Henry Holmes Smith on routine images

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by sallymckay-lepage, Mar 25, 2004.

  1. Henry Holmes Smith in the mid 1970's said.... " People are competing to win at a game that is a loser's game. The game is to have better routine images than someone else's routine images. If you want a perscription for routine images, you just have to go through any students portfolio" Do you think the same can be said today? Sally
  2. It's really easy to be cynical in that way and it impresses some people some of the time, especially when there's a grain of truth wrapped up in the rubbish.

    Of course most pictures are routine, that's as self-evident a statement as saying that most people's height clusters around the median. A more helpful statement would be that, if people seek the outre all the time, they end up as jaded as someone force-fed on pate-de-foie-gras.

    I've never heard of this chap before and if that's the level of his thinking I'd rather hear no more of him.
  3. That sounds like a routine statement, so he must have been a loser. Or am I missing something here?
  4. Harvey, I'm guessing you feel pretty strongly about this issue. Consider this if
    you would. The photo insert is from a 2004 publication which offers advise
    and practical methods for taking good photographs. I have to wonder if this
    kind of thing doesn't stop people from taking risks and pushing the envelope?
    Granted, regaurdless of the medium eveyone needs to learn the basics. But I
    have to tell ya I find photography to be one of the most rigid in it's acceptance
    of new methods. There are countless images on photonet that I sware were
    taken with the instruction booklet in the other hand.

    I didn't raise the point with the intent of being negative or overtly cynical. I
    truely am interested in what motivates people to take photographs .

  5. Henry Holmes Smith was a Farm Security Administration photographer who influenced and taught a number of different photographers. His later images were nearly all abstract and in color. He was shooting color in the early to mid-'40's before anyone thought of it as being a medium to use for personal expression.

    Of course the same thing can be said today. The trick is to know what your looking at, why your looking at it, and then how to translate all of that into an interesting and most importantly unique photo.

    Rather than routine images, I'd say that people are trying to take the same images of the same subjects trying to equal something they've seen previously. How many photos of mountains reflecting in lakes at sunset have you seen? Do you really need to see another one? I don't unless you're showing me something out of the ordinary or you make it more than just another pretty photo.

    I would, however, love to have Mr. Smith look at Eggleston's "Democratic Forest" and hear his reaction.
  6. Stephen, I don't believe Smith meant "loser" quite the same way you did. For
    what it is worth , he had some good ideas. If you are passionate about your
    craft and are interested in this type of thing maybe you should check him out
    before labelling him or his ideas. Smith by the way is only a vehicle for the

  7. Dead right Steve, thanks for the background.
  8. "But I have to tell ya I find photography to be one of the most rigid in it's acceptance of new methods."

    Only if you're worried about being accepted. Once you don't care anymore and start producing photographs that you like, then acceptance becomes a moot point. Unless, what you are doing is commercial photography of some type, and then you need to meet the client's requirements.

    Photography is a vast field of endeavor with nearly endless possibilities from stock black and white or color photographs to manipulated photos, to alternative processes like gum bichromate or even photo-lithographs. With the advent of digital photography, the options have expanded even further.

    If you feel confined or constrained by being accepted, or making acceptable photographs, then I'd say do the opposite. Make the photos that you want to see - don't pay any attention to what other people like.

    If you have an idea of what you want to see in the final image, THAT is exactly what you should do.
  9. For the benefit of those you might know <a href="http://www.photo.net/
    photodb/photo?photo_id=2231624"> Eggleston's "Democratic Forest"<a/>

  10. Opps...sorry I just learned how to post a link and looks like I need more
  11. "Harvey, I'm guessing you feel pretty strongly about this issue."

    Not really. It's hard to inject your tone of voice into the characters on the page <g>.

    I'll amplify my reply and say that there's nothing wrong with taking a lot of routine pictures because tht's how you aquire the skills to take the exceptional picture when it comes along.
  12. Harvey, I'm guessing you feel pretty strongly about this issue.
    You do realize that he is not here, and he was quoted as having written this 30 years ago....
  13. Aargh: Harvey, Henry... never mind.

    Harvey: if you don't know who Smith is, and you don't care to, that's your business. But
    being proud of your ignorance is a little strange.
  14. there's nothing wrong with taking a lot of routine pictures because tht's how you aquire the skills to take the exceptional picture when it comes along.
    There's nothing wrong with aiming to take excellent, original images. Most people take routine images because they don't understand that they are routine, or because they take comfort in them being routine.
  15. Routine can have multiple meanings; routinely bad, routibnely original, routinely saddening. For someone who only photographs flowers, wildlife, or buildings, flowers, wildlife and buildings would be routine. Wouldn't it be the same for a photographer who routinely makes original or abstract photos, they would just be routine photographs. Considering this, I do not believe you can define routine, each photograph is a different case and should be looked at the same way, without considering whether it is a routine image for the particuler photographer. Great photographs are great photographs, bad photographs are bad photographs, its not too hard.

