SO why don't many photographer tell their "story" or the "why" behind their images

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by mark, Jan 12, 2006.

  1. mark

    mark Member

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    Please don't let this turn into the likes of the thread on artist statements.

    Is it arrogance? Figuring if the viewer does not "get it" then that is their problem. Is it lazyness? Do we just not think about it?

    In the thread on charging too much Brooks makes mention of the "story" of the image or the artist. I have been doing a lot of thinking about this lately as I had a conversation with a painter where the "story" came up a lot a couple weeks ago.

    I have seen painters talk for a long time about their paintings and why did what they did. I have never seen or heard of a photographer do this. I am sure they are out there.

    A painter I respect greatly came into my classroom and saw a photograph I took. He asked about it. I thought he did not see what the subject was, stupid me. He wanted the story and he even phrased it that way after I told him what the subject was. I hardly remembered taking the image I told him that. He told me he thought I was more serious about my art than that. After some discussion I came to realize that the story is extremely important, not just BS put on paper or in a talk to sell the images. Over the last coupple of weeks it has become the why of the image, and if I cannot communicate it to someone how can I expect someone to "get it" on their own.
     
  2. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Why does there have to be a story behind every photograph? Sometimes photographs are simply about making people feel good; giving people an environment that relaxes and provides a relief from the modern world. The only story in my images, and is the same in all my images, is to show the glory of God's creation.
     
  3. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Alot of photographers, don't know how to tell the story, and that is not a put down, but every product needs a story to have value, or we become the Walmart of the photography world and value goes down, I have often heard from many friends who take pictures for a living, the taking part is 10% and the marketing part is 90%..I agree with Robert to a certain extent, many images can tell their own story, but for the mass majority in a society that is bombarded by images in virutally ever aspect of their daily life, they need to see why, when, what and how and in the case of more expenisive images, the buyers needs to feel they have personal relationship with the artist..and in the case of gallery sales, the person representing you, must be able to build that personal relationship, or they have no business selling art.


    Just what has worked for me and my .02

    Dave
     
  4. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    I am sure you have heard AA's 'moonrise' story many times. I wouldn't be suprised if that has helped sell half (or more) of those prints.

    Check out AAs 'making of 40 photographs'. There is a story for every one.
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    Most writers and artists aren't terribly articulate about their own work, even if they are articulate critics or interpreters of the work of others. Ask what it's about, and you get more text to interpret, and I think that's as it should be. Artists who know exactly what they are doing, or who think they know exactly what they are doing, are probably doing formulaic work.

    I think it's most interesting to hear photographers talk about their subjects or their process, and that's enough of a story. Part of what makes a work of art interesting should be as much a mystery to the person who creates it as it is to the viewer or reader.
     
  6. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    The object of making a photograph is to make the viewer experience what you felt when you were moved to make the picture. At least that's what some of us believe.

    What, then, are words for ?

    Words come into play... stories... when the image is tangential to the message or emoton, or when irony is the motive, or when the image is sentimental. In other words, when the photographer doesn't know why he made the picture ( at an intuitive, not analytical level )... a story is needed to make the connection with the viewer.

    A good, or succesful, image elicits the story from the viewer.

    .
     
  7. Bill Hahn

    Bill Hahn Member

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    Some photographers can be very eloquent about the stories behind their pictures - I'm thinking of the video "A Visual Life" by Dorothea Lange, and various letters/comments by W. Eugene Smith. I think in some other thread (not necessarily on APUG), I pointed out how Smith's comments about one of his Pittsburgh pictures startled me; while I saw a pretty cityscape with a beautiful moon, he was thinking "moon = no smoke in sky = mills are closed = hard times for Pittsburgh folks".

    Which leads to my second point - often the viewer brings a more profound "story" to the picture than the photographer had in mind. One of my favorite pictures shows three ducks swimming along in a horizontal stripe of light tones, leaving dark wakes, above that stripe is the dark stripe of reflected trees and the trees themselves, then there is the light horizontal stripe of the sky. It's like a layer cake. I never realized the power of the alternating tones, and when complimented on the picture, I had to admit that all I was thinking when i snapped the picture was "Oo, look at the duckies."...
     
  8. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    DF, I see your point, but there is a market reality that must be considered. Without the daybooks, would Weston's work be selling for what it is now? Even the title 'Pepper #30' gives you an idea of the struggle he went through to make his images. Art does not live in a vacum.
     
  9. PaulH

    PaulH Subscriber

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    I've never been very good at telling or even discerning the 'story' behind my photographs. So I always like to fall back on a quote from Paul Strand that I came across somewhere.

    "I find in most cases that what the artist says about what he is going to do, or what he has done, is an inadequate and not very meaningful statement. The thing is the work itself, and in a sense the artist should not be asked for the philosophy of life upon which he bases his work. The work is the basis. The work is the thing itself."
     
  10. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    I agree that it can be important to have a developed understanding of what it is you, as an artist, are doing (the whys and hows). I am not sure that this needs to be shared along with the work.

    It might be important to have as a supporting tool when selling your work to a gallery or a buyer. On the flip side it would be nice for those who view the work to come to it unincumbered.
     
