The Reflective Photographer: getting all facets in focus - the visual and the gear.

BBW

Legend
Location
betwixt and between
Real Name
BB
Different strokes for different folks. (No I won't post another Sly and the Family Stone video link:wink:) There is no reason that everyone has to or should feel compelled by others to go for a certain type of photography. It needs to be personal. One goes with what one is drawn to, keep the doors open to what is around and find your way.

When I see something I choose to push the button because I need to. Sometimes I'm with my husband and he says "You ought to take a picture of..." I see what he is after, but he needs to do that himself because it's not for me. But it has to be my inner eye that makes me want to make the image my own. Since coming to digital photography, I have had to learn a great deal.

Way back when I was a photography major as an art student, I developed and printed my own color prints. I thrived on all aspects. The whole digital thing was a huge change for me...even though it had been years since my college days...and my darkroom days. Now I think of LR and the NIK software as my darkroom. I can spend a long time in that darkroom. It's the same kind of out of time experience for me. Ask my husband...he'll find me in the dark, with just my screen aglow...I usually don't hear anything he says to me...and I won't answer the phone - unless it's our daughter. I will let the dog out, but he seems to know not to bother me when I am in my darkroom zone.

I think I have much in common with Christina/christilou when it comes to the creative urge, though I did paint and draw... For me photography is cathartic and exciting, fun and sometimes frustrating (for example when I took a whole roll and realized the film had never caught itself on the sprockets:eek: or, the other day, when I forgot to change the ISO!) but most of all it is enlivening.

I'm interested in making the photograph be what I want it to be whether that might be "realistic" or as real as it is in my own mind's eye, it doesn't matter...but it's mine. I do feel as Christina said that when I feel I've "gotten it" that I do leave my mark on the image...my soul mark, perhaps. I don't want to limit myself to any particular genre, but since my life is as it is, things tend to be what is around me...the everyday, I hope with a little different spin on it.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't care what anyone thought, but now that I've come farther along in the digital realm, I am much more secure in my choices...most of the time. I, too, have always loved looking at other people's pictures...from their family pictures to just about everything. Photographs are my impressions of this all too fleeting life. Sometimes that will mean they're of my dog, or a cat, or a neighbor's "lawn ornaments" or a building or another human being... I'd like to become faster at my picture making as in clicking the shutter. :thumbsup:
 

Streetshooter

Administrator Emeritus
Location
Philly, Pa
I completely agree with the concepts of having a script, to a degree. I look at my work like a Scrabble board. I see images grouping and linking together. This I call a series. Then come an image that is related to the series but seems to go vertical instead of horizontal, like in scrabble. This image I call, a transitional image. It's related to the others but yet it seems to lead to another direction. This happens at times if you pay attention to what your doing. When it does, it should lead to another series. All the series together creates your body of work.
The body of work is a record of how you think.

When I edit/curate a show for photographers, this is how I lay the work out. So, if your focused on your work, what happens is that you in a sense have a script to work from. That gives you direction to continue. The important thing is to pay attention to that transitional image. That's the one that adds growth to your body of work.

Art is the man...Period. Life is art. Living is art. So, to think in terms of documentary vrs art is simply making your self, blind to the possibilities.

I don't know if anyone ever read Castaneda. He writes that death lives on your left shoulder. Being aware that death may take you at anytime should put a deep appreciation of life and importance to what your doing.
I know, I always come on heavy. Sorry, for me, photography is a way of life. I can't do it in a light hearted manor. I approach life in a way that keeps me focused on the here and now.
If your going to do something, do it with the INTENT that if you died doing it, it was worth dying for. In that way, it also becomes worth living for.

If in fact, art is the summation of a persons creative existence, then doesn't that mean as an artist, one should be that focused on what one is doing?
Call it art, call it documentary, call it whatever...the truth in fact is that life by any other name is still life.

There are many ways and reasons to make photographs. In the end, the only thing that matters is how you respected and presented your subject matter. All that will remain is your images. Your images are a record of what you saw while you spent your time on earth.
We are all tourist here. No one gets a permanent visa. Enjoy it while you can because that's all ya have.
 

EasyEd

Regular
Hey All,

My gosh - post some thoughts and what happens... Everyone is civil though and so I don't haveta pull out my Taylor Swift song on ya...:) Where to start? Hmmm ok...

