The Non-Romanticised Landscape

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by m_stephens, Apr 6, 2011.

  1. I'm exploring landscapes to understand what makes them photographically interesting or not. In the two samples below, the top is a kind of typically "romantic" landscape, while the bottom is a similar form, but free of our notion of romanticism of the content. Another way of expressing this is to say "content free", such that only the form carries the interest. (Admittedly, these two are not stunning, but just used to make the example.)

    We are quite biased towards natural things like a tree and a rock, but is a telephone pole really so different in form? Is a nasty nest of say, phone wire all that different than a spider web?


    In simple photographic truths, does our bias toward nature's beauty or charms prevent us from seeing completely similar and useful forms in the ordinary places? Is there beauty of form and composition lying all around us, but ignored for it's common roots? Is our appreciation of natural landscapes a knee-jerk conditioned response?
    00YWc5-345867584.jpg
     
  2. jtk

    jtk

    I think you know your own answer. And you've prioritized "liking" "beauty" over other possibilities. You do write well IMO and I enjoy your thought process.
     
  3. I wasn't sure your meaning/words exactly, but I see the top image as more form and the lower as more content. I also think that we have to consider relevance as I believe that is a large part of the shift in landscape photography from the past to what is currently being done. That there is a sense that the pristine landscape has little to do with our life--and maybe a sense that there is so much of it, it has become mundane.
    I also think there is a large range between the two sorts of images you have presented here. But towards the latter, there was a statement that I read that I thought had great wisdom to it. It was something like that the ordinary is only ordinary until we actually stop and look at it. In other words, we don't look closely at things around us in a general sense and thus miss things. I have photographed in the landscape for over 30 years and it has been a long time since I really had an interest at looking at most landscape imagery--traditional sorts and yet a profound interest in the equivalent sort of work. For a long time, I didn't really understand the new topographics work, but it always stuck in my mind much more than that pristine landscape or sunset or.....
     
  4. I think there are lots of people photographing ordinary things quite successfully. Here on this forum there are many examples. One of my favorite photographers photographing the "ordinary" is this fellow: http://www.photo.net/photodb/member-photos?user_id=1572283
    Likewise, "sunsets on ocean" and other such nature landscapes are perennial favorites among many people, and I believe the reason for this is because we are hard wired to respond to certain visual arrangements and features. I've done a lot of landscapes over the years and I tend to avoid these cliches and look more for geometric stimulation, but then again many people do that too, so its getting pretty cliched as well. What's the worry? Different things are interesting to different people. The real question is what stimulates you and can you produce the images that you think are interesting.
     
  5. John A,
    Of course the words can be confusing. By content, I mean to say, "a thing of interest." If you photograph Mt. Shasta, a gorgeous peony, a the GG bridge, people understand this content as generally interesting and carrying some significance. If you photograph some telephone poles, mailboxes, ladders, it's commonly regarded as empty of meaningful content, or maybe better yet - devoid of subject matter!
    By form, I mean the most general use of composition to place forms in a pleasing, interesting, or provacative way, without any regard whatsoever to the meaning of the content. So I might then ask, can form alone carry the photograph when the content is mundane? That's what I am getting at here.
    John Kelly,
    Actually, I don't really know my own answer. I embarked on this experimentation recently. I have yet to get the group of photos I would be pleased with, but progress is coming, and I am still out there shooting.
     
  6. For me sunset on ocean is a photographic tool, just like empty dirty parkinglot is one. Their creative value or lack thereof lies not in their intrinsic nature but in the way they are used or not as a concept, and I wouldn't - and don't - hold back from using either one's aesthetic in a photograph. I don't really bother with other's notions about them, although I know that such notions can get in the way of appreciating the content of the photograph fully and "non-diluted". Sometimes, such ( general ) notions can even be used and played with. Like a rhythm or melody.
     
  7. There's a reason we react differently (not better, not worse, but differently - with different parts of our brains) to the two types of images you've presented. We're the product of millions of years of evolution, and we're wired to quickly evaluate a look at the natural world and its elements - it's a fundamental part of what makes us tick as mammals, and especially as mobile primates that worked our way out of the trees and across the plains.

    Promising, peaceful, or challenging vistas speak to a very primative part of our psyches. Scenes showing the works (or leavings) of modern culture engage a completely different part of us, and mean we have to parse culture, purpose, back story, and more. It's a completely different experience.
     
  8. M, I rarely find that I can separate form and content. I'm very motivated by and interested in content. While I think any photograph -- even with the most narrative of subjects -- can have abstract aspects (formal, compositional, geometric, imaginative ones), those seem to me always intertwined with content. When the form is so strong and moving as to seemingly override the content it's attached to, I usually start to think of the form as the content . . . and treat it that way. So, you ask, "can form alone carry the photograph when the content is mundane?" My answer would be that there's a couple of things (probably more) that could happen. The mundane content would take on some unique sort of interest, even if that interest was in a new kind of attention to the mundaneness or a transformation of the mundane into the fascinating or at least the contemplative. Or the content would recede so much that the form would actually become the content of the photo. The photo can be its own subject.
     
  9. Steve J Murray,
    I appreciate that link to Jack McRitchie's photos. I particularly think that #13/36 - "Heroic is a Matter of Scale" - is a good example regarding my inquiry here. The matter of fact'ness of it is very appealing to me. It is neither ironic, nor humorous - both of which would be dangerously easy to follow in this path of experimentation. I am looking to avoid what I now consider the environmental cliches (and scolding) that are the more typical use of this idea of photographing the mundane directly around us.
    To your last comment, no I have no personal problem finding endless things that interest me for photographs. My reason for asking here is just to explore what others have done and thought on an aesthetic that is completely new to me. I have always been the guy trying to reposition around the phone pole, ugly wire, utility box, or dumpster to get the clean shot unencumbered by defect and imperfection. A few weeks ago I was browsing a photography book and came upon the photo with the street light pole running right up the foreground center of the photograph, and I let out a laugh. Not because the photo was funny - it was matter of fact - but because I had so scrupulously worked around such situations for so long.
     
  10. Somewhere between Ansel Adams and Lee Friedlander lies the middle path from which one can astray.
     
  11. look up Robert Adams, Mark Klett, and Stephen Shore.
     
  12. Fred G.,
    The photo can be its own subject.​
    Yes, I think that is better phrasing than when I asked, "Can form alone carry the photograph when the content is mundane?" So yes, the photo is it's own subject.
     
  13. Classically speaking, the common definitions of form in an image is what it contains, the elements and how they are arranged while content refers to the meaning of an image--but maybe we shouldn't go there.........
    The issue of the pristine, pleasant landscape is partially as mentioned above, sort of a hard wired response and probably a certain level of escape as well--escape maybe more today than when such scenes were new and uncommon.
    If we look at your example of photographing Mt Shasta, I don't know that there is necessarily any meaning in the image if it is one of those postcard type views, but it can be pretty to many. But when you take a Baltz, Robert Adams or Stephen Shore image, it takes a bit of work--at least at first--to figure out why they made that shot.. or I suppose that for some it might take forever to figure it out--but there is more there to ponder in most cases.
    As I said, for me, I am much less interested in that postcard image of Mt Shasta (have been there more times than I can count--but no photos per se while I do love driving towards it and seeing it grow as I approach) than I am in say a Stephen Shore image. But I don't necessarily think Shore's images are devoid of a subject or the classical Content. In fact, just the opposite, I think they are much more charged than the postcard image. Do I think everything made in this sort of banal mode is great, of course not. I think there has to be, regardless of subject or genre, something more there than just what meets the eye. Sometimes that is conveyed directly by the photograph and sometimes it is part of knowing a body of work.
     
  14. For other "classic" examples of the photographic "mundane" :
    http://www.google.be/images?hl=nl&q=lewis%20baltz&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1800&bih=1106
    But when the mundane is used enough it becomes interesting again, at which it must find a new mundane to become interesting, but not in a common way.
    In essence, everything has been done before. You'll just have to hope to stumble into the rabbit-hole when walking through the landscape looking for pictures.
    ( I thought I had one once but it was a mole )
     
  15. Many of us live in cities where the horizon cannot even be witnessed, surrounded by man made environment which we respond to in different ways. Our interest in nature is often a guilty one, we have to get away from our manmade surroundings occasionally, not so much to view the romantic landscape of nature but to convince ourselves that we are or were of nature, and equally often I think simply in order to find a non threatening atmosphere, one we don't have to deal with as in our man made surroundings, to regain some peace.
    Accordingly the romantic landscape becomes an abstraction. We can find beauty in our man made surroundings as well, and given the preference of many for some mechanical (new car design) or electronic wonder, rather than to witness water evaporating from a rock, or ice formed on tree branches, or seeing the first plants to pierce the soil in spring, we obviously place more priority on fashion, manufactured things, gleaming skyscrapers, and the like.
    The romantic landscape is in the process of mutation. It is the - dare I say it, romantic - urban landscape and all that is associated with it that has become very important. Nature is just another symbol of something else, remote, for many who rarely set foot in it.
     
  16. Two new questions arise for my from the responses so far. First, I think two or three mentioned a kind of "hard-wired" response to the natural photograph I referred to as romantic landscape. Hard-wired, or conditioned?, is my question about that. I have trouble thinking it is hard-wired because photographs as artifacts don't particularly strike me as being actually natural in the sense that we might respond with our lizard brain. It feels more likely we are trained from childhood and nurtured into what is beautiful and what is ugly.
    The second question is just a little semantic. I'm having trouble thinking of content as "meaning". I would assume that the content of anything is a kind of manifest, or list of what's inside. Meaning is so complicated, mysterious, arbitrary and subjective, I just don't know how to connect that to "tree, nail, string, ball, umbrella" - a list of content in the photograph.
    But since the word meaning has come up, I will add that I wasn't looking to have any particular meaning to my new exercise other than it's own interest as a photograph. As I mentioned before I don't want to be trapped into imputing irony or politics, or social commentary ("Oh, just look at the pollution and decay, will you!").
    I looked at a lot of the Stephen Shore pictures mentioned (I am so ignorant of the historically significant photographers it is shameful) and that's a similar, but slightly different take on it. Some wonderful stuff there though and I enjoyed it.
     
  17. The romantic landscape is in the process of mutation​
    Mutation, yes. Reminds me, and whether romantic or non-romantic, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes, to put it in the words of Marcel ( Proust ).
    00YWfN-345903584.jpg
     
  18. Is a city street considered a "landscape" these days?
    Is black and white printing and/or conversion romanticism? I think some might view it as nostalgic.
    Most modern people in developed countries associate nature with relaxed leisure time, so that can prompt pleasurable feelings. We associate an unremarkable storefront with running errands on a Saturday when we'd rather be fishing or playing with the kids or watching a sporting event on TV. Or worse - employment.
     
  19. I see the dirty parking lot every day and have little desire to look at it through the camera or on the wall at home. If I were living/working in a scenic natural surrounding, who knows, I may be taking pictures of parking lots. Though I doubt it.
     
  20. I linked to these before in the street/doc forum some time back. I like what the photographer has done in them, more as a series then individually perhaps, but to me they seem to allude to something that's both romantic and non-romantic.
     
  21. Dan South,
    I use B&W film directly, so there is no romantic conversion for me. I don't think using B&W film is nostalgic. It's simply a medium. Not to dive off into that "B&W v. Color" question too much, I think of B&W very much like making a pencil drawing as opposed to making an oil painting. It's always a danger to stretch analogies to the breaking point, but I think that captures about the same difference in photography. I personally wouldn't consider a pencil to be a nostalgic tool.
    Phylo Dayrin,
    Another interesting set of photographs from your link. I enjoyed those too, even though they feel to me more like a sub-category of travel photographs.
     
  22. Think about clouds.
    If we observe or speciman photographer (Mr. m, perhaps) in the field he's equiped, he's moving, he's looking, he's actively "making" his pictures. But then there are those *#%*## clouds. He can't "make" them. He has to just wait. And wait and wait and wait ... until he's reduced to a blubbering pile of jelly.
    So, one day he's had enough. *Bleep* the *bleeping* clouds, he declares, daringly! And turns to those subjects that are not in need of ice cream castles in the air (shrouds of angel's hair, etc. etc.).
    This may be a perfectly reasonable example of Matt Laur's evolutionary adaptation tuned up to a more handy rate of speed. We are now the new homo-camerus and we turn to that which cameras ... like.
     
  23. For those of us with some spiritual ties to nature, your question is less about mundane verses extraordinary, or not recognizing that man has often formed objects that can remind us of nature patterns ... landscapes, TO ME, are all about God formed verses man formed objects. I seek to eliminate all man made objects from my landscapes. I am not saying that I do not find some man made objects interesting (or even beautiful). But, in my perception of beauty (or interest), I like to keep man made objects in their "box" (e.g. architecture, decay, etc...).
    I have to admit that Phylo's "night image" above, which combiners elements of both is interesting to me. I guess, if I am honest, I simply am not impressed by most of man's construction (from a beauty standpoint). I find cities, visible electric lines, roads, etc... more as clutter.
     
  24. Interesting subject, "m" that I would not tend to answer, but I would however suggest a start of an intellectual pathway towards some kind of answer to your question.
    One comment of warning, however. When you use the term "romantic landscapes" I don't know what "our notion of romanticism" covers . Mine is historically rooted.
    I would start by, in my view, the most representative of all romantic landscape painters: the German painter Caspar David Friedrich (begin 19th century) like this (Monk at the sea) or this (Oak in the snow- bad color reproduction!) or the painter more linked to symbolism: Arnold Böcklin (end 19th century) like this (The Island of Death,) this (Campagna landscape) or this (Villa at the Sea). And sorry ! but I would read John Keats, while looking at them (here "To Automn")!
    Then I would read what you can find of, or on, "The observations of the river Why" by the English teacher/vicar William Gilpin (end of 18th century) where he discusses at lenght the "Pittoresque beauty" - or whatever you can find on that or similar subjects.
    Then I would come back to your question on telegraph poles...
     
  25. Going back to m's last questions, I used the word "hard-wired" only to identify an earlier comment and how I agree with the basic sentiment. Conditioned might be a better term, but I think the lack of interest or understanding of the more banal type of work is probably because we don't, at least in the US, have a very good educational system when it comes to the arts. If you don't study art, you don't get the tools and even then, you aren't exposed to them until the university level and many biases are already set. "Pretty" and "identifiable" sort of make up good art to most.
    Form and content have established meanings within art and those meanings aren't that different in other areas as well. Form is the building, its color, the texture, the diagonal concrete street it sits on against the blue sky etc etc. The content is what this all says to us, this "meaning" which is informed by the form of the image but also other factors outside the frame. We see similar uses of the words for speeches. The form is how it was delivered and where while the content comes from what the words mean as they informed by the time and place it was given and the conditions(political, economic, social) surrounding its delivery.
    Cityscape has always been a sub category of Landscape, we just tend to think of landscape as the pristine world because I think we are conditioned to do that. But the city is built on the land and becomes the landscape of its local.
    Parking lots? I sort of did something like that, but shot "Main Streets" across the US, it was actually more interesting than maybe I thought it would be: http://acurso.com/Main-Street-1.html
     
  26. JH - "But then there are those *#%*## clouds. He can't "make" them."
    He's already made them, and like many landscapists of he 19th century, and for similar reasons, he reaches into his files of "Sky/Clouds", and blends the right one in after a little HDR...maybe inserts a tree here and there, moves a mountain a little to the left, makes the grass a tad more verdant, and voila!
    Like Anders, my notion of Romantic lanscapes is historically defined. Now, a romanticized landscape is a different thing, and I have a nagging feeling that what was meant was more along the line of cliche'd landscapes.
    Matt's right about hardwired pro-survival landscapes. I was looking at a show of 18th century English Watercolors recently, and couldn't help but notice how consistently they depicted valleys with running water, arable land, and often, cattle or game running about. One also sees evidence of man taming the wilderness into submission, mostly in the form of cleared forests or land. When the first English tourists visited Europe, part of the Tour was Switzerland, to see what was considered a slovenly nation of drunks ( I am partially of Swiss ancestry) who were punished by God with unusable, impossible to traverse mountains. Skiing came later and changed all that.
     
  27. Luis I read also "cliché landscapes" between the lines - but so is "Pittoresque beauty" in landscapes with the main questioning of people like Gilpin (I don't know whether his writings ever crossed the Atlantic, but it was translated into French) being: why commonly admired beauty in landscapes becomes "pittoresque" cliché beauty when painted on a canvas - or shot as photos.
     
  28. I haven't read Gilpin but I'll answer for myself "why commonly admired beauty in landscapes becomes 'pittoresque' cliché beauty when painted on a canvas - or shot as photos."
    Because it's easy. And it's been done. It's trying to represent something else. A painting trying to capture the kind of beauty that nature provides. Instead of making something uniquely or personally beautiful or challenging. We already "know" that beautiful natural landscapes are beautiful.
     
  29. John A, I like your Main Street pictures, great concept. The series relies on its repetition, showing in it a "difference that's all alike", or, how they're each different as one another.
     
  30. As non-romanticised as a subject as it can be :
    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/edward_burtynsky_photographs_the_landscape_of_oil.html
    And yet, he also mentioned in it - if I remember correctly - the photographic beauty in a picture of an endless pile of tires.
    Also, such hard non-romanticized landscapes as Burtynsky's, are suggestive to call for their exact opposite, or how we can see in them how our lanscapes could, should be instead.
    Here is the longer talk I meant to link to :
    http://www.ted.com/talks/edward_burtynsky_on_manufactured_landscapes.html
     
  31. [Addition] I should have qualified that I'm talking about it being emotionally or conceptually easy. Such paintings or photos may demand expertise in craft and not be easy in that sense.
     
  32. Fred, why do you think it would be emotionally or conceptually easy, to go for beauty - in the classic sense - in a landscape ? Knowing that beautiful natural landscapes are beautiful is different than feeling that they are, and therein lies a challenge, for the maker to translate that to a viewer.
    Monet didn't painted a knowledge, he painted a feeling, a knowing.
    To me it's much harder to express a universal beauty through the personal, rather than a strictly personal or individual found one, that's the easy part, and something we can do with our eyes closed.
     
  33. Because what most often happens is a referring kind of beauty. It is the evocation of beauty that is already accepted as being in the landscape and in people's hearts and minds, not the creation of something beautiful.
    I love Monet's landscapes. They create a new vision of what beauty is. And they seem extremely personal to me. It's not how the world already saw beauty universally. It was a way Monet showed us all to see. Most landscape painters and photographers don't do that. They rely on the ease of counting on the fact that most people already see beauty in landscapes, so they don't usually add a personal or unique vision like Monet did. They accept the beauty given them rather than ask things of that beauty and that landscape.
     
  34. Fred:
    Most landscape painters and photographers don't do that. They rely on the ease of counting on the fact that most people already see beauty in landscapes, so they don't usually add a personal or unique vision ... They accept the beauty given them rather than ask things of that beauty and that landscape.​
    Fred, you judge a great bunch of people with such sweeping generalizations. How do you tell when you are right and when you are wrong ? Are your sure you would not have been counted among those that denounced impressionist paintings (here a landscape of Monet) for exhibiting the ugliness of a sick mans view of nature - until it became common good behavior to admire them?
    And Fred:
    I haven't read Gilpin but I'll answer for myself "why commonly admired beauty in landscapes becomes 'pittoresque' cliché beauty when painted on a canvas - or shot as photos."
    Fred's answer: Because it's easy. And it's been done. It's trying to represent something else. A painting trying to capture the kind of beauty that nature provides. Instead of making something uniquely or personally beautiful or challenging​
    Fred if you had read Gilpin you would know that the answer is exactly the contrary to what you try to imagine by yourself: Because it is difficult, and demand a unique and personal seeing of beauty and the ability of expressing the seen and felt beauty on canvas / in photos.
     
  35. Monet's technique - developed by / because how he saw - was deeply personal ( his own ) but I think his message was much more universal, not about seeing but about being. Monet's vision is a universal one, not only personally relating to him only and certainly not meant as such. Non-dualism. Much less so with Van Gogh's landscapes, which were a translation of something much more personal in search of the universal ( rather than the universal expressed through the personal ). Showing a glimps of it, but always collapsing back into the painter's unique self.
    Both can be and are romanticised.
     
  36. Anders, if I had read Gilpin I would know that HIS answer is different (although in many ways similar) to mine. There is no THE answer. You're nitpicking words instead of looking at the similarity of Gilpin's and my concepts. I said that most landscape painters and photographers appear to me to take the easy way out. That means I think making an effective (one that is personal and unique) landscape painting or photograph is very difficult. I think you want Gilpin and me to be saying contrary things so you can prove some point you want to prove about me. You're barking up the wrong tree. I think it's also much more than ease or difficulty. As I said, there's referencing an already accepted kind of beauty that I don't find challenging.
    As far as my judgments about art, yes, I have them. You do too. I don't claim to be or want to be right. I just want to offer my views and share my taste as well as my photographs. Don't project what I want. And, no, I am not sure that I would have appreciated Monet in his time and I'm not sure that there's stuff out there now that I don't yet have the means or appetite to appreciate. I am uncertain. That will likely disappoint you, since you have such strong opinions about me.
     
  37. Phylo, we seem to approach Monet differently and yet I see much similarity in our two ways of describing what's going on. I hope you didn't take me to mean that because Monet's paintings seem personal they couldn't also transcend that and be universally appreciated, felt, understood, whatever. I think a lot of good art does both. I think a lot of not-so-good art skips the personal and goes right for the universal. That's often a tough sell.
     
  38. Fred I have no opinion on you, but I do have opinions on your mostly strongly formulated opinions. As you say yourself, you have doubts, as I have, and sometimes it is better to communicate by such basic assumptions.
    By the way I feel that what is being said about Monet's landscape paintings is even more true when it comes to Cézanne. See this article in the current issue of Newsweek on "What's is so great about Cezanne?", which I think is very well formulated and says something of the order of what Phylo and Fred formulates above about Monet.
     
  39. jtk

    jtk

    It seems odd to talk about "Monet" and "Cezanne" rather than their work...it's a diversion, suggesting fear of sharing personal perceptual responses (those "responses" aren't "right" or "wrong"). People who think the work is the same as the artist rely on somebody's authority...that of an "art history teacher" for example.
    As for Fred's confidence, I think it springs from his individuality. The alternative, hedging and qualifying, carefully avoids suggesting that one is an individual. When somebody shares ideas that are as well-formulated as Freds the ideas transcend "opinion."
    I particularly agree with Fred here: "I think a lot of not-so-good art skips the personal and goes right for the universal. That's often a tough sell." The "universal" is reliably a cop-out. The particular is what we experience.
     
  40. Despite the discussion being somewhat underway, I'd rather have a go at the original questions...
    does our bias toward nature's beauty or charms prevent us from seeing completely similar and useful forms in the ordinary places? Is there beauty of form and composition lying all around us, but ignored for it's common roots? Is our appreciation of natural landscapes a knee-jerk conditioned response?​
    Yes, I think conditioning plays a large role. Most of us will call a concrete jungle an ugly place, because that's what we always heard. So it takes time (or effort, or ..?) to learn to see and appreciate the photographic/graphic possibilities that are in that assumed ugliness, and either extract the beauty of it, or depict its ugliness to a good effect.
    There is a second element, I think, that plays a role, for both photographer and viewer, and that's the simple reaction "would I like to be there?". The cliché "sunset on the beach" is beautiful for most people, maybe not for the photo it yields, but for the memory/desire it triggers. Frankly, I'd rather be sitting on a beach now, in a sunset with a nice chilled bottle of white wine. Beats being on a dirty parking lot, even when there's a better wine there.
    As a photographer, that effect (in my view) gets stronger because you were actually there. When I look back at my own photos, I can appreciate seeing some photos that are made with an intent X or Y and did not fail. But I sure as much like seeing holiday photos back. Are they equally good photos? The critical photographer says no, not by a long shot. But I did like being on holiday, and many places I would not mind seeing again. These photos let me do just that.
    Is that knee-jerk conditional? I wouldn't say so; it's normal human to dream about better things. It's photography triggering reactions and emotions. In that sense, maybe those cliché sunsets are not so bad after all.
     
