Learning the technical side of photography really does have its place after all

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by valjalbertphotography, May 26, 2009.

  1. As someone who initially was attracted to the conceptual part of photography, I very quickly was seduced by the technical early on, it became and stayed my guiding force for many years while I was a student in elementary school, middle school, high school, and into college. But then partway through college, I began to wake up to what I viewed at that time as the truth: that art was far more important than technique. I still enjoyed the technical to an extent, but I focused more on the art of photography and adopted the motto "Learn as much of the technical as possible, but then forget it all as quickly as possible". I lost patience with myself and felt I had been cheated and decided to stop pursuing the technical.
    Innately, I always knew that a balance between the two was best, and that I wanted to achieve that balance. Slowly, I would see hints of the technical and the artistic flirting deeply with each other as I photographed. Sometimes, they would get so interconnected with each other that I no longer was thinking strictly about just camera settings and composition on the one hand, or emotion, light, form, and space on the other hand. What would happen, was that I would start to make photographs without much conscious thought about anything. I just saw, and I photographed what I saw because I appreciated it, and it felt right.
    I had read Csíkszentmihályi before, so I knew what the state of flow was, and I was getting better at getting into this state of mind. But what I didn't appreciate until very recently was that getting to the point where photography became an automatic process, an extension of my senses and emotions, owed a great deal to the technical material that I once practiced exclusively. I am no longer so hard on myself for being almost exclusively devoted to the technical side of photography for many years. I now understand that it was for me a necessary step in the process.
    Here is an excerpt from an article that was in Scientific American several years ago that sums up my new appreciation and acceptance for the technical side of art and how it has a necessary role:
    "Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study."
    I never really thought of it this way until now. I had previously found it hard to believe that someone who loves something might not progress. But now it makes perfect sense; without practicing the technique, one may indeed not progress linearly. Thus, the many hours of technical practice is indeed a necessary key component to the photographic artist's well rounded education. We must embrace the technical as well as the artistic. It's not a choice, it's a must if one wishes to progress in the sense of developing great accuracy in one's artistic pursuit.
    Wow. I am humbled by this new realization.

    Here is the full article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=00010347-101C-14C1-8F9E83414B7F4945
     
  2. Thanks for this insight. It explains very well what I've tried to explain to new camera addicts, particularly those in our local photo group: learn the technique and try to understand why something is as it is! These guys will go out and buy the biggest camera they can find without having the slightest notion of how photography works, because "you can always work it out halfway in PS afterwards..." (No, you can't!)
    Maybe I should translate all this.
     
  3. Any athlete will tell you that you don't learn to play well by playing games; you learn to play well in practice sessions. Unless you train, you won't improve. Musicians know you must do technical practice and exercises to play well. You can't paint unless you understand the medium. You don't learn to drive race cars in the Indianapolis 500.
    I thought this was well understood.
     
  4. Too many people obsess on the technical, and it stunts their artistic growth. Worse, they begin to think that it is part of a grand formula. Acquire the right hardware, learn some things, extract a little mentoring, and the rising tide will float the rest.
    Remember learning to drive a stick-shift (manual) car? It's awkward and clumsy until you get past it. Then you can focus on driving. In photography, it is the same. The technical gets in the way until you know it well enough to forget it. No internal dialogue about anything but the visual enables one to stay focused.
    In the end, you can only see what you're ready to see. If you want your photographs to change, a new fat white lens or a DX3 isn't going to do it. You have to change.
     
  5. The other great finding is that expertise is a product of willful effort, not inborn talent. Too often high achievers are billed as "naturals," which does a disservice to their hard work and discourages others from trying. The few, absolute best in each field probably have innate talent in the area, but there's nothing stopping the rest of us from developing into highly skilled practitioners.
     
  6. Thus, the many hours of technical practice is indeed a necessary key component to the photographic artist's well rounded education. We must embrace the technical as well as the artistic. It's not a choice, it's a must if one wishes to progress in the sense of developing great accuracy in one's artistic pursuit.​
    I read the Scientific American article, and it neither says nor clearly implies this. If you want your technical skills to increase, then yes, you should put effort into mastering techniques which you currently find challenging. However, it's quite possible to develop substantial artistry while only "mastering" a very-limited set of technical skills.
    An example from music would be B.B. King. He can't play chords worth a damn, he can't sing while he's playing, he can't play fast; his technical skills are actually rather crude. There are many thousands of musicians whose technical mastery far exceeds that of B.B. King. On the other hand, B.B. King is a blues legend because of his artistry , knowing how to convey feeling with those few notes he plays.
     
  7. jtk

    jtk

    Luis, I think you posted something close to this on another Philosophy thread, but in both cases you raised good points...but of course we're not in 100% agreement.
    I do think changing one's technology can change one's way of looking at the world, change one's photography. For example, my first "serious" camera was a Mamiya knockoff on Pentax...I had one lens, 28mm. My next camera was an Agfa Ansco 8X10 view camera...I used the Mamiya for a meter. The 8X10 did change my way of photographing and my subsequent work in various formats, both "artistically" (a term we use too carelessly IMO) and professionally, was leveraged by that technical experience.
     
