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  1. #1

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    Apparent Confusion about Artistic Expression

    It has become really very apparent to me that there is a great deal of confusion about what artistic expression amounts to in the field of photography. There are some who would argue that technical matters are the priority. There are those who would argue that previsualization or visualization is primary. There are those who would argue that there is nothing that can't be accomplished by learning to print properly.

    I wonder when I listen to these arguments how these have anything to do with the act of creating something new. What are you saying with your images? What is new about your thoughts, feelings, and ideas that I may not have experienced before?

    Granted technical proficiency can help us to express but it seems to me that we must have something to express before we can express it technically. It seems to me that previsualization or visualization of how the tonal scale will render in a print has very little to do with taking photographs that express anything new.

    I observe lots of work that is copies of something that has been done before. That in my estimation is flattering to some but it has the smell of mediocrity all over it for me.

    So what must take place before all of the technical bull crap comes into play? It seems that we must be open to the potential of expression of something new or of something expressed in a new way. All of the trees, snowdrifts, clouds, rocks, and waterfalls in the world are not new. I see those things every minute of my life...show me something new!!!!

    Show me what life means to you in your images. Pose questioins to me...rather then trying and failing to tell old tales again and again ad nauseum. Tell me about the life that others experience. Tell me what you know that I may not...and I don't mean previsualizing how a tone will render on a print. I already know that quite well, thank you very much.

    Explain how symbolism is used in expressing a thought that may be unique to you, a consideration, a value you hold dearly, or of an untruth in life that you have discovered. Pose questions to me, tell me how you leave things untold and unsaid. I have a brain and I use it to decipher meaning and understanding from well conceived images. Poorly conceived, previsualized images leave me empty and bored.

    Have those technical gurus among you even thought of these things? If you have let's discuss them here and now. If you haven't, might it be time to open ourselves to the possibility that there is much to be gained and learned by not photographing "known objects" until hell freezes over.

    Tell me those things and I will listen to you for hours.
    Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.

    Visit my website at http://www.donaldmillerphotography.com

  2. #2
    Jeremy's Avatar
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    Thank you for saying what I have been mulling over the last month. I sit here with eyes, ears, and heart open.
    Let's see what I've got in the magic trash can for Mateo!

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  3. #3
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    Donald, I went to your personal gallery and saw things, or portions of things, pretty much photographed as such things are usually photographed. The Formative - Reactive - Evolved triptych was about the only evidence I saw that you're putting your photographs where your mouth is. In one comment you recently called the galleries a "desert of illustration"...have you being doing new work in a new way and not posting it?

    Murray
    _________________________________________
    Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.

  4. #4
    darr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donald Miller
    So what must take place before all of the technical bull crap comes into play?
    For me it is the art of seeing and looking, and about noticing. Noticing my surroundings and not taking them for granted. It could be interpreted as how I see the world around me and not just what I see. I have my own distinct and characteristic way of seeing and that is what I need to tap into. My difference of perception is the starting point. When my "seeing" has captured the right elements for others to "look" and "notice," it will have its own life. This is what I strive for before I trip the shutter, but rarely do I capture it. This is my life's passion and I will keep running after it until I can no longer see.
    darr almeda
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  5. #5
    df cardwell's Avatar
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    Donald, I'm trembling. You've nailed the question. You've put it differently than I could ever put it, and it hits home.

    Let's keep this up and running, and see where it goes.

    I've recently had the chance to make portraits of mrcallow and billschwab: I went out shooting with each of them to some location that seemed it might provoke some interest: shooting in the conditions they like to work. Besides being a good time, it was a shock.

    I got to see them hit in the gut by a scene. As they shot and shot, I stood back and was completely at a loss as to what they saw. I didn't see a darn thing. We were looking at the same things but I saw nothing. Felt nothing. But they were on fire.

    Then something resolved itself, a feeling, a resonance, a thrill, and I began to shoot: it was as if Bill or John were connected to their subjects, and I saw them clearly.

    Yes, I knew there were technical issues but they were no more a distraction than knowing the fiddle was in tune. The moment came, was there, and then it was over. Three, or four, frames. No need for contact prints, and no need to wonder what the picture was about. And no real way to explain them.

    I think we each have something that will rock us, something thrilling, that makes the fuel for a good picture. Something differnt for each of us. Discovering what it is that moves us, what it is that provokes us to making a picture, is the quest. When we discover WHY we make pictures the pictures that mean something, we've begun the process. All I can venture to say now is that it is probably quite different for all of us. Being willing to risk complete failure - I think - is probably the first step.