  16. Smith was one of most influential fine art photography teachers of the mid 20th Century.
    He studied at the Balhaus in Germany and then spend many years teaching at Indiana
    Universtiy.<P>Some of his students were Jerry Uelsmann, Jack Welpot, Ralph Eugene
    Meatyard and many others. <P>Jerry
    Uelsmann consisted Smith as his mentor and you don't know who Uelsmann is then you
    best learn something about the history of photography. He did Photoshop before it was
    invented and without a computer.
  17. Probably the reason you see so many 'routine' images here on photo.net is that most people here are learning about photography and working to improve their skills.

    A potter starts out learning how to make a basic pot, then copies some more difficult techniques and styles from master potters, and then finally understands the technical and creative processes enough to be able to branch out in his own direction.

    It's the same with photography. Most of us are still either learning the basic skills and rules or copying techniques from masters to hone our abilities. I guess the problem that Smith was alluding to is that not enough people progress past those stages of development and start exploring their own creativity.
  18. It sounds like he is saying that people get in a rut of trying to make better pictures, only they are making the same pictures that everyone else has always made, so that keeps them from being any better, really.

    This is a common complaint on photo.net, of people complaining about the pet pictures or sunset pictures, etc. One of the responses above mentions this very thing.

    My point is, that Mr. Smith's statement then seems to suffer from exactly the same problem he sees in photography: lack of originality. So yes, it's true, but not exactly profound.
  19. I do not believe you can define routine, each photograph is a different case ... Great photographs are great photographs, bad photographs are bad photographs
    So you'd not allow for a routine or cliche photo, but you embrace entirely subjective, nebulous notions of 'great' and 'bad.' Try again.
  20. Probably the reason you see so many 'routine' images here on photo.net is that most people here are learning about photography
    "The" reason? No. I think most people who upload their photos are happy with and proud of them and want to give them exposure, curious about how others will find them. Many are therefore shocked to learn that their photos are rated low (& sometimes not rated by some out of politeness), and some get defensive, sniffly or even abusive as a result.
  21. <P>Well, excuse me- but just because you find an image "routine" doesn't mean someone else does. Shall we all check with Mr. Smith before we shoot just in case that subject has been photographed before? "That mountain reflected in the lake sure does look nice; but I certainly won't take a picture of it; someone else already took that picture."

    <P>Does that sound stupid to anyone else? Give me a break. "Routine"; What a load of sh**.

    <P> And on a side note to Bailey; it is not "polite" not to rate a picture you come across. That is precisley the reason that I, for one, post images to PN. If you do not rate an image how does that help the photographer? If people can't take the ratings that are dished out; that's their fault; not yours. What would be the polite thing to would be to leave a comment with your rating to explain your thoughts.
  22. Every dream is a routine, with our brains beïng just another machine...the routinemachine.crisp and clean.
  23. Everybody takes routine photos. That's why Edward Weston had an archive of 30,000 or so negatives and Ansel Adams said he was happy to get 10 or 12 good photographs a year. The rest were routine or didn't express what the photographer was trying to achieve.

    I think the difference is when you understand that a photo is routine and relegate it to the archives instead of showing it. Some people never get to that point and are just thrilled with their photos, no matter how hackneyed the subject or presentation. It's difficult to get past that point. You really have to want to push your work in a direction that is unique to yourself - and not a copy of something you've seen that you'd like to emulate.

    The other side of the problem, especially with web based photo sites, is that many of the people are specifically looking for the photo they'd like to emulate, and are, therefore, very congratulatory to anyone who makes the photo they've been looking for.

    The person who posts a photo outside of a standard category - "scenic" - for example, (whatever the hell that means) often gets no response because the audience is looking for the sofa-sized painting to match the living room decor, and instead got a Brancusi sculpture.

    The response often being, "what's that about anyway?" Looking for a meaningful critique or even interaction beyond, "Another nice one, Bob," on the Internet is like finding lips on a chicken for the most part.

    I think that's partially Sally's frustration in beginning this thread - the inability to get people to evaluate something that is new, looks different, and doesn't fall into the standard "Nice one Bob" category.
  24. Steve, I hadn't originally intended my question to address the critiquing aspect
    of the art process as it is on Pnet. You are quite right in your assumption that I
    have taken issue with it earlier but now I am resolved to make what I want
    and let the chips fall where they may.....hopefully far away in some cases.

    The reasons why people take and create the images that they do is still a
    fasinating topic for me to consider . Perhaps it was Harvey's most colourful
    bashing of one of photography's champions that started the slippery slope
    down the ratings lane? Who knows?

    William's injection of Jerry Uelsmann into the discussion is paramount for
    anyone interested in studing the notion of intent or meaning within
    photography. Perhaps most striking to me is the following statement by
    Uelsmann..." simply stated my hidden agenda is to amaze myself" Great

    I know, what I know ...I'm more interested in what you know. Any furhter
    insights would be helpful.

  25. Sorry Steve I forgot to mention I agree totally with this observation and felt it
    deserved to be highlighted.
  26. "Harvey's most colourful bashing of one of photography's champions "

    Oh dear, misunderstood yet again...

    I commented on the quote. I really have no idea who the chap is and despite the patronising comment of the being formerly known as A..Z I see nothing wrong in admitting that, nor in stating that, if the quote is typical of the man's attitude, I do not wish to know more. It's a simple statement of fact, not something to try and create a holy war over.

