8.14.2010

Are you showing off your skill or are you joining the conversation about art?



   This is a desperately bad photograph.  It's blurry.  It's not sharp.  The shadows are blocked up. The white on the headlight/handlebars is burning out to white.  It's too tightly cropped.  It's one of my favorites.....  Rome.  1994.

There's always some way to technically improve a photograph.  I was jarred into thinking about the difference between the joyful discovery of beauty and/or truth via a camera, and the hard work of compulsively honing both equipment and technique in the pursuit of perfecting the recording process of capturing a photograph.

I say "jarred" because I seem to have forgotten, almost entirely, the time I spent in the retail audio business back in the 1970's.  For me it was a way of making some extra cash to spend on dates while pursuing a degree of some kind from the University of Texas at Austin.  For everyone else around me;  customers and fellow employees, audio was a passion.  And, if you read carefully you'll see that I wrote "audio"----not "music".

You see,  the pursuit of perfct audio has nothing at all to do with music other than the fact that recorded music is used to show off the clarity, richness and noise free fidelity of the sound created by the machines.  Sound familiar?

So, this morning I had coffee with an "audiophile" and he was telling me about a new turntable and tone arm.  He sold off a world renowned "reference" turntable in the every escalating compuslion to squeeze even more "transparency" and accuracy from his collection of long playing records (LP's).  Vinyl, of course.

We spoke for a good while about audio and I still don't know what genres of music he enjoys or who his favorite artists are.  We never got around to talking about music.  He did mention that the current "state of the art" home audio system currently costs around half a million dollars.  We also reminisced about a zany friend of mine, also an audiophile, who was so obsessed that dreaded "low frequency, vibration induced rumble" might be affecting the ultimate sonic performance of his turntable (this was in the late 1970's) that he cut thru the floor of his "pier and beam" house,  poured a reinforced concrete pillar that reached down to bedrock, and mounted his machine on that.  Then he surrounded the whole assembly in an insulated closet. His next task was to tackle the obvious problem of convection currents......

Surely the emotional need for the illusion of perfection has its roots in the human need to quantify and qualify the parameters of an experience while ignoring the experience itself.  After the series of reviews I recently wrote on the Leica M9, the 35mm Summilux, and the Canon 7D,  I got the usual e-mails (never comments) that pointed out ways that I could improve my technique, adding various suggestions for cameras and lenses of even greater performance and generally took me to task for not providing charts and graphs....as though the experience of handling the camera has become meaningless.  As though the image itself, and the clear path to its acquisition, was secondary to squeezing the ultimate technical juice from whatever image I might be able to capture.  All assumed that I was avidly looking for specification driven and measurable perfection.  I generally am not.  I'm pleased if anything at all comes out......  Usually it's my human approach and my timing that are the limiting factors, never really the equipment.

In music a good musician might appreciate a great piano or violin but the interpretation of the music is all that ultimately matters.  (My tattered LP's of Pablo Casals, Bach Suites for Solo Cello readily attest to my belief that the artistic rendition beats quality of recording every day of the week).

I'm beginning to understand that the pursuit of an idea vs the pursuit of technical prowess is the dividing line between artists and the great unwashed.  Not between pro and non-pro.  There are a ton of pro's who are fixated by the process and don't have much to say.  There are many non-pro artists making good and valid art with any old camera they can get their hands on.  The quality of the equipment is wildly secondary to the well thought idea behind an image.

I guess the universe was trying to punish me for even suggesting that various cameras might make you a better photographer.  I've tried to write about the holistic experience of using various lenses and cameras but someone did point out to me lately that "all the lenses I review are 'devastatingly, breathtakingly, rivetingly' sharp and wonderful.  But if you read between the lines maybe what I've been saying all along is that all this equipment is pretty damn good if you use it in the service of your vision.....

The universe can be cruel.  Perhaps it is just random and chaotic....

At any rate I had coffee in the afternoon with an friend and his acquaintance.  The acquaintance asked me about getting a photographic education at one of the three main local schools of higher education here in Austin.  I described all three programs to him.  (I feel competent to do so since I've been on the advisory board of one program for four years,  I taught in another program and am a frequent guest lecturer still, and the third program is headed by a friend....)

