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ndg
9-Aug-2015, 16:31
There are some on this forum who have found their voice as photographers and show work that consistently attest to that. For me personally, I am still searching even though I think I may be close. So my questions are:
Is finding your voice as a photographer important?
Does you body of work have to say something or fit into some niche, genre or category or is it Ok to shoot whatever catches your eye?
For those who have already found their voice, what did it take? How long?

Bruce Barlow
9-Aug-2015, 17:13
It just happens.

For instance, I wanted to learn "minimalist" composition, so I went out to make minimalist pictures.

I failed. Other stuff crept into the pictures that were "me," but mot minimalist. Surprise! I liked them.

If you keep making pictures, they will become more and more "yours."

In fact, a good place to start is to imitate your favorite photographers. You won't imitate them well, and "you" will creep into your imitations more and more as you do them. This is a good thing.

Moral of the story: Make many pictures, and the issue will take care of itself.

ndg
9-Aug-2015, 17:37
Interesting take! Thanks!

LabRat
9-Aug-2015, 17:47
This is a tough question that someone can spend their ENTIRE photo life searching for...

I have been stuck in the battle of me photographing "it", or letting "it" happen for as long as I can remember... I figure that it's kinda like having a dance partner... I'm maybe the one that showers/shaves/dresses up/gasses up the rod, and pays admission to the dance hall, but when we hit the dance floor, I better let "it" lead, because if I lead I'll be stepping on my partner's toes/fumbling around and not really getting in-to-the-groove as well as following my "partner's" lead and it taking us to some place "we" didn't think "we" could go together...

And what you feel moved to do/where you would have to go/what you would have to do, then... A stream of questions emerge, and hopefully we have gained the experience/insight to keep moving along the process...

One recent realization for me is that with the urban landscape stuff I do, it is mostly about 3 things; Location, Location, Location... But then I have to respond to the complex set of conditions and THEN find order within the framelines... So first, I have to cover a lot of ground to find potential sites, then everything else...

But I'm starting a still life series, and I realized (as I was holding a prop in my hands) that the issue was "what is the meaning of this thing in my hands, and how does to relate to, well, anything else???" And if I put this into a set next to something else, will there be a "conversation" between these items that will speak beyond the frame???

So there just two examples of "different approaches" that are dictated by many elements... Hopefully we are not slow to pick up on the whispers...

Sometimes you have to "shut-up" and listen, and let it speak...

Steve K

Jim Jones
9-Aug-2015, 17:49
A photograph need not say something significant or fit into some niche. Nor does it have to say anything about the photographer: some subjects are more significant than most photographers if strongly presented. I mostly agree with Bruce.

ndg
9-Aug-2015, 17:50
This is a tough question that someone can spend their ENTIRE photo life searching for...

I have been stuck in the battle of me photographing "it", or letting "it" happen for as long as I can remember... I figure that it's kinda like having a dance partner... I'm maybe the one that showers/shaves/dresses up/gasses up the rod, and pays admission to the dance hall, but when we hit the dance floor, I better let "it" lead, because if I lead I'll be stepping on my partner's toes/fumbling around and not really getting in-to-the-groove as well as following my "partner's" lead and it taking us to some place "we" didn't think "we" could go together...

And what you feel moved to do/where you would have to go/what you would have to do, then... A stream of questions emerge, and hopefully we have gained the experience/insight to keep moving along the process...

One recent realization for me is that with the urban landscape stuff I do, it is mostly about 3 things; Location, Location, Location... But then I have to respond to the complex set of conditions and THEN find order within the framelines... So first, I have to cover a lot of ground to find potential sites, then everything else...

But I'm starting a still life series, and I realized (as I was holding a prop in my hands) that the issue was "what is the meaning of this thing in my hands, and how does to relate to, well, anything else???" And if I put this into a set next to something else, will there be a "conversation" between these items that will speak beyond the frame???

So there just two examples of "different approaches" that are dictated by many elements... Hopefully we are not slow to pick up on the whispers...

Sometimes you have to "shut-up" and listen, and let it speak...

Steve K

As "it" speaks, what do you listen for? Shouldn't whatever you hear/feel touch a chord in you to be effective?

Iluvmyviewcam
9-Aug-2015, 17:51
With me it evolved with new tech and new knowledge. It always centered around people as my landscape, but as I look back on it all fits pretty well.

You see and decide.

nsfw

https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/a-photographer-is-defined-from-their-body-of-work-be-careful-what-goes-into-it/

mdarnton
9-Aug-2015, 18:13
I think it's important to have a style, and I'm very fussy about "my" style. I know what it is, it took a long time to develop, it's intentional and considered, and I work to find and take pictures that fit it. I am also constantly working to extent the boundaries of it, trying to build a body of work that's recognizably mine but not too limited in scope. That's why, for instance, I have been using 8x10 in the studio recently instead of my long-term 35mm "candid" style--to try to realize what I think is my own particular vision in as different of a realm as I could find (I'd be doing the 8x10 in color if I could afford it).

Often I'll see stuff that would be good for other people, and may press the button for fun, but that never gets past the film stage. It's like an exercise in seeing more than anything else. No problem with that, but it's not me.