    We really must learn that none of this matters. Certainly not enough to try scoring points off other contributors. If someone says something you disagree with, say 'I don't agree with that'. No need to pretend to intelectual superiority or a higher moral position.

    <steps off soap box>
  27. My favorite quote from any photographer is from William Eggleston. "I am at war with the obvious." That is as direct and succinct as it gets. It doesn't matter what photographer (your favorite) you want to talk about - that quote says it all.
  28. Erin, your opinions on online politesse do not gybe with the rules of this site.
  29. just because you find an image "routine" doesn't mean someone else does
    We are not discussing our opinions of what is or is not routine; the subject is extant routine photos.
  30. <P>Bailey- The photo.net ratings standard page does not mention anything about politness. I would appreciate it if you could point me in the direction of the "rule" that says it is more polite to not rate at all than to rate and comment?

    <P>And; it's all relative. The thread seems to be about how all these people are bored with what they consider "routine" images. I'm simply stating that what is "routine" is in the eye of the beholder. The thinking seems to be that people shouldn't post their pictures of things that might possibly be considered "routine". The issue of "routiness" should be decided by each photographer. Not anyone else. Ansel Adams spent most of his life shooting; and eventually I'm sure some shots and subjects became "routine" or just practice for him. Obviously those same subjects aren't routine to other people. People who devote time and energy to photography should feel free to shoot any subject that interests them; they shouldn't be pigeon holed into one place simply because some might feel their pictures "routine".

    <P>As far as Mr. Smiths observations; I think it's a sad pass at being wise. If you view the images that you see as "routine" or boring, etc. Perhaps you are not appreciating the beauty of the everyday life; and possibly the beauty of the image.

    <P>The issue of originality is a far different thing.
  31. The point is that there are no rules about politeness, yet you insist on using that criteria.
  32. I think you see many "routine" images because the vast majority of people
    doing photography are not really professional, highly trained or even full time
    photographers. Photography in it's very nature has become something quite
    easy to do at a basic or reasonable level, and is very difficult to do at it's
    highest levels. There is a plethora of imagery that we are bombarded with,
    especially on the internet where many photo hobbyists have their work
    appear in online "galleries" or have their own web sites in which they attempt
    to sell their work. It's no wonder that nowadays people might agree with
    HHS's comments from the 70's.

    It's not until you master it that you can really be free to originate.

  33. You are the one who brought up not rating as releated to being polite. I simply stated that that is counter productive as most people post images to PN so that they can gain ratings and comments. And that it would be far more polite to rate with a comment than not at all.
  34. I don't care what individuals think is polite or not. I merely described why some people
    choose not to rate some photos. Clearly I do not subscribe to their philosophy, nor their
    dictates on what is or isn't polite, or what is more or less polite than something else.
  35. "If you view the images that you see as "routine" or boring, etc. Perhaps you are not appreciating the beauty of the everyday life"

    Thank you for the reminder. You mention that originality is something else entirely, but I'm sure you would agree that one might use an unusual perspective to draw the viewer's attention to the beauty of the mundane.
  36. As a fan of rhythm shots, I have to say that the one you posted is indeed pretty boring. When someone suggests that everything is more or less boring, I have to wonder if they have really seen the potential in the world around them, yet thought it not worth recording . . . or that they really don't see some of the more interesting possbilities and are focused instead on another direction.
  37. Well, of course Carl- that is originality. The different perspectives one can take on the same subject. And; y'know I think it's dead, I'll quit beating it.

    <P> *goes off to look through landscape book and pick out all the "routine" pictures whilst she pouts*
  38. Hi Carl. I would suggest that it is not for me to suppose or post-suppose
    exactly what Mr. Smith was thinking when he made the statement. My original
    question was 'Do you think the same can be said today?'. Meaning , what are
    the current thoughts,as perscribed by the photographers of today.

    You are dead right the rhythm shot I chose to highlight is boring. I am,
    however, in no way implying that all rhythm shots are as dull. I find your work
    for example very interesting and thought provoking. Within that context all
    works cannot be painted with the same brush.

    Do people generally miss the beauty within? Absolutely Carl and I think you
    are right in assuming that those people don't see the potential and chose not
    to record it. But, when we find ourselves producing and reproducing the same
    'sanctioned' material over and over again I would suggest we become just as

    I questioned earlier the validity of sanctioned 'how to' material to point out that
    such dogmatic steps make us all sluggish. At the same time I fully realize that
    not everyone has the same motivation for taking and recording images. I am ,
    however, as I believe you are far more interested in pushing for something far
    more remarkable!

  39. One step in that direction would be presenting a variety of like kind images where the same subject is interpretted in many ways. Use a progression starting with the obvious record shot. From there, move in as many different directions as possible.
  40. I agree. Photography is perhaps the medium of the masses and therefore
    subject to many levels of interpretation. I'm not sure, however that I
    completely agree with your last statement as it is.
    'It's not until you master it that you can really be free to originate.' I would
    argue that 'the desire' is missing from this equation. If one aspires to be
    mediocre then one is. If one chooses to push the envelope and strive for
    something other than the usual then one has begun the journey for that
    which is truely original and not like any other......your own vision and voice. I
    visited your web site and would suggest that you have that vision.

