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Sunday, 07 July 2019


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I think it's about differentiating yourself from the monkey with the typewriter. The monkey will never type out Shakespeare. And the human will never improve regardless of time invested if the human is not on a continual path towards improvement and success.

I have been battling all my life to be a musician despite a lack of clear talent (I can do some things but not others). A few years ago I realized I was working on a poor foundation and started from scratch, examining little things and habits and rebuilding. Now whatever work I do slowly seems to be building results. And in the meantime I've started to practice much more than I ever did.

Still only vaguely competent but making strides no the to month.

I don't get prodigies but f them.

And, I’ve experienced the opposite is true... there are many people, who for some reason or another, have been placed in a position where they have to tale photos, and are great at it, but actually hate or dislike the notion of any further amatuer or professional interest in it. That amazes me...

Well, maybe different people reach different plateaus. If the agenda were to be the "best", only one would survive the playoffs, the rest would sell off their gear and go home. I guess that's what happens in pro sports but even they have a new champion every year.

Yes, true.
Best I keep my comment brief.
Thank you.

JimH's argument is well founded. I will riff on it with a couple of other observations.

1. In the teaching of computer programming, it seems that no matter what is done, there is a part of the population that will just never get it. As though there were some gene or in-womb experience or something required to be capable of programming.

2. The infamous "10,000 hours" line has serious problems. NOONE has 10,000 hours in a Formula 1 car, including all testing and practice. Essentially noone has 10,000 hours in go-karts, small formula cars, and powerful formula cars combined.
But they crown an F1 world champion every year. In field of people who cannot possibly have completed the nominal 10,000 hours.

3. Very few modern fighter pilots have 10,000 hours in fighters (though some will get that many flight hours in airliners afterwards.) Yet they win wars.

Noone becomes a great programmer without some amount of serious effort, and the same is true of racing cars and flying planes, and writing, and speech giving. That part of the meme is true.

But any thought that "10,000 hours" (or some equivalent) of effort will assure quality, success, or anything like fame, is just nonsense.

So by all means, apply honest effort, it is required, but is generally not sufficient.

This article ignores the question: "Why do people enjoy photography?" The walls in my house are covered with mounted enlargements of my pictures. Am I any good? Probably not, for a professional definition of good. But it makes me happy.

As the saying goes: "Your milage may differ."

JimH said: ...some just need to try something else ...I am skeptical that any number of repetitions will make anyone competent.

Dare I say, the incompetent are the backbone of photography.

I've tried all sorts of subjects when I was younger but now my photography has narrowed down to street photography - preferably, but not always, shooting in B&W and in square format.

Golf is a complicated game which I am not good at.

A little(?) aside...

In all this, and in the original by Saul Bellow, there seems often an implied line of “success” and “occupation”. And more power to you if you can define the first and achieve the second, my hope that you satisfy your goals is unbound. But I can’t define the first and I don’t go around calling myself an (ex-) IT Project Manager, or any of the other number of jobs I was successful at - if I have one innate skill it is that of “problem solver”, something I enjoy, I am quite good at, but which I don’t label myself as. I don’t consider myself my job and “problem solver” is not me.

I think you are, or can be, a “writer” or “photographer” or artist just by picking up the tool with intent. I know I am never going to be a great (successful?) photographer, that the photos I call my “boring photos” based on reaction are never going to find their niche in the sense of audience (and definitely not occupation). And I know my writing extends to the maudlin and sentimental, or swings about and tacks weird. I have done these for decades and I know where I am and what my skills are, and continue to refine my ability towards an asymptote of irrelevant mediocrity.

I definitely know my sketching, something I have newly taken up, will never go anywhere as I am in every sense completely terrible at it and always have been. My only goal is for what I draw be recognisable. (Wish me luck)

It’s really okay to do what gives you pleasure, for the sake of pleasure. 2500 hours or eleventy bajillion words don’t have to stand up to an employment contract or the internet’s Eye of Sauron for you to consider yourself permitted the associated nominative.

I write (melodramatically), I photograph (boringly), and I sketch (like a monkey with a charred stick). And yet I’m a writer, a photographer, and a sketcher. And I’m okay with the numbers being the end that defines not the means to definition.

Inspiring Mike. Beautiful.

