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Author Topic: Alain Briot's Reflections #8  (Read 38081 times)
russell a
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« on: August 18, 2007, 05:41:57 PM »
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I find nothing wrong with Alain's latest essay.  It provides a reasonable summary of a "creativity workshop" approach.  Much like, in fact, might be offered by the art schools about whom Alain takes a potshot (not without justification).  A lot of people can probably take away something useful from the article and it deserves its place in this forum.

I feel it should be said that the essay addresses what I will call "creativity" with a lower case "c".  I don't believe that an essay such as this would have been useful at all to the historic figures Alain cites - Edison, da Vinci, Weston, Benny Goodman**).

The true innovator, one who creates new genres and blazes new trails, as opposed to those who construct a variation within an established canon, operates on a different plane.  I will contend that the true innovator is driven by obsession and has little choice but to pursue an inner agenda.  This is not to say that this awards the true innovator a superior position in the scheme of things but it does result in a different output from what we might term the journeyman approach.  (Read Donald Kuspit's "The Psychoanalytic Construction of the Artist" in Redeeming Art: Critical Reveries)  Think of some of the most brilliant photographers of the last century - W. Eugene Smith, Diane Arbus, Gary Winogrand, Ralph Eugene Meatyard.  All arguably obsessive/compulsives of varying degree and benignity.  These innovators have little need to concern themselves with tricks and dodges, their obsessiveness carries them dashing into the waves rather than tentatively dipping their toe in the swash.  And, by the way, "we" like our innovators this way - it lets us off the hook, to wit "I could be an innovator too, but I don't want to be obsessive and self-destructive."

Sadly, the above discussion has more than a whiff of nostalgia.  Much of art today is motivated, not by vision and obsession (used here in an objective and not necessarily pejorative sense) but by market calculation.  (In the Kuspit cited above refer to the chapter "Art is Dead; Long live Aesthetic Management").  Andy Warhol is a prime example of this.  A couple other examples are Jeff Koons, who subcontracts the fabrication of all his work and, in photography, Vanessa Beecroft.

So, Alain's essay can be helpful in getting one's feet wet, but as an essay to guide you to be an innovator, it is:  1) not Alain's intent, I would expect, 2) impossible to construct, 3) not necessary.


** Benny Goodman?, let me give you a quote from another jazz musician, Rasaan Roland Kirk:  "If you want to learn to be free, spend all day in bed with me!" This is an alternative workshop approach.
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alainbriot
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« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2007, 06:58:19 PM »
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There are 2 more parts to this 4-essay series.

Part 1 is titled Finding inspiration and is available on this site.
Part 2 is the current essay: Exercising Creativity

Part 3 is titled Developing your Vision and is upcoming
Part 4 is the conclusion and is titled Achieving your Personal Style, it is also upcoming

The jest of the series will be complete when all 4 essays are available.

ALain
« Last Edit: August 18, 2007, 07:00:07 PM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2007, 09:29:43 PM »
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I enjoyed reading Alain's essay on creativity -- as I've enjoyed and appreciated all his writings and photos.  "Envy" is perhaps the applicable word.

Creativity (notice that I've placed it as the first word and so have cleverly avoided any capitalization controversy) -- or the lack of it -- is a problem for me.  Lack of creativity is a plague upon my personal and professional life and not just on my photography.  I *know* that I need to be more creative; it is just difficult.

I can break the "rules" and I'm constantly telling others in our photo club to, at the very least, be different:  turn off the auto features and think ahead about how *you* want the final picture to look.  Our photo club has field trips; I see everyone standing close together, cameras on auto and firing away in some jpg mode.  I'm always preaching "Your photos will all look the same -- just the way some engineer designed them to look."  So I intentionally break the rules, shoot RAW from a different angle, different depth of field, blur, pan, etc.  I want my photos to be different from those of the others in the group.  But this is only pseudo creativity.

