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Author Topic: Poetic Eloquence in Photography  (Read 19577 times)
opgr
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« on: April 04, 2012, 04:12:23 AM »
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To balance all the technical discussions lately, I was wondering whether it would be interesting to discuss the following question:

Is there such a thing as "Poetic Eloquence" in photography?

I mean clearly, not all written text is poetry, nor is most text meant to be poetic. But does exceptional photography, considered as Art, require a certain amount of poetic eloquence? I know the technologist in you immediately wants to ask: define poetic eloquence! But I would like to refer back to the sectional description: a free form forum for opinions. I'm interested in opinions to an open question. I'm not interested in acceptance or refutation of my own opinion…

(but I will contribute my own thoughts once I get them to paper…)


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Oscar Rysdyk
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Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2012, 07:14:14 AM »
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I think your question is a rethoric one, since the answer must be "yes" in any case.
I'd rather reformulate it and ask:
How does it work?
My personal limited answer is, that there is no clear answer, but that honest, sustained and balanced effort will surely pay back over time. Its very much "free form". With effort I don't only think of effort concerning technique, aesthetics or any other arbitrary limited set of skills. I am thinking of effort as a whole "true"person, whatever this may be. So - if you're a jerk and start trying to become a better person it will help your art as well.

Cheers
~Chris
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opgr
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2012, 07:41:38 AM »
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All great images are about relations. Relations in the widest sense of the word. Examples would include the more obvious pictures about the relations between people, but equally so about relations between objects. Or more particularly the relation between a subject and its context.

This can be considered a tautology because it is simply the way our brains are wired. We understand the world through relations. Relations between people through a universal concept like "family", but equally the relation between "falling" and "gravity". etc. These relations may very well be subconscious as we frequently know a picture is lacking in artistic merit, even though we can not necessarily put it to words.

Since this is a landscape photography forum, we can immediately ask the question what then is the subject and context in a landscape picture? If the landscape is the subject, what is its context? Clearly, the context and relation is the environment and climate, since a landscape and especially its features, are embedded in the natural environment and formed by climate.

So, to capture a great landscape picture is to search for a good representation of this relation. You can picture a natural stone formation eroded by water. And if you then include the river, not as a dominant element, but as a relational aspect, which allows the viewer to make the connection, then the image gains in value.

Trees are also a particularly useful example in this respect. Besides being very patient models, they usually depict the effect of the environment very clearly once you take a little time to study their appearance. There seems to be a direct symmetry between the shape of a tree and its environment, and once you look beyond this more direct relation, you can even see a sort of mirroring in the tree as an embedded element and other objects present in the context.

Clouds for example. There appears to be a sort of natural formation of brushes and trees, and nature in general, that has quite apparent similarities. And this then is one representation of the poetic eloquence I am thinking about. There is a certain mirroring and equivalence, which could be compared quite directly to poetry in the sense that some words combined have a natural rhythm/cadence, or fit more naturally than others, or some words may even rhyme.

Good family pictures may serve as another example. When you are able to capture the natural similarities between a grandparent and child, where the grandparent appears as an older version of the child, but filtered/formed by the chisel of life which the child still has ahead of itself, then you have captured a natural eloquence in a picture.

When you are able to depict such relations, and give them a certain rhythm and rhyme in an image, then a picture is well on its way of growing above the ordinary. We have mentioned on these forums some of the subjects that have been beaten to death. And due to the vast multitude of images created these days, we see more and more technically well executed but otherwise empty images.

And this IMO is the reason: we have a natural tendency and ability to understand relations, just as we immediately understand rhythm and rhyme in text. And failing to capture this relation results in empty images. Tacksharp lines in a leathered weathered skin, without any hint about the context, is simply an old dry and dead skin.

And trying to capture this relation can significantly improve one's photography. If you have a feel for poetry, and if you are able to capture your own feelings in words, you are most likely also able to capture a better image with emotional depth.

Fortunately, I'm autistic, so my relation with the outside world doesn't generally go much deeper than the equivalent of a Macbeth ColorChecker.
Pure poetry…
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Oscar Rysdyk
theimagingfactory
Rob C
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2012, 08:48:05 AM »
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"And this IMO is the reason: we have a natural tendency and ability to understand relations, just as we immediately understand rhythm and rhyme in text. And failing to capture this relation results in empty images. Tacksharp lines in a leathered weathered skin, without any hint about the context, is simply an old dry and dead skin."



In this instance, the context is perfectly clear to me: you've been looking through the back of my bathroom mirror.

Now this is cool: we have a sublime (if subliminal) conflict between three realities: the one of me standing before the mirror; the reality of my own reflection in that mirror as perceived by myself; the third level of reality which is your personal observation of my own reality through both the prism of that mirror and the reflection on its face which could, in some eyes, be consider a view through two realities.

This we must discuss at length if we get to Madrid.

Rob C

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RSL
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« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2012, 12:42:38 PM »
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A few months ago I bought a copy of Tod Papageorge's book, Core Curriculum, in which he reviews the work of Aget, Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, his friend, Garry Winogrand, and several other photographers. It's a book worth reading.

And one of the things Tod mentions in his introduction is how much photography resembles poetry. Tod wasn't guessing. He was into poetry as well as photography from an early age. His statement hit me because it's something I've always believed and always pointed out on the occasions when I've lectured about photography. That belief isn't something I'm merely surmising. I saw two of my early poems published in a "little magazine" when I was nineteen and a student at University of Michigan. I wrote poetry for decades after that and saw enough of it published to keep my enthusiasm high. I still write poetry on occasion.

