No Meaning Intended, but that doesn't stop viewers from applying one

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by jordan2240, Oct 31, 2014.

  1. As viewers of art, particularly anything that is somewhat abstract, whether it be poetry, paintings, photos, etc., we often try to get inside the artists head and interpret what he/she had in mind when creating the piece. I often wonder when I overhear conversations at a gallery, for example, what the artist might think if he was observing such conversation. I contend that, in many cases, that artist didn't have anything particular in mind at all, but simply thought what he was creating was 'cool.'
    So that got me to wondering how many examples we might be able to come up with, from our own work, of a photo that was taken with no deep meaning in mind, but that others viewing it on a gallery wall (should we be so lucky) might try to apply some deep meaning to. My own example comes from a series of splash photos I took simply because I thought it would be interesting to see what was captured. Turns out you can get some pretty interesting shapes, but anything that resembles something else is pure coincidence. I'd love to hear what interpretations a viewer might apply though.
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  2. I see a guy holding a long skinny penis above his head.
     
  3. anything that resembles something else is pure coincidence.​
    When I listen to my own work carefully, it often tells me something. What I may have intended is sometimes less important than what I actually came up with.

    "A work of art is a confession." —Albert Camus
    Intentions are different from meanings. We can derive meaning from art without necessarily projecting intentions onto the artist. And most artists seem to give up wanting control over their art once it's made public. IMO, the artist doesn't get to decide what his painting or photo does or doesn't mean. If art is at all alive, it has life beyond and is bigger than the artist who made it. That's part of its beauty.
    Either it's purely coincidence or everything happens for a reason. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
    "Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth." —Pablo Picasso
    As for your splash, it's not always about meaning.
    “I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger than reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” —Anaïs Nin

    Sometimes, meaning can be a wall between us and art.
     
  4. Hmmm, interesting Gordon. Perhaps psychiatrists can use these insead of Rorschach. You missed the white ape on the right side of the splash, or perhaps it's a yetti!
    Anyway, I wasn't asking for folks to apply an interpretation to my image, but to provide their own that was shot with no specific interpretation in mind but that viewers in an art gallery might try to apply some deep meaning to.
     
  5. So that got me to wondering how many examples we might be able to come up with, from our own work, of a photo that was taken with no deep meaning in mind, but that others viewing it on a gallery wall (should we be so lucky) might try to apply some deep meaning to.​
    Though this was made with "no specific interpretation" in mind, it was made knowing that there could be many different meanings derived from it or applied to it. The kind of storytelling I sometimes like can garner a variety of reactions, stimulated by the photo but also personalizing itself to the viewer. Rather than this simply being cool or having no meaning for me, it has possibilities . . .

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  6. IMO, the artist doesn't get to decide what his painting or photo does or doesn't mean. If art is at all alive, it has life beyond and is bigger than the artist who made it. That's part of its beauty.​
    Interesting observation Fred. As you suggest, the beauty of art is in its ability to mean different things to different viewers, and each of us interpret it based on a number of influences in our lives. But as we discussed in a recent POW thread, there are times when an artist does have a specific intent and times when he/she had absolutely no intent other than to create an image.
    As viewers, I think we often try to guess at what message the artist was trying to convey, and I find the idea of a bunch of folk standing around a painting trying to analyze it when no deep thought went into it rather amusing - very 'woodyallenish' actually. And I don't mean to insult anyone nor take away any enjoyment derived from such analysis, as I've certainly been one of those viewers. But I often wonder what it would be like to be the artist listening to how a work is being interpreted when it wasn't created with any interpretation in mind.
     
  7. I think a lot of artists wouldn't find what their viewers do amusing. I think many artists understand what art inspires in a viewer and don't try to control that. Woody Allen makes a good point and I think he'd probably agree it's a limited one. I doubt he takes himself, especially, too seriously.
    I've stood in a gallery now on a couple of different occasions hearing all kinds of interpretations and understandings of my photos. I find it fascinating. Mostly, it's the type of sharing around photography that's a vital part of it for me. It's part of the joy of showing my work. It's not just about you getting to know or think you know me, the photographer. It's also about me getting to know you, the viewer. And maybe even me getting to know myself and/or my work, through you, the viewer. I'm not a photographer who would risk the kind of dynamics I want with those viewing my photos by being "amused" by them unless, of course, they're just kidding around.
     
