On Technique

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Thomas Bertilsson, Oct 16, 2011.

  1. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    A very good friend of mine pointed me in the direction of Lisl Steiner last night. I was queued up with a couple of hyperlinks, and found this one interview fascinating:
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_go2043/is_n6_v46/ai_n28648757/

    It seems that many photographers that I admire are disinterested in technique, to a degree that they think the more you know, the worse the results will be. Isn't that interesting in a type of interest that many regard as highly technical?

    "Hell, no. I never learned anything. After thirty-nine years, I am happy to say I have managed not to know too much about photography. I shoot with my guts! Afterwards, I'm always surprised there's even an image there. I just get in a little trance. If what I see in front of me is exciting, it turns out good. These people who are all technicians don't know what it's all about. You can't learn it in a school. Once you start getting intellectual in these things, you're dead."
     
  2. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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    Thanks for the link, she sounds like a really interesting character. I wonder how much is 'too much' with photography knowledge. So long as you can read a meter and focus, all else is normally fine. I have some friends who are naturally visionary in the arts - drawing, painting, photography, they make great stuff without knowing much at all about stuff. I have a friend who got his BA in photography using an Oly Mju II. His photos are 'technically' awful but look great.
     
  3. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I'm not sure if there is anything that's correct in photography, to be honest with you, except being open minded. There are so many ways to make a print.
     
  4. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    My Holga reminds me regularly that high-tech is far from required. Of course it also teaches me the limits.
     
  5. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    This philosophy - "the more you know, the worse the results will be" - has been found valid in many fields. It has even been published in respected journals. Some believe that there is an upward curve in creativity and productivity as we learn, and that this will peak and then begin to decline as we learn more. Some say that with too much knowledge, you begin to outthink yourself. Or, you can put more "knowledge" into a project and less creativity.

    Whatever the reason, I have heard this same theme since the '50s.

    PE
     
  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I think there is something to be said for just 'doing'. It's amazing how difficult it is to stay true to that and avoiding all of the distractions.
     
  7. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Ron,

    I think it is invariable true. Once we know too much, the creative process is hindered because we immediately start doubting ourselves and look for answers in the wrong places. What if I used Pyrocat instead of XTOL? Or that paper instead of that paper, or Zone System, BTZS or just sunny 16? Will my images be better if toned? All efforts go into acquiring a deeper knowledge of process, which almost always lead to obsessions that are concentrated in the wrong places. Whether we apply that knowledge judiciously is irrelevant because the damage has already been done, since we no longer concentrate on content but only on what comes after, which most of the time means making up with process for what would just be a simple photograph. I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong, but it is certainly true that, applied to photojournalism, technique is irrelevant and too much knowledge only leads to decreased creativity.

    Max
     
  8. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    The photographer Lisette Model once said, "Darling, if you think my prints are bad you should see my negatives."

    When faced with a choice it is better to have a poor photograph of a good subject than a good photograph of a poor subject.

    I have seen far too many prints for sale that are very attractive but are all technique and no substance.
     
  9. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Well said, Gerald. I would say that most landscapes certainly fall into the second category for obvious reasons. With very few exceptions, graciously donated by mother nature, without technique and process, they are usually nothing. I personally would be happy to always have poor photographs of a good subject.
     
  10. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Well, I am subject to this failing myself in photography due to my backgrounds in chemistry and photography. That is why I usually end up adding to some of my comments "use what works for you"!

    PE
     
  11. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Yeah, but you have an excuse, Ron..that is your job :smile:
     
  12. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    WAS my job! Nowdays it is too much like work. :D

    PE
     
  13. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    i think the thing about photographic technique is
    that somethings work, and somethings don't ..
    and it's best not confuse the two ...

    i also think that people confuse good technique with good photography
    when often times technique yields nothing but illustrations of technique.
    thanks for the link thomas !
    john
     
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  15. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Sorry but this all sounds like arty baloney to me. There is absolutely no reason high artistic creativity cannot coexist with masterful technical understanding and interest in the same person. There is nothing about someone being interested in technical details that inherently makes him worse at seeing. You're all missing the point. No serious photographer thinks toning prints, testing films, or delving into the intricacies of the process, will make better images. And actually I see way, way too much work in galleries, magazines etc that seems to exist solely for the purpose of being technically bad, as though that somehow elevates it beyond the pedestrian work of great artists who also happen to be interested in technique.

    "When faced with a choice it is better to have a poor photograph of a good subject than a good photograph of a poor subject."

    Who doesn't know this? And so what, anyway? I'll take neither, please. I'd rather have a good photograph of a good subject. But these days that option seems to go out the window.

    "Will my images be better if toned?"

    Well obviously not.

    Clearly certain technical paths become rat holes, but many can be useful if they are well understood - and to me understanding something well means knowing how to use it as a tool, not as a rule. I've never thought much of things like BTZS because they often imply a level of precision that is not realizeable, and people tend to use them too literally, thinking they can somehow produce fine prints by formula. I disagree with that approach. But understanding materials and processes, and frameworks like the zone system can be beneficial if we treat them as tools to help us realize our visions in the final prints, rather than using them in methodical but ultimately thoughtless ways.

    Entirely too much technique bashing goes on these days. I blame the influence of silly quotes from Brett Weston and others, words I think are highly suspect anyway.
     
  16. ROL

    ROL Member

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    The epiphany that all is not technique is not terribly earth shaking. I often find myself walking a tightrope with inexperienced photographers in regards to the value of technique – sometimes the means just don't justify the end. The best advice I was ever given, not only concerning photography, and that which I parrot from time to time is that you have to know the rules, and then you have to know when to break them. (or maybe the more colloquial, hold 'em, fold 'em, Kenny Rogers said it best?) But students will all too often use this advice as an excuse not to learn proper technique, and go their "own" way. It is extraordinarily rare that pure talent ever wins out in this circumstance, and this attitude simply wrecks havoc in the lab. Fortunately for me, many of these artistic geniuses have left the room for digital processes.