What I do is for my own entertainment, so it doesn't have to be functional or logical. :-)

Added-
Daniel (above), I was just looking at your work. Your level of energy must be massive, gigantic, inexhaustable! :-)

LabRat
9-Aug-2015, 18:53
As "it" speaks, what do you listen for? Shouldn't whatever you hear/feel touch a chord in you to be effective?

Not always... Often it is there, and we don't see/feel it, but sometimes it will creep into what we shot, and reveal later...

I think of a camera (at best) as a "Twilight Zone" device... It can see more than us, (as we seem to have this JPEG compression/like thing in our brain, that limits the amount of information that we can process...) I figure I have to know where/when to aim the beast, what allows the process to happen, and let it do it's thing and see what got dragged up in the net... Hopefully I have the good judgement to know what the camera "likes"... But also keeping in mind what I'm trying to find... (This is the "dance" I was talking about...)

One way is to photograph stuff, and read it with a different eye later... What else is going on in there??? Maybe someone else sees something you didn't in it...

This is one place where I think shooting my digital point and shoot has been helpful... As I'm looking at the image on the screen (right after a shot) I can see how the camera "froze" this moment, and rendered something on an edge or background that may be worth exploring... (I sense that with many people, a problem with a LF camera would be that so much attention has to be given to the rig to "get it right", that it might draw away from the focus to explore the possibilities of the scene...)

Not to be Woo-Woo, but I had some Zen training some years ago, that actually had a positive effect on my photo stuff (and life)... (I'm not usually that type of guy, but I liked the people, they offered, so I learned to meditate...) It opened up the veil of "awareness" as I could now sit in an empty room, and be aware of many different elements floating around there...

It's not what you shoot, or how, (technically) It's how the elements interrelate... And what "mood" might be captured... For example, one could see a marble sculpture (or gravesite) outside somewhere... At first glance it could be boring looking, but with a certain light interacting with it, and the layer of dust/grime creating an artificial "shadow", dark clouds or light sky behind, and other elements, maybe it brings out a sadness or other emotion... And will this "connect" with a "viewer" of the print??? Will others see something else to connect with??? (Check out the work of Clarence John Laughlin to see what he was able to work using found scenes/items... His work almost seems "haunted"... And he was from your neck-of-the-woods...)

There is a LOT right under our noses!!!!!!!!!! And we should "allow" things to happen, too...

Steve K

Pierre 2
9-Aug-2015, 19:05
Thanks for the interesting thread... and Steve K. for the point of view that you are conveying. It resonates with my feelings. In my own case, photography is mostly if not all about capturing emotions.

DrTang
9-Aug-2015, 20:51
I spend most of my time now fighting to NOT be something

I can easily take certain types of pictures.. and a lot of time I move to..but if I'm lucky..I will stop myself and re-align my picture taking to my vision or concept

it's odd that sometimes I am drawn to take photos of that which I would not go to a gallery and see - for instance landscapes

I am not going to go to a show of landscape photography..yet I 'see' and even start to mull about taking such shots for some reason on occasion

so when I am in the studio with a model.. sometimes I have to make a conscious effort to not 'punk out' and take standard issue glamour type pix even though it's right there..it's right there in front of me

but instead to take the kinds of photos I am interested in viewing and were the whole point of the shoot anyway

so I guess I am trying to find my voice by process of elimination maybe?

Michael E
9-Aug-2015, 23:49
The process of elimination is actually very important. I learned a lot by looking at my own pictures, learned about myself. What I'm interested in. How I see the world. What my place in the world is (at least photographically). I found things popping up in my photos again and again. Then I went conciously to shoot more of those. I noticed that I saw potential images in a certain way (black and white rather than color, for example) and that I felt comfortable using certain tools (LF, for example). So I reduced my technique to get to know it intimately. Later I became more involved in things like job, starting a family, restoring an old house and simply had to reduce my photography even more. Now I don't have time for many bells and whistles - and actually think that it improves my point of view. Does my photography have to fit a niche? No. Do other people have to like it? Recognize it as mine? No. Does it have to say anything? Yes. But it would be hard to keep it from talking. Sometimes it even sings.

Michael

pdh
10-Aug-2015, 01:27
Every time I open my mouth, something different comes out ...

sigh

Bruce Barlow
10-Aug-2015, 04:30
A photograph need not say something significant or fit into some niche. Nor does it have to say anything about the photographer: some subjects are more significant than most photographers if strongly presented. I mostly agree with Bruce.

I'll go one step further and say that if you set out to make significant pictures, you won't. If I think the picture I'm about to make is really good, I usually walk away, because it won't be. Ego interferes too much.

So, instead, I just try to do it with as little conscious thought as I can control. I make a lot of pictures. Back home, looking aat proofs, I "discover" the ones that seem to work.

mdarnton
10-Aug-2015, 04:59
Because of my work, I'm always up against the idea of performer vs artist. An artist makes something; the performer takes something that's not his and renders it. I've thought a lot about that and that's one reason, like Dr Tang, I don't do landscape or just shoot pictures of anything that looks like a picture, as I know some people do.

