Character

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Norma Desmond, Aug 18, 2010.

    1. The character of a photograph is an aggregate of qualities that form its individual nature. I said previously that a flute and oboe may each hold the same note for the same period of time and be in the same pitch yet will have different timbres. Their sounds will be of different characters or qualities. Much of the character of my photos seems to center around an (artificially) posed or staged feel within what are evidently real or natural environments and relatively spontaneous setups.

      Do some/many/all of your photos have a character you are aware of and can describe?


    2. I consider (and even treat) many of the subjects of my photos as if they are (or will be) characters in them. I am drawn to theatricality, both as staged in theaters and as discovered out in the "real" world. I notice everyday people posing all the time (especially while smoking cigarettes and kissing their lovers in public). Theater seems to isolate and exaggerate much that is human, making some things more obvious and accessible than they are when they occur offstage.

      Even if you don't create portraits or work with people in your photographs, is there some corollary to this use of character in your work. Do some of the "things" in your photos become like characters . . . or perhaps props?


    3. The character of the photograph or photographer can be a moral issue (i.e., a photograph or man of character). I hope my photographs display and address issues of character, those of my subjects, myself, and of some of the themes/topics I address. As I said previously, though I stick mainly to men of my age group (and gay men at that), I don't treat them as mascots or trinkets, I try not to elicit superficial pathos, and I am willing to show discord as well as harmony.

      Do your own works show anything (morally) about your character as a person or the character of the people or things you photograph? Do your photographs deal with themes or topics that have a moral character?
     
  1. Do some/many/all of your photos have a character you are aware of and can describe?​
    Fred, This is a thread about a topic I wondered quite a lot about a couple of years ago. My particular interest at the time was a) do I have a style? and b) if not, how do I create one? To answer the question, I didn't turn to photographers, I turned to artists in other mediums. I asked the question and was told almost everyone develops a style, whether they realize it or not. I asked around for people's opinions of my images, and was told a few things that made me realize I do have a style. The problem for me was that I have done so many types of photography in my lifetime... too many to be pegged by a style, I thought. But after a year or so, I realized I do have a style, and I only recently have begun working on developing it more.
    Even if you don't create portraits or work with people in your photographs, is there some corollary to this use of character in your work. Do some of the "things" in your photos become like characters . . . or perhaps props?​
    I do a lot of fashion and portrait work (the latter for my personal work), and I also look to theatrical themes in many of them. I am getting better at creating lighting and props. I think I was better at this when I worked at an art museum and had a lot more access to props and locations in a larger city. I find there is something I capture about my subjects that makes no sense to me when I take the image, but is perfectly clear when I've had some opportunity to evaluate it.
    Do your own works show anything (morally) about your character as a person or the character of the people or things you photograph? Do your photographs deal with themes or topics that have a moral character?​
    I think so. I see the good in other people, and often try to capture it. However that can be a bad thing too. It doesn't work for some fashion work. I don't try to subject my portraits to any other filter, but I think it is difficult to leave out something about yourself. Sometimes it is pursuing something further than you or your subject's comfort level allows: a pose, less clothes, more candor, more honesty, more of whatever that person is. In the end, I may inflict more of my own curiosity than obtain truth.
     
  2. The character of a photograph is an aggregate of qualities that form its individual nature​
    I would rather say that there's the nature of photographs, and there's the character of a photograph. The character is inevitably bound - driven ? - by its nature.
    Do some/many/all of your photos have a character you are aware of and can describe?​
    I think they have an introspective character, more than not. Which is not to say that they're made, each and every one of them individually, with introspection.
    Even if you don't create portraits or work with people in your photographs, is there some corollary to this use of character in your work. Do some of the "things" in your photos become like characters . . . or perhaps props?​
    Maybe the off-beat window displays and manequin dolls that I somehow cannot not photograph aren't as much characters but they do characterize for me the strangeness of the world. Which is not the nature of things, not *reality*, but a part of it. But I still want to impossibly render *the nature of things*, seen from the eye as much as from the mind, infinite.
    Do your own works show anything (morally) about your character as a person or the character of the people or things you photograph? Do your photographs deal with themes or topics that have a moral character?​
    They might, seen as a work as a whole, show some characteristic INFJ ( Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging ). I find it difficult though to ascribe a makers's value of morality in ones work.
    Ultimately we can only be judged ( good <> bad ) by our actions and much less so by our thoughts. If the work indeed does show something characteristic ( or who knows is made to appear that way ) of its maker, it's more a reflection of thoughts than one of action, even though photographs can't change thoughts but people can.
    ----------------
    Lastly, in context of character and to borrow a line from "The Wolf" in Pulp Fiction : Just because you are a character, doesn't mean you have character. I suppose that holds up for photographs as well !
     
  3. Michael, thanks for including style. It's an important element. I do think there's a difference between style and character, though I'd have to think about that difference more to develop it beyond saying there's a difference. I am more in touch with the difference between style and character relative to people than I am relative to photographs. You mention fashion. I think the clothes we wear, the fashions we prefer, the carriage we adopt are a matter of style. The way we throw a dinner party or entertain people seems also about style. The way we treat ourselves and others, our intentions and many of our actions seem more a matter of character. In the music example, the timbre of the instruments, the way they sound, is a matter of their character. Even with that same sound characteristic, the oboe can be played in very different styles by the same or different oboists. What is comparable to that difference between character and style in a photograph? Perhaps you or others can help me get my footing here, and in the meantime I will think about it more.
    Phylo, I like your distinction between character and nature. That's good, because I try to consider bodies of work and perhaps the bodies of work have a stronger bit of both, nature and a character. That photographs per se have a nature is a compelling thought, which I will pursue.
    Yes, in order for a photo to be characterized as introspective, it doesn't have to be made introspectively.
    As I see at least some evidence of action on the part of a photographer in a photograph, there are times when I do make judgments about the morality. Perhaps it's not the morality of the photographer him or herself, but at least it is about the morality I may comprehend when I look at the photo. But I must admit I do sometimes consider the morality of the photographer in having made certain choices and in shooting certain subjects and shooting them in certain ways.
     
  4. jtk

    jtk

  5. jtk

    jtk

    Because of something about photography as a personally valued skillset, I don't "document" (ie rip off) homeless or people who are merely good looking. That's something like a morality.
    When I've used models they've been essential to commercial messages and have had the acting skills to project relevant personalities...consequently they were expensive adults. On the one occasion I photographed young beauties, they were professional dancers for San Francisco Ballet, hired by Capezio (dance shoe/attire)...not mere models. Their athleticism and dedication made me feel honored, which may also relate to morality.
    My prints are almost always cropped, usually dodged/burned. Mostly B&W inkjet currently, they are typically printed to emulate Agfa Portriga Rapid.. extensions of my old analog work, though back then I preferred Agfa Brovira. I suppose those are elements of visual "character."
     
  6. jtk

    jtk

  7. "What is comparable to that difference between character and style in a photograph?"- Fred
    "they are typically printed to emulate Agfa Portriga Rapid.. extensions of my old analog work, though back then I preferred Agfa Brovira. I suppose those are elements of visual "character."" - John​
    Perhaps the difference is to be found somewhere between the visual and the emotional of a photograph, when it comes to style <>character. While the visual can create character, visual is more of a style, character is more of an emotion.

    I see a lot of old family / friends b&w photographs hanging in old houses, they have character. Unknown memories, alluding to the lives people lived. But do they have character visually or because of my emotional response to them ? Probably a mix of both but it does make wonder how much of a photograph's character ( or a person's ) is inherent and how much a projection of our own.
     
  8. Addressing the issue of style only at this time:
    I have a native style, but I don't use it all the time. Sometimes for a very long time (though it leaks out now and then). I eclectically adopt styles for specific projects, because it is essential to the work that they look a certain way.
    I know enough about the many styles in photography to be able to do that. And no, I'm not talking about always using retro styles, let alone mimicking anyone else's.
     
  9. jtk

    jtk

    It seem a stretch to redefine the "visual" as "style" and "character" as "emotional".
    Certain styles do (IMO) seem to create emotion (as in the old photos to which Phylo responds, and as in the deliberate techniques of advertising photographers).
    I think Fred's dual use of "character" as referring both visual effect and morality was amusing but I don't think we should muddle the two ideas unnecessarily. As well, I don't think emotional response is necessarily related to morality, though most of us may default to that sometimes (eg confusion between distress about 9/11 and a personal morality).
    A photograph's possible "moral character" is one thing, but "technical character" (optics, film, digital, post processed, paper selection etc etc) is another.
     
  10. Whatever the viewer gets from a photograph is transmitted visually. That's broken down into a multiplicity of channels afterwards, but it is conveyed in one sensory modality (unless scratch and sniff paper for photo use is out and I missed it). In a way, that entangles the visual with everything related to the perception of a photograph, no matter how remote from the original. If you think it is a stretch, close your eyes, bring up a picture on your computer and tell me what you;re getting from it.
    Fred's use made perfect sense to me.
     
  11. Type of paper, ink, printing, etc., (which John has addressed) in addition to type of camera used, do seem to give a photo character. These are similar to the timbre of an instrument. Character can come from these very physical and tangible considerations, from the tools and medium. Style, on the other hand, may be more the purview of the performer/user, the musician or the photographer. Character, to follow that thought, is more inherent in the means and style is brought to those means by the performer or creator.
    This squares with the character of a person being more about their intentions and motivations and style being more about outward displays and shows.
    Since I am mindful of whether photographic techniques utilized seem relevant to subject matter, it leads me to think about whether styles are more effective, expressive, or communicative when they seem to have a significant relationship not only to the character of the medium but to the character of the subject as well.
    If I simply apply a style that's fashionable or apply one somewhat randomly in order to appear stylistic or stylized, is that as expressive or intriguing or layered as applying a style because it seems in harmony or counterpoint or intentional discord with the character of the subject?
    When I stylized my portrait of Ian with a George Hurrel- Don English-influenced look, I did it because it seemed in keeping with his character. It also seemed to make him a character. Some, but not all, of that is about his physical and visual characteristics, the way he comports himself, the surface traits that seem to lend themselves to such a style/treatment. Some of that stylization was suggested by much deeper considerations, i.e. personality and my own feelings about him as a subject. I can't think of another of my subjects, so far, that has warranted such treatment.
     
  12. To me, all photographs potentially have character, but it always takes time to know that character. It's very much the same as what is sometimes unkindly said about unfamiliar races of people -- "They all look the same to me." Once one comes to know the people, they no longer "all look the same."
    If I think of my photographs as a bug collection (I am the only one who knows where and how to find them), the boxes of species would be sorted by "style." However, the individual bugs all have character. Style is about matching to species or genera. Character just ... is. It's a group of one.
    Using style, matching, grouping, I have my beetles, my wasps, my moths, and they all look the same in their grouping but if I look -- for a long enough time -- at one particular beetle or one particular moth, it's always more than a "kind" of beetle or moth, it is "a" being, beyond group, genera or species, or "kind."
     
  13. Character and style. Not always easy to distinguish between the two, as each speaks to "distinctive qualities". At least to an inanimate object or art form, unless we use style simply to denote some particular aesthetic movement . When we speak of character or style of a person we infer some difference between the two, character often being more related to the values, inherent manners and moral of the person, whereas style often refers to outward mammersims adopted for some purpose.
    Character in a photograph. Paper, surface texture, framing, and so on are for me more questions of style and much less of character. Character has to be in what the work communicates, why and for what reason it was made and how it communicates something unique. Yes, unique is important. Two photographers photographing gravestones at the same cemetery may produce anything from a simple post card depiction to an image imbued with mystery, questions or unique perception. The latter would likely have character, the former almost always not.
    Although less powerful an effect than the foregoing, the character of an image can also be brought out by its manner of exhibition, where, and how it interacts with other elements in the surrounding space. I have three images from the Georgia seaside in an office of a friend, placed in a close assymetrical pattern and alone on one of the long walls. Together in that space they emit a certain character and uniqueness.
     
  14. jtk

    jtk

    "Together in that space they emit a certain character and uniqueness."

    Undoubtedly every close observer perceives a certain character and uniqueness...as with their responses to the door knobs, frames, lighting, cooking smells, temperature, and flooring.

    Monitors and projectors, as devices emit, as do paperss that glow due to their fluorescent brighteners, but I don't think "images" or photographic prints do.
    Every photograph can be characterised as having a certain "style," which may be a synonym for their "character." Description or evaluation of character from a moral or personality point of view is done in one's head, is not resident in print or monitor. "Style" and "character" can be totally bland, accidental, utilitarian.
     
  15. Character in a photograph. Paper, surface texture, framing, and so on are for me more questions of style and much less of character​
    Yes, but there's also something like the characteristic of film, or digital, both in the process of photographing and in the photograph, which can translate itself into the character of an image.
    All by all the photograph's nature is perhaps bipolar, with style being its objective part and character its subjective part.
     
  16. "All by all the photograph's nature is perhaps bipolar, with style being its objective part and character its subjective part."
    I would put it in perhaps in opposite sense. If character is indeed "distinct quality" it can be an objective parameter. Both style and character can be both subjective and objective, although I think subjective weighs in more often.
    "Description or evaluation of character from a moral or personality point of view is done in one's head, is not resident in print or monitor. "Style" and "character" can be totally bland, accidental, utilitarian."
    It's the quality of the print or monitor or whatever media to contain and either induce character (exhibiting values or manners, or their analogous visual symbols), or not. Therefore it is hard to consider that the they are divorced from the manner they are perceived by the viewer ("in his head").
    "Undoubtedly every close observer perceives a certain character and uniqueness...as with their responses to the door knobs, frames, lighting, cooking smells, temperature, and flooring."
    The character of some prints are definitely portrayed or extended by their placement, the colour of wall, the lighting (forceful or subdued), their immediate print neighbours (think of a series of images), their framing, and other factors of placement. Door knobs rarely add to that. The character of a photograph in which the visual the elements run off of the frame is often better maintained by placing it in a frameless holder, and choosing the wall colour and tone in consequence. The character of individual paintings in a commercial gallery in which the wall has been overly covered with too many paintings, can be diminished by such overblown placement. One of the most successful recent museum hangings I witnessed this year was the Tiffany exhibit in Montreal (at the MMBA). The character of the works gained much from the placements.
     
  17. Character in photographs.


    Developing a response for this topic was very difficult task for me, and it has required a jumbo serving of processing time because I think it is a very complex subject.


    Characterization within my photographic process that is largely subconscious and subliminal. I would like to clarify that statement by saying there is no implication of it occurring by accident.


    Over the years, I have made an effort to reflexively respond to elements of both conscious and subconscious streams of thought. I like to capture an image before I have time to think about it. The less I think, the more I do.


    My photography has identifiable elements of character which are a design of both my style and preferences. The collective feedback that I have received over the years has described my style as intimate, personal, soft, and as if the image was designed to represent how my personality lends me to see things the way I do.
    Some photographers are very gifted in the sense that their conscious efforts to demonstrate character yields an unmistakeable intentional elemental style within their photography that is effectively and easily perceived (and recognized) by the masses. Select images by Robert Mapplethorpe and Annie Leibovitz come to mind.
    Other people are gifted in the sense that they have a natural recognition of a character dominant scene, and their images are magical because the moment they release the shutter is within that oh-so-critical time frame which is responsible for some of the worlds most photo-journalistic photographs. Select images by Margaret Bourke-White come to mind.
    I am somewhere in between, always trying to capture the fantasy which reality affords me to see. I do believe that the element of character within a photograph is extremely important, as the end result provokes very strong associations and statements.

    The strongest character within my photographs is honesty. It’s what I do by reflex, in the absence of intentions to deceive.
     
  18. The strongest character within my photographs is honesty. It’s what I do by reflex, in the absence of intentions to deceive​
    That's honorable - almost from a photojournalists perspective - but isn't it in the nature of photographs to deceive, if ever so slightly, whether or not the photographer meant anything otherwise, or had different intentions.
     
  19. Matthew, thanks for the time and thought you put into this. As for honesty, I appreciate what you've said. Photographs may deceive, but photographers can be honest or not, even about acknowledging that photographs deceive.
    Phylo, you've given a great example of where nature is the more appropriate word to be applied to all photographs than character. I want to add that the deception that's in the nature of photographs can stay at the level of deception or transform itself (or be transformed) into truth or honesty. On the ground, this or that photo may deceive. But on another level, it may shed more light on a more significant truth.
    John, about five years ago I took an uninteresting cheesecake type picture of a cute shirtless male greeter at the entrance to the downtown San Francisco Abercrombie and Fitch store. Ho-hum. At the time, a photographer friend told me that good-looking young people could be the biggest challenge to photograph well. Old people, infirm people, odd-looking people all had some built-in interest. The challenge would be to do something of photographic interest with the pretty ones. I don't make a habit of shooting good-looking guys anymore. At the same time, I don't turn them away when the opportunity arises. Yesterday, I happened to walk by the flagship Abercrombie and Fitch store on Fifth Avenue in NY. Behold, a bevy of goodlooking, young, white, plaidly-clad, sandal-footed, properly gym-toned, coiffed guys. With their tacit approval, I took some pictures, both "candid" and "posed" and I may actually have a couple I'd have use for in certain contexts. Five years ago, I would have guessed getting beyond, even photographically denying, their good looks would likely be the solution. Yesterday, it seemed like confronting their good looks head on was the way to go. With that confrontation, I was able to include a visual question mark about what I was seeing. That move toward ambiguity, possibly even ambivalence, seemed genuine and seemed like a good hook. I haven't even gotten them out of the camera yet, so don't know whether they'll see the light of day, but even if not, I got some ideas, learned some things, and practiced, all with good-looking young guys who I didn't have to pay. I won't use them if they don't offer something new or at least honest, though I might use them in some more commercial/promotional ways even if they haven't pushed the envelope in the way I'd ultimately prefer.
     
