Style, Voice, and Formula

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Norma Desmond, Dec 20, 2014.

  1. Recently, Charles questioned whether Karsh and Salgado, who seem to have developed very consistent individual styles (obvioulsy very different from each other's), are formulaic. Though I answered saying I think Karsh is formulaic and Salgado is not, I've been thinking about this stuff since then.
    So many really good photographers have a noticeable style. I would say a strong or distinct voice goes deeper than style, which can at times be just superficial (although it obviously can go deeper with some artists).
    I think sometimes there's a significant aspect to consistency. Let's take Mapplethorpe, who actually often leaves me cold even as I recognize the importance of his body of work as well as its groundbreaking nature. In treating flowers similarly to the way he treats depictions of sado-masochistic or simply homoerotic scenes and naked male bodies, is he not democratizing photography and beauty to some extent? Are we allowed, through his eyes, to see the beauty in something that up to a point had remained marginalized? Well, that's the good side of his consistent style and strong voice. The style and voice comment, through his body of work, on his subject matter.
    At the same time, I tend to prefer bodies of work that attempt an array of styles, especially where technique seems tied to content and seems to vary based on the nature of the content and expressive output.
    So, help me answer this question, which I'm grappling with. For you, when does consistency work and when does it become formulaic and less effective?
    Seems like authenticity would be a key here.
  2. "So many really good photographers have a noticeable style[​IMG]. I would say a strong or distinct voice goes deeper than style, which can at times be just superficial (although it obviously can go deeper with some artists[​IMG])"
    They all do rarely without exception. Success equals a notable style...the real world of photography.
    "For you, when does consistency work and when does it become formulaic and less effective?"
    For me I try to escape from a formulaic style and move on no matter how successful I have been or otherwise. I do my photography for me and experimenting is very important to my enjoyment of photography ....going to different places trying different styles is the fun of it all. However, in the real world it is all about developing a consistent style and technique. The chaos of moving to different genera, styles, techniques, is a big in the world of successful recognized photographers.
  3. Do you mean in our own work, or in the work of other photographers? I think that for most people a style is simply something that grows out of a person when he/she has spent much trial and error to find a method that works best for them. When they find it, it just fits like a well worn shoe. Winogrands tilted frame, Cindy Shermans theatrical bent, Avedons white backdrop, Moriyamas high contrast pictures, and so on...they all arrived at these points due to their own unique personalities and their need to render their subject matter in a way that works for them. What works for them may not work for others however. We know this of course but I still see some photographers trying to imitate the work of other, well known photographers. I don't just mean beginners, but seasoned photographers who should know better and should have moved beyond this stage a long time ago. Change is difficult however, I understand that, and it's scary at times too. Yet, in the right mindset it can really be a great way to keep things fresh, to open new doors that one might have passed by otherwise. I never thought I'd shoot 35mm again after going to 6x7. Yet here I am shooting more 35mm then 120 these days. I did so because I wanted to explore 35mm further then I was able to as a beginner and because I knew that I would get different results - I would get pictures that I wouldn't attempt with the medium format camera. By changing my approach between the two formats as I do, it has really lead me into some unexpected and surprising places and by that I mean places in me that result in a difference of viewpoint and output. It's a wonderful journey. I don't know if any of this has resulted in a recognizable style for me in any way, and at this point it's not a concern either. Ultimately, we just have to get down to the task of doing our work in the way that most feels right to us.
  4. Humans are creatures of habit. Everyone falls into a manner of working and thinking ,and for photographers that habit
    manifests itsel seeing light and subjects in certain ways. Whether that becomes a dead end rut or a wave you can ride
    forever through different genres of subject matter, is a question unanswerable by anyone but you.
  5. Karsh: Very formulaic, weighty, little context, leaves me wanting more. Seems he is many photographers'
    first introduction to a well-known portrait photographer (probably due to the Churchill and cigar story), similar to how
    Ansel Adams is with respect to landscape photographers. With regards to portrait photographers, I much
    prefer the context and life Arnold Newman adds to his portraits, and without all the added gravitas that
    elevates Karsh. Speaking of Arnold Newman, photographers in the San Francisco Bay Area should check
    out an exhibition of his work now running at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF. As an aside, the CJM has
    been killing it lately on photography exhibitions: The NYC Photo League ‘30s—50s exhibition two years
    ago, The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg last year, and currently, the Newman exhibition.

