Learn the rules to unlearn them

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by antoniobassiphotography, Oct 19, 2010.

  1. I have always been a great fan of Socrates. Actually, I was very proud of myself when I learned that such a great man and I shared similar ideas. Artistic expression is possible only if one becomes completely free from any kind of confinement or mental boxing. But freedom takes its toll. In my experience as a musician, the braking point came when I realized that my mind was finally able to understand music and my hands were able to play it. That was a very important moment for me, as a new and immense world appeared before my eyes and I was finally able to forget about everything I had learned so far and move on into this new world. That's the point: you must forget everything you learned once you have learned it, as there are no rules and we don't really know anything. However, in order to reach this stage of not-knowing and lack of rules, we must first learn all the rules there are to be learned and everything there is to know. Know to not-know, learn to unlearn.
     
  2. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Whenever anyone brings up rules in the context of photography, I have to ask the question "Where's the rule book?"
     
  3. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, I don't think your online photos, handsome though they are, put you in a position to tell other photographers what they "must" do. Handsome is easy, many fine photographers find it boring.
    Your experience with music may not relate in any generic way to photography, though I don't doubt that it does for you. Music performed isn't necessarily equivalent to photographs printed, though there are undoubtedly lessons in it, just as there are in cooking and hang-gliding.
    I commented positively on one photo in your portfolio, one that echos a sequence of my own from thirtyfive years ago (shot with HP4 rated 800, Edwal FG7/no sulfite, Nikon-scanned). I strongly suspect that many of the rest of us have made the same photo of our sleeping lovers...it'd be fun to see them all, printed big (by the photographer herself/himself, of course) and hanging in a well-lit galley. Welcome aboard. Like the rest of us you've got a lot to learn, and I doubt the lessons will involve rules.
     
  4. John
    My opening post doesn't want to be a lesson or a statement from somebody that overvalues himself but rather a question. I put out there an intimate thought that I had, wondering whether it could be applied to photography and I think it could. I'm thinking out loud here. Sorry for being unclear on that but the use of my English isn't always impeccable.
     
  5. Antonio--
    Learning and knowledge were of paramount importance to Socrates. He envisioned a kind of ladder of existence. Opinions were the bottom rungs and knowledge was at the top. The senses, untrustworthy, were at the bottom, but if used properly they could help one's intellect ascend. I don't recall him ever encouraging forgetting what we know, though he is famous for saying that all learning is remembering and that Wisdom is knowing what you do not know.
    So, how does this relate to photography? Loosely, if at all. But I like a good stretch.
    The things I learn about making and viewing photographs are not forgotten, they evolve. I utilize them, sometimes with great effort and over time with more ease. Something about photographing feels like it's always been there waiting to emerge. Maybe on some level I did already know it and it's now like remembering. Deja vu all over again. Socrates was into STRIVING, an aspect of Eros. I pretty much reject his put down of the senses. Art, for him, was a mere imitation of what the senses bring us which he felt were already only imitations of a truer reality that was known by our intellects. I reject that, too, for the most part. Many photographers think photographs are imitations (representations) of reality. I'm not one of them, except in isolated and specific cases.
    CRAFT. The Greeks' only word that approximated art was techne, which meant something akin to craft. His most significant and famous contribution was his theory of Forms: what it really is to be the thing or person something or someone is.
    What is the form and what is the content of my photos and of what significance are they to each other, to me, and to others? How separable, if at all, are form and content?
    The Socratic method is also profound. DIALOGUE. Learning demanded questioning. A photo, to me, is a questioning and a dialogue of sorts (actually for me it is a set of dialogues -- between my subjects and me, other photographers both historical and contemporary and me, and viewers and me), a visual dialogue, not necessarily and not foremost a literal, verbal, meaningful, or interpretive one. He referred to his own brand of dialogue as midwifery. And photographs can surely deliver.
     
  6. If you get results you like from what you are doing you do not need to know if you are breaking what someone else has decided to be the rules.
     
  7. Speaking about rules.
    What rules can you all mention, so that we are sure to oversee them to satisfy all those that get overexited when hearing about them.
    We can all mention the rule of thirds (which would be worthy of a lengthy debate, by the way).
    Other rules ?
     
  8. The new rule is, don't follow the old rules. Unless you have an old rule that works, in which case it's not a rule, it's what works.
    Seems to me that Darwin more or less covered this some time ago. And look where it's gotten us. At least 1.4 million species and we ain't done yet.
     
  9. How many great works of art are appreciated by decomposing their composition into elements that speak of rules? I think we appreciate them more for their originality and their effect on us. It is important to have a knowledge of what has been known to work but to never be a slave to those rules. The subject matter must be treated in a manner that provides you with a subject (the image) that you feel works, independent of a fixation on rules.
    In my folder "Seated or not" there is an image called "Free flight". It is not composed according to rules, although I did wait until the floating objects (there were many more than are seen here) made a subject that looked right to me. "Free flight" observes no rules (sorry, I don't know rhe rule for creating a "link" to it) and I believe originality of perception is more important than adherence to rules. Rules can help, but they cannot create an original image by themselves.
     
  10. Rules are a language not everyone speaks, they form a framework in which viewers can communicate ideas constructively. I agree with Arthur, we can not say something is a beautiful piece of art because certain rules were adhered too. Instead we stretch the possibilities and tweak the 'known world' into creations we hope stir emotions or a response of some sort. The rules/framework is left to those who feel it necessary to deconstruct a work of art down to a dialogue level, to find new understanding and essentially learn from what they have witnessed.
     
  11. I agree with Arthur, we can not say something is a beautiful piece of art because certain rules were adhered too.​
    Barry, I would certainly agree too, but it goes surely also the other way: we cannot say that something is beautiful because it does not follow certain rules, either.
    As Julie wrote, the rule is that we do not have rules. Then why does the question continuously pop up. Rules that go beyond not having rules, must play some kind of role out there. So I repeat my question: Which are those rules out there.
    I think Barry is right when he writes
    The rules/framework is left to those who feel it necessary to deconstruct a work of art down to a dialogue level, to find new understanding and essentially learn from what they have witnessed.​
    I would think that I'm among those that try to learn from work I see by such deconstructions (through reference to typologies or frameworks and not necessarily rules). I wonder what would be the alternative, if you wish to communicate what you are seeing and not only be left to referring to what happens in my guts when viewing the thing or just describing the elements in the scene: a chair, a plant, a naked women etc.
     
  12. I've always believed that "Rules are for those that don't know what's going on."
    Whether they are to be broken depends very much on how you see yourself and your skill level. Which of course may be rather subjective :)
     
  13. As someone who is really interested in the history of photography, I tend to see "rules" as the conventions of a period. Knowing them helps me understand the motivation of a photographer in producing a specific print. In addition, the field of the psychology of art and representation has been well documented (e.g. E.H.Gombrich and Rudolf Arnheim).
    A while ago I posted a question about what Frederick Evans knew that made his cathedral pictures so much more powerful than what is generally published today. He was a London bookseller by profession and was very familiar with art theory and, I assume, John Ruskin. Some responses were thoughtful, others seemed to be generic rants against intellectualizing photographs.
    Since we are bombarded constantly with images that define current conventions, I doubt that anyone is not influenced by them. Ignorance of the "rules" is not a anti-intellectual virtue; it implies that you are unwilling to put something in context and work from that.
     
  14. As I said before, I'm thinking out loud and I'm not sure exactly where this is taking me, maybe nowhere. The socratic concept of I know that I don't know made me think about this whole thing, that's why I referred to Socrates. There is no connection with him and photography per se. In music, I learned that technique, experience and learning process are slowly absorbed and metabolized as a musician grows until they are "forgotten" and become a baggage that must serve music making, or else it becomes self-destructive. Technique, like in many other fields, must be used to reach the ultimate goal which is making music. In photography I believe it should be the same thing. It's not only about technique and rules but also about influences and models, that need to be absorbed and metabolized until they become the baggage mentioned above. Then they must be "forgotten" or "unlearned" in order to leave space to thinking and instincts. Am I getting anywhere here?
     
  15. As someone who is really interested in the history of photography, I tend to see "rules" as the conventions of a period.​
    You are of course right Jon that "rules" wherever they can be identified are mostly period specific. Specific rules were surely present in most schools of painting from the very first treaties like Leonard da Vinci's "Treaty of Painting" to André Breton's "Surrealist manifesto". Other influentual writings like Albers's "interaction of colors" from the Bauhaus group provide maybe not "rules" in a strict sense of the word (or does it?) but surely knowledge of what works and what does not work; what works better and less good.
    What is special about the post-modern period after 1960 has by many been described as a period where rules of artistic expression became abolished. Extreme expressions of that is predominate in these threads and have also come to the fore just above in this thread. We might be some that however do not see ourselves as post-modern, or act as such as photographers, in that sense.
    Ignorance of the "rules" is not a anti-intellectual virtue; it implies that you are unwilling to put something in context and work from that.​
    Strong words, that I personally think are fully justified.
    Thanks for the reference to the cathedral photos of Frederick Evans, that I did not know.
     
