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Business / 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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Visual Literacy
Old 08-05-2011   #1
SciAggie
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Visual Literacy

I was thinking about literacy today. In my opinion, literacy in the sense of the written word means constructing meaning from the text we read. When we read, we do more than just decode language. We recall past experiences, make inferences, question the author, and make connections that allow us to create meaning and gain information from the written word. I'm wondering how you "read" photographs.

It is clear to me that some members here are more literate than others as they look at images. By this I mean some members here can discuss images beyond "like" and "dislike". I would consider myself among those who is trying to increase my visual literacy.

So - talk to me about the voices in your head as you look at images. What do you look for? Is it composition, tonality, subject, genre that you examine? Do you look for meaning in an image? Do you ask yourself what the photographer was visualizing? These are just things thrown out for examples. I'm interested in you walking me through your thoughts as you look at an image.
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Old 08-06-2011   #2
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This is a tough one (and I am not sure that I'll be of much help here...). I find that too much "reading" of a photograph actually kills your experience of the work. Same goes with text; going to high school we always took texts completely apart and tried to understand them symbolical, political, historical and psychological. In doing so I felt that we would often loose the general meaning of the text as well as the story line.



An example: In Denmark we have a very famous novel called "The negelcted Spring" about some high school kids in the 50'ies. We had an assignment digging deep into this text. One of the questions concerned a really large tree in the school yard - what was the menaning of this tree? Most of us had no idea and tried with everything from Ask Ygdrassil to phallic symbolism. One of the girls in the class got so angry at this question that she called the author (at that time an elderly but still very bright gentleman) and asked him about the tree.
"Meaning?" he asked "...I have no idea; I just described the surroundings as they looked in my old school yard when I was a kid!"


An yes I have learned to "read" a photograph from some very good art class teachers, but when my own students ask me to do read/interpret a photograph I usually ask them to use their gut feeling - what does this picture do to you - what kind of emotions does it provoke?



This also has to do with the subjective part of it all - is there a photograph that we all will agree on as a good photograph? I strongly doubt it...


In the same manner, I think that you have to listen more to your heart/stomach when making pictures (no matter what media) than to your brain. Of course there are rules of composition and techniques you have to know - both to be able to apply them as well as to bend them. But maybe I am just an old hippie



On a personal note, I don't sell that many photographs but when I on occasion sell a couple it often is pictures that I personally consider a bit boring - usually rocks and pebbles on the beach for Pete's Sake. Yes, they are fine technically (color, light composition) but I would certainly not like to try and "read" them! But many people seem to like them

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Old 08-06-2011   #3
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Konicaman makes a good point which reminded me of this essay: Against Interpretation.

It's possible to deconstruct a photo without necessarily having to interpret it or assign meaning. Trying to figure out why you do or don't like a photo is an essential part of developing an "eye".

One problem, though, is that it's almost impossible to remove ourselves from our own photos to be able to look at them subjectively. A photo could remind us of the time we took it or of the person in it, and its effect may be lost on another viewer who wasn't there or doesn't know the subject. This is, of course, fine if the photo is just for us. One trick I've heard for judging composition is to view a photograph upside-down and in a thumbnail-like size. This lets us isolate the composition and remove it from the subject's emotional effects.

Ideally, we can find some balance between interpretation, visual literacy, and appreciation of art as "magic" and "transcendent".
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Old 08-06-2011   #4
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Want to hear the voices in my head? Now that's a difficult topic, and I'm certain that I'm not catching it all. I find myself looking at a picture very often a second time, when it makes me curious, when I find some sort of beauty, and/or a unique characteristic has been presented and worked out in an outstanding way.

Curiosity can be simply "what's this", just like a very unusual perspective, or macro shot. It can go further in interesting me into the whole story. This is often something new to me, like photo journalist photographs.

When I mention beauty here, I mean it not only related to humans, but this is the strongest protagonist. A beautiful woman gets a second look, even if the picture itself is so-so.

Presenting something in an outstanding way, can be something with which I'm very familiar. It abstracts from properties, which are unimportant for transporting the message.

Very strong pictures for me have usually all of the above. There is certainly some fashion on how to present things, also influenced by society. Repetition can get boring quickly, when not used as a character of a series.

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Old 08-06-2011   #5
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Dear Gary,

One of the (rather cruel) questions I sometimes ask is, "What references is the photographer making here, and is he/she making them well? In other words, is this building upon what has gone before, or merely ripping it off?" Of course the answer to the latter is a value judgement, but it's often surprisingly easy to make if you've seen enough other photographers' work.

Another is "Would they get away with this if they had not already made a name for themselves with earlier and much better work?"

A third is, "What do they say they're trying to do in the Artist's Statement, and does this bear any relationship whatsoever to what I'm getting out of this?" Closely related to this is, "What is their unstated agenda?" Another way of phrasing that last question is "What buttons are they trying to press?"

Finally, the only way to develop visual literacy is to look critically at lots and lots of pictures in all genres. This includes ads in magazines as well as major exhibitions. Nothing is beneath consideration, and nothing is above criticism. Which brings me back to "if you've seen enough other photographers' work."