  8. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Here's the great photographer Mario Giacomelli talking about his technical knowledge of shooting:
    Mario Giacomelli : I had it [his camera] made. By dismantling a camera given to me by a friend and removing whatever seemed useless. I only need distance and that other thing - what's that other thing called again? I don't know how these machines work, what counts is that light shouldn't get in. It's just a box.
    ...
    Frank Horvat : At what speed does it work? a thirtieth, a hundredth of a second?
    Mario Giacomelli : I don't know any more. It doesn't go over two hundred. To photograph from a plane I have to borrow a friend's camera, I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I don't care. It doesn't matter to me, I would take photos without a camera if I could. I've no great passion for mechanics.
    Frank Horvat : And what's the lens aperture?
    Mario Giacomelli : It depends. At Scanno, I did nearly everything at a 25th. For landscapes I use 2 and 22.
    Frank Horvat : Half a second at aperture 22?
    Mario Giacomelli : I know there is a 2 and a 22, that's the aperture of the lens, I learnt it by heart.​
    He was a master printmaker, I'm not sure how much he knew about that on the technical side, but he certainly made a huge number of great photographs without knowing the technical stuff.

    Ellen von Unwerth is another great photographer, very different type of work, who also took no technical interest in photography.
     
  9. gdw

    gdw

    In spite of the examples given, photographic technique is a necessary evil. Mario's interview may sound clever, but I would wager that Mario knows much more about technique and cameras than is admitted.
    Cute story, but at some point, on some photographically technical level he had to know what what was useless and what two items he was going to need when he took the camera apart, if that actually happened, which is the first clue that the tale falls apart.
    He knows enough to know that he has to borrow a camera to photograph from an airplane.
    In the first place, technique is what gives sentence structure to the visual language of photography. On the other hand to be totally consumed by technique is to always remain a technician, which is where way too many photographers will always remain; especially those that hang out on Internet forums where technique is ninety percent of the emphasis.
    There is no such thing a good photographic technique nor is there such a thing as bad photographic technique. There is only technique applied appropriately or inappropriately.
     
  10. VAL, the author of the study (Philip E. Ross) goes on to say the following immediately after the section that you quoted:
    Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.​
    For many of us who do not do photography for a living, this tendency to relax our efforts is, I believe, the common pattern: we reach a plateau. Perhaps we think that we are "good enough," but, more important, I think that we tend to think that we likely cannot get much better. In addition, there are the numerous interruptions in our efforts to get better by the other requirements of simply staying alive in the fields in which we make our living, family obligations, etc. In any case, I think that what is required for excellence is a certain kind of intensity--and perhaps continuity (and even continuing intensity?). The author makes reference as well to a period of about ten years of intense study in a field as a prerequisite to attaining a level of proficiency that is outstanding.
    My first reaction is to think that what seems to distinguish those persist in "effortful study" of a skill or a topic is that they are never satisfied with their present level of skill or understanding. Their intensity, that is, seems to be a function of their dissatisfaction with their present level of skill or understanding. Something impels them to want to try to keep getting better. What is it?
    At this point one wants to sit back for a moment and ask what all this has to do with "the technical side of photography." I think that the technical aspects are (or can be) relevant to one's growth--especially if one's failures to get the images or effects that one wanted impel one to ask "Why?" Does one at that point tend to turn to technical issues or instead to turn to other questions that relate to imagination and innovation (not that one need be concerned with one to the exclusion of the other)?
    I do believe that more technical knowledge can be helpful, or course. I think that very often, however, an obsession with technical knowledge is closely bound up in photography with an obsession with equipment (NAS, etc.). The two are factorable, but it appears to me that they tend to go together. (Perhaps not. I'm really not sure.)
    The really creative work, on the other hand, might be more likely to be done by those who channel their intensity and "effortful study" down a different avenue from mere technical skill, as important as that may be. The truly artistic types seem to be always coming up with a new idea for a shot, not simply more technical expertise. For them, artistic imagination and inspiration seem to be more important than improvements in technical skill--although I think that those who succeed while being fairly indifferent to technical skills are a tiny, tiny minority.
    Issues of motivation also come into play in the article you cite, indicating that successes also tend to motivate us to do better. If so, then it is not merely our dissatisfactions (as a manifestation of perfectionism?) that tend to make us better, but also our patterns of satisfactions and successes.
    There is an entire complex of issues raised by the article you have cited, and I am left, as usual, with more questions than answers. There is a lot of food for thought here.
    --Lannie
     
  11. John Kelly wrote: "I do think changing one's technology can change one's way of looking at the world, change one's photography."
    Of course it does, to a point. Everything matters -- and affects you -- specially the 10,000 hrs, but for every photographic Master, there are hundreds of thousands who know far more technically, as Jeff S. points out.
    I have seen zillions of beautiful, technically perfect and perfectly boring, cliche'd, and forgettable prints for every single stunning, brilliant, and unforgettable one.
    I want to make it clear that no matter where you are on the photographic continuum, there you are. Whether you're a whiz or a schlub, (and there are plenty of pro schlubs, too, even at the lower levels in the art world), the personal growth and enjoyment derived from the marvels and terrors in the medium make it worthwhile.
    If you want your pictures to change, you need to change.
    Nor am I saying that technique doesn't matter. It does. But it is only a (necessary) means to an end.
     
  12. jtk

    jtk

    Luis, yes.
    Edward Weston moved to Mexico substantially to get away from his Pictorial/Studio roots. While his perhaps-increased interest in Graphic Reflex may have been relevant, the technical expertise he'd developed as a professional was used in a "changed" direction by a "changed" man.
    It's obvious that a lot of DSLR work has asked less of its photographers than film would have (particularly bug/bird/street photos), but the flip side is that it's my impression that DSLR work potentially asks more of its photographers than film did because it offers so many more nuances and possibilities. That doesn't make either one of them "better" or more likely to produce "art," especially since "art" has come to mean less than Velvet Elvis, so doesn't elevate photography."
    A fine photo is, IMO, likely to be better thing in every traditional "art" respect than a photo that's dubbed "art" because all sorts of accidental, merely amusing or decorative images get that title on P.N and elsewhere. If we see technical expertise AS WELL AS some sort of extra value, we move closer to the traditional meaning of art, but we don't if all we see is the genius of some purchased gizmo. In that sense the traditional meaning might almost/sometimes apply better to work done with primative equipment than work done with sophisticated equipment. Maybe art was more likely with glass plates than with D3?
     
