Photography, Art and a Different Way of Thinking

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by gryphon1911, Feb 25, 2015.

  1. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Top Veteran

    Feb 6, 2015
    Central Ohio, USA
    I've had some discussions in the past with some other photographers about a bit of a different subject. It centered around these particular images.



    These images have been popular ones for me, and while that is all well and good, I don't post images on the internet to get accolades or to see how many people favorite them, +1 them or anything like that. I love photography. It is one of the creative outlets that I have that I feel I have had any success in. I share the images in the hopes that they will reach someone, make them feel something - or at the very least see if they can share in what I saw at the time. Given back and helping others learn is something I feel I need to do.

    I have to admit that early on, we as photographers often fall prey to many a pitfall. We get suckered into thinking we have to buy the biggest, best gear because of the marketing hype, when we really should evaluate and buy the gear we need to help make getting the images we want easier. We get caught up in pixel peeping and thinking that if a certain lens doesn't look tack sharp at 100% magnification then the resulting images from it will all be crap. Not true. Photographers from the past have captured iconic images with lesser gear and without auto focus. It's about the captured moment in time and does it have the capability of expressing the situation to your viewer without you even including a description in writing to go with it.

    Along those lines, let us think about the hat image above. For me, I was going for "did I transport you back in time" to a place where clothing was custom made and not "off the rack". Is that what you saw? Did you appreciate the image for the story it told, the mood it set? Or did you look at the exposure, the shadow and highlight detail, the post processing and the sharpness? Did you wonder if that was straight out of camera with a bit filter applied to give it the Ambrotype look?

    While all those different ways of looking at the picture are valid ways of looking at it, if the first thing you did was look at the technical and think shutter speed, f stop, ISO - I invite you to stop doing that and start looking at the image as a story. Look at it as if you know nothing at all about the process of creating a photograph and view it as art. See it as a means to convey a story or you "feel" anything from it?

    Only then can you truly appreciate the image. All the technical stuff is easy and mostly trivial. If you understand the basics of photography, it is pretty easy to dissect the images technical merits.

    Bottom line is - when looking at your images or someone else's for that matter, it is all too easy as a photographer to get caught up in the technicalities of the image creation and then you lose sight of the feeling, meaning, depth of the story it is trying to tell you.

    My other point I'd like to make is this:

    Your photography is your art, make it however you want it to be.

    I've often got flack from people regarding some of my post processing techniques. Mind you, I do experiment quite heavily in camera and in post processing for my personal projects. As an artist, we should have that freedom to do so. What we consider cliche'd, overdone, garrish, and over baked may be the trend of the future. An artistic process from the past may come back in vogue. You just never know.

    We all have our right to our opinion. If you see something and you don't like it - that is OK....just like it is OK for someone else TO like. Both sides need to respect their counterparts opinion. Be respectful, voice your objection constructively - but refrain from personally attacking the creator of the work because they chose a different way of thinking.

    Again, using the example image above - I've had 1 or 2 people nitpick, criticize and personally attack me about the processing methods used on this image. Go figure.....some people have nothing better to do with their time. I don't let that get to me, and don't let it get to you either if you find yourself in that same situation. If you choose to engage in a discussion with those kinds of people, I recommend the following approach:

    1) Be respectful and argue your case. Stick with the facts and don't get personal, even if they do. If someone gets personal in their debate, 99% of the time its because they really have no good argument or defense so they try and pull you into a mud slinging match. Its not worth it to go there.

    2) Know when to bow out. If you've made your case and no more need be said, don't endlessly engage in back and forth just for the sake of it. Be the bigger person and walk away. That might also be something you consider before even engaging in #1 above.
    • Like Like x 4
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 1
  2. SnapDawg

    SnapDawg Rorschach Test Pilot

    Apr 18, 2014
    Canary Islands
    One of the questions I usually ask myself when I look at, not necessarily make an image is: 'Would I like a print of that image to hang right in front of my desk?' and if the answer is positive 'How long would it probably hang there before...?'.
    I have an extensive collection of photographies, collected over close to 40 years and quite a few of my alltime favorite images are technically far from 'perfect'. I couldn't care less as long as they keep attracting me into the depths of their - my - innermost being. For me this is, in a nutshell, what photography and every other art form boils down to. Technical aspects are but mere means to this ongoing exploration, and the older I get the more I refuse to give them more attention than absolutely necessary.
  3. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011

    This thread sort of crosses paths with the way the discussion went when my image thread "pour" got upgraded to the front page a couple of weeks ago.

    Can I just note that, while I applaud your intent (or what I think is your intent), you can't have your cake and eat it - the sections of your quote I have highlighted in bold, I mean.

    If all readings of a photograph are equally valid, then it has to follow that there is no reading of it which is more "true" than any other.

    To say that I can only "truly appreciate" an image is if I have an emotional response or read a story from it that meets with the approval or understanding of the photographer is to leave the image dead and I as the viewer treated as somehow robotic.

