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« civilized ku # 893-94 / ku # 837-38 ~ opportunity knocks but there is something unexpected at the door | Main | civilized ku # 892 ~ pay attention, cuz I'm only gonna say this once »

ku # 836 ~ more picture making BS / on seeing

Dirty Spring snow ~ Au Sable Forks, NY - in the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen
A few days ago, while link-jumping around the photo blog-o-sphere, I came across some more photo•dictum silly putty for and from the terminally unimaginative. The proffered photo•dictum was intended to address the subject of composition. It was stated that, when making a picture, one should ... Think first about light ... because ...

A photograph is only as good as the light you use
The subject is less important than the light that illuminates this subject
The best subject in bad light does not make for a good photograph

These notions are pure unadulterated garbage.

I must confess, it is beyond my picturing comprehension to think that "the light" is more important than the referent in a picture. Of course, there could be examples where the light itself is the referent, say, pictures that are actually about light. After all, one of my favorite bodies of picturing work is Cape Light by Joel Meyerowitz (more pictures here).

Although, while the quality of light found on the Cape is certainly an important element in the Cape Light pictures and despite the body of work's name, "the light" is not more important than the referent in the Cape Light pictures. In fact, Meyerowitz was pursuing something much more "important" than just "the light" or, for that matter, just the referents depicted in his pictures ....

John Szarkowski has used the expression "nominal subject matter." I think that's perfect for my behavior here. I'm not really interested in gas stations or anything about gas stations. This happens to be an excuse for seeing. I don't care if it was a gas station or if this is a rubber raft or if this is a crappy little house. That's not my subject! This gas station isn't my subject. It's an excuse for a place to make a photograph. It's a place to stop and to be dazzled by. It's the quantity of information that's been revealed by the placement of these things together, by my happening to pass at that given moment when the sky turned orange and this thing turned green. It gives me a theater to act in for a few moments, to have perceptions in. why is it that the best poetry comes out of the most ordinary circumstances? You don't have to have extreme beauty to write beautifully. You don't have to have grand subject matter. I don't need the Parthenon. This little dinky bungalow is my Parthenon. It has scale; it has color; it has presence; it is real: I'm not trying to work with grandeur. I'm trying to work with ordinariness. I'm trying to find what spirits me away. Ordinary things. --- What did I say when I drove by those bungalows—something about the lives lived in them?

IMO, that's interesting stuff because what it attests to is the essence of good picture making - trying to find what spirits me/we/us/him/her/them away.

Now, it is quite possible that I am creating this entry as a cleansing potion of sorts. When it comes to discussing the medium of photography and it's picturing possibilities, the entry immediately preceding this one was a bit too how-ish (as opposed to why-ish) for my taste relative to the act of picturing. So it is within the realm of possibilities that I am trying to get that techno-taste out of my head.

But, that said, and back to my first topic - photo•dictum silly putty for and from the terminally unimaginative, what really gets me going about this kind of cliche-ridden "advice" is twofold: 1) the fact that thinking first about light really does, like thinking about anything during the act of picturing, get in the way of recognizing and responding to the intuitive / emotional experience of seeing, and, 2) what is implied by this wrongheaded photo•dictum is that there is good and bad light.

That notion is pure unadulterated garbage.

That said, the really insidious nature of this good light/bad light notion is that it is totally antithetical, not to mention limiting, to the act of seeing. Apparently, it ain't worth your time or effort to look at anything that is not bathed in "good" light. After all, as the author of this inane and specious "advice" states, "The best subject in bad light does not make for a good photograph."

That notion is pure unadulterated garbage.

FYI, take a look at the pictures on MORE ORIGINAL REFRIGERATOR ART - I have previously mentioned this blog - for what, IMO, are really good pictures created along the lines of John Szarkowsi's "nominal picture matter". The creator of these pictures, who chooses to remain rather anonymous and who does not make prints of his pictures - does not seem to be concerned with or pre-occupied by light and/or any particular referent matter. He seems to be, and I'm just guessing here, simply looking for "an excuse for seeing" and "a theater to act in for a few moments, to have perceptions in."

That said, his pictures are fully capable of "spiriting me away".

Reader Comments (4)

Amen! I read that "light" garbage earlier today and quickly moved on. Then I read your post - what a hoot. Whenever I come across someone that says I need to think about this or that before I take a picture I run howling in the other direction. How can I connect to a time and place emotionally if I am analyzing something like "the light"? That's why my best pictures happen when I am totally unaware of my mechanics because my total attention is on what lies before me.

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael J Carl

Alain Briot's images are almost at opposite end of the photographic spectrum from Tyler Monson's (Refrigerator Art). Both have their initial visual appeal but I rapidly lose interest in them. The former for being twee puff pieces and the latter for being too bleak. The real world [for me] is somewhere in between.

To Tyler's credit as an artist, he does achieve a certain look in his photographs, no matter what the referent or light is.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSven W

I've just read the introduction to Joel Meyerowitz'a "Cape Light". Well worth the read. For example:

"Well, you hope that by working -- working out, working toward that -— you'll produce an opening, you'll stumble through your senses upon a photograph that's instructive -— a doorway -— something more than just beautiful, or well-made, or a combination of those elements that are photographically interesting —- something that you can't quite handle that possesses you, something simple and visible but filled with mystery and promise —- the mystery of "How did I know to make that?" —- and the promise of a new understanding of photography and something about yourself.

These photographs are often the least beautiful: spare, sometimes empty of qualities that are more easily celebrated. One makes the other photographs on the way to these rare, irresistible images that claim your deepest attention. The trick is not to be seduced by the beautiful but to struggle against accomplishment and push toward something more personal. Shared beauty is not enough. One wants to go beyond those limits, not for the sake of invention, but for knowing."

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSven W

Both yes and no in my opinion. I'm not a very methodical "photographer", I mostly go the intuitive way. Meaning, I see something that I imagine would look even better trough a viewfinder, I pull my camera out, snap away. I seldom go trough a meditative phase on how this snapshot/picture/photo relates to a sense of being rooted or how it defines or tells me something about "place". It is almost 90% subconscious. I see something I just _know_ would look good cropped into my viewfinder and captured.

Now, to the point I was really going to make: What strikes me is that most of the time, what makes a great (or, those of my images that I find great.. caveat) picture of mine, is a good motive and good light. Indeed, I think some light is good and some is bad. Not that "soft afternoon light" is always right or "harsh midday sun" is always wrong, both can be perfectly wrong or/and perfectly right, but for this particular picture at this particular time.. the light is "right". I seldom take pictures that I happen to like when I feel that the light is "wrong".

I might be arguing semantics here, but to me, light is important. It is one of the things that makes things stand out for my subconscious photographic mind.

March 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUlrik F. Thyve

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