I don’t take photographs, photographs take me.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by sjmurray, Sep 26, 2012.

  1. From time to time there are discussions here on pnet centered around the theme of: “I love taking pictures but I’m not sure of what I want to photograph.” I thought it would be interesting to do a general query about how we all experience this idea of “what do I photograph,” and why for that matter. Very early on for me it was always the notion of wanting to capture and preserve something interesting that I was seeing. Now that I have been doing it for more than 40 years, it’s even more clear to me that I never have to intentionally set out to look for something to photograph. But, rather, just the opposite happens, as I go through life subjects appear to me and just “scream” at me to be photographed. As soon as that happens, all my attention gets focused on the task, that is, if there’s time, and if I have my camera handy. This can be true for an interesting landscape, a persons face, and even just stuff around the house, including our pets, of course. For example, recently I was about to scrape some vegetable trimmings into the garbage when I noticed the serendipitous composition on the cutting board, which was "shouting" at me to be photographed, so I did. I mentioned this idea to a woman I work with who loves to photograph the flowers in her garden. She practically fell out of the chair she was sitting in, explaining to me that “I know what you mean, when I go into my yard and see my flowers I just have to photograph them.” I understand that some people have philosophical ideas about art, or doing documentary work and so forth. I assume we all have different reasons for taking pictures. We use the same tools but for different reasons and with great variety of results, which to me just makes it all the more interesting.
  2. It's funny you brought this up, because this came up in a conversation I had the other day w/ another photographer. He was commentating on some of my shots that were actually "just " lens test shots. When testing gear, I generally go out w/ some cheap B&W film and shoot whatever I come upon. I try to shoot one roll rather quickly, and shoot a variety of subjects to get a feel for how the gear images in different situations. He, and I, really liked those shots. More than my usual "OK, let's make sure the light is right, and I have the right film for this subject, and is this lens the right focal length, etc" frame of mind.

    It could have been just luck of course. Maybe I stumbled onto some pretty good subject matter that day, and the gear behaved exceptionally well. But I don't think it was that. What I got from it was this: it's better for me to just go out and shoot, and shoot quickly,whatever looks good at the time. As to why I make images, I never thought about that beyond - it's what I enjoy doing.
    Love that shot you posted. Everything arranged just so, like musical notes on a page. If that is just how it was lying about, you composed the framing very well.
  3. I love Steve's photo in the OP.
    For as long as I can remember, when shooting just for fun, I feel like I'm *inside* the camera, joyriding ... (does anybody remember the movie "Fantastic Voyage"?) And, man, that's where the joy can always be found.
    On the other hand, (to be a kill-joy) the pictures that I value long after the taking/making of them seem to all involve more sober, sweaty, irritating, frustrating, head-banging effort. Such is life. *sigh*
  4. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    He, and I, really liked those shots.​

    Have a link to some examples?
  5. I'd say I take photos more than they take me, though I dabble in both.
    I often think about and anticipate what I am going to shoot. I leave room for surprises, spontaneity, and accidents. I do more intentional shooting than simply going out with my camera, though I do a fair amount of the latter as well.
    Photographing, for me, can be a little bit like writing a mini-play, deciding who the characters will be, what setting will work, what I will be trying to accomplish.
    But all the planning in the world doesn't stop moments from happening and doesn't demand, for me, a strict adherence to the plan. So maybe the analogy wouldn't be to writing a script but instead to thinking up improvisational scenarios in advance.
  6. Steve,
    I can strongly identify with what you're saying, it happens to me that way too (though not as experienced as you are, not by far yet). While I do go out with the intention to make photos, the actual photos themselves just, well, happen to cross my path.
    Sometimes I envy the way of working Fred describes, having the vision / pre-visualisation to plan and anticipare what you're going to shoot - at least, creating the environment/setting and an idea on what it would need to become more or less, and from there on go with the flow. It seems to me to have a greater potential to achieve sending out the message you want to send (either a narrative, a statement - you can actively shape that). The way I work, I feel more or less bound to discover later on what I apparently was trying to say - fuzzy, and with a lot of clueless shots. Happy accidents all over.
