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Author Topic: George Barr's Latest Article Here  (Read 44347 times)
George Barr
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« Reply #20 on: September 10, 2008, 10:56:02 AM »
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I think that we can use the example of Edward Weston's Pepper # 30 to better understand art vs. craft and what serious hobby photographers can hope to achieve (even if they don't end up in the history books). Pepper # 30 was not a breakthrough image - it succeeds simply because of Weston's skill in seeing that a pepper of this interesting shape would photograph well, and that by placing it in a funnel, he'd end up with a dark background that would frame the pepper perfectly, and by using late evening light on the porch (he finally ran out of light entirely) he was able to capture those highlights on the pepper in a way that in a silver print just want to make you cry with their beauty.

When you compare Pepper # 30 to a number of other close ups he did over the years, this image is head and shoulders above the others. Though he has some lovely other images - shells, cabbage, etc..

I think any of us is capable of finding our Pepper # 30, through training our eye to be observant, to know what surfaces reflect light in useful ways and to know how to present a subject (or frame it) to show it to it's best. Perhaps our Pepper # 30 won't be as good as Weston's, but it will mean as much to us and may even move others.

I really don't think that it is necessary to be first to be good (fortunately), though if your goal is to be famous, then absolutely it does.

George
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Rob C
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« Reply #21 on: September 10, 2008, 12:54:29 PM »
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Quote from: George Barr,Sep 10 2008, 03:56 PM


I really don't think that it is necessary to be first to be good (fortunately), though if your goal is to be famous, then absolutely it does.

George
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[/quote

George, without stirring a hornet´s nest, that might apply to some sorts of photography but certainly not in the world of fashion and advertising, and without a doubt, if applied to music, would make many an old porch-sitting blues picker/singer turn in his grave.

Rob C
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« Reply #22 on: September 10, 2008, 01:15:30 PM »
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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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So what you're saying is that a crappy photographer with a great workflow will magically become a great photographer? Pahleaze, Ansel's process came out of his desire to more accurately realize his vision. More accurately, the process was created to better TEACH students how to realize their visions.

Vision first, process second...or perhaps third or fourth.

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George, without stirring a hornet´s nest, that might apply to some sorts of photography but certainly not in the world of fashion and advertising, and without a doubt, if applied to music, would make many an old porch-sitting blues picker/singer turn in his grave.

Rob, that assumes that all fashion and advertising photography, as well as blues music, were created "first" without influences and will never come back into style. As most everything else, fashionable music and photography ebb and flow, leaving ample room for those coming second, third or even fourth to surpass the quality of their predecessors.
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« Reply #23 on: September 10, 2008, 01:32:22 PM »
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Please explain his vision to me. And "If you can't see I can't explain it." won't do. If you know what it was you should be able to explain it.

He was a great innovator in a time when photography was technically a lot more difficult than it is now. Apart from that he spent a lot of time outdoors, found some nice compositions and waited for the light.

There is no magic there. He was special because he was first to do what he did.

"Vision first" phooey. Meaningless twaddle. Tell me what he was trying to convey with his pictures. If you can't explain it it means you don't know either.
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George Barr
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« Reply #24 on: September 10, 2008, 02:32:34 PM »
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Rob:

being different for advertising purposes is certainly critical but I'm not sure that this generalizes to all photography or all art.

The problem with being first is that there are so few who can be first, and some serious artists (in whatever medium) are never first in a major way. If we apply this logic to music, then only the first composer in any genre is going to count - we only need one rapper, one swing music composer, one romantic period symphony.  We could even make the arguement that if Beethoven wrote one symphony, the rest were surplus to requirement, unless each was a first of it's own.

There are degrees of firstness and often artists take an idea and push it further and further to see where it will go. Most of the time we never hear any more because it's a bust, but now and again they get it just right.

Few artists are both first and best and in fact it is often the fact that after some period in any genre, there are people who do it (whatever it is, music, photography, whatever) that really creative people feel the need to move on, but that does not negate the efforts of those artists who brought that genre to it's peak.

