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Image Glut and Digital Facility

doug anderson

New member
Hey, folks. I'm a passionate amateur, and outside of a few portraits and three weddings I've done little professional work. I'm a professional creative writer and am thinking about combining photography and text for some future projects.

In the last few weeks, in anticipation of getting a Nikon D300 (next week), I've been looking at a lot of photography on line and am disturbed by the sheer masses of technically perfect and utterly dull pictures. I love sunsets, but I'd rather see a real one and I don't care if I ever see another photo of one. I was so disturbed by the absolute glut of uninteresting photography, say, on flickr, that I rushed madly back to the classics to ground myself. I've been going to Magnum's site, and Lens Culture, and today I just worked slowly through Dianne Arbus's "Revelation." What a difference.

Photography, to me, is not about showing off my equipment; it is about seeing the world as if for the first time -- the same goal as poetry. It takes vision to do this, and I don't see a lot of it on the amateur photo sharing sites. I'm wondering if, as a culture, we are become visually numb.

There is a great preoccupation with surfaces, and little with what animates a subject. I see a lot of glitzy people with pretty skin and expensive dental work in their smiles, impossibly cute puppies and children, and "travelogue" style tourist photos, all of which make me want to go to sleep.

I'm hoping to start a thread that addresses the problem of image glut and visual numbing, and how photography with vision can fight it.

Thanks in advance for your opinions.

Best,

Doug
 

Ray West

New member
Hi Doug,

Once upon a time, someone took the first photo of a sunset. Maybe wrote a book about it. You, too, can start the next fad......

You will be part of what you mix with.

Do you want a list?

Best wishes,

Ray
 

doug anderson

New member
Ray: A fad? Photographs of sunsets are a form of visual numbing. Think of it this way: how many Twinkies can you eat and still like Twinkies?

Cheers,

Doug
 

Sean Reid

Moderator
Hi Doug,

People have all kinds of reasons for making pictures. Sometimes, its just something they do for their own pleasure, to relax, etc. And sometimes work that bores one person will give great pleasure to another.

There's only a small percentage of photographs (and, in fact, only a small percentage of my own work) that really interests me. But, frankly, if people are doing work that makes themselves and some others happy, that's fine by me. The world is difficult enough as it is, I wouldn't want take away someone else's harmless pleasure. If a person gets pleasure from photographing a sunset and posting it for others to see, why should anyone else want to stop that?

Its always been this way with photography, its just a lot easier for people to publish work now.

But when what you see isn't giving you what you need, I think you've got the right idea. Dive into the work that really interests you. And check out my link to the Web Gallery of Art. There's enough great art to fill your plate forever. Look in the right places and you'll never be bored.

If you haven't yet read it, consider reading James Agee's introduction to Helen Levitt's "A Way of Seeing". I think it may interest you.

Cheers,

Sean
 

Jim Galli

Member
Doug, you bought the wrong camera. You sound like an 8X10 guy. You can still make boring pictures but the prices per will at least hold the numbers down.

I've been looking at a lot of photography on line and am disturbed by the sheer masses of technically perfect and utterly dull pictures.


Glad you said it. Couldn't agree more.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Hello Doug,

"I'm hoping to start a thread that addresses the problem of image glut and visual numbing, and how photography with vision can fight it. "

There is nothing to "fight". The vast majority of camera owners just shoot to have fun and to record their lives. That they take similar images at similar places and similar times with similar subjects is to be expected. People, in the main, lead very similar lives within demographic strata.

Don't become annoyed or distracted by the vast body of imagery posted on the Internet. Channel your energies toward your alluded goal of creatively amalgamating photography with your writings. The finest photographic work comes from a lens with a focused purpose. Arbus certainly had it (albeit sometimes a bit twisted). Magnum photographers are always working journalistic projects. Helen Levitt spent decades documenting street life mostly within her immediate neighborhood.

So just look forward and just do it. Don't worry about what everyone else is slapping up on Flickr or Zenfolio. Ignore it.
 

doug anderson

New member
Thanks, folks. I'm probably overreacting, but I'm concerned with the dumbing down of the culture. But you're right: do my thing and don't worry about the rest.
 

Tim Ashley

Moderator
Thanks, folks. I'm probably overreacting, but I'm concerned with the dumbing down of the culture. But you're right: do my thing and don't worry about the rest.
I think we've seen all this before, in 1888 when the first snapshot cameras were released. As John Szarkowski said,

'It was a common article of faith that art was hard and artists rare; if photography was easy and everyone was a photographer, photography could hardly be taken seriously as an art.'

