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Thread: threading the needle

  1. #11

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    Re: threading the needle

    I have worked as a photojournalist and editorial illustration photographer for what I’ll call advocate publications (published by a political-cultural movement of which I have been a part); as a commercial photographer of everything from portraits to architectural interiors; years photographing for a local ballet company; and, of course, for myself. When I began my return to photography, non-professionally, during the course of 2016, after an obligatory total hiatus of about 13 years, my focus was natural light portraits of friends and associates in the movement, on location (typically, their homes). I was determined to leave behind my years of controlled studio set-ups and reliably pleasing, controlled lighting plans. Clearing my thinking process of that entire domain was a task in itself!
    I aspire to be making these portraits, along with video interviews I conduct on other occasions, for history; for an audience I will never meet. My immediate audience has two components: one comprises primarily family members whose visual judgement I have come to respect and me. My subjects may or may not like the portraits; so far, no complaints, but I am trying to convey something of the person I know, inclusively in his or her historic role. Some would ask, why in a growing world of many billions of individuals, I imagine this has any historic value. I am confident I know the answer; it’s good enough for me to continue.
    The other component comprises the artists I have, as it were, looking over my shoulder—painters, photographers, many long gone, whose work and ideas continue to inspire me. History in the other direction, you could say. They set certain standards for quality that I study, as do those whose writings on art and life create for me an ideal to keep in mind. Though I do not worry about attaining it, I can strive for it.
    Philip Ulanowsky

    Sine scientia ars nihil est. (Without science/knowledge, art is nothing.)
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/156933346@N07/

  2. #12

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    Re: threading the needle

    I think the key question is the one at the beginning of Merg's thread, "who is your audience?" If you are making photographs to sell or for a commercial purpose, your objective is by definition different from the images you make for yourself. There was a period in my "photographic life" when I worked spare-time as the staff photographer for a magazine for teachers of pre-K through 1st grade students. I was given articles and layouts to illustrate, and while I did my best to make the best images I could, my client was well-defined. Similarly, those whose aim is to sell images at art fairs know that often over-saturated colors and familiar scenes sell best.

    However if we are making images for ourselves, and any sales or requests for prints are secondary at best, I think the driving force has to be that which resonates, or attracts you personally. As an extreme example, I recently made (and have yet to get into the darkroom to print) a series of very autobiographical still lives triggered by Dylan Thomas's poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" which I found satisfying to create, but will never attract anyone outside my family and friends. That would be one extreme of "artistic integrity." Perhaps one test for personal work would be that you have not seen that same image previously; the opposite are images where we jokingly say that we placed our tripod legs in the holes created by Ansel, or Strand, or Weston, or images that we know would look fine on a souvenir postcard stand.

  3. #13

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    Wassenaar, NL
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    Re: threading the needle

    “ What audience am I looking to share with?”
    I do not think you will thread the needle by guiding yourself with this goal. If you want to make art, which you seem to, you have no say in what the world will do in receiving your work, period. For me, the important thing is to follow my inspiration and if that turns out to be clichee, kitsch, unnoticed, or great imagery well, then that’s what it is. I also think it’s about the courage to spend time in seemingly useless things, giving yourself the space to discover things

  4. #14
    Eric Woodbury
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    1,512

    Re: threading the needle

    Most people don't know what they like. They tend to admire what they think they should like based on their friends' perceived opinions. If you make yourself happy, at least that is one.

  5. #15

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    Re: threading the needle

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Woodbury View Post
    Most people don't know what they like. They tend to admire what they think they should like based on their friends' perceived opinions. If you make yourself happy, at least that is one.
    Maybe there are several levels of sophistication in those who view our work. Let's say there are four, from very naive to quite sophisticated. I would argue your second sentence applies to folks at level two or level three. I'd say at level one people just react viscerally, and know what they like. Maybe they can't express why, but I have faith that there is a group that likes things just because, well, they like them!

    Much of what is coming out of this discussion is make photographs for yourself. I'm OK with that as a starting point, but I want to share my work with anyone who might be interested. I like the human experience of interacting with folks. Many of my photographs are local, and people really seem to enjoy seeing what they know, but in an unfamiliar way. And that brings me perhaps as much pleasure as the images themselves.

