Is a great photographer born with it???

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by 36cm2, Apr 11, 2010.

  1. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    Apologies if this topic has already been addressed.

    "[Brett Weston] often said it was his belief that one was born with a way of seeing; good composition, he felt, could not be taught." (Merg Ross: http://www.apug.org/forums/forum54/70737-brett-edward-weston-5.html)

    Do you agree?

    A year ago I attended a workshop where the work of a neophyte with no understanding of shutter speeds and/or aperture (let alone more sophisticated elements of the "craft" of photography) was far superior to mine. The experience has remained with me for some time. This evening I revisited that experience in reviewing the work of a friend that has just begun experimenting with photography. In both cases I was excited by the budding photographers' work and prodded them to pursue it further.

    This being said, how much of our artistic photographic skill do you believe is innate vs. learned?
     
  2. Mats_A

    Mats_A Member

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    I think anyone can practice and become a Salieri but you are born a Mozart.
    Some people just are better at some stuff.

    The good thing is that those of use that aren't Mozarts can still become better at our chosen craft. Be that painting, music or photography. But the "wunderkinder" of the world will always beat us.

    r

    Mats
     
  3. Kvistgaard

    Kvistgaard Member

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    I believe in the old adage that it's "5% talent, 95% hard work". Agree with Mr. Shimoda's point re Mozart / Salieri.

    At any rate, the journey is more important than the destination. Go at it with 100% commitment, and be sure to measure how your skills and results improve along the way - that's the main thing. You may never do a new Moonrise over Hernandez, but guess less can do!
     
  4. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I have to respectfully disagree, though I think some are born with an innate ability for, say, making photographs or music, but even Mozart put in a good ten years of writing and playing before he made music that was truly his own. I think bringing up Mozart always feels a little like... "well, if I can't do it like him automatically, with some sort of magical inborn talent, then I'm not going to" even though he had to work at it.

    I think we are born with some talents... some things come to us naturally or more easily. Without learning, and more importantly, hands on practice those inborn talents and abilities won't flourish. I've had a good, strong eye for photography since I was a teenager. Even so, my early pictures suck.

    Took a good solid ten years of making pictures, before I felt I could competently and consistently make good photographs. That, and getting off this whole "Mozart" idea. I struggled with wanting EVERYONE to like my pictures... be amazed by them for a while. Once I let that go... my work improved. Not everyone will like it... and it's not required in my head, to find my work in the history of photography books.

    A couple of books to read... Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
    http://www.amazon.com/Art-Fear-Obse...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270985170&sr=1-1
    And Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell... especially chapter 2.
    http://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Stor...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270985192&sr=1-1
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 11, 2010
  5. Shaggysk8

    Shaggysk8 Member

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    I think everyone can reach a level, but others born with talent will go beyond, but everyone has to put in the hard work first, then it also depends on what you want from a picture, is it content, which is where I think the talent comes in most of the time, or is it craft which is a process most can learn with hard work.

    Paul
     
  6. stevco

    stevco Member

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    There was a story which goes:
    (i'm translating this, but you'll get the point)

    It is not enough just having eyes, but to learn how to use your eyes. Flober was putting Mopasan in front of a tree for hours and hours (also was gaving him just a piece of wood), and letting him to describe the tree. "That's how I learned to see" - said later Mopasan.

    This it's useful in conotation to photography also.
     
  7. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    An interesting answer to this question can be found in the book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. In one chapter he discusses people like Mozart who undoubtedly were born with a great talent, but who became great because of the immense quantity of practice and developing their talents. (Edit: Upon a closer reading of Suzanne's post I see that she mentions "Outliers" also.)

    I also think it is fascinating that Suzanne specifically mentioned "10 years." In Gladwell's book he gave several examples of talent that flowered only after a great many hours of practice, which equaled about 10 years.
     
  8. clayne

    clayne Member

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    I tend to think observational skills, situational awareness, and a healthy imagination are the main standpoints of quality photography. Most of the technical aspects can be refined through trial and error.
     
  9. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I think it's more a matter of what holds our interest at a given moment than being born "with it".

    I can technically shoot a good landscape, but they rarely hold interest for me. Redefine that gorgeous landscape as a "background" for a campsite or some old church or a portrait and I'll pay more attention.
     
  10. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    I agree. I think that is exactly 'it'.
    It's all a matter of application. Which starts with motivation. And is summed up in the old "nil volentibus arduum".

    You can run into limitations that you happen to be born with (have, for instance, the misfortune of being born stone deaf, and a successfull carreer in music will perhaps be not for you).
    But not the other way round, you're not born with an greater than average ability or talent.
     