First up is Austin Community College and I described the 2 year associate's program as a "blue collar" curriculum.  Which to me means,  "Teach me how to make money with photography by showing me how everything works.  And the steps required to do business."  (My use of "blue collar" is not intended to be at all perjorative!!!!  It's a really good program).  They'll teach you how to set your camera, how to use lights, how to compose and shoot, as well as all the steps you'll need to know in order to have an efficient and knowledgeable PhotoShop workflow.  But they won't teach you how to do art.  They won't teach you "Why" to shoot.

They assume you had a reason, an angle or a vision that you likely wanted to pursue in the first place. Or that you (misguidedly) thought commercial photography might be a high profit business opportunity.

The second program, the school in the middle, for all intents and purposes, is a private four year college named, St. Edwards University.  It's four year curriculum teaches the basic nuts and bolts.  Enough to provide you the tools to move forward in the service of your artistic vision.  Bu they also teach art history, and critical theory behind photography, bolstered by a traditional and vital liberal arts education. They help you hone a philosophical point of view as it relates to creating photographic art.

They assume that you were motivated to be a photographer in order to communicate an aesthetic, an idea or a way of seeing that deeply resonates within your psyche.  They give you the tools to dig out the vision intact.  They deliver the rudimentary practical tools you'll need in order to get your points and styles across.  But they assume you DO have a point.  Or at least a point of view.

The third school is a major university, my alma mater and home of my first teaching job,  The University of Texas at Austin.  Their four year, fine arts curriculum is nearly devoid of technical hand holding and almost totally consumed by aesthetics, art theory, artistic voice and expression.  They assume that you are able to read your camera's owner's manual and that you get the rudiments of a subject (photographic technique) that you've chosen as your university major at least competently  mastered.  They teach the "why" and assume the "how" is a given.....or something you should pursue on  your own.  And let's face it,  photography in the age of digital is hardly complicated.  There are only four or five camera parameters that are essential for image creation...... and now we all have litte TV sets on the backs of the cameras that iteratively feedback information to us on our progress.  You can experiment day and night pretty much for free.  How complex could it be?

All three programs assume you are coming into the mix because you have something you feel compelled to offer to the "discussion".  (And by discussion I mean in the context of the world of art.  Or commerce).  None assume that technical mastery of your camera is an end goal.

But as I spoke to the acquaintance of the friend  it became clear to me that he considered the valuable part of education to be the technical mastery.  He  deflected the higher values of the pursuit.  He consistently devalued the creative impulse as it related to direct transmission of ideas and gave value to the output of the machines and their ultimate transparency as a product of ever more technically advanced tools.

The desire to gain proficiency in something that can be quantified "sharper than",  "highest acutance",  "more accurate" color,  x degrees faster, etc.  He saw art as something to conquer, a medium solely in which to actively display his proficiency.

And it became so clear to me over the course of the conversation that  obsessing over process, workflow and technical proficiency were the surest signs that people with these priorities would not make art.  Were not capable of making art.  Copying its trappings, yes.  But a clear physical creation of their own visual voice?  No.

Well...........sorry.  There's no guarantee anyone will be able to make meaningful art.  Art which tells us what it is like to be human.  And there's no fast track to becoming good at the intangible parts of the photographic process.

But in the end the only things that really do matter are the absolutely intangible properties.  In a photo:  The story.  The narrative.  The rapport.  The message.  The feel.  The vibe.  And the point of view.

And all of the technical candy won't do squat to fix a poorly imagined or poorly seen photograph.

My bottom line message for anyone looking to spend some money and time on a photographic education?  If you don't have a passion, a message, a voice.....a visual thing you want badly to show to other people because you think it's important or beautiful or disturbing......You'll be wasting your time.  As an artist.

I'm going to be pre-emptive here and state that none of this means you shouldn't buy a camera and have a great time using it and making photographs that you enjoy, regardless of how far you want to push your vision.  Cameras and the taking of photos have no greater or lesser value than doing puzzles, collecting stuff, skateboarding or any one of a thousand popular pastimes.  I take family photos and they are not intended to be art (though I'd love it if they were) and I shoot lots and lots of commercial images that are not, by any stretch of the imagination, art.  But I do it because it supports my intention to do art in my personal work.  Seeing, exploring and, most important for me,  sitting in front of people, sharing a moment and capturing an expression that can be translated as the shared transmission of a human experience is the essence of photography for me.  The more I know about you the more I come to know about me.

