Dispatches from Prague

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by LD Horricks, Dec 10, 2002.

  1. LD Horricks

    LD Horricks Member

    Messages:
    18
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Prague, Czec
    Dobry Den Pratele...

    Last week I visited the Josef Koudelka Exhibit at the National Gallery here in Prague...for the fifth time. It is clearly the largest retrospective display of this photographers work to date. Many of the prints that are displayed are original prints made for the original exhibits...some of them almost 40 years old. Images like the series from the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, his early work with the Roma (Gypsies) in Slovakia, Romania, and Albania, and his theatre and stage work were all made with (What we would call) inferior Eastern European cameras and lenses, similarly inferior East German film, and printed on graded Czech and East German paper, also what we in the west would not consider quality materials. The images are no less powerful or of no less quality...

    I made this last visit with my friend Zedenek (who printed the contemporary portion of the exhibit) and a group of talented Czech Photographers I hang out with...afterwards in the pub, I didnt here any disussion about the lack of tonal range, obtrusive grain, low D-Max, lack of shadow detail, what kind of paper, developer,Enlarging head was used etc. We discussed the images their impact...how we felt about the work. It just makes me think that, these days, there seems to be a certain preocupation amongst many of us with technological mumbo jumbo....Many of my Czech colleagues think we (Americans/Canadians etc) are obsessive compulsive techno-junkies and actually feel sorry for us rather than envy us. They think we spend so much time on websites, reading magazines and taking workshops that its a wonder we ever time to take photographs. Zdenek thinks all the monkying around we do, trying and BUYING every conceivable equipment combination and darkroom formula to make us into photographers is quite amusing . I'm not, and I'm sure he is not saying that we should'nt strive for excellence and new ways of working and achieving results that are pleasing, but after spending time on the net over the past month or so and reading and participating in quite a number of discussions, I have to somewhat agree with my esteemed colleague's opinions....especially that our beer sucks.


    LD Horricks
    Prague, Czech Republic
     
  2. Robert

    Robert Member

    Messages:
    747
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (LD Horricks @ Dec 10 2002, 09:18 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>....Many of my Czech colleagues think we (Americans/Canadians etc) are obsessive compulsive techno-junkies and actually feel sorry for us rather than envy us. ....especially that our beer sucks.


    LD Horricks
    Prague, Czech Republic</td></tr></table><span id='postcolor'>
    I think this is partly the result of too much choice. If you're only choice is a Flexaret you take the best possible pictures with that camera. You don't sit around worrying if you'd be better off with a different camera.

    Love fresh pilsener urquell-) Too bad it doesn't travel well.
     
  3. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

    Messages:
    2,512
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2002
    Location:
    Omaha, Nebra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    In the US there is so much disposable income and as Robert said "choice" that it is easy to fall into the trap of always upgrading equipment. For many people who use cameras it is all about status, they are going to buy the next greatest thing even though my 6yr old daughter can probably produce better images with an old 35mm Pentax K.


    There is also the idea that technology can somehow make up for a lack of creativity or initiative to learn how to make photographs. One reason why someone will pay thousands of $ for a camera that is fully computerized and automated but will still take mediocre pictures.

    Another issue is laziness. Quite a few photographers who invest in gear and a darkroom do not take the time to learn how to test and evaluate materials and chemistry. They bounce from one film, paper, and developer to another depending on the latest trend or magazine article, never getting the results the experts get. Experimentation is great, I do it quite a bit, but I have my tried and true combinations that I have fine tuned over the years that I can use as a baseline for evaluation of new materials.

    If you look at the almost any great photographer past or present, their gear, materials and technique are usually fairly simple and consistent. Even Adams who used a variety of materials and cameras based his decisions based on past experience and knowledge gained through testing .
     
  4. LD Horricks

    LD Horricks Member

    Messages:
    18
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Prague, Czec
    Just got a call from my friend Zedenek...he cursed me up and down for showing him this and a few other websites especially this time of year when its dark by 4:tongue:m and not light until 8:00am...says he's afraid he would become addicted to forum discussion...says he does appreciate the idea sharing concept...but still hasnt changed his opinion, especially about the beer...in fact think I'll head across the road for a wee pint meeself.