    Yet, even if I try, I end up following the instinct a bit and have photos happen to me. The other, more deliberate, approach does not work too well for me. Just a hunch, but I think it all comes down to how you're seeing things before making a photo. I'm observing, waiting - not actively creating. I'm not seeing it before it is there, because I simply seem to miss that level of previsualisation. But I see (potential) photos all the time; shapes, colour and intertwined elements waiting to be framed and shot.
    And I sure like the example photo you included :) A very eloquent way of making your point really clear.
  7. There is something about "the act" of photographing that is very seductive -- whether or not, and without regard for what, if anything results from "doing it." The physical immersion in, the melding of blind-body-effort with, sight is ... pleasant. [Excuse me, I think I and my eyes need to get a room ...]
  8. Steve M.
    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. The term I use for that is "Waiting Images."
    Not original - stole it from Baudrillard. I've worn out mention of him on this forum! Anyhow I know they find me and it is true that one will never run out of pictures waiting.
    More pragmatically, doing urban photography, I have a mode switch. People Mode is when I stay put and the people perform for me. Action Mode is when I lurk about. I try to find promising zones where a repertoire of these "finds" predict further success. It can only get better!
  9. For me it does not seem to be a question of who's taking whom, though I believe ideas are whispered to us by the Muses, the universe singing or something else. Not so much who's on first, but the outcome of a relationship, lengthy or brief, between the observer and observed (and sometimes this is going on both ways simultaneously). A record not of the "subject", but an interaction, or a moment during an interaction.
    I tend to think before photographing, what I want, am going to do, etc., then when the act comes, all that noise flies out the window. A lot is internalized, but rendered wordless. What I do seems like destiny.
    As to the act being goal or process oriented, I'll go with St. Catherine of Sienna's "All the way to heaven is heaven".
  10. <<<"All the way to heaven is heaven".>>>
    Wonderful quote, Luis. I have a hard time myself separating process and result. They just seem so intermingled as I go forth.
    I was thinking last night particularly about results and how they can come full circle and be so much a part of the process, even the beginnings of new processes. I've set a date of Nov. 10 for my first ever show of photos at my home studio/gallery. So I've been intimately working with the results, preparing them for presentation, determining size, framing, wall groupings, lighting, rhythms I want to explore in their display, a few added special effects of staging, etc. I haven't done much of holding my own prints in my hands and refining files for the print medium. Process and results. Actions with the results (the photos) for new results (an exhibit) leading to new actions (new ways of seeing). Opening up the process. . . . the effect these results will have on my future photo-taking and photo-making. More shooting with the print, rather than just the image, in mind. A new medium to work with and play with. Right now, the results seem like the beginning of the process rather than the goal.
    Not to go too classical on everyone, but I'm thinking about Aristotle's formulation of final cause:
    "A thing's final cause is its aim or purpose, telos (teleology). That for the sake of which a thing is what it is. [For a seed, it might be an adult plant.]"
    What I like about the idea is that it has process and result in one inextricable idea and phrase. We think of the cause as the beginning, the thing that starts it, but in this case the final cause is already there at the beginning and it is also the end, forming a nice circle of perpetuity.
  11. Fred,
    Being the impresario of your own show is indeed a rewarding and delightful process. Hope you give us a look at it.
  12. When I think of process, I also throw in the idea of the final cause. That's great about your show and home gallery!
  13. Julie said:
    There is something about "the act" of photographing that is very seductive -- whether or not, and without regard for what, if anything results from "doing it." The physical immersion in, the melding of blind-body-effort with, sight is ... pleasant. [Excuse me, I think I and my eyes need to get a room ...]​
    I agree! Maybe this is the seduction of photography. People love to photograph things even when they have no specific plan or purpose. It just feels good. Just look at Flickr
    Your other comment:
    On the other hand, (to be a kill-joy) the pictures that I value long after the taking/making of them seem to all involve more sober, sweaty, irritating, frustrating, head-banging effort. Such is life. *sigh*​
    I felt that way when I used to do my own black and white negs and prints. Staying up late at night in the darkroom, making prints, washing them, toning: all rather long processes. Once I had kids that ended. Digital has made the process "lighter" for me. Also, the kids are grown up and I'm not in grad school, etc.

