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Author Topic: Time, photography and how we use it  (Read 6153 times)
BernardLanguillier
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« on: September 25, 2010, 09:00:52 PM »
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Following up on previous excursions away from the core aspects of luminous photography, here is another open question.

Most of us grow older everyday, only at a slow pace that makes the process hardly noticeable. Our children move faster and help us with the realization that time passes by, but we still mostly strive to forget about this depressing thought.

Yet we share an urge to achieve things. Get safe, write our name on the history tablets, build something,... and this urge drives our priorities in life in more of less subtle ways.

Most of us have decided to include photography as part of the story of our lifes. Some use photography as a way to earn money, others as a way to spend it. Yet we all devote time to photography, time we could be spending doing something else, time that should be more were other tasks less time consuming. The photographic time presents itself in different forms shaped by the activities pertaining to photography, but also influenced by our relationship to photography, how we perceive it and interact with the mental models we have created to materialize it as a part of who we are. We might see the world and our past as polaroids or key moments, think about a series expanding in time.

Some of us also spend time listening to music using more or less well performing audio systems. The unit of time of music listening has been changing recently. We used to listen to a LP or a CD and that would eat 45 minutes of our life. Highly enjoyable time or time living a parallel life together with some other task. The basic unit of time of music listening has changed recently. We can now stream music and listen to that one 3:45 min download from iTunes or loop forever randomly in our vast electronic library of tunes. The musical time has shrinked or been expanded depending on how you look at it.

My question to you. How do you feel photography relates to time and has this been changing?

Cheers,
Bernard
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Joe Behar
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« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2010, 10:03:48 PM »
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Bernard,

First off, there's nothing depressing about growing older. As a matter of fact, I'm finding it refreshing and liberating.

About your question;

For me photography acts as a time machine. I look at my photos and they remind me of events, people and places. At the same time they make me wonder what those people, places or even events will be like in the future. The interesting thing is that I didn't always think this way, so yes, the way I relate photography and time is changing.

Its only natural I suppose. I know I've changed and I can see that my photography has changed ( I won't comment on if its improved Smiley )

I guess, for me, photography relates to time in the sense that as time has progressed, my photography has changed. I have no concerns that I'll run out of time, or run out of pictures.
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Lost
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« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2010, 01:35:39 AM »
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Regards to aging: no thanks. I could do without the aching back etc. I would not want to live forever (imagine what that would do to you if you are prone to procrastination!), but I really really would like to live my years gaining wisdom and experience but without all of the bio-mechanical failures that accumulate. We didn't really evolve to live to ~100 years...

Regards to photography: of course it is inextricably linked to time. The evolution of the photographer with experience (and bad back). The changing light from moment to moment and season to season (and global warming patter to global warming pattern). The changing equipment, from luggable silver halide prints to MF digital backs. The changing lenses, from pinhole to electron microscope, radio interferometers to Hubble.

Even within a photograph, time is not constant. That sunset photograph shows the near frame as it is "now", but the sun as it was six minutes ago. Everytime you point you camera towards a clear night sky you are capturing images of light that may be thousands, millions or even billions of years old (though you may need a *big* lens :-)

In fact, I wonder if anyone can think of any aspect of photography that is not inextricably linked to time?
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Rob C
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« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2010, 05:09:45 AM »
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Fred, are you sure we are not related? Jurançon, Scottish ladies, breasts we admire (on persons of the female gender), and minimalist photography? For your sake, I hope not, but it couldn't be all bad if we are!

For me, I think the changes over the past ten years or so have been quite radical. There seems to have been an enormouse hike in the price one pays for ever more doubtful equipment quality, though this may well be a personal impression only, since there is no longer a business against which to write off such costs, but I don't think this is the only factor - I think the rise is real for everyone.

Before I turned pro I used to know people who belonged (almost literally) to camera clubs who, when I would mention that I'd fancy a 500C would roll their eyes and say that's ridiculous, nobody needs one! Today, the equivalent money and more is spent by the amateur who seems to be even more equipment-obsessed than the pro ever is, even though the latter can write off costs. I seem to pick up the vibe that the pro today puts up with constant innovation whilst the amateur welcomes it. Strange.

