Interesting and unusual advice via Magnum

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by c_wyatt, May 24, 2012.

  1. I regularly advise people to look at the work of great photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson or W. Eugene Smith. I have plenty of books of great photographers and great photographs, and often link people to sites like Adam Marelli's. I even made my own post about important things in photography using great images (with some quotes and painters too).
    Magnum photos is doing a series of quotes of advice for young photographers every now and then via their facebook page and today's one from Alex Majoli really caught my eye:
    'I would advise to read a lot of literature and look as little as possible at other photographers.'

    I found that pretty interesting. What do you think? Is it necessary in photojournalism to study the work of others?
  2. IMO, not good advice.
    Reading literature is always good advice . . . looking as little as possible at other photographers makes little sense to me.
    I get it, he thinks people will be unduly influenced. But, influence is good. If you're halfway decent at photographing, you will take that influence and still develop your own eye. You will learn what traditions look like, you will learn visual languages and history. If you're not halfway decent, that you are unduly influenced won't necessarily be a bad thing. It might help. You won't be unique or much of an individual, but you might still make some decent, though derivative, photos.
  3. Agree with Fred, you wouldn't not listen to other musicians to influence your tastes and hone your craft, the more you listen you hear things that might add to your sound. No different with photography. I have heard people say that before though, but it's a little like saying don't educate yourself.
  4. Huh! I just posted this in another thread and I was informed that someone else has the same problem with this advice as well!
    here is my post in the other thread:
    Recently Magnum photos ask for simple advices from its photographers.
    What advice would you give young photographers?
    Alex Majoli: I would advise to read a lot of literature and look as little as possible at other photographers.

    I agree with the first part but I have some problem with this advice. According to my experience I learned a lot by looking at other people's work. I was inspired for example by "The Vanishing Breed" by William Albert Allard or by photos of Alex Webb etc. I heard lots of photographers take photography books with themselves on assignment for inspiration. What is your view on this? Maybe this is for extremely talented! Even in rock music all great bands started by covering other people's songs. Maybe this advice is for the people who are very advanced and working in a very high professional level as him.

    I personally think a personal style will develop as a result of personalizing and mixing the styles we enjoy.​
  5. The photographic eye is not easy to develop. It is often a sense of realisation. Sometimes, we realise the moment after it has passed. Many shoot away copiously believing that one of those shots had perchance caught the moment.
  6. I still buy B&W, and Color while they did it. Part of it is to look at other people's visions, including that of the members here at P-Net. A lot of it is learning to see the light and how it affects the scene in front of me. Which might lead to planning the shoot at a different time, or several different times, for the emotional tone the light might evoke. Plus I see other stuff that I might ignore but another photographer found beautiful.
    It might just be preparation for the day I get fabulous high resolution images of bigfoot. Which of course Magnum might be interested in publishing.
  7. We see plenty of SP advice in this forum. A wide variety of it. All of it is well-meant, and will probably help anyone some, but a few bits will end up helping disproportionately. There's no arguing Majoli's abilities as a photographer.
    He has always been an unorthodox photographer. The quote besides his name in the link above reads: " I really don't have any ideas about photography, but I take pictures." For years he produced work using point-and-shoots that most here would sneer at, got them published in publications and prints sold in galleries. Seems to me like he's a visual 'natural', although he was well-schooled photographically speaking. For him that part is not the issue, telling a story is, and this is where his advice seems to be coming from.
    I remember Alex Webb giving nearly identical advice decades ago. One strength a photographer might acquire from intensive reading is the ability to visually imagine things from text, ideas for a project, or an assignment. This is a fairly rare thing, one that could be put to great advantage.
    I do not think it 'unnecessary' to look at the work of others, and in fairness to Majoli, he did say "as little as possible". Exactly what that means quantitatively is hard to say. Perhaps he did not feel he gained much at F45 or Ravenna? One thing about Majoli: The quality of his work speaks volumes for his abilities.
  8. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    that most here would sneer at​

    Who would sneer at them? Plenty of people here are using P&S cameras, phone cameras, etc. I haven't seen sneering on this forum. Where is it?
    The quality of his work speaks volumes for his abilities.​

    For whom is that not true? When I look at people's work, including people here, I can make reasonable assumptions about their abilities. That's the way it always is.
  9. "Is it necessary in photojournalism to study the work of others?"​
    Within the specific context of photojournalism, I'd say yes, absolutely. It's a peculiar discipline with particular needs, rules and ever evolving ethics - the latter including aesthetics as well. For example, editing techniques we were taught in the 1980s to remove distracting elements and improve the aesthetics would be considered unethical today. It helps to know what's been done in the past - right and wrong, good and bad - to better understand the evolving nature of photojournalism.
    For documentary photography, not so much. Depends on the intent. If the intent is closer to PJ type work, sure, it'd be helpful to study the work of other PJs and documentary photographers.
    But within the context of street, candid, etc., nah, do whatever you like, whatever inspires you and makes you want to get out of bed.
  10. Jeff S. - "Who would sneer at them?"
    The DSLR-only/max IQ crowd on PN. I did not mean this forum in particular.
    JS - "For whom is that not true?"
    Yeah, I could have phrased that better. I meant his photography is extraordinary. For a very few that is true.