    Fred, I think "intentional shooting" is a pretty common approach too, maybe even more prevalent than my "letting it happen" method. And, like you said, sometimes it is a combination of both. I get the impression in some of the threads here that some people get stuck when they don't know what they intentionally want to photograph. People are wired differently and some approaches come easier for some than others. If I were a teacher I probably would try to teach and encourage both practice's.
  14. Thinking about this a little more. Julie's comment about valuing her photos that required more effort is not quite the same for me. I can give examples. This first image a young girl, a relative of my wife at a backyard family barbeque. I thought she was lovely and wanted to get a nice photo of her. She was OK with that and allowed me to select a spot where I thought the lighting and background were good. Her pose was her own. I liked the shot very much, and was satisfied with it.
  15. About 20 minutes later I was sitting in the front yard and Whitney was a few feet away chatting with some of her cousins. I noticed how nice the lighting was and I quickly asked her if I could "take a couple more" She was a little embarrassed, I think, but nevertheless was OK with it and I shot a few more images in rapid succession. This time I got a totally different look. More subtle, mysterious, and for me a total surprise and delight. It is now one of my favorite portraits.
  16. Steve, here is why I think your subject as stated in the post title is ticklish. There are dichotomies that get pounded to death in these forums:
    making vs taking
    intrusive vs discrete
    manipulative vs receptive
    hand-processed film vs digital
    and, in the case of this thread, leading vs following [what the camera "sees"]
    I think the reason that these contrasts or assignments to one side or the other are so hotly, emotionally debated is because nobody likes to think of themselves as irrelevant, as a (mere) slave to chance. I think everybody who is serious about their photography wants to believe that they are somehow necessary, needed, valuable, useful for being attentively there (wherever that may be). A player, not (just) a watcher. [I am living dangerously this morning, using "nobody" and "everybody" ... ]
    With that in mind, if you look back at my list of "vs"s above with the idea of the photographer being "necessary" it seems to me that none of them hold water. For example, when I do my bird composites, I spend November to May shooting birds through a blind. I am "taking," "discrete," "receptive." I sit and watch and wait for what may come (with birds, one must be fully attentive and very fast <<< note how I'm making my powers "necessary" even as I write this ... ). But then I use what I've got to make my composites (on my current project, I'm working with birds shot over a two year span -- close to 20,000 frames). I am "making," "intrusive," "manipulative."
    Often when "collecting" backgrounds -- usually water, close flotsam, or treetops/skies, I am purely being taken. I wander around with the camera stuck to my face, fishing from whatever swims into view (however, I know exactly what distance/scale I'm after ...).
    My point being? For me, I willingly confess to a huge attraction or draw of discovering what I only seem to be able to discover when I'm looking through a camera/lens. But I need, for myself, to feel valuable or necessary in the process. Otherwise, photography can actually come to feel like a rejection (proof that I am NOT necessary -- see how much you are NOT needed/useful to the outcome and that's crushing, depressing, rejecting). Probably that's why I *like* to point out how hard I work at compositing, where truth be told, I love (almost) every minute of the whole slow process (<< but see how I insert that "slow" to bump up my claim to being necessary).
  17. <<<I think everybody who is serious about their photography wants to believe that they are somehow necessary>>>
    Interesting. Perhaps Julie doesn't mean it this way, but this is phrased in such a way as to seem to suggest we may be kidding ourselves . . . "wants to believe." It could turn out that we are necessary and it's not just a matter of our wanting to believe such a thing.
    I wonder if it's another bout with freedom. Are we each a free agent, taking action, responsible for the photo we put forth, or is what we photograph somehow determined to be and we and the photos are just part of a flow or chain of events? [In this case, chance or luck as being used in the thread is similar to determined in that any of them can be seen as being out of our control.]
    I wonder how relevant the distinctiveness and significance of snapshots are in all this.
    Importantly, we each may be necessary (as opposed to just believing we are) and still be part of a determined flow of events. It could be less a matter of freedom and agency on our parts and more a matter of the necessity of the human and individual perspective from which photos are usually made.