  41. You are a puzzel. Before I comment on your comment I want to understand
    you fully....Who's doing the interpreting? The viewer interpreting the image or
    the photographer interpreting the subject. I think from previous discussions
    we agree they are not always the same..... my head is starting to hurt :) but
    that's a good thing in this case!

  42. The answer to your question is . . . YES. :)

  43. jbs


    >>"Carl Root , mar 29, 2004; 03:05 p.m. One step in that direction would be presenting a variety of like kind images where the same subject is interpretted in many ways. Use a progression starting with the obvious record shot. From there, move in as many different directions as possible. 007qC9-17301484.jpg
  44. gib


    Most people take routine images because they don't understand that they are routine, or because they take comfort in them being routine.

    How does one know that they "take comfort in them being routine." Crystal ball, tea leaves, seriously how. Sounds like the imposition, projection of how someone else feels. An imperial proclamation. You have the photo and then their comments, or their silence. Just seems like a conditioned reflex to believe and utter a sweeping generalization. But quick judgement is internet standard mode.

    BTW since I dont live by a mountain on a lake, I see nothing routine in mountain-reflection-in-lake photographs. Those photos take me and my imagination somewhere I'd like to go.
  45. So go. Please.
  46. gib


    I know where to go.... do you know where to go? If not, I am sure a lot of people could tell you.

    But seriously folks, someone may take photographs because they are well, ill, recovering, grieving, having fun, tyring to improve, make an artistic statement, record some personal history (hopefully on film not digital - sorry, wrong thread). They may be trying to see their world more closely. Trying to enjoy their routine, rather than fighting it and putting all there chips behind two weeks vacation. There doesnt seem to me to be anyway to know from the photo. There is wide range of taste. And there is nothing wrong with a wide range of taste. For me a mountain lake reflection photo is more interesting and non-routine than water running down the drain of a metal sink. but that is my taste, certainly not everyone's. And as has been said many times around here, do the photography you like, enjoy it, try to improve, be open to other things and if you dont get someone else's work, dont stick your thumb in their eye. For a non-essential tangent, whenever I see flower photos, I think of the photographer in Harrison's Flowers and the photos he used to make before concentrating on flowers.
  47. There is wide range of taste. And there is nothing wrong with a wide range of taste.
    Deep, man.
  48. I know where to go.... do you know where to go?
    So go. Please.
  49. Hi Jay. I won't presume to speake for Carl but I don't think he had that kind of
    series in mind. I would qualify his comment as more of an investigation into
    how images can, through subtle manipulation, take on different meaning for
    both the viewer and the composer. He said ,'a variety of like kind
    images'.....which I take to mean similar(pick the criteria for yourself) but not the
    exact same object. What you have done here is IMO something different.

    I do remember this image of your wife and daughter, and I do recall it took
    quite a beating. I believe you commented on the sentimental value of the
    image and your refusal to round bin it because of it. I for one give you credit
    for attempting to challenge the usual and try something different.

  50. Actually, I don't mean that at all. Although there are certainly good reasons to consider various approaches to post processing (I have three versions of a single capture of a piano uploaded at the moment), my comment refers to different ways of capturing the subject - lighting, lens choice, angle of view, framing, filters, DOF, (film?), etc..
  51. I think it's fair to say that being original is not necessarily a high priority for most photographers. That being said, the more you "stretch out", the more you may find that different approachs to your mountain lake/reflection shot will produce something you wanted viewers to see compared to what was your first and most obvious composition. There are no boring subjects, only quick and thoughtless snaps of them.
  52. I think we need to make the distinction between routine and boring: they are
    not the same. My original question dealt with the routine, meaning regular.
    This classification isn't meant to asign a value to those images. If one applies
    this definition to Mr Smith's statement you will find no judgement as to the
    value of these kinds of images. The routine image is one which follows the
    prescribed procedure. Furthermore, loser's game is imo a game which no
    one wins..literaly, because routine images deprive everyone of a desire to
    move forward and explore the possibilities of what might be.

    I fully understand the value of routine images to people. I won't go into the
    psychology behind the phenomenon . I think it is straightforward enough for
    our purposes here. I will, however, question something William said regarding
    'personal taste'. What one likes or dislikes is not the issue. Once you talk of
    personal bias you assign an inherant value that only you or likeminded
    individuals agree to. I don't believe that has anything to do with Mr. Smith's
    statement. I think he is speaking more broadly about successive images
    which routinely illustrate the same subject matter in the same way. It is as
    simple and complex as that.

  53. gib


    I stand corrected. Actually I sit corrected. I am seated at my computer.

    "What one likes or dislikes is not the issue."

    What I like is the only issue that interests me. My time, my taste. As the poet didnt say: your mileage may differ.
  54. Okay William perhaps I should have said...what one likes or dislikes is not the
    issue here.....'cause anyone who could write Extraction of Joy :

    falling at the base of the tree
    my camera hammers at my ribs
    it hates me now
    I have not fed it enough light
    have not rolled the chemically hungry
    grey strip of film
    through its stomach
    it hates me now ......