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Old 08-06-2011   #6
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If my knowledge of English is correct, the word "literacy" can mean two things. Primarily it's the ability to read and write but I think the term "literate" can also be used meaning "educated".

In the same vain, I think your question can be interpreted in two different ways. If by visual literacy you mean just the ability to discuss an image formally using terms such as composition, tonality, etc. etc. then we're basically just speaking of technical terms. Knowing the technical terms to describe something will not alter your appreciation of that thing very much. You still either like or dislike it, you're just describing it more accurately.
"Visual literacy" in the sense of being educated in the field of visual arts and knowing the canon of a certain genre is indeed quite important (IMO) and it can highly impact how you look at something and how you appreciate it.
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Old 08-06-2011   #7
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If it adds anything to the following, I'm doing a master's degree in photography and my tutor is the Magnum photographer Mark Power...

In brief, what I look for first in a photograph is content: what is its message, how does it affect me emotionally? Then "structure" - by which I mean how the image has been created and presented, such things as "composition", format, size, and where and how it's displayed. ("Composition" is in quotes because I want to emphasise that it's a more fluid concept than some people think - akin to grammar in language, in that it is in large part an artificial construct, and varies, for example, between societies and over time.)

Something that is easily forgotten but should always be at the fore: the point of a photograph. Photography is simply a means of communication, no different in essence to writing. So, when looking at a photograph, it is essential to explore whether the photographer is communicating their message clearly to their target audience in the way they intend (of course, the audience may be very select, and the message may be deliberately vague). If the intended viewers do not get the message in a photograph, then that photograph is an utter failure. The message does not have to be complex: there's nothing wrong with a photograph that says "Nice sunset". This is something I feel very strongly about.

Like appreciating literature, one can't simply expect to "read" a photograph without some prior knowledge of how images are constructed (analogous to knowledge of spelling, grammar and other conventions in language - you need to be aware of them to appreciate how a writer is deliberately using - or ignoring - them). Some knowledge of how art developed from the start of the 20th century to the present is also needed (how Modernism came about is crucial to an understanding of how photographs are used and understood in today’s society).

How important is structure (e.g. composition) to a photograph? That depends entirely on the aim of the photographer and the purpose of the photograph, and, of course, on the viewer. And you can't divorce the impact of 20th-century art movements on photography - photography and Modernism and Post-modernism (see the footnote at the end of this post for brief definitions without the usual gibberish) developed hand in hand. So, some photographers will take a traditional pictorial approach (taking their cues from European painting before Modernism, typically before 1900), whereas others will be more Conceptual in execution (meaning and intent are all - stuff craft, composition and all that bilge!)

A few questions to think about when you next look at a photograph...

• Why is the truthfulness of a photograph such a big deal? We are properly sceptical of written journalism, but are more inclined to accept that photojournalism depicts reality - despite knowing full well that it has never been any more or less truthful than the written word (and I’m not necessarily implying photo-manipulation - a photographer can lie simply by what they exclude from the viewfinder).

• Why is the debate of photography as craft vs art still ongoing? The National Gallery - the UK’s national art gallery - only recently created a photography department that considers photography as an artistic medium with the same status as any other, such as painting. How does this view of "not art" affect how we perceive a photograph?

• Photographs are ubiquitous in today’s society, increasingly so, and increasingly ephemeral and disposable. Do photographs passively record or catalyse change? And how does this ubiquity and the roles of the photograph in society affect how we perceive and understand them? For example, would Nick Ut’s famous 1972 photograph of the burned girl have the same impact and meaning if taken today in, say, Afghanistan? Would we remember it a half century later?

• We always view photographs bounded within a frame, as if through a window. How does this impact on the way we interpret and see photographs?

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[ Modernism was the attempt by artists to represent the modern, industrial world at the start of the 20th century (e.g. how to represent movement and ideas in art?). Its major characteristic was the rejection of the past and old ways of working and embracing innovation and the new - the "avant-garde". All well and good, and necessary, but it became very cerebral and po faced, and went up its own arse, becoming increasingly out of touch with mainstream society.

Postmodernism evolved midway through the second half of the 20th century. It is a rejection of the Modernistic ideals of the avant-garde and its fetish with the intellectual (especially politics) and "art for art's sake", and embraces the past and popular culture (though you can still be innovative - it's the rejection of boundaries that's the hallmark of Postmodernism). Artists and photographers can actually - shock! - enjoy themselves (e.g. Pop Art) - I'm hard pressed to think of a humorous example of Modernism!

Alexander Rodchenko is a Modernist photographer; Martin Parr is Postmodern. ]
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Old 08-06-2011   #8
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I look for everything, always keeping an open mind. I want to see a second (or more) dimension to a photo more than it just looking pretty. Recently, I've also become a lot more interested in 'humor' in photos.
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Old 08-06-2011   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RichC View Post
If it adds anything to the following, I'm doing a master's degree in photography and my tutor is the Magnum photographer Mark Power...