  11. Mats_A

    Mats_A Member

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    Of course Mozart needed to practice. He also needed to be born in to the right family, place and time in history. And still:
    Some are Mozarts some not. All must practice.

    r

    Mats
     
  12. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    some people are born with "it" whatever "it" may be ...
    i've got kids and i can see that they all have interests in different
    things ... and if nurtured those interests will turn into talent.
     
  13. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    St. Ansel declared that he needed to make 10,000 negatives before he made good photographs. Granted, this was in the days of large format negatives where producing 10,000 negatives would be a considerable task. At that point, one would surely be a very technically competent creator of negatives. The question of what was on each negative is the more important question.

    I would assume that artistic ability falls under some form of "bell curve" for distribution in a population. If one recognizes ones' ability and pushes it through hard work, I would imagine one could improve beyond ones' natural ability. Likewise, we all mourn great talents that have squandered what they have been given.

    Yes, some skills are inborn, but those that work to develop them are better.
     
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  15. clayne

    clayne Member

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    I can't say that Adams never said this - but I thought the actual quote "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst" was attributed to HCB?
     
  16. AmsterdamMartin

    AmsterdamMartin Member

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    Inborn talent exists, I believe.
    Some have more, others have less.
    Few have it all. The others just have to learn to work around it, if they are able to recognize it.
    But no matter what, it needs long hard work anyway.
    I know of a lot of talents in many fields gone waisted, because of lazyness, narcissism, war, drugs etc.
    Nothing comes for free.

    It is the same as luck. Everybody gets it. But what do you do when you find it. Do you see it ? do you use it and how ?
    A very untalented person can get his photographs into papers and exhibitions of the day.

    What is most important, in my view, is a combination of talents. Someone who has Adams-like talent but can't print or talk to people, goes along a different path.
    And Mozart had a short and maybe unhappy life, exploiting maximally his talent, while living 4 lives at once.
    He died in lonely poverty, but heralded in his own time and for centuries to come.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 11, 2010
  17. I disagree with the quote. There's a consensus with many of the above posts, that "seeing" is learned, through practice. I believe -- together with other posters -- that everyone is born with innate talents; some come to realize which are to be nurtured and developed, others don't. But, just about everyone is born on an equal playing field. With any endeavor, creative or otherwise, one doesn't become proficient without practice, no matter with what they're born. So goes with music, writing, and the visual arts. When one works a craft/application hard enough, with certain determination -- through and through -- "talents" emerge.

    I'm not a big fan of "ivory tower" quotes and pompous declarations (even by practitioners I admire). God knows, there's plenty of that throughout history. Prove yourself -- with integrity and work, through your craft -- first, to yourself, then an audience.
     
  18. Sim2

    Sim2 Subscriber

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    Good thread and much to think about on a lazy Sunday afternoon...

    Don't know if it is really relevent but in sports one can see the naturally talented, the people who don't need to practice their skill - it just comes "naturally". In the UK, thinking of footballers such as Best, Gasgoine, Beckham. Their skill could be applied better through practice but other competent/good footballers would rarely get close to their skill level through practice.

    Does that relate to photographers? Not sure! The theory of visual design or technicalities of photography can be taught and generally understood by anybody - like the theory of kicking a ball but what elevates the technically perfect photo or visually "correct" image into something that "means" something to the viewer is, I believe, an inate sense of vision.
    Perhaps it is a case of knowing why the photo is taken rather than just here is a photo of "x". I have in mind a couple of photographers who shot a series on watertowers (don't recall their names) but the pictures seemed to be more than just a set of watertowers. Hmm, don't think I have answered the question or kept on point (!), oh dear..
     
  19. Lanline

    Lanline Subscriber

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    In my case there are several things that I think helped my photography. The biggest think was to stop obsessing over camera gear. Shooting digital taught me that I needed to have every new camera because of the new upgrades: Number of pixels, bigger LCD, anti shake, wireless this and auto this. Finally, I shot a roll of film in a thrift store camera. Wow, I got great results. I started shooting more and more film and less digital. Then I stopped NEEDING gear. My most popular photo was shot last year with a FED2 rangefinder while I was out doing a test roll. I didn't have a light meter with me so I guessed.

    I turned my attention to seeing light and exposure, composition and every time I shot - I tried to avoid the mistakes that I made in the last roll.This has helped me to shoot better. I fire the shutter less often now. Most of the time I go with 12 shots on the roll. I wait for the moments that I want.
     