I also get the impression that times in photography are changing not only regarding equipment, but also standards of image or image expectation. Was a time when quality was pretty clear-cut: it was obviously there, or it was obvious by its absence. Today, the infusion of so-called art into the medium has blurred the boundaries to the point where any old crap goes; it only needs the producer to say it's art, self-expression or a zillion other cop-out words. Worse, the larger the physical size of these photo phonies the greater the kudos and the perceived value, as a look at some renown gallery sites illustrates.

In short, I think the time has come when the medium has gone totally democratic and is now enjoying the problems that any such state brings in its wake.

Rob C

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Rocco Penny
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« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2010, 09:02:19 AM »
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Time

I'm not sure that photography does anything in regards to the time I spend except to drive me to more precise observation.

So like a swordsman will just be good at handling a sword after 30 years, I'd expect to see progress in precision.

Time passes just like time will pass no matter the way you spend it.

Synchronicity is the key.  Being able to ride the wave of common energy in real time.

Being engaged in something greater than watching time pass, and being able to live with some passion for the choices I make is the beginning for me.

Photography just lets me author some moments as art.
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michswiss
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2010, 10:00:23 AM »
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Given outside observances that I'm 17 in one context but approaching 50 in another gives time an odd meaning for me.  Photography is connecting me back to a period before significant dissonance and now.  Thinking and talking about it is a time waster for sure.  Doing it is a gift for others.  It captures a moment that looses subjectivity the further you move from it.  But hopefully a good shot retains a truth in moment for others to appreciate.

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Rob C
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« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2010, 11:08:06 AM »
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“Given outside observances that I'm 17 in one context but approaching 50 in another gives time an odd meaning for me.  Photography is connecting me back to a period before significant dissonance and now.  Thinking and talking about it is a time waster for sure.  Doing it is a gift for others.  It captures a moment that looses subjectivity the further you move from it.  But hopefully a good shot retains a truth in moment for others to appreciate.”



Hi Jenn

Welcome to Jerry Lee Lewis Land.

As in his song, Thirty-nine and Holding, which you can see in various versions on Youtube, even placing one’s own age becomes problematic pretty soon after you leave school. My mother made it to her 90s and once said that she really thought she was much, much younger – somewhere in her twenties, I think she said (as I age, my memory become less sure of fine details like that) – and I know that, as far as my own stage in life goes, I feel I never outgrew my twenties either. But I’m well past that in the language of the clock; I also feel it physically more often than not, but seldom inside where I live and think.

But does the passing of time really alter objectivity or subjectivity? I’m not sure. I do recognize the truth in the idea that editing too soon after a shoot can be a mistake for emotional reasons tied up with the interface between you, model and client; locations can also colour your vision, where the enthusiasm that you experience from a new, beautiful location can totally overwhelm the reality of what you actually caught in the camera.

I don’t share your experience of retro-connection to an earlier stage in my own life, even though I have spent a lot of time setting up my website by trawling through material that represented what was left of my career; rather than reconnecting me, it showed me how far I have moved, not in ability or tastes, but from the business reality of what was my norm. Frankly, I have spent too much time agonising over the loss of that genre of work, but I am increasingly finding that it is starting to lose its dominance in my mind – thank goodness – and that I think, now, that I am absolutely ready for new directions. This, not least of all because of several pointed posts from people showing genuine interest in pushing me along to a new life.

However, unlike you, who I think is a self-starter of projects, I feel perfectly able to start them but doubt my ability to complete them unless I have an outside responsibility that does not permit boredom or depression to say oh, the hell with it; let’s just go home, Rob. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of gasoline doing exactly that, not even stopping the car to make sure that a Pulitzer wasn’t hiding behind a wall.