In brief, what I look for first in a photograph is content: what is its message, how does it affect me emotionally? Then "structure" - by which I mean how the image has been created and presented, such things as "composition", format, size, and where and how it's displayed. ("Composition" is in quotes because I want to emphasise that it's a more fluid concept than some people think - akin to grammar in language, in that it is in large part an artificial construct, and varies, for example, between societies and over time.)

Something that is easily forgotten but should always be at the fore: the point of a photograph. Photography is simply a means of communication, no different in essence to writing. So, when looking at a photograph, it is essential to explore whether the photographer is communicating their message clearly to their target audience in the way they intend (of course, the audience may be very select, and the message may be deliberately vague). If the intended viewers do not get the message in a photograph, then that photograph is an utter failure. The message does not have to be complex: there's nothing wrong with a photograph that says "Nice sunset". This is something I feel very strongly about.

Like appreciating literature, one can't simply expect to "read" a photograph without some prior knowledge of how images are constructed (analogous to knowledge of spelling, grammar and other conventions in language - you need to be aware of them to appreciate how a writer is deliberately using - or ignoring - them). Some knowledge of how art developed from the start of the 20th century to the present is also needed (how Modernism came about is crucial to an understanding of how photographs are used and understood in today’s society).

How important is structure (e.g. composition) to a photograph? That depends entirely on the aim of the photographer and the purpose of the photograph, and, of course, on the viewer. And you can't divorce the impact of 20th-century art movements on photography - photography and Modernism and Post-modernism (see the footnote at the end of this post for brief definitions without the usual gibberish) developed hand in hand. So, some photographers will take a traditional pictorial approach (taking their cues from European painting before Modernism, typically before 1900), whereas others will be more Conceptual in execution (meaning and intent are all - stuff craft, composition and all that bilge!)

A few questions to think about when you next look at a photograph...

• Why is the truthfulness of a photograph such a big deal? We are properly sceptical of written journalism, but are more inclined to accept that photojournalism depicts reality - despite knowing full well that it has never been any more or less truthful than the written word (and I’m not necessarily implying photo-manipulation - a photographer can lie simply by what they exclude from the viewfinder).

• Why is the debate of photography as craft vs art still ongoing? The National Gallery - the UK’s national art gallery - only recently created a photography department that considers photography as an artistic medium with the same status as any other, such as painting. How does this view of "not art" affect how we perceive a photograph?

• Photographs are ubiquitous in today’s society, increasingly so, and increasingly ephemeral and disposable. Do photographs passively record or catalyse change? And how does this ubiquity and the roles of the photograph in society affect how we perceive and understand them? For example, would Nick Ut’s famous 1972 photograph of the burned girl have the same impact and meaning if taken today in, say, Afghanistan? Would we remember it a half century later?

• We always view photographs bounded within a frame, as if through a window. How does this impact on the way we interpret and see photographs?

___________________________

[ Modernism was the attempt by artists to represent the modern, industrial world at the start of the 20th century (e.g. how to represent movement and ideas in art?). Its major characteristic was the rejection of the past and old ways of working and embracing innovation and the new - the "avant-garde". All well and good, and necessary, but it became very cerebral and po faced, and went up its own arse, becoming increasingly out of touch with mainstream society.

Postmodernism evolved midway through the second half of the 20th century. It is a rejection of the Modernistic ideals of the avant-garde and its fetish with the intellectual (especially politics) and "art for art's sake", and embraces the past and popular culture (though you can still be innovative - it's the rejection of boundaries that's the hallmark of Postmodernism). Artists and photographers can actually - shock! - enjoy themselves (e.g. Pop Art) - I'm hard pressed to think of a humorous example of Modernism!

Alexander Rodchenko is a Modernist photographer; Martin Parr is Postmodern. ]
No disrespect to Mr. Power or the University of Brighton but as someone who studies philosophy and literature and is mainly concerned with aesthetics and picture theories I do have to disagree with some of what you're saying.
Photography is, in essence, very different from writing. Of course the indexicality of photography has long been questioned and it's also clear that even iconic (in the sense of Peirce's icon/index/symbol distinction) signs are conventional but it's still very far off to say that photography and writing are the same. We could start discussing the difference in Signifier/Signified, referent, etc. etc. but frankly, I've come to understand tha no one here on RFF really cares about these rather 'academic' topics.
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Old 08-06-2011   #10
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I started working on a response but RichC said most of what I wanted to say, and he put it better than I did. Agree entirely about photography as a method of communication capable of as much plain-speak or nuance as spoken language. To be effective any communication needs both parties to operate in the same interpretive framework for any one photograph.

Studying art history, and current visual arts around the world - past masters and current leading practitioners - helps with understanding the ongoing conversations that comprise art movements like Modernism. The language used to describe the images in these movements, provides a visual language for describing and interpreting photographs.

I found interesting reading in art history books like The Story of Art (Gombrich) and photo books by Steven Shore (The Nature of Photographs) and John Szarkowski (Looking at Photographs; and The Photographer's Eye), to name just a few. These are helpful in acquiring a more structured visual language. I went looking for books and documentaries that described why great pictures (both art and photographs) work. Guided tours of art galleries are also helpful in providing an interpretive commentary for analysing pictures.

