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Tuesday, 11 March 2014


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wow... thought provoking. I guess we could go around the circle and have an opinion for either case. But does that change anything?
One could argue the Artist should stay true to his/her thoughts and intentions... and can change them any time he wants ;-)

Each of us is like Roger’s daughter. Every day’s experiences change us. If she can return to the window display at a later time and see it differently, why can’t we likewise revisit our work and reinterpret it? If we do so, why can’t we admit that?

The fact that Roger took that photo without awareness of the metaphor doesn’t diminish that metaphor in my mind. To me, it’s the idea that matters. When or how the artist came to the idea neither adds to nor weakens it.

From my perspective both Roger and his artist friend are built of the “right stuff”. I just see that “right stuff” as being individual and not universal. Art is a myriad of paths to a variety of results.

Isaac Asimov described hearing a lecture based on one of his (Asimov's) short stories. Asimov approached the lecturer after the presentation, thanked him politely, and then gently suggested that the lecturer had thoroughly misinterpreted the story.

"My dear Mr. Asimov," the lecturer responded, "merely because you wrote the story, what makes you think you know what it is about?"

A good photograph, like a good story, has a different meaning for every person, and a different meaning for every moment it time. Great works of art, in any medium, reveal something more and often something different every time we return to them. The viewer commits an act or creation with every viewing … even when that viewer is the original photographer.

(It's a fine photograph!)

Good essay, Roger. And what a very lovely moment you've captured above, made lovelier by the fact that it's your own daughter. This is the type of genuine momentary testimony that only photography can create.

Take my advice for whatever it may be worth: smart artists leave meaning to their audience. Whether it's a Moore sculpture, a Chagall drawing, or an Overall photograph, the finished work is like a grown child. It will make its own way, or not, in the world. You relinquished your power to control its destined meaning when you decided it finished and sent it on its way. Now your opinion of its meaning has no greater weight than any other bloke's.

This is the one lesson I've firmly learned after many years hearing some of our time's most renowned living artists (across media) talk about their work. They avoid discussions of meaning as if it was a turd in a punchbowl. You should, too. ;-]

Tar and feathers applied at the door. But for what?
I have photographed my world with great enthusiasm since I was a child. For varying reasons. To remember. To make a stunning image of a beautiful experience. To learn. To see how I change. Most days I add a few pictures to my collection. When I delete and edit I usually also browse some other pictures. And sometimes enjoy how differently I see them now as opposed to when I took them.
The reason I took them has not changed, but I have. And so may my associations or interpretations when I see them later. No need to lie about the original intent.
Tar and feathers applied at the door if we do not grow and change and learn and flex our mind!

I don't like the commonly used neck strap on my camera(s) and even with the ergonomic bulge to hold on to the new stuff I like a small strap that wraps around my right hand. Sometimes when moving to adjust a control with my right hand I accidentally press the shutter. Several of these have great colors and decent abstract compositions. A local gallery has accepted several large giclee prints and I am planning a one man show…."Accidental Activations". I try and create sillier or better ones on purpose and can't do it. I'm going to tighten the strap so it happens more often.

To sum up Mr. Tanaka's eloquent statement:

It's a beautiful photograph of a moment in time. It speaks for itself.

The meaning in our pictures will change over time because we change.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." 1 Corinthians 13:11

Does it really matter either way? Art that gets attention has served its purpose.

Thank goodness we are not charged with deciphering 'essential meaning' before capturing each image, or we would miss its decisive moment almost every time. Its layers will reveal themselves over time, as our abilities and wisdom allow.

"Maybe that's why he's an artist and I'm not."
No, your problem isn't that you're not an artist. Its that you don't recognize it. Art is always open to further interpretation. Just because you come from strong photodocumentary mettle doesn't mean you can't place your own more mature meaning on an image later. To reiterate what Ken Tanka said, you've left room in the image to build additional meaning for yourself and others. That's art.

It's not "borderline sacrilegious" to build another story around a piece of your work years later. It's perferctly normal and ok.

All it means is that you've been affected by the work. Just like someone who sees it on a wall somewhere bringing their own meaning to it via their own baggage, good or bad. I do this all the time with my work when I re-approach it after a time. Most times it's a simple revelation of unrealized significance, or, an additional level of importance brought to it because of events that have occurred between the time of making the picture and the revisitation..Could be a story though, I've done that too..it's fun when that happens.

Occasionally over the years I've had people email me with a photo of their own and a note saying,"Look, I took a real Joe Holmes photo today!" or something to that effect. And I'm inevitably horrified at what I see.

I want to write back (but resist) "You got it all wrong! I work so hard to avoid making all those mistakes. My photos are actually a repudiation of everything your stands for."