  18. From a deterministic viewpoint the individual is necessary. It could not be any other way. For a particular image to be made, if nothing else the photographer (meaning you) is necessary because at the time the shutter is released only one human being (save for your quantum siblings) could be standing at a given timespace coordinate from the subject.
    In other words, I agree with Fred above.
    The way Julie used it for me points to ego/identity concerns, which vary greatly among photographers and artists.
  19. Oops, I didn't mean this to be a post about whether the photographer is irrelevant or not! Didn't mean to set up a dichotomy. I believe whether it is laboriously intentional, or spontaneous, those are just external circumstances or styles, if you will. The person taking the photo is totally responsible for capturing that moment, and it is a uniquely personal and individual event. There would be no photograph if the person with the camera was not present and selecting to push the shutter (so I agree with Fred and Luis). I was just curious about how different folks go about it, without trying to make a value judgement about one approach over the other. I think those dichotomies Julie mentions are meaningless in the end. Just different approaches or tools. In my own experience, I have found that being receptive when my visual brain "nudges" me has given me probably the most satisfactory results in the long run. I have also done plenty of set up shots that were satisfactory too, especially when I used a 4x5, but as Fred has pointed out, there is still an element of serendipity in these situations. When shooting in nature, you can spend a lot of time scouting out a great shot, and what I have discovered is that the same scene can change on a daily basis. Nature is just not static! I was hoping for a little more personal sharing rather than another argument about one thing being better than another.
  20. Carefully scouted and set up shot, on a tripod, etc.
  21. Steve, nicely said. I didn't sense we were getting into a debate about one way being better than another. These threads often take little side trips (like the necessity of the photographer) and the tangents can be interesting as well . . . kind of like the serendipity aspect of even a planned photo shoot. But I think whether one is more receptive or more inclined to plan is, as you say, just a matter of approach and, while we each may have our preferences (and some of us may have no particular preference), we don't have to make the claim that one or the other is a better method.
    Like Julie, I too often notice the dichotomies posed in various forums, not just Philosophy, and it's interesting to consider the question of planning/non planning as a non-dichotomy. There are all sorts of degrees between the two extremes and probably most people fall somewhere on the continuum and in different places on that continuum for different shots. Being Fred, I can even plan to be spontaneous! [Chance favors . . . ] But seriously, I mean, does Bresson fall on the planned or the not planned side of the equation? [Rhetorical question.] From what I've read, he had to be very spontaneous in his attention to and capture of the decisive moments. And yet, he did a lot of planning in terms of walking streets at different hours to notice the light, the traffic, etc. It may just be a matter of the syntax we use. Instead of opposing "I take photos" with "photos take me," we might simply ask in what ways taking photos applies to each of us and it what ways photos taking us applies to each of us. Then we avoid the debate and simply look genuinely at what we do.
  22. planned . . . unplanned:
    I think about personnas and masks a lot and intend, generally speaking, to explore these things in my work. Ian and I had a date to go out and shoot. I thought this area of Golden Gate Park would give us lots of environmental and architectural choices, though I hadn't homed in on anything specifically. We selected a few shirts for him to take along but, frankly, wound up not paying much attention to what he was wearing. We came across this spot -- the band shell. The lighting inspired us. I didn't think to myself, "Ahh, this photo will be mask-like." But the shot turned out to lend itself to that at least in part because I was prepared to see that way. Planned and unplanned. Certainly, I didn't just happen upon Ian sitting there. But I didn't know up until the moment that I was going to ask him to sit there.
    I guess I have some general considerations of what I'm exploring with photographs and I think about them and ways to pursue them and then I manage to more spontaneously fit stuff into that mode as I go out with my subjects. For me, the planning is more the provision of an overarching context and theme to my work than it is a specific set of directions. It's sort of a loose guide. A lot of shots seem to fit into that context and also seem to further direct and change that context. So there's kind of a back and forth between the planning and the results (the photos). The plan helps formulate the photos and the photos, in turn, help determine where the overall plan will head.
  23. Inadvertently (I think), Fred, Luis, and Steve have all made me mad -- as in all bristled up and walking around muttering. The cause and explanation are such an incendiary topic (that I don't want to defend at length) that I was going to skip posting back, but then I had what seems to me an interesting light-bulb moment (which said light-bulbs have gotten me into more trouble than I care to think about ...).
