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Thursday, 27 October 2011


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Thank you, I very much enjoyed that Wisconsin series.

Except for Lee Friedlander, most of this naturalistic photography has the same effect on me—minimal. I feel as if I am a passenger in a car staring out the window.

Mike, I'm so pleased you mention James Ravilious. He's a favourite of mine and he gets far less attention then his work deserves. It's almost impossible to see his prints in the UK. The prints are quite magnificent if you ever do get to see them.

I'd quibble with your characterisation of him as a romantic. Whist his photographs are overwhelmingly rural that's because that's where he lived and that's how he made his living. I see no evidence that he believed that Nature provided a Truth which was not accesible through Reason. I think he sits firmly in the group of post war English humanist documentary photographers (not all of which were English) I class him with Bradnt, Gay, Killip, Ray-Jones and most of all with Sirkka-Lisa Kottinen. He was above all interested in and respectful of the people who he lived with. It was people not nature which drove him to make photographs. If Ravilious had lived in the North East he would have documented Byker.

It's a method of approach, an attitude—a way of accepting what is, of taking what you're given, of letting the world in, being satisfied with reality, comfortable with happenstance and accident. How you then process that and select from it is just what makes you you.
Mike, Although that's hardly a definition, it seems to be your idea of naturalism as opposed to the 19th century movement in philosophy and, particularly, literature, in which Naturalism (now I've capitalized it), together with Realism, were reactions to Romanticism.It's major exponent was Zola who coined the term because he wanted to stress that he was creating a new way of writing and distinguish himself from Realists like Balzac and Flaubert.

Briefly, Zola and other naturalists thought that, since they were dealing with the "natural world", they should do this using the "scientific method." They generally believed that social environment and heredity determined character. In contrast to the Realists, who set out to describe reality, the Naturalists sought to depict the underlying "scientific" forces that determined how their characters behaved.

Now, I would have thought that Naturalism is more difficult to apply to the visual arts, but generally can be applied to painters and photographers that were influenced by the novels of Zola. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam had an interesting exhibition this subject.

I'm not sure how your examples represent naturalism in photography, but perhaps you can state how they do.

—Mitch/Chiang Mai

I could go on. (I do go on. It's the blogger's brief.)

You can and you do and for that we are truly grateful. This continuing dissertation is a great gift to us. It is thought provoking, entertaining, informative and imbued with a sense of passion for your craft - for our craft.

The quoted statement got me to thinking that perhaps the negative files of all photographers, back through time, are in effect a 'daily blog' of their lives, encounters and distractions if they are naturalistic images.

Even the not-so naturalistic contrivances, when seen in total, form a naturalistic account of a photographer's developing style and/or purpose.

Please do keep going on ....


I have a north woods cabin between Spooner and Hayward, and I always shop in Hayward, because Spooner does, in fact, blow.

James Ravilious foto reminds me how much I miss printing with that fine black line...

Not sure where this is leading...
however maybe we need comparisons...
Zander at 17, and Zander now (and not sitting in a dark corner at the cottage with a computer in front of him..

Mind if he is at "that" age where he probably
doesn't want his picture taken, C

Children mature all too fast and then they're adults and you hardly known them. Although being who you are you probably know Zander far better than many fathers.

For me the atraction to such photos comes down to the emotional response of the viewer. I've never been to WI but the first shot reminds me of my native New England.

The vintage ladies and automoblies are great because that's gone. One has to appreciate the historical factor which for me is a big part of the attraction when it comes to the great street and candid photographers like HCB. Personally I can do without Weegee's murder shots.

"It's a method of approach, an attitude—a way of accepting what is, of taking what you're given, of letting the world in, being satisfied with reality, comfortable with happenstance and accident. How you then process that and select from it is just what makes you you."

So true. Seeing those fantastical photographs created in Photoshop makes your statement even more true and welcomed.

These examples of Naturalism reminds me of DoubleTake magazine.