  11. C. Wyatt: I just looked at your website. You have a wonderful eye for juxtaposition and light and the "decisive moment". (It seems that your learned a lot from Bresson) You're patient. You wait for the scenes to develop and people to enter the composition you framed before you snap the shutter. You use vignetting to focus the subject. DR isn't so important in photojournalism. Content is paramount. You taught me a lot. I hope I improve my photography from what I learned from you. Thanks. Oh, so yes. We can learn from others. It helps improve our seeing.
  12. Thanks very much Alan, very kind.
    I mulled this issue over today and jotted down a few points I thought:
    I will make a few points about what I thought about it:
    1) I’m not sure it’s meant to be taken totally literally. And he did say ‘as little as possible’, read that how you will.
    2) It’s advice for young photographers, and that might imply an up and coming photographer developing a style rather than someone who just picked up a camera.
    3) The reference to literature is interesting. To use a term an earlier post, it may imply ‘the ability to visually imagine things’.
    4) When people look at other photographers that often are drawn to/copy the surface aesthetic rather than trying to understand the reasoning behind images, or why other photographers see things like they do.
    5) Photographers as a group (this is perhaps a great generalisation) seem to be very keen on just looking at other photographers in terms of thinking about making images. Quite a few also look at drawing painting. The idea of just reading being useful goes further on what I’d call the same path.
    I still don’t really agree (and I’ll go on looking at great images), I just think it’s coming from a interesting point of view that might have more to say than a simple reading of it might think. Just the concept that there’s more you can learn – I like that.
    And I may be totally wrong, I don’t know Majoli very well, it’s just what I got from a little think about it.
  13. Just to add to the mix, Todd Papageorge said "If your photographs are not good enough, you're not reading enough." And he did not mean photo books...
  14. I think he might of meant reading a lot informs your mind of perhaps things that exist below the surface, or invisibly. So you can begin to think that the things you see visually are only like an "ice berg" of what's actually happening. Maybe becoming familiar at least, if not actually understanding, what's going on within informs one's photography when looking out. I think photography improves when you are doing both at the same time. In other words, like personality, art and baseball, most of what's happening isn't seen on the surface. Literature can certainly move your mind into places you may not have been familiar with if you weren't guided there. That and experience are the two most powerful photographic teachers, no?
  15. Well said, Luis. And for those that don't know this, Papageorge was without a doubt the most important influential educator from the late 1970s until very recently. Papageorge WAS the Yale MFA program.
    Reading is important, for a different reason than seeing. Looking at other photographs gives you an idea of how yours can be better. It is very helpful to see where you are lacking, and there are a number of photobooks that I cherish for what they have taught me, most notably Thomas Hauser's November 2 P.M.
    But looking at other photographs does not help you to create new work. If your only influence is what other people have done, then the only ideas you will have will be based solely on existing work. Reading books, on the other hand, opens your mind to a whole new world of ideas that may have never been touched upon.
    Someone mentioned musicians, and I think it is a very fitting comparison. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground took considerably more influence from the work of beat poets than they did other 60s bands. And who do you remember better: the Velvets, or any of the myriad of late 60s bands that tried to copy the Beatles? Can ayone even name a Beatles knock-off band that had more than one hit?
    EDIT: Okay, the Monkees. But to be fair, they were built as a made-for TV band, and they still only had two.
  16. Herman's Hermits, the Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers? All had multiple hits. I am not sure they would see themselves as Beatles copyists, but you might think so.
  17. "But looking at other photographs does not help you to create new work. If your only influence is what other people have done, then the only ideas you will have will be based solely on existing work." --Zack
    It's hard to imagine anyone advocating looking at others' work being your "only influence." If you did only look at others' work and could somehow avoid all other influences, then your first statement, Zack, could make sense to me. But given that you really can't help but have all kinds of other influences, looking at other photographs most certainly can help you to create new work. It might not. If you don't have a creative mind and eye, you might just keep copying others. But if you do have a creative mind and eye, a sense of your vision as an individual, looking at others' work is a learning tool, a means of inspiration, and a springboard.
    I think, for some, reading will be a great benefit. It has certainly added dimension and depth to my own seeing over the years. I think seeing is not superficial and there is great depth and dimension to the visual. A lot of people don't see well.
  18. Robin: The Hermits' singles were almost all cover songs(including all their hits), The Hollies were the same (including covering several Beatles songs), and Gerry and the Pacemakers predate the Beatles' first release. The Hollies' biggest hit was original though, and sounded nothing like a Beatles tune.
    I'm going to admit that I had to use Wikipedia :p I've always been more of a San Fransisco fan, and the only part of that rebuttal that I actually knew without cheating was the Hollies bit, and even that was just because of the Graham Nash connection.
    On the other hand, what art student doesn't know the Velvets?
