Has it got Soul?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Leon, Mar 17, 2004.

  1. Leon

    Leon Member

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    I've feel like I've reached a stage in my photography where I'm pretty convinced I can visualise and compose a decent photographic image. I also feel fairly confident in my knowledge of photographic chemistry and how to use this to benefit my negatives/ prints, and therefore get reasonably predictable results.

    Now I'm struggling with Soul - by this I mean that certain something that, when you view the print it picks you up, smacks you in the face, and demands your attention. I see some amazingly technically perfect images here in the galleries, but often, to me, they seem little more than that, technical excersises with no Soul - please dont think this is a personal attack upon anyone specific - I class my own work in a similar light, I'm lacking Soul too.

    I see some other work here of the most mundane subjects, but they sing out loud with more soul and harmony than a Gospel choir.

    How do we foster this sense of soul? Is it innate and exclusive, is it about any single part of the image making process? Is it too emotive and intra-personal that no two people will agree what it is anyway?

    every and any ones thoughts would be extremely helpful.

    cheers
     
  2. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    I believe all prints made with care have soul but not everyone sees it or gets it or feels it. A lot has to do with the viewer's tastes and biases. But I also believe it starts first with the photographer and whether or not he or she feels it has soul. I think that it is there at the moment of exposure and the caring printer will hopefully bring this out for at least one viewer to relate to either emotionally or intellectually (ideally both). I like to visit the same places over and over again as in many cases the soul of what I see is not revealed at first pass.
     
  3. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    You have achieved the first level of photography - technical competence. Now starts the the long journey. You have reached a plateau and will definitely spend a lot of time here making photographs at this level. I can't say how long it will take to get off the plateau and get to a higher level, but here you are. The only way off the plateau is to make photographs.

    The issue you describe is common to all photographers. If you are committed you will continue to make photographs. So go out there and make photographs.
     
  4. Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett Member

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    Leon,

    I think I'm in about the same place as you: I can dependably compose, expose, and develop a decent negative. Like you, it's now a question of "what next?"

    Like Joe points out, what we really need to do is just shoot pictures. But having some technical competence is a two-edged sword. When I first started out, I burned film like a maniac. Occasionally, I would accidentally get something good. Now, however, my eye is more critical, and all too often, as I get ready to trip the shutter, I think of all the reasons why that particular shot won't turn out to be anything good. Often, I don't trip that shutter.

    What constitutes Soul in a print? Many things. There are two factors that are easy to work on. First: composition. Second: the elusive "luminosity." The best B&W prints seems to be emitting light. To achieve this, I try to shoot in beautiful light. Then, I try to print so that I get delicately rendered highlights. Prints that exhibit harsh lighting with chalky, blown out highlights do not, IMHO, have soul.
     
  5. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Like the above, I agree you have moved from the first level. While I know my work is still there, I also know that what you are looking for now - 'The Soul" of the image, will come. You can't rush it, there is no place, chemical, paper, camera, lens that will help get you there. IT IS IN YOU!

    You have to let it out, you will know when it is there, you will Feel it when you look at a scene (now everything is different), you will know when you look through the viewfinder or at the ground glass, you will know when you pull the negative out of the soup for the first time...you will Know when you print it.

    The image will sing to you, you will feel an emotion that you may not feel right now - you will feel that same emotion when you 'See' a scene that you know would be a great photograph.

    It is in you, you just have to help it come out..forget about wanting it, as the others have said - just go out and make art.

    You have begun an journey - Good Luck and Good Light....
     
  6. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    *GOOD* question.

    I have no idea how to describe "Soul". I think I can perceive its presence by its effect. I would suggest that the "striving" for complete technical perfection is detrimental to acheiving "soul":

    To illustrate- Recently my Granddaughter played in a High School orchestra concert. The usual fare; Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak (sp?) all done with an almost superhuman expenditure of sheer effort - to make it perfect. And sadly, lacking "soul".

    The concert concluded with "All That Jazz" from "Chicago". Brilliantly done ... a piece that most of the musicians could find that they easily related to ... most had seen the motion picture - it was "alive" and current and meaningful to them. Wonderfully done - with ELAN!! - Joie de vivre ... And 'way entertaining to experience from the audience!!

    I talked to the Music Teacher / Director afterwards - to compliment her on her and the Orchestra's performance... She, overly modestly said, "There were mistakes..".

    There might well have been. So what? The 'freedom', the spontaneity, the sheer pleasure of performing - all of that, and I'm sure much more - SHONE through.

    "Perfect" is nice ... but "soul" - "Life" - Love of the Art" ... is so much more - profoundly more - important.
     
