Repetition – Recycle – Ready-madeness – Reappearance

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by aplumpton, Mar 21, 2011.

  1. In the late 1990’s, within a country known generally for its tolerant and polite denizens, a student of the renowned art college in one of Canada’s largest cities purposely overate his breakfast, walked over to the neighbouring provincial art museum, found a room housing mainly contemporary versions of classical paintings, and regurgitated much of what he had eaten onto a few of the paintings. His recalcitrant act raised much dismissive response in the media at the time. In retrospect, the apparent reason of his disobedience was a sense of repulsion in the face of the redundancy and “déjà vu” present in some art and his rejection of traditional art forms.
    In the light of the lively discussions in recent OP’s, like Kenneth Smith’s “Purposeful Photography”, and the comments in regard to the current POW, I think it of interest to consider the question of originality and independence in our photography. Firstly, and possibly like some others, I seek to invoke no particular originality in making shots of family or places that I do simply as a record for myself and friends, however important those images might be to me. I wish to refer in this OP mainly to photographs made with an intent of creativeness, aesthetics or some other communicative and artistic intent that provides at the same time a raison d’être for their diffusion and, hopefully, appreciation by others.
    It seems to me that the acts of recycling, repetition, reappearance and ready-madeness permeate many of the images seen here or on other places of communication of photographic art. Let me say that I am not seeing that from some high pedestal. On the contrary, I recognise that tendency in some, and perhaps even many, of my own images. That I want to avoid that trap I do not hide. The penchant for reconstruction or refashioning of the well-known view or subject matter, the use of prefabricated compositions, and the complacency with redundancy, is not new, but is seldom discussed.
    The reappearance of similar views or approaches (even without invoking the extended chromatic and visual palate that Photoshop can offer, with or without taste) is in my mind often an excuse to reassure the viewer that what he is seeing has already been awarded “the seal of good imagemaking” or is adequate to please elves or salon judges who need no more than to place their pre-set callipers against the new imitator of some accepted model.
    Is this presence of recycling or repetition of past approaches - this refashioning of subject matter within previously delineated limits - this tendency to reassuring redundancy - something that provokes a response within you? Does your photography seek originality and freedom from those prior visual constraints? What do you believe one must do to be more independent as a photographer? To make original art?
    (P.S.) -- In order to keep this discussion on topic I have purposely ignored giving examples of what I consider redundant and repetitious photography, but I don’t think that will hamper anyone’s imagination in regard to this subject.
  2. One can be creative at the same time recognizing that we are historical beings. We exist in time, we have histories and cultures, and we are at least in some ways bound to the influences and determinism that is being human. So creating art is a balancing act. We don't create ex nihilo, but we do create. In some aspects of art, originality is important. In other aspects, it's not. The Photo of the Week in question, which most people saw as a reference to Vermeer, has references to that Dutch style of painting, whether the photographer intended that or not. We don't critique photographs based solely on photographer's intention. We critique based on what we see. Any "interpretation" we give, whether it be to suggest certain symbols, etc. is going to be some kind of "rehashing." A symbol only gets to be a symbol because it is a thing rehashed.
    One corollary to originality in art is homage and dialogue throughout the ages of art. Often, one "school" of art comments on the ideas of previous schools. Tchaikovsky paid certain homages to Mozart. Painters and photographers reference each other all the time.
    Art, in being creative and even in being original, is born of humanity. It is alive. And thus, it is connected to past . . . sometimes more and sometimes less overtly.
  3. Your objection to the "already contrived or simple completion of the expected" is not a new objection.
    9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