    Now if we want, we can as photographers offer guidance as to how we might want our photographs to be read or interrogated, and we can do this (usually though not always) by offering a verbal context (a title, some notes about the location or subject and so on), and that is of course fine.

    But what you can't do is present someone with an image and suggest that if they don't have what you consider an appropriate emotional or other psychological response then they haven't "got it".

    Put most basically, a photographer simply cannot legislate for the personal response of the viewer. We can have any intent we like and signal it however we like, but the possibility is always there that a viewer will respond in a way we do not expect or like or hope for, and if someone does respond in a way we don't like or expect, I think we just have to (as that glorious American phrase goes) "suck it up" ...
  4. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Top Veteran

    Feb 6, 2015
    Central Ohio, USA
    With this post, I'm wanting to bring about discussion. It appears to be doing that, so success!! :D

    I'm going for the whole looking versus seeing concept here, which is similar to the hearing versus listening that anyone in a relationship has probably been through. :)

    I'm also going after the people that only look at an image for the technical merits and refuse to see the art it might represent. I've had some, and 99% of them photographers, never give an image a second look because it wasn't sharp enough or the exposure wasn't what they would have chose or the DOF wasn't what they would have picked or the post processing wasn't to their liking. They get so wrapped up in what camera, lens, EXIF, Lightroom/Phootoshop and plugins - that they don't first see the image as that - an image. They look at it as a cold, output of a process of inputting some set of dials at specific points and try to reverse engineer it.

    I'm challenging that mindset to see the image first, before looking at what the technical merits of the image might be. I'm definitely not saying you shouldn't look at a picture in the technical merits, just that we don't want to miss the forest because we are too close to the individual trees.

    I do agree with you that we cannot force people to "get it". I'm more espousing that we don't just look at something from one perspective and then drop it, we need to look at it from different perspectives. This post really came about not so much that I can't handle people that don't "get it". I can handle anything - the skin is thick, believe me. It was more in a response to some people in a different forum actually getting enraged and calling people everything but human because they don't like their HDR, or they think that an image can only be what comes straight out of camera and any other work on that image in post is some kind of unholy afront to photography. I've been down that road, never going there again.

    There are plenty of people that love Jackson Pollack paintings, but I am not one of them. I'd never call someone out or denigrate them if they love it. I'm just wanting others to understand that life is a little bit better if we go down that road versus the mud slinging that can come about. Again - love a healthy, respectful debate of ideas, thoughts, facts.
  5. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    I can sum up my take fairly quickly. Sam Cooke loved Bob Dylan's voice... (think about that for a moment.) And when Sam played Bob Dylan for Bobby Womack for the first time, Bobby didn't get it. Sam said, more or less, "it's not going to be about how pretty the voice is anymore. It's going to be about whether or not you believe the voice is telling the truth." The point being, of course, that simply making a pleasing sound was no longer the top of the pyramid. The pyramid had had its roof raised, and now if you sounded more honest / soulful / gritty / etc, you could quite easily supersede someone whose only attribute was a technically polished voice. "3 chords and the truth," as it were.

    If the technique is sufficiently bad in just the right ways, it can detract from the emotional impact. If the technique (including post) is sufficiently advanced in the right ways, it can greatly improve the emotional impact. But technique is secondary, as is gear. It always has been. It's important, hell it's often critical that one understand it in order to allow technique to get out of the way and stop hurting, much less help.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  6. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    Technical ability and the quality of your camera / lens is, to me, the pair of speakers.

    Emotional impact of the image is what's on the record.
    • Agree Agree x 4
  7. bluzcity

    bluzcity Top Veteran

    Jul 24, 2013
    Memphis, TN
    I really find this a fascinating topic. My interests lie primarily in the emotional impact of images. Do I have the capacity to feel what others do when we see the same image? And of course that's a yes and no. From the 'yes' perspective I believe there are universal archetypes that present collective or global response. An example might be photos of starving children, abused animals, photos from 911 and such. And thankfully there are happier types; romance, puppies, cute children, attractive people and so forth. From the 'no' perspective there is the fact that when we are photographing a glorious sunrise or sunset, people who are viewing that image, but are not there or never have been, will not have the same emotional attachment to it. Two people or more at the same place or event will even have different feelings about and interpretations of the same event. I've heard that eye witness accounts are the least reliable evidence. When I make an image I find that I can never fully detach myself from it. My opinion about my photo is biased. And while that is so it should not prevent me from the realization that others will have a different response. And knowing that I should be able to receive appropriate criticism. If I receive inappropriate criticism it feels like my self (creation/art) is being attacked and it puts me into a defensive position. Hopefully maturity would guide me out of that negative dialogue but sometimes I want to roll up my sleeves and meet that jerk 'out in the yard'!
    In the photos presented above I feel the impact; I can, based on my experience, relate. My grandfather wore hats and took me into many hat shops. I wear a hat most every day. As a child I would go to the county fair and I love fair food! So I can look at those and feel the impact regardless of the processing. If, however, the processing was too over the top for my taste, it would lessen the impact. So it is sort of a paradox, a both and.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    I'd simplify it as "can I relate to it?" - a form of empathy. If yes, then anything is possible, including experimenting with it, trying to duplicate some aspect of it myself, or just posting a comment.
    • Like Like x 2
  9. EasyEd

    EasyEd Regular

    Dec 22, 2010
    Hey All,

    Hmmm what to say...