I don't think I understand your final statement : There's no such thing as a photographer . . . " and if I do partly understand, then I can't agree.

Twice in the past 3 or 4 years I have hosted here in Scotland a get-together of photographers from countries around the world, including the USA and Japan, though mostly from Europe. I have also been on another similar event, held in Norway. I would say that all the participants are committed photographers - some keen amateurs, some part-timers, and some full-time professionals. What has impressed me mightily (each event lasts one week) is how well the members - sharing group accommodation and eating together as often as possible - get along with each other.

I have never heard an angry word in all of the three weeks, and the levels of tolerance towards, and understanding of, the other guy's sometimes very different work, is outstanding. As one of them said to me at the conclusion the recent Scottish week: "I love these events - I never have to explain myself; everyone just understands."

Which is exactly how I feel. All the participants declared themselves to be photographers, simply by being there; the work they produced during the event confirmed this, but more than anything, each member's attitudes to all the others and their extremely varied work marked them all out as photographers.

And this despite great differences of background, nationality, wealth, education and personality. In one way they were united - they were all photographers.

I'm not sure, or let's say I'm not convinced, that St Ansel was bad with colour. He did some colour pictures that are very nice. I may be wrong but I think he did b/w because at his time he had more control over it, he could get better qualify (as he defined it), the materials available (to him at the time) were so much better for b/w than colour.
Colour was not good enough at that time. B/w was. But that's just my opinion.

I ran across a quote from Edward Gibbons (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), who I always thought was an accomplished writer, talented, etc. etc. and so forth. Apparently not. I quote him as follows:
"Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book." Talk about chutzpah...

With best regards,

As a journalist, I knew and worked with a lot of photographers, and knew enough about photography to make some judgments. Compared, say, to high-level dancing, piano playing or chess, high level large-format photography, perhaps the most difficult kind of camera work, is relatively simple. What's as difficult as as those other pursuits is the development of the mind and eye. It has been said (perhaps by me, since I can't think of who else said it) that exceptional photographers are noticers. They notice things -- all the time. Light, shadows, expressions, signs, colors, movement, details. Kirk Tuck occasionally goes for photo walks through Austin, and puts up a lot of interesting photographs from that single walk, that are also technically good, because he's both a trained camera user and a noticer.

I suspect you could train a child to be a noticer if you started early enough, but I don't know how you go through thirty years of life without it, become affluent enough to buy a Fuji, and then become one. Those people tend to become gear freaks, endlessly looking for the next best thing that will make them good at photography. And what they really need to do is learn how to notice, if that's even possible at that age. (And I suspect some people are noticers all their lives and cameras and photography come as revelations -- what they were always supposed to have been doing, but weren't. This are the "naturals.")

More than thirty years ago, I went to a dirt track stock car race at a country fair with the best photographer I knew well, and part way through the race, he leaned over and said, "Look at the flag." I looked at the flag in the middle of the oval, probably fifty yards away -- it looked a little dirty from all the dust, etc., of a dirt race track, but basically was just hanging there limp as a rag. I looked and said, "Yeah?" And he said, "It's only got forty-eight stars." That's good noticing.

I always feel somewhat uncomfortable when other people start applying some yardstick against my or others activities. Sure to their mind I may suck big time but if I’m happy with what I do that’s all that is important. Never ignore the fact that people enjoy things without having to be good at them. A case in point is that my wife plays croquet competitively and on the tournament circuit there a couple of players who have been playing for years and have never won a single game yet they come back year after year. People often say they should give up as they have no aptitude, but they miss the whole point. Those two players are happy and enjoy what they are doing.

I have the 'problem' of random excellence. One golf round under 80, twice bowled over 200 - but pretty mediocre otherwise. That pattern has definitely carried over to my imaging!

Also, don't forget the enjoyment factor. If Wendell enjoyed golf, he could have played the rest of his life and had a great time, regardless of what others thought of his game. Could have even just plunked practice balls into tin cups around the yard, like we did when we were kids, for that matter.

Same with photography. I often see nondescript photos hanging in restaurants and wonder why. Mine may not be any better, but I enjoy making and looking at them just the same. I think some of them are pretty nice; some are pretty bad or worse, nondescript. Will you ever see one of mine on the desktop of your new computer? Unlikely. Nor hanging in the local restaurant, either. I still enjoy the time I spend with my cameras.

