I dont know that it is a widely held opinion here, I am only stating what I have been told by many people here and in other forums.
Originally Posted by Richard Boutwell
OTOH, I dont buy this notion that we dont "get it" or that we dont understand the work....perhaps we understand all too well.
Jorge is on my wavelength. I knew that my post might cause a reaction. I posted not because I desired to upset anyone but because I did not wish to shy away from my own opinion for fear of others who I suspected would wish to discredit it. I will not respond to the suggestion that my opinion of certain work is 'my problem' as the thread may disappear into pastures unknown. Actually it is totally irrelevant whether it is a deficiency on the part of the photographer or view (or neither) because it does not change the perception that an individual viewer has about the 'creative capture' compared to the printing for a given image. I also agreee with Jorge on the issue of images and websites. A website will give a very good idea of the 'construction' of an image from the point of view of subject matter, composition, space, relationships etc. It will not show how good a print it is. I am 100% happy that if one finds the web image boring in the extreme on the issues mentioned above then no measure of fine printing can sew perceived non-content together to perfection! All of us have produed prints which really sing from subject matter (or bad composition etc) which we find 'misses'. It never to me comes close to an stunning image printed reasonably. Yes I too like the technically great prints of mine (rare) and keep them around and may love them as part of my individual photographic journey, perhaps representing a quantum leap in printing. Personally I tend to keep them to myself and long for the day I can bring the same emotion from a more interesting image.....or I go back to old negs which I was too inexperienced to print well enough. Conversely, it is when viewing the prints where the image is special, but I have made a gross error somewhere technically (thankfully getting less common) that I get a big rush. I'm sure like me, many have mentally superimposed the intended tones onto the bones of a bad print from a bad neg and had a rush of excitement because the subject matter was selected and dealt with well.......'next time I'll nail it'.....
I have seen numerous photographers work in the flesh and on websites. Most of us are plenty experienced enough to know what a website gives and denies us. I have yet to see a print that I thought dull on a website that has became wonderful just because it 'glows' in the flesh. Glowing nothingness. I have seen plenty of 'very nice' images on websites that become masterpieces because they are printed to that same standard and the togetherness is brought home further. There has to be something to be sewn together.....
Sean, From my viewpoint any print must receive maximum technical care to allow the viewer a free entry into the artist's space. Technical brilliance cannot replace content but content can easily be degraded by poor attention to detail.
Originally Posted by Sean
To me maximum technical detail doesn't mean razor sharp from foreground to back ground all the time. It often can mean a print that is intentionally out of focus but correctly exposed and printed to the point that the drama of the image isn't compromised by shoddy workmanship.
The technical brilliance of an image should support the content and not lure the viewer away from the moment.
I think a true artist has to be able to master the media used both emotionally and technically.
Originally Posted by Richard Boutwell
And that can generate very opposite reactions in viewers. For instance, I bought both M&P's books on Tuscany and bought one of Paula's prints from the series. I (obviously) like the work but I showed the print and books to a "photography-savvy" friend who said in a semi-discussed response to the work: "They went all the way to Tuscany to take pictures of that". By "that" she was referring to their choice of subject matter in general. This person was left completely unmoved by the work. The "technical" richness of the work had no impact whatever in this case.
And neither should it. Only photographers care about the presence, or absence, of technique. It is up to the photographer to impart as much, or as little, technical prowess as deemed fit to his or her vision. The final print should be accepted, or rejected, solely on the emotional electricity generated by it.
The first workshop I ever took was with David Vestal. I had been doing photography for a number of years, and was very proud of my technical accomplishments. (Naturally - I am an engineer!). After looking at my portfolio for a while, David's comment was "technically perfect, pictorially empty")
Talk about ego-busting! I felt like I had a bulls eye painted on my T-shirt, and David had hit it dead center.
It's altogether too easy to make technically exacting prints that demonstrate the range of tonalities that can be achieved in a traditional silver image. It's like music - there are a number of piano pieces that are called "etudes" - studies. Pieces that are intended to give the pianist exercise in critical technical skills but that are not necessarily outstanding music on their own. Pianists should play them over and over - as part of their practice, but rarely if ever part of performance.
This may sound heretical - but a lot of Ansel Adams' work falls into this category, at least in my opinion. Technically breathtaking, but the subject ultimately leaves the viewer cold.
On the other hand, a print that indicates that the photographer had an emotional connection with the subject, and helps the viewer establish a similar (although probably fundamentally different) connection, will be a very good print even though it may not be technically perfect.