Great essay, Mike! Thank you. Was this "Take 2"? I was visiting links posted from what I think was a previous version of this and then my attempt at coming back brought me to nothingness which left me wondering if I was reading something from the past.

You've really got me thinking about naturalism and the snapshot asthetic as well which I don't really understand just yet, but you've started me thinking on the subject.


with this post, and the previous naturalism one, you've just busted straight beyond my ability to understand what on earth you are talking about. That's no criticism at all of you at all, more of my inability to understand certain artistic concepts. I stopped understanding after the second bullet point "demotic snaps..."

I've got a cousin who was in '97 one of the four short-listed for the Turner Prize in art (she didn't win), and who additionally has made her living from art ever since graduation. I admire her tremendously, but am completely unable to hold an intelligent conversation with her about either her vocation, or my previous career as a military officer. The concepts and language are impenetrable to each other. Instead, we can safely talk about our shared childhood, falling off our bikes, trying to keep some weight off a middle-aged body, or the rubbish experience that is Heathrow Airport.

Nevertheless, I'm very glad that you provide this blog and your time and intellect. ;)

Not really relevant to your photographic point, but every summer I drive my family up to Hayward, WI for a few days of the sort of tranquility and recovery that only Spider Lake and environs can provide. Each year we look forward to passing under that very viaduct Mark Brautigam photographed, as the thrill of seeing that Spooner still "BLOWS" makes clear our arrival to Hayward. And I expect it also makes Hayward kind of unique when it comes to highway signage. Excellent for grins.


Glad you mentioned James Ravillious in this series. He is a favourite photographer of mine and fits your mould so well. I think he was a bit of a romantic, but may be not as much as you suggest. he clearly felt that recording a disappearing way of life was important, as well as being his job. Most of all, I think his work evokes a srtrong sense of respect and liking for his subjects, who he lieved and worked with over many years.

It's a releif to know that there are others out there with no interest in photoshop creations and so to be aware that we are not alone!!


I can't believe how current this blog is to my personal life. I am deciding whether to pull the plug on my waning photographic career, mostly because of my age and the changes in the industry. I have been pondering for some time, the difference between the 'taken' photograph, and the 'made' photograph, which seems to dovetail into your look at naturalism.

What I've discovered, is that because of the changes in the industry, and the inability to financially keep a studio space for use, I have no interest in photographing what I can on the fly. No one can dispute the abilities of people like Robert Frank and Bresson, their study of, or just plain knack of, finding the decisive moment and capturing it; and the impact of their work. Every one has a different career path, and after years and years of photographing people and objects in a controlled environment, i.e. 'making' the photo through the setting, and lighting and controlling the mood through background music, etc.; the inability to afford to do that going forward, doesn't mean that I find any pleasure walking around with a camera and taking other types of photos. Much like David Saxe says above, those types of photos, captured moment vs. a high degree of photographer input; are like staring out a car window for me as well, and although interesting in some moments or instances, of very little interest to me as a skill.

I've long passed the point where I feel the need to take a camera every where and shoot everything; it's interesting, but these type of 'constant shooters' have something else going on; nervous energy, adult ADHD, something more than just wanting a decent picture of everything in their world.

Too many wrecked experiences in a long photographic career trying to get definitive pictures of every situation instead of actually experiencing it without a camera in front of you face.

I see how photographers careers peter out when the ability to work in the method that they flourish in, is reduced by forces outside their control. I feel the same way Avedon did with his ill-fated try at a journalistic approach in the insane asylum (hospital?) photographs he tried early in his career.

Don't think I'm getting every thing across I need to say, but too many 'roiling' feelings. The naturalism thing just opened a photographic can under a lot of internal pressure....

Mike - check out this guy.

John W,
Ah, you know, I meant to add Fred to this post.


I think the vast majority of GWACs (of whom I am one) got interested in photography in order to make nicer snapshots, not because we wanted to be artists. It follows from that that we'd work as naturalists, I think: "This is how I saw what I saw." The transition from pictures to art comes when the photographer understands that she is making a new thing, a photograph, rather than documenting the world as seen.