    Ecclesiastes 1:9
  4. Agreed, Fred, about the importance of traditions and what has gone before, which obviously are important. However, my point is more related to the trap of repetition, the reappearance of oft viewed compositions/scenes, the refashioning of the fashionable, and recurrent approaches that can rob the image of originality and independence.
    When Tchaikowsky is influenced by the approach of Mozart that to me is another thing. Nobody will say that the creativity of Pietr Ilyovich was a clone of that of Mozart, or that his music bears great similarity, but many photographers seem happy to produce the same cookie cutter type image without furthering a more independent approach. It is not a yes-no situation, or one that reflects on me or us, but I think one that sincerely merits a useful curiosity about photographic approaches and what constitutes admirable originality and art in photography.
    Steve - A nice general quote, but one that no longer holds, I believe. Our world is not that simple as to be so predictable. When Darwin produced his major work, the age of the earth was measured only in tens of thousands of years and at the most, a few hundred thousand years. Opportunity for the new, and for unique forms of expression, abounds.
  5. Arthur, you'd have to ask photographers who adopt a cookie-cutter approach what they are after. I'm thinking sunsets. I use sunset light sometimes for effect but I don't generally photograph sunsets themselves or beaches in sunset. Many do. I'm not sure they are trying to be original or trying to be artists. I think they find sunsets beautiful and want to capture that beauty for themselves. Even though someone else already may have, they want one of their own. Most who visit the Statue of Liberty, for example, can buy a postcard of it, but they take their own picture of it because it personalizes the experience to some extent. Taking photos, to some extent, can personalize experiences and particularly memories. Most sunset photos, IMO, are like family photos. It is the personal nature, not the originality, that is significant to the photographers.
    The vast majority of people using cameras are not artists nor are they looking for originality. And, even when looking for it, it's not often found.
    Some think art is subjective. I think art is hard.
  6. After reviewing your portfolio, it appears that you have accomplished both:
    1. Excellent photography
    2. Unique perspective
    (Now we can all start to copy these concepts). i hope you realize that I am laughing at this unfortunate circumstance. We all, (at leas I do), try to recreate things that we have seen and like. If we come close to succeeding then we call it "our own".
  7. Steve, in regard to your (slightly sardonic?) referral to my portfolio, I should remind you of what I acknowledged in the OP:
    "On the contrary, I recognise that tendency (recycling, repetition, reappearance and ready-madeness) in some, and perhaps even many, of my own images. That I want to avoid that trap I do not hide."
    I agree with you that a valid objective might be, as you say, "to recreate things that we have seen and like" (I promise to also look at your portfolio for your examples). I don't worry very much about calling the product of that my own, but I do like to present what I see (your word "recreate") in my own way, perhaps not seen in that way before by others, and perhaps not influenced by how others have previously photographed the same subject or type of subject.
  8. Well I am not an Artist or an Art critic. I just like what I see or not I suppose. Around here the museums and galleries show film based black and white photography. It's the Monterey Bay area. Somebody said that the Kim Weston photos are hybrid photography but to me they are just real nice boob pictures however he did them. Nothing new about naked lady pictures. I guess if you wanted to be different you could do naked men pictures. Not much of that around.
    I suppose the landscape guy would stand a shot at getting something different if he was willing to walk more then a hundred feet from his car. I frequent Yosemite and you never see photographers venturing much beyond their cars but that is why the pictures you see of the park are all the same 4 views. Grab a backpack and start hiking and in a few hours you will see something different to shoot. I guess you could say that photographer is willing to work at it.
  9. "...and regurgitated much of what he had eaten onto a few of the paintings."​
    If he'd have made this act know in the right circles prior to executing it to show advance planning and a keen sense of irony, one could classify it as performance art.
    What do you believe one must do to be more independent as a photographer? To make original art?​
    I think you need to photograph what you see personally, nothing more, nothing less - if that includes creating the entire image in a darkroom or computer, it doesn't matter. Just show what you see in your mind that you find interesting. I'm fairly sure I don't need to see another photograph of a mountain at sunrise / sunset relflected in a lake, unless you can show me something totally unique that has NOT been seen in the previous 31,513 images of the exact same subjects.
  10. stp


    Fred, I really like the comments / viewpoints you expressed in your second post. I've often thought of sunsets as cheap beauty -- beautiful, yes, but so easy to capture, and everyone does it. Still, some are more striking than others, IMO.
    Arthur, people participate in photography for varying reasons, and I think these reasons will determine 1) their need for originality and 2) perhaps their success is being original.
    My photographs are ultimately influenced by my life experiences. If one of my photographs resonates with me, that's all that I really care about. I hope some of my photographs will resonate with other viewers as well; that's the icing on the cake. I care less about originality than I do about aesthetics and capturing the "essence" of a place from my point of view. Furthermore, I care less about my own photograph than I do about being in a landscape and really experiencing that landscape. I find that having a camera in my hand helps me to experience a landscape more intently at the moment I'm there. The experience is primary; the photograph is secondary; both are very important. A photograph will be a very nice reminder weeks, months, or years later of the experience I had. [Side Note: if you understand this, you will understand my greater reluctance relative to many photographers on this site for a landscape image to rely on digital alterations to achieve its aesthetic appeal.]
    Note: I really don't know what you mean by originality; most everything on earth has been photographed before, so at what point does an image really become original? How do I know an "original" photo when I see it? I have a feeling that what is redundant (and maybe by implication less appealing) to you may have more originality to my eye and hence more appeal. Perhaps we participate in photography for different reasons and therefore have different goals and hence different thresholds regarding originality.
  11. Is this presence of recycling or repetition of past approaches - this refashioning of subject matter within previously delineated limits - this tendency to reassuring redundancy - something that provokes a response within you?

    My own, in my eyes, original answers -- I guess, I don't know, or don't think about it that much! It doesn't seem to matter that much to me in my current state. Part of "reassuring redundancy" to me means I still "got it."; "I still know what I am doing and can still 'capture the light' just fine."

