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Monday, 28 March 2016


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Often, we want to be many things. But wisdom comes from being able to accept that we are limited. Rarely do we come to that conclusion on our own but by interacting with someone who asks the right questions, and sees through the noise to point this out to us.

It is a gift of perspective. And you have been able to give that gift to Tom. Lucky for both of you that you found each other. It's better than money.

I too was given that gift of perspective by someone else, and I've tried to return the favor to others. It's good stuff.

This brings up the interesting question if one has to be doing portfolio or project-based work to be considered "a serious photographer".

Well said indeed.

I came to the same conclusion about my photography last year. No one really looks at what I produce as critically as I do. I stopped shooting raw and instead of spending much unhappy time editing on my computer, l just strive to get things right in the camera and shoot Jpegs. None of my audience knows the difference.

I'm just a happy snapper.

">>I’ve been thinking long and hard about why I take pictures, and I’ve come to the conclusion that in fact I’m simply a happy snapper. A much-over-equipped happy snapper, perhaps, but that’s what I am. I don’t really have a portfolio, and to be truthful I don’t feel the need to change that—if I achieve some sort of reasonably competent mementos of places I’ve been then I’m happy. So the truth is, I’m not a serious photographer. <<"

))))(You have no idea how liberating it has been to accept this….)((((("

I was particularly taken with that last line. Surely, the payoff of self-knowledge is indeed liberation. If you really know who you are, it helps you to know what to do; and if you really know what you're doing, it's a lot easier to do it.


I think Tom has simplified the situation; and in so doing ensured others are equally simply all happy snappers, however they may wish to describe themselves.

As I hit 70 realize all my past images are except for a few naught.

Problematic it is indeed, but for discovering ones own photographic ego it is probably more problematic to understand that exact problematic nature of the maxim.
My views change all the time, granted, but my latest take on the phenomenon photograph is to see it as an image of material reality that combines the Freudian concepts of displacement and condensation, or in more recent terms metonymy and metaphor.
And, the photograph, like no other medium, is prone to be mistaken for the signified - because it looks so real. It is _the_ illusion of the signified. But of course it is itself a signifier, the perfect example of absence-presence, its meaning ever floating, its perception an "unending act of becoming" (I think I read that in Geoffry Patchen's Burning with Desire). Now I also understand what Susan Sontag meant when she stated that every photograph is a surreal double.
Sorry for the intellectual rant, but I am currently into Freud-Lacan, and "Know thyself" just triggered it. So, what's my point?
It is this: The more I think and (believe to) understand about the nature of the photograph, the less I want to make one.

[I think it's "Batchen." --Mike the Ed.]

That begs the question, "what is a SERIOUS photographer?". I have been a pro (many years ago) and a freelancer after that but gave up any notion of making a living at it. I'm not particularly successful at selling prints which all I've ben doing with it for several decades now. All the same I consider myself to be quite serious about my photography. Like Tom I am a "happy snapper" but it is much more than that. I'm truly serious about my photography. I can't quantify that for you though. It just is.

Somewhat parallels a couple thoughts I've run across recently. One of those from the writings of Cole Thompson about being true to your own vision without influence from others. The other from the podcast On Taking Pictures saying just do your work. If you put it out there, their are people who will appreciate what you do and naturally gravitate to your style. You don't have to go searching for them, there is an audience for everyone. My thought is that no one says you can't be your own audience.

I had some time as a "happy snapper" in the early years of digital photography, and it was maybe the happiest I have ever been as a photographer. And I knew the root of that happiness. I didn't care; it was fun.I could play with compositions and see them right away. Amazing. Whee! I had moved away from my darkroom, my life was in flux, and digital cameras were new and nothing but fun. Film cameras mostly mostly stayed in the closet, no darkroom.

There was a gradual transition as digital cameras got better and better: the files were good, and it was still fun. Maybe that was the happiest time as a photographer. I got some pretty good files; I improved a lot; I had a lot of fun with it.

Recently after some small successes, I got encouraged. My wife also encourages me. For the last couple of years I have been "upping my game." Good lenses. I carry 3 bodies. I fret about my prints until my eyes bleed. I'm hanging the prints in public and trying to push them out into the world. It's still fun, in a more serious way, but far more tangled up with my ego, with caring about results, feeling like somehow there are high stakes, and therefore I often feel more tortured. Yes, I know it. I'm not sure knowing it helps.

