Wednesday, 19 July 2017

This and that

There's a lot of bad photography gets posted on line. I admit that I post more than my fair share of it! One  of the genres that suffers most from this is 'street photography'. What I find depressing about a lot of this stuff, apart from the endless repetition of the stale tropes, is that many of the photos simply aren't good pictures. They don't go beyond the 'I saw this' level. What's more they rarely seem to constitute a body of work. In recording everyday life as it is I think this is more important than in any other field.

A one-off landscape can stand on its own in a frame. To do that a 'street' photograph has to be something special. A set of not especially good street photographs, however, if shot to a theme has a change of saying something more than 'I saw this'. That's where I am trying to go with what has become my Dog Town project. They're quick grab shots of people walking dogs. Individually they aren't up to much. Put them all together, and if I stick at it long enough and make a good edit, they might just mean something more. That's what I'm hoping. In ten or twenty years time the background details will take on a social history tinge too. I'm probably being egotistical here. I doubt either I or my photography are as good as I imagine.

A case in point about superficially dodgy photographs adding up to more than the proverbial sum of their parts is Keith Arnatt's "I  wonder whether cows wonder?" I unexpectedly stumbled upon this in my local art gallery, The Atkinson, in a show inspired by John Berger's essay "Why Look at Animals?" I have read the essay, and I was aware of the Arnatt pictures, but hadn't seen them exhibited before.

Arnatt was a conceptual artist before taking to photography as his primary medium. Therefore it's no surprise that there is an intellectual element to his photographic works. I feel this adds to the pictures, even though they are engaging enough without having any background information. Cows are curious creatures (as in they exhibit curiosity), and like so many animals they make interesting shapes. Some of the 'Wonder' pictures are quite amusing!

I freely admit that I admire Arnatt's photography and approach a great deal, and that his "Walking the Dog" series is an influence on my Dog Town work.

It is always interesting to see work as it is intended to be shown. The scale of the images is always lost in a book or magazine, even if produced at the same scale. It's pretty obvious that the cow pictures are 6x4 enprints. I love this. Unpretentious prints like you'd get back from the chemists in the old days. It's the sort of presentation I could expect from a conceptual artist and it takes the idea of the snapshot aesthetic literally.  Photographs printed for gallery exhibition these days are all too frequently for my liking very big and very expensively archival. Rebelling against the concept of 'fine prints' is right up my street!

The making of perfect black and white conversions from digital files has been boring me to tears has been driving me away from The On-line Photographer recently. Just as I don't care about fine prints I also don't care about great processing. You can fiddle with digital files (and negatives in enlargers) until the cows come home and never settle on the ideal result. Ansel Adams was a perfectionist when it came to printing and he changed his views over the years with later prints looking different to earlier one. It's very subjective. Far  more so than what makes a picture great. Rarely (I'd say never) is that the tonal range or the paper quality. It's usually (always?) the subject and how it's arranged within the frame.

I started getting a little irate shortly before starting this post when reading a blog I'd clicked through to which was bemoaning how digital sensors are so good today that they make you lazy. I've never subscribed to the view that technological advances make creative people lazy. If you can use the ISO to select itself then all you have to consider are the values which affect how  your subject appears. Depth of field and motion blur are creative choices through aperture and shutter speed selection. ISO isn't a creative choice if it introduces next to no noise at any value. The more a camera can do for you the more you can concentrate on making pictures.

The same blogger was extolling the virtues of having an offset viewfinder so that the final framing of his pictures wasn't how he'd seen it. He had some airy fairy notion that this enabled him to compose with his eyes rather than having the scene before him and reduced to a rectangle in the viewfinder. Cobblers. I, and I expect many other photographers, see how they want to frame the picture before they put the camera to their eye. A viewfinder which shows exactly how the final image will be framed is what you need.

So endeth today's sermon rant!

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