    Fred said, "Are we each a free agent, taking action, responsible for the photo we put forth, or is what we photograph somehow determined to be and we and the photos are just part of a flow or chain of events?" and Luis said, " ... the individual is necessary. It could not be any other way," and Steve said, "The person taking the photo is totally responsible ... "
    Read those comments from the point of view of women. Women, who are, if not in always in modern practice, still very much in possibility, been seen as (and been) used as receptacles of someone else's seed, someone else's needs, someone else's pleasures whether visual or physical -- without any regard for their "agency." Or rather with strenuous suppression and abuse and devaluation of their agency -- or any possibility of such agency (I'm still pissed at that word ...). Our "agency" has been dismissed, ignored, excluded, mocked ...
    So, where's the light bulb? It occurs to me that given Steve's post title, and, if I look at this from a man's point of view (to the extent that I can ...), invert my annoyance, perhaps this is about you men exploring or wanting to explore our (female) "kind" of point of view? Yeah, we ladies do have some different "ways" of being -- if not in kind that at least in proportion (see my different sensitivity illustrated in the paragraph above ... ).
    What do you think? When Steve says, "photographs take me," is that ... suggestive? Can we expect to see him lying nude before us (decapitated, of course) any time soon?
  24. <<<When Steve says, "photographs take me," is that ... suggestive? Can we expect to see him lying nude before us (decapitated, of course) any time soon?>>>
    What do you think? If he were in my presence when I had a camera, he might very well be, though I don't decapitate much.
  25. <<<Our "agency" has been dismissed, ignored, excluded, mocked ...>>>
    May be why folks like Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe took the bull by the horns . . . and the balls.
  26. "Read those comments from the point of view of women."
    How can we? You seem to claim the high ground here in being able to stereotype us, and perhaps you are correct. Maybe we're nothing but stereotypes. Obviously, all men do not think the same way, live the same lives, or go about photography identically, and history and experience suggest the same is true for women.
    Women are necessary to photography. It could not be any other way. None of us would be here otherwise, and the vast majority of us were raised by women.
    We've been here before, and back then you argued for the idea of the importance of the individual too (I'm not going to search for it, haven't had coffee yet!). I was and am against the supremacy of the individual. Necessary, yes, supreme, no. Have you changed your views on this, or are you taking us dwarves on another mind field or minefield trip? I feel like I'm stepping into a Morgan Freeman Through the Wormhole show. So far the revelation that men think like men is a little underwhelming, although there were differences in our thinking that are lost when we're lumped together because of our gender.
    Fred kept the contingencies/range of possibilities open. Steve was for the supremacy of the individual. I went with the deterministic side, which makes the individual necessary, but not supreme. Fred ran the spectrum between taking and being taken. Steve was on the 'taken' side, which seems a kind of rapture to me. I rejected both in favor of an observer-observed system/relationship, a unity, not a dichotomy.
    Where are you on all this? We know where you aren't.
  27. Fred said:
    These threads often take little side trips (like the necessity of the photographer) and the tangents can be interesting as well . . .​
    Well, Julie, I can see now how you might react to my use of the word “take” in the opening line. I really just wanted to get people’s attention with something catchy. “Take” means to capture, take possession of, which is what I was driving at to give the idea of the image “grabbing my attention” so I would notice it and photograph it. Of course, its still my brain that is doing the work here, but the experience is that of being “grabbed” externally. You know what I mean. But, looking at the full definition of the word “take” though, it can also infer rape, or to copulate with, or take into one’s body, etc. I was not anticipating a feminist response, nor was I intending such an interpretation! Didn’t mean to touch a nerve here. If we follow your thinking, we might get into the territory of feminist epistemology. See: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-epistemology/ I feel this is an entirely different topic than what I was proposing, but it is fascinating and maybe another thread needs to be devoted to this topic, hint hint.
    BTW, thanks Fred, Steve (the other Steve), Louis, Alan, Wouter and Julie for contributing some insights into your personal experience. As Fred stated: "Then we avoid the debate and simply look genuinely at what we do." I do appreciate the examples too, which is what I tried to do as well. It provides real visual material that supports the otherwise purely verbal information.
