Monday, January 11, 2016

The Most Important Thing

When you're trying to take a picture, you do a bunch of stuff. You wait for things to change, you move around, you direct the model, and on and on. Eventually, if you're lucky, the picture happens and hopefully it's one of the ones you actually shot.

Here is the single most important distinction in photography. It's subtle, so pay attention:

The stuff in front of the camera can be revealed as a specific picture.

The stuff in front of the camera can be revealed as itself.

What you actually want is the second one. This is a little vague, it's unclear what any of it means. That's how it goes. Make sense out of my words in your own way, and think it over. Disagree, agree, it doesn't matter, you're going to be a better photographer 10 minutes from now from thinking it through and forming an opinion.

Read basically anything written by any photographers of any note and this is what they're trying to tell you. From Emerson to Tuck, at least, and I can pull a half dozen names you'd recognize in between in a couple of minutes, with quotes to back it up in.. um, well, that could take some time. Getting quotes is tedious.

But trust me!


    There. No more tedium.

  2. "The stuff in front of the camera can be revealed as itself."
    For this to happen, the photographer needs to understand what the "stuff in front of the camera" to himself means. There has to be some dialog between photographer and "subject matter" - be it a model, a city or even a landscape - for a picture to succeed. This is why it is so difficult to take meaningful pictures of a place on a short visit, and I think it is also the secret sauce for Kirk Tucks portraits.
    Some time ago I read that Chinese aesthetics believes that in order to thoroughly perceive the beauty of an object, the mental separation between the beholder and this object has to be dropped.

  3. Seeing as we're in quote mode, let's see if these two move the needle on the quotometer:

    "It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet."
    Franz Kafka, Aphorism 109

    "There exists a delicate empiricism which makes itself utterly identical with the object, thereby becoming its true theory."
    Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen 509