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Author Topic: My Opinionated Camera  (Read 6666 times)
JoshAustin
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« on: May 08, 2010, 11:19:14 AM »
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How much subtlety and suggestion is it possible for cameras to offer? I've been loving street photography recently and taking load of shots. Like many areas of photography it seems to be the contrasts and the tensions that catch the eye draw in the camera. Beggars on elegant streets, a suited man in a rough, run down neighbourbood, and all that stuff.

I often find that, looking at my pictures later, there's something unsatisfactory. When taking shots I feel interested by something, but the camera seems more opinionated than me! Everything kind of becomes a statement - 'look how awful this neighbourhood is compared to the guy who takes pride in his appearance', or 'see how sad the beggar looks as all the people ignore him'. I guess these examples a little too obvious, but it's about struggling to show things rather than just state them.

I was wondering whether this is because in photography we're dealing with real things. The immediate claim to the viewer is this actually happened and I saw it. It's really tough to get those shots that genuinely raise a question and nothing else. The best portrait photographers - like Steve McCurry (who is indeed unbelievably awesome!) - seem able to put people at their ease and seize on a little glance or something that just makes you want to know more.

I think perhaps having sympathy for your subject helps, rather than being a totally detached observer. I'd love to hear peoples' thoughts. How do you try to invite questions rather than give answers?

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fredjeang
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« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2010, 11:47:14 AM »
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Quote from: JoshAustin
How much subtlety and suggestion is it possible for cameras to offer? I've been loving street photography recently and taking load of shots. Like many areas of photography it seems to be the contrasts and the tensions that catch the eye draw in the camera. Beggars on elegant streets, a suited man in a rough, run down neighbourbood, and all that stuff.

I often find that, looking at my pictures later, there's something unsatisfactory. When taking shots I feel interested by something, but the camera seems more opinionated than me! Everything kind of becomes a statement - 'look how awful this neighbourhood is compared to the guy who takes pride in his appearance', or 'see how sad the beggar looks as all the people ignore him'. I guess these examples a little too obvious, but it's about struggling to show things rather than just state them.

I was wondering whether this is because in photography we're dealing with real things. The immediate claim to the viewer is this actually happened and I saw it. It's really tough to get those shots that genuinely raise a question and nothing else. The best portrait photographers - like Steve McCurry (who is indeed unbelievably awesome!) - seem able to put people at their ease and seize on a little glance or something that just makes you want to know more.

I think perhaps having sympathy for your subject helps, rather than being a totally detached observer. I'd love to hear peoples' thoughts. How do you try to invite questions rather than give answers?
Hi josh.

I think that reality is trully full of magic. but you have the choice to ignore it and just experiment daily rutine, boring or dejà vu situations.
If you feel the magic in yourself, then some "magic" situations are going to come to you.
But it comes from inside first.

Regards.
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Rob C
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« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2010, 04:26:38 PM »
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I have a feeling that your sense of dissatisfaction with your shots might not be based on the shots themselves, but more on your own relationship with subject, location, excitement of being there and then the contrast of all that with the image on a bit of paper or on an impersonal screen.

With other people's pics, you don't really have any idea what they were thinking when they went click; you have nothing but your personal reaction to the image you see and what you take to that particular party.

With no pre-conception, you can't later face disappointment. How do you know that the shooters you admire are not similarly affected by looking at their own work? It is partly why photographers (self included) are not always their own best editors: we carry trace elements of the shoot in our minds and those may not exist in the print. It's very easy to do with model shoots - the girl can snow you into thinking something was there that really ain't!

Rob C
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JoshAustin
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2010, 04:53:44 PM »
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I think you're both spot on - it comes down to how you feel when out on a shoot. I think it almost always helps to approach whatever you're shooting respectfully rather than kind of acquisitively and graspingly. You're right Fred I think it helps to be open to everything if you want to capture the 'magic' moments. Definitely true about memory/printed image differing Rob - I think that prejudices my reaction to my own shots quite a lot. I often now keep pics for a few weeks that I initially think are rubbish, but come round to really liking them!
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RSL
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« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2010, 04:59:27 PM »
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Quote from: JoshAustin
I often now keep pics for a few weeks that I initially think are rubbish, but come round to really liking them!