I think many great masters knew how to care and yet not care. I sometimes manage that. Sometimes not.

Andreas got me thinking.
Taken to the bottom of the metaphorical slippery slope I have to ask, are there any devout Buddhist photographers of note? I'd be curious to see images free (or as free as possible) from ones ego.

Why do I make photographs?

To awaken myself.
To awaken others.

(In that order.)

What makes me happy as a snapper is learning - about the process and craft of photography, about the subjects that I photograph, about the art aspects of photography. I enjoy showing other people characteristic photos of local nature subjects, so maybe they remember to appreciate the little things (yep, insects, mushrooms, inconspicuous flowers, and other modest nature subjects within 60 miles of my city, not just grand vistas taken on a vacation).

Came to the snapshooters' realization a few months ago myself. I shoot much more. Enjoyment exponentially improved.

Digital is jpegs straight from X-E1 to lightroom printed 4" x 6". Sometimes I go crazy and print 5" x 7". Everybody loves them. Quality exceeds my visual accuity by a considerable margin. Used to tweek a little maybe sharpen a bit. No more.

Film goes gets developed and scanned by a prolab. I print the ones I like. I am amazed how much family and friends like B&W! Shooting M2 and M3 with old lenses. My eyes can tell atmosphere and character. Sharpness? Not so much. Exposure? There's an app for that.

M6, M7 and modern glass waiting for a lucky son, daughter, niece or nephew to show interest.

The other day you pointed us to a panel discussion with Lee Friedlander. It came over there that he is a happy snapper too. That is, he just goes out and makes pictures, day after day. True, at some point he looks through his snaps and tends to find, shazaam!, the makings of a book. But still his basic thing is happy snapping.

I think there is a lot of merit in not being a "serious" whatever-it-is. If your living depends on it, it is difficult to avoid taking an activity seriously, and of course serious can mean the opposite of frivolous.
However, if the only reason you photograph or ride bicycles or paint is in order to engage in a long-term program of scientifically devised self-improvement... why not just become an accountant?
(and I cite Bicycle Snob NYC, who refered to the beeping heart-rate monitor as the cyclist's "chastity belt against pleasure")

+1 for being a 'happy snapper'.

I decided my camera is better than me (NEX-5R) and bought 2 more bodies brand-new in the box for <$120 when the model was run out. No need to learn a new camera again for 15-20 years (by which time I will no doubt be amazed at whatever has improved). I just keep the firmware updated in all three which means about 5 minutes per year in reality. The 2 spare bodies have otherwise not left their boxes.

Sometimes I make a very nice pic, and others comment so. But mostly I make happy snaps of my life and holidays.

Dalvorius (greetings from Sydney)

What a great post! Thank you.
This subject could become a full length feature film.
Photography is about making pictures just like people have been doing since the dawn of time. Before the 'dawn of time' we really don't know what they were doing but I'll bet they were making pictures.
For me making pictures involves a two step process. First look, see, record. Second reproduce and share.
I fell in love with photography partly because the 'camera' is such a sexy tool. I grew up in machine shops around a lot of tools.
Cameras have their own special way of making pictures and they impart their own special characteristics to the pictures made by them.
In short, I love the tool and the pictures that the tool is capable of producing. There is nothing else like either one of them.
Having spent years corresponding with a widely read commentator on photography and having helped his daughter settle his estate I think I've learned at least two lessons from that experience.
What to do and what not to do!
Make pictures!
Practice both parts of the art of the photograph.
Use the camera and then turn the product of the tool into something for others to look at.
I'm a fan of the 'hard copy' print. While I have given up all hope of ever sharing space at MOMA with anyone, I still want my work to out live me. In some small way it creates the illusion for me that what I'm doing might have some value. I may never see the realization of that value but the thought helps encourage the work.
And work is one of the great joys of life.
I've gone far too long in the reply so I'll end this before I get too far in over my head.

I'm a grumpy snapper.

Well, if the results of the Harvard study are true, happiness doesn't come from anything to do with photography unless it helps you sustain good relationships.

Pretty much sums it up!


My two pesos

Many times I've heard people saying 'I'm not a serious photographer' in a radical-chic, smug way, like they are saying 'I'm really different and for this I'm so better than them.' You know, a passive-aggressive demeanor...

The corollary to 'know thyself' is surely to accept that other may do so too - and their selves may be completely other than yours.

