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Author Topic: Fascism of flawless photographs  (Read 86984 times)
dalethorn
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« Reply #60 on: April 20, 2008, 07:55:47 PM »
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Some of this commentary needs rework. Adams used grayscale and a "zone system" to achieve great tones, but anyone with a decent digital camera, good lighting, and a reasonably good place to stand could capture a splendid picture of that waterfall. It's too easy.
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JohnKoerner
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« Reply #61 on: May 11, 2008, 07:37:35 PM »
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This thread reminded me of an article by Chip Simmons that I stumbled across recently:



Under certain circumstances, mastery of technical skill is to be expected and (really) demanded. If a person hires a wedding photographer, the professional's photos need to be distinguishably excellent, in both clarity and composition, from the photos taken by all of the friends and family. Otherwise, why pay the man?

So in many instances a level of perfection in execution is mandatory.

However, there are many instances and circumstances that occur in life for which simply "capturing them on film" is enough. Whether these photos are "technically perfect" or not is not as important as whether these moments were captured or not. In the the simple capturing of these special moments, what happens is something special is therefore preserved, and it is the conveyance of these special moments and moods which allows these preservations to be iconic. In the previously-mentioned war photos, it wasn't the photos themselves that made any difference to anyone, it was what was captured that made all of the difference in the world.

I think it is pretty much this divergence which spawns these never-ending debates about art vs. craft, meaning the techincal craft and skill of a stellar photographer versus the "art" or "mood" that was captured. The wedding photographer, or hired model photographer, is going to have to demonstrate superior craft in order to keep his job ... but a person who simply has great ideas, or who can capture sublime moods (or who just happened to be at the right place at the right time) can often still take an iconic photograph, even if his craft or skill isn't perfect.

I believe this is the gist of Feppe's original post. And I believe Chip captured the essence of this in his quote, "Shoot whatever you want that makes you happy and gets you excited about shooting more and more," and that pretty much sums it up. What makes Chip's photos interesting isn't their absolute perfection in craft ... it's their ability to capture your imagination and make you smile. The undershot of the dog is classic, the "point of interest" and the "holy cow" are both hilarious. A person doesn't have to have a 21 mp camera, $1000 tripod, and be a photo engineer to smile and appreciate these photos. They are simply clever and creative and capture certain thoughts and moods.

That is what we call "art" ... while technical expertise is what we call "skill" ... the two can oftentimes be found together ... but they don't necessarily have to be and they are not the same thing.

Jack
« Last Edit: May 12, 2008, 10:08:18 AM by JohnKoerner » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #62 on: May 12, 2008, 12:21:42 PM »
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Feppe

Your OP was almost exactly a year ago; what have you seen since to confirm or perhaps alter your original thoughts on the matter?

Speaking for myself, Iīm fast becoming of the mind that photography is turning into an ever more rapidly morphing activity where, soon, all landscape will look as if from the same hand and all fashion, beauty and advertising stuff as if fathered (or mothered, if you insist) by the other person still active in photography.

In short, itīs as if everybody is copying everybody else and the message that comes from all of this is that nobody has any confidence in himself anymore, but is driven to match the product of another, somehow definitive take on what is THE way to do it.

I suspect that this might be very much related to the possibilities of PS insofar as the tweaks that the top people/teams? can give an image might appear to define the genre rather than the model/photographer interaction doing that on its own. So, when the final cut is no longer the photographerīs, the image becomes less personal and ever more a parody of its own generic pigeonhole.

I could perhaps have named a photographer through his style, in the past, but I would be lying if I said that now. They are all, the ones in work, very competent but totally anonymous in my eyes. If you doubt me, look at the top photographic agencies on the web and tell me if you can spot a great deal of difference amongst their flocks of talent. Even better, look at the model agency sites and deny that the offerings, as groups, are little but clones of one another.

So perhaps the pursuit of perfection leads but to stagnation.

Rob C
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dalethorn
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« Reply #63 on: May 12, 2008, 10:39:12 PM »
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Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait: What do you do when your team's ahead?  You protect your lead.  Don't take chances.  (sigh)
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Justinr
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« Reply #64 on: May 13, 2008, 07:30:42 AM »
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Justinr
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« Reply #65 on: May 13, 2008, 07:51:36 AM »
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Did you ever hear a photographer who says he could take better photos if he only had better equipment? Do you believe it? No. Same photos after he trades from Canon to Nikon.

A conceit that I clung to for a very long time, not having the wherewithal to do anything about it (and I'm not sure that I have now). The quantity of 'good' about a photo can depend upon its fitness for purpose as  much as aesthetic quality.

Try moving up from a Canon or Nikon to Mamiya, HB or Sinar.

