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Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."

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Old 11-24-2009   #26
Bob Helmond
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Wow! All these illusions are making me dizzy! But here's my two cents, pence, centimes or whatever...

I taught an advanced workshop in 35mm for several years at a well known art school, and my advice was that rules are to be bent, broken, tortured or ignored -- ONCE one has a well-grounded feel for what works or what doesn't.

How do you get there? Start by exposing your mind's eye to as many diifferent images by as many different photographers, painters and sculptors as is humanly possible. Look at books and go to museums and galleries.

Once one develops a visual vocabulary, THEN it becomes possible to compose and shoot intuitively, with the full knowledge that the image will be successfully interpreted and appreciated regardless of subject matter.

Just as our voca-bulary grows with time and external stimuli, so also grows our "visa-bulary." So never stop viewing or shooting.
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Old 11-24-2009   #27
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Please understand, these are rules of perception and aesthetics they have absolutely nothing to do with creativity.

One observation; I notice people who advise "breaking the rules" at the first opportunity seldom understand them, or take the trouble to learn them
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Old 11-24-2009   #28
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So it was on to an empty stage that Cartier-Bresson, Capa at al wandered on to in the 1930s.

Over the previous few decades pornography, being in the vanguard, had formed a vernacular visual idiom (sorry about the jargon, by that I mean by that a convention, a common way of looking at and understanding an image) porn from the start of the 20th century was based on Victorian classicism, so was almost free of the erotic to our trained eyes.



by the 20's the photographers had learned how to portray, and we, both male and female, had learned how to interpret an erotic photo, and a visual idiom was solidifying to that style which will forever say "dirty photo" to the vast majority of people.



It's difficult to believe those photos are probably only about 20 years apart, (somebody has to study this stuff you'll understand)

There was a similar idiom beginning to develop with travel/exotic photography, however National Geographic only abandoned plate cameras in the 30's iirc, so it was very much in its infancy.



Photographing the realities of conflict and warfare on the other hand had proved for the most part beyond the state of the art during the Great war so the canvas was, if not blank only sketched in a bit, in 1930(ish) Cartier-Bresson walked onto a empty stage and found a blank canvas; fortunately he was French and missed the mixed metaphor completely



to be continued ...
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Old 11-24-2009   #29
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You lookin' for a fight mate?
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Old 11-24-2009   #30
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This is great Stewart! Thanks and please do continue...
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Old 11-24-2009   #31
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Love this stuff, keep it coming!
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Old 11-24-2009   #32
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Quote:
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This is great Stewart! Thanks and please do continue...
thanks, yes I will ... just holding Mick's coat at the moment
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Old 11-24-2009   #33
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I agree this thread is very informative and welcome.

I don't buy the definition of "Eastern art" as exclusively Japanese or somehow qualitatively different than any other regional aesthetic. Indeed, one may argue that Japanese traditional art is what it is because of a willing isolation and ignorance of the greater world. Less the result of a refined technique than an ignorance of what anyone else was doing.

I am lucky to live in a city (Minneapolis) that has a wonderful art culture of it's own, and a superlative art institute with an incredibly broad and deep collection from all over the world. The superlative use of light in 16th century portraits is something I don't see in any other tradition, and not bested since. I fail to see how that is a product of stifling "Church control." As an aside, if one performed a survey of Catholic art over the millenia, one would find an amazing range or styles, aesthetics, and sensibilities. The idea that European artistic styles or traditions have been stifled by a conservative authority is ill-informed, IMHO

I could go on and on, but I won't

On the topic of rules, I feel that those who feel restricted by them are trapping themselves. There is an infinite variety within structure, and knowing what works and what doesn't is better than randomly stabbing in the dark hoping for something pleasant. At least IMHO.
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Old 11-24-2009   #34
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The Japanese tradition is the all i have, even slight, knowledge of, I did put a caveat on that bit ... I don't understand it I agree

Yes I agree about the churches role in the early part of the renaissance, I could elaborate at length but I was trying to keep everybody else awake to the end, it was the subversion of Greek art I was trying to illustrate
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Old 11-24-2009   #35
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I'm also enjoying the presentation, Stewart.
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Old 11-24-2009   #36
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So while Adolf was still deciding if his bum looked too big in jodhpurs, and planed a Greek holiday with Benieto, Capa and co were in Spain covered in dust and smelling of cordite. Cartier-Bresson was forsaking surrealism, wandering round Europe with his box brownie developing an interest in photos of young boys. They and the then small fledgling band of “miniature” photographers had no idea they were witness to events at the start of a decade stuffed so full of events they must have been dizzy by the end of the war.

As the world slid into chaos magazines and newspapers desperate for pictures and a public that had not had a popular graphic art-form for a generation sucked in these new photojournalists’ product, and eagerly learned it’s new idioms, history too gave them a break with event after event to go photograph and a fast developing technology to photograph it with. They were, in short, among the luckiest buggers on the face of the planet by a mile

Now, this I believe is the important bit, these chaps were not the masters of this art, there simply was no art to be master of in 1930, they took pictures and over the course of the next few years, and they in conjunction with the developing perceptions of the common people created this vernacular graphic idiom we take for granted. The building blocks of photography were formed by the skill set of that group and the circumstance they were in, almost every photographic genera that has followed is indebted to it in some way.

more later
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Old 11-24-2009   #37
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i'm also reading with interest and appreciating. thanks stewart. nothing new for me, but i like the way this is so clearly presented.
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Old 11-24-2009   #38
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as an aside

Interestingly, pornography alone has retained its' 1930's vernacular.. porn crystallised before the general perception did, so its' idioms are quite different



not that I would advocate viewing pornography
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Old 11-24-2009   #39
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Great subject, and made simple by your first statement "or I know what I like". I've found that people either have a native way of composing, or they don't. A lot of it can be taught, and the rules are the rules because they do work. Even Kandinsky had to make sure his composition was right. Abstract art lives by the same compositional rules as representational art. But someone that can intuitively nail the composition can break all the rules and have it all work out tightly. For sure the Asians have a different sense of composition, and it took me a while to get it down. More of a negative space thing.