When I look at images I ask what's the photographer trying to communicate and is it effective. I like photos that have a strong emotional, aesthetic or intellectual response. From there, I try to describe them with concepts and language from what I've learned through study of art and photography.
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Old 08-06-2011   #11
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Mmmm.

I never let it worry me, I look at pictures from all sorts of places, I'm sure that seeps in somehow, not always aware of where mind, sometimes I can see where say the style of Stephen Shore comes into my pictures, and other times I am not even trying to create the effect or appearance of another photographer, but maybe a painter (big fan of the romantics and impressionists) -- but I don't ever let it worry me.

Personally I have little concern for defining my photography because that feels akin to a noose. It doesn't mean I'm not aware of styles, I don't always know the "proper name" or definition, but I can recognise it visually.

If that doesn't suit academia then I'm really not bothered, I just enjoy taking pictures

But to each their own, I'd never criticise someone who does invest time in gadding up on all this stuff.
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Old 08-06-2011   #12
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I appreciate all of you taking the time to engage in this discussion. I realize a topic like this is more time consuming in that it requires an investment of sorts to read others' posts and formulate your response. I was expecting to recieve varied resposes and I am not disappointed. This is exactly the sort of discussion I had hoped to generate.

I agree with konicaman that too much "reading" can kill one's experience of any media, visual or written. I HATED Shakespeare in high school for that reason and came to love much of his work later as I read it on my own and for my own reasons.

As someone else pointed out, some images do not present much to decode. Most of mine are like this - there is no deep meaning to discuss. Some images are no more than a nice face or a pretty flower, and I believe that's fine. I'm not suggesting all photos are or have to be analyzed as such.

Sam N is getting to the heart of my question with his statement, "It's possible to deconstruct a photo without necessarily having to interpret it or assign meaning. Trying to figure out why you do or don't like a photo is an essential part of developing an "eye".

What I'm curious about from those of you following this thread is - what are your mental processes, that is, what is the "conversation" in your mind as you figure out why you do or don't like a photo.

I believe RichC's response is a good example and I thank him for his long response. I believe the relevantt point is that Rich has a great deal of background knowledge that he applies to his judgement of images. His points illustrate a list of considerations he makes as he views a photograph; that's what I am refering to as the mental "conversation".

I think from this point of view, it is to be expected that people disagree. For my purposes, I do not wish to start a debate, it simply illustrates that our goals and purposes for viewing images are different. It is apparent to me that the way Rodger views things is quite different than the way I do given his experiences and background.

I started this thread as an evolution so to speak of an earlier thread "Do you understand why it's good?" http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...d.php?t=102095

One of the ways I have grown as a photographer here is to learn how others view and evaluate their own work as well as other's. I don't advocate parroting what others do; it's more that it has helped me develop my own judgements and values. I am more able to understand whay I take some of the images that I do. Identifying why I take some images, I focus more on technical aspects that emphasize what I "see" when I take a picture. I have more of an opportunity to communicate through the image.

Anyway, that's what my thoughts are. I also agree with Lilserenity that sometimes all this is too much bother and it is enough to just take pictures and enjoy them although I always believe there is a backgroung process running that formulates that opinion of like or dislike.
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Old 08-06-2011   #13
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Quote:
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Konicaman makes a good point which reminded me of this essay: Against Interpretation.

It's possible to deconstruct a photo without necessarily having to interpret it or assign meaning. Trying to figure out why you do or don't like a photo is an essential part of developing an "eye".

One problem, though, is that it's almost impossible to remove ourselves from our own photos to be able to look at them subjectively. A photo could remind us of the time we took it or of the person in it, and its effect may be lost on another viewer who wasn't there or doesn't know the subject. This is, of course, fine if the photo is just for us. One trick I've heard for judging composition is to view a photograph upside-down and in a thumbnail-like size. This lets us isolate the composition and remove it from the subject's emotional effects.

Ideally, we can find some balance between interpretation, visual literacy, and appreciation of art as "magic" and "transcendent".
I read your linked article and find many of the points valid. The question I have using the language from the article, is what is your private, personal commentary that goes on in your mind as you look at images from the gallery here on RFF. And by the way, whether the process is short and shallow or more sophisticated in nature is irrelevent - I'm simply curious to get a glimpse of your thinking. I find that helps me to refine my own thinking.
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Auseinandersetzung !!
Old 08-06-2011   #14
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Auseinandersetzung !!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam N View Post
Konicaman makes a good point which reminded me of this essay: Against Interpretation.
[...]
Ideally, we can find some balance between interpretation, visual literacy, and appreciation of art as "magic" and "transcendent".
I enjoyed the article and agree that a balance is necessary. Sontag seems to be making an argument against that practice of using intellect to gain the upper hand on the art. When this happens, the art falls silent and all we hear is the intellect speaking.

What is this balance? Carl Jung called it "Auseinandersetzung" - a vigorous dialogue between you and the photograph. Both of you speaking and relating to each other with neither one getting the upper hand. This is not a stalemate, but a relating between equals. It is only then, that an actual relationship to the work is possible.

Joe

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Old 08-06-2011   #15
Juan Valdenebro
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Hi Gary,

This is a very nice idea for a thread!