    ....is undoubtedly capable of making the distinction. I dig your poetry. I just
    don't buy your argument.

  55. gib


  56. What the **** is so bad about "routine" photos anyway? My portfolio is full of them, and I don't have a problem with that - if they are all 4/4 photos, then so be it... As Steve Swinehart said above, "if you feel confined or constrained by being accepted, or making acceptable photographs, then I'd say do the opposite. Make the photos that you want to see - don't pay any attention to what other people like." - Good advice that, even for me! (I'm not sure if I follow his advice, but at least I do like my own photos).
    So, why are we having this conversation? If we should follow Steve's advice, then this conversation is a waste of time. Otherwise, we should instead be concentrating on pleasing the High Table raters of this site, and then we can all just start churning out a "top page" version of routine photographs instead (where every photo that any of us upload looks like it belongs on the top page - a beautiful, homogenous site!!).
    On a side note, is it so bad to not be able to name-drop the great masters?? If we are ever to take that next step to create our own style, surely studying the techniques of the masters is not the right path: we'll just end up emulating their work. Better to be a clone by accident than a clone by design...
  57. Neil, it's not about "name dropping the great masters", it's about choosing
    which great masters you wish to learn from. When you say," surely studying
    the techniques of the masters is not the right path: we'll just end up emulating
    their work" you are just plain wrong. In the long tradition of art, young artists
    studied the masters before them. Even innovators like Picasso knew well of
    the work and techniques of those before him. Once you master those
    techniques you are free to do whatever you like. Who would you rather learn
    from someone who never mastered the craft?

  58. Yeah, B Kosoff, we must all learn from the masters,and should not be happy of creating something lesser or even something equal than what they made but should be happy creating something different(something of our own) than they did.
    I looked at your landscapes and they look great in being perfectly balanced in the technical aproach( I could only imagine how the real prints would look like and couldn't do it better) but somehow lack of power when I compare them(and I must compare them because they clearly are a reference to that sort of photographs) to say, Edward Westons landscapes, a photographer who I suspect you greatly admire(I certainly do) because your type of landscapes fall somehow in the same line as Weston's type of landscapes. But one can have the feeling : been there, saw that, it's been done before(and more intense) when looking at such photographs because the lack of different vision used by the photographer.I'm not saying you don't have the vision or the tools to show that vision but I'm saying that I see your landscapes as just another great example of technical wizardry and how it's been done before, and that could be interpreted as another routine...
    I don't claim myself to be a technical talented photographer , hell no!, there are the advertising photographers for example with all their technical practical knowledge who would kick the butter out of me, but I do understand photography as a form of expression and how it's been used by the 'masters'(and a lot of myth comes into this ) and sometimes I feel like I want to copy the great ones, just to 'be like them' but then I remember that I only have to be whatever I choose to be,and that's just plain me.
    I think the key of not beïng routine is that photographers/and all who wish to express themselfes must learn and see and than learn how to forget what they have learned and saw before somehow, someway( I'm still working on that one, and damn it's hard).
    'Cause sometimes even achieved ignorance is bliss...
  59. Phylo, I agree with you completely! May I express my own views on this? First, we must learn how to take photographs (ie. we must learn how to use our equipment: camera + lens(es) etc). Next, we must practice by taking lots & lots of photographs - these can either be the routine photos we often see, or they may also be original; it doesn't matter as long as we're practicing - this develops our ability to see what's in front of us. Only then, when we know all about using the equipment and seeing what's there to photograph, can we hope to move on to our own style.
    If we 'learnt' from the masters while we were developing our skills, this is fine, but then we need to 'unlearn' before we can avoid becoming a clone...
  60. Phylo, my work is nothing like Edward Weston's with the exception that we
    both have images from Death Valley. Clearly you do not know enough about
    his work or mine. Maybe it's hard to tell from my website but my work is
    pictorial, it's diffused and more painting or illustration like than photographic,
    Weston's is from the F64 Group way of thinking which is anti pictorialism. As
    for "technical wizardry", you must really mean technical competence, which is
    merely a basic requirement for any serious artist. Only those who lack
    technical competence would consider such competence to be wizardry.

    Taking lots of photographs, without having a basic reference library in your
    head of what is possible with a camera, is a waste of film. You can learn about
    exposure and some basic technical issues, but you won't learn what you can
    actually do with a camera. Style is usually just a consistent pattern in your
    work, people shoot what interests them. and they shoot it in a certain way
    because either it's the only way their technical limits allow them, or it's just that
    they like to view something in a a certain way.