For me, it's too close to being a simple recorder, which would be one step back from even being a performer. This was emphasized in the recent Peter Lik sale, where there were dozen of similar pictures pointed out of exactly the same scene from exactly the same angle. To me it's not really creative if it's totally obvious to everyone who looks at it that it's a picture. A recorder doesn't really have a voice.

There's a recent thread running that mentions two photographers, Alec Soth and another. As opposed to Soth's photos, the other's work looks to me like the kind of stuff you see at street fairs: ordinary mass appeal, no voice, and that's what I try to avoid.

Bill_1856
10-Aug-2015, 06:02
I made my first "great" picture when I was 17 years old, (it's still in my portfolio). The next one wasn't until 20 years later when I was 37.
My advice: keep plugging away, and visit lots of museums, galleries, and shows in the meantime.

Alan Gales
10-Aug-2015, 07:02
There are photographers on here that when I see their work I instantly know they made the photograph. It's just like when I hear a song and I know that Eric Clapton played guitar on it or see a painting and know Rembrant painted it.

It takes time to develop your style and is nothing to worry about. It's not on purpose but comes out of shooting what you like. How could it be your photographic voice if you are not shooting what you like?

Jac@stafford.net
10-Aug-2015, 08:05
[... snip good stuff ...]One way is to photograph stuff, and read it with a different eye later... [...]

So true. Some things have to be photographed to be seen. I did some photography in the same neighborhood as a well accomplished documentary photographer, showed him one picture done only a block from his photos and he could not recognize it at all even though the structure was unique and of monumental size. It had to be framed just so to raise interest. (I don't think he liked the photo, but that's okay.)

Corran
10-Aug-2015, 08:44
A friend of mine vehemently does NOT want to have a "style" or voice. I don't really understand why. I think his images are iconic of his style but he hates that feeling.

My suggestion (not that you don't do this Nana, I mean I have told this to students) is to shoot a lot. Everyday if possible. That helps me.

People have told me I have a style. I guess I do, though I like to try new things.

In contrast to some other posters, I think it's possible to have a voice/style even with landscape images.

Michael R
10-Aug-2015, 09:02
Regarding vision/expression and a personal style which is to some degree recognizeable. On a fundamental level I think what the OP seeks begins with sheer honesty in our work throughout the end to end process, from initial seeing to printing. This often sounds easier than it is due to the influences floating around in our minds.

jp
10-Aug-2015, 09:10
I'll go one step further and say that if you set out to make significant pictures, you won't. If I think the picture I'm about to make is really good, I usually walk away, because it won't be. Ego interferes too much.

So, instead, I just try to do it with as little conscious thought as I can control.

Word!

Makes me a boring fresh-air/exercise companion with a camera, but it's fun to see what one discovers.

Alan Gales
10-Aug-2015, 11:12
In contrast to some other posters, I think it's possible to have a voice/style even with landscape images.

I completely agree! Just look at Ansel's work for example.

Robert Langham
20-Aug-2015, 09:46
Simple. Just stare through the viewfinder until drops of blood start forming on your forehead.

Robert Langham
21-Aug-2015, 08:23
Actually looks like you are well on the path. Keep that question in mind and keep working. The bottom of each box of film will find you a slightly different photographer than the top sheet. It's a "process" and it takes a long time to just get to where you begin to know what you are looking at. The thing that is being processed........is YOU.

Robert Langham
21-Aug-2015, 09:27
A few hints, mostly what NOT to do.

1. Don't be influenced. Nobody needs junior copies of Ritts, Weston, Adams, Sullivan, Capa, Avedon, et. If you get that urge to reach for a camera, are you looking at something YOU see or thinking about a photograph by Maier? If you see a William Clift.....walk on. Look through your own eyes. The miracle, the new, the creative, is in YOU, somewhere.

2. Know your history. There's only about 180 years of photo history. Know it, know the players, know the work, know the techniques. With Amazon.com used books you can give yourself a bargain masters education in the History of photography in a year or two. That education never stops. I just recently saw several Westons I hadn't ever seen plus tried to plow through Robert Adams essays sentence by sentence. Conversant with "Art and Fear"? How about "Through the Studio Door? How about "Ansel Adams at An American Place?" Photographs by Stiegliz, Szarchoski and Strand? "Great Big Beautiful Doll"? Read the Okeefe/Steiglitz bios? "The Golden Hour?" "Looking at Photographs? "On Photography?" "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence?" It's all out there. Order 'em, read 'em and send them back to Goodwill. Buy the cheapest most scuffed up used paperback underlined dog-eared bent page books. "California and the West" first edition is 10 bucks. "Certain Places" was 18.00. Some are one cent. One.

3. Know your technique. Then learn more.

4. Work out of your back yard. If you think you have to go to Antarctica, well....maybe you do, but start with ice cubes out of the fridge. Sally Mann shot her family. Adams is known for his back yard. Eggleston worked around the neighborhood. Weston looked underfoot. If your familiar doesn't start looking exciting and exotic, you just aren't looking hard enough. Or soft enough.

5. If pursuing your vision doesn't cause financial or relationship problems, then please don't bother.

6. If you don't dream about photography, maybe it's not for you. There's no sin in that. Just notice the indicators. Maybe you are just a fan, and goodness knows there are plenty of slots for fans. Buy the books, buy some images, go to some shows, join a collectors circle.