  8. Oops, never mind then.
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  9. Photographers always imbue their intentional photographs with some message, however abstract or unformed.
    It's the old signified/signifier concept. If we deliberately choose a subject and the moment to photograph it, we've opened the door to communication and interpretation. We may disagree with the viewer's interpretation, but the viewer cannot possible be wrong. We offered a jumble of letters and/or words. The reader may assemble the message as he or she sees fit. But we limited the potential variations of that message through our choices of elements.
    Creators are seldom in complete control of their creations. As with involuntary "tells" recognized by poker players and lie detectors, we often add subconscious context to our conscious content in photographs, art, music, writing and anything we create.
    My interpretation of your water splash photograph is that you are experiencing a transitional phase in your development as a photographer and you consciously or unconsciously chose mutable water as an experimental medium because it lends itself to that particular phase in your development. That's a Good Thing.
     
  10. Perception is nearly as much active 'art' as is conception.
    Benedetto Croce sort of suggested that one measure of the effectiveness of an artistic representation was the extent to which the artist could influence the perception of the work.
    Many Abstract Expressionists would reject this completely and place all emphasis on the creative side, and devil take the perception side.
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  11. "My own example comes from a series of splash photos I took simply because I thought it would be interesting to see what was captured."

    The interesting bit, the "meaning" if you will, is the thing about why you found it interesting to see what you could capture. Why that, and not an ink drawing of a spinning wheel or a novella about life in China?
    There is no conception without perception. The two are inseparable. The artist does decide. Artists do make choices, even if they think they're just doing things willynilly and that viewers are putting meaning in what the artists produce that aren't there. These choices aren't as random, or meaningless, as one might think. There is always a reason why a thing is created, even when the artist isn't aware of it him- or herself.
    And it could well be that the artist isn't all that conscious of what he is dealing with, what he is doing, not aware of, say, a particular fascination he is caught up in even though it is rather obvious to an outsider, i.e. a viewer. It doesn't have to (though it as well could) be the result of a well thought through, detailed plan. Nor does it happen all by itself. There is no "simply creating" anything. Every work is intentional, even "accidental" ones. And the artist is indeed the one who decides. Just as i am the one who deicde what words i put together and what they are supposed to mean. It does not just become alive because someone else wants to read into them whatever he/she wants. On the contrary - that would 'kill' my effort.
    And as a viewer, i would be interested to know what made you try stop motion images of water, and not write a short note on today's weather. If i can't discern what made this of interest to you, i may either assume i know too little (and start guessing - generally not good), or decide it is not interesting at all, not worth my while.
     
  12. How about now?
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  13. Interesting responses all. Perhaps I should have posted this in the philosophy forum. Why does one grab an orange instead of an apple, assuming both are available? Why does one sit at the end of the sofa rather than the middle. In a bathroom with three urinals, if none are in use, does the one you choose say something about you? I suppose every action we take was preceded by some conscious thought, and perhaps everything we create has some meaning deeper than what we might have intended. But there is also art created with an intended meaning, and while it might be interesting to hear how others interpret it, I can't help but think the artist would like someone to get it.
    As for my splash photos, I was simply bored. The weather was better fit to staying in, and I was brainstorming shots I could set up that might have an interesting result. I initially tried shooting the patterns formed by food coloring dropped in water, but that didn't prove particularly interesting. There was an artist in town who once created paintings by tying rags to a hoola-hoop, dipping them in paint, then brushing the rags against a canvas as she hoola-hooped beside it. One might look at those results in a gallery and apply some intelligent analytical thought as to what the artist was trying to achieve and the significance of the hoola-hoop, but I'd contend she was simply trying to think of something different, saw the hoola-hoop sitting in the garage, and went 'eureka!'
    I'm not implying that art isn't open to analysis no matter what the intent, but that we might often be reading something much deeper into a work than the artist ever intended. Perhaps you ate the orange simply because it was the first piece of fruit you saw, sat on the end of the sofa because it was the first seat available, or picked the first urinal because you really had to go and it was the closest to the door.
     
