Yes, a West Coast Vision and Technique would be wonderful.
Yes, a West Coast Vision and Technique would be wonderful.
I don't think most photographers work that way. I think most photographers see something that might make a good photograph before setting up the camera and then use the ground glass to refine the photograph they already have in mind. I say that partly because of the various threads here over the years about using viewing cards and other similar gadgets to find or compose a photograph. But I could be wrong, who really knows how "most" photographers work.
Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
a mile away and you'll have their shoes.
Michael's method is better suited to some kinds of photos than to others, obviously. If one is making a portrait, or photographing a still life, spinning the camera around 360 degrees is not going to be very useful, unless one is not very committed to the portrait or still life. Michael's approach seems useful only for those who have no preconceived notion of what they want to photograph until they see it on the GG -- landscapes and abstracts being the most obvious applications. If someone needs to attend a workshop to understand they can look through their camera to find a composition, they're sure to pick up a lot of other nuggets of wisdom along the way.
No offense intended to anyone who enjoys these workshops, which I think is the most important thing. Few of us has much riding on our photos other than our enjoyment of them, and in the process of making them. There are certainly worse ways to spend money and time than getting together with like minded enthusiasts and sharing experiences. The one workshop I've attended was an interesting experience, and I met great people with whom I'm still in contact. To Vaughn's credit, his workshops deliver everything he promises, and more, and they are very reasonably priced, making them great bargains for anyone interested in carbon printing. One thing Vaughn doesn't promise, is that he can teach his students to "see photographically", and for that, I am grateful.
There is a famous book called Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella, one thing he talks about is practicing and working hard on technique, but when you are out playing, you play in the present moment without thinking about anything related to techinique. The same applies to life and to photography. How can you improve as a photographer without thinking about how you compose a photograph? Thinking about what works for you and what does not is very important, and a workshop is a very valid way of doing so, so is looking at books and prints etc. (Sometimes we benefit by seeing from another point of view.) Just look at how the published work of photographers develops over their careers. People who cant see past their own ignorance and prejudice are just plain stupid or perhaps insecure. Not enough confidence in the integrity of their own seeing. Consider that Vaughn works in the darkroom at a university, I expect (presumptiously) that a very large part of why he does his job and also sometimes teaches workshops relates to helping people to develop and see things they have not considered before, only difference is his style is less overt.
Thanks, Jay, for your kind words.
And no, I tend not to outright try to teach anyone to "see photographically". I tend to be a lot more sneaky about it and impart what I have learned about seeing through osmosis. And true to the nature of osmosis, sometimes the participants' seeing is as strong or stronger than mine, so some of it comes my way.
I get a bit worried when participants want to make carbon prints just like mine. I am worried that I am limiting their potential. The last workshop I gave (a one-on-one) was a lot of fun. The fellow had portraits he wanted to make carbon prints of. It was a great exploration for both of us. Workshops are such a scam -- I get people to pay me to learn and experience a bunch of stuff! LOL!
My first workshop I took was back in 1985 -- a large format workshop with Bruce Barnbaum, Harrison Branch and Jay Dusard...based in Page, Arizona. It was a great experience,. I got to see some slot canyons before they got overly-visited, and got to see some great prints. Got some great advice, too -- some of which I took, some of which I filed away for the future and some which I ignored. But all of it became part of my knowledge-base I have built-up over the years. Knowledge is not wisdom, but it is handy to have until wisdom finally arrives.
I would be very tempted to take a workshop from Michael and Paula (and/or John Wimberly)...not to become a little Michael or a little John, but just to add to my base of knowledge. We are influenced by all of our experiences -- I try not to limit the possible sources of experiences. One of my most powerful tools for self-improvement is listening to myself. When I hear myself say or think "I do not do xxxx." or "I always do xxxx.", that is a good clue that I should re-examine the 'why'.