  7. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I am going to speak from the type of subject matter that I photograph most often. I think the illusive term "soul" is not indicative of luminosity. Luminosity is a technical matter. I think that soul is about images that engage. I think that in order to produce photographs that engage we must first become engaged.

    By that I mean that we must become actively involved it the act of seeing to the level that we are not just producing images about "things". When we do this then we are seeing the "nature of things" and are capable of making images about the "nature of things".

    Far too often I look at something and my mind fills in the "rest of the story". That is I see a tree crested hill with the shimmering grass of the meadow below (for example). And what occurs is that my mind says "oh, but I have seen this before and this is how this looks". When this occurs I cease to see. As someone said "I don't photograph because I have a more critical view". That "critical view" is my mind "filling in the rest of the story".

    When I recognize this critical or judging aspect within myself and can put it aside then I see some really interesting things. I begin to see the "nature of things". If I could just for one moment take on the vision of my first hour of life and portray my impressions of that which is around me then I would be a rich photographer. Why? because I will be portraying that which most of my fellow man have ceased to see.

    If this "nature of things" isn't "soul" then I don't know what is.
     
  8. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Edward Weston once said something about how, when he started to think, he stopped photographing. Writers know the problem Donald is addressing - it's referred to as The Editor or The Critic. You're writing along in a groove and The Editor suddenly stops you with "That's no good." Or "So-and-so wouldn't write it that way."

    We have the same thing with photography - as Donald said, the mind fills in and stops the seeing. How to move beyond this? I don't know yet.
    juan
     
  9. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    John,

    Thanks for bringing up how to go beyond this critical aspect. Since the problem lies within us then the solution must lie there as well. The level of the correction must correspond to the level of the error.

    The way to move beyond it is to consciously recognize this criticical aspect for what it is. To stop listening to it and to slow down. To free ourselves to "see". To photograph that which is always there before us as it actually exists.
     
  10. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    Follow your feet.
     
  11. Annemarieke

    Annemarieke Member

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    Leon,
    I understand completely what you mean. This is a coincidence because I was discussing the exact same issue yesterday with other photographers.

    My photography has reached a certain level, but the question now is, what do I want from it? What do I want it to convey to my viewers.

    When I look back at the photography I did 10 years ago, I see an enormous improvement, and that is a good feeling, but now what next???

    I believe that it is all about going out and _doing_ it, spending a _long_ time on one subject, maybe going back to it many, many times, to see if you can improve on the last image you shot there.

    If you involve your own soul, your images will convey this 'soul' too. But having said that, it is the hardest aspect of photography.

    I very recently spent two weeks in Scotland, in the Isle of Skye, and very interestingly my best photography was shot on the last two days of my stay.

    Good luck with your photography.
    Anne Marieke
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I believe it is all about right brain vs left brain.

    To learn photography we have to dedicate time to the left brain craft or language of the meduim. Much of what goes on in sites like this is discussion and learning of this craft. As has been said once there is a competency level there, we move on to right brain. The creative side.

    The handling of the equipment at this point should be all muscle memory, all unconscous action. It is just an extention of our bodies and now we move on to making photographs that are an extension of our minds (souls). That is what will make our work unique and special and above all fulfilling.

    My hockey analogy is when you play, if you start to think, you are screwed. Every play will be too late, and you'll be on your ass. You practice for years using the left brain, which looks after skating, shooting etc, where to go and when, --muscle memory.

    You right brain can now take over and creativity, and at times, magic arrives to take you to another level. You are in a zone and anything is possible.


    Michael MCBlane
     
  13. lee

    lee Member

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    sensei Michael now has a new convert to the eastern way of thinking. Very well said. I like to think that the magic is really a muse. Semantics. Time to go and ring the Temple bells and feed the Koi. Don't these fish look a lot like Carp?

    lee\c
     
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  15. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I believe that it is mostly about how you react to the subject matter before you. If you truly react and connect with the subject, have a deep respect for what you photograph it will come through in the print . I think that is why some photographers are so good at certain subject matter and may change and somehow lose that soul in the images. Others are exceedingly gifted in any subject they pursue be it landscape, still life, documentary or portraiture.


    I have always enjoyed Ansel Adams landscapes, and I think any fan of his can attest to the soul displayed in his prints. Recently I had a chance to see a copy of a remake of a 1944 US camera publication of Adams work about the Manzanar internment camps called "Born Free and Equal". I have looked at a lot of photography in my day, but I think the portraits of the Japanese Americans it contains are some of the most powerful portraits I have ever seen. The concern for the subject and deep respect for these people that emanates from the images is incredible. the work of Eugene Smith and Weston are the same way.