Exactly right, Josh. And sometimes it works the other way too. My own experience has been that the judgments I make immediately after a shoot often are wrong. It always pays to give time a little elbow room.
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fredjeang
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« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2010, 02:53:39 AM »
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Exactly right, Josh. And sometimes it works the other way too. My own experience has been that the judgments I make immediately after a shoot often are wrong. It always pays to give time a little elbow room.
Agree 100%
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Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2010, 01:56:42 AM »
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Quote from: JoshAustin
...... I think perhaps  having sympathy for your subject helps, rather than being a totally  detached observer. I'd love to hear peoples' thoughts. How do you try to  invite questions rather than give answers?

I'd replace "having sympathy" with "having a meaningful sort of relation" - not necessarily positive (e.g. skyscrapers).

I also would try to take an ambiguous perspective seeing the subject to allow room for contradictions and disallow the mind to take easy interpretations.
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JoshAustin
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« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2010, 06:17:25 PM »
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I also would try to take an ambiguous perspective seeing the subject to allow room for contradictions and disallow the mind to take easy interpretations.

I really like that approach Christoph and I personally think it presents a real challenge. The split second after you take a picture a person's expression might change completely, or the sun might catch the windows of a skyscraper making it look kind of elegant. Rarely are all the components in place in a single scene to really put across all of the depth, ambiguity and interest of something. When photos do capture people, events or places in a non-didactic way I think they have a magic quality. My favourite photos are not normally the ones that incite a big, instant, clear emotional reaction - but that make me really want to know more, to see what's beyond the borders of the frame, to understand the true relationship between people in a photo or to get to know more of a city, a landscape etc.

I'm sure I'm not alone here in looking up to Cartier-Bresson as an awesome example of how it can be done.
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pniaouris
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« Reply #8 on: September 07, 2010, 12:49:29 PM »
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  Non didactic is just the word Josh . The world is out there and nobody needs me to show it to him . What extreme misery scenes do is to finish the job that insurance advertishments start .
 Pictures of everydays funny little tragedies , ridiculous ambitions , fragile dreams , that't the stuff that help me stay cool and not overrate my everyday's problems . Then , I'm ready to see the world with my eyes , not with the camera .
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Rob C
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« Reply #9 on: September 07, 2010, 02:13:41 PM »
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What's this gallery called?

Rob C
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mahleu
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« Reply #10 on: September 07, 2010, 02:31:56 PM »
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Someone who I spoke to once (while critiquing a photo of mine) said that when I described the creation of the photo it came to life.

The problem was that I was feeling something at the time and the photo hadn't quite captured that, at least not without a description to make sense of it.

The solution was to think through a little bit more and try to be more of a storyteller than a recorder of a scene. There has to be something there that makes the viewer think a little bit or make them feel like you felt.
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feppe
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« Reply #11 on: September 07, 2010, 04:17:35 PM »
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Someone who I spoke to once (while critiquing a photo of mine) said that when I described the creation of the photo it came to life.

The problem was that I was feeling something at the time and the photo hadn't quite captured that, at least not without a description to make sense of it.

The solution was to think through a little bit more and try to be more of a storyteller than a recorder of a scene. There has to be something there that makes the viewer think a little bit or make them feel like you felt.

That's exactly what David duChemin is getting at in his book Within The Frame which I'm reading at the moment. We as photographers need to depend on what's in the frame, and can't rely on our own tinted vision of the scene. If it's not visible in the frame, it doesn't matter if we climbed the highest mountain or were shoulders-deep in dirty water for months to get the shot. Same goes for the feelings the photo invokes in us - they are very different from what's visible within, and evoked by, the frame.

