Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beyond The Snapshot

So what makes a snapshot and what makes a masterpiece? Give up? In my humble opinion is intent among other things. Again a snapshot is a quick photo to mark a moment, a record of time or a place, to record that you were there. Whereas a masterpiece has thought behind it a meaning of where it was shot, how it was exposed and printed. A masterpiece had been planned. All the variables such as weather, time of day, placement of camera and if the film was color or not as planned leaving nothing to chance. Very rarely has a snapshot ended up on the walls of an average collector. And if it did it would have to have been an historic event that was not captured by very few if not just one person.

Let’s relate this to an everyday experience. Since most of us are photographers I would think that at least half of us had put some time in doing portrait work. I started back in 1992 in a studio called Expressly Portraits. I learned and honed my craft to the point I branched out to do weddings. Now most of us would say that the majority of time and effort goes into the portraits of the bride, groom and the rest of the wedding party. I lot myself at least two hours of shooting time to get everyone photographed. Even before I have even shot a frame, the night before at the rehearsal I look over the whole church for lighting and atmosphere to capture the important portraits. And when it comes to the reception most of the shots are quick snaps of the bride, groom and guest enjoying themselves. It would be insane to put the same time and effort into the reception

The other example, for those who don’t do weddings, is the photographs of Half Dome that Ansel Adams had created and the hundreds of thousands of photos everyone else had done. I don’t know the whole story of that photograph but I can surmise what had transpired in the creation of that photograph. In what I know of Ansel He must of watched that rock, studying it to see it’s best time and worst. He thought about the angles, exposure, lens, time of day to get the best portrait of Half Dome he could get. My guess is that he wanted to convey the majesty of the mountain and the way it affects him every time he sees it. Google it and look at all the images that he created and tell me you don’t feel the aw and beauty of that mountain? Tell me you are not the least bit motivated to see that mountain after looking at that portrait?

Now let’s compare it to everyone else’s photo. Compare it to the millions of people who venture out and take a photo of that mountain. 99% of all the photos taken of that mountain are just documenting the fact they were there. To take a picture and place it in an album or on the wall with the other family photos, a keepsake. For the most part the photograph was taken and not created. There was no study of light, angles, exposure or whether it should be color or black and white. Little to no thought was put into this photo, just a quick line up and a push of a button. Unless a UFO or some metrological event happens at the same time the shutter opens, the photo is not unique. It doesn’t have a voice or purpose other than documenting family history.

Don’t take what I say the wrong way I am not a photo snob. I love snapshot and have taken a lot of them of family, friends and my tried to pass it off as my work. But in order for myself and anyone reading this, you must think of intent when it comes to your art. I must put an intent behind my art. I used to do this with my portraits but not in all my art.

Intent is a purpose of what you are trying to convey, right? So here is the assignment; what I plan to do is find something that I believe is ugly create a pretty portrait. I have been thinking about this for a while. I plan to photograph Cedar Lake an ugly little lake surrounded by trains and an interstate but in studying it I have seen some things that make it pretty. So let us divide the assignment up in two parts. First take an photograph of the subject , a snapshot. Then take some time and study the subject and find out when it is at its best. Once you see it create the photograph. Keep notes, notes are good but until the critique is finished, not allowed. After the critique you can write your notes.

In the meantime I am creating the guidelines for a good critique so that as a group we are constructive to each of the member. I will have a post about it soon with the link to the group.

A Photographic Journey

I have been out of college now for more than 15 years. That is 15 years of not analyzing the photographs I and others have created. 15 years of not talking about what is a good photograph or how it has failed. So everything I have learned has not been reinforce and cultivated to make me a better photographer. Now, and back then, with the internet that should not have happened. I should not have let the left side of my brain atrophied so when I do use it, I strain it and fall short of my desired goal. So what is a photographer on their own to do? Review, shoot, and get critiqued.

Up to now I have put my photos out there and I have had a few comments that have been flattering and that is cool. But flattering comments do not improve one’s skill as a photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good stroke of the ego, but a simple stroke is not always enough information or direction for the photographer or artist to learn. What pushes and pulls the learning curve are detailed critiques of the photograph in front of you. What works, what doesn’t, where does the eye go, is there enough or too much, is it better in color or black and white? I like it should be the last thing you say. I find that if you are able to give a true critique of the work then it is easier to validate you’re like or dislike of the piece.

As a photographer I should only give a little to no explanation of the piece. I should have taken the time to create a photograph that should say it all without writing it down. Think about it, have you ever looked at a photograph by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston , Dorthea Lange and not get the message of what they are trying to say? For that matter just look at any top photographer’s work and you should see the message of their work. Isn’t that why we are creating photographs? To say something about what is important to us? As a creator of the photograph we should be crafting the work that makes the viewer think and feel what you feel. Your message whether big or small should be conveyed on the surface of the paper, otherwise it is just a snapshot.

So what has moved me to this stage in my work? I would have to say it is because I was not happy with all that I have created and I needed to change that. I am not consistent, focused or have a clear mission to my work. I just photograph one thing and move on to the next. I don’t always look at how I frame it, what I include or exclude in the frame. Are the lines, shapes, color or contrasts moving the eye around the piece? I have asked myself why am I rarely moved by my images in the same way I am moved by other photographers. I don’t feel bad about what I have or haven’t done, I just need more. I need to have at least my wife say “I want that on my wall.” Tidbit about my wife, she is very particular about photography. She has a background in portrait photography and had earned enough points at our company to be a Master Craftsman. (Points were based similarly to the PPA requirements) So, yes very hard to pass off crap or half crap to her.

Roughly two weeks ago I picked up a book by David DuChemin called “Photographically Speaking.” This book is a great review of all that is important in to what makes a great photograph. So far I have read about have the book and feel I need to start anew with my craft. It has challenged me to look at what I have created and define that work based off the rules of good design.

So I am on a photographic journey to improve my skills as a communicator in photography. I want to refine my skill as a photographer so the messages I send out are easily read by the viewer. I want to create a photograph that moves people to see what I see, feel what I feel, and explore farther or other directions then I had. I have one goal to complete in my life time with my work and I want to complete it. And if I continue to do what I have always done, I will not come anywhere near that goal. I will have failed and pass incomplete. I can’t do that and this is what I plan to do. First keep reading; this book is great and I recommend this to anyone. Second; blog about what I am learning. If you want to strengthen the skill you have learned, teach someone else. Third; create assignments that build on design principles taught in the book; Forth; create a flicker group that has assignments and critiques the work each. Through these steps I hope to get better at what I do as well as help others to do the same.

Keep you posted