An advertizing photographer can come up with a catchy new idea, but that doesn't make it the best idea, the one that is going to win prizes and get preserved in museums - there are some very creative beer commercials, many of them different, but some are just plain better than othersand become classics.

The problem with the grand landscape black and white large format, gorgeously printed roots and rocks genre is that it's been really hard to improve on Ansel. He was most definitely not the first, by a long shot. What he was though was the printer who could make you gasp with the beauty of a print, with the depths of the tones and the fine detail captured and translated into the print.

When Michael Kenna wanted to express himself through landscape imaging, it would seem he felt a need to express it in a different way - with medium format square images of much simpler design, often moody and showing a lot of atmosphere.

There are a number of photographers who photograph the sea shore or docks or whatever with long exposures removing any detail from the water.David Fokos is one. I have absolutely no idea who did it first. I do have a limit to how many of that kind of image I want to see but primary is the desire to see the best of that type of image. I would guess that it actually might be quite difficult to trace back to see who did it first and more than likely we'll find out that it happened at least 80 years ago, done by someone who's name has long since been forgotten.

George
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« Reply #25 on: September 10, 2008, 07:12:27 PM »
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A thought that popped into my head as I was reading through this thread with regard to 'firsts' and originality is that if we're going to compare the work of two photographers (writers, musicians, composers...), then we have to consider a body of work and not just one image.  And that would have to include a body of work over time.  If we were to look at work done by Adams or Bresson or anyone else at the beginning of their careers and compare it to work done years later, it would probably be possible (for someone who didn't know), to say that the images were done by more than one person.

Similarly, one could probably find the 'same' image done by more than one photographer if one was patient to look through enough images.  That's one image in isolation, but if we look at the body of work of one person and the body of work of another - and how many images constitute a body of work is anyone's guess - then differences will become more pronounced; i.e. give the same ______, whatever object to ten different photographers and ask them to make ten images each, and of the 100 images there are likely going to be some images that are similar but many that are quite different.

Mike.

Edit:  Another question with regard to craft v.s. art might be the number of 'artistic' images.  If a photographer creates a body of 'good' images and one or two 'excellent' images, is he or she a craftsman or an artist?  And who decides?
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« Reply #26 on: September 10, 2008, 07:47:50 PM »
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P.S.  Was just reading Joe McNally's blog, and today's post (September 10, 2008) seems to fit in here...