    I don't think technical aspects really matter with the "great" images. It is really a matter of finding subjects that touch you deeply in some way. I believe that your love and respect for the subject is what comes forward in a great photograph. Even the ones about tragedy and suffering.

    When you see an artwork, read a play or book that resonates with you, has that degree of soul you are talking about, the artist has reached the highest level of accomplishment and communication. Maybe a better word is communion with the viewer. The greatest of art continues to radiate the artist's soul for centuries.

    Keep looking and keep an open mind. Just like the rest of us.
     
  16. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Yes. This is exactly it for me.

    I had been photographing children exclusively for a few years, just starting to get a handle on the technical aspect of photography. My image were pretty good. Cute. I knew I had a good eye, but there was 'something' I just wasn't capturing.

    I came home one day from a little 'minishoot' of my daughter at the park. Once again, I knew I had a roll of 'cute.' Was frustrated with that. I pulled into my driveway, to see a neighbor girl sitting alone outside, playing by herself and daydreaming. I had an instant flashback of myself at her age. It opened my eyes and made me cry because, somewhere along the line I had lost my ability to be alone without feeling lonely. Ditto for joy without self-consciousness, anger without guilt, self-expression without apology, love without fear. I photographed her right there, and that was when my work changed, with this one frame.

    [​IMG]

    I suddenly knew what I was trying to say, and that has made all the difference.
     
  17. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Absolutely.

    No way can I embellish here ... This says it all.
     
  18. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    I'm beginning to believe that "The Soul" is in the failures, And success is fleeting and re-invents itself everytime with a new disguise.

    If you can whistle while you work "You got Soul"
     
  19. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member

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    That is one of those statements that are either very, very profound or very, very stupid :wink:

    [edit] "Stupid" is not the word I was searching for. But my English vocabulary seems to have shut down for the day.[/edit]

    Here's another one: "Soul" is the difference between a depiction and a picture.

    I'm just taking a short break from the darkroom now; I'm printing postcards from a 18 years old negative. I was just testing a new film that day, and paid no attention to subject matter, composition or anything else. Just contrast (first chromogenic film - anyone remember XP1?).

    I learned a lot about photography that day - my pictures are better when I don't think about composition.
     
  20. Juraj Kovacik

    Juraj Kovacik Subscriber

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    I think the clue is to be amazed. And when you are amazed by what are you seeing, you need only take camera and shoot. You need to be open and ready.

    You can think about your work, you can return to some place again and again, in difrent time and difrent light. But more then about thinking this is about patience and humility.

    You must learn, but not only about photography.You must to know and to understand. Without understanding you cann't be realy amazed... JK
     
  21. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    Ole,

    I vote for stupidity. After all how can something so elusive be so easily stated?
     
  22. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    I agree with Joe, I think we all go through this stage where our prints are technically very good but "boring." Or at least that is how I felt about my previous efforts.

    To a greater degree I beleive this comes from trying to emulate previous phtographers. Lets face it, somewhere we all have a photographer that we admire and wish to make photographs like they did. In my case I was always chasing the kind of images Paul Caponigro made.

    You have reach the stage where photography becomes truly enjoyable. It is time to develop your "style", what makes your vision unique? when you stop and take a photograph, examine the reasons why you want to take this particular picture, and evolve from that. IMO if all you do is take a picture because it lools like "xxxx" then you will always be dissatisfied with your efforts. Do your own thing, break all the rules and in time your work will be as unique as those that attract you.
     
  23. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    WOW! Pretty deep stuff! I have to go with the right brain left brain theory.
     
  24. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Learning technique isn't a prerequisite to taking soulful pictures, rather technical proficiency cuts down on the number of those images ruined by poor technique. I frequently return to a particular subject matter that resonates with me hoping to achieve photographically what I perceive. At a recent workshop with Clyde Butcher, he said he first visualizes an image, then sets up his camera to capture it - doesn't compose on the groundglass. Some would view that as careless technique, while many others appreciate the result.

    If you've achieved a plateau of technical proficeincy without having created any soulful images along the way, you need to take a different route.
     
  25. dr bob

    dr bob Member

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  26. ian_greant

    ian_greant Member

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    Interesting. A lot of my current photographic style has more to do with "failures" and happy accidents than intended successes.

    Then again, I believe we each have an inner vision that given opportunity will assert itself. I'm often asked how I thought to make something look a certain way (my whacko movements and stuff like that) and honestly.. That's just what seemed right at the time. I rarely spend a lot of time deliberating over how to shoot something.

    So, shoot from the heart... and shoot loose enough that some of your instincts can come through.