    Nearly every reknowned artist of the last 500 years studied the works of the
    artists before them. I'm curious Neil and Phylo, where can I see samples of
    your work? Are you published? Exhibited? Surely you must be very
    successful as photographers to steadfastly promote a methodology that goes
    against nearly all of art history and art education. I'm sure your work must be

    The only people who become "clones" of established artists after studying
    them, are those who lack any creativity.
  61. B Kosoff, I have not attacked your work as yet... I have agreed with Phylo Dayrin's general comments so far, but am not affiliated with him/her in any way, and would not presume to join him/her in attacking another person's work. My appologies if I gave you this impression! I have not been exhibited (but does this make my views invalid? I'm told over and over again that critics needn't have portfolios, so surely I don't need to be wrold-renowned to write my opinion here?). However, I do have some works on this site - just click on my name and feel free to browse them (although your comment does seem to be somewhat sarcastic, so you've probably already looked, I guess). By the way, any constructive comments and/or suggestions will be welcome.
    One other thing: the fact that you have been exhibited and (presumably) sell your work doesn't prove your point over ours. Perhaps the buying public prefers what it has become used to, and (maybe) the more commercially successful photographers are also the more 'clone-like' - I wouldn't know, I'm simply speculating. Don't react emotionally; give me a considered reply...
  62. OK, I can only speak about my own work, but speaking of others work in a critiqual way doesn't mean that I attack it in a personal way, it only means that I view it in relationship to where I want my photography to go...

    B Kosoff, you where curious where you could see samples of my work, well I took the time to upload 15 of my photographs in my portfolio so you can view them anytime now.I think by making these photographs that I have reached a certain technical 'competence', 'wizardry', to express a certain vision and feel that I must move on now to a higher level in order to avoid the routine,and reach the full potential of photography as a medium of personal expression. I'm not yet confinced with my photography as it is right now 'cause it could be and should be so much more intense. I want to break with the rules, or maybe not break with them but bend them so that they become my own instead of just following them like a handbook, like many photographers do.

    "I was lucky because I never went to photography school and I didn't learn the photography rules. And in not learning the rules I was free. I always say, you're either defined by the medium or you redefine the medium in terms of your needs." Duane Michals

    I want to be free too.
  63. Neil, I don't feel that my work has been attacked, Phylo has a right to his
    opinions, even if they're wrong. I know the reaction my work gets, from both
    the public, curators and collectors and a rare critical comment from someone
    in a newsgroup registers as an infrequent anomaly. His comments regarding
    my work relating to Weston's illustrates his lack of education in this field. But it
    also points out that many photo hobbyists think that they have the sure fire
    answers to photography and it's processes without having any real
    experience to support their view, it's all conjecture and speculation. The bad
    part of that is that the more novice photographers might latch onto this
    misinformation and be misled. That is why it is critical for people attempting to
    really learn photography to seek the advice of those who have succeeded in
    it, both artistically and commercially. I had the good fortune to have assisted
    many well regarded photographers, some of whom are world reknowned.
    That, serious study and a commitment to shooting are by far the best way to
    learn. To not learn from the works of the past is just stupid. Should a rocket
    scientist ignore, or never have studied the work of Sir Issac Newton?

    I have not come by my views without many years of training, education and
    professional experience as a photographer. I also taught photography and
    am well aware of the process, and that process includes studying the works
    done before. Any good art school requires art history classes. As for my
    being exhibited, I am , all the time. And I do sell my work, since I closed my
    studio in NYC to pursue my personal work, print sales have been my sole
    income. My work is available exclusively through brick and mortar galleries
    and is sold to the public, collectors and institutions.

    When you write," the fact that you have been exhibited and (presumably) sell
    your work doesn't prove your point over ours" Actually it does prove that I
    have followed a method that has brought me success as a photographer, if
    you have had similar success then maybe your philosophy might show some
    merit. But to pontificate a methodology that hasn't even worked for you just
    seems more ego driven than reality based.
  64. Well, I don't sell my work. I never have sold my work, and I probably won't in the future. You have found your niche market; for financial reasons, you would be foolish to turn your back on it - I don't expect you to. However, I don't think that you can judge art only on its selling power. For any given work, if it is by an 'unknown' artist it will likely not reach the price of the same work credited to a famous name. Has attaching a famous name to the work suddenly made it better? Or is it more sought after because of its higher resale value perhaps? Once again, I agree with Phylo: "I want to break with the rules, or maybe not break with them but bend them so that they become my own instead of just following them like a handbook, like many photographers do." We learn the rules so that we can break them. In photography (and probably most visual art) a lot of the rules can be learnt through personal observation.
    That's why I'm visiting this site, and perhaps it is why Phylo is too. It's not that I refuse to 'learn from others' but rather that, on this site at least, we can see photographs from many different people - I just study the ones I like the best and maybe they get incorporated into my work. I don't want the style of others to overwhelm me, so I do not study the masters as an apprentice would. Photography is not Rocket Science! It may be difficult for you to believe when you look at my work, but I am very happy with it. I'm vain enough to want to be admired, but if no-one else likes my work then I can live with that too. It wouldn't change my style too much because I'm not seeking to sell my work. If your work stopped selling, what would you do? Would you re-invent yourself? Often, completely original work won't sell at all, mainly because it's 'before its time' (I don't class my own work in this way, just so you know).
    Finally, this is the Philosophy of Photography forum: surely, any of us can voice our opinion here, not only the commercially successful ones? Obviously, these forums are simply a collection of opinions, not facts. Photography is an art (at least in terms of style) - art courses may well teach formal history, but art is simply self-expression. As long as the photographer can develop a style which pleases them, this is all that matters (as far as art goes). If we want to sell our work, then we have 2 options: either find a group of people who like our style enough to pay us for our work, or change our style to suit our customers. B, which are you?
  65. Neil where did i say judge art by it's selling power? I used the word "success"
    and for me success includes just as importantly doing work of high merit. I
    didn't close my studio in Manhattan after 25 years of shooting ads for the
    largest corporations in the world to pursue more money by doing my personal
    work. And regarding whether i change my work to suit my "customers", if I
    wanted to do work that reflected someone else's needs I'd have stayed an
    advertising photog. I shoot for myself, I shoot images I want to see. I am just
    very fortunate that the work that interests me, seems to interest many others.
    You wouldn't believe the emails I get almost daily from all over the world.