    Fred, I don't honestly think that it's even possible to only be influenced by other work or by literature. I mean, even the Velvets had avant-garde composers to listen to. All I mean is that it's very possible for someone to rely too much on existing work and archetypes, and never have (or worse, to dismiss) perfectly good ideas because they are unproven.
  19. Zack, makes more sense to me, thanks. I guess I got hung up on your saying that looking at other photos does not help you to create new work. I think it can help a lot. But as you say, it is certainly possible for someone to rely too much on the work of others and not develop their own vision.
  20. I could probably think of at least a few dozen personal endeavors and experiences that would inform and
    guide one's approach to photojournalism; reading being just one, as is contemplating other work. No need
    for mutual exclusiveness...
  21. As I recall it in those dim 60's, I thought the Beatles were just the most well known proponents of the "Mersey Beat" but that encompassed a lot of other bands. Sort of analagous to the "Grunge bands" of Seattle.
  22. Of course being well versed in literature or even travel will broaden your horizons Indeed, you can also argue age and experience of life can equally add to the mix .However, by looking and understanding others work, their motivations,visions, is the most effective way for the Photograher to realize their own vision.
    That does not mean trying to copy, but creating a foundation of what the "Art of Photography" is about".
  23. I certainly do not advocate the extremes of only literature or looking at others' work. There's a lot more to know than either or both of those things. It's good to sort through a variety of possible resoures until something agrees with/works for you (though that, too is not written on stone tablets).
    The negatives of "don't do this" don't make much of an impression on me. The positives do. If one has been stuck for some time after reading endless stacks of photo books, what harm can it do to read through a half-dozen novels?
  24. All great scientific discoveries, even Einstein's, were built on the discoveries and exploration of scientists before them. How many have such insight and prophesy that they create something absolutely new? Building on the past and adding some creativity is what we do for the most part. Of course most of us won't become an Einstein. But what's wrong with just making nicer photographs then you could before? If your photographs make those you know, the people around you and some strangers too, have a moment of awe, a laugh, a smile or just a nice feeling, then you created something of value. Let's not be so tough on ourselves.
  25. Also agree that looking at other photographs can be immensely inspiring and motivating. I don't know any person who calls themselves a photographer that doesn't enjoy looking at photographs. Why wouldn't you. there's lots to learn by looking. there's lot to learn from reading, there's lots to learn from experience.
  26. The Dave Clark Five
    On 10 March 2008 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. wikipedia​
  27. I find I'm influenced by almost everything, photos, books music, light sound, painting, poetry, prose. I would never tell anyone to not look at other people's photos. But I would tell them also to broaden their experience of life. I enjoy looking so much and surely I can emulate style but I think it all it helps me in my own evolution.. not just in photography but on my own personal outlook on life fads, fashion and current events too.. ..just sayin. Its all interrelated, I think.
  28. I feel the most important aspect of looking at other's work is realising how far one has to go. I distinctly remember the first few times I uploaded my shots and my feelings of pride that I'd actually managed to take in-focus and clear images which looked really good to me at the time. Having seen literally thousands of images in the interim, I am now able to judge them by far higher standards and think of what I should have done, ether technically or compositionally. I think it also helps to understand that one's shots might not be as groundbreaking or original as one thinks. Trawling through loads of images in a particular category, it is easy to see the same treatments coming up again and again (e.g., low, wide shots of mountains with a river in the foreground) and at some point one has to think about how one could make a particular photographic opportunity lead to something more creative, or to realise that, while perfectly fine, you're not going to win any awards simply because you took a drive to the country with your camera. Of course, with street work, one often simply gets what one can- composition can feel like it's in the lap of the gods. Even when one comes across a scene with strong emotion or an unusual aspect to it, the difference between a really great shot and yet another monochrome still of everyday life can lie in tenths of seconds. I recently took a "mis en scene" which I was quite happy with- lots of stuff going on, everything reasonably sharp, exposure fine, nobody looking at the lens. But last night I found myself thinking, "Why did I take that?" "Why would a totally disinterested viewer browsing through the work of hundreds of photographers stop to look at this particular shot for more than a second?" Being on the other side of this equation, clicking quickly through in search of something arresting, has helped me understand clearly that one shot from the work of hundreds of complete strangers really has to be pretty good to stand out.
  29. >>> Even when one comes across a scene with strong emotion or an unusual aspect to it, the difference between a really great shot and yet another monochrome still of everyday life can lie in tenths of seconds. ... But last night I found myself thinking, "Why did I take that?" Why would a totally disinterested viewer browsing through the work of hundreds of photographers stop to look at this particular shot for more than a second?" Being on the other side of this equation, clicking quickly through in search of something arresting, has helped me understand clearly that one shot from the work of hundreds of complete strangers really has to be pretty good to stand out.
    Excellent analysis. That speaks to the wide gap between good street photography and taking pictures of people on the street.

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