  14. we might often be reading something much deeper into a work than the artist ever intended​
    That's possible. My question is, so what? How often do you think people look at very intentional and meaningful works of art and simply see something pretty? Some people hang prints of Van Gogh because they suit the color scheme of their living rooms. Doesn't make much of an impression on me. When I come across something that strikes me as art, I'm happy to go deep with it, if that's where it takes me, and risk someone making fun of me when the artist claims he was just fooling around and didn't mean anything by it. I think there's meaning in human action and in the results produced by our actions, even when not fully understood or perceived by the person performing the action. I'm OK with someone thinking me foolish for being too deep.
    Perhaps you ate the orange simply because it was the first piece of fruit you saw, sat on the end of the sofa because it was the first seat available, or picked the first urinal because you really had to go and it was the closest to the door.​
    All very possible, of course. But, in general, I'd say artists don't just pick the first thing that comes along and don't head towards what's closest or most convenient. And most photos I care to spend time with don't seem to be approached because of ease or being the closest thing handy. Art has a lot to do with attention and focus. Many men might well walk into a bathroom and not care which urinal they use, though having observed men in bathrooms, I find there's often quite a bit of intention behind the choice of urinal, particularly when it means they can avoid standing right next to another guy. But that aside, were I photographing a urinal, I'd be more likely to consider which one had a certain light falling on it, which was either clean or dirty depending on what I was after, etc. IMO, eating an orange is different from and is chosen differently from painting one.
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    Also, Bill, I'm still thinking of your Woody Allen reference. I'm not sure, at least in both Annie Hall and Manhattan, he was poking fun at seeing art as meaningful as much as he was poking fun at intellectual snobbery and a sort of psuedo-intellectualism. Not all interpretations of art and not all meaningful looks at art, I think Allen would agree, are of that sort. It was a particular bent of some, especially in the 70s when these films were made, to overreach when talking about art. But surely not all meaning discovered in art is of this type.
     
  15. Woody Allen did something very similar in one of his latest films, 'Midnight in Paris,' in which he had a character that 'overthought' art, so I don't think he's finished with that concept just yet. But it typically doesn't matter how people interpret art unless such interpretation leads to unintended negative consequences for either the artist of society as a whole, which is not outside the realm of possibility and probably has happened. This is Georgia O' Keeffe's response to critics who felt her flower series was a representation of her sexuality (well, if you believe what you find on the internet anyway):
    “Well – I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.”

    Was she harmed by the critical interpretation, I don't know, but I imagine she lost a few fans if nothing else. And then there's the interpretations (or misinterpretations) associated with religion...
    I suppose the intent of the thread was to poke a little fun at the art world, which I find sometimes takes itself way too seriously (my step-daughter is the exhibitions manager at a local art museum, so I've been around the environment enough to witness a number of these analytical conversations). The impetus was some of the recent POW conversations, particularly the shot from this week which, even though I like it, was basically a 'grab shot' the photographer took because he happened to be walking by and liked the atmosphere. As people who enjoy photography, we tend to look for pictures everywhere, and not every shot has meaning beyond the aesthetic.
    As always, appreciate your discussion, even though this has gone a bit further down the philosophical track than intended.
     
  16. the intent of the thread was to poke a little fun at the art world​
    That was clear from the beginning. :)
    It was also clear to me that Mário's POTW this week was a grab shot. I don't really understand how its being a grab shot has relevance to what we're discussing. Can't a grab shot have meaning, can't it be deep, can't it be described, understood, and analyzed? I'd hate to tell most street shooters their shots don't have meaning and don't deserve more than a quick glance by viewers. Should a viewer limit his time spent thinking and discussing a photo to the amount of time it took the photographer to take the shot? If Mário didn't take the time to notice or care whether the car motor was running, is it then laughable that a viewer would? Mário was there, which is a very different matter from a viewer who is seeing a STILLED MOMENT in a photo. This is what makes photography so outstanding . . . stilling the moment can imbue it with very different kinds of significance than the moment itself. Your point about the photo being a grab shot in the context of this discussion escapes me. Photographers and painters often transform more than they copy. Mário wasn't just bringing us THAT moment exactly as he experienced it in real time. A still photo simply won't do that. No more than Monet was simply bringing us THAT landscape.
    "For an Impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realize sensations." —Paul Cezanne

    "Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man." —Edward Steichen

    Please don't get me wrong, Bill. These guys simply have a point. I'm not limiting looking at painting or photography to these ways of seeing them or discussing them. But I'm also not consistently making fun of others' ways of doing so.
     