http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/

Mike.
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« Reply #27 on: September 11, 2008, 05:23:17 AM »
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Hello George. Your article has come at a very interesting time and and unfortunately I have been thinking about it all night so if my comments are mere fragments you will know why and hold yourself responsible.   Firstly some background. I started learning a musical instrument at around 30 and have been teaching now for some 20 years. It has been a privilege to have students from 5 years old to 70, from those stunningly talented to those struggling a bit with life after being brain damaged. I started this morning at a place for children expelled from school and who now have nowhere else to go, and finished at a private school for some of the wealthiest in my city. But the issues for learning remain the same. Sure, sometimes there are limits imposed by  a physical injury that can't be worked through. So maybe we can step around them. Sometimes a child is buzzing so much in the head they have no attention span. Often making them laugh stops that for a few minutes and we can make eye contact and while that is happening I can teach. But in learning an instrument the biggest hurdle 95% of the time is attitudes and beliefs.    
So I have been wondering how to integrate my experience with music into my photography to help it along.  
A common response when I'm teaching is for a child to say “this is really difficult”. I think about it for a moment and reply “yes, it is”. Then we get on with the lesson.        
A common failing in students is the lack of practice. No music teacher I work with practised for less than four hours a day in  their training. So if someone can't manage 20-30 minutes a day I have no sympathy.
I've always used as my models and inspiration (and to measure my progress) the top people in my field, some of whom I've been fortunate enough to meet, but whom I cannot hope to ever equal.  I am realistic about this. But to my surprise one day I woke up and found I could do a couple of small things better than anyone else around me locally. Giving me a unique voice in some situations. Maybe another few small things may turn up in the future. Quite exciting really.
Now after having a home darkroom some 35 years ago I've picked up a camera again. My heart's desire has always been to print, but in preparation for buying a 17 inch printer I have going over the 6,000-odd  images from the last 2 years, and I find I have a hit rate of about one in two hundred  for images that interest me enough to work with. Really depressing. I'm looking at where to go with my photography and thinking “this is really difficult”. Uh, well I guess I know the answer to that one.
                                        (  ...and round me too the night
                                           in ever-nearing circle weaves her shade.
                                           I see her veil draw soft across the day,
                                           And long the way appears, which seemed so short,
                                           And high the mountain-tops in cloudy air
                                           The mountain-tops, where is the throne of Truth
.)
So here's my starting list of things to do.
My models? Well, I feel appalling ignorant here, but they would include Turner, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vincent Ward, Ingmar Bergman and Gunnar Fischer, Abel Gance, Antoni Gaudi.
Looking at the images I want to work on I see  most are those where I've had a crystal clear idea of what I wanted to produce. Often those taken within 45 minutes cycling of my front door. Often when heading out to do one thing but I've noticed something else on the way, maybe from my “to do” list.
I'm slowly compiling a “to do” list of ideas, so that when the opportunity presents itself I'm ready. Looking for inspiration here in the cracks in the fabric of reality. Dreams, the quiet moments when an idea comes when you are looking the other way, logical contradictions. And mining my cultural heritage. I love Rembrandt's use of light and shade in the background of his portraits. How can I get this into my portraits of standing stones? Where do I find my van dyke brown and burnt sienna to brush into the canvas?
Here is a painting (in words...an image is an image is an image):
Here will I sit and wait/ While to my ear from uplands far away/ The bleating of the folded flocks is borne/ With distant cries of reapers in the corn- All the live murmer of a summer's day./ Screen'd is this nook o'er the high, half reap'd field/ And here til sun-down, shepherd will I be./ Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep/ And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see pale pink convolvulus in tendrils creep/ And air-swept lindens yield their scent and rustle down their perfumed showers of bloom in the bent grass where I am laid/ And bower me from the August sun with shade. How can I take an image like this and translate it into 6 or so inks on a piece of paper?
At a recent talk given by a newspaper photographer he spoke of how he always looks for a framing or a perspective others would not normally see or use. He calls the space from the waist to the eyes the “zone of death”. Got it. I understand.
Why am I shooting this? This is easier. When I play a piece of music for others it is for my own pleasure as well. I am saying that here is a piece I like and perhaps you may too. Maybe you haven't heard it quite like this or perhaps not contrasted with this next piece. So at least one person will be happy with the results.
The art versus craft discussion confuses me. I need a certain level of technical ability to make real what I have to say musically. I have likely hit my limit here and so what I'm looking to do is to work to the best of my ability with what I have now. On the photo side my technical ability with software and camera is lacking but there are a lot of resources out there.  Including this web site. So I just ask myself if an image I've produced pleases me. Perhaps someone else my like it too. I am not a professional so I have this luxury.
Your article comes at a timely moment. Thanks for the push along. Regards, David
                                             So have I heard the cuckoo's parting cry
                                             From the wet field, through the vext garden-trees,
                                             Come with the volleying rain and tossing breeze:
                                             “The bloom is gone, and with the bloom go I !”
                                             Too quick despairer, Wherefore wilt thou go?
                                              Soon will the high Midsommer pomps come on.
                                              Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
                                              Soon shall we have the gold-dusted snapdragons
                                              Sweet-Willlam with his homely cottage-smell,
                                              And stocks in fragrant blow; roses that down the alleys shine afar,
                                              And open, jasmine-muffled lattices
                                              And groups under the dreaming garden trees,
                                              And the full moon, and the white evening-star
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jerrygrasso96
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« Reply #28 on: September 11, 2008, 08:26:47 AM »
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It's amazing the twists and turns a thread can take from my initial "kudos to George" thought...anyway here's an article by Bill Jay (you read his famous End-Notes in LensWork) that I think compliments the spirit of what George discusses in his article...
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« Reply #29 on: September 11, 2008, 11:24:59 AM »
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My heart's desire has always been to print, but in preparation for buying a 17 inch printer I have going over the 6,000-odd  images from the last 2 years, and I find I have a hit rate of about one in two hundred  for images that interest me enough to work with. Really depressing. I'm looking at where to go with my photography and thinking “this is really difficult”.
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... but is it art?