Im TOTALLY enjoying this series of bits on naturalism...enjoying also this portrait of Zander, wonderfu moment and his hands are great.l..looking at it trying to decide if it's a black and white image or a color image. Me thinking black and white..nice work

Mike, your ideas about "naturalism" in photography run perilously close to the "street photography" aesthetic espoused by certain circles. I've always found the term "street photography" a bit disingenuous, so it's interesting to hear your description of basically the same thing (in my mind) in these terms. Two of the groups I moderate on flickr are Hardcore Street Photography and At War With The Obvious, which seem at times to be two sides of the same coin, and both could be considered under the label of "naturalism" in one form or another. Of course, in my view, the paramount divisor is still between Good Photography and The Rest, and only when that has been considered can other more specific attributes come into play.

Interesting that you should bring up Martin Parr with respect to "naturalism". There are plenty of examples of Martin Parr shooting "real" people in a "real" environment.

Consider his photos from the Last Resort: Picture from New Brighton".






They're very "snapshotty" vernacular style photography in some ways with a subject that lends itself to the snapshot: kids on the beach; adults at a run down seaside resort.

But they're almost hyper-real in style from the lighting as a result ring-flash on the Plaubel Makina 67 he uses and the level of saturation he prefers. Almost "magazine like".

Are those photos naturalistic or not?

Are they satirical or documentary?

This bothered quite a few people from Liverpool (who where still going to New Brighton) when they were shown in 1986. I was there at the time and it was my first encounter with Parr's work.

Is Parr taking the p*ss? Or is he documenting Scousers having fun? These were the big questions but they seem to be parallel questions to the question of where the boundaries of naturalism lie.

"you've just busted straight beyond my ability to understand what on earth you are talking about"

James B,
Robert Frost's line always occurs to me: you want me to say it worse? But: the short-short-short version: "reality is enough."


"I feel as if I am a passenger in a car staring out the window."

Funny you should put it that way. Edward Weston never got a driver's license, because he always wanted to be free to look out the window when he was in a car.


There's any other way to photograph?

Mitch in Bangkok (if he's still there) said:

"I'm not sure how your examples represent naturalism in photography, but perhaps you can state how they do.

—Mitch/Chiang Mai"

When reading Mike's blog note today, I thought "Realism" might have been a better word that "Naturalism" for what he was describing.

I took a philosophy of science course in college, and what I remember of that taught that Naturalism was a philosophical movement that posited that natural law explained everything, and that those laws were (possibly with some exceptions at the extreme margins) generally discoverable. No metaphysics were necessary. What you see is what there is.

Realism, on the other hand, while often linked to Naturalism, was more of an approach to things than a specific philosophy. I suspect most Realists are often Naturalists as well, if they have any concern at all with philosophy, but they wouldn't really have to be. One could be quite religious and still be a Realist.

Realism, to me, portrayed daily life, as it is or at least as Realists perceive it, often with a touch of politics in the background. I consider the FSA photographers to be Realists. I like to think that visual (painting and photography) Realism is a kind of newspaper journalism of the arts -- that doesn't mean it can't be very fine, but it is not much concerned with the ethereal, with history, or with artistic formalism of the kind pressed by modernists and post-modernists.

So, I thought of Mike's photos -- the thing that linked them -- was an *approach,* rather than a philosophy. That approach involved showing things as they are. But it also seems to me to imply a certain emotional flatness, of the same kind you get in newspaper journalism. The flatness of observation, rather than engagement. In other words, I don't think either Diane Arbus or Nan Goldin, for different reasons, are Realists.

Thank you for the Mark Brautgam series, made me wonder what they would look like in black and white, and wonder why anyone would live somewhere so cold!

What is punctum?

"What is punctum?"

