Ideas or Pictures?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Thomas Bertilsson, Oct 14, 2011.

  1. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    As my photography life continues on, I seem to be interested more and more in purely subject matter. This has proven a bit difficult for me to live by, because I'm not 100% confident in how to handle it. How do I follow my heart?

    Hopefully photography is about subject matter; finding something interesting, taking a picture of it, and finally making a killer print out of it. After all, my aim is to satisfy nobody but myself, and while I enjoy sharing with others, discussing, and giving or receiving critiques, my endeavor is entirely selfish - it's all about satisfying myself.

    How does the rest of the world practice photography?
    Do you aim your photography at selling the pictures? Or does it all come from the heart? Do you blend what's in your heart with inspiration from others?
    Do you subscribe to any particular ideas about photography, like all your photos have to be stark realism, or romantic like pictorialism?

    For me, I just keep taking pictures of things that interest me, and then I attempt to make the best print that I am able to. That's my idea of what photography should be about, about seeing, reacting, and transferring what I saw to paper in a way I think looks great. The end goal is always to be true to my heart with my intention.
     
  2. tomalophicon

    tomalophicon Member

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    I think about pleasing others, mainly.
     
  3. Dave Martiny

    Dave Martiny Member

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    Come on, you're lying.
     
  4. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Thanks for your valuable contributions. Come on, is that the best you can do? :wink:
     
  5. guitstik

    guitstik Member

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    I hate to use Steiglitz name because it gets bantered about almost as much as Adam's but I watched a bunch of you tube videos at work last night on him and that is basically what he was saying. Photography shouldn't fit some mold but conform to the wants and desires of the photographer. I take the photographs I do for me and if they sell so much the better because that means that others see the way I do and they like what I have captured.
     
  6. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Any photographer in the business of selling photographs should also feel that way. Only us self-indulgent non-commercial photographers have the liberty of doing what we want.
     
  7. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I aim for a consistency of vision in the work that I make, but I agree, I make images that say something to me. I want to put down on paper something that I saw, be it the curve of a torso or the texture of a wall, or even something just a little humorous or quirky like the seals holding the coats of arms at the entrance to a San Francisco apartment building instead of the usual lions. I'd like to think that my images have a common feel to them and that you can spot something I photographed as being by me.
     
  8. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    I think you already know how I feel, T. It really depends on needs and personality and how YOU feel. From a selling standpoint, when it comes to taste, there is a market for almost everything. Obviously, selling, has a lot to do with other things (marketing for one) than actual quality or particular genre of the images. Therefore, I am in the camp that you have to do what you love to do and what pleases you. Only then you can be happy and satisfied. If others enjoy your work, great, and if they don't, that's okay too. We all know that if any successful photographer had obsessed about the perception from the general public or their peers, they would have never developed their signature look and be satisfied with their work. There is no way to make everyone happy with anything so you might as well be happy with what you do and remain satisfied with the notion that some may enjoy it as well. If that means bouncing around a bit to taylor your prints to different visions or moods, that's okay because it should be that way. Like in music, you can interpret the same song in so many different ways, based on your feelings. Photography is the same. Those who feel tied by boundaries because they simply imitate the work of others, or a particular movement (pictorialism), are only limiting themselves. Same as those who feel they have to show every bit of shadow detail because they feel that's what St Ansel wants. Creative expression is what moves YOU and that's all you should be concerned about.
    You know my favorite quote from Ralph Gibson.. :smile: ""You see, I'm not interested in mediocrity in photography. I'm not interested in selling cat shit to dogs. I just want to do my own thing. If people like my work, all the better. If they don't, too bad." - Ralph Gibson
     
  9. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Depends on what you're selling, I would guess. Stock photography, for example, is a job and nothing more. For everything else, that approach is one sure way to be miserable and unsatisfied with one's work. I guess I am lucky that I don't need photography to put food on my table but, if had to, and that meant going out with my tripod and take the cliche pictures of rocks, clouds, water and trees, then make a pretty and well toned print to sell to the crowds, I'd much rather be pumping gas. Just my two cents of course and everyone's mileage may vary...
     
  10. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Thanks for your contributions. It's interesting to see your accounts.

    My idea all along has been about pleasing myself, and as my perceptions change, so does my photography. Go with the flow.

    I like that Ralph Gibson quote, Max. Selling cat shit to dogs.
     
  11. deisenlord

    deisenlord Member

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    Photographing for someone else is very foreign and difficult for me. I have of course actually does this but I consider it "work". Nothing wrong with work but it rarely gives me the pleasure of just doing my own thing.
     