I understand what you're saying. But if there are indeed 30 images (don't care whether that is from 600, 6000 or 60000) that you selected (based on your personal criteria) are really worth your while on work on, I would say that is a tremendous result over 2 years. I would almost think you need to be more picky!

Working on these 30 will give you a not-to-be-missed learning opportunity (like "wow, that went well" to "oops - I should reshoot if I can"), where you can explore other creative approaches ad nauseum (think HDR, software grad filters, (de)saturation, cropping etc etc).

I would submit that it is a great opportunity. Even financially: if you have 30 'winners' you want to print on a $1500 17 inch printer on 16x20 paper, you would probably pay about $75-$100 per very nice print (some proofs, trials and errors included) if you would depreciate the printer's cost over the 30 prints only. This may come across as elitist, but honestly - that price is not bad at all - again assuming that the prints are worth your while!
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George Barr
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« Reply #30 on: September 11, 2008, 11:49:01 AM »
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Excellent reference Gerry and I highly recommend everyone read and re-read Bill's Essay.

In reading David's comments above as a music teacher he makes the point that often the limiting factors are not lack of talent, or intelligence, or artistic temperament, but a willingness to put in the effort and this is reiterated in Bill's essay.

I suspect that some feel that you are either an artist or not, and that this is both discouraging (what if I don't have "IT" and am wasting my time) and helpful (It's out of my hands, so I don't have to work hard). Some are able to convince themselves that they are artists and others are not while more people agonize that they almost certainly aren't artists, as evidenced by their most recent proof sheet, and may even stop photographing. This is both sad and mistaken.

George
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jerrygrasso96
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« Reply #31 on: September 11, 2008, 01:20:26 PM »
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I guess we are not the first to have conversations like what we have above...see here...

It's just interesting to read how photo-manipulations influence the discussion of art versus craft...
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« Reply #32 on: September 11, 2008, 04:37:27 PM »
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"Vision first" phooey. Meaningless twaddle. Tell me what he was trying to convey with his pictures. If you can't explain it it means you don't know either.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=220635\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

It's not up to me, nor to you, to try and interpret what a photographer (or any artist) is trying convey with any piece of art. This overly simplistic thought, common among photo hobbyists, relegates art to little more than a mathematical formula with one, and only one, correct answer. Hogwash.

The photographer creates an image using personal vision and interpretation, and it's up to us to draw our own conclusion. Personally, I don't give a rats patoot what the photographer wanted to say, nor do I care what anyone else has to say. The only thing that matters to me is what I think it says, and that's the only explanation I could ever give. It's not a difficult concept, actually.

 
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There is no magic there. He was special because he was first to do what he did.
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Sadly, I believe you're serious. My condolences.
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« Reply #33 on: September 11, 2008, 05:21:01 PM »
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John, while I agree with you on what it takes to be recognized as a *significant* artist, I do not
think that art has to be significant in the history of the medium in order to be elevated above
craft. Moreover, I do believe that the context in which the art is produced, as well as the subjects chosen, does contribute the significance of the art.

For instance, let assume that Henri Cartier-Bresson was reborn as an African woman in the second half of the 20th century, and her work would document with the same eye as HCB (but nothing sylisticaly new) the struggles of her continent from an inside point of view. Would one doubt that she would be considered an artist, and that museums would show her work ?

