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Author Topic: Beautiful but shallow / Full of meaning but ugly  (Read 17498 times)
pjtn
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« on: September 24, 2012, 01:38:48 AM »
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I have been researching, trying new things and thinking non stop about what I want in my photography.

At one time the work of Michael Levin was new to me and I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. I had my heart set on creating my own body of work with a minimalist long exposure look. It suits my personality and my personal beliefs in living a simple life to reduce my footprint on the environment. It seemed perfect.

Then I began to discover this work was far from original. There are hundreds of photographers producing this work. It made me feel like I needed to look elsewhere.

My search has found many great photographers Mac Oller, Guy Sargent and Dan Holdsworth to name a few.

After talking with an art business marketing consultant he advised me that I should be working on projects which have their own concepts and meanings. This has been a source of frustration for me. It would seem that when concept is applied to images the image tends to become ugly, when the image is beautiful it tends to lack concept.

This isn't necesarily always true, for example Murray Fredericks Salt series has a great concept and is beautiful.

I no longer know what to consider art or what to consider original. Every idea I have had, after some searching, there is always someone else to have done it. I feel my ideas are either beautiful and shallow, or meaningful and ugly.

I'm at a point where I no longer know what to shoot or how to shoot it.

Do you get this same feeling towards your work? How do you work through it?
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louoates
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2012, 03:11:47 AM »
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Aside from selling your cameras I'd first recommend STOP READING and researching about what you should or shouldn't shoot. Just walk around with your camera and see what pops into your mind to shoot. Then process that image the way YOU think it should look. No fiddling or lots of fiddling in Photoshop. That's YOUR image that captured your imaginations, nobody else's. Just look at the resulting image and write one sentence about it that turns you on. End of analysis. The moment you try to compare that shot with a shot you may have seen in some book before, remind yourself that that photographer is long dead and you're not. If anybody else likes your shot so much the better. If someone wants to buy it, you're in the upper 1/2 of 1 % and go buy yourself a beer.
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Rob C
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2012, 04:12:00 AM »
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Aside from selling your cameras I'd first recommend STOP READING and researching about what you should or shouldn't shoot. Just walk around with your camera and see what pops into your mind to shoot. Then process that image the way YOU think it should look. No fiddling or lots of fiddling in Photoshop. That's YOUR image that captured your imaginations, nobody else's. Just look at the resulting image and write one sentence about it that turns you on. End of analysis. The moment you try to compare that shot with a shot you may have seen in some book before, remind yourself that that photographer is long dead and you're not. If anybody else likes your shot so much the better. If someone wants to buy it, you're in the upper 1/2 of 1 % and go buy yourself a beer.


Couldn't agree with you more: it's all about what the photographer himself feels. If he feels nothing, then he's better staying at home.

There's nothing left to do that hasn't been done to death. If you doubt that, look at the commercial end of photography where it closest touches the amateur possibilities: stock. There is nothing new to do after zillions upon zillions of everything have been framed, shot and processed. The best anyone can do is a feesh angle of an old theme. Everything is now clichť.

Rob C

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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2012, 08:46:53 AM »
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I have been researching, trying new things and thinking non stop about what I want in my photography...

And that's the problem! Photography, like any other art, is about feeling.
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Slobodan

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louoates
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« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2012, 09:16:56 AM »
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And that's the problem! Photography, like any other art, is about feeling.

Absolutely! Which is why so much photography education is about the wrong things. At one time it was studying the "masters" from decades in the past and trying to apply "rules" from those eras into the present. Then the big distraction away from photographic creativity was putting all the chemistry together and arguing which developer was best. Later it was the mega-pixel competition and image longevity quest. These days it's ranting about the pros/cons of mobile devices and one-button image manipulation. Smart instructors will give out some basic 12 megapixel cameras and demand students go out and point it at stuff that's important to them. I remember some painting kits sold 50 years ago that had outlines of pictures with numbered areas that told you which color to paint into that area. I think lots of photographic theorists are closet photo-by-number practitioners.
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RSL
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2012, 10:09:04 AM »
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For Heaven's sake, Rob, stop worrying about concepts and meanings. Stop worrying about what's art and what's not art. Stop worrying about beauty and ugliness. And, above all, stop worrying about originality. It's impossible to make an image that doesn't at least remotely echo something someone else has done before you, with a camera or with a brush. Lou's right, and so is Slobodan. Get your ass out there with a camera. Don't try to "construct" or "create" a picture. React! When you see something that strikes you, don't think. . . SHOOT! I know, it's very different from what you used to do in a studio, but try it, you might like it.
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WalterEG
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« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2012, 05:48:49 PM »
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I'm at a point where I no longer know what to shoot or how to shoot it.

Do you get this same feeling towards your work? How do you work through it?

