There is room in photography for differing points of view. These reflect my photographic point of view. It is nothing new, it’s as old as photography itself. However, it not a point of view that you will generally discover in a camera club, on an Internet forum or in most how-to books. Am I an outstanding photographer? Absolutely not. It is not a matter of being outstanding or mediocre; it’s a matter of bringing something of value to my life regardless of my photographic abilities.
Elliott Erwitt "It’s about time we started to take photography seriously and
treat it as a hobby." --Elliott, Erwitt
"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about
finding something interesting in an ordinary place.... I've found it has little
to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." --Elliott, Erwitt
May I repeat that last one? ? "...little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." Robert Frank “It is always the instantaneous reaction to
oneself that produces a photograph.” – Robert Frank
"I am not interested in shooting new things - I am interested
to see things new." -- Ernst Haas
"There is only you and your camera. The
limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we
are." --Ernst Haas
Gernsheim was a photography historian and collector. A
German Jew, he escaped to England just prior to the outbreak of WWII.
As a ‘friendly foreign alien’ he was interned with other German nationals in
New South Wales, Australia where he wrote his first book New Photo Vision.
Helmut Gernsheim recognized very early on that the medium of
photography could stand as an art form in its own right, and he devoted much of
his life to rigorous research in the field. In 1945, he laid the cornerstone
for the now-famous Gernsheim Collection with his discovery of long-forgotten masterpieces
from the early years of photography. Ultimately this collection, along with an
estimated three to four million words of notes on the subject led to his
writing the 180,000 word book The History of Photography. When the first
edition was published in 1955 it became an instant classic and the definitive
reference work for historians of photography for decades afterwards, being
described by Beaumont Newhall as "a milestone in the history of
It was Gernsheim that rediscovered the long-lost hobby of
Lewis Carroll when in 1947 Helmut stumbled across an album of Carroll's
portraits in a junk shop. But his most important contribution was the rediscovery
in 1952 the ‘first photogragraph’ taken from his view from the window at Le
Gras in 1826 or 1827 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. This established that it was
Niépce, not Daguerre, who first discovered a method of preserving the
photographic image. This photograph is now in the Gernsheim Collection at the
University of Texas at Austin.
Gernsheim has played a very important part in the history of
photography but this is really a long way around getting to what I really want
to talk about.
In reading Dialogue With Photographers, in the
interview with Gernsheim he recounts a story about comments on a print at the
Royal Photographic Society that I found interesting. He doesn’t give a date but
it would have been in the late forties or very early fifties since he resigned
from RSP in 1952. Gernsheim had a much more modern view of photography than was
generally accepted by the membership. He recounts that he was often asked to
sit on the exhibition committee for political reasons. With his presence no one could
suggest that the more modern thinkers were excluded from the process. They knew that he would
always be out voted by (his term) the ‘old fogies’. He tells a tale about one
of the members calling him aside at one such committee meeting and showing him some
superb pictures of sand dunes—rippling sand in strong light, divided by deep
shadows, very graphic. Gernsheim was asked how he felt about the pictures to
which he replied, “We should be honored to have the great man in our company.”
Then the member pointed at the shadows and muttered, “No details whatsoever. I
don’t think he will get an exhibition.” And he didn’t. The photographs were by
the American photographer, Edward Weston.
The conventional impediments that I so frequently rail about are well ingrained into the fabric of photography.
Holmes Smith is among the most influential photographic art teachers.
Interested in the German Bauhaus, in 1937 he was asked to teach at the New
Bauhaus founded in Chicago by Moholy Nagy. After World War II he taught for
several years at Indiana University.
an early experimenter with electronic flash and with color photography. His
later photography was almost all abstracts made directly without a camera, in
the tradition of the photograms of Moholy Nagy and the Rayographs of Man Ray.
He created images by refracting light through splashes of water and corn syrup
on glass plate. A limited number of prints were made before the syrup was
scraped off to make way for a new image. He would make positives from those that he felt worked and the positives would be copied to 4x5 negatives. Smith’s photography gained little
recognition and there is very little in print regarding his career, at the end of
which Smith questioned the value of photographic education, noting that unlike,
say a medical degree, a degree in the fine arts didn’t lead to some useful role
following is from the book Dialogue With Photography, a collection of
interviews with important photographers by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper
published in 1979. I found the following portion of the interview with Smith
interesting and every bit as true today, if not in an even worse state. Even
though Smith is talking about a formal photographic education I personally
believe that what he says is applicable across the entire spectrum including
peer taught amateur photography. The egalitarianism of digital imaging
technology combined with the influence of immense amounts of images posted to
the Internet, most of which fall within Smith’s following definition of routine
and redundant, has greatly exacerbated the homogenization of photographic
thinking and consequentially the routine and redundant have only proliferated. At least that is my opinion.
are your thoughts on photographic education today?
think it’s excessive, I think people all over the country are busy teaching
people things they don’t need to know. They are incapable of teaching students
things they need to know and if they taught them things the student needed to
know the culture would see that it was quickly extirpated.
how do you see the future of photographic educations?
would like to see it less institutionalized, less victimized by manufacturers
and less addicted to routine and redundant imagery.
do you mean by redundant photographic imagery?
kind of pictures that come out of 99 percent of the 35mm cameras and 2 ¼ square
cameras has very little to do with creating and the sense of humanity which
could unite individuals. People are competing to win at a game that is a
loser’s game. The game is to have better routine images than somebody else’s routine
images. If you want a prescription for routine images, you just have to go
through any student’s portfolio.
At a certain point, human beings
creating art no longer need to be told what they’re supposed to do… The
predicament of photographic education in the country seems to revolve around
false rewards. It doesn’t create a bunch of free people; it creates a bunch of
people with a terrible burden on their back, like the Old Man and the Sea or
Sinbad the Sailor, and it’s a cultural commitment to an unrewarded activity.
The rewards are at best nominal. Somebody said recently that the best thing a
student could do was get in some shows and publish a book; but nothing about
becoming a human being, nothing about having important feelings or concepts of
humanity. That’s the sort of thing that is bad education. I’d say be a
human being first and if you happen to wind up using photography, that’s good
for photography. [emphasis mine]
Ralph Hattersley Jr. used the term
'imitative' to describe much the same thing as Smith calls routine and
redundant. I frequently use the term 'safe' because that is what it
is—confirmed acceptable subject matter, visionless, leaving little room for
judgment only critique, non-revealing—safe because it is depersonalized.
I know I am a very bad example
because I fall much too frequently into that same trap. So I cannot set myself
up as an example nor would I wish to. I do wish that I could find the words to
even if only occasionally persuade a photographer from looking for photographs
and to start looking for personal statements. To find the photograph inside him
or her selfand only then to press the shutter release. Maybe I would be
more persuasive should I be able to accomplish that feat more often myself—then
I do not generally post photographs to this
blog, but this is an exception. Henry Holmes Smith work is not well known and
it should be. Here is the best link I found to his work. It also describes his
working method. http://www.nmcn.org/alextraube/It is well worth the look even though I
doubt that many of you will be using Karo syrup in your photographs.