  13. My first reaction is to think that what seems to distinguish those persist in "effortful study" of a skill or a topic is that they are never satisfied with their present level of skill or understanding. Their intensity, that is, seems to be a function of their dissatisfaction with their present level of skill or understanding. Something impels them to want to try to keep getting better. What is it?​
    I don't know what it is, Landrum, that impels some people to keep going. But I do know that you've described me perfectly. I can be satisfied, but even when I am, I understand that satisfaction is fleeting. I can hold the two contradictory thoughts in my mind simultaneously--that I am temporarily satisfied by something I did, but I still have the urge to do "better" the next time. Whether that means composing better, connecting better with the subject, being in the right place sooner, being more focused, reducing my reaction time, learning to see light or space better, improving my eyesight and focusing accuracy, or whatever. If I get a tingly feeling down my spine, I know that I have succeeded in reaching a new level, and therefore, seeing something or acting on it in a different way than the last time. If I feel that I am syncing up better with what's around me, I can make better photos, and I have a better time doing it. Finally, not a day has gone by since May of 1997 when I have not thought about photography. So, even while I am not actively photographing, I am often practicing mentally, reading about technique, viewing photographs, or learning more about what makes me as a person "tick".

    And I did have a tendency to want more gear for many years. But now that I have practically all focal length I need covered, it does not bother me as much. What bothers me more is that I cannot take all my lenses with me at a given time, so I tend to pick and choose 1, 2, 3, or 4 lenses to take at a time, and them use the heck out of them, pretending there is no other lens available than what is currently on my camera.
     
  14. John Kelly:
    A question comes to mind. Was Doc Edgerton producing art? He was a scientist.
    I think that depends upon the definition of art one chooses to go by.
    But nothing changes the fact that he a was a technical pioneer who happened to have an interest in photography and successfully used said medium to achieve an end.
    Lennart Nilsson always has been and will be one of my biggest inspirations. And so will Galen Rowell. Both were technical masters who have/had a strong vision and are/were able to find unique ways to record photographically what they wish/wished to record.
    In the end, isn't that the goal, folks?
     
  15. Two terms that are often misunderstood in general are:
    thoughtfulness - It need not imply over-sensitivity or weakness
    spirituality - Organized religion is not a necessary component
    Both of these traits are fundamental in bridging the gap between the technical and the artistic, unifying them into one end. But people have to understand what they are in their purest forms in order to be able to put them to work successfully.
     
  16. " Before enlightenment ; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment ; chop wood, carry water." Zen proverb
     
  17. Musicians know you must do technical practice and exercises to play well.​
    Generally, yes. But one of the best guitarists I know says "don't practice, just play".
     
  18. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I would wager that Mario knows much more about technique and cameras than is admitted.​
    Mario is dead, so it's "knew" and having seen his work, I think he was a printmaker and really didn't care that much about how he got the images onto the film.
    Musicians know you must do technical practice and exercises to play well.​
    You must have missed the punk rock era.
     
  19. jtk

    jtk

    V A L, I've seen a lot of Edgertons original work ...it isn't elevated by the "art" label. In fact, his equipment may have been closer to art in much the way Deardorff cameras and old Goertz Dagors were, but IMO his photos transcended that easy label.
    I dealt some with Galen Rowell, played a minor role in producing his internegatives and c-prints. IMO he was more important as a mountaineer/outdoorsman/athlete than photographer. He was an enthusiast for outdoor challenges and photography paid his way, just as rebuilding engines did before he started selling photos. I think he, like most of the best, was above art. I have a hunch he'd prefer that mountaineer label to "artist."
    I saw an exhibition of Richard Avedon prints in NYC 11/08, promoted as art and displayed as potential Holiday gifts...well below the standards of prints shown while he lived. I idolize Avedon and have seen many of his images printed to exquisite standards. Are mediocre Xmas gifts art when they only approximate the photographer's best?
     
  20. Musicians know you must do technical practice and exercises to play well.
    Generally, yes. But one of the best guitarists I know says "don't practice, just play".​
    I think that comment actually telling us to view practice as actual, free-flowing play, so that we don't lose interest and get fed up with technical repetition. Just as there are many ways to play, there is no one correct way to practice. Personally, I favor the hands-on approach, too, because it just feels good. If you think you're playing, but you're actually practicing, it's a win-win situation!
     
  21. I dealt some with Galen Rowell, played a minor role in producing his internegatives and c-prints. IMO he was more important as a mountaineer/outdoorsman/athlete than photographer. He was an enthusiast for outdoor challenges and photography paid his way, just as rebuilding engines did before he started selling photos. I think he, like most of the best, was above art. I have a hunch he'd prefer that mountaineer label to "artist."​
    Very interesting, John. I always hoped to meet him, but never got the chance. As much as I liked his photos, I liked his articles as much or even more.
    Can you clarify what you mean by "above art" with respect to Galen Rowell's vision? I know that a lot of people in the art world have never heard of him (and I don't pretend to be in the art world either).
     
  22. Technique is of great importance but only as a means not an end. Still, stating that you don't care about technique and don't find it important becomes a bit too easy if your work clearly proves you're really good at it.
     