    LD Horricks
    Prague, Czech Republic
     
  5. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

    Messages:
    750
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Just north o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I think too much time is spent on equipment. Many of the old Soviet Bloc nations were so "choice poor" that equipment issues never really came up. You bought XXXXXX camera and used XXXXX film.

    Meanwhile in the west, everyone is getting bombarded with ads and opinions. Ads are the worst since they tend to center around themes like "Only a REAL photographer would use our gear" or "We SWEAR this camera will improve ALL your pictures".

    And we fall for it. [​IMG]

    Being on a tight budget, I quickly learned myself that gear is less important than what you do with it. Perhaps I have a "Prague Mentality". I hope I do! I buy most of my stuff used and several years out of date. Instead of spending a fortune on the latest Zeiss glass, I buy older MC lenses for my Bronica. Do I need a Leica? No, my old FT2 does me just fine.
     
  6. Robert

    Robert Member

    Messages:
    747
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Most of my stuff is decades out of date but then people haven't been updated in that period either-)

    On the issue of it's the photographer and not the lens. I think it's broader then that. Awhile ago during a discussion of old lens on the large format forum of that other place somebody suggested people should state how they use the lens. For some reason I don't understand people got all in a huff about this simple statement.

    Isn't even something simple like coverage related to how you use the lens? If you do nothing but contact prints are the standards for coverage similar to somebody that needs to enlarge the negative?

    The quick fix idea isn't just limited to photography. Spend a bit of time in any of the big hardware stores on a Saturday and watch people buying tools. Often not to get a job done but because they think it will make them better at something they already have too many tools for.
     
  7. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

    Messages:
    4,532
    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Inarguably having the right tool for the job makes ones life easier, but it is not absolutley necessary to make a superb image. In my case I had the intention to move to Mexico and bought the equipment with that goal in mind, I bought the best I could afford and all of the things I thought I would need. OTOH I have never replaced a lens, I dont feel the need to change lenses as new ones come out, if I was able to take a fine pic with my nikkor 210, do I really need a Super Symmar 210 XL with humongous coverage? no..not really. I think this is what LD is talking about. Somehow the mentality in the US is that "newer" is better....when many times is not the case specially in LF. Of course we also have to think that this "consumerism" is one of the strenghts of America. You have no idea how lucky you are to be able to just make a call or get online and get what you want, I have found this the hard way here in Mexico and it is very frustrating, perhaps this frustration and lack of materials is what makes photographers in other countriies more careful about their craft.
    Many on this thread have touched on the same feelings I have, I never changed films, I stuck with one and worked with it until I was able to master it. Althoigh I do admit I went through my "film test" phase where I thought I was going to find the magic bullet, in the end I ended up where I started and confirmed my gut feeling that I had been a fool by trying all those film/developer combinations, I learned a lot, but the effort was not worth the results.
    HAving said all this I find the comment about being sorry for americans kind of elitist and maybe born out of a little bit of jealousy. Lets remember that is this kind of availability and convenience that provide people with the tools to make truly wonderful images. HOw many have heard of a exceptional Russian photographer, or for that matter a Checkoslovakian one? I am sure there are many but exposure is also based on consumerism, if the population is capable of paying hundreds of dollars for a print then there is a greater chance a photographer will dedicate his life to make images, but if you only get 10 dollars for an image, well....kind of hard to become a master when all you can do is take pics on the weekend.
    Also if I had to choose between two images one technically perfect with great content and one with great content but so so on the technical part, I would go for the former one, why settle for less? It is this kind of "anal" perfection attitude american photographers have that has raised the level of expertise and beauty in photography. It is easy to say "a well this is good enough with the materials I have", but I bet Weston or Adams or Caponigro never felt this way.
    So although I understand LD's comment I have to disagree with his distpatch, never the less a very interesting one and I am glad it was discussed here.
     
  8. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

    Messages:
    2,512
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2002
    Location:
    Omaha, Nebra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A few more ramblings on this topic:

    What if suddenly there was only Tri-X, D76, Dektol and one kind of paper. Those who are more wedded to the craft will struggle, bitch and moan and blame the lack of choice for their inability to make great photographs.

    Those who are more concerned about creating art will learn to use the materials to their full extent and keep on presenting new images and ideas.

    I tell people interested in starting in B&W to use the above materials exclusively for at least one year and ideally two. Use it in all situations, test thouroughly and after that time they will be able to determine exposure without a light meter and fine tune development for every sheet or roll. They will know pretty well how any scene will print and know from looking at the negative the required print exposure and any dodging and buring that will be required. After this time they can begin to experiment with other materials.

    The more time I spend photographing the more I discover that simplicity is really the best route, that 30 yr old cameras and lenses produce as good an image as modern gear for most applications.


    After owning various zooms and lenses for 35mm i have discovered that I personally could photograph the whole world with 3 prime lenses- 28, 90 and 135mm. Of course not to argue gear but I would perfer a Leica.
     
  9. LD Horricks

    LD Horricks Member

    Messages:
    18
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Prague, Czec
    Believe me I went through a long period of reinventing the wheel, and I definately am an advocate of testing in order to learn for oneself what is best for his or her needs. I also agree that my Czech friends are a little bit militant in their views (we've had some very lively discussions in this realm), but I do think there is something endemic in modern western society that makes us want to take short cuts...to be on some sort of fast track to mastery, and that if we pay the bucks for this enlarger or that workshop, that it will be the answer to all of our problems...its not just a photography issue...my last visit to a supermarket in Canada had me so wide-eyed I didnt make it past the ice-cream aisle. Supply tells us that there is real demand out there for someone or something to show us the way and make our dreams come true. I also firmly believe that in order to be free creativley we must have a solid technical base, and diligent, consistant work procedures...I'm sure my Czech friends would agree completley on this. I myself have worked long and hard on my procedures and its paid off. I certainly have no arguement with the value of forums like this and other methods (workshops included) of sharing our experience and discoveries...its why I'm taking the time to be a part of it. I used be in a tailspin over this paper/dev combo or that film/dev combo...cold light vs. condenser...the list goes on. I really found myself obsessing over all the possibilities and if they might not be better than what I was using or doing. Maybe it was a good exercise that I went through all these permiatations, but oddly enough, apart from a few changes I went back to what I had always done. I really do believe many of us do get brainwashed or at least persuaded by what manufacturers or even what fellow photographers are telling us about what our images should be, so we then go on a mad search for products or gurus that will ensure this result.

    Maybe I shouldnt have had those two pints before responding...maybe I should've had a Tall decaf,half-calf, no foam latte.

    Goodnight from Prague.
     
  10. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,952
    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2002
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    On a simple level, certain equipment is needed to achieve the style you desire. Part of photography is developing a unique style of your own, and in most cases the equipment plays a major part of this. I want 8x10 razor sharp contact prints, etc. I'm not going to get that with a Holga. OTOH if I wanted a more soft and dreamy abstract look I might demand a Holga. I base equipment purchases on the look and style I want to achieve, but I can see how some people purchase equipment hoping they'll get 'this' or 'that' kind of style out of it. That's probably when they get into trouble and loose their way.
     
  11. LD Horricks

    LD Horricks Member

    Messages:
    18
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Prague, Czec
    Sorry Jorge your observations are as usual appreciated, but I couldnt sleep before I mentioned a handful of (what I think are) acclaimed Czech Photographers:

    Josef Sudek
    Josef Karsch
    Jan Saudek
    Josef Koudelka
    Antonin Kratochvil
    Pavel Banka

    Maybe I should change my name to Josef.


    Dobrou Noc
     
  12. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

    Messages:
    4,532
    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Some well known names I agree but where did they obtain the recognition? Certainly not in Checkoslovakia, if I remember correctly Josuf Karsh died in Canada after a long career in the US. My point is that being a "suffering artist" does not make your art better or more profound, it only makes you a PITA to listen to. ALthough there is merit in making beautiful images with the bare minimum there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the materials present to make it even more beautiful. So as I stated before the stance that americans are techno junkies I think comes from a little envy, I know I am envious and I wish I could get all the stuff as easily and cheaply as they do in the US.