Tuan.
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« Reply #34 on: September 11, 2008, 06:32:54 PM »
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Thank you for your comments Mark. I've particularly enjoyed looking at your photographs, especially "broom" and the images of shadows.
George, I think Bill Jay's article hits the nail on the head. For most musical instruments, the average amount of practice to go from beginner to playing on stage is said to be about 10,000 hours. In my experience that is probably about right. Do it, and you are there. Those who listen may argue over the artistic merits of what you have done, calling it "well crafted" if they liked it but have heard better, or "a fine journeyman presentation" if the technical ability is there but they didn't like your interpretation, but you will be on your way, so to speak. Of course it is not quite the same thing as a photograph, live music being "in the moment" and then gone, but I suspect the differences are not that great. It is a question of doing it: study and practice. If I take the top ten players on my instrument, my guess is perhaps for the top three of those it will be talent. For the other seven their "talent" is being able to work hard. In fact "talent" can be a killer. At some point it will really get hard, and at that point those who have relied on their talent often fall away. Those who always found it difficult never notice when it does actually become hard.
Back to the issue of attitudes and beliefs. When teaching a child with dyslexia for example, the most immediate task is sometimes to drag them kicking and screaming out of the box labelled "I can't do this". So I still maintain the label "artist" is a dead end. I think it is putting oneself into another box. Let others argue about what you are doing. Stand aside from that one. It's too easy to end up arrogant or distressed. No one I know thinks of themselves in those terms. They are producing work because they have to express what is inside and what moves them, and sometimes they need to show others to share what they've done or to have an income, and some things they may keep to themselves.
My two cents worth on that one. David
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George Barr
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« Reply #35 on: September 11, 2008, 11:39:04 PM »
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David (taquin)_

interesting, and I think relevant points about music and hours needed to become skilled and the comments on talent and struggling when things get to be hard work regardless. You might be onto something here.

I think that what happens in those 10,000 hours is that almost everyone has studied so hard and listened to so many musicians that they can't help but develop their own style of playing - it would be difficult in that many hours to only study one expert.

I think exactly the same thing happens in photography. We start out wanting to be Ansel Adams but along the way we are distracted by the work of others, Ploughman, Myerowitz, Kenna et al, and learn more about historical photographers so also learn of both Westons and kertesz and many others. Amongst all those images we have favourites which cannot help but influence us - pulling us in a number of directions instead of just one, and from that we develop our own style(s).

Being first can get you famous, but only for being first, not necessarily (or likely) for being best. Feel free to pick one.

George
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« Reply #36 on: September 12, 2008, 02:00:25 AM »
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It's not up to me, nor to you, to try and interpret what a photographer (or any artist) is trying convey with any piece of art. This overly simplistic thought, common among photo hobbyists, relegates art to little more than a mathematical formula with one, and only one, correct answer. Hogwash.

The photographer creates an image using personal vision and interpretation, and it's up to us to draw our own conclusion. Personally, I don't give a rats patoot what the photographer wanted to say, nor do I care what anyone else has to say. The only thing that matters to me is what I think it says, and that's the only explanation I could ever give. It's not a difficult concept, actually.

 
Sadly, I believe you're serious. My condolences.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=220897\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

So if the interpretation is solipsistic then what point the artist's vision? It is utterly irrelevant to the viewer. And yet it's spoken of in hushed tones, and is really really important that he had a "vision" of some sort because without it of course you can't be an artist.

Please don't misunderstand me - it's not that I don't like the photographs. I like them just fine; it's the pretentious pontification about the photographers that I find ridiculous.

But of course I shall have to bow to your superior wisdom, I am indeed nothing more than a hobbyist (boy that one really put me in my place), and accept your condolences for whatever is apparently missing in my brain that excludes me from admission to these rarefied circles. And being bruised by ad-hominem buffeting shall bow out accepting the scorn of my betters.
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« Reply #37 on: September 12, 2008, 05:09:56 AM »
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You know, when I first saw this thread, "problems with photographing the beautiful and famous", my immediate reaction was; I have no problems photographing the beautiful and famous. This article is of no practical benefit to me. So I ignored it.

