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Wednesday, 02 June 2010


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"I'm just not very status-conscious myself (I'm more in the mold of an "eccentric")."

Unless, of course, you pride yourself on your status as an eccentric...*


* Not that there's anything wrong with that!

I might, if only I were a better eccentric.


I'm sure someone will notice the other tautology in this piece, which is that you don't have to take my advice when I advise that you go your own way. Maybe your thing is to be conventional and conformist....

[g again]


One thing I keep noticing is that people want to take whatever form of endeavor they have a familiar community around, and try to pretend their new interests fit within it.

This is most apparent with the overzealous use of various Photoshop plugins and graphic design tools in the field of photography. Its getting to the point where many people want to do something you'd think of as "abstract graphic art that might have captured some small portion of the image data using a camera" and call it "photography."

Frank Sinatra should be required listening for this post. 8-)

Remember the lines from Catch-22 (paraphrasing):

"What if everyone thought like you?"

"Then I'd be a fool to think any different".

I believe it has a lot to do with self-consciousness. I have a feeling many peopel just aren't very, and if you aren't, you need constant positive feedback on what you do. I'd guess those same people who need to define themselves via what others say about them also can't cope with serious criticism.

What people should really be doing is training their self-consciousness. And what better way is there to just - as you said - go your own way. It takes an effort, though, if you're used to do things the way you think others want you to.

Can every photographer afford to print? Can every photographer who wants exhibition quality prints beyond 8x10 (11x14, 16x20- not poster sized) really afford the paper, inks, calibrator, etc. to do it on a regular basis? I'm sure many can; I can also attest to the fact that many simply cannot afford it.

Edward Weston, to take just one example, was obsessed with his own status as a photographer and as an "artist", and I'm sure he was not alone. However, none of the individuals you cite are photographers by any definition and so have no status whatsoever within the pastime/profession/art - though they may have great status as academics/curators/gallery owners etc.

I'm not sure what your point was, here.

Brian to the crowd: "You are all individuals."

Man in the middle of the crowd: "I'm not!"

Monty Python's Life of Brian.

My old man once sent me to school in football boots as he was too broke to buy me a pair of new trainers. He just unscrewed the studs and and off to school I went. I clip clopped across the wooden floor of Saint Patrick's junior school's dinner hall, the howls of laughter still ring in my ears. I protested to my Da, I'll end up scraping I told him. He just said "I don't mind that. you can lose a tooth if need be, just keep your pride boy, there's nobody better than us." Well I had many a scrap, I always had convincing arguments as to why mocking my status was not a good idea, right there at the end end of each arm.

I've too much footwear now and have no status at all as a photographer. I'd just like to be better, better than I was last year. I'm going to use my camera to make a convincing argument that that's happening, right there at the end of my arms

Thanks! This makes me feel better about the fact that I seem to refuse to use a tripod. Of 17,000 images on my harddrive only one was taken with a tripod. They are just no fun to use (for me!). I handhold for bracketing/hdr, I handhold for butterflies and flowers, I handhold for panos. I realize my shots might be sharper with at tripod, but it is just no fun. And thankfully high ISO is getting better and better.


Cue the band, bring out Sinatra!

Ah. Wonderful post and one that strikes right into the heart of the matter.

I have to confess that I have spent too many of the 14 years that I have pursued photography as a hobby worrying about the "shoulds" of it. I "should" be doing this; the rule of thirds means I "should" be doing that; pros use X so I "should" be doing it, too. Never happy, always in pursuit of what I "should" be doing to be what? I don't know, popular, I guess. It feels good when others like your work and it often seems we find it convenient to prescribe a change in equipment, or yet another book on the "rules" of photography as a means of achieving that goal.

Over the years, however, I began to notice the painful truth of the matter -- it takes dedication, hard work, persistence, and "ownership" (I am borrowing that term from a description of a David Alan Harvey workshop) to make your own mark in anything, including photography. Whatever your style and whatever your purpose, you have to pursue it and perfect it and express it -- and if others like it, you'll get noticed.