    Does your photography seek originality and freedom from those prior visual constraints? What do you believe one must do to be more independent as a photographer? To make original art?
    To not have a day job. To have a benefactor or to be independently wealthy -- that way I could pursue photographic independence with little time & location constraints. It's that simple.
  12. I think some tolerance should be considered when viewing other peoples photos. Copyng another person's approach to a photo or capturing something similar may just be that photographer's moment of success in learning. After all of their failures they have a success and they want to share it. And of course they will take more. The repetition will reinforce their skills and knowledge base. Growth of their own visual approach will be a maturing of skills, much like developing a good eye for composition.
    One thing I have found out about my own photography is it hard to change. I look at other people's images and long to create something with the quality of the colors, or the depths of the black and white as it impacts my eyes. I will not shoot the same subject but it is the visual depth and impact I seek. I study other people's creations but still find I appear locked into the same approach I use. Each person has their own approach and I seem to have found mine.
    That visual sameness on subject matter in photography is bound to happen. Look at the ease of a decent capture anymore for anyone. The world of quality photography and printing is ever abundent only to be degraded by the presentation on the web. Too many people see through only the web at its low quality level. So a decently printed good photo will be great compared to the lesser works. As digital rises to match the quality of film, the bar gets raised on quality and lowered on the web presentation. Sigh. Also consider that there is just so much stuff on this planet to photograph but a lot of photographers chasing after it. Hence you will see the same stuff over and over. Some done well and others being lesser. I suspect this may also be due to the fact that they have seen so much of the same material presented online or in books, it is burned into their brains and they try to get the same type of image. Originality is difficult for me but I do endevour to break out of my own box and limitation of skills.
    Now for:
    9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

    Ecclesiastes 1:9

    This really is applicable to Hollywood and their money making machine.
  13. Stephen,
    Your second paragraph resonates very much with me. The experience of nature, of a sidewalk café in a small European village, of a quiet discussion with a local inhabitant, of the feeling of cold snow crackling beneath my feet, of the opportunity to rise another day and to experience both something familiar and also something unexpected and intriguing provides more pleasure than photography. That may be inherent in my research background, but probably just relates to the natural human interest in our world.
    I think we connect a bit less in regard to the concept and power of originality and the unusual. Originality for me is in part that of doing something in a manner that I haven't done before, with fresh eyes and mind. When that works I have moved out of an approach that I have previously used (call it a photographic paradigm if you wish) and have explored some new way of representing and interpreting what I am seeing. I like what Fred says about sunset shots. They are indeed personal and not meant usually to be more than that. The colour of the light and the importance of the sun to our existence is often enough of a statement for me. I usually just enjoy it and am not often incited to photographing the experience. This is not what I am suggesting in that axis of difference between redundancy and originality. I may return often to the same humble spot and photograph the subject matter multiple times, an action which some may think redundant, but which my desire for something new and different incites me to try something different in approach, whether that is complemented by (fortunate) differing light or whether I try some different position (even inches or feet of difference), a different angle, or I go as far as to include other elements in the scene or see something not previously considered. Often the result is not what I had hoped for, because perhaps I lack the genius for that, even though the new approach might be original. What Steve Swineheart refers to in his last paragraph is a good part of what I mean by seeking originality rather than repetition or recycling. Originality embodies more than this paragraph describes, but I hope this allows you a bit more insight into what I mean.
  14. Art is a money making machine, too. The amalgam is well developed. Can't wait for MOMAs to discover the virtues of prequel and sequel. I can see it now:

    Snapshot Aesthetic II: The Return of the Native
  15. Isn't all *art* an appropriation on a few basic themes that we all own : life love sex death, work buy consume die. Yeah mon.
  16. jtk