  16. Antonio -- I wonder if what you're getting at is more along the lines of "letting go of what we think a viewer's expectation will be."? And it might be those expectations which could be seen as rules. "Don't place my subject in the center of the frame…avoid merges….use a shallow dof to get rid of a distracting background…use a wide angle lens for this landscape shot…increase contrast, or dodge and burn, so this monochrome does not look uniformly gray…get close for this street shot…straighten the horizon or tilt it enough so that it's clearly intentional….don't over-process…convert this to black and white and add a vignette so people will know it's a work of art…clone out this distracting person on the left so I'll have a shot at POP Photo's shot of the month…don't clone out this distracting person on the left because this is a documentary or news photograph…etc."
    Whatever the photographic genre, there are going to be expectations on the part of at least some (if not most) viewers. And, in some ways, these expectations could be seen as rules. And if you're talented and experienced enough, you can break those "rules"? (I know this does not apply to all examples: a PJ who alters an image is hardly going to be greeted as a groundbreaking genius for their efforts.)
    Is this the kind of thing you"re getting at?
     
  17. I disagree completely. You don't have to forget anything, let alone everything. Are you saying that you can't play music
    until you forget how to tune your instrument or how many eighth notes are in a measure of 3/4 time or what the third note
    of a G minor scale is? That's just silly.

    Unless you want to sound like Ornette Coleman you need to remember everything that you have learned. You can still
    choose to bend the rules selectively such as choosing to play a minor sixth in Dorian mode. This is an informed choice
    that you can use to surprise the audience to gain a certain effect.

    In photographic terms, maybe you choose to focus on the background and leave the subject out of focus. It's a creative
    choice, and it's unexpected, but it doesn't require forgetting anything. On the contrary, if you didn't understand depth of
    field you wouldn't be able to create the desired effect.
     
  18. Steve
    I don't really worry about viewer expectations for a couple of reasons: 1. I am not taking pictures professionally (never will) and I don't get payed for them. 2. I believe the influence of those expectations on me would alter my ability of learning and would take me to a dead end.
    I read of a PJ of the LA Times that was fired about a year ago for digitally altering one of his photos...
     
  19. Dan
    I sense you like jazz... :) I quoted "forget" and "unlearn". Forgetting how to play would be like forgetting how to walk or take a leak. It's not about that, it means that in order to really play one must switch his mind from the instrumental part to the realm of senses, philosophy and intellect. Forget means "put aside". Do you remember Miles Davis' slapping Coltrane because he was playing too many notes? One of my teacher asked me: "Do you like to play the violin or you like to play music?". By the way, I play classical but would love to learn jazz some day, a great passion of mine. Not so easy on the violin.
     
  20. Antonio, continuing your parallel between taking photos and playing music I would forget the word 'rules' and instead use the word 'technique'. A musician has to master the technique of playing an instrument first before he can make music. Once the technique is mastered then it becomes the foundation and the vehicle for the music. Playing techique allows the musician the freedom to express feeling through music.
    To my way of thinking the same tends to be the case to a lesser extent with photography. Although it is a technical medium many good (and a few great) photos have been taken by people without much technical skill - something which never applies to the violin!
     
  21. The photo "Free flight" is one example I have of an image that was constructed without conscious attention to rules. I simply observed a dozen or so floating objects, walked around them, and waited for them to divide and come into a pattern that "spoke" to me. No conscious rules were applied, only a certain perception of counterpoint and enigma that eventually resulted from the movement of the chairs and their shadows. I think it works quite well and can serve here as an example of an image that invokes no prior knowledge of compositional rules.
    I have not unlearned what rules I have acquired, I simply have consciously ignored them in this case and created the photo on a sort of whim.
    I would be quite interested in seeing photos that others have taken, and which are felt to be particularly successful, while ignoring an acquired knowledge of rules.
    00XWTf-292487584.jpg
     
  22. jtk

    jtk

    I'm puzzled by the ongoning confusion of "picture making" with photography.
    There seems to be no awareness of anything in the realm of "significance" ...beyond "pretty" and "likable."
    ...seeming zero awareness of human physiognomy, implied tension, hints of historicity or commerciality or eros...
     
  23. I learned piano the traditional way as a child, didn't play for decades, then started picking it up again, but this time started out trying to play by ear. The old rules float up and make themselves useful on occasion. I can see where you're coming from.
     
  24. Arthur,
    I doubt it's unintentional that the chairs are not shown upside down.
     
  25. Jon,
    You have an interesting observation, but unless one is a very young baby who has yet to view things in the way we all do (as to which side is up) the question of how one normally looks at any object or scene is not really a photographic rule, but simply a practical convention governing human viewing.
     
  26. John I notice that out of your tool box of words did not emerge an infamous term like aesthetics but terms like "pretty" and "likable" did. Why is that?
    You call on awareness of :
    human physiognomy, implied tension, hints of historicity or commerciality or eros​
    Why do you think that there is some kind of dichotomy between awareness of "aesthetics, if you accept that term as a shortcut to "pretty" and likable", and awareness of such phenomena you mention above. Other trems could be added, of course. They all work together and are more or less present in all good photos. A photographer that only search for aesthetics (here: prettiness and I-like-ness) would be working to the extreme of the surface of things. These are photographers as superficial as the "pompier" painters like Bouguereau. A viewer that only can see prettiness and relate to photos as "liked" or "not liked", or the opposite, is either a viewer as superficial as the mentioned photographer and painters or a viewer that haven't yet learned to view such work.


    I don't know why you mention "physiognomy" (my historical awareness calls on attention getting anywhere near it when adding "human" !) but surely all photographical eyes of some training and experience would always and firstly see primarily that when observing a scene and deciding on a framing, the moment to shoot etc. Arthur's chairs are exactly such a case in my eyes with the chairs deformed by breaking perspective in the water and by the shadows. See another example (on water again) below from my scrapbook. The boats did not move much but the light certainly did.
    00XWYl-292571584.jpg
     
  27. Antonio, you are exactly right. You cannot teach someone a discipline without giving them specific instructions and exercises to perform. There's no such thing as an "instant expert," that is, you cannot be learning something for the first time and proficient in its use at the same time. The student must be given tasks that he can understand and perform successfully to master the work at hand. "Rules," so called, are necessary simplifications that make it possible to structure instruction for both the student and the teacher.
    Photographic rules get a lot of attention because they are often cast as limitations that confine people as they advance. A better way of understanding rules is to see them as techniques that really do simplify photographic ideas mostly in the area of composition for the relatively inexperienced. But there are other techniques to use as well. If that isn't complicated enough, consider that the student is also developing his judgement to guide him in applying the various techniques he knows to the very specific circumstance of very shot he might take.
    So rules are really techniques that serve as a guide to judgement to help a person take (make) successful pictures. It should be no surprise that judgement supersedes simple techniques. We hope that one will advance to the point that he feels that he has outgrown the cut and paste of the techniques he learned in his early days.
    Rules aren't unlearned, they are outgrown. But this is not a true representation of the facts. Techniques don't just go away, rather, one becomes more sophisticated. By way of the actual experience of doing the work, one learns to see the (photographic) problems before him in from more than one point of view so that he is actually able to intelligently select the method and treatment he wants to use for some effect in the final result. Old techniques are still available as well as new ones and even experiments. One is always confronted with questions he must work to answer to complete the task.
    When a photographer thoroughly understands the trial and error problem solving that goes into the everyday decisions he makes behind a camera and on the computer, his concern for the "rules" he struggled to master in the early days is likely to be diminished. It isn't fair to overdo the emphasis on "unlearning the rules" because it suggests to many that there is no reason to learn technique or discipline in the first place. You might as well paint your house by throwing handfulls of paint at a wall! Clearly there is a point and purpose for learning how you go about performing the activity at hand to get a good result.
    I think that you can see that once you are well trained in a discipline you can never have a truly empty head in regard to it again. You can reasonably expect, however, to be flexible in your approach. You are free to apply your judgement to the problems before you because you have reached the point in your development that you can appreciate the decisions you must make and the alternative endings you might reach. Every photograph is specific in some way. You must choose which ending you want, and if you want another one, you must go through the exercise again.
    There's probably some value in mentioning that everyone has a "comfort zone" wherein he performs the tasks at hand in a fairly straightforward way that might even look simple to someone observing him. No one is a superman, however. There are always projects that take one into unfamiliar territory that renews the experience of learning and discovery all over again. Skills for dealing with collecting information for trial and error problem solving should be a foundation block in everyone's personal toolkit. The most uncomfortable time to find that you have an empty head is when you are under the gun to produce a result without a clue as to what should be done next!
     