    Thanks, Donald
    "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
    and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"

    -Bertrand Russell

  6. #6
    blaze-on's Avatar
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    Dead horses should be buried
    Matt's Photo Site
    "I invent nothing, I rediscover". Auguste Rodin

  7. #7
    reellis67's Avatar
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    I think that this is an example of something that Jeremy brought up in a recent post that had to do with personal expresion. There are a lot of people out there who are imitating the work of others because they liked what they saw, or perhaps because they want to be associated with that persons work. Some of it is good, and some is poor. The pictures that move me most are pictures that strike some inner chord with me, and they may well be bland or boring to someone else. I've seen lots of prints of the 'Masters' that I didn't care for, and other prints from unknowns that moved me greatly enough to part with some hard earned cash. Conversly, I've seen the works of 'The Greats' that I can't afford but would certainly own if I could, and the work of unknowns that I didn't think anything positive of at all.

    Often the poor work is the work of people who are working on getting better, who need some feedback and evaluation in order to get better. My own work falls into this category. I'm an amateur by choice, and I'll never achieve greatness, but I still share what I do creat in order to improve my skills. I know what moves me and that's what I strive to capture in my photos. I almost always falls short in some way, but I still share it. I do not deny that I copy the work of others on occasion - it helps me to better understand my shortfalls in skill as well as in vision. You can tell me all day long that something is not 'good' or 'strong' or whatever, but until I internalize that by personal experience, I will doubt you on it. And who knows, perhaps to me, some of those common objects resonate to my inner song.

    I do understand what you are saying here, but the he bottom line as I see it is this: It is impossible to find something that moves everyone that views it - people just have too many different personal experiences to all see the same way. In order to have some deep appreciation for a print, we must be able to find some inner connection to it. I think that more often than not, the images that resonate with the most people are those that are made by people who are driven by their own vision rather than those who seek to immitate others, but even the most driven person will not move everyone.

    - Randy

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by reellis67
    I think that this is an example of something that Jeremy brought up in a recent post that had to do with personal expresion. There are a lot of people out there who are imitating the work of others because they liked what they saw, or perhaps because they want to be associated with that persons work. Some of it is good, and some is poor. The pictures that move me most are pictures that strike some inner chord with me, and they may well be bland or boring to someone else. I've seen lots of prints of the 'Masters' that I didn't care for, and other prints from unknowns that moved me greatly enough to part with some hard earned cash. Conversly, I've seen the works of 'The Greats' that I can't afford but would certainly own if I could, and the work of unknowns that I didn't think anything positive of at all.

    Often the poor work is the work of people who are working on getting better, who need some feedback and evaluation in order to get better. My own work falls into this category. I'm an amateur by choice, and I'll never achieve greatness, but I still share what I do creat in order to improve my skills. I know what moves me and that's what I strive to capture in my photos. I almost always falls short in some way, but I still share it. I do not deny that I copy the work of others on occasion - it helps me to better understand my shortfalls in skill as well as in vision. You can tell me all day long that something is not 'good' or 'strong' or whatever, but until I internalize that by personal experience, I will doubt you on it. And who knows, perhaps to me, some of those common objects resonate to my inner song.

    I do understand what you are saying here, but the he bottom line as I see it is this: It is impossible to find something that moves everyone that views it - people just have too many different personal experiences to all see the same way. In order to have some deep appreciation for a print, we must be able to find some inner connection to it. I think that more often than not, the images that resonate with the most people are those that are made by people who are driven by their own vision rather than those who seek to immitate others, but even the most driven person will not move everyone.

    - Randy
    Randy, Thank you for your post. The point that I wanted to make and perhaps I failed to convey it is that we photograph for ourselves...it is not for others. But why is it that we photograph? What is it that moves us as it does? What are our photographs telling us? What is incorporated symbolically in our images?

    I think that when we begin to seek answers to these questions that are unique to each and every one of us then we will begin to make images that are uniquelly ours.

    Creative expression, I strongly feel, is not about capturing what has been captured before...it is about capturing our own view of shapes, forms, patterns, textures and of symbolic meaning.

    We will never entertain or acknowledge symbolism in creative expression until we open ourselves to it. I have not heard a single photographer in over thirty years explain or address symbolism. Yet it is openly acknowledged in other fields of creative expression. Why is that? Do you wonder? I do...
    Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.