IMHO Mike, you and your correspondent, JimH, are somewhere between right and wrong IMHO. It takes a long time to develop strong photographic skills. Only after studying other artists - not just photographers - and taking photographs for years, do you come to appreciate not only the capabilities of your tools, but you get to see what works (draws an emotional connection with at least some viewers) and what does not. Those that are willing, though, to devote the time and effort become decent photographers. My guess, and it's just a guess, is that the photographers that do not either devote the time or learn from their experiences for whatever reason are the ones that never progress. They are simply first year photographers over and over and over again. Yes, some will get to the mountaintop sooner than others, but there are few who can't get there if they are willing to devote the time, energy and effort. In music there are people who are "tone deaf" that will never become stellar musicians, no matter how ofter they practice their scales. And, I imagine, there are some that are "sight challenged" in that despite the effort they commit, they will never produce images that are impactful. I would guess, though, that those are a relatively small minority.

If there is one thing I can't stand in an other person, it's talent.

JimH wrote in part, "I have concluded that some people are naturals... "

I learned that lesson early.

In the first days of kindergarten we were sent to the chalk board to draw. I drew stick men and blocky houses where the square parts had unequal sides and no right angles. Standing next to me, Debbie drew beautiful buildings, people with volume and trees that you would want to sit under on a sunny day. Debbie was a natural. I was not and am not.

But I'm pretty good at math and science.

Can’t stop laugh at the golfer story.

But I recall awhile ago in this site for some of us, we agree to do thing that is fun. At least for hobbyist like me. You do not need to Olympic to do sport. Or Ansel Adam to try 8x10.

Just for fun. If you enjoy it, why not.

I find the idea of being a "good photographer" somewhat akin to being a "good hammerer." It's not the same as being a good carpenter, joiner, or sculptor, although certain skills are shared.

I think almost anyone can be a good photographer, with effort. Whether a person can be a *successful* photographer depends on additional skills: perseverance, self-promotion, people skills, etc. But one individual is going to be more or less likely than another to develop any of those skills - your next door neighbor may be just as capable as you of developing the skills to be a great photographer, but has no interest in it, so won't. You may be just as capable as the next guy when it comes to developing the business skills, but won't, because you're too humble to participate in the self-promotion. And so on ...
I've read that the number one thing it takes to become a successful musician is a driving need to create music to the point that you couldn't imagine life without doing so. The message being that you have to work like heck and if you don't have the motivation to work like heck, then you're not going to make it because the market is saturated with musicians who do work like heck.
I think this is where all the "what color is your parachute" type of advice comes from ... we're all capable of doing lots of things that lots of other people do, but we're more likely to put the effort into a few things than others.
Regarding creativity, I don't know whether I believe that can be developed but I think that comment gets more into photography as Art and there's an awful lot of room to be a good (or great) and/or successful photographer with no pretense of being an artist.

I have it in my mind that most people have it in them to be “good enuf” at the things that matter to them.

As a child, I was told (repeatedly) that I couldn’t sing. At 50, I decided to do it anyway, and worked hard at creating both recordings and performing live that were “good enuf” that people applauded politely, and a few extemporaneously complemented me personally.

At 57, I decided to move beyond randomly creating nice snapshots by taking classes and practicing assiduously, and now - to my surprise - people regularly ask me if I am a professional photographer (most assuredly not).

Am I as good as the masters, or the working pro whose food depends on it? No. But I’ve proved to myself that I am a “photographer” as well as a “musician” to the extent that I and others recognize my work as “photographs” and “music”.

Since we are not as talented as those we admire, we try to attribute that success to something we can do or implement (for example find our niche, 10,000hrs, etc.) to achieve our goal. It is full of people who try very hard and achieve incredible skills and results in any area but in the expression of their own I regret to say that things do not work that way. If so, it would be enough to study some degree in art and you would become an artist. It is something that you are or you are not before doing anything. The rest is just the development of that talent.
The niche has more to do with your identity, which is what interests you is a natural result of who you are. The moment you are not in agreement with yourself is the moment you lose your authenticity, there is your strength in what you do, is what makes your work different and powerful.
Sorry for the English that I do not speak.

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