  28. Albert
    thank you for putting this concept in such good words. I would like to underline one thing: the importance (IMO) of what I call "forgetting", that is more "giving no relevance" to the technical and structural aspects in favor of the emotional and communicative content. I believe our brain cannot work both ways; it will always give more relevance to one or the other aspect. We must choose. The decision will not be forever but it will cover a period of time, after which it will be possible to switch to the other side. What is important is this: the technical aspect comes first, or else we will not be able to enter the emotional realm. It doesn't work the other way around, obviously. That's why I always distrust the "natural born artists". Also important: when we decide to venture in the realm of emotion (communication), the technical aspect must be "dimmed" or it will become a self-destructive insurmountable obstacle (but that doesn't mean that we won't even remember how to compose an image...).
     
  29. ManRay drew attention to technique and utilized it and pointed to it overtly in order to "create his art" and express his emotions (or at least to make his photographs). He didn't forget or dim technique. He used and addressed it over and over again.
    Chopin's Etudes are technical studies that display musical genius and are emotionally exhilarating. Here is Alfred Cortot playing Op. 25 No. 1
    Billy Kenrick's PN portfolio is filled with photos that display technique and don't try to quietly absorb it but rather to address and show it.
    ________________________________________
    Can Antonio or Arthur list 3 or 4 photographic rules (other than the supposed "rule" of thirds/golden mean)? Arthur, which rules of composition does your photo above ignore or not take into account?
     
  30. Antonio, yes I am a big fan of Stephane Grappelli. Jazz violin can be wonderful!

    I think I understand your point a bit better now. I think you're talking about knowing technique well enough that you no
    longer have to think about it. A wedding shooter who spends too much time thinking about how to set is speed light is
    going to miss important shots, for instance. I would agree with this position wholeheartedly.

    Incidentally, there was an episode of the American animated television series "Beavis and Butt-head" where they forgot
    how to take a leak. Very humorous!
     
  31. John Kelly [​IMG][​IMG], Oct 20, 2010; 09:02 p.m.
    I'm puzzled by the ongoning confusion of "picture making" with photography.
    There seems to be no awareness of anything in the realm of "significance" ...beyond "pretty" and "likable."
    ...seeming zero awareness of human physiognomy, implied tension, hints of historicity or commerciality or eros...​
    And I'm still puzzled by what Antonio's "rules" are that should be forgotten. I can't escape the impression that his rules are much less literal than what some are taking them to be. Your "picture making" vs significance, implied tension, etc., seems nearer the mark. If that isn't the case, and this thread is just a restatement of the old saw that "you must learn the rules before you can break them", well, we're all chasing our tails in a sea of confusion.
    As for Arthur's photo: Like Fred, I do not understand what rules were broken. (And is it, in fact, only "rules of composition" that are being discussed?) I see it more simply as Arthur having framed and taken the photograph at a moment that seemed aesthetically pleasing to his eye. He was not consciously saying to himself, "I must wait until the shadows separate from the chairs...I must not cut off part of one chair...I must frame so that two of them are lined in a diagonal, in "thirds" positions....bla, bla, bla".
     
  32. jtk

    jtk

    Grapelli was in thrall of Django Reinhardt, who was entirely illiterate...and knew no formal rules but had in turn been in thrall of Louis Armstrong (!), who was himself a formally trained musician. Generalizing from that, rather than speaking of "rules," I think it'd be more useful to speak of "memes." Why? Because concern with rules (or "composition") is virtually never mentioned by powerful photographers.
    Anders, "aesthetics" as a term is not similar to "pretty" or "likable." Aesthetics is a field of study or a broad reference to surface values. "Pretty" and "likable" are terms that specifically refer to winners of popularity contests. They spring from specific aesthetics.
    It's easy to figure out what's popular and to emulate it, especially with digital technology...which enjoys chimping, zero exposure cost, and at least one Walmart-style instant popularity contest (Photo.net's ratings system). Note that although Photo.net does actively degrade photography's values with the ratings system, many fine photographers make use of it. I shop Walmart when necessary.
    I'm more interested in the other factors I mentioned, which are difficult for me to address with my own work and are for most totally aversive or irrelevant (so they photograph flowers and cats or they contrive graphic images). For me, and when I respond to the photos of others, "aesthetics" are not nearly as important as a variety of other factors.
    I do think craftsmanship and execution are crucial, but craftsmanship and execution are difficult to fluff if one is working with digital cameras, especially if one isn't able to print one's own work.
     
  33. Antonio, I understand exactly what you mean by "forgetting". When I multiply, divide, add, subtract or square numbers in my head, I do not have a mechanistic, rote experience. I just see it (sometimes with a few accompanying tones and occasional color). When I photograph, drive my manual transmission car, ride my 27-speed mountain bike, or cast a fly, I don't go through a literal inventory of the sequences involved. That dis-integrated clumsiness is well behind me.
    They are integrated, internalized, and very close to autonomous, and this does not mean dissing the technical in the slightest. It simply means that one doesn't have to recite it to oneself internally, like a phone number or name you're afraid to forget.
    I do not talk nor whisper to myself, specially while photographing. There are no homunculi in my head chatting, telling each other what to do, how to do it, and when. I am an integrated being, with multiple levels of awareness and modalities. I wordlessly and without a literal sequential awareness intuitively know (in the sense of Gnosis, not "knowing" what my wife asked me to get at the grocery store) what I want when photographing.
    Only a brickbat-literal interpretation of "forgetting" brings forth images of amnesia, disconnection, disassociation, MPD, etc (the usual pathological labels imposed on things we do not understand). There are many kinds of forgetting.
    In closing, Antonio, I understand what you mean by "forgetting", and I think Man Ray would have, too.
    "I wished to distract the attention from any manual dexterity, so that the basic idea stood out. Of course there will always be those who look at words with a magnifying glass and try to see 'how', instead of using their brains and figure out 'why'." --- Man Ray
     
  34. Luis, Antonio said, specifically in order to emphasize his point, that forgetting is "giving no relevance" to technique. My examples were meant to suggest that he might think in more nuanced, less absolute terms about technique. He's used the word "must" regarding rules and technique several times in this thread, as if thinking this is something he or others must do as they become experienced photographers. I was pointing out that a photographer can address technique visually and pointedly, in their photographs. One can be purposefully self conscious of it if one wants. One may listen with prejudice to out-of-context statements and one may also look at the infinite variety of photographs and consider the abundance of methodologies, expanding rather than limiting their experience and ideas about making them.
     
  35. John, sure esthetics is not the same as "pretty" or "likely", that's why I explicitly wrote shortcut. I agree with you on every word you write concerning the popularity contest here on PN (despite the efforts that are done currently to improve the system - let's cross our fingers and hope for the best). However what is interesting, in my eyes, in a discussion on "rules" (and "values", why not?) is the relationship between esthetics and such appreciated features of a photo that make them being liked (by the novice or the expert). However it is not clear to me why "esthetics" can be judged as "less important". Whatever "esthetics" are characterizing our present times, or the photos of each of us, it surely still related to what is disliked or liked (serious, fine, agreeable to watch, moral etc) in quality terms when viewing a photo or when shooting it.
    I would like to go back to the reference Jon made to the photography of Frederick Evans (here, here and here, which I had to admit I was not acquaintant to. I have since admired his beautiful B/W photos of English and French cathedrals and read a very well written small article on him, that I can recommend, which tell something about aesthetics, meaning in photos as well as understatement (or is it over)statement?) - as it tells much about cathedrals. In the article on Evans and the "Theology of light" you can find the following wordings on the relation between the photographer and his subject, that I find especially well formulated:
    This (he refers to Ansel Adams and his photos of Yosemite valley) inner/outer dialogue is common to almost all great photography. You could go so far as to say that great photographers are also great lovers (not literally, of course). They fall in love with something outside themselves that focuses their lives and energizes their work, in the process teaching them something about who they are and what they care about.​
     
  36. Anders, remember ping-pong?
     
  37. Thank you for your kind remarks Antonio. Something like photography is difficult enough to get right, at least in a manual world where you have to understand camera settings and what they do, that it is no trivial task to master the fundamentals. The first two to three years of very technical activities usually focus on the mechanics of the equipment needed to get things right. After this one becomes comfortable with the gear to the point that it is not so all consuming. This is when you can devote a lot more energy into the project itself instead of how to use the tools needed to get it done.
    To say that you have forgotten the lessons learned in your early days is just plain wrong. If this were indeed the case, you would find that you no longer know what you are doing! Forgetting means that you have lost both your understanding of method as well as the purpose for using it. Rather these lessons have become second nature to you. You have repeated them so often and learned them so well that that you can use them dependably without concentrating so much direct energy on what they are. When was the last time you struggled to sort out your confusion about the appropriate f-stop for your subject? Now you just do it. F-stops are no big deal. You haven't forgotten what f-stops are or what they do: it's simply not that hard to deal with them.
    You might forget a picture you made thirty years ago, but you remember how to make a picture the next time you do it.
     
