Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Way We See

I despise the notion of "levels of photographer" but I am going to sketch out a sort of a progression anyways. Sorry about that, I hate myself a little right now.

The neophyte with the camera mainly sees the subject. The flower, Aunt Martha, the thing they want to take a picture of. Many camera-carriers happily remain here. These people famously photograph people with trees "growing out of their heads."

After a while, many of the more serious camera owners will read things that tell them about, well, various graphical features. They might notice leading lines, or intersections of lines. The might notice bright spots, shadows, the way the light falls. Most of the rest of the camera carrying community stop right here, slowly stirring around the short list of technical/graphical features they notice and photograph. These folks almost never photograph a person with a head-tree.

Serious photographers who are successful at communicating things, I feel, manage to simultaneously "go beyond" a sack of graphical tricks, and at the same time to return to the naive subject. Of course, I count myself among this sainted number. And, naturally, you as well, gentle reader.

The same applies to looking at photographs. The naive viewer says "what a pretty flower," the more sophisticated camera owner says "tsk, the flower is centered rather than placed on a Rule of Thirds Power Point," and the artist says "what a pretty flower" but in a more thoughtful way.

I think, I like to think because it's the way I do it, that the Serious Artist sees the whole frame of the photograph. They grasp the whole as a collection of forms and tones and lines and colors all in balance, or not, etcetera. And they they see a pretty flower, and the way the picture reveals the pretty flower without clutter (or with clutter, as is fit and meet.) But at the end of the day, it's still the pretty flower.


  1. Reminds me of that Zen saying: "Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters."

    Best, Thomas

    1. Or as Donovan put it, "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is"... Took me years to figure out what that was all about... Then it was just a song again ;)


  2. Eh, I dunno man. To become good, I studied others work. Copied and copied and saw what looked nice. Now I just have a bunch of those ideas in my head.

    I don't really see anything more when I look at a picture of a flower about the flower. Sometimes I have a good giggle because I know the contortion that would've been necessary to prevent shadow.

    Other than that, my opinion is that post art basics (contrast, big shapes, small shapes, vignette you noob etc.) which take about 20hrs to learn, its a bunch of domain specific skills you pick up by copying or practicing.

    I don't think that adds anything to your experience of the subject of the photo, the very suggestion is rather bewildering to me. Does the serious writer experience the subject of books in a more full manner than a reader? If that were the case, I'd consider writers as a breed utter failures, because they'd be defeating the purpose of their work.

    They might especially marvel at a good section of narrative using techniques that are harder to use, but that if anything reduces their experience of the work no?

    1. Experienced writers actually DO!

      The non-writer experiences a book mainly as content, a rollicking good story, a good bunch of information, whatever.

      The neophyte writer tends to write the "and then this happened" story, basically just a listing of events in the order they happen, leading to a conclusion.

      Spent some time in workshops and whatnot, and pretty soon the new writer's stories are a maze of flashbacks and descriptive passages and so on.

      Finally, the experienced writer simply uses the right tools and the right time to make the story compelling, rather than a simple litany of events. Well, ideally. One doesn't really notice the flashbacks as such, one simply grasps some extra context for the "events happening now". One doesn't notice the poetic descriptive passage, one simply feels/sees the scene clearly and deeply.

      The experienced writer notes the devices in passing, which may or may not improve their experience of the work, but it does make it different and in some senses more thorough. Ideally noticing the tool-marks doesn't actually change the experience much, but it does add a layer.

      Or to put it another way:

      the neophyte sees "Moonrise over Hernandez" and says "oh, how pretty"; most serious camera-carriers will notice mainly the way the tones are placed and the compositional elements, and will probably mutter to themselves about how Adams had to intensify the negative because he botched the exposure, etc etc; and finally the true artist and one with the soul of God and with the spirit of the muses within him (that is: Me) says "oh, how pretty" while simultaneously being lightly aware of all that technical stuff.

  3. Maybe there is yet another level where one is still seeing the subject and being aware of the technique, but finally understanding that the fact that the photo made you feel something beyond a simple eye-gasm or technical puzzle is what it's all about. Perhaps this is what makes looking at some photographs a sublime experience.

    It's the subtle interplay of subject and technique that will either support the ability to make me feel something, or not. I still see the subject and am aware of the technique, which in the best images works quietly in the background.

    At least that's how it is for me. I want to be moved, and I hope to move those who look at my work.