Again, at the risk of boring everybody rigid, it does fit in just too damn neatly with Terence Donovan’s statement about the difficulty of the amateur to find a reason to take a photograph. I am, now, that amateur, and it is damned hard to maintain motivation. Once you know perfectly well that you can make a good shot out of absolutely anything, something other than proving it to yourself over and over again is required. That’s where the absence of the client element can be so damaging.

The latter part of your post worries me.

I don’t know how pro or otherwise you were or are – I do know you shoot extremely well – and whilst I share absolutely your concept about doing shots for others to enjoy if it’s your living, now that I am in amateur shoes I feel nothing remotely like that: I feel the freedom to shoot only for self, to indulge in that divine world of solipsism that was oh so difficult to manage when working. Dame Fortune did grant me the joy of a lot of freedom from art directors – often, it worked the other way around: I did the shots first and from the proofs the AD created the ads. True, and great for us both. And in my opinion, the best way of getting value from the shooter you have hired. But it wasn’t always that sweet – in fact, I suppose I lost my second-best client because of internal stresses brought on by interference. Sad fact: because somebody holds a title within a company does NOT mean that he should hold it; some peoples’ depths are very shallow indeed. But they don’t pay; at least, not immediately… this particular mother did, about a year later. Schadenfreude? Bet your bippy!

But today, if time (our topic!) permits, I have the ideas but lack the external need to see it all through. Catch Twenty-two; I think Joseph would have been proud to know this of me.

Rob C
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Lost
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« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2010, 12:21:58 PM »
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Before I turned pro I used to know people who belonged (almost literally) to camera clubs who, when I would mention that I'd fancy a 500C would roll their eyes and say that's ridiculous, nobody needs one! Today, the equivalent money and more is spent by the amateur who seems to be even more equipment-obsessed than the pro ever is, even though the latter can write off costs. I seem to pick up the vibe that the pro today puts up with constant innovation whilst the amateur welcomes it. Strange.

As an amateur, I think that part of the fun is the equipment and playing with new toys - witness the vast numbers of equipment discussion boards vs those that discuss actual photography. However, on a paying job I would think that the last thing that you want is any distractions from the photography itself.


In short, I think the time has come when the medium has gone totally democratic and is now enjoying the problems that any such state brings in its wake.

Maybe. Perversely, I don't think that most cameras are sold for "photography" as a profession or art. Look at all the people buying Leicas - either taking snapshots of their kids/pets, or simply buying a status symbol.  I wonder how many people really learn to think about the pictures that they are taking?

Online there are now vast numbers of images, but how many that you can download for free are good enough to hang on your wall? And how many of the photographers would you trust to take your wedding or event pictures?

[On a side note, the whole 'status' thing is very frustrating - even Canon manage to milk this by using the 'red ring' on L-series Lenses to shout to anyone looking and in the know that you have spent a fortune on glass, thereby making a market not just for good lenses, but also visibly expensive ones too. I suspect that this is one reason why good equipment seems more expensive now.]

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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2010, 12:43:35 PM »
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... Some use photography as a way to earn money, others as a way to spend it....

This is the most beautifully put and succinct distinction between a pro and an amateur I've seen!
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Slobodan

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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2010, 12:49:00 PM »
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... Today, the equivalent money and more is spent by the amateur who seems to be even more equipment-obsessed than the pro ever is...

I've recently come across an ad that for the first time directly and unapologetically targets that obsession:

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Slobodan

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« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2010, 01:12:53 PM »
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Most of us grow older everyday...

Speak for yourself, Bernard.

I also get the impression that times in photography are changing not only regarding equipment, but also standards of image or image expectation. Was a time when quality was pretty clear-cut: it was obviously there, or it was obvious by its absence. Today, the infusion of so-called art into the medium has blurred the boundaries to the point where any old crap goes; it only needs the producer to say it's art, self-expression or a zillion other cop-out words. Worse, the larger the physical size of these photo phonies the greater the kudos and the perceived value, as a look at some renown gallery sites illustrates.