  20. oops.
     
  21. On the ground, this or that photo may deceive. But on another level, it may shed more light on a more significant truth. - Fred
    Photographs are transformations. They can neither lie nor tell the truth. - Luis​
    Yes. Or how a photographer / a photograph can place the visible in the service of the invisible. Indeed a transformation is taking place then, but I think without the photograph itself being transformed, still adhering to its nature but not without revealing a deeper "truer" character.
     
  22. Correction !
    On the ground, this or that photo may deceive. But on another level, it may shed more light on a more significant truth. - Fred
    oops. - Luis​
    Yes. Or how a photographer / a photograph can place the visible in the service of the invisible. Indeed an oops is taking place then, but I think without the photograph itself being oopsed, still adhering to its nature but not without revealing a deeper "truer" character.
     
  23. Phylo - In a sense, I would have to say, yes it is the nature of a photograph to deceive. Potentially, at the very least. I agree with that statement because a photograph captures one perspective. If an image was holographic, it "may" not be as deceptive.
    Fred - In my early twenties/late teens, I was told by a photographer that I needed a scar because I was too pretty, and the scar would serve a purpose by stirring interest. Pretty and good looking is perspective. For all we know, one of the pretty young men at Abercrombie could be construed as ugly or awkward by someone else. If that's the case, is it easier to see them from an interesting perspective if they are perceived to lack beauty? Or did they lack interest because their character was young, or perhaps because the elements of their personality that may be interesting were suppressed by their vanity and conceit? Some of the people that I find very attractive are often very odd or awkward looking. It's the oddness that caused my eye to notice them!
     
  24. Matthew, pretty and good looking may be perspective but Abercrombie and Fitch are in the business of selling and they know what the majority of their audience finds good looking and they exploit that. It's not chance that the conventional good looks of their models helps sell their clothes. Of course, one of those good looking young men might be construed as ugly by some, but A&F counts on the fact, and pretty successfully, that those few who think these guys are ugly are the exceptions.
    Not knowing the photographer who said that to you and the context within which he said it, my gut reaction is not that you needed a scar but that he needed an imagination. Of course, there was likely more to your conversation that I'm not privy to. As the photographer, I am the one stirring interest, not some scar on your face.
    I'm not quite getting your questions about interest. For me, the guys did not lack interest. Only my photo of five years ago did, because of a lack of imagination on my part. Yesterday, I found I had a lot of interest in them. As for character, they seemed to respond with more enthusiasm to me than to the snapping tourists passing by, but it was going to be up to me to imbue the photographs with some sort of character. I didn't judge any conceit in those few moments.
    Attractiveness and oddity may cause me to take note or not to take note of people. What is noteworthy in a photograph may well be a different matter.
     
  25. Fred - "I didn't judge any conceit in those few moments."
    Do you mean there was conceit and you did not judge it, or that there was no conceit detected?
     
  26. No conceit detected.
     
  27. Hi Fred, I'll rephrase the interest part -- I was up earlier than usual and I'm still shaking the cobwebs with coffee and tea, lol.
    I do agree that the folks over at A&F do an excellent job at utilizing good looking people for marketing, advertising, and even employment. Your previous mention of your conversation with a photographer friend said that old, infirm, and odd looking people had some built-in interest. So, I had read the portion about photographing good looking young people and the challenge thereof, and interpreted it as the young good-looking people often had little or no built-in interest because of their beauty and youth. All of this I found that I could relate to in my own experiences.
    Now, I ask, "why" are the young beauties (male or female) a challenge to photograph, with the understanding that many photographers are gifted with the ability to demonstrate an individual's internal beauty, oddness, and other characteristics which are only revealed within the individuals psyche or witnessed upon observation, conversation, and familiarity with the individual? A young person - who fits the A&F profile - may still be odd internally (soul/personality/etc) and/or externally (physical appearance-beauty aside). In fact, I'd like to think that the average person is interesting -- even if they put me to sleep =). However, back to your photographer friend's statement, to learn and grow from his words, I must question and perhaps be the devils advocate to challenge myself to learn the most from this concept that I found interesting.
    When we see someone that is young and attractive or pretty (etc..), are we inclined, perhaps, to often not see past their beauty? If we could see past a portion of our judgements, would we then see through those characteristics and identify the interesting character that we often easily witness in those whom are old, infirm, or odd? If we capture a photograph/portrait that successfully captures these elements, what would be the ratio of people whom interpret that photograph as intended versus those whom are unable to "see the photograph" because they are blinded by the beauty that we learned how to look past/through/around?
    The photographer whom suggested I have a scar, lol, had made that statement in light humor - trying to make the point that sometimes a scar is interesting because it tells a story. Telling a story, or perhaps, implying a story. Interesting because it's noticeable, and people will wonder "why/how did he get that scar?" - or assumptions will be made that the scar represents someone tough. Implication of character, I suppose.
    And yes =) As the photographer, control of interest is within your domain. Some people, however, are interesting subjects (in my opinion) - and they sometimes stir interest regardless of how they are photographed. An individual with a prosthetic arm, an individual who's face has suffered severe burns. Assuming that the photograph is not being casted from a selection of models (or even if it is), I've always found intense visual content (such as a disfigurement) to be extremely interesting--even in otherwise lacking photos. Even if there was no intention to create an interesting photograph, many people would perceive it as an interesting photograph because it would not be uncommon for people to assume the photographer intended to use the handicap or disfiguration with some type of association or symbolism implied--thus "perceived interest"--and perhaps another "vision block" if they are fixated (or can't see past) the handicap, disfigurement (etc).
     
  28. Matthew, he was suggesting that I think photographically. He wanted me to think about what would make a compelling photograph and not necessarily what makes an interesting or compelling person.
    I don't mean to suggest that some subjects don't have more visual interest than others to start. I think he was telling me to challenge myself beyond what's attractive to me, beyond what's pleasing to me. A good way of doing that is to take something that seems merely attractive and pleasing and figure out ways to go beyond that.
    Deep as I may want to be and am able to get, photographs are visual works. I think my friend knows that intimately and, without wanting to direct me specifically, he was being suggestive. Indeed, the surface has become very important to me. My photographs are a combination of raw materials and what I do with them. The subject I choose or am given may be a starting point on which I build or may be part of a process already begun. Sometimes, I've got an idea for a photo or a portrait and the particular person is simply of service in my realizing the portrait I want. It may be a portrait, but it may be irrelevant to me whether it's a portrait of that person or not. I may be making a portrait, using an individual, but with more universal expression in mind. If I am doing a portrait to get something of the individual himself, I still have to be aware of what reads visually, for me, as much if not more than I have to consider the person internally.
    There's much more to be said, and I really appreciate this dialogue, Matthew. If I'm making any sense, I'm curious to hear your own further thoughts and keep building on this together.
     
  29. Fred, I mentioned the book here before, The Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore. Don't know if you've read it since then. I dug it out again, it deals with ( of a photograph ) > The Physical Level, The Depictive Level, The Mental Level and Mental Modelling. Intro :
    "How is this photograph different from the actual scene that Robert Frank saw as he stood in his Butte hotel room and looked out on this depressed mining town in the Northern Rockies ? How much of this image is a product of lenses, shutters, and media ? What are the chararteristics of photography that establish how an image looks ?
    ---
    A photograph can be viewed on several levels. To begin with, it is a physical object, a print. On this print is an image, an illusion of a window on to the world. It is on this level that we usually read a picture and discover its content : a souvenir of an exotic land, the face of a lover, a wet rock, a landscape at night. Embedded in this level is another that contains signals to our mind's perceptual apparatus. It gives 'spin' to what the image depicts and how it is organized.
    The aim of this book then is not to explore photographic content, but to describe physical and formal attributes of a photogrpahic print that form the tools a photographer uses to define and interpret that content."​
    Perhaps nothing new for most of us but it's a good read on the OT of Character.
     
  30. In a mathematical sense, there's simply more information in an older person, which in no way results in a more compelling photograph.
    Avedon: "Youth never moves me. I seldom see anything very beautiful in a young face. I do, though - - in the downward curve of Maugham’s lips, in Isak Dinesen’s hands. So much has been written there, there is so much to be read, if one could only read. I feel most of the people in my book, Observations, are earthly saints. Because they are obsessed, obsessed with work of one sort or another. To dance, to be beautiful, tell stories, solve riddles, perform in the street. Zavattini’s mouth and Escudero’s eyes, the smile of Marie-Louise Bousquet: they are sermons on bravado. - Avedon - 1959"
    Bruce Weber and many others have managed to pull many interesting portraits from youthful, pretty faces, but the "file size" is leaner. Youth, however, is also part of life, and in spite of the variables, a valid subject.
     
  31. I find the "old has more character" type portrait such a photographic cliché, an easy way out almost, like taking pics of them cute kittens, they also have character. The old type portraits / subjects are characters, certainly, but do the photographs have character ?
     
  32. Phylo, I carefully said information, not character. In some ways babies are tabula rasa, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be photographed. These imposed boundaries make nifty targets to test and riff of of. Phylo, I think you've just incited John K. to come out with the ancient sea-captain thing again.
     
  33. An old seacaptain holding a baby, that would reveal some conceptual character.

    I love this photographer's often straigt-on b&w portraits, lots of old faces with lots of information buried in them, there's even an "old sea-captain type" in it somewhere. Besides that the photographs have character, the material, the processing. But still, it's a thin line to walk on, and I find his portraits of younger faces often more telling, regarding information, if that's to be strived for.
     
  34. Above is another poor guy relegated to my holds folder. Funny story about this one, not for the faint of heart. He was, indeed, a character, but I was a little new and not prone to taking as many chances with my work. This guy was sitting against a wall at the Dore Alley Fair in San Francisco several years ago. Sitting on a beach chair with a mob of people lining the streets and partying and drinking and dancing, etc. The Dore Alley fair is SF's non-mainstream leather crowd fair, so especially at that time, it was definitely "anything goes." So, there he was on his beach chair, no pants, jerking off. And me, I look over at him, point to my camera for permission to photograph him, to which he nods his assent, and I shoot him from the waste up. Totally changed the character of the potential photo I had.
     
  35. Phylo, re: character and nature. I was talking to my sister-in-law tonight about my brother and I growing up. I was the good kid, nerdy, obedient. He was the bad kid, looser and more free, got into a lot more trouble. We weren't talking about photography. She said she believes kids (and she's got two herself) are born with certain natures and that mine and my brother's were just so different. Yet, I like to think both he and I are of similar character. So there may be a refinement here of seeing nature and character differently. Perhaps nature is some sort of given, the start. Character is built.
    A great question you ask, Phylo. Can photographs of characters have character? I say, yes. That's why I don't set boundaries for myself, tend not to put any particular subject or type of subject off limits. Though I will put ways of shooting people off limits for myself, always aware that my limit can be removed in an instant. Believe me, this week when I took out my camera as I approached the cute Abercrombie and Fitch guys, I felt I was transgressing a boundary I had set. I haven't shot cute guys on the street in quite some time. I did it anyway. Maybe I'm becoming more like my brother!
    There's been a lot said in this thread about types of people. Thinking in types can be a danger in that it often invites stereotyping, even prejudice. But types exist, at least in my mind, as surely as individuals. I find a healthy tension in the dynamics of people falling into a type as well as being individuals. That's just another thing to work with when I photograph.
     
  36. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, I shouldn't have drawn attention to your particular "hairy old sea captain" because his role-playing is probably what he is about...that is, I doubt he's especially nautical. Maybe I should have said "hairy old rabbi"...we see many more of them than hairy old sea captains on P.N (tho the standard P.N sea captain affects a pipe, unlike the standard rabbi).
    By the way, you've just demonstrated how much can sometimes be added through narrative . I hope you are writing something along with your portraits...they stand on their own as images, of course, but it's within your reach to greatly increase their significance (there's that word again).
     
  37. Thinking about Phylo's question, "Can photographs of characters have character?" and Fred's responses, for some reason made me think of department store Santa Clauses. How the person underneath or inside the costume always shows through and the whole interest in them is that "real" person sort of radiating out from under. In the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" the real Santa Claus shows up, and he totally creeped me out. I seem to want "my" characters (in Phylo's first sense), "my" Santa Claus to be only in my imagination, not claimed by some fleshy, gray (not white!) bearded fellow.
    But, on the other hand, in the movies I want good acting before all else (plot seems to be fading in importance, the older I get). I am guessing that this is because the characters being played aren't (already) mine. I have always hated movies about religious or mythological stories. On the other hand stereotypical characters don't seem to be "mine." I enjoyed John Travolta playing Mrs. Turnblad, the stereotypical fluttery, house-bound, big-assed mom, in "Hairspray". Hmmmm... but maybe, like the Santa Clauses, that was because I enjoyed spotting John Travolta inside or underneath ...
     
  38. Cool, Julie, and I often enjoy spotting the character on the outside or the one I can imagine and impose.
     
  39. Fred - "So, there he was on his beach chair, no pants, jerking off. And me, I look over at him, point to my camera for permission to photograph him, to which he nods his assent, and I shoot him from the waste up. Totally changed the character of the potential photo I had."
    So did that caption!
    ___________________________________________
    John - "Fred, I shouldn't have drawn attention to your particular "hairy old sea captain" because his role-playing is probably what he is about...that is, I doubt he's especially nautical."
    Seems like he's more naughty-cal, though I've no doubt he's spent many years before the mast.
    ______________________________________________
    Julie - "Thinking about Phylo's question, "Can photographs of characters have character?" and Fred's responses, for some reason made me think of department store Santa Clauses. How the person underneath or inside the costume always shows through and the whole interest in them is that "real" person sort of radiating out from under."
    I've been the person underneath, Julie. Being Santa is different than theorizing about it. I was visiting a friend in Wisconsin who played Santa at several locations at Christmas time, and after a night of heavy partying (at my urging), he became sick. There were no other Santas available, so for the next three days, I was Santa. The Santa character I had discovered to be a fake at an early age and made fun of countless times. Yes, the guy in the suit. It's hot in there, specially with the prosthetic gut. The only way to keep from suffocating is to be very still and calm. So I meditated inside Santa. You can barely see through the fake eyebrows & hat. The field of view is a hairy horizontal slit. Soon, one gets used to fine monofilament hairs, scores of them, in your eyes and mouth, some of them halfway down your throat, without gagging. It's a lot like being in an isolation tank covered in wool and nylon.
    Maybe my experience was unique, though I doubt it. When I donned the jolly suit, a transformation happened: I was possessed by the spirit of, and became Santa. Sure, you can say it was me radiating, and to a degree I'm sure it was, but from inside the suit, it felt like Santa had taken over and I had been relegated to homunculus status. Some of it is the suit, the "Village" atmosphere, the tween-aged elvettes buzzing around posing the kids & taking pictures, but a lot of it comes from the demand characteristics and projections from adults and children who believe in you. Some of it from the inside, some from the outside, and it created a boundary layer, however thin, in which Santa came to life.
    I channeled Santa at a small, ritzy, boutique mall by day, and at night, at a different company party -- for three days. Many little girls handed me long lists and gave me voluminous, detailed directions (Now, pay attention, Santa!) as to how to tell a particular model toy from a far less-desirable one that amost looks identical. One sad-looking little boy (5?) asked for me to find his father a job for Christmas. Some kids stared at me wordlessly, intensely spellbound, in total awe and reverence. I looked back lovingly, and in the same way, each of us a mystery to the other. A few babies exploded in tears when handed over...and/or in their diapers, but most were good. Some little Luis-es yanked on my beard, instantly blinding me. Little bastards!
    Then there were the adults. I hadn't imagined that adults would sit on your lap. The many men who were put up with it by their wives and girlfriends, all of whom wanted cars...Porsches and big Beemers. The women... most wanted to get married, find love, happiness. Or happiness in their fading marriages, for their kids & husbands. One asked to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby after losing her first one. The 40-something aging beauty who confidently teased me, then drew very close and whispered in my ear that what she wanted was for her mother to live long enough to celebrate her next (70th) birthday. Another wanted her cancer to stay in remission so she would see her children grow. The drunken women at the company parties, happy and gleefully lewd, a few of which did lap dances for Santa, and the few who wanted me for Christmas, no, no, it was Santa they wanted. My Ho-ho-ho's got better and better. They all had their picture taken with Santa, though I'm somewhere in there.
    [Inside Santa, as I sometimes do with a camera, I felt like one of the angels in Wings of Desire.]
    It instantly dawned on me that this was all about faith, make-believe (in a far more benign, therefore imaginary, world) and childhood, inner and outer. The easy ones just happened effortlessly, save for me palming the toy lists secretly in the Mom's hands.
    The sad and difficult ones, the ones that took my breath away, and made me fight back tears, shocked me. As they spoke, at some level, I initially became terrified. What COULD I possibly tell those total strangers sitting on my lap asking for the impossible? How could their flickering hopes be kept from going out? How could I ever do this in real time? Terror acid-rained inside the suit, panic welled up inside me...but... somehow, I took a breath, and the right words emerged from my mouth every time, and on time. Santa's words.
     
