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Author Topic: George Barr's Latest Article Here  (Read 44907 times)
jerrygrasso96
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« on: September 08, 2008, 06:25:49 AM »
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Kudos to George. His latest article here about "The problem with photographing the beautiful and famous" discusses something I have also struggled with, and it is great to read some structured analysis that can help us approach this problem logically. His guideline questions at the end of his article can be used as a great starting point when approaching any potential scene as well.

I'd love to read an extended article that explores with some length on each of his suggested questions. Nice job, George!
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2008, 01:27:08 PM »
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Yes, indeed: an excellent essay. Nice illustrations, too.
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« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2008, 03:06:37 PM »
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A really good article... similar to techniques I learned from Freeman Patterson as well.

And George if you're here, really beautiful B&W work on your website!

Mike.
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If your mind is attuned to beauty, you find beauty in everything.
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George Barr
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« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2008, 04:02:40 PM »
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Thank you all for your kind comments.
All the best,

George
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lbalbinot
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« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2008, 05:21:42 PM »
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Really good indeed! An excellent essay.

Regards,
Luis
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Luis F Balbinot
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John Camp
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« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2008, 07:59:32 PM »
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I think he's completely off-base. Significant work isn't about what's in front of the lens; it's about ideas. Ansel Adams had an idea, and he produced a body of work around that idea, and now when people take the same idea, it's hackneyed. The vein is worked out. Landscape photography has nowhere to go, until somebody comes up with a different idea about it.

There are some fabulous landscape photographers out there who match Adams in technique, and since they had better materials, they produce prints that exceed those of Adams. The problem is, most landscape "artists" are shooting Adams' ideas (or Minor White's, or some else's), but since they're not their own ideas, and really don't explore much in the way of new directions, they're simply imitators. They are performing like contemporary"impressionists" or "plein aire" painters who use the impressionist technique, and subject matter, and often quite skillfully -- but they're not in the museums because there's nothing new, there's no unique vision.

In other words, like 99.9% of highly skilled landscape photographers, these painters are craftsmen, rather than artists. They're making chairs. Nothing wrong with being a craftsman, but being a craftsman doesn't necessarily or even usually mean that you're an artist.

If your work is indistinguishable from Minor White's, you're an imitator (or a craftsman) not an artist; if you shoot just like Ansel Adams, the same is true; name any serious photographic artist since since the days of Steiglitz and Steichen, and you'll find troops of followers. The fact that they're following is the reason they don't get the bold print in the art histories, no matter how skilled they are.

You need an idea. A black and white plow blade isn't an idea, it's a picture.

JC
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Pete Ferling
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« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2008, 10:46:54 PM »
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That's going to be a kind of a problem, as we all have the same canvas from which to compose.  Google pictures horseshoe bend and you'll get 270,000 hits.  The earth is pretty well covered.

If I shoot an image and someone say's it looks like someone else's work, well..

I don't get hung up on this.  I simply enjoy the act of taking a photo and having my friends and family take notice.  That's reward enough for me in my little world.

Great article.  Makes you think.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2008, 11:04:53 PM »
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If you have a strong personality with some unique (more or less) qualities, and you're darn good with the camera, chances are you can produce a collection that stands out from the crowd.  Those who don't are usually intimidated by peer pressure and fear of rejection, which happens to the great ones in large quantity long before they become recognized.
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George Barr
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2008, 11:52:09 PM »
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I'm glad John offered a dissenting opinion on my ideas in the article, though I am not entirely sure that his arguments (which I largely agree with) necessarily follow from what I wrote.

John refers to significant photography, presumably the work done by the people other than the 99.9% - ie. .1% of all serious photographers.

Frankly, I don't think the .1% need my help while the 99.9% perhaps could be helped by my suggestions.

I agree with John though, in 100 years, only the innovators, the originators, the people who have taken photography a significant step further than it has gone before are likely to be remembered in museums, and likely nowhere else.

I have no illusions that I am going to rate an entry in the year 3000 History Of Photography books. For myself, I'm content to push boundaries while the truly great leap over them.

I suspect that the vast majority of readers of the article really don't think of themselves as belonging in that .1%, and more than a few of them have struggled with the issues I address - which by the way come from my own experience in tackling the beautiful and trying to compete with Ansel and coming to terms with the idea that there's no need to do so.