You can learn a lot by painting and drawing, then carry that over to photography. Unfortunately, as most of may have noticed, it isn't always possible to move that hillside out of the way or get rid of that ugly old building that is ruining your shot. Photoshop has helped us a lot by giving us a way to straighten horizon lines that droop to one side or the other. The clone tool alone is worth the price of the software. Now that I print optically it's really slowed me down as I have to make sure I have the horizon straight and the camera isn't tilted up or down.

One thing painters such as myself have a problem w/ in photography is the way a photo has a completely different depth of field. Using a tele lens can really scrunch things up compositionally. Photos tend to flatten everything out. So when composing your shot you have to remember that what you see in the ground glass or the viewfinder isn't going to look quite like that once it's printed. This is a science/art that everyone, including me, needs to work on, and if you shoot color, things become even more complicated. But it's something that you just work at over and over until you don't have to think about it.

Last edited by Steve M. : 11-24-2009 at 13:31.
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Old 11-24-2009   #40
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If the image is dynamic, eye grabbing enough, nobody is going to pay any attention to the mathamatical niceties. I think that the rule is all too often used as a crutch "Oh, look at my great photograph. It's divided exactly into thirds!"

If you are going to obsess with composition over content, the precise placement of light and dark masses, the location of peoples' heads, etc., put your Leica aside, dig out the 8x10 camera, a big tripod, and do it right. There's no way you can shoot to compositional perfection unless you control the subjects and lighting 100%. That's not Leica territory.
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Old 11-24-2009   #41
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the point is, an image is eye-catching for a reason.
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Old 11-24-2009   #42
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Franz von Bayros was a master of erotica in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He wasn't a photographer but the compositions of his black and white drawings were fantastic. A quick Google search wil turn up lots of pictures by him.

Much of von Bayros work has the composition based on the "rule" of halves. Thirds appear nowhere in most of the work.
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Old 11-24-2009   #43
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Thanks for this Stewart--very stimulating.

Regards,
D.

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Old 11-24-2009   #44
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Quote:
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Franz von Bayros was a master of erotica in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He wasn't a photographer but the compositions of his black and white drawings were fantastic. A quick Google search wil turn up lots of pictures by him.

Much of von Bayros work has the composition based on the "rule" of halves. Thirds appear nowhere in most of the work.

You clearly know your pornography sir however I would ask you to consider whether the content is eclipsing the image
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Old 11-24-2009   #45
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Stewart--please keep the posts coming.
I am really enjoying this--very helpful.
Thank you!
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Old 11-24-2009   #46
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Sparrow, I wasn't presenting von Bayros because his work was pornographic but because it was a great example of composition by halves. The style of his work was common in that era, the stark black and white, the stylized compositions, but his was unique because of the use of the half rather that the third. The discussion here was glorifying the rule of thirds and I was merely trying to suggest that there were equally good alternatives. If anybody here can suggest the work of another photographer or artist that worked in halves, or something else, then please suggest it.

Back around 1959 or 1960 I had an artist friend who introduced me to that stark black and white style of composition thinking that as a young photographer who preferred working in black and white I might learn something about working with dark and light masses in a composition. It was a whole school of art that had developed back in that era. Yes, it influenced my photography, and for the better I think.

I'll even give credit here to that young artist who introduced me to this genre, a brilliant beyond his years 14 year old when I first met him, and a fantastic artist as well. He went on to work at The Factory with Andy Warhol, starred in a number of Andy's films, and then became a respected poet and art critic. His name is Rene Ricard in case you want to Google it.

I think that as photographers we shouldn't restrict ourselves to just studying the work of other photographers. Expand your horizons!
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Last edited by Al Kaplan : 11-24-2009 at 15:43.
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Old 11-25-2009   #47
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sorry Al, I was being facetious with the porn reference. I’m definitely not being prescriptive here, I did try to make that clear in the first few lines of the first post.
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Old 11-25-2009   #48
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I don't know , I think composition is much like civilization (maybe I should use socialization instead) , just on a smaller scale.
If you live by the rules of society and know them well , especially if you know how to bend them just the right amount , you'll be miles apart from ordinary folks. Without social training you're just one of those feral children they find every once in a while.
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Old 11-25-2009   #49
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I don't know , I think composition is much like civilization (maybe I should use socialization instead) , just on a smaller scale.
If you live by the rules of society and know them well , especially if you know how to bend them just the right amount , you'll be miles apart from ordinary folks. Without social training you're just one of those feral children they find every once in a while.
I think that is a very profound and apt metaphor
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Old 11-25-2009   #50
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Towards the end of the Great War this is about as good as it got, it would have been accepted as "reality" by the audience at the time.



At the same stage in the Second War the whole world had the mental tool box to see and understand an image like this, us plebs could see past it's shortcomings to a deeper reality, a bit like a language that had suddenly developed a grammar to go with all the words.



The former looks stilted, posed and old fashioned, the latter would be accepted and fully understood today as a man in immediate contact with an enemy, it could have been taken yesterday.
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