  40. Luis, I enjoyed that story very much.
    Now I have a thought-experiment. We have Luis in the dressing room, down to his under-whatevers (or not as the case may be; people should put those little computer blot-outs over your imagination if necessary). Next to him is the Santa Claus costume. Red, red, red, plus boots, beard, hair, fake fatness and so on. Luis puts on one item, then another. The thought experiment is this: at what point does Santa Claus "happen" and "Luis" disappear (if he ever does)?
    Conversely, if Luis/Santa is standing or sitting or doing the tango and has had a few too many and he starts to disrobe, at what point does Santa Claus "unhappen? Disappear? And ... tada! Look, it's Luis G!!
    In other words, at what point does "a" character take over?
     
  41. John, no problem at all your drawing attention to my photograph. After all, that's what it's about here, right? I'm confident enough in my work to have it questioned, though I never took your reference to sea captains personally, since I don't approach my work in the way in which you generally use the phrase to refer to a kind of work or approach. I do think many photographers approach rabbis, etc. with limited vision, as I've said recently, as mascots. But that won't eliminate rabbis from my repertoire, though getting them to take their clothes off for me might be another matter. I may have just found a niche!
     
  42. Julie asked the usual trick question - "In other words, at what point does "a" character take over?"
    I answered that clearly in my story: "...a lot of it comes from the demand characteristics and projections from adults and children who believe in you. Some of it from the inside, some from the outside, and it created a boundary layer, however thin, in which Santa came to life."
    [No, I didn't get Santa's "Santo" and break onto a bout of ecstatic dancing, either.]
    I also clearly indicated (because I had a feeling this very question was slouching toward my Bethlehem) that I never totally "left":
    "Sure, you can say it was me radiating, and to a degree I'm sure it was..."
    "from inside the suit, it felt like Santa had taken over and I had been relegated to homunculus status."
    "Some kids stared at me [Not Santa] wordlessly, intensely spellbound, in total awe and reverence. I [Not Santa] looked back lovingly, and in the same way, each of us a mystery to the other."
    "The drunken women at the company parties, happy and gleefully lewd, a few of which did lap dances for Santa, and the few who wanted me for Christmas, no, no, it was Santa they wanted."
    "The sad and difficult ones, the ones that took my [Not Santa's] breath away, and made me [Not Santa] fight back tears, shocked me. As they spoke, at some level, I initially became terrified."
    No, I wasn't method acting Santa, either. Is an electron a particle or a wave? It depends on how you look at it. When, I mean, on what day, did you become an adult? In whose eyes? Santa came and went. I've done a little acting in community theater in the past, and it's very different when you have a script from when you're doing improv. So was there a discrete point? No.
    ______________________________________
    BTW...to answer another question...and you answered it yourself...on "We have Luis in the dressing room, down to his under-whatevers (or not as the case may be; people should put those little computer blot-outs over your imagination if necessary)."
    First, a complaint: Hey, hey, what's with the "little computer blot outs"? Geez.
    It's cold as hell around Christmas in Wisconsin. NO ONE from a tropical country free *beep* at that time of the year!
     
  43. I have a difficulty not so much with separating style of a photograph from character of an image, but in defining specifically character itself. It has nevertheless for me something to do with what the image communicates, why and for what reason it was made, and how it communicates something unique. One day I may remember how to provide a link to the two following images, but in the meantime here are some examples of my own work that I think define that quality. One is taken from a short series of shadow self-portraits made at a time of difficult choices in my career (e.g., the steps, the strong late day lighting), the other during a time I photographed gravestones in a sort of symbolic way of remembering my deceased parents, and others. The wind hollowed cavities around the stones suggest to me the "presence" of the two former beings. Do these images suggest a quality of character to others, or is this not what you think the term is all about?
    00X7ow-271687584.jpg
     
  44. And the self-portrait
    00X7ox-271687784.jpg
     
  45. In other words, at what point does "a" character take over?​
    When the make-up's put on and the lights are on. Thinking about Heath Ledger's Joker, and how Jack Nicholson apparently warned the actor about "the dangers" of playing such a role. Another question could be then, at what point is one able to shed of ones character, as soon as the lights are switched off ?
     
  46. So, now I ask myself - what makes a compelling photograph? What first comes to mind is symbolic contrast within the content. For example, two five year-olds, one male, one female - sitting on a park bench, dressed in fashions that are 60 to 70 years past, feeding pigeons and reading newspapers - in a style designed to mimic seniors whom often fit the "feeding pigeons at the park" image. Or, perhaps a person in an overcoat holding an umbrella above his head to escape the rain - on a sunny day.
    To me, a photogenic person is an individual whom I can photograph with little or no effort to portray them in the photograph as I do within my minds eye. This applies to aesthetics, behavior, and many other factors. Sometimes beauty is a factor, and sometimes it's not.
    As for choosing an individual for a fictional or theatrical portrait… for this example, let's say we're constructing a portrait of someone who's led a long, weathered life with constant problems and obstacles. Let's pretend we're photographing them "at the end of the road". It would typically make more sense to choose someone with intense wrinkles who is underweight, with a tired yet determined look in their eye. They look the part. However, heck! For all we know, they could have had the easiest, pampered, and privileged life with no tough times whatsoever.
    Wrinkles, to me, scream "LIFE EXPERIENCE"…. and, I too, recognize that wrinkles are just as superficial as perceived physical beauty. That statement brought to mind the many "young beauties" that have more experience than we can image - perhaps they traveled and moved frequently alongside a military family, suffered physical and sexual abuse, lost parents at an early age, and perhaps had to father/mother their young siblings due to parents (deceased). Sure, it's an extreme example--I use it however because it is a real profile (not of myself, but of someone I know).
    How do we bring this "depth of experience, character, and personality" forth in a portrait of the example - if that hypothetical profile is our subject and happens to be a "young beauty"? How do we implement this in an honest fashion?
     
  47. "Do some/many/all of your photos have a character you are aware of and can describe? (Fred, in his OT)
    The character of an image (and not uniquely the character of a person) is what I think the OT questioned.
     
  48. Arthur:
    Many thanks for sharing those photographs! Before I continue with my thoughts. In my teenage years, I was trained to look at the essence of a photograph by viewing the photograph for literally "a moment within the blink of an eye". During this lesson, photographs were viewed "in a blink" while being held right side up, up side down, sideways, etc..
    The tombstones portrayed a sense of loneliness, unity, and isolation. The self portrait conveyed strength, and a sense of emptiness which is caused by lack of direction, and an arrival at a destination of which there is nowhere to go.
    As for character of photographs, your photos inspired me to view your portfolio. The original post referred to recognizable character within all of your photographs. So, I would say - on your behalf (if you don't mind) - that your photographs definitely have a distinct character (personality) that is universal within your photographs which can be described. Here are some of the words that come to mind after viewing your photographs, regarding character:
    Patterns, offset by contrast.
    Emotional, introspective, internal appreciation.
    Opinionated strongly, strongly sensitive to others.
    Outgoing, fueled by interest and curiosity.
    Respect, to not interfere.
    Determination, to share feelings.
    Focused, without distraction.
    I was inspired to share this because, in my opinion, your photography has a consistency within it's character. The subjects (people, or objects), from my perspective as a viewer, are utilized to infer a sense of character. They have purpose, visually.
    How do you feel my perceptions of character within your photography apply to "the truth" as you (the photographer) know it to be, or intended?
    Regards - Matt
     
  49. Matthew, I like your description of a photogenic person. I would add that they don't necessarily make my job as photographer easier. As a matter of fact, sometimes I feel like I have to work harder just to do them justice. Their being photogenic means the camera loves them, which is a really good start.
    Photographic tools and photographic gesture come to mind as far as your last question. I may not try (or be able) to translate specifically their depth of experience to the photograph, especially if I try to do that literally. But I can allow that depth of experience influence over my photographing. I use pose, lighting, juxtapositions, composition, texture, depth, focus, color (or different approaches to black and white) to bring the kind of photographic depth that will suggest it within the subject. I especially like to use backgrounds and envrornment. I may bring in another person as part of the photo to set up a dynamic which will visually show depth of experience. I might work to give the photo a dramatic character, an intellectual character, a geometric character, a strong or mellow character, etc.
    Yes, and because wrinkles scream life experience and beauty screams other superficially about youth I will work hard not to allow all this screaming to get in the way of a genuine and nuanced expression.
    Arthur, thanks for posting your photos and thoughts. I can't do them justice at present, but will address your photos tonight or tomorrow.
     
  50. So, now I ask myself - what makes a compelling photograph? What first comes to mind is symbolic contrast within the content. For example, two five year-olds, one male, one female - sitting on a park bench, dressed in fashions that are 60 to 70 years past, feeding pigeons and reading newspapers - in a style designed to mimic seniors whom often fit the "feeding pigeons at the park" image. Or, perhaps a person in an overcoat holding an umbrella above his head to escape the rain - on a sunny day.
    To me, a photogenic person is an individual whom I can photograph with little or no effort to portray them in the photograph as I do within my minds eye. This applies to aesthetics, behavior, and many other factors. Sometimes beauty is a factor, and sometimes it's not.
    As for choosing an individual for a fictional or theatrical portrait… for this example, let's say we're constructing a portrait of someone who's led a long, weathered life with constant problems and obstacles. Let's pretend we're photographing them "at the end of the road". It would typically make more sense to choose someone with intense wrinkles who is underweight, with a tired yet determined look in their eye. They look the part. However, heck! For all we know, they could have had the easiest, pampered, and privileged life with no tough times whatsoever.
    Wrinkles, to me, scream "LIFE EXPERIENCE"…. and, I too, recognize that wrinkles are just as superficial as perceived physical beauty. That statement brought to mind the many "young beauties" that have more experience than we can image - perhaps they traveled and moved frequently alongside a military family, suffered physical and sexual abuse, lost parents at an early age, and perhaps had to father/mother their young siblings due to parents (deceased). Sure, it's an extreme example--I use it however because it is a real profile (not of myself, but of someone I know).
    How do we bring this "depth of experience, character, and personality" forth in a portrait of the example - if that hypothetical profile is our subject and happens to be a "young beauty"? How do we implement this in an honest fashion?
     
  51. Do these images suggest a quality of character to others, or is this not what you think the term is all about? - Arthur​
    Arthur, I think what you were describing is more the context of your photographs, as seen from your unique perspective of creating them. Most viewers wouldn't now a photograph's particular context in that way ( even if the photographs do communicate something, if not only on a visual level ), so I think there has to be something more to character than context driven only. I need not know the context of your barn photograph for example, knowing the photographs context would perhaps lessen its character as I perceive it, more than it would actually strengthen it.
    A photograph's perceived character doesn't need to depend on it being anchored in reality.
     
  52. "I think what you were describing is more the context of your photographs, as seen from your unique perspective of creating them."
    Phylo, thanks for your comments. The mental context for me was in part important in these two images (and perhaps too personal or singular to communicate effectively), but those were not the primary unique expressions I achieved or tried to achieve. Without indulging too much in self appraisal, I think that what I communicated visually in the two images comes close to the sense of character of an image, in the sense that the visual perception I have used is unique, although some others may not feel that to be so, having perhaps seen similar types of images before. In any case, they are exploratory or unique to me and to my photography. For what it's worth, I've posted another batch of images to my portfolio and will subject them to the Photo Net critique process in the next week. Some have a similar "signature" to those posted here.
     
  53. Arthur, thanks for posting and discussing your photographs. I don't approach them literally. For me, they are both more visual and more felt. Particularly the second of the two has a kind of presence that is emphasized by the shadowy suggestion of a skewed cross and the way it matches up with the side of the staircase. That gives it almost a cut-out feeling, also a kind of internal harmony. The steps are aglow and serve more of a graphic function for me than an interpretive one. I'd say that second one has an expressionist character, though I admit the more I've thought about it and the more that's been written the less sure I am of my whole post and the idea of character of a photo. I have always been convinced of the significance of the character of people and the characters we are and that's an important part of the way I make portraits, and it may be that I should stick to that notion. From the responses so far as to character of a photo per se, I am most inclined to accept John's talking about paper and printing as part of the character, since I came to it from the musical analogy of the timbre of instruments, which is a very physical matter. Generally, I consider literal interpretations to be about meaning, not character. I would think of character as something underlying the meaning. "Next to last" and "penultimate" have the same meaning but different characters.
     
  54. Two additional thoughts about character . . .
    When we say an actor stays in character, we mean he keeps to his role and doesn't let his own personality come through (or at least keeps that to a minimum). Perhaps the character of a photo has something to do with its relationship to actually being a photograph. Not about emotion, not about meaning, but about its relationship to what it is. How can it be described in terms of being a photograph? Where does it fit in historically with other photographs? How does it use light? Focus? Depth of Field? Exposure? To what extent does it remain a photograph?
    Characters are also significant visual marks, like letters of the alphabet . . . symbols.
    Maybe these two things tie together. Maybe the character is what is significantly visual about the photograph. Not how it feels, not what emotions it conveys or seems to convey, not what it makes me think.
    How it looks.
     
  55. Fred,
    The first part of your last post assumes that "in character" (via "a role") is something that one can stay "in" -- therefore it is in some way constant.
    I'm wondering how much character is analagous to the mathematical concept of invariance. That term (as used in math) does not mean that everything remains the same. It means something remains the same. Via the dictionary, invariance means, 1. the character of remaining unaltered after an operation or (esp. linear) transformation; 2. the property of remaining unaltered or of being the same in different circumstances.
    For example a (topological) knot may look completely different in one perspective from another perspective. A property of invariance would allow you to prove/confirm whether or not it was in fact the same knot in both views. Conversely (pointing out the obvious) it's a way of finding if two knots are not the same.
    Might character in a photograph be comparable? If there is some descriptor or quality that everybody seems to see in a given picture -- or that the same person always sees over repeated viewings over long periods of time (one can't change the perspective on a flat photograph)?
     
  56. Phylo, Fred,
    Your arguments about character not being related to a literal sense or to the context of an image are appropriate I think, and those aspects are probably not very useful in describing "character in a photograph". That a person being photographed shows (or the photographer accentuates) his unique or oft-seen character in an image is not for me character of the photograph, unless the way the photographer has perceived the person is unique. We have all seen multiple images of persons of strong character which have little to say about the character of the photography. Of course, there are some that show character of the photograph. Elsewhere, I cannot accept John's explanation that the way a print is made (paper, printing) or displayed is a significant expression of character in a photograph. That is too superficial a quality for me to recognise as being the important character of a photograph or of a series of photographs. Style and character each come from the photographer and are different, although each merits the title of "having a unique quality". Do the once popular David Hamilton photographs of dreamy scenes involving nubile young ladies bring to mind style or character of the photograph? I tend to weigh in on the side of style but the way and why he photographed may indicate character (although I am not impressed greatly by his work). August Sanders photographed in a particular way, as did Avedon and Penn. Can we say that their photographs had character (unique quality), apart from their context or literal meanings? Probably, although defining that character is not always easy.
    Julie,
    In pursuing the above thoughts I think your introduction of invariance is pertinent, in the sense that the property or character of "remaining unaltered" can well define the unique quality of a series of photographs, their character that remains evident despite the changing context of the images. But invariance can also relate to some property that is not a unique quality, but just some simple and often seen characteristic that remains unaltered. In photographic terms, in terms of the character of a photograph, that latter case would not be relevant, although others might be.
    Fred's keen sense of observation noted the apparent cross shaped form of the shadows and their relationship to the rest of the image (ledge, steps). It is enigmnatic, which pleases me, but also are the highlighted steps (thanks in large part to the capacity of the fairly recently deceased Kodak IR film), which symbolise the steps of life, or the history of, or necessity, of decisions. But this is all context or literal meaning, not necessarily character. The way I photographed the image may, or may not, define character of the photography. The same for the cemetery shot example, although I tend to think that any unique quality of that image, if it is there, has to do not with the context but how the image was perceived.
     
  57. I do think there is something to the constancy of character that Julie has suggested. Style is much more likely to vary than character. And nature, as I said with the differences between my brother and me, is probably even more stable.
    I think I could easily take a photo, and I have, that most people would say is out of character with the rest of my portfolio, for instance a sunset on the beach photo. But I could do that in a variety of styles, form postcard to high technique.
    I agree with Arthur that the constancy wouldn't need to be unique. Many photos and bodies of work share a similar character without varying that much from each other.
    Character can be good or bad.
     
  58. Matthew,
    I missed your earlier August 22nd post, but saw it today and appreciate your comments about my portfolio. I often think that my work could do well to be better focused, at least in terms of subject matter. Your impression of some of the things that drive my interest to photograph, which I agree may be common to my approach and which probably affect why and how I photograph, is very useful to me. It is a feedback and learning position from which I can analyse and reformulate my intentions and future work. I find these critiques, like others on specific images from Fred, John, Phylo and others, to be very valuable in considering one's approach. Thanks.
    Contemplating photographic works takes time, and apart from occasional comments on the work of fellow photonetters, I have yet to devote enough time to that, but hope to. Whether they deal with the traits of a photographic approach, or the specific messages obtained from an image, comments like yours are important in learning how our work affects others.
     
  59. "I am a flame through which will eventually pass, according to Buckminster Fuller, thirty-seven tons of vegetables ... among other things*." -- Hollis Frampton
    gnōthi seautón

    Which ties character to personal narrative. Who you are is inseparable from everything else. To know one is (necessary) to know the other. Or, to put it another way, to not know one is to not know the other.
    *roses
     
  60. jtk

    jtk

    To be sure that one "knows" anything suggests self-deception. "Failing" to be sure hints at wisdom.
     
