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.