  20. swittmann

    swittmann Member

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    Bernd and Hilla Becher.
     
  21. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Defining someone as talented is a purely subjective exercise.

    ------------------------------------

    Sorry to all you classical music lovers but Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, etcetera... suck. Their work, and almost all of their followers work, is truly boring. It may be technically astute but so what.

    Jimmy Buffet, Abba, Pick Floyd, the Beetles, and Olivia Newton John on the other hand... now we are talking talent.

    ------------------------------------

    Ansel is okay, I can learn lots about the craft from his work, but I'm not an F64 type of guy.

    Elliot Erwitt and HCB were, and Phil Borges, Joe McNally, and Jose Villa are more "talented", by my estimation, at creating engaging photos then Ansel ever was.

    ------------------------------------

    My point is that our preferences define who we each think has talent.
     
  22. Sim2

    Sim2 Subscriber

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    Thanks for this - it's sort of embarrassing to me that I can recall a picture but not put names to them, not very helpful when making references!

    We have just had a tv series in the UK that took beginners interested in a craft and gave them extensive practical tuition in that craft; weaving, stone masonery, green woodwork etc and we got to see their progression, or otherwise. Interesting tv (at last!). But what was interesting, in this context was that often some were very good at the "excercises" that taught aspects of the craft but when it came to the "final piece", it was often the person who had lagged in the training that came good in the application.
    Perhaps they needed a reason for applying the knowledge or perhaps having the knowledge enabled them to apply their vision. They seemed to be naturally talented at the task (beyond being technically perfect) but the learning enabled that talent. Others may have been technically good/perfect but the work was sterile.
    I think that the natural vision is important and some have it, some don't. The technical learning can enable a natural vision but try being a musuem photographer or catalogue photographer without technical expertise!
     
  23. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    I absolutely agree; it cannot all be taught. However, it can be refined and developed.

    This "zen" approach, marked by a lot of self discovery and reflection, is the whole reason why I bother to do photography. And the core of that approach is the idea that you cannot be taught in the sense of being handed a recipe. Rather, you must explore and experiment and be prepared to find your own way.

    At first this sounds like there is no need for a teacher at all... but that's not true. That's a common misconception about this approach. A teacher can help a student find what they've already got, while also making sure that the technical proficiency is there.

    Challenging a student's thinking is a far more valuable service than passing along some recipe (if there were such a thing). My experience with teaching (and coaching) is that students want recipes. It really takes a strong personality to say to the student: no, there is no recipe, this is all about you not me. And the student invariably says: well I don't know how to do X, I don't even know where to begin, I am frustrated, I am lost, show me what to do!!! And then you say: well why do you even want to do X in the first place? And the student looks perplexed and confused, but then it takes off. I have witnessed this dozen of times. (and I am not talking about photography, specifically; I am talking about education in general)

    Amazingly, many of the students who come to me as an academic advisor don't know why they are in the game at all. And when they start to visualize their outcome, presto, suddenly things start to fall into place.
     
  24. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    For people I have met who have excelled in their chosen profession, each has at least one coach who also serves as a mentor to s(he), follows them and helps them along the way. My coach and mentor was Monte Zucker, his coach and mentor was Joe Zeltsman. I once asked Monte how many photographs he made that he considered one of his best. He felt the only photograph that he considered above all the rest was an image he made of the holocaust.

    I believe it takes a lot of hard work to become successful in photography and I've found people photography presents unique challenges. It is a journey with no end; it includes, among other characteristics, a constant awareness to try/experiment to make the next photograph better than the last, attempting to fulfill a vision of the world and how people play a part in shaping it and their lives.

    But before an artist begins experimenting there should be a strong foundation, a basis to build on and then break the rules as it fits s(he)'s vision.
     
  25. mike c

    mike c Subscriber

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    keithwms,what really helped me in high school math was taking electronics and drafting which held my interest ,using math in those classes was just a technical tool that was understandable necessary,but the interest was in drifting and electronics.I suppose in photography its the same,love the idea of making a beautiful image makes the technical part of it more compatible . So is the passion or interest considered Talent,it has to be a great part of it.If there is great passion or interest and have access ,then more time is spent doing it.
    Mike
     
  26. Dave Ludwig

    Dave Ludwig Member

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    Agree you are born with it. But it is not composition, it is the unique way a person see's and interacts with their surroundings. I am strictly B&W and search, as many of you also do, my surroundings seeing it in B&W and knowing what the print will look like before shooting. The same for color I am sure. It is a voyeuristic approach to our lives that we must show others what we see. That is what you are born with.