In response to your question about jazz, in PLAYING jazz (and I suppose this is different than listening to it) a lot of the challenge/pleasure/excitement comes from the interaction of the musicians. Thus, playing a standard gives a structure (key, changes, basic melody) to the ensemble for the soloist to improvise over. An entirely new song could do the same thing, but all of the musicians would have to learn it before they can play it. The ensemble improvisition is the act of creation, so yes, improvisation is that important.
It all comes down to creating art within a structure, and photography is the same way. (I don't believe one can create art without first devising some kind of structure to work within.) I think Adams was trying to create, or maybe visualize, such a structure when he devised the zone system. It's a systematic way of thinking about the structure of photography - film speed, light, development - in his words, writing the score.
I see a lot of similarity between jazz musicians interacting with one another and a photographer interacting with light.
Having seen a little of your work and read your posts, I see a very creative person reaching out for support and ideas. There is no doubt, in my mind, that you will succeed. This is a great group for aid and support.
It is very important to study the work of others even though it may be offensive and objectionable - to you. The works of past masters have had a very positive effect on my own perception and results, not because I try to copy style of technique, but to act as a goal of excellence. Try Ed Weston for example. There are a few living here at APUG who have given me as much if not more inspiration. At age 68, I am still learning and experimenting in the "art" of photography.
Rules are good! They allow one to examine one's "failures" in an analytical way in order to learn and improve. However, to really create, one must not be afraid to break them. If it satisfies you, what else matters?
Truly, dr bob.
Aurore, this has been an interesting discussion.
When one is stating ones opinion, it gives them the opportunity to think them out and question them. This thread is one that did that for me. When I mentioned that I believed that you should copy the people you admire and eventually adapt a "style" of your own, it got me thinking that there was a good reason for me to do this but not necessarily for everyone else.
I started taking pictures when I was 23 and opened a portrait studio when I was 25. I had to learn very quickly and copy to be able to eat or at least to stay in business. For me a "style" really didn't emerge until 25 years later. I, like 95% of portrait photographers, was doing the exact same work as most successful portrait people were doing in every city in North America and probably the Western World. We attend the same seminars, conventions, and read the same trade magazines. We were interchangeable. The Stepford Photographers. Once I decided to work alone, out of my home, with virtually no overhead, I could relax and let my "style" emerge.
Those who don't do this for a living, don't usually have to fall into this trap.
About the Jazz, and the guys getting together to improvise it reminded of a story that Ram Dass told in one of his books.
I'm paraphrasing: He said that every Saturday he would go and visit his father and they would get out the checkerboard and play for an hour of so. Somehow it was revealed by one of them that they really didn't like checkers, the other one said that they didn't like it either. They just played because they thought the other one did. He later reasoned that the checkers was the catalyst, the way for them to get together to "make love" to each other.
Perhaps the jazz is the same thing. Just a way to get together, only they do really like the music, but it is the getting together, the improvisation together, that is the magnet and not necessarily the songs being played.
I feel the same way about playing hockey.
Michael M -
"I started taking pictures when I was 23 and opened a portrait studio when I was 25. I had to learn very quickly and copy to be able to eat or at least to stay in business. For me a "style" really didn't emerge until 25 years later. I, like 95% of portrait photographers, was doing the exact same work as most successful portrait people were doing in every city in North America and probably the Western World. We attend the same seminars, conventions, and read the same trade magazines. We were interchangeable. The Stepford Photographers. Once I decided to work alone, out of my home, with virtually no overhead, I could relax and let my "style" emerge."
You know, that got me thinking too. While I'm happy with the path I've followed thus far, I sometimes realize the difficulties one can encounter by doing the opposite of what you've done. You see, after having explored photography on my own, and deciding that my goals are purely artistic, and realizing the ideas that I want to express artistically (though, yes, I'm sure these ideas will inevitably evolve), I would now find it virtually impossible to work with photography in any commercial sense. I was offered work as a commercial photographer, shooting portraits, architecture, etc. And I considered, and even went to speak with the man interested in hiring me. But one look around the reception area, and the photographs hanging on the walls, and I realized I'd be utterly miserable working there! Now that I've formed these ideals, I couldn't possibly work against them. So, I would love to be involved in photography as a 'career' (ie making money), but my only option would likely be professional darkroom work. I couldn't photograph what other people told me or expected me to. I just couldn't do it. And art rarely becomes a 'career' for anybody. I do have a family to feed. I'll be lucky if I ever get a gallery show in all of my life, and even more so if I actually sell anything! So, I'll continue working a menial job (in my case, usually office/clerical work) and exploring my art on the side. Still can be depressing if I let it get to me, but I try to avoid that. lol.