    Salgado: Respect what he does. But… For me, his photographs are so laden with gravitas they take on a
    ponderous quality that in the end pushes me away from what they try to communicate.
  6. Do you mean in our own work, or in the work of other photographers?​
    Either or both.
    I still see some photographers trying to imitate the work of other, well known photographers. I don't just mean beginners, but seasoned photographers who should know better and should have moved beyond this stage a long time ago.​
    Interesting point, Mark. I agree there are potential pitfalls to imitation. At the same time, I think it's also an important ingredient in much art that even seasoned artists practice. To paraphrase Picasso, one can steal and still make it their own! Homage, copying, and tributes all have imitative qualities and are all important parts of art as a dialog through the ages, one artist to another.
    I recently saw the Cubism exhibit at the Met and the incredible and often intentional similarity between Picasso’s and Braque’s work can be very enlightening, given what Braque has to say about it. Feeding off one another, including some degree of imitation, can be an important step, even for experienced artists.
    "When we were so friendly with Picasso, there was a time when we had difficulty in recognizing our own pictures. Later, when the revelation went deeper, differences appeared. Revelation is the one thing that cannot be taken from you. But before the revelation took place, there was still a marked intention of carrying painting in a direction that could re-establish the bond between Picasso and ourselves." —Georges Braque​
    Very interesting what you say about using 35 mm as opposed to medium format. Do you have an example of a 35 mm photo you wouldn't attempt with a medium format camera as an illustration of this difference and discovery you've talked about? I'd love to understand that a little more, so anything you could say about a particular photo in that regard would really be nice.
    Whether that becomes a dead end rut or a wave you can ride forever through different genres of subject matter, is a question unanswerable by anyone but you.​
    I was hoping it would be answerable by you and others, Ellis, whether about your own photography or your perception of the photography of others. Naturally, I wasn't asking anyone to answer for me.
  7. "Salgado: Respect what he does. But… For me, his photographs are so laden with gravitas they take on a ponderous quality that in the end pushes me away from what they try to communicate"
    His strength is using photography as a real world view...the power of photography to express the photographers art in a base of hard world cold truths.
    The brush of the photographic art entwined with photographic truths....
  8. For me Fred, I like to portray aspects of humanity in my photography.
  9. There is consistency of approach and also consistency of style, which can be different qualities of a photographer. We can become overexposed to both, but when either is invoked continuously but with an originality of content in each image it is not I think a handicap. I guess the problem is that the more a certain style or approach is consistent the more likely it may be that the element of originality is missing. This is not exclusive to the case of consistent approaches or styles, as originality is difficult to achieve whether the consistency is a characteristic or not.
    I don't think many well-known photographers or artists work to a formula or fixed style, with possible exceptions like David Hamilton or Norman Rockwell, whose formulae are really just consistent styles of image presentation. One might say that the hyper realist artists have a consistent formula, but that again is more style or approach than formula I think. The subject matter treated and how it is treated (as a function of the nature of the subject matter) is probably part of the key to making original statements within the "constraints" of consistent approaches or styles.
  10. Allen, nice capture of a little girl's questioning expression and her dependence on an adult companion.
  11. It's hard to describe Fred because I just have different mindsets based on the camera I decide to use on any given day. For one, the 6x7 and the 35mm negatives while both being rectangles, the 35mm is much longer on two sides then the 6x7 which is closer to a square. That alone forces me to consider my picture field in different ways. Then there are technical concerns too. For example, it's much easier to shoot indoors with 35mm cameras then with medium format. That's not to say it cannot be done because I've done plenty of street style shooing indoors with my RZ67. It's just that the slow lenses common to medium format requires fast iso which means Delta 3200 the fastest film in 120. Even then, shutter speeds get dangerously low for hand holding the camera. Furthermore, Delta 3200 has gotten pretty expensive and the developer I used didn't have a very long shelf life so I would have to devote blocks of time for just indoor shooting. With 35mm I can use Tri-X loaded in a separate body that I keep in my bag while my other body has slow/medium speed film. This is because 35mm lenses tend to be faster. The first picture below was taken last week with my 50mm f1.4 lens. This was taken in Grand Central Market, a place I've used my Mamiya in many times. In fact my picture at the bottom of this page of the man at the counter with all the bottles is one such shot. The 2nd picture was taken at Sacramento airport with my 35mm f2 lens. If all I had in each of these cases was my Mamiya and Delta 3200 I can bet that I would looked at things differently and as such would have taken very different pictures then these.
  12. 2nd picture.
  13. Arthur, thanks. Your post helps me clarify the difference between consistent and formulaic. Formulae often seem to come from outside and therefore seem less internalized than either a genuine style or a voice. The reason a photographer's having a voice is, to me, moving and admirable, is that it feels internalized and authentic. A formula, on the other hand, seems more objective and distanced. That's why Karsh, to me, is problematic. His style just doesn't seem integrated to the subject matter itself. So the style seems external to the work or at least to the content. Salgado's style, for me, while it may well be distracting from his intended message and may be too melodramatic for the realities he's confronting, at least seems pertinent to the subject matter, even if over the top. There certainly is drama in what Salgado is presenting. It's just he takes it a bit too far and it starts to get in the way. But I can see and feel the authenticity of the connection he's making and the fact that his style seems to have percolated from the intensity of his subject matter.
    The emphasis on originality is a bit trickier, and there I probably part ways with you, Arthur. I think one can have a strong voice and a consistent style without devolving into formulaic maneuverings and without necessarily being original. A lot of art is not original. A lot of it builds quite transparently on what came before. Most art represents what I would consider baby steps in the evolution or progression of the arc of history. There are few Beethovens and Picassos, few genuine rifts with what came before. We can say Chopin was "original" especially if we restrict his predecessors to Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. But familiarity with the Irish pianist and composer John Field will show great similarities and will also show Field inventing the nocturne prior to Chopin and just how much influence Field’s music had on Chopin. Chopin may well have been the better composer and may have taken the Romantic piano much further than Field, but how "original" Chopin was would be a very arguable thing. Nevertheless, his music has such a genuinely integrated, personal, and harmonious consistency that one would be hard-pressed to claim Chopin was formulaic in his composing.
    I think one of the reasons we have art movements and historical "schools" of photography is that originality is not always at the forefront of concerns of art. A vision is often shared among contemporaries, studied from all angles, visually discussed and debated. While Pictorialism, Cubism, Expressionism themselves may have been "original", most of the artists participating were not the originators of the style. But each was fleshing it out in their own way. I'd put it more in terms of internalization or personalization than I would originality. And even then, it is as contemporaneously shared as it is individualized. This is why I often reject the notion that art is a subjective matter. It is shared, it is public, and it is a dialogue as much as it is personal. It is also building new wings onto a foundation as much as it is pouring a new foundation itself.
    Marc, thanks for posting the examples and your further thoughts. Though I certainly accept that you would shoot differently with each camera, it’s a little hard to understand just what those differences are and how they might affect your development of a style in your shooting. Not being familiar with the gear and film you’re talking about, it’s a bit beyond my comprehension, but I appreciate that something is definitely at play for you.
  14. Fred, thanks for your well presented and supported thoughts and examples about style (approach, movements) and originality and the fact that the latter is not so common and we have to consider the internalization or personalisation aspects, albeit shared with a greater audience. I agree with that but feel that the originality is something more related to the way the artist treats his subject matter and not that he has developed an original style (like the nocturne example) as he may be working with an established style or movement. I think that whereas Rockwell's artistic style was specific and original it was to my mind overdone as well as being essentially formulic, it lost its originality as it did not display anything very new to the viewer. Of course he was illustrating popular media and perhaps if I was American and more absorbed in the culture I would have more appreciation of his style, content and and message. Adams had a very distinct style and technical and aesthetic approach that transcended however the cultural envelope and can be appreciated by a wider audience, although some of his beautiful pictures are not very original or tell us something new about his subject matter (although I think most do, and I would guess especially at the time of their making). These are simply personal (subjective) views which do not ignore at all the talent of the artists (Karsh too was quite talented at what he did, even though his style did not always provide very original interpretations of his subjects).
    What I think as original is often the way the artist has interpreted his subject matter and not so much whether he has developed some new movement or style rather than just embracing the latter. Alex Colville is a Candian hyper realist who, like his possibly more famous American fellow artists of that movement, did not invent the artistic approach, but I feel that his subjects are what count for him and the viewer and how he interprets them. The originality is in the individual interpretatiions and not in the movement he espoused. His voice is louder than that of the style adopted or some formulic or technically oft repeated approach.
  15. Funny you should mention Rockwell. My brother has a country house a few towns away from the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Mass. I visit my brother often and recently visited the museum for the first time. I think you may be right not necessarily about being an American per se as much as about seeing his work in the context of the town he worked in for so many years and putting it into the context of the lives he was surrounded by, etc. For what he was doing, I think his style was perfect and the consistency (formula?) he brought to bear was just recognizable enough to be engaging and familiar, which was what his work was all about. Though I like challenging art and art that surprises and even sometimes upsets me, I think there's an important aspect to some art becoming so familiar that it feels like a best friend. Neil Young was never as challenging a musician as Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix and James Taylor not as transcendent or biting as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. Yet there's an important place for both Young and Taylor . . . and I think Rockwell.
    The whole formula thing is confusing, because I think it depends on what use it may be put to. Rockwell demands, IMO, a look beyond the superficiality of his palatable and recognizable style. That look can be rewarded with a very multi-dimensional feeling for a very real and diverse America. Why would THIS PAINTING, entitled The Problem We All Live With, be given any less socio-political and artistic importance than THE PHOTO we recently discussed by Elliott Erwitt showing segregated drinking fountains? And did not Erwitt have a very consistent and recognizable, even rather simple style as well? Rockwell had an almost pastel-like light touch and easygoing penmanship when it came to his paintings and magazine covers but that shouldn't gloss over the humanity he expressed and the significance of the social understanding he showed.
    In any case, I came away from the Rockwell show moved by one main quality I felt throughout his work, something I've long considered very significant to art, at least as important as challenge, complexity, mystique, and even beauty in many cases: Intimacy. I felt a part of his families, of his neighborhoods, of his soldier's lives, of his holiday celebrations and cultural events. No matter how iconic some of his scenes may have seemed, they also felt personal. His was the art of an insider and, for my taste, you just can't beat that.
    I suggest reading this VANITY FAIR ARTICLE about him.
  16. Arthur, I did want to acknowledge your point about originality not necessarily pertaining to style but also being about a photographer's or artist's sensibility toward their content and subject matter. That adds some important texture to the discussion. Thanks. Though I appreciate originality when it occurs, I also think it's often over-emphasized as a necessary ingredient of art. Art often goes over very similar territory, the same moral dilemmas in film, the same loves and losses in plays and books and the salient feature is often the artist's personal connection to it rather than the exploration of something new about it, unless we take it to be than any individual's unique connection to a subject is automatically original (which could easily be argued and accepted, though I would probably resist that).
  17. "...the salient feature is often the artist's personal connection to it rather than the exploration of something new about it, unless we take it to be than any individual's unique connection to a subject is automatically original (which could easily be argued and accepted, though I would probably resist that)."​
    You opened my mind a little toward Norman Rockwell in regard to his intimate home town and community connection, which I can appreciate in his approach and work. Idealising certain aspects of the human condition and human behaviour as Rockwell did is perhaps missing today. If I get to Stockbridge someday (which I must as someone interested in colonial heritage which is another feature of Stockbridge), I will try to see the museum. In regard to the last phrase, I agree completely with you. Personal connection alone is not an automatic guarantee of originality.
  18. I visited the Rockwell Museum. It's fascinating to see the original paintings of images you only saw before on magazine covers or on the internet. His was pure Americana, simple, good, uncomplicated, often humorous and ironic. While we were there, my wife, being from Brooklyn, insisted on "Bottom of the Sixth" - the poster. Its important to know that most of his illustrations were for the Saturday Evening Post. So his style and formula and content fit their readers to a tee. He did 321 covers for them.
  19. I suppose there are many ways that styling can be used to have an effect. And I think Karsh aimed to create a portrait to achieve the same effect in the viewer regardless of his subject. I noticed with Salgado's photo journalism the effect on the viewer (me!) was also predictable. Karsh, Salgado: both were mostly predictable with respect to the effect their work would have on the viewer. And in part that would be because, I assume, they were doing a particular job. Now Karsh had been criticized for being unchanging for most of his career, I forgot by which writer; so it seemed fair to at least consider if the same could be said of Salgado.

    One difference between Karsh and Salgado may have to do with the amount of information (content) packed into their work. Karsh very little, where often with Salgado there's an overwhelming amount of detail in his shots. Even so, both of them at some point wear me out. And I think that is largely because of my viewing their photos by the lot.
  20. I said in another thread that Salgado has an easier
    time showing feeling due to the intense content he
    photographs. So to that extent it's unfair to
    compare Karsh. It's harder to pull feeling doing

    But in the end, isn't it fruitless to compare one style with another as to which is better? Would you argue that a musician who always does jazz is better than a musician who always does Spanish guitar? Also as listeners (and viewers) we can switch artists and enjoy the talents of all of them.
  21. Alan maybe it's like comparing BB King to Otis Rush, both have an identifiable style and I appreciate both and having an identifiable style is an achievement. And I'm starting to think that faulting Karsh just for his style probably isn't fair, is kind of like faulting him for his manner of expression alone. I see in Karsh a style that works toward expressing his tendency to fawn all over his subjects. That he expresses in his work a sort of fawning over his subjects can be fairly criticized. I like his style though. And I like Otis Rush but his isn't really dance music either, is dense with musical ideas.
  22. isn't it fruitless to compare one style with another as to which is better​
    No, it's discriminating, educational, and constructive. Besides which, most of the comments about the two styles have been insightful comparisons about how they each work and what they each accomplish. They have not been simplistic comparisons about which is better.
    Would you argue that a musician who always does jazz is better than a musician who always does Spanish guitar?​
    I would only if one were consistently better than the other. But then I wouldn't be arguing that jazz is better than Spanish guitar. What I might be saying is that the jazz guitarist, in this case, happens to do a better job at jazz than the Spanish guitarist does at playing Spanish guitar. I'd leave room for the fact that, with two other musicians, a different Spanish guitarist might be better at his chosen style than another jazz guitarist. In other words, I might like portraits equally as well as photojournalism, which I do. And yet I might think Salgado is a good photojournalist and Karsh is not such a good portraitist.
    Also as listeners (and viewers) we can switch artists and enjoy the talents of all of them.​
    Of course! And as a mature listener and viewer, I can also be critical in assessing those talents and in saying where some talents fall short and others shine. I don't have to be indiscriminate or uncritical in order to appreciate photography or music.


