Why process matters. How to get better?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by markbarendt, Sep 28, 2013.

  1. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    So, below is a link to a really interesting talk about work and motivation, the specific corollary to photography that got my attention starts at about 12:50, for those that want to go directly to the thought.

    http://www.ted.com/playlists/133/da...y&utm_medium=email&utm_content=playlist_image

    The two thoughts that stand out for me in the next few minutes of the video are 1- that added effort adds value for us, 2- that of our own work, we are not necessarily great judges of how they fit in the world. That doesn't always matter, for example I can be very happy with a print because I had some minor success or leap forward in my craftwork, but my wife may be (read that as "is regularly") unimpressed when I show it off to her.

    When I work on my own I regularly do the typical "photographer thing" and judge it on the details of the craftwork.

    When I show others, people who will be straight with me or don't know they are mine, my work gets judged almost exclusively on content.

    It may seem obvious, but it is a tough lesson to apply when we have a lot of work in something.
     
  2. rbultman

    rbultman Subscriber

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    Interesting video. Self assessment is always difficult. I've seen someone state here or on some other forum that they wait 6 months before printing a negative. Perhaps this is to give some time and therefore emotional distance from the labor involved in creating the negative. Perhaps this allows them be a harsher critic of their own work. I fall into the trap of seeing scenes as I want them to be, not as they really are. It is only later after evaluating the negative that I realize I saw the scene through some mental filter and not as it was. Working with film has slowed me down, allowing me to take that pause to assess the scene before pressing the shutter release. I've also learned to listen to my heart more.
     
  3. momus

    momus Member

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    Yes, the work SHOULD be judged on content. It's about the image after all. I hear too many photographers moan how a print isn't tack sharp in the corners....big deal! It really isn't about that or focus or development. Those are just to help the image along, but a perfectly developed and in focus shot of two people's back of their heads on a smoke break is not worth much. Only the photographer can judge whether a shot works or not. The rest is just other people's opinions.
     
  4. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    While I agree that the photographer should be the final arbiter of what photos they show, I also believe that photography is at its root a mode of communication, if we intend to be relevant, our audience has to be considered.

    We need to know if our audience gets it or is even interested in looking.
     
  5. Maris

    Maris Member

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    It's also possible to mount a case that the physical structure of a photograph, not just the content, carries significant meaning. If the medium is discounted all the connotations that the medium bears about its relationship to subject matter are lost. And all the connections to the physical art process go too.

    These non-content signs; tone, surface, colour, processing marks, etc are readable by aware people who use them to enrich their viewing experience. In effect they enhance picture-looking by mentally retracing the creative and effortful journey of the original picture-maker.

    But yes, casual picture viewing by people without this deeper knowledge, or with different priorities, usually boils down to merely identifying content: a picture is just a picture is just a picture.
     
  6. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Appreciation does not require knowledge of production.
     
  7. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Others have had that thought too.

     
  8. semi-ambivalent

    semi-ambivalent Subscriber

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    Sounds like a man trying to escape his past, like Robert Frank (who disliked fame and once sent a friend a stack of prints with a nail driven through them) being forever chained to The Americans. A great photographer for sure, but Bresson sounds a little hollow: 'Thanks for the dollars Photography, bye!' Painting loves to piss on Photography. It's like that poor cousin who drops by unexpectedly, parking his rusty Plymouth Voyager next to the BMWs in your gated community.

    Process does matter, but if you judge your work against anything other than what your heart is after (even if it hasn't yet told you what that is) you'll be doomed to making images someone else is too lazy to make for themselves. Maybe that's what you want; each of us have to answer that.
     
  9. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    The number one thing for me is how much impact the content of the photograph has, not the craft. The arrival at a fine print is really only possible for me if the image rocks, I have no desire to print any image that falls short of this.
     
  10. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    How do you figure out if the image rocks?
     
  11. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    So... why is that a bad thing?

    I read an article a little while back that posited that being able to endure boredom was one of the biggest challenges we face in our work lives and that being able to endure boredom at work was becoming a key to career success. (Sorry don't remember where I saw it.)

    I know this has played out in my own life over and over. Once I have grown creatively/professionally/technically to a point where I've mastered each the various crafts/skills/task in my life/work (most being non-photographic) my interest in them tends to wane. I need creative challenge/growth to maintain my interest. I've given up on both failing and successful career paths to improve my life.

