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Tuesday, 06 March 2012


Another important sentence I've learned very early, that matches very well to "no one cares…" is: "Excuses can not be printed".

As I said in the "context" discussion, I'm not sure you can separate the question of whether a person liked the work from the question of whether the person thought the photographer worked hard to get the shot. I think many people, especially casual consumers of art and photography, are very impressed by work that is very large, very detailed/sharp, has a lot of dynamic range, and/or has a high degree of "polish." All of those elements suggest a great deal of effort and technical skill, and I think many viewers respond favorably to that effort.

I had this happen while taking a photography class in college. The subject was "man-made beauty." I wanted to do an aerial shot of a freeway overpass to capture the graceful curves. However, I could never work out the schedule with my Dad (a private pilot) to get into the air (or I procrastinated, which is more likely.)

Instead tried to find the best ground-based shot I could, but it came out as, well, a mundane freeway overpass. I put a note saying what I had *wanted* to do on the back of the picture, but I don't think he would have cared about what I *wanted* to do, and it would have served me right if he would have replied with the equivalent of this post.

... And you just made me order another book, damn your discerning eyes.

pax / Ctein

And all they got for their effort was one of the most beautifully haunting images ever put to celluloid.

There's a good recent essay about "how hard you need to work" at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/everything_matters_part_2.shtml

though maybe sometimes you don't. the mysterious poster "boris chan" once wrote on pnet that you can't hide behind the excuse, "i don't have enough time," because very good work can be done in very little time. he used chien-chi chang's book "the chain" as an example, though i've never been able to confirm whether it was as easy as a weekend trip.

Once I worked out how Sally Mann took her photos I was totally inspired to start using large format in a less formal way. In my opinion she's right there in my top five all time photographers. And since I ruptured myself carrying an 8x10 I have to admire her work ethic even more, she looks tiny next to her camera, and I'm 6ft 2in and 220lb and struggled. She not only works hard but has done so at the same pace for 30 odd years, a total inspiration.
The only project I really put hard work into, photographing london with large format late at night in the 80's also turned out my best photos and I'm convinced that the huge effort involved in photographing all night after working all day came back to me in spades. You really do only get back what you put in.

I shoot hand-held with 35mm, and I'm aways telling myself I'm going to set some time aside to practice changing lenses quickly. I often "make do" with whatever lens is on the camera because I know it'll take forever to switch. Maybe my problem is that I don't own a zoom....

Like two intersecting graphs of shutter speed and aperture, the two of you have come up with a sharp conclusion. Mike essentially sums it up in his last line. Ctein says, “No one cares how hard you worked.” I would counter with: “No one cares if you don’t work.” In most, if not all cases, the hard work is in getting people to notice the photograph than in the making of it. And in any case, how does one define “hard work”, anyway? We’re photographers, the vast proportion of which are rewarded a long while after the fact, if indeed we are rewarded at all. So, by definition, we photograph for the love of art, rather than to put food on the table. As magnificent as that photograph is, venturing out into a deep, calm river with my young son, camera or not, doesn’t sound like any kind of work I’ve ever heard of. If it is, where do I apply?

FYI - I think that Sally Mann's son is Emmett (with two "t"s), even though he's named after Emmet (with one "t") Gowin (or so I read somewhere). I'm a bit of a stickler about this only because my new baby boy is named Emmet as well (with one "t", in deference to (even if not "named after") Emmet Gowin).

I feel that we cannot tell a photographer to work harder. It has to come from within. A feeling that "it's not quite the picture I want". This is what drives a person to keep trying to take that picture they wanted, out of a very familiar scene; or for a printer, to go through a box of 50 sheets of paper whether in the darkroom or digitally. Was it Kertesz who said the camera is a musical instrument? Some photographers keep going until that single, annoying, note is finally in harmony with all the others. Do the viewers care? Why should they? ..as long as the composer is happy....!

Jed- You'd be best off practicing with the one lens that suits you best, so you wouldn't have to change as much. And the best way to find that is without a zoom.

I hope that Sally Mann does put out that deluxe edition some day because she's one of the best printers ever.