  23. it

    it

    The trick is to learn that stuff and internalize it to the point that you aren't thinking about it at all while shooting.
    Coltrane studied and ran scales like a madman, but always said he didn't think about the technical aspects at all while playing. I think the best photographers do this as well.
     
  24. I like that last comment.
    I would like to put forth a challenge to anyone who is positive that there definitely exist photographs which are either purely technical or purely artistic in nature. Please upload or link to such a photograph (either one of your own or a famous work). And then we can have a discussion about what makes it purely technical or purely artistic, and maybe come to some consensus overall. I really want to see specific examples that approach one extreme or the other, so that I can internalize what people are viewing as technique and what people are viewing as artistic.
     
  25. jtk

    jtk

    Ian, Joe Pass, perhaps the ultimate American guitarist, DID think about technical aspects constantly while he played. Said he could name every note. Herb Ellis said something similar, and said he could sing every note he played. I don't think Coltrane's sax can be generalized so readily to photography...cameras may be more like guitars :)
    V A L, by "above art" I simply mean that "art" has become a relatively meaningless word...I think its demeaning to call someone an artist when we know what's meant today by most who use the word. Most photographers who try to accomplish more than pictures OF something, "artistic' or otherwise IMO, are "above art."
     
  26. John, art is a three-letter word.
    V, IMO, there's no dichotomy between the technical and the artistic. One has to use some technology. That point has been made.
     
  27. Joe Pass, perhaps the ultimate American guitarist, DID think about technical aspects constantly while he played.​
    What would be considered a technical aspect ? Frank Zappa, in explaining what went through his mind when playing his guitar and directing the musicians of his band, said that in his minds eye he saw shapes like triangles, rectangles... and colors, as a primal aspect ( technical ? ) of how the music was being played / couldn't possibly be played any other way. Was Zappa envisioning the technincal or inspirational while playing ? I don't really see this happening with photography ( while being in the act of ), this way of ' seeing ' in the moment. Maybe guitarplaying is more akin to painting when it comes to blending the technical with the inspirational. With photography, it feels that there's more distance ( to cover ) between the two.
     
  28. What would be considered a technical aspect ? Frank Zappa, in explaining what went through his mind when playing his guitar and directing the musicians of his band, said that in his minds eye he saw shapes like triangles, rectangles... and colors, as a primal aspect ( technical ? ) of how the music was being played / couldn't possibly be played any other way. Was Zappa envisioning the technincal or inspirational while playing ? I don't really see this happening with photography ( while being in the act of ), this way of ' seeing ' in the moment. Maybe guitarplaying is more akin to painting when it comes to blending the technical with the inspirational. With photography, it feels that there's more distance ( to cover ) between the two.​

    When I am shooting photojournalism of people, I am simply trying to be as aware as possible of the behaviors I observe, and I am constantly relating what I see to my own past experiences. I strive to deduce and re-experience the emotions that may be causing the behavior I am observing in the person or people I am photographing. Ultimately, if I can succeed in putting myself in that person's shoes for a short time, I can increase my chance of bridging the gap between me and the person and thus translating some of what they are experiencing into a picture. It works best when we are both mutual participants in an event that is mutually meaningful. But I can't qualify the difference between the technical thoughts and the creative impulses...I don't think they can actually be separated. And any attempt to do so is impossible. As my eye searches for the composition that feels right, I'm not thinking in terms of "art" or "technical correctness". I may inadvertently use a particular compositional technique, or inadvertently evoke a sense of balance or discord. But I'm not consciously saying "I am going to use the rule of thirds", "I am going to break the rule of thirds", "I am going to evoke a sense of balance", or "I want the viewer to feel discord". I guess in the beginning I did consciously say such things, but now that I'm used to taking pictures I don't have a need to label and judge things anymore. I simply react. But when a composition clicks in, I feel something. And when I set what I think is the right aperture or shutter speed or focal point, I feel a sense of order. And when a shot is captured at the right moment, I feel that I have successfully depicted that moment. It's all intuition; intuition that seems automatic and effortless but which was accrued over time by looking at photographs and reading technical descriptions. This is a learning and revision process which will never end.
     
  29. I feel compelled to include a documentary photo I took that goes along with the description I just wrote.
    To me, this photo is not art, nor is it technical. It's simply a photograph that serves as a visual record of what I saw. I have seen photos similar to this one labelled as "Art" (either great art or horrible art). But to me, there's nothing artistic about the photo. It's not conceptual in nature; it is simply a snapshot that was caught at the right time. And it's not a technical masterpeice either. Yet I still think there is some definite dynamic feeling and / or emotional evocation inherent in this photo. You can almost feel her pain as the garments she is wearing smash into her eyes and she cringes while her partner is caught off-guard. It just IS.
    Let me know what you think of this photo.
    00TUCF-138411684.jpg
     
  30. If you watch someone who is good at something, you soon realize that they are not thinking about the "technical" at all. Their bodies know how to do it; they just have to get out of the way and let their bodies do whatever the art is that they are doing. Practice is the only way to get a body to work like that.
    Sports analogies are very easy to understand here. An athlete trains, works, studies, until it can be done without thought. Athletes talk about being "in the zone" or "unconscious", and know full well that "thinking too hard" can ruin performances. Athletes are just one type of artist with which our culture commonly communicates a bit, and athletics is something many have tried in one form or another, so there is good understanding of those terms. I think all those terms can be applied to any art form.
    But there is no doubt in my mind that mastery of technique (even a limited amount of technique in some cases perhaps, but mastery of it nonetheless) is essential for artistic performances of all kinds.
     