  61. Julie, yes. I think an awareness of what one is doing and what one is about, a degree of intention both in one's work and in one's goals and life path is an important part of character. That's why I think photographic character is probably best looked for in a body of work rather than just in individual photos, just as character in a person is best looked for over a series of actions rather than in one particular action. I think it's easier to pick up on style in one photo, but for character I'd want to look at more of the work.
    I came across a well-executed and intriguing high contrast photo recently in the critique queue. I immediately went to the photographer's portfolio only to be disappointed in finding that pretty much every one of the hundreds of shots posted, no matter what subject, was handled in a similar way. The character of the work was diminished by this undiscerning, seemingly rote, approach.
     
  62. Fred, Interesting ideas in your second paragraph. I'm still thinking about that.
    To amplify (or clarify) my own previous post, I don't mean to say that personal narrative is necessarily in any way IN one's photographs -- unless that is one's intention. What I mean is that knowing the nature of one's relationship(s) with/in the world allows you to know what that relationship is "doing" (or not) in or to your pictures. And I think that is key to good photography and is apparent in the character of one's photographs.
    To emphasize that I don't mean that one's pictures are "about" one's self narrative, but that they nevertheless spring from it, here is a quote that I agree with from Edward Weston's Daybooks (285 pages of personal narrative in my edition):
    "Nature must not be recorded with a viewpoint colored by psychological headaches or heartaches: petty personal reactions from everyday situations are not to be exploited, such can be recorded in daybooks -- a good place to evacuate, cleanse the heart and head, preparatory to an honest, direct, and reverent approach when granted the flash of revealment."​
    The word "preparatory" is what I'm after in advocating the importance of personal narrative -- to clear the way. Please note that the above quote describes Weston's personal view on the role of the personal in his work. Another photographer may choose, deliberately, to use his or her personal narrative, but that person can't do that if they don't know what it is.
    Lastly, for those who believe that all this "knowing" is the wrong approach; that instinct is the way to go; that "knowing" actually gets in the way rather than founding good pictures, I give you a little bit of Freud:
    "Instinct is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces; that is, it is a kind of organic elasticity, or, to put it another way, the expression of the inertia inherent in organic life."
    [from Beyond the Pleasure Principle]​
    Inertia and restoring an earlier state of things is not what I look for in good pictures.
     
  63. Yes, Julie, I understood you as far as one's character or personal narrative not necessarily being IN the work. I was analogizing the character of a human (over a series of actions) to the character of a body of work (over a series of photographs), not suggesting a direct or really any relationship between the two though, as you say, there may be such a relationship and often is.
     
  64. Julie, relating to the Freud quote, do you equate a true instinct, like a baby's fear of no visible means of support from a heightened position (even though there's many pictures of babies thrown into the air by their fathers smiling ecstatically at the apex) with experience-based intuition? I do not. I believe it is a dangerous notion to think of practices diametrically opposed to ours as atavistic.
    A lot of what has been discussed is neither pop psychology, nor a repudiation of knowledge, particularly in favor of the scientific definition of 'instinct'.
    If you re-read Weston carefully, what is he saying? He is first eliminating "petty personal reactions", the stuff of self, and preparing by emptying his mind: "a good place to evacuate, cleanse the heart and head". He goes on to say that the goal is: "... an honest, direct, and reverent approach when granted the flash of revealment." Wait...reverence? A direct approach is an unmediated approach. Unmediated in what way? Notice how he is consistently playing down the importance of the "me, myself and I" self? He is humble. And then he uses the word "revealment", and that he is "granted" it. Huh? Who or what is granting this revelation? There's a lot between those lines besides the preparation.
     
  65. Eliminating petty personal reactions is difficult. One may espouse reverence for humility and still not practice it. Playing down the importance of "me, myself, and I" is not humble. Acting, treating people, and responding to people without feeding "me, myself, and I" gets closer to humility. That's why I look for character in people over the course of their actions (and in photographs through a body of work or perhaps at least a series).
     
  66. Ok, eliminated was too strong a word, what he is doing is actually far humbler and more difficult to do, which is to set them aside temporarily.
    No, we're not talking about an absolutist perfected enlightmenment, but a human approach, full of stumbles, imperfections and as John reminded us, failures.
    This *is* difficult. Hell, just talking about it is difficult. Espousing ideas, even without practice, is difficult, let alone practice without ideas. If it was easy, we'd all be Masters, and it would mean little.
     
  67. I hadn't zeroed in on "eliminating." I was focused on the difficulty part. Even setting "me, myself, and I" aside temporarily is obviously difficult. I wasn't thinking of the word "eliminating" in the exaggerated or absolutist fashion John thinks of the word "knowing" or I took both you and John to be considering the concept of "self narrative" when you talked about it being a delusion. I understood the non-absolute and fallibly human gist of what you meant, just as I did what Julie meant when she spoke about knowing and narratives. Knowing, and creating narratives, doesn't negate questioning and wonder nor does any of it seem a delusion to me, though they both certainly can be.
     
  68. Here's an interesting read on character in photography ( though specifically in portrait photos ) in context of Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida. Barthes believed that the character of a photograph ( like when he's discussing the picture of his mother as a young girl, as being a picture of his *true mother*) is only inherent from the subject photographed.
    But like the photographer in the link writes, I also think that that's underplaying the role of the photographer a bit too much, and how the photographers character and interplay with subject can translate to the photograph's perceived character too.
    There's also the talking whether or not true character can be found in one single "perfect" picture or in a series of pictures of the same subject. And how materials used affect the character of the photograph : like the photographer from the article using an 20*24 polaroid camera for making portraits.
     
  69. Speaking about how one feels of one's work or approach in the first person is not I think a petty personal reaction or a statement lacking humility. That Weston can do so without invoking the first person is perhaps admirable, but I don't think the use of I or not has much to do with what he is saying about cleansing his "heart" (I presume he is refering here to his emotions, but maybe not?) and head.
    It is the way in which we use the first person that is important, which can run the gamut from poorly disguised self "agrandissement" to an unimbellished sincere thought. It is often not difficult to separate the two and that allows us the advantage of discrimination rather than being lost in the communication. On the subject Weston is referring to, I think that to remove the stuff of self has its limits, and that stops where a photographer does not use only instinct but also his prepared mind, which is the stuff of self.
    "There's also the talking whether or not true character can be found in one single "perfect" picture or in a series of pictures of the same subject. And how materials used affect the character of the photograph : like the photographer from the article using an 20*24 polaroid camera for making portraits."
    Phylo, you are right in attributing character asa product of the photographer. The 20 x 24 Polaroid portraits haveas much input of character as one going from 35mm to 4x5 inch. Technical clarity, for whatever that is worth (It doesn't seem to influence our perceptions of our low resolution monitor images here). I have difficulty seeing character in a single image, which does not express a unique quality of character as imbued on a series of images by a photographer. A single image may suggest character, like a single encounter with ordstatement from someone, but it is not until more than one encounter occurs that the nature of it is confirmed.
     
  70. The stuff about the first person is nicely said, Arthur.
     
  71. jtk

    jtk

    "How do we bring this "depth of experience, character, and personality" forth in a portrait of the example - if that hypothetical profile is our subject and happens to be a "young beauty"? How do we implement this in an honest fashion?" -- Matt

    My only answer is to treat the subject as more than object, or to skip the "opportunity."
    For that reason I almost never photograph people with whom I can't converse or if they're pretending to be somebody other than the person I think I'm facing. It's fine with me if others want to photograph pretense, or think they can reveal something behind it. Not my cup of tea.
    I met a recent high school grad who has bad skin, bad teeth, and is a creative writer. A couple of weeks earlier I met a USAF pilot who's blandly good looking, also a creative writer. They're both very much present as individuals: for starters, the pilot is having non-political doubts, the kid is excited and frightened about his new adventure (college). They'd both be difficult for me to photograph in ways that'd be interesting to others without meaningful setting or props, but maybe they'll both be more my kind of subjects when they move along a little in life...I hope we maintain contact and that I'll be a better photographer by then.
     
  72. jtk

    jtk

    "Speaking about how one feels of one's work or approach in the first person is not I think a petty personal reaction or a statement lacking humility." -- Arthur
    It's commonly said that ratio of "I" to the rest of the words in one's writing (word count) does directly measure a writer's interest in the response of readers. Editors rigorously use software to fix that, teachers teach about it, and there's an old-fashioned matter of manners (!).
    High "I" count seems typical of Internet posts written as reflections, which also suggests disinterest in communication. Weston, whose Daybooks were also reflections, seems to me to have been centered on his work and his relationships rather than self-aggrandizement...his only anxiety about recognition (ego) may have been his jealousy of Stieglitz's greater fame.
     
  73. There is also the rhetorical device of using "we" and "us" either as a substitute or disguise for "I" or, in many cases, "you".
    I agree with John that the writing of articles where there are editors and academic papers where there are teachers is different from a more personal type of writing. I've engaged in all three and have different approaches and styles, and choose my words differently, for each.
    And manners come in many forms.
     
  74. Phylo, thanks for that link to the article about Barthe. (BTW, I counted 28 instances of the word "I".)
    A really insightful comment comes when Ms. Dorfman refers to Barthe's one chosen portrait of his TRUE mother and settles on the one of her at five years old on the bridge, "although it doesn't look 'like' her." Ms. Dorfman puts the word "like" in quotes.
    First of all, I think it's noteworthy that he chose a portrait that has someone else, her brother, in it. That, like props and environment, can add to story and especially to human dynamics.
    More importantly, the emphasis and nuance Ms. Dorfman gives to the word "like" is worth considering. Portraits can be a likeness even when they don't look like the person. We've talked before about the importance of seeming. I think a successful portrait may both make intimate the thereness of a person (such as Dorfman attributes to Lennon in Leibovitz's and many other portraits of him) and also remind us that the portrait is NOT the person. That negation can bring us to feel closer to the person. The distance of the "likeness", the "seeming", can be of great value in actually increasing the character we (both photographer and viewer) give to and discover in the portrait.
     
  75. "I agree with John that the writing of articles where there are editors and academic papers where there are teachers is different from a more personal type of writing."
    Absolutely, Fred. Like many of us, I've (sorry!) written my share of academic papers and monographs and have never used the "I" word in them. That's the (very reasonable and specific) convention, intended no doubt in part to convey the perception of lack of bias.
    I wonder what John cares to think about Phylo's example of the 20x24 inch Polaroid camera negative/print of a portrait, and whether he thinks that imbues character to the photograph, or not.
     
  76. Fred yes, I also like the notion from the article how photography always seems to be about change. Like how a person photographed, when looked back at in the photograph, once *was* and unknown of their future to come ( but known by the viewer that's looking at the photograph and is familiar with the subject ). Perhaps character is not about change - as in fixing it like in a photograph - but about changing. Those two can collide as much as they can merge and maybe that's the nature of a photograph, to give the viewer / photographer a substance on which this colliding and merging can take place, will take place.
    ----------
    I suspect that the 20*24 Polaroid camera imbues lots of character to the photographs it renders, if not only for such a huge camera's own presence / insistence, when used.
     
  77. The character of a photograph as created by the photographer is one distinct quality. That of the photograph, as the photograph, is an anomaly. It existed in a split second (or maybe a once timed period) but is no longer real, that is, what it portrays cannot exist now except as some unshakeable ghost of "then". The boardwalk man in the light clothes, where is he now, and the persons around him, whom he probably never met even then, what relation is there now with them? The camera never brought them together. Only caught a few breaths.
    00X8mn-272457584.jpg
     
  78. jtk

    jtk

    "I wonder what John cares to think about Phylo's example of the 20x24 inch Polaroid camera negative/print of a portrait, and whether he thinks that imbues character to the photograph, or not."

    In the presence of the physical object it'd seem reasonable initially to use "character" to ask ourselves what we were seeing, as a lead-in to meaningful responses. If we got stuck with that word it'd indicate something about our ability or willingness to communicate. See P.N ratings for context.
    Asked about the photo's "character," most of us would surely refer to specifics...making observations about the effects of the gigantic optic, the nature of Polaroid vs other media, maybe speculating about the studio situation and process, sharing relevant gossip. I doubt we'd vapour long about "character" if we actually confronted the print. Prints may elicit more significant responses (do, IMO) than the online images (again see P.N ratings), perhaps because so few online viewers are familiar with them.
    "Character" is a place-holder, not a dimension, quality, or even direction sign. It's like the word "quality," which has been degraded to imply "better than."
    fwiw, rastafarians sometimes use "I-man" rather than "I" to counteract personal narcissism, the tendency to separate themselves from others or to self-aggrandize. Jah :)
     
  79. jtk

    jtk

    "Do some/many/all of your photos have a character you are aware of and can describe?"
    Fred's question. I wonder if we, as photographers, are the best people to talk about our own photos. Fred does that well and at length, but I think he does it to enforce his particular way of seeing, rather than "what's seen"...recent example being his hairy old sea captain.
     
  80. "I wonder if we, as photographers, are the best people to talk about our own photos."
    Affirmative, John, and sometimes because it is hard to get other photographers to react to them in an analytical manner, except in one on one off forum discussions (and contrary to the curious general public, however general their viewpoints oft expressed).
     
  81. John, the point of my story about the sea captain was to relate a missed opportunity. I started the story by saying the photo was now in a holds folder and it's there for a reason: precisely because I'm well aware that what I saw when I took the picture and what would have made a more significant photo was NOT seen in the photograph that I wound up making. My commentary about the photo was not meant to enforce my way of seeing at all. It was meant to relay a funny story about the supposed sea captain AND it was meant to suggest that I learned from my failure at the moment of capture to tell more of a story, beyond mascot sea captain, with the framing I did. I've often talked about the difference between what one sees at the time of shooting and what one may feel at that time and what is actually imbued in the photograph. I well know the photo did not get imbued with what I was talking about in my commentary. Thanks, though, for emphasizing that. In your post following that picture you said that my writing added something to the photo. It was an interesting story but it doesn't make the photo any better and doesn't change the fact that the photo lacks what the commentary tells, whether I had told more story literally or more figuratively with the eventual photo I had made. That is why I often hesitate to write text to accompany my photos. I think a lot of people add text as a substitute for what they couldn't imbue the photo with and I'd prefer to hone my photographic vision and not rely on writing. I think text makes a fine accompaniment to a photo, including my own, as long as the photographer doesn't substitute that text for photographic substance and as long as the viewer doesn't make false assumptions about what the text is trying to accomplish.
     
  82. I think a lot of people add text as a substitute for what they couldn't imbue the photo with and I'd prefer to hone my photographic vision and not rely on writing.​
    That's true only if one - as a viewer - is chained to think in category's like 'photographer' <> 'writer' or 'photograph' <> 'text'.
    "The photograph by itself is one experience but the photograph with text is quite another experience " ( 12:14 )
    There's no reason why one experience ( text ) should be lesser than the other or seen as a substitute for the photograph. Both ( photo / text ) can form a perfect whole.
     
  83. Phylo, yes, as I said, "I think text makes a fine accompaniment to a photo, including my own." My hesitation about text is only if THE PHOTOGRAPHER (not the viewer) uses it as a substitute for what's not in the photo -- for instance titling a photo "SADNESS" when there is no visual evidence of it (I see that situation all the time on PN). I'd encourage that photographer to photograph sadness or express some semblance of emotion visually. On the other hand, if the photographer does express sadness or some sense of emotion in the photo and then titles it "MY FATHER'S SADNESS AT THE DEATH OF MY MOTHER" that photo and accompanying text do, as you suggest, create another experience.
     
  84. Do my photos have a character? Possibly, but I would prefer that the viewer to decide what that character is. I could only
    list objectives; the viewers can list honest impressions.

    One time I reviewed photos that I took at a friend's wedding and decided that they looked distant and detached. I made a point
    to be closer to the subjects and to engage them more at my next event. I think my event photos have a more involved
    character than those older, more distant ones did. So I suppose that character can change over time. However, I still tend
    to take event photos from a position where I can be an observer of candid moments, so some degree of detachment is inevitable.

    When working with more than one camera I sometimes include one of the cameras in a shot. That's my regular prop/non-human
    character. I can't post one this very moment, but one such shot is featured on my website this week.

    Do my photos say something about my character? I hope so, but it's difficult to look at one's own work objectively. I like
    beauty, order, good light, technical excellence, unique perspectives, a dash of humor, and I never want my subjects to ever feel embarrassed about having their photo taken. I would like to believe that I am communicating these values in my work, but ultimately that's not for me to determine.
     
  85. " My hesitation about text is only if THE PHOTOGRAPHER (not the viewer) uses it as a substitute for what's not in the photo -- for instance titling a photo "SADNESS" when there is no visual evidence of it (I see that situation all the time on PN).​
    But who is doing that judgement, the viewer, right ? I don't see photography or a photograph, as something having to adhere to a visual evidence, with text or without.
     
  86. OK. Everything is sadness. Everything is happiness. Everything is everything. Every photo tells every story it wants to and is perfect as it is. Far be it from me to try to improve what's already given as perfect. No adherence. No learning. No changing. Everything as it is . . . forever and always.
     
  87. No, that's not what I said, that's what you are saying. It has nothing to do with the use of text, your example of sadness, it might just be an example of bad work.
     
  88. How would you make an assessment that a photograph is bad?
     
  89. How would you make an assessment that a photograph is bad?​
    I didn't and I was talking about text and photograph, which for me doesn't have to be in a manner that what's expressed or communicated in the text has to be visually evidenced in the photograph ( like in a photojournalism context ), and therefore does not make the photograph bad the way you assessed the photograph to be "bad" ( lack of photographic vision ) in your 'sadness' example, for it not providing an evidence or hint of actual sadness in the image ( two people crying doesn't necessarily do that either )and therefore "having to rely" on text . You're viewing this only on the level of the photograph. I'm viewing it on the level of text and photograph, as one possible piece of work, without hierarchy. The 'sadness' example might as very well be bad work, as such, or simply a bad photograph. I don't know since it's your example. But it wouldn't be bad per definition, or only because the text was "only a substitute" for what the photograph couldn't conceive / evidence.
    In this context I agree with Duane Michals when he says that too many photographers rely too much on photographic vision, or only on that what is seen in front of the lens.
     