  28. Julie, I just wanted to mention how fascinating I found your "process:"
    But then I use what I've got to make my composites (on my current project, I'm working with birds shot over a two year span -- close to 20,000 frames). I am "making," "intrusive," "manipulative."​
    This is exactly what I was trying to elicit in my post, to get an idea of how other people here go about doing their photography. Your process seems to me to involve zillions of little creative moments, then all composed into a larger creative scheme, which I assume evolves over time as you go. Perhaps my own reliance on chance and spontaneity is shaped out of my time limitations, since I work in an entirely different field from graphic arts or photography. Photography allows me some time to "get out of my head" and experience things totally visually, which is for me a way of creating balance.
  29. The expression "fuzzy probabilities" has become my unified theory of images. The truth changes once the exposure begins. An instant might as well be forever. Any sort of deliberativeness in our method or factualness we anticipate is moderated by an infinite number of factors. We are left only with probable outcomes. Certainties close the book to further interest in a picture. LINK ITEM 6.
  30. Steve, it's great that you're trying to understand what I'm trying to say ... :)
    It was not my intention to claim that one way is better or more worthy than the other. I'm not talking about better/worse -- just different. It's my feeling that women start from a fundamentally different "stance" than most non-minority men. What men can take for granted is not taken for granted by women, and conversely, many things we take for granted ... etc. etc.
    I'll sketch how I work on a particular project -- my current one, called "Now and Them," so you can watch what I do; I'm being surprised by what you find surprising ...
    I already know the "ingredients" I'm using and have collected them (I have all those birds, about 200 trees and about 400 backgrounds to choose from). I start with the main tree (see examples below). I let the tree "work on" me. It seems to me that how this happens is too obvious to need description; look at the trees I'm using and see if you don't get a "feel" from their dynamics. Anyway, from the tree's "feel" I choose two background images that get masked behind it as 55% over 65% overlays with a blue tint on top of both.
    Next, again, working from how the tree makes me feel, I choose a foreground bird. Again, it seems too obvious to me to require explanation. See the examples; the large fore bird should obviously be in concert with the tree. Finally, the little bird is the counterpoint to tie the two together -- so fore bird and tree aren''t just working in monotonous parallel.
    Beyond that, it's busy work ("head-banging" ...). Shadows, edge-work, cleaning the layers of birdseed sludge off their beaks and finding feet for the perched birds (dear lord, I dream of nasty bird's feet ...).
    Why do I always work in series? I'm not sure except that, for me, the whole series feels like variations on one work. It weaves into a whole for me, the repetitions and returns. There are 58 in this series. I always work in series.
  31. the question of planning/non planning as a non-dichotomy​
    This is very true.... even if my way of working is very unplanned, there is this sense of readiness when I go out with a camera, more than I have without a camera. Like I'm looking more and seeing more - a heightened attention for photographic possibilities.
    There is always some level of preparation, even if it is as basic as knowing how to turn the camera on, and/or remove the lens cap.
    That said, the varying shades of grey, in my view, tend to reflect in the final result and I'm still mulling over the thought whether a planned shot has a bigger likelihood of a clear message - much like the difference of expressing a sudden thought versus a well-written, edited piece of text. It's not a better/worse thing, but different levels of communication, I think.
  32. Now we're gettin' somewhere! Julie, I am amazed now at what you are doing. Your compositions are something that you can't get just walking about in the woods, yet, its possible. I did see five pileated woodpeckers in the same scene once, but it happened so fast it could never be photographed. So, its like you are playing with time and space to show the viewer a "possible reality." The elements of your scenes are real and do not impart a sense of other-worldliness like some of the heavy handed stuff done with PS. I can also appreciate the idea that you have a shot lot of images to work with and that this could be creatively exhausting. Doing a series seems logical to me because to do all that work for just one image seems like overkill. I never did understand why so many artists did things in series, but this makes sense to me. Compared to myself and most other photographers who are trying to capture unique moments in time/space before they disappear, you magically create a unique moment that might have or could have occurred. Thanks for sharing! BTW you may have been a bird in a previous lifetime.
