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Thread: On Technique

  1. #71
    MaximusM3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Martiny View Post

    Somehow, there’s something wrong with saying that “. . .after 39 years. . .I never learned anything. . .” and then to claim that “. . .I’m happy to say” it. I’m sorry, but as a teacher who has always advocated life-long learning to my students, this kind of attitude isn’t good.

    Take a look as I did and decide for yourself whether not Ms. Steiner’s level of technical ability has had a negative impact on the overall quality of her work.

    You can view her work online here:
    http://www.lislsteiner.com/LislStein...re-Photos.html

    Back after a short break

    First of all, her "not learning" probably applies only to photography but that's irrelevant. Now, I don't know where academics fit into anything. As a teacher, it is your job to advocate learning but you can't tell me that academic knowledge is always a requirement for success nor a guarantee of real life brilliance, in almost any field. Her attitude pertains to her choices in life and what has worked for her. Why pass judgement? She's not telling anyone to quit school and be a derelict. She was just never concerned in overtly technical aspects of photography and that has worked for her. Whether her work is to yours, mine, or anyone else's liking is irrelevant. She made a good living out of it, she can be proud of it, she's now close to 80 years old (I think) and she leads a happy, comfortable life. We should all be so lucky.

  2. #72
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    I think Steiner truly means the technical side of photography. Lenses, camera widgets, darkroom toys, etc It seems to me her focus is entirely on doing.

    Ponder the following. Say you have a decent 35mm or 120 camera. Someone hands you unlimited amounts of Tri-X, HC110, Ilford Multigrade paper and developer, stop, and fix. If you keep practicing and working with these same tools you will eventually reach a level where you know what to expect out of your materials - every frame. After you're comfortable with your materials and you know how to instinctively react to the subject matter, so in tune with your materials that you don't even have to think much, does anybody really expect that the pictures will be THAT much better by switching to something different? I argue that the opposite might happen, where all of a sudden you don't know what to expect anymore, and everything you learned about exposure, lighting, and developing to get the best results in those conditions, will have to be re-learned and re-applied, possibly causing a halt in your creative flow of work.

    I think it's that sort of thing that Steiner alludes to, and in my opinion this is where we can learn a valuable lesson. Her style of photography is largely journalism or documentary work, in the same way Danny Lyon did it. Let's not forget that. Everything they do relies on a split second of consciousness in a moment most people will simply miss, and then it's gone forever. Other photographers may have the luxury of scouting a location, and then go for a coffee while waiting for the right moment of light to arrive. They are two completely different forms of practicing photography. While Steiner's opinion may work very well for those that have a split second to capture a moment, it may be less applicable to others. Why else would you have Bruce Barnbaum give lecturs about how to place all shadows in Zone 4 as opposed to Zone 3? It's because he has time to do that, as do other landscape photographers. That information doesn't have the same level of usefulness to a street shooter, even though exposure is important.

    So we have to put her comment into context before we analyse it. I thought it was a very radical thing to say, and I chose to use it to start this conversation, because it is a bit controversial. I did that on purpose. And it sure did make quite a few people react, fortunately with really insightful and interesting comments.

    I think that I'm really happy with how this thread has gone, because I think we can maybe all learn a little from all compiled posts. And I think that's really cool.

    As Max said, though, it's time to roll up the camera and go do some shooting. I hope to burn a roll of film before the end of the day.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  3. #73

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    [QUOTE=Dave Martiny;1248863]It’s not clear to me what Steiner really means when she says “I never learned anything. I’m happy to say that after 39 years, I have managed not to know too much about photography”. As other posters have mentioned, this has the potential of sounding somewhat arrogant, as in ‘I’m too cool and my art is so great that I don’t even have to consider technique.’QUOTE]

    It could be what she's really getting in saying she hasn't learned anything is that she's managed not to be influenced by anything, whether it be technique, aesthetic conventions around her, or otherwise.