When I look at a photograph, things are divided in two parts: first, the world, and then, the photographer... It's not something I've planned, but just what I found out a moment ago after reading your question... This is just how I feel now... Some years ago I used to give more attention to things I consider irrelevant now...

About the world I enjoy photographs reflecting reality, and about the photographer I enjoy what he or she did to reflect reality, from being there to composition to light control... I also enjoy when I imagine the lyricism the photographer could have felt before or after the image, and I enjoy photographs with a creative use of reality to express that lyricism: those a lot more than planned ones, staged ones... But if an image was planned as an act of pure creation, as most paintings, I enjoy too...

But in general what I admire the most is the act of all those together, as in Frank or Cartier-Bresson or Atget or Winogrand: they reflect reality and the human soul deeply, and they use the street for doing it, and there's a lot of lyricism hidden on the images that was not planned but remains fresh, as it's something that just "happened" in their souls while walking and looking around: like life's poetry just discovered everywhere...

That, to me, in B&W film (an abstraction from reality as it's far from colored reality) is what I consider "photography".

Honestly I don't enjoy at all IQ as considered by photographers trying to impress public that way as they can't impress public other ways... That's a subject that confuses a lot of people... Think about this: for all of us Frank or Bresson lovers, thinking of their shots, but made with larger negatives or sharper lenses, means absolutely nothing if we talk about how much we'd love those sharper images: we couldn't love them more if they were sharper because sharpness doesn't express anything at all, and doesn't help any image or add anything from an aesthetic point of view, but for say Ansel Adams lovers, his huge sharp images would lose a lot if imagined handheld on 35mm film or without all his exaggerated dodging and burning that was the center of his creation... I mean, he was a good composer, but it's not "photography" what he did very well... I respect some of his most famous images, buy that's not what is on the negatives... And lots of his images are mediocre... I also admire the great man he was... If Vermeer was a photographer and painter that used photography to produce public impact with paintings showing a very realistic perspective and composition on people who didn't know how he was doing it, Adams used photography of reality to create -with "painted" internal contrast- unreal landscapes that impress people because people don't know what he did, but think he "captured" those landscapes, but he didn't: he "painted" them...

Cheers,

Juan
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Old 08-06-2011   #16
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Good point, Fred.

The OP is asking about just any photograph, I presume. Not just what is hanging in a gallery or museum.

So, every photograph has to be a communication?

Sometimes I think people are a bit rigid in their thinking and that is why I eschew absolutes. But YMMV.
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Old 08-06-2011   #17
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Good point, Fred.

The OP is asking about just any photograph, I presume. Not just what is hanging in a gallery or museum.

So, every photograph has to be a communication?

Sometimes I think people are a bit rigid in their thinking and that is why I eschew absolutes. But YMMV.
No, I'm not saying every photograph is a communication. I'm asking you personally how you interact with a photograph. I do make the assumption that there is a mental process that takes place as you simply look at a picture and judge it. I am asking you to verbalize the mental "conversation" in your mind as you look at pictures. Or comment as to whether you have even thought about how you evaluate pictures - and I don't necessarily mean evaluate in some high brow sort of way.
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Old 08-06-2011   #18
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No, I'm not saying every photograph is a communication. I'm asking you personally how you interact with a photograph. I do make the assumption that there is a mental process that takes place as you simply look at a picture and judge it. I am asking you to verbalize the mental "conversation" in your mind as you look at pictures. Or comment as to whether you have even thought about how you evaluate pictures - and I don't necessarily mean evaluate in some high brow sort of way.

Sometimes a picture of a tree is just a picture of a tree. When I personally look at a photograph, I either like it or not. Or it is...meh. Everyone is, of course, different in what they look at and no one is required to have a degree from anywhere to appreciate photography.

So, what do I look for? Nothing.

What makes me like a particular photograph? It must vary because I have no rigid thing(s) that I look for. Either I like the colors, or the texture, or the motif, or the bokeh, or the blurriness, or the details, or the lighting, or the rendering of a specific lens, or...the combination of many of the previous things. My appreciation comes from inside of me and I never think about it.

One cool tip for me: if the thumbnail looks interesting, more than likely the actual photograph will be as well, but there again, not absolutely true.
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Old 08-06-2011   #19
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I think I will explain at least what I mean by communication and conversation. When I first started looking at images here and following threads, I think it would be fair to say I was fairly illiterate. It is hard to evaluate an image for composition until one knows the "rules" of compositio. I have come to appreciate tonality and technical precision for its own sake. I look for areas of light and dark and wonder if they were included accidentally or intentionally. I look to see if the image is just a representation of an attractive subject or if the photographer is trying to follow a theme or convey a message.

My point is that I now have more knowledge with which to appreciate and evaluate images. In that context I feel I am more literate. I am curious for others to speak about the things they look at that I may never have considered or yet can appreciate. I am also not suggesting that all images require an in-depth evaluation. I think one can argue may be nice to be able to do so.
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Old 08-06-2011   #20
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What makes me like a particular photograph? It must vary because I have no rigid thing(s) that I look for. Either I like the colors, or the texture, or the motif, or the bokeh, or the blurriness, or the details, or the lighting, or the rendering of a specific lens, or...the combination of many of the previous things. My appreciation comes from inside of me and I never think about it.