First Google result:


Second paragraph. It's something we've discussed here several times, and I've recommended the book many times. However it's not an easy concept and not necessarily a term most people would know. It's frustrating trying to write without ever using any specialized vocabulary, however.


This post is a gem. It's getting bookmarked. Thanks.

I have no formal art education. For the past several years I have been working hard to reinvent my photography. Until reading this post I didn't know that what I have been chasing is called naturalism. Thanks for all the great examples. I'll be coming back whenever I run short on inspiration.

Thanks for reminding me of James Ravilious again. I love the little film the BBC made. Difficult to find on the web (and copyrighted by http://www.banyak.co.uk/doc-ravilious.php) but snippets on YouTube.

Hmzzzzz, Wisconsin, wisconsin......ah, Dead Porcupine Mag.....that's where I saw them a few days ago those Mark Brautigam photo's.

Greetings, Ed

Here is the James Ravilious 30 minute video. It's posted by banyakfilms (the makers) on Dailymotion so © should be OK.

John Camp wrote:

When reading Mike's blog note today, I thought "Realism" might have been a better word that "Naturalism" for what he was describing…
…So, I thought of Mike's photos -- the thing that linked them -- was an *approach,* rather than a philosophy. That approach involved showing things as they are. But it also seems to me to imply a certain emotional flatness, of the same kind you get in newspaper journalism. The flatness of observation, rather than engagement. In other words, I don't think either Diane Arbus or Nan Goldin, for different reasons, are Realists.
John, the funny thing is that I wrote my comment just after Mike posted this article and saw the initial version of it, which did not include the photographs. Now, having seen the re-posted version, with the photographs, I begin to get a glimpse of what Mike is getting at, but still think that he would do well to elucidate further what he means, although your idea that the photographs show an approach strikes a resonant note with what I see in the pictures, including an absence of sentimentality — and, to me, sentimentality kills art because it's not "real"; but there is more than that, and I would like to read what else Mike has to say about this.

BTW, I am now in the north of Thailand. Yesterday, the government asked every one who could to leave Bangkok. For me, it was essential to do this since I need to be available to travel abroad and from Chiang Mai there are several flights a day to Bangkok International Airport. What has happened to millions of people in the countryside north of the city and could hit this city of 12 million people is sad indeed.

—Mitch/Chiang Mai

Great topic, Mike.

Ed Hawco's comment was great, too. I had a laugh when he quoted the "capture" word, surely the most overused term on Flickr, RedBubble and the like. Somehow I suspect it is supposed to excuse the inability to say anything more meaningful yet indicate the viewer is hearing the beat, man.

James Ravilious' photo stopped me. I did not read the rest of title, thinking it was a homeless person. This was the shot I enlarged, in the hope of making something out to understand the situation. Then I saw the occupation - a hedger. It has a Thomas Hardy feel about it. Now, Hardy wrote novels (and poetry), so did this real image evoke something from "The Woodlanders"? Surely realism can be powerful if it evokes something of the emotion and imagery allied to such literature.

And who could not stop and stare and wonder at Laura Gilpin's woman in "On the Prairie" (google it)? It might be just me, but that is one of reality's most powerful images. So many questions.

Meanwhile I think I'm where Tom Brenholts (above) is - hoping for that occasional transition to "art". If the light is kind, of course...

I am very confused by this post. A lot of my photographs have a style that is very similar to that of Mark Brautigam that you link to. Please note that I am talking about style only - the technical and artistic qualities of my photographs are much much inferior. The reason that I find myself confused is that I never thought that I adhered to any particular style. My mind-set is usually to try and depict the "flavor" of a certain place at a certain time, but not in the Street Photography sense.

To be very honest, I regard my photographs as rather poor for the simple reason that I cannot label them as having any particular style that can be used as a qualitative reference. Now I can start studying this Naturalistic style that you have introduced me to, go back and review my work having this Naturalistic style as a reference and maybe draw some conclusions as to how I should be evolving.