And each time that happens I'm reminded that what I see in my photos, what I work so hard to establish, can be quite, quite different than what draws others to them.

I find every image I take has a private life and a public life.

Everything that I did to create the image, refine it and print it affects the way I think about it, but everyone who sees the finished product for themselves is free from all those preconceptions.

The role of art is to provoke reaction, not to dictate it.

A Beautiful Photograph,... overthought, I think.
For personal work (not Reportage) I don't think it's our job to elaborately analyze (Pre or Post); put it out and let it stand.
This beautiful photograph stands on it's own just fine.

I've always liked David Vestal's explanation:
When I’m photographing there’s little room in my mind for thinking. Photography is not an intellectual pursuit. For me, thinking gets in the way of seeing, and in pictures seeing is all that counts. I have to give it full attention. Fortunately, when something that I see grabs me, my thinking dims way down, though some conscious actions remain. I move around, changing my viewpoint to include what looks good and leave out what doesn’t. I focus, and when photographing moving things, I try for good timing—
the time when things look best. I push the button then, or just a little before. That’s about all the shooting method I have. "

I also once read a wonderful interview of Kim Weston, who grew up and still lives in Wildcat Hill. The interviewer was asking about all the meaning in Pepper #30. His answer was something to the effect of--I think all that stuff gets attached after the work is done by people other than the photographer , but as far as I know I think it was the 30th pepper he photographed and he thought it was a really good looking vegetable'
Personally, I think that some of the stuff that gets attached, is a disservice to the work because it makes people feel as though you need to know this stuff to respond properly to the work.
I love the Picture

A lot of relatively famous authors refuse to talk about their work, I've heard many say: "...hey, read the book, everything you need to know is there...". Not to mention, I used to love Joel Peter Witkins work, it was strange and mysterious and edgy when it first came out, then I went to hear him speak at a university. and it was all "Masters-Degree-BS-Speak", boy was I disappointed, it was obvious he wasn't an outsider, but planned everything...he lost it in my eyes. Now I never read commentary about photography. or go to lectures at all, everything I WANT to know is in the photo...

"Beauty is the Joy of possessing Form"- Pasternak. A good picture has its own identity, a statement that it was "meant-to-be." As for its meaning, well, that is up to each person to find their own. I like Artist's Statements that start the words, "at the time the picture was made..." as we change, as everyone does, over life. And so we look back on older work and don't necessarily feel the same.(sometimes I cringe when I look at my older work...!!)

"to awaken to the real world is to shackle your limitless mind"...so true. As a photographer I see and shoot. As an artist I let the art form as I do my best to stay out of the way. My "intended meaning" is mine alone.

I've manfully controlled myself, no snark, but sometimes an image just is ... to alter something the painter, Edward Hopper said, "If I could say it, I wouldn't need to photograph it".

Nice discussion, but sometimes words get in the way of what is a visual medium.

Robert A. Heinlein suggested that someone "playing a hunch" is working on information they don't know they have, subconsciously in other words.

There are many photos I've taken in the spur of the moment in which I knew there was a fairly complex story being told, but I wouldn't have been able to articulate exactly what it was in the half second it took to frame and shoot. Only afterward, when time is on our side, do we often have the opportunity to bring that subconscious understanding of the moment to the front of our minds.

I don't mind it when artists write or talk about the meaning of their work, if they are good at it. This was a thought provoking short essay, with some ideas I hadn't considered at first glance. There are some visual artists, of course, who due to lack of writing or speaking skills would be better off letting the work speak for itself, avoiding the valley of cliché and the pit of pedanticism (sorry).

I've had meaning disappear in some old favorites, photos that I originally thought were better and more interesting than I judge them now become mere adequate snaps. But even so I'm a bit of an creative hoarder when it comes to anything decent I make and just about anything my daughter scribbles on... you never know what it might spark in ten or twenty years.

In a similar vein, Adorama is running their annual "Your Best Shot" contest. So I went through my 2013 work and narrowed it down to 7 shots and was stumped. So I put them into a folder on Picassa https://picasaweb.google.com/118265923897175112372/Ybs2013?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCLfB9t6-0rHkdg&feat=directlink and asked some online friends what they thought. I had my own favorite but for a contest I wanted to see what others thought.

Of course, my favorite was barely mentioned and a different shot was everyone's choice. Everyone. I may have been born early in the morning but it wasn't _this_ morning so I entered the shot that was more popular rather than the one I'd originally considered. I have no dobut that both are equal technically and, to my eye, artistically. But sometimes we're too close to tell all that well about our own work so in this case I crowd-sourced the editor's job.

I have no expectation of winning anything. But it would be nice and, as the saying goes, you can't win if you don't play the game.