I have a couple of examples that really helped me come to that "aha!" moment. One of these occurred after you (Mike) thought it important to respond to comments made about the post by Mitch Alland on the Ricoh GRD III. As I read your post, stating that Mitch wasn't asking anyone to help him "improve" his photography; that he was expressing his own vision with his photos and did not need some commenter's assistance -- that is when the light-bulb in my head finally came on and I realized just how important this is. My own thoughts over the previous months finally coalesced into words. I finally realized that if I did not like a particular photographer's work -- that was OK! It was OK both for me and for the photographer whose work I was not interested in!

Another example came less than two weeks before that series of articles were published here. I attended a seminar where one of the speakers was Ralph Gibson. Now, Gibson's work is not something I go out of my way to find and was not really familiar with, or him. But, I looked at some examples before the seminar and was excited to hear what he had to say. And this ties somewhat into the whole "don't meet your heroes" theme discussed at TOP a while back, too. Gibson is not my hero, per se, but hearing him and "meeting" him was a disappointment. Maybe he had a bad day, but he came off as full of himself, opinionated and disinterested at the same time. He hardly spoke about any of his own photos and proceeded to inform everyone that digital was a means of communication, not photography. "There haven't been any masters created with digital cameras," he proclaimed. Despite this, there was something inescapable about his talk and performance, and that was his passion for and dedication to his art. He stood in front of the crowd and performed a musical composition and interpretive dance! Now, put me in that position and I would never have the nerve -- but he did it. And the crowd, composed of amateurs (with all the silliness that goes with being an amateur photographer) was not exactly impressed by the performance. There were more than a few smirks and questions about Gibson's sanity from this crowd. They certainly didn't "get it." But, that did not stop Ralph Gibson and I have tremendous respect for anyone who can do that. It is the determination and dedication to his personal vision that impressed me greatly.

Your post (and others before this one), Mike, reminded me of these things, and all the other useless debates about "art/not art" and "snapshots" and photoshop and "what makes us better than the point-and-shooter soccer moms" and all the rest of it. Sorry to take up so much space with my ramblings.

Funny thing about the individuals on your list is: without a printed picture, nearly all of them would have to pursue another profession.

Besides the 'real' thing or the 'hermit' approach, I think you won't get beyond a certain point with your art (personal or not) if you do not print and show.

However, getting to hang a really idiosyncratic show is a whole 'nother matter...

"That's a status argument: the status is 'art,' and what's at issue is whether some photographers or photographs deserve the status."

Ever notice how often those who describe themselves as "fine art photographers" rarely are and those who unquestionably are artists (or at least interesting) don't use that appellation?

I'm all for specific enthusiasms: horse photographer, collotype printer, portraitist who shoots B&W with a view camera and hot lights. A friend of mine shoots dragonflies on colour negative film with Pentax M42 gear. (He's been doing it for years, is darn good, and is hugely knowledgeable.)

It's hard for generalists to get passionate, and it's usually passion that drives a person towards strong results. Can't worry about the crowd.

Mike, in my own case -- and with some experience of seeing others who work at and enjoy photography -- the distinction is not about which activity (in this case, printing) the photographer must do to be "real." It's simpler than that. "Real" photographers actually take pictures (and not just talk about it.) "Real" printers actually print pictures (and not just spout specs.) "Real" collectors actually wrestle with the issues of collecting, how to choose, what to choose, who to choose, and how to appreciate and enjoy images.

If any metaphor exists for photography on the internet it is of the dam bursting and flooding the hinterlands with blather. The torrents of blowhards are reaching flood stage and lapping at the sandbagged dikes of actual experience. And I'm not always sure where to find the proverbial higher ground to run to.

So in the end I have one short, rude comeback when people say they want to talk to me about photography: "Shut up and show me the pictures."