Up until now, I have always thought that I needed to develop a particular style in order for my photographs to have meaning (as a body o work). Maybe I already adhere to a well defined style?

In describing Naturalism as it relates to other styles, I can't agree that it is the "opposite" or "antagonistic" of Fantasy. While many styles appeal to the emotions, Naturalism (as I understand it) appeals to the senses. I think Fantasy also appeals to the senses. But then I have already declared my ignorance, so I am probably wrong.

Anyway, going back to Mark Brautigam. After seeing his photographs, I now know how it "feels" to be in Wisconsin, or at least I think I do. That makes his work very effective, if that is what he is trying to do.

i appreciate your description of some different attitudes and approaches to photos. i think you may want to tighten up your choice of words, however. the '-ism' in naturalism points to the fact that it is a style, a product of art (artifice), not simply what is natural. like realism, it is inherently paradoxical; both attempts to overcome, or better, transcend the mediation of experience through ... another medium (art). that contradiction is essential to the multiple meanings of the word art; it evokes both truth and trickery.

martin parr's photo linked above is a perfect example of naturalism--regardless of the circumstances of its creation. that is, naturalism has no inherent link to what is natural (or true), and vice versa, what is actually natural or real isn't necessarily naturalistic, or an example of naturalism. (i realize that this is a point you make in passing, but you're not consistent about it.) atget or henri cartier-bresson often played with this relation, exploiting the camera's ability to expose real scenes as expressions of the surreal lying in wait within the quotidian all around us.
(hcb's photo of the spectacled spectator at the valencia arena is a good illustration.)

perhaps the discrepancy in usage arises because you seem to be thinking of naturalism not as a property of the artwork, but rather as an attitude of the artist, a perspective on and way of working in the world. which is an interesting angle. but i don't think 'naturalism' is the best term for that; it's already taken. (simply saying a photographer takes a 'natural' approach to the world might be sufficient, or at least a start.) in fact, what you describe seems to me to be basically the attitude of 'straight photography,' though that may be too general a term for what you want to communicate.

a different, also terminological, point: a photograph doesn't 'have' a punctum. the punctum is (according to barthes) highly personal; it can be, most often probably will be, invisible to other viewers of the same photograph, because they don't share the same history as the first viewer. blood on pavement is much more likely to play the role of studium than of punctum as barthes defines the concepts. studium covers what is socially or culturally or conventionally expected to be a significant point; punctum is the way a photo might (only might--there's no reason a photo, even a very good one, will necessarily have a punctum for any specific viewer) unexpectedly touch a sore spot, a pre-existing wound (and the idea of wound is apropos, because unlike studium, punctum is not really about meaning or semantic content, but something inchoate) in the viewer's experience, through some arbitrary salience. what is fantastic about the punctum is that in some cases, it is possible to perceive what touches another person in this way at all--it is as strange as encountering a stranger with fingerprints matching yours--but it happens nonetheless. these may be the photos which profoundly affect us; but then again, they may also leave us feeling cold and alienated despite (or because of) that feeling of sharing a highly personal wound with a stranger.

i don't mean to be just picking nits here. the effort to describe what is going on with photography in words is i think important (even if ultimately the two are different order phenomena), but the particular words do matter.

John (et al),
To my way of understanding it, the Fox show "Cops" is realistic; Chris Haddock's coroner drama "Da Vinci's Inquest" (the all time #1 cop show IMO, unless you count certain made-for-TV movies such as the British "Prime Suspect" with Helen Mirren) is naturalistic.

Hope you might be familiar with these examples....


Interesting case. No, to me Martin Parr is not naturalistic. But that could be a long discussion.


I wonder how many people will arriver here thinking it's a post about photographing nudists. :-)

Mike, If your photography (which there is precious little of in your blog) is anything like your writing, there must be a treasure trove in your basement. Photography brought me to your blog, articles like these keep me here. I reread some of your esseys just for the pleasure of the turned phrase or the play with words, the logical stream of themes and thoughts, the well articulated observations....Keep it coming.

i appreciate your description of some different attitudes and approaches to photos. i think you may want to tighten up your choice of words, however. the '-ism' in naturalism points to the fact that it is a style, a product of art (artifice), not simply what is natural...

