Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by lar, Mar 12, 2011.
or do we need an innate talent to view and compose?
Will studying and experimenting be enough?
Interesting question and one I have wondered about myself...
To me, the important question is, what is enough? And, enough for what? Enough for some things, for sure. Enough for some other things, not. I find the best route is using whatever talent I have and combining that with the study and experimenting that allows me to continue to grow, challenge myself, and witness improvement.
We won't all be Weston, Frank, Avedon, Leibovitz. And that's what some people think of as enough. They may very well be disappointed if they lack either the talent or the learning. But, I also wonder if it's the case that those who want to be Weston, Frank, Avedon, and Leibovitz are the most likely to fail because they set themselves up for failure by focusing there. Even without the talent that it might take to reach as many viewers as some of the "greats", one can reach whoever one reaches and that could be very much enough.
Some people have a capacity for it. However hard work is the thing to move to a higher level if that is what you want to do.
I rather photograph to learn than learn to photograph, : - >.
Who's the judge? Who's the time-keeper?
As Fred has pointed out, it all depends on what's enough. I'm going to answer with an anecdote from famous designer Milton Glaser that I heard somewhere years ago. He was asked for his definition of happiness. He said (something like), "Happiness is exceeding your expectations." Which I think is a lovely way of not answering the question and at the same time pointing out why he's not answering it. Expectations change; always change, are changed by the thing that they expect, and so on. (I'm equating happiness with the OP's "enough".)
Way off topic, but I can't resist giving Mr. Glaser's description of his mother's recipe for spaghetti:
"First, put a 1 pound package of Mueller’s spaghetti in a large pot of rapidly boiling water. Allow to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until most of the water has evaporated. Add half a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup, and a half pound of Velveeta cheese. Continue cooking until all the contents have amalgamated. Allow to cool and de-mold from the pot. Divide into 1 inch slices and fry in chicken-fat.
When I was in my early teens, I went to a neighborhood Italian restaurant in the Bronx, and ordered spaghetti. The waiter brought me a bowl of strange-looking stringy things covered with tomato sauce. "No, no," I said, "I ordered Spaghetti, SPAGHETTI!""Awesome cooking! Totally exceeds my own expectations.
I hope that it's the latter.
When I picked up a guitar for the first time, I had high hopes of becoming Segovia or George Harrison. Of course, I never achieved those heights, but I did learn that lots of practice could make you better. Will I ever be a world famous player? Unlikely, but I don't know whether it's lack of innate talent or unwillingness to dedicate the time and effort to become one. I'm guessing some of both.
So, I think that some people are naturally blessed with skills that they can refine into greatness, whereas the rest of us have to work harder to try to be great - or even adequate. If it were easy, the people we now think are talented would just be another average guy.
Unfortunately, the folks who post their photos here have set the bar high; I say unfortunately because if you all were much worse, I could seem so much better!
do we need an innate talent to view and compose?Can you learn to see? Yes, but you should watch enough.
So, yes, I think you can, given you are critical enough, open-minded enough for critics, and put the bar high enough for yourself. Photography certainly taught me to see more and watch differently. In turn, I think that made my photos on average better (but not yet good enough).
With regards to enough being enough, see Fred's reply. Nothing to add
One (to me) big step forwarrd was where the technical side of photos has become fluent enough to not bother too much with the decisions - so choosing the exposure values and possible other camera settings does not distract me from watching and framing.
Will studying and experimenting be enough?No, and possibly even useless, unless you set a direction and goal for yourself. Experimenting for the sake of experimenting yields no results. The reason why it's not enough are the missing efforts: practise, practise and practise.
Experimenting may sound like practising, but the goal, to me, seems different: what do you expect to see back from yourself? Experiments can go wrong, so failed shots can be shrugged off as being part of the experimental waste. Practise means the bar is there where you put it for yourself, and you better jump over it. When I review my own photos, this sure makes the difference between carelessly deleting, and studying why it went wrong (or more rare, right).
Also remember, all the great ones had to work hard to become great - talent alone never cuts it. That said, I think Joseph is right... the 'naturally blessed' seem to be always a step in front of the rest of us....
If photography were more like boxing, and if your time in the ring was all the time you had to compose and shoot your picture, you would see that, whatever you think you might have done, you gave up everything you had for that one then and there. Was it enough? Enough doesn't matter when you're used up. Better luck next time. Fortunately, there's always a next time.
Trial and error gets a bad rap in the popular mind. The "instant expert" seems to have gotten the upper hand in our thinking. We have a native understanding of beginner's luck, but neglect to see that every technical pursuit requires us to be beginners, at least for a while. The more complicated and involved the subject we want to master, the longer it takes. So with photography. It's the nature of things. If I ever write a memoir I will call it "You have to get things wrong in order to get them right!"
Native talent does you little good without training of some sort. Persistence pays. It takes practice and discipline to learn your craft. I see nothing wrong with study and experimentation. How else can one go about guiding himself without paying careful attention to what he is doing? I will add the comment that it may help to get some actual guidance and instruction along the way to help focus your efforts. Self training can wind up being uneven in the short run. You can waste a lot of time through distractions and digging too deep into fruitless efforts to perfect things a more experienced person wouldn't bother with.
In my experience, "I don't have a talent for ________" most often translates to "I haven't put much time or effort into ___________." Most of my best friends are very 'talented' musicians. In practical terms, that means they spend dozens of hours a week practicing, studying, and trying to get better at what they do. No one I know who is 'talented' simply picked up an instrument and started making music instantly.
"what is enough?"
This leads us to the need of a target, a reference framework, for our photography. The photographers you mention all have their specificity. But not all of their work are masterpieces.
I think it is not about becoming like William Eggleston, but rather to develop viewing and technical capabilities to produce images which please me like those of Eggleston.
Photography is so varied, the genres so numerous and different, that a major part of the effort could go initially into understanding what I want to do. And how I can do it.
Once we have found this target, we can work towards it, trying to bring the elements under our control which make the photo which pleases us.
Ross B and Phylo,
you show us the two sides of the same medal. It's an ever progressing process, if we work to make it progress.
A famous Italian photographer, Gianni Berengo Gardin, says: my photographic archive is like a good wine, it improves with the time.
Again, I'd have to ask what is a masterpiece and of what significance is that to you? I think there are definitely alternatives to masterpieces that are worth going for.
I mentioned each of those photographers, and there are countless more one could think of, more for their bodies of work than the individual photographs.
"understanding what I want to do"
Yes, though some of that understanding comes from what I do as well as going into what I do.
"Once we have found this target"
The target can be fixed or moving. Often the minute I think I find it, it starts morphing into something else.
"trying to bring the elements under our control"
A lot of my time is spent actually trying to lose and/or give up control, but I know what you mean.
>>> Can we learn to photograph
Of course "we" can. Happens every day. Formally and informally. Same as writing, roofing, nursing,
painting, flying, driving a race car, running a hotel, skiing, playing drums, and gardening.
What Luca may be getting at, or at least my take on it is, that in any of these areas (roofing, nursing, driving, photographing . . .) one can study and learn but that won't always get you to where you want to be. Nurses all study hard to get their licenses and all become at least proficient in the study of nursing. But there are good nurses and bad nurses. Same with roofers. Same with drivers. Same with photographers. Good nurses seem to have that something extra that average or poor nurses don't have, even if they can all set up an IV and know a percoset from an aspirin. Good photographers seem to have something extra that average or poor photographers don't have, even if they can all take a picture that's in focus and that doesn't blow out the highlights. In many areas such as photography, we tend to call that extra bit talent. (Of course, we've had many discussions on the role of "good" in photography and how significant that label is and how important it might be as a goal. But, outside the confines of Philosophy, it's a relatively understood and harmless term of value.)
On the other hand, talent without learning will often mean unrealized potential. Learning can be of all kinds. People are self-taught, taught by teachers, mentors, in more formal or more casual contexts. Learning requires a lot of looking. It happens in museums, galleries, with books, with dialogue . . .
Fred, photography, in particular art-photography is different from all the skills you've listed. Because those that you've listed work to an externally fixed framework.
If we were talking about something like (picking an extremely simple example of targeted framework) the Olympic sprint (is it 100m?), that target is very, very fixed, and obviously, some are more naturally gifted than others (training is still necessary, but natural gifts are the limit).
But in photography, we, each of us, get to devise our own "game," or own "framework," the nature -- in every respect -- of our framework.
As you've (Fred) said, that framework is or can be in flux either continually or, to use an evolutionary phrase, with "punctuated equilibrium." If we can tailor the goal to our own gifts, then, almost by definition (if we are good and attentive tailors) we can be the best at what we are the best at. It's ... circular.
Julie (referring to your first post),
I could imagine a scale of judges and time-keepers:
first ourselves. It's ourselves who decide for photography, as for any possible human activity. We set our objectives and the time-frame within which to achieve them. We ourselves decide about our learning process, whether we attend courses, have a mentor, study books. We also decide what becomes of our work: limited to our family album, our hard drive. Or the internet.
And we present ourselves to other judges. Particularly on the internet. The peculiarity of internet judgements that they are issued according to a potentially infinite value frameworks. The result is that each and every opinion is valid and sustainable.