    I'm not interested in being "more independent as a photographer," nor am I trying to make "original art" (two closing questions in Arthur's second-to-last OT paragraph, both seemingly central to one concern).
    1) I actually am relatively independent as a photographer. For example, I rarely care to photograph "beauty," I am usually (not always) averse to irony or "social comment," and I work intentionally (don't "walk around"). I like to engage my subjects, rather than "capture" them.
    2) "Original" seems one of those "magic" words that's used in lieu of honest appreciation of work. ("honest" is another magical word, but it's closer to the bone).
    For me, photography is a long term process entailing labor, reflection and reconsideration (going back and looking at old work with perhaps-fresh eyes), and active/intentional/honest interest in the work of others, especially the work's progression and meanderings over time.
  17. Arthur P - " The penchant for reconstruction or refashioning of the well-known view or subject matter, the use of prefabricated compositions, and the complacency with redundancy, is not new, but is seldom discussed."
    So is this a reassuringly redundant post? Just kidding. Arthur, are you referring in the above to people just going through the motions? A large percentage of 'serious' photographers do. They are not out of ideas, they've never had one.
    There are complications with this. For example, many top-level artists rely on a few tropes that they employ over and over. Of course, these tropes are their own. Ernst Haas openly discussed that he'd noticed he relied on an infinity-sign composition (an 8 on its side) regularly in his photographs. Eggleston said his compositions were based on the Confederate Flag (!). Ansel Adams said "I had two or three ideas in my lifetime". All photographers rely on a very limited number of compositions (and other tropes). So what? Some are unbearably boring, of course.
    AP - "Is this presence of recycling or repetition of past approaches - this refashioning of subject matter within previously delineated limits - this tendency to reassuring redundancy - something that provokes a response within you?"
    Aside from the hacks that are simply borrowing and fulfilling the above "reassuring redundancy" by going through the motions, here's the main response it evokes from me: Artists do not live outside of time, space, DNA, history and culture. They have ancestors and descendants. If one knows their history and styles, it's not hard to see when looking at anyone's work.
    AP - "Does your photography seek originality and freedom from those prior visual constraints?"
    No. I understand and accept that we live in a thick, multilevel web of existence. What I don't do is borrow. An astute artist does not erase his memory and start tabula rasa. This emphasis on originality was a big deal during Modernism, and may well be back with Neo-Modernism, but we know better now. And those prior visual constraints are loaded with largely untouched possibilities for those who have some understanding of "prior visual constraints".
    AP - "What do you believe one must do to be more independent as a photographer?"
    Get a lobotomy? Do very heavy drugs frequently? Move to a Unabomber cabin in the woods? Drink cheap hard stuff until your brain looks like river rock? Get a very fast insignificant other?
    Seriously, make peace with yourself, and realize that if your work looks indistinguishable from that of a few million others, you are very much like them. Nothing wrong with that.
    AP - "To make original art?"
    If by that you mean art that no one has ever seen before, good luck and send us a postcard from the stratosphere. If you mean art that is individuated, like your fingerprints, just be you.
  18. jtk


    Arthur asked questions that are important to him, and he asked them in a distinctively Arthurian fashion.
    Why disagree? He framed his own personal concerns in his own terms... which, as I noted, aren't mine and certainly weren't presented as universal truths.
    As I am an individual I don't need to diminish what he said in order to respond. Other individuals have responded in their own terms about their own photography, which I find interesting, honorable, and honest.
  19. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. I never use cliches! ;-)

    Does my photography seek originality? To a degree. I am conscious of the fact that I want my portfolios to express a
    fresh perspective - otherwise, what's the point? Just buy the postcard. - but I don't obsess about originality, I simply
    photograph what appeals to my eye and what I think that I might enjoy looking at after the fact. I assume that if I stick
    to this objective honestly, the originality should pretty much take care of itself. No two people see the world the same
    way, so the photos should be different unless one is trying to replicate someone else's shots directly.

    What must one do to be "more independent" as a photographer? First of all, trust yourself. Trust your own ideas.
    Even if they stink, you'll learn from the attempt and your next batch will be better. Eventually, you'll peel back the roughness
    that exposes the gems of your own creativity.

    Secondly, stop standing beside or behind other photographers in an effort to grab the same shot. Look around and
    find a fresh perspective. Stand where the others aren't standing,. Go when the others aren't there. Even if you're at
    a popular viewpoint like Mather Point at the Grand Canyon, find something that appeals uniquely to your own eyes and
    shoot that. Stop worrying about the shots that you'll miss and find the ones that everyone else will miss.

    Avoid what others do. A good way to practice this is to take a workshop and move away from the other
    photographers. Watch them as they collect into a predictable herd and shoot something that they herd doesn't see.

    If you want to take a shot made famous by others, Tunnel View at Yosemite for instance, find something unique and
    emphasize that. Maybe the clouds are doing something interesting. That will never be repeated. Emphasize what is
    unique about this moment in that well-photographed place.

    Trust your own taste and your own vision. Inside you is everything that you need to be creative. Open up the package
    and let the contents shine.
  20. jtk


