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Thursday, 04 February 2016


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I would modify that. ""A photographer’s job is to shoot something
no one else noticed that they saw."

I can't help but think of a workshop with Ruth Bernhard many years ago and as a photographer she never used the word "shoot" since it conveyed the idea of a violent act. The idea of "shooting" something brings to my mind an image of a firearm and a target that is shot. Unfortunately the terms: shoot, shooting and shooter are widely used in photography to imply making images and those who make the images.

I think we need to try and describe the photography that we do, and the images that we make, with non-violent words. I hope that we have not become so insensitive to the violence we see daily on the news media that it doesn't matter anymore. If that's the case then we are all in trouble.

Great quote... reminds me of Guy Tal in his book "More Than a Rock":
The purpose of illustration is to say: “Here’s what you would have seen had you been there.” The purpose of art is to say: “Here’s what you would not have seen had I not shown it to you, even if you were standing next to me.”

It's a little ambiguous. It is perhaps clearer to say, "A photographer’s job is to shoot something no one else would notice." Really seeing something is photographer's jargon; noticing is what the rest of the population might call it.

Isn't that the case with any visual art?

I disagree. Any photo ever taken was of something someone else could see . No photographer sees things that in principle every other photographer is incapable of seeing.

There are two types of photograph and we need both. The first type simply shows us what was there, the thing that everyone would have seen like the girl running down the road alight with burning napalm during the Vietnam war. Straight reportage can be incredibly valuable and incredibly moving and compelling and in principle any person with a camera could take those images, they just had to be in the right spot at the right time. Those images simply show us what happened, nothing more and nothing less, and showing us that is enough for them to more than justify their existence.

Then there's the second type of photo which is what I think Salvaterra is concerned with, the photo that shows us something about the subject that only a few photographers would notice, something that makes us see the subject in a totally new way. It could be a serious image like a portrait of a famous person in an unguarded moment that reveals something normally hidden about the person's character or something candid and humorous like one of Elliot Erwitt's dog photos. Some of these may not be the ones no one else sees so much as they are the ones no one else wants to bother to capture.

You can find both types of photo in any genre of photography and we need both types of photos. Sometimes we don't need anywhere near as many of one type as get taken but amid all the ones that we don't need are the few that we do need. That's true for both sorts of photo.

If you are only going to photograph those things that no one else WOULD see, then you're not going to photograph anything at all. It's always possible for someone else to see it. You can photograph something that no one else COULD SEE because no one else was there, and you can photograph something that no one else COULD PHOTOGRAPH because you have the only camera that is there but to suggest that no one else WOULD SEE something you see even if they were there is not something I think is possible. It's always possible for someone else to see what I would see.

Yup, the problem many times is to convince others that what they could not see is actually relevant...

I get a kick when someone looks at my landscape photographs of his home town and he says he'd never seen it 'properly' before. Then he takes a print home, and I get similar feedback from his family and friends when they see the picture.
A large print I made of the bay at Quinto-al-Mare (on the Riviera di Levante), is on display in my dentist's surgery. That produces a stream of similar comments from his patients.
Photographs see differently and delight viewers who thought they knew the scene, but now see it differently.

Brings to mind Dorothea Lange's apt remark: A camera is an instrument that teaches us to see without a camera.

Perhaps a more concise version of the earlier(?) quote of Magnum's Eve Arnold, 'My definition of a photographer is someone who shows you something you wouldn't have seen if the photographer hadn't shown it to you.'

...further: (If a measure of a good quote is the ability to spur thinking, that one is good)

The other day you asserted the lack of good work done with a super-telephoto. You divided work into 'fine art' and 'not'. Maybe the job of the *fine art* photographer is to shoot something no one else would see.

I think some readers are unfortunately interpreting the word "see" far too clinically and literally.

Photographing something is fundamentally a technical existential exercise; here is the Grand Canyon and here's how it appeared.

Photography practiced as an art shows us how the photographer sees. A canyon of difference between the two.

