Understanding a photograph

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A new camera won’t improve my photography. I am under no illusions. A change from an SLR to a Rangefinder might change the way I look at something through the viewfinder. It might even change my approach to the medium but it won’t improve my photography. I’m not saying it can’t be improved upon. Absolutely not. On the contrary. I’m my own worst critic and that’s how it should be. Sometimes I look at my images and……well ? There’s a difference between want and need. I don’t need a new camera. I can manage without one. I just fancy a change, that’s all.

What might improve my photography is my continued attempts to understand the subject by reading around and within it. Books by authors whose capacity to think about things and elucidate their thoughts far better than I can. I’m currently reading Understanding a Photograph – John Berger (he died recently) –  Edited and introduced by Geoff Dyer (he wrote a good book on photography called The Ongoing Moment.

Here’s a paragraph which resonates somewhat with my own thoughts on photography being viewed as fine art and particularly with this continued assessment by those supposed photography experts who seldom get beyond discussing whether a photograph is well composed or not.

“We must rid ourselves of a confusion brought about by continually comparing  photography with the fine arts. Every handbook on photography talks about  composition. The good photograph is the well‐composed one. Yet this is true only in so  far as we think of photographic images imitating painted ones. Painting, is an art of  arrangement: therefore it is reasonable to demand that there is some kind of order in what is arranged. Every  relation between forms in a painting is to some degree adaptable to the painter’s purpose. This is not the case with photography (Unless we  include those absurd studio works in which the photographer arranges every detail of  his subject before he takes the picture). Composition in the profound, formative sense  of the word cannot enter into photography.”

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Over the next few weeks I will be adding my Photography Reading List to a new page on this Blog and I’ll welcome suggestions from readers for more.

Fail

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MA Photography Notes

Susan Sontag – On Photography

Photography Fails for Five Reasons

  1. A photograph is both a piece of time and space. By including or excluding things its arbitrary borders both create and break relationships. The temporal and spatial dislocation results in social reality being presented as small discontinuous particles.
  2. A photograph only shows us the surface, so it has many meanings and encourages us to deduce or intuit what the reality was like.
  3. Photography can only give us knowledge of the world if we accept the world as we see it. But this is the opposite of understanding which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. Photographs have a use in giving us a mental picture of things but they always  hide more than they reveal.
  4. While photographs can arouse conscience this is only a semblance of ethical or political knowledge because it is always sentimental ( whether it is cynical or humanist )
  5. By duplicating the world in such a comprehensive way it has made the world seem more available that it really is.

 

My photography tips for what they’re worth

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Search the web and sooner or later you’ll find the ‘ My top ten photography tips for taking better pictures’. I often get asked this so here are mine.  The first four really need no explanation.

Take photos that surprise : 

Take photos that delight : 

Take photos that inform : 

Take photos that intrigue: 

Take photos that please you:  Don’t take photos that are trying to please others. It’s nice when people press the like button but ultimately you have to make work for yourself. If others like it then that’s a bonus.

Avoid the obvious: If you’ve seen the image before then best to avoid. Don’t try re-invent the wheel, reproduce what you’ve seen in other photography magazines. It just makes you look dull and uninspired.

Think Differently: 

Keep it simple: More often than not the best images are the simplest.

Say something: Say anything but say something.

Have an opinion : By saying something you’ll express an opinion. See ‘ Take Responsibility for your own education ‘ below.

Think visual literacy : Semiotics is the science of signs. Your images are a series of signs which you are trying to communicate to your viewer. If you feel the need to explain in writing your image to the viewer then you’ve probably failed.

Think metaphor : An image which shows one thing but is about something else ! An image which is about something and not of something.

Take responsibility for your own education : If you’ve been fortunate to live in a country whose establishment believes that the education of it’s people is the key to it’s future prosperity then attempts have already been made to educate you to a certain standard. If you can read this, thank a teacher. However, there comes a point in everyone’s life when they must take responsibility for their  own education. You never stop learning and you never should. I wish I’d realised this before I did, but better late than never. Learn about the world. This will inform your photography whether you realise it or not.

Follow your own instincts: 

Try and develop a unique vision: Be a shepherd not a sheep.

 

 

So you want to be a Photographer ? What should I photograph ? Street Photography

Street Photography – my favourite!

Ok so the first thing you need to understand about  when you  photograph someone, even a complete strange, you steal their soul.  Yes really ! The camera literally sucks their brains out of their skulls and leaves them with no personality or anything else worth salvaging. Yes exactly just  like them  Dementors in the Harry Potter books and  Lord of the Rings and all those other fantasy tales of good versus evil in parallel universes, black holes, drainpipes etc etc . .So if you must indulge in taking your camera out on the streets,  beware! real people go there too and they have a nasty habit of getting in the way  They do rude things like stand in front of you when your trying to take a photo and you wouldn’t want to steal their priceless souls now would you?

Anyway you shouldn’t really be taking photos in the street where people go should you because it’s wrong and immoral and people will think you’re a terrorist or a paedophile or both because they’re thick like that. Someone sooner or later  will ask you what you’re doing  because they’re bloody nosey and they can’t help themselves and they would have joined the police if they hadn’t had been so thick ! So ! how do you deal with people like that ?  It’s really quite simple. Just smile politely, put your camera away and apologise profusely and walk away with your head bowed in shame. If you are approached by a security guard or policeman  do the same thing but this time offer him ( or her )  money as a gift not a bribe  to supplement their  meagre income. Hand over your camera so he can delete all your images and your clothes as well. Walk home naked with a large sign around your neck with PHOTOGRAPHER written on it so people can see you’re a terrorist   or paedophile or both . As you walk home find and take a large branch from a tree so you can flagellate your self with it so you’ll arrive home badly beaten and bruised, naked !  Nothing else will suffice to rid you of the evil you have just committed. Never ever never think of taking photographs of real people ever again…………….ever !