  90. Dan,
    You are right that it is the viewer who has the job of defining the character of another's work. Character is probably manifest on many (horizontal) levels, and maybe a number of them at once. The character of technical excellence and order in composition and ordered subjects characterise your professional and/or travel work, as a character of fantasy may be evident in another's work, or a character of anxiety in another.
    Fred, Phylo,
    I hesitate before putting a text/title with an image and I know that I shouldn't generally do it. Much better in many cases for the image to remain untitled, to let the viewer approach it without coaching. Text that is visually incorporated with the base photographic image can be like an opera - theatre, music, song at the same time - acceptable and even bonified, but the composition of the whole is rendered more complex and difficult to do well than a single image or a single text alone. One of my Champlain triptychs provides his text with one of the three images, but it didn't work as I had envisaged, perhaps more in a compositional and harmonious sense than by virtue of the nature or meaning of the text, which I think was appropriate to my images and objective of evoking another time.
     
  91. "which for me doesn't have to be in a manner that what's expressed or communicated in the text has to be visually evidenced in the photograph" --Phylo
    Nor for me. The situations I was thinking of were where the photographer claims that they want the photo (or thinks it is) expressing what's expressed in the title. A title can, of course, be just a companion. But many people use them as descriptions. If I call something that's in color "black and white" I may be being creative, ironic, complementary, whatever. But if I say I'm calling it black and white because I think it's black and white, the evidence (the fact that it's in color) says I'm wrong. No, photographs do not have to "adhere to visual evidence" by any means. But when a photographer specifically uses a title (which is often done) to describe the emotion shown in a photograph (I don't do this myself), then the description could be off and the photographer could either re-describe or elicit from the photo what he wants the photo to be showing.
     
  92. John, I just reread your post to which I responded above. Actually, I think we're on the same page. I took you "enforce his particular way of seeing" more strongly than you intended it, because in my captain story I was trying to say I didn't see that one well when I took it. But I realize that you were distinguishing that from enforcing "what's seen", which you said I don't do, and I agree. I certainly try not to do that when I speak or write.
     
  93. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, let's just split the difference.
    Yes "enforce" is too strong ... "massage" is closer to the mark...
    The particular case of "old sea captain" is closer to "enforce" but that's still not the right word... you eventually described what you'd actually seen (and not photographed)...you were thinking about two images, one of which wasn't photographed. From my own experience I know that this sort of distinction, which is something like "wishful thinking" can be difficult. You seem to have created (not "not enforced") a new, and much more significant, image with words.
    Again, many of the images you've shared will remain "under-developed" until they're combined with narrative (and not mere reflection, larded with "I"). Most have more potential than as simple photographs or even as "body of work"..they seem half-way to photojournalism or theatre. Weston again: for me his work became far stronger in the context of Daybook II, which also happened to include the best reproductions of his most representative images up till then...some still seem "better" than his original prints.
     
  94. John, perhaps there is that element of wishful thinking. I'm looking back at the situation and considering that now I might take a different, more inclusive, photograph. As a matter of fact, I'd have little interest in repeating that situation. I'm glad to have moved on. But I have learned something from the experience. It's not so much a matter of doing it differently if I had it to do all over again. It's more a matter of making different kinds of decisions in the future.
     
  95. The dichotomy of the PoP forum, and recent posts exemplify this for me, is that personal philosophy of how what and why we photgraph (our approach) gets entangled, diffused and quickly deadened with the issues of semantics, with comments on the use of I (questioning of the photographer's motives in discussing his work), but most importantly, with the the incessant reference to the dead photographers of a small part of our globe, what they would or did do, rather than taking the issues head on.
    I have no problem discussing Euripedes, Kant or Weston in a 3rd person philosophical discussion. Yet, a need exists for a forum or sub-forum for serious photographers (and not only armchair quarterbacks) capable of encouraging, sharing of personal ideas and evaluation of realisations. Yes, I know that the critique forum exists, and I do not care that one of my regional Grand Prize images gets a 3.7 rating or that another gets a 6 and yet had trouble meeting minimum acceptance in the same meetings and for an international photo exchange. What is missing from such ratings or "critiques" is the "why", which is ultimately the most valuable to the photographer. When I mentioned that the general public give more and sincere ratings of exhibited photographs (my reference being my summer gallery) I was referring to this. Anyways, we can forget the ratings, I couldn't care less about them and their anonymity, but can we not develop a forum (even this one) where we stick to the evaluation and sharing of ideas on each other's work, rather than ignoring Photo.Net member's work or hiding behind what Weston or Adams or other such regional (whether they be German, Chinese or American) photographers may have thought?
     
  96. I look for a different kind of character in my photos now. Whereas the photo of the so-called sea captain (poor guy, I wish I knew his name) had a certain mascot character, nowadays I'd want and do go for just the kind of character that the photo which would have included him masturbating might have had, had I photographed it well. It could, of course, merely have been exploitive . . . or not. In those days, I wasn't quite ready to show what there was to show, because it might seem to reflect on me in a certain light. Nowadays I'm less concerned with that and more likely to be OK with whatever light reflects on me, being a little less self-protective and a little more open to pursuing what challenges me and may challenge others with discomfort. Do you think the difference between the photo of the guy as is and a hypothetical one of him masturbating nonchalantly at a fair is one of character? It may speak to his character. Taking it or avoiding it may speak to mine. But I mean the character of the photograph.
     
  97. Arthur, your boardwalk photograph brings the people together forever. If I think about the moment, I think of it as fleeting. If I think about what I'm seeing, I see visual relationships. The expression of the man to whom you refer is not clear to me. I wonder if a bigger version of this would show me more or if you might have brought his expression out more. It's hard to tell where his eyes, if at all, are focused. Limbs seem to play an important role, the way the elbows in the foreground line up in tandem with the backs of heads and seem to lead my eye to the gesture of the man with shorts whose leg is bent at the knee with his foot resting on the bench. There's eye movement (mine) and other sorts of dynamics set up by the relationship of the backs of people, a strong profile, and the guy on the move facing me more head on.
    Can you explain what seems to be your distinction between "the character of the photograph as created by the photographer" and "[t]hat of the photograph, as the photograph"?
     
  98. Addition: The guy in the dark jeans who is walking away and appears tangent to the man in the light suit may set up more dynamic tension, may be a matter of bad timing, or . . . What do you think of his presence and place?
     
  99. In Arthur's Divided Lives...
    The location appears to be that of a boardwalk and/or pier for tourists. There's a victorian-style pavillion in the upper background left. In the middle-ground right there is a gazebo with several people sitting under its shade. Leading the eye into the picture is a row of the backs of people's heads as they look away from the camera. A little after the end of the bench(es) and before the gazebo, there is a man in a light-toned jacket walking towards the camera, hands behind his back, looking pensive.
    The image looks like it was done in infrared (or PP'd to look that way). Yes, at first glance, the people look somewhat isolated, or is that prompted by the title? We also realize they are at a tourist venue, elected to go there, and most probably went with someone else, although we cannot tell from this photograph. Solo tourists are the exception, not the rule. Almost every figure in the foreground and middleground is juxtaposed with another. This does not speak to me of division. The people on theforeground bench seem to be sitting at what one would consider intimate space, closer to each other than strangers would sit. Under the gazebo, there is a bearded man sitting next to what is probably a woman (from the hair length). On the bench in front of the gazebo, there's two people sitting, one with their arm around the other.
    Does this give me a feeling of divided lives? Not at all. The punctum of this photograph (and what I suspect Arthur identified with) is the man in the suit, but his pictorial impact is drained by the figure of the man behind him edging in. Worse, there's something on the floor in front of the two people on the bench in front of the gazebo that also breaks into the outline of the man in the jacket. In fact, almost every figure in the foreground and middle ground is partially superimposed on another. This speaks to me of connectedness, not division. Without the suggestive title I would not have remotely thought about division from what can be seen in this image. There is visually more sentimentality here than sentiment.
    Street photography, although superficially easy to do, is quite difficult to do well. As this picture illustrates, and someone recently mentioned in another thread, one has to prepare, anticipate & project a little bit into the future while intuitively (there is almost never time for linear inner-narrative thought) taking in the entire frame.
    This would have worked better visually if the guy in the jacket had been photographed a few instants later, closer, larger in the frame, and hopefully divorced from the distracting superimposed elements.
    Take a look at Martin Parr's work. Yes, the emphasis is different from Arthur's, but there's volumes to be learned there.
    http://blog.magnumphotos.com/martin_parr.html
     
  100. "the character of the photograph as created by the photographer" and "[t]hat of the photograph, as the photograph"?
    Fred, I'm glad you were curious about that. I mean by my comment that the character of the photograph as created by the photographer is intimately related to his approach, how he perceives his subject and how he transforms that perception into an image. If the photograph had some thinking identity, it would no doubt consider its character as having to do with its material (paper, texture, tone) presence, its two dimensional structure, its size and how it is housed. In other words, what it physically is as a photograph. The two are quite different characters for me, which is why I am more impressed by the first character and less so by the second.
    The why and way I photographed the boardwalk image is mentioned in my reply to Luis below. I may confuse yours and his welcome comments, but I hope my answers are relevant.
    Luis,
    Martin Parr and Arthur Plumpton have differing objectives. One is a photojournalist with specific objectives related to his client and then to what the intention of his reportage may be (showing an arms fair, developing a conscience of the atmosphere of such, providing some humorous images for the readership, or whatever else his project entails) and that is great, and you are right, we can learn from how an experienced photo reporter records that for publication. The second photographer is more interested in a quiet reflection on places he knows well, and the people that inhabit them. Like Fred's portraits of friends or others that interact with them.
    "Dividing Lives" is a clumsy title (as many are) and you may recall my mentioning what I think of that dilemna of titling in a preceding post. What I am trying to do in this particular image is to show the diversity of persons in this place and how their lives peacefully interact at one well known and well frequented place, but really don't mix. It is 3 o'clock on as Sunday afternoon in mid summer. The film is IR (Kodak's late lamented high speed B&W IR film, recording as high as 1200 nM - we see up to about 700 nM), a nice film that helps to block what might be perceived as too real, too precise. It is the long boardwalk in front of the Chateau Frontenac, at Québec, looking southeast down on the lower town (a couple hundred feet below) and the St. Lawrence river. Those at right are both tourists (the white lady) and locals, having a look over the cliff, but occasionally (as here) people watching on the boardwalk. The Victorian belvedere, one of many along the long boardwalk, is a place where young musicians group to play and entertain children and adults. The bearded guy is one of them, they are enjoying a break out of camera to the right. The couple sitting in front are probably either on a date or recently married. The guy in the jeans, going in the opposite direction to the man in the suit jacket, was clicked at that moment, as he was seen in contrast and is not likely to have much in common with the other (The nice thing about the VF of an RF camera for street shooting is that you can see what is coming into the frame before it does). I am partcularly happy with that contrast, and with the "islands" of others.
    Fred,
    the man in the jacket is looking at me or at the seated lady in white, who I assume was looking at him. Hard to see in a low res monitor image but more evident in my large print. He is someone I see often within the walled upper town - a quiet introspective individual who takes walks frequently but whom I have never seen interacting or accompanied by others in his path (having crossed him a number of times on the sidewalks of the ubiquitous rue Saint-Jean) - I tend to think of him as a quiet intellectual, or college professor, but may be wrong. In my image, I wanted the apparent contrast between him and the gent in the jeans. Luis is right about the gent in the suit jacket being the punctum of the image.
    In a city of mixed cobblestone and paved streets, a wooden boardwalk is a very different place, which is the reason for the low angle of my shot. It denotes informality to me, at a spot where a lot of tourists and locals gather and walk up and down from one end to the other, looking out at distant vistas, a bit like Dubliners on their main thoroughfare, Sundays. The boardwalk represents the life in my city pretty well, and my thoughts when making the photo, which is meant as a quiet reflection on the city I adopted as a young person.
     
  101. Arthur, I'd add a third character which would be about the photograph itself . . . what it conveys, how it looks. Even as photographer, one of my roles is to stand back at some point and be viewer, take an objective stance, to distance myself from what I knew the situation to be and even what I knew about my own feelings at the time and see the photograph as a viewer might. Its character in that sense would pertain to more than its physical character and be less about me as photographer.
    Reportage vs. quiet reflection: I appreciate John's comment to me above: "[M]any of the images you've shared have more potential than as simple photographs or even as 'body of work..they seem half-way to photojournalism or theatre." I've known my work has a running theme. Seeing them as somewhat photojournalistic could serve as inspiration and his words help me see the work differently.
    There is freedom when the distinctions between genres are overcome or at least when some of those lines get blurred. I'm not convinced that your photographic goals (how you tell a story, see composition, capture some of the essential elements of place and personality) are that different from many of the goals of a photojournalist, though your methods, limitations, and expectations will be different, and you have no client.
     
  102. Arthur - "Martin Parr and Arthur Plumpton have differing objectives."
    Yes, they do, and if you read what my concluding remarks, you'd have seen:
    "Take a look at Martin Parr's work. Yes, the emphasis is different from Arthur's..."
    Do not underestimate or overlook the fact that Parr is perfectly able to assess a complex situation unfolding in real time and photograph it in a way that is clear, and allows the form and content to work in a synergistic manner.
    Plumpton's picture simply lacks that awareness and ability. It's got nothing to do with what you or Parr are saying. It's got everything to do with the ability to say whatever it is you want to say no matter what that is, including "quiet reflections" on places you know well, and "the people that inhabit them". It's a photographic skill, being able to work in real time on the street (or boardwalk), one AP is fairly inept at (as are a huge majority of photographers), and obviously needs to hone -- for this type of photograph -- and it comes in handy in many different photographic situations, unless you treat everything as a still life under unchanging, controlled conditions (and many people do).
    Arthur - "The boardwalk represents the life in my city pretty well, and my thoughts when making the photo..."
    Perhaps to you, but...Arthur, not to your viewers. I had no idea whether this was your first time ever at that location or not. I would have never guessed that it was a familiar haunt. These things get lost in that picture.
    "BTW, I don't think of Fred's portraits as "quiet observations".
    FG - "I'm not convinced that your photographic goals (how you tell a story, see composition, capture some of the essential elements of place and personality) are that different from many of the goals of a photojournalist, though your methods, limitations, and expectations will be different, and you have no client."
    Exactly what I was saying above. Arthur has what should be the toughest client of them all: Himself.
     
  103. "I'm not convinced that your photographic goals (how you tell a story, see composition, capture some of the essential elements of place and personality) are that different from many of the goals of a photojournalist, though your methods, limitations, and expectations will be different, and you have no client."
    Fred, there are similarities in the objectives and practice of all of us, whether they be related to photojournalism (which, while an approach, also can have a journal or publication or TV documentary or film as a raison d'etre), or nature photography, or abstract photography, but what is important is our own "signature", which may or may not lend character to the photograph. Often repeated forms or approaches (that is, types of images that we have seen before) do not have real character in my mind, or at least not a unique character, as that character (unique quality) belongs to the originator of the approach.
    The fact that a number of my images have been published to date does not (necessarily) make me a photojournalist. While my methods, limitations and expectations are certainly there, as you say, I thankfully do have a good number of paying clients, in different countries, that I owe in large part to the ready avaliability of my prints in a gallery each summer.
    My real client is myself, not the paying ones who walk away with a framed image, a description of method and materials and a certificate of authenticity. Depite that, I photograph to express myself and communicate my vision of a small part of our world.
     
  104. "Perhaps to you, but...Arthur, not to your viewers."
    Luis, I can understand that you do not think highly of my work, but it might be wise on your part to not refer collectively to "the viewers".
    Not having seen a single one of your photos, I cannot comment on your own images, but I have previously impressed others about a number of my own, not just those who have purchased, but I have previously won our top provincial honour on three occasions (a professionally juried annual competition of about 1000 photographers from our fairly small, 7 million population, province) and have had several images published, including two in a volume celebrating the 150 years of photography. Because it is not my principal occupation, I do not expect to ever have the experience or reputation of Mr. Parr.
     
  105. Arthur - "Luis, I can understand that you do not think highly of my work"
    It's not true, or that simple. I commented on one and only one work, not your entire oeuvre. At least I can tell you in a clear manner why something does or does not work for me. It doesn't matter to me whether your work is in the Louvre or your living room. It doesn't change the way I see it.
    A little earlier today, you remarked, among other things: "What is missing from such ratings or "critiques" is the "why", which is ultimately the most valuable to the photographer."
    ....and that is exactly what I delivered. You can accept or reject it, of course.
     
  106. Luis, You stated "clearly" only that the image does not work for you. The rest of your "why" is buried in vague qualifiers. That I cannot seriously respond to, or even learn from.
     
  107. Fred,
    I have been following your work and feel that the character of your photographs is related to your ability to portray the situation of the homosexual male in the United States in a convincing and very human manner, communicating the strength, the fraility and the to some degree defense mentality of the people photographed. Few are smiling in the images and most are intense (strength, frailty, defensiveness?). I am going to a garden party this weekend hosted at the house of some gay friends who married here last autumn. They are a happy couple and very actively involved in our community, as their frends. I see them differently than many of the subjects you photograph. Am I completely out of it; does my above notion of the strength of your images make any sense to you?
     