What started all this rant?  The revelation that some people don't truly understand the passion to do art and instead use the medium as a way of showing off their chops.... I might have over reacted but maybe not...

38 comments:

very1silent said...

When I was a student years ago, a classmate gave the theater lighting director a set of repackaged post-it notes labeled something like:

] Designer's Message Stick-Ums
]
] Do audiences have a hard time getting
] your message? Do people simply not
] see what your light says? Now with
] these new Designer's Message Stick-Ums,
] you can simply write your message on
] a Stick-Um, and attach it to your set.
] Audience understanding guaranteed!


You can take the most common, dull-colored birds, but when they show what looks like a human emotion, it speaks to people. If you want people to talk about art, try talking about emotion, and how it is conveyed.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Kirk,

that is definitely one of the good photographs you took. It tells a story...

And I agree with you about the audiophiles. Quite a good analogy to what we experience in photography these days.

cheers,
Wolfgang

Craig said...

Beautiful article, Kirk. I won't call it a "rant" because I don't think it is one at all. It seems today that "rant" is a pejorative term used to devalue individual perspective in favor of "objective", "fair", or "factual" assessment (which usually isn't half as objective, fair, or factual as it pretends). Articles like this are why I think your blog is valuable. Not that the articles about gear aren't interesting too; they are, especially because you tell us what you think (that individual perspective again) rather than measuring in a controlled environment a lens' exact degree of CA or corner softness (which is mostly worthless information even when it's accurate).

Craig said...

One more thing: There are also people who make the opposite mistake, who think that technical skill doesn't matter and the purity of your artistic expression is damaged if you allow yourself to be drilled in the rudiments by other people who by definition want to turn you into carbon copies of themselves. But this is not what artistic education and training is all about. If you do not have a vision, you have nothing to say and therefore cannot make worthwhile art. But if you have weak technical skills, you will be unable to make art that accurately reflects your vision. So both vision and skills are necessary, as I'm sure you would agree. People who obsess about either one are mostly just covering up for their defects in the other area; either they have no vision, so they obsess about technique; or they are technically inept, so they insist that their vision is all that matters.

For myself, I am certainly still working hard in both areas. Whether I will ever be an important artist remains to be seen; but if not, it won't be because I neglected art in favor of technique or vice-versa.

Tom said...

Yes. Can we hear an amen?

Tom Devlin
tdevlin944@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Were the girls moving? How on earth did you see them, then anticipate the movement, then focus what seems to be a medium or short telephoto on them, then judge the exposure and the right moment, all at once?

It's an amazing photo.

Mel said...

College roommate of mine was an electrical engineer and I swear his greatest enjoyment of his stereo system was hooking it up to an oscilloscope and looking at the waveforms - without a speaker. Whatever turns you on, I guess.

Way back you wrote a blog about cameras with a soul, an article that spoke to what I used and why I used it years ago. Fighting the seduction of the technical side I keep returning to that and similar equipment because it just doesn't get in the way as much as my digital kit. Now that I know what stories I want to tell I'm learning what you're teaching - the equipment is just a tool and too much fixation on it gets in the way.

Love the shot. Looks like a reflexive capture of a human moment. Who cares what you used - you caught the moment.

John Krumm said...

Some people have a tendency to become obsessive with whatever current interest they have, whether audio, photography, model trains or computer games. And many of our most successful artists were and are also obsessive about producing art, even to the point of mental illness in some cases, and certainly to the point of negatively impacting their family and social life.

Ansel Adams talked about his friend Edward Weston suggesting that he should be totally committed to his art, and not do all his side stuff (teaching, lectures, interviews, writing, and commercial photography) and Adams thought he was probably right, but did not want to live that way. Both were obviously successful as artists.

One thing that seems to distinguish artists is a critical push away from the current trends. When is the last time that has happened in photography? The 1970's? If it is going on, it's happening quietly, not on Flickr, where you can find so much apparent technical skill, and a look that seems deeply inspired by advertising. How do you push against that? Should you? Probably, but it means trying something much different, perhaps a little scary, maybe political, making something that a stock agency definitely would not sell for a Lexus ad.