  17. But I'm also not consistently making fun of others' ways of doing so.​
    I hope you don't think I'm doing that Fred. I'm not trying to pinhole anything, but do believe that there is a lot of art that gets extensively contemplated that isn't meant to be. My point about Mario's 'grab shot' was not to criticize it, but to note that it was likely taken because it appealed to him from an aesthetic standpoint and he thought it told an interesting story, not because it represented something greater than that. But that wouldn't stop viewers from analyzing the use of color or the lack of sharpness or the gaze of the woman, etc. etc. And I'm not even saying that Mario may not have had those things in mind, or perhaps thought of them as he developed the shot, but that doesn't preclude the idea that participants in the art world can attach much more meaning to things than was intended, which I find a bit humorous at times. Apparently I'm the only one - well, me, my brother, and Woody Allen.
     
  18. participants in the art world can attach much more meaning to things than was intended​
    I agree. And even photographers can either attach or find more meaning in their own photos than they thought was intended or than they were originally aware of.

    This thread is a good case in point. Your splash picture is one you say you took because it would be interesting to see what was captured. So, right there, you're suggesting that it was your intention to take a picture of something knowing full well what would be captured might be interesting and might likely go somewhat beyond whatever you were seeing at the moment. You, yourself, differentiated between what you were actually photographing on the one hand and what would be captured on the other. In your own words, it would be about not what you were photographing per se but about what you were about to capture in a photo, which was as yet unknown to you and would be "interesting."

    But regardless of that, my best guess is that you chose to post it here (as your stated intention for the thread itself was to poke fun at over-interpretation by the art world) because you, in fact, knew that it was just the kind of abstract photo with lots of shapes and movement that would invite interpretations. So, regardless of what you intended from the beginning, you, yourself, saw the potential it had and that's why you posted it. Then, sure, we could all have a good laugh at the various interpretations offered despite the fact that you didn't intend any of those specific interpretations. My claim is that the laugh might actually be on you, who already recognized the power of your photo to go beyond your own input and then would "poke fun" at those who approached it just the way you knew it would work. By your own words, your taking of this photo and then your choosing it for this thread, you show me that you, too, know that photos go beyond the specific meanings the photographer may or may not give to it.
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    Oh, and I meant to say a long time that Gordon is right. There is definitely a penis there. Hell, they're EVERYWHERE!
     
  19. Below is a grab shot I've been self critical about for some time on why I didn't zoom in using landscape orientation in order to emphasize the most compelling, high energy subject I carefully prepared to capture as I listened and waited for the train to pass in front of me.
    The thing is I like the vertical orientation and overall composition and attempted to explain to myself why. So this may be an example of the creator and/or critic reading too much into the image after the moment passed because when I set up the camera I had very little time to think or SEE through the viewfinder what was captured. Had no idea the American flag would be on the side of a locomotive much less make it in the frame of my quick grab shot.
    I remembered from my cartooning and illustration books I read in my youth about emphasis and de-emphasis or juxtaposition in order guide the viewer with composition on what to look at as a way to analyze why I like this image.
    Using the static very sharp and clear vertical crossing light in the foreground dominating the overall frame along with the clear blue sky creates more tension and emphasis on the blurry, small section of the train than if I'ld just did a straight shot of the train filling a landscape oriented frame. So partially concealing and receding to background the most powerful and energetic subject made the subject even more powerful and energetic with the American flag making it in the frame as icing on the cake.
    Is that reading too much into the image? I don't think so. But I had to do this self analysis because I find I do this kind of compositional arranging without thinking about it and I wonder if anyone else would pick up on it or develop an eye for recognizing this unless they read the books I mentioned above.
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  20. Georgia O'Keeffe's quote reminds us very well that it is bad to start guessing. If we, the art world, and anyone else, don't know something we should investigate. That includes some initial speculation, but it should not be just speculation.<br>However the art world may be a place where there is too much speculation, where a lot of nonsense is invented, we should not forget that the important bit to and in the art world is not how to interpret an individual piece of art as much as how to understand the place of that work in what the artist is doing and/through the place of the artist in the world. The artist, what moves him or her, is a lot more important (and interesting) than an individual (in this case) photograph.<br>Take your sample, Bill. I don't think you mind very much if i wouldn't think it something i need to look at again. What interests me more, what interests the art world more (well... some of it) is the whole thing Fred was going on about: why did you decide to do just that? And poking fun is a very valid reason among many for any work of art.<br>That doesn't mean, of course, that this particular image is that: a work of art. The question is not just why you did it, but also if you achieved something worthwhile. A big part of the answer to that depends not on you or your motives, but also on whether it is something we (viewers) have a use, a place for.<br>It's a lot like saying things: a warning, for instance, can be extremely relevant and important. Life saving and ditto changing. But at the wrong time in the wrong place, it is just something to ignore, of no value. And that you help decide, but not alone: circumstances, context, and the recipient are factors of more weight.<br>And that is where artist and audience meet: a shared context, shared circumstances. People rarely yell out warnings unless they and the people they are warning are in a context in which the shouter recognizes the danger the receivers are in. Interpretations aren't so much free interpretations as it might seem, but attempts to recognize the common interest.
     