...i don't mean to be just picking nits here. the effort to describe what is going on with photography in words is i think important (even if ultimately the two are different order phenomena), but the particular words do matter.

Mike, I should have been more precise in what I wrote earlier and stated that the problem in the way you use "naturalism" as stemming from a natural approach is that "Naturalism" is a very precise concept in terms of 19th century philosophy, literature and art — and using this particular "ism" for something quite different doesn't make sense to me: words do matter. You can write about a "natural" approach, but that is not Naturalism.

—Mitch/Chiang Mai

And I suspect you have to look at a lot of her work to "get" her—she's not a single-picture artist; her aesthetic is revealed slowly, gently, across many photographs contemplated at leisure.

I recently read Old Masters and Young Geniuses by David Galenson, who divides artists into two broad groups: conceptualists, who peak at a young age and are often know for a few important works, and experimentalists, who peak later in life, are more concerned with the look and feel of a work rather than the concept or idea behind it, and whose work must be seen as a whole. Hutchinson seems to fit nicely the the experimentalist campe, although that might be true of most realists/naturalists.

Anyway, it's a very interesting idea and book.

I swear that overpass used to say "Spooner Rules"

Chris -- any serious discussion ends up touching on the meanings of the important words involved, in my experience. Trying to hold words to an absolute stable meaning is hopeless (also probably undesirable), but being clear about how you are using them (at a given moment) is absolutely key to communication on any difficult topic.

beuler -- "or at least I think I do". Which is key to naturalism and art, as I understand them (which is vaguely at best, and without enough background). I think you at least understand how Mark Brautigam feels about being in Wisconsin.

HinVan, The wonderful film about James Ravilious is on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYg8mxvUgJE (I assume it's legit because it's linked from the main Ravilious site). The sound synchronisation gets a bit off kilter as it goes on but it's worth persevering. It's also worth buying the DVD as it has some lovely extras as well as the sound synch being right.

The Beaford Archive has been partially digitised and about 1,700 images are online here http://www.beaford-arts.org.uk/archive/ You can buy digital prints at quite reasonable prices but I'm saving up to buy a proper silver print from Robin Ravilious http://www.jamesravilious.com/sales.asp

Someone asked how I described my style, and I said my perfect picture looks like "This happened. It was cool. I happened to be there with a camera." I absolutely grep Ed Hawco's sentiments. Thanks for this series of posts.

Mike, that extremely shallow depth of field in the Kate Hutchinson photo you show (and similarly in http://katehutchinson.blogspot.com/2011/08/last-ferrero-rocher-metaphor-for-last.html) results from a wide-open normal lens on a full frame camera?
I do like this visual impression very much, but was never able to create it with the APS-C camera available to me. Useless to waste time in further tries, or are there other ingredients than FF and f1.4 to add?

Geez, I've been getting deeper into this argument than I really intended...I think it's about the language.

Chris, on punctum, I have to somewhat disagree. The punctum does reside in the photo, and is external to the viewer, but is, as you say, individual to each viewer. So for a particular viewer, there may be no punctum; for different viewers, there could be different punctums. But in many photographs, the punctum may be the same for many viewers, and that's only possible because the punctum does reside in the photograph...

That's why Mike (I think) referred to news photographs in particular. A news photo of a dead or crying child (to use a perhaps too obvious example) may deliver a personal wound to many people, when they remember child deaths in their own past, or injuries to themselves that made them weep. I think, in fact, that shared punctums (puncta?) are what make photographs into icons -- the studiums are what give them an intellectual interest.

To use another example, for people of a certain age, the photograph of JFK being hit by a bullet elicits all kinds of different reactions from people, through a mixture of studium and punctum.