But I now see that the term 'beautiful and famous' does not apply to famous people and their idiosyncrasies, but well-photographed locations such as Ansel Adams' Yosemite. How to create a new slant on an old topic!

I feel a bit uncomfortable getting into discussions that centre around the age old question, 'What is art?' I sense there's usually a lot of snobbery and pretentiousness in such discussions.

My approach is, I simply photograph what I find interesting at the time. The problem later is how to translate that initial experience that motivated me to take the shot, into a print (or slide show) that conveys that initial experience, not only to the viewer, but to myself. In fact, to myself first.

A very primitive approach, I'm sure you will agree, but it gives me joy   .
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« Reply #38 on: September 12, 2008, 10:15:22 AM »
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So if the interpretation is solipsistic then what point the artist's vision?
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While an artists vision or purpose is irrelevant to the message received by the viewer, it is absolutely essential for the creation of the image. It creates the groundwork by which an image may be subjectively interpreted and appreciated, even if that interpretation is different than that intended by the photographer.

Without vision, without viewpoint, all we have are pretty pictures. I like to think photography is about more than that.
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« Reply #39 on: September 12, 2008, 12:46:41 PM »
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It's amazing the twists and turns a thread can take from my initial "kudos to George" thought...anyway here's an article by Bill Jay (you read his famous End-Notes in LensWork) that I think compliments the spirit of what George discusses in his article...
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I have to agree: the thing sure has rolled off the edge of the table! But then, that´s one of the nicer things about this site: conversations are able to go beyond a suffocatingly tight remit, opening up all manner of avenues which might otherwise have been left undiscovered. Denied this fresh input, one might as well just write memos to oneself. Or is that really all we are doing?

The Jay article didn´t impress me greatly - I have read much the same sort of thing over and over again, almost stock-in-trade for many teachers, I would think. As with so much material, it comes down to little more than a recycling operation; nothing new comes from it other than the signature at the end.

Another thing which has been voiced here is the assumption of superiority of art over craft. Really?

Perhaps that might be worth some examination. I have seen many more well-made commercial photographs in my day than I have so-called art ones. Indeed, many of the former would, in my estimation, outclass much of the latter. Not only outclass it in purely technical terms but also in emotional content and expression. Let´s think for a moment about architectural photography; let´s ask ourselves if great shots of, say, a city skyline or a new hotel building are any less worthy than Mr Adams´s mountains, the former to commission and the Adams to please his muse. The guy working for a commercial client has to deliver the goods as well as create something outstanding. (I speak here of upmarket photographers/clients.) Art  might or might not be seen by the client, perhaps even though it is by the photographer, but success within a more rigorous regime seems more worthy to me than the fluke in the field, even if the fluke has had many similar iterations to get it right!

I have a feeling that there is probably more difference between the photographic mindset and the painterly one than might be imagined. In general, painters I have know have been totally obsessed with their work, making a living coming a poor second, possibly why so many end up teaching: not a lot more is available to them sans private means or immediate gallery glory. Photographers, on the other hand, seem to be more business minded (I can hear the names Hirst and Warhol being screamed at the computers in protest) in general and able to combine the work they love with some form of it that enables a living to be scratched. This is not to say that photographers often make good businessmen - probably far from it - which is why I wrote scratched. But nonetheless, many do manage to combine the branch of photography that grabs them and also the moneymaking sort, not often the same, I´m afraid. Also, I feel photographers make more willing prostitutes.

All this stuff about photographer´s intention, viewer´s interpretation, it all sounds exactly what I´d think of as camera club psychology. Why can´t a photograph (or a painting) just be bloody good or simply lousy? There really isn´t much room for Mr In-between.

Ray´s approach might be the most honest: shoot what is interesting at the time, worry about it later. But that is the preserve of he who has no need to earn his keep from the thing. Perhaps the reality is that we shall never get closer to any definition of art than to say that in many media there are examples of it but those are rare in number. I remember a somewhat glib statement somewhere that there is no art only artists. Maybe the two sentences could run together.

Rob C
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