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Thursday, 25 August 2016



What a wonderful post.

The title could be also read as: Art isn't about art. Art is almost always aout something else.

I have to say I am puzzled as to why you seem so concerned about how others see you in this regard, but at the same time I'm pleased you are the standard-bearer for this idea that photography isn't about photography. i.e., when you find your life photography will happily come along with you.

I totally agree Mike. Even if you didn't mention cameras at all, I'd still read your blog every day for the other stuff. I do like reading about cameras and photographers though and you do seem to know quite a bit about both, so.....

Meditations on Moloch by Scott Alexander is the best critique of current western civilization that i have read on Internet.

Epiphany time!

My problem exactly.

I would distinguish between the use or purpose of photography, about which you are correct, and the technique ('art'?) of photography which is about photography.

Too many photoBlogs are dedicated to my Nikon is BIGGER than your Canon.

Many blogs also like to talk about [b]mastering]/b]. If you've mastered walking and chewing gum photography should be a no-brainer.

Then there are the gear blogs. Some of the worlds worst photos have been shot with pro Canon and pro Nikon cameras. Ansel Adams said something about "sharp photos of fuzzy ideas," but no-one seems to be listening. #cameradoesntmatter

The nice thing about TOP, is that Mr Johnston is not a paint-by-the-numbers writer.

I guess I could not be successful commercially as a photographer. Apart from girls maybe, no subject interests me enough. I like the lines and tones (and the cameras), not the landscape or subject.

In high school I was an interne for some days for an ad photographer. He had no claims his work was exciting, and it really wasn't, photographing cans of soup and such. He let me go home earlier and earlier each day.

The problem is there is virtually no way of combining the Art of it with any work enough people will pay for.

“If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.” – Jay Maisel

same thing happens in movies -- by and large a movie about a movie tells me the filmmakers need to get out a little more

Long ago when I was in my early teens, I liked photography because it gave me something to master involving technology. As I came to understand how it complimented my interests in other aspects of life, my pictures got better. I now know my interests (and myself) much better – in no particular order: science, technology and machines, religion and worship in all it's forms, big city life, family, etc. I realize I have no interest in sport – didn't bother watching the olympics – and only a passing interest in nature and wildlife.

Having worked this out, which in hindsight seems blindingly obvious, but took a while, I can now make better equipment choices – no need for super long lenses, high frame rates or a lot of other stuff. In fact some very simple cameras can do what I need. I notice that many of my acquaintances are locked into the 'mastering the technology' phase, and I wish them luck.

Obviously the more deep interests you have the more 'subjects' will appear automatically in front of you, but to photograph anything and everything, saying that you'r interested in everything as some claim, is delusional.

Good photographs usually come from the heart and not the mind and so are never about photography.

I think this is true for all arts. Photographs need to express something and referring to your example, just copying others' ideas doesn't lead to any meaningful personal expression. In contrast, weaving in the aesthetics and meaning of a subject into a photograph requires a certain idea of the subject along with an understanding of photography.

This ties in well with the projects post you did Mike. Subjects that are interesting to me engender projects because I want to explore them in more depth. Single images have a limited story associated with them whereas for projects to be workable they need more passion involved, which is another way of saying you have to be interested in the subject not the photography.

The only time I am reminded 'the talk' is about photography is when it is about cameras. Don't get me wrong, I have experienced the joy of cameras, but the [...] camera articles bore me to tears [...] (what is the big deal? a light tight box + a lens WILL work as a camera -- try using a shoe box + jelly jar -- that would be more interesting IMO). The whole is greater than the parts, etc.

"The key is to not let the camera, which depicts nature in so much detail, reveal just what the eye picks up, but what the heart picks up as well."
- Paul Caponigro

Dear Mike,
Here's a quote by Anders Petersen which I think fits pretty well.

You have to focus on what you're doing, not just as a photographer, but as a human being.

I've found the same thing to be true with language study, which is a lifelong pursuit of mine. At first you just try to wrap your mind and your tongue around a new language, but after a while you begin to wonder what you're going to do with it. Just as with photography, the rewards only really come once you start to use it to open doors and see what's inside.

So all those beat photographers who worked for newspapers for all those decades taking everything from murder scenes to apple pie eating contests to the arrival of some new thing like a building or large ship to fireworks to portraits of happy and sad people, etc etc.. what were they doing all that time?

[I'm missing your point. --Mike]

I agree, photography is really about the subject you're photographing. In that sense, photography takes a second place, it becomes a medium.

I have only two photo interests really: landscapes/travel in particular mountaineering, and family/friends. Even though I've done several other assignments, I enjoy and excel in these two genres. Because they interest me.

Interest creates vision. I'm not at all interested in shooting strangers or sports or wildlife or whatever and that's why it's hard for me to delve into these subjects.

On another note, I could categorise alongside 'spheres' or 'moods'. For instance, I'm drawn towards gloomy/moody/cryptic photography, or towards warm/airy/bright. I can be drawn towards b&w where shapes/forms/shadows are the focus of the image. Or towards rich & colorful. In all of these, the subject takes a second place.

@Thomas Rink: "you know, someone who takes pictures of Yosemite takes it for granted that everybody finds this beautiful—but a disused coal mining area??"

How about this: http://www.carlweese.com/coal.html

Lots more not-so-pretty subject matter on my site, been fascinated by this sort of subject for 50+ years of shooting.

I'm a photographer because I take photos, but I do not have any "grand project" in mind. Even less am I trying to make a great artistic statement. I personally think that most great artistic statements are destined to fail anyway because other people will not understand them. The upshot is I would completely dispute the idea that I am not a photographer - I chronicle things I like when I encounter them, and I am not overly obsessed with gear either. I think this is what most photographers do. Professional photographers may not do this as many find taking personal photos no longer appeals as they prefer to rest from their day job.

Just because someone has a plan: "I take flowers", "I am a Landscape Photographer" (hold the capitals) does not make them necessarily a superior photographer than someone like me who takes shots of whatever takes their fancy.

"...I might even go so far as to say that the least successful photographers are just interested in photography."

For people who don't count on photography for their livelihood, being "successful" can take on all shapes and sizes. For me, as long as I'm having fun taking my travel, landscape, portrait, etc. photos, I'm very successful.

Thomas Rink: You write this intriguing comment about your work, but don't give a link to where we can see your photos? Don't tease like that.

Reminds me of thoughts from David Hurn - good company Mike


I think my photography has improved since I stopped being interested in "photography".

I have a modest little blog that to my surprise gets a couple of thousand visitors a month ( http://nigelvoak.blogspot.it/ ). It deals with mostly my hikes in the Italian Apennines and my visits to Italian Historic monuments.

I have realised that I am more interested in getting out into the depths of the countryside, walking along precarious narrow mountain paths as well as the Italian cultural heritage than I am in lens resolution and sensor size.

Photography coupled with my blog can also lead to a lot of eye opening. My latest blog is about walk I took on the site of a tremendous Second World War massacre in the Italian Apennines.


A minimum of research for the text and a little joining of the dots starting from the release from prison of the Austrian SS Major responsible. It opened by eyes to what is going in the current Austrian Presidential elections where a party that I thought was was just populist right wing seems to have some nasty Neo Nazi sympathies as well. Things in Europe are not looking good.

So yes, my photography is at the service and is about my interests in the world around me.

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