  31. It's simply a photograph that serves as a visual record of what I saw​
    Yes. I understand that that what you saw has become a part of that what you choose to react to as a photographer, resulting in the photograph. The reaction indeed might have gone along with thoughts about composition, light, etc... in an effortless, quick manner, without thinking too consciously about the how and why behind such 'photographer decisions' after the initial reacting or seeing of the moment. But is that what you saw also how and what you felt ?
    I ask because I think that there's more distance to cover between the inspirational ( feeling ) and the technical ( seeing ) in the act of photography when compared to guitarplaying, painting. I don't photograph what or how I feel, which is not to say that, after the photographing, I don't feel what I have photographed (In context of photography I emphasize on feeling when it comes to inspiration, and seeing when it comes to technical ). But it's not like the solo guitarplayer playing his guts out,what he feels, and immediately recognizing and having an acknowledgment of that feeling in the sound of the music being played. The technical and the inspirational blends and becomes one in this immediate moment. In the act of photography, there's more distance, more steps to take between idea - execution - print.

    Ofcourse, music also involves having to write the music down on paper first, sitting down for it, before one can play it. But the essence of the music is in the performance, the actual execution, where technique and inspiration blends together. If, in photography, the print is the performance, then the inspiration for having arrived at it, might be somewhere in the past, several steps back. It makes photography strange and interesting, it's what makes it photography, but also, at times, not as liberating as the painter ' throwing paint on a canvas ' or the guitarplayer ' just playing ' in moments where technique and inspiration truly blend.
     
  32. I ask because I think that there's more distance to cover between the inspirational ( feeling ) and the technical ( seeing ) in the act of photography when compared to guitarplaying, painting. I don't photograph what or how I feel, which is not to say that, after the photographing, I don't feel what I have photographed (In context of photography I emphasize on feeling when it comes to inspiration, and seeing when it comes to technical ). But it's not like the solo guitarplayer playing his guts out,what he feels, and immediately recognizing and having an acknowledgment of that feeling in the sound of the music being played. The technical and the inspirational blends and becomes one in this immediate moment. In the act of photography, there's more distance, more steps to take between idea - execution - print.​
    For me, photography feels the same way as your description of the guitarist.
    Ofcourse, music also involves having to write the music down on paper first, sitting down for it, before one can play it. But the essence of the music is in the performance, the actual execution, where technique and inspiration blends together. If, in photography, the print is the performance, then the inspiration for having arrived at it, might be somewhere in the past, several steps back. It makes photography strange and interesting, it's what makes it photography, but also, at times, not as liberating as the painter ' throwing paint on a canvas ' or the guitarplayer ' just playing ' in moments where technique and inspiration truly blend.​
    That's how photography is for me. I think about the settings and approach a little bit beforehand, and then I get everything set and into position. And then when that moment hits, and the shutter opens, it's like everything just stops and merges into one.
    The subsequent computer or darkroom work doesn't add much to the enjoyment for me; It's simply part of the process. The final fun is viewing the end result.
     
  33. " The photographs that excite me are photographs that say something in a new manner: not for the sake of being different, but because the individual is different and the individual expresses himself. I realize we all do express ourselves. but those who express that which is always being done are those whose thinking is almost in every way in accord with everyone else. Expression on this basis has become dull to those who wish to think for themselves."
    --- Harry Callahan, 1946
    "Thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards. Never while actually taking a photograph. Success depends on one's general culture, on one's set of values, one's clarity of mind and vivacity. The thing to be feared is the artificially contrived, the contrary to life."
    --- Henry Cartier-Bresson (Harper's, 1961)
     
  34. If you watch someone who is good at something, you soon realize that they are not thinking about the "technical" at all. --Larry Cooper​
    Yes, this is the point of emphasizing the technical aspects from time to time, and you have said it well, Larry. You also say, "Practice is the only way to get a body to work like that," and you go on to say that "mastery of technique (even a limited amount of technique in some cases perhaps, but mastery of it nonetheless) is essential for artistic performances of all kinds."
    If one combines what you have said with the concept of "effortful study" which appeared in the article cited in the original posting, one is reminded that the point of "effortful study" is to analyze for the sake of perfecting the technique. The athlete knows that it is important to practice with the same intensity and attention to correct form as one expects to play. Those who practice with sloppy form will play with sloppy form, and their game will show it.
    Good athletes across the centuries have also had coaches who analyzed them (as shown in the movie Chariots of Fire ), and today's athletes also have video cameras which allow them to analyze themselves.
    This analysis, this reflexive (qua self-reflective) process, is there for those who want to get better. It is essential, for it is above all about mastery of technique. Only when one has gotten the technique and the technical aspects so nearly perfected that one does not have to think about them can one easily go on to put one's full attention into the "artistic performance," which for photographers is about getting the shot, processing the shot, and printing the shot--all of that, not just one part of it. There are a lot of different techniques worthy of being studied and mastered at every phase if the final output is going to reflect true mastery.
    As for the artistic vision, where does one analyze and master that?
    --Lannie
     
  35. jtk

    jtk

    "As for the artistic vision, where does one analyze and master that?" - Lannie
    Creation of distinctive and significant-seeming approach to images requires intentionality and dedication, framed and guided by experience...including observation of the work of others and, of necessity, trial and error. Lannie's "where" is here and now and it extends into the future.
    By contrast, art is easier than the dedication and labor to produce significant work. We use the word "art" for ducks, wizened elders, and sunsets. Art is a label.
     