  38. Fred - "Luis, Antonio said, specifically in order to emphasize his point, that forgetting is "giving no relevance" to technique."
    Perhaps wrongly, I took what Antonio wrote to mean "no (conscious) relevance", and I realize that is my inference. We'll see if Antonio agrees or disagrees with that. We agree that there are many ways of working. No one can work in all ways at once, so, as with most things, it is this, not that there as well. And people can elect to work in one or a multiplicity of ways, depending on their mood, situation, task at hand, etc. And there are many branches in the decision tree.
    As far as the rules... learning is a process of accretion and erosion/shedding. It's not just things like the Rules of Thirds, etc. It's everything.
     
  39. You are right Luis. I'll step on the ball.
     
  40. I am gradually reading over a number of the responses to Antonio's OP, as well as his concentrated but salient OP. There are several concepts that have been brought forth and it is perhaps of interest to summarily separate these out.
    1. The question of absorbing knowledge and gaining experience (knowledge) regarding the various craft related and aesthetically related rules, ones that are either based on the particular mechanism of photography (or musical instrument) or the prior knowlege about why a certain image is visually successful (or the why of certain musical instrumental approaches), and then, as Antonio suggests, placing that preoccupation with rules in the background (or as a reflex), soi as to be able to understand the subject and one's perception of it (or understanding the music).
    He is not unlearning the rules to ignore them, but simply going on to more important aspects or layers of the photographic approach (or the analogy or understanding the music, to enable a more successful musical interpretation).
    2. A second manifestation of "unlearning the rules", one which I spontaneously and perhaps peripherally latched on to, is that of not simply "unlearning the rules" as above, but rather that of "breaking the rules". While breaking the rules seems to be an anathema to some (I hear a very craft related discussion underlying a number of prior comments, that would insist on the rules being followed, or retained even when the approach goes beyond simple rule following - as in the manner described by Antonio).
    Originality in art has very often been accompanied by a unique mental artistic approach of the artist and through his conscious breaking of known aesthetic and craft based rules. There is a conservatism often present in wanting to follow the rules, evident also in photography, and one which may provide an assurance of lots of first places or grand prizes in amateur photo salons (and indeed many professional photography shows), but is not so often one that contributes to making art of high value. Virtually every important movement in art has been accompanied by breaking of the prior rules in some manner. I think this also applies to originality in photography. We may copy approaches that are rule-based in our early work. We may then enjoy a freer creativity as we learn the how and the why of breaking those rules, while being motivated by our personal perceptions of subjects.
    3. There sare no doubt other aspects of the OP that have been considered. I look forward to looping back to re-read some of the posts, and I trust that will be gratifying in that sebnse. In the meantime, I am quite glad to consider Antonio's OP in the second sense of of unlearning, the breaking of rules to achieve/express originality.
    Steve,
    I did wait for the chairs and shadows to separate and for the bunch of chairs to separate out. The photo was made when the position of the two chairs and their respective shadows provided a sort of enigmatic relationship, which, among other things, resided in the fact that the shadows were more dominant than the somewhat ephemeral appearing white chairs. That research, if one may all it that, had little if anything to do with rules of composition or ofa projected realism. I ignored rules, although I may not consciously have bvroken some.
     
  41. Apologies for the typos...
     
  42. Arthur, again, which rules, specifically, did you ignore?
     
  43. Rules is not really the right word, seems to me at least. And, as far as my limited theoretical knowledge allows, photography is also not too bogged down under conventional wisdoms and supposed 'rules'. Apart from the rule of thirds, maybe.
    Technique, to me, is quite something different from rules. It's the skillset needed. And yes, one needs to outgrow it, more or less. The 'technical' decisions and technique decisions become sufficiently internalised at some point (Luis G's driving manual gear car: exactly that!). That frees up mind and focus to work on the creative.
    It is not forgetting. It's making it seemingly unhappening. It gives you a wider (creative/intellectual) freedom to experiment and create things that may be more unexpected to your audience.
    Frankly, it is also like this that I've always understood the unlearning. Not forgetting, but as already said, overcoming. Climbing on the shoulders of those proverbial giants. All in all, a pretty normal learning curve?
     
  44. I did wait for the chairs and shadows to separate and for the bunch of chairs to separate out. The photo was made when the position of the two chairs and their respective shadows provided a sort of enigmatic relationship, which, among other things, resided in the fact that the shadows were more dominant than the somewhat ephemeral appearing white chairs. That research, if one may all it that, had little if anything to do with rules of composition or ofa projected realism. I ignored rules, although I may not consciously have bvroken some.​
    Exactly. Your actions in capturing that enigmatic relationship (what I in my simplistic fashion termed "aesthetically pleasing") came automatically, ala Luis' comments. You weren't listening to the chatting of Luisian homunculi. And I did not mean to imply that you were unconsciously following a rule of thirds, or a diagonal placement of elements. There may have been any number of things you were not doing at the time. The things I cited were examples only.
    At least one side road of this discussion has to do with letting go. A number of years ago, at the San Diego County Fair photo exhibit, I was the poster child of what you describe as a "first prize" seeker in an amateur photo salon. My first attempt yielded me one accepted photo out of 5 submitted. I learned and absorbed what was deemed "worthy" of exhibiting and hit 5 of 5 the next year and garnered some "honorable mention" ribbons. So what? I did gain experience and honed my craft and technique. Nothing wrong with that. I also learned how to create photographs that adhered to "the rules" for being exhibited there. In a way, that too was useful. But I was left with that "so what" sensation. It wasn't enough, or it wasn't creating what I wanted to create, or...or lord knows what. I still struggle with that. "To the man who knows not where he his sailing, no wind is favorable." I'm not entirely sure what it is I seek, only that letting go is part of it, and, ironically, that learning much more than I already know now (which is not much, lest I imply otherwise) is another part of it. Fine Art college sophomore stuff, perhaps. But, despite my age, that's probably about where I am in my photographic development...if that.
     
  45. I did wait for the chairs and shadows to separate and for the bunch of chairs to separate out. The photo was made when the position of the two chairs and their respective shadows provided a sort of enigmatic relationship, which, among other things, resided in the fact that the shadows were more dominant than the somewhat ephemeral appearing white chairs. That research, if one may all it that, had little if anything to do with rules of composition or ofa projected realism. I ignored rules, although I may not consciously have bvroken some.​
    Exactly. Your actions in capturing that enigmatic relationship (what I in my simplistic fashion termed "aesthetically pleasing") came automatically, ala Luis' comments. You weren't listening to the chatting of Luisian homunculi. And I did not mean to imply that you were unconsciously following a rule of thirds, or a diagonal placement of elements. There may have been any number of things you were not doing at the time. The things I cited were examples only.
    At least one side road of this discussion has to do with letting go. A number of years ago, at the San Diego County Fair photo exhibit, I was the poster child of what you describe as a "first prize" seeker in an amateur photo salon. My first attempt yielded me one accepted photo out of 5 submitted. I learned and absorbed what was deemed "worthy" of exhibiting and hit 5 of 5 the next year and garnered some "honorable mention" ribbons. So what? I did gain experience and honed my craft and technique. Nothing wrong with that. I also learned how to create photographs that adhered to "the rules" for being exhibited there. In a way, that too was useful. But I was left with that "so what" sensation. It wasn't enough, or it wasn't creating what I wanted to create, or...or lord knows what. I still struggle with that. "To the man who knows not where he his sailing, no wind is favorable." I'm not entirely sure what it is I seek, only that letting go is part of it, and, ironically, that learning much more than I already know now (which is not much, lest I imply otherwise) is another part of it. Fine Art college sophomore stuff, perhaps. But, despite my age, that's probably about where I am in my photographic development...if that.
    00XWoV-292867584.jpg
     
