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