  33. OK, light bulb going on! We have been talking about a dichotomy: spontaneous vs planned, but, most of us don’t think this is accurate anyway. I’m now seeing a continuum that has to do more with the space/time aspect. Photographers like myself and other documentary shooters (Wouter, Alan) desire to track down and “capture” the beautiful and elusive moments in space/time in a manner that often doesn’t even interrupt the flow of events, or if it does, very minimally. We’re one extreme. In the middle zone of this continuum are the photographers like Fred, who stage their productions, work with sets and creatively direct their subjects in order to “push” the space/time around to get images that are fantasy, yet possible realities as well. On the other end of this continuum are artist like Julie, who literally jump around in space/time and ultimately piece together collages that are yet another possible “reality.” How am I doing here?
  34. Steve, I think those are fine descriptions . . . as far as they carry us. But I also think one can get carried away with classifying or categorizing work. I think these descriptions tend to emphasize process over photo, which I'm not that comfortable with, although there's certainly plenty of room for looking at process. Ultimately, what's important to me is the photo I create or the photo I look at that someone else has created. When doing that, these lines of distinction often start to fall away. Yes, we can often tell the difference between a spontaneously-taken photo, a documentary photo, a staged photo, etc. But, when looking, we are often looking at expressions, colors, forms, stories, themes, visuals, juxtapositions, light, shadow, mood, texture, etc. Those can be much more universal qualities that don't necessarily ask the viewer to consider how the photo was taken or made.
  35. We don't always see what we might know went into a photo. A photo may have been taken very spontaneously but sometimes that fools us (if we don't step back and look at it objectively) into assuming that the photo looks spontaneous, or the expression does. This is the sense in which I have said in other places that photos can lie. The most spontaneously-taken photo can look staged or contrived or just not spontaneous, and the most staged photo can have a look of spontaneity. The same happens with emotions. There may have been a lot of sadness surrounding the taking of a particular photo. That doesn't mean the photo communicates sadness. It also may be that, though the photographer is motivated by sadness, she or he is not trying to make a sad photo or communicate sadness. The sadness may simply be an inspiration. I like to play with staged looks and I like exploring pose and sometimes exaggerated or very staged-looking gestures. I have done that at times even in very spontaneous shots. My eye seems to be on the lookout for such artifice even in very candid situations.
  36. Steve, no, no, no!! (But I am absolutely loving your responses!)
    From the pictures you've posted, especially the one in the OP, I KNOW that at some level you already know what I'm going to try to describe below.
    What, in the OP picture, makes it work? Is it any of the nameable "things" that are in it? What is it in the dog/tree picture? Is it the dog? Is it the tree? In your portrait, what changes from the first to the later? Any of the nameable ingredients? No, I would claim that what you're noticing, reveling in, is what's in-between, what can be called "vectors" (which I find to steely, too physicist-particle-diagramish, too metallic) or "binders" (which is warmer, but stickier and anti-movement, losing the vector flash of push/pull). Anyway, that-which-knits-up-the-ravelled-sleeve-of-time.
    In your imagination, pretend you're in Photoshop File >New> 16x20 file. You're now staring at a blank white sheet. Do you feel the terror? I think most people think compositors have total freedom. Quite the opposite. We get the worst of both worlds. Pretend you have the dog from your dog/tree picture. Just the dog. You drag it onto your hideously empty white file. Now you have a dog, but notice that the dog arrives with a history. It WILL go in one direction, it WILL be at one and only one gravitational angle to you, the viewer. It WILL be in one particular kind of light. It WILL demand something toward which it is so progressing, thinking about, standing on. It WILL have its own way -- all of which is totally unlike painting in which a dog WILL do whatever YOU darn well want angle/intent/light-wise. My birds, each and every one of them, arrive with streamers of "binders" and "vectors" and history. They WILL go into only those configurations which "accept" their filaments of intent and physical weight/push/pull.
    My job, or your imaginary job, is to look at what you've got and "feel" its filamental inclinations. It's not, it's never, about the "thing"; it's always about finding the binders and letting them work (they work on you; not vice versa; I cannot take the bird from a new angle or with a different attitude or light or rotation, etc. it WILL be what it is already). What I am really doing is binding *myself* into the scene. I play the parts, one (slowly!) by one, letting the threads of the weave bind to each other, but especially, too me. *I* can move, flex, bend, present myself.