  46. Hi Steve,
    I was definbitely "letting go" in this perception. You may get a better measure of that by my reply to Fred, below:
    Hi Fred,
    I just noticed your earlier comment ("...which rules of composition does your photo above ignore or not take into account?"), thanks for reminding me.
    The short answer is virtually "ALL", but I know that won't wash with you, so here are some of the "broken rules" in the image.
    The "Golden Section" (which we as photographers often oversimplify, or reduce, as the rule of two-thirds) is absent in my photo which has two or four subjects, depending upon how you weight the shadows versus chairs. There is no golden rule of space division, as in a Gainsborough ("The Hay Wain") or other such work.
    Color complementarity. One rule is to contrast or create tensions between complementary colors, like blue and orange or red and green. There is none here, only a cold relationship that may be created by blue, black and white, something which is I think overtaken by the nature of the subject (humor rather than bleakness).
    Principal subject or image point. It can be argued that here there is none, unless you divide that quality among the four "subjects". Their compositional relationship shouldn't work, but I think it does, at least in creating a visual enigma of sorts.
    There is no use of various "tool-kit" compositional elements that are known to work ("rules"), such as
    - optical surfaces (if you are not familiar with the term, I can elaborate; it is essentially that of picture elements that have a common base line of reference, or focus, and which create movement or visual dynamics),
    - the use of different forms of lines (absent here),
    - contrasts of forms (they are all too similar to each other in my image to qualify, unless we consider the weak example of water form, compared to the subjects),
    - imaginary forms (such as a wheel of a wagon or a face only half shown, and imagined as existing further off frame),
    - use of disequilibrium for effects (of form, of lines, of relative sizes,....),
    - quantitative contrasts,
    - clear-obscure,
    - and other compositional "rules".
    These are just a few of the rules that the image "ignores" (or which are "broken" or "unheeded") and, which I will venture to say, does not compromise it.
     
  47. Arthur, I look at your photo and Anders's photo and they seem to rely on graphic qualities, they both seem to have a sense of order, and Anders's feels restricted while yours feels contained. They don't make me think of rules but they do make me conscious of composition. Steve's image, by contrast, seems to have a life of its own, doesn't make me think of composition but rather the girl's intriguing and somewhat quirky expression drives it, and the photo feels loose and free. In terms of my taste, I happen to like your color palette, a bit reminiscent of Hockney, and the golden light in Anders's photo is rich.
     
  48. Fred
    Chopin was a virtuoso of his instrument and his music, even if beautiful, doesn't even compare to the level of the one of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, to mention some. Especially Beethoven reached levels of humanity, purity and transcendence that are still unmatched. Yet, Beethoven didn't really need to show his technical skills in any of his music, with the exception of some piano sonatas and parts of the Emperor concerto, while Chopin relied on it (as did Liszt and Paganini and others). I would courageously say that he wrote very beautiful romantic music for the mass and his dominance on the technical aspect increased the effect dramatically (even more with Liszt and especially with Paganini). Listen to this, and experience Hell versus Heaven. Listen how he manages to reach the highest inner and intimate emotions by using the most simple harmonic and melodic structure (almost banal). That shows a humongous technical knowledge, that he doesn't even engage yet he is able to produce incredible music. It's not about which or how many notes are being written but the consecutio between them that counts. The Greeks only used five notes... Miles Davis used to say: "Why playing many notes when all you need are the beautiful ones..." and he sure did have a solid technical background.
    Billy's photos definitely show his technical knowledge but that's not what I see when I look at them... What I see is pure expressiveness and an attempt to go beyond just technical.
    About rules... I agree with you when you say
    Luis, Antonio said, specifically in order to emphasize his point, that forgetting is "giving no relevance" to technique. My examples were meant to suggest that he might think in more nuanced, less absolute terms about technique. He's used the word "must" regarding rules and technique several times in this thread, as if thinking this is something he or others must do as they become experienced photographers.​
    Rules is not the right word, I'm talking about technical skills and procedures.
    Steve
    As I said above, rules is probably the wrong word. Another good word could be approach. Let's take as an example Adams' portraits and Salgado's landscapes: I don't see Adams' portraits more expressive than Salgado's landscapes. At the same time, we cannot say that Salgado's technical skills were not sharp enough. What I'm trying to say is that Adams' approach focused more on the technical aspect with enormous results that IMO made it difficult for him to focus on the emotional aspect too. His brain worked better in the mathematical and scientific mode. Salgado, on the other hand, used his technical skills to serve emotion. No one is better, they both excelled at what they did but none of the two was able to do what the other did.
    Paganini never put his unmatched technique at music's service as Beethoven did. Between the two, the first is a virtuoso, the second is a musician.
    John
    Django had a terrible accident that left him impaired in the use of his left hand. When he was still a child, he got caught in a terrible fire that completely burned tendons and tissue of his hand, making it impossible for him to play. He had to reinvent a different personal technique that would allow him to play the guitar again and so he did and I can assure you that that process takes a lot of technical practicing. Yes, he was a self-taught player and didn't know how to read music but that doesn't mean he didn't have technique, that he put to music's service.
    Luis
    Perhaps wrongly, I took what Antonio wrote to mean "no (conscious) relevance", and I realize that is my inference.​
    Perfect, I like the (conscious) add.
    Arthur
    Thank you for ordering all the thoughts, that was helpful. Sometimes it becomes difficult to follow everything. I'm sorry about the badly exposed OP and I'm glad that what I meant to talk about is coming out.
     
  49. Antonio, interesting take on classical composers. I disagree substantially (all that means is that my taste varies) and maybe some day we will get to discuss it and listen to the music together. I've always found Beethoven's music architectural and, therefore, grounded (in a good way, of course). Chopin's music, more dance like in general (the Etudes notwithstanding), has always been for me more transcendent.
    It was precisely a conscious awareness of technique that I was getting at in my comments to you and Luis. Yes, Billy's photographs do convey more emotion than technique but he was actively considering technique when he created those. What one puts into a photo (even if it is consciously technically considered) is not necessarily directly translated into how that photo will be perceived. I have recently made several photos where I was deliberately conscious and aware of process and technique yet I certainly hope that more than just that comes through. What I'm getting at is that, though technique may become second nature it doesn't always have to be set aside or let go of in the moment of shooting or processing. It can be consciously attended to and a great and/or compelling photo may still arise, especially when that's the issue the photographer wants to address photographically.
     
  50. I just wanted to say how much I like this community. It's great to talk to you guys, even when I'm wrong or I have no idea of what I'm talking about and I just read your posts. Sorry for the insistence on the music but I think it's interesting to compare photography to other things. I wish I knew about painting or poetry.
     
  51. Fred,
    You obviously see no enigma or originality in my image, but you do react to it on some sort of graphical compositional plane and by the colors that please you (like the warm tones of Ander's peaceful image). That's fine with me. I react less to those things and more to why they affect me and my appreciation of the world.
    I have long ago learned that what is important for some is not at all for others. I don't know whether it is a question of taste or education, or what, but that there are very great differences in perception and values of equally highly informed persons I am quite sure of. I like Steve's picture, too, not because it does a lot for me by its visual communication, but because it breaks a lot of rules (quirky). That for me is originality, whether I appreciate it or not. You respond greatly to human expressions and human state and situations, viua the human presence. That's fine and tells us where you are at in your appreciation of the wide range of photography and art. I am mostly concerned about how man is defined by what we don't see of him and how nature can amaze us by its unknowns. A different approach, a different response.
     
  52. Damn it, the essential complementary additions went up in the 10 minute revision limit smoke, and my short term memory is nearly vacant. I do think that the way we react to images has a lot to do with our regional and cultural background, both on the collective and individual levels. It took me two or three decades as a "gypsy" living in various countries and regions to finally identify and choose my present and probably permanent location. Does the culture, collective societal imprint or experiences of that region affect my taste and values, or just mirror them? I don't know, but we no doubt all live in a certain synergy and empathy with the values of our community that is ours, and while it may be quite wide ranging in its signature, it probably affects us in determining what is important for us in the arts, and in the communication that is possible or desirable through photography.
    Like Antonio, who provided a most concise and salient OP, I too love the chance to exchange ideas with other photographers on these subjects. Occasionally, other views may add to my knowledge and values, or simply reinforce my own different outlook. Either way, it is fruitful. Now, if only I could play the violin like Antonio and sit down with Vladimir A. to play together the Franck sonata....
     
  53. Antonio: "even when I'm wrong or I have no idea of what I'm talking about and I just read your posts."​
    Add "or when I have no idea what anyone else is talking about" to that list and I'm right there with you, Antonio. ;-) I too enjoy this community and its discussions, even when I do not contribute.
    Arthur: "I am mostly concerned about how man is defined by what we don't see of him and how nature can amaze us by its unknowns."
    Interesting. Gives me another light in which to view your photographs, Arthur. I have made some halting attempts in that area, but find myself drawn back to "human state and situations" more often than not in my own photography. Similar to your thoughts, however, the personal practice of one approach does not exclude or diminish the appreciation of another.
     