1) I probably should not have used the word script as it sounds like go to A take picture A go to B take picture B repeat - it's not like that at all. Probably template(s) is a better word - basically subjects or juxta-positioning of subjects within images probably better reflects what I meant. Anyway the point is templates that reflect your passion and intent as a photographer executed through perfect compositions. I have no doubt that professional photographers have their "formula templates" for most circumstances and have enough experience to adapt templates to new circumstances. I suspect even HCB had "templates" - he didn't just walk out the door with no plan basing his photography on nothing but intuition and gut feel - Not likely. Unlike HCB I don't even have formula templates that suit me.

2) Intent hmmm where do I start on this one? I guess with some quotes...

Ansel Adams once said “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” I look at so many photographs that are pretty have beautiful compositions and ask my self why did the photographer take this picture? A momentary warm fuzzy (strange that Ansel used the same word) feeling for nailing a composition and nothing more? Is that all it's about? Maybe for some it is.

Returning to my favorite - Dorthea Lange - she once said "The good photograph is not the object, the consequences of the photograph are the objects." Dorothea and I suspect others of the FSA photographers looked beyond the moment understanding the power they held in their hands. Now I don't expect everyone or myself to take images like Dorthea's Migrant Mother

12883v.jpg


or Arthur Rothstein's Dust Storm

arthur-rothstein-dust-storm-cimarron-county-1936.jpg


but shouldn't we strive?

Lets look at it another way. Taylor Davidson in a blog I occasionally follow wrote "Content is cheap, context is expensive: Is it any surprise which one we lack?" It is so hard to add context to a photograph yet context is often the reason why you took the photograph in the first place. I struggle with this. How do I identify templates that include the context to the photos I take? Is there even a way? Well perhaps there is. Some photographers add text to their photography in various ways - captions and sometimes through books. Well what else can you do? Taylor Davidson also wrote "Photographs tell lies through slivers of reality." in full recognition that a photograph is always a lie (a topic for another discussion). He then asked "How do we move forward? Embrace lies as slivers of reality, ready to be pieced together to tell cohesive stories." Ah a series of photographs - templates and compositions (aka lies) - or body of work that expresses your photographic intent(s). I'm hoping this works for me. So my question to you is simple - What story(ies) does or do you want, your pack of lies :) to tell? There is your intent.

-Ed-

PS Returning to my opening sentence - If your a Taylor Swift fan here is her latest.YouTube - Taylor Swift - Mean [lyrics & download] Everyone here is civil though. :yahoo: I appreciate it and the fact that this is the only photography forum I have found in which you can actually discuss this kind of stuff..
 

christilou

Legend
Location
Sunny Frimley
Documenting life as it happens - Looking at the above pictures posted by EasyEd, got me thinking about street shooting. In the beginning, when photography was a rarity, it seems that people didn't mind having their image taken, seeming to ignore the camera or to be openly interested. However, fast forward to the present time when everyone and his dog has a camera of some description, wielding a camera at people tends to make them angry at worst or at least, suspicious. It seems to me that people regard the camera as a weapon sometimes and indeed much money has been made by "paps" snapping pictures of well-known people. How times have changed. Now, we need long lenses and a degree of stealth in order to photograph what goes on around us!
 

christilou

Legend
Location
Sunny Frimley
With regard to Streetshooter's post, I heartily agree. With death sitting on one's shoulder it definitely opens ones eyes to nature and the universe. The here and now if you like. I had a serious illness about 12 years ago now and I remember waking early every morning and sitting on the floor by the patio doors watching the beauty of the day as the sun came up and the garden came to life. There is a need to connect with the earth in order to make some sense of life and it's cycle and to accept ones own place within the scheme of things. I like to photograph macro because I want to see every little detail of the things I may have passed by when I was young and "busy". My intent therefore is to show people how beautiful "the ordinary" can be and this includes making people look as good as possible too!
 