But as far as traps go, there are plenty to fall into, apparently.
Good point on the jazz. I think you're quite correct. Again, I can see this in my husband. He might be called to a local studio by somebody who has heard him play to record on a hip-hop tune, or reggae/ska... once they even wanted him for techno. I'm always surprised at his enthusiasm. 'Don't you hate that sort of stuff?' I say. But he's unperturbed. And I'm sure you've hit the nail on the head. Whether or not he's working in the genre he prefers, he's still working, creating music, 'getting together' with other musicians. I suppose if I was invited to a painting party, I'd be thrilled to go, even if I can't paint. I could just fling paint randomly at the canvas. Oh, wait, that's been done already, hasn't it?
Dr. Bob -
Thanks for the support and encouragement. It's appreciated. Whether or not I will succeed... I suppose that depends on the definition. Become recognized at least nationally as an artist? Well... my chances are probably slight. But if I create work that pleases me, and am at least able to share it with a small number of people who appreciate and understand it, then I may still have succeeded when all is said and done. But I won't know for quite awhile now, I think.
If you mean offensive and objectionable as in great art that nonetheless is controversial and eye-opening, possibly upsetting, well, that is unlikely to offend me. But I admit to being offended and generally appalled when I see some of the work people are passing off as 'art' these days. And more so when the critics start gushing over some of this crap. But, hey, it'll always be that way, won't it? Best I can do is try to avoid practicing such disgusting deception, or perhaps it's simply ignorance and stupidity. Gosh, don't get me started! *taking deep breath*
Regarding 'the work of the masters', I'm still not convinced. I just don't feel the need to study study study. I observe what is around me and ponder everything, and for me I feel it is enough. I don't know how best to describe my philosophy, really. I've become familiar with rules over the years simply by perusing user sites like this one, reading articles I come across, and occasional technical photography texts, observing the work of others, generally average people posting to websites such as this, sometimes people who are long established (Jan Saudek, again, one of my favorites), and I have learned bits and pieces here and there of the work of 'the masters' and their techniques. But I'm still just doing what I do as it comes to me. Of course the desire to work with traditional photography was inspired in me by other people and other photography. Of course the desire to take it further with pinholes, plastic cameras, medium format, alternative processes, etc, was inspired in me by other people and other art. But I didn't go searching for it. It found me of it's own accord and I feel things will continue to work in that way.
If I do ever find the time and money and opportunity to attend art school (I'd love to go to the Art Institute of Boston one day), I realize that studying the history of photography will be important and required. But I plan to take it all with a grain of salt. I refuse to let people influence me so strongly that I should feel inclined to do what they've done or what they tell me I should do. Some have even suggested that attending an art school would be a very bad idea for me. Professors who only want to see work that they deem is 'art', students who critique based on their own preconcieved notions, those inevitable people who refuse to believe that not everything deemed by the big critics as great isn't neccessarily so, etc, etc. But I believe I can persevere. My desire is to search and find those people whose minds are open, to gain access to opportunities, equipment, techniques that would be otherwise near impossible for me to find on my own, to be part of a community, even if I don't agree with everybody. In life, it is so.
I am satisfying myself, as much so as I possibly can, and you're right, it is all that matters.
Jeremy said; "I agree that it is always much more fun to photograph when there is not a pre-conceived notion of what to photograph. If there is, then I feel some undisclosed pressure to make that picture work and this weighs down the whole experience."
This is very much a part of the core of my ideals. I battle with it, and try to fight it off. Trying to keep my mind open and clear...
Ole said; "I find that photos I have taken when consciously thinking of composition are invariably dull. But every once in a while I'm surprised to find elements of classic composition in pictures I have taken just because I liked what I saw. And those are the pictures worth taking!"
Again, exactly. I just responded to a pm from somebody else on the site regarding this. He said "By shooting exactally what you need with the final product in mind printing is fast and easy", and I responded to it;
"My approach is definitely different than yours. I tend to be less 'conscious' of what I'm recording when I press the shutter. I find that when I try to create a scene deliberately and then shoot it, it always seems stiff and contrived. For me it always works out best when I just shoot what I 'feel' and then do the most creative work afterward, exploring alternative techniques to create from my 'fleeting moments captured on film' a final work that expresses something moving or thoughtful. I guess mine is a path of discovery after pressing the shutter, whereas you've followed your path long before pressing the shutter. I admire your ability to do so; I am entirely incapable of it. But I imagine it's rewarding and fun either way."
"The whole point is to see what's outside your own head, instead of the inside like most people do."