Tom's remarks struck a chord with me. In 1965 I used the Vietnam vets GI bill benefits to enroll in the Photgraphic Illustration at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After a couple of years at RIT I realized that I simply wasn't cut out to be a professional photographer, illustrative or otherwise so I switched my major to something more mundane and spent the next 30 plus years in public service. I've been a "happy snapper" ever since.

In a way, my desire for a portfolio session would be to get an objective opinion, based upon a portfolio of images, of who I am as a photographer. I think in many cases, we are too close to our own work and lack a general perspective of our work relative to what's out there. I have some interest in the portfolio review idea, but would be very interested in the larger conversation.

"Shall I get the Olympus 45mm f1.8 or the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7?" I see a lot of questions like this posted online. I can easily imagine that people asking questions like this are using photography as an escape from knowing themselves.

I had (very successful) eye surgery a few years back. I didn't use the camera much in the years before surgery because I couldn't see all that well. Afterwards I vowed I would get back into photography. I did, but it's taken me a few years to realize that a) I'm not the same person that I was before my layoff, and b) I have different reasons and goals for my photography now.

Getting to know myself as a photographer again has been an interesting journey, with unexpected surprises along the way, including buying a great camera for doing x, but discovering that I really want to do y now, not x.

Portfolio or pleasure? To me it's not a dichotomy; not one, or the other. My photography has been a process of looking for meaning. Photography that asks a question of the subject, of society and its cultures, of the viewer and especially of myself. I've never been satisfied with the answer so I keep asking the question.
Me too.
But along the way it has been the experience of asking that question that has given me great pleasure and produced a body of work – a portfolio even, that reflects my curiosity about us.

The TOP Mind Scanner Ray strikes again...second time this week. The striving destroys it for me and the more I strive the more I don't even want to look at the camera. I so wanted to be a serious photographer but I simply don't enjoy it. I'd rather muck about and enjoy myself than the alternative.

"Know Thyself" was my high school motto.

At a recent informal forty-odd-year reunion of some of us from that time I think we knew each other better despite that brief period of life's acquaintance.

So maybe to know one's self helps to know others better.

Steve D asks:

"are there any devout Buddhist photographers of note?"

I would consider myself a "devout Buddhist photographer," though certainly not of note. My wife and I try to and often manage to meditate about 2 hours a day, I've been to quite a few meditation retreats of a week or longer. I practice in both the Tibetan Dzogchen and Burmese Vipassana traditions. I have probably some thousands of hours of sitting meditation practice on the clock. I started meditating in the 70s, but there were some gap years when I didn't practice.

Does it effect my photography? Oh yeah. Am I egoless? Hell no. Oh no, very much no.

I'm sure I understand much better than I used to exactly what "ego" means. It's not so much a solid thing, but a tangle of habits and patterns, an illusory view of the self that we sustain out of habit. It gets in the way, but it also protects us in some ways.

It's funny, while a lot of photographers put a lot of their "self" in their photos, and sometimes the photos even benefit from that (and often not), I've always experienced the act of pressing the shutter release to be a sort of egoless and timeless moment. It is very in the now. I think all photographers experience this egolessness of this moment. And then the next moment comes the thought of "That was really a great shot!" and the egolessness might be gone then. "That was really a great shot" can also be egoless, but it depends a lot on the flavor of that thought.

"Getting rid of the ego" as a goal is kind of a misunderstanding of Buddhist practice. You start to see through it.It gets a bit "ventilated," but it is still there in some ways for all but very few practitioners. Strangely enough, ego is considered part of the "path" aspect of Buddhism. It is a kind of confusion, but confusion is the fuel we throw on the fire of clarity. One Kagyu lineage chant has a line hoping that "confusion may dawn as wisdom." This is what is meant.

Matthieu Ricard is probably the most serious Buddhist I know of who also has been a serious photographer. He has been a monk for over 35 years, having done some very long retreats. He has been called "the happiest man in the world" (a moniker that would certainly not apply to me) because of the way his brain looks in fMRI scans. The part of his brain associated with happiness is off the charts. The brain changes associated with over 10,000 hours of practice certainly manifest in him. He has some books out, and you can see the images in a google search.

I'm still trying to find thy self....

I take photographs because I need to. I can't rationalise it beyond that. It's a kind of Zen state I go into when I carry a camera that makes me more sensitised to my surroundings.

But I do know what I like to photograph and I seldom do anything else. Very glad I don't rely on it to make a living.

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