    Specifically related to HCB's choice to switch, I fully empathize with him. I have experimented a bit with painting and drawing and it has some very distinct creative advantages over photography, like contrast and exposure controls, there are simply no burnt highlights or blocked shadows unless I paint them that way. Being able to choose the color and brightness at will between canvass white and the black of the paint allows adjustment of the subject matter at will regardless of reality, the mood/feel of a piece can be changed from right to left at my whim, the laws of physics don't apply to the subject matter/ideas I might choose to paint, the list goes on but you get the idea.
     
  12. semi-ambivalent

    semi-ambivalent Subscriber

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    I just find it peculiar that someone would spend almost his entire creative period (we're talking decades here) in one discipline and then rather simply dismiss it as 'only a path' to the discipline he adopts 'late' in life; the one that really counts. I'm sure my opinion is colored by my not liking all that much of Bresson's photography, and I certainly don't care for the cult of personality that has grown up around him. I think he had a good streak of arrogance-of-fame in him. <shrug>. About painting per se, I think people should paint if they want to, if they want to. My remarks are directed towards the Castelli type of business arrogance being transferred to the media being represented. Like in the way the cognoscenti dismissed Grandma Moses. That's why I wrote 'Painting' rather than 'painting'. As an aside, I too have a tendency to become bored with that at which I've become good (by some measure). It's led to a rather checkered career; bad thing, if I measured myself by my career. Photography has given me lots of space before I could consider myself good. :smile:
     
  13. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I don't find it odd in the least, most of my career has been centered around mechanical things. It has paid the bills and provided moments of interest and I got good at each facet I tried but I am so flipping tired of things with engines that when I change careers again I don't even want to own a car or drive anymore. Engines, cars, machines, and the industries around them have never been my calling, just my day job.

    So I can easily see HCB being in a similar boat, he found a good way to make a living, rode that wave, and paid the bills for many years.

    I can also understand that once his retirement account was full, that he could and would move on to/back to something he enjoyed more. Actually the craft that he originally trained for before entering photography.
     
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  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi mark

    while i think that often times content matters, the way you got there matters too.
    photography is a very personal thing. subject matter is personal, photographers somehow
    get interested in certain aspects of life or "stuff" and document it. then ... they create
    a physical object to almost memorialize the thing they saw or did ...

    most people see a photograph of something, shrug their shoulders and say " nice photograph"
    or they say " i don't get it " or they don't say a thing .. it doesn't matter to them the
    effort it took to make the physical object, or the connection the photographer had to the subject.

    to some .. momus' photograph of the out of focus, vignetted cornered photograph of the back of peoples'
    heads on their lunch / or cigarette break might be just that, a bad-photograph, to the person taking it
    it might offer a glimpse into something else, maybe a dream s/he had, maybe it was the way the hair vanished
    no one will ever know unless the person is asked " what is this about " .. not "what is this"

    i have to admit, most of the time when someone sees
    some strange thing i have done, they just ask " what is it" ...
    it is the what is this about that means something ...
    a photographic image is about something different than what is in the "picture" ...

    not sure if this makes sense or not

    john
     
  16. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    John I don't disagree with you or your experience. I'm also not trying to bash craft or suggest it is unimportant.

    Part of what I am trying to bring out here is that as photographers we need to be square with ourselves about who the audience is. We can be our own audiences, or the photo can be made for different audiences like our family, our descendants, or a commercial market.

    The advantage that I find in shooting for audiences other than myself is that it challenges me more, it helps me learn and improve, I get the privilege of a judge other than myself, someone that can give me constructive feedback. This is a great test of one's craftsmanship, to be able to find out if we've got the chops to do a particular job is exhilarating. This does carry some social/psycological risk in that others might not like what I've done.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 29, 2013
  17. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    The craft serves the content.

    My work is all about trying to show something that I feel, think, or see. It's ideas and emotions. Maybe I try to describe what it feels like to stand by the ocean and inhale the atmosphere, feeling good. Or it could be about an idea of something that is important but people often forget about, little reminders.

    Everything, and I mean everything, that I do from taking a light metering to spotting and mounting the finished print, is subservient to that one final goal - to communicate my feeling, idea, or vision.

    The moment that it becomes about a certain technique, or an idea surrounding a photographic concept, like depth of field, a certain material, or a particular type of camera, I will try to remain objective and call it a day.
    Art is about expression, right? Expression comes from something that is within us and our experiences. To get that stuff out and on to paper would constitute an artistic endeavor the way I see it. Everything else can perhaps be an enjoyable thing to do, but not something that I would find worthwhile.