    Charles, I'd question whether that was Karsh's aim. I think it was the effect his work had or the result of his style. But many of his statements suggest he was not aiming to get the viewer to feel the same way about each portrait he made or about the subject of each of those portraits. His writing on the subject suggests that he was hoping, and probably thought he was achieving this, to bring out something very special and unique about each person he photographed. I think he failed in that respect, as well as others.
  23. Like many well known photographers and other artists who have developed a specific style and have remained consistent with it, Rockwell, Hamilton and Karsh (to name but a few) can "wear you out", as Charles says, upon repeated exposure. Each country also seems to have its icons, as Rockwell is to the USA, or HCB or Brassai or Lartigue are to France in depicting everyday French life.
    The oft-criticized Karsh produced a book entitled "Canadians" which is a very good archival and to some degree artistic record of local notables of his period, photographed in a manner that to some degree relates to the subjects. Those who have some familiarity with his subjects recognize some of their qualities and specificities in Karsh's images (examples include economist John K. Galbraith, humorist Stephen Leacock, politicians Pierre Trudeau, Peter Lougheed of Alberta and John Diefenbacker, pianist Glenn Gould, the Brit A. Belaney converted to the apparently indigenous Grey Owl, writer Margaret Atwood, ethnologist Marius Barbeau, cinematographer Norman McLaren, phsician Hans Selye, writers Morley Callaghan and Margaret Lawrence, sovereignist leader René Levesque, communications specialist Marshall McLuhan, and others), albeit with his usual rather heavy penchant for dramatic and sometimes too flattering lighting.
    I can fatigue a bit of of his approach after multiple viewings, but do not get the impression he is trying to provide a formula or a sort of "Canadiana" in his work, but merely concentrating on his subject, at least some aspects of his presentation of whom seem to be true to the person. This latter quality or attribute is at least what the viewer may wish, despite the exaggeration (which can also apply to Rockwell and in some ways to the B&W abstractions of Adams). I think that the "albatross" of portraits, unless undertaken in an artistic manner and then usually of unknown persons, is the quest for reality (of visible features and the relevance of any symbolic features).
  24. I think that the "albatross" of portraits​
    Albatross? I'm not getting that part. The fact that we point our cameras at something "real", to me, is one of the salient and exciting features of photography, all kinds of photography. The balance we achieve between conveying that reality (in portraiture, the reality, at least as we perceive it, of who that person is or what that person looks like at the moment) and adding imaginative, expressive, and aesthetic ingredients to that to come up with an effective photo is, to me, a major part of photography. It's done with landscapes, with architecture, with street scenes, with still lifes, and with so many other photographic genres.
    Style, IMO, can be a key ingredient we add to the reality at which our camera has been pointed, which allows us to personalize and individualize that very reality, if we so choose.
  25. Fred I think Karsh's aim was to produce a flattering portrait and as a consequence he then worked to present the viewer with the most expressive and flattering thing he could find in his subjects. Those are elements I see in his style anyway.
    I'm not sure about the albatross thing Arthur brought up. For me it has always been trying to make a posed shot lose a posed look and feel.
  26. Charles, I don't think that was Karsh's aim. Here's what Karsh had to say:
    If it's a likeness, alone, it's not a success. If, through my portraits, you can come to know the subjects more meaningfully, if it synthesizes your feelings toward someone whose work has imprinted itself on your mind--if you see a photograph and say, 'Yes, this is the person,' with a little new insight--that is a beautiful experience. - Yousuf Karsh
    The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize. - Yousuf Karsh
    Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. - Yousuf Karsh​
    I don't think he would agree that his goal was flattery and I don't think he achieves his aim. He specifically mentions lifting the masks and I think he does anything but. He seems much more a slave to the mask. I'm all for using masks to uncover significance, but I don't think he does this. I think he's not in touch with his reliance on masks and his inability to either use them in a significant way or to get beyond them.
  27. I also think he's wrong in stating that all humans use masks to conceal their innermost selves from the world. Some masks actually reveal more than they hide. I think his not recognizing this, as well as his not getting beyond the masks, is the fatal flaw of his portraiture.
  28. style-voice and formula. for many years these aspects of photography and art have been significant and a consideration for me. many layers. and somewhat cumbersome for me to discuss without specific content examples.
    An early observation as a viewer and wannabe artist for myself was, and still is .. that many well known artists do practice a degree of formula intentionally. Yet The best ones imo do not suffer stagnation simply because they have found an effective/affective combination of style and message. Some use a successful formula to ride as far as possible. While others temporarily explore a formula then borrow or invent another.
    In my experience voice has been the dominate consideration. Voice seem to go along with character, personality and taste. My tastes are all over the spectrum as a viewer. That influenced my work as an artist/photographer and designer. Distinction.. In much the same way I can pick up a phone and immediately recognize the voice of the person on the other end I believe that the better artists for me have a distinctive voice. For a few artists this occurs naturally but for most it takes practice and time to discover a distinctive voice.
    Personally I turn away from formula.s (that are used over long periods of time) as a viewer and in my own work ... that is my personality. Formula (even if temporary) does have the benefit of giving some comfort, a handle to viewers and buyers/sellers.
    Style is primarily the manner of delivery for me.
  29. it is through voice I find my most direct connection/relationship to content.
  30. So is voicing a stylistic presentation of photographic content? I don't fully comprehend the analogy.
  31. Sure +. In my own work voicing (i like that) is a visual representation of what I have to say. Styling is the A tool... clothing or body language or amplitude of voice etc. i choose to use.
  32. Nicely put, Josh.
    Style can occur without voice. Thomas Kinkade, for example, has a recognizable style that doesn't say much of anything. Josh's photos, which don't currently have an online presence, have quite a range of styles but a fairly strong and consistent underlying voice, one of longing and one which produces a kind of tension as it both draws the viewer and himself as photographer close while also pushing that same viewer, and one senses, also himself, away. [Attraction/Alienation]
    Dylan's gone through an awful lot of stylistic changes, some of which I like better than others. But his voice has remained fairly consistent (I'm not referring to the physical sound of his vocal chords though there often does seem to be a built-in character to artistic voice which is likely why the term was coined): the content he plays with and the way he poeticizes and personalizes that content, those thoughts, the cultural milieu he expresses and even creates. I hear the same Dylan whether he's acoustic or electric, solo or with a band, raucous or more laid back, folk, country, or rock.
  33. I also associate the word voicing with musical arrangements, for example, voicing a passage with wind instruments versus strings. Perhaps that analogizes to choices with lighting, etc.
  34. How many portrait paintings reveal the inner
    person? Who hires a portraiturist who will make
    you look as the thief you are? It's harder what Karsh does than the Salgados who capture pain and suffering that is obvious and in the open. You should compare artists who focus on the same kind of work.
  35. Style can exist without voice. Hamilton is for me a good example. Walls of sound can destroy voice, which in the first decade of the century and earlier is what I think happened to Dylan. Perhaps the royal jelly of his early genius and his unmistakable style could not be sustained. Unlike Dylan, Cohen has maintained a consistent style, inventiveness and voice throughout his career, much like the lesser known singer composer Gilles Vigneault, whose poetry still impresses at 80+.
    I guess any reason is good enough to take a swing at Karsh (maybe we need a new column called Karsh bashing), but his book on Canadians is worth getting to know, except for the proviso that a knowledge of his subjects helps greatly to give the images particular meaning.
    I don't think too many artists make good sense when discussing their own work. There seems to be a distance between the specific (thought) process of creation and the analyzing of it.
  36. Many years ago I decided that in my own thinking, and also
    in certain conversations within a 'close circle', that I would
    cease to think "Portrait" and substitute "Portrayal". Words
    can control our thinking and our actions, so this was not a
    rhetorical "difference without a distinction".

    Once I had integrated this change into my pics of peeps, I
    decided that a fortunate possible expansion of the concept
    might be that pic of *things* could more readily be made
    as "portrayals" whereas picturing *things* in a "portrait"
    manner seemed kinda pointless ..... tho not to deny that
    anthropormorphisizing inanimate objects can often times
    be a creative exploration.

    Anywho, we are not always fully or even partially aware
    of our own intentions. Some portraitists are "portrayers"
    of the persons, as persons, who they photograph. Others
    may be using those subjects as inanimate objects for the
    type creative exploration mentioned above ... or perhaps
    as some sort of "body double" for a self expressive shot,
    some kind of disguised selfie.

    I won't try here to say who amongst well known and well
    regarded portraitists are doing things which way. I just
    wanna widen the way we see and discuss our own and
    other photographers' work.
  37. You know Alan I wondered how Salgado could have for so long been an enduring witness to suffering in magnitude that I haven't seen for myself. If you take a look at his Ted talk you'll hear him talk about how his body finally revolted and took him from the field after Rwanda. His body, the loyal horse that he had ridden for so long, finally said "No more!" and carried him away from all that. He was a broken man in body and spirit. Broken, undone by his work.
    Alan you suggest that Salgado's work was somehow easier than Karsh's? I give you that both are exceptional in their own way. But Karsh's portraiture didn't break his spirit and his body.
  38. Charles. I agree with you. That's why I rather photograph landscapes and their beauty. There's enough ugliness in the world. We all face problems in life. Who wants to look constantly at other people's problems in our spare time? It can become very depressing.
    I suppose that's why Salgado switched to landscapes in his Genesis series. Although he was still trying to make social points, at least his photography of nature is beautiful and spiritually nourishing; something that is good for us. And it must be for him too.
  39. I find spirituality in Salgado's more troubling photos. His willingness to look, to help, to become part of the solution, and its potential effect on me and others to become aware and active . . . hard to imagine anything more spiritual than that. Yes, many will want some relief from looking at such images or being involved in such endeavors, myself included. That relief often comes in the form of comfort and entertainment. I'd say Salgado's tougher photos are good for us, both as individuals and collectively as a society. Pretty pictures of nature, not as much, IMO.
    "There isn't any formula or method. You learn to love by loving - by paying attention and doing what one thereby discovers has to be done."
    —Aldous Huxley​
    I think this can be applied to photography as well. Trouble often ensues when we search for secrets or formulas and it gets even worse when we think we've found them.
  40. Charles, lighting choice seems to me like mostly a stylistic matter (and I'm certainly not minimizing the importance of it). So, for instance, Weston . . . his lighting choices help clarify and communicate his voice. If at least part of the strength of Weston's voice was his discovering and turning the world onto the sensuality/sexuality of a pepper right alongside the sensuality/sexuality of his nudes (which meant admitting the mundane into the aesthetic), his mastery of lighting aided him in doing that. In a sense, his use of lighting helps seal the deal. There may, therefore, be a difference between "voicing" (as in writing for different instruments of an orchestra) and "voice" as in developing an artistic voice. Tchaikovsky was one of the best at voicing, writing for the different orchestral voices, and his music is full of tonal color and orchestral texture. I think his artistic voice, however, lives in the heavy emotional and dramatic depths of his unique romanticism. Where Chopin's romanticism was more floral and amiably salon-like, Tchaikovsky's tended to plunge more and explored the tension and harmony between beauty and sorrow or angst.
  41. Fred: "There may, therefore, be a difference between "voicing" (as in writing for different instruments of an orchestra) and "voice" as in developing an artistic voice."
    I agree and come to think of it, I've heard the word 'voicing' refer more narrowly to the process of picking the instruments specifically for the melody line in a piece.
    How well does the word 'elocution' work to refer to stylistic matters in photography, elocution defined as 'speaking' style. I do like the emphasis that this discussion places on photographic expression.
  42. Fred, I have been doing portraits for nearly 50 years now! I have been told by several people who are artists that I respect, that my portraits have a distinct quality that they can perceive and they can tell it’s a portrait of mine. This may be so, but it is not something I strive for. I do use natural light most of the time in a “documentary” type setting, meaning I don’t usually pose people but photograph them in a casual manner while they are engaged in some kind of activity. That would be my “style,” I suppose. I don’t really think I have a “formula,” because I am not exerting control over the conditions. My “voice” I think is my innate personal preferences for the look and feel of the end result: the moment of shutter release, the look in the eyes of my subject, the feeling I get at that precise moment I take the photo.
  43. Fred G:
    ...At the same time, I tend to prefer bodies of work that attempt an array of styles, especially where technique seems tied to content and seems to vary based on the nature of the content and expressive output.
    So, help me answer this question, which I'm grappling with. For you, when does consistency work and when does it become formulaic and less effective?
    Seems like authenticity would be a key here.

