Got me thinking…

December 12, 2007

Every so often I cruise around different photo sites, this time I decided to check out what Dan Coburn might have to say. Especially since I knew he had a recent show opening and also as he is president of the LPA, he acted as host to our group show opening. Dan keeps his blog over at danielcoburn.wordpress.com and in particular, this entry started me thinking.


Below is an expanded version of the rambling comment I posted to his entry…

In a painting, we know it came from the hand of man so artistic license is accepted without question. With a photograph we have been conditioned to expect it to tell the truth because some set technical process was used. Being more of a process junkie than an “artist” I enjoy the journey as much as if not more than the finished product. So make the image you want with the tools you want. If somebody doesn’t appreciate the work it took to get from idea to finished image then too bad for them. They can still enjoy the image, and they might even understand some of the “deeper meaning” of the imagery (even if it wasn’t put there by the image maker). But if they do start to understand the process, they could start seeing the image you intended to make. It is a rare event that you get EXACTLY the perfect image on the first try, yet that is what the camera / software / film / accessory makers are trying to tell us will happen each and every time we use their product. Understanding the process and how the equipment does what it does will take the image further toward success than just substituting the next great gadget.

Each LPA meeting, we start with a quick trip ’round the room to introduce ourselves. I like to stick in “death before digital” when I make my introduction. Not because I think “analog” photography is better than digital. It isn’t. It is different. I’m leaning more and more toward a hybrid (plug for http://www.hybridphoto.com) method where I mix and match analog and digital to get where I want to be. Putting forth “death before digital” as a mock battle-cry has produced some interesting results. Some people at the meetings have figured out I’m just having them on but other seem to get rather defensive. To me that suggests they aren’t secure in their choice(s) of medium. And still others just don’t listen, and would rather blather on about how well they are doing (with digital it happened), I know they weren’t listening because they quoted me as saying “death to digital” then went on and on about how much better digital is than analog. It amuses me to no end when somebody who is trying to tell me how much better digital is starts to stumble along in the bit of software they are using to demonstrate their point. It always comes back to knowing your tools inside and out, not just moving on to the next big thing. Corollary: use the right tool for the job.

I think Dan’s concern about people questioning technique in photographs more than in a painting is for two reasons. One, because photography is “easy”. “Just pull the string and we do the rest.”, thanks for nothin’ George. These are the magic-bullet chasers (what lens, how many megapixels, which filter in Photoshop, etc). Yes, I do realize there is a bit of “the pot calling the kettle black” in my pointing a finger at magic-bullet chasers. While I don’t lust after the latest and greatest image editing software and dSLR, I do like the idea of a bigger and better camera. Physically bigger, not just the latest model, that is. Since I’m tending to regress, technology wise, I’m more of a magic-pointy-stick chaser. The second is because we have been taught that the camera doesn’t lie and when we see something that doesn’t quite meet our expectations (generally by exceeding them) we want to know why. Well, the camera has told more than the truth (notice I didn’t say the camera lies) from day one. Always has, always will. The camera sees differently than our eyes and little monkey-brains. We see by scanning a scene and constantly changing our exact point of focus. The camera gets one shot to convert the 3-d scene into a 2-d scene (HDR techniques not withstanding). The end result is that with the camera (and lens and printing process) we can control what is and isn’t in focus, what is and isn’t in the scene and what is or isn’t emphasized through color/contrast/aspect ratio etc.

So let them ask their technical questions. Educate the questioner with your answer. Slowly they will learn the difference between photography and snapshots, between technique and technical. The work I have produced thus far has all been the result of my wanting to learn more about how a certain aspect of my equipment works. Could be a lens design, camera movement, camera type, film brand, changes in chemistry, a different photo paper maybe. As a result of all this fooling around I generate a lot of scrap and every once in a while, something I like. Maybe one in twenty or fewer of my negatives get past a proof print. And sometimes I don’t even get past the proof print just looking at them on a light table. Doesn’t mean they are failures (well, let’s be honest, some are complete failures). I’ve asked a lot of stupid questions, I’ve asked (what I hope are) better questions. And I’ve given good and bad answers to questions asked of me. Eventually, we arrive at the right answer or technique for the desired result. And some day I’ll be able to move past the gee-whiz technical stage into artistic technique stage.


One comment

  1. Rob,
    I enjoyed your comments on my blog, and it’s great to see you’ve elaborated even more. I like your comment about people “learning the difference between photographs and snapshots.” A great point.

    I agree that everyone can learn by experimenting. Important lessons can be learned by what other people might deem a failure. 99% of the photographs I make could be considered failures. However, the more pictures I take, the more I learn about what makes an interesting image. (as i perceive it)

    I hope I can learn more about darkroom techniques and alternative processes in the future. Maybe one of these days I’ll be encouraged (or forced) to slow down. Hopefully you’ll help me out when that happens.

    Anyways, I enjoy reading your blog.

    Best of Luck

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: