Does process actually matter?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by pjm1289, Sep 11, 2007.

  1. pjm1289

    pjm1289 Member

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    I am not sure if this has been brought up before, I'm sure it has, but I can't seem to find it...

    I had an interesting conversation with one of my teachers today regarding photography. He and I were talking about the statements a photographer might make regarding his or her work and their intentions. I mentioned that I like to orchestrate my images, staging fake realities and having my friends act them out. He then answered, "why does that matter?" I've had a few hours to think about that question now and I am a bit stumped. In many ways, he is correct because the only thing most people care about (apart from fellow artists and photographers) is the end product. In a commerical world, editors and art directors only care about the end result. Even in the art world, buyers just want to buy the piece. The rest of the world doesn't look at a Gregory Crewdson image and say "gee, look at how much care he put into this--the perfectionist asthetetic, the surreal lighting, and the eery artficial fog."

    But on the other hand, we as photographers and artists might see that ourselves because we know how hard it is to create images like he does. Even more so, whenever I buy photography monographs, I always read about the artists process in making his or her work. Rineke Dijkstra's book discusses her use of the 4x5 camera and the need for her adoloscent subjects to hold their pose for more than a mere second or two. Or Avedon, everyone loves the fact that he uses the 8x10 camera, the intimacy and honesty that he's able to pull out of the subject because he can step next to the camera instead of being in back of it.

    I am in a bit of a conundrum on how to actually interpret this. I've had several art professors who emphasize their use of the 4x5 or 8x10--the elaborate planning they need, the intensity of shooting with a camera like that. But of my other professor is supposdely right in saying that none of that stuff matters, only the end result, who is right? Or, are they both right, and do we just have to choose for ourselves?

    I can't wait to see what everyone writes!

    --Paolo
     
  2. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    It does and it doesn't. It matters to the person taking the photos, because the process they use works for them to get the images they want. It doesn't matter HOW they got there to their audience so long as they are getting the images they want out of their process. It also matters to other photographers who are interested in learning how to achieve a particular look.
     
  3. mcfactor

    mcfactor Member

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    You're actually asking two questions: one about whether it matters that photos are staged, and another about whether it matters what type of camera one uses. I would argue that the first matters a lot (whether an image is real or staged is of vital importance to how it its viewed) while the second matters a little (robert frank's images can be just as beautiful as richard avedon's).
     
  4. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    g'day pjm

    there are many factors that combine to make a successful image, you are considering but a few

    too many photographers get too hung up on some of the factors and forget the rest

    just because an image is printed/captured/made a particular way doesn't make it successful

    a successful image/artwork moves it's audience

    how do you move the audience?

    by considering all the factors; composition, perspective, subject selection, artistic intent, lighting, technique, materials, equipment, presentation, etc, etc

    who is the audience?

    different audiences will be moved by different factors

    Ray
     
  5. Ted Harris

    Ted Harris Subscriber

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    pjm, what is important to you is also important, especially if you are not a pro. If photography is your avocation then you can easily justify caring more about process than about the final image, in fact many do.

    I wrote an article for View Camera on this very subject titled Five Kinds of Photograhpers. It was in the January 2006 issue if memory serves.
     
  6. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    It is important when discussing one's work, not as important when viewing the work.

    Vaughn
     
  7. nicolai

    nicolai Member

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    Exactly what TheFlyingCamera said.
     
  8. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    Intention matters ABSOULUTELY. I find it a little irresponsible that your 'prof' would say that (which school is this??). The visual work you are making is one solution to a problem which you have framed for yourself. It needs to succeed within that of parameters/that context. Granted - others will have independent readings of it.... but if they understand where you were coming from - it opens them up to territory they might not have considered exploring before. That's what doing art is, IMO, all about!
     
  9. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I think the question was a challenge, not an admonishment. If you are going to discuss process there has to be a reason to discuss it. If you shoot people in the IC ward, but only display those that lived, it would be an important item to add to the discussion of the work. We might not know you used TXP and if you bring it into the discussion of the work there should be a reason that it is part of the discussion. If you shot them on TXP because Kmart was running a sale then it wouldn't matter.

    Many art teachers and photographers will obsess over process. I tend to think that is the craftsperson in them coming out, not the artist. No one needs to know how you did it, unless it is integral to understanding what it is. To the viewer the image is the art to the artist (maybe) the entire process (including looking at the work) is the art.
     
  10. pjm1289

    pjm1289 Member

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    McFactor, yes, I think that is what I was getting at too: the difference between the staged and the natural.

