Where's the work?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Nov 27, 2006.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Where do you put your efforts when making photographs? Some people decide on simple subjects, and use their printing skills to achieve their vision; other people keep a simple printing procedure, but spend their energies on getting the subjects they want. There are lots of different ways to tailor one's work, but I was interested to know especially where you draw the line in your own practice between the efforts that you consider important in the making of a photo. Sometime taking a coffee break has no bearings on the making, sometimes it does and the whole photo reflects that coffee break (I'm just supposing here).

    Where I'd like to drive the question is towards the medium-specificity issue in photomaking. Some people would argue that only the medium manipulations (exposing, developing, printing) are what determines the value of one's work(wo)manship as a photographer, other might disagree. Sounds weird? Well what do we say about skilled painters? Often that they manipulate their medium in a masterful way: Turner, Leonardo, Caravaggio, all these people are called great painters in large part because their painterly skills are amazing. Likewise, the Photo-Secession school has argued over and over again that a successful photo is one that shows medium-specific attributes, and tries not to borrow from other arts. Even here on APUG, our basic premise is that there is a medium which we choose to work in, and that has an important bearing on the quality of the final result.

    An example that I ponder about a lot for example is the work of Spencer Tunick. As a printer, his pictures are often on par with a drugstore photo. To keep the parallel with painting, his manipulations of the medium are so-so. But his efforts are not into the medium manipulations, they are rather in the research of subjects and in the tactics developed for quick deployement of his scenes. The result is still something that still functions under a traditional "aesthetic" interpretation (a striking visual scene), and does not need much awareness of more conceptual forms of art to be understood, which are usually those that challenge aesthetic perspectives.

    A difference I would see between Tunick and a painter that would also create such "striking scenes" is that the painter needs years of practice to get the shapes and the colors straight (i.e. it takes him a lot of effort to manipulate his medium), whereas for Tunick the medium effort is minimal, and his energies go elsewhere.

    So do you call these skills outside medium manipulations "photographic skills" ? In your own work, what are the types of efforts that you make you consider essential to your picture practice?
     
  2. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    Looking.

    Thinking.

    Waiting.

    Editing.

    The rest is just pushing a button.
     
  3. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The difficult thing is seeing the picture in the first place.

    No, not the Ansel Adams "previsualisation", but just seeing that there's a picture there that might be worth taking.

    In my experience, everything else is easy compared to that.
     
  4. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I don't think I can separate the medium from seeing. When I'm photographing, I see the possibility of a picture, but look at the scene with all of the various manipulations - exposure, depth of field, camera movements, development options, all of the printing options - in mind. The goal is a finished print.

    This is not to say that I always print exactly as planned in the field - sometimes there are nice surprises in the darkroom. But I consider control of the medium to be a part of seeing.
    juan
     
  5. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    sometimes it is finding "it" to photograph ...
    but a lot of the time it is doing something with "it" afterwards ...

    it's not just making a print ( at least for me ) but a different process -
    kind of like using "it" as a steppingstone to do something else -
     
  6. robopro

    robopro Member

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    Where is the work?

    I personally divide photography into two catagories -- photography, and photo art. I define photography as the technique of producing a desired image with as little artificial manipulation as possible. A little dodging and / or burning in the printing is OK, but ultimately if it aint on the negative then it just aint there.
    Photo art is the technique of producing a desired image using whatever manipulation is needed -- however, once a certain point (of manipulation) is reached the result ceases to be photography at all and becomes CGI. I don't draw a hard and clear line between the two (it's more of a gray area) but to me they are two distinct approaches. Just depends on the individual's vision. I place my own work in the photography catagory, but my son is more into digital photo art and CGI.
    So long as individual artists are honest with themselves and others about what they're doing, I don't see a problem. But I do admit I tend to scowl a little when people present CGI as 'photography' just because a camera was involved somewhere in the process...
     
  7. dwross

    dwross Subscriber

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    This is an ongoing topic in photography. One could almost say "traditional". I say that because I have recently been pondering the subject (yet again!). There is something fundamental about the issue. I haven't decided if I keep revisting it because I suffer from that chronic plague on photographers: self-doubt about whether or not we are artists or because (and this is what I hope is true) the very question is part of our "work" ethic.
    The bulk of my paying gigs right now is digital prints of handcolored black and white photographs. Each original takes quite a bit of time and hopefully a little skill. I used to get a wee nuts when people suggested that the "same thing" could be done in Photoshop, but now I'm not so sure or so arrogant. Not the exact same thing, certainly, but is that the point? It really is about the image and your relationship to it, and of course, what we hope is the relationship an audience will develop with it. I think what I'm trying to say, is that the answer is less important than that we continue to ask it of ourselves. (although, I must also admit to an occassional "CGI scowl" :smile:
     
  8. Maris

    Maris Member

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    I need to do everything from finding the subject matter to mounting and framing the final photograph. All photographs are made one at a time, start to finish, by my own hand. There are no back-room people, helpers, laboratory workers or shareholders. Only light sensitive materials are used.