  36. It seems that the idea of the closed-loop feedback system is key.
     
  37. [John Kelly] "... art is easier than the dedication and labor to produce significant work."
    Maybe bad art. And bad art does not constitute the entirety of art, any more than the legions of hacks define poetry.
    [JK]We use the word "art" for ducks, wizened elders, and sunsets.
    "We"? MPD or who _are_ you talking about, John? People who don't understand art say that, and much worse. What you mention are ancient cliche's that were never considered significant art by reputable institutions, directors, owners, curators, critics, practitioners, etc.
    Sidewalk art shows and pieces painted on black velvet hanging from clotheslines at abandoned gas stations, maybe. Small galleries in the middle of BF Egypt or on the tourist trails, maybe. Nothing more.
    [Lannie Kelly] "As for the artistic vision, where does one analyze and master that?"
    Where? Internally and externally.Ten thousand hours of Practice, mentorship, looking at art, learning, in or out of institutions (academic or mental!), endless study, life experience (inner and outer), creative thought, letting go, intoxication, discipline, travel, displacement, insatiable hunger, passion, acculturation, embracing, concerns for things/people/ideas, specially outside art, constant self-development, and one begins to talk the talk and walk the walk, insofar as your talent can be developed. You become it.
    As Grover soulfully sang on Sesame Street: "If you want to sing the blues , you gotta live the blues"
    Here's a few paragraphs I ran across recently by artist Tracy Emin, that may help shed light on Lanny's question, and I believe they're applicable to photography:
    "Nought for Design. Nought for Life Drawing. Nought for Fashion Illustration. Nought for Individual Flair."
    When I asked my teacher why, she said, "Let's face it ducks, some of us have got it and some of us haven't. And you just haven't."
    Six months later she was dead and everyone was crying. But I wasn't. I bought myself a pair of glasses, and suddenly the whole world changed - foreshortening, shadow, depth. I went to every drawing class possible for the next seven years, never missing one.
    It took me years to understand the magic of drawing. For years, I tried to make things look how they are - instead of being what they are. Drawing is an alchemical language. Some of my favourite drawings I have done with my eyes closed - or so drunk I do not remember making them.
    I like to record the moment, the event of the memory. I remember an event from my childhood. I pull it to the front of my mind. My emotions force the drawing out of my hand - this explains why so many of my drawings are repeated images. It's not because I draw the same thing, but the same moment wants to be redrawn. I am the custodian, the curator of the images that live in my mind. Every image has first entered my mind, travelled through my heart, my blood - arriving at the end of my hand. Everything has come through me.
    --- Tracy Emin
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/may/25/tracey-emin-drawing-art
     
  38. jtk

    jtk

    Luis, thanks for the clarification:
    According to your definition, "significant art" is defined by high class institutional acceptance, and the high classes use "bad" for the taste of the miserable lower social classes...
    Your definition of "significant art" would evidently have excluded that of Matisse, and other fauvre painters two centuries ago, just as the most "reputable" critics identified Andy Warhol's 1960s work as "bad art".
    Having spent hours with the Matisse/Picasso exhibit in Paris, my own single most moving "art" experience, I did prefer Picasso, true. I'll admit with embarassment that it never occurred to me, until your instruction, to think of Matisse's paintings as "bad art"...you're right, and the French Academy would have agreed with you, 200 years ago..
    More recently I spent hours with 50 of Warhol's paintings (and similar trailer trash work) at DIA/Beacon Gallery in New York...without your insight I might still think Warhol's work "significant art."
    I guess I'm too easily moved. Live and learn.
     
  39. You're way off the mark, John. Wrong, to be precise.
    John Kelly wrote in another tread today: "Luis, I appreciate art as we all think of it.... museums and galleries, a (sic) focussed collection of books"
    Then he attacks me 4 hrs later with: "According to your definition, "significant art" is defined by high class institutional acceptance, and the high classes use "bad" for the taste of the miserable lower social classes..."
    After which he proceeds to name-drop some of the biggest, high-class venues/artists to impress us.
    Forgive me if I doubt your sincerity, John. Like others here, I have zero interest in jousting with you. It's a waste of my time, and you seem to enjoy it too much. I'm out of this thread, too, and if you persist, I'll happily stay out of this forum.
    The truly odd thing is that facially, we look alike.
     
  40. jtk

    jtk

    Luis, perhaps I misunderstood... but a couple of your personal comments seemed unfair. One example: ""We"? who _are_ you talking about, John? People who don't understand art say that, and much worse."
    You questioned my "understanding" of "art" (which is your right). In response, I spoke of my recent experiences with two "famous artists" who had at first been rejected by high-class critics: Matisse's by the French Academy, and Warhol's by the American art establishment.
    You seemed to advance a social class analysis of "art" merit, so I pointed to other examples of that type of analysis.
    Please clarify.
    My "focussed collection of books" consists almost exclusively of work I've envied/studied in original prints, and have been moved strongly by. Weston books but no Adams books (save "Zone System" and "Artificial Light": I've seen dozens of Adams prints but have never wanted to work in anything like his vein, dozens of Westons and envied them...so I own several fine old Weston books. None by Lee Friedlander despite seeing literally hundreds of his ...no Robert Frank or HCB but two Robert Capa. I don't think I'm making social class distinctions, and I don't find "art" relevant when responding to photos (or paintings, for that matter).
    I'm interested in photographic delivery of something emotional, to which I resonate. It's my personal wave-length.
    Gallery and museum curators rarely seem to resonate to the photos they display, as evidenced by the blather they provide by way of "explanation." They do, however, assign great importance to that "art" label.
    Evolving a personal aesthetic is taking decades, so mine will never be as "completed" (frozen, terminal, right/wrong) as the summaries of critics or most museum and gallery curators. I invest time in galleries, museums, and books, and with prints of other photographers, but this doesn't seem related to "art" ...no matter what label happens to be applied by people who get a thrill from the word.
     
