Tuesday, February 26, 2013


You might ask why I spend so much effort reiterating that the photograph is not the subject matter.
In my opinion, the answer is very simple; it is the first step from being a picture taker to being a photographer. It is an extremely difficult step to take because for most it requires a complete change of thinking about what a photograph is or what a photograph can be. I think that if you want to enjoy more of photography than the verisimilitude it is the first step that you have to take. It’s like going from reading We Three and Scottie to reading War and Peace.
As always, my disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with enjoying the verisimilitude. Capturing a sharp, well composed, properly exposed photograph can be quite satisfying. I am still pleased when I do. However, I am not thrilled; that requires finding myself in my photograph.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Subject/Subject Matter

I have repeated this story often but I would like to tell it one more time. It comes from Photographically Speaking by duChemin. It is as clear an explanation as I have ever found of my philosophy that the photograph is not the subject (matter).

I have often mentioned that the word subject has two meanings in a photograph. It is most often used to refer to the subject matter, the flower, the child, the horse, the mountains, but it also applies to the story of the photograph.  The fable of  the tortoise and the hare is used by duChemin to differentiate between the two usages.

As duChemin explains, in the fable the tortoise and the hare are subject matter, the characters, the actors. The moral of the fable the is the subject, the meaning of the story or what is being conveyed by the story. The same thing applies to photographs; the object photographed is the subject matter, the story/message/moral of the photograph is the subject.

DuChemin calls the elements, the tortoise and the hare, the words—I prefer to refer to them as the nouns with the actions of the tortoise and the hare as the verbs of the visual language of the photograph. The way the photograph is put together, the composition is the sentence structure. Generally I group it all under 'technique', which includes not only the composition but all the techniques used in the production of the photograph; from point of view, to tone, to color and composition as the sentence structure. Only a slight difference.

As duChemin states, whether or not we have intent at the time of taking a photograph, it is going to be read as intent by the viewer. The viewer, or as duChemin prefers, reader of the photograph is working under the assumption that the photographer has included all the essential elements and excluded all non-essential elements. Whether or not in fact that is true, it is assumed. Generally, the success or failure of the photograph is contingent upon that being true.

Lines, Tones and Sometimes Color

“The moment you can look at your photographs first as a collection of lines and tones and sometimes color, the sooner you’ll begin to see photographs as they are and not as you hoped they would be.”  --David duChemin, Photographically Speaking

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Creative Authenticity

The following are notes I made for a book review that I did not do. This is a very small book but in many ways a very important piece of writing on art. It is directed toward painting but is every bit as applicable to photography.
There is much that I would like to share of this book, but I am going to limit it what I consider quotes with strong implications toward photography. The essence of the book is explaining in great detail the difference between two words—originality and authenticity. It is not originality that makes our work worthwhile, it is authenticity.
Creative Authenticity
16 Principle to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision
 by Ian Roberts

“Subject matter functions as an armature through which you as an artist engage your intensity of feeling. It is the quality of your attention that influences how you see and how deeply you feel.”

“It’s one thing to give expression to something you feel strongly about. It is another thing to find a simple way to express what you have discovered so another person can appreciate it.”

 “Within the initial artistic response to something is a core idea or feeling, and most of our work comes from stripping way everything that is extraneous for it.”

“All great actions have been simple, and all great pictures are.”

”One thing is clear. The artist does not look at art the way others do. They don’t look at the finished product the same way as everyone else. They have different concerns. Any experienced gallery owner can tell when an artist enters their gallery and looks at representational paintings... because the artist is concerned with the whole and how the work was created.”

“Your creative expression is like your handwriting or personal calligraphy. Unique.”

“With patience we gain fluency in both the creative process and artistic technique. When people say they can feel within what they want to say but can’t seem to express it, they are saying they lack technique. The Greek word for art is techne, which implies that the feeling or inspiration is not art. ONLY the realization of the inspiration in some manifest form is art. In other words, you must have the technique to give your inspiration life.”

“If we’re serious about giving expression to our voice, we need to master whatever skills are necessary, whether it is the ability to draw or a better sense of composition. Until we deal with this, these problems will continue to stare us in the face graphically, boldly, in every painting we make.”