Then there are "professional judges" of the most diverse kind: those purchasing images for advertisement, for fashion, for news, for books, for corporations; and then museum curators, merchants of photos. All these have a real or potential market in mind - not necessarily an economic market - and consequently a precise framework of reference according to which they judge photographs. They have a specific target and match what they see to this target reference.
The time: mostly it's not an issue if it's ourselves who set the rules of the game (I have been editing my next photobook since well over 6 months and there is - still - no end in sight). It's no issue on the internet.
Professional judges might be time-keepers.
For sure, human activities need a deadline, otherwise they are never completed.
... but I did learn that lots of practice could make you better.I think here you address a very important point, which complements to my initial question: creativity requires application, endurance, constancy. You need to pursue a project, may it be musical or photographic.
According to which you set your framework of reference.
Whether it is sufficient to work a lot to become a guitar virtuoso or a master in photography, probably the border is not very clear-cut.
>>> What Luca may be getting at, or at least my take on it is, that in any of these areas (roofing,
nursing, driving, photographing . . .) one can study and learn but that won't always get you to where you
want to be.
Absolutely true. There are no guarantees in life that one will as successful or developed as one wants to
be, in any endeavor. Including photography. That's acknowledging the obvious that, for example, I'll never
play the piano like Horowitz.
But clearly, photography, like everything else, can be learned. People do it all the time. Through a variety
Julie, I'm photographing to express and communicate, much of which involves others. I may not go out of my way to tailor what I do so others think it's good, but I assess my growth, at least in part, by what I sense I'm communicating to others, which comes from feedback. There are times when that feedback simply doesn't matter and I move on according to my own vision. It's a balancing act.
I'd frame it a little differently from Luca. I wouldn't necessarily talk in terms of presenting ourselves as photographers to other "judges." I present myself to viewers. I often disregard their judgments, but I don't disregard their responses. The may tell me they'd prefer if I had done x, which I may not care about at all. They might say this photo, or this element of a photo, makes them feel x, and that usually has some impact on me.
Recently, we had a discussion about some hesitation I had about one of my own photographs. You made some suggestions which I didn't think would work for me. Someone else may very well have made a suggestion that would have worked for me. That's not because I'm working to an externally fixed framework. It's because ideas come from all over the place.
Learning and growing suggests to me that, at any given point we don't devise our own game completely within our own framework, certainly not in every respect of that framework. Otherwise, we couldn't have any idea what or how to learn. The minute we look at someone else's work and get an idea, the minute we open a book of photographs which has been on the shelves for decades and realize this person is considered great by millions, the minute we go to a gallery and see someone's work who's been chosen to show, we are influenced and we learn something. We may not use it and we may not agree with it, but it certainly doesn't seem to me it's all our own game, though photographers do, as you suggest, have a lot more freedom than the sprinter who must perform a specific act in a set amount of time.
Freedom does not occur in a vacuum and does not imply solipsism. And not all photographers are equal.
... unless you set a direction and goal for yourself. Experimenting for the sake of experimenting yields no results.Absolutely true: the direction and goal are "the framework" I am referring to.
Technical skills: to some extent they are part of the creative process. But I agree with you, some "types of photography" require a consolidated technique to move on to composition.
For sure familiarisation with the equipment should be no hampering element.
Also remember, all the great ones had to work hard to become great - talent alone never cuts it.Absolutely agree. But are there more "naturally blessed" in other forms of expression than in photography?
A good photographer is a good liver.
One is born with "X" talent. I don't think that can be augmented, but it can be maximized, like a figure sculpted out of the stone, freed by sheer work.
Asking if one will become a great is like a six year old kid asking if he will become a millionaire by the time he's 30. The answer is: It's possible, but extremely unlikely. Life is a gamble.
In art, there are no goals, in the sense of objectives that gain "points" or you attain or possess. It's not a game, that is for hacks. It's an exploration. One can set goals, of course, but the work will go where it wants to go, unless you strangle & kill it, often giggling mischievously while it drags you along. It's not like taking a train between two points and arriving exactly on time. More like riding with a crazed cabbie that gives you the grand tour of the five boroughs until stuck at a red light, and you thrust money at him and bail out, wondering where you are.
Are there more or less.... it's hard to say. The nay-sayers will yell about mass-market consumerism approach to photography bringing the art down on a whole. Conversely, I think this mass-market means there is more fish in the pond. So, in absolute figures, there may be more naturally blessed photographers developing themselves, because it is more widely spread than painting, wood-cutting and many forms of expression.
Another way to look at your question would be the notion that many seem to have: that photography is easier, because you have to understand some f-stop stuff and remember something about your ISO, and push a button. So, no talent needed at all! The list Fred gave earlier, well, 'they had an eye for it' and/or 'got lucky when to push that button'.....
Masterpieces ... hmm.
First of all photographs I enjoy looking at, which I don't get tired of looking at. Pictures which can tell a story and pictures which please me graphically and tonally. Pictures which speak to me echoing what I know, what I imagine, my values, my interests
Second, masterpieces are photos which show me a creative or storytelling process. Photos which show a research path and which are the results of studies and creative work.
Third, masterpieces are photos which might not match what I am, but in which I can recognize mastery of composition, technique, even manipulation in some cases.
I shy away from linear processes, particularly in the case of humans and human creative activities, so of course I need to understand what I want to do and what I do influences what and how I understand.
What Luca may be getting at, or at least my take on it is, that in any of these areas ...Yes, you are right.
My question is: provided that photography is relatively easy (as Wouter says: know something about f-stops, about ISO, about interpreting light and exposure), which is demonstrated by the flood of images we are exposed to, does talent play any role?
And, on the contrary, my doubt is that you might not need any talent at all to photograph. Is it just behaviour, actions and processes?
Luca, piano playing is as easy as taking a picture. You just have to know how to sit on a piano bench and lift your arm and then use a finger on that arm to strike a key or two. I compare most photographs taken to the results of that key-striking action on a piano. From there, we move on to learning and talent. The flood of images we see is not photography. It's camera sales.
That helps answer your last question. My answer: No! Just behavior, actions, and process results in the arm being raised and the arm being lowered with fingers extended to strike the keys on the keyboard. Music and photographs (as distinct from noise and pictures/snaps) is the result of intention, purpose, thought, feeling, learning, talent, desire, longing, and an array of other stuff depending on the musician and the photographer.
BTW, Luca, thanks for expanding on your idea of masterpieces. I can relate to a lot of the things you list as important to you. I think "masterpiece" also has something to do with longevity and historical context. I'm not sure most masterpieces can be determined in their own time. I think most of them, first, prove to endure and, second, prove to relate significantly to their era in history (though they probably have a universality beyond that).
Also, there are a lot of significant and wondrous photos and other works of art that are not masterpieces, IMO.
My question is: provided that photography is relatively easy (as Wouter says: know something about f-stops, about ISO, about interpreting light and exposure), which is demonstrated by the flood of images we are exposed to, does talent play any role?I find myself feeling irritated as this line of thought continues on. I have a talent for mechanical things. It's a part of me. It is a part of the outlook and skill set I bring to projects that involve tools, my hands and things that fit together. What irritates me is that the OP seems to be ignoring the obvious which is that if a person has some innate capacity to do well with the tools at hand one can expect he will excel. The project, and the tools for completing it, provide a context for talent to find expression.
If a talent for something is a part of you, you can expect it to show up in your work. In fact, you may not understand the seriousness of issue the OP raises because talent is not something you can turn on and off. (You can manipulate the result of your work to suit the needs of others, however, especially when they are paying for it!) (This is where I say, "You either have it or you don't!" ... No comment on the subject should overlook a remark that has the weight of such a huge load of simple truth in it!! )
How does a person go about problem solving anyway? Have you ever wondered how different people can tackle a seemingly straightforward problem in their own way? The fact is that everyone brings a unique mixture of understanding, experience, habits and skills to a puzzle at hand. Each person always translates the problem requirements into something he can understand and attempt. He applies himself to the problem. Providing the matter is challenging enough how could a person make something like his own talent go away?
Ever look at a problem in front of you and find yourself asking how something so simple can be so hard? I feel irritated because I want Luca to stop spinning his wheels and go out to take some photos. Get absorbed in it. There's more to it than it would appear. Just the same, it's interesting and satisfying. Defining the exact role talent plays in things is about as productive as trying to nail jelly to a tree!
I'm very sorry to irritate you. But I would rather say that you are helping a lot in "keeping the wheels spinning", as you say.
There is no line of thought, just questions and reflections. I of course have answers of my own, but would like to hear from others, as from you. And consider that some of my statements are intentionally ignoring nuances, this being a rhetoric technique.
The fact is that everyone brings a unique mixture of understanding, experience, habits and skills to a puzzle at hand. Each person always translates the problem requirements into something he can understand and attempt. He applies himself to the problem.Exactly.
But as Mike Dixon says
In my experience, "I don't have a talent for ________" most often translates to "I haven't put much time or effort into ___________." Most of my best friends are very 'talented' musicians. In practical terms, that means they spend dozens of hours a week practicing, studying, and trying to get better at what they do. No one I know who is 'talented' simply picked up an instrument and started making music instantly.You have to work on talent. Creativity is work, hard work combined with more or less talent.