    BTW I know the first 3....the last 3..???? maybe there. I am sure they are wonderful photographers, but I bet you given the chance they would love to be in the US selling their prints rather than there being suffering artists....ask your friends this, if they pity americans so much are they going to refuse to sell their prints in the US? you cant have your cake and eat it too.

    I can tell you this because this is my situation, in Mexico there are many good photographers, but people here buy art to fill in wall space and they would rather pay $20 for a big print than $400 for an 8x10, even if it is pt.
    There are many wonderful things to photograph here that are not as derivative simply because it is so difficult to pursue the art, so I will try and market my portfolio in the US when I am ready. In a sense I am in the same place as your friends, but I lived in the US for 24 years, so I know that although it is not perfect, it is still the best thing going.

    SO dont take offense LD, as I did not mean to belittle the art produced there, but I disagree with the stance your friends mention and having experienced both sides I think I know what I am talking about.
     
  13. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    17,922
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Lack of resources is not necessarily an obstacle to gearheadedness. Yes, I think generally in Europe there is a greater appreciation for art and a higher level of discourse about aesthetic questions than in the U.S. On the other hand when I've spent extended periods of time in Poland, I've seen that the search for the technical fix just gets shifted to things that are affordable: every darkroom worker has his own "mikstury" ("formulas"), and "majstrowanie" ("tinkering") is something of a national pastime. Of course during the Communist years, this was a necessity, because equipment and chemicals were not readily available. Part of the remarkable creativity of these East European artists comes out of this need to be involved in the whole process on a technical level, and that's not a bad thing.

    While I was there in 1989, I bought a Pentacon 6 system for street photography. Since it was big and clunky and East European, I could easily pass for a Polish student walking around. My F-1, even with black tape over the Canon logo, might as well have been a 4x6 foot American flag hanging around my neck. Here is one of my favorite shots from those days (on Agfachrome 100, purchased on the black market from a guy who smuggled it from Berlin):

    http://www.echonyc.com/~goldfarb/photo/mcross.jpg

    The beer in Prague is unquestionably superior.
     
  14. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

    Messages:
    485
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Southern Cal
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I use D76, Dektol, and Tri-X or HP5 or FP4+, and old cameras/lenses. I am familiar and comfortable with them, they do what I expect. Not all of us need to have the newest and most expensive things. We are out using what we have and having a blast. Sometimes I get a winner, sometimes it's crap. Since I am not a professional who really cares anyway? Oh, and your friend is right about our beer. Give me a good German beer with a name I can't spell any time.
     
  15. LD Horricks

    LD Horricks Member

    Messages:
    18
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Prague, Czec
    Dobry Rano Kamoske...

    I think I opened up a can of worms because I wasnt able to express my observations well...I guess thats why I am a visual artist. I agree completley that the equipment we choose is important...hopefully if we are honest with ourselves we will choose the tools to help us with our vision, based on function and not the bells and whistles or cosmetics...and quite frankly I dont want to stand in judgment of that either. I really didnt mean to direct this thread toward a debate over equipment, even though I think it is an element in what I was trying to say. I think what I was trying to say in my initial post is that there seems to be a preoccupation with defining and achieving the elusive "Fine Print"...that the technical issues of an image somehow have made their way to the forefront of discussion, almost to the point of eclipsing the message or voice coming from an image or series of images. All things being equal, a finely crafted image is more pleasing to view than one which is poorly crafted and presented I think this is pretty much a given... But I hesitate to say that I would appreciate a full scale, delicate platinum print of my Aunt Minny's curio collection, just because it was a masterful technical print. People here discuss technique and technical aspects as well...it just isnt as much of an obsession..not so much on the forefront, as I have found it be in the Americas. When fellow photgraphers here look at my work, the first thing that comes to mind is not 'what exposure did you use, what Film,Dev,Paper,Enlarger are you using, or how did you get such incredible tonal range' ...those questions may, and often do eventually follow. The first discussion, more often, is usually about the image and what they feel about it...in the Americas my experience has more often than not, been the opposite.

    From techno-gear standpoint, my observation is that the affluence of western society has created a certain predisposition among many of us (NOT ALL) to look to tangible, material things to improve their craft. I have no doubt that, given the means to do so, people over here would prefer to use a Hasselblad with Zeiss optics for their (square) medium format work than a Pentacon 6...and some do...but I think they are less likely to look to such options as a magic formula, and to BUY into the notion that it will siginificantly improve their craft.