    Arthur wondered what "we" thought about two questions. I don't think he was asking for advice so much as reflection. It happens that I don't ask myself the same questions, but I'm sure he addressed issues that concern some of us.
    All we have to do is click on names to see how individual (or original) Arthur seems by comparison to others of "us". I don't see many standard images in his P.N gallery unless one frowns too much (the way I tend to) about the picturesque stuff that may be hard to avoid. There's little in his portfolio that seems intended to appeal to easy calendar-pic/postcard taste...IMO.
  21. A year or so ago I saw an excellent photography exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It comprised image after image of heavy industrial plants, each featuring intricate chimney assemblies. There were scores of prints hung in a rather large space. The images were at once repetitive (i.e., a very narrowly-defined theme and look) and highly creative. The subjects themselves were interesting to some degree, but tasteful application of composition, exposure, and processing converted these hulking systems of iron and concrete into dazzling works of art.
    Also consider blues music. Tens of thousands of great songs (or more) based on effectively the same chord progression. Repetition isn't necessarily negative. Sometimes creativity expresses itself most eloquently within the bounds of a strictly enforced framework. See also: canons, fugues, and sonatas.
  22. I get Arthur's point. Since it's retrospection I really don't know how to respond.
    There's so many images on the web, I don't know how anyone can come up with anything original. As a former art director and illustrator I know how and what makes something original. I know it when I see it.
    You can't copy what you haven't seen before, so stop comparing your work to other's. Sokolsky was animate about this when hiring young photography assistants. He didn't want the visual language style from other pro photographers contaminating the methods from his assistants who they might have worked with.
    You know fractal art created from complex math formulas copies nature's idea of a visual style on a molecular level. Just looking at it tells you this.
    When I worked with a freelance illustrator I noticed how he drew each line which was very different from my own and thusly delivering a very unique fingerprint of his visual style in the final rendering. I think photography has to be approached from the same molecular/fingerprint level in subjects chosen and how they're photographed to come up with anything really unique and original.
    Most folks don't live on this level of scrutiny and sensitivity to detail. But those that do can come up with wondrous things never seen before or quite the same way.
  23. PLIMPTON Does your photography seek originality and freedom from those prior visual constraints? What do you believe one must do to be more independent as a photographer? To make original art?​
    Art IS cyclical from reactionary to conventional and back again. The speed of change is accelerated in our times to an absurd quest for novelty. I say don't worry about it. Please yourself.
    I have the "originality" disease. It comes from attending a very competitive industrial design school where out-doing the other guys was a daily task. There were rules though. It was at a very conservative "Form Follows Function" time - talk about constraint! Fortunately I learned to manage my malady after post-modernist therapy at a Fine Art school. Now I know that anything goes. Being original is sooo 'fifties.
  24. Alan, please call me George for short. Original has many definitions. Alan has given it a mid nineteenth century art circles cultural one. A good point, but not one that is exclusive I believe to the use of the term. Another example of originality might be embodied in a wedding photographer's present (this week's) POW.
    I like the definition or concept of original as instead being one of a quiet and personal originality, invoking whatever makes each of us tick, and using whatever we have assimllated from past experience (education, mistakes, enlightenments), into the making of an image from some subject matter that has inspired us to recreate it, or transform (and even transcend) it. Not just an image to look different from another's peception of the same subject matter, but to visually communicate something different to the viewer. A fairly tall order. Yes. But so are the pleasures elsewhere of making a special return in tennis or bettering one's downhill ski time.
    Tim, I appreciate your very interesting examples, as well as the points of Alan, as I am sure do others..
  25. In my earlier post, there was no sarcasm intended what so ever. Your photography is wonderfully unique and fresh. You are also courageous. I have no photos posted because I lack your courage. Be thankful for your skill and your courage to make the statements of art that you are posting. As for our present world being more complex today, I think that we can all agree that the state of human emotions is an independent entity from scientific endeavor. It would be presumptuous of us to assume that we are in some way more sophisticated “emotionally” than the masters that preceded us. I also think that we can all agree that there is an immense beauty found in the art that connects complexity with simplicity. That is the beauty of Einstein’s E=Mc2 or in Descartes “I think therefore I am”. I do see that connection in your art. It can also be seen in Ecc 1:9
  26. Arthur - "I like the definition or concept of original as instead being one of a quiet and personal originality"
    That's much clearer...
  27. So Arthur, what do you think of the mass quantity of very slick, drop dead gorgeous pro photography found on the web? Lot of these guys and gals are hailed as being the best in the industry, not going to name name's.
    I find that even their work seems to have a sameness about it. I'm beginning to think myself and others who get the same impression (depression?) are just being numbed by the saturation of the numerous amounts of technically perfect looking images easily accessed today.
    Before digital and the web I hadn't seen but maybe a handful of really impressionable photographer's work and that was mainly from what I saw in quite a few Communication Arts catalogs as an art director. Didn't have much time working on a deadline to go hunting for other venues and media showing better or more original work.
  28. re: originality

    Arthur, is your photo Free Flight

    Derived from Baudrillard's Saint Clement (not going into whether Saint Clement is original or not)?

    If you had never seen Saint Clement or similar images, your work would be original, right? If you have, then it is derived.

    Is it important someway?
  29. Sorry Arthur, I'll write Plumpton a hundred times!
    I don't think serious artists think much or say much about originality. They do their thing in the midst of their times. With genius and hard work they may arrive at something that is unique and has authority. My point was there is an inordinate expectation now that new and different is somehow a requirement for art. It may even impede new thinking by snatching away unresolved ideas for public exposure too soon. Art becomes all about the buzz.
    I think examples from any historical craft or medium still practiced today can have merit for being both original and possessing authority.
    I like "quiet and personal originality" too.
  30. I am most certainly redundant and unoriginal. Only in practice can I activate the charms of the day and what I have experienced to provoke a minor nuance of change. I don't think I'll ever produce anything that the world would consider original. And I am slowly coming to terms with that as I fight with myself for my own autonomy. We're streaming too much imagery through our heads. Its become too abstract and distorted of an experience for me, and I'm going to have to cool it. Even this process of reflection has to been taken in modest doses. Only in practice can I activate the charms of a new morning.
  31. We can define a genre of commodities suspended over or sunk under sun-dappled blue: lots in Carribean cruise ads, and there's always the colorful hot-air balloon in the crystaline blue sky.