As I write this, I'm listening to Bob Dylan "singing" on the radio.  Now, that's creativity - especially in the early years.  Perhaps a "theme", "inspiration" or, even better, a "calling" combined with economic considerations is the real key to creativity.
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russell a
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« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2007, 11:13:02 PM »
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I can break the "rules" and I'm constantly telling others in our photo club to, at the very least, be different:  turn off the auto features and think ahead about how *you* want the final picture to look.  Our photo club has field trips; I see everyone standing close together, cameras on auto and firing away in some jpg mode.  I'm always preaching "Your photos will all look the same -- just the way some engineer designed them to look."  So I intentionally break the rules, shoot RAW from a different angle, different depth of field, blur, pan, etc.  I want my photos to be different from those of the others in the group.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134060\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

It sounds as if your heart is in the right place.  But, if you are interested in your photography above the socialization that your photo club offers, then you need to get away from them.  Why are you even near subject matter that "they" have defined for you?  Creativity is not an attribute of herds.  You need to go where your interests take you (which can be as near as your back yard - photography and globe hopping only works if you can spend as much time there as you could in your back yard) and take a jillion photos.  Look at them and begin to identify what speaks to you and what is deficient.  Go back and take them again, eliminating the deficiencies you identify and enhancing the positives.  Ask yourself what subject matter in your own environment means the most to you and work that angle.  Find a historic photographer whose work you admire and adopt that person as a mentor of sorts - study their work as if it were your own.  Shoot what they would shoot, but then, gradually identify what you are contributing that is unique.  

For example:  say that you identify that your family is the subject matter that means the most to you.  Look at photographers who have made art out of their family (per G. B. Shaw's play"Man and Superman" in which he alludes to the artist "turning Mother's milk into printer's ink.")  Photographers for study could include some of Harry Callahan's photos of his wife and daughter, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, who was The Master at this, Larry Fink, and, on a more acidic note, Richard Billingham.  A similar process of study could find mentors for other types of photography.  It is unlikely, by the way, that no mentors for your subject matter can be found.  Once you start pulling free of your mentor, then you are on your way.  Alain's recommendation to change your equipment could be useful.  Art Sinsabaugh was only able to shake Harry Callahan's influence when he began using a 12x20 "Banquet" view camera.
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DiaAzul
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« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2007, 04:39:13 AM »
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The jest of the series will be complete when all 4 essays are available.

ALain
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Jest? As in joke? You making fun of us?
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« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2007, 05:32:28 AM »
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Russell

A nicely written disseration, but sadly, you are also attempting the impossible when you advise a course of action in an effort to teach creativity. As with the musicians you cite - you either have it or you do not.

I would agree wholeheartedly with advice to abandon the society of the club - the inner conversation that creativity comes from cannot survive the external noise, the mooing of the herd, to use your expression. I used to take the family along when I was still working but they were abandoned to the café, the pool or wherever else they elected to be whilst I wandered off and earned the bread. It was the only way: the mind and the eye had to be totally selfish; there was no room for chat, or other distraction, however much one loved them.

Again, the creative moment is not always at your beck and call: you can wander off wherever the muse takes you but that does not mean that every time you go there it works! The same is even more true when your genre is people. On some days the relationship is bountiful whilst on others, with the same model even, not a lot of anything memorable happens.

This is all from the same mind, from the one which can make something from nothing, so to speak, but that is not a learned skill - it´s something with which one is born.

I understand very well that there are those who think otherwise; that there are those who will not accept the cruel fact that it´s a fluke of personality and so seek redemption at the feet of gurus, just as the gurus have always been available to service the need. And if this is mutually helpful, then that´s all that matters, really, but I hope nobody expects miracles. All one can teach is mechanics.