Well, at the outset, let me say that you would not by any manner of means be the first, or the only, person to hit a creativity drought.  It happens to the experienced and capable just as it happens to the newbie.  From my perspective, it is about finding your own voice.  Finding that voice is more likely to be a solitary endeavour than a group effort.  By an large forums are the worst venue for achieving the outcome you require.  There is way too much dross and ego to wade through and any real value is lost from the start.  Then, on top of that, comes the dogma which sets things back to the neolithic period.

Only you know what you are looking for and only you can find it.  It might come in a lightning bolt or it might come as a gradual revelation.

Whether you construct images or simply collect what you stumble across is up to you.  My own endeavours seem to be a mix of the two.  You mention Murray Fredericks:  he is a mate of mine and I was there through the formulation period of Salt.  He had a basic idea of what he wanted to do.  To that end I sold him my 8x10 camera in preparation for his first trip coz he knew that he wanted to work BIG.  He set out with a good deal of traditional B&W experience and gallery sales to equip him psychologically for the pursuit of his idea, his spark of an idea.  But it was a very different man with a very different notion that returned from that first trip.  The experience in the field filled in all the gaps for Murray because he was venturing into a somewhat alien physical space which probably awoke him to formerly alien head space.

My recommendation to you would be similar to what I have given myself on occasion:  just get out and give it a go and see where it leads.  Look at YOUR results and determine what YOU would like to change.  Work quietly and alone and celebrate the failures for what they teach, just as every stumble and fall eventually taught you to walk.

I find a lot more value in looking at pictures on Flickr where you are essentially just presented with images without the intrusion of character, ego, clap-trap or a 'club mentality' than I could ever hope to see here on Lu-La.  There is dross on all sites but if you persist on Flickr you will be more likely to find some gems that will help you determine the path and the personal philosophy that, it seems, is eluding you at present.

Cheers,

W
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pjtn
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« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2012, 06:54:14 PM »
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Thanks everyone and thank you particularly Walter.

I have spoken to Murray once and he said to give him a call anytime to talk about concepts. He's been in Greenland for sometime and I don't want to bother him too much so haven't called yet. He's a great man though for offering a helping hand to someone he doesn't even know.

Flickr is a good idea. A place with such a quantity of photos will be a perfect avenue to start pulling in ideas. This weekend I'm going to head down to the coast a try a few things. I have a faint spark in my head, maybe it will catch.
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WalterEG
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« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2012, 08:03:06 PM »
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It appears that Murray is passing on the grace that was shown to him not all that long ago.

Are you in Australia?  I am in Sydney if you ever feel like a chew and brew.

Cheers,

W
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pjtn
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« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2012, 08:13:52 PM »
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I'm in the Barossa South Australia. It's probably part of the reason Murray's work fascinates me so much. Lake Eyre is only about 10 hours north from here. I've been to Lake Torrens which is similar, some great fun driving out on the stations.

South Australia doesn't strike me as the most photogenic state. We just have hours upon hours of driving through baron nothingness, usually with some shrubs struggling to survive lining the roads. Where I'm located though it's mostly dense scrub.

I think it takes a very different perspective to create a body of work here.
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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2012, 08:19:05 PM »
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Do you get this same feeling towards your work? How do you work through it?

I find Instagram refreshing.  Another bowl of soup, another picture..  give it a try.      Cheesy
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Rob C
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« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2012, 03:26:37 AM »
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For Heaven's sake, Rob, stop worrying about concepts and meanings. Stop worrying about what's art and what's not art. Stop worrying about beauty and ugliness. And, above all, stop worrying about originality. It's impossible to make an image that doesn't at least remotely echo something someone else has done before you, with a camera or with a brush. Lou's right, and so is Slobodan. Get your ass out there with a camera. Don't try to "construct" or "create" a picture. React! When you see something that strikes you, don't think. . . SHOOT! I know, it's very different from what you used to do in a studio, but try it, you might like it.



Russ, I can only offer the OP the understanding that I have of photography - not the views of another person.

I have worked more or less equally between studio and exterior and, by far, I prefer the great outdoors.

As far as my own shooting goes, I hardly use the dslrs anymore because what I shoot has no intended life beyond about 600 pixels at max. on the web. I donít want to burden myself with weights for nothing Ė were something Ďrealí to come my way, of course, that would be different, but for what I do, what I use does.

Advising someone younger than myself (I hope I am!) to follow his own star is what Iíve always recommended here in LuLa, as a check will confirm. In my opinion, thereís no other way to live with photography: you canít be anyone else, so you may as well be yourself.

