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 " become a more interesting photographer, become a more interesting person." Joe McNally has a take off, " 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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Old People Repeat Themselves

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."

Friday, June 21, 2013

But I Don't Like It

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.]

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Henri Cartier-Bresson

I’m always amused by the idea that certain people have about technique, which translate into an immoderate taste for the sharpness of the image. It is a passion for detail, for perfection, or do they hope to get closer to reality with this trompe I’oeil? They are, by the way, as far away from the real issues as other generations of photographers were when they obscured their subject in soft-focus effects. - Henri Cartier-Bresson - on technique. "American Photo", September/October 1997, page: 76

For us the camera is a tool, the extension of our eye, not a pretty little mechanical toy. It is sufficient that we should feel at ease with the camera best adapted for our purpose. Adjustments of the camera – such as setting the aperture and the speed – should become reflexes, like changing gear in a car. The real problem is one of intelligence and sensitivity. - Henri Cartier-Bresson - February 22, 1968., The World of Henri Cartier-Bresson by Henri Cartier-Bresson  

If God had wanted us to photograph with a 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 camera, he would have put eyes on our bellies. - Henri Cartier-Bresson - Told by Doisneau in interview, see section under picture of man with gun 

It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head. - Henri Cartier-Bresson 

The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and [Edward] Weston are photographing rocks! - Henri Cartier-Bresson - said of Ansel Adams during the Depression of 1930s. "People on People. The Oxford Dictionary of Biographical Quotations", edited by Susan Ratcliffe, Oxford University Press Inc., New York 2001

Collected on:,Henri 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is This Scary or What?

In an article entitled Discover Your Own Personal Symbols, Ralph Hattersley, Jr. wrote the following:

“The great cry of the contemporary artist is, “Express yourself!” It rings loudly throughout the land and nearly everyone agrees that it’s important. However noble it sounds to modern ears, it’s only half a formula. The vital missing part should read, “and do your best to decipher the meaning of what you’ve expressed.” The object is Self-understanding.”

“For an artist to project himself into his art doesn’t guarantee he’ll understand in the least what he’s said about himself. Truly, a substantial understanding is the rare exception rather than the rule. The majority of people don’t seem to care. All over the country, people are making pictures and not paying the slightest attention to what the photographs could tell them about themselves.”

“Self expression for its own sake has its place in photography. When people first get involved in making pictures, they find that for a year or two they can express their feelings and at the same time avoid understanding what they are. Some, indeed, can do it for years. More power to them! May they long enjoy their fictional happiness!”

“Serious photographers, however, find that a preoccupation with photography is more often a kind of suffering, rather than fun. The reason may be that, intentionally or not, they’re using it in searching for themselves—a process that takes years.”

“It is a bitter fact that what we initially discover about ourselves on the long journey toward self-completion is very upsetting. We just don’t measure up the way we think we ought to. Often, we suspect we’re even horrible as human beings. Naturally, we are strongly inclined to turn away, which means giving up photography if we’ve inadvertently used it for Self-discovery and analyzing our motivation.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

I have been a little quite on the blog lately because I have been rereading David duChemin’s Photographically Speaking. By rereading I mean intently scrutinizing every sentence, every word. When we were first discussing a reading group I mentioned that we would use as a primer the book reviews that I did during 2012 for the NWHPC newsletter. I still think that is a good idea. Re-reading it I am even more convinced that duChemin’s book should be the basis for the discussions.

There are several that are very good writers on photography, Chris Orwig, Michael Freeman, Bruce Barnbaum among them, but no one covers the visual language of photography any better than duChemin. Photographically Speaking is a very well written textbook, with excellent metaphors to make it easy to understand. I can assure you that if you study, not read, not scan through, not look at the photographs and captions—actually study duChemin’s words you will begin to understand what photography is, what it can be and you will understand how to get there.

Like the reading group, Photographically Speaking is not for everyone. It makes a point of the fact that photography is hard. If you wish to stick with the platitudes and conventional wisdoms you probably won’t enjoy it very much. If you don’t really want to think about your photography, likewise. But if you do really wish to have some understanding of how to move your photography forward, to use your photography for self-expression, to create something beyond clichés, then you will get a lot for your money.