  54. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, I'm well aware of Django's history, as surely most who are appreciative of jazz must be..listening to the dozens of his recordings of the same pieces, it slowly becomes almost frightening to recognize his continual variations, innovations and experimentation. Some may not be aware that the "Simpson's" theme song is Django's ...not important perhaps, but amusing.
    I won't argue this strongly, but you appear to equate Django's practice, his perhaps-typical gypsy memorization skill, and his obvious roots to "rules." I think that wouldn't recognize his profound musical invention. Joe Pass, a comparably virtuosic American guitarist that I admire greatly, was nowhere nearly as powerful, but was an incredible memorizer...he could name every single note he played, and Django could not read music, was totally unschooled formally. Pass had the rules under absolute control, but Django was light years beyond that. Here, conservatively performing a piece all Manouch gypsy guitarists know, is Django's greatest modern rival (among many modern gypsy rivals) imo : http://www.ganges.com/Bireli_Lagrene_Belleville_Vienne_Jazz_Festival_video_6669572/
    He's playing something very traditional, on the surface closely related to the music he memorized as a child..but it's intensely and constantly new. I don't think this is a matter of "rules," followed or broken, but of something far more substantial.
     
  55. John
    I'm a fan of Django and Bireli. The Simpson's theme was also the incipit of one of Brahms Piano trios... I didn't know that they took it from Django. I have a version of Nuages done only and entirely with harmonics, my favorite one.
    Pass had the rules under absolute control, but Django was light years beyond that.​
    That's why he was ahead, as Jimi Hendrix was. They didn't have to deal with technical too much and went straight to the music. Also, their talent allowed them to do so. I don't know if you heard of Yehudi Menuhin, probably the greatest talent with the violin of all times. He played better than ever until age sixteen and when he started to become conscious, he couldn't play anymore. That's what I mean when I say that rules (or whatever we want to call them) ought to be forgotten if you have already learned them.
    For Menuhin, listen to this. He must have been 9 or 11. Listen to the quality of the sound and to the character.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVLZkE9YOiY
     
  56. John
    If you like fast stuff
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxMj-ud1LqY&feature=related
    Still a teenager (11 at the most)
     
  57. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, yes..I think everybody knows Menuhin...right?
    Many think "fast stuff" when they think gypsy jazz. I don't like "fast" per se, but I do understand at some level what gypsies are often doing (approximating your bow, along with batterie, with plectrums). Like innumerable half-baked guitarists I've struggled with gypsy jazz, but realize it's not something one usefully begins after 30, much less as late as I tried :) Nonetheless, I bang away at a magnificent old Dupont guitar, pretending...
    I think that when we talk a lot about our own photography we are fooling ourselves, just as I do when I mention that Dupont. But everybody knows the truth when they confront the evidence: the reason so many prioritize camera shopping over learning to make fine prints. .
     
  58. jtk

    jtk

  59. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, please pardon my "everybody knows" comment. I'm unschooled in classical music, though long ago I read Heifitz's autobiography (I think it was his..quit piano at 4 in preference to violin). Thanks for the Menhuin link. Youtube is, with online radio, far more important than is recognized.
    I commend wwoz.com to you, in anticipation of the upcoming holiday. Many more great voices than violins :)
     
  60. John
    Sorry for the fast stuff. The Gypsy (Manouche) was exactly what I had in mind, although the link I sent was no gypsy at all.The Dupont thing is very funny
    I think that when we talk a lot about our own photography we are fooling ourselves, just as I do when I mention that Dupont. But everybody knows the truth when they confront the evidence: the reason so many prioritize camera shopping over learning to make fine prints. .​
    That is very true
     
  61. I think Antonio has this backwards. You don't forget about technique; what you forget is everything else. In the absence -- in the forgetting -- of all the options you no longer consider, what remains, what is always and only remembered is correct/useful technique.
    A good trainer can't make a racehorse any faster. The best he can do is slow it down as little as possible. In training the young racehorse to take a rider and go into a gate and run the right way aggressively, confidently, freely without the inhibitions of doubt and anxiety, the muscle drain of fear, what the best trainer does is remove as little as possible. That trainer is not adding anything; he's just removing what is unavoidably required in order to get the horse into play.
    Make the horse forget that there is any other way -- strip away an memory of any riderless, undirected, non-racehorse-ish life. The perfectly trained racehorse will remember only speed and preparation for speed. He will forget everything else.
    A good photographer will forget sound and touch and smell and (to a certain extent) depth, etc. A good violinist will presumably forget all the improper things that one can do with violin strings and bow. The trained horse, photographer, violinist becomes built into or channeled into an environment where all that he remembers is the embodied environment of some particular skill. All the great wide field of what else he might have done is forgotten.
     
  62. Someone once described Mozart's compositiions as "sewing machine music." There's a lot of movement but not much
    feeling. The music of the sad, sickly Chopin is far more expressive to me. But that's why there's no accounting for taste.
    What appeals to me won't appeal to others in the same way, and it shouldn't. They can have their Mozart, and I'll have
    my Chopin and Bach and Mendelssohn and Vivaldi and Beethoven.

    I've never been a big Miles fan, either. Dizzy, Bird, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, Chet Baker, and Phil Woods seem to speak
    my language better than Miles or Trane. To others, Miles is the king. The great thing is that we all get to choose our
    favorites instead of having our tastes dictated to us.

    There are uber-famous photographers whose work doesn't do much for me, either, but I'll not mention them in order to
    avoid the inevitable sparring match.
     
  63. Julie - "The perfectly trained racehorse will remember only speed and preparation for speed. He will forget everything else."
    Um...and how do you know this? What a horse thinks, or forgets?
    _________________________________
    Do you remember to breathe? Remind your heart to beat? Stomach to digest?
    You learned how to walk and talk, but surely don't have to remind yourself to put one foot in front of the other or how to make the right sounds out of your mouth, do you? But if you take up a new dance step, learn a new language, multiplication tables, play a new (to you) instrument, hopscotch across a mine field of dog turds, etc. you do have to go through that graceless awkward period of being conscious of what you are doing, of thinking consciously about the elements of sequences and your attack.
    It is all too easy to integrate that awkwardness and accompanying anxiety along with the sequence. So easy that Freud gave it a name: Neurosis.
    A lot of learning is done autonomously, via mirror neurons. In large part, this is what we call beginner's luck. A noob models his form observing someone who knows theirs, and hits a home run without any apparent instruction. Then the verbal training begins, and it takes them years before they can do it again.
    Most people divide their being into multiple virtual homunculi who play different familiar roles, issue instructions, have arguments, and hold discussions in their heads. It's allowed, perfectly fine, and works for the vast majority, photographers included. But it is not the only way.
    The problem with this is that it is not forgetting, not in the same way we forget where we put our keys. It is integrating a sequence so it can become apparently effortless and graceful in real time without losing anything in the process.
    ______________________________
    "People ask me what lens do I use? I don’t even know, most times. They’ll ask what films I use? Well, it depends where I buy the film! If I’m in Japan I use Fuji because it happens to be readily available in Japan. If I’m in France I’ll buy Agfa, Ilford or Kodak. I find that when one has worked long enough, technical know-how becomes almost irrelevant. In photography, it’s not difficult to reach a technical level where you don’t need to think about the technique any more."
    ---- Michael Kenna
     
  64. jtk

    jtk

  65. jtk

    jtk

  66. I scoured google for an artist who doesn't say that technique must not be noticeable. I found only one out of hundreds who may have hinted at it. But it does seem an agreed-upon postulate. Which is why I can't help but question it.
    The idea of perfected or completely absorbed technique seems static and dead. Since I see art as a sort of marriage of passion and craft, I want the craft to remain as alive and changing as the passion. I want to challenge myself to be newly inspired and also to seek out and create new techniques for myself. Technique is too integral a part of the equation to be made as subservient to passion as everyone seems to want.
    Martha Graham says, "Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion." I refuse to see it that way. Van Gogh was great, Nureyev is great, not just because of their passion but because of their incredible and individual technique. It's not as though Van Gogh learned or acquired the technique to then let his passion roam freely and become great. He developed his own technique. Did the technique he supposedly forgot allow his passion to soar or was he passionate about that technique itself? That's a question I can't answer one way or the other.
    If I notice the unique technique of Van Gogh and if that technique is a substantial part of what moves me (in addition to whatever other passions Van Gogh may have had), then is Pablo Casals right when he says, "The most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all"? Of course not. Yet it's consistent with the majority of statements on the matter.
    Flo Ziegfeld is the only one I could find who maybe hints at what I'm talking about. "An apt dancer may be in thorough unison with the others in that particular group, and at the same time reveal a difference in dancing temperament, rhythm or technique; she may phrase, accentuate or actually interpret differently."
    Technique is not something fixed and forgotten and the best technique is not to forget everything supposedly inessential that is not correct. Technique is alive, individual, and unique. My aim is not to become a technical automaton so that my passion can be released. It is to continue to allow each to influence the other and each to continue to evolve. Something I used to think of as bad technique may come in really handy someday. I hope I won't have forgotten it or absorbed it so thoroughly that it forgets to sting me now and then.
    I recently got glasses for the first time, progressive bifocals. It made me very conscious of walking again, especially down stairs. Like I was doing it for the first time. It was jarring and terrific. Got me out of my comfort zone, which seems to be where everyone wants to place technique . . . right into a comfort zone.
     
