Masters

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Sjixxxy, Oct 6, 2004.

  1. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    I've always thought that "Mastering" photography takes a great deal of artistic vision, and technical knowledge. Today thought, I was just wondering if any of the traditional big name "Masters of photography" out there where really boobs when it came to the technical side of the art? I think I read that Weegee really wasn't all that great when it came to technical knowledge, that most of his fame was mostly from the great lengths and determination he had to get his photos. Aside from him though, all of the big names that I admire seem know thier stuff after the exposure has been made.
     
  2. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    In the Daybooks, Edward Weston writes about how he found extreme satisfaction in being able to nail a negative by the second or even first print. He alludes to technical mastery of one's materials as reflected in "one shot, one negative" and "one negative, one piece of paper", or something like that. I am of the same vein. Technical mastery freed EW from the shackles of his materials and allowed him to concentrate on vision. I love that kind of discipline, i.e. knowing that you got it right even before the negative had been processed and printed.
     
  3. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Personally, I think it is more a matter of what you become familar with. For some it is mastering the technical side, and being rewarded with ease and use of materials they have exposed. For others it is partial techical and more getting out there and taking the picture compositionally correct. Since my negatives usually are not perfect (99.5% of the time ) I tend to rely on the darkroom techiniques I have learned from several people. Bruce Barnbaum, Les McLean, and Gordon Hutchings. They taught me technical aspects, but it is up to me to use them. Each of us finds the route to the finished print doing what is most comfortable for each of us.
     
  4. Poco

    Poco Member

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    ""one shot, one negative"

    Is that really true about Weston? I read somewhere he was quite repetitive in going after the shot until he got it right, but I haven't read the day books.
     
  5. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    EW may have returned to the same place over and over again but I do not think he ever made a back up shot of the same scene. At least I never read him say he turned over the holder and exposed another sheet to the same composition. I could be wrong but this is my interpretation of his writings.
     
  6. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    One shot, one neg, one print would be ideal but I think Utopia is reached on a quite rare occasion. EW and others may have have done it on more occasions than most, but let us not forget these Masters became quite proficient early in their careers.

    Consistency in the working materials is highly important to many but materials come and go over the years. Michael A. Smith, Mark Citret, and Ctein have each bought up existing stocks of materials that were being discontinued. On the other hand, St. Ansel seemed to continually bounce between materials and adapt to whatever was available. Bottom line, none of these Masters were/are using anything that wasn't available to everyone else.
     
  7. Art Vandalay

    Art Vandalay Member

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    HCB did not print at all but pestered the hell out of his French printer. I'm not sure but Andre Kertesz may have also gotten his images printed by someone else as well.

    I think the term Master is a difficult one to nail down and may be defined by what sort of photography you are in to. I'm sure some here wouldn't consider either HCB nor Kertesz as Masters while others would. Generally we seem to give the moniker to famous, large format, BW photographers but I've also heard it used to describe a level of professionalism and skill (often time-based) regardless of fame or format.
     
  8. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Very true Alex. We learn to work with what we have. That is where the comfortableness of the materials comes in. The more you do something the more profecient you become. If the materials do not change, you have no need to adapt. Your preffered comfort zone is not breached. Personally I get bored if it is the same old every single time. Not that i don't become familar with certain products. I just think there is more than just one film or one developer. The mistakes I make are learning opportunities. If I had not made them, I would not have learned what to do to correct it , and thus learned to avoid it. AA had many clinkers. Weston shot that darn pepper how many times? It might not have been the same pepper, but that set up was explored a variety of ways and times. We all just do what we need to do for ourselves in learning photography. I wish I was one who was better, I just have to work harder and practice more. Someday I might have a good one.
     
  9. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    If I remember legend correctly, Weston shot the pepper to pieces until he got the composition the way he wanted it, not as an exercise in testing film/paper/developers. He wasn't obsessing about those things. Many times I have seen threads wanting to know what papers Weston used, as if that would be magic bullet to instant success. Answer is, other than Azo, the papers are long out of production. Even Azo has changed many times over the years.