    Finally, in what we do, time matters. The older our photographs are, the more they become impossible to revisit. Things change, but we documented something at a specific point in time. Today I notice how portraits I made of people many years ago have a different meaning, and represent a time capsule. That dynamic I find very interesting, so to be able to treat each of those moments with enough respect to preserve them the very best we can, or to describe what we saw, perhaps to remind ourselves or others some day of what happened a long time ago. Here craft really matters, because we change too. When we create prints in our darkrooms, we swing from one year or decade to the next in how we want to present our work. Lately I've been printing very dark, and some day down the road I will revisit the prints I make today, and maybe look at them with fresh eyes.
    Our expression reflects who we are, and our craft that's embedded in our prints is a window to look through, to perhaps get something more than content from the experience. We owe it to our art work to improve our craft, to evolve, and to do our utmost to show what we wanted to show. That is why craft is important. Not materials, but how to use our tools.

    Those are my two cents.
     
  18. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    Why? I think this is a bit backwards. If it's a good photograph, the proper audience will come.

    I think the only time you should be "shooting for audiences other than" yourself is when doing commercial work. When you're being paid, you have an obligation to the client. In creating "art", your only obligation is to yourself. I'm also not sure how you'd gauge outside "judging". How are you quantifying the feedback? If 6 out of 10 like it, does it prove you have the chops? If 4 out of 10, you don't?
     
  19. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Nope, not the way the world works, won't come unless you put it in front of somebody. Good example of this concept is Vivian Maier, a huge body of work with lots of good stuff in it, nothing happened with it until somebody put it in front of the right audience.

    So, specifically, how will your "proper audience" find your good photos? Who exactly are those people? What do they want to see?

    If the audience is just you, you are the judge and jury, do what you darn well please, like Vivian Maier.

    If you are going to try and sell your work, you will sell more if you understand what your market wants.

    As to how I judge my feedback is more artistic than numeric. If 4 in 10 people liked a photo I did, that would indicate a truly huge market; for example 4 of 10 American's liking my work would mean a market/following of over 100 million people. Truly unrealistic to think I could get there.

    I do listen carefully to both positive and negative, I listen for clues as to the sincerity too. If its BS being thrown my way I want to know.
     
  20. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    I just assumed it would be hanging somewhere a lot of people would see it. A gallery, art festival, coffee shop, etc. By "proper audience", I mean the people who make a purchase.

    I sell a good bit of work, through galleries, and art festivals. In galleries, I get very little feedback (other than sales figures) because I'm not there, other than the opening. At festivals, I get a lot, both through sales figures, and comments. After about 20 years (and roughly 200 festivals), I've come to the conclusion that people pay 50% because they like the work, and 50% because they like you. If they love the work, but think you're a self-important jerk, they won't buy. What your market wants is passion and honesty. Audiences are more sophisticated than they're usually given credit. I know many, on the art fair circuit, who have been sure they've come up with a "can't-miss" product. They're wrong about 90% of the time.

    I agree. I've done numerous festivals with 50-100,000 attendees. I only need 10-20 of them to consider it a success.
     
  21. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Eddie the step of getting hung in a galley or restaurant and making a sale, while normal/assumed for you, would for most people be a huge leap outside of their normal world.
     
  22. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    I never take it for granted, Mark. :smile:
     
  23. rbultman

    rbultman Subscriber

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    Perfectly succinct.
     
  24. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Didn't really think you did. :wink:
     
  25. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Yep.
     
  26. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi mark

    i understand what you are saying, that often times the way we get better at what we do
    is by letting people see it and give their opinions of it, so we can digest and get better ...

    i guess what i was trying to suggest ( not very well :smile: ) was that sometimes
    things are not what they seem. and while people ( family ? general public? colleagues? flickatzi? )
    may like imagery may be for different reasons why the photographer made them.
    some may like the vivid colours, the cropping the fauvist tendencies a series of images present
    while the photographs may not have anything to do with the colors at all but a deeper meaning ..

    i couldn't agree with you more though, having photographs displayed in a public ( or private ) space
    is a privilege and hearing people's opinions good or bad is probably the best thing that can happen to anyone ...
    that is unless they don't want that ...

    i often wonder what vivian maier was like. she had a wonderful eye but there may have been a reason she never presented
    her photographs to be seen. maybe her work was too personal and what people are seeing as "street photography"
    was actually something completely different to her.

    john