I think. :-)

"TV movies such as the British "Prime Suspect" with Helen Mirren) is naturalistic"

Prime suspect was very good. Season 5 was shot around my neighbourhood.

"No, to me Martin Parr is not naturalistic. But that could be a long discussion."

Though Martin Parr studied in my town, he never shot my around my neighbourhood. I do know New Brighton where Last Resort was made,
It's like a lot of resorts in northern England. You could shoot them for a hundred different reasons, Parr had a clear message. Most people I know have really fond memories of trips to those seaside towns. For some, those pictures didn't match up with there experience of a trip to New Brighton.
But Parr wasn't there for the tourist board, nor was he there to attack the holiday makers. More surreal than natural. Erm...surratural? 


 If Parr was taking the urine out of anything, it was consumerism

"Robert Frost's line always occurs to me: you want me to say it worse? But: the short-short-short version: "reality is enough."


I've tried googling your Robert Frost line, and I come up with a poet. Poetry and I never mixed successfully - in fact, we were immiscable.

I'm going to have to declare myself a loser at this point, due to some mental incapacity. I've got both Bachelor and Master's degrees, I run a fairly successful lobbying, political engagement and marketing company, in my previous career I could run a coordinated air/ground attack on a military force, or utilise air and ground elements to deliver life-saving aid to disaster victims in conditions of chaos.

However, the art world has me stumped. As far as my photography hobby goes, I like a pretty picture, and one day, I may make one. Of course, I won't be able to explain why it's pretty, not in terms that the current art world understands.

This article is probably one of the 10% or so a year on TOP that I'll never get. I'm delighted that the 90%+ of TOP readers will get it, and I'll sit back and wait until something else comes up on TOP that I can get. I'm still quite pleased with my mathematical confirmation of your $million dollar guess as to the value of that crashed truck full of printer ink. That sort of post I can relate to, but I'm very pleased that your perspective is broader and challenges my simplicities...


Thanks, Mike. I suppose because I am so attracted to this style of photography, I appreciate your attempting to define it. I finally see some coherence among the photographs that please me. Ed Hawco's comment was very perceptive and what really knocked me out was this: "In other words, people are only looking at the picture and not at the subject. I like to think they should be interested in both!" When I read that I realized what it is in a photograph that *holds* me. I'm bookmarking this article for future reference.

Regarding the difference between Realism and Naturalism (both with capitalized), I vividly recall a quote from a high school English teacher: "A Realist calls a spade a spade; a naturalist calls it a damned old shovel".


@ Kevin: Is (Martin) Parr taking the p*ss? Or is he documenting Scousers having fun?

1) I can't decide.

2) I'm not convinced they are having fun. Trying to, I think. Maybe that's his point.

For me, many of Mark Brautigam's photos have a quiet charm. That's a compliment, and maybe a sign of naturalism?

I like your clear explanations. It puts words on an important part I like about photography. 2 years ago I made a small series about winter in the street of Montreal. They were mostly taken without much artifice in (I think) a naturalistic way. Needless to say that they didn’t attract much attention on Flickr. Speaking of Flickr I have a few contacts over there and it strikes me how little I know about their environment.

There’s also this need to make what I’d call “idealized” shots. For example, the power lines are ubiquitous here in Quebec. But most photographers try to avoid them when doing landscapes because as an unwritten rule you shouldn’t see any trace of human activity in a nature shot. Fine, but this is not what we actually see when we get to the place.

Oh and thank you for the Russian film, I finally found a place where to get a copy, I’m sure it will be great.

@ me: For me, many of Mark Brautigam's photos have a quiet charm. That's a compliment, and maybe a sign of naturalism?

Er, I meant that the quiet charm is a sign of naturalism, not the compliment!

Hi Mike,

I've been thinking about your blog post and following the links for 2 days now.

I think your naturalism is what I think of as realism or candid (the subject knows the photographer is there but isn't dressed up or posed as for a portrait).