In short, I think the time has come when the medium has gone totally democratic and is now enjoying the problems that any such state brings in its wake.

Rob, I share your concern. Though I don't think equipment has much to do with it, image standards certainly are changing. I think I talked a bit about this on another thread, but what I see happening in photography seems to correlate pretty closely with what I saw happen to poetry. Until about fifteen years ago I wrote poetry regularly and had my first poem published in a "little magazine" when I was nineteen. I had intended to become a professor of English literature, before the Korean war and the draft reduced my choices to either flying or walking in an Asian land war. In any case I subscribed to Poetry magazine for decades. And for decades I watched poetry descend from a shining thing that could grip the imagination of almost anyone able to breathe, into a cult thing grasped (weakly) only by the anointed few. I finally let my subscription lapse.

In other words, I don't think photographic democracy is the problem. Photographic democracy has been with us from the beginning and has produced an almost infinite number of family albums. To me the problem is cultism, which I see developing every time I thumb through the latest edition of any fine art photography magazine: B&W, Color, LensWork, etc. There always seem to be a few really good photographs in those magazines, but I see more and more of the soft-focus abstractions the fine art world pushes as its ideal. Color magazine seems to feel that color in the abstract is far more important than images recognizable to humans.

Which brings me to the relationship of time to photography: One thing all good poems have in common is effective imagery, and effective imagery always grabs a piece of time. I could expound on this point, but instead I'd refer anyone interested to Archibald MacLeish's book Poetry and Experience. One of the illustrations in the book is this old English song:

O westron wind when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.

If English is your first language and you don't get a jolt from this poem you probably should start looking for a cemetery plot. The imagery comes through loud and clear. I'm here, waiting for a western wind so the rain can start and I can finish my work and go home... to a girl I wish were in my arms and next to me in my bed. But, as MacLeish points out, this poem isn't about love, or sex, or the weather. It's about the way these images cross each other in time, or, as he puts it: "How can you 'describe' in words the poignancy of the recognition of the obstacle of time -- its recognition not on the clock face or among the stars but on the nerves of the body and in the blood itself?"

Good photography, like good poetry, always contains recognizable images -- images that the viewer can grasp and to which he can relate; images that incorporate time. And I'm afraid "fine art" photography is moving away from that rule, just as poetry did, until, perhaps, the kind of photography of interest to LuLa members will become a cult exercise, understandable only to the anointed few.
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2010, 01:17:32 PM »
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Sorry, folks. I don't have time to write a meaningful reply to this thread. I need to spend the time doing photography.

Eric
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2010, 01:34:02 PM »
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... Good photography, like good poetry, always contains recognizable images -- images that the viewer can grasp and to which he can relate; images that incorporate time. And I'm afraid "fine art" photography is moving away from that rule...

I think there is a world of difference between photographers trying to create fine art, and artists that just happen to choose photography as a medium. Most members of this forum are most likely the former, while "photography" as awarded in say, the Turner Prize, would be the latter. B&W annual contest issues are probably split into something close to 30/70.
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Slobodan

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Rob C
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« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2010, 02:19:12 PM »
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Not sure how to read that, Slobodan; it was the Special Issues that stopped my regular buying: some truly great shots and masses of filling. Not worth the inflated price, and made me doubt their stance.

I think it started honest but that economics and reality overtook the idealism, or perhaps the idea of it being meant for 'collectors' was ever a front, and it was photographers that were the real target market all along, photographers dreaming of finding the racing line to galleries and collectors.

Rob C
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2010, 02:31:13 PM »
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Not sure how to read that, Slobodan; it was the Special Issues that stopped my regular buying: some truly great shots [30%] and masses of filling [70%] ....

That is close to what I meant by 30/70. We can debate the exact split, of course, and mine is just a wild guess, nothing scientific about it... it might as well be 10/90.