One cool tip for me: if the thumbnail looks interesting, more than likely the actual photograph will be as well, but there again, not absolutely true.
This is exactly what I am curious about. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 08-06-2011   #21
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This is exactly what I am curious about. Thanks for sharing.
I can appreciate where your question is coming from. I suspect you will get many varied opinions as you would if you asked people how they actually go about photographing something.

In my situation, I do not think when I am shooting. Nor do I think when I am looking at photographs. Others love to "de-construct" but it is not really necessary, nor is de-constructing necessary to appreciate music. But some people dearly love it and that is fine.

Not thinking is just the way I am and others have to approach it differently. Whatever works for someone is just the way it is meant to be.
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Old 08-06-2011   #22
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...

Modernism was the attempt by artists to represent the modern, industrial world at the start of the 20th century (e.g. how to represent movement and ideas in art?). Its major characteristic was the rejection of the past and old ways of working and embracing innovation and the new - the "avant-garde". All well and good, and necessary, but it became very cerebral and po faced, and went up its own arse, becoming increasingly out of touch with mainstream society.

Postmodernism evolved midway through the second half of the 20th century. It is a rejection of the Modernistic ideals of the avant-garde and its fetish with the intellectual (especially politics) and "art for art's sake", and embraces the past and popular culture (though you can still be innovative - it's the rejection of boundaries that's the hallmark of Postmodernism). Artists and photographers can actually - shock! - enjoy themselves (e.g. Pop Art) - I'm hard pressed to think of a humorous example of Modernism!

Alexander Rodchenko is a Modernist photographer; Martin Parr is Postmodern. ]
Educated photographers focus on this thing called "post modernism" to a large degree. As if it is a theme, a movement onto itself. It's also popular with literature critics, especially those who group writers and photographers into camps. Camps of the oppressed - feminist theory, queer theory, etc. theory ... Very tribal, which again is a theme of post modernists.

Yet, post modernism is always defined by it's opposition to Modernism - because it IS Modernism, expressed with the angst of the later day 20th century hopes and fears. Those fears, those hopes have caused an inward view that tries to express the outward world through a highly filtered means.

My definition of post modernism is much simpler: blurry irony.

Irony is self evident and self explanatory. It is easier to make a comment through irony than to make it directly. This is often mistaken for humor, so no wonder it appears that post modernists are funny.

Blurry can be interpreted as simply out of focus - this happens a lot in post modern photography, the subject moves, the camera moves or the lens was just not adjusted to bring one particular plane into focus. But it also has an ideological component, even when the subject is focussed upon crisply. By blurring the concept of the photograph, the concept becomes impossible to nail down. And as such it comes to represent the "universal concept". Namely that we are all the same, nothing is new and history is just a reflection of the now. So who cares about anything after that?


ps, I consider myself an educated post modern photographer. My soured outlook is just part of that. I wear all black to exhibition openings, and inside I am laughing at all of it. Oh, and some people say I am stuck in the 70's. Rock on!
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Old 08-06-2011   #23
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Either I like the colors, or the texture, or the motif, or the bokeh, or the blurriness, or the details, or the lighting, or the rendering of a specific lens, or...the combination of many of the previous things.
For the sake of conversation, this is what I am inquiring about. You may say that you don't think about things when you look at an image, but you just made a fine list that suggests otherwise. You just don't dwell on what you are thinking - and that's fine. The reason again for opening this discussion is for anyone interested to share their particular mental list of things they look at. I think we innocently assume that others share the same knowlege as us but that's often not the case. I honestly have had to learn what the heck bokeh was in the last year. I'm not one who makes a big deal out of it, but now I recognize it in an image an can express an opinion about it if necessary. Lens rendering is another example of image quality I am learning to appreciate.

I examine the dynamic range captured in my images now, but I would never have considered them before a few months ago. I have learned to distinguish between the DR captured by my M8 and what is captured on B&W film.

This just seemed like a good topic for all of us to share ideas about and "mull over" during the weekend.
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Old 08-06-2011   #24
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I do make the assumption that there is a mental process that takes place as you simply look at a picture and judge it. I am asking you to verbalize the mental "conversation" in your mind as you look at pictures.
Following this very well expressed sentence, with the participative help from forum members this thread can be one of the richest ones...

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Looking at Pictures: Studium and Punctum
Old 08-06-2011   #25
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Looking at Pictures: Studium and Punctum

Quote:
Originally Posted by SciAggie View Post
I do make the assumption that there is a mental process that takes place as you simply look at a picture and judge it. I am asking you to verbalize the mental "conversation" in your mind as you look at pictures. Or comment as to whether you have even thought about how you evaluate pictures - and I don't necessarily mean evaluate in some high brow sort of way.
Why you "like" a photograph may not have anything to do with it's artistic merit in the classical sense. Why this is so, was the subject of Roland Barthe's Camera Lucida and the concept of the Studium and Punctum.