  41. "Mechanical excellence is the vehicle for genius" - William Blake.

    Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book entitled 'Outliers' in a similar vein. I shall definitely read this again and at length.
     
  42. "Through the habitus or virtue of art superelevating his mind from within, the artist is a ruler who uses rules according to his ends; it is as senseless to conceive of him as the slave of the rules as to consider the worker the slave of his tools. Properly speaking, he possesses them and is not possessed by them: he is not held by them, it is he who holds -- through them -- matter and the real; and sometimes, in those superior moments where the working of genius resembles in art the miracles of God in nature, he will act, not against the rules, but outside of and above them, in conformity with a higher rule and a more hidden order. Let us understand in this manner the words of Pascal: "True eloquence makes fun of eloquence, true morality makes fun of morality, to make fun of philosophy is to philosophize truly," to which the most tyrannical and the most radical of academy heads [David] adds this savory gloss: "Unless you don't care a rap about painting, painting won't care a rap about you"" -- Jaques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism
     
  43. Any athlete will tell you that you don't learn to play well by playing games; you learn to play well in practice sessions. Unless you train, you won't improve. Musicians know you must do technical practice and exercises to play well. You can't paint unless you understand the medium. You don't learn to drive race cars in the Indianapolis 500.
    I thought this was well understood.​
    While this opinion has merit, it is at best half true. No, you're not going to learn the fundamentals of your sport/art on the football field, the basketball court, or the magazine photo shoot. That said, there is a great deal of information about operating in real world situations that you can't learn in practice.
    You see this phenomenon in sports all the time. A team that was mediocre last year may get to the playoffs this year, but they'll rarely win a championship. It's only once they've been tested in the playoffs by more experience teams that they can go back the next year and refocus their efforts into becoming a championship caliber team.
    If you were an ad executive, who would you rather shoot your next bit campaign? Someone with a little bit of training and a lot of experience in fashion/adventising photography? Or someone who has two MFA's from distinguished institutions but has never worked on a real commercial photo shoot?
    The information that we gain in the classroom and the practice room/studio is only so useful. It has to be tested and tempered by real world experience before we can elevate our craft to its highest potential.
     
  44. Too many people obsess on the technical, and it stunts their artistic growth. Worse, they begin to think that it is part of a grand formula. Acquire the right hardware, learn some things, extract a little mentoring, and the rising tide will float the rest.
    Remember learning to drive a stick-shift (manual) car? It's awkward and clumsy until you get past it. Then you can focus on driving. In photography, it is the same. The technical gets in the way until you know it well enough to forget it. No internal dialogue about anything but the visual enables one to stay focused.
    In the end, you can only see what you're ready to see. If you want your photographs to change, a new fat white lens or a DX3 isn't going to do it. You have to change.​
    Well stated. Once technique is mastered and internalized it enables creativity to flow more and more effortlessly. Bach could improvise 4-voice fugues, but he could not have done so had he not first put a LOT of time and effort into developing both is compositional technique and his playing technique. Technique has the ability to liberate our creativity.
    However, we've all met people who devote all of their focus on technique and the technical aspects of their activities. They obsess over camera stability and white balance and exposure calculations when they should be contemplating compositional ideas, evaluating the quality of light, and observing their subject in anticipation of the magic moment. When the latest and greatest technical advance is announced they'll proclaim that it's "not good enough" because they need Feature X.
    Art isn't about having access to Feature X, no matter how helpful it may be. Art is about combining elements to create meaning and/or an emotional response. Technique and technology can help us create that meaning as long as it doesn't become our primary concern.
     
  45. The other great finding is that expertise is a product of willful effort, not inborn talent. Too often high achievers are billed as "naturals," which does a disservice to their hard work and discourages others from trying. The few, absolute best in each field probably have innate talent in the area, but there's nothing stopping the rest of us from developing into highly skilled practitioners.​
    People do have different levels of talent and ability. Some people will learn much faster than others. Some folks with very limited technical knowledge will take better (more impactful) photos with a point-and-shoot camera than people who've taken classes, read books, and know every feature of their shiny new DSLR. If you want evidence of this, take a look at the photos on the websites of certain well-known "gear experts." It's a good thing that they know a lot about gear, because some of them don't have a clue as to how to compose a memorable and emotionally moving photograph.
    This is true in any discipline. Some people who've never taken a lesson are better dancers/singers/fighters/musicians/photographers than other people who've studied for years. That's life, and it's not always fair. The good news is that through work and study, we have the ability to elevate ourselves from where we are today to a new level. Some people will improve more quickly; others will take longer than we do. "Naturals" exist in every field of endeavor, but that doesn't matter. We are who we are, we learn at our own pace, and we all have something of value to offer, even if someone else can get by with less effort.
    The guy who writes the Dilbert comic strip was the worst performer in his drawing classes, but he found a way to get his ideas across. In the end, his technical limitations might have worked out to be assets. Does Dilbert really need to have a neck and a mouth? The creativity and humanity shines through no matter how roughly the strip is drawn. The "hot shots" in Scott Adams' drawing classes are probably working at Starbucks.
     