    For you lucky ones out there walking around shooting, stuff is always already as it should be gravitationally, angularly, intentionally. It's my opinion, that while the nameable things are what photographers think they're working with, what really "makes" pictures is these unnameable binders; the inter-thing dynamics. The walk-around is looking for your place in the weave; waiting to be bound. It's my feeling that this thread is because you, Steve, noticed ...
  37. Dern. I left something out of my last post. I meant to include that the first of Steve's portraits of the girl, titled "Intentional, directed shot," for me, feels like a "push" incoming from the front. She's closed up, like a beautiful shelled creature that's drawn back into itself. See the arm defensively across her torso, and the retreating expression.
    But the second one ... ("Spontaneous, candid shot") feels like a great flairing wing of intent, an aurora borealis of curving outward energy ... to me.
    Also, if you want to consider the some variations of the push/pull of intent made by body/eyes I have this bunch of four pictures (made for an old blog post). [LINK]
  38. "shouting" at me to be photographed​
    I think this shouting comes from TV, print and online ad campaings of camera, smartphone, software and other photography related bussnesses. It is "they" who tell us to take as many pictures as possible and to react to every impuls to photograph with a push or a tuch of a button. It is the manufacturers of photo related stuff and services who tell us that the events in which we ourselfs participate can be truly experienced and enjoyed only if photographed and shared instantaneously. I think that picture taking gets in a way of experiencing many things and I choose not to photograph, often against my first impuls.
  39. Fred, yes, great comments, and I was thinking somewhat along those same lines today and was going to make a post this evening. I was thinking about the fact that it’s really the viewer’s perception or reaction to the photo that’s so important, which includes the feelings that are elicited, or the memories, or the fantasies, etc. It’s not really so important how the photo was made in terms of the continuum I was describing, at least it isn’t so important to the viewer. I think what I was conceptualizing for myself was simply the different styles or approaches that different photographers use, without trying to put a value judgment on any of them. Each style takes thought, creativity and craft to make an effective photograph.
    Julie, I think I understand what you are talking about when you say “energy vectors.” I think you are using a different language than most people would use. I do resonate with it though, because it more accurately describes what goes on when I’m looking through the viewfinder to make a shot. I can’t really say that I’m thinking in any logical way about composition or anything like that. It’s more like the feeling or energy is “just right.” It’s even for me somewhat unconscious and mystical. Everything just comes together and it’s the "right moment." I think it’s easier for me to get to this point sometimes when I’m not really trying to do a lot of arranging or directing. That seems for me just to get in the way, even though for some people that is what feeds their creative energies. When my dog Lily walked into my viewfinder I knew at that instant that this was a wonderful picture, and I took it before it was gone. Yeah, the cutting board was the same thing: it just felt right. Your description of the push and pull qualities of different photos is perhaps a little more subtle and thought out that I typically am aware of, but it has certainly given me some food for thought. Thanks!
    I want to sincerely thank everybody for their responses to this post. I learned a great deal about how some of us think and work, and although we all do things somewhat differently, the photos that we each create can be interesting, creative, fascinating, and original. I think also for me I have a greater appreciation for the creative work that you guys do because I have a little bit better understanding of it. Apparently I’m not quite getting Julie’s process: “Steve, no, no, no!!” but that’s okay I did learn a lot anyway!
  40. Julie, you might appreciate my description of what I strive for in a portrait that I wrote in my personal website:
    I believe the most memorable portraits do not depend on any particular facial expression, or emotion. Instead, its more of what I call the "energy" communicated between the subject and the camera, and it can be felt by the viewer looking at the portrait.​
  41. ' ... "energy" ... '
    Heh! ... The detail is whether you're thinking in terms of stopping ("capturing" "snapping") the "energy" or letting it flow and wave and percolate and dissolve and solute and sweep you ... [Scientists know what energy does, but they don't really know what "energy" is ... ]
    Thanks for a beautiful thread. I've enjoyed it. You've made me think.
  42. I don't look at a photograph, the photograph looks at me.

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