    It's a difficult question to grapple with, Fred. I agree that authenticity seems key to preventing consistency from seeming formulaic or like a cheap parlor trick. Aye, but there's the rub. Without deconstructing specific examples, I don't think I could lay out a catch-all guideline that would separate the authentic from the formulaic. I only know it when I see it. And that, of course, is subjective and a matter of my taste and experience.
    You use "style" and "voice" in your thread title as well. I think consistency is a hallmark of style (and voice an aspect of -- or even a synonym for? -- style). But style and voice seem to go beyond consistency alone. A given photographer may be consistent in her subject matter, but also, or alternatively, consistent in the manner in which she portrays different subjects (i.e., a certain post-processing "look" or treatment). One could call this a "style", but it seems to me that there is a deeper, more significant style that reaches beyond just the subject matter or "look". Perhaps this is what might be called "voice".
    How to explain what I mean? Look at the work of Gregory Crewdson or Loretta Lux. Each has a discernible "style" that is primarily derived from the look and atmosphere of their work. (Damn! I can't get the link button to work.)
    Recognizable, distinctive, and work that I do like and can appreciate. However, each seems to be a matter of their processing and set up. Crewdson the presenter of selectively lighted and highly staged ambiguous angst, very Hopperesque in feel and atmosphere. Lux the presenter of muted pastels with children possessed of oversized heads and placed in spare surreal settings. But as much as I do enjoy their work, too much of it seems a bit contrived and leaves me saying, "okay, now what?" or "nice, but is that all there is?".
    Which takes us to that higher level of style of which I spoke. If Crewdson and Lux do not quite reach that level (I feel that they do not, but I'm open to being convinced otherwise), who does? Off the top of my head, Eggleston, Arbus, Friedlander, and perhaps Winogrand, Erwitt, and Francesca Woodman among a number of others that I could name. Their styles seem to come not from a trick of set up or processing but from a deeper place that could be defined as their "voice". And each displays, in their own way, a definite quality of authenticity. (This is not to imply that a staged work cannot have authenticity. Again, I cannot definitively state that I think Crewdson or Lux lack authenticity, but I do not think that their "style" is quite of the same caliber as the photographers previously mentioned.)
    I haven't really answered your question(s), Fred, but they have caused me to give deeper consideration to the manner in which I determine style and voice.
  44. Steve, thanks for adding the idea that all of these—style, voice, and formula—are about more than just consistency. While, as you say, consistency is an element or even "hallmark", the three each go beyond that. As to the difference between between authentic and formulaic, some sense of humanity comes to mind with the former, whereas it's often missing with the latter . . . that can be the humanity shown in the photo including to what extent the humanity of the photographer may come through.
    While on the surface, or in terms of style, there are similarities between Crewdson and Hopper (color palette, atmospheric lighting, etc.) the difference to me is one of both sophistication and humanity. Hopper, for example, so often shows the source of light as part of his compositions and gives me a sense of the reason for the shapes of light in his paintings. Light is a character in itself in his paintings, so often having its own shape and presence, a rectangle on the floor, a triangle bolstering the architecture. For Crewsdon, light does what light does . . . it illuminates people and things.
    I have a sense of humanity from Hopper's pictures. His people seem real, soft and malleable. Crewsdon, on the other hand, seems to use them as mannequins, stiffly. They catch the light but don't really interact with it or live within it as Hopper's do. It's provocative staging but I'm not sure where it goes beyond that staging and so it quickly does start to feel formulaic rather than having a purpose I want to keep relating or digging in to. If there's silence and angst in some of Hopper's work, it comes in the almost palpably-felt absence of human beings in a lot of his scenes, where the absence, like his light, is so present and even turned into a character. In other words, we feel that people had been there and left. We don't always see his human subjects, in many of the deserted New Englad scenes (gas stations, train stations) but we feel the very human sensations of loneliness, emptiness, and of time marching on. Crewdson's color work (his newer black and white stuff leaves me really cold) seems to be cleverly surreal but I'm not sure the staging ever gives me a sense of what's real or true (what's behind the surrealism or evoking it) as much as it's just a play with odd locatedness (person against environment) and juxtaposition.
    Though I know Hopper well, this is my first glance at Crewdson's work (thanks for the intro) and I'd reserve the right to get to know his stuff better and see if there may be more to it than I'm at first glance experiencing. He's doing stuff I tend to appreciate, obviously playing with staging and artifice, but I'm just not getting beyond it to the rationale, social commentary, or emotional depth.
  45. "Maybe I am not very human - what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house." Edward Hopper.
    Gotta love Edward Hopper. Now there is an artist with a unique voice and style and one which a lot of photographers are inspired by.
  46. Poor lighting ruins a photograph as well as a painting. "Waiting for the light", a mantra of most landscape photographers, is a mantra for that reason. Whether you like their style or not, both Crewdson and Hopper apply light for maximum impact. Even Salgado, with his heart-tugging content, maximizes the excellent use of light even though the heavy-handed pathos of the content may make it seem superfluous. His environmental series, Genesis, bears out his ability to use light as a pro. He is a photographer first, then a reporter.
  47. Fred G: I have a sense of humanity from Hopper's pictures. His people seem real, soft and malleable. Crewdson, on the other hand, seems to use them as mannequins, stiffly. They catch the light but don't really interact with it or live within it as Hopper's do. It's provocative staging but I'm not sure where it goes beyond that staging and so it quickly does start to feel formulaic rather than having a purpose I want to keep relating or digging in to. If there's silence and angst in some of Hopper's work, it comes in the almost palpably-felt absence of human beings in a lot of his scenes, where the absence, like his light, is so present and even turned into a character.

    Fred, Marc, & Allen -- Thanks for all of your observations on Hopper. I just want to make very clear that I do not equate Crewdson with Hopper by any means. By Hopperesque I meant that Crewdson reminds me of Hopper and that his work suggested some of that same angst and loneliness that Fred outlined so nicely in the quote above. I love Hopper's work and would not want anyone to think I feel that Crewdson's is on the same level. Again, this is not to bash Crewdson, I do enjoy some of his work, but I cannot put him in the same league with Hopper.
  48. Steve, I did understand that and assumed you meant the comparison in only a limited context. But thanks for clarifying.
  49. "Allen, nice capture of a little girl's questioning expression and her dependence on an adult companion".
    I strongly suspect, in the same time, and the same place, you would have also have taken this photo.
  50. Possibly, Allen, but it is not always that such fleeting moments are captured.
  51. Alan "Even Salgado, with his heart-tugging content, maximizes the excellent use of light even though the heavy-handed pathos of the content may make it seem superfluous."
    Which makes me ponder whether Salgado's "heavy-handed pathos" style fit those suffering subjects? Sure. But there may be more to it than that.
    Marc pointed out in the Salgado thread that there had been "...commentary in the past about his [Salgado's] work that criticizes the extraordinary quality of his prints because some believe there is something wrong with this kind of rendering of human misery." What may be right about Salgado's choice to extraordinarily print human misery is that such printing added, as I interpret it, additional layers of dissonance to those works, made those works even more disturbing, perhaps increasing in the viewer a sense of urgency toward taking action.
  52. >>> Which makes me ponder whether Salgado's "heavy-handed pathos" style fit those suffering subjects?
    Sure. But there may be more to it than that.

    Indeed. Commerce. His dramatic style is tuned to his audience, and drives print/book sales. I suspect a less
    dramatic and more neutral style would diminish sales - dramatically.
  53. Well the man has to feed his family. It would be a
    sin if he cared more about strangers than his own
    blood. He has personal responsibilities just like
    everyone else.

    But I really don't think that's the reason. He's a
    craftsman, a pro. Would we want him to blur his
    pictures, get the horizon tilted? Do painters use
    drab colors and cinematographers film with poor
    lighting when the content shifts to man's struggles
    in life?
  54. >>> Well the man has to feed his family. It would be a sin if he cared more about strangers than his own blood. He has
    personal responsibilities just like everyone else.

    Absolutely. That's lost on many people, with respect to both well-known photographers and representing galleries.

    >>> But I really don't think that's the reason. He's a craftsman, a pro. Would we want him to blur his pictures, get the horizon
    tilted? Do painters use drab colors and cinematographers film with poor lighting when the content shifts to man's struggles in

    I don't think "we," as photographers, are his market. It's not a matter of needing to dumb-down technical aspects to please
    "us." More of creating a dramatic visual style that resonates and easily engages with the population at large, ultimately
    driving sales. I'm not saying that what it's *all* about, but that's certainly a significant aspect.
  55. Do painters use drab colors and cinematographers film with poor lighting when the content shifts to man's struggles in life?​
    As a matter of fact, Picasso used black and white when he painted Guernica. And check out the difference in the technique and feel of the drab and oppressive cinematography in the densely foggy coastal Newfoundland town in The Shipping News (cinematography by Oliver Stapleton) vs. the feel and look of the sparklingly rich technicolor employed by cinematographer Ernest Haller in Gone with the Wind. Artists shift their style all the time to aid in the type of expression they want for particular subject matter or content. That may be an important difference between a craftsman and an artist. The craftsman may have a more objective idea of what his craft needs to aspire to. The artist will modify his craft and use of technique in order to get the desired expression. It's why Guernica was not painted in the style of the Mona Lisa. And it may be why some fault Salgado for not discriminating more in his use of technique.
  56. Actually, Gone with the Wind may be a good example here, especially if compared to another Civil War era movie, Don Siegel's The Beguiled. Gone with the Wind is the more popular movie and made a whole lot more money for the studio. The Beguiled is much more a work of art, personal, gritty, adapting cinematic techniques and style to the needs of the material. Gone with the Wind looks "perfect" by comparison, in its full-bore Hollywood lushness, but doesn't hold a candle to what gets expressed in The Beguiled and the moral questions faced by the main characters played by Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Paige, the former a Union soldier hold up in a girls' school headed up by Paige, who hides him from the Confederate authorities.