  12. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    For me, it's all about self satisfaction. When I was young I dreampt of being an artist. Life happened to get in the way of that and beat it out of me. I managed to get to a point in my life where I can focus on my desire to form art, and shoot to find the artist in me. If people find my work appealing and want to own some of it, fine and dandy. I have managed to sell some of my more mainstream looking photos, and that fuels the artist in me even more.
     
  13. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Recently I have stepped back from the act of photography and engaged myself more in surrealist drawings and woodcuts. Inspired by conversations with my dear fried Diwan Bhathal, I started to worry that my work just wasn't "fresh" any more.

    So then I set out sketching whatever came to mind. The idea was to sketch whatever is in my head without questioning it, as directly as possible, and not allow myself to ask why I see that or whether someone else will like it or accept it. The idea is simply to get it out. The results have been everything from light and funny to deeply disturbing, but mostly interesting.

    For me, the act of photography doesn't quite lend itself to that kind of emotive freewheeling... yet. So I've taken a little holiday from it. The idea is that what I am doing will feed back into the photography in some way. If it doesn't, fine, I'll just keep sketching and whatever.

    What I have learned, from this holiday, is that I was certainly much too concerned about how others viewed my photography, and that preoccupation with process and technicals and whatever else was certainly keeping me from expressing the thoughts that I think are most valuable.

    What happens next, who knows. I am slowly regaining my interest in photography, but I am definitely seeing things in a different way. More creatively, I think.

    The point of this lengthy soliloquy is that I think that all of us who aspire to create art have to keep seeking original approaches, different ways of thinking and seeing. We have to seek ways to keep it "fresh." Otherwise it all becomes formulaic and stale. At least for me, there isn't one formula; as soon as I feel that I have mastered one particular approach (e.g. black and white IR landscape) to the best of my abilities then I simply lose interest and move on.
     
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  15. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Keith,

    I just want to make sure that it's clear that I too don't think there is 'one' formula for any of this. Following your heart means to be open to whatever strikes our fancy. Whether it's fresh or not doesn't matter, as long as we enjoy it.

    I confess that the most fun I've had with photography in the last few weeks is - prepare to be shocked - playing with my iPhone. Now if I disregard the fun of that I would not be true to myself. Ha. There. I said it. I doubt it will last, however. As with all other things, the only thing that has remained constant throughout my time spent with photography is film, chemistry, and darkroom. Everything else surrounding it has changed, but the pure base for me is film and darkroom. What's around the corner? Who knows. But I'll keep on trucking as long as I enjoy what I'm doing.

    - Thomas
     
  16. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Thomas, this is something I have struggled with for a long time. What I finally ended up accepting is that if I am honest in my photography, and truly photograph what I want to photograph, I will likely never sell anything. There are two reasons for this.

    #1: The subject matter I'm most interested in (for now at least) will never be popular with buyers, whether they are seriously into photography, or just looking for something decorative.

    #2: I find that for the most part, print quality is overlooked by most people. They're simply not interested. I work extremely hard on my prints, and again, if I print honestly, the results are usually quieter and more subtle than the type of thing that would really grab someone's attention. The types of photographs and prints I have always admired are ones that I can continually come back to, over and over, perhaps finding new details to appreciate, rather than prints with alot of initial "zing" that might end up falling flat over time.

    I guess in the end if your aesthetic preferences don't jive with what people like most (my case), you have to decide whether or not to comprimise. So far I have decided not to do that. I decided if I can satisfy myself, and also be able to go to someone like John Sexton with a portfolio and get a great review, I feel validated enough both as an artist and printer, even if no gallery will ever want to see or show my stuff. I can sort of rest knowing it's not because I suck.

    I'm wondering why you're thinking about this though, Thomas. At least if we use APUG as an example, your work is quite popular and gets alot of attention. That's a pretty nice combination - doing honest work true to your vision, and also having it appreciated by many others!
     
  17. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Michael,

    It's more of a philosophical query, really, not doubting myself or anything. I'm pretty sure I know how to proceed with my work, it's just that I hadn't really put it into words before. It's been sort of a gut feeling all along, and as I did think about it I thought it might be interesting to explore the subject with others.

    Keep doing what you're doing, Michael, if you ask me. Since you're not bothered about feeling validated anyway. To me it proves strength as a photographer, or artist of any discipline, to continue working on things that entertain only our own imagination. It means you were able to filter out the mainstream and opinions of others.
    Now, I do find it rewarding to discuss my work with others, and sometimes doing so can give me great ideas of how I might like it better myself. When I apply those ideas I sometimes like it better that way, and that's pretty cool. I usually prefer to do that with folks whose opinions I value, though.