  67. I would like to bring in the fact that photography as a "sensorial craft" (like music, even if the latter speaks to other senses) is
    created on the one hand
    and
    perceived on the other.
    It is the meeting of two subjective sensitivities: of the photographer and the viewer.
    Somebody said "there are no rules, only good photographs".
    I thought there were rules, but now I know that there ain't.
    But probably Antonio is right in his "learn the rules to unlearn them ..."
    In a first phase of the photographic craft one may stick to certain composition and technical rules. But then the practice takes over and the sixth (or seventh) sense develops and the photographer goes beyond rules.
    And then you have to deal with the viewer: it's like music. Stockhausen might be a genius, but one might not be capable to understand him. The "like/don't like" game starts.
    The author-viewer relationship might not develop along the same criteria (rules?) and each of them might judge according to different criteria (rules?)
    Initially I would have loved to have rules, to use them. But there don't seem to be rules.
    Probably we are searching for a "photographic language" of our own. Probably we have to develop and communicate our own visual syntax, grammar and composition and make it clear to our viewers.
    And remember that not all viewers are "our viewers" but "our photography" speaks only to "some viewers".
     
  68. Fred said: "I scoured google for an artist who doesn't say that technique must not be noticeable."
    Maybe this from Chuck Close?:
    "An art historian once said that the difference between my work and, say, Jackson Pollock’s was that Pollock didn’t know what his next painting was going to look like, but he knew what he was going to do in the studio that day. I know what my painting is going to look like, but I don’t know what I am going to do in the studio. My art is an invention of means rather than an invention of interesting shapes and interesting colors. It is a belief that ideas are generated by activity."​
    and
    "I really did believe that process would set you free. Instead of having to dream up a great idea — waiting for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike your skull — you are better off just getting to work. In the process of making things, ideas will occur to you. If it isn’t right the first time, you alter the variables and do something else. You never have to be stuck. I have never had painter’s block in forty years, because all I have to do is alter one variable, and I have a whole new experience in the studio. I have plenty of time to dream up other things that I want to do. showing how the prints got made really interests me. It’s like exploding the singular view of things into a sequential plan. There are so may other things to look at other than iconography, so many other things to experience. Style is often embedded in process and not connected to iconography. A signature style is about how it happened, not what is made. I think of myself as an orchestrator of experience. I make experiences for people to look at."​
     
  69. Fred- "The idea of perfected or completely absorbed technique seems static and dead."
    First, who here said their technique was perfected? I am perplexed as to what it is about others integrating technique (and the vision thing in some cases) that so disturbs so many people here. Why does it bother you that others do not think like you? Is it simply impossible or wrong to think otherwise?
    Don't you find it even a little suspect that all you can think of doing is negating the possibility, or ascribing negative qualities to every aspect of it?
    Fred - "Technique is not something fixed and forgotten and the best technique is not to forget everything supposedly inessential that is not correct. Technique is alive, individual, and unique."
    No one said that they want or work out of a fixed/mummified/generic technique. Like so many here, you are totally misunderstanding the concept, possibly because it is alien to you. I would posit that it is just as alive as when remembered by you.
    Fred - "Got me out of my comfort zone, which seems to be where everyone wants to place technique . . . right into a comfort zone."
    Totally untrue. That unfounded generalization comes across like you are attempting to to build a straw man. Fred, what's going on here?
    ""Leica, schmeica. The camera doesn't make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But you have to see." -- Ernst Haas
     
  70. "The trained horse, photographer, violinist becomes built into or channeled into an environment where all that he remembers is the embodied environment of some particular skill. All the great wide field of what else he might have done is forgotten." (Julie)
    Julie, I like very much your attention to what is important and what needs to be rejected to allow the fomer to flourish. But I find that sort of consideration primarily important for technique and initial perception and quite a bit less so for the mental process that will lead to the why and how a photographer interprets his subject matter. One can have a specific approach in mind when undertaking, say, a series of images on a theme. However, would you agree or not that having a wider frame of reference is important for the photographer's mental approach? I don't mean a non deterministic approach by that, but simply being open to the great range of possible expression that exists with any subject matter. The risk of creating routine or stereotypes are I think dangers if we allow ourselves to become too blinkered in our approach.
     
  71. Arthur,
    By "great wide field" I meant all that which can't be gotten into a photograph. It's a sign of a good photographer that you may have forgotten all that ... other stuff. You have become one with the camera.
    Within the confines of a horse race, there is "room" for an enormous amount of creativity. Ask anyone who handicaps races. Within the confines of photography (which are certainly much less confining), there is "room" for nearly infinite creativity. Within various types of music making ... etc. etc. But there is a "within" to each of them and, if you can remember back to long, long, long ago when you first started making pictures, think of all the times you tried to photograph an experience that was not photograph-able. Maybe you've forgotten ...
     
  72. Julie, I see your point better. Your "not photograph-able" probably takes many forms, from those subjects that are physically not photograph-able to those that overchallenge our ability to perceive or overchallenge our creativity and technique. The physically difficult photographs are encountered early in our many years of practice, but I can freely say that the latter still present problems. Who was it who said that creation is 1% and perspiration 99% of an invention? Some of that perspiration still enters into engaging the why and how of the creative approach for me. What I have learned of rules does not always help in confronting a unique issue.
     
  73. Luis, I like the Kenna quote and feel it really applies to many who have learned the technical rules and no longer give them much attention, as they are at that point superfluous to understanding subject matter and enacting a personal photographic approach. Haas alluded to somewhat the same thing when disdaining specific camera type. His creativity was enhanced also when he went out to shoot on an empty stomache, rather than feeling too satisfied. His hunger was apparently centered on images to perceive.
    What is admirable about each of these photographers is their abilities to show us things we do not usually see.
     
  74. Arthur, what we have here are (at least) two perfectly legitimate ways of working. The adherents of the more common way are constantly putting down, denigrating and denying the other for no apparent reason other than incredulity.
    I think we're all doing what works best for us, and/or is in concert with our own psychic energies. I see what Julie is talking about, which I do not see as what Antonio was referring to, as more a matter of successive approximations than selective forgetting or decommissioning, though I love those Julie-istic field reversals.
    Arthur, I had the pleasure of listening to Haas speak decades ago. He showed extraordinary slides (many unpublished personal work) , was focused on the vision thing, and the technical as a means to aid and abet it. He also about traveling often with minimal gear (1 camera, 3 prime lenses, 35-50-90, and a spare body in a rucksack, all wrapped in spare socks, tees and underwear) at a time when most of his contemporaries were jetting around with lots of Halliburton cases (which Haas also did for certain assignments). He realized the more he carried, the less productive he was.
    He also said he'd chosen Leica because "the lenses, like the human eye, were consistent across the field", and "not too sharp". Suppressed howls of agony rippled across the audience. :)
     
  75. This reminds me of a story I read some time ago about a mystic in training. She denied herself everything for years eating just enough food to survive and spending so much time in deep meditation that folks wondered if she was still alive. When she had her break through and achieved union with God her master told her she could now eat all she wanted, live high and enjoy all creatures. (sex?) She was no longer bound by earthly morals because she was now incorruptible and this gluttony would be meaningless to her.
    Where am I going with this? Well I'm thinking composition. Spend years learning the rules and how to apply them and then bend them without guilt to fit your needs. Never having achieved union with anything I still like placing, when I can points of interest in one of the 4 rule of thirds target zones as well as dividing my comps into sections of thirds.
     
  76. I think that a prescriptive approach to photography (or most things) is less uselful than a descriptive approach. If you try to say that a photo (or most other things) must be precisely such and such in order to be good, bad, or mediocre, or whatever, it is surely more harmful than helpful. If however you look at the photo and say it works for me because of such and such, it becomes more of a learning experience.
    I don't think that you can forget what you've learned as much as you can become less conscious about it, assuming you do a lot of photography (or music, or carpentry, or whichever endeavor it might be). You become better and don't have to consciously remember what it is, that makes your photographs work. In addition, I also believe, as has been mentioned here before, that people work in very different ways. Some people like prescriptive rules and structures more than others.
    I do, however, get the point about forgetting what you've learned, or not being too attached to the rules that you've learned. The less bound you are by self imposed rules, the more freely you can conduct your photography.
     