Ciao - Rob C
« Last Edit: August 19, 2007, 05:34:32 AM by Rob C » Logged

russell a
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« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2007, 08:39:21 AM »
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Russell

A nicely written disseration, but sadly, you are also attempting the impossible when you advise a course of action in an effort to teach creativity. As with the musicians you cite - you either have it or you do not.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134093\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

The alternative is to provide nothing.  Sometimes it's just a word of encouragement.  Argentinian Astor Piazzolla tells of his encounter with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He had brought several of his compositions to her.  "That one's Debussy, that one's Bartok, this one is Stravinsky.  Where is Piazaolla?", she asked.  Reluctantly, he admitted that the music he played most were tangos, on a bandoneon... in bars.  "Play me one."  He did.  "Ah, that's Piazzolla" she said.  Piazzolla went on to be the creator and leading proponent of what became known as New Tango.  Even if you "have it" (and I question this model) "it" may not bloom without watering and a little nutrient.  In music in particular, while it is a great advantage in many ways to have marvelous equipment (perfect pitch, musical memory) many innovations have come from individuals who combined often incredible misunderstandings of how to proceed with a burning passion to succeed. The results of this were sometimes what someone for whom it was a much easier journey would not have produced.
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alainbriot
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« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2007, 11:44:06 AM »
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Jest? As in joke? You making fun of us?
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The gest of the series, the general movement and direction. The overall point.  The complete idea developed over the 4 parts that it consists of.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2007, 11:44:58 AM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2007, 12:34:29 PM »
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The gest of the series, the general movement and direction. The overall point.  The complete idea developed over the 4 parts that it consists of.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134142\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


It's a classic case of the English getting an old French verb (Gésir) and completely messing up the meaning , though I suspect it has more to do with the 'gist' being the hidden meaning in the article, or the essence of the article.

Good article.  
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« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2007, 12:39:39 PM »
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Gist is the proper spelling.  I was trying to find it but couldn't put my finger on it. Thank you.
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Alain Briot
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2007, 01:23:43 PM »
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Although I've come to realize that camera clubs are looked on with disapproval by some, I disagree with the recommendation to avoid them.  There is so much to learn about photography:  techniques, equipment -- including Do-It-Yourself, printing, papers, framing, comparison of experiences, repairs, etc., etc.  Especially considering the demise of the local photography store, a camera club has much to offer.  

In fact, I'd say the same thing about any sort of club.  A member gets the opportunity to not only meet others with similar interests but to learn from them.  I think that a club is one of the very best ways to learn the details of a hobby or future profession.

At the same time, I understand the concern that a club membership might be restrictive with respect to creativity.  A cartoon (The Far Side, I think) comes to mind:  A penguin, surrounded by millions of identical penguins, is singing "I gotta be me!!!!!".

Another anecdote, this one about education:  A "fully mature" (as I now describe myself) college dropout explained his youthful decision "There was so much I wanted to learn, but they kept trying to teach me!".
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russell a
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2007, 05:21:51 PM »
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Although I've come to realize that camera clubs are looked on with disapproval by some, I disagree with the recommendation to avoid them.  There is so much to learn about photography:  techniques, equipment -- including Do-It-Yourself, printing, papers, framing, comparison of experiences, repairs, etc., etc.  Especially considering the demise of the local photography store, a camera club has much to offer. 

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134160\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I happen to be the newly appointed president of a large (100+ member) camera club.  (Don't ask, it's a long story.)   I agree that there are many positive aspects.  Our membership is very diverse.  The club has its roots in nature photography, as is typical of a lot of clubs.  Over the past 3 years we have attracted a number of members whose interests also include urban landscape, street photography, etc.  As a result of this diversity and the essential nature of group dynamics, we do engage in some tribal warfare within the club.  There are both pluses and minuses.  

Some pluses are:  1) critiques, moderated sometimes by outsiders, sometimes by club members, where members may receive sufficiently diverse and ultimately ambiguous opinions to allow them to absorb what they are ready to absorb;  2) a diverse schedule of guest speakers - in particular we have expanded the set of speakers beyond the coterie of "workshop gypsies" who haunt clubs to promote their travel packages and workshops and tend reinforce the least common denominator;  3) field trips to such places as the viewing room of the local Art Museum to see great prints by great photographers;  and 4) the opportunity to find kindred souls and to pick up knowledge and inspiration.  

