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Thread: Photographer's block

  1. #1

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    Photographer's block

    I am wondering if there are documented accounts of great master photographers or thinkers who have had periodical visual block . If any, what they thought were the cause of it? What were their thoughts and remedies? Was it a good thing? Thanks!

  2. #2

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    Photographer's block

    Just look at the shizen that Edward Weston did during WW2: Charis nude in a gas mask, etc. His great work was done when he had inspiration (and models) from Tina and Sonya.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  3. #3

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    Photographer's block

    Thanks Bill. Appreciate the response.

  4. #4

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    Photographer's block

    Aaron, I would have certainly liked to see more responses on this overlooked subject. There are two things which commonly occur, but I have no specific information on their relation to the Great Photographers.

    First, clinical depression is common. Especially in talented and artistic persons. One day they're buzzing along doing great things in their fields, then sometimes literally the next day they just can't get it together, or even can't stand to work.

    The other thing, painters and musicians are said to get better as they age, while lyric poets, mathematicians, and photographers peak early in their career, and that by middle-age their work is no longer new and original but only repetition of their early work.

    And there is always the economic factor, where the artist has to stop doing personal work and try to earn a living. Walker Evans was pissed all his life because Strand and Stieglitz both had independent incomes from their family and didn't have to work, while he actually went hungry at times and also suck up to his benefactors (a demeaning process to such an arrogant little man).
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  5. #5

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    Photographer's block

    Aaron,

    I agree with Bill that this topic has received less responses that what I'd have expected.

    The question needs to be asked,
    "What is a great master photographer?"
    Is it someone who is financially successful selling photographs?
    Is it someone who garners praise from the academic community?
    Is it someone who is ignored by the academic community but whose photos are popular with the general population?
    Is it someone who never sells anything, but has mastered a difficult technique few others attempt?
    What I mean is, maybe "dry spells" aren't the exclusive domain of the great masters and the causes and remedies aren't any different from what you or I probably experience.
    If anything, there might be more pressure (economic,academic, or maybe self-validating) to produce art placed on an individual that is already outstanding in his field(like a landscape photographer ha-ha!)

    I haven't read enough biographies of famous photographers to know who has treated this subject comprehensively, but I'd suspect it has been dealt with ad nauseum (especially since psych students are always looking for subjects to write on!)

    My guess (and I'm really going out on the limb here) is that creative "blocks" are relatively new in the scheme of things. The most amazing(to me) art is usually either pre-enlightenment or aboriginal---niether being based in photography (unfortunately.) What I mean is, in simpler societies and cultures creativity has a more viable place in the universe and art actually becomes some "thing" with a purpose, like a religious tool, a vase, cooking pot, or a documented history. Once an altar piece, a vase, or a cave painting is removed from it's intended purpose it looses its significance and purpose. It looses it's creative ( and it's Makers) reason for existence in the first place and becomes merely an ornament or a commodity. The issue here is what is the purpose of Art? If the Artist's intention is to create something to be used in a religious ceremony, or as a vessel, or to record an event it seems rather straightforeward. If the Artist's path is more ethereal I think it becomes far more common to experience creative blocks and depression.

    For example, I've got a project to make an album of all the mountain peaks in North America over 14,000' elev. Its very slow going because of the logistics, weather and expense but none of these are mental or creative blocks. What I'm hoping to get is a "thing"--my version of a cave paintng I suppose. I know what I want to show and my success depends on my showing what it is I want to show. OTOH, if I take my camera out to take a picture of something to convey how I see or feel about say, a mountain spring, I can do that too, but can I do that repeatedly? How many mountain springs do I have to shoot until I run "dry" of seeing or feeling about mountain springs? With the 14,000' mountains, when (if ever) I'm finished I hazard to guess that I'll at least have a feeling of acomplishment in completeing what I've started. With the spring scenario I may well be happy with some photos, but if I pressed myself to "see" or "feel" every spring I come across I think I would ultimately get burned out, either tired of looking at springs or dispair over not getting the results I would have expected.

