Thursday, April 4, 2019

Some Quotations

P.H. Emerson

... the photographer must so use his technique as to render a true impression of the scene.

Say as much as you can, with as little material as you can.

The impression must be true throughout, and if all the preceding components are true the impression will be true.

H.P. Robinson

The aim and end of the artist is not truth exactly, much less fact, it is effect. I know this sounds shocking to the purist's ear, but it is quite true. There is no doubt he gets his best effect by way of the truth, but he uses it as he would a servant, not as a master.

Ansel Adams

I employ numerous photographic controls to create an image that represents "the equivalent of what I saw and felt" [paraphrasing Steiglitz]

Edward Weston

I have on occasion used the expression, 'to make a pepper more than a pepper' ... I did not mean 'different' from a pepper, but a pepper plus -- an intensification of its own important form and texture, -- a revelation. Photography as a creative expression ... must be seeing plus

Now, all this has something of the character of vague bullshit, and someone a hair cleverer than I would probably be able to parse these statements into Expressionist versus Impressionist ideas, or something like that. Each of these sets of ideas, though, represents some sort of useful target that the speaker could aim at. Each of these men assembled a little collection of acolytes, who did their best to interpret these and other collections of words, and produced, generally, second rate copies of their teacher's photographs.

If you say to yourself "I want to take sharp pictures of birds in flight" and if you apply yourself, and are normally competent, you will by god begin to produce more or less endless sharp photographs of birds flying from one place to another.

If you say to yourself nothing at all beyond "I want to take pictures" then you will take pictures of, god knows what, probably everything. If you desire that they be in focus, and if you apply yourself, you will probably hit your target. To what end, nobody will be able to explain.

These fellows above were saying something else, and it shows in their pictures.

Critics can say the same sorts of things, criticism being merely the observe face of creativity. Did Weston distill the essence of the nautilus shell, seeing it plus? For that matter, did Robinson distill anything, and see plus? Did Emerson give us the aspirational equivalents of Adams and Steiglitz, or did he manage to produce true impressions of the Norfolk Broads?

I don't really care what drives an artist, and I don't really care if the map they choose actually describes a real territory or only a fantasy. All I can be sure of is that without a map one tends to wander more or less aimlessly, and to no purpose.

Evidence points, in fact, to a certain wisdom in not following someone else's star, unless the secret map you're actually following is intended to lead to second-rate copies.

The critic's job, as I see it, is to try to discern what map the artist is using, and to judge based at least in part on how well the artist has hewed to the course laid out on it. There is more, there is room for my map, as well as simply my personal reactions, and little things like whether I like it or not. But, really, one ought to start by trying to get a handle on the artist's map.

All too often, it is clear that the artist has no map at all, and is simply wandering about trying to project an air of not being lost.


  1. This seems to line up with the criteria I liked that I read in "Art and Fear" by Bayles. From memory it was something like,
    1. What was the artist trying to do?
    2. Did they achieve that?
    3. Was it worth doing?

    I find they seem to be generic enough to apply to all art and also help me point to why I don't like something. It also helps me with ending up with opinions like "I'm not sure this is my thing but I'm glad it exists"

  2. The map: do not end up in someone elses production line, do not work for a minimum wage, network in time and know the right people, adept and be free.

  3. Being lost is a precondition (though not a guarantee) of finding something new. Everybody got to find their own path.

    1. I could not disagree more - the only precondition for „finding“ is a sharp mind. You may find what you were looking for or something else or nothing at all. You may not look for but find. But once you recognize you find, you found.
      Now selling this is totally different. Now you (directly or indirectly through outhers) have others make BELIEVE you found. In this process you may lose yourself again or lose your findings or both: but if you manage to make believe you have a product.
      This is were the critic comes in. Critics want their share. Access to the market means, that you have to bribe your way in: how does not matter. You fail: there goes your finding / product.
      The „path“ is nothing but success and be it post-mortal like i.e. van Gogh or Vivian M.
      And whatever you do - you need a sharp mind (otherwise you may just become a phenomenon - like Vivian M. (?))

    2. "The „path“ is nothing but success"

      To coin a phrase, I couldn't disagree more.

    3. Sure, and Papa was a rolling stone.