Djarum

All-Pro
Location
Huntsville, AL
Real Name
Jason
Lets look at it another way. Taylor Davidson in a blog I occasionally follow wrote "Content is cheap, context is expensive: Is it any surprise which one we lack?" It is so hard to add context to a photograph yet context is often the reason why you took the photograph in the first place. I struggle with this. How do I identify templates that include the context to the photos I take? Is there even a way? Well perhaps there is. Some photographers add text to their photography in various ways - captions and sometimes through books. Well what else can you do? Taylor Davidson also wrote "Photographs tell lies through slivers of reality." in full recognition that a photograph is always a lie (a topic for another discussion). He then asked "How do we move forward? Embrace lies as slivers of reality, ready to be pieced together to tell cohesive stories." Ah a series of photographs - templates and compositions (aka lies) - or body of work that expresses your photographic intent(s). I'm hoping this works for me. So my question to you is simple - What story(ies) does or do you want, your pack of lies :) to tell? There is your intent.

I think this is the problem I face. How does a photographer show proper context in just one photograph? We can tell a story with a series of photographs, but I think that is different than just a single photograph. With street photography, it appears when I look at many of the images, there is plenty of context. There are more visual que's it appears.
 

AzPete

Veteran
Im in:

Subjective, Subjective, Subjective. I remember when first shooting back in the day of film and chemical how particular I was about everything. The way I approached a subject, the why and because, and I was mostly concerned with how
others perceived this and what they thought when they viewed my photos. TODAY, its like, well let me put it like this: when I was young there were pretty girls and ugly ones and okay ones that were so so, now all girls are just pretty, there are no uglies any more, at least to me. And thats exactly how I feel about photograhy. I accept others work for what it is and I really have no desire to critique or analize it, unless to serve a purpose of sorts. All is great, all is crap, all is subjective. I hate rules, I don't follow any and really go about shooting from the hip (if I may).... "a mindless venture of thoughtless acts and random shooting". Only rarely in my old age do I plan a shot or travel with purpose. Hey this is me and thats how I live in these old days.

I remember back in the 60's my very first roll of film. The waiting and the pain of wondering if its going to come out. I learned to process film and use the enlargers and spent huge amounts of time in my make shift darkroom/bathroom at the expense of my young growing family and very patient wife. I took thousands of pics of my first born, hundreds of my next kid and not so much of my last... go figure. It's process (film and printing) taught me patience, endurance and added a certain quailtiy to my life that just made me better.

All in all, this has been a great ride and perhaps the only stable thing that has helped to keep me together thru the tough times in my life. Something to fall back on, keep me going. I am here (this forum) for photography but more so for the enjoyment of others. I have enjoyed the folks here and really feel this forum has something special. For the most parts egos are in check and people have been pretty civil. This post is great and i have enjoyed reading our thoughts and feelings about photography, no matter how complex and scientific some of you are (Don: you are my Einstien).

Thanks for listening, reading, keep it going. Cheers and all the best.
Pete
 

pdh

Legend
I like that robust approach, Pete ... "documents", "street", "art" and so on ... I think find it hard to use these distinctions in a helpful way (well, I do and did above, but they are slippery and convoluted when you start to try and grab hold of them ) ... any recorded image is mediated by a lens a shutter some film a sensor some chemicals more lenses paper or some electrons a microprocessor a screen an eye (or two) a brain ...

How about this: The subject of the photograph is the photographer ...
 

Streetshooter

Administrator Emeritus
Location
Philly, Pa
There are many ideas, thoughts, concepts, feelings, emotions etc being surfaced in this conversation.
One simple word is common and permeates through all...
That word is "Passion".

It's nice to be around the passion that drives us all and creates a bond in our own quest for the next image.
 

Streetshooter

Administrator Emeritus
Location
Philly, Pa
Streetwork is not the most important genre in photography.
I think the most important work is portraiture.
Before we dissect it, let's keep the idea of time passing in the forefront.

No other images show the passing of time with as much emotional impact.
We can see the changes in the environment, architecture, city scapes etc but the emotional impact wears off in time.
Portraits on the other hand do not, never, ever loose emotional impact.
They are a record of time passing.

Your thoughts? I'll post more later after I get to the keyboard....
 

BBW

Legend
Location
betwixt and between
Real Name
BB
I agree with you about portraits, Don. In thinking about which of my own photographs mean the most to me, they are those of the people - and animals - closest to me...be they good friends or family. Just now I'm remembering a portrait I took of an old farmer I got to know very well during my last year or two of college...just thinking of it now is bringing back a flood of memories.