I look forward to seeing how this dialog develops and how other people feel about the ideas in the article and about the forum comments.

George
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Craig Arnold
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« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2008, 02:42:30 AM »
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Of course there is a world of difference between good and bad photography, but I am increasingly, and with some reluctance, coming to the conclusion that photography even at its very best is usually not all that good.

There are so very few photographers, even some of the "masters", whose work one can look through and be amazed.

And as to the notion that one can really have a vision that one wants to communicate through one's photos. Well, 90% of the time that emperor is wearing no clothes, even with the really great and famous photographers. Remove it from the realm of social commentary and it's down to 99.9999% naked I'm afraid.

And if someone takes pictures of rust and tells me that they have a vision and want to communicate some meaning other than "wow rust makes pretty cool patterns eh?" then I guess I'm just not buying it. Not that I don't think it can induce a pleasant aesthetic experience and make me want to hang it on my wall.

So what can you do when faced with trying to take a picture of the beautiful? Well you can make a beautiful picture, one that makes someone go "wow". But more than that? You can pretend you have a "vision" or something deep to communicate, but it's just homeopathy; do it for the placebo effect if you must, but there's nothing real going on there.

Edit: George, I applaud you for searching for the answer to the question of how one takes one's photography "to the next level", but I guess I have come to the conclusion that there really is no next level there to be found.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2008, 02:59:33 AM by peripatetic » Logged

dalethorn
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« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2008, 05:17:24 AM »
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The reason Ansel Adams was great is because he didn't just snap photos with a "vision" - he created photos from a process he created first.  Like Edison, he knew that creativity was 99 pct. perspiration.  Those who work really hard to create their process first, then their photos from that - they will have the advantage.
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jbarkway
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« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2008, 06:21:47 AM »
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That's going to be a kind of a problem, as we all have the same canvas from which to compose. Google pictures horseshoe bend and you'll get 270,000 hits. The earth is pretty well covered.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=220245\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I disagree. The Earth is not 'pretty well covered'. Certain places in the US, UK and a handful of other countries get a disproportionate amount of exposure, this much is obvious. The challenge for those of us of a mind so to do, is to look for locations which have not been covered to such depth. Or, as George Barr points out, to go looking for the beautiful in places where others do not see it.

One of the greatest proponents of these ideas is the British photographer, David Ward. He may not be well known on the left side of The Pond but his images are an object lesson in 'found beauty' (for want of a better term). I recommend those interested in reading further to check out his two books: 'Landscape Within' and 'Landscape Beyond'.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2008, 06:23:27 AM by jbarkway » Logged
Pete Ferling
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« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2008, 07:35:22 AM »
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2008, 01:50:37 PM »
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I for one, find it more challenging to simply drive down the the road a few miles, crawl throught the woods and shoot a small brook.  Such places are void of historical signs, warnings about leaving the trail, litter, and other people.

Reminds me of two exercises from 'Photography and the Art of Seeing' (IIRC...)  One was to walk out your front door, take 10 steps, turn left, take 5 steps, turn right, take 5 steps (or some such, depending on where you live), and without moving your feet, shoot a roll of film, making each shot interesting.  The other was to take an object - a plow blade, a car, a tree, a pop can or whatever you want, and shoot a roll of film only of that object - again, making each image unique and interesting.  Yeah, I know... film?  What's film?  But it does challenge the person to go beyond the chunk of metal and plastic and glass that's in your hands and begin to see the world around you.

Mike.
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Pete Ferling
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« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2008, 03:49:23 PM »
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Reminds me of two exercises from 'Photography and the Art of Seeing' (IIRC...)  One was to walk out your front door, take 10 steps, turn left, take 5 steps, turn right, take 5 steps (or some such, depending on where you live), and without moving your feet, shoot a roll of film, making each shot interesting.  The other was to take an object - a plow blade, a car, a tree, a pop can or whatever you want, and shoot a roll of film only of that object - again, making each image unique and interesting.  Yeah, I know... film?  What's film?  But it does challenge the person to go beyond the chunk of metal and plastic and glass that's in your hands and begin to see the world around you.

Mike.
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Exactly.  I've shot film since the mid 80's.  I was in the Navy have visit many countries over the course of six years.  Only to have lost every negative during a transfer of duty.  I was young and naive and being a sailor, kept everything in a box in my locker.  I still shutter to think of the loss to this day.  The only surviving image was a 20" blow up of the US Saratoga CV-60 on the pier, full moon behind the bridge and rumored to be last seen in the Captains quarters before she was decomissioned.