  46. So the gist of the argument is if you can just pick up a camera and take stunning photgrpahs.
    Of course you can.
    Well, if you beleive that you will believe anything.
    The quote from the guitarist, how would you know which chord, how to form a triad of notes, to even play in tune. The use of the plectrum.. oh yer, just pick it up and play...
    How would you know how to switch on, select apeture and what exposure ... OH just pick it up anyone can do it.
    For some the technical side epitomises the essence of photography as they capture a moment in time, the words of Henr cartier Bresson or to use the exposure system to capture the reality of a landscape, Ansel Adams. For each there is an answer, but what best suits the individuals is a matter of trial and error. With eveything, the detailed knowledge of the performance of the camera, be it, pocket, medium or large format must be learnt. practice makes perfect, regrdless. The quick to learn have an advantage over their slower learners but the learning curve is ever present.
    Some hate to admit the hours, days of practice and minimise the effort that really led to their mastery. Other will plead for hours the anguish and the terror of the first print, the first exihibition the first prize winning ... it's all about humans with all the idosyncratic behaviour inherent.
     
  47. as in any artform, there are rules, and those rules are often broken with considerable success by the truly talented.
    yes, practising makes a better musician, but not necessarily better music: this is, apart from anything else, a matter of taste.
    the punk period has been cited above as one example. another might be hip hop in its early days: the pioneers generally didnt even know what a musical key was, never mind what key they were composing in.
    i can think of many examples of photographers who produced groundbreaking work using nothing more than an automatic point and shoot camera. Richard Billingham's book Ray's A Laugh is one clear example.
    Nick Waplington's early work is another (although he was a little more technically sophisticated than Billingham)
    Of course, to anyone who values correct exposure over all else, this work will no doubt be ultra-offensive to the eye. But this is just your personal opinion, and many others (including major collectors and museums) beg to disagree.
    However, yes, technical knowledge and know-how is rarely a hindrance. And those who get lost in the technical side of things to the detriment of creativity probably do so out of choice and would have never produced anything significant anyway as they revel in the technical rather than creation.
     
  48. The quote from the guitarist, how would you know which chord, how to form a triad of notes, to even play in tune. The use of the plectrum.. oh yer, just pick it up and play...​
    Well, Glen Campbell was a pretty fair studio guitarist back in the day. He doesn't read music. Plays by ear. Story goes he was guitarist at a Frank Sinatra recording session and Sinatra was getting upset and talked to the musical director about the guitarist who kept looking at him and not the music. Campbell was in awe of Sinatra and couldn't get over it, so kept staring at him. Similar story involving Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman. Some people just have a natural talent. I could never learn to play like that. I've tried. Fretboard freaks me out. I mean, you can actually play the same note in more than one place on a guitar. Never got beyond that. Don't have that problem with a piano.
     
  49. Photography is like all modes of personal expression. You need to learn the basics of the "tool" you work with. It is like a pencil: don't get obsessed with the pencil. It is only a tool. That takes a visual education. And that's not something you can get in an ART school. After that, you need to explore what YOU want to express. To go beyond "snapshots" there needs to be more depth to your visual images. The great thing is that You are the student And the instructor at the same time!
     
  50. Just because you buy a $6K Trek bike like Lance Armstrong doesn't mean you'll ever be a good cyclist. It's a start for sure, just a start.
    Photography is no different (though I do think it's MUCH easier to excel at photography than pro cycling and it's far less dangerous).
     
  51. The technical side should be first and absolutly learned until you understand it. The problem lies in people getting carried away with it by trying to do exactly what the "photo magazines" show in your average grocery store.
    Once someone learns how to take a photograph and expose for dark or light parts, and understands what he/she wants to express, it should all become the background when their cognitive mind is trying to capture what he/she sees. As long as you have a very strong subject and bring everything into place at the right moment, a photograph will be powerful. Rules are helpful, certainly, but more then that the content in a photograph overrides those rules, and if you place content in very strongly visual positions, you'll be happy with the exposures you make. This is what Photo Journalists strive for.
     
  52. The technical side should be first and absolutly learned until you understand it.​
    Perhaps, but most people will give up if they have to focus on technique before creativitiy. Our impulse it not to learn every control on a DSLR, every way to develop film, and every menu item in Photoshop. Our impulse is to create unique, exciting images that distinguish our vision and represent something about our personality. As we create images, we'll want to create better images, and that's when technique will begin to have an appeal.

    Think of anything that people do well. They didn't start doing it correctly; they just did it. If a child taking his first steps were scoldied for "not walking in a straight line" or "falling down all the time," he'd never learn to walk. Yet, nearly everyone who's physically able to walk can walk perfectly well. The same goes with speaking. When a small child says, "me hungry," his mother doesn't yell at him for neglecting to use a verb or for using an object pronoun as a subject. The child is encouraged to do whatever he can do, and eventually he figures out the way that the grammatical pieces fit together.
    Contrast this with the way we are taught math in school or the way that piano lessons are taught. No wonder most people hate math and quit taking piano lessons as soon as they can get their parents to give up on the idea.
    One great thing about learning to take photographs is that people leave you alone while you're learning. Nobody expects perfection. Nobody threatens to take the camera away from you if you come back from vacation with too many poorly composed or badly exposed photographs. We are FREE to dabble and makes mistakes for years if that's what it takes. And guess what - lots of people LOVE to take pictures. That probably wouldn't be the case if someone crammed a bunch of strict rules down our throats every time we picked up a camera. Desire comes first; refinement comes later.
     
  53. wow... photographers sure have a lot to say. Is it because we are so deep, perceptive and smart or just have a lot of time to spare? Either way, I'm impressed by quantity and quality of the writings in these forums.
     

Share This Page

1111