7. While in the whirlwind of everything above, keep it simple on some pure elemental level that you can only feel just after it passes.

8. DON'T take a photograph. Learn to look and walk on from bad, imitation, partial, possible images. Even shooting pixels. Just walk away.

9. Show and talk about your images. Images made to show, even to people who can't "see" them. Somebody will let you put up a show in their store, business or restaurant. Do it. Make the work, frame the work, title the work, sequence the work hang the work. This is for YOU not them. Be bold, even with your awful work. Start now at whatever level you are on. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly....at first.

10. When, not IF, you get stuck, try a new approach. Eat your subject matter. Eat a piece of film. Beat an SD card to pieces with a hammer. Freeze the flower instead of photographing it. Hit yourself in the head with a piece of rock and let it bleed for a bit. Draw it instead of photographing, using only two lines from a bic pen. Go away and come back later. Think of a title instead of an image. Write a poem about it. Go for a run.

11. Use the wall. Put up and look at new and old images. They will gain power or wilt on the wall. Lay out a sequence. Figure out your tendencies. Are your photos left handed or right handed? Centerist compositions? What's the theme? Put them next to someone else's work. Ask your partner what they think. Don't keep them in a box.

12. If you are young and think "angst" or "drama" or social justice or someone else's trama is to be exploited for your photography's sake....then please keep shooting and work through that phase as soon as possible. (Maybe you SHOULDn't show these for about......20 years.) To get through this phase: try holding strangers at gunpoint while you photograph their terror. This is a great idea that hasn't ever been used. You're welcome. Use a mask and hoodie.

13. The latest new idea will be old and busted in about a semester, though I was a little charmed by "Fun-ism."

14. Notice and relish, relish, relish...a new idea. Follow it to the NEXT idea. And the next. Let it morph. Let it grow.

15. You might have too many cameras and lenses. Maybe you just need one lens, one camera, one technique for a few years. Too many tools in the toolbox and you never learn to use any of them well.

16. Go on Blurb and buy a copy of the Blackfork Guide. It's a crescent wrench of a book. Everyone needs it.

17. Work without ceasing. Life is it's own therapy. Photography will bend to your will, even if you should have been a plumber.

ndg
21-Aug-2015, 09:55
A few hints, mostly what NOT to do.

1. Don't be influenced. Nobody needs junior copies of Ritts, Weston, Adams, Sullivan, Capa, Avedon, et. If you get that urge to reach for a camera, are you looking at something YOU see or thinking about a photograph by Maier? If you see a William Clift.....walk on. Look through your own eyes. The miracle, the new, the creative, is in YOU, somewhere.

2. Know your history. There's only about 180 years of photo history. Know it, know the players, know the work, know the techniques. With Amazon.com used books you can give yourself a bargain masters education in the History of photography in a year or two. That education never stops. I just recently saw several Westons I hadn't ever seen plus tried to plow through Robert Adams essays sentence by sentence. Conversant with "Art and Fear"? How about "Through the Studio Door? How about "Ansel Adams at An American Place?" Photographs by Stiegliz, Szarchoski and Strand? "Great Big Beautiful Doll"? Read the Okeefe/Steiglitz bios? "The Golden Hour?" "Looking at Photographs? "On Photography?" "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence?" It's all out there. Order 'em, read 'em and send them back to Goodwill. Buy the cheapest most scuffed up used paperback underlined dog-eared bent page books. "California and the West" first edition is 10 bucks. "Certain Places" was 18.00. Some are one cent. One.

3. Know your technique. Then learn more.

4. Work out of your back yard. If you think you have to go to Antarctica, well....maybe you do, but start with ice cubes out of the fridge. Sally Mann shot her family. Adams is known for his back yard. Eggleston worked around the neighborhood. Weston looked underfoot. If your familiar doesn't start looking exciting and exotic, you just aren't looking hard enough. Or soft enough.

5. If pursuing your vision doesn't cause financial or relationship problems, then please don't bother.

6. If you don't dream about photography, maybe it's not for you. There's no sin in that. Just notice the indicators. Maybe you are just a fan, and goodness knows there are plenty of slots for fans. Buy the books, buy some images, go to some shows, join a collectors circle.

7. While in the whirlwind of everything above, keep it simple on some pure elemental level that you can only feel just after it passes.

8. DON'T take a photograph. Learn to look and walk on from bad, imitation, partial, possible images. Even shooting pixels. Just walk away.

9. Show and talk about your images. Images made to show, even to people who can't "see" them. Somebody will let you put up a show in their store, business or restaurant. Do it. Make the work, frame the work, title the work, sequence the work hang the work. This is for YOU not them. Be bold, even with your awful work. Start now at whatever level you are on. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly....at first.

10. When, not IF, you get stuck, try a new approach. Eat your subject matter. Eat a piece of film. Beat an SD card to pieces with a hammer. Freeze the flower instead of photographing it. Hit yourself in the head with a piece of rock and let it bleed for a bit. Draw it instead of photographing, using only two lines from a bic pen. Go away and come back later. Think of a title instead of an image. Write a poem about it. Go for a run.