That said, there is no excuse for intentional sloppiness, and I don't know of anyone whose basic self respect would allow them to show as final work, pieces that they knowingly could make better. Note the phrase "that they could make better" - the work should be the best that the photographer himself can do, not necessarily the best that anyone could do with the subject. Also, the technical skills of a photographer should increase over time, so the best print that I make today from a given negative may be quite different from the best print that I made 10 years ago.
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As an example of technical and subjective brilliance, I think about Weston's "Pepper" series. His Pepper #30 is certainly a technical achievement, but was it "well seen" also? I would have to say it was. Although some critics will be able to write reams of technical, social, visual and metaphorical tripe about it, they cannot change its impact. This is what they are paid to do, talk and write words, not produce a thing of lasting beauty and value. Obviously, they have never tried to take a picture of a pepper, or perhaps they did and in their prints, it looked like $hit instead of a pepper.
What I find most pleasing about his work is a sense of completion, no secrets, no frills, no hidden meanings, the essential distilled into the print. To me this is a good print. Would it be as good without a technical mastery? Would it be as good without a sense of vision? It could not possibly be without both. How many prints which you have seen really move you or force you to see an object differently than you normally would?
As to photographs revealing a sense of "space".... I'd like to see a picture of the area between Teddy Kennedy's ears. The technical abilities of someone who could faithfully render this rhetorical vacuum would be truly awesome. tim
This is an interesting thread. When I first read Sean's question, Ansel Adams came to mind. I agree with Monophoto, here. I find his prints quite beautiful technically, but they seem to somehow lack expression, and always leave me, as you say, a little cold. I won't brush him off too quickly, as I think he made an enormous contribution to photography, but I'll spend much more time immersed in a Weston pepper anyday!
Of course, a poorly executed print will suck the life out of even the most emotionally inspired image.
At the end of the day, I think what we are all trying to create are expressive prints that connect with viewers. How we get there is of little importance to them. However, if the only thing that the viewer perceives is our technique, brilliant or poor, then we havenít done our jobs at all well. I think we also need to be somewhat cautious in ascribing blame to technique when viewers donít connect with our images.
It has been my experience that having excellent technical skills, the craft part of making photographs, is better simply because it makes life easier. Technique becomes second nature, and you end up being able to concentrate on the expressive rather than the technical.
So to answer your question Sean, no I donít think technical brilliance can detract from an image, if it is well seen. But technical brilliance wonít enhance a poorly seen one either.
From the perspective of the photographer (not the viewer) it is annoying as hell to shoot a wonderful composition and screw up the exposure/dev or otherwise create a neg that is unprintable.
Sometimes it is a great joy to nail a a tough exposure create a wonderful print even if the subject or composition is wanting.
And, of course to get both, a great neg and composition is truly wonderful.
I have a shot (Brighton pier) that I love, is horribly under exposed, requires far too much effort to get a 'good' print (the best prints from this neg are not so great-- technically) and yet the 'fragile' nature of the print, in my mind, enhances the final image. In other words, what is technically good, may not be needed or even be a hindrance to the final image.
Many of the items I shoot are, common, everyday even boring. I shoot these subjects in a way that tends to glorify them (crossprocessed, close up with a wide lens) and then print them big on high gloss paper which tends to further elevate the subject.
So what I often strive toward is to take a boring (low content value) item and use technical 'tricks' to raise the visual value. Kind of like using big words and a loud voice to say nothing at all -- yet I like my work and the direction it is going.
As a photographer I might find it hard at times to get by technical issues when viewing others work or I might look at what is a good image and only see how I would do it different. I have also looked at others work noticed the perfection of the print and then found it hard not to label the artist a technician. In other words I am often too burdened with myself to objectively view others work.
It is clear that taste plays a huge roll in the process. I for one have never been left cold by an Ansel Adams print. In the flesh they are, in my mind absolutely wonderful on all shores, but that is totally my opinion I have the same feelings for Ed weston's photographs. I can appreciate MAS' s technical ability but I find his photos utterly lacking in anything else. To bring it closer to home, and I do miss seeing his photographs, Francesco is a technical wizard but his photographs move nothing in me. Technically amazing images. I would easily place his printing ability much higher than MAS's, yet neither moves me emotionally. SO yes I can appreciate them for their technical beauty, in francesco's case I can admire the hell out of his work, but would never own one as they do not mve me one bit.
Can a print's technical brilliance over take it's subject? Obviously it can if the subject matter is not to ones likeing. On the other hand a print's brilliant subject matter can and will be overshadowed by technical ineptitude.
To accuse a person of "not getting it" when they do not like the work of your favorite artist is about as silly as getting mad when someone does not appreciate the shoes you are wearing. It is a waste of time.
Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI
So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004