I also meant to say that the 70 part is not necessarily a "filling" or bad photography (based on the type of photography members of this forum appear to practice or like)... it just might be the type of art that just happen to use photography as a medium... the type of art (or "art") that is not our cup of tea. It might as well be a pure, unadulterated crap.
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Rob C
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« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2010, 02:37:02 PM »
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“O westron wind when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.

If English is your first language and you don't get a jolt from this poem you probably should start looking for a cemetery plot. The imagery comes through loud and clear. I'm here, waiting for a western wind so the rain can start and I can finish my work and go home... to a girl I wish were in my arms and next to me in my bed. But, as MacLeish points out, this poem isn't about love, or sex, or the weather. It's about the way these images cross each other in time, or, as he puts it: "How can you 'describe' in words the poignancy of the recognition of the obstacle of time -- its recognition not on the clock face or among the stars but on the nerves of the body and in the blood itself?"


Russ

Yes, a classic indeed and readable to all with a soul.

But photography has other problems: it’s too literally what you see, unlike the written alternative which allows, no, forces personal interpretation, even of simple posts in LuLa!

Poetry was always a bit too esoteric for me – I found more gut reaction in blues. But then, lyrics are just a form of poetry with music. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that even the much maligned country’n’western stuff very often has the odd couplet that can damn near bring tears of recognition to my eyes. No, it can do it. Have but to hear the right voice doing the last few lines of Long Black Limousine for the emotion to rip right across me. Roughly:

All my hopes and all my dreams
They ride with you
In that long black limousine

Shit. I do this to myself?

Rob C
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RSL
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« Reply #16 on: September 26, 2010, 04:30:55 PM »
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But photography has other problems: it’s too literally what you see, unlike the written alternative which allows, no, forces personal interpretation, even of simple posts in LuLa!

Rob, I agree that most of the photography I see on LuLa -- especially lately in User Critiques -- tends to be literal to the point of blahness. But there's another kind of photography that uses images to produce the kind of transcendental experience one gets from "O westron wind." One photograph that does that -- I think -- is Cartier-Bresson's "Cardinal Pacelli in Montmarte" http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/LargeImage.aspx?image=/lotfinderimages/d50568/d5056800x.jpg. Another is his "Lock at Bougival" http://www.flickr.com/photos/manuelitro/3811253077/. I also think Steve McCurry's Afghan girl with the green eyes falls into that category. It takes an awful lot of time on the street or wherever you're shooting to get something like that, but attempting it is what it's all about as far as I'm concerned.

Quote
Poetry was always a bit too esoteric for me – I found more gut reaction in blues.

Well, I can't find too much esoteric about "O westron wind," but I agree it was kabbalism that killed poetry. I also agree that music is the ultimate path to transcendental experience, though I prefer Chopin, Mendelssohn, and several of Puccini's arias to the blues.
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feppe
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« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2010, 05:12:58 PM »
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Rob, I agree that most of the photography I see on LuLa -- especially lately in User Critiques -- tends to be literal to the point of blahness. But there's another kind of photography that uses images to produce the kind of transcendental experience one gets from "O westron wind." One photograph that does that -- I think -- is Cartier-Bresson's "Cardinal Pacelli in Montmarte" http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/LargeImage.aspx?image=/lotfinderimages/d50568/d5056800x.jpg. Another is his "Lock at Bougival" http://www.flickr.com/photos/manuelitro/3811253077/. I also think Steve McCurry's Afghan girl with the green eyes falls into that category. It takes an awful lot of time on the street or wherever you're shooting to get something like that, but attempting it is what it's all about as far as I'm concerned.

You do realize you're comparing LL critique corner to some of the most celebrated photographers of all time?
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« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2010, 05:48:54 PM »
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Absolutely, Harri. Are you suggesting that that kind of photograph isn't worth trying for?
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« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2010, 05:56:59 PM »
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Absolutely, Harri. Are you suggesting that that kind of photograph isn't worth trying for?

Absolutely not. What I'm saying is that holding photos in the critique corner to the same standards is like setting the high jump bar at 2.40 meters in a regional competition (there are only 7 men in the world who've jumped that high).
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