Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by jim_dockery_photos, Jan 19, 2011.
Interesting article: Slow Photography
Good article, as a photographer. As a writer, it's a little wordy.
But I agree with the contents, mostly. It's a huge thrill for me to take 12 great shots on a roll of 12-exposure medium-format film with a Rolleiflex, comparable to bowling a strike. And I find that my editing time decreases when shooting film, because I'm a little more conservative about blasting through it, and spend more care in composition and careful creation of beauty.
It is funny to see an article espousing exactly the viewpoint I've had for the past 5-6 years, as digital shooters measured their success by how many memory cards they filled.
Oh, there is one point I'd debate with the author - group photos *can* be art. But not easily. Google on E.O. Goldbeck for some examples, or take a look at the group photo below. Of course, the shot below took a great deal of time, both on-site and in-computer, so perhaps that proves the author's point about slow photograhpy.
Seems shallow to me, and there's more than a whiff of dishonesty.
Like many DSLR users I'm heavily experienced with large format and do experience some nostalgia for film generally (so I shoot and scan 35 and even MF sometimes...but not often). In fact, with the exception of tests, almost every image I care about is made when I have a sense of it in mind in advance of finding it...a' la professional photography. In fact, Wu, who professes respect for Ansel Adams, seems blissfully ignorant about the way AA and many digital photographers work today (previsualization, anticipation, planning, thought).
I don't shoot more with DSLR than I did with film (when I shot 35 professionally I didn't have reason for motor drive but I did bracket because I knew it could contribute to Kodachrome or Ektachrome shadow renditions).
Unlike Mr. Wu, who evidently fears to share his own images, an honest person does share if he's going to be critically negative about the work of others...while at the same time puffing up his own credentials as a photographer (Wu coyly does that by talking about purported experience). When people on this Forum share views on photography, correlating (even qualifying) visuals can usually be found with a click. Where's the beef?
Wu's link to Fred Conrad's nostalgic ruminations tells the story. Conrad's a fine photographer, writing specifically about nostalgia.
If Conrad chose he could work slowly with DSLR...NY Times readers are surely familiar with his work..many of his subjects would take a lot longer if done with DSLR. Experienced with both 4X5 and 8X10, I have no doubt that someone pursuing some technical "best" (detail resolution, shadow/highlight etc) could readily far-exceed the "quality" of Conrad's 8X10 architectural interior with DSLR, especially if he mapped that static image...a far slower process that surely ANY professional would use for a huge, intricately detailed and static subject (arch interior) IF he had the time and technical skill. Wu is intellectually dishonest in appropriating Conrad's nostalgia to support his own shallow thesis.
Wu is not just shallow about photography. He proposes a shallow understanding of beauty...apparently blythely ignorant of beauty in non-postcard photography generally. I doubt he appreciates paintings by Picasso or music beyond http://www.spaceagepop.com/mantovan.htm
He sounds like an amateur photographer who's trying to justify his work. The idea that a photograph has to show "beauty" in order to communicate to the viewer and move beyond a certain point only shows how naive he really is about photography. I've seen plenty of beautiful photographs that are totally boring because they say NOTHING past the superficial rendering of "beauty" associated with the subject. I'd rather see an interesting photograph than a beautiful photograph.
Maybe he should work with an 8x10 or larger camera and really slow down - I'll bet then he'd make photos that are expotentially better as the diagonal of the format increases. It's always about equipment with these type of people and NOTHING about individual vision or the work itself.
If you concentrate exclusively on the subject at the time you're making the photograph the type of equipment becomes irrelevant as seeing the subject uniquely is the single most important aspect of making the image. IF you can do that, then the equipment is just the tool that allows you to record what you've seen. The rest of it is just more of the same, useless, drivel about film versus digital.
Unlike Mr. Wu, who evidently fears to share his own imagesThat, or you just missed the link right above the article with some of his pictures in it.
The premise of the article seems pretty obvious to me, namely that photography is about seeing besides only looking at what's in front of the camera. Hardly a "movement", but more the essentials of photography / a good photographer. But this has nothing to do with 'slow photography', or slowing down.
The seeing can occur and be captured in a split second too.
Phylo, the seeing part is important and I agree that spending a bit more time watching before shooting can improve a lot, but yet, I think the article is kind of rubbish. It makes the good point of watching and studying, and then trashes those good points by pointing to the wrong solution:
But fast cameras aren't designed to go slow—even a digital SLR can almost seem to force you to speed up.... If you really want to force yourself to do slow photography, the best way is to deal with the demands of older equipment.Funny, with my (fast DSLR) camera, I just decide how fast it goes. It's my finger deciding the pace. So, my photography slows down due to disclipline and watching. The camera is just a tool to let me do what I want it to do. And I rather keep the option open for a lightning fast response too - it helps getting those split second moments.
If you think your photography needs to slow down, keep your camera and practise your patience instead.
Phylo's right. I'd not bothered to click his standard-issue visit-to-the-park koi snap: I assumed it was a Canon advertisement.