Justin.
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jjj
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« Reply #66 on: May 13, 2008, 10:40:25 AM »
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In short, itīs as if everybody is copying everybody else and the message that comes from all of this is that nobody has any confidence in himself anymore, but is driven to match the product of another, somehow definitive take on what is THE way to do it.[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=195236\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
With the web and the end of geographical barriers to specialist interests/hobbies/professions etc, everyone [without an original thought] is indeed copying everyone else these days. Any new idea or style that appears is instantly dissected and how-to articles appear and suddenly, that new style is everywhere and passe withing months. HDR, Planets, the Dave Hill Look which very similar to something I used to do about 6 years ago, but now those images look like I'm yet another copycat.
The other issue is that now we are exposed to everyone in the world doing photography, whereas before only a very few achieved notice outside of their own countries and so being individual or different is much, much harder, as there is bound to be someone else doing the same unusual or unique thing, simply by sheer weight of numbers of people now doing photography. Add to the fact that the no. of people carrying a camera is way, way more than even a few years ago and the chance of standing out diminishes even further.
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Rob C
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« Reply #67 on: May 13, 2008, 12:35:19 PM »
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"the chance of standing out diminishes even further."

Yes, thats absolutely right too, jjj, and it is somewhat depressing to understand it to be so.

I buy B&W Magazine (the US one devoted to photography collectors), and some of the work there is quite interesting but much of it makes my head reel with disbelief. Many years ago, the BJP went through what I assume was a phase (I abandoned it some considerable while ago, so things may have changed), when they took this delight in publishing so-called studentsī images which were for all the world no different from the first wind-on exposures you get on the waste frames prior to the image counter settling at no.1; thatīs on film, for those wondering what the hell Iīm on about.

But getting past those sorts of pictures, which to me spell nothing other than poor technique, the higher quality of picture (technically) still doesnīt really say a whole lot about much. There is a sameness through what passes for īartī photography that I find difficult to grasp. The old saws of rock, tree, desert and sea still feature strongly along with the inevitable slot canyon, abandoned western township, cactus and flower. If you dig cities, then the obligatory bits of skyscraper will not fail to appear too, nor the bridges and overhead rail system supports. Itīs as if somebody, somewhere, had said: these shall be the parameters within which thou shalt creat thine art, departure from which true path shall doom thee to oblivion.  I am not, of course, pointing out B&W as some lone example of this repetitive subject matter thing, but it does, to me, provide a prime example of what I think is amiss.

Donīt ask me what else people can shoot; I have long agreed with the late Terence Donovanīs belief that, for an amateur, the most difficult thing is to find a reason to take a photograph. For the pro itīs so easy: somebody needs it.

Perhaps thatīs why I spend so much time - or waste it, perhaps - working on old Kodachromes that somebody, sometime, had me shoot. It was great: they paid me and, as I had followed my star through both good years and bad (there were many) I managed, mostly, to shoot what pleased me on their account. Fortunately, those things still please me and might (?) have a future in the world of digital prints. If not, then they help me grow old gracefully.

Your own style from six or so years back now makes you wonder if you would currently be accused of plagiarism; I have much the same fears too, on and off, mainly because I have very firm ideas about what I like and the trouble is that what I like is very much what several other guys of my generation liked too! Whilst I would be flattered to be mistaken for Hans Feurer, Sam Haskins, or even Francis Giacobetti thatīs a conceit too far and so I shall not mention it. However, todayīs lot is safe! Mainly, I expect, because digital retouching doesnīt turn me on very much and I still like faces to look as if they were made of flesh and blood. I find plastic women are not interesting to me on any level. I really wonder whether they do a lot to enchant their presumed female audience of makeup buyers either, but who ever asked them? Perhaps the problem is simply that because PS can do something, people feel obliged to do it.

How simple would have been the life of an estate agent, accountant or shopkeeper.
(This is meant as a joke - I know you all have problems too.)

Rob C
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Justinr
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« Reply #68 on: May 14, 2008, 03:51:45 AM »
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Rob C

Rest assured that the BJP Project Assistance Award, nee Endframe, still features work of quite breathtaking awfulness (abandoned fridges with a point and shoot compact was one recent offering) but the magazine itself still has it's great and not so great moments. Filling a weekly on a smallish budget cannot be easy but they still do a better job than many monthlies so let's not be too harsh.

Your point about sameness is valid enough. I constantly look round for something different but if it's not the conventional structure, pretty girl, gnarled old codger etc etc shot then it's doomed to failure in the wider world. I do have this awful feeling that the direction mainstream photography takes is dictated by the closet world of media savvy metrosexuals who constantly go round patting each other on the bum whilst reassuring each other about just how wonderful they are.  Tim Hetheringtons smudged picture of a knackered soldier is a prime example of this. No self respecting camera club would entertain it if for much more than 3 or 4 milliseconds and yet because the beautiful and wise of the media think its cool then so be it. Awards and praise are heaped upon the wretched thing in equal measure! Pass the sick bag.

Just to reinforce the point I was advised on this forum that if I want to do horses then sunsets, blondes and beaches were obligatory rather than my favoured, and more appreciated by horsey people, style. - Blinkered thinking

Justin.
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Stuarte
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« Reply #69 on: May 14, 2008, 05:41:19 AM »
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Some parallels with music spring to mind.

As in photography, electronics and digital tools have opened up music-making to anyone and everyone.  On the post-production side (c.f. Photoshop), it's possible for a 10-thumbed tone-deaf klutz to adjust pitch, add reverb, mix in some depth and colour and produce something with "production values" that are much higher than what the Beach Boys and the Beatles managed in the 1960s.   Sometimes it may even be catchy, and it may stand a chance of joining the canon of decent pop music.

