3.27.2011

Um. Shut up and shoot. Social hour's over.


Here's what the web has done for us (me).  Allowed photographers to share their images, thoughts and words all over the world.  We've spent the last five years talking about shooting until we're all blue in the face (and I thought that was just the result of a bad profile....).  And for every hour we spend talking about how to perfect the images we may take in the future we've loped off one more hour that we could be making those images.  Every hour spent in one direction is a lost opportunity in another direction.

Habit's a bad thing to fall into.  I have a couple of friends who are photographers of a sort.  I used to have coffee with them.  All the time.  There's always something you could talk about with a common interest like photography.  It was always fun in the first go around.  You got to share and they got to share and world seemed interesting.  But then we fell into habit.  We met even when there really wasn't anything to share.

With a couple of friends I felt a trend happening that's a running joke when it comes to doctors.  You know,  you run into a dermatologist at a cocktail party and show him that curious mole.  He says,  "Interesting.  Why don't you call on Monday for an appointment?" And then he wanders off to find drinking companions that aren't looking for free medical advice.  So, with me, having the curse of having written a few books about the craft and having practiced it as a business, the fun talk evaporates pretty quickly only to be routinely replaced by, "Which lens?"  "Which setting?"  and in the old days, "Which Film?"  And there is no right answer.   To them photography is different from work.  And what I do is different from what they do.

And I get frustrated.  Because all the talk is aimed at making the "how" more and more quantified without a care for the what and why.  Technique has become the big idea.  And when technique is the big idea there is no idea.    I'll be happy to hear someone talk about what they want to actually shoot but I don't want to hear about an amazing new HDR discovery or the way they mapped their printer profiles or how they lit something.  Believe me,  after all these years all I have to do is look at the photo and I'll be reasonably certain how someone lit something.  My photo friends might be interested in what PhotoShop can do but we don't need to talk about it.  For me it's a tool like a hammer or a wrench.  It's not a muse.  It's not an inspiration.  Look outward for that inspiration.

So many people use the idea of mastering all of the technical shit inherent in photography because it gives them an excuse not to mount up and ride off in search of the magic.  Because the fear is that they won't know the magic when they see it, and,  they're afraid that their magic won't resonate with their audience.  And I can't help anyone with that.  I shot for one audience:  ME.  And believe me, if I see a photograph of someone I've loved for over a quarter of a century, standing in the Louvre in a gray beret, all I see is the smiling eyes and all I take in is the happiness of the moment.  And my audience feels it all in a very real way because I am the audience and the photograph was taken for me.  To capture, in the amber of time, a vanishing moment that I wanted to preserve and look at again and again.  Not something I need other people to admire.

And every time talk turns to  HDR, gradients, techniques with multiple inverted layers and all the other quasi-techno goo that seems to make our actions and intentions more viscous,  I'm trading that time for the opportunity to please my solitary audience with one more image.  Tell me about your exciting idea to photograph models in Milan, or feral cows in Des Moines but don't bore me with details of the flight and how you plan to process the files.

The only way to gain magic is to give up control.  And giving up control is hard.  And fraught with uncertainty.  And not everything will work out just right.  But in the times that you let chance guide your  hand instead of the tight brace of technical "mastery"  you might occasionally stop thinking long enough to allow your spirit to create.

I shot the image above on ISO 64 film on a cloudy day in Paris way back in 1986.  I know what camera and lens I used but it doesn't matter because the scene will never happen the same way again.  Belinda and I were walking through a room at the Louvre that was filled, at the time, with sculpture.  I'd just photographed an Italian man disregard the multi-lingual signage and lean over the rope to lecherously run his hand over the smooth, marble hip of a tasty nymph statue.  I turned around to say something to Belinda and the light washed over her in a beautiful way.  I saw her eyes sparkle.  I doubt I noticed the out of focus shapes behind her but I've come to love them very much.  I clicked one or two frames of precious film, looked into her beautiful hazel eyes one more time and we moved on to look at a different genre of art.  


