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Thread: Masters

  1. #1
    Sjixxxy's Avatar
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    Masters

    I've always thought that "Mastering" photography takes a great deal of artistic vision, and technical knowledge. Today thought, I was just wondering if any of the traditional big name "Masters of photography" out there where really boobs when it came to the technical side of the art? I think I read that Weegee really wasn't all that great when it came to technical knowledge, that most of his fame was mostly from the great lengths and determination he had to get his photos. Aside from him though, all of the big names that I admire seem know thier stuff after the exposure has been made.
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    In the Daybooks, Edward Weston writes about how he found extreme satisfaction in being able to nail a negative by the second or even first print. He alludes to technical mastery of one's materials as reflected in "one shot, one negative" and "one negative, one piece of paper", or something like that. I am of the same vein. Technical mastery freed EW from the shackles of his materials and allowed him to concentrate on vision. I love that kind of discipline, i.e. knowing that you got it right even before the negative had been processed and printed.
    Francesco

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    Personally, I think it is more a matter of what you become familar with. For some it is mastering the technical side, and being rewarded with ease and use of materials they have exposed. For others it is partial techical and more getting out there and taking the picture compositionally correct. Since my negatives usually are not perfect (99.5% of the time ) I tend to rely on the darkroom techiniques I have learned from several people. Bruce Barnbaum, Les McLean, and Gordon Hutchings. They taught me technical aspects, but it is up to me to use them. Each of us finds the route to the finished print doing what is most comfortable for each of us.
    Non Digital Diva

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    ""one shot, one negative"

    Is that really true about Weston? I read somewhere he was quite repetitive in going after the shot until he got it right, but I haven't read the day books.

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    EW may have returned to the same place over and over again but I do not think he ever made a back up shot of the same scene. At least I never read him say he turned over the holder and exposed another sheet to the same composition. I could be wrong but this is my interpretation of his writings.
    Francesco

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    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggie
    I tend to rely on the darkroom techiniques I have learned from several people. Bruce Barnbaum, Les McLean, and Gordon Hutchings. They taught me technical aspects, but it is up to me to use them. Each of us finds the route to the finished print doing what is most comfortable for each of us.
    One shot, one neg, one print would be ideal but I think Utopia is reached on a quite rare occasion. EW and others may have have done it on more occasions than most, but let us not forget these Masters became quite proficient early in their careers.

    Consistency in the working materials is highly important to many but materials come and go over the years. Michael A. Smith, Mark Citret, and Ctein have each bought up existing stocks of materials that were being discontinued. On the other hand, St. Ansel seemed to continually bounce between materials and adapt to whatever was available. Bottom line, none of these Masters were/are using anything that wasn't available to everyone else.
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    HCB did not print at all but pestered the hell out of his French printer. I'm not sure but Andre Kertesz may have also gotten his images printed by someone else as well.

    I think the term Master is a difficult one to nail down and may be defined by what sort of photography you are in to. I'm sure some here wouldn't consider either HCB nor Kertesz as Masters while others would. Generally we seem to give the moniker to famous, large format, BW photographers but I've also heard it used to describe a level of professionalism and skill (often time-based) regardless of fame or format.

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    Very true Alex. We learn to work with what we have. That is where the comfortableness of the materials comes in. The more you do something the more profecient you become. If the materials do not change, you have no need to adapt. Your preffered comfort zone is not breached. Personally I get bored if it is the same old every single time. Not that i don't become familar with certain products. I just think there is more than just one film or one developer. The mistakes I make are learning opportunities. If I had not made them, I would not have learned what to do to correct it , and thus learned to avoid it. AA had many clinkers. Weston shot that darn pepper how many times? It might not have been the same pepper, but that set up was explored a variety of ways and times. We all just do what we need to do for ourselves in learning photography. I wish I was one who was better, I just have to work harder and practice more. Someday I might have a good one.
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    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggie
    Weston shot that darn pepper how many times? It might not have been the same pepper, but that set up was explored a variety of ways and times.
    If I remember legend correctly, Weston shot the pepper to pieces until he got the composition the way he wanted it, not as an exercise in testing film/paper/developers. He wasn't obsessing about those things. Many times I have seen threads wanting to know what papers Weston used, as if that would be magic bullet to instant success. Answer is, other than Azo, the papers are long out of production. Even Azo has changed many times over the years.

    Back to Ansel legend, could he have shot Moonrise in eight minutes if he hadn't known his materials good enough to be intuitive with them? Even though he bounced around a bit like I said earlier, he obviously used certain combinations for long enough to become very proficient with them. Let's see, Tri-X was introduced in 1950-something? (Well, that's been plenty of time for me to get proficient with it. :rolleyes: )
    Semper Fi & God Bless America
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    Helmut Newton did not print his work, and he shot many rolls of film at a time.

    EW's contemporary, AA, shot back ups all the time, and worked through many versions of a print before settling on one. Could it be that EW was too money strapped to be able to afford back ups? EW was not well to do, and as happens to many, did not become famous until after his death.

    I just cannot buy the one shot one neg mentality. How many negatives do we not see printed, or were not printed by EW because he did not nail it the first time, if that is what he truely practiced. EW was lucky, in the fact that he had the vision to begin with. The best part about photography is what you can do in the darkroom. have you ever seen the copious notes EW kept for printing his negatives consistently. That detail can only come from many attempts to get the printing right. I would also say, because of the copious notes, that the negatives were not coming out perfect either, the first time.

    None of this makes EW a great photographer, or a bad one. Technical proficiency is only a small part of the photographic process. Familiarity of one's materials is only a small part of the creation of art. Being technically proficient does not free one to think about the creative vision. If the vision was there it was there all along. That vision drives the desire, experience creates the familiarity. M.A. smith has never once mentioned a densitometer and nor does he get more technical than "we develope our film for a very long time if it needs it". His vision was there from the beginning and his skills have been honed through experience. Much like EW's were, and all of the masters. Sjixxy seems to have it right. the masters, past and present, have it in the darkroom, or they know exactly what they want and drive their printers with a whip, until they get it right.

    One shot, one neg is a great aspiration, I guess, for some, but does it come at the cost of vision. Do those who practice that thought limit themselves to what they know so they are assured a "technically perfect" negative the first time all the time? Do they repeat the same types of shots because they know it worked before?

    I can't help but think about Maplethorpe. The way I understand, it he did not print, he did not process and didn't even take all of his pictures. He directed a lot of them. I may not like the subjects but no one can argue that he did not have vision.

    The most beautiful print I own was made by a friend of Buzz Holmstrom, the first guy to run the Colorado Solo. It is soft, and was a bitch to print. I should know I printed it. Buzz directed the photograph and told his buddy what to do. It was at the end of his last solo trip down the colorado. What makes this image so powerful is the message, the intent, and what is communicated. It was one shot, and one neg and was technically a piece of crap, but the vision was perfect.

    Aggie is right, we all learn in our own ways. We all, also, have our own priorities about what is most important in a photograph.

    Sorry about the ramble, I hope it makes sense. Today has been very long.
    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

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