11. Use the wall. Put up and look at new and old images. They will gain power or wilt on the wall. Lay out a sequence. Put them next to someone else's work. Ask your partner what they think. Don't keep them in a box.

12. If you are young and think "angst" or "drama" or social justice or someone else's trama is to be exploited for your photography's sake....then please keep shooting and work through that phase as soon as possible. (Maybe you SHOULDn't show these for about......20 years.) To get through this phase: try holding strangers at gunpoint while you photograph their terror. This is a great idea that hasn't ever been used. You're welcome. Use a mask and hoodie.

13. The latest new idea will be old and busted in about a semester, though I was a little charmed by "Fun-ism."

14. Work without ceasing. Life is it's own therapy. Photography will bend to your will, even if you should have been a plumber.

Amazing!...and funny too. I like the one about holding strangers at gunpoint and photographing their terror.[emoji3] Don't think I'll be trying that. Cops may not find it that artistic. Thanks!

Bruce Barlow
21-Aug-2015, 10:28
A few hints, mostly what NOT to do.

1. Don't be influenced. Nobody needs junior copies of Ritts, Weston, Adams, Sullivan, Capa, Avedon, et. If you get that urge to reach for a camera, are you looking at something YOU see or thinking about a photograph by Maier? If you see a William Clift.....walk on. Look through your own eyes. The miracle, the new, the creative, is in YOU, somewhere.

2. Know your history. There's only about 180 years of photo history. Know it, know the players, know the work, know the techniques. With Amazon.com used books you can give yourself a bargain masters education in the History of photography in a year or two. That education never stops. I just recently saw several Westons I hadn't ever seen plus tried to plow through Robert Adams essays sentence by sentence. Conversant with "Art and Fear"? How about "Through the Studio Door? How about "Ansel Adams at An American Place?" Photographs by Stiegliz, Szarchoski and Strand? "Great Big Beautiful Doll"? Read the Okeefe/Steiglitz bios? "The Golden Hour?" "Looking at Photographs? "On Photography?" "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence?" It's all out there. Order 'em, read 'em and send them back to Goodwill. Buy the cheapest most scuffed up used paperback underlined dog-eared bent page books. "California and the West" first edition is 10 bucks. "Certain Places" was 18.00. Some are one cent. One.

3. Know your technique. Then learn more.

4. Work out of your back yard. If you think you have to go to Antarctica, well....maybe you do, but start with ice cubes out of the fridge. Sally Mann shot her family. Adams is known for his back yard. Eggleston worked around the neighborhood. Weston looked underfoot. If your familiar doesn't start looking exciting and exotic, you just aren't looking hard enough. Or soft enough.

5. If pursuing your vision doesn't cause financial or relationship problems, then please don't bother.

6. If you don't dream about photography, maybe it's not for you. There's no sin in that. Just notice the indicators. Maybe you are just a fan, and goodness knows there are plenty of slots for fans. Buy the books, buy some images, go to some shows, join a collectors circle.

7. While in the whirlwind of everything above, keep it simple on some pure elemental level that you can only feel just after it passes.

8. DON'T take a photograph. Learn to look and walk on from bad, imitation, partial, possible images. Even shooting pixels. Just walk away.

9. Show and talk about your images. Images made to show, even to people who can't "see" them. Somebody will let you put up a show in their store, business or restaurant. Do it. Make the work, frame the work, title the work, sequence the work hang the work. This is for YOU not them. Be bold, even with your awful work. Start now at whatever level you are on. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly....at first.

10. When, not IF, you get stuck, try a new approach. Eat your subject matter. Eat a piece of film. Beat an SD card to pieces with a hammer. Freeze the flower instead of photographing it. Hit yourself in the head with a piece of rock and let it bleed for a bit. Draw it instead of photographing, using only two lines from a bic pen. Go away and come back later. Think of a title instead of an image. Write a poem about it. Go for a run.

11. Use the wall. Put up and look at new and old images. They will gain power or wilt on the wall. Lay out a sequence. Figure out your tendencies. Are your photos left handed or right handed? Centerist compositions? What's the theme? Put them next to someone else's work. Ask your partner what they think. Don't keep them in a box.

12. If you are young and think "angst" or "drama" or social justice or someone else's trama is to be exploited for your photography's sake....then please keep shooting and work through that phase as soon as possible. (Maybe you SHOULDn't show these for about......20 years.) To get through this phase: try holding strangers at gunpoint while you photograph their terror. This is a great idea that hasn't ever been used. You're welcome. Use a mask and hoodie.

13. The latest new idea will be old and busted in about a semester, though I was a little charmed by "Fun-ism."

14. Notice and relish, relish, relish...a new idea. Follow it to the NEXT idea. And the next. Let it morph. Let it grow.

15. You might have too many cameras and lenses. Maybe you just need one lens, one camera, one technique for a few years. Too many tools in the toolbox and you never learn to use any of them well.

16. Go on Blurb and buy a copy of the Blackfork Guide. It's a crescent wrench of a book. Everyone needs it.

17. Work without ceasing. Life is it's own therapy. Photography will bend to your will, even if you should have been a plumber.

I violently agree with about half of these, vehemently disagree with the other half. I won't tick them (or myself) off one-by-one.