    The back of my photograph makers card reads "Guaranteed no digital".

    When I am not making photographs I am looking to collect them. A set of standards parallel to the above manifesto apply to things I would consider buying.
     
  9. robopro

    robopro Member

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    I hope you didn't get the wrong idea with my comment. I have seen some CGI work based on a digital photograph that I thought was absolutely world class art. My only objection was that the artist referred to herself as a 'photographer', and her work as 'photography' (she even bragged about her 'light' room [PC] instead of her 'dark' room [dark room]). My own son has done some digital work I seriously believe would make an outstanding CD cover -- and better than anything I could produce in the same medium, by the way.
    My point is, we did not invent either the science or the art of photography, and so in my opinion we have no right to try to 'redefine' it. The definition was done for us more than a hundred years ago. If we want to take that and expand on it, grow, evolve... what's wrong with that? Our great grandfathers may have invented photography, but we invented CGI, and good art is good art, regardless of the medium. I'd rather look at world class CGI than photography done by a fool who was more ego and reputation than talent...
     
  10. dwross

    dwross Subscriber

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    robopro: I think you have expressed yourself very well and I agree. I want to believe that it is a big, exciting, diverse world and that there is enough room for us all to be the artist we become.
    I do miss the days when a photograph was implicitly believable. You may have known that Yosemite wasn't really on a black and white planet, but you also knew that Half Dome hadn't been imported from some other national park. I don't think we can go back to the "purity" of pre-Photoshop, but I would like to see a more vigorous defense of the unmanipulated image - especially in photojournalism or even landscapes.
     
  11. robopro

    robopro Member

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    We actually can go back to the 'purity' of pre-Photoshop. Masters like Ansel Adams showed the way, just continue to follow the path. Right now I'm building a 16X20 pinhole camera for use with albumen glass plate negatives, to be contact printed on glass plates. My point was that Photoshop doesn't necessarily 'dirty' the art, it just 'changes' the art. Good art will always be good, and bad art will always be bad.
    The ultimate question is, when does photography cease to be photograhy?
    I personally like my son's definition. If you have to make more than one 'conceptual' change in Photoshop, then it aint photography, it's digital art. Whether it's good or not is up to you. But then again you have to remember that he grew up with me, and I believe if it aint on the negative then it just aint there.
     
  12. bruce terry

    bruce terry Member

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    Yes Ole! Every single day we all go by picture after picture we ourselves would die for because we are simply not creatively aware, because we think our chosen photo-graphic process will make a silk purse out of any handy sow's ear.

    Bruce
     
  13. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Pretty much never. When does writing cease to be writing? When it's calligraphy? When it's a post-it note saying 'Your dinner is in the oven'? When it's visual poetry relying on mechanical typesetting? When it's a shopping list covered in doodles?

    When does writing become literature, or poetry, or art? These are different questions. Similar considerations apply to photography.

    Or to take another line of argument, were the cut-and-paste photomontages of the 1920s and 1930s 'not photography'? Or the true photomontages of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Are bromoils 'not photography'? How much do any of these differ, conceptually, from Photoshop? Any can be well or badly done, i.e. successful or unsuccessful, but that is hardly a 'not photography' argument.

    Those of us who greatly prefer silver halide may be unimpressed with digital for all manner of reasons, but it is still worth remembering Sturgeon's Law: 90 per cent of ANYTHING is rubbish. The percentage of good digital photography may be even smaller than the percentage of good silver halide photography, though I can think of no way to test that assertion, but how much does it matter?

    Cheers,

    R.
     
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  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi robopro:

    i think i know what you mean, but i am not really sure what a conceptual change is ...

    i have taken many negatives that i have printed by hand, and strayed - printed with other things, changed the tonality by varying contrast burning / dodgingand intruded onto the negative with leads and abrasions and other "stuffs" ... these things changed what the actual scene was but did these make a conceptual change ?

    is there a difference between impure photography without a computer ?

    -john
     
  16. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    The real "work" is probably something not so visible to non-photographer audiences, but we all know it's there just like anything else we create.
     
  17. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    That was a mythic time which never existed. Even in the earliest days of the 20th century, people were doing pasteups of giant corncobs on wagons, monster grasshoppers crawling over houses, etc...