“Internally we build a foundation by going to the headwaters of our inspiration. We need to be clear about where our inspiration originates. I don’t mean trying to figure out why we’re attracted to this or that or what it means. That isn’t necessarily relevant. Rather, we have to feel the truth, and trust in the current, the flow and go with it. If we don’t find and follow that current from our own source, then we will feel enamored of and distracted by every mark, effect and subject we happen upon in other artists’ work. We will want to add that and try this. Obviously, we will be attached to and influenced by different kinds of art and rightly so. But that attraction needs a foundation.”

“Our painting will only be as deep as the depth we uncover in ourselves. We’re communicating. We’re translating our vision.”

“If we’re going to create art for the rest of our lives, we need to come to terms with what is uniquely our own. If we sidestep ourselves and derive vocabulary from someone else, we may feel we’re making great strides at the moment. But ultimately, we can’t continue. We have to come back to address the matter of authenticity. Unless we do, it’s like trying to use someone else’s handwriting or personality. It can’t remain satisfying.”

“We need to look at other art. We need to study it and react to it. We’re not trying to reinvent artistic expression. Artists, as artists, are moved by art as much or more than they are moved by nature. Artists see subjects to paint based on how they have assimilated the art that has moved them in the past. There is of course a melting pot of influences. But have the influences been fired in the crucible of your own vision?

“Making art that is authentic means eliminating those influences that have been picked up superficially and incorporating new ones that are more authentic.”

“The source of truly authentic work is within. Each time we ignore it, we diminish it. Each time we reject it, it goes silent. We need time alone, and openness, to re-entertain our inner inspiration.”

“Work that truly expresses something personal and true can sometimes get away with technical inadequacies. It rides on its power to move us, to communicate something to us. Art demands technique—but it amounts to little if we fail to bring it to spirit and vision. Spirit can illuminate a work with life even if there are technical flaws. But technique cannot breathe life into work that lacks vision. We’ve all seen paintings that are technically perfect and perfectly dead. On the other hand, we can think of the cave paintings at Lascaux. They have as much feeling as any high-tech film today. We’ve had advancements in technique, but few in depth of feeling”

“The question is, what are your themes or ideas? And can they be given expression? You can’t rush this. Those ideas may be buried and surface slowly in pieces. Or they may burst out fully formed—and scare the daylights out of you. You can’t rush and you’ve got to listen carefully.”

“Getting started is essential. We feel engaged when the brush hits the canvas. And in consciously learning our craft we open the channel for our voice to flow. But ‘it does not matter how well something is done if it is not worth doing.’ Expressing our voice, what we want to say, is what’s worth doing. Technique allows that to occur. In every case the development of our work will be an intermeshing of mastering craft as we unfold clearer expression of voice. They advance together like two side of a coin.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013


"It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. An enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love. Visible distance behind and before us, is respectively our image of memory and hope. . . .

The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind." (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836)

Do you ever look for metaphores in your photographs? Do you ever find metaphores in your photographs?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Three Quotes from Within the Frame

“The subject of a photograph is not the subject matter. The subject itself is the emotion, thought or intangible that you are trying to express through the image. The subject of the photograph can be simple: family, beauty, color, or wonder—that intangible thing that you responded to when your inner photographer said, “Oh! Oh! Shoot that!”or whatever it is your inner photographer says.”--David duChemin, Within the Frame, p. 23

“Subject matter alone—separated from the craft of photography—rarely carries a photograph, and when it does it remains merely a mediocre photograph of a fascinating subject, hardly the goal of most photographers… But if you want to communicate something more, if you want to bring something new to the table, and put your own thoughts, feelings, and personality into the image, then you need to photograph your subject matter as though you’ve seen it a thousand times and then suddenly see it in a new way.”  --David duChemin, Within the Frame, p. 25
"Three images go into making your final photograph. The first is the image you visualize--the story you are compelled to tell. The second is the scene you capture with the camera. The third is the image you refine in post production. The better we are at all of these, the closer our final photograph will come to reflect our initial vision."David duChemin, Within the Frame, p. 41
At our first meeting I mentioned a number of books that I recommend. I quoted from several of them and would be hard pressed to recommend any over the others. If you will go to the Book Reviews that are posted to the Northwest Houston Photo Club Meet Up site, there is a review of each of them. The September 2011 review was on Within the Frame. Even though I am also partial to duChemin's Photographically Speaking I believe that the best of the lot to start with is Within the Frame.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Vision Is the Beginning and End of Photography

“Vision is the beginning and end of photography. It’s the thing that moves you to pick up the camera, and it determines what you look at and what you see when you do. It determines how you shoot and why. Without vision, the photographer perishes.”