I spend a lot of time looking (and seeing) before I set the camera up -- trying to distill the light I am experiencing into an image. Then I spend a lot of time under the darkcloth rediscovering/refining my vision. And I have found some wonderful things by rotating the camera on the pod 180 degrees. How this all meshes with the Smith's way of seeing and teaching, I am not sure.
Everything you've written makes perfect sense. Maybe I should clarify my point: I'm not suggesting one can't learn to "see photographically" -- to the contrary, I think we all do, by living in a culture saturated with photographic images -- which is why no one needs to be taught to "see photographically".
There was a time when no one "saw photographically", because photography didn't exist. People who lived without exposure to photographic images had to learn to interpret two dimensional, lens-formed images representing three dimensional scenes in full color. It was said that some aboriginal peoples were not able to recognize themselves, or others familiar to them, in photographs, but I think that's a myth. What is not a myth is that early viewers of motion pictures instinctively gasped and tried to move out of the way of projected moving images of oncoming trains, etc. Few people are startled by moving objects on the movie screen these days, unless the movie is projected in 3D, but that's still new. During the early decades of the photographic era, makers and viewers of photographic images alike had to learn to interpret photographic images, and so a workshop on learning to "see photographically" might have been useful in the late years of the 19th, or early years of the 20th centuries. Contemporary people are immersed in photographic and moving images from birth, and don't gasp and attempt to dodge screen images, and we certainly don't need help interpreting two dimensional images -- in fact, it's very difficult to trick people into misinterpreting them.
Michael's specific way of working under a dark cloth might be useful to him, and he might be able to share that with others, for whom it might also be useful, but that's not "seeing photographically", and that's not "vision", it's technique. Vision comes from within -- the culmination of our consciousness, as unique as our DNA. Artists learn techniques they apply to their vision, which emerges from the complexity of their individuality. We can't be taught vision any more than we can be taught to be Irish, or heterosexual. I recently read about an artist (Egon Scheile?) who learned Rodin's drawing technique, in which he never took his eyes off his subject. The artists drawings from before he learned the technique look different from the ones he made utilizing the technique, but the artist's vision remained intact, and quite distinct from Rodin's. Anything that can be taught is technique -- we can't be taught to be unique.
What Paula and I teach is an approach to making photographs. As part of that, we describe and demonstrate those things that are a part of any successful photograph, regardless of subject matter or type of equipment used. What we have found is that most photographers do not take the kinds of things we teach into consideration when they are photographing. What we try to do is to get them on the right track. The unsolicited comments we have received indicate to us that we succeed and that the participants are extremely grateful.
Of course, when making a portrait one does not spin the camera around. But even when making portraits, moving the camera will often reveal wonderful surprises that take one beyond what one had in mind when one set up the camera. And it is in the acknowledgment of those surprises that real growth takes place. One can certainly make successful photographs and great portraits without moving the camera around, but for us, the point of photographing is to have an experience wherein one achieves a measure of personal growth. In doing that, the successful photographs, as a result, will come automatically.
To me and Paula, "seeing photographically" means taking everything in the picture space into consideration. As photographers we are responsible for every square millimeter of the picture space, the same way a composer is responsible for every note. A successful piece of music does not have a few bad notes. And likewise, a successful photograph should not have a few "bad" millimeters--areas that do not add to picture.
Everyone has their own vision, that's for sure. What we try to do is show people a direction so their own vision can emerge. For so many of the Ansel Adams clones (to take just one example), their own vision is not emerging. One quick story: We had a participant in one of our workshops who was quite serious, but he had given up making photographs for 15 years, because, as he put it, "My pictures looked like Ansel Adams' photographs and I could not get beyond that." But after hearing about our workshop he signed up. Upon emerging from under the darkcloth after looking at the ground glass with Paula he exclaimed, "Jesus Christ! Why didn't someone tell me that 15 years ago?" Subsequently, he sent us jpgs of wonderful photographs, one of which, some years ago, was selected for the cover of Black and White Magazine.
It was the things we discussed and showed leading up to his experience looking at the ground glass under the darkcloth that enabled him to be open to it.
Michael A. Smith