Wu did share a couple of "beautiful" postcard photos...and a couple that were B&W yawners. His B&W didn't hint at darkroom competence, or even post-processing competence. His color would do well in the Photo.net ratings game ("Wonderful" "Great Art" "The best I've ever seen" etc). So...to that extent he did show a bit of courage, maybe even a bit of veracity, though I wonder if he can claim he made those photos since the advent of DSLRs.
I think the negative comments above have all been on the mark.
I'll add this (parallel to Steve's suggestion of larger-than-mere-8X10 format): If Wu was worth his slow-photography salt he'd be talking about the time he spends in the darkroom, printing his own. Or at least the time he spends scanning and post-processing and inkjet-printing his own. Otherwise he's just a mail-away snapshooter, too SPEEDY to do more than click.
Wouter, yes, I think it has more to do with the seeing than with the slowing down ( through whatever means ). Slowing down can help or be an addition to a more attentive approach of looking but sometimes ( or often depending on the circumstances ) there's simply no time to watch or contemplate before you take the shot and the seeing - with or without a camera - can take place in bursts of split seconds rather than in one stretched out meditative moment.
Maybe the difference is that the "rapid way of seeing" is recognised after the act while the "slow" seeing is recognised before it but they're of course one and the same thing.
The slowest photo I ever made was a film panorama: Bowhunting (rabbits) in Doug Grosjean's Ohio in the depth of arctic February, with over 40 other manly men (wooden bows, wooden arrows, beagles).
I grabbed each hunter by the collar and photograph him before he knew what I was doing...with a Pentax IQ 105WR Zoom (dunkable, rugged, remarkably good optics..FUJI NPZ I think). Had each printed, proposed a panorama that used them as "scrap" to a multi-gold-medal, always over-committed illustrator of childrens books.
He added a few human-child-sized rabbits (including Easter Bunny and Alice's rabbit...but not Bugs). Took three months to produce the pano but seemed like forever. SLOOOOW. Inkjet printed laminated, sent to every participant. If I hadn't paid $125 to have mine archivally framed with non-glare glass I'd photograph it and post it here. The pen/ink illustration is at least as much my photograph as anybody else's lab-printed photo. Wouldn't have been any easier or faster with Photoshop
I have to agree with Steve that the whole "beauty" thing is wrong. And I would say it's not just wrong, it's offensive. To quote from the Slate article:
That's why, eventually, anyone who considers her- or himself "into" photography becomes interested in beauty (and using a camera to create it). The difference between documentation and the beauty impulse is that the latter has the power to produce not just a memory, but an emotional response in any viewer.I'm not sure how he knows what "anyone" is interested in. I'd point out that the last phrase is just as true of the grotesque. And that some artists - photographers included - are as interested in the grotesque as in beauty. And I'd even add that it's not that important to produce an emotional response in "any viewer." I don't care about "any viewer," if my photographs produce an emotional response in one viewer, myself included, I feel I've succeeded.
In other words, the article is presumptuous and full of self-aggrandizement. I am not part of his "anyone", don't want to be, and hopefully will never be.
Your thoughtful repsonses have given me a bit to think about here. I've seen enough of your work that you have a lot of credibility with me.
I tend to pre-visualize a LOT. My background is CAD drawing, whitewater kayaking, and shooting panos - all areas where being able to pre-visualize before you commit, is important.
I do shoot film and digital, and my frame count doesn't radically increase when shooting digital. It does increase some. But usually I'm still pre-visualizing and then shooting what I saw in my head. One thing I found sort of cute on my dSLR was using live view to zoom in on one area (while tripod mounted) and manually focus there - just like using a 4x5. I don't spray and pray, because I don't want to come home from vacation having to edit 10,000 frames.
Your pano sounds fantastic.
And like you John, I've taken some great photos using just a small point-n-shoot and the skills in my head.
Thanks for your thoughts.
Yikes. I hate to think anybody's taking me seriously
For background: six or eight pretty decent B&W inkjet print exchange contributors recently had the opportunity to compare our different printing renditions from a scan of one of Doug G's photo essay TLR portraits...beautiful image. It reminded me of what's most distinctive about a Rollie, other than the 6X6 format: its waist-level finder allows a relationship to subject that's totally unlike prism finder...it tends to be at a low angle and unlike most SLRs/DSLRs, it doesn't block the photographer's face from subject's view...and as Milton Rogovin said somewhere, the photographer is essentially bowing to the subject. http://www.photo.net/street-documentary-photography-forum/00Y3OJ
Thanks for the kind words. For others, here's the Oilman image. The neg scanned at 2400 DPI is a 25 MP image, from a 55 y/o camera. I didn't burn a lot of film to get the shot. I had several images in mind. I shot them, and left. I used *maybe* 1.5 rolls, or maybe just .5 rolls. The image was shot for a book I wrote, which included the local Oilman, about him pumping oil.