I feel that naturalistic photos maybe have more impact when viewed looking back in time or if the subject is known to the viewer, by which I mean the Wisconsin photos, to me, were 'oh ok, that's what WI looks like', but no other emotion, whereas the Kingston Collection was fascinating as it recorded times past, Lartigue I enjoy (especially the oval wheel), and Linda McMartney because of the subject matter, but none of the other links.
The James Ravilious/Beaford Archives has had a deep impact on me; I grew up in a rural village 15 miles from that area of Devon (a million miles in Devon village terms)and my dad is an agricultural repair mechanic, so I grew up playing and working on farms just like those in school holidays. I don't think they are particularly romanticised; most of those farms are maybe a 100 or so acres so only a little up from subsistence level, and by the time those pictures were taken they were being undercut by big agri-business (wheat from Canada, beef from Argentina, etc). It seems romantic unless you've had to go out in a sleety gale in sucking mud twice a day to get cows in for milking (in an open milking parlour) and stinking of stale milk even after a bath, or worked on a potato harvester in mid-summer with your throat and eyes full of dust. 30+ years and a lifetime ago to me now.
Interestingly NW Devon still has pockets of that lifestyle due to the lack of major roads until recently, but now, with the North Devon Link road a lot of farms are being bought up by moneyed people who can commute to London in 3 hours or so. They convert them into several homes for people to commute to towns from, and the fields are rented to adjacent farmers. So the infrastructure remains but the lifestyle has changed; instead of landrovers and pigsties it is now BMWs and stables.
(wasn't it you that said if you take enough pictures composition comes naturally? - that may be why you think James' photos are borderline naturalistic).

Mike, I truly appreciate your recent series of posts on this subject; it's got me thinking deeply about what and why I photograph and also reminded me that I - and probably a lot of your other viewers - have got a lot of pre-digital images that record events and lifestyles that would be worth scanning and uploading as a historical record. I know that a lot of times and places with friends I was the only one with a camera.

What I do love about photoshop is the ability to combine a new and old image into one composite, so you get two naturalistic images for the price of one ;-)
I intend to do something similar sometime.

I agree with all Ed Hawco's post apart from; "..fans of that type of work—perhaps erroneously—as a lack of curiosity about the real world...", I’m fascinated by the natural world and how and why things work, but I also think there is a lot of fantasy that can be thought provoking (not woman with sheep - I skimmed past so fast I didn't notice the train), the two below I like;
Social commentary;

all the best phil

You should hire a "real professional portrait photographer" to photograph Zander. He looks like a real "hunk" and those days will soon be gone forever.
Something for you to hang on the wall now, and for his grandchildren to marvel at.

Isn't photography with conventional pictorial materials and processes(NOT Kodalith!) an automatically naturalistic medium? If you don't manipulate it, it's a photomechanical scene-reproducing device.
I suspect that photography is not necessarily best thought about, categorized, or curated using a literary classification(Classic, Romantic, Realistic, Naturalistic, etc). It is a graphic medium, a medium of visual content.


I want to add my voice to the chorus approving your mentioning James Ravilious.

I came across a book of his work about 12 years ago ("An English Eye"). It impressed me, moved me, deeply, and it has remained a touchstone. It opened up the world of photography for me by 180 degrees, by which I mean that his photographic technique of photographing towards the light (pointing the lens towards the key light source, usually the sun) showed me how much more beautifully scenes and people could be photographed, when not simply illuminated from the front. Hitherto, I had blindly ignored half (a 180-degree view) of the world.

When I discovered his work, I already used a Leica M camera and black and white film, and developed and printed my results. I scoured Ravilious's scant technical descriptions of materials and methods, in a self-educating mode, an old-fashioned apprenticeship. Given his subject matter, that seems appropriate. He so often photographed craftsmen and traditional occupations. I learned a lot, although could never claim to have imitated faithfully his results.

I'm happy to be reminded of his work by you. It will nudge me to return to look again, both at his photographs, and enjoy and learn more.


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