I completely agree with the provocative and ironic statement of Fred "playing the piano is easy".
Thank you for your exhortation to go out and photograph. That's what I've been doing since I was about 14 years old.
But it's not enough. Not any more.
I've "set my bar" very, very high and I have come to the conclusion that trying to achieve the results I want requires not only interest in what I do, but also technical skills, making my neural connections turn the focus ring or the speed dial in the right direction, knowledge of what film suits my objective and which lab provides me with the results I want.
But that's still not sufficient at all.
I need to think about the visual communication of the photographic projects I want to do, nourish my viewing and perception ability, looking at the world around me, but also seek the places where the images I like will maybe come up, look at other's pictures in exhibitions, books, websites (the least suitable visualization means).
Discussing issues like this here is part of this process.
Your suggestion to go out and photograph is not enough for me any more. My conception of photographs requires a much more complex process, relating the rational, the sensitive, the imagined, the perceived, the technical.
I set the references for my photography. But "spinning the wheels" provides me the food for thought I need "to go out and photograph", bringing home the results I want.
One thing I find interesting is that 50 years or more ago, the average wallet of drugstore prints would contain mostly images with the object of interest (generally a person) very small in the frame and lots of extraneous background and foreground. I think this was related to the fact that people’s main visual experience of photography was gained in the cinema, with images on the screen quite a long way away. Camera-club judges and other self-appointed gurus made a lifelong career of exhorting photographers to crop their pictures heavily.
From general observation and some time spent curating an exhibition of children’s photography, I would say that growing up with TV has radically altered the way people see. Even very young children picking up a camera for the first time apparently instinctively frame pictures the way they have seen them on TV, much closer up and with an awareness of the effects of wide-angle and tele lenses.
Albert said, "... go out to take some photos ... "
One can go after the earthworms with a shovel -- chase them down, so to speak by "going out" and digging. Or, one can make the wigglers come to you by thumping the ground. In this thread, we're thumping the ground.
(When not posting to this thread, we are, of course, also, shoveling ... )
Now, remind me, what was it I wanted to do with all these worms?
[The "worm" thing is referencing one of Albert's posts in a different thread. I hope readers can get the gist of what I'm saying without knowing exactly what he said elsewhere.]
Sometime I'll tell you what I am doing with all the worms popping up.
This is a very interesting discussion and something we all have to answer for ourselves when evaluating our own work.
I see photography as being a three step process. First there is the interaction with the subject. This is often more like forming some kind of a relationship with it. For me this step is largely talent but there is room for leaning there. The second step is the capture. This is more something I learn through practice and education. The thirds step is the communication of your work. This I feel requires both talent and skill. The ability to communicate well in photography is no different than any other field and has much to do with your success as others see it.
Doing what you love to do is where talent lies. Unless there is that love for doing it, practicing is only drudgery and frustration in the end.
I think in order to become “great” you need to have both talent and skill. It’s a rare person that get a big endowment of both.
very interesting observation.
I guess it could be referred to the formation of the cultural background. You address the interactive relationship between the viewing experience and the the way each of us produces images.
The flood of images we see is not photography. It's camera sales.is photography too easy to stimulate a serious creative work? Does the majority go for the fastest track?
Luca, is it the majority we're concerned with?
Good point, Fred!
Since part of a quote originating from my post irritated you: thanks. I am glad it annoyed. In fact, I posted it as a bit of irony (so I certainly agree with your reaction). The way it was quoted pulled that a bit out of context.
Luca, you made a bit a jump from my last post. Sure, the technical part of photography can be learned, internalised, and certainly becomes easier with time. But that doesn't mean it is (ever) easy. Also for you, at some point in time, it was hard and something to learn. It's a hurdle to take and not by definition an easy one. Creatively interesting exposure choices are (to me) still at the core of a good photo too (together with some other factors). And it's a consideration still to be made for nearly every photo.
Large parts of the creative viewing and seeing can also be learnt and developed. And even with extremely solid knowledge, it remains a consideration for each photo.
Just to be clear: I did not mean to state it was easy. The opposite.
is photography too easy to stimulate a serious creative work? Does the majority go for the fastest track?Doesn't the majority usually go for the fastest track? And isn't it OK too? If photography is not their ultimate interest? Most people on this site are heavily into photography, we're a niche market here. Most people just want nice photos of their children, family, pets, holidays. And that is OK. They do not want serious creative work, nor aspire it. They probably have some other hobby they invest more time and energy in.
But for those who do aspire serious creative work, I'd say photography is darn hard. Your imagination always stays hampered by these real life-like things in the viewfinder....
I much like Dennis' notion: doing what you love to do is where talent lies. Without a love to do it, it certainly never will work. Whether it's completely the same as talent, I do not dare say, though.
Wouter, some really good points there. Your discussion of learning and creativity makes me think . . .
I find I can't clearly separate the two. Maybe because I've been academically inclined for so long, I find learning to be a creative act. I can't learn with creating something (writing a paper, giving a presentation, helping along a dialogue, etc.). And, for me, each creative act is a learning experience because, in at least some aspects, it's something I haven't done before (which is why it's creative). Talent isn't precisely the same as creativity but they're related, I think. The answer may be that when learning becomes doing (rather than passive), it moves toward creativity. Talent may reside in the balance, harmony, tension, and counterpoint between the two and in their overlap.
Luca: To answer your original post, I believe that craft, technique, and technology can be taught and, therefore, one can learn them. However, being able to "see a photograph" is another story. Although I won't beg any questions by stating that having this ability is innate, I think it comes down to each person being "hard-wired" differently.
"We won't all be Weston, Frank, Avedon, Leibovitz. And that's what some people think of as enough."
Fred: I am grateful to my son for teaching me that, when I die, I don't want people asking whether I was enough like Adams, Avedon, Leibovitz, et. al. I want them asking whether I was enough like myself.
I sure hope so!
Fred, in fact as I was posting it, I noticed how much I can not see the technical side of photography seperate from the creative. And learning indeed is creative by design, in creating knowledge, experience.... also on a practical level, I am learning photography, but in the meanwhile I also do have quite a few photos. It's not that much either/or indeed.
Talent - it's is a word where I continue to get a bit stuck. Cannot really get an idea with it, a mental image of how it works. Is it an inherent ability to learn easier, more by instinct, a specific set of skills or abilities? Does it lay dormant, or does it only exist once developing (and hence is more a property of the development)? Is it (as Michael says) hard-wired, or is it a "lucky" combination of knowledge, experience, interest, moment and environment making development run smoother?
Do we all have the ability for creativiness, or do some simply have more ability? If so, why, and is that development, or a brain more tuned to it (versus mathematical minds, or ...?). Sure most jobs take some sort of talent, but creative efforts seem to have this extra layer, of being able to express yourself in a more or less unique way.
I just don't know. Some people bloom late, but gloriously. Child stars on the other end, starting with a big boom and sliding down after. One day flies, and artists consistently delivering work for 60 years and more. Whatever talent is, there seem to be quite some other factors that need to come together to unleash the full potential.
Wouter, talent is a knack for something; an ability. Someone demonstrating talent consistently produces work that is awfully good compared to the work of others. The best explanation I can think of for it is to simply say that ability is a gift. Creativity has to do with originality, that is one doing things for the first time ever. Sometimes a person makes things no one else has ever seen before, either. Sometimes these things are so amazing we call him a "genius," but as you know this is rare.
I think that there is no useful purpose in speculating about latent talents and abilities. What might a baby be able to do as it grows up?, for example. There is no way to answer such a question. Talent that exists will show up in various activities that a person engages in.
There's something wrong with the idea that started the whole discussion in the first place. You don't get to choose to have talent, and you do benefit from working at your craft. This isn't an either - or proposition. What is more, when you see the work of a highly skilled craftsman, you can't tell what part of the picture comes from talent and what comes from her training and learning. You wind up saying things like "time and time again she knocks it out of the park!" "She has a great eye. I can depend on her to make interesting pictures." Figuring out the mind that makes the work is somewhat like trying to unscramble an egg.
The OP goes on to say in later posts that he is looking for more than study and craft development can give him. (I can't be sure that I really understand his point, except to share the impression I have that he wants something that seems to be out of reach.) There is something to the notion that a very creative person can follow such an individual path that he gets to a point where no one can help him. Individual productivity and style can be so distinctive that there is simply no way that someone else can do the same thing. If a creative person reaches a point where he wants some sort of guidance from another person vis-a-vis a specific element of a project, for example, he may find himself to be alone in his quest. It's possible to be in too deep. The work will be too technical and too detailed for anyone but another him to be able to understand it.
The business about spinning wheels is simply a reference to what appears to be a habit of asking questions that have no answers. Questions lead to questions that seem to lead nowhere. I've heard this sort of thing characterized as being slippery. I really don't know what the OP hopes to get out of all this, perhaps some sort of new direction for himself? Who can say?
You really can get earthworms to come out of the ground by hitting it with a shovel? You learn something new every day! (No earthworms were squashed in making this comment )
Thank you for your response. I must say that your critiques to my original post are quite useful and help me to continue along my line of reasoning.