    And Sparky, I agree with you--the context part in totality. He's not really a photography teacher, he's really just is the head of my high school and does photography on the side.
     
  11. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi pjm

    sometimes there is not intent, or a hidden meaning
    behind what happened as you make the photographs.
    having a reason, an agenda, and a plan is important
    in explaning to oneself ( and others ) the who, what, where, when how, and WHY
    of your images, but in the end, there may be no intent,
    and the images just happen and you witness with your camera
    the magic of the moment/s.

    i often times have to explain my intent, and sometimes i am
    at a loss for words, because my camera ran amok, my processing
    made not sense, and my prints were the result of happenstance.

    this doesn't occur all the time, but when it does ..
    i just shrug my shoulders

    john
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 12, 2007
  12. Videbaek

    Videbaek Member

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    The picture is all there is. It either says something or doesn't -- to the particular person looking at it. How you made it doesn't matter at all, whether it came about by chance or intention. Of course, if the viewer wants to know how it was made and you happen to be in the gallery, you can tell him. Just make sure that your explanation doesn't undermine his appreciation of the picture!
     
  13. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Process matters only WHILE you are making an image and matters only to the person making the image. After that, it's what you have to say that counts. The only exception is really gallery sales, where potential buyers will probably be looking for a reassurance that you have used high-quality materials which will last. Aside from that, no one but other photographers will be interested to hear that you used format x, lens y, film z, etc.

    Of course, different cameras, particularly ones of different size, have their own personality - you will inevitably get a different feeling to a picture (quite apart from considerations of grain, sharpness, etc.) as the result of your choice of format (35 mm, MF, LF).

    Clouding the issue is the fact that photography, unlike almost all other media, is heavily influenced by amateur practitioners to whom process is everything (and emotion nothing!). Just remember to listen long enough to gain technical tips and then tune them out!
     
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  15. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Process matters to the artist, final print matters to both the artist and the audience.

    It's much like music - no one but the musician cares how many times he had to practice a certain complex phrase, but everyone cares how he plays it in a performance.
    juan
     
  16. ijsbeer

    ijsbeer Member

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    The process is a tool to develop a result the artist wants. I think when the process has to much influence on the end result you are on the wrong path.
    my fast thought

    cheers
     
  17. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    How much is TOO much influence? When the process BECOMES the end product? I don't think you can say the process has too much influence on the final result until you only have process and don't produce an end result. Otherwise, the process has total influence on the end result.

    I think we also need to define "process". When I'm saying process here, I mean all the decisionmaking that leads up to the execution of a finished image. Everything from what subject to which camera and which film to chemistry, paper, size, and presentation. All too often, once we develop our working process, we easily forget what the process entails - some steps become so second nature that we lump them together, and other steps, because they present challenges, get overemphasized.
     
  18. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    "He's not really a photography teacher, he's really just is the head of my high school and does photography on the side."

    Sounds like this person is a 'teacher' first, who knows how to ask the right questions to get his students thinking. A quality teacher doesn't have to be an expert in 'photography' to teach photography well. A quality teacher needs only to inspire the students to excellence. There are many very accomplished photographers who earn their living doing many things other than photography. They simply 'do photography on the side.'

    So don't judge or denigrate the person who heads your high school by saying he's not "really a photography teacher" and "does photography on the side." Sounds like he did a great job to get you thinking about photography. What you do with his question is up to you.

    I had a high school English teacher who did photography on the side. He was brilliant with a camera.
     
  19. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Member

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    Perhaps one of the things your teacher is trying to have you consider is the subject of "authenticity." Everything in our physical reality is staged in some way or form--whether by design or natural process. Consider the facade of a building, the interaction of people and their manner of dress in an environment, or the interplay of naturally changing environmental elements.

    There is concern amongst academics over the dynamics of authenticity and how something is interpreted subjectively by the viewer. If you totally choreograph the content to reflect some process or intent, a viewer may not be able to determine whether the event was staged or a part of another process that the photographer merely observed. In some cases, the staged reality can become part and parcel of historic narrative--the flag raising at Iwo Jima is a perfect example. The initial consideration here is how a photographer wishes to be stylistically known--what "message" they are attempting to impart.

    It's far too easy to become enveloped in the aspects of the process--yet it is the process that sets the mood and impact of the image. Consider for a moment what Adam's work would be if he had shot everything in 35mm, on Plus-X, developed in D-76, and printed on Polycontrast RC paper...