    Does the fact that my work is sold in galleries all across the country and
    abroad mean that i am only a commercial success? Are you more of an
    artistic success than I am because your work does not get exhibited in

    I have to agree with you when you say,"We learn the rules so that we can
    break them." however the way you learn the rules is by seeing the application
    of the rules in other people's work, most notably the masters, and also seeing
    where the masters choose to break them. It's best to learn from people who
    know what they're doing and what they're talking about.
  66. B Kosoff said :

    "Phylo has a right to his opinions, even if they're wrong"

    If you really believe that I have the right(and therefore equal to yours) to my opinions you should have said "even if they're not mine" instead of "even if they're wrong"

    "His comments regarding my work relating to Westons illustrates his lack of education in this field. But it also points out that many photohobbyists think that they have the sure fine answers to photography..."

    It illustrates that I like to compare the work of others/my own to the work of photographers who made their mark, who's work can't be looked over when viewing photographs in the same manner (in this case landscapes,that's why I brought up Weston,because I like his work and because he's known for his landscapes).I ask myself does this photographer (or myself) has something new to ad instead of following the tradition,instead of following the easy way...
    I am not a 'photohobbyist', I feel good with photography but I don't do it to relax myself or because it's fun,it's not a hobby ,I do it because I feel that I have something to say that's worth saying,I'm still searching for my voice though, regardless if I make money with it or not.

    "Actually it does prove that I have followed a method that has been brought me succes as a photographer"

    Following a method in order to achieve succes is clearly justified in todays world where either you eat or be eaten but as a photographer who's sole concern is expression and bringing out the personal message,the way I look at this world, I 'm not interested in 'following a method in order to achieve succes' so that argument goes up in smoke for me.
    Again Duane Michals who's own experience is a good example in how not beïng routine,and I prefer his way instead of the saver,'easier' way to follow :

    "If I was concerned about beïng accepted,I would have been doing Ansel Adams look-a-likes,because that was easely accepted.Everything I did was never accepted...but luckily for me,my interest in the subject took me to that point that I wasn't wounded by that and eventually, people came around to me."

    I like this viewpoint and I want to use it on my own photography as well, wich is right now, a little bit to 'clean' I feel,I don't know but there's just something that has to change...and I wont care about being accepted or not 'cause I will try hard not to care, 'cause the road that way much more fueled with meaning.
    So yes I agree with what Henry Holmes said about too much routine, I agree with it looking at my own work and others, it all has to change at some point...
    It's not 'the truth' but just another viewpoint, a way of looking at things and photography.
  67. Come on B, you have accused me of being an egotist: "But to pontificate a methodology that hasn't even worked for you just seems more ego driven than reality based." Well maybe I am at that, but it seems that I'm not alone:
    "Does the fact that my work is sold in galleries all across the country and abroad mean that i am only a commercial success?"
    "I didn't close my studio in Manhattan after 25 years of shooting ads for the largest corporations in the world to pursue more money by doing my personal work."
    "You wouldn't believe the emails I get almost daily from all over the world."

    "Are you more of an artistic success than I am because your work does not get exhibited in galleries?" I have never stated either that I am an artistic success at all, and certainly not that I am more of an artistic success than you are for whatever reason! Firstly, I know nothing about your work; and secondly, it is not for me to judge my own level of artistic success - this is for others to do. I only said that I personally was quite content with what I myself produce.
    My intention was never to get involved in a personal slanging match, but I feel that's what has happened here. Let's just call it a day shall we? You win. Everyone, my suggestion in my original post in this thread has been shown to be invalid. However, I can recommend B Kosoff as an authority - please defer to him...
  68. Phylo;

    If you believe the earth is flat you have a right to that. I'd still think you were

    You bring up Duane Michals. Have you ever called Duane Michals and
    asked his advice on your work or on photography? I have. I've met with him
    one on one specifically to talk about his views on photography, and to get his
    advice on my work. I did this with many notable photographers. These
    discussions are part of where my own philosophies about photography were


    Saying that you might be doing something that is ego driven is not calling you
    an egotist.

    As you seemed to infer that my reasons for photography were based on the
    financial aspects, and that my work was merely commercially successful I felt
    had a right to give you additional information about me to give you a better
    understanding of where I come from and what experience has formed my
  69. Well. I think this discussion has created another vein worth investigating .
    Given none of us live within a vacuum to what degree do we allow our
    thoughts and subsequently our work to be invaded by outside influence? Do
    we welcome such input or does it seep into our subconscious? If we allow the
    flow of ideas are we then tainted by them or enriched by them? If we choose
    not to look for examples are we somehow less influenced? I think not. The
    human condition, in my opinion ,is not wired to exclude the constant
    bombardment of visual stimuli forced upon it daily. Are we even able to filter
    out imformation that we consider harmful? Again... I don't think so. So how is
    it that we are able to assign a value to information, accessing what is of value
    to us and repressing what isn't? And given that once foreign ideas are now a
    part of our being are we really able to sucessfully repress anything?