  41. John, I have no problem of talking about landscape paintings of Monet or Cézanne as their respective artistic works are coherent over most of their lifetime. I have neither any "fear" of sharing "personal perceptual responses" although I find them frequently of much less interest than more scholared opinions - but that is just my professional hangup, as you would surely say.
     
  42. Don't worry about John, he's just counting commas like usual. Odd seeming, isn't it. Oh yes, "I" "forgot" "to" "put" "it" "all" "in" >> " ".
     
  43. Phylo, thanks for the kind words on the work. Having gone to see your Iowa book--nice, I hope you looked at the Across the West work as well--maybe some similar interests.
     
  44. Wouter - "Yes, I think conditioning plays a large role. Most of us will call a concrete jungle an ugly place, because that's what we always heard."

    In part, I agree, in the sense that it's not an 'acceptable' landscape subject. In part, I disagree, in the sense that the problem is far more complicated than it's defined as 'ugly'. The worst problem with it is that if we live there, we're desensitized to it. We stop seeing it.

    WW - "There is a second element, I think, that plays a role, for both photographer and viewer, and that's the simple reaction "would I like to be there?".

    That only works for me with travel brochures. I look at a lot of pictures of places I would never want to be at, or people I wouldn't want to be near. I live in a near-tropical climate, and am totally desensitized to 'beautiful sunsets'. Good wine is another matter altogether.
     
  45. John A, yes I especially liked your Across the West series also, looked at them again and I remember seeing them before here when viewing your site, they resonate. I was only for 5 days in Iowa but I must and will go back there ( and beyond ) to make a more deliberate book out of it, for reasons specifically personal and which challenge would be then to make it something beyond the personal too...
     
  46. Thomas Powell,
    Until you mentioned it, I hadn't considered the influence of religious sentiment on my experiment. You made a clear case for the romanticized landscape as a tribute to divine creation, and relegating man's efforts to a kind of unclean status.
    As an atheist, I am not burdened with that particular sentiment. In fact, I favor the handiwork of man as being intentional, as opposed to say, random. Of course, a religious view would hold intention in the creation as being a higher purpose. For me, I can assign Nature no higher purpose than Man.
    Now, I think this offers one more reason why the preponderance of approval (in general) falls to the romanticized natural landscape.
    Of course, what I am after in the experiment is to rid the photograph of all layers of sentimentality or broader meanings, and just get to the photograph itself. I am learning a great deal from the contributors in this thread.
     
  47. Wouter Willemse,
    If I read you correctly, you see the response as conditioned and hard-wired working together. And, I am coming around to that view myself. There's no doubt in my mind we nurture the concept of beauty and ugly with our children from an early age. And, there is no doubt some hard-wiring in the DNA to promote survival, and so a bright yellow banana hanging on a tree limb will carry more intrinsic weight than a bright yellow plastic Cornola jug at the landfill. Bees and flowers at work.
    Conditioning is bound to produce narrowing of the culture, however. Without caution, every photograph can become the "sunset over the ocean" in time (look at the effect of conditioning on the movie industry).
     
  48. jtk

    jtk

    Phylo, I agree with Fred on a point he made clearly and you take that personally, so you attack me. I agree with Fred about many things, mostly just weight them differently. Don't lose sleep over it.
    Anders, "perceptually" means something to English-speaking photographers...maybe it doesn't translate well? It means "the way something is perceived" rather than the way something is interpreted or measured. "The sky was perceptually blue, but the print rendered it black due to 25A filter and Plus X fillum" :)
    Anders, could an articulate, "unscholared" Al Jazeera photographer respond interestingly, in a worthwhile way, to Monet's paintings? Is it necessary for him (or you) to wade through scholarship in order to enjoy unfamiliar works?
    I agree with you (sorry Phylo) that scholarship can flesh things out, provide intellectual perspective. That's different from perception. I think resorting to scholarly references before sharing one's own responses, puts the cart before the horse.
    The "coherence" you see "over the lifetimes" of these painters is presumably "scholared." Yes?
    What would you say if someone "scholared" you about the disconnects and surprises in Cezanne's work?
    Are you sure scholarly opinion is more important than your perceptions? What about this: I'm reasonably well "scholared" about Picasso's life and interpretations of his work, but I never noticed a "scholar" commenting upon how beautiful and decorative it seems. I do mean "decorative," as in "it would be decorative over the mantle." I realized that when I saw the Matisse/Picasso show in Paris, never read about it. A visual matter, not "scholared."
    Incidentally, "scholared" sounds like something a recent American president might have used. :)
     
  49. M, what if man is simply a part of nature? I don't know whether nature has a purpose. I think not. I take a holistic approach to nature. The running of its systems, the continued existence of a variety of species and biotic communities would often take precedence over man. It is, in fact, man's anthropocentrism and paternalism toward nature that is causing much of the environmental damage we now must deal with. It is we who have conveniently assessed ourselves, perhaps misguidedly, as being nature's higher purpose.
    How might this relate to photographs? I'd be interested to hear if it does relate in any way for you. Perhaps, to get to the photograph itself, one can recognize one's own role but not allow oneself the sentimentality a too overbearing sense of "self" often accords us. Photographing can be an act of sharing . . . with subjects of the photograph (even non-human ones) and viewers of the photographs.
    I don't have the same goal of avoiding greater meanings, but I nevertheless find myself thinking in terms of the aspects of photographs that are just that . . . photographs. Whether a photograph can ever fully be just what it is without other meanings or associations, etc., I don't know. I don't think so. Context, history, perspective all supply a lot. Photographs are part of a web. I don't think any kind of purity can be achieved. But I certainly understand the attempt to go there, whether it can be reached or not. It's the attempt, the curiosity, and the commitment to your photographs that seems significant and that will probably guide you.
     
  50. Phylo, I agree with Fred on a point he made clearly and you take that personally, so you attack me​
    No. You said : It seems odd to talk about "Monet" and "Cezanne" rather than their work...it's a diversion, suggesting fear of sharing personal perceptual responses (those "responses" aren't "right" or "wrong") and The "universal" is reliably a cop-out.
    What do you want, that we name each individual work by their title ? When I talk about Monet I see his works clearly before me as ( and remember ) I have personally seen them and I am by definition talking about his work when I mention Monet. You should stop with your projections of "fear" or "copping-out" and, another one of your favorites perhaps, "anxiousness" on others, it simply does not stimulate communication.
     
  51. Fred G.,
    I am in agreement with all of your first paragraph. I am a part of nature with no special priority. However, I am one of the only parts in Nature that has the opportunity to express intentions beyond survival. That was the intention I was referring to. Man-made objects and artifacts can have a range of intention from absurd to survival. To bring this back to my supposition, a flower is nature's object, a Cornola jug is man's. I don't want to prejudge the value of either based on mere sentiment (or conditioning), but rather by photographic means. In which case I mean form and composition and tone and so on.
    To your other point, when I pick up an an old photo at the junk shop down the street (It would be too grandiose by half to call it an antique shop!) I can get very engrossed in it, and be utterly unaware of any meaning it once had to any person - - especially the photographer. Well sure, I could make up my own meaning, but that's meaningless, isn't it? If a photograph has meaning - and I am not saying it does - that meaning can only be in two ways. First, it could be the meaning of the photographer; second it could be a universal meaning. I of course have no particular way to guarantee that I know either one of those. I am really at that point immersed only in the photographic artifact. Which by the way, is very enjoyable.
    On this account, I am annoyed (inside) when photographers want to put a paragraph of explanation or meaning with a photograph. If you have to attach words to a photograph, it mutates into a new art form - a story. I am very happy to walk up to a work entitled, 'Untitled 37.' I am only mildly interested in the photographer's meaning, if he had one. There might be a valid exercise in criticism to see if the artist's meaning is manifested in the photograph, but that's not my usual pursuit, because I am not engaged in criticism generally as a scholarly activity.
     
  52. M, I understand. Thanks. I, too, tend to be much more interested in photographing urban and man-made environments.
    I don't experience photographs simply by what you're suggesting are "photographic means" (e.g., form, composition, tone). There is something much more significant about photographs and photographing, for me, than such elements. When looking at an old family photo of an unknown family, I may not wonder about the particular situation or the photographer's motives or relationship to the people, though I may and would never hesitate to do so. I might not ask what it "means" that the brother is sitting and the sister is standing or if the tree in the background symbolizes something, but I will let that tree, as a tree, speak to me. And I will let the people affect me as people, not as photographic light and shadow and shape. Their expressions will make me feel a certain way, may lead to particular thoughts and musings. Much more will be at play than photographic elements. Human elements will come forward, even regarding non-human subjects. Though I may not think critically or even specifically about all these things as I'm viewing, I am nevertheless aware that elements of time, place, and history will profoundly affect me as I look. I do tend to want stories* and I generally consider content very important to my own photos and to many of the photos I am drawn to.
    I think many accompanying titles and statements are ridiculous and counterproductive. Especially when they try to substitute for what an inept photographer can't express in his photograph. And I think many accompanying titles and statements are significant. Whether that creates another medium is not a concern I have. All I know is that pictures that are part of a significant exploration, pictures that are documentary in nature, all kinds of pictures can be enhanced by written information, whether specific and dry, or imaginative and suggestive. Photos exist in a context. They get framed. They are seen on the walls of homes, of small galleries, of big museums, on computer screens. Some are seen side by side with others. Some stand alone. A good accompanying statement or essay is simply another means of presentation and often simply the providing of another context in which to view them. There will always be a context, so why not a written one?
    _________________
    *Here, I am referring to visual stories, stories in the photographs.
     
  53. I find that the flaw in the OP question, and in much of the discussion, is that the words romantic and romanticize are used in the wrong manner, that is, in a way of identifying beauty and nature and our natural compliance with that. I think that romantic or romantism is more a question of imagination, drama and emotions and not the simple enunciation of beauty.
    There is nothing exclusive I think in nature making us imagine any more or provide any more drama and emotions than those we can find in man made suroundings and activities. Beauty is incidental to that appreciation, or at most secondary. In fact, what man has made (poetry, buildings, cities, floating vessels, art, human activity, etc.) has probably more potential to evoke the romantic aspects of imagination, idealism, drama and emotion than nature's beauty.
     
  54. jtk

    jtk

    It's my habit to read words and partial words when they're in the image. That applies to "natural" scenes and urban scenes. Its easier to see them in similar terms when they have no words, or when they both have equally significant words. Many photographers are interested in the implications of the words they photograph, so I tend to look for those implications. They're often jokes or some sort of commentary.
     
  55. I think it's a smaller audience that will appreciate the phone pole as well as the mountain view. Too many photo observers are shallow and undeveloped in their viewpoint. (I think Matt makes a great point as well.) For me man made cityscapes are appreciated as much as natural scenic views.
     
  56. I'll answer for myself "why commonly admired beauty in landscapes becomes 'pittoresque' cliché beauty when painted on a canvas - or shot as photos."
    Because it's easy. And it's been done.​
    Would your recommendation be to avoid eating tasty food and sleeping with attractive people because "it's easy and it's been done"? Should we restrict ourselves from leaving the house when the weather is pleasant in favor of times when being outdoors is decidedly uncomfortable?
    That doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
    Which objective is more challenging? To cook a flavorful meal that has never been created previously? Or to combine ingredients to create a unique but foul-tasting concoction?
    If one's sole objective is to create something unique, stick a few household items into a pile of dog dirt and shoot away. The image will be new and somewhat challenging to the senses and the intellect. But one can create something that is unique and at the same time uniquely beautiful. The rub is that it will take more work than the enhanced dog crap photo. The photographer will have to go out into the world and explore until they find an interpretation of a beautiful place that has yet to be photographed (of photographed in that particular way).
    We don't have to avoid beauty because "it's been done." As an alternative, we can discover and compose the vast reserves of beauty that lie waiting to be discovered.
     
  57. I don't experience photographs simply by what you're suggesting are "photographic means" (e.g., form, composition, tone).
    I am nevertheless aware that elements of time, place, and history will profoundly affect me as I look.​
    I think we would all agree on this and follow Fred in his well written text on what affects him when looking at photos. I would however, from own experience and interest, argue that also "form, composition and tone" have their unique "stories" to tell. After all, in citylandscapes such forms, compositions and tones are manmade and tell extensive stories of those that have conceived the space and those that have lived, or live, and marked the space. As photographer we frame and compose such scenes to catch the significant about the place. Sometimes people would be present in such shots but often, the physical space tells the story all by itself.
    I agree very much with John on the importance of "words or partial words" in photos. Personally I would often see such words and their "meaning" as I read poems in Chinese/Japanese ancient paintings. Words and pictures come together. A very simple and even simplistic example, you can find here.
    If one's sole objective is to create something unique​
    Dan, as far as I see it, not all of us just reproduce pleasant views in photography, you included. We all, each in our way, shoot "our way" of seeing something - this being pretty or ugly or, as mostly, in between.
     
  58. Dan, it's funny you should ask.
    First off, I wasn't making a recommendation. I was talking about what works for me and why. Notice that the first words of mine you quoted were "I'll answer for myself."
    As for "attractive people," I think I know what you mean by that. Abercrombie and Fitch type looks? (That's just one example.) Been there, done that. They are often not nearly as fun in bed as some less "attractive people" I've been with. What can I tell you?
    Food, on the other hand, I have pretty generic tastes. Gave up salty stuff a while back and got my blood pressure back to normal. The main challenge I have with food is actually experiencing the taste, especially of a lot of vegetables, without added salt and fat. Make a lot of no-salt soups which others wouldn't like very much but I've learned to appreciate the actual green taste of a lot of veggies without ornamentation. Another food challenge is that I can really get into heavily spicy stuff which can almost act like a drug. It's not necessarily "pleasant" to eat but it's an experience.
    You really hit the spot with your question about weather. And it relates back to M's OP about natural beauty. We've had a really rainy, windy, and cold March here. About double the rainfall as usual and unseasonably cold weather. Along with my low salt, I've been trying to get exercise by taking long walks up and down the San Francisco hills, sometimes up to 7 miles a day, which pretty much gets me from one end of the city to the other. I've actually started to be OK with doing it even on the nastiest of days. I put on my rain gear, put my hood over my head, get on my waterproof shoes, and go for it. I enjoy doing it on nice days, don't get me wrong. But there is something kind of cool and challenging about walking uphill while wet, and against the wind. I really do experience the elements . . . nature! Not the sunsetty landscapy beachy kind of nature. The kind of nature that hits you right in the face.
    Thanks for asking. They all seem to be amazingly pertinent questions for me right now. Almost as if you know me.
     
  59. Most landscape painters and photographers don't do that. They rely on the ease of counting on the fact that most people already see beauty in landscapes, so they don't usually add a personal or unique vision . . . They accept the beauty given them rather than ask things of that beauty and that landscape . . .​
    If I were to re-word Fred's statement slightly, I would tend to agree. "Most [casual] photographers don't do that. They rely on the ease of counting on the fact that most people already see beauty in landscapes, so they don't usually add a personal or unique vision . . . "
    The "sunset." It's an easy target. It happens once every 24 hours (twice, if you count the sunrise). It typically has generous gradients of "pretty" colors, often colors with hugely intensified chrominance values. There's also a built-in point of interest: the sun. It's an "easy" shot. Many (though, I doubt few here), seem to prefer to put both the sun, and the horizon, dead-center. More learned shooters may even add a neutral-density grad . . . to make the colors and the gradients even "prettier." Before digital post-production became common, perhaps even a "tobacco" filter.
    I like a cool shot of a decrepit urban parking lot as much as the next latté-drinker. And a properly exposed sunset, with its contrast ratio adeptly tamed, with an included point of interest (not the sun), also often garners my attention. Certainly, both types of "landscapes" can easily fall victim to cliché. Personally, I'm trying to put the two together. The "contrast" trick. Put the "pretty" with the "ugly." Tonight, I went to shoot some "pretty." Still working on the "ugly."
     
  60. I said:
    Personally, I'm trying to put the two together. The "contrast" trick. Put the "pretty" with the "ugly."​
    Yes, I know. Also cliché.
    Tonight, I went to shoot some "pretty." Still working on the "ugly."​
    Wait. I might've had that backwards. I think I shot "ugly." Later, I'm going to combine it with "pretty." Actually, now that I think about it, it was merely a "prettified" urban landscape. But the night before, I shot an urban landscape that was "ugly." Wait. Ugly is the wrong word. It was merely industrial, utilitarian, and made mostly of concrete. I know that I certainly tend to be more attracted to urban landscapes. Especially, modern ones (although I also tend to like that "kitsch-ey" landscape-ey stuff too--I don't shoot any of it myself, but I've enjoyed others' work in this vein). But, of course, I'm looking for more than just a pleasing composition which merely frames some modern architecture under a "pretty" sky. What is that "more?" Is it merely placing a subject in some compositionally ideal spot within the scene, in the midst of performing either a natural or unnatural action? Ideally, wearing that "red sweater," or holding that "yellow umbrella?"
     
  61. Luis, M.,
    Sorry to reply late to your responses; I'm in a different timezone :)
    Luis, Agreed with your notion that we get desensitised to our direct surroundings. I think we're on the same page there: part of the reason why we stop perceiving it, is because we're too used to it. Finding the beauty of your own backyard seems to be much harder.
    I think I am lucky that I changed surrounding from grey rainy northern Europe (which has a beauty of its own), to sunny south. I can immensely enjoy my surroundings, but I'm still sensitive to them. Though, I think I was sensitive also to the grey north (the light there, however, is not a photographer's dream).
    On the second part, we disagree, I think. I must note, there are different reactions in a way. The beautiful sunset is just "oooh, aaah, pretty, nice"; but they do not stay with me as photos. I see their merit only as memory-trigger. Other photos stay with me and trigger responses all the same, but more thoughtful, conscious and more profound. The difference between the content of the photo, and the photo itself, probably.
    M, I much agree with your response to my post, though the 'hard-wired' part in my view is very small; in my view really most of our behaviour is conditioned.
    Conditioning is bound to produce narrowing of the culture, however.​
    Yes, and no. If it was really like that, we would never have seen different schools in arts. People do break out of their cages, also as part of survival. I'd say the conditioning creates a 'shared' foundation, but we're still going to build on that and extend.
    The rest of the discussion is interesting, but I'll have to read it again to re-join.
     
  62. Reading this statement of M's
    "To bring this back to my supposition, a flower is nature's object, a Cornola jug is man's. I don't want to prejudge the value of either based on mere sentiment (or conditioning), but rather by photographic means. In which case I mean form and composition and tone and so on."​
    made me think of the photograph of Weston's toilet and wonder if that is what M is suggesting. But Weston's toilet was "romanticized" and I got more of a sense that we were trying to differentiate between, to use other words, a lush, organic image (sand dunes in the OP) versus maybe a more objective, stark view of man-made objects (other OP image).
    These words I quote above and the images posted in the OP seem to be a bit at odds possibly--at least in how I read them at the opening given the examples. The dunes seem more subjectively made whereas the street scene is more objectively done. Compare Burtynsky's work(pop-up image of tires) which has been very much romanticized IMO to this of Robert Adams which is much more of an "objective/detached" view. I see these two images as depicting similar aesthetics to the original images posted in the OP--but flopped--romanticized man made versus objectified landscape.
    In any case, there were other things I was going to comment on and then realized that I am, at this point, a bit confused as to what we are discussing. I see the Weston or the Burtynsky as much more closely tied, and approachable, to landscape images like the Dune posted in the OP than I see Robert Adams actual landscape.
     
  63. In reading the responses I find it very interesting that this topic has come down to a well known discussion of pretty picture versus ugly picture and mostly divorced from the meaning of romantic or romanticised of the OP which implies that the scene, and the human perception and photographic re-creation of it, have more to do with imagination, idealism, drama and emotions. I don't think that the oohs and aahs of a sunset are necessarily revealing of anything romantic than the coldstares that might accompany an image of an old world war 2 concrete bunker are an indication of the opposite.
    Pretty versus ugly may be fine at the Walmart picture counter, but do you think they are the most relevant in a philosophical discussion of the romantic in photography?
    To put the argument in perspective: There is no less romantic in a Goya scene of a firing squad massacre of rebels in Spain than in a Gainsborough painting of a bucolic landscape in rural England. The Goya scene is a gripping, romantic one. If this discussion was on a much simpler topic as "is there as much beauty in nature as in manmade surroundings" I might appreciate some of the reasons that have been well proposed on that subject. (I have just read John A's last post and am glad that the nature of the value romantic is finding some place in the discussion).
    It is interesting that the drama and emotion and the evoking of imagination in some urban street shots or human events have not been invoked at all in this discussion in defense of the romantic in the manmade sector. Again, it's the probable consequence of a concentration on simple beauty versus ugly, rather than the meaning of romantic or romanticized. The photos of Burtynsky in a marble quarry (Vermont, Portugal, I forget) depicting the smallness of man (the workers) in a magnificent manmade structure not intentionally made with any architectural aim comprising beauty (the visual effect of huge symmetrical and alabaster-like cut quarry walls) prey as much on the imagination and sense of visual drama in the mind of the viewer as any natural phenomenon.
     
  64. If a person gets a camera tomorrow, it's likely the first things out of that camera will be the hoary list of what we are calling clichés. Now we have introduced relativity, and that's one of the reasons natural landscape (romantic or not) becomes the standard. I have never known anyone with a new camera that didn't try to shoot the beachy sunset. They may very well know it is a cliché, but it is a challenge and prize to them in spite of that knowledge. Bagging your first buck and all that.
    By now, there is a long list of clichés. One can either work through them directly, or attempt to bypass them all. Now it depends on the purpose of the artist. Making expressions for self-consumption? Or making them for the approval and satisfaction of others? For sure, if you are making a photograph for an exhibition of some sort, you learn to avoid the clichés right off. If making them for your self, you are the only judge of cliché.
    How many people with cameras then work through the pile of clichés, experience boredom or exhaustion, and began hunting the unique? No doubt a small fraction. Does appreciation heap rewards on the well executed cliché, or the less competent but more unique and rare? Which was made by an artist, and which by a craftsman? It is said that every Frank Lloyd Wright house ever built leaks when it rains.
     
  65. "Does appreciation heap rewards on the well executed cliché, or the less competent but more unique and rare?"
    I think you are somewhat diverted from your original OP question of romantic imagery, m.s., but if it is the simple question of pretty versus ugly, "à la Walmart photo counter", then the great majority of people will of course choose the clichéd image.
    If it is a question of art and the trained eye (mind) of a viewer, then the unique prevails. Craftsmanship is but a part of the path of its realisation, but not the creation itself.
    How about getting back to discussing romantic imagery and whether you think that non natural subjects allow that, rather than preoccupying oneself with clichés?
    I, as one interested viewer, certainly have seen much drama, imagination, idealism and emotion in images based upon the manmade world. Nature's connection to us may have given us some of the tools to appreciate that, but is hardly exclusive as subject matter for romantic expression.
     
  66. To me, cliche has more to do with being predictable than the subject itself, although certain subjects, like sunsets, have certainly become such intense cliche fodder that finding something original would certainly be more than just taxing.
    "Does appreciation heap rewards on the well executed cliché, or the less competent but more unique and rare?"
    I think competence plays a big part regardless, however, to your question, who is the audience? I think the group of people commenting here is going to likely react differently than the masses on photo sharing sites to well thought out original work. I think it was Fred who got taken to task for generalizing about such things(not going to go look as it doesn't matter) but if you just look outside the philosophy forum you would realize it isn't generalization. Certainly, there are people among the masses that "see" beyond the rudimentary, but give the masses pretty colors or shiny things and you are a great photographer!
    (writing while Arthur posted--but yea, what he said!)
     