  108. Arthur, no you're not out of it. Were I describing it, I'd probably use some of the same words you have. I wouldn't include "United States." Perhaps some would and I understand that. If anything, I'd say "San Francisco," because my experience is that gay people in San Francisco are a bit different than in other places, including the international cities I've traveled to. I certainly didn't set out to show anything about gay men in the U.S. in particular, though I do show something about older gay men specifically. That I may have wound up showing something about American gays wouldn't surprise me, I guess, but I really hadn't thought along those lines. I also don't see my work as quiet observation, but I wouldn't tell others how to see it, and I'd be curious to hear why someone might see it that way. Though I photograph gay men a lot, I consider much about aging that is not exclusive to gay people by any means. I observe some level of both strength and frailty, and "defense mentality" doesn't ring a bell for me.
     
  109. Arthur -"Luis, You stated "clearly" only that the image does not work for you. The rest of your "why" is buried in vague qualifiers. That I cannot seriously respond to, or even learn from."
    This is exactly why it's a dimbulb idea to have reviews in parallel on yet another forum where members would be excluded, as if entering a private club, by Arthur in bouncer guise. Arthur...you're simply denying what I wrote. I clearly stated why. Here's a few examples:
    "Almost every figure in the foreground and middleground is juxtaposed with another. This does not speak to me of division."
    LESSON: Accidentally superimposed figures often create noise-level secondary associations that sap attention away from what the photographer intended. Do I really need to tell you what to do?
    "The people on the foreground bench seem to be sitting at what one would consider intimate space, closer to each other than strangers would sit. Under the gazebo, there is a bearded man sitting next to what is probably a woman (from the hair length). On the bench in front of the gazebo, there's two people sitting, one with their arm around the other."
    "Does this give me a feeling of divided lives? Not at all."
    The people in the picture look more intimate than isolated. Here you are clearly told again why the idea of division isn't working.
    AP - "The punctum of this photograph (and what I suspect Arthur identified with) is the man in the suit,"
    The one thing Arthur didn't, or couldn't, deny or protest.
    "but his pictorial impact is drained by the figure of the man behind him edging in. Worse, there's something on the floor in front of the two people on the bench in front of the gazebo that also breaks into the outline of the man in the jacket. In fact, almost every figure in the foreground and middle ground is partially superimposed on another."
    LESSON: Timing and composition matter. Complex street scenes require a practiced, heightened awareness in order to even have a veneer of clarity. What to do? Become more proficient at it. Practice.
    "This speaks to me of connectedness, not division. Without the suggestive title I would not have remotely thought about division from what can be seen in this image. There is visually more sentimentality here than sentiment."
    The image does not convey the intimacy you claim to have with the space. people, or any deep feeling towards either. Maybe it's a very restrained feeling? You kept a safe distance from any person who could see you. This is a common thing among beginner street photographers. PN galleries are jammed with this cliche'd type of avoidance strategy. Parr's work isn't.
    What do you want? To be told where to stand? What settings to use? Focal length? Film? Those are your creative decisions, and no one else's. There's really nothing you can learn from what I wrote? Fred very diplomatically agreed with the why behind the Parr suggestion. Vague qualifiers? Geezus. Here I was worried that they were too pointed/direct/blunt!
    _____________________________________________
    And while I'm at it, one more thing: Alienation/Isolation/Loneliness are the most-repeated themes in street photography. This doesn't mean it is verboten, of course, only that if you're going to do it make it your own.
    _____________________________________________
    Fred - "I also don't see my work as quiet observation"
    Feels like a breath of fresh air, Fred. One thing about your work is that in spite ofgenerating the gay content/context, it is first and foremost about what it means to be human. Gender orientation is obviously a nearly equal part of it, and in some instances the most important. This is what makes it so accessible to others, particularly those outside the gay community/culture. Your better portraits are intense, hot-wired stolen moments riding on several human issues, including, for the many straight viewers, what it's like to be both on the inside -- and the outside, but you do not patronize your viewers into peepers/voyeurs (in the vernacular sense). Senescence, mortality, vitality, individuality, the plurality of strengths in all of us, being an aging gay male, and other themes interweave throughout the work. And it is not uniform, nor intended to be, but is at times inconsistent. Some of the more frozen/stilted/contrived ones are too rigid for me, depriving me as a viewer of breathing space and potentials for generating a multiplicity of meanings. Too sententions. For me, Fred's at his best when trying to hold more fire than he can possibly deal with, and vectored accidents literally enter the picture.
    Gerald may not be one what I see as Fred's strongest portraits, but it is intense. Not because of the ball in the air, though I think more and more that it works metaphorically well in various ways, and gives (true or not) cues as to the sitter's and photographer's character. Gerald's face is a focused, direct, intense, penetrating gaze. It breaks the fifth wall, by which I mean our emotional safeguards, and pours inside, initially unmediated. The small, subtle and information-loaded facial gesture of the picture of your Father belies what we are seeing of his body. It is a strong affirmation of life.
    To Fred, for advice, I'll resort to one of the things I've been criticized for many times, a quote. One of my favorites, from a great book (and perhaps even greater movie).A good thought for almost any photographer:
    "Dare and the world always yields" --- William Makepeace Thackeray, from Barry Lyndon.
     
  110. Luis,
    My reaction to your ungracious comments referred not to your observations on a previous page, which unfortunately I had not fully seized (while reading Fred's constructive comments, mixing them up perhaps with yours, while working simultaneously on a report for a client at the same time) but to:
    "Plumpton's picture simply lacks that awareness and ability. It's got nothing to do with what you or Parr are saying. It's got everything to do with the ability to say whatever it is you want to say no matter what that is, including "quiet reflections" on places you know well, and "the people that inhabit them"."
    That is way over the top, ungracious and uncalled for (and your "bouncer"comment is perhaps acceptable for grade schoolers ). As an apparent "armchair quarterback" you interpret the images as you wish and then would seem to suggest that you are speaking from a position of authority as a player.
    Your initial interpretation of the image is fixated, it is really only related to the image title (not to what is seen, without reference to a title), "Divided Lives", which I had already mentioned is a type of photographic label I am uncomfortable with.
    It is an image of a cross section of citizens, each different, but co-existing together in this place. The jacketed man is purposely contrasted with the apparently different appearing man walking in the opposite direction, almost touching but remote. For me he is in the right position, as are the nearby but distinct couple on the bench (who cares about the case on the ground?) and the bearded guy behind them, or the tourist (or tourists - I bow to your superior knowledge about whether people travel singly or in groups...) on the bench watching others. The mood of the scene is what I was looking for and may or may not have obtained, but you have made it quite clear that you have not understood it for what it is.
    May I suggest that you consider posting a few of your photos on Photo.Net, such that I and others might have a better idea of your abilities to understand and critique the work of others, in whatever sense? Then perhaps your comments about other photographers "lacking awareness and ability" and requiring more practice might be more easily respected.
     
  111. I thought I'd made it clear several times that I'm never going to put my pictures on PN, thank you. If that makes my advice ill-received, so be it. This week alone, I have received no less than two letters from people I don't know on here (who are lurking on this forum) thanking me for my contributions.
    As to: "Plumpton's picture simply lacks that awareness and ability. It's got nothing to do with what you or Parr are saying. It's got everything to do with the ability to say whatever it is you want to say no matter what that is, including "quiet reflections" on places you know well, and "the people that inhabit them"."
    AP - "That is way over the top, ungracious and uncalled for."
    It's accurate and reflects what I see in that picture. I realize I wasted my time writing a review for you.
    AP - (your "bouncer"comment is perhaps acceptable for grade schoolers ).
    Not at all. It is exactly what you have in mind for your imaginary forum. It's your desire to create an elitist space within the forum, excluding members based on a criteria of your own making that is a lowbrow and at best, undemocratic, if not outright fascist, notion.
    Speaking of grade school (if not kindergarten)...AP -"I bow to your superior knowledge about whether people travel singly or in groups.."
    Aside from singles cruises, tourists traveling by themselves are the exception, not the rule. You're just picking nits now.
    At least you came out of your own closet and had the courage for once to clearly identify me as the "armchair quarterback". You explicitly want my voice stilled/censored so badly (unless I do what you want me to, which PN clearly allows me the right to not do) that you'd have PN create a Luis-free forum? Do you really see nothing wrong with that?
     
  112. Gentlemen... (Luis and Arthur)....
    While I understand your viewpoints, opinions, and differences within this thread, I would like to say "thank you", because,
    through my following this thread, I have been seeing (in a new light) how people see, think, act, and react. This, to me,
    has been a lesson regarding personality within photography. Through my years as a young adult, I have always learned
    the most by looking between the differences that two (or multiple) people may share. This correlates to photography and
    general life for me as well. I truly value then content in these forums that you spend the time to contribute--and that
    statement applies to everyone else as well.


    Fred --- regarding your portraits that appear to aging gay males --- what I love about them is that I see youth within these
    people. Elements within themselves which are irrelevant to time, which is how I like to perceive youth -- elements of our
    souls untouched by age. Its difficult for me to provide the titles of the photographs as I'm currently typing on a mobile
    device, however, they truly made a lasting impression. As for "Gerald"', Luis provided a description of his face which
    perfectly describes why that photograph (as many of yours) has found a place of permanency within my mind.


    So, as the newbie, for my closing statement, I would like to express my gratitude for all the work, time, and effort that this
    community places forth in the photo.net forums. The experience, for me, has been priceless.
     
  113. Luis, one minor point, and it was likely just a slip of the tongue (so to speak). I consider being gay to be about sexual orientation. I think gender orientation is a different matter, one I wish there were more awareness about and acceptance of, even within the gay community.
    I do agree with your "inconsistent" comment and with the key differentiation between not uniform and inconsistent. Much of my passion goes into developing these contrived portraits. I say this not looking for advice in particular, but just to say that I am right now in the stage of development, as I experiment with it and fine tune it. I am working especially with my posing and gesturing (feeling quite a bit more in tune with my staging) to find that right balance, or imbalance, for myself. In some of those types of photos, I think I'm close but not quite there. Some are not that close. And in some, I think I've gotten just what I want. (Not all that I post to PN would make it into a gallery show and I have several of the contrived type that I would include in some other venue that I likely won't post to PN.) The more contrived work also greatly informs the less so. While clearly not as obvious or blatant, there is contrivance in that photo of my dad and I brought to it many of the same considerations I bring to the more "forced" portraits.
    [Matthew, we wrote simultaneously. Your words are evidence that in youth there can be wisdom and grace.]
     
  114. Matthew,
    Thank you for your thoughts amidst a polarised debate that has become much too personal. The forum is not exempt of occasional sniping for whatever reason it is done. I have talked by email with one senior contributor on a number of occasions about such a problem, which has also bothered him (in fact, he was the one who initiated the reflection). I think he has come to the same conclusion as I have that the best recourse is to either take a break once in a while for one's integrity or to continue but ignore the comments. My life may not be exemplary to date, but one of the things I have inherited from my family and training and have applied in my career is that gentlemanly conduct is important and always wins. There are some opinions and some types of photography that I have little taste for, but I don't wish to destroy those approaches and seldom critique those works or ideas in the photo critique or in this forum. If I don't like it for personal taste reasons I would rather say nothing (unless it is a clearly immoral or offensive image). If I see some interest in it, but think it can be improved, then I try to say to the author how it might be improved, albeit from a necesarily limited photographic viewpoint. I am proud, like I am sure Luis and others are, of the time spent to offer advice to others, in other forums, and this one.
    It is true as Luis says (despite the personal comments about fascism) that I have previously proposed separating philosophical discussion from personal photographic approaches. The reason for this was that much of the discussion on this forum was then of a nature that many of us could not easily follow, in the realm of those used to discussing more advanced philosophical or social ideas, and that a lot of the discussion continually centered on photographers not part of Photo.Net.
    While realising that such discussions are very important, there was little discussion on personal philosophies and aproaches to photography, which for me is a strong raison d'etre for being part of a photography discussion group. I therefore suggested that we create a forum for that purpose, more in depth than that of the photo critique forum. I am not so sure now that that such a complementary forum is necessary. In recent times, some of us have sought to describe our personal approaches, Fred being to my mind the most elegant poster in that sense, so probably the present forum is the best place for those personal discussions of approaches.
     
  115. Fred - Yes, a slip of the tongue. You're right and I know better. Sorry! Contrived/staged/directed portraits have been part of the current trend in portraiture, and you've taken this to a place where it is rarely seen. Besides the portraiture aspects, what you are doing will also end up a document of SF gay cuture.
    _________________
    Matthew, thank you.
    __________________
    Arthur, You used the plural, but I only made one comment about fascism, and I used an "if" before it. :)
    ____________________
    In spite of the current contretemps, I personally like Arthur, look forward to reading his posts, and think good things about his work in general. What makes this forum worth my time is not ths person or that one, but the entire active membership and even the lurkers and newbies whose wonderful letters appear in my mailbox. I don't have a Miss Congeniality or Most Gentlemanly award for anyone. If you know anything about the history of art and artists, (not to mention the internet) what we see here is not uncommon. I'm not saying it's a desirable ideal to strive for, or an eternal condition, but it certainly happens.
    I do not rank the members or impose a hierarchy. Whether obviously experienced, knowledgeable, creatives and crafters, hobbyists, kamikazes and pros, raw newbies, the smooth and the cantankerous, extroverts and introverts, regardless of the type of photography they do, no matter wha, the sum of all of us makes this forum what it is. Everyone here matters.
     
  116. jtk

    jtk

    How about this: Relegate THIS forum to ornate and windy "philosophy"... start a new forum for goals, intentions, and the experiences of photographs and photographing.
    That would free many from having to weed through the incoherence and "reflections" that dominate here, allowing them to converse about meat and bone.
    "Philosophy" is catnip, leave it here.
    How about "Photos: The Work and Works" ?
     
  117. John - "How about this: Relegate THIS forum to ornate and windy "philosophy"...
    "That would free many from having to weed through the incoherence and "reflections" that dominate here, allowing them to converse about meat and bone."
    "Philosophy" is catnip, leave it here."
    I have a question for anyone who thinks this forum is as useless, absurd and inconsequential as John makes it out to be, why are you here? Everyone is free from having to read any part of PN. Why would you waste your time on something so irrelevant, negative and repulsive? Why would you post so often in such a forum? You and Arthur want a new forum? Go for it. I'm sure Josh and the Mods will be happy to add anything within reason they feel will add value to the PN experience. There's no need to poop on this or any other forum to emphasize the imagined need for any new forum.
     
  118. jtk

    jtk

    "You and Arthur want a new forum?"

    Luis, That was "just" a thought. I think the more "philosophic" participants here were drawn ("catnip") by the opportunity to "reflect" at disorganized length, rather than the opportunity to ask questions or to test ideas with others: the navel gazing would probably stay here and the communication would go there.
    I'd mostly abandon this "Philosophy" forum if another existed that primarily dealt with personal takes on Work and Works. Meat and bone.
    Since you asked: I'm here for the same reasons as half of the participants. You seem to be as well, much of the time.
     
  119. Fred,
    Somewhere back a few hours ago, in one of your posts, you said, "I am right now in the stage of development, as I experiment with it and fine tune it." I'm sitting here toiling away at one of my composites (as usual) just pondering what that means and I'm not sure ... It occurs to me that I could ask ... so, I'm asking. How, or to what extent or in what way, where, when (you see what I've been pondering ...) are you / do you fine tune. It seems to me it could only refer, in advance of the shoot, to a generic focusing of concept; during the shoot to a muscle-memory prompt. After, in post, there is much more literal room for fine tuning.
    (This is not a "trick question." I'm not doubting or skeptical. Just musing.)
     
  120. Julie, I usually respond well to the staging choices I make. I find locations, often as I'm walking around town with the person I'm shooting, sometimes in advance. I make the most of these surroundings and the lighting, sometimes by predicting the lighting because I know the city and its light and times well, sometimes by having a good sense of how to position myself and my subjects relative to the light, etc.
    I want to work more on poses and gestures. (When I use "pose," I can mean position/posture. I talk about it as pose even when I don't pose someone or ask them to pose.) Sometimes the balance is off. I can feel a little let down by the relationship between the construction and/or just the capturing of a pose and what the pose is actually accomplishing or whether it is ALSO saying something genuine. It's that combination of directing and wanting a subject to reveal something. The tension between contrivance and spontaneity or, as I prefer, genuineness.
    I was thinking in terms of the shooting itself and not the post processing.
    In this photo of Ian and John, I like the theatrics of the staging. I gave myself room for the kind of color work I'm into (that was a combination of shooting and post processing). It was early afternoon and the sun was unusually strong for San Francisco but I think I handled it well. I exposed for Ian so as not to lose him too much in the shadows and was OK with it strengthening John because I knew that could be dealt with as long as I didn't blow him out. I'm much more OK with Ian here than I am with John's pose. John's putting on his shoes like that does suggest a story and all, but I think this could have been more compelling or intriguing. What if his back were to us and he seemed to be glancing toward Ian (or not) as he tied his one shoe? Or, what if he was facing us, but had stopped and just leaned back to rest for a moment while the shoe dangled from his foot untied? In a way, that latter would be even MORE directed and contrived, but it might strike me as even more genuine a moment, or at least a more compelling one to look at. As is, I think his pose is lost somewhere between casual and not and that bothers me some.
    These are things I think about while I'm in the shower, while I'm lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, while driving to the grocery store. I tend to think about them less intently when I'm in a shooting situation but I will still consider them or at least hope that my thoughts at other times have an influence next time I go out to shoot. It is not so much to second-guess myself. (I wouldn't have posted the above picture if I didn't think it had enough of what I want out of a photo.) It is more for the next time.
     