Bold Photography said...

Kirk - I'm thrilled that we had lunch the other day. It got you thinking, and that's very cool. I've had this same 'rant' in some groups -- pursuing technical perfection can lead to sterility in the shot itself. I like to use the lenses that I showed you for some very good reasons - I need the speed for one of the applications that I shoot. But the reality is - for the rest of my shooting, I'm far better off spending time pursuing the art of photography. If the UT program wasn't in the day, it would be a blast to attend - get me to think with the other side of my brain.

kirk tuck said...

Bold P.

You are hardly one to obsess about the technical and ignore the art. I see your passion for your subjects when I look at your work.

thanks for the post.

Bold Photography said...

Thanks for your articles, Kirk - they make me think.

ginsbu said...

Thank God for audiophiles! Any pursuit that makes photography look cheap is handy when negotiating new gear out of the spouse...

andrewteee said...

Cameras are now gadgets. Sad to say, but for many they are just computers to capture perfect 1s and 0s. But lately, I have grown increasingly frustrated by this POV and withdrawn further into my photographic (art) world by buying and studying a large collection of used, old photography books (Atget, Winogrand, older Japanese photography). I want to say something. I'm not sure what that is just yet, but it's not pixels, sharpness and any other technical attribute. It's something where you put a series of photographs together and together they say something. I want to make art, and a camera is a means to an end. Most of my favorite work is taken with the small sensor Ricoh GRD3, often on the move where blur is just part of the story. No one seems to get it. No one comments because it is so far off their gadget base that they just don't don't know what to say. But I keep going, and in 10 years, 20 years my message will be clearer, more defined. Pixels don't motivate, but art does.

Oh, and BTW, you don't need a half million dollars or good music - just efficient speakers, tubes or thoughtfully designed SS, and a good source. My system is small, cheap, hand-crafted and is all about the music (Harbeth, Resolution Audio and DNM).

Thank you for your post Kirk.

Jurgen said...

Kirk, great article. Photography is a funny beast. It has both elements to it, the technical and artistic. For a big number of photographers the big challenge is in re-creating a photograph based on it's technical setup. The lighting looks cool or whatever the reason it is. Essentially, there is nothing wrong with it. It can be a way of learning and applying the acquired knowledge into a new context. Key is the motivation. Why do you do it?

Are you looking for new ways of expressing yourself? Extending your photographic vocabulary by adding a new technical skill?

If you are trying to learn the language of photography and speak it you are on the right path. Technical aspects are interesting, but not all important.

Some of the great photographs in the history of photography are not technically perfect. Their meaningfulness comes from what they express and push forward in different ways and often it is not about technicalities.

At the end of the day, we are all using this magic box with hole in the front and a film of sorts inside at the back. The simpler the setup, the easier it becomes to express yourself as an artist and grow in that direction.

If it all comes down just to which gear you use, it becomes boring and meaningless. Good gear is nice and only useful, if it is an extension of your inner eye, your vision.

kirk tuck said...

keep your iPod small and your playlist large.

Rob Dutcher said...

Thanks Kirk.

Billy said...

Good post Kirk.
I agree with Craig above, i know just enough about my E30 to know that A and M modes are all i need. Beyond that i want sharp, long fast lenses for wildlife.
I believe i have mentioned her before that i am an IT guy and the last thing i want to do is tinker with my camera and shoot resolution charts to see how sharp that new lens really is.

I actually went to St. Edwards. I don't know if they have one now but i think they need a photography class for non majors. I tried to take a photography class there my freshman or sophomore year and was completely turned off the first day when i found out we would be required to shoot somewhere around 5 rolls of film a week. I simply could not afford this then. But now as you say with digital its a lot easier.
I would have loved to learn more and practice photography with a teacher. I took a class in highschool that got me into photography doing B&W, developing our own film and prints.

John said...

Kirk, the more I read on your website the more I come to the opinion that yours is probably one of the, if not the, most intelligent and enriching photography related sites on the web. Thanks for sharing your invaluable insights. As for audiophilia (the term almost sounds like something that should be covered in criminal code:-))I could tell you the story about someone I knew who built an entire house specicially around his sound system.

Kurt Shoens said...