You don't get to choose to have talent, and you do benefit from working at your craft.Very good. This I already knew. Talent is a gift. You can build on your talent, but it's a gift. The question is about the talent/craft development mix. And about the talent vs. craft development in photography.
Photography is not only a craft, though.
The OP goes on to say in later posts that he is looking for more than study and craft development can give him. (I can't be sure that I really understand his point, except to share the impression I have that he wants something that seems to be out of reach.)I am not. I do not agree that my original question has no answer. On the contrary, it has potentially infinite answers, as are the combinations of photographers-situations-photographs.
My first purpose is to explore whether there are some main streams of thinking on this matter.
It's true that creative paths can be extremely individualistic, but I don't think it's about "helping". And it's also not necessarily about "understanding". "Bright" and "open-minded" viewers can accept to look at creative work even if they do not (entirely) understand it.
One final remark on the method: you say that "The business about spinning wheels is simply a reference to what appears to be a habit of asking questions that have no answers".
I already mentioned that there are potentially infinite answers. This philosophical analytical method is known as the "Socratic method". It was applied to concepts which appear to lack any concrete definition, as in this case.
My overall purpose is to progress in my understanding of where my own photography is and of where I want it to go.
here is no useful purpose in speculating about latent talents and abilities.No suprise, but I disagree with much of your post, though I certainly understand the point you try to raise. Sure, this dicsuccion is not going to give solid answers to Luca, you or me. It's not the point really. The point I am looking into is human learning and development, and factors that play a role. Talent is one of the factors, but also a rather strange one, since it indeed just seems to be there. Or is it?If you want to develop yourself and others, understanding how to maximise abilities, how to stimulate in the right way, it does not hurt to have understanding, or at least insights and ideas, on this subject.
And well, to me, this site/forum aims to develop me and others. So pondering on the nature of talent and how to use it, I see merit in it. Like Luca, discussions like these give me a lot back too. They stimulate me, and make me assess my own progress and stand-still as photography hobbyist. Answers or no answers.
Can we learn to photograph, or do we need an innate talent to view and compose?
Will studying and experimenting be enough?These are the posted questions. To my mind, yes, anyone can learn to photograph, but that doesn't mean the photographs will be artistic or interesting to anyone but the photographer, and there is nothing wrong with that. Many hobbyists are in that category. However, I would say "yes," we do need innate talent, and "no" studying and experimenting alone is not enough if you want to make great photographs.
Where you have infinitely many answers to a question how do you sort out which ones are which? Are some better than others? How do you know? Can you reconcile various potential answers that are convincing, but take you in different directions? If you can't decide which ones are best, do they improve your position more than if there were no answer at all? Before long you too will be asking what difference it all makes. To be sure some mixture of talent and skill goes into just about everything people do.
It's possible that it's not about the answers.
Sometimes it's about the questions and the process of pondering.
Do photos answer questions? Why does a discussion have to?
I think of these discussions, to some extent, the way I think of a photo. An experience. An activity. A sharing.
I think you make a good point. The discussions do often seem to take on a life of their own as they go on. Sometimes I think a conversation simply flows from one thread to the next.
This time the OP started things off by asking questions that seemed to me at least to propose that the reader might try to reconcile two very different points of view. Questions create a sort of imbalance that good answers seem to set right again. So here we have a challenge to come up with a discussion that might propose the right sort of resolution lofty issues such as the role talent plays in photography should deserve.
So you're right. The discussion is an activity that permits sharing and might lead one to experience the topic in a different way. I sometimes read these threads and wonder if the original intent as I read it in the beginning actually means anything to the people writing later on. They do tend to wander. What do you think? Should consideration for the person starting a thread lead you to stay on topic?
Albert, I think this thread has pretty much stayed on topic. Much more than most. I'm aware that, on the Internet, chats stray. I think an OP that gets too invested in his own take on a topic or on too narrow a view of a particular topic sets him or herself up for disappointment. That being said, it makes sense to try to maintain at least a loose thread for the meandering around on a given topic. Sometimes, posts are so off base that they seem silly. It's hard to generalize about it. I tend to take it on a case by case basis. I think Luca has participated enough in this thread and seems to have responded to all the issues taken up, so I doubt he's felt a lack of consideration for his original question. By what Luca has said here, about the infinite answers, he seems pretty open of varying approaches to the topic.
Albert, Albert, Albert. Mathematicians deal with the infinite all the time.
If I take one of Luca's lead questions: "[D]o we need an innate talent to view and compose?" to reduce to "choice" (talent means making "better" choices -- note that it is relative). And if I take Luca's other lead question: "Will studying and experimenting be enough?" to reduce to "execution," then the thread is about the possible ratios of choice and execution in making good photographs. Or, really, it's mostly about that bad boy, choice.
Choice always precedes execution. If we are faced with a scene, any scene, from which, theoretically, there are an infinite number of possible photographs that could be made, and we aren't innately talented at making "better" choices from that infinite offering, how much will prior studying and experimenting to improve execution help us?
The possibles are infinite but the "betters" are either not infinite, or a much smaller infinite. If you think the "betters" are fairly "thick" (there are many good photos that might be made) versus "thin" (there is only one or two "better" photos in this scene), then in order to "learn" photography, you just (!) need to get into that smaller infinite. Can you learn how to make those "better" choices? Given that the scene is new, how can you learn it before you've ever seen it?
Ah, but from prior experience you can learn what choices *not* to make (what have proven to be bad choices). If you've learned enough to filter out most of the bad choices, you may well end up within that smaller infinite, that range of possible "better" choices such that your work now depends only a little on your "innate talent." Or, to all intents and purposes, you have become ... talented (if you equate talent with making better choices ...)
I think Steve Murray makes a very good point here, even if extremely concise and direct:
... but that doesn't mean the photographs will be artistic or interesting to anyone but the photographer.And I fully agree to it.
A short preamble: we have discussed the relationship between photographic activity and photographic output quite a lot with many of the participants here. And here there is a continuity with the reasoning, at least as I see it.
There is one key point made by Steve
"to anyone but the photographer"It confirms my "suspicion" that it's me, as a maker of photographs, who determines what it is, how it is and where it goes. It's me who can determine impacts on viewers, who can elaborate photographic messages. To do this I have to
develop my talent (the amount I have, which might be nil)
hone my technique
work on my overall approach
develop my craft.
I also have to live with the possibility that, as Steve eloquently puts it, that my photography will not interest anyone but me. If my goal were to be a "famous photographer", and it's not, it's up to me to understand how to work on my photography to achieve this goal. And here would also be my limits.
In respect to your questions, Albert, Fred is right, it is not so much about answers but rather on how the reasoning of other posters strikes me. A process which is surely not linear, not necessarily rational and probably not entirely conscious.
But that is definitely productive of results on my photography I appreciate a lot.
Julie, nice. Introducing choice here seems important. And I can see what you're driving at in terms of how it relates to the combination of talent and learning.
Building on that . . .
Some choices are made intentionally and with great deliberateness: I have this, that, and the other choice and I choose that one. Some are made much more fluidly, really without hesitation and consideration: He had a million choices and he chose that one but he never really thought about it. He just did it. A much quicker intention was formed. Less overt selecting from among choices.
Not only in photography, but in other life choices, I sometimes find that my more solid choices, even my more significant choices (again, sometimes) don't seem like choices at all. They seem determined rather than free. They seem a part of me rather than something I do. I find that the more I photograph, the more I channel that. With photographing, it goes something like "I have to do it this way." "That's the way and the only way I see it."
Making photographs becomes a dialogue between actively choosing from among choices and having no choice at all because it has to be that way.
So, while talent might be related to making better choices, it's not necessarily about consciously selecting from an array of choices. I'd say talent has to do with an almost obligatory kind of choice-making: He's got talent. He couldn't help but play that piano so beautifully. His practicing didn't create that beautiful playing. It allowed it to break free. Others, without talent, couldn't play as beautifully even with more practice . . . because they didn't have it in them.
Yes, you can learn. Drive, desire, persistence, honesty (with yourself), dedication, and a good work ethic will make up for just about any lack of talent short of profound blindness. And you're not alone. There modern world is full of resources that you help you develop your photography. Get out there and shoot, make some mistakes and then figure out how to do a little better the next time.
Fred said, "Making photographs becomes a dialogue between actively choosing from among choices and having no choice at all because it has to be that way." Because you have learned, from prior experience ... . You've removed the bad choices, and moved into the "better" possibles. Note that I never said you would know what is better; just that you learn to know what is not better.
The word "innate" means if you ain't got it, you can't get it. You're born with it; it's yours without your having to do anything to make it so. This means that when/if you believe in, rely on, "innate" talent, you will be believing that what happens "comes from" you; is "because of" you. To the extent that you rely on "innate" talent, you'll be paying attention to, "listening" to you, you, YOU. You are the source.