  121. Addition: Since I much more frequently don't know my locations or situations in advance, my "planning" is usually done on the spot, as I see what I've got and figure out what to do with it. They are by no means "candid" but they are not planned in advance, per se.
     
  122. I really like your "what if" description of the Ian and John picture. Have we done that before, because I don't remember it if we have (in this forum). Made me think for quite a while, trying out your suggestions in my mind's eye.
    It's so interesting, how you work as compared to what I do because I don't do people (or do them only rarely). The only controllable living thing in my pictures is me; fine tuning, therefore means possible long term meditations on the varieties of natural light -- including, obviously, times of day -- and weather.
    Mildly, or even comically comparable to your fine tuning of poses is my self-coaching when shooting birds for composites. I have found that I have a strong instinct or attraction for the classic side profile. This happens to be the least useful posture for composites -- it goes nowhere. There is no motion. What I want/need is the bird equivalent of contrapposto. So while I am sitting there, an hour or so every day all winter, shooting birds, I am muttering to myself, "Bent birds!!" I want the lines of their bodies off the plane. Body going one way, head another; rotation, turns, arches, twists ... anything but flat. Bird-shooting is so fast, that it is very much muscle-memory, anticipation, so I do have to harrass myself in advance and throughout the process.
     
  123. jtk

    jtk

    Exchanges like this one, between Fred and Julie, would be the kind I'd hope for in a "Work and Works" Forum.
    ...however, maybe this Forum is self-healing :)
     
  124. John,
    This forum is a pot-luck buffet. Everybody brings what they can. The fact that Fred and I are, today partaking of something that you also enjoy doesn't mean that tomorrow one or both of us won't be dining on something that makes you nauseous.
    Take and contribute whatever you like; enjoy it, learn from it, but please stop spitting on everybody else's food. Your constant Goldilocks routine gets old.
    I agree completely with Luis's statement above, "Whether obviously experienced, knowledgeable, creatives and crafters, hobbyists, kamikazes and pros, raw newbies, the smooth and the cantankerous, extroverts and introverts, regardless of the type of photography they do, no matter wha, the sum of all of us makes this forum what it is. Everyone here matters." Even John but not ONLY John.
     
  125. Julie, thanks again for asking. You touch on something that I will address loosely in my next post, which is just briefly about critiquing. I'm very interested to further discuss this notion of your strong instinct for something than isn't terribly useful in what you're doing.
     
  126. "Fred very diplomatically . . ." --Luis
    I am more diplomatic when I critique than in most other interactions -- [as many of you nod in agreement! ;)))]
    I critique to learn. Maybe there's some generosity involved. I like to think so. But it helps my own learning to see. I especially want to be able to understand or at least acknowledge what others see. When I looked at Arthur's photo, my gut told me the guy with jeans was a mistake and should go. But I've learned to question such quick assessments. That's why I asked Arthur about it. Because the photo is about his voice, not mine, and I wanted to understand what he was seeing.
    It's hard for me to tell the difference between my best gut instincts and force of habit. That pertains both to my shooting and to my viewing of others' photos. I want to go with my gut and not always second-guess myself or take time to consider, but I also know that I want to overcome certain habits of ways of looking. It's a tricky fine line to walk. [This may relate to what Julie was saying about having to harass herself.]
    A critique often tells more about the critic than the photo or the photographer being critiqued. So when I critique, I really feel like I'm putting myself on the line. That, too, helps me learn to see. I've been asking more and more questions when I critique. Because it's not about my vision, my tastes, or what I already know. It's about what someone else is seeing.
    As soon as I felt myself rejecting the figure in dark jeans, I stood still a moment. Do I want a cleaner scene? Is that what Arthur wants? Is there some randomness and imperfection and messiness that has been introduced that is perhaps good for me to witness and absorb?
    When a critique really stings me, I try (and am getting better at it) to take stock of that and pay attention to why and it's often because something actually has a ring of truth that's hard for me to admit or take a good look at. When I think something in someone else's photo is really off, really bad, or really not working, I try to pay attention in the same way and see if it might have some significance that I'm simply habituated not to be open to.
     
  127. jtk

    jtk

    Julie, Nice sermon.
    Neither you nor Fred " nausiate" me. Both of you think more clearly and photograph more interestingly than most.
    You didn't notice that I refrained from comment about your recent invocation of a translated non-scientific Victorian notion: Freud knew nothing about "instinct"...which refers to a scientifically well-defined expression of behavior. He remains vital today in many ways, is a quaint antique in many. Have you read much of him? The tossing around of famous names around as if they're holy invocations does disturb me, so it's one of the behaviors I comment upon. I'm not "nausiated," I try to keep things honest.
    Your personal discomfort with attention to uninvestigated ideas seems congruent with my discomfort with sloppy language and faux scholarship.
     
  128. Freud used the word "Todesdriebe" (death drive) for the concept of Thanatos, and that it has often been mistranslated as "instinct" ever since. Freud clearly used the word "instinkt" (instinct) for Eros, starting in 1920.
    ________________________
    As long as John's at it, I'd like to say that it is only his persistent sniping that keeps Photo.net from getting my $25/yr. I won't pay to be constantly sniped at, and no, I don't expect PN to waste anyone's time babysitting him or anyone else. The day JK stops for real (or agrees to disregard my posts and do it), my money gets transferred. I expect to be disagreed with. I don't expect the never-ending stream of constant, subtle, petty haranguing and insults.
    It's true that I stupidly used to return the favor, but I've stopped.
    "Everyone here matters." Even John but not ONLY John.
    _________________
    Thinking about Fred's Ian & John picture, the parallels between images like that, and the psychological tableaus of the heyday of pictorialism are striking. [Necessary PoP Disclaimer: No, that is not in any way a negative comment]. I am not saying that it's a rip-off, or appropriation. It's simply a visual way to convey a story or scene, and Fred has grown into it well. Fred's doing more than portraits.
    ___________________
     
  129. Fred
    I don't think I'm able to identify and describe my own photography, I would rather let others do it. I know I follow certain principles when I shoot but it is very difficult for me to see some sort of character and style in my photos. It's the same as when you listen to your own recorded voice and cannot recognize it...
    I like to shoot people when they are absolutely unaware of my presence, in order not to "spoil" the spontaneity of the moment. I do not like posed portraits at all, because I do not believe it is possible to capture the true character of a person if he or she knows you are taking a picture.
    When shooting people, I am definitely attracted to situations, rather than characters. I do not like to make statements or portrait moral issues. I search that intimate and hidden world inside ourselves, the one we never pay attention to and that goes unnoticed. I try to spot the "little things" of life, that are not so little. I have to say that this helped me: I started out by stating how difficult it is for me to describe my own photography and ended up discovering things about myself...
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  130. Fred,
    You must have an x-ray mind. Your post is eerily close to what I almost posted yesterday but ended up deciding it was too tricky for me to put tactfully into the right words. So I ended up muffling the thoughts up inside of a questio. But you must have sniffed it out with your bloodhound instinct ...
    This part of your previous post is what I'm talking about:
    "It's hard for me to tell the difference between my best gut instincts and force of habit. That pertains both to my shooting and to my viewing of others' photos. I want to go with my gut and not always second-guess myself or take time to consider, but I also know that I want to overcome certain habits of ways of looking. It's a tricky fine line to walk."​
    When I read that you were "find tuning" I thought to myself, "Oh no! The rough edges are what I like about Fred's work!" Here's what I mean. I hope I don't trample on your toes too badly in trying to describe this. When I first started looking at your (Fred's) portraits several years ago, I noticed a sort of deer-in-the-headlights quality to a lot of the subjects in them. Only a teeny tiny bit of it, but it was there -- and this seems to be something to which I respond instinctively. I think it takes the primitive tiger-in-the-bushes route to the visual cortex rather than the longer, interpretive route of that which is aesthetically appreciated (there really are two routes ...). This quality in your portraits seemed to me to be a big failing. It totally distracted me from the other qualities of the image.
    But over time, after looking at many of your portraits, I found that this little umbilical remnant, this primal tie from me to that tiny bit of fear in your sitters seemed to always be there, to be under control in quantity and quality, to be being used, handled, worked. So I changed my assessment; it's not a mistake, he knows what he's doing but I don't like it.
    Finally, after all these (3) years of looking at your work, I've not only grown used to that element in your portraits, learned to expect it, to let it happen, I've grown to like it very much. Like some spices in cooking that one has to learn to like and which have to be used only in very small quantities -- but which define a particular dish, I have come to feel that the thread of fear (what I previously called the deer-in-the-headdlights look) is the most true (should I use that word? maybe "genuine" is better) connection I've seen between myself and a subject in a picture. Unlike the full confession of Goldin-type work, which affects me as theater rather than a true connection TO me, and especially unlike the polished, or defiant/deviant or freakish work ... or the endless, endless, endless current fashion for deadpan that I am heartily sick of ... this live-wire ... scent of a kind of a kind of mild but very real fear, zaps me every time. Unlike those other kinds of picture (confessional or polished) which seem to me to be encapsulated, complete, enclosed, this little hum of anxiety ... gets out. It's live.
    Somewhere in that incoherent fuzzle above is MY idea of what I have grown to like and want out of Fred's portraits. But (and this is part of the reason I didn't post this yesterday) if either I got it wrong and/or Fred wants to move on, it's not for me to resist (for example, I don't see this quality that I like in the Gerald pictures).
     
  131. "When shooting people, I am definitely attracted to situations, rather than characters. I do not like to make statements or portrait moral issues. I search that intimate and hidden world inside ourselves, the one we never pay attention to and that goes unnoticed. I try to spot the "little things" of life, that are not so little."
    Antonio,
    I can identify with most of your statement, except perhaps the "I don't like to make statements", which I realise may be a bit pompous for me to assert in the negative. What I like is that you photograph humans and what they are about without photographing them head on as individuals. Your comment helps me to think about my own objectives which also are to shoot people somewhat unobstrusively and to photograph places or objects that suggest the passage of persons, their actions or their environment, also the vestiges or traces of human presence.
    Your statement is followed by that of JH who has (or previously had) difficulty with the very presence of the portrait photographer and his camera (I am reminded of Barthe's view). I enjoy greatly Fred's approach and products, but I often wonder if it is a trap to photograph the human too closely, sort of in the sense of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (which I am not sure even still holds) that the closer you observe the atom the less you can actually observe it. I tend to think that the photography of small things, of human presence at a distance, or of the situation of humanity by what they do or leave, is revealing of humanity (and, as you say, of your inner self) and a way I very much like to photograph. Whether that denotes character in a photograph or not (and probably not, without other reinforcing aspects), I am attracted to that approach. Thanks for re-awakening my prior thoughts on this, and to the pleasure of understanding, in some degree, your own.
     
  132. Antonio, on the surface, we've obviously described very different approaches to making photographs. But I've often wondered if the candid/posed dichotomy isn't a bit like the Canon/Nikon one. My sense is that ultimately there can be found something in common about what we're trying to do.
    I was at a funeral last week for a dear friend's father, who was exactly the same age as my own father. The eulogy given by the rabbi could easily have been said about my own father and many of my friends' fathers. It struck me that something ties together that generation . . . stories about meeting before the war, getting married just after it, a certain work ethic, children and grandchildren, FAMILY, even the sense of humor, the overall sensibility, their priorities. I wonder if, as we look back at generations passed, we all become more types than individuals and if there isn't something almost reassuring in that. At least I found it to be so in those few moments. Connectivity.
    Not wanting to get too scmaltzy, I will pick a bone with you. Whenever I hear something like "I do not believe it is possible to capture . . . ", a red flag goes up. It's not unlike what Julie and I have been discussing regarding the fine line between gut instinct and force of habit.
    For me, the candid/posed dichotomy is not all it's made out to be. There can and often is much effective pose and even theatricality about so-called candid shots. (Take a look at almost any candid photo of a cigarette smoker and spot the pose.) And the most set-up, arranged, posed portrait can have sublime elements of spontaneity and candor. (In a good portrait, it will often coincide with the instant of the snap.)
     
  133. Arthur, Heisenberg's principal is not a hindrance for me here, though I recognize the applicability you're giving it. When photographing, I don't think of myself as an observer.
     
  134. "find tuning" --Julie
    I love this little slip of the fingers. It's powerful.
    I've only told one viewer once, as far as I can remember, he got it wrong. It's obviously something I would do only on the most extreme and offensive occasion, and I even second-guess myself on having done it once. It was more a moral issue he was addressing and using a photo of mine to address it. You can probably imagine the lines along which it went.
    So, nothing you could say by way of honestly stating your reaction would I take as wrong and at this point, I hope there's nothing that could hold me back in my future work except my own fear or complacency, which I'm not at all worried about right now. I've often reacted similarly to how you describe your "process" over the years with my work. Those usually become the deepest understandings and the most appreciated works and bodies of work. I often tell people that several, and a few in particular, of my most solid and most intimate friendships were fraught with tension and fighting and had to withstand some deep divisions and emotional tangles. No one said the stuff that really matters is going to be easy. That quick WOW, though not always, can be another of those red flags.
    I was looking at your On Stage 6753 today. Though I change it up, on my top 10 (well, maybe 20) movie list is usually Hitchcock's The Birds. Now surely there's only the vaguest of similarities in this work of yours to Hitchcock's film. But there is something essential that seems present in each. One of the obvious similarities is the staging. On another level, though, I really think it's in the character you each seem to find and portray in the birds themselves. There's a strange sense of wonder in their postures, often the way their heads seem disconnected from their bodies, even when they're lined up like you have them and like Hitch often shows them in the film. There's an edginess of carriage, though yours is more mollified and, perhaps, therefore, even a bit more disconserting, by the pleasantries of the surroundings, the placid blue sky and delicately bare branches. Hitchcock's telephone wires and threatening sky, his narrative tension almost give it away. Yours sort of sneaks up on me.
     
  135. Fred
    There can and often is much effective pose and even theatricality about so-called candid shots. (Take a look at almost any candid photo of a cigarette smoker and spot the pose.) And the most set-up, arranged, posed portrait can have sublime elements of spontaneity and candor. (In a good portrait, it will often coincide with the instant of the snap.)​
    Here you are talking from the viewer's point of view, and I agree that the most spontaneous shot could look like the most arranged studio shot (and vice-versa). However, when I shoot I do it from my own point of view: the result is for others to interpret.
    Arthur
    I actually identify myself very much in your photography and believe our approaches have a lot in common. You understood exactly my point when you say What I like is that you photograph humans and what they are about without photographing them head on as individuals. When I say "I don't like to make statements" I mean that I only want to be an observer and underline what I think is an interesting aspect of life, worth of being photographed and documented. I am not interested in expressing my political or social thinking through my photography, or even less I feel the responsibility of saying something with my shots. When I see an interesting subject, sometimes I don't even realize why I chose it.
     
  136. Antonio, I'm definitely not trying to convince you of anything, and I respect and honor our differences, but I was not talking only from the viewer's point of view. I find these similarities between posed and candid very much as the photographer and when I am shooting. For me, they are right there in the moment and not just in the photograph.
     
  137. "When photographing, I don't think of myself as an observer."
    Fred, I have trouble believing you mean that, but if you do it's an important difference in our approaches,
    In my own case I am first a "seeker", an "explorer" of subjects, sometimes with specific intention, sometimes not, secondly, and often concurrent with seeking, an "observer" of my subject, understanding what it is, or what it means to me (my interaction with what I think it is saying - it, the subject may be a small detail or a person before the camera), then, thirdly, in the creative role of imagining and realising how I wish to capture the subject, how to stage it, how to reconcile various elements, of the subject or its surroundings, or how to optimize my perception of it, thus an "interpreter" or "creator" of the captured image. This is basic, there are other aspects of my approach that I needn't go into here, but I would definitely not be able to do what I do without "observing".
     
  138. Arthur, to be clear, I didn't say I don't observe. But I don't liken myself to an observer, and definitely not to the observer that Heisenberg, and you, are talking about. I am in no way putting down that kind of observation. It is profound as are Heisenberg's principle and its ramifications. My main function and what I relish about photographing is participation. What Heisenberg discovered and what can present problems for the scientist who might seek as objective a view as possible (and rightly and necessarily so), is exactly what I am after: the relationship and reciprocal effects.
     
  139. Fred - "It's hard for me to tell the difference between my best gut instincts and force of habit."
    For me, habit is more consistent, spoken out loud, reliable, recognizable, rote, predictable, momentum-driven, trait-like etc. The 'gut instinct' is more mercurial, spontaneous, situation-specific, passionate, more field than linear, unexpected, inner-voiced, etc. It's a continuum between the domestic, warm, safe, cozyness of the familiar and the nomadic, exploratory, unstructured, uncertain, perilous cold evenings afield under the star field. We and our work need one, the other, or both, in varying degrees at different times.
    ____________________________
    Arthur, Heisenberg's Uncertainly Principle (1927) states that it's not possible to simultaneously measure the position and velocity of any subatomic particle with accuracy or certainty.
    The analog of inducing a change/shift/disturbance/etc., via observation, or participation (the observer and the observed temporarily become a system), is in my opinion, applicable to photography. There are no free lunches. For everything one gets, something is forfeited.
    There are limits to what we know, and can know (Godel). Or as Diane Arbus poetically - and wisely - put it:
    "A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know."
    This connects with what Antonio has to say. It is lost on most photographers & applies to a lot of other things regarding photography, posting about it, and life in general.
     