    Back to Ansel legend, could he have shot Moonrise in eight minutes if he hadn't known his materials good enough to be intuitive with them? Even though he bounced around a bit like I said earlier, he obviously used certain combinations for long enough to become very proficient with them. Let's see, Tri-X was introduced in 1950-something? (Well, that's been plenty of time for me to get proficient with it. :rolleyes: )
     
  10. mark

    mark Member

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    Helmut Newton did not print his work, and he shot many rolls of film at a time.

    EW's contemporary, AA, shot back ups all the time, and worked through many versions of a print before settling on one. Could it be that EW was too money strapped to be able to afford back ups? EW was not well to do, and as happens to many, did not become famous until after his death.

    I just cannot buy the one shot one neg mentality. How many negatives do we not see printed, or were not printed by EW because he did not nail it the first time, if that is what he truely practiced. EW was lucky, in the fact that he had the vision to begin with. The best part about photography is what you can do in the darkroom. have you ever seen the copious notes EW kept for printing his negatives consistently. That detail can only come from many attempts to get the printing right. I would also say, because of the copious notes, that the negatives were not coming out perfect either, the first time.

    None of this makes EW a great photographer, or a bad one. Technical proficiency is only a small part of the photographic process. Familiarity of one's materials is only a small part of the creation of art. Being technically proficient does not free one to think about the creative vision. If the vision was there it was there all along. That vision drives the desire, experience creates the familiarity. M.A. smith has never once mentioned a densitometer and nor does he get more technical than "we develope our film for a very long time if it needs it". His vision was there from the beginning and his skills have been honed through experience. Much like EW's were, and all of the masters. Sjixxy seems to have it right. the masters, past and present, have it in the darkroom, or they know exactly what they want and drive their printers with a whip, until they get it right.

    One shot, one neg is a great aspiration, I guess, for some, but does it come at the cost of vision. Do those who practice that thought limit themselves to what they know so they are assured a "technically perfect" negative the first time all the time? Do they repeat the same types of shots because they know it worked before?

    I can't help but think about Maplethorpe. The way I understand, it he did not print, he did not process and didn't even take all of his pictures. He directed a lot of them. I may not like the subjects but no one can argue that he did not have vision.

    The most beautiful print I own was made by a friend of Buzz Holmstrom, the first guy to run the Colorado Solo. It is soft, and was a bitch to print. I should know I printed it. Buzz directed the photograph and told his buddy what to do. It was at the end of his last solo trip down the colorado. What makes this image so powerful is the message, the intent, and what is communicated. It was one shot, and one neg and was technically a piece of crap, but the vision was perfect.

    Aggie is right, we all learn in our own ways. We all, also, have our own priorities about what is most important in a photograph.

    Sorry about the ramble, I hope it makes sense. Today has been very long.
     
  11. Art Vandalay

    Art Vandalay Member

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    "Do those who practice that thought limit themselves to what they know so they are assured a "technically perfect" negative the first time all the time?"

    Not sure if anyone has read the two (or more?) publications by Ralph Gibson highlighting different photographers and their exposure and darkroom methods. I think they might have been called 'Darkroom' (Lustrum Press) and had such luminaries as Eugene Smith, Wynn Bullock and Eikoh Hosoe talking about how they work their negs and prints in the darkroom, and the reasons for their choices. What struck me about the articles were how many (such as Smith) rejected the 'technically perfect negative' notion because it just didn't work for them. At least some of them found that using non-perfect negs and then employing a lot of darkroom magic produced prints with more life to them. At any rate, it's a very good series and I recommend them to anyone, if you can find them that is.
     
  12. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    I will provide a counterpoint to Mark and say that "one shot, one negative" certainly is something to strive for, not as the end result of personal photography, but as a way to free yourself from the drudgery and technicality of photography as art, this is specially relevant IMO with LF photographers, who seem to fall on an endless loop of testing, looking for the glass with perfect bokeh, the developer which will produce the best hghlights and the deepest shadows with detail, etc. This to me, more often than not denotes a lack of technical mastery that is getting in the way of making photographs.