    Visit my website at http://www.donaldmillerphotography.com

  9. #9
    Ed Sukach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donald Miller
    ... All of the trees, snowdrifts, clouds, rocks, and waterfalls in the world are not new. I see those things every minute of my life...show me something new!!!!
    Show me what life means to you in your images. Pose questioins to me...rather then trying and failing to tell old tales again and again ad nauseum. Tell me about the life that others experience. Tell me what you know that I may not...and I don't mean previsualizing how a tone will render on a print. I already know that quite well, thank you very much.
    Donald, you make a great point. We tend to bog down struggling with the first barrier established by some of the greybeards ... "Are the grains on the print technically "acceptable ?"... and then the second: Is the composition "right ?" If, in the estimation of some, the work fails these tests ... there is no point of continuing. It is a "failure", no matter what emotional effect it may have on the viewer - in fact, the seems to be ... let me repeat, among SOME ... a crusade to protect photography from those who view all technical aspects as secondary, and regard the emotional content - the presentation of the "being" of the photographer as being of primary, and by far, the most important.

    Something from experience here ... "Interesting photograph (damning with faint praise) but you have BLOWN HIGHLIGHTS. That is a major and unforgivable sin ... so the image is worthless. Go back and learn how not to make an image with "blown highlights".
    All one has to do is to suggest that the technical imperfection be overlooked, and the avalanche will begin: "We can't do that .. It will be the end of "good" photography, as we know it, forever".

    If I choose to express myself - define my "being" in any way, (including the use of "blown highlights") I - and everyone else - should be ABSOLUTELY allowed ... ENCOURAGED to do so. That is called FREEDOM of artistic expression.

    One caveat here ... freedom is the key. I choose one way, MY way at any given time, for that expression. It may be through a nude figure study, or a photograph of an absolutely adorable kitten, or a sunset, or cows in a field ... whatever. If, however, I claim the absolute right to choose (and I do), I MUST also accept the fact that everyone else has that identical right, with an identical amount of freedom, and I cannot limit that content to "only something that has NOT been said or done before". As long as the photographer is being honest to her/himself - or rather TRYING to be honest (success is NOT mandatory) **I** declare it to be "Good Work!!!" - even sight unseen!
    What the hell, why not?? The way I see it I have as much authority as anyone else.

    Many moons ago. I wrote some poetry. My work underwent some (unexpected) severe criticism. The result? They damn near threw me out of the room, accused of plagarizing Ezra Pound. At the time, I had NEVER read anything by Ezra Pound! Not one word. I visited my local Library afterwards, and I will admit that there was some similarity... but in ALL honesty, my work was NOT copied from his. Nonetheless - it was all now trash!! in their eyes.

    We should all be admonished to work "from our hearts"... trying to express our "souls" the best we can. And we all must respect the others who are doing the same thing.
    Carpe erratum!!

    Ed Sukach, FFP.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by darr
    For me it is the art of seeing and looking, and about noticing. Noticing my surroundings and not taking them for granted. It could be interpreted as how I see the world around me and not just what I see. I have my own distinct and characteristic way of seeing and that is what I need to tap into. My difference of perception is the starting point. When my "seeing" has captured the right elements for others to "look" and "notice," it will have its own life. This is what I strive for before I trip the shutter, but rarely do I capture it. This is my life's passion and I will keep running after it until I can no longer see.
    Yes I think that you have identified an important aspect. But I strongly believe that there is something of far greater depth and gravity if we will open ourselves to the possibility that it exists.

    I would illustrate it this way. Each and everyone of us if called upon to view a series of Rosach ink blots would see something totally different. The ink blots are not "known objects" they are symbolic of something different that resides within each of our psyches. I believe that seeing and creative expression in photography is unique to each of us in much the same way that the ink blots are.

    So symbolism is an unspoken and foreign language to us as photographers. If I relied strictly upon my photographic education, I would have no exposure to symbolic reference. My limited knowledge arises from exposure in other disciplines and practices...but the knowledge transcends these disciplines and is more global in impact.

    What is the symbolic meaning? What are some common symbolic objects? How do they play into our creative expression? These are questions that we would all benefit from examining.

    Our photographs, I believe reveal not the world external, but rather the world internal to each and everyone of us.
    Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.

    Visit my website at http://www.donaldmillerphotography.com

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