    Although there are many who will vehemently disagree with me, process is nothing more than a set of tools to arrive at an approximation of how the image was visualized at the onset. Ultimately it is the final product, and not the details of the process that the viewer interprets. These intricacies are important to the artist and the scholar--meaningless to the observer once the image is removed from relation to the photographer and circumstance. At that time, the result becomes the interpretive "property" of the observer. Vision and process merely attempt to guide the individual along a path of seeing and interpretation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

    Keep questioning and thinking, for it is only through this process that your unique individual vision can develop. Failing to critically think through how and why we create images does not develop discipline or style--just as rote process makes little more than a chain portrait photographer.
     
  20. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    Um, I hang prints on my wall, not processes.
     
  21. haris

    haris Guest

    So, everything is allowed to reach final result?

    So, why should I work for living, try to show to woman why she should be with me? I can steal, rape her, and as final result to have material things/money and have sex.

    For me it does matter the way how I get final result, and what others think... I don't care!
     
  22. Katharine Thayer

    Katharine Thayer Member

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    But I would never hang an inkjet print on my wall; the object itself and how it was made matters to me as much as (but not more than) the image, so in a way I do hang processes on my wall. But what the print is made of is about as much as I want to know. I don't want to know what camera or film was used, except in the case of some unconventional camera type that has its own particular image style like pinhole or holga; or how the picture was composed, nor do I want to know all the thought processes that went into the image.

    Some collectors who bought a series of my gum prints asked me to write something for them about the thought processes that went into the work, to be delivered to them along with the pictures when the show ended. I keep notebooks with notes to myself about things I'm working on, or thinking about working on, and I pulled out everything related to that series and typed it up; it came to 15 pages. I thought, "They'll never want to read all this" and I am sorry to say I never did send them anything. Maybe they would have enjoyed reading the whole thing; I don't know, after all, they did ask for it; they must have wanted something more in detail than an artist statement, because there was already an artist statement that accompanied the show. At any rate, even though this remembrance is filling me with a sense of guilt about never fulfilling that request, I offer the anecdote as an example to show that there are collectors who do want to know something about process beyond just the basic information of understanding what the print is made of.

    Katharine
     
  23. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    Hmmm ...

    To some photographers, the process matters (I dare say most people on APUG), to others it doesn't (most people with a digital P&S camera would be my initial generalization).

    To some in the viewing audience, the process does matter (again, I think to most people on APUG), to others it doesn't.

    So maybe the question is WHY does it matter to some and not to others?

    I think those that feel the process matters have a more Socratic approach to photography, I would even say feel a bit of stewardship about the art and science behind all photographic processes.

    The rest are merely users and posers. Purely instant gratification and utilitarian approach to photography.

    Regards, Art.
     
  24. w35773

    w35773 Member

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    I completely agree with Art. The process matters to me because I love the process. The physical product is merely a representation of that process in my mind. Some of these representations may or may not please others. If they like them, they may or may not care how I made them.

    Does the process actually matter? It matters to me, that's why I have spend thousands of dollars to make ugly photographs in my basement.
     
  25. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    You can get your ass coddled up Everest by a high priced guide and a couple Sherpa's, or you can climb it solo without supplemental oxygen. You can jummar all the way to the top of El Capitan behind a guide, or you can climb it rope solo. You can take a beautiful photograph and 'ink-zap' as many copies as you want, or you can make every subsequent print in the darkroom, each exhibiting (hopefully) your mastering the many hurdles in the path towards a fine print.

    Therefore, process matters.

    Then again, the photograph has to be strong enough to stand alone, to make someone stop and ponder it without your holding its hand or explaining anything.

    Therefore, process means nothing if they don't care to become engaded.

    To add yet another twist, it may become important if the viewer chooses. For example; if I saw two identical photographs, one being 'ink-zapped' and another made by hand, I'll always prefer the one born wet because it has the hand of the artist in it.

    Pretty clear eh? :wink:

    Murray
     
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  26. Saganich

    Saganich Subscriber

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    Of course it matters. There is a multiple audience. Science is a good analogy, page through a professional peer review journal like Cell and try to understand the papers. The audence is other PhD's in cell biology who are deeply in the paradigm and follow every developement with details they care about, others only want to know the meaning in 10 words or less. On the other hand after seeing the falling man photo again I still didn't wonder what camera or lens was used but I know it couldn't have been made with an 8x10, or a 35mm lens. In your case then the other photographers within your paradigm (who invent reality for the image) should be deeply interested in your methods. It sounds like your professor isn't one of them.