Tuesday, January 6, 2015

.. and now, Say It

This is a followup to the previous post.

So you've got something to say, the job now is to say it. How shall you photograph whatever it is to convey whatever it is you want to convey?

At this point you should have familiarity with a large vocabulary of photographic methods. Shallow/deep depth of field. Low camera angle. High camera angle. Wide field of view, narrow. High contrast, low saturation, black and white, high saturation, vignetting, and on and on. The dictionary of "words" in the photographer's vocabulary is large.

But how do we put them together to say something? These things might still just be meaningless noises to you. If you know all the word of Swahili, but not what any of them mean, you still can't say anything in Swahili, can you?

Things are made worse by the fact that each of these photographic "words" has no fixed meaning. It's all very well to say that a low camera angle conveys a sense of, hell, I don't even know. Something. But it's not true. Still, with a deep vocabulary, and a lot of experience in how those "words" have been fit together by other photographers, you can begin to make your own sentences. You gain this experience by looking at a lot of pictures.

In every case of a successful photograph, some specific combination of things has been brought together to convey a coherent something. A "sentence" in the language of photographs. If the photograph succeeds (for you) then you should be able to more or less immediately understand what it's conveying. By looking at the specifics of the picture, you can see what "words" are being used. Sometimes you can see, quite specifically, how the pattern of "words" fits together to produce the meaning. Other times, you cannot, but you still feel the gestalt effect of the "words" in the result. Either way, study the picture. Absorb.

Look at the photographs in magazines, get hold of some photo books, look in the FSA archive.

Look at photographs.

Think about what you're trying to say.

Use the techniques for generating inspiration. See, for instance, this post.

If you're lucky, you'll find a way to use the vocabulary of photographic idioms you possess, to express what it is you want to say.

Now shoot a bunch more like it, build a portfolio around these ideas. Take a bunch of pictures conveying similar ideas with similar vocabulary, or perhaps sometimes an opposing idea with opposite vocabulary. Or whatever. Now you're cookin' with gas.


  1. I beg to disagree. It is not enough to have something to say and say it, you must also find someone ready to listen.

    And -pardon me for being blunt- on the Internet, people do not want to listen to anything you have to say with photographs unless it involves scantily clad women, celebrities, lolcats or landscapes with garish colours.

    How are you going to solve that problem?

    1. That is an excellent point, to be sure! You are exactly right.

      I have no solution, and therefore declare the problem irrelevant. Which is certainly cheating! I am primarily interested in making pictures that satisfy me, these days.

    2. And just to be clear, a big reason I am seeking only to please myself these days is because I view the problem of pleasing others are largely hopeless. Taste is driven by mass culture, to a degree, and I have no desire to make those pictures.

      So my only reasonable "market" pretty much has to be just me.

  2. I did not say that you needed to "please others".

    I am asking a simple question: what is the point to talk when nobody will listen? Even worse: what is the point to talk when people will actively hate you for it?

    These are the questions I am asking to myself lately. And I should say that your blog is one of the main reasons I am asking these questions: it is interesting, well written, sometimes has challenging thoughts, yet I don't see people following it. You even threw away the towel at some point. Worse: people hate you for it on forums. When typing your i.d. in google, one of the first hit is the post you started "The OFFICIAL amolitor is dumb and his blog sucks thread". Is this what one wants to do with his life: insisting to talk to people who will hate him for pulling the veil off their beliefs of lens sharpness and please use a tripod and expose to the right for best pictures?

    Personally, I decided against it. I left all forums, deleted blogs, stopped talking. I understand that this is what you really meant when you write "my only reasonable "market" pretty much has to be just me". But this is not a solution either. Another important event that formed my reflection is the discovery of Vivian Maier, which I followed on flickr at the time. She had something to say, but nobody would listen in her life. After a few years, she still took pictures but stopped developing the rolls. All what she left were two cardboard boxes full of undeveloped 120 rolls. What a sad life she had.

    I am pretty sure that there are dozens other Vivian Maier that were never found and the cardboard boxes where simply thrown away. This is not a solution either.

    What is the point of saying something to people who will actively refuse to listen?

    1. I have no real answer, I'm sorry.

      I take pictures, and I make little books of them, because I enjoy doing it. My motivation springs from inside me, not from any external source. That's not going to work for everyone, that's for sure, but it does work sufficiently well for me.

      Occasionally someone says something nice about my pictures -- never one of the amateur self-styled photographers we find on the internet. That's nice. But it's not my motivating force.

      My writing here is largely also for myself. The process of writing these blog entries has been incredibly helpful for me in sorting out my own photography. Again, every now and then, someone says something nice (thank you!) and that's a pretty great feeling.

      (as a side note, I think I started the thread you cite, in response to, basically, one problem poster on the forum who seemed to have an issue with me writing a blog, and took every opportunity to bash me. He was quite popular on the forum, but was eventually banned despite this, because he was a psycho.)

    2. I also continue to take pictures, because I can’t do without. You could say that my motivation also comes from within, although I feel it more like a curse or a compulsion. I stopped publishing pictures and stopped presenting them in forums or, generally, on the internet, but I can’t stop taking them. I may end up like Vivian Maier, who just carried along without even bothering developing her films. I am older than you are, of course.

      Coming back to this blog post: I thought it over and I feel that you are actually addressing the wrong problem. If I summarise your blog, your main theme is that a photographer should have something to say. Conversely, you observed that most photographers on internet forums have little to say beyond sharpness, saturated colours and expensive equipment. I generally agree with that opinion.

      Where I do not agree is when you theorise that the problem is a lack of message. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the problem is a lack of listeners. I believe that there are plenty of people who have something novel and different to say, but they soon realise that their voice is not liked and they leave. By definition they are sensitive, so they are more likely to be hurt by the general dislike for different voices.