The photo at the top of this post makes me wonder. Do you love it for its technical flaws or in spite of them? Did you intend it to come out as it did, or is it the best that camera, film, and circumstances allowed? If the next shot on the roll were framed better and sharp on the girls, would that be the one you love?

If a friend had taken that picture, showed it to you, and said he was going back to reprint the negative and burn down the highlights a bit, would you consider him obsessive?

People who are careless about their images are slobs. People who are just as careful as we are, are cool. And we refer to people more wrapped up in it with terms that suggest perversion: obsessive, pixel peepers, measurebators.

But it doesn't matter what other people do. We make our own images and we love and hate them. If we want to get better, we work on what's holding us back. Maybe it's our technical skill, maybe it's our creative vision, maybe it's our work ethic. Maybe it's our cameras and lenses. Or some mix of the above.

If my next door neighbor is shooting resolution charts all day or dreaming of speaker cables made from jet fighter wiring drenched in liquid nitrogen, what's it to me?

Marshall said...

Bear with me for a moment while I explore the audiophile equipment/photography analogy...

It seems to me that a hyper-obsession with the perfection of audio output as a consumer of sound equates to the kind of photography that is hyper-obsessed with detail and sharpness in a "consumed" scene. Nonetheless, in both audio and photography, listeners and photographers may recognize that resolution and detail CAN impact the experience of the music or photo, but without ever taking precedence over the expressive nature of the art involved.
(Ironically(?), this obsession doesn't extend to accuracy in colors, where some of the obsessed are perfectly happy to step on the saturation pedal pretty hard. Not that there's anything wrong with that, necessarily.)


Stretching the analogy beyond the breaking point: audio listening is fundamentally a consuming experience that might inspire a creative one, while photography is a creative experience that hopefully inspires a consuming one - in someone else!

[Tangent: when I bought my "entry level high-end audio system", one person described my speaker and amplifier choices as both being "very musical", which I think he meant to mean "not as accurate" as other gear. Isn't it ABOUT the music?]

Sorry for the long reply and thanks as always for the provocative post.

- Marshall

kirk tuck said...

Kurt,

Points taken. Doesn't matter what other people do. Do you want to spend all your time shooting resolution charts? Do the handlebars need to be burned down? Was there another frame? What if there were twenty and I chose this one at random? What if a tree falls in the woods.

We make images for an audience and we are the audience for other people's images. Wouldn't you like it if more of the images you were shown excited you? If we're all an interconnected audience don't we have some sort of cultural curatorial impulse.

And yes, I love the image for its flaws. I wouldn't like it better if it were take sharp, the camera used is capable of more/better/higher/faster/sharper. Sharper is not always a good thing.

If a friend took the images and wanted to burn it and dodge it I would tell him to leave it alone. If he wanted to measure the d-max and d-min and graph it to correlate it with his other print data I would suspect that he falls into the perverse category. I'll call that category compulsion.



And photo slobs are cool.

But if Kirk writes a blog about art versus technique and you don't care about the topic why even bother to engage? It's all the same question. You thought you had something to add.

I thought I was adding something. Perhaps one person will decide to stop spending time with the jet fighter D3x upgrade and shoot some images in a wonderful way that moves our stuff forward.

Otherwise, who cares.

kirk tuck said...

The amazing thing about commenters is their presumption that I presume I'm always right.....

Kurt Shoens said...

Kirk, apologies for my poor writing skills and dumb post. I'd delete it, but better to own up. Let me reverse what I said and then explain why I appreciate this blog so much and why I write oddball comments.

It's wrong to say that other people don't affect what I do. I'd like to believe that, but it's simply not true. If everyone else is obsessing about per-pixel sharpness and there's no dissenting voice, I'm going to conclude that I need to obsess, too.

That was obviously the point of your post and it sailed over my head. So point taken and much appreciated.

Over your decades of experience, you've built up a mental schema about photography. Being an analytical person, you think about it and write about it. It's not the sort of thing you can write out in 4 simple equations like Maxwell's. It's complicated, sometimes appears to be contradictory, but ultimately it all fits together.

Clearly it works. Your images tell me that, so I do presume that you're right.

Not too many artists write about it the way you do and that's what makes your blog unique. If I appear to be poking at you, it's my clumsiness trying to express myself. I take the instructions on the comment box seriously, "But be nice!"