But for me, one of the places where this gets interesting is the interface between 'serious' photography and the sort of thing you're talking about. The 'snapshot aesthetic' is by now a well-trodden avenue for exploration and whether its Richard Billingham or Nan Goldin or one of any number of others, there's a large body of work which explores exactly what all this banality might mean.

Maybe there's a shot of a sunset out there somewhere which deconstructs and then reconstructs all the others? If not, it might even be fun to try and make it!

Best

Tim
 
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Chris Kresser

New member
I think Sean and Ken hit the nail on the head. Photography is different than many other art forms because it can also be used as simply a method of documentation or reproduction of a scene. It's possible - and in fact common - for someone to take a picture without any artistic intent at all. Their mission is to simply record what is in front of them.

These folks aren't trying to make art. They're just taking pictures. And that's great! Perhaps they are capturing moments to keep in a photo album and look back on. There are many perfectly valid reasons (other than making art) to make a photograph.

Then there's another group of folks who don't make many pictures at all, but love to spend time talking about the technical aspects of photography and cameras on Internet forums. Just head over to DPReview to see what I'm talking about. I used to get annoyed by these folks and wonder why they weren't out taking pictures and improving their art-making skills instead of talking endlessly about the technology. But then I realized that they LIKE to talk about the technology, perhaps more than they like taking pictures. And what's wrong with that?

I agree with you, Doug, that there isn't much inspiring "photography as art" on the most commonly visited Internet sites. On the other hand, I've seen some incredibly profound and powerful work on those sites (Flickr, Zenfolio, etc.) - real diamonds in the rough, so to speak. And then there are sites like Lens Culture, Conscientious, File Magazine, F-Stop Magazine, etc. that approach photography as a visual art and showcase some really inspiring work.

You said it, Doug: "do my thing and don't worry about the rest." A good frame of mind for an artist to embrace.

Chris
 

Ray West

New member
It is easy for me, of course, since I do not look at Flicker or wherever. Equally, I deselect other things, like most tv, films, books, etc.

However, the tendency is to please the masses. So, you can not, unless you spend a lot of money, get a digital camera which has just the functions you need, even though firmware changes are relatively trivial. The mass market for more pixels, jpegs, print buttons, etc. overwhelm the requirements for the better tool for the more serious user. This is just one result of 'dumbing down'.

It is the same with many of the software effects we see, and use. I am not sure if, say, you guys who do model shoots, portraits and the like, all things being equal, I mean throw off the social convention thing, do _you_ prefer smoothing skin tones, etc, to that of a better representation of character?

I think sunsets are sort of difficult, a bit too big to think about, if you try to, that is. The best sunsets, I would never try to photograph them. I've no need to, since everyone has seen them too, and felt and heard and smelt and tasted I expect.

Best wishes,

Ray

(At the moment, hopefully it seems to have passed for the time being, it was the 'creamy waterfall', for me....)

PS, Doug - I've no idea what a Twinkie is, sounds almost phallic. I was using fad as a 'peculiar notion', I guess , and (unusually for me) being sarcastic towards 'crazes' and the followers of fashion.
 

Sean Reid

Moderator
Chris wrote: "...Photography is different than many other art forms because it can also be used as simply a method of documentation or reproduction of a scene. It's possible - and in fact common - for someone to take a picture without any artistic intent at all. Their mission is to simply record what is in front of them."

Yes, I agree.

"These folks aren't trying to make art. They're just taking pictures. And that's great! Perhaps they are capturing moments to keep in a photo album and look back on. There are many perfectly valid reasons (other than making art) to make a photograph."

I agree again (except with the whole notion of "moments" <G>). If it gives one pleasure and makes his or her life happier to make those pictures - great. Are we harmed by them? No, we needn't look at things that don't interest us.

"Then there's another group of folks who don't make many pictures at all, but love to spend time talking about the technical aspects of photography and cameras on Internet forums. Just head over to DPReview to see what I'm talking about. I used to get annoyed by these folks and wonder why they weren't out taking pictures and improving their art-making skills instead of talking endlessly about the technology. But then I realized that they LIKE to talk about the technology, perhaps more than they like taking pictures. And what's wrong with that?"

Amen! That, my friend, is the kind of insight that comes from truly having an open mind.

Kudos to you because I think many have trouble seeing that gear chatter for what it is. It bores me to tears but just because I care much more about pictures than about gadgets doesn't mean everyone else need be the same.

Cheers,

Sean
 
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