Some minuses are: 1) contests, because the available set of judges are too often individuals whose outlook is so narrow that it ignores the range of possibilities of photography (and, the impossibility of finding judges whose breadth satisfies the diversity of the membership - from calendar art to post-post-modernism) and awarding ribbons for art is ultimately meaningless and usually totalitarian; 2) the popularity of group shoots that, even with the best of intentions, are more social than photographic experiences;  3) we are trying, but it is difficult to attract younger members.

So, I agree don't avoid all clubs (just most of them) and separate social goals from photographic goals.
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Ray
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2007, 09:25:00 PM »
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  Think of some of the most brilliant photographers of the last century - W. Eugene Smith, Diane Arbus, Gary Winogrand, Ralph Eugene Meatyard.  All arguably obsessive/compulsives of varying degree and benignity.  These innovators have little need to concern themselves with tricks and dodges, their obsessiveness carries them dashing into the waves rather than tentatively dipping their toe in the swash.  And, by the way, "we" like our innovators this way - it lets us off the hook, to wit "I could be an innovator too, but I don't want to be obsessive and self-destructive."

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134042\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

These are very difficult subjects to get a handle on, but coincidentally, just last night I watched a British TV crime drama, Midsomer Murders, which caricatured two opposing photography groups in the fictitious county of Midsomer. The group with the digital cameras were portrayed as angry delinquents who were enraged because the established photographic group, the film traditionalists, had excluded them from their exhibitions.

The conflicts between these two groups seemed to encapsulate all the 'pro film' versus 'pro digital' arguments aired on this forum over the years, but in a highly dramatised way with a lot exaggerated of course, which made it entertaining.

The film traditionalists were portrayed as obsessive-compulsives. One guy specialised in photographing just trees, another just cats and yet another would photograph the street scene outside his studio every morning at exactly 9 am, as an archival record.  His son (who turned out to be the murderer) photographed his dinner on the plate every day, without fail. When someone commented all the shots looked the same, the reply was, 'I have the same meal every day.' Apparently, subtle differences in the hue of the green peas, from day to day, excited him.

The leader of the pro digital camp was sporting a Nikon D2X, so I guess this production was quite recent. (I wonder if Nikon agreed to pay for the advertisement.) Highly entertaining anyway, although I failed to see the connection between obsessive-compulsive disorder and any special degree of creativity in this portrayal of photographers   .
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russell a
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2007, 11:53:36 PM »
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The film traditionalists were portrayed as obsessive-compulsives. One guy specialised in photographing just trees, another just cats and yet another would photograph the street scene outside his studio every morning at exactly 9 am, as an archival record.  His son (who turned out to be the murderer) photographed his dinner on the plate every day, without fail. When someone commented all the shots looked the same, the reply was, 'I have the same meal every day.' Apparently, subtle differences in the hue of the green peas, from day to day, excited him.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134233\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

That's hilarious!  But the screenwriters didn't have to strain their inventiveness.  W. Eugene Smith took up residence in a 6th Ave NYC loft and kept three or four loaded cameras at the ready, determined to photograph everything that happened out his window overlooking the street.  Stephen Shore took a road trip and photographed everything he encountered, every meal, every urinal, etc.  Another photographer, whose name eludes me at the moment, took a photograph outside his store every day for a year.  We're quite a bunch.  And, of course, such behavior is a marketer's dream.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #14 on: August 20, 2007, 02:21:44 AM »
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To misquote W.C. Fields: "I believe in camera clubs, if all other forms of persuasion fail..."

A club is a great place to learn the basics of photography; exposure, the effects of focal length, processing techniques, how to use color management, etc. They can even be occasionally useful as a venue for sparking ideas. But as a place to teach creativity, no. That must come from within, and cannot be accomplished by the groupthink of photo contests.
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« Reply #15 on: August 20, 2007, 03:45:36 AM »
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Some minuses are: 1) contests, because the available set of judges are too often individuals whose outlook is so narrow that it ignores the range of possibilities of photography (and, the impossibility of finding judges whose breadth satisfies the diversity of the membership - from calendar art to post-post-modernism) and awarding ribbons for art is ultimately meaningless and usually totalitarian; 2) the popularity of group shoots that, even with the best of intentions, are more social than photographic experiences;  3) we are trying, but it is difficult to attract younger members.


