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« Snapshots ~ can you do it? | Main | urban ku # 122 ~ to be obsessed »

ku/urban ku series ~ weekend obsession

weekendsqs.jpgI have created a new gallery labeled the Fall Weekend Gallery which presents the results from this past weekend's picturing activities. I have created the gallery for several purposes.

1. To illustrate the point that if you are obsessed with picturing, you can make pictures everywhere you go. In a sense, it's not what to picture, it's what not to picture. And I don't mean just random point and shoot, I mean pictures worth making - interesting pictures that both illustrate and illuminate.

2. I would genuinely like your opinion(s) on the previous statement re: pictures worth making - interesting pictures that both illustrate and illuminate. Do you think so?

3. To support my claim that (in Paul Maxim words) "... I don't think I'd want to be labeled "obsessive" or "compulsive". Such a photographer would likely just keep taking the same images over and over again. If you've seen one, you've seen them all."

Now, I can't claim to know for certain if many photographers, who make anything of better than average value in the world of Art, are "literally obsessed with the act of picturing', but I do believe that most of them exhibit personality traits that meet at least a minimum definition of 'obsessed'. Furthermore, that the results of that mindset are, indeed, in a very real sense, the 'same images over and over again'.

In the Art world, 'the same images over and over again' is commonly referred to as a body of work that is the result of pursuing, in depth, one's 'vision'. The Art world is not interested in a collection of images that exhibit different styles and techniques - the typical hobbyist 'portfolio'.

This true across the entire field of Art. Calder and Rodin each, in their own individual 'style'/vision, made the 'same' sculpture over and over again. Picasso, Monet and Seurat each, in their own individual 'style'/vision, made the same painting over and over again. In photography, the same can be said of Adams (both Ansel and Robert), Frank, Kenna, Meyerowitz, Evans, et al. In the end, it's why you tell an Evans from an Adams and why both are (to the experienced eye) immediately identifiable upon impact. Some Artists work through different 'periods', but each is distinguished by a particular 'style'/vision.

Many think that my ku pictures (and their variants) have an identifiable style/vision. If this true, I believe that is a result of several 'over and over again' elements -

1. the pictures are united by a common subject - the everyday world in my Adirondack 'neighborhood'.

2. the pictures are made with a very limited range of lenses (primarily a single 11-22mm - 22-44mm 35mm equiv.) and most pictures are made from (my) eye level. For the most part, they have the same visual POV.

3. the pictures have a 'subject centered' composition and the edges of the pictures are seldom 'clean'.

4. the pictures, as the results of items 1, 2 and 3, intentionally mimic the "snapshot' aesthetic. The pictures appear to be the result of somewhat random picturing.

5. the pictures are all the same square format. They exhibit a nearly identical tonal range and color palette and they all have the same corner vignetting. And, of course, there's that black border which is reminiscent of analog darkroom days.

6. the pictures all have the same primary 'connoted' underlying 'message' - that there is beauty to be found everywhere one looks. The "snapshot' aesthetic inference suggests that no fancy tools/techniques are required to see and capture it. It's all there if you will just 'see' it.

So there you have it. Please visit the Fall Weekend Gallery and let me know what you think.

Reader Comments (8)

I severely injured my back in 1993. The years since then have been spent in constant agony, not able to move as fast as I'd like, and no longer able to carry as much as I used to.

This doesn't stop me from carting around...

* Canon 5D body
* Canon 20D body
* Canon 300D body (backup)
* Sigma 12-24mm EX lens
* Canon 17-40 EF L lens
* Canon 17-85 EF-S IS lens
* Canon 50mm f1.8 EF lens
* Canon 24-70mm EF L lens
* Canon 70-300mm EF IS lens
* Canon 100-400mm EF IS L lens
* Carl Zeis Flektogon Jena 20mm f4 lens
* Arsat C 80mm lens w/EOS adapter
* Minolta DiMAGE 7 (for infrared)
* Nikon Coolpix 8800
* 2 bigass tripods
* Manfrotto monopod
* Filters, batteries, CF cards, etc.

...wherever I go. This gear fits into one shoulder bag, one freakin' huge backpack, and one duffle bag. All of this hurts like hell to carry.

There is maybe 1 occasion in 20 where I will leave the house only with the CP8800 and some spare batteries. The monopod always goes with me since I use it as a cane.

Obsessed? Maybe.

October 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSean McCormick

BTW, "Johns Brook in Keene Valley" made me homesick for somewhere that I've never been. When I first looked at it the words "unbalanced symmetry" came to mind. Definitely my favorite of the bunch.