I would suggest (as I have, obliquely in my previous post) that the talent that matters is a talent for learning (and a talent for working). Is this just word play? Just moving it to one remove? No, because a talent for learning is amenable to incentives, to motivation, to development. It you ain't got it, you CAN get it. It's not what you are, it's something you can learn (learn to learn; let's do infinite regress; one can have a talent for learning to learn ...). How does the person who has learned to be talented differ from one who claims to be innately talented? The innately talented one pays attention to his innateness, to himself; the one who has learned his talent listens to what is not himself; listens and asks questions and listens some more.
I would suggest that photography is especially *not* about innate talent because it is especially about listening, relating to, interacting with what is not innate; listening with your eyes, but also all kinds of listening/questioning/listening. To the extent that you feel you've "got it" innately, you won't be interested in "getting it" from anywhere else.
" ... The condition of his being a receiver, a subject, an observer, is, precisely, that he make less noise than the noise transmitted by the object observed. If he gives off more noise, it obliterates the object, covers or hides it. An immense mouth, miniscule ears, how many are thus built, animals in their misrecognition!" -- Michel Serres, Genesis
I would suggest that photography is especially *not* about innate talent because it is especially about listening, relating to, interacting with what is not innate; listening with your eyes, but also all kinds of listening/questioning/listening. To the extent that you feel you've "got it" innately, you won't be interested in "getting it" from anywhere else.I must admit that this statement was one I was really waiting for. I am also inclined to think that talent, if not none, has a very limited role in developing photography.
Not that it does not play any role at all - I believe that there are different capabilities in viewing and perceiving - but the abilities and skills are very much prevailing.
"Not only in photography, but in other life choices, I sometimes find that my more solid choices, even my more significant choices (again, sometimes) don't seem like choices at all. They seem determined rather than free. They seem a part of me rather than something I do."
Fred: It seems to me that choices can be "a part of" a person without being "determined rather than free." Perhaps I'm construing your point too literally. I think I'd be more comfortable with it if, by 'determined', you mean either "spontaneous" or 'unintentional'.
Sorry, Michael. I do mean "determined" literally. I think biology, genetics, cultural background, scientific cause and effect determine a lot about us. And I think we have talent or don't. I think talent is precisely what cannot be learned, though it can be harnessed. And, of course, I think a lot can be learned.
I also think there's an important sense of obligation that stands somewhat outside of choice. I am bound to do this is less free than I choose to do this. Many with talent seem bound by it. It's a good kind of non-freedom. Duty. (I think it happens between parents and children often. Photographs can be like children.)
I don't know if Julie is drawing a distinction, specifically with respect to talent, between making photographs and making sculptures or paintings, but if she is (photography is especially not about . . .) I disagree. Photography is different for sure, and has its own unique characteristics and methods, but regarding the involvement of talent, it is no different.
I worked as a teacher in the schools decades ago. You can downplay talent all you want, but at the first-grade level, it's distinctly there. While most of the students visibly improved during the classes, a handful were far ahead from the start -- and some of them had never had an art lesson. I asked.
I don't think the talent thing is relevant except to the ego, in the sense that it is a given. You have to make do with what you have, and maximize it with what you learn and practice. Luckily for most of us, the true geniuses often lack motivation and tend to burn out at around puberty.
I agree with Fred's distinction of "Determined".
I'm a bit in between, I guess. Yes, talent seem to exist, as a way to easier learn what others need to spend more effort on. Whether it is innate, is a second thing. There seem to be little genetical about it, I think. Cultural,yes, but in my view cultural is not innate but learnt (unconsciously).
In a household where creative expressions are stimulated, or normal, it will allow to blossom easier. If parents are very much scientific, the mind is more likely to develop scientifically/rational. That cause/effect is sure there, but again, not innate.
So while I agree with Fred and Luis, it's the "it's just there" part that does not entirely add up. At ths point, though, I might have to give a nod to Albert and wonder whether it really matters.
You have to make do with what you have, and maximize it with what you learn and practice.Exactly what it boils down to.
It's easy to accept that some people are tall and some are short, some guys have hairy chests and others don't, some folks are double-jointed, others not. While we are "all created equal", we are not all created the same.
Tallness and shortness, just because it's been determined by various physical processes and is not a choice we get to make, however, is not just there. We use it, we compensate for it, we learn about it. Some short guys can jump higher than some tall guys and some tall guys will tend to stoop over because the rest of the world is below them.
Guys with hairy chests can shave them. Smooth guys don't have as much of a choice there.
The point is that I'm not saying talent is something that's passively "just there." But I do think of it as something along the lines of being tall or short, just one of those things you can't see, except through performance or production.
Some people are naturally faster runners than others. A lot of that has to do with aerodynamics. There are a whole lot of physically determined factors that add up to things that we value as having something to do with our choices (to practice hard at running) or our free will (we can be anything we want -- NOT!).
We're just starting to learn that being gay is probably physically based and there's a lot of resistance to that especially in religious communities who are invested in it being a choice or something learned (one can be "recruited") so they can make value judgments about it. There's an investment (democratic?) in homogeneity. But it's false.
When I said things are determined, I didn't equate that with being innate. Culture is, of course, as Wouter says, not innate. But it is a determining factor. Not everything that's not innate is learned. Perhaps it's semantics, but I don't think the influence and background noise that we get from our culture is learned. It's ingrained. I think learning is something different from cultural and environmental influence.
And I think talent is akin to having green eyes or red hair.
I think there's much to recommend the sentiment behind:
You have to make do with what you have, and maximize it with what you learn and practice.But I think it's also good to be realistic in what we endeavor to do. Often it's good to seek to break free from our perceived limits. Reach for the stars. But it can also be wise and helpful, even a challenge, to recognize our limits and our strengths. After all, we're only human.
Talent. Mozart had it. Salieri did not.
[Addition] As I see it, Salieri had many choices. He could make do with what he had and maximize it by learning and practicing. He pretty much did that. And it was obviously not enough for him. He was depressed about where that took him musically, especially compared to Mozart. (And why not look around you and put yourself into a realistic context.) Now, he could maybe have overcome that depression and just been happy with being a mediocre musician (or even tell himself blissfully that he was a great musician because that's all "subjective"). Another choice would have been to look around him and try some other endeavors and maybe come up with something that came more naturally to him and then learn about and practice that. He might have still been depressed because maybe he longed only to be a musician. Or he might have found something that suited him better and really made something of that. Many choices. We each get to decide.
Fred, I think it is semantics indeed. With learnt, I do not mean the active process of absorbing knowledge/experience only, but also the more passive ingraining/influencing.
Otherwise, good point about being realistic.
Maybe I’m getting too far off the topic here, but simply asking does a person need talent or not to take a photograph, and how much can be learned, is rather meaningless unless you specify to what end? Many successful professional photographers are not great innovative artists, but they do make a very good living by providing a service to individuals or companies. For this you need the many other talents like being able to work with people, to sell yourself, to understand what others want and to figure out how to provide that (technical skills), and to be savvy in business practices in general, in essence, being a professional. People who pursue the artistic end of it also have to have more than one talent; they have to learn the history of art, and what is currently the “cutting edge.” There also needs to be an intelligence and awareness of what is around you and what people are open to and looking for, which also involves fitting into the art culture, networking, selling yourself, etc.
I'm a bit in between, I guess. Yes, talent seem to exist, as a way to easier learn what others need to spend more effort on. Whether it is innate, is a second thing. There seem to be little genetical about it, I think. Cultural,yes, but in my view cultural is not innate but learnt (unconsciously). (Wouter).Also Luis' observation as a teacher is important.
Probably we will never find the dividing line between work and talent.
But, since Fred mentions Salieri: are we able to distinguish a talented photographer as we can distinguish a talented musician? I don't know, but I'm inclined to think that it is easier to perceive the touch of a talented pianist or of a violin virtuoso.
Just only because talented photographers need to make an enormous effort to distinguish his work from a much larger mass of visual output.
Not that it's easier to stand out as a musician, but there are less musical works and performers to compete with.
I tend to think of "talent" as an alibi or brag, depending.
However, I saw contrary or confusing evidence last night when I unearthed a 1999 video of Stochelo Rosenberg and his brothers (gypsy guitarists from Netherlands) . You can find Stochelo Rosenberg in Youtube, but the video I watched was a live performance in Breda, crudely filmed.
What I noticed, beyond Stochelo's virtuosity and musicianship, was the way he showed his responses to his own playing, as he played. Sometimes he seemed amazed (a Taoist kind of response perhaps), sometimes he gloated (one of world's ultimate guitarists), and often he seemed humble (whatever he was doing was beyond his own doing in some way).
Maybe that's "talent."
On the other hand, it's certain that he studied from childhood, and not Euro-conventionally. He had teachers, most of whom couldn't read music (Manouch Gypsies).
Photographers are rarely willing to attribute much of whatever "talent" or comparable non-technical ability they may have to teachers. I attribute my miniscule bit to Minor White, who I never met, whose main accomplishment was teaching-of-teachers...through a few of his students that were most of my friends for at least five years. Through osmosis and commentary they taught something about taking the work seriously, just as we would if we thought photography was an important part of our life. By "seriously" I don't mean humorlessly
Many photographers here are more "talented" than I am. Click their names to confirm. I wonder if they are able to at least partially credit a teacher, or if they're self-created or divinely blessed?