This also gets me to thinking about photograph albums, something that many of us may not have for our current photographs...I mean the kind made of paper, etc., that you put on your lap and pour over alone or with someone. This is something I miss and feel I need to make for my daughter to have after her father and I are gone... When she was a baby we used to look at photograph albums together a great deal. My father died when our daughter was about 4 months old. He was the first person to see her after my husband and myself, so that was a big plus, but having him die so quickly after she was born was very difficult on many levels... My point being that by looking at photograph albums with my child, I was able to keep my memories alive and pass them on to her. Even as a baby she used to say "Read album." as a request before bedtime. That's a pretty big deal to me and only underscores my need to keep the portraits coming and to put them in a book form.

See what one thoughtful post can bring out in a person? Time passing, portraiture and emotional impact.
 

Andrewteee

All-Pro
There are many ideas, thoughts, concepts, feelings, emotions etc being surfaced in this conversation.
One simple word is common and permeates through all...
That word is "Passion".

It's nice to be around the passion that drives us all and creates a bond in our own quest for the next image.

I read a book a few months ago, On Being A Photographer by Bill Jay and David Hurn, and their #1 point was that to be a strong photographer you first have to have passion for your subject matter. To me, this passion is what motivates me to want to best capture some of my themes. I see something and I deeply appreciate, and I search for the best way to capture it with the camera. I've also realized this takes time to do. You really have to get to know your subject, you have to spend time with it. Perhaps it's the passion that continues to drive us when otherwise we might have moved on, and in time we do indeed find ways to capture the spirit of that subject.

Lots of interesting thoughts in this thread. Thanks everyone!

Over time the notion of narrative has become increasingly important to my own work. I strongly believe that photography is best when it tells a story. Single pictures can be very good on their own, but within the context of a full project they can be even stronger. I put pressure on my self to, as much as I can, tell a story in the sets that I create. I also believe this is one of photography's strengths as an art form. It is between art like painting and motion pictures. You get the narrative of film, but you get the single art form of something like painting. In this still narrative you can focus on each picture individually and see something in each scene, and together across all pictures you capture the story. I have such a high regard for photographers who can beautifully document a real story or who can express and visualize a theme through photographic narrative.

What do you folks think about the value of one hit wonders vs the photographic narrative? Is the one hit wonder undervalued? Is narrative overrated?
 

Andrewteee

All-Pro
I agree with you about portraits, Don. In thinking about which of my own photographs mean the most to me, they are those of the people - and animals - closest to me...be they good friends or family. Just now I'm remembering a portrait I took of an old farmer I got to know very well during my last year or two of college...just thinking of it now is bringing back a flood of memories.

This also gets me to thinking about photograph albums, something that many of us may not have for our current photographs...I mean the kind made of paper, etc., that you put on your lap and pour over alone or with someone. This is something I miss and feel I need to make for my daughter to have after her father and I are gone... When she was a baby we used to look at photograph albums together a great deal. My father died when our daughter was about 4 months old. He was the first person to see her after my husband and myself, so that was a big plus, but having him die so quickly after she was born was very difficult on many levels... My point being that by looking at photograph albums with my child, I was able to keep my memories alive and pass them on to her. Even as a baby she used to say "Read album." as a request before bedtime. That's a pretty big deal to me and only underscores my need to keep the portraits coming and to put them in a book form.

See what one thoughtful post can bring out in a person? Time passing, portraiture and emotional impact.

BB this is an important point. Though many of us strive to make, dare I say it, art, the family pictures and documentation of our own lives hold more importance and appreciation in the long run. I may review older pictures of trees and woods and concrete, but the ones that reach my heart are the family pictures. And in those the "art" no longer matters. They are simply there, and yes, it's great to review them with family members.

I struggle with the best way to manage these family pictures. I want to print them, but I don't print that many. I should start printing more and building those albums you speak of!
 

Luckypenguin

Hall of Famer
Location
Brisbane, Australia
Real Name
Nic
For an image to have importance to me beyond any notion of visual appeal it needs to be a trigger to a memory. It doesn't need to tell the whole story, it just needs to start it off. The exact nature of the subject of the image, while influential, is not always important. That it triggers a memory (good or bad) of a time, person, or place, is what matters. Sometimes even seeing an image that you didn't make, by someone that you don't know, in a place you've never been, can create the same trigger response by creating a visual association to a memory.

I think that this is why when we look at other's work, it's the images of people that can often have the most impact. We don't always relate to a place or a thing, but we all can relate to people.
 