But I'll pick two. I think it's well worth going out to make pictures like someone you admire, because you'll fail. In how you fail, however, you'll find a taste of your own voice. That's worth learning from. It's also humbling, if you forget the proper perspective, which is that you're imitating Ansel at his prime, and failing. Duh! What did you really expect? (By the way, if you think yours are as good as Ansel's, find a good shrink, lie on the couch, and talk about being delusional).

Second, yes, the back yard. Pictures are everywhere, if only we can open ourselves enough to see them. Go into the back yard, toss a frisbee, stand on where it lands, and make three decent pictures. Toss again and repeat. Oh, yeah, and if you're stuck, take a 35mm or digi-cam, go to a playground where children are actually playing, and photograph them at play. Get close and get loose. It's a great cure for photographic constipation.

OK, three. Yup - complete work. Don't take it partway and skip on to the next thing. Print, mat, frame, and show. Take it all the way. Practice and learn how to sequence pictures - it's rippingly fun to do, and stories emerge.

And I'll add one more. Take your work seriously, but never yourself. There is little harder to take than some pompous fool who proclaims himself a seerious artist and tries to act like it. Live life lightly. Make pictures.

pdh
21-Aug-2015, 11:03
I note with some disappointment that the reading matter suggested by Mr. Langham is exclusively from the US tradition and authors.

An education in photography that is so narrowly focused seems not much of an education to me.

Drew Wiley
21-Aug-2015, 12:46
Voice? Just depends on who you're trying to impress. Croaking works in some species.

dasBlute
21-Aug-2015, 13:48
I note with some disappointment that the reading matter suggested by Mr. Langham is exclusively from the US tradition and authors.

An education in photography that is so narrowly focused seems not much of an education to me.

could you suggest some alternatives?

jp
21-Aug-2015, 17:42
I note with some disappointment that the reading matter suggested by Mr. Langham is exclusively from the US tradition and authors.

An education in photography that is so narrowly focused seems not much of an education to me.

Most educations in photography are quite limited and exclude a great deal (even in the USA). I think it takes more time, reading, practice than most schools allow.

pdh
22-Aug-2015, 01:30
Most educations in photography are quite limited and exclude a great deal (even in the USA). I think it takes more time, reading, practice than most schools allow.

I wasn't thinking of formal "school" education, but what we choose to do to educate ourselves (which is what I think Mr. Langham's post was about)


could you suggest some alternatives?

In terms of the "technical" books that Adams wrote? Probably not, though there are plenty of European texts on technical matters. Perhaps not all of them are as good as Adams' but on the other hand, even his technical books will reflect his personal ideological and/or spiritual stance.

On the other hand, monographs about and photobooks by non-Americans are available in a plethora, even from American publishers such as Aperture. My own library is focused on European photography and contains mostly the common names such as Kertesz, Brassai and (especially) Brandt, though it includes Adams and Metzger and Man Ray (though curiously I never think of the latter as particularly American).

Even a cursory skim through the "Photographers" forum at APUG or this very "On Photography" forum right here often turns up an amazing number of earlier photographers I had never heard of whose work can be investigated.

There are other histories written which do not place America as the central locus of developments in photography, and anything by Geoff Dyer, Pete Turner or (especially) Ian Jeffrey offer an alternate view to the "Newhall" tradition, although in turn their focus is often European and this reflects the local bias of the authors too.

Some of the books published by GEH are very inclusive looks at photographic history.

Note that I am not an academic nor a professional photographer, but just a committed amateur and thus any suggestions I make are drawn only from my own reading (and as I buy most of my books second -hand in charity shops, I am often limited to whatever turns up serendipitously on the shelf).

Note also that all these suggestions (mine and others) are of books written in English by Anglo-Saxons and published in North America and Europe. There will be other books, other histories, written by other nationals, reflecting quite different approaches to photography ... it might take some effort (one might have to learn another language or at least buy a translator's dictionary), but the rewards might be considerable.

When I have the time and energy, I would certainly like to investigate the history of photography in Russia and USSR, and in Japan. I'd love to know more about how indigenous photography developed in India and Africa beyond the work of the colonial incomers.

anyway, just a few thoughts to broaden the discussion ...

John Kasaian
22-Aug-2015, 06:43
I'm really enjoying this thread. Please keep it going!

tgtaylor
22-Aug-2015, 11:05
2. Know your history. There's only about 180 years of photo history. Know it, know the players, know the work, know the techniques.

I agree with this statement with the caveat that there is well over 200 years of history. I'm currently reading-up on the 19th century New Orleans photographer Theodore Lilienthal and have learned thing about my city of birth that I never knew - and I knew New Orleans. If you're contemplating embarking on the history of photography, I recommend it is being well worth the time which you will find eminently enjoyable. I have a very short introduction (up to the salt print/daguerreotype) on my website:
http://spiritsofsilver.com/galleries/salt_print_history

Thomas

John Kasaian
22-Aug-2015, 13:30
It would be pretty slick to have a photographic voice like Ronald Coleman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKcND39mhT0

LabRat
23-Aug-2015, 05:45
Sorry if the published history of photography ended up seeming culture/centric... I think it has to do a lot with where the "money" that could support publishing it was available... (Look at the 60's where "fine art" photography was being introduced to the (at least, limited) masses) A lot had been published by NY firms, but also by many other publishers all over, at least in the first world... But the glut came from, where???