Fred: I'm sorry it is taking me so long to respond. I don't think we really have a disagreement about talent. Please see my initial post on this thread, at which time I spoke about people being "hard-wired".
Talent to me falls into a more general category of dispositions to act, like one's DNA. But having talent is clearly different than acting on it. In a photographic context, placing the camera in automatic mode in order to shoot from a moving car's window as compared with setting the camera's aperture, exposure level, sensitivity (ISO), and shutter speed, involves a choice and doesn't necessarily involve any less - or any more - talent.
John: I really like your characterization of talent in the context of musical performance, especially your description of Rosenberg. It's very well put, and obviously reflects your own sensitivity toward, and appreciation of, good music.
As to photography, although I would not dare to dimish the role of teachers, I think that what students learn from them is how to exercise the talent they already have. I certainly acknowledge the importance of many of my teachers in graduate school in helping me achieve a certain level of competency or proficiency in doing philosophy. However, I would not have been accepted into the philosophy graduate program had there not been some prior indication of my talent. Maybe talent should just be viewed as an indicator of possible success.
I teach creative photography workshops and I have seen students create more compelling works after taking the workshops. I believe one's creative ability and imagination can be realized through the learning process.
Catherine: I have no doubt that your workshops involve valuable learning experiences for your students. The key word you used is "realized." Clearly, you are building on a foundation each student possesses, each in his/her own way. You are are not building creative ability and imagination out of nothing (ex nihilo); your starting point is with some raw material - talent.
Michael Linder said, "... you are building on a foundation ... " ... " ... your starting point is with some raw material ... "
Your "starting point." LOL!! Ummm ... where might that be?
Julie: I was having difficulty making sense out of your question until I looked at one of your earlier posts on this thread. It contained in part the following: "If we can tailor the goal to our own gifts . . . ."
Instead of asking, "Where might that be?" I propose we ask, "What might they [our gifts] be?" My answer is that it doesn't matter. Refer to our gifts as genetics, hard-wiring, dispositions to behave, psycho-social background, raw material, parental influence, having a direct hot line to the photography gods, or ........ whatever else, it comes down to the same thing.
In Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan, Captain Kirk asks Spock whether the cadets on board the Enterprise are ready for the mission they are about to understake. Spock's response, in part, was "Each according to his gifts."
Michael said, "What might they [our gifts] be?" YES!! Yes, yes, yes. (It's so cool when someone "gets" what I'm after. Thank you, Michael.)
I also said, in the same previous post that "we can be the best at what we are the best at." Before basketball was invented, Michael Jordon was just an extra big mouth to feed. Before horse racing was invented, Bill Shoemaker was just a tiny mouth to feed. Before photography was invented, Ansel Adams was probably pretty hungry, too. The difference between Michael, Bill, and Ansel is that Ansel, as an photographic artist, gets to invent or define his own game *as he's playing it* -- on the fly, simultaneous with its being played.
If I can't play Ansel Adams's game, or Richard Avedon's game, or James Nachtwey's game or Garry Winogrand's game ... it doesn't mean I don't have "talent." It means I haven't yet found the game in which I *do* have "talent."
Note how "talent" is a case of affirming the consequent.
Myself, I don't want to to play any other's "photographic game" as you call it. I do want to develop my own game. This does not happen in isolation but in interaction with imagery and photographers I like and which inspire me.
But always in relation to what I want to achieve, building on my (large or small) talent.
This thread, as others, has been of great help to me to continue my photographic work.
I urge Julie to read many of the responses to Arthur in a recent thread he initiated. Most of the responses suggest that all art is a matter of both playing the game as handed down and not playing that game. Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, James Nachtwey, and Garry Winogrand were not blank slates. They were parts of a photographic tradition, they learned how to use cameras, they all had their influences. In short, they were as human as Michael Jordan.
No one of these figures invented or defined the game. Some, more than others, redefined or broke rules or established new methods or traditions but all within their game.
Chances are, if you're [generic you, of course] not playing Avedon's game, at least to some extent, you're simply going to be one of those people telling themselves they're an artist because art is completely subjective and because all the title requires is that one refer to themselves as one. And, you might fool yourself into doing this with no talent or vision or photographic skills at all. Then, of course, you've rendered meaningless and debased the term "artist."
I think there's a similarly subtle distinction in filmmaking. Many amateur filmmakers are competent enough to make something that looks like a "real movie," just as many photographers can emulate a particular technique, compositional rubrick, or style. I'm certainly no expert, nor am I a photographer of any note, but I think many of the "seeing" techniques can be taught in a rote manner. I know that in my photography (as well as in my filmmaking) I'm still just practicing mimickry of popular styles.
Luca, I think that, as a simple matter of fact, each person plays his/her own game. Maybe, that's what Fred was addressing when he spoke earlier in this thread about obligation.
One can, however, choose to play lots of other games. This can be dangerous in a sense, inasmuch as one's development may not have reached the level at which playing these other games may be successful. Theroretically at least, I may have the same raw talent as any of the "big name" photographers. What I don't have is their level of expertise, craft, etc.
Ralph, that techniques can be taught is clearly demonstrated by human experience. In a photographic context, however, it's not just the technique. "Seeing" is more akin to "seeing as", involving an interpretive element. When a photographer encounters a couple locked in a passionate embrace, or reaches the summit of a mountain, or beholds the intricate geometric structure of a building, there's the realization "THIS is a photograph." It's an "aha moment." We all have them, photographers or otherwise. I really don't think that ths is something that can be taught.
I am glad to see someone brought up the fact that many people simply attempt to simulate great work by mimicking its signifiers. I think a huge percentage of photography (and art, too) is just that. And that is a game.
While people play games of all kinds, and it makes life seem simpler and clearer, it is a falsehood to think of art as a game. It's not.
Luis, good point about "games." In a recent thread, art was called a "business" and, though I know there's a business side to art, I thought that was a denigration of it. I don't know if the analogy to games just went a little far and if Julie really meant that art is a game, but I think you're right to caution against such thinking.
I think art not being taken seriously leads to a belief that we each invent it. Art, like most disciplines, has values, traditions, it uses media (which do evolve), it utilizes signs and symbols, references itself often, engages in dialogues throughout the ages. Art does not take place in a vacuum and it is not played.
For the most part, art is CRAFTED.
Michael, I understand what you're saying about Aha moments. Recognition is certainly a big part of seeing. Good point.
I don't generally encounter the situations of my photographs. I usually have a big role, along with my subjects, in creating those moments. Often, the Aha! is not a surprise to me, it is simply the culmination of thinking, seeing, and some amount of directing and listening/observing. In other words, I think Aha moments can be crafted as well as encountered.
Regarding the "aha moments" of Michael and Fred
Since recently hearing just a little about Theodor Reik, Freudian psychoanalyst, I've begun to see his (and Freud's) sort of thinking closely relevant to photography, unlike "philosophy."
Jung is ever-popular among photographers, but I think that has to do with his symbol-laden neo-religiosity, and his comfort with ideas that sometimes seem racist. It's said that Freud embraced Jung specifically to make psychoanalysis seem more aryan.
Why is psychoanalytic thinking potentially more relevant than philosophy? Because philosophy consists entirely of verbal formulations. It attempts to fabricate a parallel, entirely verbal world...whereas psychology (psychiatry, psychoanalysis etc) has directly to do with human experience. Reik, a non-physician, sought to separate psychoanalysis from medicine and was interested especially in surprise in human experience. This appeals to me partially because I worked with the flip side of that in research, having to do with sensory deprivation and a technical version of "boredom."
Surprise can't be taught, but we can set the stage for it, virtually seek it. We do know where surprises lurk sometimes. That's why some of us photograph people face-to-face, for example. And why some of us treasure doubts.
I wish we could meet in a bar over several rounds of good whiskey to hash out why you have such disdain for philosophy. Although I know I could not convince you to abandon that attitude, at least I could try to convince you to extend some additional tolerance toward those of us who hold philosophy in high esteem.
Since this is not in the cards for me, I will have to resort to saying - very simply and very directly - that your distinction between philosophy and psychology in terms of human experience begs at least a few questions. Indeed, your characterization is flatly wrong. You confuse the activity of philosophy, the verbal stuff, with its subject-matter, which certainly encompasses human experience. Since you obviously have spent a great deal of time and effort dealing with personality theory, I am confident you will see that it is at least closely akin to philosophy. Granted, behavioral psychologists studying rats in a maze may be described as dealing "directly" with human beavior, that's quite different than dealing with human experience, directly or otherwise.
The bottom line: No discipline - whether it be philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, mathematics, etc. - has a corner on the market. Ultimately, I feel that human experience is best understood in an interdisplinary fashion. We should not arbitrarily limit what we are willing to consider in answering significant questions.
Michael, I too wish we could knock a few back, and Bud Light would be more than good enough (I live in Bud country). I don't disagree with your "interdisciplinary" advocacy. And I don't think rat running relates well to my understanding of humanity, but it does hint at a few central realities.
I was always amused by Skinner and, especially, Watson...and I did use learning theory to work almost-effectively with autistic kids...but my real interest was always perception, and that relates directly to a boredom/variability/surprise continuum.
