Here's a quote I just read in David Vestal's column (Photo Techniques July 2004):
"A poorly-made picture that moves us is worth hundreds of empty masterpieces of technique. And when good photos are made well, that's even better."
In my own work, I go back and forth between large format and pinhole/toy camera work. Most people like the toy camera work better, except photographers...
"Can a prints technical brilliance overtake the subject matter?"
In my opinion, a print is a way of communicating, a way of showing. If the print is brilliantly printed, then the subject matter is better represented not overtaken. I could never be.
Think of all of Edward Weston's prints. All of them were masterfully printed, and by his excellence in printing he was able to bring a soul out of most of his prints regardless of subject matter. How can a pepper be so beautiful, it is just a pepper. No it is not the pepper, it is how it is seen. Printing is just a way to show what you have seen.
As with many aspects of photography, I think the potential of a print's technical brilliance overtaking the subject matter is all a matter of semantics. At one end of the definitional spectrum, one might say that "technical brilliance" prints the image exactly as it should be, thus conveying all of the photographer's intended message, interpretation and emotion. Or you might see an image that is well-executed from a technical sense, but the subject is totally mundane and devoid of meaning. The, of course, there are those images that are both poorly printed and poorly conceived - pure crap.
Somewhere in the middle, though, are subjects that require a particular treatment to "tell the story" and achieve full emotional impact. Choose the wrong film, the wrong lighting and styling, or the wrong processing, and the technique grabs the viewer's attention, rather than the intended subject.
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
I hate to get into semantics, but sometimes it is necessary to clarify.
I read the question as, "Can the adherence to a concept of "technical perfection" have an adverse effect on the way a photograph "works" (oh, Lord, don't expect any kind of attempt by me to explain why anything "works"); is that conformance invariably a "good thing"?
If that is the essence - Yes, the slavish conformance to any set of values, can be detrimental. Sometimes, the lack of a "perfect black" or "perfect white" works - see Joyce Tenneson's high-key work. Sometimes distortion is very useful. I have seen work from prints exposed to light in developing become acclaimed works of art (see Man Ray and "solarization").
Is solarization a "printing fault" or ..?
I have, in my portfolio, an image where I `screwed up' in printing - I inadvertently exposed the print for half the ColorStar indicated time ... resulting in a "high key color". In my estimation, it "works". I also have another "disaster"; I placed the enlarging paper on the easel upside down, backing side up. Realizing the error, I replaced it, right side up, and exposed it again. Enough light penetrated the backing to produce "cross-hatching" from the diagonals. It "works".
In all of those cases, to have done it "right" would not have resulted in an image that "worked".
I can think of two other examples, without getting into surrealism: Obviously the Master of "Sloppy", Jackson Pollock; and someone whose work would have lost *everything* with "proper" perspective, Grandma Moses.
What about spinning this off into two other, related questions: 1. What, in each our estimations, makes a photograph "work"?; and, 2. What out-of-convention characteristics do we consider as fair game to use in the process of making our art?
I personally do not assume that a "strange" (read: out-of-the-ordinary) print is always the result of "sloppy - inadequate care" in printing", or lack of technical expertise on the part of the printer. It may not only have been deliberate, it may be the result of extensive experimentation and countless hours of attempts to "get that specific effect" - or it may be a "fortunate accident". Who was it that said, "Thirty percent of the world's great photographs are "fortunate accidents"?
I seem to remember him as a pretty darn good printer ...
Ed Sukach, FFP.
"Can a print's technical brilliance overtake the subject matter?"
What is technical brilliance anyway? Do too many people confuse good contrast with technical brilliance?
No, If you believe the print is the subject (not the peeling paint on the wall), as Aaron Siskind did. Others believe content is king, and the idea of the picture is more important than the actual "thing". The "thing" is simply a work on paper.
BUT, it really depends on your view concerning the use the camera.
For some, the beautiful quality of the print is a crucial element to the overall vision. It is what turns a picture of a field or a pepper into a rhythmic, moving experience.
Tom Stanworth, what pictures of Michael's and Paula's have you really seen? Are you referring to the ones on their website that are in the Tuscany books? You may find their work boring from an illustrative perspective (mainly because their photographs are not intended to be illustrations of a thing or place). Do not confuse illustrative with "photographic perspective". The dullness you feel might be due to your own asepsis.
As for their technical brilliance, what is that? Are you confusing technical brilliance with aesthetic brilliance? I was thinking earlier (as I was watching Paula print) that people perceive their prints as perfect not because they only have wonderful tones, but because all the tones relate and interact with one another. The beauty of the tones is only inhanced by their using Azo.
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This is an interesting statement Richard. Could you expand upon it a little?
Originally Posted by Richard Boutwell
Richard, you are taking it out on Tom for expressing an opinion that is very common with many people. Arguably if one sees a photograph in a web site that takes away all the technical brilliance all that is left is content. Many beleive that once you strip away their printing technical expertise you are left with little content.
Having said that, and after discussing this with Michael many times I have come to the conlusion that it is a matter of style. I prefer photographs where the photgrapher has destilled all superfluos elements and all that it is left is the main subject that attracts my attention. In contrast Michael likes photographs that cause or force the viewer's eyes to roam over the picture. Who is to say what is right or wrong? but from a personal perspective I find Michael's pictures too busy and in a sense "disorganized". IMO There is no clear reason as to why the picture was taken.
I dont want to make this thread about Michael, and that is the reason I did not mention him in my response, but after I read Sean's question, he was the one who immediately came to my mind as an example of a photgrapher who in my opinion uses printing skills to elevate what I feel are ordinary photographs.
The illustrative is concerned with making a likeness (accurate rendering) of some thing (usualy an idea) or place. There is little imporance outside the context of the thing illustrated.
"Photographic seeing" has to do with visual elements coming together spacialy in one instant, making a unified picture. They are similar concerns most painters and printmakers have in the making of their work. On the most simple level it is arranging elements in a determined space.
If Michael and Paula's work from Tuscany (and everywhere else) is about anything, it is about space. I, as do others, find that very exciting.
Just a few brief thoughts:
A "good" picture is one that fulfills its intended purpose.
Every picture needs a given level of technique to communicate its content. The technique in question needs to be adequate (not necessarily brilliant or perfect).
Technical perfection in terms of sharpness and tonality may well be an essential means of communicating a certain type of content.
Technical perfection without an artistic intent may be impressive in terms of craft-skills bravura but will in all cases be ultimately emotionally sterile.
Originally Posted by Jorge
No, I am not taking it out on Tom. I was only addressing him and his comment.
I do not want to make this about Michael either, and I only responded.
If it is a widely held opinion here that Michael Smith is purely a craftsman then I think that too many people do not understand the abstract nature of the work.
"leci n'est pas une pipe"---"this is not a pipe"