  21. First of all, anyone who was involved in the recent thread decrying the value of photo.net and questioning the usefulness of the forums should take a look at this thread. I don't think this is the sort of conversation you'd get anywhere else, though I could be wrong since photo.net is the only photo site I visit with any regularity except for flickr, which I only use for posting my shots.
    In terms of my own shot in this thread, I didn't post it to get interpretations from others. I posted it as an example of a photo I could imagine people gathering around and applying much greater significance to than was intended.

    "Hmmm, there is an obvious penis coming from the top of the shape, but if you look to the right, you can see an almost perfect profile of an ape. The penis then, is protruding from the top of the ape's head. If we associate the ape with man, then the photographer must be saying that man is a d*** head!"
    And that's very interesting, but not at all intended. The 'photographer' wasn't saying anything specific and certainly had little control over the outcome (well, I could have edited it to represent something specific, but didn't). What was intended was to capture some cool images (to me) and see what recognizable shapes came out of them.
    Tim, ironically, I just processed a very similar shot to yours, using slow shutter speed to capture a train as it moved over bridge. My intent was to do nothing more than record the motion blur within the stillness of the bridge for no other reason than I thought it might look cool. I might do some more tweaks to it once I take some PSE tutorials since I just acquired the latest version, but I've posted it below. I think you have done with your own image what I'm referring to in terms of over-analysis, but again, I'm not saying it's wrong to do that, and I think we often look back at our photos and try to imagine what meaning others might apply to them that we ourselves didn't intend. Someone viewing your shot is likely to think the inclusion of the American flag was intentional, and analyze it in that regard, which is ok, but completely unintentional, and for me, might even seem a bit funny.
    That doesn't mean, of course, that this particular image is that: a work of art. The question is not just why you did it, but also if you achieved something worthwhile​
    QG, this is my point. I think there are times when we put so much analysis and interpretation into a piece that we convince ourselves the artist has achieved something far more profound than ever intended or even deserved - the 'emperors new clothes' syndrome. Of course, as you note, that's largely up to the viewer. In the case of O'keeffe, feminist groups apparently tried to hold her up as a champion of feminism because of the perceived genitalia in her flower shots, which she refused to be.
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  22. "I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore." —Georgia O'Keeffe​
     
  23. Tim, there's much to take away from your photo and what you write about it. Thanks. Here are a few things I take away.
    It would be wrong to attribute to you an intentional decision to include the American flag. It would not be wrong to see the American flag as a key symbol in your photo, regardless of its accidental nature. It's there. I see it and feel it. It's part of the picture.
    I like your description of the flag as "icing on the cake." A lot of the best photos have something like that.
    I agree with your assessment of how the vertical and solid light post works in the photo. It's not necessarily the kind of thing a good photographer will make explicit to himself while in the moment of shooting, but the knowledge of how juxtaposition, relative scale, and visual orientation work will obviously influence a photographer even when he's not overtly thinking about it at the time. What I think about when I'm lying awake in bed before I fall asleep has a great power over me even when I'm not thinking about it the next day when I'm out shooting.
    Others may, as you say, not pick up on it or recognize it. And as I sense you also recognize, that doesn't mean it isn't affecting them. Many people can't and wouldn't even try to explain why a photo makes them feel a certain way. That doesn't much matter. I don't spend time on the minute details of my lighting, my exposure, my composition, my cropping, where I dodge and burn, what color emphasis I utilize because I want or think people will specifically notice all that I've done. But every one of those decisions helps create the final photo they will experience. And it will affect their feeling about that, whether they know it or not and whether they can articulate it or not.
    I think a photographer, like you, who is willing to and is so able to articulate these things to himself will improve his vision and his photos, will be more in touch with subtle nuances which are not necessarily meant to be overtly noticed but are meant to influence the bigger picture.
     
