Always admired her work, have all her books that I could find. I love the Falkland Road book, how she got access is amazing. Took time , guess she got spit on, but she fought her way through and made a book that did honor to those people.
Originally Posted by Jose A Martinez
Her circus book is also truly amazing. Your lucky to have met her and have her as a mentor Jose.
Here is another thought. Instead of studying other's styles, go out and invent your own. I'm not sure if this has been said before, and I'm not sure I'm saying it right either, but it seems to me that before there was an "XXX" style, they had to create it and are now known for it. (For XXX substitute any name.)
In any event, studying others is admirable, but you then may end up with too much of that person's style in yours, and not enough originality.
Do your own thing, is the bottom line and if you are good, you will someday have a style others wish they had come up with.
I basically agree with you, but I would like to say that studying the work of other photographers is not admirable, is part of the process, it's indispensable to develope your own style. As Roland Barthes would said, you have to find the Degree Zero of photography to invent your own.
Originally Posted by Photo Engineer
Thanks for pointing out the glaring omission of that important aspect in my post. Of course you have to study art and great painters to be a great painter yourself. I do hope that the intent of my post is relevant and now made clear by your correction.
One of the characteristics of documentary photography,
and the one that bedevils most of its practitioners, is the neutralisation of self
necessary to make an image that can be discovered by the viewer,
and not merely an editorial or propaganda piece. Documentary images tend also to rely on a body of work; single images hold less importance than in photojournalism. Documentary images are required to be reliable witnesses. The hand of the photographer - and editor - has to be discernible, yet not tainting the veracity of the image. Most documentary projects throw out hundreds of images that have a tint of editorial coloring, or an overtone of journalism.
I'd suggest that W. Eugene Smith was many things but never, ever, a documentary photographer. He was a photojournalist, with a strong and easily identified point of view. He staged images, and elaborately constructed his prints. While he entered a project determined to discover the truth of the story, he went hell-for-leather once he was satisfied he knew what WAS the truth, objectivity be damned. Fair and balanced ? Never, for he lived and died with the motto, "Let Truth Be The Prejudice."
He was a tormented genius, and a photographic saint, but never objective, never a disinterested observer.
A documentarian seeks the truth, but of necessity constructs a forensic argument. It will be up to the viewer to see the pictures, and judge for themselves. Atget, certainly was a documentary photographer. Nick Nixon, Bill Burke. I'd put Mary Ellen Mark in the photojournalism column, and Salgado as well. Walker Evans managed to let the pictures speak for themselves.
Salgado illustrates one of the difficulties with documentary photography, that you may begin as a documentarian but over time become more concerned with telling the story yourself than letting the viewer construct the story for themselves from the pieces you've given them.
August Sander ? I'd agree he was illustrating types, and not therefore a documentarian. Mike Disfarmer, however, was a documentary photographer. All the more so because of his apparent lack of interest in the subjects.
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I think that is bass-ackwards, from the way it has been explained to me by those in the journalism industry.
A journalist strives to be as objective as possible, and simply tell and/or illustrate a story. They are also shooting directly for others 99% of the time. They cannot be objective, but they are to try their darnedest to get as close to it as they can. The journalist tries to make any feeling of him or herself disappear. Eye contact with the camera, in *most* cases, is a flag that the shot is unusable. Also, "coverage" is a necessity any time you are shooting for someone else. Left, right, vertical, and horizontal of every shot are required if possible, in order to give editors options. There is a lot less free will for the photographer. The imparting of *information* to the viewer has everything to do with journalism, and the photographer's experience has nothing to do with it. This is deadline news photography.
A documentary photographer, on the other hand, is often largely self assigned, shooting on speculation (or just for oneself), has a particular interest in the subject matter, is given much more artistic leeway, and is expected and allowed to be subjective and take a more personal approach. In fact, it is perhaps required to have a strong interest, point of view and a large degree of personal involvement for documentary projects to even exist. "Propaganda" is part of the game in a way. Documentary photography is far from objective. It is not even striving to be objective, like journalism is. The camera and the photographer are often sensed quite heavily in the shots. Eye contact is common. Coverage is only as necessary as the photographer feels it is. The role of the viewer as an information sponge is not as important, but the emotional reaction is. Due to the personal nature of these projects, the experience of the shooter him or herself is often an integral part of documentary work. This is news analysis, opinion, features, etc., usually not for a daily.
At least that is the traditional difference between the two, as explained by those in these fields to whom I have personally spoken. Jim Caccavo (documentarian forced to shoot journalism to survive), Nicky Ut (journalist), Bill Frakes (journalist turned documentarian), Guin Smith (journalist, documentarian, but mostly editor for all sorts of work), etc.
Of course, the same photographers usually shoot in both styles. The people who are truly interested in documentary photography begrudgingly have to shoot journalism for an editor in order to support themselves, as there are $0 in the field of documentary work, and those who shoot journalism are often tasked with creating something with a more "documentary feel".
As for Sander, I believe the typological nature of his work combined with his personal interest is exactly what makes it very documentary. He was not tasked with creating an objective and comprehensive picture of German society for informational purposes. He personally felt that it was interesting, important and historical, and did his best to create his view of it.
Last edited by 2F/2F; 08-26-2008 at 08:09 PM. Click to view previous post history.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
Just a couple of points. At issue here is a very basic philosophical problem. What IS perception, and can we be objective at all? In practice, it proves the pudding, or doesn't. I agree in many ways with what both DFC and 2F say, but are we being a bit theoretical? Maybe? I think there are many issues that define the problem and these issues are specific to the person, the publication, the type of story or project, and many, many other factors.