  77. I am fairly new to PhotoNet. I had not really perused the forum section until yesterday when I was surprised to find a section on the Philosophy of Photography. Since I have been interested in the History of Photography going back to the early 1970’s I found it interesting that there would be philosophical discussions on a site such as this. If you were to go to similar sites and write something intelligent you would be accused of being a snob or just trying to show off your intellect.
    I must first say that I majored in Photography in college and actually attended an art school. During this time we were introduced to the “rules”, as people are calling them here, but were called the “elements and principals of art”. These elements and principals were a codification of an analysis of design over the centuries. They were a description of commonalities that had appeared within all art, over time, that if considered within ones work would help make it more visually pleasing. In other words the elements and principals of art informed you as to what worked and what didn’t.
    Keep in mind that this list of elements and principals is malleable depending on whose model is used. We were taught along the lines of the tenants proposed by the Bauhaus movement. This would include the works of Josef Alber on color theory and the Gestalt Theories of Perception advanced by the German psychologists in the 1910’2 and 1920’s. Gestalt awareness is lacking in most books and internet information on photography.
    During these classes it was pointed out to us that any of these elements or principals could be ignored within the context of any one work at any time.They were NOT rules by which our work was to be governed; instead they were guidelines that may help us make our work more successful.
    A good example of someone breaking some of the principals while adhering to others would be Jackson Pollock. He held on to elements such as color, tension, and balance while tossing out form, line and (some would say) harmony. A good example of someone using them to their fullest would be the late works of Rubens.
    So knowing the tools (the principals and elements of art), or the “rules” if you so wish to call them, are ways to make your work more readable, cohesive and successful than if you weren’t at least aware of them. Once learned they are not "called up" when creating a work, instead they may be considered more when trying to solve a visual problem with the design of an image. Having been incorporated into the brain they are usually put to use by the brain subconsciously.
    Rejecting them completely is difficult in a good work because it is the use of these tools that help make that work succeed. Those who know these tools will find it easier to communicate their ideas than one who doesn’t use the tools. There will always be those people who, though they don’t know the tools, will be successful because of an inherent talent and a brain that seeks harmony. Most visually creative people have at least a semblance of inherent talent that improves over time, but only at a rate equivalent to the amount of work they put into educating their talent. So informing your brain and eye is better than not doing so.
     
  78. jtk

    jtk

    Guy M has hit various appropriate nails squarely on their heads. As well, he's a far better writer than most here....beginning with the fact that he's lucid, grammatical, and not self-aggrandizing.
    "...informing your brain and eye is better than not doing so."
    Yes. But that doesn't imply rules so much as experience. Rules exist to reduce choices, to reduce reliance upon experience. When they're doted-upon the purpose often has to do with oppression. Study the work of photographers you admire as well as the work of photographers you hate. Maybe it's better to ignore the bon mots of the great photographers (Ernst Haas was a student's insightful-sounding bon-mot generator, but his genuine importance, his photography, is often ignored...as on this Forum). http://www.ernst-haas.com/
     
  79. Yes. But that doesn't imply rules so much as experience. Rules exist to reduce choices, to reduce reliance upon experience. When they're doted-upon the purpose often has to do with oppression.​
    I don't accept the term "rules", the elements and principal are not rules but guidelines at best. but for this argument I will accept the term rules to mean the same as elements and principals.
    I feel that your statement above might be true, but only to some of the narrow minded who feel that any doctrine is to be rebelled against. I saw this in school; the 'Rebels" came in complaining about the rules they were being fed. The funny thing about it is, once they were exposed to the tools they found them useful. Many of the "rebels" ended up being the most formal in their work. Those who rejected anything they were taught usually didn't make it due to lack of the ability to communicate their ideas, they refused to learn. Some of the more successful rebels found that they actually had a more advanced sense of design than they imagined coming into the game and already knew many of the elements and principals through experience. In my case the eye seemed to know them but the brain needed to be informed.
    Study the work of photographers you admire as well as the work of photographers you hate.​
    I agree, look at as much imagery as you can and analyze what works and what doesn't. If one doesn't know what to look for to begin with, it is going to be a long hard fight to learn anything from the images. Part of critiquing an image is dependent upon the formalistics of design, and one who has learned some of these tools will be better equipped to critique their own and others images.
    As an example; one of the things I keep seeing on photo sites is using the "rule of thirds". Ok, but who made it a rule and what happened to the other compositional tools:
    • a rise and fall (pyramid) composition,
    • a diamond composition,
    • a sweep and block composition,
    • a circular composition
    • etc.
    It seems that somewhere, someone who didn't have a formal background found out about the rule of thirds and passed it off on all the others just getting interested in composition. Now it seems to be, unfortunately, the only compositional tool taught to photographers. I recently spent a lot of time looking for a good book relating to the principals and elements as they relate to photography to recommend to someone who wanted to move on from the technical. The best one I found was from Freeman Patterson entitled, "Photographing the World Around You - A Visual Design Workshop" originally published over 30 years ago. Unfortunately, even it is somewhat limited as it pretty much ignores color theory and Gestalt.
     
  80. jtk

    jtk

    "Part of critiquing an image is dependent upon the formalistics of design, and one who has learned some of these tools will be better equipped to critique their own and others images."

    That is valid to the extent that one wants to think about an image as a graphical composition. But I think graphical composition occurs naturally, untutored, thanks to the media in which we swim from birth and the exposure we've had to the work of others. Analysis/critique doesn't imply appreciation of whatever may be most important.
    In general, rules are ways to arrive at popularly acceptable "pictures"...they don't lead toward significance. I think mentoring (simply being around people who are accomplished or assisting (re the many who assisted Irving Penn), or study of the work we find important offers more potential if the goal is significance. The problem with significance is that it's not as easy as perfect composition. Walmart sells perfectly composed posters.
    "Critique" isn't comparable to producing or appreciating work, it is often little more than ego trip or theft (critic as thief).
     
  81. John,
    From what I have read of your posts here and in other threads; it seems that your philosophy is to reject any type of judgment or structure of the medium. If so I would think that you would be posting every exposure you made, but I am sure you have made more than 13 exposures in your lifetime.
    The act of editing which images to put on a site is a form of judgment/critique of your own work. So I will just assume you are arguing for arguments sake.
     
  82. jtk

    jtk

    Guy, yes my images are heavily edited. I like your work a great deal, particularly the color.
    I've not shown decades of earlier work, professional and snapshooting and "art", because I don't want to be understood in those terms. I do want to be understood in terms of my writing and the photos I share now. Times change, right?
    As I've mentioned, photos I've not personally printed aren't fully my own: that's my current understanding. In other words, I don't post unprinted files, don't post anything processed by labs or anybody else. Nothing wrong with posting unprinted files or the work of labs, but it's not me. Maybe if I had more time and was a better photographer I'd post more images. I don't want to post tear sheet images (oysters, pharma, machines, technology). Nothing wrong with that, but I don't want to freight my writing with old images. If I had no images to share, I wouldn't post at all. Different strokes.
     
  83. Rules are created to help explain what the brain already finds pleasant. To train us and make us aware what makes things feel good and work in our brain. They aren't created in the abstract by some tyrant who thinks he knows what's right and wants to impose his thinking on us.
    If you use an adverb to describe a noun, the brain says "tilt". The brain knows something is wrong with the sentence. So you create a rule that reminds you not to use an adverb with a noun but rather adjectives. When someone says, "Excuse my English, (or French ir whatever), he knows that he's not following the rules and your native ear hears the descrepancies. So rules remind us, teaches us what the brain already knows. Ain't that tru?
     
  84. There is a road map for everyone learning something. In short, Rules are the first stage, bending it is the second, and third if he is able to break the rule, that is when he has establish himself significant in that industry. To end the circle he would pass on his own knowledge on which i believe is the pinnacle of what one should reach to achieve.
    And to bend the rules, you need to know what they are. Which mean studying whats out there. Looking and seeing, be curious, try and experiment, have ambition.
    And to break the rules, one must have self-reliance on his work. Don't listen to what other have to say but what he believes his is own heart. This will eventually lead back with great reward. In due time your in most with become your out most. Imitation is suicide. From the works of Emerson titled Self-reliance. I recommend everyone to read it. The great master of our time have all broken rules.
    so to the OP yes, you learn to unlearn to go your own way.
    [​IMG]
    from the series P.P
     

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