The first step, then, towards improvement is to make sure that good technique becomes habitual. For many that will mean much self-criticism, self-discipline and hard work, but every photographer should consider whether his technique is adequate, and if he finds it weak or unduly limited, be prepared to go back to the beginning and learn it afresh, whatever the length of his experience. What is sadly needed is a wide spread of good refresher courses for older men and women which will deal adequately with fundamentals, and special short courses in such processes as printing. In the next generation we may hope for better things, for the I.B.P. examinations are ensuring sound fundamental training and the acquisition of a reasonable technical standard.
Then we must be sure that technique is put in its place. There is among good craftsmen too much preoccupation with technique. They discuss their methods as though they were the ends and not the means. There is far too much slick talk of gadgets and tools in the clubs and where photographers meet. As though they mattered! Can one imagine an artists' club in which pencils and brushes form the principal topic of conversation? Masters of photography are masters of technique and give little conscious thought to it --- the majority of photographers are its slaves, if they recognise it at all, and worship their master with[SIZE=3] pćan[/SIZE]s of focal lengths and filters, panchromatics and soft gradation, exposure and light; but don't ask them to plot a characteristic curve-they may not know how.
This obsession with technique is for many good workers clouding the real issue. It is generally conceded that it is fruitless to teach anyone how to manipulate a pencil or a brush or a camera unless he or she is trained to observe, to appreciate and to express. What photography principally needs is a spiritual revival. Photographers must climb out of the rut and stare about them. Photographers must see, photographers must feel. They are starved through lack of contact with fine things. They need a rich and continuing draught of anything which can stimulate, revive and nourish the spirit-music, poetry, drama, painting; indeed, anything that has fine quality. Photography is starved, pinched and weak, because those who make photographs are starved. The power to see vividly must be restored.
We need culture. There is no short cut to culture. There is no text book. It cannot be taught in schools, but there are exercises which can help. Culture is no more natural than good taste.It is (says the Oxford dictionary) intellectual development, and that definition will suffice for this purpose. Development must depend upon experience. The better, the richer, the wider this experience may be, the greater will be the development. Experience must be sought. The man who is imprisoned within the narrow circle of his daily task is like the man who buried his talent and proudly delivered it to his lord intact, and like him deserves condemnation.
The first step in intellectual development is humility, for without that rather rare and precious quality it is difficult to learn. It is difficult to relax and absorb impressions, and that above all is what is most necessary. To look at a great picture for half an hour with the critical faculties dormant, making no attempt to analyse or appraise, but just allowing the picture to make a direct impression, may add a rich experience, outweighing a dozen tours of a whole exhibition gallery. To listen completely relaxed, with the mind inactive but highly receptive, is to find a completely new value in music. Unless photographers are prepared to practise such things, to seek new and rich experiences, to develop observation, to break with smug complacency and begin to see and feel, there is little hope.
Little, perhaps, can be done to encourage this attitude of mind, but a consciousness of the need, among those who have any responsibility of leadership or training, must have its effect. Some bodies with vision and taste might be induced to offer encouragement in the way of awards for originality, not stunting, but evidence of a new outlook deriving from deep springs of understanding. Exhibition juries might look for and encourage such work. But with the young-the boys and girls who are setting out to become photographers-there is a better opportunity for useful influence. The initial fault, from which so much lack of intellectual development derives, lies in our general educational system with its emphasis on the factual. The early and most impressionable years are mainly spent in accumulating facts, instead of learning to seek knowledge. But it is not too late to tell a boy or girl leaving school that learning a technique will not alone make a photographer. The sort of questions to ask such young people who are thinking of photography as a career are not " Are you interested in physics or chemistry? " or " What camera have you used?" but " What books do you read?"; " Do you like people?"; " Do you listen to music?-really listen? "; " Are your powers of observation above the average?" Such questions, and a few hints about the development of an appreciation of fine things and a clear indication that personal development is an essential part of training, are usually well received, and apparently stimulate real interest. Photographers who train young people and teachers in schools of photography have an opportunity, and a duty, in this, and may well greatly influence the future of photography.
Generally, in such considerations as these, there is much emphasis on art, and an implication that those who have no traffic with art in any form are not concerned; but indeed this extension of culture, this intellectual development, is as essential to the scientific photographer as it is to the portraitist or the advertising photographer. The wider interests of the one may be different to the wider interests of the other, though generally they will be much the same, and while it is true that no great picture can be made by one who has not learned to appreciate pictorial quality, it is equally true that no scientific photographer will adequately perform his functions if his personal experience is limited to the narrow field in which he is working.
No stimulation of intellectual development, no effort to acquire culture, will make a nation of musicians, poets, painters and fine photographers, but such a re-awakening would improve all things and produce a greater number of outstanding workers.
It should be noted that photography in the UK (and other parts of Europe) had become difficult during the war with a shortage of materials and also cameras on the open market. After WWII the British Austerity program limited imports to essential goods and very few cameras were imported, this lasted until the early 1950's.
Last edited by Ian Grant; 09-22-2012 at 03:48 AM. Click to view previous post history.