    I wonder, Alan, if you've set up a false dichotomy when you talk about "poor lighting" as the alternative to what Salgado is doing. A different type of technique by Salgado wouldn't have to employ "poor" lighting. It would employ lighting that is not so typically associated with refined material such as the pristine landscapes of Ansel Adams or even the nudes and peppers of Weston. Not matching the sensibility of an Adams or Weston in the use of lighting doesn't equate to "poor." It would be a matter of a different feeling for expressiveness and a less lushly dramatic approach to subject matter that may not benefit from that approach.
    In short, I don't think anyone here is asking for "poor" lighting or technique. They're asking for expressive lighting and technique as opposed to what might be more formulaic lighting and technique.
  57. Before you look at details, you have to be drawn to a photo. The use of light, geometry, shape, etc are what do that. How many pictures do you just skip because there's nothing there initially? Maybe the power of The Beguiled is greater than Gone with the Wind. But the latter effected more people because more people saw it. You have to get customers, viewers, first before you can effect their feelings with the content.
    Lawrence of Arabia had the ravages of war, conflict, betrayal, death, yet it was a beautiful picture that attracted and effected millions. Witnessing suffering can cause one to cry, but so can awe. They're very similar. They both reach down within ourselves and touch our hearts and minds and souls.
  58. the latter effected more people​
    Yes, popular things usually do. And Hollywood knows how to play the popularity game. I'd claim most people were more entertained by Gone with the Wind and more people who saw The Beguiled were ethically moved and challenged by it. I think you're right that more people want to be entertained than emotionally moved or challenged. Popularity is merely one measurement of things. Good art is often less popular than pop culture. I will often give a more careful look, even here on PN, to photos that DON'T immediately catch my eye, because often the eye-catchers wear thin pretty quickly. Better stuff often takes time and even work on the part of the viewer to percolate and be appreciated. It's not usually light, geometry, and shape that draw me into a photo. It's usually the content that will either grab me or not. I tend to like photos that require some visual and emotional effort on my part as the viewer.
  59. Brad: "His dramatic style is tuned to his audience, and drives print/book sales."
    I agree his dramatic style was tuned to his audience. Further, since he was, I gather, a photojournalist then his first audience was comprised of editors and readers of various publications.
    For Salgado print, show, and book sales amounted to a repackaging of his photos in order to further his sales opportunities. And absolutely, the product pipeline influenced his style throughout the life cycle of his photographs. Salgado's photographs were a commodity just like any other commodity. I wonder if Salgado may have also have edited his work for the more particular tastes that drive show, print, and book markets. As an aside, and after considering your remark, I now don't see Salgado responding to market drivers much differently than say did Lik, Lik whom earlier I probably came off as having criticized solely for his having business acumen. To get a more complete impression of both of those photographers I think it is important to consider the business side.
  60. >>> I wonder if Salgado may have also have edited his work for the more particular tastes that drive show, print, and book
    markets. As an aside, and after considering your remark, I now don't see Salgado responding to market drivers much
    differently than say did Lik, Lik whom earlier I probably came off as having criticized solely for his having a successful
    business acumen.

    Funny, I was going to bring Lik into the discussion as a comparison but decided to hold off a bit. Glad you mentioned him.

    How about Thomas Kinkade, famously known as the "Painter of Light?" I suspect many would consider his work kitsch and
    Kinkade as not a real artist. However, if you look at some of his very early work in books (which are difficult to find), before he
    crossed to the dark side and discovered the possibilities of assembly line production and aggressive marketing, he was a very
    accomplished plein air landscape painter (IMO). Could have been up there with well-known early California impressionist
    landscape painters from the turn of the 20th century, such as Granville Redmond, Guy Rose, and Edgar Payne, if Kinkade were alive and painting during that period.

    I don't know what caused Kinked to choose the path he did. But I would hazard a guess he determined he could make a LOT
    of money creating a lifestyle brand promoting feel-good bucolic paintings/prints (and licensed knick-knacks) portraying
    optimism and hope resonating with the general public, and creating a marketing organization along with franchise galleries to
    sell. Much more money than struggling selling one-off classical plein-air style paintings at Carmel tourist galleries for not much
    money because there is little market for contemporary plein-air.

    Seems to have worked for him, though things began to fall apart 6-7 years before he died.
  61. I also regard it as fair to consider that photography of Salgado's caliber is a form of personal expression that well compares to public speaking. I like considering public speaking and photographic expressions as marked by style, style re-named as an 'elocution' where audience/market [as Brad points out] is also important to consider. The visual elements of "light, geometry, shape etc", as Alan points out, speak to specific audiences. When those visual elements are employed poorly by a photographer it amounts to a public speaker using bad grammar (the fact that even good speakers will both use bad grammar and vary their tone as artifice not withstanding.)
  62. Brad, yeah, and that is a dilemma, exemplified by Kinkade. That conundrum can be present for me even in my internal dialogs that precede a creative act, where it is a presumptive audience that can get in the way of and overly influence that which I have to 'say'. At times even to the point of drowning the baby in the bathtub on some days.
    So I'll go on to say that that dilemma seems to have something to do with finding one's voice and something to do with authenticity, loosely.
  63. I think, Charles, that using the presumptive audience to develop one's voice will not always get in the way and, in fact, sometimes can help one in attaining a voice. If photography is at all about communication, then one wants one's voice to be heard and understood at least to some degree. The danger is not only being overly influenced by that audience but in setting oneself up as antithetical to that same audience, especially if it's done just for the sake of being able to declare oneself a free individual. The "we" thing can be very helpful in being creative. Often, one makes a photo in order to share something. I'm not sure it was as much Kinkade's audience that got in his way, if anything did in fact get in his way. It may have been more a matter of his desire for that level of commercial success (SELLING) that prevented him from developing a different sort of voice, if he had such a voice in him at some point. There are many ways to take into account one's audience that are different from considering what you can sell them.
  64. Right, that makes sense Fred and also, without an audience there would be no reason to speak at all though it is at times that I am my only audience. :)
  65. Getting away from other photographers, I wonder what you think of Style, Voice, and Formula for yourself. Until I read about those things in articles and forums like this one, I never really gave it any thought regarding me. Of course, once I read about it, I thought that I must have missed something, that certainly having these things are important for me as well. How could I go through life not having a style? My God, what have I been missing? What's wrong with me just wanted to take nice pictures?
    I'd like to hear from you guys about yourselves. In the meanwhile, I'll go look at my Flickr page to see what my style is or if I actually have a style.
  66. Alan, there is nothing wrong with you wanting to just take nice pictures. I'm of the same mindset...I leave all the pseudo-intellectual and pompous ramblings of other photographers to themselves.
  67. Must be strange to live in a world limited to either "nice pictures" or "pseudo-intellectual and pompous ramblings". Glad it's your world and that mine has more diversity, thoughtfulness, and shades of gray. See you guys. Enjoy your picture taking.
  68. Of course, one doesn't have to be pseudo-intellectual to still fully participate in both photography and in what often are cutting edge discussions here in the philosophy of photography forum. Being pseudo-intellectual helps just as much as being pseudo-sociable - don't get me wrong, both help - but neither is required.
    One thing I've gotten from this discussion is that audience matters, audience has an effect on style. So Alan, Mark, who are the audiences for your photographs? How has producing for those audiences influenced your choices of light, geometry, shape, and tone?
    I would answer the same question with: I've tried to make pictures that people who look at pictures would like. And when I've tried to communicate something important to me by using a photograph, I've tried to do so within the boundaries of how I think others would expect a good photographic statement to be made.
  69. If I have a "style", it comes naturally from my own aesthetic feelings as yours will do for you. That drives my choices of light, forms and content. It's like eating. Our individual tastes draw us to the kinds of food that satisfies those tastes. I don't sell my stuff so I don't think I've been too much effected by what my audience might appreciate. Of course, it's nice to have others approvals. But in the end, I work on a picture that meets my own feelings of likeability, often thinking it's not up to my standards.
  70. I've tried to do so within the boundaries of how I think others would expect a good photographic statement to be made.​
    Charles, this struck me. It makes sense. But I'd also ask if you ever consider broadening your own and your audience's horizons, giving them something they might NOT expect would make a good photograph, but trying to convince them or challenge them (and yourself) with both your content and style to give it a chance and get something from it. That doesn't come easy for me, but in my own way I've gone there a few times and it's rewarding when I do. Making those stretches have been my times of noticeable growth. Sometimes viewers' reactions (and even my own) will be a little confused but actually that confusion can lead to a salient kind of change in seeing and understanding.

    I think it's important, when being one's own worst critic, to be critical. A good critic will not just be negative or disappointed. A good critic will challenge the photographer or artist (who may be himself) to seek significance as much as approval.