    Besides whatever anonymous-likely person took the first photo of them all -- the ur-photo, all others are not original in any essential way.
  32. Don,
    in regard to what is your second to last note, perhaps the only relation between « Free flight » and Jean Baudrillard's photo « St Clements » is coincidental. But that remoteness doesn’t guarantee originality in my photo. I have exhibited only what I consider to be but marginal originality in producing this image, which is from a series of submerged chair photos taken at a Tybee Island (Savannah region) rented condo pool. I admit that I didn’t have the originality to throw the chairs into the pool to explore their floating behaviour, and didn’t arrange that the shadows would act as they did, at least in a couple of the images perceived. The pool captain decided to toss the chairs into the pool and use the chlorine present in the water to refresh the poolside chairs. The object, the chairs themselves, their tangible shadows, and Archimede’s principle, created the subject, the photograph. I only simply recognised the enigmatic composition.
    Thanks for mentioning Jean Baudrillard, another new experience for me that also led to knowing a bit about another person who may be his philosophical soul mate, the artist Gerhard Richter, as another who also questioned reality (the St. Clement submerged vehicle) and the value and meaning in that context of the photograph or painting.
    In speaking to an image of Goiris (an imposing cantilevered office building structure), the writer, Gerry Coulter, in
    « photography is a medium dependent upon the object as much or even more than it is the subject/photographer. Such a photograph, while recording the existence of a particular object – one fragment of the world – makes a curious demand on truth. There it is, you can see it – the photograph as “index” – yet the object so dominates the image that our sense of subjective truth gives way to the power of the object and its strange attraction. It is the world and its objects which become the source of a definitive uncertainty – including any certainty we may have concerning the power of the photographer. The myth is that it is the photographer who commands the presence of the object and makes it appear in images. Photographs like Goiris’s and Baudrillard’s call into question this assumption as the power of the photographer is reduced to the will to close the shutter on the object which commands our attention over everything else in the world. If photography is an image of one fragment of the world with everything else removed, it is also an effort to record the power of the object with the myth of the omnipotence of the photographer stripped away. As in Baudrillard’s enigmatic photograph of a car submerged in water (Saint Clement, 1987) the photographer has fallen under the spell of a very strange attractor. This is not to say that the photographer/subject is powerless against the photographed object, merely that the photographer shares power with the object – a power we all too often ignore in our discussion of photography. To take in hand a camera, as Baudrillard did, is to surrender ourselves to the seductive power of objects and to become the prey of appearances. What I like about (Goiris’s) image is that it reminds us that photography is not merely the object taken from the point of view of the subject but the subject from the vantage point of the object. »
  33. To my friends who have related the OP to some of my own images, I appreciate your generous remarks, although I really think that my work is not important to this discussion, except perhaps to underline some of the shortcomings that I have in regard to originality and in embracing some of the burdens of the title, and perhaps to mention the odd case where I may have partially overcome those paradigms of action.
    Like each of us, I believe, I am very much a product of my era and culture, and am both enriched and handicapped by it. Perhaps it isn't a bad thing to act within our own personal and collective values and paradigms; they are part of who we are, each of us. But the aim of the OP is simply to wonder how others reflect upon these issues, whether it is important to attempt to avoid or overcome them, or not.
    The reflections to date are very constructive. Steve, I like your notion of the connection of complexity with simplicity as an aesthetic result, and the historical examples of that. Sorry to have interpreted your prior remarks as being sardonic, but I could certainly accept that with humour if that was the case.
    Tim, I don’t know think I would draw the line or disdain slick commercial photography. It is there to impress and to sell a product for sure, and it is no more wanting of meaning than say the wooden dialogue of quite a few politicians in my own jurisdiction. The very finest commercial work does seem to explore new imagery, but the similitude is also quite present. Technical image beauty has not always been prominent in the great photos of past masters, and sometimes the lack of it actually enhances the visual communication.
    Don’s mention of Baudrillard is of interest perhaps not so much to the question of original photography but as a backdrop to thinking about the overwhelming presence of symbols and other simulacra in photography and painting. We are perhaps so affected by these signs that we may have trouble seeing or distinguishing what may be original behind them.
  34. Arthur, recently on another site there was a discussion of the history of image-making going back to the paleolithic. Even with the impoverished nature of the collections (huge gaps in time or not many examples) one can see the continuity over millenia. The word 'iconic' comes to mind. There may be something, patternings of visual or optical fragments, that, when we encounter them, concentrates our attention, and in specific ways if we are photographers. At the heart of what I think is meant by original or creative work is recognizing their presence and making something at their insistence. In that sense I agree with much of what you quoted.

    The photographers or photos referenced in this discussion's title, I think, are seeing something else which is always the subject of the genre.