Nevertheless, in very many respects, musical themes and possibilities (c.f. photography) have been pretty much exhausted.  There is very little that's truly original being produced now, simply because so many people have been doing it for so long.  That doesn't mean that there is no longer any art or freshness in music.  It does mean that the ratio of "seen/heard it before" to "that's original!" will continue to climb more sharply.

"Serious" music has been dealing with the problem a lot longer than popular music.  How the heck can highly-trained, highly-skilled musicians do anything fresh and compelling with notes that were written down centuries ago and have been performed countless times by great musicians?  
Many do manage it, but few people notice or appreciate it because "serious" music is a minority field.

The general blandness and occasional "artless artiness" in both music and photography have been strongly influenced by the enormous amount work that's produced primarily with commercial rather than artistic or expressive objectives.  Even 30 years ago, when I first started dabbling in photography, I often felt overwhelmed by the thousands of (technically) high-quality images pouring out daily in magazines, advertising, brochures, calendars, souvenir shops etc.  Working in car marketing and advertising during the late 80s and the 90s, we put enormous effort into the photos - hiring pricey photographers and models, getting crews and cars to sunny places at great expense, then all the painstaking post-production and top-quality printing.  We got some nice pictures, for sure, but ultimately they and millions of other commercial photographs are cute eye candy at best, and mostly just more visual clutter.
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jjj
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« Reply #70 on: May 14, 2008, 08:22:38 AM »
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Some parallels with music spring to mind...<snip>... in very many respects, musical themes and possibilities (c.f. photography) have been pretty much exhausted.  There is very little that's truly original being produced now, simply because so many people have been doing it for so long.  That doesn't mean that there is no longer any art or freshness in music.  It does mean that the ratio of "seen/heard it before" to "that's original!" will continue to climb more sharply.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=195660\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
As a new music addict, I've been suffering serious withdrawal for most of this century. So much 'contemporary' popular music sounds like it was made 25 years or more ago. The 'exciting' 'new' guitar bands sound like the tracks were made around late 70s, early 80s. All the Amys that seem to be selling lots of records in the UK, not only have the same name, but like everyone else, they seem intent on raiding the past, currently the Sixties, for inspiration. Even Duffy's real name is Aimee.
I grew up with music that wanted to be different from what went before.
I blame Oasis, moronic Beatles wannabees who even ended up with Ringo's son as their drummer. They even got done for ripping off a track by jokey Beatles pastiche act, the Rutles. I have nothing against sampling and transforming something into a fresh new sound, but when people sample samples, that already sample  a sample, you get a little fed up of the pathetic recycling that passes for inspiration these days. As for the Hoosiers, who simply take a hit song and add some vaguely different lyrics, 'Mr Blue Sky' and 'Lovecats' were the last two songs that they completely ripped off.  Pop Idol is nothing more than TV Karaoke, that simply reflects the musical blandness, that is now endemic.
Same goes for fashion, how many more pathetic fashion revivals can we stomach.
Rant, rant!!
« Last Edit: May 14, 2008, 08:23:29 AM by jjj » Logged

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Rob C
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« Reply #71 on: May 14, 2008, 11:12:57 AM »
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But the trouble is, life, apparently, has to go on and, as ever, teenagers think they have invented sex. Or popular music.

Around the early 70s I developed a liking for the sound of Francis Albert S, something I shared with a chap called John Cherry, my favourite art director in all of Scottish advertising. We lost touch when I migrated in ī81 but I am still grateful for his friendship. Anyway, I sometimes put some of FASīs albums on the turntable (often, this seems to be just before lunch) and when I hear lines such as īthereīs a bar in far Bombayī I get this double whammy: why is todayīs music so empty of dreams and why did the Indians find it a good idea to cancel Bombay, with its trunk loads of history and good vibes and settle for Mumbai? Was it just some awful nationalistic attempt to wipe out the past and start anew (somewhat belatedly, actually, as they had from 1947 to do it) by throwing out all the magic and magical connotations of that name? You know, like in baby and bathwater?

But politics aside, there was, no, is a magic to good lyrics as there is to an image with wonderful content. Thatīs why those photographers who get the choice often work within a small group of models for the simple reason that they know what to expect, have faith in each otherīs ability to deliver and know that there is always somewhere else they can try to take each other; that makes for the great content of the image, which is not exactly the same thing as just good execution of it.

It is also why models are so important: I would never rate them as owning less than 50% of an image. Which, of course, is why a bad one makes anyoneīs pictures suck. You canīt just get by through faking it or technique alone. You might as well photograph a gully at the beach and try to make a Grand Canyon out of it. (I have done that, actually, and I can sometimes convince myself that it worked.) But one always knows that itīs been a fake.

I sometimes wonder how black Americans of a certain age feel when they hear rap and think back to the days of the jazz era, of rīnīb and rīnīr, the Crests, Tamla and all that soul which has been their wonderful gift to the world. Today marks progress? I donīt think so.

But then. living on an island you do get a little dislocated.

Rob C
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