Proof sheet of life.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by alan_zinn, Dec 29, 2011.

  1. Reflecting on a comment in the casual topics list regarding how many frames different notable photographers eventually print I suggested that proof sheets, and increasingly more common, digital indexes, must reveal a great deal about them. Setting aside the obvious requirements of commercial work, contrast those who's skill and vision can find several "keepers" on one roll or similar digital metric, and others who fire away like there is no tomorrow. Is it somehow evident in their work? How about your own work?
    Have you changed since the digital era? Equipment is significant, of course, but there must be interesting psychological and philosophical components.
    I've gone all digi' so thrift and parsimony is lost by me. That seems to fit my shoot first nature.
  2. Over the decades I was stingy with film: or, as I liked to put it, I didn't shoot until I saw the whites of their eyes. For a long while I was deliberately the same with digital, but now I have seen the advantages of firing bursts of two or three in certain situations. By today's standards that is still economical. I remain properly stingy with film. There are of course times when getting a picture, any picture, is more important than the quality of the picture.
  3. While I shoot thousands each year, I rarely send them to print. I only print family photos for my mother. But I have a sort of "electronic" photo album since I shoot and post a photo a day on my blog and post family and friend photos on Facebook. Last year I printed a book containing all of my blog posts for 2010 and will do so again in 2011. And every once in a while I'll enlarge, print, and frame one of my favorites.
  4. Many think that a photo is a photo, but even in the art world, a work is not considered finished until it is mounted and framed. To me, a photo that is not ready to hang on the wall, or published in a book, or such, is just a potentiality, an unfinished sketch. A serious artist has workbooks full of sketches, but she only considers them ideas, not art.
  5. I don't shoot a lot of images in any one situation or place. It was the same with film as it is with digital, with the exception that I do shoot a little more in digital to make the exposure modifications necessary to obtain the desired result, once done with film as much in the darkroom as in the camera. But pointing the camera in this and that direction, or from this or that angle, during a multitude of shutter bursts has never been my approach.
    The parsity of instantaneous shots results from a conscious observing and identifying of interesting images before they are made, over an interval of some length. This means that when the photograph is made it or the approach has been previously thought about and acted out in my head. However, such thoughts are also not foreign to that of exploration (with its unknowns), but that is normally a conscious act as well, in which I try to see how something may look upon photographing it differently, rather than pre-determining all the parameters and intended effects.
    With an approach of limited picture making coupled with a sometimes lengthy and intensive period of searching for images (in the mind, in the field), or creating them, my success rate is probably higher than if I photographed more rapidly and less coupled to a specific intent. The series of images (as files or as proof sheets or contact sheets) often have a lot of interrelationships with each other, although only some may be "on target". Quite often, I will go back and remove earlier choices or elevate rejected ones to the selected level, and to treat the image in post exposure in possible new ways. That process can be as thought-provoking as was the initial photographic approach. The process is a continuum.
  6. For me, each photo taken is a bit like layers of paint on a canvas, some of which simply become part of the depth beneath the surface, and which add dimension to the work. It's not necessarily a matter of keeping or throwing away, which can be a bit of a false dichotomy. It's a matter of building and practicing. It's process, not a game of win or lose.
  7. For me, it depends, because some things are so fleeting that one exposure is all you get. Others, when I think there's something there, I might do a whole lot of exposures, often bracketing in 3rds f/stop or if it's low light, low shutter speed, I may do several exposures, leaning on the IS, hoping to get a steady one while wishing I'd brought even a table tripod. Also I routinely "work" the subject, exploring, trying different approaches. Sometimes I know I have it in the bag, but keep going, to learn, experience, push myself, and who knows, there's a whole lot I know I've missed.
    In the end, it doesn't matter how many exposures it took. There's no shame if you torch battery after battery.
  8. I don't shoot a whole lot more now that I shoot digital. I still edit quite a bit in my head while shooting. Interesting that when I used to shoot 4x5, which is a very slow set up time with a tripod, black cloth, focusing loupe, and composing upside down, etc., I had a high rate of "keepers" that would end up mounted and framed, probably 75% or more. With smaller cameras with rolls of film or digital I apparently make a lot of the "in between" shots leading up to the keepers. With the view camera the process is so painstaking I guess you are more careful that the shot is what you want before tripping the shutter. Of course, I was shooting landscapes or people who weren't moving!
  9. I certainly make significantly more exposures in digital than I ever did with film which is why I've got two film cameras (Hasselblad and Contax IIa) to force me into "thinking" about what I'm taking rather than just making an exposure because the scene looks interesting. Also as I've mentioned before I tend to keep even the bad digital shots.
    Also I find myself being lazy while shooting digitally in that I can always post-process the photograph. Might be a bad habit.
  10. I personally don't like burst. It's the scratch ticket of modern photography.
    I still shoot a lot of B&W 35mm film and have very different targets than when I shoot digital. Shoot wisely. Every bad shot wastes more of your time.
  11. For me, photography started serious with digital. I'm shooting film, precious little though, but started doing so later.... So I cannot seriously answer the question, but just some thoughts.
    While cleaning up my hard disk, I found how I've started to shoot far less in bursts, and far less 20 photos of the same subject changing setting A and B a little to see what sticks. Must be a better previsualisation and a better idea of what will and what will not work (for me). With film, I'm more sparse, and the bit I shoot I use to train myself to shoot less and think more (and to previsualise better in B&W, but that's another discussion). So, yes, for me the 'cost penalty' per shot of film does push me to a better discipline. But that discipline is ultimately mine, and independent of the media used.
    I do like at the same that with digital there is no real cost penalty in shooting a lot, and to let discipline go (up to a level) Experimenting, trying, acting on impulse - that too has yielded a lot of nice photos.
  12. 'Parsimony' - had to look that up, like it, sums up my photography well. I shoot film, MF and 35mm, but not much, because of cost. So I'm 'careful' about the frames I take. I usually find I have more than one keeper (to my standards) on each roll of, say, 12 frames. I take this forward to my digital work, though I'm a little more casual about whether a shot is worth it. Having said that I'm always concious of the 'digital darkroom' time I might have to spend on .... crap. But having said that, I've often found little gems amongst the crap.
    I am often perturbed by the amount of time I spend in digital darkroom - the tools at my fingers allow me to spend time on trying to make something out of nothing, where a wet darkroom workflow seems to promote rapid decision making on whether a b&w neg is worth spending time on.
    Of course all this depends on the genre of photography I'm engaged in. With a tripod in an old church, I'm generally using long exposures (available light), I'm not in a hurry and can take my time in framing, I often use a spot meter when the dynamic range is wide. So the number of shots I take tends to be low. But if I attend something like a horse race, my frame rate goes up significantly (though I rarely use burst mode), but I rarely become 'snap happy'.
  13. I think I have much, much, much better critical balance in my judgement of my digital pictures than I did of my 35mm and absolutely than my 4x5 and 8x10 stuff because digital has so little of what economists call "sunk costs."
    When I had spent (at a minimum) an hour wrestling the 8x10 into place, spotmetering, doing the whole depth of focus, shift/tilt, bellows factor + reciprocity calculation ... and that's before you get to the +1 or -1 or normal development sessions for negatives, the test printing and drying factor viewings and re-doings. With that kind of heavy investment (time and effort, not to mention equipment), I was/am very, very inclined to think that the resulting picture MUST (dammit!) be good.
    Contrast with digital. Look. Think. Delete. Costs of "externals" have been reduced to almost nil. Costs of "internals" remain the same. It's the looking and the thinking that matter; that I am free to do more looking and thinking seems to me to be all for the good.
    There is also a much greater willingness to take all kinds of risk with digital for the same reasons as the above. Cost used to be very high; now it's very low. Party time!
  14. Julie,
    ...that I am free to do more looking and thinking seems to me to be all for the good.​