    Baudrillard's photo -- who knows how many newspapers have had such driving accident photos in them? Car-in-swimming-pool photos? Yet, its genre identified, it seems different from all the others I've seen like it. It catches my attention if I had seen it that way myself -- it "captures" the iconic visual/optical fragments and makes something of them, and not the genre-subject.
  35. Does your photography seek originality and freedom from those prior visual constraints?​
    As I don't have 'prior' visual constraints, I think I seek originality. Example: if a client wants to show me his photo samples from the archives, I ask him to put them back because I want **my** eyes to see the scenes and objects in reality and let my stomach add the mood, character, soul and feeling.
    What do you believe one must do to be more independent as a photographer? To make original art?​
    Don't browse books of 'famous' photographers. Stay away from Flickr & Co. Don't 'study' composition techniques, but train your eyes and senses to see light and shadows as something that will please your mind and harmonic balance. (One explanation, there are others, like i.e. disharmony, shock, etc. because they are 'trendy'). Don't think you can improve existing views, scenes or objects. Don't work on 'rubbed off' topics or scenes.
    I know this is hard, but you either have the senses and an eye for photography, for your profession, or you don't. Unfortunately in today's society with current technology every marketing brainwashed nose thinks he/she can get up one morning and 'be a photographer' just because he/she can afford a 900 US$ camera and know how to hold it (I purposely avoided the term 'to handle it' or 'to master it' in this context).
    There are many aspects and facets you need to know and do to be more independent, far too many to be listed here, and I don't yet want to write a book ;-))
  36. My first set of landscape photos was a group of 4 x 5 film photos of mushrooms, tree bark, leaves with drops of water on them, and weeds. I didn't know what landscape photos were supposed to look like so I just took photos of what I liked, trying to take advantage of the fine detail possible with 4 x5 film. Now that I've seen many more landscape photos, I think I know a bit more about what landscape photos generally look like. And now my photos are a lot more boring and derivative of others I've seen, because I'm trying to emulate those good landscape photographers but I don't know how yet. A quote I think of often is from Edgar Degas, “Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.” Sometimes I read a quote and it haunts me for years; that is one of them. ...Now I'm trying to thoroughly educate myself in photo history so I've seen the work of others, can digest it, include the info I have about new photos I've seen on flickr and elsewhere, and move past all that to something new of my own.

    I think originality is important but it's almost as if originality is something that happens when you're not trying. It's very hard to try to be original. I think a self-imposed rule to be original can be crippling, at least for me. When I noticed that my photos didn't look very original, I decided to just keep moving forward, thinking that it's better to create something that is not original than to create nothing at all. Then when I've moved past this phase by trying, failing, sometimes succeeding, I'll get to a new one.
  37. "it "captures" the iconic visual/optical fragments and makes something of them, and not the genre-subject."
    Don, I think part of it's success is seeing the frame of the window that is above water and there (here) and the rest of the car which was there (here). The atypically detached chair shadows of my "Free flight" image (I regret the title, better to simply give it a place name) is another type of questioning of the reality of the image, complemented by the odd positions of the chairs. What Baudrillard seems to be doing with his "St.Clement" photograph, and another of his of an open air reservoir ("Sallin" or "Salin?"), is to support his thesis that reality is not a reliable property of photography and the object, not the subject/photographer mainly conditions what we perceive.
    “Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.”
    Vanessa, I love this Dégas statement. The more we know our chosen medium of expression and its application, the less sure we are of our ability to meet the enhanced criteria. I agree completely about the not simply trying to be original. When we are prepared through our experience, approach and maturity in photography, we are sometimes able to recognise those accidents, phenomena, actions of external factors, that allow us to make something from the subject matter, almost without thinking about it. The floating chairs in the photographic example that someone evoked were simply being observed by me, with a sense of curiosity and intrigue as they moved, but without any predetermined thought of making an original image from them. Whatever preparedness I brought into play was there when I decided this image (and to a lesser extent one or two others of the series) simply seemed "right." I enjoyed the staircase image in your Garnet Ghost Town series. Well done chiaroscuro and presence - something is going on there.
  38. Vanessa: I think originality is important but it's almost as if originality is something that happens when you're not trying.

    Have you looked to your earlier photos with an eye to recognizing what might have gotten marginalized in the process of studying landscape photography? Something similar happened to me a few years ago. It took over a year to identify what it was, after spending much time looking at my earlier photos. Several important changes happened as a result, including going back to film. We have little choice but to learn by imitation. I think someone wrote in that vein in this thread (or the one referenced in the OP): we do so to prove to ourselves we can do it, too.

    Arthur: Whatever preparedness I brought into play was there when I decided this image (and to a lesser extent one or two others of the series) simply seemed "right."

