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Monday, 29 June 2009


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On a more basic level, I was in a small Kennebunk (ME) bookshop recently and the owner kept his cookbooks and his diet books in the same case.


Another non-photographic book on craft that has much to offer photographers is Stephen King's On Writing: a memoir of the craft. Regardless of how you feel about King's potboiler oeuvre, his approach to the writing craft is bracing. His great commandment: "read a lot; write a lot." He delves at great length into the nuts 'n bolts details of self-discipline, learning from other authors, commitment to the work, and getting steadily better in the process of refining it. But King's 'commandment' is the key. For photographers the obvious equivalent is to study the best images you can find, and to create your own body of work by shooting. A lot. Then learn from the results, and shoot some more. Dealing with 'writer's block', creative doldrums, trying to nurture the occasional and unexpected flash of potential in your work; it's all in there. Good stuff all around.

I'm not the first person to point out the applicability of "On Writing" to photography; I just can't recall where I read it before. I'd be rather embarrassed if Mike Johnston was the source.

I had chance to mention in a comment on the darkroom/woodshop thread that I spent years working professionally in wood/furniture crafts. I read David Pye's book many years ago and it is truly a seminal work. This book is as much about crafting a life as it is about crafting objects.


Thanks for the post about this.

Glenn Gordon, nice piece, about Pye and Krenov. I'm unaware of Pye, but Krenov has been both inspiration, and support for a life of art and craft.

"Regardless of how you feel about King's potboiler oeuvre, his approach to the writing craft is bracing. His great commandment: 'read a lot; write a lot.'" --Geoff Wittig

This goes back to the discussion we were having about the efficacy of "One Leica, one lens, one year." I argued then that I thought it would be much better to get a digital camera and shoot as much as you could, whenever you could, chimping after every shot. I don't doubt that you could learn something with the "one" theory, especially if you were sort of a mid-career art photographer who'd lost his way -- but for everybody else, I think there's nothing better than looking at a lot of pictures, and shooting all the time. The sheer quantity of work has an effect all of its own, and I think it's there that you find your real vision, if you have one.

I once had a karate teacher who said that the American disease is to ask too many questions, and think and argue too much; he said there was great benefit in just doing it. Just do it, and imitate the best people around you, and when you've done it long enough, you'll be good. I think the same applies to photography and writing -- to all of the arts, really -- though I'm not sure that everybody quite understands that "doing" it might involve 60 hours a week.

[King's] great commandment: "read a lot; write a lot." He delves at great length into the nuts 'n bolts details of self-discipline

Eh. Pity he didn't always follow his own prescriptions. King is a terrific storyteller, but there was a period when he suffered* from the (usual?) I'm-a-big-name-writer, don't-touch-my-prose syndrome -- the writer's equivalent of dumping all of your photos, successful and unsuccessful alike, on unsuspecting public. The best example was when he published Green Mile, which very obviously greatly benefited from the size limits the serialisation imposed upon it.

* I mostly stopped reading his books when he turned towards more mundane matters instead of supernatural horror. You can say he borrowed elements from various writers but their juxtaposition was fresh and interesting.

I laughed when I read this - I thought I was the only one! I also keep certain books next to each other, for example Nietzsche's 'Genealogy of Morality' lives next to 'Crime and Punishment'.

I agree that reading books not specifically relevant can be enlightening; I found this with Aristotle's writings on the necessity of balancing influences and elements when creating art of any form.

I remember you saying you always loathed that book, The Painted Word by Wolfe.....but it takes up space on your shelf..? Now that I think about it, I've got books I'm too lazy to take to the used book store also, and they seem to have a sort of inertia in their spot..
best wishes

re: Pye- Mike, please write something about the workmanship of risk vs. the workmanship of certainty wrt. photography....it sounds like the basis of a great essay.

The Unknown Craftsman "...(it’s one of those books I keep having to replace, lending it too often to people who disappear.)"

Might those "people" not be the "Crafty Unknown"?

In pondering your recommendation of the workmanship book it brought to mind another non-photography book that goes to the same point of "different subject-equal relevance". That book would be "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig, which as we know has little to do with maintaining a vehicle and a world of thought on quality and value and even ethics. All very applicable in our pursuits photographically.

> that I might have found Barthes so difficult merely because his language (in translation) is less clear...

Don't worry : the translation seems a quite good one, then. The guy is not always easy to follow...
See eg http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A9miotique [fr]

I enjoyed reading the "The Workmanship of Risk" by Glenn Gordon via the PDF he supplied. It's a nice, very readable primer that has catalysed some thoughts on photographic printing.

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