    Seems to be what I was expecting to find from the OP is coming out in the responses. Freedom to just set there a thinkin' is valued but when time for action comes some find the general direction their ideas take them and others have THE picture firmly in mind. It also seems that we are smart enough to choose the camera that best suits the personality of the method. It would be neat to see some contrasting results.
    The pitfalls of good idea - bad execution V. the opposite, most often results in the same thing if we are honest with ourselves: "What was I thinking?"
    Yesterday I worked on a "brilliant" photo idea in a museum with wildly variable lighting. I was trying all sorts of angles and subjects that would be seriously processed later. I pretty much got skunked - 256 exposures, mostly crap - totally bad exposures. I'm going to make a "curse jar" for grossly wrong technical mistakes. Every time I screw up, in goes a buck. Today I'd be out about $200.00. (film + processing?) Maybe only a quarter a curse is more fair, since the idea I was trying seems to be good. I'm going back today.
  15. Picture making for me is both an enabler and byproduct, almost a consequence, of experiencing life on
    the street. Exposure numbers are not something I drive, count, care about, or remember. It's relatively
    few. People met, friendships made, and knowledge gained are something I'm much more aware of. I shoot
    with a cellphone now - it works fine supporting that journey.
  16. Brad,
    I think many of us can agree that your admirably concise philosophy is certainly reflected in your pictures.
  17. Digital encourages risk-taking, but for me the best thing about it is the instant feedback. Not so much to verify exposure or composition, though that's significant, but more to the point, to encourage the flow of ideas. Like having a Polaroid back, only much lighter.
  18. "To encourage the flow of ideas." This point of Luis about the digital instant playback is right on. While I enjoy also the challenge of film photography and its added uncertainty, the ability to immediately evaluate and extend our ideas by seeing the former result quickly is a great advantage.
  19. The digital revolution has messed with all of our heads. There is no use denying it. For me its been a rather breathless experience that shook all my prejudices about proper art loose at once. I shoot hundreds of frames in a day's work and rush home to throw PS at them like Action Jackson flung his paint. I feel extremely fortunate to experience this.
  20. I've never found that digital encourages risk-taking. It can certainly make it a lot easier to take more
    photos and try more ideas with little incremental cost. But I see no risk in that.