Since that event I packed my T50 away and never shot with it again.  Doing primarily commercial work only.  Only lately did I start shooting again, having discovered the benefit of digital (backups!)

If you look at my site, (ferling.net) other than the New Jersey shore pics, baltimore city scape and a hotel in Florida, all images were shot within a ten mile radius of where I live in Reading, Pennsylvania over the last six months.

Does that diminish interest?  No.  Because someones local is anothers far, far away.
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John Camp
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« Reply #15 on: September 09, 2008, 03:55:53 PM »
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<snip>The challenge for those of us of a mind so to do, is to look for locations which have not been covered to such depth. Or, as George Barr points out, to go looking for the beautiful in places where others do not see it. One of the greatest proponents of these ideas is the British photographer, David Ward. He may not be well known on the left side of The Pond but his images are an object lesson in 'found beauty' (for want of a better term). [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=220296\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

David Ward is an example of what I was talking about in my first post -- an exceptional craftsman, but not a significant artist. I thank George for his temperate reply to my first post, which was somewhat over-enthusiastic, but the point I was making there is that pushing craft, and doing craft exercises, will not make you a significant artist. One of the problems with the whole confused field of photography is that people constantly talk about Art, but what they're really getting to is a kind of craft.

I have no problem with craft. I'm a serious and successful craftsman in a field in which there are great artists; I never wanted to be one, for a lot of complicated reasons, but I take my *craft* seriously and work hard it. I just don't confuse what I'm doing with art.

Art is about ideas. It's not about finding undiscovered or unappreciated places in the world. America wasn't undiscovered when Robert Frank did "The Americans." The discovery was in his idea, not in the place; it was in his head, not on the other side of the lens.

The impressionist and post-impressionist painters took the most inane realities -- houses on a hill, crows over a wheat field -- and turned them into great art, because they were exploring concepts like the effect of light on external realities, the impact of nature on our psyches, and so on. The landscape could be anything...

One thing that has always stuck with me from Luminous Landscape is that Mike Reichmann once told the story of how he went to the right place at the right time (I think the Grand Tetons, but it could have been Yellowstone) and there were a lot of other people there and when the sun came up or went down, whichever it was, they all took their photos. I don't doubt that his were perfectly exposed and strikingly beautiful, but...What did he just do? Whatever it was, a lot of other people did exactly the same thing at the same moment, the only difference being in the levels of technique. Could you call that any form of art? I'm really interested in that question: "What was he doing?" (Don't tell me "camera testing" -- that'd be too easy.)

If you want to be an artist, ideas are what you worry about; if you want to be a great craftsman, then you can without the slightest twinge of guilt go looking for the most brilliantly composed mountain glade with aspens in the sunlight. It looks great, it sells for $100 for 13x19 pigment print in an edition of 150; but I'll tell you what, it ain't art. And if you load up your truck with photo equipment and head out to New Mexico, you may get your craft going, but unless you have an aesthetic concept that you're putting to the test, you're going to get pictures, but you won't get art.

JC
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George Barr
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« Reply #16 on: September 09, 2008, 08:13:32 PM »
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Good points John and an interesting subject to discuss, even if I feel it's going a bit beyond the scope of my article. Your points raise questions like is it even possible to teach someone to think outside the box when they weren't naturally inclined that way in the first place. There are suggestions that children naturally think outside the box and that we train it out of them with rules and embarrassment and norms and holding up examples of those who went before. This would suggest that the ability to be creative, to think outside the box, to come up with original ideas is not an all or none thing, that all of us can learn this kind of thinking to some degree or another.

As a physician, I do a lot of work with adults and kids with ADHD, attention deficit - people who often excell at thinking outside the box, but who may not be able to keep a thought long enough to act on it. ADHD certainly comes in degrees of severity. Typically the more severe, the more creative the person. I treat song writers and artists.

Freeman Patterson is someone well known for teaching thinking outside the box. Sure he's famous for visiting Namibia but the vast majority of the images which have made his reputation were made within 20 miles of his home. He teaches creative thinking exercises, as was mentioned in one of the replies above.