Not to get all George Carlin
I really don't like using the verb "shoot" as in "We spent the morning shooting some babies at the beach but then the light got weird"


"Taking" a picture of someone is just as bad, as though it existed before you took it and it belonged to someone else. "He took my picture! It's mine! Call the cops!"

Anyway -

This goes back to the potato / telephoto comment I made about "seeing" vs. "looking"


Garry Winogrand was definitely in the seeing camp, and talked about it all the time. I was trying to find the quote and there seem to be several iterations of it.

"I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed."
"Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed."
"I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed."
"You see something happening and you bang away at it. Either you get what you saw or you get something else--and whichever is better you print."
"I have a burning desire to see what things look like photographed by me."
"I photograph what interests me all the time. I live with the pictures to see what that thing looks like photographed."

Lee Friedlander is very much in the looking camp
"I suspect it is for one’s self-interest that one looks at one’s surroundings and one’s self. This search is personally born and is indeed my reason and motive for making photographs."

Elliott Erwitt is sort of in between, but probably more in the looking camp
"To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."

David said:
"I disagree. Any photo ever taken was of something someone else could see . No photographer sees things that in principle every other photographer is incapable of seeing."

And I disagree with that disagreement

Harold Edgerton's work comes to mind, the whole point of which is that no one could see what he was photographing. Neil Armstrong took some photographs that due to circumstance (right place, right time, and have a camera) no one else could take.

And then there are photographers who are simply such different creatures that the cognitive part of seeing just isn't the same as most of the rest of us, for instance Diane Arbus.

I'd say that not only that any photo ever made was of something no one else could see, but even that no photographer can see and make the same photograph twice. Someone is walking through an interesting shadow and reflection at and the wind is blowing some leaves. Try and make that photograph twice.

like Heraclitus says
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

I'd mention Stan Brakhage but he's a filmmaker and probably not a lot of people reading this are familiar with his work. His "The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes" or the dog star man series for instance address this.

There's expository photography and there's expressive photography. All images, strictly speaking however, are a blend of the two types, as no two photographers see and render a subject in exactly the same way.

A funny thing about originality is that if there are too many never-seen-before elements - or an extreme aberration in even one - you begin to lose people.

"What do I bring to photography?" One answer is an ability to stick something from over "here" onto a spot over "there", where it has not appeared before. That's, I believe, what Jeff Zwart did back in the 80s when he took canons of fashion and street photography and applied them in commercial automotive photography. He became a sensation, gave us a few new shots, and as much as anyone turned at least one high end import into a stylish must have yuppie accessory. We had not seen cars quite that way before, and we liked it.

We live in an age of license plate aphorisms which contain an element of truth but which limit just as much as they reveal. We love them and quote them at our peril.

From my many years reading comments here, TOP attracts certain types of photographers who for convenience I'll call classical photographers. Unfortunately photography has moved on. We have photographers who are more interested in exploring the materiality of the photograph, for example, http://getty.edu/art/exhibitions/process/ or the exploratory work of Wolfgang Tillmans http://www.dobleclic.com/wolfgang-tillmans/ or one of the current darlings of the gallery crowd Daisuki Yokota http://daisukeyokota.net/sitecloud/index.html Critic and well travelled curator Charlotte Cotton has a new book called Photography is Magic with work by photographers which has little relation to the concepts of photography described in the comments here.

It reminds me of the relationship of Newtonian physics, true and useful as far as it goes, to Quantum Mechanics and Relativity Theory which subsume classical physics with truths weirder and greater than anything previously imagined.

For me photography is "not what you say but how you say it". Most if not all of us have the urge to express ourselves. The creative process is magical because when we're in the groove we seem to be in a different psychological space in which we are so engaged that time becomes irrelevant. If the work that comes out of that process speaks to others that's great. If you can make money from it, great, if the captains of the art world love it, great. If nobody but you yourself gets any fulfilment from the process that's also great in my opinion.

For me, these "photography is" statements reveal more about the speaker than about photography.

Nonsense, simply make a great image. If others can see it or not is not relevant, can you make it?

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