How to get that story across can be a daunting task, but according to him (and I agree) that is what elevates the good photographer from a great one.
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Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #12 on: September 08, 2010, 02:04:09 AM »
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I believe an image title/caption is the right means for that.
The ideal, of course always is that "the image speaks for itself".
But sometimes a little context is helpful without jeopardizing
the photograph as an entity on its own.
~C.
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Rob C
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« Reply #13 on: September 08, 2010, 04:11:28 AM »
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I wonder if anyone has ever thought of stepping back a few steps, then asking the question: if we had not been brought up to believe implicitly in the genius of those we hold heroes, would we still think them so now?

Sometimes I think that we all expect the impossible from a photograph.

If you strip away the mystique, the glamour of the name of either snapper or model or location, what does any photograph really show you? Pretty much nothing. You have to know the rules of the game to appreciate it. And there's the rub: its the rules that create the success, the way the image fits within the conceptions of the genre, the expectations.

On its own, it's just a picture. Interpretation is the province of the educated/conditioned viewer.

Take this idea from the realm of street and cross sideways into fashion. There you see exactly the same thing at work: it's a language, a game with certain unwritten rules that all the players recognize. And to which they inevitably have to subscribe or sink without trace.

Rob C
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RSL
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« Reply #14 on: September 08, 2010, 09:29:12 AM »
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Rob, I think that's true of any "art." I had my first poem published when I was nineteen, and continued to write poetry until the art reached the point where it had become a cult thing, only intelligible to its insiders. At that point I dropped out. I had subscribed to Poetry magazine for decades and gradually watched what had often been a wonderful art descend into gibberish. Looking at the latest "fine art" photography magazines I'm beginning to wonder whether or not photography is going in the same direction. Happily, photography has things like fashion and other commercial applications that tend to draw it away from cultism. But for photography as art, the danger's there.
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Rob C
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« Reply #15 on: September 09, 2010, 02:22:53 AM »
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Russ

For many years I used to subscribe to the British Journal of Photography, an august publication that thought of itself as the voice of the professional, which, for some years, it really was.

Eventually, it degenerated into a mixture of things, the most recognizable one of those being that it took on the mantle of encourager of youth, of the student. It stared off a section of little portfolios which, week afer week, showed the same basic technique of printing up the images that you shoot whilst you are winding on the film for those first couple of safety inches. We had chair legs, sloping tree roots, motion blur and anything other than a photograph of something you could understand without a curator.

I gather that the magazine has now become a monthly rather than a weekly... it used to do an annual, perhaps that will be its final format.

So many things parody that wondrous bird that flies in those ever decreasing circles until it finally disappears up its own time warp.

Rob C
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Justinr
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« Reply #16 on: September 10, 2010, 04:39:44 AM »
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That is indeed the case Rob, the dear old BJP is now a monthly and even I, once one of its keenest adherents, supporters and at times apologist no longer subscribe to it although this has as much to do with a lack of communication with their subscription department as it does with the content itself. It always arrived 5 days later over here than it did in the UK mainland, something I found quite nonsensical and in the end they didn't even bother sending me a renewal notice, so I didn't bother renewing.

I would like to suggest though that it's troubles in satisfying it's traditional readership were as much a part of the violent changes to the trade brought about by the IT tidal wave as it was by a misguided and unprovoked chasing of the youth market. Competition suddenly appeared in the form of websites such as this and the role of the traditional printed magazine was being challenged as never before. I sincerely hope that it learns to play to the strength of its type of media and publishes and displays photography in a way that is simply unmatchable by the web. Unfortunately the greater part of photographic output is now consumed by via monitors of one type or another (I would guess) and so this may remain a dream rather than a realistic forecast. If ever there was a venerable magazine desperately seeking a new role in changing world then BJP is it.

Just as an aside I have discovered Irish Arts Review instead. A worthy quarterly in which various members of academia comment upon the visual arts with an Irish Connection. The present issue has essays devoted to the upcoming exhibition of Metsu, a contemporary of Vermeer, in Dublin, the relationship between artists and anatomists with reference to teaching the latest generation of medical students and a study of Bronze artefacts found in the Waterford now on display in the city. If anyone needs to ask what this has to do with photography beyond the excellent images in the publication then I fear they'll never know, or at least have something more to learn..

« Last Edit: September 10, 2010, 04:41:54 AM by Justinr » Logged

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