    People say or tell me "I hate testing", " I am a photographer, not a lab tech"...well yeah, I hate it too, but I do it so I know that when I press that shutter, I got all the information I want in that negative. This does not mean that I will not later on interpret the negative differently, and it has nothing to do with vision, it simply means that I am confident that I will get what I want and I can concentrate on the aesthetic and enjoyable part of photography more.

    I remember before I learned the BTZS, I was adamant it was all too complicated, so I followed saint Ansel's teachings, well, let me tell you, photography for me was very stressful, I would do all those tests, miriads of 4x5 sheets with gray tones, I would go out and do all the spot metering, bellows calculations, filter factors, etc, etc, only to always have a small nagging doubt in my mind "will this negative come out ok?".... Since invariably some of them did not come out ok. Now, with the aid of the BTZS I know the negative will come out ok, I now concentrate on composition, placement and looking for better spots than I ever did with the ZS. Exposure calculation is only a matter of a couple of minutes and at this point I am certain the negative will not be underexposed, overdeveloped, undedeveloped, overexposed or whatever combination of errors that plague us.

    I beleive this is what Francesco means by "one negative, one shot" and I agree with him completly. Lets remember, Weston did not have at his disposal all the new theories and ways to work and standarize exposure. AA was one of the few who had available to him a personal densitometer, now, we have more of these than we can shake a stick at.

    In the end, the proof is in the pudding, and as such, there are times when all I do is measure the DR of my negative, look at my charts for exposure and contrast for that range, dial in the exposure in the plate maker, and it is done.....sometimes I have to make 2 or 3 more exposures to fine tune, but I dont anymore spend 5 or 6 hours fighting with a negative to get a print. Once again, knowing my materials has freed me to realize my vision, I might spend 5 or 6 hours changing what I saw, but I got it all in one shot.
     
  13. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    Jorge, perhaps reformulating the catch phrase to "one composition, one negative" might be better, but I find it does not have quite the same ring to it. I am certainly one who, like EW and his peppers, exhausts all compositional possibilities of any subject for as we all know light changes, tide changes, seasons change, etc. Even though I may expose 50 sheets on 50 different possibilities of one subject I know that all those 50 will not give me any hassle in the darkroom (I do dislike spending too much time in the dark preferring the outdoors every time). Of course compositionally all 50 could suck but they will be negatives that will print with relative ease. Sometimes though we do not have the luxury of returning to the scene, i.e. we only do get one shot. These situations do not stress me out anymore - I can use that short amount of time to compose and to visualise, exposure and development issues being an afterthought.
     
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  15. rogueish

    rogueish Member

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    Here Here! Well spoken!(typed?)

    Some of my negs are about as close to perfect as I've ever come, others are pretty (ok, really) crappy. I'd like to think I've gotten better over time, but I prove myself wrong on occasion. My printing is also improving, but I'm not stirving for "one shot one neg one print". It would be great if I could, think of the money and time saved. But then I think I might get a bit bored and move on to something else with more challenge. I rarely shoot back ups (bracketing? whats that? :surprised: ) Usually I move a bit or reframe if I'm going to shot the same thing again.
    Like Aggie said,"The more you do something the more profecient you become. If the materials do not change, you have no need to adapt. Your preffered comfort zone is not breached. Personally I get bored if it is the same old every single time. Not that i don't become familar with certain products. I just think there is more than just one film or one developer. The mistakes I make are learning opportunities".
    I couldn't agree more.Thanks Aggie! (and you too jdef...)
     
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  16. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    I think the relationship is central. Art may exist without craft being present, but its quality is certainly compromised when that happens.

    What particular type of craft is employed may be incidental, but I believe that the mastery of that craft is essential in order for art to emerge by practicing it.
     
