Wrestling with the concept of "Straight" Photography

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Sandy Vongries, Jun 9, 2017.

  1. Supriyo, yes the scale of it is enormous. I have one image of it that shows one of the towers from a high vantage point and which has a more Becher quality to it but I haven't processed that one yet as it still needs some editing of the background to give it that neutral Becher feel of a structure set against a white sky. It's really great what they did to the plant turning it into a park.

    Here's another one that shows more of the scale.

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  2. That last one must have been taken underneath one of those octopus tentacle pipes that you can see in the Becher shot.
  3. Phil,
    Besides the scale, one difference that I noticed between your photos and those of the Bechers is the perspective. Bechers almost always use architecturally sound perspective with parallel lines, while you have used converging perspective and for that reason, your photos look more in the territory of the monster. They tend to show more of their inner structure and the associated emotions, discomfort, entanglement, invasion, may be seduction. Becher's photos show more of the topology of their subjects and their relationship with the surrounding space. Thanks for sharing! Great work.
  4. I'll give a few ways I think it works. Not sure this can or should be proved. Just a way to look at it.

    There are a lot of composers who wrote Romantic music, which was something "new" following the Classical period. Beethoven bridges the two eras nicely, though he's not typically considered a Romantic composer. He even foreshadowed Impressionistic music in some of his late piano sonatas. So, when did Romanticism become new? If Beethoven was already the bridge, how new was it when Tchaikovsky, who followed him, became known as one of the icons of Romanticism? Chopin, Borodin, Brahms, Liszt all composed Romantic music. It wasn't really new for all of them so much as they all brought individual personalities to what had taken over the music world. I guess I could say they added new things with a lowercase "n" but the New thing, with a capital "N", Romanticism itself, may not be able to be located to a specific or individual person or moment. I would probably say Beethoven, though, was an original to the max. He's kind of a towering figure, an apt adjective as his music is often talked about as being "architectural," a description I love.

    There's Picasso, who really did the New with a capital "N". Rare, IMO. I saw a great exhibit a few years back at the Whitney about all the copying, imitating, influence, homages, and inspiration American artists did in relation to Picasso. Sometimes quite direct stealing. Was it Picasso who said, "Good artists imitate, great artists steal"? By steal he meant making it their own, but still not necessarily so new, IMO. Jasper Johns, I remember, had dozens of examples of variations on particular works of Picasso. Again, these American artists were all individuals (though steeped together in an aesthetic and cultural milieu), but I think it's what they gave to their art personally (and personality-wise) that seems more important than the "newness" factor.

    Then there's Gus Van Zandt, who remade Hitchcock's Psycho word for word and shot for shot. Strange, not so new, but somehow it works! I think you have to have a lot of guts, confidence, and appreciation for Hitchcock to do such a thing.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2017
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  5. [The type in my prior post looks very big on my iPad. Sorry, am away and posting in a different way from my usual. And this is software programmed with that unique PN flair! ;-)]
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  6. In photography, HCB and Robert Frank's approaches are different, where HCB's decisive moment aspect is absent in Robert Frank's works, which are less of concrete moments and more about the cultures and emotions of an ongoing era. Yet both those works capture urban and rural life from the streets as part of a big 'N' of 20th century photography.
  7. There's nothing new under the heavens or earth ,Supriyo.

    Just our discovery of it and our individual way of looking at it.

    Which is not so original as its formed of multiple layers from those who walked before us.
  8. Hmmm. Yes, that makes sense.

    Here's an interesting quote from a paper on the Bechers by Blake Stimson from the Tate that addresses this:
    Art and industry, thus, stand opposed in the Bechers’ work in a manner different from, even contrary to, their Machine-Age forebears: put schematically, their project is one of aestheticising industry rather than industrialising art. This, it might be said, is the other leg of postmodernism in their work, the way in which it engages in the play of signification with diminished concern for its attachment to some properly material reality. This is also the way in which it plays with and transforms the Neue Sachlichkeit[ legacy of documentary photography with its ‘socialistic view’, its core critical materialist mandate of author-as-producer reportage."

    So I think that means the Bechers weren't concern about the functionality or technical historical meaning of the structures. They just thought the buildings of that era and type had certain interesting aesthetic qualities and that is what they were documenting. I don't think it mattered what the intent of the designers were aesthetic or sculptural just that they were artistic in themselves. I know they were concerned that the buildings were being destroyed and they wanted to preserve them in images. I think the Bechers themselves were interested in creating a visual comparison of structures by the manner they photographed and presented the photographs.