    Curiosity encourages my risk-taking, seeking and entering into situations (with a camera) to
    discover something I've never experienced.
  21. Risk isn't about learning; it's about letting go. It is precisely *not* about learning (learning may result, but risk itself "doesn't care" about that). It's about the process itself; being in the process, not hovering outside of it looking for benefits or profit. See Garry Winogrand, by the end of his life, often shooting all day, not bothering to develop the film, leaving thousands of rolls of unprocessed film at his death. He was shooting digital before there was digital.
    "When I look in the viewfinder, if I see it as a picture, I'll do something to change it. Because, in the end, the pictures that you see when you're working are the pictures that you know already. I'm not interested in that." -- Garry Winogrand
    All internal; to hell with the externals (film, prints, etc., etc. ...).
  22. Picture making for me is both an enabler and byproduct, almost a consequence, of experiencing life on the street.​
    I like that!
  23. There can be personal risk in what is done to get the pictures. Then there's the risk in what is actually shown, and how it is shown, from content to style of the photos themselves.
  24. Wouter,
    Getting "lazy" with digital was a popular discussion a while back. A friend who is transitioning away from film (de-toxing) mentioned that he is afraid of that. I told him it was good to worry because we lose some good habits. There is no great solution I know of. Keeping the check view on longer with the color exposure warning overlay is probably the best.
  25. >>> I like that!

    Thanks, Ton! SInce writing my post up above, I've decided to replace my current one line artist statement with that.
  26. About a week before Christmas, I was photographing in a neighboring town, and leaned in close to a storefront window and made a 3-exposure bracket of some tourist trinkets. I sensed someone watching me and turned around to see two SP'ers, a Batman-Robin team, with the former doing all the talking. He had that old-school somewhat crazed, pseudo-artiste, baggy jacket, unshaven look. He held his Nikon out and clicked off about 4 exposures. He asked "Did ya get a good one?". Another half-dozen exposures. I said Hello and "maybe, but probably not". More exposures of me. With an aura of arrogance worthy of an SP Oscar (The Henri?) he looked upon me pitifully and remarked: "You don't know, do you?" I forced a smile. Snapping another 4-6 shot sequence. I said, lightly annoyed, "That little window below the back of the hump atop your camera is a finder. You might use it sometime, it can helpful in composing." He replied almost startled, "No, man I spray". I said my good-byes, shook their hands, and deliberately went the other way. I could hear his mirror slapping as he made the last string of exposures.

    Julie and Fred, thank you for your insightful comments.
  27. This isn't a direct comment on your post, but it fits in slantwise. With digital, photography has lost all contact w/ "reality". Before digital, people could manipulate things to a certain extent in a darkroom, but it was nothing to the point we have today. If you went to view a photograph before digital, whether it was in Life magazine, at a gallery, or snapshots at a friend's home, there was an underlying understanding that what you were looking at was based on factual reality. A photograph captured a moment in time, documented a real moment in time, and people viewed it accordingly. Digital's effect has been to shatter that truth, and replace it with....nothing. Now, a photograph is nothing more than manipulation of light and dark. A de facto painting that LOOKS like a photograph, but isn't, and it looks as good as the manipulator is able to make it. It refects a manipulator's view, one that is no longer grounded in the factual recording of the moment. So it really doesn't matter if one shot is taken or a thousand, it's what happens afterwards, both in the manipulation stage, and how it's viewed by others.
    I do only B&W photography, and only film. Many, many times I wonder, why? People today don't appreciate it. They aren't capable of seeing the nuances between a photograph lovingly developed and printed on fiber paper, and a bit of inkjet paper covered in printer ink. The latter looks "good enough" to them, and they wonder why anyone would bother w/ such an antiquated method of making images. Sitting at their computer monitor, printing images on their printer, they have no idea of the craft and skill required to make a good B&W film print. But then I always come back to the reality....I do it for me. I do it because it is a better method, because it does look a lot better, because it is a real photograph, and I can see it clearly. Pity they often can't, but I make the stuff for me, and to my standards. It is a real life document of what was happening in front of the lens.
  28. "Pity they often can't, but I make the stuff for me, and to my standards."

    Must be terrible living in a world where other people don't recognize the superiority of your views and methods.

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