Do Your Own Thing..

STL-Lambert IA, 2010;   Kodak GC400
decisive moment - or snapshot - or art?

Yes its been a while again at the blog due to a long bout of intestinal illness. I gotta get crack'n at writing as I got several posts I've been meaning to write, the first one being this..

As I'm sure most amateurs have heard of HC-Bresson, I'm sure they've also heard his 'most famous quote' about 'the decisive moment'. Unfortunately in my opinion I believe it's being far far too over-used to the point of abuse. In the last 2 months alone, I have run across about 4 or more instances where some photographer has used it, either on websites, books, or their advertisements; the worst about it is when they use it for a point where it isn't even realitive to their photography. It also looks bad if you're looking for a serious wedding or portrait photographer and you run across 3 in 10 websites trying to relay that line in the first paragraph; that alone would make me lear away from a 'copycatter' as a non-creative photographer when I'm trying to find something different (ie special) to make the photo taken as my family's own other than just the people in it. I realize it's hard sometimes to write something inducive but it's practically plegerism if everyone repeats the same sentence.

As I am always constant to admit I'm no professional or semi-p, I still have to say one thing serious: Do Your Own Thing. That and learn Real Old-School photography if you want to really learn photography and be something special. I get so sick of the new photography books, or reviews bashing real photography books that actually teach or lay out real learning items- either the new books focus on gear for half the book and hardly touch anything other than the extreme basics (and consequently have very weak actual photography examples), or the good books are being bashed for not having digital (mainly from what I read the reviewer basically just wants the camera to do everything, ie should'a spent less money on a compact camera instead for p-n-s snapshooter..) The best knowledge comes from old 35mm books before digital kicked in, and even ones on darkroom processing. Everything digital, including photoshop retouching, comes from, and is so much easier to understand, sometimes able to enact without even thinking, from the old-school film world.

Picked up a 'candid portrait' photography book from the library (which is so severely overloaded with digital format its sickening (they all have the exact same info in them -seriously)) and have been trying to browse through it, but it nearly drove me nuts looking at it and stopped after reaching a section where the author, who supposedly is 15 year phot-vet with her own shows and (some not so awesome) photography awards, tried to explain DOF, saying the only thing affecting dof was aperture; really? funny that. What about focal length /angle of lens? Hyperfocal distance, etc.. hyperfocal distance is something I've only ever encountered in about 3 of the 250+ books I've read, but it's actually a basic principle, along with infinity focus. The other major peeve I have with the digital photography world is how people, including the afore-mentioned author, state under their photos the gear, t, f, details, but don't relay exactly the focal length actually used, like say 135mm. Instead the entire zoom length of the lens is given, like 70-200mm. For one thing, it should be straight-foreward if you're even semi-prof, to figure out EXIF info, and at the other, it isn't necessarily helpful, because of DOF- if it's a variable f lens (that is, the max aperature is different from low end to high end, say f3.5 at 70mm, but its only able to max at f5.6 at 300mm) then the dof will be different especially if one's trying to figure out the technique and it seems to vary largely from say a bird to a person to a building. I know this might not be confusing (or at least it shouldn't be it seems) but when I was starting it was a confusing point for one reason or another.

Something I read once upon a time, and more than once, from people who actually made the photography world what it is now, and stated also I believe in The Zone Method of Exposure, is the best photograph is one that's done right the first time, without needing little if any retouching or manipulation. It's not the gear, but the person, skill, or subject, that's the important factor. For the most part, the power lies in the craft of the thing before and during (if you want -another 'decisive moment'). I believe that Photoshop has partially ruined the beauty of photography; in that I mean I see far too many photoshop'd images, regardless of being commercially used or not. These days far too many companies bank out for the overdressed and overmanipulated image, somehow believing that image manipulation equals talent and experience. I've watched a well-known young canadian photographer's vids on 'how to photograph and photoshop' his work, and sorry to say it wasn't mature or knowledgeable on either.. especially if one relies on erase to a layer upon layer in PS; a little something called masking would be far wiser workflow etc. Again, these are just my opinions, so don't bludgeon me, please. If you're serious about learning photography and have to be a autodidact (like I am with everything) to learn it as most people are starting out, it will be completely difficult, esp if people tell you just postprocess it later; Well, how is one to learn to take a good photo to start the PS, when you have to learn the PS to start 'to be a good photographer', but you cant learn the PS if you don't know the good photo? catch22.. When I worked a retail store a few years back, a cosmetic dept girl who was studying graphic arts /design, and myself were always going off on the large (and small) stock advertise shelf flyouts and other items- it was amazing how shoddy the work done on the item really was that was pushed through- either the PS was horrible, or the photography was to begin with, or worse yet, both. We were completely amazed; and yet that is what sells. But thing I say is: Will it be important or remembered decades on? Nope, think not. True, most photog these days won't be, but alot of things such as that will die out faster than others indeed. And on the other hand beside the photog point, no modern female realises that the 'beauty' is not the model's actual face NOR the makeup, but rather how much the actual face and body, and the makeup!, have been overly PS'd; and therefore negatively affecting their state of being of what beauty really relies on- the inner self- NOT makeup or hollywood.