  17. wm blunt

    wm blunt Member

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    Several years ago I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Cole Weston at his studio. He was giving a presentation of his work, his fathers work, his then wife Paulette's photographs. The group of photographers were part of a workshop visiting from Germany and they eventually got around to asking questions about Brett Weston's technique. Some one mentioned they read that Brett didn't use a light meter and his negatives were perfect. Cole said something to the effect, well hell after that many years and shooting in the same light and he would bracket the hell out everything, one of them were bound to come out!
    If you ever had a chance to see a Brett Weston print and hold it in your hands to really see it free of bad light and glass in front of it you would be amazed.
     
  18. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    What was the original question ... "Were some of the `Masters' of photography really `boobs' when it came to technical knowledge?"

    I think that would depend on the threshold of "boobery" that you had in mind. Certainly, some were far more familiar with the technical end of things, but --- I don't know ... did Weston know more about the chemical composition of developers than Ansel Adams?
    There is no question in my mind that some of the "significant" photographers were less fussy about their prints than others .. and I would think that most were familiar with f/stops and shutter speeds ... if that would lift them above the level of "complete technical incompetence."

    The concept of "Mastery" is a difficult thing in itself. How does one tell if they have "mastered" either aesthetics or technique/ technical things? There is no supernatural "test-giver" who will appear with a stamp of approval.

    "Moonrise" by Ansel Adams was mentioned here. It is a well-known fact that Ansel manipulated the printing; dodging, burning, jumping up and down ... whatever - "all over the place", according to an associate. He even revisited that negative years later, re-printing ... and returned to it a number of times.

    In the latest issue of "The Smithsonian", there is an article about the restoration of Les Demoisselles d'Avignon, by Picasso. Quoting:

    "Even after working so intimately with Les Demoiselles, the two conservators still seem a bit stumped by the painting. Coddington is especially struck with Picasso's defiantly modern, unpainterly attack - smudges he didn't bother to paint over, brushstrokes he literally x-ed out and left that way...." Again, "Before and after details ... show that the removal of varnish and surface residues brightened colors in the head at the painting's upper right and revealed areas of canvas (itself - raw canvas - ES) that Picasso had left exposed around the hands at the top of the work."

    Aesthetically a brilliant work, universally recognized for its merit. Technically ... well ....

    Technical excellence is a "good thing" ... but in the confines of absolutes - It is not an ABSOLUTE necessary.
     
  19. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    I agree with you all. How's that for a truly Canadian response. I have seen wonderfully expressive prints come from horrible negs and I have seen technically wonderful prints from technically wonderful negs that have no soul whatsoever. I have also seen wonderfully expressive prints from technically wonderful negs.

    If the photographer has nothing to convey, it shows in the finished work. No matter what the raw materials are.

    I think most of my negs are pretty good, but I don't turn myself inside out trying to get them that way. I suppose it comes with experience and way to many hours in the darkroom over the past 30+ years.
     
  20. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    What do you mean, then, by 'incidental'? Does that mean that the relationship is irrelevant (by virtue of its being non-existant) or that it's just a tangential one? I took you to mean the latter.

    If I'm to be bound by your logic then I guess I think you're wrong about the second part. Thinking out loud: if art is, as I believe it to be, expression given form then it must follow that it cannot exist until the craft is well enough developed. The more I mull this over the more I become convinced that Ansel Adams was right: craft can exist without art (the proverbial "sharp picture of a fuzzy concept") but not the other way around.
     
  21. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    Just a few notes:

    1) In my experience the more darkroom 'tricks' one knows implies that the photographer routinely produces negatives of, shall we say, widely varying technical quality. They often expose in a haphazard way and work in the darkroom later to pull a good print from the negative. Others have no idea what they wan t in the final print when they expose, make exposures that will provide some information in the negative and then 'post-visualize' in the darkroom. To pull good images from these negatives can require all sorts of manipulaations (including nose oil). I know very few darkroom tricks and techniques.

    2) In the past, I had done so much Zone System testing and material standardization that all my 4x5's could be printed at a standard printing time of 12 seconds. I'd just plop the negative in, set the standard aperture, standard enlarger head height, give the paper 4 3-second exposures and there would be a very well, if not dead-on print.
    I'm a lot looser today, but I still work at producing the best negative that I can. I look a negative as being like a mold, the fewer imperfections in the mold, the ferwer things I have to repair in the copies that come out of the mold.