    Photographers may each see a different "right" in the same material, but if I see many right ways at once, I figure I'm really not going to get anything worth the effort, but "simply seemed "right"" usually works. Quoting Vanessa, "I didn't know what landscape photos were supposed to look like so I just took photos of what I liked" . We begin there, and should end there, I think, but enriched by experience and knowledge, and confident rather than naive.
  39. jtk


    "We begin there and should end there, I think..." Don E
    Don, we may differ there: you do seem to share Arthur's issue, but neither of you are considering it from the end of the telescope that I'd choose.
    Photography isn't a way of producing types of image for me, it's a pursuit that can be tracked by reviewing the images it produces, and it's the tracking counts (for me).
    Arthur has drawn attention to his chairs-in-pool photo many times, posting it's an interesting image, but by repeated posting it's assumed importance beyond the rest of his work. I think the body of work he's posted tells a story and that the chairs seem accidental, out of context...which tells another story. I've avoided his explanations because I see them in context, I've tracked his work.
    Key words: "track" "context"
    Another word is "surprise" ...which I've recently thought about because I heard something about Karl Reik on the idea. Reik was a student of Freud...seems to me that psychology is much more relevant to photography than is philosophy because one relates to humans and the other relates to verbal constructions.
  40. jtk


    Incidentally, Arthur's chairs do deserve his special attention...they're surprises in the context of his work.
  41. "Don, we may differ there: you do seem to share Arthur's issue,,,Photography isn't a way of producing types of image for me..."

    I wasn't aware that was the OP's issue. I thought the Subject referred to what someone else might refer to as "kittycats, sunsets, flowers" etc


    Theodor Reik.
  42. Thanks for trying to keep the discussion on topic, Don. It called for opinions on the title subject, and in part related to the following questions (interested persons might refer to the full OP as well):
    "Is this presence of recycling or repetition of past approaches - this refashioning of subject matter within previously delineated limits - this tendency to reassuring redundancy - something that provokes a response within you? Does your photography seek originality and freedom from those prior visual constraints? What do you believe one must do to be more independent as a photographer? To make original art?"
  43. Independence is an illusion. Hanging with free thinking people is what generates new ideas. There are enough old ideas or ideas that are alien to one's familiar culture to enrich several lifetimes. That is both a joy and a regret going downhill!
    Repetition, outside of gross mimicry, is sufficiently original wherever one's photographic interests lie. Pastiche is good! One can extract and extrapolate forever. It used to be more of a pejorative.
    Luis commented about how repetition is to be expected in a lifetime of work. I try and view repetition as a series of plateaus not a rut. "Variations on a Theme by Me." One does a body of work. Some aspect of work is more vitally absorbing. Craft is one.
    There are also dead ends. Impulsively seeking originality is a sure way to find them. A painter friend used to always ask "Where does it go from here?" Time to recalculate.
  44. Arthur, in response to "the following questions..."

    The short version: Photography and painting have been joined at the hip since the invention of photography in the 19th century. Photography adopted the "common genres" of painting (including street and snapshots) as did painters beginning with the Realists and a bit later the Impressionists. As photographers (Group f/64) did, they reconceptualized the aesthetics of the genres. Thus "Repetition – Recycle – Ready-madeness – Reappearance".

    Originality in photography, I think, would have to be non-genre, but not reconceptualized genre. There would have to be a final break with the art and aesthetics of painting.
  45. jtk


    Arthur seems to me to be addressing a specific psychological concern. He underscored that by repeating his OT :)

    That he referred to "subject matter" in passing doesn't take away from his central concern, which seems to me to be "originality" and "individuality."
    If it was a matter of "subject matter" for him then perhaps we'd see even more chairs (is that the reason he so frequently directs us to his fine chairs-in-pool ? ). In fact, and to his credit of course, his work is bigger than that image, and it's not summarized by it.
  46. jtk


    Phylo's link, seems to me to be convincing about the difference between writing about photography and photography itself. And about the inverse correlation between written complexity and meaning, especially regarding photography. Long paragraphs contribut less than short ones, in most cases.
    Amusingly, one of the "critics" said Winogrand "must have been" about something other than he claimed, and another critic, Szarkowski, claimed Winogrand's work was different from Arbus's on the basis that he, The Great Szarkowski, couldn't define the difference as clearly as he'd like (in other words, IMO, he didn't "get it").
    Photography is less reflected in the photographer's writing than in some way it reflects the photographer herself/himself. Which is the reason I think psychology relates better to photography than does philosophy, which attempts to stand apart from the human who espouses it.
    The work of some photographers seems to me to be in some way consistent with the photographer, and the work of other photographers seems to be inconsistent with it. That's why some photographers write so badly but photograph so well, and why other photographers write eloquently but produce postcard images.
  47. Don't know why you have such a Szarkowski complex, John. I think he was a perceptive writer on photography, maybe primarily because he was a perceptive photographer himself too.
    I liked his accompanied writing with Atget's photographs in this fine book.
    ( It's crazy for how much many of these books seem to be put for sale recently, 180$ ?!, I have a perfect copy, bought loong ago secondhand in a bookstore, for waay less )

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