Thursday, April 30, 2009

Being challenged

It's a long time since I've done one of these blog things, let see if I remember how.

I participate in a group called "London Calling Photographers" or LCP for short. Nice group of people but there was much about it that was beginning to grate.

A long time ago, Jean Loup Sieff, one of the great photographers, expressed his disdain for camera club people as, and I'm paraphrasing somewhat, people in tweed jackets with patches on their elbows comparing the sizes of their dicks. I might have misremembered the dick part. The rush to acquire the new shiny in the form of the Canon 5D MkII was beginning to affirm his view of these kinds of groups to me.

More irritation came in the format of the "critique" portion of the evening where amateur photographs were ripped to shreds by people who may or may not have been able to do better in the same circumstance. Reportage and street photos suffered this the most to my mind where very often that moment is the only moment with no chance for re-exposure or re-composition. OK, there's a skill to getting that one shot good, but hell, that's why we take pictures.

Anyhow, last night was going to be my last night attending except I got a major kick up the arse.

Eamon, aka spiduko instead of shredding some poor sap's efforts challenged us. Oh, Eamon is a "fillum" (he's Irish you know) freak which usually also rubs me up the wrong way.

Firstly, he showed us some apparent snaps in lovely saturated film colour. They were moments in time with little thought to the composition. However, they were both part of a journey by the respective photographers and in context become part of a body of art.

So we were challenged. Were our efforts consistent with creating a corpus of work we would like to leave as a legacy or are we just snappers? Was our work authentic? Or were we just taking pictures we like?

This was a timely challenge for me. I'd recently come to the conclusion I could tear up (ok, erase) all but maybe 5 pieces I've ever taken, travel and friend shots notwithstanding. That would be about 30,000 pictures gone with few tears. I never go back to these images anyhow. What they are however, is part of my journey. All those pub portraits, landscapes and music pictures are part of learning the craft, the settings, embedding them in my psyche so that when it comes to composing some art, they are second nature. I'm happy at least that they've been stopoffs on the road.

Whilst I'm not a total comment whore on flickr, I do appreciate positive and constructive feedback and now I'm actually teaching photography to people who have made a conscious decision to try to take better pictures, I appreciate the nature of the journey these folks are taking.

So, if you class yourself as a photographer, are you creating something that's unique and part of you? Or are you just taking a bunch of snaps?


Alex said...

I probably wouldn't think to call myself a photographer until I'm earning money from my photos.

However, even as a snapper, I do try to put some thought into the composition. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.

Regarding constructive criticism, I think it's more helpful to say "next time, why don't you see if you can tighten/loosen the depth of field" rather than "see, your depth of field is too deep/shallow". Same content, different tone.

Stray Taoist said...

Well now, I wish I could say I would keep even five of my own, but I AOL!!111oneseleventyeleven.

For my part, I tend to treat *everything* as a learning curve, be it writing, music, photography, code, whatever. I like to see an improvement, the journey you mention.

I like to think it *is* all part of me, as I tried, dammit, in every shot. And by keeping on trying, maybe the next one will be easier with the same result, then the one after that better.

Although sometimes it goes too far, and seeing the world through a viewfinder is awkward.

The problem comes when you get to a certain level, and you can't do *snaps* (which sometimes are what you want, or what people want me to do). Even so, I only put about 5% of what I take on flickr, the rest are true garbage.

Nice post, dude. # Old, you probably read, but there it is.

(Oh, and I _forced_ myself about two decades ago to stop saying 'fillum', as some sop to trying to be even partially understood in this land.)

F.M. said...

worth looking at

vicky slater said...

how is taking pictures of things i like not authentic?

Ian said...

You pose valid questions, and some I'm sure we all ask introspectively as we take our photographic journey.

When critiquing other work it's important to remind ourselves that our destinations (end goals) are quite often very different, and where they might echo similarities one persons path can often be quite different than our own.

I too sometime struggle to "see the vision" of fellow photographers work. It's for this reason I will only ever engage in critique on a technical level. I also recognise that when I admire work of my idols (Jeanloup Sieff being one) I never look at the technical, I just love the creative vision.

Interesting to read your thoughts :)

David Cantrell said...

I've taken a bunch of snaps. Which is just fine by me. I enjoy taking 'em and displaying 'em. People I care about enjoy looking at 'em. And a few people have paid for 'em. But they're "just snaps". I do want to improve my skills in the craft, but no matter how much I do that, I still only want to take "just snaps".

setmajer said...

I was a graphic designer in another life and participated in far too many discussions on whether something was 'art' or 'design', whether work was 'original', what constituted 'good' design or art, finding one's 'own voice' and so forth. For me, it's all unnecessary baggage.

I'm not trying to pass judgement, mind. Just the opposite: whether one wishes to think in such terms is a personal decision. If this sort of philosophical, 'big picture' thinking stimulates your creativity or simply piques your interest, then do so. If not, don't. And don't let any tweed-jacketed snob tell you your work is somehow inferior or less worthy either way.

I take pictures because it's fun, and I consider a picture 'good' if I enjoy looking at it. Good technique can enhance a picture, and improving my craft helps me create more images I like. That's as far as it goes for me. If someone thinks my refusal to spend time contemplating the 'authenticity' of my pictures diminishes my work or makes me something less of an artist/photographer/human being, well, they can just fuck right off.

All those thousands of images clogging up my HD — and that includes sketches and designs, as well as photos — are memories, source material, notes to myself, etc. Some I'll never look at again. Some I'll 'discover' at some future date and use as inspiration or as part of another work. Some are cherished memories or personal achievements. Not knowing which are which is part of the fun: an overexposed or poorly composed photo may nevertheless inspire a more focused effort, or provide a texture for use in another composition. Many of my favourite pieces came about through just such serendipity.

To (over-)extend the 'journey' analogy, if having a planned itinerary, carrying a compass and roadmap and GPS, making reservations, and sticking to a pre-planned schedule are your thing, great. But I'm just going to grab my camera, laptop, notepad and sketchbook, and have a wander. Worrying about the where and the when and the why is just a distraction from enjoying the now.

trondjs said...

setmajer nailed it, not much more to say!
Who decides what's "authentic" and what's just "pictures you'd like to see"?
I take pictures because I like to, and because its a way I can express myself. Some of the ones I post on my Flickr stream are possibly useless, others are hopefully decent.But there are playgrounds beyond Flickr, of course.