Partially related to your posting is my favorite quote on "art", from E.H. Gombrich's"The Story of Art":

"There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists." ;-)


Virtually everyone is conventional and conformist. They'rre just C&C in different ways. People who consider themselves "nonconformist" almost always wear uniforms -- political t shirts, facial hair, a certain style of clothing. The guy you gotta keep an eye out for is the one who wears the bourgeois suit and tie, never used drugs, has been married for 20 years and has a solid rep as a painter or poet.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the status of photography, about whether it is art. I guess it is. I could be talked out of that guess. But if you look at something that everybody considers art, like serious painting, you realize there are a lot of activities that are almost exactly like serious painting -- magazine illustration, decorative house painting, sign painting,
ect. -- but aren't. They use many of the same skills, much of the same equipment, but the product isn't fine art. Photography is the same way -- lots of photographers using similar equipment and skills, but only a few of them making fine art.

Photography, though, also has a "fractal" aspect, where some of it lives between dimensions. If you take an interesting photograph of an artistic activity, is the photo art? Or only the original activity?

"Jerry Jeff, indecision may or may not be your problem"- Steve Fromholtz from the liner notes of a JJ walker album late '70s or early '80s. I don't remember which album.

Pretty much sums up my position on "Art".
I think it takes conviction on the part of the person with the tools. I'm still working on that part. As far as "status" goes, I learned a long time ago that when I didn't have to be important, life got much easier.


I wish I could create art with my photography..."as long as it's not illegal or immoral." Why do we need to limit those who can, to go by arbitarty standards of society?

I agree much more with the final few paragraphs.

I´m convinced a hell of a lot of photographers jumped over to digital just to keep up with the crowd. Kind of peer pressure.

Good on ya, Mike. And timely, too. I'm giving a talk at GFM on just this thing come August.

Of course, defining your own thing is problematic. I better get started on that talk.

That's a great topic. As for myself, I don't even know what "art" really is, let alone photography... I just get a kick out of it.

The question that bothers me is not whether it's art or not, but (I'm not a pro) what should I do with my pictures.

Dear Dkonigs,

I consider such 'plug-in people' entirely to be photographers and what they're doing to be legitimate photography. If you don't wish to, that's your taste, but you've really got no grievance unless THEY'RE redefining photography to exclude YOU.


Dear Latent,

I call myself an artist. Always have.

Others can decide if I'm a GOOD artist...


Dear Mike,

As I've said in the past, Real Men don't worry about what Real Men do. Substitute 'Photographers' for 'Men.'

pax / Ctein

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!

After all is said and done, what is a "photograph"? Is the image on a monitor screen the same thing? Are we re-defining ourselves or just re-living the same argument that the painters made? The wonderful thing about photography (or image capture) is that everyone can participate to whatever extent they wish and find their own measure of satisfaction. My wife captures dozens of beautiful images on film and sensor, never interested to print any of them personally, and loves it! I don't feel completely satisfied until I have a print in hand, made by myself if within my capabilities. She loves the aura of the captured image, and the ease which digital can deliver it. I find fulfillment in the journey that reveals my personal expression of that image. What can I say, opposites attract.

A real photographer just says no to the B9180. Not really related but I've finally had it with that thing. This 'real' (ha!) photographer will not be printing until his 2880 arrives.

The whole paradox of whether you should take advice from someone advising you not to take their advice reminded me of Raymond Smullyan's "Epistemological Nightmare" (http://www.mit.edu/people/dpolicar/writing/prose/text/epistemologicalNightmare.html).
Great reading, plus you`ll find a mind-reading computer, a mad scientist, and even an optometrist!
In any case, feel free to disregard my geeky suggestion.(I like to think of it as just slightly *eccentric* ;)

Last year on a forum the subject of 'how many of us actually print our pictures' was raised.
A surprisingly large proportion stated that they did not and they only used them on websites and viewed them on monitors and/or digital frames.
The same group were also the type of people who were always after the next great piece of equipment and for whom megapixel count was an important factor.
I found this strange as they were probably using less than 1 million pixels in their prefered methods of viewing.

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