Angst about meaning etc. is real, and itís whatís in my makeup. I canít be otherwise. Those silly little cellpix things I make only happen because of one of three reasons: a caption is in my head looking for a visual expression of itself; the visual is there in front of me and inspires an instant verbal reaction; something simply amuses me or makes me giggle for whatever reason. Which, as far as I can see, is pretty much what you are suggesting. As for going out with a preconception deeper than caption, forget it: even in my fashion/calendar days we just got into the car and had faith that Dame Fortune would deliver, and she mostly did. I read recently a photographerís credo about the making of pictures; it might have come from Duffy, but Iím not sure. Anyway, the gist of it was this: thereís nothing to do in photography: it just happens.

Iím 100% in agreement with what Walter has to say on the matter; I think we both share the view that technique can be learned but the message comes from within or not at all. In fact, I know thatís also your opinion, so none of us is far distant from the others on that score.

But this post is in danger of turning circular, so Iíll get off the inquisitional typistís chair, stretch some circulation back into the legs, lie down with my head back and waste the next fifteen minutes putting drops into my eyes.

And you hoped for inspiration?

;-)

Rob C
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stamper
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« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2012, 03:52:05 AM »
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In all honestly you can only shoot what you see in front of you? You can't - unless you stage it - invent an image. There is a member on here - who I won't name - a while back who stated he sometimes sketched ideas onto paper and created shapes, He then went out looking for images that resembled what he sketched. I have scratched my head over this and I have made up my mind it is BS. I too have wondered about what next to do and it can consume you. The advice given in previous threads is go out and keep looking and it is good advice. Now.....where can I look? Smiley
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WalterEG
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« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2012, 07:46:29 AM »
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Hi pjtn,

Just watched SALT again tonight on Artscape on the ABC.  I guess it will be available on iView for a week or so.

It always tugs at my heart strings a tad to see my Toyo 810M out there.  I have been trying to get another.   I have Sinar 10x8 but it just isn't as convenient.

Muzza now uses MF digital but for me a lot of the qualities that you are speaking of in your initial post happen for me with the roadside television of the 8x10 ground glass.

Cheers,

W
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pjtn
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« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2012, 08:27:44 AM »
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It's a great doco. I've loved documentaries ever since I was little, always wanted to make them myself (not sure where that dream went though). I bought SALT on DVD but must remember to get it back from a friend.

Really looking forward to his Greenland documentary too which I think comes out next year. There really is no stopping him, one great thing after another.

The Toyo looks like a beautiful camera, they have them at Vanbar for quite a hefty sum.

The Alpa Murray has looks great too. I have a Phase One P30+ on Hasselblad H1. One day if I can afford it I would love to get an Alpa to mount the P30+ on. Still it's not going to have the look a large 8x10 sheet of film has.
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Richowens
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« Reply #15 on: September 25, 2012, 10:16:23 AM »
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pj,

 Every time I get into internal arguments with myself about what to shoot and how to shoot, I think of this.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAHR7_VZdRw

 Tends to put things back into perspective.

Best luck with your quest.

Rich
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Ellis Vener
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« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2012, 02:26:49 PM »
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Every idea I have had, after some searching, there is always someone else to have done it.

that doesn't matter. None of those people are you. Pay attention to your response rather than the stylings of other people. You just have to keep working. One day you'll look back and see how far you have come.
 BTW Levin's work instantly reminded me of Hiroshi Sugimoto (http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/portfolio.html) and Michael Kenna (http://www.michaelkenna.net/)

Both Kenna and Sugimoto have been working in or towards this vein since the mid 1970s.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2012, 02:38:34 PM by Ellis Vener » Logged

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WalterEG
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« Reply #17 on: September 25, 2012, 04:26:26 PM »
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BTW Levin's work instantly reminded me of Hiroshi Sugimoto (http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/portfolio.html) and Michael Kenna (http://www.michaelkenna.net/)

Both Kenna and Sugimoto have been working in or towards this vein since the mid 1970s.

Well spotted Ellis,

And I know how much of an influence both Kenna and Sugimoto have been on Murray Fredericks early formation.  It was Kenna's work that initially motivated him to give photography a serious go back at the dawn of his time.

I have never been overly put off trying something simply because someone else did it.  We each bring something of our own to what we do.

Cheers,

W

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kencameron
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« Reply #18 on: September 25, 2012, 04:34:55 PM »
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I'm at a point where I no longer know what to shoot or how to shoot it.

Do you get this same feeling towards your work? How do you work through it?

Everyone gets stuck sometimes, in photography and every other creative activity. "Writer's block" has been much written about. As rightly suggested in a number of posts, it isn't usually productive to try to think your way out of it. I reckon mostly you just have to wait, before very long you will find yourself unstuck again. Play may also be helpful, if you can come at it.
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nemo295
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« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2012, 09:32:28 AM »
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If you need to ask someone else what you should or shouldn't be shooting you're not an artist, you're a hack. Just go out and shoot whatever you find interesting, and shoot every chance you get. Don't think about what others would do--please yourself. The rest will take care of itself in time.
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