Camera Lucida

"Studium" has to do with the educated eye, knowledge, and the "interpretation" of the image.

"Puntum" has to do with what in the image subjectively HITS YOU - pricks you, punctures you, and is why you LOVE the image.

On Studium and Punctum


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Old 08-06-2011   #26
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At what point does 'looking at' become 'thinking'? And what is 'thinking' in this context?
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Old 08-06-2011   #27
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For the sake of conversation, this is what I am inquiring about. You may say that you don't think about things when you look at an image, but you just made a fine list that suggests otherwise. You just don't dwell on what you are thinking - and that's fine. The reason again for opening this discussion is for anyone interested to share their particular mental list of things they look at. I think we innocently assume that others share the same knowlege as us but that's often not the case. I honestly have had to learn what the heck bokeh was in the last year. I'm not one who makes a big deal out of it, but now I recognize it in an image an can express an opinion about it if necessary. Lens rendering is another example of image quality I am learning to appreciate.

I examine the dynamic range captured in my images now, but I would never have considered them before a few months ago. I have learned to distinguish between the DR captured by my M8 and what is captured on B&W film.

This just seemed like a good topic for all of us to share ideas about and "mull over" during the weekend.

Dwell? Quite an understatement. When shooting, I see, I shoot. Less than a second in many situations. When I look at an image, same thing, I can tell if I like it in a moment and if I like it, then I explore it further. Yes, I do understand the terms used in composition and the exceptions to the rules, etc.

No, I do not think about it. It is more ingrained in who I am. When I see a beautiful automobile, say a pre-war Mercedes, I don't even think about it, I know immediately I like it. I can't even even tell you what I like about it over, say a similar year Chevrolet without really struggling for the words. I accept it and it has worked fine for me for over 40 years.

Some people really do spend a lot of time composing, thinking, re-composing and that is great. It works for them. Others may even find communication or artistic somethings in a photograph that works for them. Great.

As far as teaching...well, my students at Georgia Tech are/were as teachable as any students around. And education is never a waste IMO. But, to expect all students to develop an "eye", whatever that term is, by thinking through the process is just not reasonable and I think we can agree on that. One is born with certain abilities or they are not. Wired differently I suppose. Charlie Rose asked HCB in an interview if he could teach his famous "decisive moment" style of photography and he shook his head and said no, that he was born with the ability but could not teach it.

I would like to hear more from people who really do spend a lot of time thinking about such things. Great idea for a thread.
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Old 08-06-2011   #28
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For the sake of conversation, this is what I am inquiring about. You may say that you don't think about things when you look at an image, but you just made a fine list that suggests otherwise. You just don't dwell on what you are thinking - and that's fine. The reason again for opening this discussion is for anyone interested to share their particular mental list of things they look at. I think we innocently assume that others share the same knowlege as us but that's often not the case. I honestly have had to learn what the heck bokeh was in the last year. I'm not one who makes a big deal out of it, but now I recognize it in an image an can express an opinion about it if necessary. Lens rendering is another example of image quality I am learning to appreciate.

I examine the dynamic range captured in my images now, but I would never have considered them before a few months ago. I have learned to distinguish between the DR captured by my M8 and what is captured on B&W film.

This just seemed like a good topic for all of us to share ideas about and "mull over" during the weekend.
Here is a great link of interesting photos that I like. Why? Because I do.

I just finished reading the last 3 LFI magazines in which are some articles about this very thing. Just found out some of the things they speak of, I already use but never thought about them before. Such as reduction. Great learning this sort of thing and it does reinforce my thinking ahead of time and may affect my actions later. We'll see.


http://www.flickriver.com/groups/sum...l/interesting/

Image 7143 is one of those that fascinate me as I recognize something in the DOF and OOF areas that is striking. Do I look for these? No. Have I ever thought of an image like this before seeing it? No. But, I like it. As I explore the image and think about it, yes, I can get more out of it but it is no necessary for me to de-construct it to appreciate it. Face value was enough.
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visual literacy
Old 08-06-2011   #29
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visual literacy

Great topic! I've been digesting an undergrad and graduate education in Photography for decades and I'm sure it's one of the two most influential voices ringing in my head. Although it is luxurious to have had those opportunities they come demanding an extra commitment to finding a balance between what you've been taught is "important" and "valuable" and what is driving simply what you see.

I feel there's a magic point that can be accessed by un-learning from the top of the MFA pile because it comes at a time that might very well be the most mature and concentrated path of reverse exploration many of us will make.
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Old 08-06-2011   #30
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Like or dislike type here. Decidedly anti literate, why junk it up? I generally try to attune to the headspace a picture casts. Is the experience interesting to me, or am I being asked to participate in some type of pretentious shtick?

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Old 08-07-2011   #31
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Like or dislike type here. Decidedly anti literate, why junk it up? I generally try to attune to the headspace a picture casts. Is the experience interesting to me, or am I being asked to participate in some type of pretentious shtick?
People are different in their way to approach things. Learning languages is a good example, maybe. Some just have a very good intuitive observation of finest details and don't need grammar books really to communicate properly and correctly. Others need rules to understand at least some of the basic mechanics behind it.

