They work within the theme but could have stronger context.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Garry Winogrand

“Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” 
 - Garry Winogrand 

I was browsing through PhotoQuotes.com today and came across the above from Winogrand. I know what I think it means but am interested if anyone else would care to take a stab at it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Ernst Haas on Seeing



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

Ernst Haas
"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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Helmut Gernsheim


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 photography."

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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Henry Holmes Smith


Henry 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. 

Smith was 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 in society.

The 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. 

 Q. What are your thoughts on photographic education today?
A. I 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. 

 Q. So how do you see the future of photographic educations?
A. I would like to see it less institutionalized, less victimized by manufacturers and less addicted to routine and redundant imagery.

 Q. What do you mean by redundant photographic imagery?
A. The 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 self and 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 maybe not.

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.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Edward Weston

"Rules of composition are deduced from the work of strong masters and used by weak imitators to produce - nothing!"  Edward Weston

Duane Michals

When Sean Kernan asked Duane Michals whose work he liked, Duane’s replay was, “My own. This sounds terrible, I know, but I’m the only one dealing with the things I think about.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Garry Winogrand


“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 photographed.”

“...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.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Posts and Chris Orwig

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."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fredrick Sommer


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 particularly interesting:

“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.

The Visual Toolbox


Craft and Vision has recently published a no article by David duChemin titled The Visual Toolbox, 50 Lessons for Stronger Photography.  Since we are a group that is learning to ‘read’ photographs I thought I would share the opening paragraph.

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! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Discussing Workshop, Ruth Bernhard


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 our creativity.

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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Photographic Style by Michael Gregory


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 equivalent."

"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 emotional response."

"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 photographer."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Frederick H Evans

 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.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Nature of Photographs, by Stephen Shore


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?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Visual Tool Box--50 Lessons for Stronger Photographs

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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Maybe Conundrum

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 geek. LOL

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.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tap Your Inner Strength

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Rule of Thirds


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.

Learning to See, David DuChemin


The following is from the current issue of Photograph, A quarterly magazine for creative photographers:   

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 learned.

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. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Duane Michals


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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Robert Mapplethorpe


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

Joel Meyerowitz

They [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

Joel Meyerowitz Web Site 
Joel Meyerowitz bio on Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

More Quotes

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. -  Anonymous

By knowing a person, you know yourself. You become the person you photograph. You love that person as you love yourself. - Anonymous

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 
---

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Personal Thought on Photographic Style


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.