When I pose these questions I'm trying to learn more about your mental map as an artist. Because I'm a klutz, it sounds like a criticism of what you're doing or writing. I have no standing to do that.

Your response to my dumb comment is excellent and certainly better than I deserve. It's exactly the intersection of art, technique, and commerce that I find fascinating.

kirk tuck said...

Kurt, I never find your observations "dumb". In fact, I look forward to them as a well thought out, sometimes dissenting, voice offering honest criticism. If everyone were just to write "attaboys" I wouldn't have much interest in writing the blog.

You've always been nice and have never crossed over any of my lines. In fact, I don't think I've done a good job on a column unless I get some feedback from you.

Keep them coming and don't second guess your line of inquiry. I respect it and welcome it.

thanks, Kirk

Raianerastha said...

Kirk,

A contributing "issue" in the discussion is that we live in a very competitive culture. Such competitiveness is better served by quantifiable aspects of photography such as resolution or high ISO noise.

Art is much harder to quantify, in part because it is highly personal. By being highly personal, it sets people up to allow a certain transparency, even vulnerability in how others receive and respond to their work. Such things risk rejection of the person directly, rather than simply devaluation of technique. (since technique can always be improved objectively, but aesthetic can remain poor no matter how hard some people try to improve it.)

People who focus on technique tend to NOT want to allow this level of "relationship through art" into their lives. They are too competitive for that. Better for them to focus on objectively quantifiable aspects of the medium, which can be more or less unversally ratified and therefore universally accepted.

Being an artist bares one's soul to the world. It's easier to be a technician, because then all people are really seeing is the results of an exercise in using a set of tools.

Anonymous said...

Kirk,

One of the problems I have as an artist is articulating what I'm trying to do with photography. For me it is still more intuitive/instinctive than conscious.

Maybe others have similar problems. It is easier to talk about equipment and sharpness and resolution than to talk about feeling and vision.

I suspect one risk with that is that if you don't stop talking about equipment and resolution, you may eventually drown out the art.

Thanks for another thought provoking post.
M.

Raianerastha said...

M said,

"I suspect one risk with that is that if you don't stop talking about equipment and resolution, you may eventually drown out the art."

This "Can't see the forest for the trees" attitude is quite prevalent in photography. Probably because cameras can produce technically excellent results with little talent or skill involved, unlike painting or music.

I know some people who would look at Kirk's example pic and dismiss it for the same reasons he listed, completely overlooking both the personal (for Kirk) aspect of the photo, as well as the emotional communication. The "flaws", to me, actually enhance the emotional experience/expression of the photo.

A technically perfect photo would look like a fashion or travelogue shot. Kirk's photo gives me a feeling of the moment, of turning just in time to see a couple of lovely young women rush by on a motor scooter. It's a slice of life, not an exercise in technique.

Juznobsrvr said...

been reading your blogs just recently... don't really know how i stumbled into your site... i usually don't comment on blogs but this one you just articulated so very well what i have been thinking all along... i'm kinda new to photography but not to art... one of the favorite photos i've taken is a botched image of my wife's dog - it's blurry, the neg is all scratched, underexposed but i luv it ... don't really know why but perhaps it's the imperfection that i'm drawn to... perhaps some people (including myself) luv those 4-note blues because they have so much more soul compared to other brilliantly executed performances (you can fill in the blanks here... i don't want to get in trouble but i think you get the drift)... thanks and cheers - juznobsrvr

Robert said...

many cultures believe that perfect is an attribute belonging only to God. could you imagine how insane ugly or boring, the world would be if God were to use ANY one of our definitions of perfect. I love the subtle imperfections, that doesn't mean that I don't work hard to overcome certain things that I don't like, and learn every day, but I know that I will never understand or be perfect, so I should celebrate being human, because I love it.

Pete Appleby said...

Hi, Kirk. Another great blog post, really makes me think.

I really like the photo, and technical points mean nothing. To mean, the photo conveys many aspects. Two young ladies out riding. Having fun, going to school or a movie or whatever. It captures the spirit of adventure. It has emotional content. I couldn't care less if there is a blown highlight, noise, motion blur, or any of the other technical 'flaws' that bother some photographers. Of all the people who look at a photo, I would guess that only a very small percentage fall into the category of photographers that would be bothered. The art side of this is lost on them.