The first half of the book is devoted to explaining the language of photography. In the last half, duChemin takes twenty of his own photographs and does an in-depth discussion on each one. He shares his intent and the elements and decisions that he employed to convey that intent. So not only does he bring you up to speed on the visual language, he shares his working knowledge of that language.

If you wish to purchase Photographically Speaking and are a member of Houston Photowalk I would recommend that you click on the link on the Photowalk home page for Amazon. That way Photowalk gets a kickback that helps Joe provide the quality meet ups to which we are accustomed.

If you wish to read the reviews, they are posted under the More/Files tab on the NWHPC Meet Up site. The Focus articles start in January 2012 and run through December 2012. They are only available to the members of NWHPC so if you are not a member you will need to join and log in.

I have re-read much of it many times and every time I read it I find something that I would like to share with the reading group. If each had their own copy we could go through the chapters and discuss them at the meetings. Just a thought.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Photographic Style

This from an article written by Michael Gregory. There is much more of the article but I would like to share this small but important bit:

“The word seeing is itself ambiguous in the very sense that the photographic style is ambiguous. That is, it means two distinct things at the same time. First, it means the recognition of an imageable scene, and the recording of that scene by photographic means. But seeing means, at the same time, something quite different. It means having insight; that is, intuitively understanding. And here we come to the real point, a valid basis for defining photographic style. It means having insight.

First we must ask “insight into what?” And “intuitively understand what” To answer these questions, we must consider what a photograph ultimately means. What a photograph communicates. The answer, I think, is that the photograph communicates the imcommunicable, that it means exactly itself—no less and no more, and that is enough. This is another way of saying that the photograph is a symbol of the experience, which unites photographer and object in a given recordable instant of meaning. 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 unverbaizable; beyond rational, logical language. The poem, Eliot says, is a kind of formula for the experience which, through it uses language, surpasses it, and enables the poet to communicate the incommunicable.

The same holds true, I would assert, for photography. How do we know when we are in the presence of a photograph which is a 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, les 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 emotion 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, May 10, 2013

Maybe It's a Rant, Maybe It's an Explanation,,, Everwhat

I was recently honored to be asked to present a discussion on how to judge the Out of the Box category at the monthly club print competitions. I declined.

I realize that I am a worse than lousy camera club member because I refuse to judge prints. I am unable, or possibly unwilling, to assign numerical values to aesthetics, originality, impact, technique, appropriateness, whatever criteria is determined for judging. That is the reason that I have attempted, not terribly successfully, to start a group to discuss photographs.

I have very seriously considered no longer attending on competition nights. There are several reasons for that. One, unwilling to participate in the judging does make me somewhat uncomfortable in entering prints. Two, I very sincerely believe that the practice is far more detrimental to the participants than it is beneficial.

As I have frequently mentioned camera club competitions and Internet photography forums homogenize photography by their insistence on rules and conventions. It creates a ‘follow me’ or ‘do as I do’ attitude rather than strengthening the insight into photography and enhancing the abilities of the individual photographers to move beyond clichés. It is nothing that will be changed. It is nothing that can be changed. I have made efforts on an individual basis but emphasis on rules, technique for technique sake and the tendency for people to want to comply or fit in is simply too strong. Any opposing voice is quickly drowned out. I hope along the way I have imparted some insight but I have no hope of combating the infectiousness of the illness.

I might as well attempt to persuade an East Coast liberal Democrat to become a conservative Southern Republican. That would actually be easier and as I have found even that is unachievable. Or to make a Catholic into a Baptist of vice versa, or a gay into a straight. All, along with opposing the conventional impediments of amateur photography, are equally unattainable goals.