    The approval I get when seeking approval is generally much less rewarding than the approval I get for being authentic, even if that authenticity is not quite fully developed or easily comprehensible.
  71. What I was getting at is that I don't take myself so seriously. I see photographers who I would describe as above and when I see their work and it falls miserably short I just feel embarrassed for them. It's one thing to call oneself an artist, quite another to have that label bestowed upon you by others.
    As to who my audience is, I never thought about it because I shoot for myself, not anybody else. However, most of the people who appreciate my work tends to be family, friends, and a few other photographers who have cited me as an inspiration to their own work. Most of these folks are on my facebook list so that's were the majority of my new work gets seen. I go through periods where I consider not uploading any more pictures anywhere online because it's just another time consuming thing I have to do but I usually change my mind like the other day when an out of town friend and me went out to dinner and he told me how much he looks forward to seeing my uploaded pictures on facebook.
    On the weekend before last I attended an Xmas party where a few days prior one of the guests requested that I bring in a portfolio for him and his wife to look at. So just before leaving I hastily threw together a binder of 8X10 prints of recent work - some Ferguson protest pictures, a Thanksgiving dinner in a public park, the LA County Coroner "Paupers Funeral" and some street work. I arrived at the party and gave the portfolio to the man and his wife and while a small group of other folks huddled around the table to look at them, I took off to the buffet to get some grub. My pictures were pretty well received. In fact later that evening one man came up to me and proceeded to describe in detail which pictures he liked best and why. I really appreciated that, it proved to me that they actually took the time to really look at the pictures and not just do a courteous 1-2 second once over on each picture that has been the case in other instances.
  72. I have infrequently found myself going beyond those standards and expectations Fred, thanks for prompting me to consider that. Here's an example.
    The impulse behind it was to show the viewer a realistic, human-eye view of a coyote on a road. It might leave Marc embarrassed for me though! And I would have expected, as Fred phrases it, a little confusion in the viewer and from that confusion perhaps a changed appreciation for a photographer chasing after a coyote photo. Which was fun.
    But mostly I have tried to work to a standard and my work does move forward with objective criticism v. disappointment/being my worst critic.
    Alan it sounds like you pay good attention to mood, tone in your work.
    Marc, OK, got it; it sounds like you've run into types who come off as pretentious, intellectualize about their work, etc. Also, that's great when someone takes the time to discuss details.
    One thing I've been thinking about I'll term 'crafting error'. Sometimes I can intellectualize an error into something that on some level works. And sometimes a mistake of mine can make a good picture. In the woodworking I've been doing, some of those crafting errors can stand on their own as design elements of a piece that I couldn't have come up with without the mistake.
  73. I find it a pity how it is assumed that talking about one's own photography (in terms of approach and hopes-in-results) is pretentious and intellectualising, while talking about others is all fine. It happens often in threads such as these, and I genuinely feel it is a pity. A lost oppurtunity for all of us - to learn from one another, to get to understand how others try to approach things. That isn't necessarily intellectualising anything, it's the down-to-earth thing "what do I do to try to make my images work the way I want them too?". We learn from the master, but we can also learn from one another. Plus, putting it into words for yourself can be very revealing. It isn't too serious, it's as much about sharing as sharing a photo is, in my view.
    Scrutinizing myself is part of the learning process, part of the feedback I do need to get a bit better at making images. Along the way, it sometimes also carries revelations about myself. Why do I like to make images of things in various states of decay? Why not, like Alan described, choose for more obvious beautiful things, and see the sun shine? Instead, I walk around at night, and the worse the shape the thing is in, the happier I get. There is something to chew on there. And it makes me smile, because it is silly, maybe giving too much weight where I shouldn't put it and maybe just a distorted self-image. But better think it over before I decide, at least, I think i should. Too serious? I usually end up laughing, really. I know perfectly well that all photographers mentioned so far in this thread are way way way better than I will ever become. No problem with that. But within my own limits, I do want to push as far as I can. And reviewing myself is part of that course. And maybe in time I will find you're right, and it's just a pretentious clown talking. But to assume that from the start is too little self esteem to any standard, I'd say.
    And audience is a nice benchmark for that. I do not know my audience terribly well, nor do I shoot for a specific audience. But I do care about them, because they can tell me if an image works or not. Even if to a large extend I shoot for myself (and I do), I need to understand the bit of audience I have to understand what works, what doesn't. I need to hear other views - because sometimes people see things I missed, or they reach other interpretations than I even thought possible. Like this photo, where the critique for me drastically changed how I see that photo.
    As much as I love to think I shoot for myself, when I reach feedback as the above, critiques here, or friends who thank me for my daily photo on Facebook (yes, works exactly the same for me as Marc described), then I also feel some sort of obligation to do my best and share something worthwhile with them. So.... tune my voice, calibrate my senses, learn from past mistakes, take the lessons from my little audience, and try to improve.
    Enough with "I", but just as a very long-winded way to say that the way one scrutines an established artist isn't much difference from how we could/should approach ourselves. We all want to grow, and so far I never met a photographer who isn't mighty pleased when (s)he makes an image where everything just comes together just right. And we all know you don't get there by sheer luck.
  74. As I found the thread rather late...a bit jumping several pages back.... Consistency, to me, is really a keyword. Consistency has to do with content more than presentation (style/formula), what the body of work consists of. If you glance a lot of Salgado photos, yes, it is his use of contrast that draws attention, something I'd definitely call his style. But taking more time, watching the photos individually and grouped (google image search can be so useful), for me it is another quality that surfaces. Clever compositions, which help a viewer to scan the entire image well, that put the various elements in right positions and relations to one another, in a natural, flowing way. An intensity which isn't just because of the high-contrast style, but also because of the cleverness of these compositions. And yet, it doesn't feel composed, still has this journalist/documentarian feel of 'catching a moment'.
    Well, at least for me, it works this way. And it's this element what makes me like Salgado a lot. The consistency is in this intensity, the way images have tightly focussed compositions that take you somewhere as a viewer. Not very ambiguous images, they don't tickly my fantasy like some others can (Brassaï, Eggleston come to mind first), but that's compensated by the intensity they just have. And the style is just there to underline it, rather natural to it, though it sometimes does get a bit heavy. But it isn't the key component, it's collateral to it. Consistent, too...
    Style is something one can adopt (hello Photoshop action-packs), one can train a voice to a certain extend. But this level of consistency (which indeed I'd call authentic) is what sets things apart. It's having really something to say. It's genuine passion, curiosity, anger, love - and the ability to make your emotions really work as protagonists in an image. Maybe it's a silly romantic notion, but I cannot do other than admire that.
    It's one thing to call oneself an artist, quite another to have that label bestowed upon you by others.​
    That. And I somehow, those who call themselves artists and fall short (and ouch, that's many) tend to lack this consistency and authenticity for me. How to describe those attributes better, beats me, but when it's there, it's just inescapably there.
  75. It's having really something to say. It's genuine passion, curiosity, anger, love - and the ability to make your emotions really work as protagonists in an image.​
    I think this is a really nice way to put it, Wouter. Beyond the composition, beyond the style, is whether the photo speaks to me. That speaking is the voice. Salgado's photos, whatever else I can and have said about them, do have this intensity you talk about, and much of that is his willingness to be there and to zero in on moments that embody something significant. His particular treatments of those moments are a bit another matter. There's an unflinching quality to his work. Interestingly, his consistency may actually get in the way of the authenticity of what he's doing and so I again hesitate, as Steve pointed out, to associate consistency too closely with voice.

    As to calling oneself an artist, it's something I allow people who are artists. And if someone is truly an artist, they ought to refer to themselves that way. As to others bestowing the title, it's done and others do get it right sometime but probably just as often get it wrong. Often, the title, even if deserved, won't be bestowed by others because they've missed it, since artists often push the boundaries of what's already considered art and people tend to judge based on the past rather than the present or future. Just as it will depend on who's calling himself an artist, it will depend on who's bestowing the title. Many people throw the term around willy-nilly with no real substance or rationale behind it and I am likely to dismiss their bestowals, whether it's about others or about themselves. A bestowal will only have meaning for me if it comes from someone (the artist himself or a viewer) who knows things about art and has a good feel for it. Not every Joe will have much sway with me on calling someone an artist.
  76. "However, most of the people who appreciate my work tends to be family, friends," Marc.
    Methinks more than just family, friends, your photography is respected among your peers... the highest of, for one, and I consider myself....guess. This modesty thing which us photographers carry about like a lump of coal our shoulders...Hmm.
    "What's wrong with me just wanted to take nice pictures?"
    Nothing, I used to know a bloke who just took photos of pub signs.....he enjoyed himself a lot. Is that not what photography is all about? However, It should also have a more serious side depicting the world as it is. Is not that our strength, our art; which gives us a special uniqueness.....truths.
    But then, Alan, you do not really believe our photography is just all about nice happy are pulling my plonker.
    Interesting post, Fred. May you live long and prosper.
  77. A few more thoughts....
    I like Charles photography his depicting of the coyote and capturing a certain essence and character....
    His story about the life and times of a little bird in his garden....I have been doing a similar thing. The little things in life to my mind are the most interesting as they join together to tell a big story.
    Brad, in his left hand a documentry photographer, in his right hand the artist. He clasps them together....and we have the photography of Brad.
    Happy new year folks.
  78. Allen: My definition of "nice pictures" are those that inspire, give hope and tickle the senses with amusement, joy, beauty and yes even thoughtful pain at times, as long as the latter pain doesn't become a habit. Most people, myself included, can only look at people hurting for so long before becoming depressed. Maybe that's why Salgado dresses his pictures up with perfect lighting, composition, and contrast. So we can still feel inspiration through the suffering.
  79. While it may feel good to feel inspired through other people's suffering, I'm not sure I find anything terribly human or compelling about that. What I'm inspired by, relative to Salgado, is his donating money, effort, and time to the causes he gets involved with and his working alongside and with organizations that are doing something about these problems. And what I also find inspiring in his pictures is the determination, love, and family strengths I see even though so many of the people he's shooting are suffering. In many of the pictures, there is little hope evident especially, for me, the war pictures. I don't need or want to be inspired by war photos other than to change the way things are. It's a harsh reality that I'm not afraid of seeing presented in a realistic manner without the frills of pleasantry that allow others the luxury of feeling inspired by war.
    No, it's not always about inspiration, hope, or amusement. Sometimes the world can be fraught with hopelessness and misery and I want to be able to see that, not for my own good but for my own education and my own ability to help transform things to the extent I can, along with the help of others. Awareness and empathy may be much more a key than inspiration when it comes to photojournalism and documentary. A documentarian's job shouldn't have to be to inspire anyone. Let the truth be the inspiration to make changes happen and let the documentarian and photojournalist provide at least a glimpse into the truth.
    If those pictures that give hope and inspire are only palatable nature pictures and happy-go-lucky portraits, then there's something wrong with hope and inspiration. I, at least, want hope and inspiration to go a little deeper than that.
    The hope is that pictures of suffering will move us in some way. Hope doesn't have to be the subject of the photo. One way to avoid the depression that comes from seeing images of reality is not to replace them with simplistic and easy-to-look-at niceties but rather to become part of a solution to the realities that bother or depress us. It might be more hopeful and inspiring and uplifting for us to turn toward the problem, as Salgado did for so many years, rather than away from it.
  80. You're entitled to your tastes as I am. But for me, I prefer pictures hanging on my walls and those I shoot to provide inspiration and pleasure, those that uplift. If I want to feel "down" or wish to pull out my checkbook to see who I might want to help, I'll read the newspaper or watch the evening news.
    As an aside, Fred, I don't see anything in your own photos that are really depressing or show suffering. Even the Plowshare photos, which I admire, show challenged people but who show hope as well. So you seem to appreciate upbeat and inspiring, or just plain regular photos, as much as most people. Not from what you say but from your own shooting. You're cheerier than you think.
  81. You're entitled to your tastes as I am.​
    My previous post had nothing to do with taste. I don't know what you're talking about. Of course we're each entitled to our taste. But we can have a substantive discussion on photos that inspire and depress, a discussion that causes us each to think about our positions and doesn't warrant a "to each his own" conclusion, which as far as I'm concerned usually gets us nowhere. It's just a platitude that allows everyone to go home feeling good about their own opinions without having to look at or think about them.