    If that is what she means, I can relate it to a the begining chapters in a fabulous book called Artforms. the idea is that if you examine childrens' drawings, paintings etc, they often show not only an innate sense of composition, but more importantly, they are highly communicative and expressively effective. One example they show is a drawing by a 5 year old about walking on wet grass. The child instinctively drew himself with large feet and toes, far out of proportion with the rest of the body, in an effort to communicate something about the feeling of walking on wet grass. The authors' go on to show how innevitably as we get older and learn about how things are supposed to look, naturally we try to draw more realistically or "properly" and often give up altogether. Pure creativity and expression are replaced by insecurity due to lack of skill. The point they go on to make is one of the common threads observable across artforms when one studies the work of great artists, is an ability to somehow resist that normal maturing process from a technical perspective, the learning that comes from the study of rules, conventions and opinions established by outside influences. Picasso was famous for saying he could always draw like Rembrandt, but it took him years to learn to draw like a child.

    The idea is that by learning too much, most people end up restricting their creativity because in the process they develop conceptions of what is good or bad, as defined by other experts.

    I am hoping this is more in line with what Steiner meant. If on the other hand she really means technique is bad, well, in the end she's just a photographer so who cares what she thinks.
    Last edited by Michael R 1974; 10-17-2011 at 02:42 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  4. #74
    VaryaV's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Martiny View Post

    Take a look as I did and decide for yourself whether not Ms. Steiner’s level of technical ability has had a negative impact on the overall quality of her work.

    You can view her work online here:
    http://www.lislsteiner.com/LislStein...re-Photos.html
    Personally I have to say... and please don't skewer me, I think the quality of her work (printing) is terrible. Though it doesn't diminish the value of it one iota. There are a ton of people here alone, that have her beat by miles. Her subject matter is great and very interesting, but think how much more it could have been if we could be stunned by a beautiful print.

    I take her comment of 'not learning anything', to be that she couldn't learn anything. It requires someone with left brain capabilities to understand a lot of this technical stuff... it's like calculus, it can be rather challenging... many artists are right brained to the point where the technical stuff just goes right over their heads. Some artists can jump back and forth, though most I know can't. Just food for thought. I am speaking in generalities, I come from an art school background and know it to be true in some cases.

    ps. Arbus's printing was terrible too (according to master technicians) but does it lessen the value of her work?

    My opinion is to strive for the highest quality one can get. the print has got to stand alone without a concept to back it up. Is it a beautiful to look at? or do you need a statement to accompany it because the beauty fails?
    Last edited by VaryaV; 10-17-2011 at 03:30 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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  5. #75
    L Gebhardt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson View Post
    Ponder the following. Say you have a decent 35mm or 120 camera. Someone hands you unlimited amounts of Tri-X, HC110, Ilford Multigrade paper and developer, stop, and fix. If you keep practicing and working with these same tools you will eventually reach a level where you know what to expect out of your materials - every frame. After you're comfortable with your materials and you know how to instinctively react to the subject matter, so in tune with your materials that you don't even have to think much, does anybody really expect that the pictures will be THAT much better by switching to something different? I argue that the opposite might happen, where all of a sudden you don't know what to expect anymore, and everything you learned about exposure, lighting, and developing to get the best results in those conditions, will have to be re-learned and re-applied, possibly causing a halt in your creative flow of work.
    But using those same materials is just one limit/constraint on where you can go. You can experiment with exposure, development of the negs and prints, different ways of dodging and burning, masks, studio lighting, etc. All of this is potentially invaluable to letting you make the prints you want. For example learning to make dodge and burn masks has really let me improve my prints. In getting comfortable with different masking techniques I did throw away many trash bags full of work prints. But I don't feel bad about it since I can now make better prints (with less hitting the trash).

    I do agree that switching between materials is for the most part a waste of time and limits the speed of learning new techniques which are to me where the skill comes in. I have also spent way to much time playing with different films, cameras and papers. But if I hadn't experimented with different papers I wouldn't have found how much I prefer warm tone paper for some (most) images.

    One of the biggest time and paper wasters for me has been learning to print color. I finally feel I am becoming a halfway decent color printer, but still a lousy color photographer. I'm not ready to give it up entirely, but I plan to focus much more on my black and white work for sake of my sanity (continual disappointment isn't healthy).

  6. #76
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by L Gebhardt View Post
    But using those same materials is just one limit/constraint on where you can go. You can experiment with exposure, development of the negs and prints, different ways of dodging and burning, masks, studio lighting, etc. All of this is potentially invaluable to letting you make the prints you want. For example learning to make dodge and burn masks has really let me improve my prints.
    Absolutely. I was merely making one example. There are many ways to think about it.