I also do not agree with what the Out of the Box category has become. Michael Young initially instituted it when he was competition chairman as a category where the photographer who wanted to move his work or his photographic experimentation well beyond the confines of straight photography could have an opportunity to compete. Michael understood that manipulated, highly manipulated prints, could not be judged with the same criteria as an unmanipulated print. A highly manipulated print is nonobjective, allegorical, mystical. It can have a variety of themes or purposes but its primary purpose is to separate the image from the presumed reality of the straight photograph. It throws all the rules out the window to rely on shape, form, lines, color or purely subjective content and imagination. It can’t be judged on the rule of thirds or impact beyond emotional impact and therefore stands no chance of being acknowledged when mixed with the other categories when you attempt to apply the rules created by the club and promoted by the club for competitions. It rapidly degenerated into basically another open category or in the case of the past two years where there is a ‘theme’ another assigned category.  It is no longer an “Out of the Box” if it actually ever was.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


The following are excerpts from an article on Criticism written by Minor White. He served as a camera club judge monthly for two years prior to writing this article so he has some personal experience with the subject.


“Without great criticism there can be no great Photographs” Bruce Downs

It [the quote from Downs] is a magnificent idea, a mature one….

He [the critic] has to be the most sympathetic spectator, the most understanding, and the most persistent goad…a source of affirmation for reaching new ideas, the first to discern the creative individual and the creative work. That is one of his [the critics] duties. The other is to explain both photographer and medium to the spectator; for the critic is the first to realize that an unenlightened audience limits the expressiveness of any medium and curtails the photographer’s capacity to communicate.

“Judging” of course goes on, quantities of it; and all of it kindergarten criticism, if that. The judge may ask himself “What else can I do when I must award from the prints present instead of evaluating against all that I know is in photography?” He is standing, however, in the position to educate, to teach, to lead towards creative work, to encourage expressions of individuality. But somehow, mainly through lack of really knowing what judging means, he follows rules that he did not invent for himself, allows competition to be substituted for photography in his camera clubs, and thus does photography as a whole more harm than good. Perhaps he is merely unaware of his responsibility—which does not repair the harm he does.

The subject of analysis and criticism is rather complex, and a competent critic has to have a whale of a lot more than personal preference or his own technical achievement to go on. I realize that to present complexity to the modern reader is to invite yawns; but I think we have pursued the myth that photography is easy long enough—the status of pictorialism today is ample proof that always taking the easy path is as sterile as Lysol.

The critic has a thankless task...[but] driven by a passionate love of the medium, persists. The struggles of the beginners excite him, the bad makes him angry, the banal makes him sarcastic, the good warms his heart, the great--as it comes by on rare occasions--makes all the rest worthwhile.

Consequently this paper is aimed directly at the bottom rung of criticism, at the man who takes judging at camera clubs as a high responsibility.

White goes on to talk about Objective Criticism and the duties of the objective critic: the requirement for an objective attitude as opposed to personal preference and secondly, says that the critic can reach objectivity quickly by assuming that what he sees in a print is neither good or bad, but facts.

Rather than “I would have photographed it this way”, “What would happen if it had been photographed this way?” His suggestions arise from the implications deeply imbedded in the photographer’s work, and his “advice” will tend to strengthen and perhaps clarify hat the photographer is trying to do.

Únder A Tool of Objective Analysis, White says, a means of analysis is needed if the critic is to be able to keep a high impersonal attitude towards a print and still actively study it. Without some such tool the objective approach may leave the critic dangling between objectivity and having no feeling at all. Such a tool would include six major points—or more or less: purpose, craftsmanship and technique, composition, style and subject. They will be discussed separately.


White, correctly in my opinion, puts the emphasis on purpose. Actually, he says that nothing, absolutely nothing can proceed; no critique can be attempted until purpose has been established. I am always at a loss then I try to talk to photographers about purpose only to be met with the comment that the photographer has no idea what if any purpose he had in mind at the time the photograph was taken or even when the photograph was processed and printed for presentation.

This is as far as I have gotten into the article so I am not sure what follows but I will inject a strongly felt personal opinion: that purpose to be worthwhile must come from within the photographer and the deeper the better. It must be something that speaks to him and of him. If not, it is of no value to attempt continuing the critique. The conventional photographic wisdoms are simple enough to achieve and are all that is required to win a camera club ribbon.

I am not sure how to even think about helping someone improve their photography if they themselves have given their photography so little thought. Maybe they are simply embarrassed to confess the purpose. Maybe they are simply telling the truth and have no purpose. Either way I am totally at a loss. I very much know what White is saying when he says that the critic dangles between objectivity and no feeling at all.