I have noticed that a major selling point for various media is a kind of "home team" mentality where what is released would appeal to a demographic, such as culture, gender, affluence, age, trends, etc... (For instance, in the 60's, some smaller publishers "targeted" college age readers who were seeking a "new" social/cultural landscape (a new America???), as a trend was getting "on-the-road" to escape the complacent 50's...)

I download a lot of British TV, and often, science/tech history shows often start with the point of view of the British having "developed/invented" many technologies, and of course, yes (at times), but often had also been in development elsewhere, too... So different cultures might view their accomplishments with a sense of "ownership", but I think it added to "world/human" accomplishment... (Like landing men on the moon... One country did it, but we all take "ownership" of the fact...)

So, I think it often has to do with marketing... And as usual, "follow the money"...

Steve K

pdh
23-Aug-2015, 06:57
."follow the money" is itself a culture-bound idea. It presumes a strictly capitalistic view of motive.

A pre-ww2 Soviet or perhaps post-ww2 eastern bloc narrative about photographic history might be rather different.

The same could perhaps be said of prewar Japan for instance.

ndg
23-Aug-2015, 07:00
Reading pertinent photographic literature is only but a small part of how to find the photographic voice. Please let's keep the discussion on track.

pdh
23-Aug-2015, 13:02
Its not off track, and nobody has made any suggestion that there is only one route to a photographic education.

Threads have a life of their own, don't forget

h2oman
23-Aug-2015, 14:28
So my questions are:
Is finding your voice as a photographer important?
Does you body of work have to say something or fit into some niche, genre or category or is it Ok to shoot whatever catches your eye?
For those who have already found their voice, what did it take? How long?

Against my better judgement, I'll take a stab at these!

1) Yes. Just like finding your voice as a human being is important.

2) I don't know, but I have two observations. I used to participate in a local camera club. There were members who were very competent photographers, but their work often struck me as merely "cute" or clever, but without depth or conviction. A particular niche or genre is not needed, but some sort of coherence is, in my opinion.

3) I think a good way to start finding your voice is to do something Brian Kosoff, a sometimes contributor here, recommended in one of his interviews. Make prints of a significant number of your images and look at them together as a group. What sort of tendencies or commonalities do you see? That can give you some sort of starting point.

I recently paid for a critique of my portfolio from a respected photographer. Putting it together was a valuable experience, because I wanted a collection of images that would represent my work as a whole, and the struggle to do that was informative to me. It helped me define myself as a photographer.

By the way, I have a good friend who is, in my opinion, an excellent photographer. He has several distinct bodies of work, but there is something that cuts across all of them. That's what I think of as a photographic voice.

OK, enough of my blabbering! :D

ndg
23-Aug-2015, 15:48
h20man, thanks! Coherence in one's work. A common thread. That is so true. It is this lack of perceived coherence in my work that made me post the question in the first place.:)

h2oman
23-Aug-2015, 19:12
Again, there are others at this forum who are probably better equipped to address this, but I'll stick my neck out once more, with reference to your work. First, let me say that I get the impression you have derived a lot of enjoyment in experimenting with alternative processes. Being a simple inkjet printer, I'm impressed!

Your website offers examples of both what I would consider a lack of coherence, and a good example of coherence. The lith silver gelatin gallery is all over the place, in terms of subject and toning, and perhaps overall style of seeing. On the other hand, the copper plate photogravure is much more cohesive. All the images share toning, mood and a perspective that emphasizes space and distance.

To offer unsolicited advice, I'd consider homing in on one or two processes that you enjoy the most and/or that give your best results, and really focus on honing your skills at those. I would also try to figure out a favorite toning and employ it most of the time.

The other thing I would do is find photographers who seem to have found their voice, and look at their work. A few favorites of mine are Brian Kosoff, Michael Kenna (although he has now spawned a whole clan of imitators), Brett Weston, William Clift, Eliot Porter. Some excellent examples from this forum are Merg Ross, Austin Granger, Jiri Vasina, John Sanderson, Isaac Sachs, Jim Becia. (There a many other fantastic photographers here - Those individuals come to mind because they either have web pages or have posted a large number of images here, so that you can look at enough to "see their voices.")

johnmsanderson
23-Aug-2015, 22:34
Thank you for including me in that group, quite humbled. I'd like to contribute something to this thread once I have a minute or two.

Struan Gray
24-Aug-2015, 01:56
There is a point at which a coherent voice turns into a schtick. Or a trap, in which comfort, or maintaining sales and reputation, become more important than seeing anything new.

A distinctive voice is no real use unless you have something distinctive to say.

Rather than looking to develop *a* voice, I would aim to develop several, just as you have different voices for different kinds of social and work-based interactions. Lecture, advise, reprimand, plead, joke, nuzzle. A complete person uses all of these while still maintaining their sense of self, even if their public image consists of mostly one of them.