The photo dates to 2005.
Agreed 100% on the relationship / interface you have when shooting a TLR portrait. It's quite a unique experience. And oh, you can shoot a Rolleiflex quickly. Turn the crank a half-turn or so, and you're cocked and ready to go. If you have to. It doesn't force you to go slow, any more than a dSLR forces you to go fast. You'll just run out of shots a lot faster on the TLR.
I've owned two Rolleiflex....I managed to produce one worthwhile photo with each, sold them, then missed them. If I had one now I'd be using it for portraits...thanks to what I realized while printing (Doug's) image, stimulated again here http://www.photo.net/street-documentary-photography-forum/00Y3OJ.
I broke more ice personally with rangefinders, recently sold to commit to DSLR. The huge drawback to DSLRs (even worse than early years with good SLRs...FtN, then F1 in my experience), is that today everybody either owns them or is very aware of what they're about. There's no mystery. The subjects are correct that all we have to do (for the most part) is point and shoot, and we can chimp. Teens know that cell-cameras are today's cutting-edge, and know that DSLRs are for grandpa's photography. Nonetheless, click!
A few alternative responses do Doug's file (which was sent via some sort of expensive server to each of us...would have printed well over letter size if we wanted): http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DigitalBW-PrintExchanges/photos/album/200405393/pic/list
One other thing with TLRs in the present, at least here in the US..... everybody views them as quaint. Older people pause to speak with you about the camera, telling you of somebody close to them who used one. You're not seen as a news reporter, stalker, wealthy hobbyist.... but as a quaint fellow who uses old cameras. Perhaps an artist. And people stop and chat, and that interaction is added to the rest of the experience. You answer questions and chat, and by the time you trip the shutter, you're good friends.
I don't know if that was in play for Rogovin, but I suspect it was.
There's a video of Michael Kenna where he talks about photographing at night or in the early morning with shutter speeds ranging from 15 minutes to as long as a couple of hours, and he sleeping or taking a rest while the camera is recording. Slow photography, but the speed of light remains...
In spite of its shortcomings, which have been remarked on here at length, I find it easy to understand what the article is about. I have approached nature with the attitude of a street photographer, racing up steep inclines with minimal equipment, and worked slow and meditatively in the street.
In a way, I see what the author is touching upon as the difference between a work and play driven approach. Neither is better or worse than the other, just different. The emphasis in work is product, production, time, economy. Play is a different matter, and it has little to do with format (other than to force the Type A's to downshift).
The article of this initial forum thread could easily be a follow on from one posted by John Kelly "End of the Age of Photography : Danny Lyon".
In many ways they have the same underlying theme of a photographic ideology, namely the art of photography and its subsequent erosion due to the digital age.
I for one find photography to be a limitless medium for those who use it to either record or create. Take one or take a thousand but be clear as to how you then choose to showcase and/or label them. 'Happy holiday snaps' , photojournalism, street photography etc.. all have a place and purpose to their creator and his/her intended audience. Only when those distinctions become blurred is the art of photography eroded
I understand why you'd want to connect this to the interview with Danny Lyon, but I think certain subtleties are being missed.
1) Lyon seems to me to be a photographic artist if anybody is.
2) I accept that there are other photographic artists (I mentioned Siskind and Weston and Avedon, and I'd add Brad from these Forums and many others. I don't make that claim for myself.
3) I don't think there's any such thing as "the art of photography" unless you're willing to extend that to "the art of hamburger flipping" and "the art of hyperventillating." Some photography qualifies, some photographers qualify, most doesn't/don't FOR ME because I apply a specific and ancient meaning to"art" ...it's not a term to waste on pretty knockoffs on Ansel Adams, purple sunsets, or lovely cat pics. In fact, I'm more comfortable applying the term to the action photos in Sports Illustrated (they seem to depict gods). You are of course free to use the terms any way you want, but perhaps like Lyon, I think some things are better than other things in the absolute sense. Different strokes. I'm not of the "everything is everything, kumbayah" school.
I do shoot mostly DSLR and for several years before DSLR, everyting I printed was my own inkjet work from my own scans. Digital's wonderful. Morons do abide, and not just on Fox
I don't really get it. I'm an amateur, and my frame rate per subject varies with both my subject and some emotional rock in my head on which my attention stands.
Let me first say, the topic has provoked some introspection and discovery.
There are three things going on when I decide I want to get a picture. First there's some ticker in my lizard brain which pricked my move to action. Second, there's my corporeal body existing in time and space, at distance x, selecting lens or camera body, and thinking exposure values like f/4 @ 1/60. Lastly, there's the subject. Could be five year olds around a cake of flaming birthday candles, a landscape evolving in the golden hours, or a near static bloom in either flora or fauna.
Three things in the zone - interrelated and interacting in concert. In which case, frames per second is driven by the subject and moment, simply one of many choices in the flow.
I thinks that's why I go out to take pictures. The search. And, the doing.
Separate names with a comma.