    Stimson goes on to quote the Bechers:

    ‘We want to offer the audience a point of view, or rather a grammar, to understand and compare the different structures’, they have said, ‘Through photography, we try to arrange these shapes and render them comparable. To do so, the objects must be isolated from their context and freed from all association.’"

    So I think this again dovetails into the area that Phil was talking about.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
  9. Well, my conduit image generated more intense conversation than I imagined it would. Perhaps some background: I was in the process of making documentary photographs of my project. I was also looking for opportunities for interesting and aesthetically pleasing photographs of architecture and construction details. I have shared a few of these previously, but none are singular or extraordinary. (The building itself is an interesting piece of architecture, but that is for another thread.) In the electrical room, I was struck by what was to me an obvious and possibly extraordinary effort on the part of the electrician to imbue the esoteric with creative life through application of craft and imagination. I took a number of purely documentary photographs, but I also wanted to make an image that communicated my emotional response to the craftsman's work. I do not suggest my image is truly artistic or aesthetically outstanding, but it represents my visual response as a photographer to my emotional response as an architect. The photograph is representational of something that is concrete, and through the means and methods of photographic representation it is an attempt to communicate something more than a simple documentary condition. In this case it will be more meaningful to those who have knowledge of the conditions being represented.

    Because so much of my professional work is related to industrial-type facilities, I have a certain predisposition to seeing aesthetic opportunities in otherwise purely esoteric assemblies. There is an entire school of design aesthetics relating to "vernacular" buildings. In any case, going back to the Roman aqueducts, Gothic cathedrals and Shinto temples, up through the Industrial Revolution, the Modern Movement, and continuing today, expressions of engineering necessity as aesthetic architectural components has a long and well developed history. Photographs of such features can range from the purely documentary to the abstract, with every creative variation that the photographer can conjure to make an artistic statement or communicate feelings or perceptions. These photographs can be solely about the subject (for documentary purposes), or the subject can simply be a disembodied element in the photographic composition. In the end, the photograph, any photograph, is a two-dimensional representation of the photographer's idea, subject to interpretation by viewers based on their own knowledge and experience.

    It is likely true that a creatively seen and made photograph of a terribly disordered pipe installation could be more engaging, interesting, and artistic than what I have offered.The examples offered by Phil and others certainly are. That is not the point. The image I offered is simply a minor creative response to what I felt was an unusually thoughtful, even aesthetic response to a very esoteric requirement. The Golden Gate Bridge is generally considered a beautiful object. The things that make it beautiful, to whatever degree it is, are the essential engineering forms of the catenary structure, developed in response to strict engineering requirements, and NOT the few decorative details (though they don't detract). There are a whole range of photographs of the GGB, some lovely, others boring, and some that are unhandsome (to be kind). Whether a photograph of the GGB is lovely or not has far less to do with the subject than it has with the photographer.

    I have more thoughts to share, but I'll have to come back later...

  10. I think any photograph can be creatively seen, regardless of how it was made. Many random photographs of electrical pipes and conduits look aesthetically interesting to the eye and mind that is looking for it because of all the abstract geometric lines. I didn't saw your image as being random though (the way for example a snapshot taken by an insurance agent would be random from an aesthetic point of view) as the symmetry in the composition seemed consciously made.

    For any job that requires technical skill there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The former will always be more aesthetically pleasing which likely also plays a role.
  11. Fred, I am on board with the examples you gave of "New" and "new".
  12. Creatively seen? hmmmm how bout "Godzilla vs. the Guardians"
    [​IMG]Untitled by Barry Fisher, on Flickr
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  13. bwmilltop.jpg Dang boys, this wrestling match sure is long. Has anyone won yet?

    Here is a 'straight' shot of my office--the studio is at the very top. Just me and the pigeons. Drop on by anytime for a mate. Bring your own bomba and smoking materials.