    Take a look at Jack Wilgus' collection of antique Exaggerations - while they are so exaggerated that they're not believable, it proves a point that people have been doing this kind of stuff long before computers ever existed...

    http://brightbytes.com/collection/postcards.html

    (Check out Vintage Exaggerations).

    The only truth in photography is the one we choose to see.
     
  18. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    And Frank Hurley, War photographer and official photographer on Shackleton's Antarctic expedition would quite often make composites from several wartime images or add a more interesting sky to a bland icy landscape.

    http://www.greatwar.nl/frames/default-hurley.html


    Steve.
     
  19. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    And don't forget folks like Jerry Uelsmann (sp?) who did photo composites in the not-so-distant past, but well before the days of photoshop. I can't imagine trying to do what he did without Photoshop.
     
  20. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    To me, the most fun part of taking photos of people is having brief conversations with strangers. So, I usually throw a couple of jokes in a conversation, entertain them for a moment, and I snap a few photos if I can.

    I would like to consider this more as a magic than a skill, but it's still something that's needed, and I put my energy to it.
     
  21. dwross

    dwross Subscriber

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    From Flying Camera: "That was a mythic time which never existed. Even in the earliest days of the 20th century, people were doing pasteups of giant corncobs on wagons, monster grasshoppers crawling over houses, etc...

    Take a look at Jack Wilgus' collection of antique Exaggerations - while they are so exaggerated that they're not believable, it proves a point that people have been doing this kind of stuff long before computers ever existed..."


    You have stated the point that is the nexis of the problem."...they're not believable..." Implicit believablity is the issue today. My father-in-law made wonderful Christmas cards of his kids flying about on everything imagineable. They probably wouldn't have been considered evidence in a court of law.

    This is a bit of a long read, but a very good overview of the current legal issues.
    http://www.thirdamendment.com/digital.html
     
  22. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I think the issue of implicit believability as far as photography as a medium in general is concerned is simply a matter of social naievete vs jadedness - in the early 20th century, when photography was still relatively a "new" medium, people were much more prone to take it at face value, especially since they did not understand how it worked. There was this idea of "light went in the box, and a picture came out", and the whole in-between was a bit of a mystery.

    Today, people accept the process, even the chemical one, as not quite as much of a mystery, and they're less prone to accepting images on face value because they KNOW how they can be manipulated on the computer, and easily. Where the shortcoming lies, as always, is not in the photograph, but in the photographer. Just as there are ways to determine if a chemical photograph has been altered or manipulated, there are ways (and actually much easier) to determine if a digital image has been manipulated. Even if someone were to present a JPEG file in court, it would be possible, with relatively unlimited resources of time and money to extract the file history from that image, and to track back any modifications made in Photoshop or other image manipulation technology. With a chemical photo, that's harder, unless you also have the original negatives. It is up to the personal professional ethics of the photographer taking and manipulating the images to own up to the changes he/she is making.
     
  23. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    For me personally, the art and the work in what I do is in the human connection, in understanding my subject and pulling something intensely soulful out of them to catch on film. The technical aspects of what I do are very simple, and I don't generally do much to the frame in the darkroom (any more) other than to do just match the depth at tone of the print to the depth and tone of the subject.

    The best investment of time I've made with regard to photography was learning who I am and what I value, and finding a way to express that through my work. Without that foundation, my work really wouldn't say much of anything important.

    - CJ
     
  24. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    I agree with Ole. You have to see the "picture" and extract it from the location. But, since many of us may go out to take photos with preconceived ideas, we must remember to remove the blinders to see what is presented to us.

    Rich
     
  25. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Interesting thing about this thread is that it seems I'm the only 'people' photographer who has responded. The rest seem to be landscape and still life shooters. In what I do, I can't "see the picture and extract it from the location". It would never work. Some photogs who shoot nudes seem to fit into the landscape shooting frame of mind, i.e. find the landscape shot and encorporate the person into it.

    Any other people photogs out there who want to participate?

    - CJ
     
  26. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Cheryl, I have a "history" as a portrait/model photographer. And that's when I first started with the "find the picture" way of working. Admittedly it was in a controlled studio setting so no "background clutter" to extract the picture from, but to me it was still a matter of finding something that could make a good picture and then getting an inexperienced model/sitter to repeat it until I managed to bring everything together (I did test photography for a model agency - it can be difficult to explain in nice terms to a beautiful young woman that she's as graceful as a log!).
    Sometimes I would go mute as an oyster until the sitter started fidgeting, at other times I would chatter incessantly in an attempt to make them go crazy. Maybe. Whatever, it often worked. At least often enough to get lots of repeat work.

    I know there are different ways of working; mine is to try to see what is in front of me as it would look as a picture - and then try to capture the best picture I see.