Surprise, which relates to risk, at a certain level may explain why I like photos that raise questions more than I like photos that provide answers (decorative or clearly thematic). I may be a linear thinker who enjoys the anxiious precipace of doubt rather than a wholistic thinker who seeks conclusions.
Ralph, that techniques can be taught is clearly demonstrated by human experience. In a photographic context, however, it's not just the technique. "Seeing" is more akin to "seeing as", involving an interpretive element. When a photographer encounters a couple locked in a passionate embrace, or reaches the summit of a mountain, or beholds the intricate geometric structure of a building, there's the realization "THIS is a photograph." It's an "aha moment." We all have them, photographers or otherwise. I really don't think that ths is something that can be taught.Michael, while I would agree that "imagination," "insight," and "creative abstract interpretation," are more elusive métiers which cannot be "taught," most beginners can easily be instructed on training their eye to percieve the most basic and commonly agreed upon principles of "good" two-dimensional design. In the broadest of definitions, to me, there are two types of photographs: 1.) Those that are pre-produced, storyboarded, or specifically art-directed. 2.) Those that are captured spontaneously. Photographers able to elicit "the moment" in spontaneous capture have mastered the skill of visual "editing." The ability to frame the essential part of the world, while excluding (from view) the "other parts." The first thing I always try to imbue to anyone I know with a beginning interest in photography, are those two things: some 2D design basics, and this concept of "editing." Of course, the real essence of any art is the "idea," and, there I would agree; ideas cannot be taught.
Sure we can learn how to photograph, just like most of us can learn how to play the piano but we will not learn how to be musicians. There is a difference between playing an instrument and playing music and I can assure that today, even at the highest levels of fame, there are only few music makers that are real musicians and understand this language-art. Same for everything else.
John: To me, wrestling with hte questions is far more gratifying than reaching thge conclusion.
Ralph: I believe that my best response to your last post is to refer you to Antonio's comment. "Sure we can learn how to photograph, just like most of us can learn how to play the piano but we will not learn how to be musicians." On the one hand, there's teaching others the principles of composition and design. On the other, there's no teaching anyone when to experience something through their senses as a subject worthy of a photograph.
Ralph: I believe that my best response to your last post is to refer you to Antonio's comment. "Sure we can learn how to photograph, just like most of us can learn how to play the piano but we will not learn how to be musicians." On the one hand, there's teaching others the principles of composition and design. On the other, there's no teaching anyone when to experience something through their senses as a subject worthy of a photograph.Michael, while I'm sure I agree with the spirit of Antonio's post, I think the analogy is too concrete. The statement suggests an either/or classification (and a purely subjective one at that), but the differentiation between a person who merely sight-reads a piece of sheet music, and a "musician," varies to an infinite degree. Similarly, I would argue that the difference between someone instructed to compose a pleasing frame, and a "seeing" photographer is just as finely gradiated. Sometimes when shooting, a non-photographer will "suggest" a different angle--many times it's an angle I didn't consider, and many times, it was worth considering.
I think talent has something to do with consistent ability. It's my experience, as well, that a non-photographer can sometimes make a great suggestion. Those occasions don't read to me as talent. Now, if a non-photographer consistently made great suggestions, particularly of a specific type, my reaction might be to say,"Hey you should learn how to take your own photos. You seem to have some talent."
ralph oshiro, there is definitely a variation to an infinite degree, like you said, between sight reading and playing music but the concept is clear: you can be a good player but will never be a musician if you aren't a musician first. Now, I think in music this concept might apply better than with photography, because in photography the artistic-emotional-creative process happens before releasing the shutter (IMO), while in music it happens before and after (since it is an eternally evolving and mutating process). Wow!
I am glad to see someone brought up the fact that many people simply attempt to simulate great work by mimicking its signifiers. I think a huge percentage of photography (and art, too) is just that. And that is a game.This brings me back to a recent post by Fred G. where he mentioned that originality can't be the issue, but rather the photographer's own interpretation of what has been done (photographed) in the past.
The issue in my opinion is that
imitating is not re-interpreting. You need to understand why a "famous" photo produces a certain effect, how this has been achieved
then you need to have a personal technique and awareness of how you control or not control composition
only then the imitation becomes re-interpretation and the work is personal. In principle there is nothing new under the sun, but matching what we see with our unique personal interpretation makes the difference.
And this is the point: we need to recognize out unique personality - in this case in photography - and learn the craft to reflect it in the pictures we make.
It does not mean that photography is only technique, not at all. It's talent (here we go again!), it's sensorial sensitivity (it's difficult to learn to play an instrument if your ear is not sensitive to the nuances of musical notes).
And it's work, thought, reflection, reaction and feedback.
Luca, I was not talking about imitating either one specific photograph or photographer, but the real and imagined qualities that signify successful photographs.
There are many things that make a difference. Assuming you make peace with who you are, and work out of that, it may still not be enough. You may need to change, to become your own agent provocateur. Not necessarily towards an ideal (though perhaps away from one).
but the real and imagined qualities that signify successful photographsI agree, but photographs are not an abstract conception. Simulating "Simulating great work" is not only an action of fantasy, the signifiers of great work are in our experience, in our neural connections, in our preference. And partially in our imagination.
I see very well your point about universal signifiers, but still I believe they refer, if not directly, to the photographs and photographers we feel responsive to. We see photographs that strike us, we imagine what their qualities are (which makes us like them), and we try to repodude them.
Being my own "agent provocateur"? I try hard.
However the diving line is thin between building on experience rather than turning the experience constantly acquired upside down.
Can we learn to photograph, or do we need an innate talent to view and compose? Will studying and experimenting be enough?Boy, that's a good one! It's a question I ask myself every time I pick up a camera. One of my old photography instructors opened his lecture in advanced portraiture with the question, "What's the difference between a 'snapshot,' and a 'photograph?'" (answer: " . . . snapshots are only meaningful to the person who took them."). He left the method of discovery to learn to discern between the two to our own devices. I took that lecture decades ago, and my own creative myopia haunts me every day. "How do I advance beyond mere craft?" "Can I 'learn' how to move beyond the subject:background paradigm (my current aesthetic crisis)? Will study and experimentation be "enough?" I'm finally where I want to be technically, and I feel like I'm ready to approach the next level's challenge. I am starting to study, analytically, what contributes to an image's "interest." I'm making lists. I'm looking at others' work. I'm looking at other media. I bought some sketch pads, pencils, and a set of Prismacolors last night. Soon, I will be doing more "experimenting." If study and experimentation aren't enough, god help me.
See? Anyone can put a pretty girl in front of a background, bounce a Speedlight of a wall, and have an alluring image. It's alluring because the subject is alluring. There's no "concept" to the image. There's no "meaning." The lighting is simple and straightforward. No serious study of form or color. I like the photo because I think the model is beautiful. These are the stereotypes I'm struggling with now (and, perhaps may be better served in another thread).
See? Anyone can put a pretty girl in front of a background, bounce a Speedlight of a wall, and have an alluring image.Not at all.
I think you've made good use of the lighting and I like the skin tone (though it's a little irregular), and it reads nicely against the red dress. She certainly stands out from the background. I actually find it a non-alluring photo. There's little life in her expression. To me, she looks like she has the flu and is miserable. She may be a beautiful woman, but there is no beauty in her expression, so I don't see her as beautiful photographically speaking.
Ralph, I actually find it a very non-alluring photo. There's little life in her expression. To me, she looks like she has the flu and is miserable. She may be a beautiful woman, but there is no beauty in her expression, so I don't see her as beautiful photographically speaking.Well, it wasn't my intention to elicit any critique, I was just looking for a girl-on-a-background shot to illustrate my point.
I think you've made good use of the lighting and I like the skin tone (though it's a little irregular), and it reads nicely against the red dress.Thanks for adding that, but I admit, it's a very technically flawed image (color temperature issues).
Ralph, I didn't mean it as a critique, though because I was saying some negative things about it, I thought I'd add what I found more positive. I try not to get into straight critiques in this forum. But the point you seemed to be illustrating was that you could create an alluring photo relatively easily (and presumably with just some skills that you could learn) and I think your photo does not illustrate this.
Ralph, I didn't mean it as a critique, though because I was saying some negative things about it, I thought I'd add what I found more positive. I try not to get into straight critiques in this forum. But the point you seemed to be illustrating was that you could create an alluring photo relatively easily (and presumably with just some skills that you could learn) and I think your photo does not illustrate this.Your comments actually bring back an on-topic focus here. That photo was taken about five years ago. A year before that, I took like a zillion of photos of a former girlfriend, over a period of about a year. Now, six years later, I look back on those images, and think, "What the hell was I doing?" Although I've been taking pictures with SLRs since I was 14, my photography hadn't really improved until I started shooting again only about a year ago. I think I've "learned" more in the past year, than I have in my whole life. Next week, I have my first session with a model since that previously posted photo was taken. We'll see how it goes . . .