Friday, April 12, 2013


What is a good photograph? I cannot say. A photograph is tied to the time, what is good today may be a cliché tomorrow. The problem of the photographer is to discover his own language, a visual ABC. The picture represents the feelings and point of view of the intelligence behind the camera. This disease of our age is boredom and a good photographer must combat it. The way to do this is by invention – by surprise. When I say a good picture has surprise value I mean that it stimulates my thinking and intrigues me. The best way to achieve surprise quality is by avoiding clichés. Imitation is the greatest danger of the young photographer.- Alexey Brodovich - Photography, February 1964 [cited in: Creative Camera February 1972, p. 472]

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Amateur photographers that want to be seen as artists are obsessed with the word originality. Even some pros are a little confused about it. In Vision is Better 2, duChemin addresses it in Origanility is Overrated and Originality Part 2. He offers many quotes from Ansel to Emerson but I am going to only share one and not necessarily the most important one but it is new to me and I thought extremely apropos to the discussion group.

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” –Herman Melville

Some of the quotes suggest that originality is possible, some that it is not. As I have often said, art builds on art. Imitation is a way of learning art, always has been always will be. However, at this point I have to suggest that you reread my previous post on the book Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts.  

DuChemin says of the quotes, “Not all of them [the authors of the quotes] appear to agree. But I think all of them are right in one sense or another. There are three apparently different things being said by these voices. The first is that originality does exist, and is desirable. The second is that no true originality exists. The third implies originality is in fact possible but is not relative to what already exists, but to the artist himself. I think we’re using the same word to mean slightly different things.”

Therein lays the crux of the problem. “…using the same word to mean different things.” Robert’s has correctly addressed this confusion in defining the difference between [overrated] originality and [much desired] authenticity.

DuChemin says, “You are already unique. If you do the work you do with honesty, integrity, curiosity, boldness, and courage, you will find your work as unique—and original—as you are.” This is in agreement with Roberts concept of authenticity. Of course, rather than saying “original,” Roberts would have said “as authentic—as you are." However I would add a few additional qualification such as from the heart, soul, gut, the inner most recesses of your being—I suppose that could be covered under integrity and boldness but just thought it should get a stronger emphasis.

Maybe for you being original is not that important and I suppose that is okay. But even at that, being yourself should be. That being among the dozens of reasons that I personally believe that what I refer to as the “conventional wisdoms” of amateur photography should really be called the “conventional impediments.”  

Projects, Sketches, Drafts

In his Vision is Better 2 ebook, duChemin writes about projects and creativity. In the article Begin Again he says something that I personally need to take to (my procrastinating) heart. He is writing about all the “creative” projects that we think up—the ones we put into over stuffed Moleskine notebooks or just fill the recesses of our wandering minds, the ones that we lay awake at night to mull over and over, the ones that constantly nag at our heart as well as our inner eye.    

“Pick a personal project. Perhaps it’s one of many – too many – that you’ve got on little pieces of paper and stored in the “One day I’d like to…” part of your brain. Pick one. Don’t deliberate. Pick one. Now do it. Don’t start tomorrow or next week. Begin now. If it’s a project about coffee shops in your end of town, grab you camera, a 50mm lens and go scout it. Don’t come back until you’ve got some images and a list of shots you want. And a timeline. Stop talk­ing about your great ideas. Make them happen.” 

In Go to the Writers he suggests that photographers are visual people, maybe not all that good with words. He mentions a number of very good books on the creative process written by writers and makes his own recommendations. 

“Creation is almost always messy. Because we are messy. If your plan is to from Point A (no photograph) to Point B (iconic photograph which will define my career and on which I will retire fabulously wealthy) then you’re in for a shock. If there is such a transition at all, it’s from Point A to Point Z. And in between are the shitty first drafts, the sketch images.” 

“I can’t bypass the sketches or crappy first drafts. Those lesser images aren’t in the way of me creating the better work; they are the way of me creating better work. Don’t sabotage your process, wait it out, and in the meantime; give the sketch images their room to be crappy images, let them out, look at them, play with them. Don’t let them discourage you, let them bring you to your better images.”

Vision is Better 2 is available from Craft and Vision