History of Photography

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by ed_farmer, Sep 21, 2018.

  1. Another thread today cause me to think about this question: How many of you rely on your knowledge of photographic history when evaluating your work or the work of others?

    I am being a little vague on purpose to see where the conversation goes . . .
  2. I use my knowledge of photographic history to learn and be inspired.
    tholte likes this.
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    As it happens - on my reading chair today, usually within reach.
    DSC_8738 (683x1024).jpg
  4. Its a great question. I think, art cannot exist in vacuum. A whole lot of art draws reference and relevance from history and contemporary society, culture, politics etc. Being aware of the history of photography allows me to judge how much the work is relevant in the long run or whether its simply a repetition of previous works and ideas. This in turn helps me to learn and grow. Also, I am very interested in studying the evolution of photographic techniques such as composition and post processing effect, choice of film and format, etc. A lot of information is out there by combining techniques with different genres, which can be often enlightening. Studying old works helps me to get a broad perspective into the effectiveness of different approaches and most importantly plan new approaches and experiments. In time, I can judge whether a new approach (by me or someone else) fits within an existing school of style or is completely radical. All of this adds to my insight and makes me a better observer and thinker, qualities that are indispensable to any photographer.
  5. Sandy . . . I can't read the author on the cover. Is that an edition of Newhall?
  6. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Yes, well worn. It was a funny coincidence and I just grabbed the nearest camera. Revised & enlarged - no Pub date I could find, but I've had it forever - cover price $12.50!
  7. First and foremost, I look to photographic history as inspiration. After 6+ decades of making pictures, I'm more amazed than ever at both the beauty and the technical quality of so many images I couldn't have made with the equipment of the day if my life depended on it. Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Doisneau, Weegee, Adams and so many others certainly set the bar way over my head! And Sontag's statement that "...photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe" has driven me to see well beyond the admittedly substantial nose on my face :)

    Photographic history simply denies us any excuse for excellence except our own shortcomings. Those who know history are only doomed to repeat it if it's all they know.
    tholte likes this.
  8. I don't rely on any history at all. I photograph while I'm in the moment. I don't want another person's preconceived ideas and pictures in my head when I seek scenes to photograph. I want me and only me interpreting and being inspired by the scene.

    I don't read books anymore because books tell me that another person's life and creative approach has convinced a cadre of like minded publishers I don't know a thing about that they are more interesting than myself.

    I am more interesting than what I see published in a book or any one else in history and that's because I have all the facts about me and nothing about the person being written about and/or featured in a showing of their work that went through careful selective editing process.

    It's my life and I get only one chance, so I don't want to waste it living and admiring someone else's life. History books are made by folks for other folks who live their life as spectators blindly sizing each other up without really having all the facts about the other person being written about and comparing them self to.

    Life is short so I really have no desire to read about or look at another person's creative life. I'm never sure I know all the facts about them and their creative process that created works that were culled and curated so the public sees what they want them to see. It's not a true history about the creative person even when one looks at a finished work they admire and think they can learn from it. One would have to know everything on how their work was created and that's impossible to know.

    History is for those that want something to read about and contemplate over. It's not going to make them creative and they're never going to see the way the artists sees because they will never know all the facts on how it was done. Even the artist doesn't know all the facts on how it was done.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2018
  9. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    History, art or photo, provides a launching pad, myriad possible trajectories, waystations and checkpoints from which to advance or change directions, and the possibility to enable the artist / photographer to arrive at a new destination. There may be individuals who can operate in a vacuum, but most require external stimulus, commonly history or a community of other artists.
    charles_escott_new likes this.
  10. That is absurd.
    It is also impossible.
    Every moment you have ever, or will ever capture is History.
    Without History, no photograph exists.
    ed_farmer and tholte like this.
  11. Wow.
    That’s entertaining as hell.
    Experience ( History ) being the best teacher, the conclusion is clear, LMAO.....

    Last edited: Sep 22, 2018
  12. While I think I understand what you're saying and your philosophy is as valid as anyone else's, Tim, it seems contrary to your own profile statement that your "...philosophy on photography can be expressed with one single image...always reminding me of the fragile and fleeting life I have on this miracle planet that I cherish and savor every minute of my existence." Cassini's not human, but the choice and presentation of that image were made by humans based on their syntheses of their own perceptions, experiences etc.