    For myself, and who really cares, I own and use but a few cameras and lenses, one in each basic format, and execute prints in a relatively spartan darkroom, void of time-saving gadgetry and processing equipment. It is another reason why I prefer the elegant simplicity of monchrome. There's just less to go wrong that I cannot ultimately attribute to myself. I dare say my dearth of gear puts me at odds with the majority of APUG'ers, for whom GAS is a frequent topic of discussion.

    In the end, it is only the final image's emotional connection to the viewer, regardless of subject, that really matters.
     
  17. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    A lot of artists engage in sheer limitless self flattery and self promotion when they talk about their art. "I don't care about technique" and "I know nothing about photography" should be read as "I am so great that even poor technique doesn't make my magnificent pieces of art any less valuable" or "Being a technical imbecile makes me an even greater artist".

    At this point in time we are continuously flooded with image after image after image. Someone please tell me why we should bother with shameless self promoters or with images that have serious technical or artistic shortcomings (except for educational purposes).
     
  18. olleorama

    olleorama Member

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    Interesting subject. When photographing people I sometimes experience that I may be thinking to much about technique (or rather, my lack of it) instead of putting myself out there, trying to get connected with the subject. A mild alcohol intoxication usually helps, and makes me more relaxed, the negs and images usually gets better too.

    However, a total lack of knowledge seems stupid. If you're at point A (the scene or subject) and what to get to point B (a final image), it's usually good if you know some kind of way in between the points, it may not be the way everybody takes, but should you at least have some idea of what result you want, and how to obtain it? Seems a bit haphazard otherwise, to me at least.
     
  19. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    i think that at a certain point over technical images become boring.
    how many sunsets or peppers or faux ansel adams landscapes or nudes
    with heads and arms chopped off ( or at 'slot canyon' ) do we have to look at
    ... just because something is technically perfect doesn't mean it is less of a cliché
    or a totally boring trite image. i'd rather look at something that looks like
    it was made by someone totally incompetent, lacking any control of their equipment ( or darkroom )
    if the photograph looks interesting and there is something "there" ...
    to me at least, the others are just hollow ..
     
  20. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I don't think she means that you shouldn't know anything at all about photography. You obviously have to know how to see to be any good at it. You know, light, timing, personality, connection with the subject matter, empathy, all that is important obviously.

    What I think she's referring to are those that focus too much on the technical side of photography too much, understanding how all lenses work, how the minute details of one developer is different from another, etc. At least that's how I read her statement. The more you focus on those aspects of photography, the more you will be distracted from focusing on what's in front of you.

    That's obviously my opinion, and I can't read her mind.
     
  21. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Yes, you should know the materials you are working with and basics about exposure. it really depends on what you are looking to do. To emulate Ansel Adams one has to be a wizard in the darkroom. Knowing how the Zone System works to the fullest is not going to guarantee anyone a successful image. To be as great as Cartier Bresson, you have to learn to see, anticipate, grab the shot. A mountain will be there tomorrow but a moment is gone in a flash. You can pick everything in between as how it would apply to different people but you get my drift. I think this conversation really applies to photojournalism more than anything else.
     
  22. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    I've scheduled a visit with her next month so I will ask details about that quote. This is always an interesting, if polarizing conversation :smile:
     
  23. gandolfi

    gandolfi Member

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    it's always a problem to generalize...

    The bold quote made me think of one of the most expressive exhibitions I have ever seen (held in Prague). Done by blind children! So sensitive - great images....

    I remember Sally Mann saying something about how she so didn't want to be too "good" in wet plate (the pouring part), as she was almost counting on the failures/mistakes on the plates...

    But I also know W Moersch.... a true master in what he does, and I think his techniques helps him achieve his goals....

    Photography is - or so it seems - different to other aspects of Art (?).
    When D Helfgott became famous due to the film "the shine", I heard him play some Rachmaninov - and hated every bit of it - due to the lack of technique...

    On the other hand I don't really like the "new master" of piano playing Lang Lang, and that is partly due to his technique...

    As I see it, technique is a tool. A means to an end. If one makes it the "end", then photography could be a new discipline in the Olympics...

    an image can't be great because of the technique, or lack of it - or even the choise of it..

    the chosen technique should be closely integrated in the subject matter - so in the end, we're not looking at a photograph, but on an image.

    This is why I still try.
    The "perfect" photographs have been made long time ago... Why should we/I also do it?

    Proberly for the same reason some still play Rachmaninov...
     
  24. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I believe part of it is simply not having to think about technique.

    What I mean is that if I'm using a bunch of brain cells trying to figure out how to take a shot, while I'm taking the shot, the shot suffers artistically.

    If the technical bits are simply routine or no adjustment is possible, therefore not requiring any significant decisions, the shot improves.
     
  25. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I understand what you say about a means to an end, and I largely agree with what you say. In some way shape or form I think that if we print our own prints, then we have to know a little bit about darkroom technique. And knowing about exposure helps the darkroom work with less waste and so on.

    What I don't understand is what the difference is between a photograph and an image. I thought we are all photographers here, and as far as I know we all produce photographs. Is it perhaps a translation thing?

    I just call them all pictures. :smile: Drives some people nuts, but that can be fun too. Especially when I say 'take pictures'. Oh yeah... hahaha
     
  26. georg16nik

    georg16nik Member

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    Even a Lie detector couldn't catch them if they are honest or no :wink:
    Add the fact that some photographers convert to painters and start having identity issues or the issues just got reintroduced in new light...