  24. Thanks for the very insightful comments Bill and Fred.
    I agree, Bill, I wish there were more threads like these at Photo.net, but it does take a lot of time and introspection by not only the OP but also the contributors to come up with something compelling enough to inspire a dialog without coming across self indulgent, egotistical and/or boring.
    I don't really like talking too much about my own photos unless I discover something meaningful and interesting to contribute other than the fact I just like them.
    Bill, you really captured the power, force and bigger than life feel in your blurred train image. I have to admit from memory I intentionally knew I was going to get a blurred train from rechecking the exposure setting in Bridge of 1/50's, f/22, ISO 200, an aperture setting I rarely use. So that points to preconception and intent to create some contrast between the static elements as you did with the iron bridge. BTW the hacked in half crossing light hugging the left side seems comically haphazard from a compositional sense which kind of gives the image a "What? Me Worry?" attitude. I'm still not sure whether you should leave it in or crop it out. Maybe that's the juxtaposition or contrast to emphasize the bigger than life feel of the fast moving train.
    There is such a thing as visual language. It's just I'm never certain how many folks can read it in an image. The viewer has to bring something to the table when assessing value in the images they view even if it's just a gut feeling.
    Fred, I get a sense the more heart photographers and image creators in general put into creating an image will translate to viewers without them having it explained or them attempting to explain its appeal. I put quite a bit of noodling around in post as I'm sure you do which becomes an adventure of discovery what can be drawn out of an initially mundane, ordinary scene. I can thank shooting in Raw for that engrossing adventure.
    I keep shooting stupid cloud/land sunset landscapes captured at different times of the year in my local park and continue to bring out beautifully impossible looking color designs that weren't in the original scene. I keep having to remind myself that this is just clouds and that I should just get over it, but they look so much like throwbacks to old '20's and '30's Maxfield Parrish calendar art that I have to scratch my head to figure out how this is happening.
    Where are these colors coming from? Is it from shooting Raw? It's just fascinating to me. I don't see any sunset clouds look like this online. That tells me I'm on to something unique I'm not sure anyone's going to appreciate or just call it another stupid cloud picture. There's nothing meaningful and deep about them, but I just like how they're coming out.
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  25. BTW the hacked in half crossing light hugging the left side seems comically haphazard from a compositional sense which kind of gives the image a "What? Me Worry?" attitude. I'm still not sure whether you should leave it in or crop it out. Maybe that's the juxtaposition or contrast to emphasize the bigger than life feel of the fast moving train.​
    It's funny Tim, I didn't really notice that in the composition when I was taking the shot, as I was concentrating on keeping the bridge in the frame as far to the right as possible to get the most train (shot was taken hand-held at like 1/13 second - love the IS built into Pentax DSLRs), and when I noticed it in review, I too wasn't sure whether I should crop it out or not. In the end, I came to the same conclusion as your last sentence. Would probably be an interesting shot for the WPPC in the digital darkroom forum, though that seems to be waning in interest.
     
  26. I didn't really notice that in the composition when I was taking the shot​
    For me, more important than meaning, viewer interpretation, and concern with who says what in the art world, something about what you say here would be my key take away from this photo, if it were mine. It's not that I'm not sometimes surprised by something that creeps into a composition unnoticed, but improving my vision is always at the forefront of my own concerns. That wouldn't necessarily include "noticing" something so obvious at the edge of one of my frames occupying space in front of my subject, because "noticing" could imply overt awareness. It would be more about developing a gut instinct for expressive and/or effective composition (by effective composition, I mean composition that helps communicate the significance of what I'm showing in the frame), which I am at the early to perhaps mid stages of developing, so that even such surprises would work or my instincts would lead me to include what works for the photo and leave out what doesn't. Of course, someone running into the frame at the last second, I'm not necessarily responsible for, but other things I believe I am. Of course if the person running into the frame made it a better picture, I'd be happy to accept it as a gift.

    I wouldn't put all the responsibility for reading too much meaning or not enough meaning onto the viewers. I think when a photographer him or herself has a very fluid and instinctual eye and voice, it is more likely that some actual communication will take place, even if there is still mystery, ambiguity, or open question to that communication. [Sometimes, "communication" is not the right word here, and "expression" is a better word.]