  6. #16
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Re: threading the needle

    h2oman -- Pursue your own vision unless you need to profit by following the profitable trends of others. When you have a photo that really pleases you, post it. It may please and inspire us. If you wrestle with a photographic concept, post it, too. Others may be struggling with the same idea, or have already mastered it. Print your best photographs. A photo on a computer screen is only a ghost of what a photo should be. Having a print to share with a kindred spirit is rewarding.

  7. #17

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    Re: threading the needle

    Rest assured, I'm not distressed - in fact, I'm happier than ever with my photography endeavors!

    I think my original question wasn't really very well posed. My observation is that there are lots of photos that photographers would be all over, when non-photographers would have a hard time figuring out what the merit of the photo is. And I don't think it is because those folks are ignorant. In fact, sometimes they may actually be exposing the emperor, so to speak. To me, a great photo would be one that both serious photographers and thoughtful non-photographer viewers would both enjoy.

    Anyway, as requested by Jim, here is a photo of mine that I quite like. I've printed it as large as I have the capability to do, and it is hanging on my wall. It was in a portfolio that I had reviewed by a fairly esteemed photographer, who has a coffee-table hardback book or two published. He told me I had chosen an unusual perspective, and said he wanted to see the top of the rock. I told him that if I had wanted him to see it, I'd have shown it to him!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    PS There are details in the blacks on the print.

  8. #18

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    Re: threading the needle

    This photo above represents for me one aspect of the why? of photography: exploring and discovering the world and showing how special it can be.

  9. #19

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    Sep 2014
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    North Dakota
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    Re: threading the needle

    If you take almost any image and put it in a high quality mat, frame it and put the finished product on a gallery wall it will get more interest than you may guess.

    Bare prints in hand or bare images on a computer screen are not seen as "finished" - especially when compared to a mounted, matted, framed print on the wall, well lit and presented.

    Try the same print with an 8 ply mat and you get the feel of 'greater worth'.

    Photograph what you will and present it as well as possible.

    Images, from Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange to the work of Vivian Maier to Ernst Haas to Jay Maisel - all can be enhanced by fine presentation. Some stand on their own no matter what. Most all are viewed with more reverence and given more weight when presented well.

    One real killer for any artistic pursuit is over analysis. Enjoy what you photograph, print and present it well and enjoy the process. As you do more images, look and think and re-do some you should improve - however you define it.
    "My forumla for successful printing remains ordinary chemicals, an ordinary enlarger, music, a bottle of scotch - and stubbornness." W. Eugene Smith

  10. #20
    Joe O'Hara's Avatar
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    Re: threading the needle

    Wow, you're retired? When we met up that time in Ashland you seemed so much younger than me!

    I vote with those who say follow your heart, do your best work without compromise, and the audience, however small, will appreciate it. We don't have time for anything less.

    Some photographs "sell their story" right away; others need the viewer to spend some time and thought with them. Many people think that since photography is "easy", it's not worth the trouble to appreciate the latter kind of pictures. So be it. It is the same with music; much popular or commercial music is based on very simple musical ideas which are repeated a few (or perhaps, too many) times with minimal variation. There are no layers of meaning in it, and its appeal is often quickly exhausted. In contrast, a really good photograph, like a great piece of music, resonates with the viewer and can compel attention over an extended period of time, gradually revealing new aspects of its truth. (I freely admit to having made few, if any, photographs in that category.)

    The interesting thing is, the more of yourself you put into your pictures, the more unique they become. Viewers might not be able to articulate what it is about them that makes them "different", or "special", but they will notice and respond to that personal vision if it is there. Have confidence in it!

    More to your point, there's much to be said for finding local venues to exhibit your work, like galleries, arts organizations, even the county library. Individual shows are much more worthwhile than entering competitions IMO, especially once you're confident in your vision and your ability to judge what is your best work, and the the ones that don't quite make the cut. Everyone who takes the time to come to your show has at least that much interest in your work, and it's very gratifying when one of your pictures really speaks to someone.
    Where are we going?
    And why are we in this handbasket?


    www.josephoharaphotography.com

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