When I go back and look at frames like this I'm overwhelmed by the concentration of emotion I see in them.  Lost to me are meaningless issues of sharpness or lens curvature.  Lost to me are discussions about the seemingly random noise of the grain.  All I see is Belinda as I saw her in that moment.  That's why it's art to me.  


If you have to explain, fix in PhotoShop, render in layers, etc. you've captured something much different and while I might like the taste of that dish I don't need to hear the exacting particulars of the recipe recited.



27 comments:

Tom Devlin said...

Can we hear an amen?

Silvertooth said...

Amen!

Frank Grygier said...

Push..dodge..burn..filter were techniques in the darkroom where the magic happened for some. For them the taking of the negative was just the start of the process. I see analogies to the photographers who want to get the best four bracketed exposures and see what develops on their monitors. If your passion is manipulating the pixels in some way that makes you happy by all means.

kirk tuck said...

And I've got nothing against the people who want to do that. Or the people who want to write their own code. I've just run out of patience listening to the gory details about it.

Bold Photography said...

I had the opportunity to shoot two families in two days in my home studio. What interested me most was that when there was that connection, I felt a rush that literally made me sweat. I had to turn the air on (couldn't turn the fans on, as that would do bad things to my big umbrellas). A combination of the creative process mixed with connecting on a rather emotional level with both families.

It's funny - but the photos themselves are almost beside the point...

Patrick said...

I really can't express how much this post speaks to me. Thank You.

Greg said...

Kirk, I love this image! Really, I think it's absolutely great! It looks to me like a fine painting made by a great master. Very suitable for the place, actually. Maybe there was something in the air that day in the Louvre. Some spirit of great masters blended with your feeling for your wife and created this beautiful image.

I like your article, too. I like most of your articles. Except maybe for those 'gear-related' ones. Of gear stuff I am now interested in LED lighting but that's about it, I guess.

Couple of days ago I went to a presentation of a great Spanish photographer, Isabel Muñoz here in Moscow, Russia. She was not present but her beautiful works were presented by a local curator. As it happens, the was a 'what camera' question from the audience. The curator replied that she had no clue about cameras but she remembered that Isabel was using "one film camera and one digital camera" in her work. Fair enough! Mind you, the curator was in charge of selling Isabel's works in Russia and her works usually go for €15,000 to €60,000 apiece. Apparently, she didn't need to know 'what camera'. Nobody does, actually.

OK, now I will shut up and go out shooting. It's a lovely sunny day today in Moscow and I better take advantage of that. Besides, I am going to see a dance drama performance tonight and I got permission to photograph it.

Cheers,
Greg

Dave Elfering Photography said...

I loved the story of how Galen Rowell captured the timeless photo of the rainbow over the Potala Palace and also how he often used gear others wouldn't consider "pro" quality. If what I heard is correct he took that shot while other photographers were having dinner (but can't remember where I heard that).

On the other hand I do find value in sharing info on things like Wifi cards to speed up workflow.

But you are right it is easy to get caught up in the tech talk. Back when I did street racing there were talkers and there were racers. When the light turned it was easy to figure out who could drive and who just liked to be seen in a "hot car".

Naomi said...

Art is just that - adventure, exploration, experimentation, learning, failure, success. It is also the process and the doing and the being. Mastery of tools is essential in art - any art - as they become the vehicles for expression, but being controlled by the tools - rather than controlling them - renders one a slave to technology, whether it is a brush or a camera or a software program.

bloggervv said...

Well spoken. I just loved everything you had to say. Now I understand what a really good work of Photography is (a question I had in mind for a long time).
It is capturing the beauty of the moment and the satisfaction we get from it !!

Anonymous said...

I'm just a rank amateur but I just like to go out and shoot. I chuckled when I was at an event the other day and saw the photographers you always mention...a bag full of gear, strobes with all these different diffuser types scrambling around all these different angles trying to get a shot of the event. I wonder if they even stopped to appreciate what was going on around them.

atmtx said...

I love the lighting and the emotion. Fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Cool portrait. Cool story. Cool thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Dude, You tell it like it really is. So many people are so into style but how many are into the substance? No more coffee with people who'd rather talk it than shoot it for me too.

Mel said...