  140. Fred, I hadn't read your comment re: participation when I wrote my above post.
     
  141. Yes, I remember the principle when briefly studying quantum mechanics in the British patent office library as student. The analogy is not meant to be close, only to provoke thoughts (mine, yours, anyone interested) into how good the camera and photgrapher can be in revealing anything significnt about the person when confronting them directly, apart from a momentary (obviously) glimpse into his type, emotions, etc. The longer interval, during viewing, is then relevant but I think is more about the viewer's imagination than the subject or photographer, and the Arbus comment is good I think and perhaps consistent with such realisation.
    Which is why I, and likely Antonio, choose to photograph either the absent person, the more removed person or persons, or the acts or effects of the person(s) (e.g., as a quick example, this might be what a desk and possessions in a library or study or office might say about the occupant, although that can often also be very summary, it really needs a complex interaction of things). Man leaves his mark on the world but often hides what he is or does behind Barthe's often impregnable (my word) portrait exterior. In portraiture we often get symbols of him or her, but not as he or she has interacted, or is interacting, with the world. When you look at Liebeskind's portraits of stars, she is showing us often what we already know about them, or can easily accept as part of their public persona, something often different from themselves (How do I know, I don't, I just mistrust public images which are often just a product of sorts).
    Christopher Hall (a local commentator) is presenting from this week an 8 hour TV series on Historia (French C site) four well-known Canadians, Trudeau, (René) Levesque, Jacques Parizeau and Brian Mulroney. He is neglecting the symbols and the persona and researching aspects of the leaders that are little known and sometimes contradicting of their public reputation and persona. Any parallel to that reporting in photography is I think a good challenge.
     
  142. "confronting" --Arthur
    Again, this is about my experience only, but when I used to do more candid and distanced (perhaps my own style was more clandestine than simply candid) photographs, that felt much more confrontational. Though I have had occasion to be confrontational (an important aspect of relationships) with more recent subjects, from whom I was not hiding, that's a more rare occurrence for me now. I think Sontag described very poignantly the confrontational aspects of photographing. I think both Luis and I have described on various occasions the intimate relationship we often develop with our subjects as a dance, rather than a confrontation (perhaps sometimes in addition to).
    I do recognize and understand the intimacy and revelation you can achieve, Arthur (and Antonio), with your approaches to photographing.
     
  143. Fred
    My main function and what I relish about photographing is participation.​
    I see what you mean. You are right about the existence of candidness and spontaneity in staged photography. There, it's the ability of the photographer to capture those very quick nuances that makes all the difference. Participation is of vital importance when talking about portrait photography or, in general, any staged photography that involves human beings. That is what I don't know how to control (yet...). The kind of photography I'm doing right now, on the contrary, requires the distance of the observer (like Arthur says) but it also demands a deep research in within ourselves.
     
  144. Arthur - "Which is why I, and likely Antonio, choose to photograph either the absent person, the more removed person or persons, or the acts or effects of the person(s) (e.g., as a quick example, this might be what a desk and possessions in a library or study or office might say about the occupant, although that can often also be very summary, it really needs a complex interaction of things). Man leaves his mark on the world but often hides what he is or does behind Barthe's often impregnable (my word) portrait exterior."
    Information is conserved and transformed in many different ways. People leave information and signs of their energies behind them with everything (and everyone) they contact and obtain. It can form a kind of extrinsic portrait.
    Some things come to mind...
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_LTmBGvSArCs/Se4qXLw7ojI/AAAAAAAAAEM/GoXAJVfGQHM/s400/wmorris_23.jpg&imgrefurl=http://reading-light.blogspot.com/2009_04_01_archive.html&usg=__EKX4ZYi6es-s52Rni4WRRUmvA2k=&h=400&w=306&sz=21&hl=en&start=43&zoom=0&tbnid=Opbr8BhtLY_lhM:&tbnh=124&tbnw=95&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dwright%2Bmorris%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D1277%26bih%3D577%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C1153&um=1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=615&ei=MPB3TMK_J4H58AbAv8ypBg&oei=E_B3TJ3jHsH68Aa75KyJBg&esq=7&page=3&ndsp=22&ved=1t:429,r:17,s:43&tx=38&ty=88&biw=1277&bih=577
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.killeryellow.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/wrightmorris.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.killeryellow.com/blog/page/4/&usg=__eK-g16M1L0Oxofqe_EC_hzAu-fQ=&h=462&w=580&sz=135&hl=en&start=65&zoom=1&tbnid=XlEGoTjK-7eajM:&tbnh=140&tbnw=172&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dwright%2Bmorris%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D1277%26bih%3D577%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C1267&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=927&vpy=236&dur=473&hovh=140&hovw=176&tx=90&ty=78&ei=YPR3TPrNIMT48AbbwLTRBg&oei=E_B3TJ3jHsH68Aa75KyJBg&esq=8&page=4&ndsp=22&ved=1t:429,r:6,s:65&biw=1277&bih=577
    [Yes, from a dead white guy]
     
  145. Antonio, I think probably these things we're talking about do have to do with the character of photographs. I think distance can give a distinct character to a photographic scene or subject. So can intimacy. Things like connection, objectivity, participation, observation all seem to add character. All these things can be done in a variety of ways and styles. For me, distance, intimacy, etc. are not a style and not really a feeling (as pertains to the photograph itself) but they do seem to imbue a photograph with its character.
     
  146. Fred,
    Since yesterday I've been trying to decide whether my coming-to-like/understand is necessarily evolutionary in the sense of requiring a building-to from where I start from ... or, unlike evolution, if I can simply reconfigure my conception. I've been thinking about how I "got used to" (learned to appreciate) various modern artists and quite a few photographers. A safe, and maybe useful example might be in pop music:
    The first time I heard Neil Young on his own (I must have heard him with Crosby, Stills and Nash but didn't notice him), I thought he was doing a magnificent spoof of pop singers -- he was so awful and so obviously silly with that off-key wavering nasal too-sincere voice. When I found out he not only wasn't spoofing but was greatly admired by quite a few people, I was astonished. Of course, I got used to hearing him, but had a residual disbelief at his, to me, odd way of singing. But what really made me learn to like him was watching Jonathon Demme's documentary of him singing live. I don't know why watching him changes how I hear him, but it did. Now I really enjoy hearing his songs (particularly Harvest Moon and Like a Hurricane -- if I'm getting the titles right) though I don't own any of his recordings.
    Did I somehow build to Neil Young from my existing preferences, or did my Neil Young understanding spring up unbridged, without ancestry just out of familiarity?
     
  147. OK, Julie, now you're the one with the x-ray vision, because I was having similar wonderings yesterday while riding in the car listening to a Rodgers and Hammerstein CD a friend just made for me.
    Why is it that I like Oklahoma more than Carousel? They're more similar than different, though the more you get to know them . . . Familiarity. We put Oklahoma on in summer camp when I was about 8. It's part of me. Those songs reach way beyond Fred of 2010. They engage memory, nostalgia, a sense of place (being up in the country away from the city for the summers), they evoke my mother's artistry who used to create the sets and scenery, they recall my own early days playing them on the piano as I was just learning, and don't get me started on wrestling with Alan Hochberg.
    Then Shall We Dance (from The King and I) came on. Somehow, for the first time, I noticed, or at least felt, those three notes, which bump and thump a little heavier with each progressive chorus throughout the song: Shall we dance . . . one two three . . . finally moving beyond the caricature and lighthearted joke the orchestra makes of it at first and almost becoming its own character, a third wheel accompanying the final dance between Anna and the King.
    I think your ending question is not unlike the question that's often asked about the merits of influence vs. the supposed spontaneity and lack of precedence associated with creativity. To which my answer is the same as Laurey's to Curly:
    "Many a like lad may kiss and fly
    A kiss gone by is bygone.
    Never have I asked an August sky
    'Where has last July gone?'
    Never have I wandered through the rye
    Wondering 'where has some guy gone?'
    Many a new day will dawn before I do."
    [This is probably the gayest post I've ever made ;)))]
     
  148. In the case of Neil Young, possibly ancestry. He has a voice as odd as Gilles Vigneault, but like the latter has great lyrics that no doubt ring some bells. That is what got me, although I also don't mind his plaintiff naisal voice. We are atuned to songs with meaning, just as we are atuned to songs with no meaning but some sort of musical pulse or rhythm that saves the day for them.
     
  149. For me, it's the physical character of Neil Young's voice and the sensuality of his delivery that I've always loved, no matter the words. Seeing him enhances the uniqueness of his voice, because his disheveled manner and his wild eyes, the boyish smile, the pale skin are the almost uncanny compatible embodiment of that voice.
    Julie, it's hard to read tone of voice on the Internet and the reader may often project sarcasm or dismissal where none is intended. A lot of that could be alleviated if we could see each other. And listening to a voice can be greatly enhanced by the accompaniment of gesture, body movement, and facial expression.
    There's an effortlessness to Ella Fitzgerald's voice that I could always hear. But the only time I got to see her, and she had to sit through the performance by that time, the visual effortlessness added a dimension. There's a corporeal dance that accompanies almost all song. A recording is at least once removed. Physical presence is very significant in music. Not only the fingers, but the shoulders and even the hips act to make the music for the pianist. It's not just a magical disembodied sound coming out of a speaker. It's a touch.
    Familiarity and repetition likely played key roles. But the intimacy and physicality of seeing him added yet another layer.
     
  150. It's definitely something about his delivery that does the trick. You've described him well.
    In a book that I've been reading, anthropologist Tim Ingold says something interesting about speech (he says a lot of things that I think are interesting about speech and song, but I'll keep the quote to a minimum):
    "We 'feel' each others presence in verbal discourse as the craftsman feels, with his tools, the material on which he works; and as with the craftsman's handling of tools, so is our handling of words sensitive to the nuances of our relationships with the felt environment."​
    Presumably a good deal of that 'feel' is from non-verbal cues that go missing from a recording -- or forum text.
     
  151. ... which, now that I've thought about it for [checking the time stamp] six minutes, would strongly suggest that, in answer to my question of this morning, it IS necessary to bridge and integrate with or to something new and hitherto unfamiliar (disliked). I can't just "learn to like it" in isolation.
     
  152. Neil is like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, his compositions are of a type that you don't hear from other singers caught in the paradigm of the expected. They are easy to dislike because they don't follow the regular pattern, but then you realise that that is what is appealing. It is part of what sorts character from the everyday.
     
  153. "I can't just 'learn to like it' in isolation." --Julie
    Character likely doesn't exist in isolation either. Character seems relative. My character, who I am, is to a great extent determined by the look (in more than just a visual sense) of The Other -- and my reaction to that look. The character of a photograph is likely relative to other photographs, and even relative to its surroundings. It probably changes when it goes from natural to fluorescent to incandescent lighting, when it's matted or framed differently, when it's hung or held. Character is beginning to seem dependent, not independent.
     
  154. "It probably changes when it goes from natural to fluorescent to incandescent lighting, when it's matted or framed differently"
    Fred, if that is what is character in a photograph and it even impresses, or if one needs the crutch of relative to others in order to define character, the character is indeed at best meek. Probably enough so as a philosophical quantity to enter into Antonio's "Psychology of Photography" thread (on doubt) or in the new "Chats in Photography" posts dealing with knights, beheading and the like.
     
  155. Arthur, you're crossing a line.
     
  156. Not really, I'm just commenting on what I consider as important for meaningful discussion. Some philosophers amongst us enjoy more deviation that participation. "A spade is a spade", Fred, if you happen to be familiar with that quaint but appropriate Brit expression.
     
  157. Arthur, pretend for a moment you're in a university class. The professor is assigning a paper on character in a photograph. Half the students must take up the approach that character is in the interpretation and meaning of a photograph and to some extent in what was in the heart and mind of the photographer at the time of shooting. The other half must take up the approach that character is not inherent in the photograph, the meaning, the interpretation, or the mind of the photographer and that it, in fact, changes with certain relative and situational factors extraneous to the meaning of the photograph. You would like to join the first group, so naturally a good professor will assign you to the second. You can choose one of two factors: 1) The size of the print made . . . from a small 4x6 to a large almost life-size print. How would the character of the same photograph be changed were it to be printed very small vs. very big? or 2) The lighting conditions it is viewed under . . . imagine a soft, nuanced print being taken from the incandescent glow of a diffused spotlight right over to a window where it would catch the very direct natural light. How might that change the character of the photograph?
     
  158. Arthur, as for Antonio, I take him quite seriously both as a photographer and in terms of how he approaches these discussions and what he has had to say. He deserves more of a chance here than you gave him in your post above. I think if you looked for some philosophy in that doubt thread and if you looked for ways of seeing in that thread, you might find it. Look carefully at the photo that Antonio linked to (his own) and then listen carefully to the distilled description with which he characterized it. There is a whole lot of philosophy of photography in that one post and I'm worried that you may have too early dismissed the thread because you didn't like the title. Read my response to him about essences and don't get lost in the abstract philosophizing. Apply it to ways that you or he or I might photograph those ancient buildings and cities, the different ways in which and situations under which an old church might be photographed and what about it might be captured.
     
  159. Fred,
    I must learn to wake up completely before typing notes into the computer before breakfast. No, I was not criticizing Antonio's post, which I haven't even had the chance to read properly, as it is very recent. I just characterised doubt as a psychological phenomenon, that's all. And of course, even if not philosophical, it encounters the objective of discussing one's approach to photographing. Antonio also has the quality of sticking to a discussion and not turning it into a spurious chat session.
    Nor am I really bothered that character of a photograph is so often perceived by many in terms of the physical appearance of the print (paper used, lighting, framing), or how it compares in that sense to others, but I personally believe that character of photography has much much more to do with the unique quality of the way a photographer has perceived an image and realised it, using the medium.
    I quite readily apologize to readers for the Brit expression, which I use seldom if ever now but learned as a young person in that country, taking it then, too simplistically, to simply mean "calling something as it really appears to us", but foolishly ignoring (even to this day, until I researched it a few minutes ago) that it had historical roots of rascist undertones. My faux pas!
    Referring to "deviation" was simply my frustration with the way some of our promising OTs go, my recent one in particular, where the discussion turns from a beneficial one on the approach (composition-wise) of the photographer in crafting his images, to a chat discussion about knights, beheading and so on. I guess I am being too serious, but I would suggest that apart from humorous discussions strongly related to the subject, chats that deviate rather than participate, and tend to derail a post, might best go to "casual conversations" or "off topic" forums, where I amongst many admit to having great fun with language, spurious thoughts and other casual posts. It is a delicate balance to be able to go deeper into a subject and maintaining input related to it. Debating forums at colleges (often the source of real education in those milieu) have long understod the basic princioles.
    I am sure friend Luis will add this to his "bouncer" characterisation of my thoughts on rigor and respect in discussion, but that's OK with me. Perhaps if that shows at least some "character" and direction in my approach, I will be happy to acknowledge that anticipated critique.
     
  160. Arthur, your thread on point, line, and form has much potential and a long ways to go. Proceed with it as you would like and those who are interested will pick up on what you have to say.
    I think the physical and relational factors I've mentioned can affect and change character. They don't exhaust what character is. They go into the mix.
     
  161. I was going to add this to my comment in the point, line, form thread but didn't want to distract from trying to establish further flow to that thread. So, although this relates to things being said in that thread, I'll post it here:
    [Luis, I do so want to make a wisecrack about photographing you nude and the concept of point, but I will refrain. Speaking of which, Julie, "picky, picky, picky." Now add an "r."]
     
  162. Arthur - "I am sure friend Luis will add this to his "bouncer" characterisation of my thoughts on rigor and respect in discussion, but that's OK with me."
    No, it hadn't entered my mind, and I've been following this thread.
    Fred - "Luis, I do so want to make a wisecrack about photographing you nude...
    Fred, resist & desist! No cracks, for God's sakes. But next time the law allows me back in San Francisco, I'll let you know.
    Fred - " Speaking of which, Julie, "picky, picky, picky." Now add an "r."]"
    Geez, Fred, I knew exactly what you meant the first second after I read it, and howled out loud.
     
  163. I didn't get it until Fred's post above. When he said, "Did you mean to leave out the "r"?" in the other thread, I thought I'd done a typo with "cortex" (left out the "r") and written something to the effect that Luis had a feminine sanitary item in his head or on his head ... or something (Does he wear one? Is that the latest fashion? Would it help stop the bleeding?).
    But, happily, after sprinting to the thread in horror, I found all my "r"s to be intact. But that left me wondering about Fred and co[r]tex and, well you don't want to know.
     
  164. Julie - "Does he wear one? Is that the latest fashion? Would it help stop the bleeding?"
    Not often, only on light days. Nah, it's nothing new, I've been wearing it for a long time. The pad didn't help with the brain drain either.
     
  165. A bunch of characters we are.
     
  166. Arthur - "where the discussion turns from a beneficial one on the approach (composition-wise) of the photographer in crafting his images, to a chat discussion about knights, beheading and so on."
    I would like to say that was an unintentional lobotomy, or near-beheading. We were in a holding pattern awaiting your guidance, leadership and input, Arthur, harmlessly passing time. What were we supposed to do, sit idle & bored? Fat chance. In spite of my memory being reduced to a standing wave now, I seem to remember a monk somewhere in the mix. Humor is as beneficial as anything else that has come up (perhaps with the exception of Julie's quotes) in that thread so far. Lest you forget, I called for a return to the theme. Of course, you do realize this is the kind of thing that spurs some people into badness. We, on the other hand, need no spurs. Want is another thing entirely.
     

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