October 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSean McCormick

I may ramble on a bit here, bear with me...
This post, and the gallery, has really given me pause for thought. It is quite clear that there is a tyle running through these images and that it is congruent with you other ku work.
I do believe they fit into your "illustrate and illuminate" definition, at least for me. It was hard to describe why until I tried an exercise.
I have several shots that I've considered unsuccessful of subjects similar to yours. i then applied a similar aesthetic to them as do you (mimicking your style). I was able to produce very decent results but ultimately I didn't really connect with them. I then worked them up in my more usual manner - OK results but not my best, as they're not really my usual subject area.
Now I get to the point: I feel your images are sucessful not just because of the way you present them but also because you care for (in many definitions of the term) to subject matter. I think maybe it is not necessarily obsession but that degree of car for the subject and its presentation that leads to style, a recognisable body of work.
This then comes back to your "knowing what not to photograph" comment. Whilst I may see photos everywhere, the ones to ignore are the ones for which I do not care and therefore cannot properly invest myself. Developing good work, and a sense of style then flows forth.
I think this gallery has certainly help put that in perspective for me. I really love the work, too, but have realised that this is not a style for me (which has helped cement the ideas of what is).

October 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Doonan

This is probably pointless, but since I have a history of fighting battles that cannot be won, we'll go once more "into the breach".

You can, I suppose, define words any way you want. You can even create your own dictionary on an online blog if you disagree with the more standard versions (our current president has a knack for redefining words and terms, so I guess you'd be in "good company"). If you want to do that, great. Be my guest. But it doesn't change anything.

Here's a kind of snyopsis of the meaning of the word "obsession", taken from a variety of dictionaries (both printed and online):

"An irrational preoccupation. A fixation; a thought that persistently recurs despite attempts to resist it. An anxiety provoking thought. Images, ideas, or words that force themselves into the subject's consciousness against their will, sometimes depriving the subject of the ability to think or even act".

While all obsessions are certainly not as dangerous as this might sound, I for one would prefer to avoid as many as possible. But, as I implied above, if that's how you want to define your brand of photography, more power to you.

Aside from that, let's not confuse a consistency of style and subject matter with "taking the same image over and over". All of the artists you mention did wind up developing a certain style and "vision". That does not mean that all of their work from that point on was the same. While gallery shows of Adams' work, for example, might appear to be the same thing over and over, they are not. Each image has it's own character and it's own "message".

For some "obsessive" photographers, however, it is not just the subject matter that is constant. More to the point, it is the intended message that is constant. Eventually, that message - or the artist's version of it, at least - becomes boring. As I said, "if you've seen one, you've seen them all".

With respect to Sean's "obsession" with carrying all that gear, I can only say that in addition to viewing that as somewhat compulsive, I would also suggest that it's just a tad silly. But again, if that's your thing, more power to you.

October 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Maxim

After all that rambling I suddenly figured the word I was looking for: empathy. I think it is a question of connection, wont, desire rather than obsession, compulsion or need that defines the great work.

October 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Doonan

Hey, if mechanics can cart around all their tools with them, why can't I?

October 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSean

There's aspects of style that are technical - same format, same lens, some treatment. There's aspects of style that is subject matter. There's aspects of style that is vision - what you yourself personally see, where you plant your self, which direction you point the camera.

Those together give you your own particular point of view. I think if you constantly change all 3 at any given time, you end up with a hodgepodge of images - different subjects, different technical styles, maybe always the same vision - but it probably gets lost in the constant shifting images.

That depth or obsession with a particular area of investigation is I think always going to lead to something more interesting than constantly flitting around between genres (the typical hobbyist approach) but the motivation is perhaps different. A hobbyist photographer is looking to enjoy themselves, try new things, copy images they see. Someone looking to go beyond that level of recreating someone else's view needs a bit more focus. A bit more preoccupation. A bit more obsession. How you get there can be as simple as fixing many of the variables. Sticking with one lens, one treatment, one subject. Projects are a good motivation for this - maybe you don't have to commit to a particular lens for the rest of your life, just for a set of images. Eventually or quickly you can move away from that greatest hits view of the world.

Style probably has a lot more to do with what you don't photograph and how you don't photograph than what you do and how you do it. That's the distinction between the hobbyist photographer and those with a more consistent body of work I think.

I read today in an interview the advice that 'perseverance trumps talent'. Perhaps that's also where the notion of obsession can trump flirtation.

October 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGordon McGregor

Speaking of obsession and limited technical choice, I just got back from a 1 week, 2 national park tour. I shot 90% of the pictures with a 50mm lens. In fact for the majority of the time, it was the only lens I had with me. Remarkably freeing in terms of choices - I could walk, or I could take the picture from where I was. That's about as much lens decisions as I had to make. After that it was all just picking subjects and pointing.

Mind you, almost all the subject choice was the same thing too. We'll see how the results turned out in a few days when I go through the results.

October 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGordon McGregor

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