  11. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    I made a homemade book of some of my photographs for my Dad for Christmas. On the page opposite each photograph, I told a story about it. I can't decide which part is my favorite, the stories or the photographs. One is certainly not the same without it's counterpart.
     
  12. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    :cool:

    I'm usually just looking at the duckies myself. I'll bet we're not the only ones ...
     
  13. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    i am the same way matt

    i usually have a story that goes with each photograph that i have printed ... sometimes it is about how i made a fool of myself when i took the stranger, or indian chief or politico's portrait, or how i was nearly attacked by a savage beast or that guy that could have played a role in "the deliverance" when i was in the woods documenting mill ruins, or when the police must have stopped and chatted with me 15 times in a 20 minute span when i was "on the street" or what happened when i was hired to do surveilance work or almost dropped 300 feet to the bottom of a drained quarry or ...

    each photograph is like a film still of what happened to me during the time i was exposing the film, processing, printing or goofing off in the darkroom ... it kind of like listeing to a certain record, and having memories associated (good or bad) with whatever song is being played ---

    -john
     
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  15. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    Hmm. I suppose that if the image can't stand on its own, then a story might help sell it. But if the image can't stand on its own, what good is it?

    Put it another way, a family snapshot can have great emotional significance for close relatives even if the image is weak. All strangers can see in it , though is the image's weakness. Why should a stranger buy the snapshot, or, if given it, give it wall space?

    Cheers,

    Dan

    Please don't tell me that I'm an ignorant barbarian, I already know that and admit it freely.
     
  16. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Most people don't think about their photos to a degree deeper than some technical minutiae and the identity of the objects in front of the camera. Here is a waterfall. Here is my mom. The blacks are full dmax. Sad but true. Thankfully not universal.


    [​IMG]

    I made this photo becasue I saw the collisions of pattern and color.
    I ran across the park because I saw the possibility it would occur.
    I was out making photographs to fight my sadness over a personal loss.
    It made me happy to know the world contained this.
     
  17. mark

    mark Member

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    Maybe I misworded things. It as been a long day and I am not very articulate anyway.

    I am not talking about meaning for story. No theme or great statement. I mean simply what drew the photographer to a specific site. What thoughts they went through in their composition efforts.

    Not necessarily AA running around looking for a broken meter and throwing crap out of the car. This is the how. What I consider the "Story", and the "Why" is how come the sky is so big in that image.

    Is this worded better?
     
  18. mark

    mark Member

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    Yeah, that is what I mean.
     
  19. JHannon

    JHannon Member

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    The technical details about the photograph can be interesting. I also like to know what moved the photographer to select that spot or place.

    Is it a personal emotional feeling the photographer has or is it just a pretty photograph that might make others happy?
     
  20. colrehogan

    colrehogan Member

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    For a lot of my pictures, I can say that something struck me about the scene at the time I took it. I can't define what that something is or was, but it sounds like something that falls in the above category.
     
  21. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Without Weston's images, Daybooks would have no market. Not the other way around. Weston dominated the planet of photography in a way few of us comprehend.

    As for market reality, well... I don't make my pictures for a market, I make them because I must, and do my best to speak to a viewer through my heart and soul.. and picture. Market considerations are irrelevent.

    Shooting for a market, I guess I'd sell shoes.

    .
     
  22. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    Any work of art should be able to stand and be judged and liked or disliked on its own merits. I have had several long discussions with a very well known singer songwriter. She hates talking about the technical or emotional background to her songs - they speak for themselves. People either like them or dislike them, and she doesn't care either way.
     
  23. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    In a less confrontive vein, I think in pictures... symbols, images, allegories and so on.

    Often it takes days, weeks... longer, to explain what I see clearly. I'm a crappy debater for this reason. I write better than I talk. But I'm a better photographer.

    It isn't a matter of being inarticulate, it's about the richness, and density of the image. It takes a lot of effort to sort out the content.

    Maybe this is why WINOGRAND had to put so much time betweeen making the picture and printing it. Or not.

    On the other hand, analytical thinkers go step to step, and brick by brick, to get to the picture. It probably takes as long for either type of artist to get both words and picture... it's just different.

    Family joke: after I've been 2 hours on the phone, my wife asks me what was i talking about. I usually stand with my mouth open and can't begin to answer. A day later, though, and I can replay the conversation.

    For a real thrill, spend an afternoon with mrcallow...
     
  24. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Well Dan and Kevin,

    I guess I just like to talk to people about things I love, and after almost 30 years of doing it, it has proved to be profitable!

    If your an Ansel or a Weston, your work may be able to stand on its own, if you a Parker, you might have to ad lib a bit and talk to people!

    LOL

    Dave
     
  25. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Of course his works stand alone. I am just suggesting that the daybooks have boosted the monetary value of his work.

    Suppose Weston lived in a cave somewhere and printed his work and talked to nobody. You think his work would of had the same impact that it did?
    As I mentioned before, art does not live in a vacum. Photographers that want to promote their work benefit from having people skills.


     
  26. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    Don, I'll take that as a complement and I certainly have enjoyed our conversations.

    I do know why I shoot and can tell you, but wouldn't if one of my images were infront of you. Each picture is its own story even if it does mostly fit under a large umbrella.

    These are seperat ideas though, are they not -- Doing a good job of Selling your art and doing a good job of producing art? The latter can surly live without the former but the former...