I just remember when I started to lean French as an adult, the teachers method was to completely talk in French with me. That worked very well for the most part, but there where constructions or side notes, where the underlying rule helped me to get the hang of it.

In German, which is my mother tongue, I always hated the comma rules. I was particularly bad when it came to underlining part phrases with different colors to identify proper types of subordinate clauses. But guess what - I made almost never mistakes with commas.

Same person, different situation. Different environment.

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Old 08-07-2011   #32
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Even technical observations may not be irrelevant. I recently saw some Paolo Pellegrin pictures next to some Salgados (Arles, of course). Pellegrin's were full of energy, but so were Salgado's, and next to them, Pellegrin's stuff looked weak and self-indulgent. It felt to me as if Pellegrin was working at the limits of his abilities, while Salgado still had immense power in reserve. It's like seeing a baby Fiat going flat out at 80 mph, or a Bristol that still has 60 mph in reserve at the same speed.

Sure, it's personal taste, and if I were as good as Pellegrin, I'd be happy, but equally, it's not always a bad thing to analyze how and why your personal taste is the way it is. You may even decide you want to change it. But you need to see a lot of pictures, and think about why you like some, and not others, if you want to get beyond "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."

And you have to get beyond it if you are to become a better photographer: you have to know what you like among your own stuff, and be able to recognize/ concentrate upon your strengths, and know how to skate over or (better still) get over your weaknesses.

This doesn't necessarily have to be verbal, but it probably does no harm to try to put it into words. In particular, it may be useful to put into words what you don't like, even if you can't as easily express what you do like.

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Old 08-07-2011   #33
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Even technical observations may not be irrelevant. I recently saw some Paolo Pellegrin pictures next to some Salgados (Arles, of course). Pellegrin's were full of energy, but so were Salgado's, and next to them, Pellegrin's stuff looked weak and self-indulgent. It felt to me as if Pellegrin was working at the limits of his abilities, while Salgado still had immense power in reserve. It's like seeing a baby Fiat going flat out at 80 mph, or a Bristol that still has 60 mph in reserve at the same speed.

Sure, it's personal taste, and if I were as good as Pellegrin, I'd be happy, but equally, it's not always a bad thing to analyze how and why your personal taste is the way it is. You may even decide you want to change it. But you need to see a lot of pictures, and think about why you like some, and not others, if you want to get beyond "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."

And you have to get beyond it if you are to become a better photographer: you have to know what you like among your own stuff, and be able to recognize/ concentrate upon your strengths, and know how to skate over or (better still) get over your weaknesses.

This doesn't necessarily have to be verbal, but it probably does no harm to try to put it into words. In particular, it may be useful to put into words what you don't like, even if you can't as easily express what you do like.

Cheers,

R.
Yep, it is called education. Highly recommended even for us old...older...uh...more mature folks.
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Old 08-07-2011   #34
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...if you are to become a better photographer: you have to know what you like among your own stuff, and be able to recognize/ concentrate upon your strengths, and know how to skate over or (better still) get over your weaknesses.

This doesn't necessarily have to be verbal, but it probably does no harm to try to put it into words. In particular, it may be useful to put into words what you don't like, even if you can't as easily express what you do like.

Cheers,

R.
However poorly I may have articulated my intent in my above posts, you have stated it well.
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Old 08-07-2011   #35
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First and foremost, does it move me on some emotional level. If so, great. If it does contain some technical deficiancy, they can be overlooked. If it's also technically strong, all the better.







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Old 08-07-2011   #36
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Disagree as you like. One thing I can say for sure is that there are many experiences for which words are an insult. Perhaps most experiences worthy of the description. Just trying to keep my eye on the ball.

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Old 08-07-2011   #37
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Disagree as you like. One thing I can say for sure is that there are many experiences for which words are an insult. Perhaps most experiences worthy of the description. Just trying to keep my eye on the ball.

Fair enough
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Old 08-07-2011   #38
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Disagree as you like. One thing I can say for sure is that there are many experiences for which words are an insult. Perhaps most experiences worthy of the description. Just trying to keep my eye on the ball.

Only if you're no good at words. F'rinstance, that's what poetry is for.

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Old 08-07-2011   #39
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Further thoughts on rapid evaluation. Walk into an exhibition of a single photographer's work. Look at the first picture that catches your eye. Either it says something or it doesn't. Move on to another. The same. After three or four pictures, either there's 'something there' or there isn't. Then either look harder, or walk out.

I don't believe in 'working on' appreciating someone's work. If it's any good (in my eyes, I can speak for no-one else), it'll sink in eventually. If not, not. I quite often need a bit of a run up to appreciate novelty: Martin Parr, Jackson Pollock, Gyorgy Ligeti. And sometimes, impact triumphs temporarily over staying power: Bridget Riley, for example, or possibly even Ansel Adams.

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Old 08-07-2011   #40
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Only if you're no good at words. F'rinstance, that's what poetry is for.

Cheers,

R.
No. That's a dodge. Do you really want to pretend that words are a satisfactory simulacra of experience, or a perfect vehicle of communication, Roger? That's a bit niave, I think.


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