I like exercises. I'm a natural teacher, I think, in that I like learning things and I like finding ways to provoke students to learn things. (Although I haven't had any students for well over a decade—almost two. Sad, that.) I'd rather investigate something with an eye towards learning about it than "do" it...whatever "it" is. I'm a bit of a teacher on TOP, even. In a manner of speaking. Even though I receive as much knowledge and wisdom here as I impart.
Accordingly, I've given myself self-assignments throughout my involvement in photography. No big deal, really...I just like finding out about things. Some of these self-assignments work, some don't. Some are big and boundless, some are small and constricted. In fact, for the past few months I've been toying with the idea of writing a series of "Afternoon Exercises" posts this coming Spring...short quasi-assignments designed to help people improve their seeing, as opposed to their photography or photographic skills per se. We'll see about that. I think it could be interesting. If it's not too much work, and if enough people like what I come up with.
In the previous post I said that this morning I might be "doing something positively antediluvian: working on the computer offline!" The first response I got, from a reader named Mark, said, "I got a better idea. Go out and take some pictures. LOL."
Hmm. Funny how people assume I don't take pictures. I seem to be hearing that more and more lately.
Apropos of that, I thought you might be interested to hear what I've been up to lately, photographically speaking. I gotta warn you, though, it's really...well, dumb.
Accumulated skills, or a giant rut?
I'd become aware that, over many years, I've developed a "philosophy" of photography, in the demotic sense of that word...that is, ideas about how photography functions and what it does best, what kinds of pictures are "good" or work best, etc. What kind of pictures I like best. In addition, I've developed certain habits of working, certain aims and goals...ideas about what I'm after, ways of seeing, and of course a bag of "usual tricks." We all have our "usual tricks"—ways we go about making pictures that, over time, we've learned work for us. Things we can do over and over again knowing we're at least partially assured of a good outcome.
So it just struck me one day that maybe I should just completely obliterate all that. Not just head in the other direction, but completely abandon everything I know about making good pictures, just to see what happens.
Just as an exercise.
Why not? It's not hurting anybody. Although it might be temporarily a bit hard on my ego. Heh.
So for this exercise, I've been shooting in ways that completely ignore everything I've ever learned. Not controlling things, not applying craftsmanship, not avoiding pitfalls or problems. Anti-perfectionism. Then just looking to see if anything sort of somehow works. About the only thing I can tell you about it for sure is that I've been throwing away a hell of a lot of pictures! The latest card I downloaded, for instance, yeilded three files that I bothered to keep...out of 4GB.
As an adjunct to this, I've decided to just play with the files in Photoshop as much as I want to, utterly winging it, completely divorced from my usual ideas about reproducing reality, or real colors or real light—all my well-established habits and ideas.
I don't intend all this to be anything permanent, of course.
Worth it? Who knows?
I can't tell you yet if there's anything to be gained from this exercise. And please note that I'm not (I said NOT) suggesting anybody else try this. I don't even know yet if it's halfway worth the time it takes.
But it really is kind of interesting. It feels quite risky...and actually quite stupid, too! But then again, as I say, it doesn't hurt anybody and it doesn't commit me to anything.
I can't say I've gotten a "good" result yet, and I certainly am not going to show anyone the results so far, so don't ask—sorry, but I'd sooner go to a dinner party in my underpants than show anybody any of this $#!t. It does feel liberating, though, I'll say that. Like a weight, a responsibility, has been whisked entirely into nothingness.
I wouldn't even have mentioned it but for that comment. But it seems like a good diversion at the moment. Who knows how much energy it'll have, or how long it will last? I'll never know if I don't try.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
John Krumm: "This sounds like a good idea, kind of fun, and it seems how creativity is pushed sometimes. Of course the equivalent on a piano might not sound so great, but luckily nobody has to hear you play with your photography. Perhaps after your experiment you can teach a workshop on 'letting go of what you know.'"
Kenneth Wajda: "Interesting idea in theory, but I don't know how you can do that, Mike. I play guitar and there are things that I instinctively do, but if I were to try to throw all that out the window, I couldn't. It's too well set. It's instinctive. I can't imagine taking a photo and turning all that off, either. Unless I was going for 'bad composition,' but why would I do that? Does not compute."
Jeff: "Reminds me a bit of the 'George does the opposite' Seinfeld episode. Except, of course, that he was going not against his learnings, but against his instincts, which had consistently resulted in bad outcomes."
Mike replies: One of the great existential Seinfeld episodes.
Mark: "Wow, not only have I scored a featured comment about a week ago, my first, but now I've actually been mentioned in your post. I am truly honored. I do, however, want to apologize if you thought I was being a smart aleck or anything of the kind when I said go out and take pictures. I am a very long-time member of a popular Canon forum (POTN), and whenever the forum is down for maintenance, that's what it always says: Go out and take pictures. That's what I was quoting. Oh, were it that simple. I'm often working and unable to go out and enjoy doing same. Yesterday I did have off and went to the Bronx Zoo where I shot almost 10 gigs. Some of it was video, which I rarely do, though the two lions were roaring their heads off so it was very cool.
"Enjoy, Mike, and I like the fact you're hanging off the edge, stretching the envelope, so to speak, cause if you ain't off the edge artistically, you're taking up too much space. ;-) "
Bill Pierce: "You have changed three things because you have recently acquired a new and different camera. But the hardest thing to change is what you shoot pictures of. Most of us take pictures of what is around us. And we have job and family responsibilities that tend to keep us in one place. Blessed is the journalist who gets to travel to exciting places or is given permission to document an interesting person. If you take off to a place you’ve always wanted to explore, that means we won’t have any TOP. I don’t know how you solve that problem (unless an in depth essay on Lulu would be a change for you and a dynamite essay for TOP)."
Mike replies: My biggest impediment, no doubt. I am not inspired by my locale....
Rob: "Mike, here is the reason why you are having trouble producing images that please you. Although you have deliberately discarded all your usual rules for creating pictures, you have retained your rules for evaluating them. It is a sort of philosophical trap. The only way out is to judge what you create with no standards of good or bad. Is that even possible?"
Mike replies: I may have mischaracterized what I'm after. I'm just trying to ignore my usual prejudices about what makes a good picture, is all; saying I'm "avoiding craftsmanship" and throwing judgement out the window wasn't quite accurate. Sorry. The pace of blogging is not ideal for thoughtful writing.
I'm shooting about one or two of these a day; can't wait to finish my work today so I can get to today's. Yesterday's was not a picture I would normally "allow" myself; but it did evolve over about 100 shots, and the full file got worked on quite a bit in PS.