I'd like to propose another aspect to "working hard enough" - spending the countless years honing the eyes and the reflexes and the skills so that when the decisive moment approaches you can:

  1. Recognize it
  2. Frame it
  3. Capture it

To an outside observer, what you are doing may in fact not look special, or look like it was a lot of work. But Michael Jordan's silky jumpers looked effortless too, didn't they? It was his insane talent combined with thousands of hours in the gym that made it so.

Hard work is also the result of knowing exactly what you want.

(I'm guessing this is how this is related to equipment vs result Kirk Tuck post earlier...)


Thanks for this insight into one of my favourite artists. And thanks to Sally for making Immediate Family available a price that is affordable to the masses. It is one of my favourite books.

I am totally using this:
"the Nadler-Johnston Corollary, thusly: "No one cares how hard you worked...but they will notice if you didn't work hard enough." pax / Ctein"

A successful manager, a friend, reminds me he tells his employees: I want to see you work smart, not hard.

One thing that intersects with this: cameras can eliminate dumb work. In point: the new Canon 5D3.

Since Monday's announcement, I had eagerly searched for, and have just found, information that it could do the one thing (hah! famous last words) that I'm missing with my Canon 7D, namely, in live-view shooting, allow the simultaneous display of the whole picture and a magnified detail.

Specifically, I'd like to be able to adjust focus manually on a person's eye, while seeing how the overall composition frames up.

It seems to me child's play to write camera software enabling that (so speaks the complete ignoramus on matters of programming). I'm surprised that it has not appeared before now.

So I'm celebrating that it might eventually--when I get my mitts on it--allow me to forget about one more aspect of technique, or rather, work less hard at that, so that I can work harder at more important work (such as, engaging the subject of my portrait-making).


I like the musical metaphors in other comments here too. No one ever became a successful musician without untold, unseen, unheard labors of colossal magnitude in comparison to the actual tiny fraction of time involved in performance. Practise ten thousand hours? Maybe it will get you started, or maybe not even that.

Now I'll shut up. I've got work to do.


Well, glad to see both of these things here---they're absolutely correct. I used to tell my students this all the time. The first one a sad fact that had to be faced by beginners and those in the program who were doing distribution requirements or sent by idiot academic advisors who suggested they take an art course for "fun". People would cry in these classes, often times the heaviest workloads of their whole college careers. But it was a huge life lesson, and I used it into a segue into discussions of the mysteries of talent, propensity, and work.

The latter corollary was the tough lesson the talented had to learn in upper level classes: they'd gotten used to sailing along merrily, but the bar always gets raised. It was a tough lesson for them as well, and I've seen a lot of "merely talented" people wash out over time.

But I'll add a third thing, which I was told in grad school (it was the most, maybe only, really significant thing told to me by this particular professor, who was bright but only that...): "Don't let the craft get in the way of the art". That means for better or for worse---and this is the essence of what separates art and craft. It's what befuddles to the point of distraction so many excellent craftspeople (in photography especially, it seems) when they see seemingly (and sometimes actually...)poorly crafted stuff "get ahead" in the art market/world. For art, it's only about the final manifestation, ultimately, and all else that swirls around it---the history of it, the critical appraisals, the artist's details, etc...are irrelevant. In great art, there's a happy union of craft, subject matter, and content.

Yet another corollary comes to mind from Jed's comment: Nobody gives a hoot what lens you used or how much it cost.

Irrational devotion to prime lenses where they make no practical sense is a poor strategy, too.

Emmett's statement

Whenever I read an artist's statement or exhibition review that emphasizes the gear and processes used I assume the work must be kind of boring, or why wouldn't they be discussing that instead? I love old cameras, but when it comes to looking at photos I don't care how big the camera is. I don't care if it's film or digital. Tell me what compels the photographer to make photographs and/or what is intriguing about the photos. If what makes the work significant is that it was created with uncommon cameras and processes then I'd rather see the photographer's camera collection and darkroom.

I will probably buy the Aperture book but I'd rather buy a Steidl version should one ever come into being.

That said there are some who can't stand her wet platers images. These guys, and I think they're mostly guys, even give out a Sally Mann Award for the most technically imperfect plate. I don't share their opinions but then again I'm not a Civil War reenactor either.

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