No meaning or story in my photos, beyond whatever visual cue compelled me to photograph the particular subject. It's not a matter of apathy, particularly amid such politically and economically polarizing times in the United States. And sometimes I envy the depth of Robert Frank's work, for example, wondering if I should be doing more than just mucking about with form. Yet, you can't force intent, and ultimately, I find the Ramones' "chewing out a rhythm on my bubblegum" as brilliant as any of the Clash's more politicized gems.

I agree with Bill Jay, who said meaning is ALL that matters. Without that, taking photographs is like collecting baseball cards. I tend to assign meaning afterward. In fact I've got a book of poems and photograph where I did just that: http://www.jwtechwriting.com/tongues_of_trees_n/mobile/index.html?doc=F0533D1592739A329A61E3B0EFF16F9F. But I believe that if we remain open and we are confident in our own vision, the photograph is imbued with all possible meanings from the moment we press the shutter, whether we are conscious of them or not. Because what we see is us.

Back in high school we studied Northrup Frye's 'The Educated Imagination'. The one thing that stuck with me was the chapter 'The Verticals of Adam', the premise of which was that literature follows mythology. You can read any story and if you dig a little you'll find some myth (religious or classical) that could be used as a parallel. Interpretation of the reader is also coloured by this cultural knowledge.

I think the same could be said for art/photography. We're all pre-loaded with cultural experiences that colour any interpretation we might make. I think it's also fair to say that an interpretation we make today might be different than one we made years ago because we've accumulated new experience, or at least had some time to digest it.

So, in short, there is no danger in revisiting your past work. It's not the work that has changed.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the death of the author


The difference between art and politics is that in art you want your audience to think you mean what you are saying but in politics* you want your audience to think you are saying what they mean.

One place where art, politics, and management overlap is that the best way to get an audience to accept an idea is to get the audience to think it was their idea in the first place.

So, getting back to art, even though communicating your intent is a hard trick to pull off, the last thing you want to do is have people think they understand the artist rather than think they understand the art.

"Does the intended meaning in our photographs remain the same over time? Or do we retrospectively add story and meaning to them, claiming them as having been planned?"
My creative process is often to take photographs and let them sit for years after which they inevitably mean something entirely different from anything I could have intended when taking them.

Funny that this piece would run this week, I just happen to be working on a show based on 30 year old photographs that mean something quite different than whatever they may have meant at the time they were taken.

*politics in the sense of American style first past the post, winner takes all, elective office politics. for most other uses of the word politics, this is not the case.

I’ve rarely calculated the meaning of a photograph before tripping the shutter. Perhaps that’s the difference between professional and amateur, or artifice and art. And there’s no harm in letting the meaning of a photograph, or your appreciation of it, or the depth of what you see in it, grow from your continued contemplation of it. That happens with people, too.

I barely like titles on photographs at all.

“Photos have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface.”
-Garry Winogrand

What Ken Tanaka said.

And just don't join any photo clubs!

I remember Bruce Gilden admonishing a student during a critique: "Do you want to get better, or to go back to the f---ing photo club?!"

"I barely like titles on photographs at all."
there is this

A friend of mine, a member of the science fiction community, once told me a story about her daughter, Debbie. Debbie was sitting in an English class in high school, and the teacher was discussing a science fiction story. Trying to get the students to think about the meaning of the story, the teacher asked why the author wrote the story. "I know! I know," said Debbie, waving her hands in the air. "All right, Debbie, tell the class why [the author] wrote the story," said the teacher. Replied Debbie: "Well, he was staying with us at the time, and he wrote it because he needed the money!"


I think there are two schools of photographic thought.

One that says the photograph must be planned out and shot for. That we should cull all photos immediately in Lightroom so we don't waste time on them. That we should take fewer photos but make each one better.

The other says it is better to take many images of things you see. Look at each image in a new way. Process and manipulate too create new ways of seeing.

I've worked both ways. But always find that my mistakes - hence not what I planned - tend to result in interesting images - thus I tend towards the second camp, but see value in both.

Perhaps this is because I lack the skill to bring a concept to life - i let my skills stagnate in my mid-life. Or perhaps its because I studied at University of Florida in the early 80's while Jerry Uelsmann taught there (not in his classes though).

So - I think that creating a story for the image after the fact is fine. Because you brought the image out of the recesses of your drives to tell a story - even if that is not the reason it went on your drives. You had to recognize that there was a story there to tell - which means you saw the image in a new light.

To me this is part of the art of photography.

Ken got it right. An artist should never impose a definitive meaning on a piece of work. Once it's out there in the world at large, the work takes on its own meaning.

And the audience will lay claim to what it means and how it speaks to them and their own experience.

A good piece of work will resonate and be viewed anew through the years, taking on new meaning with the changing times, becoming a metaphor for something else never quite intended.

BTW - quote on Jerry's website:



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