I'm going to make a statement here that may sound elitist but is not meant to be. Whether you are a commercial photographer or a hobbyist I think your work (and mine) can be improved in direct proportion to the amount of varied art work to which you expose yourself. If you are lucky enough to live in a cultural center like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago or even Los Angeles you have ample opportunity to see an enormous range of old masters and new, original art in many media. When you add galleries to the pot your range of selections becomes almost infinitely rich.
If you are working or living in one of the major European cities you have the same opportunities. I couldn't imagine being a photographer in Paris and not having been to the Picasso Museum, the Louvre or the Jeu de Paume. Or to live within one hundred miles of Rome and not having been to The Vatican or the Borghese Garden museums.
When our points of reference are too far removed from the original sources they are diluted and become spuriously referential at best. To copy the work and working methodology of a young, technically aimed photographer on Creative Live is a woefully thin substitute for experiencing the real power of art first hand. Standing in front of a great painting is worlds different than flipping through some 640 by 480 pixel thumbnails of a painting. Watching light move around a sculpture is a world different then seeing a two dimensional photo of the same sculpture on Wikipedia.
Often times, because we live in a technical culture, and in thrall to the ideas of best practices, and the tyranny of metrics, we look toward technical fixes when our photography gets stale or when our enthusiasm stalls. We try a different lens or a new filter. We try some "new" lighting technique that's popular on the web. But in the end these are quick fixes for our boredom and not deep fixes that could transform our love of our art. A mindless copy rarely makes for valuable growth.
Not seeing original art but being influenced by its faint and diminished echo is like playing the old game where one person comes up with a phrase and whispers it to the person next to them. That person whispers the phrase they heard to the person next to them and so on. In a small room with thirty players the message becomes garbled and meaningless in a matter of minutes. Imagine the art message in a brilliant piece watered down by centuries of the same game. The end result is a thought artifact that's been distorted, changed and relieved of all context. It becomes a cheap filter or schtick.
Our jobs as artists don't exist in a cultural vacuum. We are all subject to cultural reference points. It's our choice if we want to drink the collective spit in the bucket or participate in the actual wine tasting of art.
I know that I am renewed and recharged when I eschew pondering more and more contemporary photographs and instead sample actual masterpieces and the works that laid the foundations for our work across different disciplines. Today might be a great day to step into a museum and drink from a rich cup of work that stands the tests of time. Work that forms the foundations of our visual culturals. What a gift to be able to experience foundational work first hand. How much greater the impact.
When someone directs me toward the latest over-processed pop photography I like to direct them right back to the masters they unwittingly borrowed from. Almost inevitably they are astonished at how much they learn and how much more organically the power of the original work gets integrated into their own projects going forward.
If you are a portrait photographer you've heard a lot about Rembrandt but you need to look at Leonardo da Vinci's work and Caravaggio and maybe Edward Hopper; even Georges Braque. I love heading down to San Antonio to look at work by Renoir and Picasso, at the McNay Museum. No matter which museum you head to you'll see something new and perhaps be able to add to your own repertoire. At the very least you'll finally learn who to ultimately credit for that neato lighting technique that you saw on some contemporary's website. The magic is all out there for us to sample and subsume and use. Don't you want the undiluted version? I know I do...
Please use our Amazon links to buy your camera gear (and anything else you like at Amazon). We'll get a small commission which helps defray my time and cost while costing you zero extra.
Thank you very much.