So what should someone serious about photography be looking at? Old-school -what is that and who cares? No one uses that anymore!? Really? Learn-up kiddies! Hardcore Learnfest atcha! Even if you think your photo-field is leaning towards fashion or just portrait and you say Horst, think further back than that. Even if you're thinking food or some sort of close-up, guess what? -it's still the same old school. We need to delve into old, nearly 100 years ago from this year. Yes I said a century ago, that includes you hardheaded digital types out there! For the best of everything and where 98 percent of all photography delves from, we need to go to Steichen and Stieglitz, whose main important works lie between the 1900-1940s. Even landscapes, believe it or not, athough AAdams is considered the main, can be traced to the beginning refinement by either one of these two (which one it was exactly I don't recall, and no, I'm not denouncing Adams, as he is indeed the one that most refined it to what it is considered today, and if I remember correctly (although I cant remember the name) he didn't 'invent' the zone system as many believe!! -He only had to constantly implement it and therefore enforced it in his photoshops!) Alot of people still think the beginnings of photography lie with Eastman (Kodak man -Eastman named it Kodak because it was easier sounding than his own name and believed k was a 'strong letter'); some believe it started with documentary photography in the 1870's; still others just really don't know and think it was a 1950's thing (really!? wow!) I think i remember reading somewhere it was 1730, but the first photograph was 1826; and after 1839 it started becoming commonplace. But really the 'camera obscura' has been around since before the 15th century, although only really used for 'realist drawing'. In fact, the 'art of photography', or what photography culture is defined, has rolled through the stages of chemically experimental, documentary, straight portrait ('iron neck' portraits), artistic (renaissance scenic), life snapshot (Kodak age), an argumentive stage refined into a new age of everthing (thanks to Steichen/Stieglitz), and then it basically stayed there and developed in that loop until the advent of the digital age whereupon we still (basically) relie upon these methods but have (in my opinion opted to focus more on) Photoshop'd manipulation.

So you're asking yourself, 'where does that leave me? that sounds like a bunch of bull. What am I supposed to read then?'
The best books and vids I have found to date that stick in my mind are:
The 35mm Handbook (any book by M.Langford really)
Masters of Photography, BBC Series, 1983
Genius of Photography, BBC Series
Digital Photo, (Britain mag. for PS), www.photoanswers.co.uk (seriously the best no-nonsense fast PS learn)
and believe it, your own Camera Manual !!
--and THEN move to lighting... Strobist-101

But most importantly, "Just do your own thing!" & "Just get out there and shoot!"

My favorite photographers?
  Steiglitz, Steichen, Brassai, Atget, Eisenstaedt, E.Smith, Rodchenko, Blossfeldt  -just to name a few

PS- Eisenstaedt- don't know who he is? smack yourself away 1000points! His most famous photograph you have seen. Decisive moment you say? NOT! Eisenstadt actually was running around snapping pics of everything that Vday, and that was the top one of several people, including several of that couple (who actually did not know each other)!

PPS- back to HC-Bresson; think every photograph of his is made by him waiting for that moment? NO! think again and again! Ever see his contact sheets and watch /read him? you'd see what I'd mean. He even admitted more than once that was something he said only once and didn't mean it in the context every one takes it as. To define it PROPERLY (and even what he said) is basically: "a good photograph is one that (isn't necessarily of good composition but) catches the decisive moment of something in life, that is the most important of that instant of time". Basically that. The 'decisive moment' is almost always stated by also the example of his photograph of the man jumping the puddle.


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