    You certainly don't "...know everything on how [Cassini's] work was created". And despite your stated belief that you are "...more interesting than what I see published in a book or any one else in history", the simple fact remains that you didn't create the image that best expresses your philosophy on photography. I find it hard to believe that you've managed to completely ignore so profound an effect on you. That photo is history, and it has to have influenced your own approach. I suspect you bring at least one or two other historical influences to bear on your own aesthetic. If you look hard, you'll probably find many. :)
  13. Folks, since I never studied photography, I never was exposed to its history. Fortunately, during my tenure on PN, I've learned some of that history from a few PN members - Fred Goldsmith, to name one person at this time. Whether my shortcomings when it comes to the history of photography diminishes the merits of my work, including its originality, is not for me to judge. Also, if one of my photos unwittingly incorporates Minor White's style, for example, I've heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
  14. There is nothing new under the sun.
  15. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    No matter if an individual has formally studied photography or its history - I never did, but did deliberately on my own, and continue to do so. One of the things often suggested to beginners is that "they look at a lot of photos". Inevitably active participation in PN educates. Seeing all sorts of styles, posted links, discussions does the job purely by friction - rubbing against images and ideas new and old every day. I suspect, examination of the earliest photos in a member's portfolio or collection and those today after participating for a significant period of time would prove the point.
    charles_escott_new and tholte like this.
  16. One of the few things that stuck with me from this interview with Doug Dubois was his casual remark apropos something else that photography is pictures of pictures.
  17. Or maybe it was with Mitch Epstein? One of those two anyway ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  18. Thanks for pointing out the contradiction.

    I disagree that this philosophy (maybe it’s just an idea and not an actual philosophy) is as valid as anyone else’s. I’m comfortable assessing the relative validity of a philosophy and I think a philosophy that rejects historical knowledge to such a degree scores low on the scale of validity. I want to emphasize that I DO think everyone is entitled to their own philosophy but I think it’s important to recognize the relative validity of those philosophies.
    Why not? Sometimes it’s important to stand back and see things in our own work, or see things that our own work lacks, and learn from that kind of self-seeing. If anything about your own work is bothering you or you’re feeling uninspired (which most of us experience at times), since you say you’ve learned a bit about photo history here, you might look further into history to see if it could help some lightbulbs to go off. If someone with more knowledge of history tells you a photo of yours reminds him of Minor White, and if you’re curious, you might look at and read some stuff by White and, who knows where that might lead? Wouldn’t necessarily lead to simple imitation of his work. It might lead to a bolder, deeper, more informed Michael Linder who can internalize and personalize knowledge and history in pursuit of an authentic vision.
    michaellinder likes this.
  19. As I recall, he also told two women fighting over a baby to cut it in half.....
    I don't think that analogy holds, Phil. There's really no right or wrong in photography - there's simply stuff that works and stuff that doesn't work. And that judgment is in the eye of the viewer.

    No one can tell you how your photographs are supposed to look. But you can't make a classic dish (or know that what you're eating is one) without knowing how it's supposed to taste, look, smell, etc. To learn that, you simply have to taste a lot of food and learn how & why it tastes as it does. I love classic osso bucco, which has neither tomatoes nor tomato paste in it. It's made with white wine & anchovies, and it's served on saffron risotto with gremolata on top. But there are many versions that use anything from turkey to beef shank and come on any kind of risotto you can imagine. Some have red wine, some have tomatoes, and I love them all. But only veal shank with white wine, anchovies, and gremolata on a bed of saffron risotto make a classic osso bucco alla Milanese - there simply ain't no turkey or seafood rice on the plate. And while turkey osso bucco can be delicious, it's "wrong" if served and accepted as classic osso bucco.

    Many opinions are formed and based on such inaccuracies. It doesn't diminish enjoyment, but it sure flattens one's range of experience. And if you don't know the original, you can't understand how variations add and enhance (or detract from) it. Photographers who know classic works can create variants that make a serious theme funny or turn a whimsical work into a social commentary. Those who don't know and understand what came before us can still make wonderful art - but if they do it in the context of a prior work, it's accidental.
  20. Absolutely. Good questions/observations.
    For me, it’s not that choice. Its not a question of which will get more? It’s how to combine my love for the artificial and my search for reality and being real. I think artificiality can effectively be used and explored as a means of getting to what’s real. Like Fiction and Theater.
    Phil S likes this.

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