    Ultimately, my point would be not to worry about viewers I don't care about or viewers I think are pretentious or out to impress someone or who over-indulge in intellectual interpretation. Likewise, I wouldn't worry too much about all the hollow souls who might view my photos superficially. The people I want to share with are a different sort of viewer than that. I'm not trying to appeal to or communicate with everybody.

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    Something important to me I thought I'd add at this point . . . Even if we don't find intent in certain things about our own photos or those of others, for example, it seems like Bill didn't intend that crossing post to be there so we could find ourselves in a pickle if we talked at length about how marvelous it was that the photographer made a purposely haphazard maneuver in including it, he picked the photo from out of hundreds and probably thousands of others to show the world (at least the world of this thread). In picking what photos we will process and show, we are also using intention and also saying a lot. So, in picking this photo with the crossing post cut off by the edge of the frame, Bill does become, in some sense, responsible for it. It wouldn't be an issue if he files it among thousands of other negatives or files but when he chooses the photo, it becomes, IMO, a little more his to own.
    [Of course, this photo is a specific case in point, because Bill is obviously using it as an example and may only have chosen it for that reason. So, I mean in general, when we choose a photo, we use more intention and I think more will then naturally be attributed to us as photographers because of our choice to show it. So, though Tim was seemingly not responsible for the American flag in his photo other than his being there for the accident (which actually does account for something in my book), he may very well have taken a bunch of shots of trains that day, and the others may not have had an American flag, and he may well have chosen this photo because it does have the flag. So, suddenly, it gets some of his intention even though that intention wasn't there when he shot.]
     
  27. In a bathroom with three urinals, if none are in use, does the one you choose say something about you?​
    This question will be with me for the rest of my life. Selecting a urinal will never be the same again.
    I tend to shoot the one closest to me but furthest from anyone else.
    --Lannie
     
  28. Sorry Lannie.
    he may very well have taken a bunch of shots of trains that day, and the others may not have had an American flag, and he may well have chosen this photo because it does have the flag. So, suddenly, it gets some of his intention even though that intention wasn't there when he shot.​
    Very valid point Fred. I did consider that as this conversation progressed.
     
  29. In a bathroom with three urinals, if none are in use, does the one you choose say something about you?​
    I tend to choose the urinal with cigarette butts, gum or wads of paper in it, so I can play machine gunner.
     
  30. So, though Tim was seemingly not responsible for the American flag in his photo other than his being there for the accident (which actually does account for something in my book), he may very well have taken a bunch of shots of trains that day, and the others may not have had an American flag, and he may well have chosen this photo because it does have the flag. So, suddenly, it gets some of his intention even though that intention wasn't there when he shot.​
    I did rattle off 3 shots and picked the one with the American flag and threw the others away. However, I'm not sure it could be considered meaningful intent since I didn't know the train that was about to pass from right to left out of my line of sight as I waited was going to have an American Flag.
    My intent behind choosing the version posted here and what I hoped to be communicated to the viewer was a sense of silly luck and happenstance which to me feels more meaningful and entertaining. I actually laughed seeing this one shot out of the three chimping my camera's LCD preview after the train passed. Don't know if it was the ultimate demonstration of the "Decisive Moment", but what the hey! It was fun!
     
  31. but what the hey! It was fun​
    Ultimately Tim, that's all that really matters, isn't it. For most of us, photography is simply fun, and if we do move a viewer from time to time whether it be with a message or the aesthetic, that's an appreciated bonus.
     