That last sentence is a powerfully strong statement—without vision, the photographer perishes.

“Vision is everything, and the photographic journey is about discovering your vision, allowing it to evolve, change, and find expression through your camera and the print. It is not something you find and come to terms with once and for all, it is something that changes and grows with you. The things that impassion you, that anger you, that stir you—they are part of your unique vision. It is about what you—unique among billions—find beautiful, ugly, right, wrong, or harmonious in the world. And as you experience life, your vision changes. The stories you want to tell, the things that resonate with you—they change and so does your vision. Finding and expressing your vision is a journey, not a destination.”

“When vision is spoken of in photographic terms, it is not spoken of merely as the things you see but how you see them. Photography is a deeply subjective craft, and the camera, wielded well, tells the stories you want it to tell. It will tell the truths you want it to, and certainly the lies. You are central to your photography and the camera is merely the tool of interpretation—not the other way around. The most compelling photographs you take begin with the things about which you are most interested, most passionate, and most curious. When those photographs are taken in a way that communicates your unique perspective, they translate into images that say something. They are more than a record of “I was here and saw this.” Instead, they become “I feel this way about this. I was in this place and saw it like this.” They are not acts of representation as much as they are acts of interpretation.”--David duChemin, Within the Frame, The Journey of Photographic Vision, pp 2-4.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Critic Is a Four Letter Word

I was going to make my first post, of importance, a quote from David duChemin but I accidentally came across the following and decided to use it instead. This is from the movie critic, Robert Ebert’s Journal published in the Sun Times in September 2008. The title of the article is Critic is a Four Letter Word.

He first discusses critics and how people think of critics—both the critics and the thinking is that to critique is to criticize. Critics are thought of as very self centered egos that believe they know more than the creators. It is an interesting concept of critic that I cannot disagree with. It is well worth the read.

Then Ebert talks about Todd McCarthy’s documentary, “Pierre Rissient, Man of Cinema.” Todd feels that Rissent, even though most do not even know his name, has had more influence on the world of good films in the last 60 years than anybody else. He says that Rissient felt that his position was to “defend,” by which he meant “support,” the films and directors he approves. He offers the following quote from Rissient, “It is not enough to like a film. One must like it for the right reasons.” [I suggest that you could substitute the word photograph for the word film and the statement would be equally valid.] Ebert goes on to state the following regarding Rissient’s statement:
“That sounds like critical snobbery, but is profoundly true. I don't think Pierre is referring only to his reasons, although knowing him well, I suppose he could be. I think he's saying you must know why you like a film, and he able to explain why, so that others can learn from an opinion not their own. It is not important to be "right" or "wrong." It is important to know why you hold an opinion, understand how it emerged from the universe of all your opinions, and help others to form their own opinions. There is no correct answer. There is simply the correct process. "An unexamined life is not worth living." [The last quote being one of my favorites and one that I take great comfort in. It is by Socrates. I only hope that you can extrapolate that a greatly examined life IS worth living, although it doesn’t exactly say that I am depending on it.]


A Possible Purpose

I have had this blog for quite a long time but I have never been able to determine a purpose. I post almost everything to my personal blog GW Images.

On February 12th, I held a class in reading photographs at the Northwest Houston Photo Club. This was not an official meeting but it was an additional meeting. I knew that most of the club would not be interested. The intent of this first meeting was to determine whether or not I would start a meet up to pursue learning to read photographs. It is difficult to say how successful this first meeting was. There was a lot put on the line and hopefully a few will respond.

Anyway, should it come to be I will use this blog to correspond with the members of the group, to share things that I feel are important about photography. I was pretty clear at the meeting where I will be coming from in the discussions. I am very opinionated, very dogmatic. I am also flexible and I understand that not everyone is going to agree with me but I do want to give the members an opportunity to see that there is more to photography than complying with some conventional wisdoms and rules of technique. Everyone deserves to at least be introduced to something much more personal in photography. That is all that I hope to do.