EasyEd

Regular
Hey All,

Easter morning - the sky on Vancouver Island is gray threatening rain and I've a few hours before Easter gets started as half the family is working... Coffee is hot and I got the Greencards on singing Time YouTube - GreenCards doing Time - a wonderful song - remember roller skating? As the song goes on I'm recalling Easters past - reflecting - a good time to be posting in the reflective photographer thread...

A lot of points have been raised in this thread. I'll touch on a few of them.

First - what is the most important type of photography? Well to me it is not portrait but is documentary. But then I guess I define documentary broadly and portrait narrowly. I agree with the quote that I referenced earlier from Walker Evans that documentary can take the form of art and to me likewise documentary can fulfill the role of portraiture. As perhaps the most definitive photograph of the plight of the 1930s dust bowl refugees Lange's photo of the migrant mother (see my last post) is all three and more. It is art, portraiture, documentary and makes a powerful statement about the undefeatable human spirit in the context of the time - as FSA intended by the way. The great photographs transcend these boundaries. A portrait is a posed picture designed to illustrate some facet of a person's character. I know of NO photographer who was better than this than Canadian Yousuf Karsh - here are a couple examples:

Yousuf+Karsh20.jpg
Yousuf+Karsh4.jpg

View attachment 35397View attachment 35398

These are portraits by the Ansel Adams of portraits. They are art and they are documentary but first and foremost they are portraits. Posed and reflecting the innate character of the people they represent. I love the portrait of the russian bear! Are they important? Yes absolutely but because you supplied the context that makes them documentary because you knew who they were. Standing alone without context they are portraiture and art but the addition of the documentary historic context is what makes them truly important - otherwise they are just well done photographs of some strangers.

So your picture of Grandpa in the backyard pushing grandson in the swing - portrait or documentary? I think just documentary except perhaps to those who knew Grandpa might think it a portrait however it probably was not posed and not designed.

However as I said before it probably comes down to definition. I look at portraits narrowly and documentary broadly fully recognizing that the word documentary has an element of cold sterility to it that I don't like.

I guess the other perspective that occurs to me is that perhaps in the short term portraits are more important because of the familiarity of the viewer with the subject but in the long term it will be documentary because the character of the subject will be lost other than what a viewer imagines which may be totally inaccurate.


All this brings us around once again to the issue of context. Certainly the portraits of the famous people by Karsh do not provide context - your knowledge of history does. That said Karsh's photographs do powerfully suggest the character and personality of the people depicted. So once again how do we add context? Do we need to? Which is more valid? Context based in reality? Or context based on a triggered memory as expressed by LuckyPenguin? I prefer reality but I can see the validity of both.

So far I see three ways of capturing context. In no particular order...

1) Defining templates that capture context. Arthur Rothsteins photo fleeing a dust storm in my previous post captures the context beautifully. The challenge is to identify and "see" more of those templates.
2) Captions - looking at the migrant mother photograph (see earlier post) I was struck by the "framing" - so in time with the time and era of the photo. I have always not liked captions but wow if you can do it as artfully as that photo it has real possibilities - time, place and purpose can be frozen.
3) A stream of photographs in a book or perhaps like this YouTube - Ry Cooder Paris, Texas This is beautifully done.

Happy Easter!

-Ed-
 

BBW

Legend
Location
betwixt and between
Real Name
BB
Yours was a very thoughtful post, Ed - and on Easter morning, no less!

Food for thought about context... Whose context and then again - whose reality? I believe that I prefer reality but in my own photographs it will always be my reality, and my context. And yet, it's the same when I look at another person's pictures. Sometimes I feel as though I am completely connected and I can share their reality. I'll never really know - unless I know the photographer and can converse with them. In a strange way, it's sort of like sharing a dream with someone. For those of us who "grew up" during the hippie era, this may make a little more sense...perhaps? Just my reactions here - off the cuff as it were.
 

Djarum

All-Pro
Location
Huntsville, AL
Real Name
Jason
I personally don't care for "posed" portraiture. They really don't do much for me. I hate it when family members pose for the camera. I want pictures that are spontaneous and spur of the moment. When I see the type of portraits EasyEd posted, all I see is a picture of a person. There is very little context with the picture by itself. I feel there is no purpose for the picture when just looking at it at face value. I understand the impact of these pictures, don't get me wrong. I just find them very un-interesting.
 

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