  70. Sally, I believe that we cannot exclude the works of others (photographic or artistic, for example) from our conciousness, and then - once we have 'noticed' them - we cannot but be influenced by them to some degree. This is why I *personally* try not to seek out too much external influence; I am sure I get more than enough from what I see here on PN. I think that it becomes too easy to become swamped by outside influences, and this is likely to supress our 'inner artist'. Note that I am not saying that my 'inner artist' is better, or more pure, or more important, or even more original, than anyone else around the place... rather, I just think that becoming swamped by outside influences will increase the chances of becoming a clone of what's already there. Perhaps I already am a clone myself - outside influences will probably effect all of us more than we realise! How ever mistaken I am, I just want to *try* to produce some original work - whether it is considered good or not is another question!!
  71. Sally, that's a very interesting look on things,thank you for sharing it, and I see some truth in it 'cause lately I've been felt overloaded with different kind of visions in photography and how these visions result in different kind of pictures. The internet is great in collecting such information but sometimes it can make you think too much, at a point that you don't have any clear reference anymore. I have a lot of photography books of a lot of different photographers and I like looking at them thinking how I could gain some usefull information to reflect on my own photography but sometimes it gets just to much and I think : just forget about all of it and stop thinking and start doing what you really feel worth doing instead of thinking how everything you do will be judged in relationship to what you already known. For people who truly want to express themselfes that's the hardest thing to do I believe, to set themselfes free to a point where they can't go any further.It's knowing that 'the answer', any answer is just another illussion and that searching for it in vain isn't very constructive and lets you wonder in circles...I wouldn't know how to express it otherwise.
  72. It's impossible not to be influenced by outside sources. We are bombarded
    with imagery. What is important is in what you choose to have influence you.
    There are images that have stood out for 500 years and have influenced art
    for centuries, and images that are seen for 30 seconds and have little or no
    value long term. You pick and choose what influences to carry with you.The
    idea of cutting yourself off from imagery in some misguided belief that it will
    cause you to be more original is ludicrous.

    All art is derivative, just as language is. In order for people to understand
    what you are communicating with your art, you have to speak a common art
    language with them. Then again there is art that does not communicate or
    express what the artist wants to say, and that is the type of art that is so
    abstract that it relies solely on the differing interpretations of each member of
    it's audience. I don't consider such art to be art, I think it's a Rorshak test,
    because for me art is about expression and communicating. And if you are
    speaking to your audience in a way in which they can not understand your
    actual meaning, then you are not communicating or expressing yourself. If
    the audience has to come up with their own interpretations, it's they who are
    expressing themselves, and not the artist.

    Does a writer need to create a new language in order to be original? When a
    writer writes a ficitional story, but uses realistic common occurences for the
    plot, is he not being original? It's the same with photography. A good artist
    picks and chooses through their lifetime of seen images and influences and
    creates their own original work by their choices of ingredients.
  73. Art critics and academics in industrialized affluent societies have had an ever growing fascination with novelty for the last 100 years or so. Chronologically, it seems to coincide with the industrialization and increasing affluence itself. Perhaps the urge to discover the next new thing pervades all corners of the culture.

    There was a time in art history and art education where "better routine images" was a winner's game. Not now. Artists today must "find their own voice" if they stand any chance of recognition. Otherwise, their work is old hat. Unique is good. Routine is bad.

    Yet, in music, although there is plenty of room for finding new horizons in all genre, we still celebrate classic compostions and are keen to notice new interpretations. Why not so in visual art? It seems fickle at best.

    We should appreciate those who blaze new trails in artistic expression but to condemn those who choose to refine or merely explore familiar (routine?) compositions might be seen as arrogant. It says a lot about the person making the claim but says little about Art.

    Life as we know it is a successful blend of familiar and new. Too much of either ruins the brew.
  74. Ansel Adams once said "Any photographer who has not taken 10,000 bad pictures for every good one is not a good photographer".

    Now that isn't exact. My memory is getting old along with me, but you get the idea of what he was saying. Every photographer is going to have a lot of trite, routine stuff in their portfolio, and as they increase their experience, their ratio of poor to good goes down. But still, there is going to be a lot of trash in any portfolio.

    Ron Mowrey
  75. A corrollary I believe was attributed to Adams was "people don't judge you by the pictures
    you take; they judge you by the picture you show them."

    on the matter of "routine photographs", sometimes they can be quite interesting--Bernd
    and Hilla Becher have made a career out of the routine.
  76. I would suggest the images of Bernd and Hilla Becher are neither routine in content nor in presentation. While the subject matter often remains the same the investigation of its being is constantly in flux. For me anyway, no two Becher water towers are the same. Interesting of you to mention them Roger. I hope your a fan of their work...I am. Sally

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