If no one talks about expert use of tools in the pursuit of art how will the rest of us learn? Short of paying day rates to pro photographers to look over our shoulders periodically?

I go back and look at/process/reprint my images as I learn new techniques that might apply and at least half the time I find the result more pleasing or unique to me. I don't have time to fumble around with learning all this from scratch - I relish the experts commenting about how they create their great images. For me the technical talk doesn't diminish one bit of the creativity that went into their images. Will I try to duplicate their work? Hardly. But I know my style will benefit from the learning.

Those people simply digging into the technology of visual art remind me of audio engineers who enjoy music by watching an oscilloscope.

Kirk, keep showing beautiful moments like this but don't hesitate to discuss the "how" along with the "why."

Joel said...

THAT'S the kind of "story behind the photo" that I love to hear.....not all the techno-jabber(although, occasionally, that's interesting,too.) You captured the moment and the emotion.....and incidentally, did a darn good job describing it in words. Great photo.

Alan Fairley said...

Amen. Its not about thinking, its about feeling. I went to an exhibit of modern art at the Hammer museum yesterday, full of clever conceptual ideas, but most of the time all I could think of was "why did they bother to spend the time to create that?" Afterwards I went into the gallery that has the Hammer collection of European art (old masters & impressionists mainly) - the question never arose in that gallery.

mike said...

the photo is perfect

Rod Graham said...

Absolutely one of the best portrait pictures I've ever seen! What a lovely lady and what a lovely capture and presentation.

mike wilson said...

I love the sentiment in this article, Kirk.

Having said that, for people who are learning, some people learn more by talking with those with experience than by reading or trial and error. And I think we can all agree that there's a craft side to photography that's got some pretty harsh learning curves to mount. Ultimately yeah, the photo is about the moment and the magic and not about f-stops and shutter speeds, but if you don't know the f-stops and shutter speeds you'll have a hard time capturing the moment reliably when it happens.

I agree that people obsess WAY too much about gear, and I too am tired of chatting with photographers who know the basics about gear. Just on Sunday I had some lady say her 85mm 1.8 was crap because it didn't have a red ring on the end of it. Meanwhile I take photos I love with my $100 50mm which has no ring around the end at all.

Sigh.

I'm going to have to strongly disagree with one statement though: "It's not a muse. It's not an inspiration. Look outward for that inspiration." In my opinion you should be looking INWARD for that inspiration. :)

Keep up the good work!

Oh, and I love that picture of Belinda. I love the inky black shadows in the background and that beam of light she's standing in… ah, so wonderful!

kirk tuck said...

Mike. NO. NO. NO. I am not talking about beginners or people who want to learn the basics. I was very clear that I'm talking about people who have the basics all done and the intermediate all done who would rather dick with quasi technical and hair splitting bullshit rather than just go out and shoot. It's about people who know as much as I do about photography who would rather sit around and talk about arcane stuff than do the work.

You know, the guy who can tell you which version of the super lens was made in Austria for six months before they transferred production to Bratslava and how they used to use seven elements but now have added and unannounced eighth element, etc., etc,,etc.

David Ingram said...

That is a really beautiful photo! Wonderful shadows and story behind the photo.

GWC said...

read this post three times in a row...you have a gift for writing...i love this blog!!!

Greg said...

Kirk, thanks for the inspiration to get out and shoot! Remember I mentioned about going to dance drama performance? I did and came back with lots of good shots. I want to share some with you. They are on my Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregshanta/

Gear considerations can't be avoided. After all, it's what we use to make photographs. But what can and must be done with is what you refer to above: the stuff about the hypothetical Austrian lens company moving production to Bratislava. I know some guys like that and I can't stand them.

Cheers,
Greg

kirk tuck said...

Ten people e-mailed me this week. They wanted me to tell them which Pen Camera to buy. I reiterate the message here. Shut up and go shoot.

Anonymous said...

Amazed that this article keeps popping up everywhere on the web. Has Mr. Tuck struck a raw nerve?

JAC said...

Keep taking photos for you... and share your photos with us.
Congratulations for your personal and clear thoughts.