    Alan, I don't think I ever suggested that I aspire to be a Salgado or am trying to do what I think Salgado is trying to do. I didn't say upbeat can't be inspiring. I said inspiring wasn't limited to upbeat. And I said pretty nature pictures aren't all that inspiring to me and I said that Salgado's work, even though depressing, is inspiring in certain ways. Just because I appreciate what Salgado is doing and see it as more than depressing doesn't mean I want or need to emulate him. I'm content to be Fred. Whatever discontent I have about my own work you may have hit upon, actually. And it's that I have a harder time letting my own darker side out, something I continually grapple with and will continue to try to break through.
    And, again, what pictures you want to hang on your wall is not my concern. I don't want to hang many of Salgado's pictures on my wall either, which doesn't stop me from discussing them in depth and being significantly moved by them. Like I said earlier, comfort and decor are different from art and photojournalism.
  82. Generically to this thread, I think it is pretty right that taste does come up - I think it is very related to the subject, and at the same time quite irrelevant too.
    In between style, voice, formula, it's pretty easy to get roadblocked by taste. If a photographer has a certain message, a certain treatment, a certain visual language that doesn't appeal to you, which doesn't fit your tastes, it's easy to dismiss the work alltogether, or label it as "depressing", "depicting suffering" and whatever.
    But that way, there isn't a whole lot left to be discussed, is there? Salgado is depressing and only depicting misery, full stop, period. Right. OK. Who's next? And what did we just learn here?
    There is so much art that I only learnt to appreciate over time, with a serious effort and a serious step outside of the comfort zone to get into it. The first time I saw Mondriaan paintings, I could not imagine how one would pay even a dime for one. Now I'd just wish I could afford one. The first time I heard Mahler, I could not make any sense out of it, and found the finale (1st symphony) a hodgepodge of unrelated noises. Now, my fairly sizeable collection of Mahler recordings is among my most treasured things and it's the music I'd take to that proverbial island where you can take only 1 recording. For years, I didn't like to eat fish much. Now, living in the Mediterrenean, there isn't a thing I'd rather eat.
    Basing my decisions just on my taste, and taking that taste as a yardstick for anything, is limiting myself to a small, small world. Sure everybody is entitled to his or her taste. But liekwise, everybody is also entitled to challenge others to look outside of that small world, and discuss. I know people made me do so, and I am eternally grateful for that.
    It really isn't about taste, it's about the process of acquiring it. Trying to get under the skin of things, learning to recognise the voice, style and see if you can make heads or tails out of it, not dismiss it out of hand because of preconceptions. Pick up the message of consistency, and see if it resonates with you. See if a formula is wearing out soon, or whether it just really is a working formula, not dismiss it right away just because it is a formula. I cannot see how any art can be made or appreciated without going through these fases, let alone having a decent discussion on it.
    None of this means you have to like everything, or anything; none of this means you aren't entitled to like what you like and dislike what you dislike. It just means it all is part of an open-minded intellectual discourse.
  83. With that all said, wishing you all a great 2015, hopefully with plenty good discussions :)
  84. I never said Salgado's earlier work wasn't terrific, that it didn't stir powerful human feelings in viewers, including me. What I said is that I wouldn't want to focus on it and similar work on a regular basis, nor mount and look at these kind of pictures on the walls of my home. That doesn't make me any less compassionate then others, nor less inspired by art. Even Salgado acknowledged that he gave up this kind of work to do nature and landscape because he found the former had gotten too depressing. It was wearing on his soul.
    On my cable, there are TV stations that only play music. I'm sure you have these as well. There has to be at least 30-40 different types of music to select from. Do you listen to all of them? Equally? Are there any you never have tuned too? Or do you have your favorites? Life is short. We have to allocate our time in a reasonable and efficient way.
    Anyway, it's been a nice discussion. So Happy New Year everyone. I'm making a resolution to talk less and take more pictures in 2015. Hopefully it will last more than a day or two.
  85. Thanks Allen Herbert and yes, for street photography in particular, I know I'm not alone in thinking that the audience for this genre is mostly other street photographers. I mean when was the last time anyone saw a Garry Wingrand or Robert Frank calendar next to the Ansel Adams at their local stationary store? Speaking of other photographers, here's an amusing little story.
    The picture below was taken at the LA County Coroners Unclaimed Body funeral...aka the "paupers funeral". It's an annual inter-faith funeral for bodies that go unclaimed after three years. This was my first time attending. I showed up early, and stayed late and took a few rolls of pictures. During this time I began to notice a woman with a large DSLR and a laminated badge hung around her neck. I presumed she was one of the many press photographers that also were in attendance. Anyway, as I moved about the small plot I noticed that she was always within about 15 feet or so behind me wherever I happened to be. Since she seemed to be hovering I kept her in the corner of my eye. That's when I noticed that after I would take a picture and move on, she would then stand where I just was and for all appearances take a similar picture. This occurred several times. The picture below is one such example. After I left, she got to where I just was, crouched down slightly like I did and took a picture. "What the hell is she doing?" I thought. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not, I'll never know. At first I was irked at what appeared to be her poaching on my ideas but then I just felt amused and wondered if it wasn't a coincidence then what was it about me that drew her attention. Oh well, if she ran any such pictures, I would hope she gave some photo credit to the man dressed in black with the old Nikon film camera and light meter.
  86. I recommend to all to read this post on a previous page:
    Wouter Willemse [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG], Dec 30, 2014; 12:15 p.m.
    What Wouter is saying about discussing our own approach or style I heartily agree with (in addition to his more recent message of wishes for the New Year!). While much can be learned from analysing the work of past and present masters, the professional photographers that receive attention from the public, or in exchanges through debating or discussing the opinions of those contributing to posts like this one of Fred, ultimately most of our interest is in developing our own approaches and voice in photography. We seem to be sheepish about discussing our own work here on Photo.Net, unless of course the "elves" discover our work among the thousands of portfolios on Photo.Net and stimulate discussion by creating the photo of the week and inciting commentary by those who visit that site (buried somewhere these days amongst the Photo.Net headings and drop downs).
    Like Wouter, I once lamented the lack of inter community discussion of personal approaches and objectives in photography as these might be quite beneficial for the photographer seeking to develop his own approach (Yes, critiques of individual photos are there and useful, up to a point as they concentrate on individual photos rather than the overall process undertaken by the photographer).
    So, I suggested another forum on this subject and the reaction at that time (4 or 5 years ago) was that the opportunity already existed to do so in other forums. Wouter provides in his December 30 post one testimony to whether the current PofP forum engenders or not that discussion.
    I don't know fully where my own development will take me in 2015, but in making a season's greeting card this month to far-flung friends I tried a light modification in PS Elements to a photo of one of our apple trees in winter.
    In addition to my own greetings to fellow followers I submit for your viewing a few modifications of a basic image. Each has been very lightly modified with an image editing filter in PS and one of the approaches or voices I am trying is to see how these images depart from the original and whether they add anything other than a simple departure from supposed reality and whether that reinforces or not the image. I am usually against great changes to a photographic image in PS but think that small changes can sometimes be beneficial. An exploration that will need much more systematic process on different subject matter before I can settle with one approach or style in future work. Thanks for looking. I hope you will consider Wouter's suggestion and I hope you will enjoy a great year.
  87. and modification no. 2
  88. and the original without minimal PS modification.
    These examples may not be the best to incite exploring the potential of discussing approaches, styles and creation of a personal voice, but I like Wouter's restatement of a desire some of us have had to see more personal photography approach discussion in these forums.
  89. Alan, thanks for your comments on my Plowshare photos, a community of people some of whom have some special needs. As Arthur states, it can be important and enlightening to discuss our own process so I'll provide a little feedback about that.
    My photos reflect my experience at Plowshare. They are not meant to be a universal take on people with physical and emotional challenges. They are about this community. These photos have little connection, in my mind, to the photos of human suffering Salgado shows. I would hate to think we would associate people with emotional and physical challenges with the kind of human suffering in Salgado's work, though some portions of special needs populations certainly do suffer. What I've taken away from my now many visits to Plowshare is the way the community as a whole functions and the almost lack of clear distinction between those with special needs and those without. We all, as a matter of fact, have special needs. And commonality tends to be embraced far more than difference, even though difference is acknowledged and dealt with humanely. So, for me, though I understand and appreciate what you're saying, it's not a matter of even Plowshare photos showing hope. It's that, of course, they show hope, as so many photos of human beings show.
    That being said, I'm just as taken by Arbus's photos which have a very different slant on a similar population and the many photojournalistic essays that have been done showing the ravages of certain institutions that are less than a healthy and prosperous environment for folks with challenges. I'm not covering it all. I'm covering what I'm exposed to and what I take away from it. And I've actually learned stuff not only from staying at the farm for a week at a time, but from looking through the pictures and discovering certain things when I see the many diverse faces all sharing something in common rather than showing differences. Someone else might very well pick up on the many differences apparent, and that would be interesting to see as well. It's just not where my experience and sensibility has led me.
    There are darker pictures to be taken at Plowshare and I guess I'm not the one to do so, at least not yet. As a matter of fact, I've avoided certain photo opportunities that would have explored the darker side of things, purposely. It's simply not where my heart is. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist and it doesn't mean I wouldn't want to be shown it by someone else who's more in touch with it than I want to be. I'm OK with experiencing it in the moment and dealing with the emotional hardships and more depressing sides of it, but I haven't found a comfortable way to express that through photography and am not sure I need to. When I say I do want to explore darker sides, I'd start with myself before putting the darker sides of others out there.
  90. We all have our limitations in life, and those change as well. Sometimes, things are better left unsaid or not photographed for the record. I know I have to understand my motives. If they help others, that's one thing. But I can become exploitative in a way satisfying my objectives exclusively. Situations like these can become delicate. I agree it's better to explore our own secrets. That's always healthier for us.
    I'm curious, Fred, how you deal with the staff and people you photograph? How do you develop trust with them? Do any object and how do you deal with that? What are the limitations they impose on you? These are the kind of questions I ask when I have "dared" to take street shots. But of course you know these people on an intimate basis which is unlike street photography generally.
  91. Wouter Willemse: I find it a pity how it is assumed that talking about one's own photography (in terms of approach and hopes-in-results) is pretentious and intellectualising, while talking about others is all fine. It happens often in threads such as these, and I genuinely feel it is a pity.