  67. Another way of seeing it, instead of romanticised vs non-romanticised, is traditional vs non-traditional. This is largely dependent on context and when the non-traditional is preferred or even expected, than that becomes traditional. Which is why I would love to have or see an exhibition with nothing but sunsets in it, and they may even be pretty. It wouldn't seem so, but it would mean being ahead of the curve, if it's done intentional. It's about language, and about what you want to say, rather than only show.
     
  68. Art and craft seem inextricably linked. Art can be used as an excuse for lack of craft. I don't like that. It cheapens art. There's a lot more artistry in a fair amount of craft than in much of what people refer to as art. If art is anything someone wants to call art, I vote for craft. A creative vision doesn't require a dismissal or overriding of what can appear to be the drudgeries of craft (practice, hard work, experimentation, learning). Art may be the relationship one develops with practice, hard work, experimentation, and learning, a relationship that then brings one beyond them. One can't transcend craft without attending to it, just like one can't transcend the particular or the personal without living it first.
    Is it appreciation that I seek? Sure, on some level. But it's dissatisfaction that can often drive me. It's the working out of a problem, the messiness of the road ahead, the unknowns I encounter that motivate me. Incompetence could as easily be looked at as possibility/potential. We are not dead yet, so incompetence may be just the glass half full. Or we just may be lousy at what we do. We'll never know unless we try, will we?
    I've seen many viewers react to my work with a lack of appreciation (even those who claim otherwise to spare my feelings.) That may tell me my work is in the ballpark of where I want it to be. Often a strong reaction (either negative or positive) is more telling than one of appreciation. I take into account the tone of the reaction, the content of it, the unusualness of it, the strength of it, the direction of it. Again, for me, it's often about sharing.
     
  69. Anders, could an articulate, "unscholared" Al Jazeera photographer respond interestingly, in a worthwhile way, to Monet's paintings? Is it necessary for him (or you) to wade through scholarship in order to enjoy unfamiliar works?​
    John if he "waded" through it, lets just forget about it with or without his experience in Al Jazeera. Ok ?
    Anders, "perceptually" means something to English-speaking photographers​
    It is no secrete to foreigners neither, but thanks anyway.
    I think resorting to scholarly references before sharing one's own responses, puts the cart before the horse.T​
    That's where we differ John and we have been there before. There is a difference between "sensation", "perception" and "understanding" - in that order, they are increasingly influenced by learning.
    I don't see a hierarchy to be respected and why expressions on sensations or for that sake on perception comes before understanding. For me they come together and I prefer to communicate on all aspects of the appreciating of a work of art. You can indeed have sensations when you look at works of Cézanne, but personally I would be less interested in reading about them - unless my interrest is on John and not the work in question.
    However, as mentioned, I do find scholared texts on works of art, whether they express personal perceptions or provide elements of understanding, more interesting to read than most formulations of "sensations" that I fall on. Describing sensations and communicate perceptions demand skills that most of us do not master to perfection. Some scholars do, however. But as mentioned this is my professional hangup, that I hope you will accept. (I'm just reading the collected writings of Barnett Newman, which is a good example of a "scholared" artist with great writing skills, although with little formal higher education, apart from some years "wading" through philosophy courses).
    The "coherence" you see "over the lifetimes" of these painters is presumably "scholared." Yes?
    What would you say if someone "scholared" you about the disconnects and surprises in Cezanne's work?​
    That "someone" could be me ! Surely you are right and even more right if the question is on Picasso or Gaugain, but the subject matter was chosen by you with a somewhat extreme formulation that we should talk about the works of Cézanne and not Cézanne. I have difficulties of separating "them". Not a very needed debate, in my eyes.
     
  70. jtk

    jtk

    Anders, I'm not sure Picasso painted for people who were "scholared." Are you sure of that?
    "..I do find scholared texts on works of art, whether they express personal perceptions or provide elements of understanding, more interesting to read than most formulations of "sensations" that I fall on." ...Anders.
    I don't know what you mean by "fall on." If you find your readings more interesting than your own perceptions (you call them "sensations") that's fine with me. I find that most of your posts are brilliant, though we don't always "agree."
    Nothing wrong with excellent scholarship, but sometimes scholarship gets in the way of experience, particularly with art. If they were competent in art would they write about it or do it?
    My guess is that a painter from ancient China (if you'd prefer that to Al Jazeera) could appreciate most photography (speak about it) as interestingly as most photographers.
    What's your thinking on that?
     
  71. jtk

    jtk

    m stephens original questions were very clear, well expressed. I think he associated nature with a certain kind of beauty and asked how that related that to urban scenes...
    He provided two photos, one of them highly verbal...maybe not a good image for exploring his point because the letters raise an issue all their own.
    "nature" has few right angles, human constructions have many. That's one difference. Some would say curves are pleasant, angles unpleasant...though down below there's a beautiful Ellis Vener photo of a very angular silken Japanese umbrella that might invalidate that idea.
    We construct most human environments for our utility, which tends to be obvious in the look. Nature's utility is arguably to itself and may not as clearly address human needs, so not as easy to dismiss as more of the same (just another Walmart, just another rowboat).
     
  72. Anders, I'm not sure Picasso painted for people who were "scholared." Are you sure of that?​
    Picasso painted for those that were willing to buy his production at ever increasing prices. Only his ceramics were intended for a general public. He painted mostly for himself, by the way.
    If they were competent in art would they write about it or do it?​
    Both, if they have the skills, Cézanne and Picasso did not, but Mondrian, Newman and Rothko surely did, to mention just those.
    My guess is that a painter from ancient China (if you'd prefer that to Al Jazeera) could appreciate most photography (speak about it) as interestingly as most photographers.​
    It does not happen often, but there you are dead wrong. The idealistic Chinese landscapes paintings are all, when they are good, beyond reality - and they come with poems. Our photographies are not getting anywhere near such works - in my eyes. In fact the romantic landscapes could be said to have taken some steps towards the Chinese ideals.
    I find that most of your posts are brilliant​
    You make me laugh !
     
  73. jtk

    jtk

    Anders, The sparks from your sometimes-internally-conflicted ideas (as above regarding Picasso) may account for your brilliance, standing out as they do against the leaden authority you evoke as foundation against which they play. :)
     
  74. Arthur Plumpton,
    Yes, you caught me going off track regarding cliched images,which have nothing to do with my OP. My original question was admittedly hard to phrase clearly. Let me try again.
    1. The two images are not exact, only approximations of my point - so use them loosely relative to my question. The first is a generic nature photograph and the second is a man-scape.
    2. My hypothesis is that people are conditioned by romantic notions to see nature landscapes as having more intrinsic value than man-scapes. And, that this conditioning isn't based on merits of form and composition so much as the (knee-jerk) simplistic romantic notion that "nature" trumps "man." I regard this as an irrational bias when applied to photography.
    3. So, a typical observation is that a mundanely executed nature landscape is rewarded more highly than a finely crafted (well-executed, conceived) man-scape.
    Now, as to audience, I may not have expressed it very clearly. Sure, the guy picking up prints at Wal-Mart (general public) wouldn't be expected to care much about photographic criteria, execution, schools of art, and all the rest. And just as surely, the legitimate photography critic would always be on the make for new expressions, movement, and technique. So, that leaves a middle territory - and that's the one I had in mind when asking the questions. The middle territory is photo-savvy to a wide range of levels. People who are taking photographs beyond the purpose of sending baby pics to grandma.
    Even though there were a few tracks here, it was informative none the less. I can't say I was looking for a definitive answer as much as to hear the thoughts of experienced photographers. My apologies to anyone I confused.
     
  75. I don't think the hypothesis holds if you sample the beautiful cityscapes that are available out there. Your original photographs are night and day as they represents different ways of presenting a subject. Present a cityscape in a similar way to a beautifully crafted, romanticized landscape and I don't know that there would be a difference in people's reactions--It is well documented that easterners are more receptive to urban and street photography versus westerners(related to the US). But a mundane natural landscape as compared to this romanticized cityscape, the latter would probably win out. However, if you are talking about the work in the cities in the style of Shore, Sternfeld, Baltz and the like, certainly, the mundane landscape is going to probably rule out over what would be considered, by many, less than mundane cityscapes for many of the reasons already enumerated here.
     
  76. M, I'm sure there are some interesting comparisons to be made between landscapes and manscapes. I'd like to tackle a different angle, if you don't mind, which is the photographer-audience relationship, which I don't see as passive. I hope that my photographs will affect and have influence upon viewers. So I can appreciate an understanding of those viewers (at least a loose one) but some of that is so that I have more information on various effects I may have on them. Beauty, and especially superficial beauty (attractiveness), pertains to more than just landscapes and manscapes. It pertains to people and portraits as well. Dan brought up "attractiveness" and I was honest in my answer to him. I try also to be honest in my portraits. And I hope to change notions of attractiveness or at least provoke thought about it with some of the photographing I do. (I have certainly provoked myself at times.) I care about my subjects and viewers to the extent that I want to introduce them to each other, beyond superficial notions of beauty or attractiveness. Photographers can be responsive and proactive in terms of viewers. They can show, tell, teach, influence, react, move, and elicit responses. They have some control but it's obviously not complete. The myopia of an audience can be a great challenge for the photographer who is committed to expanding horizons, whether it be regarding people, places, things, or something else.
    By the way, this is where I think well-chosen words and accompanying essays can help a lot. There's nothing wrong with explaining to an audience what there is to be seen, opening them up to actually learning how to see, especially an audience which is lacking in those skills.
    Here in San Francisco, we have a great symphony orchestra conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas. Unusual for conductors, he will often face the audience at the beginning of a piece and talk a little about it. Audiences love it and learn from it. It has never detracted from the music itself once the music starts. He's a real gem, Tilson Thomas is.
     
  77. Fred G.,
    Please feel free to tackle anything without regard to my account. The whole discussion has been fine for me. And, your attempts to change attractiveness relate to my experiment anyway. It could be just as true for portraiture as land/man-scapes. I do 90% street photography. In this way I meet a lot of people on the street - some are "street people" and some are not. As opposed to anonymous photography in the street, I like to stop people, talk to them, and then photograph them. My basis surely isn't attractiveness. I try to get an honest portrait that reflects what I have learned about the person.
    Having in the past lived in SF, and having season tickets for years to the SF Opera, I have been to a few MTT concerts, and benefited from those introductions he does. Might have been 1999 or so, I was so pleased when the first thing he said was "Please turn off your cell-phones, pagers and gadgets - there are so many delicious quiet passages I don't want you to miss them."
     
  78. My apologies to anyone I confused.​
    I understood what you meant. No apology necessary.
     
  79. My apologies to anyone I confused.​
    I understood what you meant. No apology necessary.
     
  80. The talks to the audience before concerts is great and perhaps would be usefully adopted more often in presenting art and photographic exhibitions (a variant of the presentations at opening shows). Kent Nagamo, formerly conductor in California and successor to Charles Dutoit, does it often as head of the OSM (Montreal Symphony - his recent tribute to Japan, complemented by presentatiions from Quebec writers and poets was a bit different, but along the same lines, as their texts complemented Shubert's Unfinished Symphony), as well as Yoav Talmi for the OSQ (Quebec Symphony) who often spends a half hour to an hour before a concert to speak about the music to be played.
    I attended a concert tonight by the "Violons du Roi", the now venerable Quebec City chamber orchestra (the one that was booked with their choir and soloists to give Mozart's Requiem in New York City just a few days after 9-11 (With the approval of New Yorkers, the concert did happen and was a very moving and cathartic event). The conductor tonight introduced Metamorphoses of Ricard Strauss, written a month before the German capitulation in 1945. The discussion of the music and the difficulty it presents to an orchestra for close ensemble coordination were a good preparation. Prior to that, one of the pieces played was the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th, which is about as good an example of romanticism in art as I think there is.
    S. m. is quite right that there are many facets to describe the axis nature - urban, and I enjoyed reading some of them.
     
  81. I you permit, let me take up the photographer-viewer relationship and couple it with the threesome: "sensation", "perception" and "understanding" (which is doomed to be improved, if considered useful).
    Some of us, if not all, work in an almost exclusive "artist-work" confrontation (if you accept such a terminology for a moment) struggling to realize an artistic ambition, by photography. We know almost by "sensation" when we see the result, the photo, if we are there, or almost there - or, as mostly, if we failed yet another time. Sometimes we have to go back to the photo many times before admitting the failure and moving on to further attempts, learning from mistakes and dead-ends. Sometimes, but painfully rarely, we recognize, reluctantly, a possible success, but being unable to understand how it happened and seemly unable to reproduce it.
    Some of us, if not all, work also for/with the viewers, in self-interest, to learn by feedbacks, or with the ambition to please - which is self-interest too, in most cases. The viewers "sensation" (immediate liking, disliking almost by sensorial or intuitive means) can be essential for the process, as viewers move on or zap to next photo, if the sensation is not somewhat positive for staying on for at least an instant. Some types of photos do rarely survive this initial confrontation with the viewer others seem to be born winners (satisfying the "raters" on PN type of situation). We can all learn something from such almost physical reactions, but our real interest must be the perception of viewers. This is where the viewers cultural,artistic, educational, professional background comes in, linking "sensation" to certain elements of the photo that, if communicated, can make us learn as photographers. If the viewer is also able to formulated his "understanding" of what is going on in a photo, we are up for serious contributions to our photographical project. In my experience, "scholared opinions" are those where the three come together.
     
  82. Anders, that is a fair way of putting it, and as you say, it may also be extended or modified by some other aspects that relate to the viewer's behaviour and experience. Whatever the elements or methodology of the viewer appreciation, and I think your three are very relevant, I think it all comes down to whether the image can successfully communicate to the viewer. The communication is of a visual nature, based upon what the viewer perceives and understands by the two dimensional forms before him, but it can also be non-visual, triggering something in the mind of the viewer that represents a romantic (dramatic, idealistic, imaginative, emotional, etc.) reaction or some other reaction.
     
  83. I think it all comes down to whether the image can successfully communicate to the viewer.​
    Notwithstanding, as I mentioned, that many work within a totally private sphere, alone, and with no ambition to communicate with anybody else than with him/her-self. History of art is filled with blokes like that. In many cases even among very communicative and commercial oriented artist, they have often had more or less prolonged periods where their "artistry" was a communication with themselves only.
    Being on PN among uploaded photos, might indicate that we are not to be found among such types, however - at least not all the time.
     
  84. I was out shooting twice now since starting this thread. I am discovering my own conditioned bias on this subject. While purposely staying close to home and searching out the objective man-scape, my eyes want to discard with great prejudice common and mundane elements as if they weren't there. My eye is attempting to apply a massive discount to poles and signs and wires and nails and detritus. It made me slow down by half at least to continually refocus my attentions on the scene over and over to actually see it objectively.
    On a few occasions then, I would laugh out loud at suddenly seeing the photograph that was there, but previously unseen. Then I could raise the camera and begin framing a photograph. And I found a few satisfying scenes. Not great, but satisfactory enough to push the experiment forward in increments. I concluded that over many years (much with just casual photography) I had trained my eye severely to root out mundane distraction in the frame - automatically and reflexively with no thought. To move my feet and find the angle of purest subject even when it makes the overall form worse, as long as the offending distractions were out of the frame. That process is idealism, or romanticism at work. Sacrificing the whole for a purer, more idealized part.
    It's much harder work for me than seeing natural subject matter. My mind is constantly arguing against what is in the frame. I have to trust the viewfinder and discount the mental noise and constant self-judgement. But especially the judgement, "Why would anyone find this interesting?" Of course I have to make the actual photograph first, before knowing if anyone will find it interesting. After talking myself out of half a dozen photographs, I finally was able to trust the camera lens.
     
  85. M. Stephens and Anders, you are both referring directly or indirectly to what is the most important thing in my mind, to interpret the world as you (one) see(s) it personally. The photo simply has to pass your own criteria. If anyone else likes or is moved by it, so much the better. Sort of lie a musician playing a Bach piano piece for his own enjoyment, even though others may be attracted to it. This may not work as an approach for many commercial photographers, but is the realm of activity permissible for the artist or the fine art photographer or the amateur photographer. It's really a great freedom.
    The distracting elements of urban manscapes can sometimes be a problem, but we can often filter out the distraction if the image communicates something to us. The linked image has a quite evident pole in the near centre but I think it is not that important overall. If it wasn't a copy of a silver print of an infrared film image I would probably try to remove it in post processing, but I think the mood of the dansers is conveyed even with it being there. But I may be quite subjective in that feeling.
    http://www.photo.net/photo/11472744
    A somewhat related story; our small village (900 people) had telephone and hydro (electric) poles running down its main street, which were removed about a year or two ago. Before the removal and burying of the cables, most did not complain too much about their distracting presence. After the removal, the difference was quite amazing. I think we learn to accomodate distractions and often realize the real importance of their presence only once they are no longer there. Perhaps this applies to the apparent complexity and apparent distractions in many manscapes?
     
  86. I don't think most artists work with the viewer in mind--not that some don't--but most are, I believe, pursuing a personal vision. That isn't to say that they don't want to communicate something, it is just that you have to communicate it to yourself first and then hope it translates. So regardless of whether they intend to show it, which most do, it isn't about the viewer at the creation stage. There are certainly some obvious exceptions and many find a way to exploit the market, but I don't think that is rampant among artists.
    I can honestly say that I don't consider the viewer when I am making images or working on a series. I do consider/wonder if anyone will respond to the work or not when I am reviewing it. But I still make it and work to please myself--which is not an easy undertaking as I am harder on myself than anyone else. The Main Street series I referred to above was one where I wasn't expecting anyone to necessarily respond to it, it was something I needed to do for myself, fortunately, it has seemed to resonate with others--which certainly I appreciate.
    All of this isn't to say that there aren't sometimes "distractions". Having been in galleries, sometimes the owner will want you to do more of this or that because it sells well. Famously, I believe Jasper Johns gallery has said that they wished he did more of his flag series or his bullseye work. Commercially, I have felt pressure to create work that could be in my portfolio or I might sell as stock or whatever. Sometimes these things come out of what I do, but I have never been good at working that way, I want my time to be for my work--if the work then serves one of these external needs, so be it. As I said, they can be distractions or pressures felt when doing my own thing.
     
  87. "I don't think most artists work with the viewer in mind--not that some don't--but most are, I believe, pursuing a personal vision."​
    Am I reading you as suggesting that someone who works with a viewer in mind is not pursuing a personal vision? Can't one attempt to communicate a personal vision? Is a personal vision an isolated one? Can one communicate and bear in mind that there will be a viewer without selling himself out? Does one have to buy into the ultimate romantic hype of the unsociable, lonely artist?
    Count me out. I am both a social and historical (among other things) being. I try not to be so wrapped up in self that I have to shut myself off from others in order to photograph and create something of significance. I can explore a very personal and independent vision while being mindful that photographs are a public language every bit as much as writing is. One may not photograph for others. Meaning one does not have to compromise their vision for others, for likability, for acceptance. But it doesn't undermine a personal vision to consider how one uses the language at one's disposal to reach beyond one's very limited "self."
    An actor who doesn't ask whether his voice will be loud enough to be heard, whether his gesture is too obvious or too subtle depending on the size of the theater he's in, isn't very much of an actor in my estimation. And the actor who does that IN NO WAY compromises his personal vision. Is he acting for himself or for his audience? I don't think many of the finest actors frame the question that way, as a dichotomy. They approach their acting more holistically. It's a question more likely asked by someone with a much too self-important ego.
    A photographer is not just a photographer. A photographer is a viewer as well.
    Empathy.
     
  88. jtk

    jtk

    Arthur, here's Kent Nagano (note spelling :) on Frank Zappa. Nagano isn't a creature of the 19th Century :)
    http://zappa-interview-videos.blogspot.com/2009/03/1994-kent-nagano-on-how-he-met-frank.html
    Secret Canadian National Anthem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Crwu7zIJ7Oo&feature=related
    Nagano studied at my school and we frequented the same coffee house, Tassajara Bakery in San Francisco. I only spoke with him once, for 15 seconds, to high five a home town celebrity (he'd just come to the San Francisco Symphony). Nagano was a typical Northern Californian in many ways (previous orchestra was Berkeley Symphony). The Tassajara Bakery was operated by the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, which also not incidentally involved quite a few Minor White students and their students. More Northern California continuum: The Mountain Center sprang from San Francisco's Zen Center, which was founded by Shunru Suzuki Roshi, missionary from Japan. I never knew the Roshi, but he conducted the marriage of two Minor White student friends and the last time I glimpsed him he was attending a Quicksilver Messenger Service rock concert at San Francisco's California Hall, lights by Bill Hamm. He came with a dozen or so Buddhist nuns, all wore robes. The concert benefitted yang and yin, as one would expect: Zen Center and the defense of Sonny Barger, criminal and head of Hells Angels.
    So, you see, Nagano has roots, though he missed Quicksilver Messenger Service, live. :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D79ujliNh4Q
     
  89. [Addition] Communication is like a tool. Like focusing your lens and setting your shutter speed. Once you learn the language, it doesn't get in your way.
     
  90. M.:
    To move my feet and find the angle of purest subject even when it makes the overall form worse, as long as the offending distractions were out of the frame. That process is idealism, or romanticism at work. Sacrificing the whole for a purer, more idealized part.​
    This a very good wording on what I would think we all do when framing a shot (or in post-framing). This was discussed, I think, extensively in the "Distraction" thread ,some weeks ago in this forum.
    Arthur:
    The distracting elements of urban manscapes can sometimes be a problem​
    Urban manscapes can surely also be the centre of attention, and other distracting elements can be filtered out like here or here. I like your example of telephone poles (or other poles) and agree that they are often central to the urban landscape, like here. (My photos are linked for examples and not meant to be a exeptionally great pleasure to the eye or the mind!).
    John, I agree with you, that "most are... pursuing a personal vision", although the frequent reference to "viewers", in most discussions in this forum could let us believe otherwise. Maybe because philosophy is treated like "psychology of the viewer" in many debates.
     
  91. Dan, it's funny you should ask.
    First off, I wasn't making a recommendation. I was talking about what works for me and why. Notice that the first words of mine you quoted were "I'll answer for myself."
    I realize that, Fred. I was using your post as a springboard for the expression of a more general comment.

    As for "attractive people," I think I know what you mean by that. Abercrombie and Fitch type looks? (That's just one example.) Been there, done that. They are often not nearly as fun in bed as some less "attractive people" I've been with. What can I tell you?​
    What can I tell YOU, Fred? You must shop more than I do. ;-) I don't know Abercrombie and Fitch from Filene's Basement. What to AF-ers look like? When I said 'attractive', I meant what is attractive to us individually, not the covers of GQ or Cosmo.
    So, to rephrase, should we avoid the person who takes our breath away from across the room and ask some slob out for coffee because attractiveness is stale and overdone?
    Food, on the other hand, I have pretty generic tastes. Gave up salty stuff a while back and got my blood pressure back to normal. The main challenge I have with food is actually experiencing the taste, especially of a lot of vegetables, without added salt and fat. Make a lot of no-salt soups which others wouldn't like very much but I've learned to appreciate the actual green taste of a lot of veggies without ornamentation. Another food challenge is that I can really get into heavily spicy stuff which can almost act like a drug. It's not necessarily "pleasant" to eat but it's an experience.​
    Interesting, and good luck on the blood pressure!
    You really hit the spot with your question about weather. And it relates back to M's OP about natural beauty. We've had a really rainy, windy, and cold March here. About double the rainfall as usual and unseasonably cold weather. Along with my low salt, I've been trying to get exercise by taking long walks up and down the San Francisco hills, sometimes up to 7 miles a day, which pretty much gets me from one end of the city to the other. I've actually started to be OK with doing it even on the nastiest of days. I put on my rain gear, put my hood over my head, get on my waterproof shoes, and go for it. I enjoy doing it on nice days, don't get me wrong. But there is something kind of cool and challenging about walking uphill while wet, and against the wind. I really do experience the elements . . . nature! Not the sunsetty landscapy beachy kind of nature. The kind of nature that hits you right in the face.​
    Great points about really connecting with the ambient conditions. I can appreciate your comments as a runner, as a lover of your beautiful city with its changeable weather, and as a camera jockey.
    I remember clearly the moment some years ago when I decided to make the most out of the light that's in front of me at any given time, rather than longing for a clear blue sky. The breakthrough came when someone I knew online asked to see some of my photos. I picked out what I felt were a dozen or so of my best shots and uploaded them to one of the free sites. When I looked at the series in total, I was shocked. Every photo was taken as sunset or sunrise and featured saturated colors. Each image was fine when viewed by itself, but as a set they were horribly boring. I decided in that moment that good light isn't necessary ORANGE light, and I began searching for the beauty - I realize that some here detest that word - that mother nature show us in ALL of her moods, not just the clear and cheery ones. No one has ever commented, "Hey, I like the variety of light that you use." But from my own viewpoint, I find my portfolio to be more interesting today than it was back when I was a dedicated sunset chaser. I still love sunset orange, but I love all of the other colors and lights and weather conditions just as profoundly.
    Thanks for asking. They all seem to be amazingly pertinent questions for me right now. Almost as if you know me.​
    Maybe we'll all just growing weary of the same cold winter and the same gray spring.
     