    - Thomas
     
  18. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I too love my iPhone for the immediacy of being able to take a picture any time any where. Will it ever replace my large format gear? NO. But it is what it is, the right tool for the task at hand when I'm walking down the street and see something spontaneous, or when I'm in a museum where I want to take a visual note about something I want to use later in a more formal, polished image. As I was saying to someone on the street when they were interrogating me about why I was still shooting with my 5x7 - "It's not that I reject digital. I do shoot it. But it's a case of the right tool for the task - would you grab a hammer from the toolbox when you need a screwdriver? Would you say that oil painting is superior to watercolor, or watercolor is superior to oil painting because of one particular characteristic? If I want to paint on canvas with opaque colors, I'll use oils. If I want to work on paper with translucent colors, I'll do watercolor". We got over the whole "color is superior to black-and-white/black-and-white is superior to color" thing a long time ago, when Edward Weston (Brett?) said, "You can say things in color that you can't say in black-and-white". The converse is also true, and eventually we'll get to "You can say things in digital that you can't say in analog, and vice versa".
     
  19. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Scott,

    I relate to what you're saying very much. I like what I like because I like it, not because everybody else likes it. :smile:

    - Thomas
     
  20. TheFlyingCamera

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    Thomas- I think we're on exactly the same page here - I do what I do because what I make when I'm done pleases me. If I can find a market for that, so be it. If I can't, well, at least I made something that made me happy, and it's my own assessment that matters when I'm drawing my last breath and looking back on my life.
     
  21. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    All you guys who say you do it just to please yourselves: don't you know that'll make you go blind? At least that's what my dad told me.

    :wink:
     
  22. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Damn...my left eye is already messed up and I thought it was from being in the darkroom too much :smile:
     
  23. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    This may be just me---I certainly am one of Nature's overthinkers of philosophical questions---but I came to the conclusion a while ago that I needed to stop asking myself what I was doing and why, and just *do* it. If my inner photographic daemon wants to take a big b&w landscape with pretty mountains and a huge tonal scale, I'm gonna go ahead and do it; if it wants to take a macro of a dog turd on C-41 film, I'm gonna go ahead and do it---well, maybe not on C-41, because I'm not sure I want to explain that photo to the nice folks at the lab. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? I take a photo that isn't very good? OH THE H0RrORz!!1!

    So at this point I'm not especially even trying to please myself; I'm trying to follow my impulses, do the process, and the product can take care of itself. (I'm talking about exposure here. Printing is a different story, because I'm still learning the rudiments of the process. I don't think I'll be able to listen to my gut about printing for a good many years to come.)

    -NT
     
  24. Bob Carnie

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    I like the idea, or concept then telling a story with images.
    From working with many photographers over a period of time, the story or idea is more important than any individual image. Trying to walk around and find images is IMO a waste of energy, but walking around with a concept or story to tell and capturing images that tell the story is not.

    Personally I have decided that the solarization process is worthy of my time and I have found many different subject matters that fits well in this printing method.
    Therefore the camera and film is just a simple recording device and most of my effort is in creating an image with a unique print process using a boring object using simple setup with basic light.
    I hope to produce a body of work over time in this process that some viewers may like though I really am not concerned whether people like them or not. I don't put much pressure on myself to please others, but rather I concentrate on creating an image I like.

    I edition these images in small editions of three, and when I am finished a set I move on to new subjects. Selling these images are not as important to me as making them.
     
  25. MattKing

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    Over the last couple of years I have had a certain amount of fun trying to take and make photographs that will appeal to others in my photo club.

    The photos that are "successful" in the photo club environment tend to be quite good - technically proficient, with good visual impact and sometimes great interest - but generally not the type of photographs that I would normally shoot just for my own satisfaction. By attempting to stretch myself and shoot something different than my first reactions would normally lead to, I've learned a bit about myself, and a lot about what others notice in my photographs.

    I guess I'm saying that it never hurts to at least try standing in someone else's photographic shoes. And that it can be enjoyable too.
     
  26. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    I consider myself a hobbyist, and I shoot what interests or intrigues me in some way. Considering how little I actually take to the point of prints, I've gotten into a fair number of juried shows and landed a number of awards. However, I've sold three prints in the last couple of years. Hmmm -- mayhaps your average buyer doesn't see a toned B&W of some "rust belt remnant" as just the thing for that bare spot on the dining room wall! :D