    3) I have no problem with making backup negatives. When I go on a trip that costs money and time and I have a good image, you're darn right I'm gonna have at least one backup. It would cost a lot to try to come back and re-do it. And we all know you can't really ever go back, something always changes. The backup is there because stuff happens in handling film, doesn't it? Heck the holder may be bad, I may not have had it seated in the camera correctly, who knows. Making a backup is no reflection on one's craftmanship. However, bracketing the heck out of every scene, is. But bad craftsmen can certainly produce great art, can't they? Eugene Smith made horrible negatives (an old girlfriend was a student of his, this according to her), but he should could print well from them. I was in Yosemite today and the Merced river was at a very low level, exposing rocks that would normally be underwater. I took what I believe will be several good images today. Since I may never see those rocks in that particular way for the rest of my life, you can bet that I have more than one backup of the good ones.

    4) Pepper #30 wasn't called that because EW liked the number 30. It was at least the 30th pepper he had photographed. I haven't even gotten around to Pepper #1 yet.

    4) I have no idea what art is.

    5) I do know what craft is.

    -Mike
     
  22. Mateo

    Mateo Subscriber

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    Please excuse me for being impertinent, but I don't think it had anything to do with the number of peppers. I think the name had allot to do with the number of years since 1900.
     
  23. Fintan

    Fintan Member

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    I've been following this thread with interest although I'm none the wiser as to what a master really is.
    I love to follow the Hasselblad Masters on their website

    And to quote hasselblad.se
    "The Hasselblad Masters represent photography at its finest; at its most inspired, most communicative, most beautiful. They are young, old, western, eastern, classical, experimental, traditional, modern, and futuristic. They have perhaps but one thing in common: they are masters at conveying an instant, an emotion, with images. Masters of the art and craft that is photography."
     
  24. Art Vandalay

    Art Vandalay Member

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    I had made a comment earlier about this very man and his methods, that I read in a book on darkroom techniques. From what I gathered (EWS himself) this was on purpose and not because he didn't have a clue as to what he was doing. From your comment it sounds like he was perhaps just inept? Could you clarify?
     
  25. mark

    mark Member

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    May we all aspire to reach your lofty height, For you have surpassed the masters. You, alone, have achieved perfection. Please offer some of your greatness to the rest of the world. I am sure, if they were alive, Adams and Weston would have been slobbering for the chance to be your students.
     
  26. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Isn't this a bit like asking TDK to define good music, or Panasonic to decide what's good on TV?

    Mastery of craft is fine and good and can be quite impressive. It can also lead to disturbingly narrow notions when it's mistaken as a definition for something else. Perfect negatives are great, but not always needed for many purposes -- say, a driver's license photo, or a museum show.

    Example: consider Nikki S Lee, who doesn't even shoot her best-known photos -- she appears in them. They are usualy made with P&S cameras, though for a series like the Bourgeousie she chose commercial shooters with the appropriately "polite" larger cameras and technically-flawless negs.

    Whether you like Lee's work or not, the truth is that we live in a world full of many different images. Every type of technical process leads to a slightly different image and all of those differences have potential for meaning and artistic usage. Highly crafted or completely uncrafted, in some respects the two are EXACTLY EQUIVALENT to an artist who is interested not in process but in image. Both methods have a potential for meaning, or potential for simply getting out of the way of the image's Real Business.

    Where craft is useful to art, imo, is in two general areas: often non-art is distinguished from "Art" simply through INTENT (extreme case already mentioned: Duchamp readymades). Craftsmanship is a way of signalling intent to the viewer. A family snap can display lots of intent if it's printed 40x60 inches across. There are many ways to signal intent, such as controlled lighting, B&W, etc. Secondly, from a practical standpoint, craft can give the artists more control and allow predictability into the equation. This is actually (again, imo) of more value to clients than to the artist themselves. The artist does have to eat, however.