Next week other things you can do with your camera !

Here’s that photo of people looking at a ship out to sea I promised you. The ship is out at sea not the people ! Well actually they might be because they might be on another boat which is also out at sea as well.

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So you want to be a photographer ?

So you want to be a photographer?

So you want to be a photographer? Let’s be clear! that’s someone who takes pictures or as they say in intellectual circles “images”. Usually with a camera which essentially in its simplest form is a light sealed box with a hole somewhere about it to let light in. You do sometimes get people who take pictures with biscuit tins, old washing machines or old caravans etc  but they’re oddballs and freaks. You don’t want to mess with them, they’re not the kind of people you want to enjoy a drink with. They’ll bore the pants from you, explaining all that light bending physics, alchemy and jiggery pokery stuff. They probably don’t go out much either or have spouses, partners, dogs, cats etc or any other type of meaningful relationships. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if they were serial killers !

 

First you must ask yourself why you want to be a photographer. If the answer is because you want to take pictures or as the intelligentsia term it “images”  then that’s as good an answer as any but don’t admit this  to anyone else or they’ll think you’re a proper twat! If it’s because you see it as a career opportunity in which you’ll make mountain loads of cash and sleep with very famous people, forget it! Take up singing instead.  You’ve more chance of becoming the next Pope, that is unless you’re already a Cardinal thinking of taking up photography in which case, hello your Eminence!    So, beware, you might have difficulty explaining your desire and the potential capital outlay to your family (or whatever you call them) friends, wife, spouse, partner, dog etc because photographers are just above terrorists, paedophiles and bankers in Society’s list of social outcasts.   Don’t try and explain anything existential, it’ll make you look a proper twat.  You could try telling them  it’s a calling from God, Allah, Buddha or whatever you worship and at least they’ll think you’ve gone mad and leave you alone. That is unless you really have had a calling from God, Allah, Buddha or whatever you worship, a vision or something equally bizarre, in which case well done although you might be happier building a shrine to your vision and charging gullible people lots of cash to visit said shrine. Actually the more I think about it, buy a camera and take their photos while visiting said shrine and kill two birds with one stone.

Next week all you need to know about buying a camera and spending lots of money.

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What informs your photography ?

The other week I was very publicly criticised by another photographer on a Flickr site that I belonged to. It was partly my own fault and in that respect I deserved the mauling I got. Not from this particular photographer though who took it upon himself to have a go at me, in a sense to kick me when I was down. To cut a long story short he told me and I quote,  “Yur pictures are OK but they are not nearly as good as you think they are.”  Yeah I know he couldn’t spell “Your” but that’s a mute point. What he should have said  is that my pictures were not as good as I think they were ‘in his opinion’ which maybe splitting hairs and you could  argue that, as he was the author, then of course it was his opinion !! It wasn’t just this that irritated me,  it was that he then failed to tell me ( not that I particularly cared ! ) by what criteria he was judging my work. I think what really rankled him was that I’d not asked him for feedback some months earlier when I contacted him on another issue. He obviously thought himself important enough and successful enough to review my work ?

Anyway before I replied to him privately ( I really didn’t want to embarrass him publicly ) I took a look at his website and his own work. I have to say he does some decent stuff and he’s had a little success. I’ve provided a link to his website in my Links but what surprised me is that in his Bio this ‘street photographer’  claimed to have no interests. If a  photographer claims to have no interests other than photography itself, the question at some point must surely be what informs their  photography ? How does a photographer make work if they are not interested in anything ?  If a photographer goes out and takes photographs of trees they must surely be interested in trees if only on a superficial level ? For the reader of this thread I cannot necessarily provide you with answers but what I do believe is that sooner or later if you go down the road less travelled as a photographer the question of what informs your photography will arise. Only you can and must answer that ! For the street photographer inevitably you will study the work of other street photographers ( including my erstwhile friend maybe ? ). You will study the critically acclaimed such as Winogrand, Friedlander, Frank, Klein, Erwitt, Arbus, Cartier-Bresson the list is almost endless and undoubtedly you will be influenced by them. You will also read books about photography and photographers. That’s how it should be, but sooner or later you will need to find your own unique voice and vision and part of that process will be to ask yourself that important question, What informs my photography ? I myself am still in that process and I even think it’s a process without end, a permanently on-going process. If I were to say that everything informs my photography that would not be particularly helpful to you the reader, even if I do believe it to be true.

How can I be more helpful ? Well it seems to me that a street photographer cannot truly create an important body of work if they are not interested in the human condition or  the Society and structure of the place they are operating in. Neither can they document a place if at least they don’t have a basic knowledge of the politics  local or national of the place they are in. Either that or at some point they are prepared to look at subjects such as sociology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology and even fictional work in respect of their chosen environment. For the past two years I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on by the American author John Steinbeck ( Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, etc etc )  He’s a particular favourite of mine and I don’t recall him mentioning photography once in those works but yet I feel he’s influenced my photographic thinking as much if not more by his telling of the human condition than the self  study of any of those photographers I’ve mentioned above.

I make no special claims about my own photography that you see on this Blog but what I can tell you is that it tries to be informed by much more than the subject itself.

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