    Nutz, I have to switch over to Chrome. This stumbling turkey that is PN won't let me upload in FireFox anymore...
  14. Barry, 'creatively seen' could also mean resonating with what's simply there when we're looking at something attentively and when we aren't glancing over things through predetermined selective filters of what should or shouldn't hold our attention. I think that's what the Bechers were also showing by essentially making the same photograph their entire life.
  15. Then again there are structures or constructs when photographed can have aesthetic qualities and the are structures that from the initial design stage are meant to have aesthetic qualities. In one case it is the photographer who brings out the aesthetic qualities as opposed to the architect who make the aesthetics integral.
  16. David, I think part of most people's sense of the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, certainly my own sense of its beauty, are its surroundings. I think its resting on the bay, between the San Francisco cityscape and the Marin Headlands, greatly influences whatever beauty is felt for this beloved bridge. I think that's important because I think, often, perhaps most often and perhaps even always, beauty is not judged in isolation.

    I'm thinking even of the physical beauty of people I know, which often seems to grow or wane as I get to know their personalities. Even when I say someone is physically beautiful despite their personality, I think their personality is influencing them as physical object.

    How many times have I decided where to hang a photo by saying to myself, "It looks better here than there." While that's partially a statement of WHERE the print looks better, I think it's partially a statement of how the object itself is changed by lighting, by perspective it's seen from, by what it looks like relative to other colors and shapes around it and the quality of the particular space within which it resides.

    My sense of the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge changes when it's a cold foggy day and the towers peek out above the white billowing thickness of the atmosphere instead of standing more steadfastly over the blue water on a warm, sunny day. I lived in Marin County, north of the bridge, for a couple of years, but have lived on its southern end in San Francisco for most of my life. Part of its physicality changed for me for those couple of years when I saw it more often backed by the city skyline than by the rolling hills.

    I'm not denying the beauty of the design itself or of the engineering feat in its design and form, just suggesting that its beauty is a lot more than that, IMO. Naturally, it will be seen differently by an architect than by a commuter stuck in traffic on it every morning and evening who may actually curse it as ugly at times, and I think we can all be somewhat objective in isolating it to some degree from all these context-driven considerations, but I'm not sure we can ever divorce it fully from the many contexts in which it presents itself to us.

    [Mind you, I don't think you're trying to so divorce it but I just wanted to add some important considerations I think are at play in assessing the beauty of objects.]
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017
  17. When this aspect dies down you can always revive it by discussing the importance of and defining context in relation to the photo.
  18. Well the Bechers put it in partial quote.
    ". . .the objects must be isolated from their context and freed from all association.’" But that's a view point they adopted for the purposes of their project. "Creatively seen can also be isolating an disassociating an object from its named context, and creating a different context. But do you think to the Bechers were thinking of the whole cataloguing and comparing of the structures as "the" photograph? I'll tell you as you probably already know, if you ever go to a Becher exhibition where a significant portion of their work is present, you will come out with a huge headache after looking at a thousand photos of apparently the same type of thing.
  19. Not only is it a viewpoint they adopted for their project, it's a theoretical viewpoint and one that can't be adopted in practice. Though context can be changed (often easier said than done because often even when changed, the original context remains in the mind and at least implied) an object can't be isolated from all context or freed from association except to a degree. So the conceptual theory, to me, has limited ramifications or import. I understand the headache part! ;-) I think theory-driven "projects" often have that headache-producing tendency, especially when the visuals are uninspirational, even if they're supposed to be. Now, I know some will say that the fact that the visuals are uninspiring is actually what's inspiring about the "project," but I tend to abhor that kind of twisting and turning in the wind, the "everything is really its opposite" syndrome, so I usually just reject it and move on.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017

  20. Fred, I disagree with this position, though it is seemingly well-founded. How frequently do we as photographers very carefully choose the composition and perspective of an image specifically to include or exclude some component(s) of the "context"? You are correct that the context in which the image was captured will remain with the photographer, but the viewer may only have what is visible in the image itself and his/her own life experience with which to establish context. My recent day at the Center for Wooden Boats was an exercise in managing context. I had absolutely no control over the location, placement, orientation or contents of the boats, nor of objects visible in the background. I was also bound by the available, natural lighting (mostly cloudy and flat). In response I did two things: 1) I made most of my images as tight vignettes in an effort to exclude undesirable contextual elements. 2) I used the largest aperture appropriate to the composition so as to blur-out and de-emphasize distractions in the background. given the opportunity I would love to shoot these boats in a highly controlled and visually selective environment, but that was not an option. Instead, I did what I could to isolate my subjects from their context so that they could stand alone as visual artifacts. Probably not as extreme an example as you are arguing against, but along the same lines. I suspect photographers do more of this than we suspect, since the evidence is, by definition, removed from the final images, no?

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