  32. Ultimately Tim, that's all that really matters, isn't it. For most of us, photography is simply fun, and if we do move a viewer from time to time whether it be with a message or the aesthetic, that's an appreciated bonus.​
    I think this is a crucial difference among photographers and painters. Many artists don't seem to be having fun or, if they are, it's not their primary goal. When it's not the goal per se, it may or may not be a by-product. Some artists do suffer, even though there may be a mythology that's developed around that, too. I think this is a good reason why all photographers should not be considered artists. Photography is, indeed, a hobby for many and should be respected and honored as such. But I am constantly reminded that photography is many different things to many different people.
    ________________________________________________
    Tim, I was going to include the fact, and I'm glad you mentioned it, that even though you picked the one with the American flag and even if you had had no other photos that day, you may have picked this photo for other reasons. Maybe you liked the exposure. Maybe the light was just right. Maybe, as you say, it was a silly happenstance. Still, I would tie your intent to the American flag as a sign of that silly happenstance. That's the cue in your photo, to you, and now to others who are listening to you, of the silly happenstance. And the flag is carrying that. Furthermore, there would likely have been some things that could have been printed on the side of the train as it went by that would not have moved you to process, print, and show this photo. So, I wouldn't be surprised if the flag has other associations for you that moved you to pick it as a symbol of happenstance vs. some other thing on the side of the train that wouldn't have done so. Symbols are rich that way. They have many associations and meanings.
    Yes, sometimes a cigar is a cigar, but cigars (and even trains!) have rich phallic history and denying symbolic gesture, even if unintended, can be tricky. This train, because of the very horizontal and static perspective on it (even though it's not static in that it's moving) doesn't seem like a phallic symbol. But if a photographer shoots a train from a different perspective, emphasizing its length, hardness, and power, perhaps heading right for a tunnel, people might well read in phallic symbol. The photographer could deny the symbolic intent all day long if he hadn't thought he shot or chose it for that reason or meant it that way and yet, IMO, he'd as likely be in denial as the people reading something into it might be wrong. That photographer may not have formed the intent to make a phallic symbol, but his subconscious may have, or his being steeped in a certain visual culture may have, or his instincts may have.
    Something can be fun, silly, and meaningful all at the same time. I will say this. If it were the only American flag or symbol of Americana or political symbol in your portfolio or your current show that I was viewing, it would have much less impact than if I saw the flag or a related symbol more often. This is where body of work can be so important if we're going to try to tie intent to results and if we're going to try to understand the photographer's sensibilities and sensitivities.
    In any case, the important thing for me is not so much your intent, but what the PHOTO has to offer. And its offering a blurred American flag on a moving train has meaning and message regardless of your intent. As they say, it is what it is. And to someone else, including you, it may be something else. But, for me, I take photographer's and artist's explanations with a grain of salt. They can be very helpful in their insights in helping me understand things about their work. But they don't have the last word on the meaning of what I see. A lot of artists don't even like words, so they use them off-handedly and sometimes even purposely to mislead because they think a lot of this stuff can't be put into words. My approach to people talking about their own photography or art is healthy skepticism. It's important but the photo and the art also speak, often more truthfully or at least candidly.
     
  33. But if a photographer shoots a train from a different perspective, emphasizing its length, hardness, and power, perhaps heading right for a tunnel, people might well read in phallic symbol.​
    I definitely saw my train as a cigar, Fred. ;)
    You're the second person that's associated a possible "phallic symbol" to one of my images. Back in '79 our art class at the Art Institute of Houston was asked to paint an object that was colored red and I chose to paint a picture of a fire plug on a residential curbed corner dead center with a receding fence line toward horizon on either side forming a chevron shape behind the fire plug.
    A rather liberal, "Lilith Fair" bohemian-esque young, intellectual woman classmate stated..."Wow! Tim, what's with the phallic symbol?" As a country boy new to the big city, I didn't know what she meant and once she told me, I fired back..."Well, now that you've explained it, I'll start thinking and seeing those kind of shapes in that way from here on out. I thank you for putting that in my head".
     
  34. Coming late to this discussion, I may not have absorbed all the points made.
    There seems to be a line between pure documentation, whose meaning and content is known by any viewer, and work that is so personal that only the maker has any insight.
    In my experience many photos fall too close to that personal end where the hints of meanings and emotions of the maker are so faint that the viewer asked to provide so much of the connection that every viewer has a completely different interpretation. IMO, these images are too often within the confidence interval of nothing.
    I prefer my own pictures to be overt enough that the viewer understands what I am seeing and presenting to them.
     
  35. There seems to be a line between pure documentation, whose meaning and content is known by any viewer, and work that is so personal that only the maker has any insight.​
    And between those lines, Lewis, I believe lie those photos taken simply because you thought the scene was 'pretty' (many landscapes, for instance) or the subject interesting (like macro perhaps). But maybe that's what you meant by 'documentation,' though I took it to mean something more like photojournalism.
    Your comment is actually more appropriate, I think, for the sequel discussion regarding photos taken with specific intent. Thanks for jumping in.
     
  36. I think it is more than documentation, Bill. It is saying "look at this, because it is pretty". People may disagree both about that landscape being pretty and about that it is worth looking at. It is very much a statement, not pure record.<br>Pure documentation does not exist. But now we're firmly into a discussion about the supposed but never found Truth in Photography.
     

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