For me, this has meant turning a circle, concentrating first on the formal aspects of the printed photograph, then on to the details and meaning of the subject, and then back to the look of the thing produced. Each stage feeds into the next, and they rotate without finding (or looking for) an end. The voice employed is not just developed to a static maturity, but morphs and matures endlessly in response to the things I make it say.


http://struangray.com/miscpics/tvedora_reeds_IMG9920_700.jpg

I took this yesterday (a digisnap, true, but perhaps the moderators will allow it to stand, in context). It's the sort of 'all-over' abstract that once was new, exciting and highly motivating for me as a photographer, and which I think of as one foundation of my 'style'. These days I ration myself, enjoying the 'ah yes, one of those' feeling when I come across another one, but also trying to do more than just reproducing a style of abstraction I have made many times before - often, by including more context and making the patterns less blatant and obvious.

This article is worth a read, particularly between the lines: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n19/peter-campbell/at-the-royal-academy

Struan

N Dhananjay
24-Aug-2015, 06:04
I apologize for the somewhat frustrating opinion I am about to give, but it's the result of what I've experienced.

You learn about your life by living it. You learn about yourself by being you. It can be annoying at times, especially when you just want an answer so you can get on with it... But, I think there is often a point to the slog. There are some (maybe all) answers that should not be got easily.

You are changing all the time. So, discovering your 'voice' is a snapshot at a point in time and then you wake up later and are surprised to see yourself in the mirror. The trouble is that we live life by looking forward but understand it by looking back. And we understand ourselves the same way. And we try to get around that - if you can spot a trajectory in the past, you have some way to predict where you will go int he future. That does not help with those discontinuities, where there is a jerky, non-smooth transition (unless you discover some meta-trajectory, but then there is always a higher order, meta-discontinuity). So we are essentially staring into the maw of an infinite regress.

One way I have thought about this is to think of two ways we can approach work. One is to do the work to find out about yourself. The other is to find out about yourself to do the work. They are both valid and there seems to be an ebb and flow to these two dynamics. You find out something about yourself and that lets you do a bit more, a bit different work. Doing that work allows you to find out a bit more about yourself. A bit like walking - it's a constant dynamic lack of balance.

Coherence can be good within a project, or over a lifetime. But what is coherence other than a story we tell ourselves that helps something to hang together, that 'explains' a set of things. To the extent we have a good story (it explains a lot of the stuff), we think we have coherence. But truth and coherence can be orthogonal things. You can have coherent illusions and incoherent truths. These bother us but grappling with them is what allows us to grow. I think growth is not a linear thing, or a circular thing but something of a spiral. We go around and come back but to a slightly different spot because of the journey. And we can look back and appreciate that additional understanding, shorn of the medium of learning.

Everyone dreads becoming Sisyphus and I agree that pointless tasks do have a certain ghastly quality to them. Rolling the boulder uphill with the knowledge that it is going to roll downhill is tough. But there is the moment at the top of the mountain when the boulder has started rolling back that seems of possible interest. There has been labor, and it has been futile, but only if you think the point was to get the boulder to the top of the mountain. The walk back and the consciousness seems important. Yes, a new labor is waiting down there but how else do you know yourself?

Cheers, DJ

h2oman
24-Aug-2015, 06:48
Well, if nothing else, I've stirred the discussion up a bit! :)

To add some to what I've already said, take a look at Struan's web page. I'd say he has a voice. Maybe it is changing, but I would contend that it is changing from an already well established position.

I will also suggest that a confused person has nothing to say. Take away the confusion and they may have nothing of value to say, but at least they have something that reflects them and their view of the world.

This is a somewhat heady topic, and Struan and DJ have made excellent contributions to the discussion. I'm simply suggesting that finding out where you have been and where you are can provide a foundation for where you are going, and that spreading yourself too thin photographically could dilute the focus needed to develop your voice.

Michael E
24-Aug-2015, 17:31
I will also suggest that a confused person has nothing to say.

But a confused person can ask fundamental questions. Sometimes it is more important to ask than to tell. And you also need a voice to ask those questions.

LabRat
25-Aug-2015, 05:47
I think the "coherence" theme is powerful when other images reinforce what the photographer was thinking/weighing/observing/pondering etc over even more images, rather than just more "pictures-of-the-same" of a series subject... (Think different scenes from a movie... Same movie, different ideas/plot emerges as it goes on...)

It shows when the photog had a chance to "sink-his-teeth-in", interact, and "explore" a subject...

But then there's also trying to focus as much as one can into a "singular image"... (That moment in time...)

It's your call, and what the subject may feel like speaking at the time... Have a conversation with it... Record it...

Steve K

mdm
26-Aug-2015, 12:39
http://aphotoeditor.com/2015/08/26/what-is-photographic-vision-or-voice/

ndg
26-Aug-2015, 20:09
http://aphotoeditor.com/2015/08/26/what-is-photographic-vision-or-voice/

Thanks for posting that.
Funny, on a long hike today, it clicked (no pun intended) and everything made sense. Thanks to all for your contributions. Mods, if you don't care, you can close the thread.

Vaughn
27-Aug-2015, 10:55
"La, la, la, la, la! I can't hear you..."

John Kasaian
30-Aug-2015, 10:50
Here's the Arca-Swiss of photographic voices ---

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQhqikWnQCU