I have to interject one observation about American culture that is perhaps relevant to this discussion. I offer this as someone who's spent approximately half his life inside and half outside the U.S.
Americans have this abiding belief in natural talent / gift. It pervades all aspects of society. The idea is that you are born with most of your talent, and you simply have to find that. And once you do, you will be Steve Jobs. Or Albert Einstein. Or Barack.... And too much training or indoctrination in any particular area will keep you from realizing that inner genius.
This is not a criticism of American perspective on promoting real talent, mind you. I felt greatly reassured when I left the colonial British schooling of my childhood and came to the U.S. and was informed, on a daily if not hourly basis, that I was a raving genius who would be an astronaut or a President or both. What kid doesn't want to hear that? Especially when you've been raised to believe that your class and your stream defined who you were, and you were threatened with a rap of the cane over the knuckles to work harder to outcompete your neighbour or you might spend eternity in a lower caste....
The relevance to this discussion is that some people really are fantastically gifted and quickly exceed all constraints of the technical. But sometimes I wonder if our emphasis on genius in American society skews our educational system so much to the outliers that we forget how many wonderful things are done by the humble among us. It concerns me just how freely people use the terms 'genius' and 'gifted' etc. I never once heard it 'til I came to the US as a teenager.
This is perhaps too tangential, but these thoughts came to mind while I read through the many pages of this thread. There is something cultural in evidence here, perhaps. Based on my own hybrid upbringing, I have no problem saying that I had to do some hard work to understand what my capabilities are. There were frustrations, tears, sweat, epiphanies... all of these things.
Genius is very rare, that is all I am saying, I suppose. I also find it odd that people don't realize that it usually takes a genius to recognize one, and is therefore rather self-serving to use the term. Particularly on one's own children
That post should be repeated on the thread about Americanisms!
But, your having been born in the UK, you could not have become president!
EDIT: I corrected my grammar.
LOL actually I am (barely) a native born Georgia peach so I am good to go. Just have to find my inner political genius.... In fact, I have been thinking about founding the Dinner Party with a good friend of mine.
Originally Posted by Photo Engineer
I just finished the book "Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else." It seems that all those "naturals", whether in sports, music, the arts, business etc., worked at it very hard. The book is worth checking out.
That was great Keith and well stated.
Personally, I think words like 'genius' and 'brilliant' are used too loosely in our culture. I don't believe in genius. I think those words are used by people who are impressed with skills that they do not themselves possess, or someone outside the norm or regarded as eccentric.
Anyway, that was a very interesting perspective I hadn't considered it before.
I also think it has a lot to do with our society today and the educational system pandering to children who might be considered mediocre. Know what I mean?
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"Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." Thomas Edison
"The harder you practice, the luckier you get." Gary Player
There are, of course, many people who have (or appear to have) an innate "gift" for something. However, I believe that mastery of a skill usually takes serious effort. Once the "bar" has been achieved, it's possible to fine-tune the skill by practice or focused training on any weak spots. Once the skill is truly mastered, then it's time to leave the grind behind and use the skill subliminally.
I would argue that if Ansel Adams and Cartier-Bresson hadn't put the hours into becoming experts in their chosen photographic techniques, the best they would have achieved is mediocrity. In my opinion, there isn't a substitute for really understanding your kit and knowing how to get the best out of it.
Paul Jenkin (a late developer...)
Having read most of this fascinating thread I'm reminded of the Emperor's new clothes. It takes a child's intuitive grasp of truth to see the deceit. If people are satisfied with sloppy technique and indifferent prints, that's fine if they just want to show friends and family. The crunch comes when one puts work before the public and asks to be taken seriously. It may be possible, if you have the gift of the gab, to persuade some people that one's sloppy work is "art" and better grab it now because it's gonna be collectible. And sure, there are plenty of gullible people out there with bulging wallets. But sooner or later some child/person-with-clear-vision is going to say, "Hang on. This is shite. The Emperor has no clothes." When I look back at the great artists, musicians, architects, sculptors of our civilization the ones that endure, to my mind, are the ones who first mastered technique in every detail then used it or not as they chose.
Too many words to read them all, so I may be repeating already stated thoughts
Simplicity and balance, put simply, a well seen image that is technically bad is unreadable and a badly seen image that is sharp from Zone I to IX isn't worth reading
Kenneth White on Sesshu Toyo wrote
"After years in China
With the fewest of strokes
The hardness of rocks
The twistedness of roots
Both seeing and technique are needed, find your balance and then strive for simplicity - Simplicity can be a 10x8" for contact prints or a 35mm camera for well printed snapshots - To make a good negative and then be sloppy with the printing is an insult to the materials used and the people viewing your prints, but by this I do not exclude harshly made prints if done purpose and care
Last edited by John Austin; 12-30-2011 at 04:24 AM. Click to view previous post history.
The problem with mastering technique is that until you actually master it, you are too caught up in it. If you're looking at a scene and spending too much time thinking about how to capture it, then you have not mastered technique, and you might be better off just going with your gut and shooting what you feel and hoping you can fix it in the darkroom.
You may then ask, if I'm not trying to use my technique in the field and will just shoot with my gut how do I ever master technique? Simply, you do all your technical education on test film, test set ups and test shoots. You shoot 100 test shots before you try to really use technique on a keeper. So by the time you are in the field and working on an image of significance you can rely on a brain form of muscle memory. You just know what to do and require very little thought. At this point I rarely use a light meter.
To be lacking in technical competence means that your options are limited, your means of expression is limited and you may not even get a usable negative.
This is a really interesting thread and should be linked to the one about Zen photography. What many students of photography or other subjects don't realise, is the importance of doing something again and again and again.
“The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”