    I wont get too deep into whether or not my colleagues would jump at the chance or prefer to be in America where they can get their hands on the multiude of products available. But somehow knowing them... knowing that most of them are more well traveled in Europe, North America and further abroad than most North Americans I know... that notion would seem a bit presumptious. Prague is a modern progressive European Capital, in a country rich in the traditions of Art and Culture. There is very little here on a consumer or profesional level that doesnt exist or isnt easily aquirable. Like I said, I think some of my friends comments may be a bit over the top and judgmental, but I do agree that they are not completely off the mark, and not particularly born out of envy.

    I was born and raised in Canada, but spent most of my adult life living abroad, so like Jorge at times I take notice of things that stand out with respect to what certain societies or cultures seem to place emphasis on. My observations may be incorrect...but they are my observations. Thanks for yours...and I apologize for not making myself more clear...hopefully this dispatch somewhat rectifies that.

    Larry.
     
  16. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

    Messages:
    4,532
    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Larry, I did not think your initial dispatch was confusing. I totally understand where you are comming from, here in Mexico the situation is pretty similar, since equipment, materials etc are so hard to come by the people who look at prints and are interested usually dont think of "what camera?" but of "where, how, what it means? how do I feel about it". What I really think you are talking about is a very fundamental difference in culture, where in the US the attitude is "time is money" and what can I get to acheive the same results as fast as possible, in other cultures (or at least mine) there is a tendency to "take it easy" and discuss things.
    To me this was the greatest cultural shock when I first started living un the US, all the way from college where god forbid if you disagreed with a professor, to your job, where people do not care to hear what you have to say, they just want you to get the job done. OTOH it is this same attitude of expediency that opens doors for people who are good at what they do, I can only speak for myself but I am very greatful for the priviledge of having lived in the US and for the opportunities that many people afforded me, but this opportunities where given because I had the right attitude. This is my fundamental disagreement with your friends statement, for someone looking from the outside it might look like people in the US are over preoccupied with gizmos and toys, but looking from the inside I think this is only a symptom of the desire to get the best posible results. Lets face it you might be able to turn out prefectly beautiful pictures with a barrel lens with waterford stops, but the chances are better if you have a lens with a shutter, MC and with plenty of coverage.
    I agree with you that some people might obsess so much over equipment that they can not see the forest for the trees, but the same can be said on the other side, where the "meaning" of the print becomes so absorving that we fall into the artsy pseudo speak.
    I dont think it is the case that your observations are incorrect or correct, but that they are an interesting point of view that show us a little window into another culture which many of might not ever have the chance to experience, as such I find them very interesting and not dissimilar to those made here in Mexico.
     
  17. LD Horricks

    LD Horricks Member

    Messages:
    18
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2002
    Location:
    Prague, Czec
    Dobry Rano...dneska je zima jak vprdele!

    Jorge, In reading my last post I realize my use of the term "The Americas" was not particularly a good choice...being that your country makes up a good portion of that term and clearly has its own cultural and artistic distinctions, and as you say, perhaps not so dis-similar to over here...no slight intended. I think the Canadian and Mexican people share some similar interests and concerns globally, but that would be an off topic discussion. Unfortunatley one of those similarities is not the weather.

    Thanks Jorge and All for your input...mejte se hezky.

    LD Horricks
    Prague, Czech Republic
     
  18. Aggie

    Aggie Member

    Messages:
    4,925
    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2003
    Location:
    So. Utah
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    ..
     
  19. avandesande

    avandesande Member

    Messages:
    1,246
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Tijeras, NM
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I don't think that their is any sort of predisposition in the US. The technophiles are the most common and the most vocal on the web. People that embrace simplicity and vision don't feel the need to preach this to people in every newsgroup, 99% of which are technique/gadget oriented anyway.

    Most photos don't come across nearly as well on your monitor as they do in the actual print, making it pretty hard to discuss what the photographer was seeing/feeling. In a sense there is a technique to taking photographs that display well on a computer monitor, which I am not interested in mastering.

    --Aaron