There are no new subjects out there - absolutely everything we could photograph has been done before - ok, perhaps not this stream or waterfall, but it isn't the waterfall that makes for a unique piece of art, but the way that the photographer sees it and interprets it.

Some photographers rely on tricks and techniques, methods and equipment to differentiate their work - they make platinum prints or make albumin prints, glass plates or even silver plates but while one can admire their craftsmanship, the real question is whether the images they produce produce any kind of response in the viewers - an emotion or showing us something we didn't know before or telling a story particularly well.

If we look at painting, there are a select limited number of painters who saw things differently and for that they will be remembered in the history books. It does not mean that no one else on this planet is an artist painter. there is good evidence in all the creative arts that while the history books imply that there were sudden and gigantic leaps forward via the Cezannes and Picasso's, in fact the changes they made were not entirely de novo - they took further the ideas that were already developing. The same is true in music - Beethoven didn't come along in a vacuum, he developed his music over time, early work being fairly closely related to the works of those before him (like Mozart) while gradually drifting further along a path. Sure Beethoven thought outside the box, but he started with small steps. By the end, he'd traveled a significant distance.

Getting back to the article, if you accept that artistry is a matter of degrees rather than kind, then I do think that that the issues I raised are relevant for many photographers. Combined with some of Freeman's exercises for thinking outside the box, it might just make someone a better photographer.

George
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Rob C
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« Reply #17 on: September 10, 2008, 05:12:45 AM »
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This thread, so far and in my opinion, has turned out to be the best-written and most considered that comes to mind.

We have often touched on the problem of originality - whether it is even possible anymore - and I doubt that we shall ever resolve the issue to a general level of satisfaction. The same holds with the matter of genre: can a new one be invented or even discovered?

Comment has been passed on the impressionists/post-impressionists and their ways of doing things, but I sometimes wonder if we read too much into their work. Could it be nothing more than that was how they did things, that their technique was simply not able to accommodate the standards of the past? A personal example: as a kid, I spent a lot of spare time in art galleries and bought lots of postcards from which I tried to make copies with my own fair hand. In the end, I realised that the most easily copied ones were Vincent Van Gs efforts. Why? Because the technique was so crude that my even more crude attempts at learning something from him showed that he was pretty easy to imitate. His work seemed no more capable of capturing anything much than could my own.

So where did that go? First of all, I fell in love with the story of the guys life and I still think of him fondly today; secondly, I realised that where I had been thinking that by trying to reproduce his work I was learning something, I had just been deceiving myself - I had simply settled for a soft option which precluded the awkward search for something of my own to say.

For me, thats pretty much where all of the rock, tree, canyon, sunset, sunrise photographers are sitting today. Exactly where I was in my Van Gogh days.

But that may not be a permanent state of affairs. In the field of pin-up/glamour (not to be confused with the meaning of those words today) of the 50s there was a handful of successful practioners, amongst whom Id include Peter Gowland, Don Ornitz, Peter Basch, Russ Meyer and perhaps some others. They all seemed to be very skilled and at the top of the tree regarding poses, lighting and all the rest. Then, out of South Africa, came Sam Haskins. He was a lightning bolt. What he had been able to do was revolutionary and left the rest of the field looking as dated as you can imagine. His seminal book, Five Girls, was a revelation. Same subject, but brother, what a leap upmarket!

Perhaps the same can happen with other branches of photography, but I wont be holding my breath!
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NikoJorj
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« Reply #18 on: September 10, 2008, 05:52:17 AM »
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And if you load up your truck with photo equipment and head out to New Mexico, you may get your craft going, but unless you have an aesthetic concept that you're putting to the test, you're going to get pictures, but you won't get art.
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Quite an interesting point of view! It reminds me of the inner sigh I feel every time I see yet another image of Monument Valley's Mittens...
And for me it complements well George Barr's article : the article means, for me, how can new subjects be found in old locations, whereas John Camp's view is more about the style, or the way to depict it, than about the subject itself.
Peppers such ad Ed Weston's one had already been numerously depicted in previous still lives, though there is something more to his one.

For me, I'm certainly no Ed Weston, and just want to convey to other people the wonder I feel in some places or things - for that I think I need more craft than art.
Furthermore, I'd think an article can only explain crafts and techniques, if we agree that art is something deeply personal, and not something that can be copied effectively.
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Nicolas from Grenoble
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« Reply #19 on: September 10, 2008, 09:03:26 AM »
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