  92. "But especially the judgement, 'Why would anyone find this interesting?' " --M
    Perhaps if YOU find it interesting and can translate that interest photographically, visualize it, craft what it is you find interesting, it will then become interesting for someone else as well. If you live it yourself, you may then be able to universalize it, or at least move it beyond yourself.
    Asking "is this really interesting to me and why" will often involve some sense of the other. It almost can't help but do so. And why should it avoid the other?
    We've had some quotes from Sartre in this forum recently, and he can usually be counted on to help flesh things out. He certainly believed in action and human freedom. But he was also a big proponent of the role of the other in our lives.
    From Existentialism Is A Humanism:
    All kinds of materialism lead one to treat every man including himself as an object. . . . Our aim is precisely to establish the human kingdom as a pattern of values in distinction from the material world. But the subjectivity which we thus postulate as the standard of truth is no narrowly individual subjectivism . . . it is not only one's own self that one discovers in the cogito, but those of others too. Contrary to the philosophy of Descartes, contrary to that of Kant, when we say "I think" we are attaining to ourselves in the presence of the other, and we are just as certain of the other as we are of ourselves. Thus the man who discovers himself directly in the cogito also discovers all the others, and discovers them as the condition of his own existence. He recognizes that he cannot be anything (in the sense in which one says one is spiritual, or that one is wicked or jealous) unless others recognize him as such. I cannot obtain any truth whatsoever about myself, except through the midiation of another. The other is indispensable to my existence, and equally so to any knowledge I can have of myself. Under these conditions, the intimate discovery of myself is at the same time the revelation of the other as a freedom which confronts mine, and which cannot think or will without doing so either for or against me. Then, at once, we find ourselves in a world which is, let us say, that of "inter-subjectivity."​
    Now, surely some of this will strike us as quite strong and, perhaps, a bit of an exaggeration. But the idea of man as less of an individual is a significant turn of events toward a less paternalistic, less authoritarian, more holistic and environmental rather than anthropocentric view, an acknowledgment of the communal and political aspects of humans. I know there's resistance to (and I feel it as well) the line above that says, "He recognizes that he cannot be anything . . . unless others recognize him as such." But it is sometimes the challenges that meet the most resistance that lead to a deeper level of understanding. Despite trouble with a line or phrase here and there, the idea of a world of inter-subjectivity rather than individualism, I find, is one well worth considering.
     
  93. Dan, sorry I was posting to M while you responded to me. Thanks for the good back and forth.
    In avoiding Abercrombie and Fitch, for which I don't blame you!, you asked:
    So, to rephrase, should we avoid the person who takes our breath away from across the room and ask some slob out for coffee because attractiveness is stale and overdone?​
    I honestly think that's not a bad idea. I've done it purposely and it's led to some great times.
     
  94. Fred, just to respond to your response to me---Me thinks you got a bit carried away and NO, to your first question.
    My feeling is pretty much as you said yourself "One may not photograph for others. Meaning one does not have to compromise their vision for others, for likability, for acceptance." I don't totally disagree with your sentence after this either, however, the more one takes into consideration the acceptance of others, the less attentive you can be to your own vision. That doesn't mean you lose your vision or that it is totally diluted, although we certainly can see that from time to time--especially in the POP music scene where a successful song is essentially repeated until the artists rests in oblivion.
    I think the way I look at it is that I only know what I know, so if I make something that says what I want it to say, I am doing my best work. Being a human with similarities in cultural, social, political and spiritual framework, I have to assume or trust that I will communicate to at least some. If I try to consider how the viewer is going to respond, I don't know any more than I knew ignoring that and all I can end up doing is watering down my vision to meet some idea of what I think someone else is going to think. I gave up a long time ago worrying about what others are going to think, I am constantly surprised by that--good and bad.
    Hope this helps.....
     
  95. I'm not sure it's getting carried away to express a very different take on something as significant as this. For instance, I DON'T only know what I know. I know a lot of what everyone else knows. And the only way I know it is because others know it. If others didn't know it, it wouldn't be knowledge. There's absolutely no way to assess knowledge except by some shared kind of agreement among a community of knowers.
    I also differ on the point you make about considering how a viewer may respond. I'd put it slightly differently and say that I consider what a viewer may respond to, even if not specifically how they will respond. When I do that, I DO know more than I would have had I ignored that.
    Now, I'm not saying you should think similarly. I'm glad to hear alternative views. But I am resistant to the inclination to say we're all just really saying the same thing. We're not. And I'm even more resistant to the inclination that if we vocally assert or emphasize that difference we're getting carried away.
     
  96. "the more one takes into consideration the acceptance of others, the less attentive you can be to your own vision."
    John A., that depends only upon how malleable or impressionable (and sometimes needy) is the artist or photographer. With about 8 years now of seasonal experience in exhibiting and selling both my own prints and the sculptures and paintings of others, my experience is quite different than that.
    I have been glad to bring to the public's attention the work of others working in abstract and expressionistic realms of art, to name but two types of art that we have exhibited, and the artists are often requested (via our gallery or directly) to repeat the type of art of some of their work that was popular and sold very well in the early days. Almost to a person they have chosen to ignore those suggestions and develop their work as they wanted. In my own case there are a number of my black and white landscapes and urban photographs that have sold quite well and it has been suggested that I should let that period of my work influence my future directions. I maintain only some approaches that I have developed but am not interested in providing slightly different images that bear resemblance to the popular ones, and am interested instead in new approaches or subject matter. The newer work has not sold like the former, but that is secondary (I don't try, and probably couldn't, earn a living with this type of non-client-directed photography) and my desire is to explore new ways of photographic expression within my modest means. I will abandon the effort of a full time summer gallery this year in order to do just that.
    The acceptance of others is pleasing perhaps, but more important to me in any limited interaction with viewers is the nature and content of their critique, which can sometimes be useful to question an approach. Mainly, however, I see it as a personal creative activity and not governed by acceptance or not.
     
  97. Fred, I guess I am impressed that your mind can instantaneously expand and know what others know spontaneously--that those weren't things you already knew ("I only know what I know"). You read things so out of context and isolated, it is just frustrating--doesn't my comment about shared cultural etc suggest that I know we share similar knowledge? -- or are you just playing obtuse? You don't know any more by considering what someone might respond to--you already know as much as you know about that or you couldn't consider it! That is all part of who we are and when we create work that fulfills our vision, part of our vision--or maybe how we transact our vision--comes from shared knowledge and understanding of what communicates. When I work within my full awareness, as I suggested, all of these things are part of it, and me, but I don't try to figure out what someone else is going to respond to when I am making my images--as I said here and before, I trust that I will communicate because of the shared knowledge. Finally, we must agree substantially as I only find some nuances that I might not fully agree with in what you have been saying--I wish you would read more completely and try to understand what is actually being said.
    Arthur, I am not sure that I understand what you are trying to say here. Essentially, your story about the artists and yourself seems to pretty much be what I was suggesting in these past entries. If you had taken into consideration making more of what they wanted you to do, then you would not be pursuing your own vision as you suggest--isn't that exactly what the quote from me that you posted says? In fact, if you do take into consideration the acceptance of others, influencing the work you are making, then you are in fact malleable or impressionable as you say--and again, not following your own vision but attempting to meet someone elses--unless you were already continuing to work in that same vein, which many artists do their whole career as that one thing is their vision.
     
  98. Things seem to go away a bit from the topic of landscape. I posted a link with a doc of Andy Goldsworthy at work, Rivers & Tides. It's worthwhile watching, his directness with the landscape in it, and sometimes failure ( collapsing sculptures ) to direct that directness. I found it moving. Beauty is addressed in it too, and how difficult it is to get past it, to show that there's also a darker layer behind it. At some point he's using the wool of sheep and says that it's very difficult to get past the 'woolly'ness' of sheep, to show that sheep are also very strong and raw, just like the landscape, even if it might be aesthetically pleasing. The sun(set) of course is also very powerful, burning everything that comes too close in its path but at the same time it's very nurturing too. A challenge to communicate or see in one photograph.
     
  99. I am not sure this thread has been on topic ever, really?!?
     
  100. What I took Arthur to be saying is that he can wear two hats at once. He can, especially as a gallery owner, take into consideration and understand and even appreciate what others find pleasing, interesting, or acceptable while at the same time not being less attentive to his own vision. Maybe the word "influence" is the key. He can consider, understand, and appreciate others without being (I would say unduly) influenced by them, at least in his artistic endeavors.
    It's similar, I think, to a debate we often have about thinking getting in the way of spontaneity or writing in a philosophy forum getting in the way of getting out and shooting. Action is often a matter of integrating a bunch of different intentions and processes at once.
    I tend to be deterministic at the same time as I'm a proponent of freedom. I think we operate under all kinds of influences all the time, some biological, some genetic, some cultural, etc. I think we are bound by many of them. Freedom grows out of that, and maybe even despite that. I don't deny that others are probably having an influence over me all the time. It's what I do with that and despite that that allows me a sense of individuality and freedom. Sometimes, even recognizing and embracing that unstoppable influence frees me to act and create.
     
  101. the more one takes into consideration the acceptance of others, the less attentive you can be to your own vision.
    This is an interesting idea, but it's oversimplified. Granted, we can't work on developing our vision if we spens all of our time doing what others desire and/or demand. However, our vision can have a synergistic relationship with the tastes and desires of others.
    Vision can start out in a very rough and unpolished form. It's natural for the development of one's personal vision to be influenced by others in at least two ways. The first is historical. We absorb the styles of others, even though we're not always aware of the process. Almost every great creative artists had/has influences. The second is reactive. We sense how others respond to our output, which in turn can result in variations to our approach. We may choose whose influence to consider, or we may end up accepting feedback from any and all sources (dangerous). The process can happen consciously, unconsciously, or in some combination, but it does happen in many cases. No man is an island.
     
  102. the more one takes into consideration the acceptance of others, the less attentive you can be to your own vision
    Who ever wrote it, it much be someone that believes in zero-sum games between human intellects. I thought actually that acceptance of others was enriching to ones own visions unless they are able to impose their own visions without taking into account others. Might I be wrong ?
     
  103. .."the more one takes into consideration the acceptance of others, the less attentive you can be to your own vision"

    Well, I am honored to have been quoted so many times......

    Zero sum game? I am sure that happens, but since we share so many common experiences, knowledge and processes with others, as I said above, you trust that you will communicate when you create something from within.

    I don't actually think the statement is really all that simplistic. In particular, the word "more" is the operative word here and gives weight to the actual effect on personal vision.

    But maybe simplistically, what I was suggesting in the extreme might be that if you are out in the field making photographs and you simultaneously see two photographic possibilities and can only make one, what do you do? The first resonates deeply within you and embodies an idea you have been working on in a way no other has, but it is rather banal and certainly not "romantic". You love it regardless. The second, well, the first thing that pops in your mind--"wow, I bet I could get 7/7's with this on photo.net!" and yet it isn't felt particularly deeply by you. So you make the second photo and pass over the first--this is the simplistic version of what this statement is saying at the extreme of considering the acceptance of others and losing attentiveness to your personal vision.
    I am not suggesting that the process isn't complex and full of a lot of gray areas, however, I know that when I have worked in the past and when I work now, I am not thinking about what others might like, I am only concerned with what has meaning to me--I trust others, maybe not the masses, will also see meaning. Now, I admitted above that there was a time, a short time thankfully, where thoughts of others reactions did distract me at times--it wasn't a pleasant experience.
     
  104. I should also restate that when I am editing or reviewing images, I do sometimes consider what will communicate, or might not, to others. That doesn't override all decisions, but it might have some effect. I just don't find those thoughts conducive to my vision at the time I am creating images--and to qualify that, note the "I".
     
  105. I don't know that I shared this here or not, but it might be of interest and I think somewhat related to the topic here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Myf0IJ7YCRU&feature=player_embedded
     
  106. Interesting video. As I said, we all have our own ways of working.
    I tend to consider my own photographing a collaboration with my subjects. So I don't work from within, or at least I work from within and without. Photographing necessarily takes me outside myself, especially since I'm shooting things outside myself.
    I'm a thinking kind of guy, so I usually just can't relate to statements like the one Wessel makes in his video. I don't find thinking affecting me negatively except when I over-think. But just regular thinking, planning, intending, adjusting doesn't get in my way.
    I don't necessarily care whether a viewer will "like" my work so I don't think much about that. But I do think about how a viewer might be affected by what I offer, and that can help guide me throughout my process, from setup to post-processing to presentation. As I said, I often feel as if I'm introducing my subject and the viewer, so there is a three-way dance I enact among all of us. When I ask myself what I may be trying to say with a given shot, I consider to whom I might be saying it. I'm not talking to myself. As I said, a lot of this takes place with the ease and fluidity that focusing the camera and choosing an f-stop does, but it takes place nonetheless. Some of it takes place when I'm in bed thinking about a shoot the night before or in the shower in the morning.
    Now, there are times when the consciousness of my thinking recedes, for sure, and I feel in-the-moment, as the popular saying goes. But being in the moment, for me, is a kind of connectedness, not a dis-connectedness of just the self within. It is myself reaching outward, towards and among both my subjects and potential viewers. It's not just about what I am seeing. It is about what there is to be seen. That latter formulation involves others.
     
  107. M, been thinking a little more about the manscape/landscape thing. For me, and there are probably many biases built into this response, the thing I connect to in manscapes, picutres of streets, houses, alleyways with dumpsters, telephone polls with flyers stapled to them, store windows with passersby, etc., is much more the content than the form, the story as well as the look. Most landscapes seem to be more about visuals/looks. When I encounter a story or narrative in a landscape, I stand up and take notice because, IMO, that's rare. Street stuff, however, generally makes me think as well as look, and stirs my imagination as well as my senses. I generally find nature pictures more static (emotionally) and urban landscapes more dynamic, even if it's more the suggestion of action (or even past action). Most landscapes seem timeless, they've been there and they will be there. Most urban scenes suggest that stuff has happened recently and/or will happen soon. That sense of anticipation and memory in an urban photo can be powerful. There are likely many exceptions to what I've said. Just some thoughts.
     
  108. Fred, regarding the last post, I have the same idea about it.
    Since I also shoot both regularly, maybe useful to add some of my "experience" to it: when shooting landscapes, I typically look for peace, calm, quiet. Indeed static, undisturbed (and preferably, no humans). Approach is one of rest and a certain relaxedness, since the photo won't run away.
    Urban things, I seek different things mostly: mostly graphically strong shapes and forms, contrasts. More edgy and immediate (admittedly, this sounds vague). In my attempts at street photography, I notice that I'm much more restless and hyper-aware. Those images are fleeting, their stories last sometimes seconds and they do run away (maybe because I'm not a very accomplished streetphotographer, though). These images do not come from a sense of calmth and rest, but from a more nervous urge.
    I believe these differences "in process" can be visible in photos, and as such landscapes will possibly communicate a tranquility that many like (and hence find beautiful). But it's also fair to say a lot of them are somewhat lifeless, and indeed less dynamic.
     
  109. Fred, your last post is pretty much how I feel about it. It is only when nature, and usually some smaller plant or rock form within it, is unique in some way, or altered from its normal appearance, that I respond to it more and appreciate something dynamic or evocative. I too find manscapes more attractive (not usually in the sense of beauty, but as having something I can connect with and respond to). The presence of man or not in the image is not of overriding importance, as much of man's work is enough in itself to stir my imagination or emotions. The sense of change in manscapes is, as you say, what is often compelling.
     
  110. Fred: I find that almost every landscape has the ability to inspire anticipation, or a sense of things that have happened (or will/may). I see past ice ages, looming storms, breeding grounds, mosquito havens, food for herbivores, a place to twist an ankle or slake my thirst - just as many possibilities as I see when looking at a graffiti-decorated bodega or a busy crosswalk.

    The more time I spend outdoors (in places where things have happened, or do), the more true for me this is. Likewise, I frequently see street scenes that suggest to me an intractable status quo that has no room for meaningful narrative possibility that I don't intend to initiate myself.

    You've written many times about what the viewer brings to the image, so I hope you'll forgive me for saying that my city slicker radar went off on hearing your observation about the rarity of story in landscapes (relative to manscapes).
     
  111. Landscapes, cityscapes, manscapes, abstracts ! 'm not sure that I don't search the same thing in all cases in the first place. Forms, colors, contrasts, sharpness, fade, compositions. I find it cities but also in the country side or objects, naked bodies and portraits. Some expressions of aesthetics that go far beyond storytelling or messages. They give pleasure and esthetic satisfaction like this.
    I can however also agree on the attention on what manscapes, whether in nature or cities, tells us about ourselves, our history and our lives. Most of what I'm doing in photography finds here its roots in a type of non-demanded documentaries. Most of my photos are indices of history, cultures, modes of living, expressions of inequalities, suppression, privileges, boredom and joy as I see it around me that mark a place ("essence") and in different parts of the world. As I am a "citadin" ("city dweller" or whatever you chose to call someone that most of his life has been living in big cities) and not a "campagnard" (countryman) I tend yo see more such scenes and indices in cities like here or here, or in artifacts like here, but they are surely also present in many a landscape, at least in Europe and the far East, with countrysides marked by thousand of years of "manscaping" like here or here.
     
  112. I have considered myself a landscape photographer for over 32 years now and I can honestly say that most landscape imagery pretty much bores me. My own work, after the obligatory western school initiation, turned more towards the equivalent and the use of the landscape in its service. I love the landscape and I love being in it, but it has been a long time since it was the benign sort of thing we see pictured so often in the genre. I enjoy those moments of beauty but never, well rarely, photograph them but have been more connected to the power of the land and how it echoes human condition. I relish the sense of vulnerability and mystery that one can feel while isolated in the middle of nowhere and the connection with the living world that can come from that. Working on the commission for the railroad made me look at landscape in a different way and was a bit of an eye opener in many ways to another dimension of landscape that was very powerful for me.
    It really doesn't matter a lot what kind of photography I am looking at, but I want it to communicate with me on multiple levels and reveal something of value, whether known and amplified or unknown or heretofore hidden. I look for something more than surface in most cases and much photography is nothing more than surface.
     
  113. It really doesn't matter a lot what kind of photography I am looking at, but I want it to communicate with me on multiple levels and reveal something of value, whether known and amplified or unknown or heretofore hidden. I look for something more than surface in most cases and much photography is nothing more than surface.​
    John, I think that's a brilliant observation. Currently, my recent photo attempts (not currently shown online) fall into the latter category. Your post will help me in attempting to conceive the former.
     
  114. Surface is easy. Other layers are less easily perceived, in the visual and in the mind. Discovering them or creating them is the great challenge in photography and in art.
     
  115. I absolutely understand (and agree at least to some extent) with the expressed sentiments about surface and depth. But I have often thought about just how important (and not at all easy) the surface itself is as well. If I can get in touch with what's on the surface, what someone really looks like, the pores of their skin, the folds around their eyes, the textures of their hair, the look of the expression itself rather than what that expression might "mean," I can really have something special. It's one of the reasons I'm so against the concept of "essence," which I really don't think exists. The outer is very important to me when photographing. People wear a lot right there on their sleeves. I always keep in mind what Avedon said. I think it makes a nice complement to what's being discussed in the last few posts.
    "My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues. But whenever I become absorbed in the beauty of a face, in the excellence of a single feature, I feel I’ve lost what’s really there...been seduced by someone else’s standard of beauty or by the sitter’s own idea of the best in him. That’s not usually the best." --Richard Avedon​
     
  116. Surface has both physical and philosophical qualities. One can talk about depth (as, say, the film and darkroom print people do when comparing their work to digital and inkjet printing) or about the beauty of what is conveyed on the surface and its texture, or the importance of the surface of the subject (per Avedon), or one can consider surface philosophically as a limited region of communication and a potential barrier to to what else may be present in the image, visually and also in the mind.
     
  117. Fred, it seems we are talking about surface in different ways. In fact, as I read your description of how you might approach a subject's surface, I couldn't help but feel that that is exactly the sort of process that pushes the photograph itself past the surface (maybe superficial) meaning I was referring to and delivers the levels of communication we can read as viewers.
    I don't know, maybe that is as clear as mud--I am going to bed....long day....
     
  118. Hmmm . . .
    What if Avedon means exactly what he said? I understand that it is different. I understand his statement as an alternative. I think it may undermine what he's saying to look for ways in which he's saying what's been said in the last few posts about getting past the surface or about opposing philosophical depth to physical depth. I find it very worth considering that he meant there is no such difference. He may have been rejecting philosophical depth and deeper meaning in favor of looks. That may well not be our own way. But I'm not talking about your way or my way. I'm simply considering his way . . . as an alternative, not trying to fit what he says into my own predisposition.
    His words likely present a real and challenging and even a hard-to-comprehend-and-accept alternative. I often find it difficult not to see others' ideas through my own prisms, wants, and needs. I think his ideas about surface are worth a shot, though. I think he is not saying what's been said in this thread, only in a different way. I think he's saying something very different altogether. I may ultimately reject or accept it, learn from it or not. But I do consider it, as is, at face value, which is I think what he's asking of me.
     
  119. But I have often thought about just how important (and not at all easy) the surface itself is as well. If I can get in touch with what's on the surface, what someone really looks like, the pores of their skin, the folds around their eyes, the textures of their hair, the look of the expression itself rather than what that expression might "mean . . . "​
    Also, very nicely stated, Fred.
    Fred, it seems we are talking about surface in different ways . . .​
    Similar and different--both statements, inspiring and insightful nonetheless.
     
  120. You see, when I read Avedon's statement I see something that contradicts surface alone "A good one is full of clues." Well, clues allude to something other than what is there--like just the surface. Then he talks about if he gets absorbed by beauty or a feature that he loses what is really there. Again, this points to me that his "surface" is something other than physical surface as what is really there if it isn't what we are looking at?
    I guess I can't help but think he is talking about surface in some other way, but then, whatever works for each. Over time I have realized that there are a lot of different ways to say essentially the same or similar things. Not all resonate with each person in the same way and the beauty of all these different approaches is that eventually you find one that resonates within you and helps you move forward.
     
  121. My mundane manscape here. If the bus were a bison....and the bridge was a bluff?
    In life we see lots of buses, and not many bison. But using the forms as they are found, they are not much different to perhaps someone who has seen neither?
     
  122. Lately, I have rather felt that the 'ordinary uncommon place' has been done to death. Stephen Shore is much to be blamed for.
     
  123. Avedon's statement makes sense to me in two ways, though I think he went a lot further than the statement suggests. Everything that makes its way onto the light-sensitive sensor or film are photons echoed from the surface of the subject. With regard to portraits, I just read a few weeks ago that something like 90+% of all human communications are non-verbal. The surface matters, and though it may not be everything, it's inescapable in photography.
     