[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134193\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

You bring out some good points there and, in the UK, there is also a tendency for Photography clubs to be more third age than youthful. Often containing a fiercely opinionated elder class that are not open to new ideas and ways of working. However, having said that, there are strong signs that digital photography is driving more younger people to seek out clubs where they can socialise with other photographers, be inspired and learn new techniques. Whilst clubs are not necessarily the best place to learn creativity they are good places to be inspired by the work of other clubs members - both to try new approaches and to continue with photography when you don't feel that you are progressing.

I would argue that the reason most clubs get into a rut is that they are top heavy in the age range and have failed to bring in young blood to challenge the new order. Techniques that seem to work are:

:: Club website - this is the numero uno most important marketing tool that a club possesses in order to attract new, especially younger, members. The first thing that people do in this day and age is to look for companies on the web and make an instant judgement the first time the home page comes up. If it looks crap then you won't get new members...on the other hand, if it looks good and there is a wide range of well presented members artwork then why not go and visit?

:: Digital Evenings/Workshops - A lot of the new members are looking for training on how to use Photoshop (Elements) to make their pictures stand out. Even basic techniques, such as sharpening, colour management, why RAW? etc... are much appreciated.

:: Digital competitions - Having effective software for managing digital competitions makes the whole process flow more smoothly (the trend is now away from slide competitions towards digital, unlikely that slide will exist in 2 years). The club at which I am a member has custom software which can record competition results and upload them to the website the next time the competition organiser connects to the internet (i.e. results are available within seconds if we have a connection).

:: Speakers and Judges - I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say on speakers and judges. However, in the UK we have a number of photographic associations that clubs can join providing inter-club, regional and national competitions that can be entered. Within this framework there is a scheme for training, certifying and assessing the performance of judges. Provided (and that is a big proviso) you can get sufficient people to donate their time to do judging you should and can improve the quality of judges at events. Speakers is a similar problem - how do you get more people to speak at clubs? Perhaps that is about clubs giving their own members an opportunity to develop the skills needed to create the next generation of public speakers.

Apologies for diverting off the main thrust of the thread - though the relevance is that clubs provide inspiration and not training in creativity (which is not a million miles from Alan's dissertation).
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 03:48:55 AM by DiaAzul » Logged

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russell a
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« Reply #16 on: August 20, 2007, 06:54:38 AM »
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I would argue that the reason most clubs get into a rut is that they are top heavy in the age range and have failed to bring in young blood to challenge the new order. Techniques that seem to work are:

:: Club website -

:: Digital Evenings/Workshops -

:: Digital competitions -

:: Speakers and Judges -

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134278\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Thanks for your insightful input.  I wouldn't say the thread has been hijacked, it has just evolved unpredictably.  

We do have a club website and this coming year it will feature a gallery that will demonstrate the diversity of interests in the club.  We are a club top heavy in age, but some of our firebrands are among the oldest.  Nearly all members have moved to digital and, for critiques and contests, the convenience of submitting digitally over the internet and our digital projector has resulted in the majority of members moving to this model.  We plan to bring in some students from local school programs to present their work to us and expose our club to them.

Other clubs in the area who have not taken the steps we have in diversity, digital friendliness, and anti-totalitarianism are self-extincting.  As a result, we don't have as much inter-club interaction as might be useful.

A problem we have in various workshops is the wide range of skill and knowledge in the club so that a given level of treatment only addresses a small subset of our population.  Many members participate in outside workshops to meet their needs in this regard.  We are brainstorming a multi-thread workshop night to address this but the efficacy of such an approach is unknown.

We do periodically have evenings of short presentations by members on whatever they want to share - their work, techniques, etc.  We call it "15 Minutes of Fame".