    I think this is why my method for overcoming a creative block is for me to take on a project that on the face of it doesn't require a lot of creative thought---such as documenting monuments in a park---it gives the muses a little respite until I find them creeping back to work, demanding I pay attention to light and shadows, then hopefully all will be right with the world. YMMV
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  6. #6

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    Photographer's block

    "... painters and musicians are said to get better as they age, while lyric poets, mathematicians, and photographers peak early in their career, and that by middle-age their work is no longer new and original but only repetition of their early work. "

    May I ask, where have you heard of this study ? I would like to read about it.

  7. #7

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    Photographer's block

    I'm making good progress this year. In fact, I've made more pictures in the last 6 months than I did in the last 3 years. I'm seeing things. Creative block is a constant worry, not knowing when it will hit. But the main problem I have is not being able to complete any project. Always feeling there are gaps in between groups of images.

    Bill, you mentioned musicians, poets, painters, etc.. Makes me wonder now if these artists have their blocks too. I, too think that there are good contributors here that could address this issue. Certainly educational for me.

  8. #8

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    Photographer's block

    "... painters and musicians are said to get better as they age, while lyric poets, mathematicians, and photographers peak early in their career, and that by middle-age their work is no longer new and original but only repetition of their early work. "

    That is one of those hoary romantic myths that have little to no basis in reality, at least about photographers. Also you might want to read "Genius; The Life & Science of Richard Feynmann". You might also wantto look atthe Democracy 2004 Portfolio of portraits of Americans that Richard Avedon was working on when he died last month. he was in his early 80s.

    The important thing is to keep working and to try to see newold problems in new ways, to keep yourself fresh. everyone hits blocks, but you have to keep working to find away around or through them.

  9. #9
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
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    Photographer's block

    Aaron said, " . . . I, too think that there are good contributors here that could address this issue."

    OK, I'll toss in a couple of thoughts now. I had originally hesitated responding because 1) I knew of no documented accounts of the great masters suffering from creative block, and 2) I'm still waiting for a call from the media to set up an interview about the subject. (ROFLMAO)

    It seems to me that creative block comes in several flavors, and whether you take a full bite, or just lick the sprinkles, is a function of how big a role "creativity" plays in the photography with which you're involved. Although creativity has a role in almost all types of work, some styles of work, I think, are more receptive to a formulaic approach than others. If so, those folks are less likely to stop working when their creative juices become overly viscose. Catalog photography might be a good example of that. A Sears catalog, for example, doesn't require much creativity - just show the product in a well-lit set (the same one you've been using for years), and keep it in focus. Fashion photography, documentary and photo-journalism, in contrast, probably require more constant prodding of the creative elements. (Note that I'm cautiously avoiding landscapes here. ;-) )

    Previous discussions have offered various remedies. Among them:

    - "Work through it!" (in the suck-it-up, Marine-like spirit of Semper Photo-fidelis)

    - "Try a self-assignment in a totally different style" - in other words, break up the monotony of what you've been doing.

    But, I think creative block is like other emotions - it's not a constantly upward trip. Most people have emotional ups and downs, punctuated with periods of ho-hum. Creatives seem to be subject to the same roller-coaster ride, and then some in many cases. Creativity is often about not just feeling your own emotions, but also those of others around you. Thus, creatives may be more likely to slip into mini-depressions than "regular" people. Creatives may also tend to be more self-indulgent at times, allowing them to wallow in their lack-of-creativity mud puddle longer than they might need to, or to do crappy, strange work.

    For me, occasionally giving myself a visual/photographic reward seems to work. So, I try to treat myself to a short trip to a really beautiful area every once in a while, or splurge and hire a great figure model.

  10. #10

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    Photographer's block

    After exhausting himself to prepare his show at Stieglitz's New York gallery, Ansel Adams had more than just block. He had a real, true total "nervous breakdown." Come to think of it, that happened to an awful lot of people dealing with Steiglitz: Both his wives and his daughter.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

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