  124. Just thinking more about the Avedon statement, I thought how essentially that when we are making an image that all we really have is surface (which isn't the meaning I was referring to in my statement about photography) and that when we pay attention to the surface(s) rather than getting lost in details, we find a way to present those surfaces in a more meaningful way ("a good one is full of clues"). We can't photograph anything but surface, that's simple physics, but the way we handle that is what pushes the image beyond surface to those other levels.
     
  125. Starvy Goodfellows,
    "Lately, I have rather felt that the 'ordinary uncommon place' has been done to death. Stephen Shore is much to be blamed for."​
    And that raises the related question about purpose. For example, someone could have a goal is simply finding the previously unseen by human eyes - the three headed goat. As the promoters might bark, "Never before seen footage!" Perhaps they catch 1 photo a month, or 1 a year? Of course I am being hyperbolic. With a billion cameras taking a trillion photographs, what isn't going to be done to death by next week? If I am not mistaken, a 12-page spread in NatGeo is derived from some 3,000 rolls of film as source material. Now, that's pressure!
     
  126. "But using the forms as they are found, they are not much different to perhaps someone who has seen neither?"
    --M​
    Since you have been and we have been wondering about viewers, are you playing to viewers from Mars? Will anyone see your photo who has seen neither? If not, perhaps that's something to consider if and when you consider your viewer, which you seem to be doing (as I do). Is a bus or a bison a "form"? In this photo, I'd say at most in part. In your photo, I see bus AND form. I can't separate the two, especially since bus is on road. Yes, also, form is on line or path. But definitely bus is on road. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a "mundane" manscape, would it? It would be a geometric abstract, which it's not.*
    _____________________
    *Though it can be looked at, at least in part, abstractly, I also think the literal is inescapable here.
     
  127. Starvy, I don't "blame" anyone for taking photographs. Stephen Shore is responsible only for his photographs. Others are responsible for theirs.
    The only stuff that is done to death is stuff that someone doesn't take the time to impart with some kind of individuality or care. Not everything needs to be unique. If it shows actual care and commitment, that can be enough.
    As none of us except God is creating ex nihilo (from nothing), we each just do what we can with what we've got or can get. Sometimes actual passion trumps originality. So does honesty portrayed.
     
  128. Fred G.,
    "Since you have been and we have been wondering about viewers, are you playing to viewers from Mars?"
    If it was a bison on the bluff, and shown to a Lakota in 1875, he'd shrug his shoulders, just as we do today for the bus on bridge. I may be using the word form in my own way here to simply mean a manifest shape or mass. As is being pointed out in recent posts, the photograph is a surface phenomenon, a pattern of light on paper. There is neither bus or bison to be found. If the viewer wants a story, it's their responsibility to supply one. (One might see the bus is headed to "Fortuna," for instance.) Is the light pattern pleasing, or does it need to be translated first into a rare mammal?
     
  129. M, thanks. I like hearing your thinking on this and will be interested to see how it continues to manifest in your photographing. Since you may be thinking about what Luis said about light-sensitive photons echoed from the surface of the subject, I'd like to hear his response. I'm guessing he might have something interesting to say. My quick take would be that the echoing would be as important as the light-sensitive photons and "light-sensitive photons" would be only one kind of description of what's happening.
    After all, consciousness may someday be described by brain states but I don't think that will negate consciousness and the human factors that are also applicable. Sure, bison are just a bunch of molecules, even when not photographed. But we kind of see them and treat them as living animals as well as groups of molecules. Pain is really just a physical process . . . but it hurts.
     
  130. M, a further thought. Often, a photo does boil down to a kind of visual description. And, since the photons and the mass (or form) is one description among many, why not try to express that in a photograph? It occurs to me that no photograph, no philosophy, no one description is complete. Again, it makes me more and more intrigued to see where this perspective will take you.
     
  131. Fred G.,
    Yes, visual description. A language and vocabulary of the light patterns is a clean way to think of it. That more or less eliminates what I initially referred to as romanticism - good point. I've never given myself a lot of opportunity for experimentation in photography. I always assumed that I was supposed to find and capture jaw-dropping images for the viewer. Of course, since I don't find many of those, it was pretty much designed for failure. I don't do that any more.
    I have so much more time now that I am retired, I can really just mess around with a lot of ideas and see if anything perks to the top. I am not at all investing in any particular outcome though, I am just enjoying the process. I've been spending a couple hours a day walking around with three cameras hanging off my neck. Friday, as I was taking pictures of the outside of an old cement factory, the owner came out to see "what the heck I was doing," and we ended up in a marvelous hour long conversation, that culminated in a tour through the incredible dusty bowels of his cement pipe factory (built and designed by his grandfather in 1935). Well, I managed to get some photos inside this dark place - even though all I had was ISO 100 Tmax in my cameras - and I was absolutely tickled by the experience, which was absolutely out of the blue. So, I made him some nice 12 x 18 prints that I will drop off later today for this nice gentlemen.
    That's kind of how my current photographic journey is unfolding. Walking around with some cameras.
     
  132. Let me throw out this last example of the mundane manscape that has amused me now for a couple days - here.
    My only testimony (weak as it may be) about that one is that is that when it's in my Lightroom slide sorter grid with the 20 other pictures I took that day, my eye keeps drifting to it, the way it happens in a crowded room when you see someone that catches your eye. Of course, I could simply be imaging that too?
     
  133. There's a lot going on with the echoing, including what we refer to as "quality of light". Plus stray light is also reverberating around from other surfaces, sneaking around the edges of the lens shade, etc, and entering the lens or light-gathering method used. On the way to the sensor, light is also colliding with dust particles, other light, and being diffracted, or refracted by airborne humidity, or sweat on the translucent living surface that is skin, water, a leaf, etc. There's the wavelength & frequency we call color. Lots going on there, and all of it matters, some times more than others, depending on who we are, what we see, do, etc.
    The thing is that whatever else a photograph conveys has to be at least initially mediated by the surface and the light bouncing off of it. This is not happening in a vacuum, and as photographers we have a range of available choices regarding the surface and the light -- if we want to use them.
    In photography, as with any medium, sensory awareness/environmental navigation and interaction with each other, there's an incalculable number of variables, a huge overflowing banquet of the senses (and much more beyond our senses) laid out before us. Deep within, we are still like newborns dazzled by the simplest things. This is not meant merely in a mystical way, but to say that there's lots to work with. More than we can imagine.
    With portraits, the lack of words and sound distill by precipitation the main way we humans supposedly communicate. Everything else but what we type to each other.
     
  134. So many inspiring and thought-provoking posts. Coming here, and reading these threads is very good for my creativity. Even this simple statement by m. stephens evokes a theme very similar to a specific series I've been planning to shoot:
    . . . the way it happens in a crowded room when you see someone that catches your eye.​
    What this inspired in particular, is off-topic, but I'm grateful nonetheless. The Philosophy of Photography subforum is perhaps the most resource-rich section of photo.net. And, interestingly enough, the insight gained often has little to do with the literal meaning and intention of the post. It's similar to the experience when viewing others' work--nearly everyone walks away with a different interpretation--a different "effect." There are many places to seek technical discussion, but photo.net provides pertinent artistic insight. My thanks to all.
     
  135. Photons, mass, form, reflections, difraction, atmospheric matter in the light path, surfaces, textures, etc. All of what Luis and Fred are pointing to are undisputably important, and their variety of effects and interactions have a certain effect on what collides on the sensor or emulsion to make an image. We know they are basic to our practice. But they are but one part of the mix that the magician photographer uses in his intrinsic and extrinsic variables "toolkit" to create a remarkable and unique image.
    Such physics of photography and painting apart, it is the romantic or other mental input of the photographer that is most important. I don't care whether it is an abundant and splendid natural scene or a simple back street in Brooklyn, if the photographer creates, or responds to, a moment of visual drama, emotion, fascination, idealisation, fantasy or other human sense- or mind-impacting issue, it is to my mind more important than the most splendid use of the physics of light and form in making a fine photo.
    Some of the most powerful images have been made under rather limited or poor lighting conditions. They often present simple scenes and use only sparse production means, yet contain a visual and mental message that overrides all that.
    I use in my work a good practical technical knowledge of light, color, form and texture, but am more atuned to the importance of the non-physical factors that go into the making of a more highly communicative image. Those factors are both philosophical and psychological, and are in my experience harder to apply than the purely physical ones. Capturing a natural scene by mastering the light and color does not necessarily render it romantic, just as the apparent familiarity with or possible disaffectation with manscapes does not exclude that possibility. Whether we have been weaned to love nature or not is not the issue I believe in appreciating the extra qualities of fine images. Irrespective of whether it is the natural or the manmade world, or a blend of the two, the romantic is simply in the eye and mind of the photographer, .... or it isn't.
     
  136. Arthur, when I pointed to the surface, I was not pointing to photons. As I said to M, "photons" is only one sort of description among many. I believe Luis was helping to flesh out what Avedon was saying and M who is exploring photographically at that level. And why not?
    I don't see just photons on surfaces, but I do see a lot there. I actually think a lot often gets missed on the surface when I immediately go spelunking below. In a lot of cases, the spelunking rings hollow because the visual has been missed. The philosophy and message can be heavy-handed and often is when it doesn't well integrate with what is simply seen.
    . . .
    "Such physics of photography and painting apart, it is the romantic or other mental input of the photographer that is most important."
    I think M is seeking an alternative and seeing very differently (from you and me both).
     
  137. Arthur's post brought to mind a metaphor that might apply here. The layers of the onion. If I first imagine the photographer's whole onion at the moment the shutter is depressed, it might look something like this from the outside to the inside:
    - Drama
    - Psychological need
    - Narrative
    - Composition
    - Light
    - Surface
    Now, along comes the viewer. My intuition tells me the viewer's arrangement of layers is roughly reversed. And, that the viewer must labor to peel back these layers.
    - Surface
    - Light
    - Composition
    - Narrative
    - Psychological impact
    - Drama
    When is the viewer sated? And, having peeled back the first couple layers, will the remaining layers have the same meaning or message to the viewer as the photographer? Probably unlikely. The first 3 (or 4) layers from the viewer perspective are kind of a technical merit where one hopes the maker and viewer converge on common understanding. "Spelunking" below that, the viewer enters their private world, no?
     
  138. Arthur, I don't think anyone suggested that what you mention as essential in your post be disregarded or passed over as unimportant. We were talking about very specific things (the Avedon quote), and not excluding or negating everything else in the universe. If you read my post, I made this very clear when I remarked about Avedon: "...though I think he went a lot further than the statement [About surfaces] suggests"
    Light is the medium, literally what is in the middle, what bridges the gap between the photographer and the photographed. Everything else is initially conveyed through it. Avedon was an exceptionally sophisticated man, adept philosophically and psychologically as few men ever are. What I believe he understood quite well is that initially everything is mediated by the light and surfaces it is echoing from. He went further, deliberately limiting the quality of the light he used to a very narrow range (whenever he had control of it), leaving it down to mostly to surfaces. What were the surfaces? The skin, hair, eyes, etc and clothing of the people he photographed. The gestures, poses, expressions they assumed, or were directed to. His legendary abilities to urge, cajole, manipulate or give rein to his subjects are exactly the stuff you ardently emphasize, but Avedon understood it came through the surface and the significance of working with and through it. He is also the perfect example to illustrate that this was only the beginning of the process.
    ________________________________________
    I also think it is useful to make a distinction between romance and sentimentality. When I look at pictures that fail or are weak, unresolved, etc. most of the time I am seeing sentimentality, not romance. Worse, it is often the most hackneyed, saccharine, drippy kind, a bland, wormy-mass signifier or simulation of feeling, not romance. And no, I don't think Romance is either all-important, required, or unimportant and to be avoided.
    ________________________________________
    Description was mentioned by Fred. It was the antidote to the sentimentalism typified by Steichen's Family of Man, proposed and disseminated by John Szarkowski and Garry Winogrand (among others). For similar reasons to why Sontag turned to it.
     
  139. M, I think there are and can be commonalities all the way down, though there is surely divergence among individuals. In a recent portrait of mine, the subject is affecting a very genuine smile (somewhat rare in my photos). Because the subject is an aging drag queen, a couple of viewers see that as sad, and suggested that was my intent. My response will be that the smile was Andy's intent, not mine. Judging by the comments, we did seem to reach the viewer in a sort of gut way (one viewer called the photo "interactive"). I certainly understand the "sadness" comment and my guess is that Andy will too. He may even think of some sadness in his own smiles as many of us do. I think if we only look superficially (DIFFERENT FROM SURFACE), we will see private worlds: he sees sad, I see happy. But if we really talk about it, I think we often come to really understand the other's reaction, which is not as private or as different from ours as we may have thought. The viewer will go where he goes. But I do put a lot of stock in the fact that I have chosen or created the skin of the onion, and I have considered the dramatics of it as well, so I will have at least some effect on how the peeling of the onion takes place and what the experience of the peeling is like and therefore how the drama unfolds. How the viewer will react to that and talk about it is another thing entirely. But the photographer affects the actual experience if not necessarily the viewer's understanding or relationship to that experience.
     
  140. Luis, I missed your post as I was posting. Nicely said.
     
  141. M: The order of your onion layers is probably not different, whether it is the photographer or viewer. In fact, from my experience it is not usually some linear process. Neither viewer or photographer is obliged of course to consider all the potential contributory building blocks or perceived aspects of a photo.
    Fred and Luis, I only rapidly glanced at your posts and hope to come back to them when I can give time to their consideration (I've too much else going on at present, so it is not for lack of interest that I have to abstain at present). I do think we are on the same wavelength in all of this and my post was not to doubt Avedon's other views than that stated but to question the view of some on how a surface is lit or even formed as being the whole story, while often rejecting the nature of what is the real surface and what the interactions of mutiple surfaces of an image can recount.
     
  142. When is the viewer sated? And, having peeled back the first couple layers, will the remaining layers have the same meaning or message to the viewer as the photographer? Probably unlikely . . .​
    However, that's ideally the goal isn't it? I do like the layers analogy. I especially like lists (I've been making a few lists myself). I was thinking the other day, also about layers, but more in a technical sense. I was planning to introduce more "layered lighting" schemas into my shots. Since I don't know the code to insert carriage returns here, I can't faithfully reproduce your list here (so that I could refer to it while writing this response). But yours certainly seemed to be an ambitious list. I can barely accomplish just one of those things in a single photograph, let alone two or more. But it's a good rubric to follow. Well done!
     
  143. m - "When is the viewer sated?"
    Does one want the viewer "sated"? Why?
     
  144. Luis G.,
    I was just posing the question - does the viewer get sated before he makes it down through all the layers of intention by the artist? Or, does the viewer make it through just the light-on-the-surface layer, and say, "Ho hum, I'm done with that one," and move on? It's rhetorical, I suppose, because clearly "it depends" on the photograph and the viewer. But, in any case, I am rather dubious that artist's deep intent is passed on like some kind of germ to the viewers.
     
  145. I personally don't think the artist's deep intent needs to be passed on to the viewer. I am not sure that that is even a realistic goal--and I am not sure that the artist ever really knows that deep intent anyway. For me, the idea that an image can garner a response or a thinking on the part of the viewer is most rewarding. I don't want to know any exact meaning or reason why I created a piece. Certainly, there are things I see and things I intended but there is also mystery and questioning. But the beauty of an image is that it is essentially plastic and can convey different things to different people--and even to me over time. I love hearing alternative views or readings of my images, then I know the piece is communicating.
    I am with Luis here, I don't even think the maker of an image should ever be sated. Certainly, one can be pleased with the work or even excited by it, but that is generally because the image has a life to it. But sitting on images over time, that is the true test. Can I see something new, will I think about something new or more deeply each time I confront a piece--or even will it have a positive effect, maybe calming, each time I look. Essentially, is the conversation still alive or has it become nothing more than wallpaper?
     
  146. "Intention" is a red herring here. There are other things besides explicit (or even non-explicit) intention that come from the photographer and can allow for a connection between photographer and viewer. Photographers aren't necessarily conveying just intentions.
    A photographer chooses a subject in a certain context. The viewer sees that. A photographer chooses black and white or color. A photographer adopts a perspective. A photographer may wait for or create a certain kind of light, bright and clear, shadowy and hazy, etc. The viewer will see all of this (whether explicitly or merely experience it as part of a gestalt). An explicit "translation" of that lighting will be difficult. Some will say mysterious, others will say murky, others will say sleepy, others will say I don't like it. But there is a connection between the act of photographing and the photograph that ensues and the photograph that is seen by the viewer.
    I happen to think intent can be seen in photographs sometimes, especially when a good photographer allows for that and a viewer pays attention and has put some work and time into viewing photographs and knows something about how photographs are made. But there's a lot of mystery about intent as well, as there should be. When one communicates with words, one doesn't necessarily communicate their own intent clearly and intent is often misread by others. But one can communicate about their emotions, about where they've been and what interested them, about how they see the world. Sure, sometimes miscommunication and misunderstanding takes place. But, generally, we're not alone. We do manage to communicate. We do it differently with visuals. But we do it.
    I think philosophy is burdened with a history that is tied to man's protecting his own "self" as impenetrable and autonomous. Unfortunately, this hardcore and to a great extent self-defeating idea of the strong self got codified for centuries starting with Descartes. It is only more recently that we are starting to develop more holistic ways of seeing man and nature, as a series of interconnected experiences and systems rather than as disconnected and vying individuals.
     
  147. "rather than as disconnected and vying individuals."
    Unless you look at our political climate in the US.....
     
  148. John, not to get off on a tangent, but I think our political climate doesn't show disconnected and vying individuals. It shows a lot of group-think and allegiance to one ideology or another. There's very little individual thought, as a matter of fact. It's mostly spoon-fed talking points.
    There are good and bad senses of individuality and good and bad senses of interconnectedness. For me, at least, photographing and photographs are a means of connecting with subjects and viewers, as imperfect (and I would have it no other way . . . I love imperfection) as it may be. A lot of photographs are public acts, and they are often born of and become shared experience, even while also being personal. I appreciate the harmony, discord, circularity, tension, and even ambiguity that is involved in that.
     
  149. Disconnected to the people they represent and vying for power--for power's sake even if collectively. But certainly.....
     
  150. If at all possible, I'd like to leave politics out of this. Yes, it is most definitely part and parcel of art (why do you think the arts are being targeted?) and a valid subject, but on PN, it also means a swarm of bots will alight on us, and soon the level of discussion will resemble that in the Off-Topic Forum.
    ________________________________________________
    Reading m, John A, and Fred, I find myself in partial agreement with all three. A few loose thoughts...
    First, I think the best of photographs do not leave most viewers sated. They leave them thirsty, wondering, aglow with insights, lusting, dealing with new questions, or rephrasings of old ones, with a slight (or greater) parallax from where he was before, and the world looking different. So much so that they part with money and wallspace to live with it. Or are haunted by it and return to the Museum or gallery compulsively. Every time it's looked at, just as the viewer is different, so is what he sees in the image, as if it was alive.
    ______________________________
    The first means man had to store energy was not the bow and arrow. It was Art. It's an impossibility, like a set whose boundaries are far smaller than its contents. It acts as messenger RNA between the artist and viewer to create a synthesis between the two. Warm fusion. Images infuse the viewer with -- and release -- energies. Sometimes it's like looking at the stars, we can't touch them, but they can fill us with energy and even guide us.
    _____________________
    True, sometimes there is a nearly direct, primal, soulmating between artist and viewer, but it is not required, and for many, not desired, either.
    The artist does not have singular intent, but a kind of cloud composed of many things, as Fred alluded to, with a gradient from those that he is well aware of, to those that are like secrets unto him. The viewer approaches in a similar way. I think it's the way we dance and bump pretties with others. Sometimes strangers can see right through us in ways we never could. It's the same with our work. The Other sidesteps all the knotty tangles of self-reference, circular logic, Ego and other things that circumscribe the Devil's Island aspect of the Self.
    Sated? Sometimes perhaps momentarily -- before moving on.
     
  151. If at all possible, I'd like to leave politics out of this. Yes, it is most definitely part and parcel of art (why do you think the arts are being targeted?) and a valid subject, but on PN, it also means a swarm of bots will alight on us, and soon the level of discussion will resemble that in the Off-Topic Forum.
    ________________________________________________
    Reading m, John A, and Fred, I find myself in partial agreement with all three. A few loose thoughts...
    First, I think the best of photographs do not leave most viewers sated. They leave them thirsty, wondering, aglow with insights, lusting, dealing with new questions, or rephrasings of old ones, with a slight (or greater) parallax from where he was before, and the world looking different. So much so that they part with money and wallspace to live with it. Or are haunted by it and return to the Museum or gallery compulsively. Every time it's looked at, just as the viewer is different, so is what he sees in the image, as if it was alive.
    ______________________________
    The first means man had to store energy was not the bow and arrow. It was Art. It's an impossibility, like a set whose boundaries are far smaller than its contents. It acts as messenger RNA between the artist and viewer to create a synthesis between the two. Warm fusion. Images infuse the viewer with -- and release -- energies. Sometimes it's like looking at the stars, we can't touch them, but they can fill us with energy and even guide us.
    _____________________
    True, sometimes there is a nearly direct, primal, soulmating between artist and viewer, but it is not required, and for many, not desired, either.
    The artist does not have singular intent, but a kind of cloud composed of many things, as Fred alluded to, with a gradient from those that he is well aware of, to those that are like secrets unto him. The viewer approaches in a similar way. I think it's the way we dance and bump pretties with others. Sometimes strangers can see right through us in ways we never could. It's the same with our work. The Other sidesteps all the knotty tangles of self-reference, circular logic, Ego and other things that circumscribe the Devil's Island aspect of the Self.
    Sated? Sometimes perhaps momentarily -- before moving on.
     
  152. The photographer can be a mesmerist through insistence. Insistence.
    There is the important question of repetition
    and is there any such thing.
    Is there repetition or is there insistence.
    I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition.
    And really how can there be?
    This is a thing about which I want you to think
    before I go on telling about portraits of anything… expressing anything,
    there can be no repetition
    because the essence of that expression is insistence,
    and if you insist you must each time use emphasis,
    and if you use emphasis,
    it is not possible while anybody is alive,
    that they should use exactly the same emphasis.
    So let us seriously think of the difference between repetition and insistence.
    Ralph Eugene Meatyard​
     
  153. I did not read the whole body of comments so I will answer directly to the OP.
    I have never been biased towards natural things nor I have been biased necessarily to find beauty in ordinary things at all costs. What I am attracted to are situations or subjects in general that trigger my attention and interest; that could be a landscape as well as a shadow on a wall.
     
  154. Antonio, I'm in the same situation as you. Have not taken the time to read through all the obviously interesting viewpoints presented up till no.
    I, like most others, I would think, shoot "what triggers my attention and interest".
    What might differ between us, is that some seem to be almost frightened by "beauty" and are therefor biased towards shooting what clearly differs.
    Prejustice against the "oh ! so lovely" as well us the "unlovely" sometimes, I'm convinced, prevents us shooting what "triggers our attention and interest". One of the bigger challenges to our shooting might be to fight such biases. Same challenge is up for the viewers, by the way.
     
  155. Anders, I was just posting a response to someone else regarding the process in the field on another site and said the following in this regard:
    We should be responding and exploring when in the field, hopefully not judging even what may later turn out to be trite--it is all part of the process and an open process is much more fruitful than one that excludes any response.​
    I want to suggest that what I said here doesn't necessarily contradict thinking when working but maybe something beyond that place as it relates more to the decision to press the shutter.
     
  156. Why would there be a problem with someone shooting their biases? Some like to express individuality or act like an individual. We all have biases, which are personal likes, interests, perspectives, cultural stances and understandings. I respect those who recognize and celebrate their own-ness. The kind of beauty, I sense, that is being questioned, is not a personal vision but rather one that has been hacked to death. I suspect that most of us can tell the difference between something beautiful we have discovered and a more kitsch and popularized beauty that is merely accepted as such. That difference can be seen in photographs.
    Also, sometimes it's a challenge to photograph what doesn't (immediately) interest me or what wouldn't normally capture my attention. I have been known to force my attention on something out of my usual zone of recognition.
     
  157. Because "biases" restrict our development if they prevent us seeing beyond our present "own-ness" as you call it. "Own-nesses" are never static and are there to be surpassed, in my eyes. I would expect you would agree with that.
     
  158. IMO, biases are a fact of life and are only a problem when denied as such or unrecognized.
     
  159. The type of biases I referred to are mainly social products made up of experiences, beliefs, prejustice and the like. They are therefor surely "facts of life" in the sense that we all have them. They become problems for especially our creative activities at the moment they are considered and accepted as unsurmountable limits to our expression. Just recognize them seems to me to be a very passive approach to ones biases as photographer or as viewers.
     
  160. This is why I like miksang, although myself, I have difficulty making a 'miksang' pic that grabs me. But, some of them made by miksang photographers really do, and they are visual gems, inspirational. Like a lot of the well known icons in photographic history. Weston,etc. Piercing eyes.
    Walker Evans work, inspired by Atget's - quested for this also - to make photographs in which "the photographer's presence is everywhere felt but nowhere seen".
    But he was well aware, that that too is a bias. But one I think which keeps guard of the "photographer's responsibility" to the medium.
     
  161. Anders, I said biases are a problem if unrecognized. I did not suggest that anyone "just recognize" them.
    You called some of us who try to do something else with our photography beside the "oh so lovely" both biased and prejudiced. I'm simply rejecting that assessment.
    If someone says they want to challenge themselves, you might call them prejudiced for that. I think that's not what prejudice is about.
    Wanting something more out of photography than superficial beauty or previously-accepted notions of what beauty is (especially in a landscape) is not how I view bias. The bias would be acceptance of traditional notions of beauty. The bias would be shooting landscapes like they've been shot for decades. It would take an active mind to want something else.
    If more landscape photographers recognized that their search for this so-called beauty was a bias rather than a seeking for discovery, we'd probably have a different type of photo adorning the top-rated photos on PN.
     
  162. Eventually, I'd rather lose my self, not find myself, in my photographs.
     
  163. Please allow me to introduce a recent photo of mine that holds a couple of comments that could be interesting for the conversation (IMHO). It's also an opportunity to (maybe) get a few more comments on that photo, since it is one of those images that usually pass totally unobserved here on Photo.net ;D And if you all think it's crap, never mind and forgive me for wasting your time :D
    click here
     
  164. I can appreciate that subtle type of image, Antonio. It almost seems intentionally set -up, in a Jeff Wall kinda way, especally with the non-romantic title. It doesn't quite get to that closer tableau of *photographic'ness* but neither does it have to. The title is important here, to set the setting.
    It's the kind of image that feels familiar as a photographer. Like when you see something, and then it's gone, and you wonder, why didn't I took a picture of that ? and must remind yourself ( at least I ) that next time you will.
     
  165. Antonio Bassi,
    I went through several of your photos in addition to the car wash, and I think I relate to these images, because I have about 50 of them I have taken since beginning this experiment a couple weeks back. I may not have a "car wash" - but I have many pictures in this matter-of-fact expression. The shapes, lines, geometry and shadow are interesting. The fence pickets make melodies. (My favorite in your group was American Desert)
    When I began, I referred to this as "content free" - by which I meant the name (label) of the content was irrelevant and carried no intrinsic significance, only photographic utility. House-donut store-gas station-warehouse-tree-pole-sign-car-cow-fence-wave - makes no difference if the line and lighting works.
    From time to time my wife looks over my shoulder as I am developing, or making prints, or working in Lightroom, and I can tell that she is wondering, "what on earth is that picture for?" I let her browse a short list of 6 or 8 photographs which included a few classic ocean shore compositions along with 4 or 5 of these new works. She skimmed past these like they were not there.
     
  166. Phylo
    Thanks. You spoke my mind
    It doesn't quite get to that closer tableau of *photographic'ness* but neither does it have to​
    Right, 'cause for me it isn't even a photo per se but the projection of thinking.
    But let me add a few things. The photo I brought as an example helps me to point out how I don't think about what I like or dislike or try to follow this or the other bias and IMPO I don't think photography should follow specific biases. I didn't feel excited to have found such revealing beauty or truth in that car wash and I don't even think is a good photo, photographically speaking. It's actually a bad one, since it's taken from too far and it's crooked. But it very well expresses my thoughts at the moment when I walked by and looked at that car wash, that's all. And this is what photography is for me. Now it's in the past but every time I look at it it brings back those thoughts; it is a photo that gets no comments but I hope there are some people out there besides you that will feel the same way as me when they look at it.
     
  167. Hi Antonio,
    With respect, I cannot feel any romanticism in your urban photo example. I do see a nice balance of form and lines and well understand that creative part of your handling of this image. The human figure says very little to me (Is he opening his trunk, is he putting the last drying touches on the car, or what?). It is a typical urban scene that might well integrate well with others you might have, or intend to shoot, and perhaps so develop a strong story line or romantic impression. But as an image appearing alone, I am not very moved.
    I think this underlines a problem many of us face in our urban photography. It is a sector that I believe is less easy to photograph and to invoke some common romantic impression (or other impact) for a large number of viewers. Perhaps our feelings about nature are more common, and commonly perceived.
    The subjectiveness of urban photography, of urban architecture, of urban human activity or of implied urban human presence, covers a wide spectrum of perceptions. Just as I am not affected by your personal car wash image, you will probably not be affected by my linked foundry image, which in addition to its quite arranged compositiion does somehow (and in fact, inexplicably) affect me more deeply than that. Our responses to urban views are very subjective I think.
    http://www.photo.net/photo/11472850
    Antonio, our posts crossed. I understand that your image relates to what you were feeling, but (and perhaps like mine) that feeling cannot be easily discovered. Again, part of the problem and challenge of urban scenes for the photographer seeking some meaning in his reflections on his world.
    I listened to a concert by the "Violons du Roi" Friday past, in which the latter half was shared by the Adagietto of Mahler's 5th symphony and a piece for 23 stringed instruments written by Ricard Strauss in the last days of the 2nd world war. The former, like a natural landscape, of easily assimilatable sense of beauty and emotive tension. The latter piece, intense and intricate, more impervious, like an urban landscape perhaps, but very worthy of contemplation.
     
  168. Arthur
    Hello to you too, long time no see :D I absolutely love your foundry image, and congrats for the print, that is excellent as well. I don't think it can be brought as an example in opposition to my car wash photo because your image it is in fact a beautiful photograph that can be appreciated as such, while mine is not a beautiful photograph but could be appreciated for other reasons, that are the same that drove me to take it in the first place.
     
  169. "When I began, I referred to this as 'content free' - by which I meant the name (label) of the content was irrelevant and carried no intrinsic significance, only photographic utility. House-donut store-gas station-warehouse-tree-pole-sign-car-cow-fence-wave - makes no difference if the line and lighting works."​
    There's a fine line between this and pure, unadulterated exploitation/objectification. We've talked about objectification here and the challenges and possibilities offered and also the traps it offers. We objectify when we photograph and that can be good. We objectify our lovers in our relationships and that can be bad.
    When turning a subject into an object, which is what I hear M saying is the goal, one can abstract, which can be a great thing. Or one can exploit, use, and dismiss their subjects, which can be really demeaning. For me, the important step would be recognizing what you're doing and doing it with a kind of awareness and vision. Otherwise everyone and everything you touch becomes a piece of meat, and that can be really obnoxious. Men have been doing it to women for centuries. Adults have done it to children. Whites did it to blacks. The photographic utility of a subject is certainly a consideration. I also think it can be taken way too far and often is, to the point either of complete boredom or, worse, abuse.
    Photographs can use, surely. In doing so, I often find they look right past things. Photographs can also look at and in. They can avoid the world and they can also describe it. Lots of choices.
     
  170. Antonio,
    Glad to see your always interesting posts (a bit more in that regard below). Thank you for your appreciation of the image of the foundry. I guess I am surprised a bit, though, as I thought it would appear as a banal subject to a viewer (it may well do that for some), despite its composition and tonal qualities (some might say a bit overblown, but that was desired). Maybe the richness of tones is a problem because an attractive image can be a disadvantage, a roadblock, if the objective is to say more. I was aware that the scene might be attractive in black and white (the realism of the pure greens and the very blue sky both annoyed and distracted me), although I'm not sure I achieve in an image how I felt about this scene (an emotion based on the somewhat enigmatic and assymetrical building, the impenetrable dark interior, the fence barrier, the shadows on the fence,...)
    Which takes me to the more important question of your photo and its interesting compositional balance. I would like to know what you were thinking. Is this the type of image or perception that is purposely non-romanticized, and/or is it one that is made based upon a very relaxed and receptive approach, in the manner Phylo was refering to? What was your motivation, should you recall it, and I dare to ask (not in any critical aim, but in the desire to understand or experience how you worked in this particular case and how you considered your subject?
     
  171. Arthur
    The second one you said :D
    More specifically: it was definitely done with a relaxed and receptive approach, no intentions of any kind. I am European and we have always been attracted to certain aspects of America, especially those that were brought to us by the economic boom, the music, Jack Kerouac and Ferlinghetti, the pop culture and the Beat Generation and so on. We see this great culture - that was suffocated perhaps by the thirst of money, power and domination of the other face of the American coin - we see it, I was saying, everywhere: on the streets, the architecture, the food, the faces of people and the way they dress...
    This being said, the obsession with washing cars of average American people has always blown my mind, especially in California, where water is not really coming out of trees. In Europe, most people don't wash their car ever (I don't). Car washes are also very focused in delivering a great and fast performance and for that, they have a full team of people that take care of different tasks, delivering a super-fast and great performance for the client. Car washing: definitely an important and distinctive aspect in the American life. This is probably why my photograph came so naturally, no premeditated or post-meditated intentions involved: i saw it, turned the camera on, set it on 80 ISO on A and shot, trying to get a decent overall composition with the surrounding buildings, the road and the sky. Thanks for asking, by the way.
    Phylo
    Thanks for your comment!
     
  172. I don't understand (don't think it exists) shooting with no intentions of any kind. If you had no intentions, Antonio, you would shoot completely randomly. You would simply pick up your camera and make noise with it. Point it randomly and click the shutter. That's it. You've talked about a potential intention. American obsessiveness with cars and keeping them clean. What would be so wrong if you actually intended to show that obsessiveness with cars, even within a Kerouac-like vision? One doesn't have to find themselves (as Phylo puts it) in a photo in order to actually show something of significance that someone else might relate to or care about? What is this overriding aversion to intent and to putting some amount of thought into a vision (even if that thought takes place away from the camera use and allows the moment of the snap to be free and fluid)? To me, it sounds more like a running away from something.
    It does show the pitfalls of talking and philosophizing, however. Because among the (what I consider) much empty rhetoric (or trying to be empty by asserting lack of intent and purpose, which is downright unhuman) are some very good photographs. The photographs do show something. The photographers seem unwilling to look at that and to take responsibility for what they're doing.
    Claiming a lack of intent is what criminals do to escape from their crimes. Claiming a lack of intent removes the possibility of actually being responsible for your photos in any significant way. It allows only for shots, not any kind of vision. IMO. It's nihilism, which may be fine, if you're aware of that.
     
  173. Something to consider is that intentions don't just get formed in the few seconds before an act like pushing the shutter. Intentions get formed . . . and carry through to such moments . . . even when lying in bed or when writing in a forum. So the thought of Americans obsessed with their clean cars doesn't have to occur right when the photographer is in the groove of shooting and yet that thought, occuring at some other time, can have a profound influence on the act of shooting. One can choose to acknowledge these intentions or not but denying their existence (especially while talking about them) is much more problematic, IMO.
     
  174. Fred G.,
    "For me, the important step would be recognizing what you're doing and doing it with a kind of awareness and vision. Otherwise everyone and everything you touch becomes a piece of meat, and that can be really obnoxious. Men have been doing it to women for centuries. Adults have done it to children. Whites did it to blacks. The photographic utility of a subject is certainly a consideration."​
    I enjoyed reading that post, but I think it was a stretch to connect that thought to my reference about content-free manscapes. Objectifying some phone poles and garbage bins isn't really a gateway to sexism or racism. I posted two photographs in this thread and neither had any representations of people.
    Fine commentary though on those social matters. I only balk here because that commentary appeared below a quote by me.
     
  175. Phylo Dayrin,
    My ignorance is growing every day. "Miksang" is new to me, and I thank you for introducing that to me. I have seen the output before, but I wasn't aware of the formal movement.
     
  176. Sometimes our desire to add to a discussion engenders some leaps beyond the context. Fred, you always have something interesting to say and I enjoy reading your thoughts, even when the context is somewhat "expanded" as in your recent remarks . Your social conscience is mirrored in my own thoughts and I gather it also is in the thoughts of many others.
    I do appreciate Antonio taking the time to discuss what was important to him in making the image, but at the same time he seems to have adopted something of the practice of Miksang. Perhaps he, like me, does not believe that a photographic approach unfettered by our prior sentimenmts or cultural values can be ignored completely. However nonchalant was his aim in the car wash image, he surely was influenced, consciously or not, by his values (which on a minor scale is not the "once a week" cleansing of the vehicule", but the opposite choice of "let the dirt fall of by the action of gravity"). I think he admits as much in his analysis, which brings the approach into line with what you were saying. So the point in this particular case appears to be about as contentious as brushing one's teeth before retiring, and your obseervation that "everyone and everything you touch becomes a piece of meat" is perhaps not a valid judgement of a Miksang-like approach in photography. Values cannot be deleted so easily.
     
  177. Fred
    Well, of course there was an intention, at least a few seconds before shooting, and it was created by my cultural influences and more. However, this photo is not part of a project, I didn't plan to go out and hunt for these kind of images. I didn't shoot with my eyes closed after a couple of spins but also I did not plan this at all and all the thoughts and cultural influences came to my head all at once in the split of a second. There is nothing wrong about shooting with intention, did I say that there is something wrong? I do shoot with a pre-visualized concept or project in my head very often but not in this case. My cultural background definitely had a major role here but I think you are playing around with words when you say Something to consider is that intentions don't just get formed in the few seconds before an act like pushing the shutter. We are talking about shooting following a conscious line in your head or just your instincts and thoughts at the moment.
     
  178. M, good points. Thanks. Yes, I can be hyperbolic at times. I didn't mean to suggest that your shooting telephone poles the way you describe is the equivalent of racism or objectifying women. I just meant to note that they can exist on the same continuum. For instance, seeing "landscapes," "cityscapes," or "manscapes" as merely transmitters of light and texture, objectifying in many ways, can have perilous results. I'm merely questioning what I see when I look at these things. And I prefer not to try to avoid them as subjects, even while appreciating line, geometry, and how light can fall on them. As a matter of fact, I don't think I could not see them as subjects. It is an objective view of these things, a stripping away of their subject-hood, that has led us to abuse the environment and trash our urban environments. Now, I'm not saying that photographing them with that kind of objectifying attitude is as dangerous or as likely to result in negative consequences as living that attitude in other ways, but I am wary of it. For me, to be the subject, the content, the story, call it what you will, is not separable from the composition, the geometry, the light. They come as a package.
    Antontio, I did misunderstand you when you said you go out with no intent. Sorry. The attitude I thought you were emphasizing has been expressed a number of times in the philosophy as well as other forums. So I was responding to a "Don't think, just shoot" attitude I've heard a lot. Thanks for clarifying.
     
  179. Fred
    Yeah, that attitude is the one photography newcomers use because they think taking pictures is easy and they need no training, technical knowledge, cultural background... just be yourself, right? Many people fall in that trap, me included up to a certain period of time; they think they are very talented artists with a lot to say and they are better than anybody else the minute they take a camera in their hands for the first time... I know that attitude and I don't like it at all.
     
  180. I am amazed how these threads can "run" after days of sitting!
    One of the things that constantly comes to my mind as I read here is how semantics seems to get in the way of understanding. As I read this person saying this and someone countering with that and construing it this way or that, most of the time I just see them as different sides of the same coin--it is the same thing, it just looks a little different based on one's own perspective or way of working. Maybe a little more generosity in our reading might find a sense of commonality rather than opposition, although probably it wouldn't be as much fun.
    When I read the part on bias, I couldn't help but replace it with predilection and would we argue that we all have certain predilections that come through when we are shooting? We shoot things, intending to or not, generally that we are attracted to or have a predilection (bias) towards. Bias is not always a negative. On the other hand, I don't think we have to go against this to move forward--most just photograph what they respond to. We may move forward by appearing to go against these "biases", but my thought is that we already moved past that at least subconsciously before we do it. In a different way, I will say I have a strong "bias" against shooting sunsets, I don't ever go looking for one and rarely shoot them when I see one with camera in hand. But I have done that, I have worked the files and have no intention of ever showing them. The last time was 3 years ago as I got back to the car after a couple of hours shooting in Big Bend. I saw something that interested me in that sunset and shot it, not too seriously, but with intent. I don't know where the act of doing that will lead or manifest itself, but there was some reason for- and something learned by-doing it.
    I like Fred's comment about intention being formed over time and with influence. But when I read the discussion about intention, I see that most everyone is suggesting a different layer of intention--or referring to it in a different place in the process. I guess I see all of these things as valid ideas about intention. So, you might not go out with any specific intention but you have one or you wouldn't go out. You might have an intention to work on an idea, but you might let go once you are in the process. You might work with specific intent throughout the process as well, however, I do believe that the most successful photographs generally come when we surrender to what we are doing, but that might be instantaneously in the middle of intent--we anticipate or respond mindlessly at that point. It all works and probably each is experienced maybe more or less and at different times by most who have been doing this over any length of time.
    "For instance, seeing "landscapes," "cityscapes," or "manscapes" as merely transmitters of light and texture, objectifying in many ways, can have perilous results. I'm merely questioning what I see when I look at these things. And I prefer not to try to avoid them as subjects, even while appreciating line, geometry, and how light can fall on them."​
    I do take exception to this statement when it comes to certain sorts of photography--not as to Fred's own process, that is his own, but in a more general way. I know I have used landscape over the years, and in a current project, where I could care less what specifically I am shooting. My interest is not what is before my camera but more what it becomes through the process. It doesn't matter to me if it is a rock, a stream, cracked mud or sky, what matters is does it work or communicate. I don't see this as harmful or even objectification, it is just something that works for me when creating certain kinds of images. Sometimes you can tell what it is I shot and sometimes you can't, it isn't about that thing as subject.
    Aurthur, looking at your foundry photo, what I would say is that I think it has a very strong tie to the long tradition of such photographs. My thoughts immediately went to Weston, Adams and Strand--among others--and their famous photographs of similar structures. It is a lovely photograph and much more romantic, and I would think traditionally done, than banal. I would think it would get lots of comments as opposed to the car wash photo. (if I didn't mention it before, I really am enjoying a book called "The Ongoing Moment" by Geoff Dyer and how he addresses this sort of thing.)
    Someone again referred to landscape as being more approachable than urban photographs and I would again say I don't really buy that argument. I think this came up regarding the car wash image. I don't think it is the subject itself but how it is photographed and what one chooses to include in the frame. I don't think we would see too many reacting favorably if an unknown were to post images like Sternfelds' "Oxbow Archive" series, for instance, in their photostream here. Although landscape, the views he presents aren't probably going to find wide acceptance with the general population of hobbyist photographers.
     
  181. John A
    The Ongoing Moment, I read that and loved it. The writer isn't a photographer and that's what makes the essay even more interesting. As a musician, I am always more interested in hearing non-musicians' comments than those from my fellow colleagues.
    I realize that it is very difficult to give definitions to processes that are continuously changing and evolving such as music or photography; we evolve and they inevitably evolve with us but it's nice talking about them and using semantics to engage into tight arguments and maybe end up in the same place. I learn a lot from it.
    I have been using a camera for no time in comparison to you and I do it with no intention of making money off of it; I realized how my approach has changed so many times over these few years that I don't even know where I am going with it anymore, and I love it. The camera is for me like a notebook where I write about moments, people or things I encounter in my life and I don't really worry about where my trip is going: Bruce Lee said "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey".
    Ok, I had a few glasses of wine with friends so tomorrow I could regret having wrote this stuff... :D
     
  182. John, thanks for the Dyer book reference, cited in regard to your interesting points about your current photographic approach. I will read it for sure.
    Antonio, you probably look upon the camera as some of us do in the sense of it being an instrument of exploration. No doubt a bit like your violin. I wouldn't worry about the liquor of Bacchus, it evidently doesn't interfere with your thinking.
     
  183. John, I am truly thrilled that you take exception to something I said. That means, thank God, that we're not all really saying the same thing and that it's not just semantical differences between us. We're actually individuals. HOORAH!
     
  184. Arthur, the book is, as the title alludes to, an examination of how photography continues to essentially repeat itself, that certain motifs continue to appear. What I meant by this was sort of in reference to your shot of the foundry and how it stimulated my thoughts of those other peoples work--that there was a recognition of how this sort of photograph moves through time and yet can also be individual.
    I think the Wessel video I linked to earlier (about responding to what you see before you engage it) or the writings of Minor White would probably be more apropos to my current project.
    Antonio, I was just commenting to my wife yesterday evening how Dyer has so much insight into images that you would assume he has been doing this all his life. As you say, I know that I have found that non-photographers have always had more profound or more insightful things to say regarding my own work than do most photographers. I think that when you are into something, you really have to work to step back and see what is before you. Maybe it is like the old saying that when you are at a rock concert, whatever instrument you hear the most is the one that the person running the mixer plays.
    Fred, I live to serve your needs......
     
  185. Just to zip a few pages back, in this context Arthur mentioning of Richard Strauss' work takes my interest. First of all because I adore this specific work (the Metamorphosen), second because it sends off my thoughts in some directions. So, warning upfront, all kind of directions, so this post may be more than a bit incoherent.
    Richard Strauss wrote the Metamorphosen after the end of the second world war, and lamenting the loss of culture as a result of the war: the demolished cities, the numerous opera houses that had to close, the directors, composers and musicians that had to flee to America. Strauss himself lived more or less in exile, and would only write the 4 last songs after this work. His world, as musician in Europe, was gone. It's a farewell; to me, it does end in some sort of consolation, but not one that feels like there is a way back to the better days. More a sense of regret and acceptance.
    This is in short the work's context, and (in my view), it derives meaning from it (denying this context is very likely to damage the performance, I think).
    It requires good direction to make it work as a whole. It's a single bow of mounting and relieving pressure, taking 30 minutes with 23 soloists. This does not work without understanding where the work is coming from and where it is going. In short: it takes proper insight in the music itself, its context to start building a good performance. Not one to play as a newbie.
    How then, does that related to urban images?
    Maybe the key is in how something challenges us. Some works gain with revisiting, like Strauss in this case. Some works stay a bit what they are. Like most landscapes (a bit afraid to put a composer her to start a long discussion on his work...).
    To many people, nature impresses by just being. Images capturing that impress. Without much extra effort. It does not need to communicate something extra, as what it communicates already does appeal to most of us (a cultural value, in my opinion).
    The urban is much more a discovery.
    P.S. Antonio, I encourage more writing after having a few wines, I much like what you said there (and share the idea). And quite sure you'll have the first in quoting Bruce Lee in this forum ;-)
     
  186. John, yes. I admit that I am influenced by some photographers in some of my work and the foundry shot is one of them. It is not a conscious reproduction of another's approach, but I often seek to reveal a certain transparency, interconnection of elements and simplicity in urban scenes that is not unrelated to the work of Strand in the Gaspé, where he linked fences, objects and buildings in what I feel to be a poetic manner. Apparently (reading the Guardian review) Dyer speaks mainly to portraiture and its often recurring themes (e.g., the reinvented blind person) but what he says is frank, considered and worthwhile for those of us working with other themes.
    Wouter, when I attended the Metamorphoses concert last week, the piece was entirely new to me, although I am familiar with some of his other work (including Elektra, the final song cycle). We had seats behind the chamber orchestra and in addition to witnessing and hearing close up the great ensemble playing of the strings, I noted that the conductor (Zeitouni, the assistant conductor to Bernard Labadie) was feeling the music very intensely (between calm, fury and pathos) as he guided the orchestra through this amazing piece. A fortunate lucky dinner last night at the home of a local conductor and arranger (Gilles Ouellet) brought Metamorphoses to the discussion and he not only expressed his great admiration for that music but also lent me his vinyl Von Karajan recording which is one of many he has. I have a feeling I wil be hooked on it as I once was in earlier years with The Wayfarer's songs of Schubert, but I'm sure the experience will be an enhancement of my dour little existence.
    Your reference to the music as a challenge to players and listeners and the way one creates and comprehends images of the urban landscape is a good one to consider. Thanks.
     
  187. A Minor White quote :
    The state of mind of a photographer while creating is a blank...For those who would equate "blank" with a kind of static emptiness, I must explain that this is a special kind of blank. It is a very active state of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image pre-formed in it at any time. We should note that the lack of a pre-formed pattern or preconceived idea of how anything ought to look is essential to this blank condition. Such a state of mind is not unlike a sheet of film itself - seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second's exposure conceives a life in it. (Not just life, but "a" life). - Minor White, The Camera Mind and Eye​
    00YaMG-349313584.jpg
     
  188. OK, let's see some of your non-romanticized photos, bring them on! :D So we give this thread a little boost! This one I took tonight, thinking about our conversations; this one had a specific intention behind but the location, the subject and the shooting moment and conditions were completely not planned (I was driving my car).
    [​IMG]
     
  189. Phylo, I like that quote, will buy the book.
     
  190. OK, let's see some of your non-romanticized photos, bring them on!​
    I'm not sure how to put this image into the language and context of this thread. I do know that I much prefer to shoot cityscapes, and rarely shoot naturalistic settings. I took this about two weeks ago. It was the first time I took out a brand new body to try it out. I believe this was my first frame at this location.

    [​IMG]
     
  191. So, I love concrete and man-made structures. I love the way formed, or smooth-troweled concrete looks. I love its color--its texture. Does that bias make my images of concrete "romantic?" For me, it's just a favored design motif. Do I try to romanticize my treatment of such images in exposure, composition, and lighting? I think I try to do that with every image.
     
  192. I believe this was my first frame at this location.​
    Correction: this was not my first frame--this was my first set-up at this location.
     
  193. Here's a link to an essay by Minor White on Equivalence. At the end of the article there is a link "back to readings" that list some other essays that I haven't read yet--just looked--but seem to be of a type with much value.
    Ralph, i think your image here is substantially a romantic image in the way I believe we have been referring to. For me, it isn't just how one feels about a subject but how one presents it. This image has a very strong sense that whoever made it (yes, I know you did) put a lot of care into the framing and its very richness and sense of subjective composition add to this romanticized presentation.
    I have always had a sense, with the non-romanticized type of imagery, that when I look at them--at least initially--that the person making the image saw something very specific and ignored all the other elements. In the extreme, it would be like a pretty bug flew by and the person wanted to photograph it. It flew across the street and landed on some building. They could see where it was, but oblivious to the fact that 99.99999% of the viewfinder was void of this bug--and without regard for the other things included--centers the bug and fires.
    Even Antoinio's photo has more narrative to it for me than completely non-romantic. The mysterious night and the movement within the shot start to elicit story and point of view. I really think it is harder than most think to actually make one of these more banal images.
     
  194. "We should note that the lack of a pre-formed pattern or preconceived idea of how anything ought to look is essential to this blank condition." --Minor White​
    It's interesting to note that White is talking about how things look and not necessarily about what they are. In order for me to understand White's comments (at least the comments here), I don't have to disregard subject or content. I will be open to seeing differently and without preconceptions.
    I agree with John that the photos recently posted don't seem non-romanticized to me either. There are several examples of non-romanticized photos in the current Street and Documentary thread, The Indecisive Moment. Some (most?) are merely banal, which seem to me to be just exercises in bad photograph-making. They exhibit that "static emptiness" (perhaps a self conscious attempt at inattentiveness rather than a transformed kind of attentiveness?) that White seems to reject. On the other hand, some make me think twice about what I'm looking at and how I'm looking (or, to put it more simply, show me something), with a sensitivity to a kind of breath of life.
     
  195. This from yesterday morning.
    00YaSm-349381584.jpg
     
  196. M, very nice photo.
    I think it is an un-romanticized view, though trains do have an association of romanticism (nostalgia?) for me.
    The geometrical aspects, the intruding pole, the repeating light posts, the somewhat barren though still textural landscape, and the implied but unseen sky all work toward your goal, I think.
    Subjectwise, to me the train stands out as train (which may bother you but doesn't bother me). That it acts in this photo as a non-train (almost more as a static structure, architectural in nature) works well with (or against) the fact that it is a train. That, to me, adds a layer.
     
  197. Fred G.,
    It's a location I've shot many times because it is local. In the past, I have maneuvered carefully to eliminate what at the time I referred to as unwanted distractions, like the pole. I created very romantic images of the rusted train - as a train.
    Here - you called it as I meant it. The train as just one structure among the structures. Not to put too many extraneous words around this, but that is what I am trying to work with - structure and line and just composing the elements without too many labels on them.
    Also, I shot this in the past using a wide angle to stretch the train detail out - more train'ish. Now, I am trying to compress the train into one form. I used a 90mm lens here.
    I was telling a photog friend yesterday that this is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I feel I am just at the bare edge of understanding this experiment.
     
  198. Interesting thread the Indecisive moment but most of the pics posted are actually very romantic to me, intending romanticism as a inner "motion of emotion" of any sort. Yes, Fred is right, in order to produce a non-romantic photo it must be very banal or one of those that happen by accidental release of the shutter (even those sometimes can produce something..). Capturing the lack of emotion and content takes practice, it's not something that can be done easily and actually I think it could be an interesting project (some have done it already, I'm sure).
     
  199. Perhaps the subject matter in seeking an unromantic image has some importance as well. Photographing clouds for their abstract or artistic composition effects without interest in what they are can be romantic or unromantic, depending upon what the forms or textures evoke in the photographer and the viewer. Detail or even full shots of nature can be quite unromantic at times, as I often feel when seeing black and white images of nature often featured in view camera or photo collector magazines. Some oft-photographed subjects leave me cold, not because they are not technically fine works or explore light and form in an experienced and able manner, but because I do not read much in them that hasn't been said already. A familiarity effect, notwithstanding the fact that when it comes down to it, all pictures are in some ways different. Detail or full shots of non nature subjects that we might wish to render in a non romantic manner (the classic examples are many that are used as scientific illustrations for conferencesn or papers, where the photographer has a non romantic aim and usually achieves that, if perhaps by default). An ostensibly uninteresting subject, per se, like the subject of the famous toilet bowl shot of the French intellectual (memory gap, but you have no doubt seen it), can be made romantic. However, many industrial subjects or common mechanical implements are "a priori" unromantic in our experience, unless turned into artful compositions that can evoke the imagination beyond that conceerning their utility nature.
     
  200. How about Weston's toilet bowl? That is a great transformation of non-romantic matter into something very artistically attractive.
     
  201. Romanticism ( or better the romanticised, different things ) can be many things in the context of a photography. It can be a visual on the tip of your tongue thing. I find the Joel Sternfeld landscape / nature images that John A linked to quite romantic in that regard.
     
  202. Yes, I see that too, Antonio and Phylo. Sternfield's images (a good discovery) are on the whole very evocative in their ability to engage the imagination and in some cases a sense of the author's idealism. Some I think are even quite a bit more than Phylo's 'tip of the tongue', in that regard.
    I like to use the words "read" an image (not unlike the meaning implied in regard to students at 'Oxbridge' colleges "reading" a subject) and the photographer as "author", not because the latter denotes an ownership, but rather it describes a creative intent. Perhaps personal preference, I am attracted to images that have been at least in part intentionally produced. Where the author of a photograph engages to some degree like a sculptor or painter in the process of creating (excluding some gestural painting which can effectively, and again only partly, minimise the intent).
     
  203. Capturing a lack of something (emotion, life) captures just as well what isn't there.The not being there does not remove the romantic, in fact, it may even make it "worse". When done well, it screams louder what is not there, than it would do when it would actually be there. So, they communicate their emptiness as a missing (a wish, dream?). In that sense, romantic, possibly.
    On my strolls around in the city where I live, I ended up with very empty photos. Nothing romantic about this one, I think:
    [​IMG]
    Honestly, I'm not too sure what this photo is about (nor whether I actually like it). But there is a lot not happening in it. And it sure isn't pretty.
     
  204. Wouter
    Your photo of the dead bar immediately reminded me of a photo I believe by W. Evans in which he shows an empty house. The power here is in the actual non-presence and the past-presence: there was something and now isn't there anymore, the lack of past life that left something tangible. Actually, this is something that Geoff Dyer talks about in his book "The Ongoing Moment". So, you are right about the non-presence being even more "present" than the presence.
     
  205. Sternfield's images (a good discovery) are on the whole very evocative in their ability to engage the imagination and in some cases a sense of the author's idealism. -Arthur
    Capturing a lack of something (emotion, life) captures just as well what isn't there -Wouter​
    I have Joel Sternfeld's On This Site, a book of very "mundane" photographs, were it not for the violent events that took place at the locations photographed and shown in the images, and which give the photographs a context of hauntingly capturing something, but that isn't there, at least not visually, not anymore.
     
  206. John A. replied . . .
    Ralph, i think your image here is substantially a romantic image in the way I believe we have been referring to . . .​
    John--thank you for that reply. The finer points of this topic are much clearer to me now that a few have posted images to support their comments. Thank you, all.
     
  207. I think Phylo alludes to something here that is pertinent to these more banal images--well, maybe to all photographs but especially to these photographs.
    Looking through a selection of photographs that may appear similar in approach can yield two different conclusions. Without context to the reason the images are made or the concerns of the maker it would be easy to conclude that the images are just poor images of nothing of interest. With some context and understanding they could be very insightful images. Some people just make some pretty boring images and that is all that there is to it. When I think of street photography and some of the comments I have heard those interested in it make, I think of this exact thing. Because someone is walking down a street or tying their shoe doesn't make the image interesting or note worthy. There has to be something more either in the shot or in the body of work that elevates it to something noteworthy.
    Sometimes, and I think it was part of the premise here, those obviously beautiful pictures might give some enough whereas many others need something more, they have seen it before and pretty pictures don't have much meaning in and of themselves--they can be just wanna-be's and superficial at best. On the other hand, Sternfeld's images, although some might find them romantic, I think would be considered by a larger number of people as pointless banality. They aren't beautiful in the traditional sense or to traditional sensibilities--"my kid could do that". This sort of images takes some work to understand and appreciate and a willingness to look beyond the obvious. Some people are wired that way and find it easy, others work at it while many find no reason to work at it or appreciate it.
     
  208. Phylo,
    The link John A gave some pages back allows a look at many of Sternfield's images. The few at the end, where you see the site of prior violence (MLK's last motel) are of the supposedly unromantic type you note, although because of its context and what King meant, doesn't allow a completely nonchalant viewing or a consideration of the site as being banal (it would be, if the decsription of the site wasn't mentioned or our memory of seeing it before was dulled).
    John, If you look at Sternfield's Oxbow series or the High Line series they at first sight seem banal subjects. One thing that first bothered me a bit but then mutated into a different feeling was the strong grasp they had on my attention. I had no desire to quickly look away. The various elements of most of these images are far from disparate ones. They work together to turn the supposedly banal landscape (nature or urban) into a quite powerful image. It isn't only his great eye for composition and the balance of elements that he is showing us, but something that uses that to communicate a feeling that may be part nostalgia, part emotion for what is suggested, part incitement of our (past and present) imagination and part social comment. At the moment I find his work variable in that romantic power or other attributes, but maybe I don't understand all his images as fully as I should, or he is just like most if us in the sense that he cannot (and probably has no intention of) communicate with all of the viewers all of the time.
    If a comparison is palatable amongst peers, I find his work more arresting (in the sense of a power to communicate an essence of/in his treatment of subjects) than Eggleston's work, which I am nonetheless getting to appreciate a bit more (but it will not be a short process).
    Wouter, while your photo may show a subject as banal, there is a lot one can read into what is in and not in the photo, including the neighbouring tattoo room, the vacant but flowered balcomies and the mini-terrace that makes the best of a difficult situation and effectively traps the pedestrian like a spider awaits his victims. What is going on that is not seen and how will the scene change in a few hours? The lack of life on the street is part of the subject I think.
     
  209. Wouter Willemse,

    This is how I see your image, in spite of whatever your photographic intentions may have been, or in spite of your own comments above.

    There is nice hefty structure with good texture. There is a prominent subject shape in the awning and it's black graphic. A tenuous, twisted tie between the two structures bring them together. Nice geometries on the light building are playful enough. The sky shape dives into the center of the picture and forms a good negative space. The fencing around the bar forms a nice foundation. The car seems to be crawling away through some outlet not shown.
    I see nothing idealized here, or romanticized in the photograph. It is frank, and includes the honest view. Now, if there is some story someone wants to invent about emptiness or alienation or something, that becomes another form to be added to the photograph, but it is not required for me.

    To my eye this fits the idea of the thread.
     
  210. I love the difference betwen M.S.'s appreciation, that of Wouter, and my own. They are poles apart and I think a good comment on the many layers of a photograph or other work of art (and the subjectivity of the viewer, of course).
     
  211. Both John's reply and the last two pages of posts really clarified the subject for me. It's been a very interesting read, and brought to my attention the challenge of shooting the "banal." I saw two photo opportunities while at work today (but was unable to shoot, because I was shooting for my real job). One, possibly banal. One, possibly "miksang." It's likely I wouldn't have even "seen" these potential photos before reading this thread.
     
  212. Arthur, M, thanks both for sharing your views.... In the different views, there is a lot of new to be seen; to me, such re-assessments are very helpful on the learning curve towards better images.
     
  213. "Now, if there is some story someone wants to invent about emptiness or alienation or something, that becomes another form to be added to the photograph, but it is not required for me." --M​
    M, it may not be required for you, but you've done it. Is the sky diving into the center of a picture not an invented story line, something you've added to the photograph? And what about negative space. Though it's a term we've heard in art or composition class, does it not have the very negativity that emptiness and alienation are getting at as well. Maybe slightly more objective sounding, but no less an invention than the words and ideas you are calling inventions. You successfully managed to avoid using the word "word" and instead referred to a black subject shape on the awning, but then resorted to using the word "building" to describe what is surely just another subject shape.
    First off, I think your post shows it's difficult to reduce a photo to only compositional elements. Doing so is, IMO, merely a partial analysis. It is certainly worth the effort and does train the eye to see in a certain abstract fashion, but it is not the total picture. I think it's somewhat strong to claim that other types of descriptions, whether they be narrative or descriptive in ways that are not simply compositional or geometric, are inventions. Claiming that a building is just a shape is as much an invention as claiming that a shape is a building. Calling something a sky shape, to me, sounds as fantastical as simply calling it a sky.
    We've had prior discussions in other threads about the abstract nature of (or way of looking at) photographs or paintings, sculpture, architecture, etc. Music, of all the arts, seems the most authentically abstract. It often doesn't lend itself to the kinds of narratives that visual arts do. Seeing a picture of something as an abstract is certainly a way to go, but it's no less a stretch than calling a sky a sky and having whatever human connotations go along with that be part of the picture as well.
    I do think abstraction is a very significant quality of all that we see, and even more so in the pictures we make via camera, paint, etc. To me, that's part of a whole. I also think interpretations can sometimes go so far afield that they have little to do with what's actually before the viewer. They can be a way of avoiding seeing (and feeling) what's right there. There's a whole lot of worthwhile area in between the two extremes of a complete reduction to composition or to geometry and light on the one hand and over-zealous interpretation on the other.
     
  214. Some photographs that retain our interest are of readily recognised subjects portrayed as compositions of lines, points, textures, forms and balance of masses, picture elements that may seem more important than the the subject itself. They are usually not abstracts in the sense that the word is use in art. While the subject matter itself may take second place in the viewers perception of the image, there is a preoccupation of the viewer with the nature of the subject matter itself, with the figurative or representational content.
    This leads I think to one of the tensions and one of the obstacles in so-called abstract photography, which is the subject for a whole discussion itself, which I don't think we have had in this forum. While some images succeed very well, I feel that many photographic abstracts simply fail because they are handicaped by this limited abstraction and limited figurative representation happening at the same time. I would rather think of these images as being "graphic", for lack of a better word, but not often as "abstracts." (A case in point may be: http://www.photo.net/photo/12788112)
    A further comment in regard to the manner of perception of Wouter's interesting street photo: The viewer brings to an image his imagination as well as his analytical powers. An over-zealous interpretation of an image is sometimes the result. But I believe that one should not confound the zealousness of an appreciation with a fanciful interpretation, which is quite another thing. One thing at least may be common, both are based to some degree on the viewer's subjective approach to evaluation and appreciation.
     
  215. Arthur, your post sort of reminds me how one approaches a visual piece in a classic sense. Essentially, art schools teach that in a critique you break down a visual into its elements and look at how things were put together. By doing this, we can approach anything--even if nothing like it was ever confronted before--and start to understand it. So we look at shapes, line, texture, color and how they are used to create emphasis, motion, balance and so on. This is the basic breakdown of an image and can give some insight into a piece.
    The second thing that is taught is to describe what you see objectively and infer from it. Like, as I saw done above, we are looking for other visual clues--like the Tattoo sign almost out of the frame. Fred talked about "shared knowledge" way up above and this is what we often employ when we start to notice these things. Although it isn't definite, the fact that a tattoo parlor is located here, we can start to read something about the area where this scene exists. Reading the analysis of photos by experts, they meticulously describe every aspect within the frame. As they do, to be sure they are seeing everything as it is and not what their mind fills in, they make relevant comments. Tattoo parlors have historically, at least in the US, been in more marginal areas so that is a clue, the tattoo sign's style can be read as supporting this. It may not be true, but that is why we keep looking, describing and reading what else is in the image and don't just look at the picture.
    When we just look at the picture, we probably tend to gravitate towards romantic images whereas if we read a picture, a different appreciation can emerge.
     
  216. There is also the more immediate, gut-level impact, prior to or without either the analysis or the reading. This is not always just a short-lived kind of wow. It can accompany and deepen even alongside and even without the more formal or objective analyses as well as the narrative descriptions. This perceptive appreciation or reception can have much influence on the way we discuss or attend to other ways of seeing and understanding the photo. The various ways of attending to photos are often so intertwined that it is hard, and sometimes counterproductive, to try to completely separate them. And even when separating them in hopes of a deeper or different understanding or experience, it's well to keep in mind that various ways of seeing are still influencing each other. So no compositional assessment comes without bias (or, predisposition if that's a less tainted word). The recognition of such biases can actually aid in getting closer to the compositional aspects. It is often the case, with carefully-crafted analysis of everything that it's in the frame, that the reviewer, IMO, misses the forest for the trees. Viewing can be an art as well as a craft as well as just a simple, no frills, experience.
     
  217. Fred G.,
    "M, it may not be required for you, but you've done it. Is the sky diving into the center of a picture not an invented story line, something you've added to the photograph? And what about negative space."​
    Right enough. But, I only wrote the words for the purpose of talking about his photograph on this word forum. None of those words - which I purposely left as sterile as can be - were required by me to initially enjoy the visual consumption of the photograph. The photograph existed as a gestalt experience before I manufactured some words about it. This is the never-ending problem with language and labelling, right? It is forever in the way of simple perception (awareness).
    My friend and photographic mentor sent me this Henry Wessel quote this morning.
    "You know, your mind is always back there saying: Move a little to the left. Move a little to... You wanna beat that. You cannot be thinking. You're just, yes, feeling. Yes, boom, here, there, whatever. Once you recognize something, then you're actually less aware. You name it, right? Once you name something -you name a telephone pole, you're less aware. But if you are not naming anything, then you're aware. More animal-like. So the mind's always in there saying "Ah, look at that.", you know. Telephone pole. Right? Macadam. This, move right, move left. So you wind up, in most cases, making maybe five pictures, six pictures of- the same stuff. The first ones, you could see how different they are than the ones when your mind got in there. When your mind gets in there, they start to look like photographs that you already know. They look like problems that you've already solved. They're never taking you to a place that's unfamiliar. They're taking you to what you're supposed to do. Then they look like everybody else's photographs. It's like when people say: "Well, you know, I always wanna go up and - I see something, and then I wanna go up and ask someone if I can photograph." You can't photograph it. It's gone! What you saw was gone. Now you're gonna photograph something else. And that's ok. People make good work that way. But it wasn't what interested them." (Henry Wessel)
     
  218. "The various ways of attending to photos are often so intertwined that it is hard, and sometimes counterproductive, to try to completely separate them."
    Fred, it is this statement that "saves" your entry here for me. You have been looking at images a long time, you have a broad background in liberal arts and such and you bring a lot to the table that most of the general population don't. I don't think that a lot of the folks who comment on images on sharing sites or the general viewing public have much to separate here. Most don't have an "educated" gut, they just "know" what they like.
    M, there is a link to that video, where this quote came from, on Wessel above, in one of my comments.
    i found it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Myf0IJ7YCRU&feature=player_embedded
     
  219. "This is the never-ending problem with language and labelling, right? It is forever in the way of simple perception (awareness)." --M​
    I don't think that's true at all. Language is a way of life. It doesn't get in the way of perception unless you use it that way. Labeling doesn't have to get in the way either. A label or a name can be used to substitute for something, in which case I could see it getting in the way. Or it can be used to point to something, in which case it is unlikely to get in the way of something. Language is a part of us. I don't know why one would see it as something that gets in the way, unless they are either not using language well or exposed to others who don't use it well. I know some people who think our bodies get in the way of our minds or our souls. I think that's a pretty confused approach to being human. I think of us as integrated, not compartmentalized, beings.
     
  220. Fred G.,
    Work it backwards from perception to language. Maybe that will clear up my meaning. There is nothing about language which can ever improve native awareness. Ex. If you sit with a tree and experience it in full awareness, there will never be enough words to replace that.
     
  221. An additional thought about awareness of and/or attentiveness to experience. This is a place for sharing about
    photos . . . ideas? Why not a "full" (if such exists, of which I'm skeptical) awareness or attentiveness to the experience of sharing and describing photos? Does the sharing lose something if we try to make it like the non-verbal experience we might want (I don't but some do) of the photo? If we aren't attending fully to the experience of viewing a photo if we accompany that experience with words, are we attending fully to the experience of a philosophy of photography forum if we use words that try to avoid descriptions, personality, narratives, whatever? Just a thought. We have experienced the making and/or the viewing of a photo. Here we are talking about it. Does either have to undermine the other? I think not, though they may sometimes. This forum is not the experiencing of photos. It is something else that is worth experiencing for what it is.
     
  222. Language creates a dualism. When we name a tree it automatically means that it isn't a flower, etc.. Seeing with 'full awareness' is to un-remember the names of the things we see. Language can only point to the awareness, not being the awareness itself. A Russian tree sounds different than an English tree and different than a French tree and...
     
  223. m
    Language serves us to point out certain aspects that might not be immediate to everyone, for various reasons. Each one of us has a different perception of things, due to our different background and experiences. I don't like to give titles to my photos because I prefer the observer to be free in his interpretation but sometimes it is necessary and it can actually complete the photograph.
     
  224. Language is evidently a tool we need to express some ideas, although it is not perfectly unequivocal as a communication and is influenced by the writer/reader's cultural milieu and experience. In most cases, as I think Antonio points out, a title is not necessary. The link I gave a few posts ago to my photo, "night train", is a good example, as it is best seen without such description (which is admittedly a fanciful or personal one of the photographer).
     
  225. "If you sit with a tree and experience it in full awareness, there will never be enough words to replace that."
    Nor would there be a photograph that could do the experience justice. The issue for photographers is, it seems to me, that we try to find the best equivalent (didn't want to use this word, but it fits) to what we experience. We communicate ideas to each other visually or verbally, but that shouldn't be confused with the experience of things more visceral. It really is all compromises.
    What Wessel is saying and I think is what M might be suggesting is that the recognition of something for what it is carries weight. If we can ignore that somehow, then maybe we arrive at a different place. But I think that has to be, as Wessel alludes to, front loaded as time moves us to more solid ground. As a viewer, we might be knocked out of common awareness when we first look at a piece, but eventually we start to recognize things, if even just line, color.... or grass etc.
    In both cases as viewer or creator, the importance following this line of thought is to react to/experience/capture that first moment in a way that it moves us forward or beyond ourselves. Then we deal with it as ourselves and that circle is what allows it to happen over and over, always expanding on itself.
     
  226. Arthur
    This is actually a very interesting subject of conversation for me. Here is an example of a picture I decided to title: in this case, the title points out to the concept that made me take the picture in the first place
    [​IMG]
    The original idea that triggered the photo might go unobserved if not pointed out by a title. In this case, even with a title, the viewer is still free to interpret the scene differently and personally. Or do you think that the title can spoil the photograph?
     
  227. I didn't want to give the impression I don't respect language. I only wanted to point out that language can never document awareness, which is purely ineffable. That's what poetry attempts, but always fails to do. And, I suppose photography likewise ultimately fails in doing. Words are mind objects, artifacts of intellect. Awareness is life itself.
    John A,
    I am still thinking about the Wessel quote, but think I agree with what you are suggesting. It means that words contain our conditioning. This conditioning smears, or slathers up, or distorts, or taints our awareness of the reality to which we slap that word onto. Whereas the reality simply exists without that conditioning. That's just my immediate reaction to the quote per se, with not much context. I don't know enough about the man to be confident in that interpretation. But, I intend to learn.
     
  228. M, can language never document awareness? Is it purely a mind-construct?
    It's an honest question, so I won't say "no", but what makes me doubt it is that I have the luck (?) to only use my native language sparingly. I noticed I start thinking and dreaming (!) in foreign languages; first impressions of events or experiences formulate in my head, unspoken, in a foreign language. And when I am very tired, worn out, all that automatically happens in my native language only. The deepest emotions and feelings - only in my native language. Meaning, there is, in my head, a difference in whether I need to translate myself or not.
    Language is own of the most important ways in which we communicate, also to ourselves. I doubt whether it's a mind object and disconnected from awareness.
     
  229. In most cases, as I think Antonio points out, a title is not necessary. The link I gave a few posts ago to my photo, "night train", is a good example, as it is best seen without such description (which is admittedly a fanciful or personal one of the photographer).​
    I think titling a photograph is a different matter altogether than naming something.
     
  230. Phylo
    I agree, I just wanted to bring this subject into the conversation because it has always been a dilemma in some cases, but I don't want to wander off the point.
     
  231. M, I am not sure that Wessel's statement needs interpretation, at least I thought it was pretty straightforward--the words and the context he uses it in seem pretty clear. I see it very much in the same vein as what White was saying "We should note that the lack of a pre-formed pattern or preconceived idea of how anything ought to look is essential to this blank condition."
    "but I don't want to wander off the point." Too Late! But regarding titles, I am not sure if they ruin an image or not, but they certainly can be annoying. I have seen some that try to define an image too much and some are just saccharin sweet stories. I generally ignore titles until after I have confronted an image on its own. I then might look to see if the title provides a hint if I am stumped or just to identify what I looked at for future reference.
     
  232. note to Arthur regarding Night Train. I just looked at this and have to admit that before I read the comments below the image, was trying to figure out if there was a train there or not--in fact I went to them to be sure there wasn't a train there. Nothing really seemed right that it would be a train up in that blue mist (although I see the reference), but i think the overall discussion here gave me the impression, somehow, that it was supposed to be a literal title. Might have been interesting to see how I would have reacted if I didn't have literal in my mind when I read it.
     
  233. John,
    yes, and thanks for your comments. I regret putting my own title on this one as I had mentioned, as the blue shape on a black background (a nightime blue light splaying over a dark metal roof) has more of an abstract than a literal form. I believe abstract work should not have a recognisable figurative form (which is not easy to achieve with the objective rendering of the camera lens) or at least a difficultly recognisable one (perhaps only partially achieved here), and that the success or not of it should be related simply to the effect of the abstract composition.
    However, often the reaction of a viewer, and myself included, is to compare an abstract design to something of our experience rather than to contemplate the design on its merits, per se, that is for the effect of the interaction of various visual elements (In the simplest chromatic sense, like red or orange-red might suggest strong emotion or warmth, but not literally a fire or blazing sunset). While I was attracted to the pattern arrangement of blurry blue and black and the straight line elements, I thought of the late evening train from New York to Montreal (on the rail line near my parent's house), suggested by the apparently moving blue form (increasing size from right to left) on rails and the black night. OK, as an analogy for me, perhaps, but not what an abstract normally should be doing in my book. Therefore, "untitled" is best.
     
  234. Wouter Willemse,
    I must say, that was an interesting report about your dreams and language.
     
  235. Arthur, Fred mentioned above the "gut' reaction, the first hit. I think because of all the years I photographed in the mode of the equivalent, that that is how I initially look at images. If something doesn't hit me in that vein on that first look, then I suppose I flip to other ways of looking. I don't care if an image is objective, contains recognizable elements or not, I just look that way first.
    I don't really consider abstract photos in any particular way. To me abstract is sort of a sense about them more than if something is recognizable or not. I understand your point, but in some ways all photography or art maybe is an abstraction. Abstract art, other than photography, might be completely non objective at times, but I think it includes work that transcends the subject as well. Certainly, that latter description can include something more recognizable, but even if I can recognize elements, it is the effect of an image that pushes it to being more an abstract than just merely the loss of all identity. But maybe that is just me. I think your own thoughts about what is abstract is also something to consider and explore. I do really like your "Night Train" image for the sense of it being non objective. In fact, it is those vertical lines that complete the image for me, they are just such a nice counter point to the blue haze and move the image back and forth from being grounded to not being grounded--if that makes sense. They are what makes the image work for me.
     
  236. John, I like the way you use the term abstract in a less limited sense than I do. I think that Fred had also a similar wide take on what is abstract. Your mention of abstract as transcending the subject allows the objective photograph to work in that sense. Transcendency in general is what many successful photographs and other works of art seem to create/communicate. Lacking a formal art education and experience, as you have, can be a challenge for many, myself included. The practical and theoretical exercises in seeing that I think you mentioned earlier as being part of the art curriculum in many colleges, is one such knowledge and experience gap that many like myself need to resolve. In my small summer art gallery during the last near decade I have had several abstract and other artists. One abstract artist taught me to look quite differently at her images and other abstract paintings, that I had previously tried to relate too much to figurative analogies rather than to compositional elements and their effect. I can appreciate your comments about the vertical lines in the blue-black image you mention and how they contribute to the apparent movement of the blue form.
    The "gut" reaction that you and Fred mention in perceiving images probably also acts for the photographer in visualising many images, which are more fully realised later in terms of their specific qualities and weaknesses. The gut reaction is no doubt based on our nature, education and experience, which probably manifest themselves in that very short fraction of time of the reaction itself. I feel lucky when that happens, and am happy to ally it (when shooting) when possible with a more analytical or exploratory approach. It seems that a lot of things happen very quickly when we are looking at or creating an image. Apparently the act of seeing itself is controlled by many past experiences and conditions that are banked in our minds and invoked as required by the brain.
     
  237. I don't know if this would be of interest to you, Arthur, or anyone else here, but I have been experimenting with something for the last couple of months.
    Over time, I have gone out to shoot with cameras like the Holga where you have no idea that anything will turn out. These don't have any controls to speak of, the viewfinder is not full or perfectly accurate and so you psychologically are released from expectations--if that makes any sense. And because there isn't anything to really set, you just put the camera to your eye and fire when you see something--no decisions other than what you aim at. The cost of film wasn't an issue for me at the time as I shot what was left over from assignments and processing a few dozen rolls of film now and again a pretty minor blip on my lab bill. What I found was that the process was very freeing and the images I produced were new to me in many ways. But this was probably 12-15 years ago. So, my new project is more modern.
    I have decided to work on a series of images, visiting specific types of places, shooting nothing but my cell phone camera. The whole basis of the project is to shoot whatever catches my attention without thought or judgment (doesn't always work that way, but that is the idea--and I don't beat myself up when I slip!) This is a serious project but the basis is just to explore seeing. One of the reasons I am using the cell phone is that there is no guarantee that any image will be usable--it releases me from any expectation--as to exposure, focus etc and since the camera only shoots a small, moderate quality jpeg, is not as workable/savable in post. And, like the Holgas, there are no decisions to make but what to aim the camera towards/frame and thus essentially an instant response to the visual stimulus that caught my attention. The process is very serious, but it also allows play in a different way than I find working in other ways and I often find myself just shooting something that might otherwise be considered stupid or trite just to see what it will look like later. Funny how doing that can open your eyes more fully to other things.
    These places I have gone to aren't necessarily easy to return to, so there is also the release of any sort of preciousness of the time as well--more so than when you know you can easily return, although I generally find I consider my time shooting as precious anyway, you really can't go back. I have made about 6 or 7 trips already and they include about 6-8 hours of shooting time and I make about 275-350 images per day. I do allow multiple shots/frames (yes, the first usually are the best, however, it is harder to frame for me holding the camera at arms length, thus I allow multiples). I have been carrying my full camera system on my back, just in case, but have never felt the need or interest to break it out. The biggest issue has just been running low on battery in the phone, so at lunch, I plug it into an inverter I have in the car to juice it up a bit--am contemplating buying an external battery (iPhone) since you can't swap them in the field.
    I am not at a point where I could share any of the images (just my process of working) but I have been very pleased with what is emerging. I don't really know how different the images are to what I might do otherwise, but I know that there is something very freeing and fluid about the process. I am actually finding that something I didn't do well in the past, although attracted to that sort of image, has come together in many images in this work. I really enjoy exploring different ways of shooting and this project is working for me right now and so I intend to continue with it.
    Anyway, I offer this here as maybe others might find it an interesting exercise in seeing...or not.
     
  238. John, I wish you a very successful project. It is a great idea and exploration of how the artist and photographer sees things. Perhaps what captures your attention is a sort of "gut" reaction (like that mentioned before in regard to viewing rather than photographing), or an intiial part of that. I am very inspired by your project and may try something similar using my old (4 years) and seemingly indestructable small digital compact camera. It would be interesting if a part of this sort of vagabond and spontaneous photography could be followed up later with, insofar as possible (human subjects of a scene and their movements would not be the same of course), a sort of comparative shoot where the subjects would be rephotographed using your standard tools and a more usual contemplative approach. The difference in the images would perhaps also be of interest. At the same time, I understand that your exploratory project by itself will provide a lot of information on what the spontaneous attraction approach yields for you and what it may say about your manner of seeing (and related to that of some others, no doubt).
    Your reports at some point in time on what your exploration has yielded for you would be most interesting to read in this forum.
     
  239. The cellphone / Iphone project sounds interesting.
    I just watched a video of Douglas Busch, a cityscape and landscape photographer ( also portraits ). He talked about subtlety and a commitment to the subtle that a photographer can have. Now, he is a large format photographer and has build and shot with the 'worlds largest portable camera' of 40"*60", which is certainly not "subtle". But his photographs are*.
    Paradoxically, does it perhaps take a large negative such as an 8*10 or larger for a photographer - and viewer - to more easily appreciate or grasp the subtle in a photograph, with the many details of a contactprint - or an extreme enlargement - and a certain commitment that the photographer had to make to the image before the exposure, due to the process of the large format ?
    There is a small line between the subtle and the banal, and the subtle is often mistaken for the banal ( without saying here that the banal is always subtle, because more often banality is an on the surface kinda thing, just like the opposite of banality ) Is it harder when going smaller - like when using a cellphone camera - to not cross that line towards the banal ? Or is it easier to make a subtle image with a cellphone because the device on which the image was made is more "subtle" in nature, in contrast to a large format ?
    There is a difference of course between a subtle photograph ( banal ? ) and an almost in your face photographic clarity of a photograph / contact print but that has lots of subtle details in it to discover and appreciate.
    *Where the image in the photograph is subtle, but not the photograph.
     
  240. You know, I was thinking about it and I didn't mean to overstate the idea of a project but more to present an exercise in seeing. Mine is a project, but there are several other considerations to my project that I didn't mention which don't affect the seeing exercise part of it but made it more important for me to explore more widely.
    I shot nothing but large format for almost 20 years and didn't shoot substantially different than what I describe with the cell phone--except that 10-12 shots in a day was a good day*. Maybe because I have a sort of photographic memory, I could see that immediate stimulus and with the facility I had setting up the camera, maintain that vision--of course it was landscape and not moving. So other than maybe a minor adjustment for the actual frame of the camera, I knew what I was going to shoot. There were times, however, that when I got behind the camera and looked, I just didn't see anything there to photograph and then looking back away from the camera was confused as to why I set up at all--but this was pretty rare. What was very common was that when I walked away from a scene I had shot, I didn't ever remember it being upside down and backwards in the camera nor did I ever remember any color in the scene--I was shooting only black and white film then.
    *(The cell phone exercise's beauty is just that you can easily and quickly shoot everything that catches the attention where I do think that, even though the way of seeing is similar, you have to have a stronger emotional hit than just that when you are using such a large and cumbersome piece of equipment--that could be seen as judgment, but I think it is more a sense of knowing--maybe at times, incomplete knowing)
    I can admit that my current project with the cell phone is landscape based and one of the smaller parts of my exploration has to do with using an "inappropriate" camera to do that work--although the work is not so traditional in nature. I don't argue with the detail a nice large negative can convey, but I think we over romanticize that in many ways as well.
    To me, a subtle image or subtlety in an image can be a lot of different things. It can strictly visual impulses or it can be details that inform or it an be the overall content/message. As such, sometimes an LF camera will rule but in many cases, like very large prints, it is just as much a case of choosing the right equipment for the purpose as it is just the camera itself. Using the right equipment, or choosing not to for some reason, can yield just as much as any other choice when used in a similar manner.
    But great contact prints are almost magical. They have a texture and dimensional feel that even small enlargements from large negatives don't possess.
     
  241. Yes, subtility can be many things. I think that's what I essentially meant when I said that an effective photograph has an on the tip of your tongue'ness to it to the viewer, something that's on the scratch of ones eye and mind.
    I still have an 8*10 sitting around, having no tripod for it is the excuse for not having used it yet. In an ideal world I could see myself making contactprints with / from it.
     
  242. In a world with few absolute parameters or values, and very few devices to measure that, we have to use our imagination to determine where we are at any one time and what that means to us. I have found that one way is to deal in differences that by their nature and importance can tell us what we may need to know.
    This week I intend to start shooting several days with a small automatic compact camera that will allow me to photograph spontaneously and with little or no preconsiderations. I will simply shoot what attracts me. Some time later, maybe in a month or less, I will repeat the exercise in the same neighbourhood or site, using my normal equipment and my usual analytical and synthetical approach to the subjects. While I realize that I won't be strictkly comparing apples with apples, I will look to a reading of the differences between the images shot under different circumstances and hope to understand a bit more about my seeing of the subject matter based on two very different approaches.
    If that is fruitful, I wil then embark on a campaign where I will first photograph the subject matter (not the same as the prreceding example) in color. Before digesting what those images mean I will then photograph the same subject matter using color. In one series of black and white imaging I will use an R72 filter or the like on the lens of my digital camera, to accentuate the effect of IR radiation. A comparison of the monochrome and chromatic images and their differences will hopefully tell me a bit about how I see.
     
  243. John, I've been trying a few times lately to make me do the same, but not with my cellphone (the quality of mine is just too crap). I have a small compact which I actually quite like since it delivers very decent results.
    However, the digital compact just does not really work for me, I miss the "intimacy" of a viewfinder, and those moments of seclusion in which I frame and compose. With a compact at arm-length, that just does not happen. Which, of course, is all in my head.
    So, I made myself take the compact more "seriously". Which did work out, in the sense that I can take more or less the same photos with it as I would with my normal camera (*). But I still just do not like the process as much. Maybe gearheaded, but I miss the control, heft, the viewfinder, character of my different lenses etc. etc. which I have with my other gear. And as we discuss the effect of the outcome (the images), it's worth remembering to me, that a big and important part of photography is also in those moments behind the viewfinder.
    As much as one might say the tools do not matter too much, I have to concede that they matter to me as part of the joy in the activity. And I cannot escape the thought that that joy will translate into the images at the end.
    (*) Worthwhile difference, I use a DSLR and sometimes film SLR, which is typically a lot faster to use than large format, so I'm not too worried about missing those fleeting moments. My DSLR is a whole lot faster than the compact or cellphone.
     
  244. A little idea. What Wouter has said about the viewfinder is something I have also been thinking about. Very few compacts have a VF and the way we see through the latter is as much a part of our general photographic approach as putting on glasses to read. I will simplify my shooting by using the wide setting of my compact's little zoom lens, roughly equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm film camera body. The little 28/35mm after market bright line finder I use with an old RF camera will be pressed into service, whereby I will make use of the flat top of my compact digital camera and tape the VF in place securely (electrical tape), after having placed the camera on a tripod and aligned the VF against the image on the LCD monitor of the compact. Hopefully in use it won't drop off the compact somewhere, as a part of the spontaneous shooting exercise will be to pay as little attention as possible to the camera controls.
     
  245. Shooting with compact cameras is interesting for the reasons being suggested here - you shoot differently. I have a lot of film pocket cameras, and I use them quite a bit. For example a Yashica T4 (Zeiss lens) that is waterproof is a lot of fun to take out in the rain. My little Olympus Mju is palm sized and makes a nice non-intimidating street camera. What I have noticed is that I do shoot differently when using these very small cameras. The photos have a more casual look. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. I surmise one reason is simply the fewer controls allows for faster and more spontaneous reaction.
    FWIW, I also have a pocket digital, but I really do not like the arm's length LCD approach to composing. The small viewfinders (and rangefinder on the XA) is far more meaningful to me.
    I think you've got a good project going there Arthur.
     
  246. The viewfinder thing could certainly be more of an issue than i was thinking, so it is good feedback. I have always hated those little screens for the same reason, you feel a bit disconnected with what you are doing. I think I mentioned the difficulty I sometimes have framing with the cellphone (parallax i guess) and thus multiple frames at time. But I have never liked looking at these screens in video cameras, my G10 or the 5d video. (Thinking about it, I guess it might seem similar to looking at the ground glass on a large format camera, but it certainly feels different.) I actually found I don't have the same aversion to the screen on the cellphone for some reason. Maybe because it isn't a camera (psychologically?) or because I don't take it as seriously by its nature, so it doesn't matter--I don't know, but that has worked ok for me. (I also think it is part of the fun of doing the exercise, another pattern interrupt if you will)
    One thing to remember about the process is that it is an exercise and part of that exercise is not to be burdened by outcome or any goals--at least in its purest form, you just want to experience the process. I think laying too many goals or a "future" on it could affect the the experience if one can't release from that while in the process. That is why I tried to deemphasize the project aspect in the second post, project implies being results oriented. I will catch myself starting to look for "good" shots and then correcting myself, I just shoot the first thing I see regardless of interest. Then I get back into a more pure reactive mode again. But it cycles.
    Also, I suppose that one could, with an extreme amount of discipline and restraint, do the same thing with their dSLR set at P and on auto focus. I don't know if I could resist the temptation to "insure" that the photograph came out right though.
    I think I have always had some sort of "risk" of failure built into my process. Of course, none of us expect everything we shoot to be a good photograph and certainly not a great one. But even though all of my friends shot back up film, I rarely shot more than one sheet of film per shot. I knew the exposure was right and I guess I knew there were several ways it could get ruined along the way as well as a chance I could mess it up when I developed it. I think it gave me a sense of release that never made me feel like any shot was too important. (after I started in commercial work, where you back up everything, I found I had a tendency to back up even when I shot personal work--but then I also had a major job botched by a lab early in my career!)
     
  247. John A - "I have never liked looking at these screens in video cameras, my G10 or the 5d video. (Thinking about it, I guess it might seem similar to looking at the ground glass on a large format camera, but it certainly feels different.)"
    I guess I'm the heretic here because I like the LCD screens quite a bit. They divorce my POV from my aging backbone (particularly the swiveling ones) and also remind me of view camera ground glass, only infinitely brighter. I also own dozens of cameras with VFs and use them too.
     
  248. After shooting several hundred pictures in this experiment, I uncovered three interesting areas to continue exploring specifically with more focused attention.
    First, I consider pure manscapes, where the subject matter is the man made scene, such as here. This is simply about the forms, or textures or lines. It is the most obvious category to me of the experiment. The one I initially thought would be most interesting.
    But then, I noticed this second category of pictures emerging in which the manscape is an intrusion of sorts on the more classical (natural) landscape, such as here. It would be easy to step forward (or raise the camera) at this location, and the guard rail would be gone from the picture of the slough. (This was my typical practice in the past.) Of course the steel guard rail would still be there in the reality as viewed by humans. They eye doesn't so easily filter it out. So, inclusion is a frank recognition of the reality. And the idea is to include the reality in some photographically meaningful way, such as compositional form. I would kind of regard this as the intersection of manscape and landscape.
    And finally, I noticed an attraction to a whimsical arrangement of man made materials, such as here. Looking carefully for hints of rhythm or melody or pure patterning, which overcomes the hum-drum meaning of the objects, in this case rubbish bins.
    By the end of these two weeks I was really exhausted. I am sure it is ground that was covered a million times by a million photographers, but for me it was a new and educational experience. I hope to develop my eye more carefully for this category of photograph.
     
  249. m. stephens wrote . . .
    First, I consider pure manscapes, where the subject matter is the man made scene . . . It is the most obvious category to me of the experiment. The one I initially thought would be most interesting . . .
    But then, I noticed this second category of pictures emerging in which the manscape is an intrusion of sorts on the more classical (natural) landscape . . . I would kind of regard this as the intersection of manscape and landscape . . .
    And finally, I noticed an attraction to a whimsical arrangement of man made materials . . .​
    Thank you for sharing those observations. Of the three categories you mention, I think the second is most provocative. This intersection, or intrusion, of the manscape into a naturalistic environment provokes other, more "political" themes as well (e.g., deforestation, suburban sprawl, etc.), and seems an area of study rich with photographic opportunity. The inverse would work as well (the intrusion of nature into man-made environments). Well done!
     
  250. M, as I look at your first two images here, I got a sense that they were essentially very similar images, it was just a difference of the emphasis you gave to the man-made in each. In one case the man made structure is made subject and in the other it is treated almost more as "just" an intrusion, even though both are intrusions in the absolute. In either case, it appears you could have made an image of pure nature had you wished. (I realize these are but one example of what you may be suggesting here)
    In the first image, I think so much context is included that I don't necessarily see it as about forms, line and texture. I would probably have seen that more if you had been close and eliminated context. Here, I see the combination of nature and man--the effect of man on land-- and then what appears to be nature essentially reclaiming itself as it engulfs the man-made structure.
    Just thought I would offer these observations as a different perspective on these two images and what might be being communicated.
     
  251. John A,
    Yes, the pictures referenced aren't very good (yet). They are my "student works" while just trying to understand how the experiment would unfold. I do hope to improve the results as I practice.
    In the case where nature and man collide, one can always point the camera in such a way to eliminate either. But of course the eye doesn't do that. In the case of the guardrail photo, it is always there, whether or not included within the edges of any photograph.
     
  252. jtk

    jtk

  253. Are you sure that seeing beauty in the ordinary and everyday is not just as romantic a notion as more classical ideas of an ideal landscape?
     

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