    I think there is a tendency to be reticent about talking about one's own work. Arthur also mentioned something similar above in regard to people sometimes feeling sheepish. For certain contests or galleries I have written artistic statements that might have seemed a bit overblown to some people. I take sort of a dual approach to describing my work or style -- talking about it (as in an introduction to a book I just published) in a fairly serious manner and yet, like Marc Todd, trying not to take myself too seriously at the same time. It can be a fine line. A PN friend who saw an early version of my introduction noted that I should not put in self-deprecating comments (advice I took to heart for the final published version). But I could see someone reading it and thinking "Who the hell does this guy think he is talking about himself like he's Garry Winogrand or John Szarkowski?". But if you don't believe in your work, and you do not take it somewhat seriously, why would you expect anyone else to?
    On the matter of "audience" -- Marc made an interesting comment about not seeing Garry Winogrand calendars next to the Ansel Adams calendar. Very true. But I don't think street photography is only appreciated by other street photographers. (As an aside, I don't really like the term "street photography", it seems too limiting and doesn't encompass the kind of work which, to me, falls stylistically, atmospherically, or tonally, within the same ballpark: the so-called "New Topographers" like Stephen Shore for one example, or the work of Francesca Woodman or Diane Arbus for some other examples.) I think people can appreciate ambiguous black and white photos of the human condition and see them as intriguing and possibly as a form of art. There's just not a huge market for it.
    The photographs that I put in my PN portfolio, or on my website, or in a book, are ones I find value in, that move me in some way that I cannot easily describe. I know that not everyone gets it, and that's okay. If I had to describe what I do as a photographer, I would say that I try to photograph in a way that matches the same type of work that I like to view. Not to imitate any particular photographer, but certainly to capture that hard to describe ambiguous atmosphere or tone that one finds in a number of different photographers. I derive certain feelings from work by Shore, or Klein, or Arbus, or Friedlander, or Eggleston -- each different, some even in color, but all possessed of a certain something that grabs me, that makes me revel in life, even while there is a certain muted sadness, or surreality, or ambiguity that some may describe as a bit "dark". I embrace that kind of ambiguity and darkness because it somehow transmutes into an appreciation for the commonplace in life as being a kind of marvelous adventure. And it always involves human beings, or the implied presence (as in Shore or others) of human beings. I don't turn up my nose or sneer at photographs that are unambiguously uplifting, but I get my uplift from exactly the kinds of photos that I have attempted to describe here. And that is how, most of the time, I choose to photograph.
    Now Arthur, I feel, has done a brave thing by putting up his series of images. I think, Arthur, that I have seen you mention on a number of occasions recently that you are moving toward trying to break out and try different things. I applaud that. I am not at a point where I can do that yet (I take a more organic and haphazard approach and wait to be surprised by something I find in my own work which may lead me in a slightly altered direction -- as opposed to making a conscious effort of will). I would like to comment on your photos but I need to digest them a bit more (and I'm not entirely confident that I could come up with anything very helpful or intelligent to say).
    The darkness of which I spoke above (a darkness from ambiguity, uncertainty, and the grittiness of the street) is a bit different from the type of darkness that Fred refers to above. At a venue like Plowshare, I too would be reticent about showing the clearly dark in fear that it would smack of the exploitive and the sensationalistic.
  92. I embrace that kind of ambiguity and darkness because it somehow transmutes into an appreciation for the commonplace in life as being a kind of marvelous adventure.​
    Steve, good contribution in regard to things or environments that capture attention or tend to be part of appreciation and photographic approaches. I can sympathize with the attraction of the unknown, dark, enigmatic or uncertain, as they often inspire us to more profound thoughts. Please excuse my three photos that are not really a part of what I am trying to do in any symbolic or literal sense but are simply technical or craft approaches to achieving somewhat different visual depictions of a subject matter. These images communicate little as subjects I humbly acknowledge, but maybe I can find a way to use the modification techniques to favor other visual perceptions.
  93. Arthur, Instead of me commenting on your photos since I don't know your intent, what is is that you were trying to accomplish with them?
  94. Exploration of subtle surrealistic colors or patterns superimposed on a straight image. A first shot at it for me and where it leads who knows. The ones in the images arte perhaps not subtle enough to be effective.
  95. Mod 2 looks like a posterization. I guess you're going for some sort of a graphic design. The chopped off portion of the tree you show seems to eliminate any nature or landscape look. The mods seem to wash out some of the snow into the highly clipped area. But I'm not sure where you're going with these. Your picture does remind me of something similar I did when I converted a color to BW. But the landscape view was still intact. But I don't think that's what you want with yours.
  96. Alan, I am not concerned by the subject matter here or achieving a landscape look or an enhanced graphic result, as I am really only exploring the effect of different filters (including the light posterization effect of no.2, or one of a slightly reduced tonal range or other) on how more subtle PS filtration (that is, one bordering on a just recognizable effect) would affect images I have done, and whether the slight changes can enhance any feeling that the photograph may already suggest or which I would like it to suggest. The exploration will consider in future other subject matter than landscapes and those which have stronger emotional or symbolic content than the specific case of a simple landscape.
    Your high contrast winter scene approaches that of a graphic image (Of course, photography incorporates a more generic term "graphics" into which art falls, but I mean here the use of graphic lines and forms that are extracted from, and emphasized, within a perceived image).
    The following image is quite contrary to what I am trying to achieve but it was my first attempt to use the filtrations available in image editing to convey a message. In that case, the protection of cultural (farming) landscapes in our town was the theme of an article I wrote. I wanted to convey by the posterized sky and mountains a sense of continuity or permanence that wasn't at all guaranteed in the manmade landscape below. The photographic effect is much stronger than what I am now looking for. The approach or voice I would like to devrelop is more subtle and one which brings the viewer to think, "hmm, something is not real or true in this image, and I wonder why not?" In other words, to incite a dialogue with the viewer.
  97. Maybe smoothing the image using noise reduction might create that question in the viewer's mind. One thing I would consider though if you wish for people to think about the value of of not changing current land practices. If you distort the image, you might create an idea in the viewer that you're trying to influence them with an untrue picture of what the land looks like. It might be better to keep the picture as close to an honest view of what's actually there, without any un-do interpretation on your part.
  98. My view: What isn't real or true in the landscape is the sky because of the filtering. That filtering may suggest that farmland is, compared to the much altered pristine nature of the sky, as much a filtering of nature as is the photographic treatment of the sky. Also, sky is always changing its mood, so sky itself doesn't necessarily suggest permanence, sky instead may call to mind vicissitudes. Sky could be further filtered to suggest the dark side of proposed changes in land management. Note that rocks and mountains suggest permanence, able to withstand changes in weather, etc.
  99. Charles, some good (and relevant) examples demonstrating different possible interpretations! Like the mountains, the sky clouds are in fact little altered (Weather certainly changes the superficial appearance of the sky; while clouds always have identical chemical and similar physical compositions they appear different superficially from each other as do snowflakes (or humans...). Maybe the land should be visually shown as uncertain (e.g., posterized) and the sky and mountains left "normal" in appearance, suggesting their permanence. But more than 12,000 years ago, before the last ice age, these small (2600 foot) mountains were quite different and as impressive as the Alps.
    In any case, I doubt whether many of the readers of the plea for conservation of cultural landscapes took away from a reading of this image anything to do with the fragility of the manmade farming landscapes. They may have only seized its title.
    Man struggles to imprint his order on nature, but nature obeys the opposing laws involving entropy, or the gradual and continual disordering of matter.
  100. I wonder if there are a few photographers whose style is marked by their using metaphor/mythos effectively?
  101. Charles, for mythos, I'd check out Roman Vishniak, particularly his book "A Vanished World."
    For metaphor, consider Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White, particularly with regard to Equivalence.
    I'd say all photos can and probably do have mythos at play and all photos can also probably be seen as Equivalents. I also think Equivalence and Mythos, though there are similarities, are different things, the former being more personally internalized, the latter more group-dependent or culturally based.
  102. Speaking to Arthur's experimental photos . . . I applaud Arthur for stretching his boundaries and don't come away with any questions about honesty after looking at his photos. If there were a question about how the sky is shown, it would be a question about representativeness or accuracy, not honesty. It might also be a question of effectiveness. Does Arthur's depiction of the sky effectively convey the message about the landscape he's after? And Arthur is obviously grappling with that question. But that's got little, in my mind, to do with honesty. There's nothing untrue or dishonest about a personal interpretation of what's there, unless you're making a false claim about what the picture shows. From Arthur's words, he IS trying to influence the viewer, so dishonesty would be his claiming that he's not, which Arthur has not done.
    Personal expressions can, perhaps ironically, distort reality a great deal and yet achieve a greater degree of honesty and significance than a simple representation might. A xerox machine can reproduce reality to quite a fine detail. Yet, I've never thought of a xerox machine as honest or as showing me anything but the most mundane or forensic kind of truth. Artists' minds' eyes quite often really do see a distorted reality (at least distorted in the eyes of others). Their portrayals of such are honest, though they may not match up to others' perceptions. Maybe they're not supposed to. They may be providing an inroad to a new perception or reality.
    Maybe a "voice" leads the way forward through the darkness that is accepted truth and reality . . . to a new or altered reality that is just as honest and is truthful in a sense of truth that goes beyond mere accuracy and beyond a kind of rote fidelity to what's already assumed or agreed upon.
  103. Fred: I was referring to "truth" in the mind of the average viewer, not for seasoned photographers like yourself who know about editing and editorializing. Arguing that "accuracy" is different than "honesty" is a distinction without a difference. A regular guy might look at the editing and think the photographer is trying to fool him about the actual issue. Arthur could lose his audience. It's the same reason why newspapers and other serious publications have strict rules about modifying photographs. They want to maintain credibility which I think is similar to Arthur's situation. Of course, he'll have to determine the effect on his audience when he makes his choice of how to present the image.
  104. Alan, to me the difference between accuracy and honesty is a distinction with an important difference. And, to my knowledge, Arthur has never presented himself as a photojournalist or bound himself to the rules of that profession.
    Please explain to me what the average guy would feel fooled about. Would he think Arthur was trying to convince him that the sky, on any given day, actually looked like that? That snow doesn't fall on tree limbs? What exactly would this average viewer feel fooled about?
  105. Fred: I really don;t want to debate this ad infinitum. I already explained myself in my last post.
  106. Go back to Guernica for a minute. Was Picasso fooling the average audience member by painting in an extreme cubist style and in black and white? Should he have presented a more "realistic" view of things in order to get his political and social message across? I think it's important to consider that having a viable political or social or environmental message doesn't come with a missive to make the expression of that message realistic. And I think it's important to give the average Joe in an audience more credit than being stupid enough to be "fooled" by artistic stylistic flourishes.
  107. Guernica is a really good example, Fred. It might be easier to turn the page on a realistic depiction of what happened at Guernica, as such photographic or painted images would be common. Picasso allows us to consider what the reality means by powerful symbolism, such as that of the electric light bulb, the horse versus bull (peace versus war), and uses the kinetic movement of heads to suggest panic or horror. The power of voice and style in art.

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