    Some experimentation is obviously necessary, and I do confess that I enjoy a well crafted print (obviously as long as the subject matter doesn't suck). There would probably be no master printers if it were not for experimentation, for example. But in the end, to me, great pictures are not made in the darkroom, they are made with our minds when we hold the camera, and then we complete the idea when we print. And I stress that strong familiarity with our surrounding equipment and materials is paramount so that we can make the moment of exposure a sort of instant chain reaction, as we see something that draws our attention. In my opinion, it helps us to see and understand how the subject matter in front of us will be rendered in a print, without having to think about it much; instead it becomes almost instinct, or second nature, a natural reaction where all the technical stuff stops being something that slows us down because we're diverting some of the energy that's focused on subject matter to thinking about other things, cluttering our minds.

    In my opinion no film or darkroom trick in the world can substitute for that purity of vision. While we may be able to take a mediocre negative and make an acceptable print from them if we possess great skill, I do for the most part not encounter many of those negatives since I stopped farting around.
    I would say that about 90% of my newer, more consistent negatives are such that I simply don't need to fight them at the printing stage. A few strokes of simple split grade printing, dodging and burning at each contrast grade usually gets me there.

    Does that make sense? I fought so hard for so many years, struggling to improve the work I put out, for the very simple reason that I plainly didn't understand that the shortcomings were not of my materials, but that it was instead me and how I approached it. After ditching my attempts at finding the end of my photographic rainbow by swapping materials, I mostly don't have to try very hard in the darkroom at all, and that helps me enjoy the craft infinitely more. There is more time to shoot, more time to process film, and when I go into the darkroom, I come out happy, unless I decide to bring old negatives in with me.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  7. #77
    MattKing's Avatar
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    Thomas:

    I expect that the time and efforts you see as wasted were actually quite valuable, even if they were somewhat expensive and frustrating.

    Here is a question - if you had read your own posts in this thread before you went on your journey, would you have left it earlier or avoided it altogether?
    Matt

    “Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”

    Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2

  8. #78
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MattKing View Post
    Thomas:

    I expect that the time and efforts you see as wasted were actually quite valuable, even if they were somewhat expensive and frustrating.

    Here is a question - if you had read your own posts in this thread before you went on your journey, would you have left it earlier or avoided it altogether?
    They could surely be considered valuable as there is something to be learned from everything. What I want is that they were a lot MORE valuable. My only goal with this thread is to hopefully pass on to other photographers that I don't consider my experience to be a very rewarding one, and that I am trying to help others avoid having the same one.

    I don't know if I would have followed my own advice or not. Impossible to say, Matt. It's an interesting question, though.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  9. #79

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    "The point they go on to make is one of the common threads observable across artforms when one studies the work of great artists, is an ability to somehow resist that normal maturing process from a technical perspective, the learning that comes from the study of rules, conventions and opinions established by outside influences. Picasso was famous for saying he could always draw like Rembrandt, but it took him years to learn to draw like a child."

    This makes no sense, really: Picasso could draw like Rembrandt, in part, because he worked at it and learned all the "rules and techniques." He did not, at least at first, "resist the normal maturing process from a technical perspective." He went right on through the normal maturing process and then went beyond it to make his art.

    Frankly, no artist defends the red herring that this thread and Lisl Steiner's self-congratulatory quote have decided to do battle with: that technique is sufficient. No one argues that from an artistic viewpoint. There's a lot of over-emphasis on technique here on this site, but for cryin out loud that's what this place is for, learning the techniques. When you're ready to go beyond it, you're on your own.

    Any artist can benefit from the mastery of technique that Picasso had and deployed in a radical way. It was not an absence of technique that made him great but a mastery of it and an ability to transcend it. All artists understand that. Even some journalists understand it!
    Last edited by jglass; 10-17-2011 at 11:51 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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  10. #80
    Helinophoto's Avatar
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    Well, Steiner isn't unique in this respect, here's a direct quote from the fore-mentioned Bresson:

    "Actually, I'm not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I'm not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren't cooks."
    - Henri Cartier-Bresson

    Hmmmm.......
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    "Nice picture, you must have an amazing camera."
    Visit my photography blog at: http://helino-photo.blogspot.com



 

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