I realize that I cannot entirely disassociate my own personal experiences from the work I create, but I try, in order to make art that can be universally understood and appreciated. I agree with this statement completely.
Your defense of my position is much appreciated. You're absolutely correct in your translation of my original post. As I think I probably made clear when I mentioned my belief that Adams was a master craftsman much more so than an artist, I feel the same way about technical details. If it works on an emotional level, the technicalities are utterly unimportant.
Um... what's Dmax? :roll: lol
"And just what is it that makes you so sure that YOU have it right"
Indeed. I hadn't read your response yet when I posted my last, but I could have quoted you rather than saying; "In this world, we are all entitled to our own opinions and beliefs. You needn't agree with me, nor I you. But surely you don't presume to know who's on 'base' and who isn't. Did you really fail to see the irony of your statement?" We indeed think alike. And attempting to avoid making such assumptions myself is another part of my big silly philosophy.
Oh and a big LOL @ your ' critic's conversation'. It happens way too often! Hey, don't get me started, I said.
Gosh, I did it again. I can't believe people even attempt to slog through my long-winded responses. Probably most people don't! lol.
... And I didn't take it as if there was anything about "technical" there. My point was that the technical aspects of photography *could* be taught - specifically; but the "human involvement"; the aesthetics - could not, at least not in the traditional "lecture - followed by test", scenario. I think we do "assimilate" some sort of intelligence about the characteristics of our work... and that does change to some small extent, minute to minute, with our moods and experiences.
Originally Posted by Michael A. Smith
Certainly, there is a learning process - but to tell the truth I don't know- and I can't imagine just what it is. It *may* help some to learn the "rules" - but I can't find anything that says it is mandatory. Certainly there are models and sculptors that understand the "S-Curve of Praxiteles" ... but there are countless successful models and sculptors - and figure photographers - who do not.
Jorge - I think you may be overlooking the roots of Jazz - where a few people with instruments would get together and "blow". NO music, no structure - I'm sure that most had *NO* formal musical training at all - I'll draw attention to the funeral processions in New Orleans - where they walked down the street - and *played*.
I wonder if anyone here has ever participated in one of those "Primitive Drum Sessions" ... where one selects a drum (from various types) and sits around in a group - and plays. No structure, no leader, nothing like any kind of blueprint to follow.
At first, this sounds like a crazy idea, nothing seems coherent .. just disassociated beating - but gradually, a sort of collective melody .. "appears".
Strange, mysterious - "weird" ... but it DOES happen. It is a liberating experience.
I would suggest an exercise for all ... just sacrifice one roll of film, or a couple of sheets, and NOT try to make the photograph that "rocks the world" .. as a sort of relief valve. If one has a 35mm camera, set the self timer and toss the thing into the air so that the shutter fires randomly. With a medium format, hold the camera overhead and point it in back of you, not looking through the viewfinder. Some of the results *may* really surprise you.
I've tried this with some of my "mentor-ees" ... Walk down the street and just trip the shutter - without using the viewfinder - as an exercise in gaining freedom. The most resistance to this was NOT from the possibility of wasting film, or the perceived "danger" of making a "bad" photograph - but that someone would SEE them and think they were crazy.
Come to think of it, I haven't done that for a while. It is a good way to maintain ones' sense of balance in this game. It *IS* possible to try TOO hard - to overwork.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
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Here's the bit that sticks in my craw:
Given that we live in a culture bathed continuously in media, chosing to deliberately avoid media that is specifically presented for the sake of its ideas -- that is, not for the precision of its technical execution, or for some other reason such as selling soap or idolizing the already-famous -- is to commit a sort of auto-lobotomy.
Originally Posted by Aurore
One cannot pretend that one is without influences. To know them is, in a very real way, to know your own taste and your own mentality. You are what you eat. One can also choose to have specific influences. But to choose to avoid the work generally known to be among the best is either (a) to delude oneself into believing that this work is inferior to your own inner vision, and/or (b) to prefer to wallow in the safe realm of the mediocre least-common-denominator. In both cases you end up locked in a mental prison of your own construction.
It is a bit like saying you prefer to avoid salad and fruits because you worry that they will degrade your preference for Krispy Kreme & McDonald's fries.
Ed, my study of the roots of jazz indicated the early musicians did, in fact, play improvisations of traditional songs - church music and marches, mainly. The musicians may, or may not, have been able to read music, but they certainly learned the standards of their day. They played over a structure. They had to - you can't create art from anarchy.
I believe photography is the same. You have to learn enough about your camera and materials and their structure before you can create art. You can follow the rules or break the rules, but in breaking them, you create your own new rules.
Jorge, I respect your point of view, but I am forced to disagree.
Originally Posted by juan
I think the really significant art DOES, in fact, come from a "rule-less" atmosphere=- "Anarchy", if you will. Not a situation where one carefully considers the "rules" and consciously decides to deviate from them, but from a clear, blank sheet of paper.
Three instances come to mind:
Gordon Parks - whose first experience with photography consisted of buying a second-hand camera loaded with film, photographing a few images - and then returning the camera to the shop where he bought it, because he did not know how to unload the film himself. Not even close to any pre-conceived "rules".
The camera shop owner unloaded, developed and printed the film - and invited Gordon to have his own show in a gallery associated with the shop.
Then - Linda Eastman (later, Linda McCartney - married to Paul, of the Beatles).
She attended an Extension Course class in photography, taught by a "great light", Anne Archer. After the first session, she, and the class, had an assignment - take some photographs and bring them to the next class. She borrowed a camera, photographed, and had the film processed at the local one-hour lab. When Archer saw these, she said, "There is nothing more I can teach you. You have the `eye'."
Linda went on to be a world recognized photographer ... with, as far as I know, no additional "training" ... and no more "rule deviation" than her first assignment examples.
Then - there was Jackson Pollock ... who first gained recognition by slopping paint from a carelessly opened paint can onto a canvas...
And on the other side of the coin ... I've been trying to think of examples where the artist was educated to the teeth in Photography and/ or art ... and became really significant. Not easy.
Hmmm ... Adams? - No, his education was in Music....
Ed Sukach, FFP.
Just a couple of comments on the original post after reading a very interesting thread.
I don't think a person needs to ever see the work of another photographer or the work of any other medium to create. The influences and inspiration for ones own work are everywhere in nature, and the industriousness of man. I do believe that you might be surprised that after photographing for a few years and then looked at the work of others you might find some similarities in subject and style with your own,
Although we cannot wake up with the slate wiped clean, we can make a conscious effort to look at the world around us in a new and different way. For myself sometimes I try to take a scene or object and try to deconstruct it to its simplest elements or try to contemplate it on a different plane of understanding from the obvious. I had read about a author/philosopher who would spend some time everyday doing this. An example would be he would study a coffee cup and consider various elements from the design to the materials it is mad of, to its uses. He might settle on the idea of thinking about the people who make the cup. Do the make it by hand? Is it made by a machine? Do they use these cups themselves?
I like to compare the way we intrepret and understand the world around us to the electromagnetic spectrum. Only a tiny sliver of wavelengths produce visible energy in the form of light. The vast majority of energy is there unseen, yet discoverable if the right tools and techniques are applied. the same is true of our ideas in relation to what we see. it is easy to stick with the visible. already understood and interpreted world. We need to strive to push into that invisible spectrum of ideas.
It sounds kind of silly at first but try it with any object you see and can think about for awhile. It can open some new ways of thinking and looking.
Ed, we were doing so well.
But this time I completely disagree.
Your first two examples of Gordon Parks and Linda McCartney kind of remind me of a post I made with reference to the art world. It was about access. I'm not sure whether I'm much impressed with either photographers work. In Gordon Parks case, he documented the black lifestyle that at the time was not covered or particularly cared about by anyone else. We could argue about the quality of the work but to me his work is about access and his desire to photograph what he saw every day. That to me doesn't make him a great photographer, just occasional interesting pictures, depending on your point of view.
I grew up in the Rocky Mountains. I could take pictures of these mountains by the truckload and sell them in Hawaii and say Phoenix and people would rave about them. Sell them locally, and it's, so what. We see this live, every day.
In Linda McCartney's case it's essentially the same thing. One of the few groupie/photographers that covered the rock and roll scene in it's early days. The work is in my opinion, mediocre. It is again just access. She was there, took snapshots of the "stars" and people gobble it up. Not because of the quailty of the work but because of the people she photographed. Shooting rock stars on stage is just like shooting baseball players playing ball. It's already lit, you just shoot away and occasionally you get something pretty good. Access.
It reminds me of Jeff Bridges new book coming out on his behind the scenes shots during his life in movies. Is a lot of mugging for the camera and since it's pictures of movie stars, people are gaga over it. Amazing. All about access.
I could say the same about Annie Liebowicz(sp?) but some of her recent work is improving. She was initially employed by Rolling Stone and shot rock stars, pretty mediocre stuff.
The reason these people are famous is in my opinion, the access, I talked about. The fact that you think their work good because it is "rule-less" I actually think their work is essentially snapshots, while occassionally somewhat interesting, certainly not great photography.
Just my humble opinion.