Featured Post

Pinned Post, A Policy Note:

I have made a decision to keep this blog virus free from this point forward, at least until the smoke clears. This is not a judgement about ...

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Method and Process

For decades now, at least, we've been innundated with boring think pieces about Those Darn Kids Don't Know How To Do Photography. The material is always the same: you have to shoot a bunch of photos, and then edit, edit, edit. Trim it down to either the bangers, or a tight "story" (whatever that is), or possibly only the bangers that tell a story. Only show your best work. Agonize over the edit. Tape work prints to the wall of a tiny hut you built with your own hands and live with them for a year under a vow of silence, eating only boiled rice and spring water.

Which, ok, that's absolutely a way to do it. I was brought up to do photography in exactly this way. Millions of other people as well. It produces a specific kind of a thing, a very studied thing. An inevitably stale and overworked thing which reeks of brow-sweat.

Mike over at ToP espouses this method, but so do endless other grey-beards from the same general era. I have probably espoused it myself. Again, it is the way I was taught, and is the method I gravitate to unless I am extremely diligent.

AD Coleman, the famed photography critic, does not even consider photography as an artistic effort to exist unless some variation of this process has occurred. The only pictures he considers as a photographer's oeuvre are the ones that were, in some meaningful way, prepared for publication under the direction of the photographer. All the archive-mining going on is something else, something he rejects.

Again, I feel that urge.

And yet, at the same time, by far the majority of photographs made are spontaneous gestures that partake of little-to-none of this stuff. And yet, at the same time, archive-mining occurs and produces objects, collections, gallery shows.

To simply wave your hand and declare that none of this is legitimate strikes me as absurd. It's here, and it's not going away.

This 20th century approach to photography has done a great deal of damage along the way. Alongside the billions who take pictures freely, without artifice, are the millions who have read these think pieces. Those millions earnestly work away according to the book, and produce well made, extremely studied, garbage. There are millions, even billions, of photos which on the one hand demand our attention with their production values, their careful framing, and their earnestness, and which yet mean nothing. They have sacrificed their freshness, their spontaneity, for nothing.

It is a new era, and there is much more to photography that black and white large format film photography, and the pale imitations of that process which sombre men with grey beards urge upon us.

Modern photographs are not, as a rule, intended to be examined. They are ephemera, to be glanced at. Impressionistic glimpses of something, a momentary view, like the rows of a cornfield as you drive past. Every now and then the corn stalks align along another diagonal and for a fleeting moment, order emerges from chaos, and then is gone again. This is OK, you're allowed to do this. You're also welcome to do the shoot/edit/suffer cycle! Go for it! Nobody's stopping you from making cubist paintings, either, go nuts.

It is a personal struggle of mine, to navigate my impulse to be Walker Evans all over again, and to free myself to make spontaneous, disposable, gestures. I do find that the latter produces things I like a lot better.

The work of my own that I like the best is made in motion. It might be studied, it might be organized into something, but it's made in motion. When I am making final photos I generally just snap them. I don't edit heavily, I shoot lightly. I certainly don't work a vast archive down to a few photos. I might make a lot of intermediate photos, photos to be rephotographed or whatever, but the finals are final. I might throw 50% of finals out.

I shoot, I move things around, print, think, organize, shoot, organize. But I never sit in a mud hut with work prints on the wall. I do not sit, there is nothing static about how I work. I move, I shoot, and then it's done. Either it's good or bad, but it's done.

And I'm an old guy, trained in the old ways.

What might those darn kids do if we stopped telling them the mud hut thing?


  1. Everyone has their own process, and only wants to talk about -- their own process. But this is inside baseball stuff. It's really not very interesting to most people and arguably, tends to vitiate any intrinsic mystery in the results, for most people. For the kind of people who do follow this stuff (photographers), it becomes the procedural equivalent of a stupid computer trick, something new to try on.

  2. I am 76, so whitebeard is more like it. I still shoot as if it’s film in my camera. I seem to have a 108 shot (3 rolls of 36) limit. I let them sit for a while and then print the ones I like and put them in a box. I look later and may reprint a few. Art is play. I have lots of ephemeral boxes and I’m happy.