    Well first Bob Dylan had a hero that he spent years trying to get a discussion about songwriting with. He finally got one - an afternoon in a trailer with him. Dylan's hero was a writer who was a far better songwriter than Dylan ever dreamed of being - and Dylan knew it. Everyone has that hero they try to emulate - even Dylan. Three chords and the truth is a song sung by many - I like the Church Sisters version.

    Moving on to photography. I think if you put a photograph out there and people are asking about the technique you didn't get your intent across - unless technique was your intent - or maybe the intent wasn't clear.

    The message must outshine the means.

    The other thing you can appeal to is visceral - that something that makes you look at a photo over and over - not necessarily because of the subject but because it tweaks or tugs at something. For example some of PDH photos do this why because they are somewhat abstract representations of something very straightforward - his picture of rills created by erosion is one. In another of his images he has found a tension highlighted by high contrast and cropped to it. Presentation in minature is another technique that has one looking closely at the images (somebody else did this as well). The point is - the "hook". They are not hard to understand and are very good.

    My favorite photographer of all time was Dorothea Lange but the other FSA and OWI photographers were also great. The story - the "hook" was always there but that was their job.

    • Like Like x 1
  10. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY

    First, thanks for a thoughtful essay. I think I "get" where you are coming from, and I mostly agree.

    Second, I like the images. The first definitely has a nostalgic feel to it -- it could have been a daguerreotype. The second has a luminous quality to it that suggests that it could be computer generated. Nevertheless, I like it and want to keep looking at it.

    I thought I would respond to your thoughts with a few of my own about photography:

    What it means to me to be a photographer

    An odd thing has been happening to me lately. We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first a little background.

    Since 1969, I have been a professional writer and a fulltime freelancer since 1997. I enjoy reading what other writers have to say about writing – such as William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Stephen King’s On Writing. Occasionally I’ve seen or read about how they “had” to write – how they couldn’t not write. And I, too, have felt the compulsion. It’s a kind of internal pressure that builds and demands release in words on a page.

    As my professional writing life has been ramping down, I have been turning my attention more to photography. Unlike my earlier photographic efforts, which were mainly for illustrative purposes to accompany my writing, I determined to “shoot from the heart” . . . to shoot those images that move me.

    I have discovered that I have a passion for photographing the sky, and that usually means the daytime sky but not always. Sometimes it is the setting sun or the moon rising through the trees that grabs me. Sometimes it is an epic display of clouds in the sky.

    The root emotion, I think, is awe: “Wow, would you look at that? Isn’t that incredible?”

    Now here’s the odd thing: lately, with that sense of awe increasingly has come a compulsion to shoot photographs, to try to capture what is provoking that sense of awe in the hope that the viewer of the photograph might feel at least part of what I felt. Sometimes I literally feel like I can’t not shoot.

    Also increasingly has come the realization that the sensors of my cameras see differently than my eyes do, and so I have to give more thought to how I shoot and how I post-process to get to an image that comes close to the scene which provoked my initial response of awe. I see a long, steep learning curve in front of me but also a sense of joy in the journey.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, I enjoyed reading and thinking about them. And I enjoyed viewing your images.

    Cheers, Jock
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2015
    • Like Like x 3
  11. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    This guy nails it. Japanese photographer I just stumbled across, who uses mostly Sigma equipment (sometimes Canon FF stuff), has a lot of images that are not exposed or processed in a traditionally "correct" way, but who understands beauty and emotion in a way that I never will. Judging from his flickr feed, he lives on a far away planet full of mist and snow, with an owl and a fox for best friends.

    THIS is how you evoke feelings with photography. This feed is like a masters course. I am stunned and delighted. So many rules broken, and so much delight and wonder created.[email protected]/
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
  12. WoodWorks

    WoodWorks Regular

    Dec 21, 2014
    Woof! Thanks for that link, Kyle. That guy's photos rock! I'll be following him from now on.
  13. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    Yeah I'm following the hell out of him.
  14. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    I don't do much art myself, but once in a great while I get satisfaction from something like this:

    image.jpg image.jpg
    • Like Like x 2
  15. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Top Veteran

    Feb 6, 2015
    Central Ohio, USA
    I especially like that 2nd one. Very neat mood I get form it.
    • Like Like x 1
  16. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    I particularly like the top one.

    Cheers, Jock
    • Like Like x 1
    • Funny Funny x 1