There are obvious parallels, not the least of which is the fact that both poetry and photography appear easy, but when you try you find that it takes a great deal of work and a great deal of concentration to do either one well, and that no matter how hard you try or how much experience you gain, you produce a lot more failures than successes.

But to me the most important parallel is something Archibald MacLeish pointed out in his book: Poetry and Experience. First of all, a good poem must contain images that can be grasped by the reader. Yet the significance within a poem isn't contained in the specific images, but in the interstices between the images. If you think you can put the real significance of a poem into words, then either the poem is doggerel or you've misunderstood its meaning. MacLeish used an old English verse to make his point:


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.

And MacLeish comments:

 "Here the two little scenes of wind and weather and love and bed are left side by side to mean if they can. And they do mean. The poem is not a poem about the one or the other. It is not a poem about weather. And neither is it a poem about making love. The emotion it holds is held between these two statements in the place where love and time cross each other. Here, as in those old Chinese poems, the emotion, somehow contained in the poem, is an emotion which words cannot come at directly — which no words as words can describe. 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? But if you cannot “describe” it in words how then can words contain it? Well, how do they contain it here? By not speaking of it. By not speaking of it at all. By speaking of something else, something off at the one side and the other as the man at the helm of a ship looks off and above to starboard and larboard to see the channel marker before him in the dark. By speaking of two things which, like parentheses, can include between them what neither of them says. (emphasis added) By leaving a space between one sensed image and another where what cannot be said can be — this sensuous, this bodily knowledge of the defeat of love by time — this When? When? Ah when? — When will the wind go west and the spring rain come to bring her back to me and me to her?"


And isn't it true that a good photograph, or any visual art, conveys its meaning in what we might call the interstices between images rather than in the denotations of the images themselves? A minute ago on User Critiques I made a comment about Martin Parr in Seamus Finn's "Ferrari Fan's Siesta" thread. I think Martin's photography is a clear example of this. The real meaning in Martin's photographs of English vacationers isn't conveyed directly by the images of corpulent people in bathing suits. The real meaning is something you can't put into words --  something that lies between the images.

Finally, the reason we say that art is in the eye of the beholder is that your ability to grasp the significance of a poem, a photograph, a painting, depends on your background and your personality. If you’ve been taught that the only real things in creation are the things you can deal with through science and cognition, you’re liable either to ignore or to be frightened by a poem that speaks to your soul, and you'll understand an incredible work of art, like Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" to be three people in a restaurant.

Indeed, Oscar, there certainly is such a thing as "poetic eloquence in photography," and the two disciplines are close to each other in many ways.
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bill t.
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« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2012, 09:01:47 PM »
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Ideas in this realm are diverse and have a long history.

Put aside an evening, and start here since Aestheticism is so dramatically different from what we have today...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aestheticism

The field is huge.

Today we are haunted by a need for relevance.  But it wasn't always so.
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2012, 11:27:08 PM »
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Oscar: You might like this... http://tao-of-digital-photography.blogspot.ca/

Mike.
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If your mind is attuned to beauty, you find beauty in everything.
~ Jean Cooke ~


My Flickr site / Random Thoughts and Other Meanderings at M&M's Musings
Rob C
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« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2012, 02:48:37 AM »
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Maybe it's because of the grey cells getting more sparse, but I believe that trying to intellectualize photography is the way to paralysis. For God's sake, just do it or forget it; there's not a lot to consider: the thing in front of you turns you on or it does not. End, finis, over and out.

Rob C
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opgr
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« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2012, 03:46:13 AM »
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Maybe it's because of the grey cells getting more sparse, but I believe that trying to intellectualize photography is the way to paralysis. For God's sake, just do it or forget it; there's not a lot to consider: the thing in front of you turns you on or it does not. End, finis, over and out.

Rob C

Considering the pictures that some people produce, Paralysis might very well be a blessing, especially relative to Gilles de la Tourette's, or, if a considerable sparsity of gray cells is truly attributable to age, Dementia.

 Wink
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Oscar Rysdyk
theimagingfactory
Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2012, 04:17:32 AM »
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Maybe it's because of the grey cells getting more sparse, but I believe that trying to intellectualize photography is the way to paralysis. For God's sake, just do it or forget it; there's not a lot to consider: the thing in front of you turns you on or it does not. End, finis, over and out.

Rob C

+1

Its all about the guts ....
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Rob C
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« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2012, 04:18:23 AM »
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Considering the pictures that some people produce, Paralysis might very well be a blessing, especially relative to Gilles de la Tourette's, or, if a considerable sparsity of gray cells is truly attributable to age, Dementia.

 Wink




Immediately, the advantages of painting over photography come to mind. The strokes define the folks: who can tell intent from intelligence, talent from torment?

Rob C
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Ellis Vener
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« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2012, 02:35:24 PM »
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Is there such a thing as "Poetic Eloquence" in photography?

Yes of course there is.

Look for the following books:
- Ernst Haas' "The Creation", "In America", and "Color Corrections". 
- Jay Maisel's "Jay Maisel's New York".
- Mariana Cook's  portraits in "Mathematicians".
- Stephen Shore's "The Nature of Photographs".
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Ellis Vener
http://www.ellisvener.com
Creating photographs for advertising, corporate and industrial clients since 1984.
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