I would say that, while the right kind of club environment doesn't directly deal with issues of creativity, it can provide a certain amount of light and heat to the Petri dish.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 06:56:03 AM by russell a » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: August 20, 2007, 09:49:55 AM »
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I happen to be the newly appointed president of a large (100+ member) camera club.  (Don't ask, it's a long story.)   I agree that there are many positive aspects.  Our membership is very diverse.  The club has its roots in nature photography, as is typical of a lot of clubs.  Over the past 3 years we have attracted a number of members whose interests also include urban landscape, street photography, etc.  As a result of this diversity and the essential nature of group dynamics, we do engage in some tribal warfare within the club.  There are both pluses and minuses. 

Some pluses are:  1) critiques, moderated sometimes by outsiders, sometimes by club members, where members may receive sufficiently diverse and ultimately ambiguous opinions to allow them to absorb what they are ready to absorb;  2) a diverse schedule of guest speakers - in particular we have expanded the set of speakers beyond the coterie of "workshop gypsies" who haunt clubs to promote their travel packages and workshops and tend reinforce the least common denominator;  3) field trips to such places as the viewing room of the local Art Museum to see great prints by great photographers;  and 4) the opportunity to find kindred souls and to pick up knowledge and inspiration. 

Some minuses are: 1) contests, because the available set of judges are too often individuals whose outlook is so narrow that it ignores the range of possibilities of photography (and, the impossibility of finding judges whose breadth satisfies the diversity of the membership - from calendar art to post-post-modernism) and awarding ribbons for art is ultimately meaningless and usually totalitarian; 2) the popularity of group shoots that, even with the best of intentions, are more social than photographic experiences;  3) we are trying, but it is difficult to attract younger members.

So, I agree don't avoid all clubs (just most of them) and separate social goals from photographic goals.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134193\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I started a photography club at the University of Illinois while I was there (it has died since I left *sniff*), and at the time (2001) most people were still interested in getting a darkroom organized.  But we did do some things that were good, in particular we did a couple photo trips that were decidedly not social in nature, we mostly spread out over a large area and only occasionally ran into each other and discussed how to take a particular shot or the problems of the area (one trip was in drizzling rain).  So it's not impossible to do group shoots that are photographic experiences, and it makes it easier to discuss the results because you know more of the conditions of the shot.

-Lars
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2007, 01:13:50 PM »
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A club is a great place to learn the basics of photography; exposure, the effects of focal length, processing techniques, how to use color management, etc. They can even be occasionally useful as a venue for sparking ideas. But as a place to teach creativity, no. That must come from within, and cannot be accomplished by the groupthink of photo contests.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=134271\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I fully agree.

Beginners can definitely benefit from photo clubs in learning the basic techniques and the conventional wisdoms on what makes a "good" photo. But sometimes I wonder that in this formative stage, how many are crippled forever by not being exposed to a much wider photo world (like infants deprived of oxygen). After progressively winning contest ribbons over time, some may conclude that they have "done it" and "have arrived".

Ideally, a photo club would introduce its members to what the photo world is made up of, and disclose that it will only touch the tip of the iceberg. I have yet to come across such a club.

"In photography, it is he who is responsible for the majority of mindless photographs.  He is the joiner, the imitator, the photographer who plays it safe. Such people have surrendered their individuality in exchange for approval, approval by the system, the organization, public opinions, their fellows at the photo club. They have succumbed to fads and trends, they are the in-people who belong to a group or school, and they look down on anybody who does not belong."   - Andreas Feininger
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« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2007, 01:21:11 PM »
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1) contests, because the available set of judges are too often individuals whose outlook is so narrow that it ignores the range of possibilities of photography (and, the impossibility of finding judges whose breadth satisfies the diversity of the membership - from calendar art to post-post-modernism) and awarding ribbons for art is ultimately meaningless and usually totalitarian.
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Well said. Contests seem to be the main stay of all photo clubs. Why? If you are aware of their problems, why not get rid of them? After all, you are in the US, and certainly should know the executive privileges of a president by now.
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