Journalism. If you are a journalist, you need to publish in order to receive that check. I spent years counting my credits and adding them up. There was a number, a variable number of images appearing in each months issue, and the product, plus my processing, proofs, prints, less the costs, yielded my take. Let's be real and admit that this number was extremely important to me, month after month. Let's see, day rates previously billed, printed images over and above prior billings at $x, current day rates.... I would go through the magazine, one, two, three, four.... I could add it up with unbelievable precision. Of course, also, there was reimbursement from the expense account. That was really great -- IF I could afford to take advantage of it, because essentially, it amounted to lending the company money to keep me travelling, entertained, and well fed. If I didn't have it, no expensive bottles of wine, just cold sandwiches...
Anyway, from the point of discussion, which is NOT theoretical but actual, it is impossible for a journalist to be objective for a variety of reasons, but fundamentally it devolves to the dollar. If you are going to sell a picture or a story containing more pictures than one, each has to have an "angle" that conforms to an intersection of the publication's policies with the expectations of the readership and with what you can do. This is pretty subtle, and involves both knowledge and a sort of 6th sense. Hard news? What's that? Hard news is what the publication defines hard news to be. I mean, don't expect to sell foreign affairs to National Enquirer. If you get what I mean.
So there is always a point of view. The successful journalist knows how to work honestly within a matrix of apparent contradictions. In order to do this, the publication with its rules (both spoken and unspoken), its readership (how much income, how many children -2.3? or 3.2? - how many cars, age, etc.), its circulation (200 or 2 million?) and its peculiar editorial makeup in persons as well as policies... all of this must form the background upon which honest and maybe even heartfelt work must be constructed.
I've never been attracted to doing documentary work, particularly, but I have friends who have done a great deal of it and it is work I respect greatly. I'm too much interested in enlarging experience into ever expanding energy states. You know, putting ecclesiastical garb on monkey skeletons. Or dinosaurs. Now, is that even close to documentary? No. It is somewhere in the opposite hemisphere. Documentary is a broad region. In relation to writing, documentary might be considered "non fiction". One of my documentarian friends defines it precisely as that. So, if you look at writing, is John McPhee objective, does he have a point of view, a bias? How about Barbara Erenreich? Both are very interesting researchers, but it could be argued that their work is biased even though I think they are right on for the most part. The CEO of a large energy corporation might not agree. I suppose in one sense, the journalist has to fit the act into a form that will live ok in the client's bias, the documentarian has to sell his/her own bias, and if one needs to make a living then it has to be something presentable and marketable. Would it were not so. One of my buddies got nominated for a Oscar for his documentary work in film, and now is doing interactive advertising - very far out stuff. Is there a contradiction? I think he's big enough for both to live in him, but it seems pretty interesting to me just how these things can live compatibly in the same person. I have to admit some discomfort, but if I think about it, why not? Just know what you are doing.
The question of objectivity is a very tricky one because in order to establish an objectivity, we have to stand somewhere in relation to the context that includes us. We may think we are objective, but if we move out even a small step and include a bit more (like the next layer of the onion) our so called objectivity dissolves. Within our own sphere, we may have a certain claim on objectivity, but when our sphere is transcended, we lose it altogether.
Regarding Gene Smith as an example (I have the most profound reverence for him) was he objective? I really don't think so. He had an agenda, and his agenda, for myself, was precisely on track (his OPINIONS agree with my own), but (some or many) others might not agree (his OPINIONS don't agree with theirs). His amazing skill was not just to make pix that conveyed what he felt needed to be printed, but he had the ability to sell it. Had he not been able to do so, he couldn't have continued to do it. He'd have had to take on a real job. The key to his work is that word "feeling". His work is full of that. Fortunately, he had the number of someone at LIFE he could call up and get a listen.
Last edited by bowzart; 08-27-2008 at 01:38 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I'll propose another point of view. Style is irrelevant. Work honestly. Then style is no issue. Style is just that. Style. They do it on hair. Forget it.
Originally Posted by Jose A Martinez
I heard an interview with Phillip Glass. He said that he keeps trying to write music that doesn't sound like Phillip Glass, and always, to some consternation, fails. He can't do it.
Picasso claimed to be an artist without a style. I admire that. The style thing, from my way of thinking, is a horrible trap. Just work; it takes care of itself. Style is limiting you already. Why would you want to build walls around your potential? Why not WORK AGAINST it?
That is my two bits worth. You may not agree with it, but I suspect you haven't heard it before, so maybe it will jog something.
Working against any style is the same wall building as inventing your own. I rather go the Picasso's way, I don't give a damn about style.
Originally Posted by bowzart
When I read this, I realized that I have a bit of confusion about what you mean in this, vs. your previous post.
Originally Posted by Jose A Martinez
Essentially, what I'm meaning is that we each already have a "style", like it or not. Trying to "develop" a style becomes an artificial and self defeating exercise that destroys even the possibility of invention. When I say "work against it" what I'm suggesting is that in contradicting habitual ways of seeing which have become instilled in us through unconscious exposure, mostly, we can learn our limits; know ourselves better. We can't be free of our fetters if we're unaware of them. Being "free" does not mean we have no limits; much to the contrary. It means that we understand what those limits are and make them work for us. My take on this nearly universally accepted idea that to "develop a style" is an important and a good thing is that it is one of the more misguided and destructive mental straightjackets in which an artist, working in any medium, can be caught.
There's a lot more to this than we can deal with adequately within this topic, and I really don't want to redirect the thread away from the documentary. Just to bring it back a bit, though, I want to add that when "style" asserts itself in the work, the documentary is mostly gone, right out the window.
Here's a question. Avedon's portraits are unmistakable. Is this "style", or is it that working honestly, that is just what Avedon did? I suggest that the latter is more likely. I think we mistake what is a natural consequence of work without any stylistic intention with what we call "style". That is what I mean when I say that it will take care of itself.