Fred and Ralph: I've learned a lot just by reading your interchange about the posted photograph!!
it's astonishing, because
Now, six years later, I look back on those images, and think, "What the hell was I doing?" Although I've been taking pictures with SLRs since I was 14, my photography hadn't really improved until I started shooting again only about a year ago. I think I've "learned" more in the past year, than I have in my whole life.is exactly what I have experienced. There are some photos I have taken when I was 14 (not with an SLR but with a Leica IIIa). My photos which I think are good from that period have happened mostly by chance.
My approach now is completely different.
As Gianni Berengo Gardin says: my photographic archive is like wine. It gets better and better over time.
Fred and Ralph: I've learned a lot just by reading your interchange about the posted photograph!!Really, Michael? I don't know what possible learning benefit that exchange could have had (at least, to others), but I'm certainly glad you did!
is exactly what I have experienced. There are some photos I have taken when I was 14 (not with an SLR but with a Leica IIIa). My photos which I think are good from that period have happened mostly by chance.It's weird, isn't it Luca? There's one image, a portrait of four girls, which I took when I was 14, that's still among one of my best images. I suppose I had a innocent eye at the time. Or, it could've just been an accident, as you said. It's probably not uncommon to find that some of our early work is surprisingly good. But, I don't know why my recent photographic epiphany took so many decades to percolate to the top. Perhaps, with the former-girlfriend photo series, I was simply too distracted by my relationship with her to think critically enough about my technique. But it was more than just that. It must've been. I think I just hadn't been paying enough attention to the artform with such focused study for so many years. Yet, we visited photo galleries, attended art openings, and bought photo books, throughout the time I was with her. But, I've never examined my photography so critically as I have been doing in just the last year. I'm paying attention now, it seems. I'm analyzing each picture, trying to vet what's wrong, why it's not better, wondering what would permit it to transcend stereotype, even if just by a millimeter. These are the things I am desperately trying to "learn" now. And, I sure hope they're "learnable." I just met a pretty decent model to work with, and now, I think I finally have the conceptual maturity, the technical skill, and of course, all the gear, to merit shooting someone of her caliber. I still have many artistic challenges ahead, but I feel that I've finally reached some sort of milestone in my craft. I think I'm finally "ready" to proceed . . .
There are two issues I believe:
the more experience, the less spontaneity. I probably have lost some of my spontaneity;
the more experience, the higher the bar, at least for me.
Most of the people say that they are here to learn. I don't think it's a commonplace. The more photographs the photographer takes, the more he learns (if he keeps consciousness and consistency).
A good friend photographer told me not to be too "concept driven". He's right.
It's an excellent advice to have a general concept and the accept all the casual elements (and photos) which come out.
the more experience, the less spontaneity. I probably have lost some of my spontaneity;
the more experience, the higher the bar, at least for me.
Very astute. Raising the bar implies "learning," certainly a good thing.
Most of the people say that they are here to learn. I don't think it's a commonplace.I didn't quite understand that statement. Could you clarify, please?
A good friend photographer told me not to be too "concept driven". He's right.
It's an excellent advice to have a general concept and the accept all the casual elements (and photos) which come out.Sounds like great advice! Thank you! By the way, how do you type carriage returns (line-breaks), and tabs here? It's certainly not my intention to write hard-to-read, 400-word paragraphs without a break.
to your request for clarification: If you look at the statements of a large number of members here, they include the willingness to learn "I am here to learn".
I think it's true, photographing consciously is a learning process, reasoning about photography is a learning process, if done seriously. That's what I mean: I think that even if respected photographers state: "I am here to learn" it's true, they mean it. As I mean it.
PS I insert the carriage returns manually when the system offers me a preview. I insert the line breaks immediately before the paragraphs I want to separate.
Thanks for the "coding" assistance, Luca! (I was only unclear about the line below.)
I don't think it's a commonplace.
I think it's true, photographing consciously is a learning process, reasoning about photography is a learning process, if done seriously. That's what I mean: I think that even if respected photographers state: "I am here to learn" it's true, they mean it. As I mean it.Yes, I wholly agree. I think forums can be excellent platforms for learning. Even the thought processes experienced while composing a reply, in and of themselves, seem to be extremely in helpful in fleshing out concepts and ideas of our own. I am also here to learn, and I sincerely appreciate everyone's thoughtful contributions.
I will apologize for being gone for so long. Other matters have drawn me away.
It seems to me that an important part of the discussion about talent is whether one's use of the term is ascriptive or descriptive. In the former case one recognizes that some workers consistently produce better results than others. One makes an effort to characterize the qualitative difference he sees using a non-analytical frame of reference by saying that the workers producing the best results have more talent than the others. He ascribes or attributes talent to the worker without having to explain exactly what he means by it. From this point of view a question such as "Does a person need talent to succeed?" makes no sense because talent represents a place marker for quality and not something that actually exists on its own. I'll admit to being on a somewhat slippery slope here because the word talent used this way is commonplace and is so useful.
In the latter case one takes the point of view that talent is something that can exist on its own. This takes us into the realms of aptitude testing and brain wave measurement, etc. Talent is something people equipped with the proper tools and technology can study. To say that a person has talent becomes a matter of fact on its own merit even without his ever producing anything to demonstrate it. An extreme example for pointing to the concept would the person with a huge IQ who winds up leading an ordinary life by working in a convenience store. From this point of view talent is a potential for producing quality works, but it does not bind a person to produce anything at all. (Apologies for the example... I'm not trying to be judgmental in any way.)
Both perspectives require a worker to learn his craft to some degree to get results. Modern photographic gear programs a lot of the mechanical aspects of making pictures out of the way. This suggests that all one has to do to call himself a photographer is get a good camera. He can depend on his "eye" for results. I agree with much of the sentiment already described in this thread, however, that time spent learning photography is time well spent. One needs to know what to do when the programming fails him. He needs to know the effects he might create to adjust his equipment to get them.
I'm not proposing that a person needs to turn himself into a "super technician" to succeed. The aha flash I had when I realized exactly how to derive f-stops and partial f-stops is not a requirement for anybody, but it does greatly simplify something that certainly mystified me beforehand.
An aha moment is an interesting part of learning because it is instantaneous. There is a long period of preparation and then, sometimes, a synthesizing flash that puts things together in your mind in an entirely different way. Speaking for myself, these flashes cannot be undone again. (This is not the same thing I mean when I say that there is "no such thing as an instant expert!" This expression is a reflection on the pressures I have experienced when I was expected to pick up a tool I had never seen before and immediately demonstrate its use as if I was thoroughly familiar with it - an instant expert as it were.)
Fred's comments about determinism interested me because I wondered if he might not be referring to the development on one's personal style. Personal style is something one develops as he works with something long enough to develop (more or less) consistent work habits and some comfort with what he is doing. The song calls it "I'll do it my way!" One's style can be strong enough to fingerprint his work with dependably recognizable characteristics evident to others. You can see that personal style simplifies the work at hand by allowing it to benefit from the experience learned from previous works, eliminating the need to make a decision for every detail all over again. It also enslaves the worker somewhat by introducing an element of repetition into his product. It is not asking too much for an experienced worker to observe that he feels that some sort of determinism has an influence over him.
Involvement with modelmayhem.com by photographers and models could be an interesting photojournalistic essay in itself, as could the way homeless are used in "street". I've not seen anyone look intentionally at the dynamics and implications of either.
This is not a critique the particular photo... Fred's response almost works for me, but I'm more interested in its obvious "fashion" concepts of attractiveness, and the photographer/model's mutual enabling of something. This is an area in which both photographers and models might learn (per the OT). It seems clear what they're teaching.
The notion of "talent" seems often to be self-aggrandizing (click links to evaluate: do pretty pictures demonstrate "talent"?). Seems the same as the "bell curve" idea that's employed so often for dubious purposes.
I wonder who here has experienced worthwhile people-picture teachers (eg people like Minor White, Alexey Brodovich, people in their lineage, reasonably "good" art director/designers)? I am sure that more exposure to teachers like that would have helped me. It's hard to get started or play catch-up with books and Internet alone.
IMO the "talent" idea is reliably an alibi or shallow opinion.
Like most things in life, some people take s naturally to some things. Some people will be able to shoot great images. Some people can't. But you can learn. It's like learning how to write, once you've learnt how to write the basic letters you can make words, once you can make words you can create storys.
Well, it seems at least I'm able to learn. Coming here has been helpful. I did that shoot with that model last Saturday, and my technique seemed to have really improved since that five-year old, model-on-a-backdrop shot was taken. I've been here for what, two weeks? And both my attitude and conceptual approach seem far more "grounded." It's as if I've always had the potential to be a "good" photographer (since getting my first SLR at age 14), but was never able to realize this potential until now. I'm not even sure what the major "learning" impediment was (and there certainly was one). Although I've always had a decent sense of composition, somehow, I just never "got it," for whatever reason. I never got the "overall." I've recently analyzed all of my favored photographic techniques, and analyzed all of the thematic elements that I could think of which go into making a picture. And now . . . synthesis. After lighting for television for so many years, I realize, it's all easily applicable to still photography. Plus, not only do I now have decent gear, I now have the "right" gear, chosen specifically for the types of shots I want to execute. Now, I seem very focused. Very tuned-in. Ready to work. I can't believe it took this long (36 years).
Separate names with a comma.