Technical 'perfection' has its place, I guess it can't be avoided in the area of commercial photography, portraits, etc. where the customer is looking for this. But even in the wedding arena, are the clients looking for technical perfection? I suspect that most are looking for the emotional content of their special day, not if the white highlights of the dress were slightly blown.

One of my favorite photos is a garden scene that has a huge amount of lens flare from the sun coming through the trees. Why do I like it so much. Because it takes me back to the time and place. Others comment on it as saying it adds a dream like impression. Technically, it rates a zero. But it's my art, so I get to be the judge!

Keep up the thoughtful posts!

Curt Schimmels said...

This post, and the comments posted with it, have been thoughtful and provocative.

I was also involved in "audio" in the Seventies, and have a brother-in-law in the high-end audio business, today. I remember discussions around intermodulation and harmonic distortion numbers of particular amps, et cetera back then, and discussions becoming more esoteric regarding such descriptions of equipment today as being musical, analytic, rhythmic, and so on.

However, one thing I came to learn over time is that essentially, all any audio system can be, is a tone control. In that sense, cameras, et al, also represent a sort of "tone control" for photography.

I can (and do) listen to music on anything from a cheap radio to a very nice audio system in which, I designed and built the speakers. I can hear the nuance of Miles, or the playfulness of Gomez, or the majesty of Beethoven's 6th (Pastorale) symphony through any sound system, but I do prefer the tone control of my own making/selection for the most enjoyment of the art of the music being played.

When it comes to photography, the same thing applies. I can take a picture with a camera phone, or with a DSLR (and do with both) - but mostly, I use my Olympus EP-1, because it's the "tone control" I enjoy the most to capture the art of the moment being played out in front of me. It's not always the best tone control for the job, but somehow, I still see that art of the moment.

This is why I agree with you, as compulsion and obsession with technical perfection have no bearing on the use of the tool as a tone control to produce (or reproduce) art. In fact, it is the antithesis, as technical perfection removes flaws and personal taste from the equation. What a stale way of living!

One final note on interpretation. I love the well covered piece by Rimsky-Korsakov, Sheherazade. I have this piece by as interpreted by 4 different conductors/orchestras. One leaves me cold, another is mildly interesting. Two I love, but are very different, and I play one or the other depending on my mood. I suspect that interpretation in photography works in a similar fashion for me, and possibly others.

Kurt W said...

...the human need to quantify and qualify the parameters of an experience while ignoring the experience itself.

So true.

As always, nice work. It's great to see an artist who asks his readers to think and not "do like me".

Cheers
Kurt

Ed Buziak said...

Two separate quotes of yours made me smile when I linked them together in my mind... the above "It's a desperately bad photograph. It's blurry. It's not sharp, etc" coupled to a comment you made in July 2001 on the Leica Topica mailing list... "P.S. We pros will shoot with just about anything we can get our hands on. As long as there's a red dot somewhere nearby :-) "

Dave Fitch said...

I increasingly believe photographers [quote unquote] obsess about gear because it is controllable - i.e. camera x can do this, camera y can't etc.. Vision, style, technique... these are the intangibles, the things that are hardest to control - and also the hardest to master.

For many, it seems that focusing on what you can control [gear] is much more of a priority than focusing on what you can't control [style, vision etc.]. And it's easier to buy new gear than it is to refine your style and technique.

Dave Jenkins said...

In the early 1950s a Swiss photographer drove across the U.S. taking pictures of whatever interested him. His photographs are at best less than technically perfect. I don't like his work and I disagree radically with his point of view, yet Robert Frank's book "The Americans" set photography on its ear in this country and the reverberations are still being felt.

kirk tuck said...

Well said, Dave Jenkins! But I have to admit that Robert Frank is one of my top five favorite photographers of all time.

Dave Jenkins said...

YMMV! Fritz Henle, B.A. (Tony) King, Eliott Erwitt and Robert Doisneau are my all-time favorites, so that should make my taste in photography pretty clear.

As far as I'm concerned, Frank was certainly a genius, but he was also a disgruntled and negative European who could not begin to see all the good in America.

John K. said...

Your post made me think. And feel. I like that. I think I need to back up and study more art.

Glad I stumbled into your blog. Thanks Kurt.