An exercise in self-gratification

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON PHOTOGRAPHY.

As mentioned before, I have a proven capacity for putting words together in a way which can mean something other to the reader than was my intention. It is a safe assumption that any derogatory comments, or mickey taking, are intended against me and nobody else.
Photography is basically an individual occupation. Many photographers have an aversion to taking pictures in the company of other photographers. Is this because we do not want anyone else to "steal" what we have seen, or, even worse, to produce a better image of it than we have? Is it because we do not want comment on the way we obtain our images, or, for others to see just how much film it takes to get one good image? Personally, I think that the company of others far outweighs any of the above. I also find it as pleasurable to share with others what one has seen at the time of taking the picture, as it is to show the resulting print. It is unusual for two, or three, serious (that sounds pompous, it is not meant to) photographers, to be interested in photographing exactly the same thing, in exactly the same way. Having said this, there are many occasions when the need for privacy prevails. For instance, if the mood takes me to stand in a mountain stream for a couple of hours, just looking & assimilating the emotional rapport with what is in view, I would much rather be alone, with no interruption to this process. There have been times when, having done this & spent time setting up a shot, some total stranger will stand at ones shoulder & photograph the same thing. This could be irritating, but it should not be, they have as much right as anyone else to take that picture and if theirs turns out “better”, for whatever reason, then the best of luck to them. I believe that, without the emotional involvement, it is highly unlikely to be “better”.
Why do we take photographs? There are probably nearly as many answers to this as there are photographers. Do we take them for our own pleasure, or is it to show them to others. If it is the latter, do we “adjust” what we are presenting in a manner to accord with our conception of what will be of interest to the prospective viewers. If we do this, are we not corrupting our own style of photography? Either an image is of interest to the viewer, or, it is not. In the former case analysis is totally irrelevant & will not change anything. It would only be of benefit in a teaching environment & even then its benefit is questionable as it encourages the following of a particular style in place of forming ones own style. In the latter case its only benefit is in the alleged "improvement" of an image. The result of this is an image, which conforms to the viewpoint of the analyser and probably destroys utterly the photographer’s original concept. It can still be beneficial to have others comments on ones images, mainly because having created an image, the photographer is too close to it to see it objectively, whereas others will be able to. Any image can be improved, the question is, where do you stop? You should certainly stop when you are satisfied & not when somebody else is.
What are we to think about image pre-visualisation? Does it really matter ? Surely if the end result is an image which gives satisfaction; impact; or, whatever, it is totally irrelevant whether the image required a period of time to visualise & obtain, or, whether it was a pure "snap-shot" (the hyphen is deliberate). Explanation of an image, whether by its creator or a critic, would appear to be pointless. An image may be intended to portray a story, an emotion, or myriad other things. On the other hand, it can be an image for its own sake, with no "message". If it is the former & the viewer fails to understand, or misunderstands the "message", for that particular viewer, the image has failed in its purpose. In both cases, if the viewer interprets the image in a way, which the photographer did not intend, this is the viewer’s prerogative & the photographer can do little about it. We must all have taken photographs which portrayed something to somebody which we did not intend & may even be horrified by, but none of us is qualified to analyse an image to ascertain every single way in which it can be "seen", & would not want to do so anyway. What I am trying to say is that, an infinite number of viewers will obtain an infinite number of impressions from an image. If the photographer retains satisfaction with the image, over a period of time, it has succeeded.

Having come to photography fairly well on in life and suddenly discovered clouds in all their glory, whilst I regret the lost time, I feel that it was of advantage to me in some ways. Being pretty well set in my ways & thoughts, I was less prone to pick up others style of doing things. Also being aware, that nothing is new & that anything we photograph will have been done by somebody before, probably better, I deliberately avoided buying, or looking at books by other photographers. My reasons for this were that, I wanted to formulate my own way of “seeing” things & not be influenced by others, also that I did not want to look at something I wanted to photograph and recognise in it an image by someone else. If I did, I would then not take it & would lose the pleasure involved in doing so. There was one exception to this, it was a book of Henri Cartier Bresson’s images. Having seen some of his work & recognised in it my feelings for urban photography, I realised that he was so masterful that anything I did which was similar, would not be plagiarism, but merely an obeisance to a superior photographer.

Quite recently, a friend having seen what I was trying to achieve with my Snowdonia images, lent me a 20 year old book by John Blakemore, which is filled with that type of image. Interestingly I did not feel threatened (that is the wrong word, but probably describes the feeling as well as any other) by these images, instead, when I looked at his sea-shore pictures I immediately wanted to get my camera & go to the sea-shore to get my own images of it. I think that this is probably because I have had time to become happy with a style of my own and although this style mimics in some way that of another, I am secure in the knowledge that it is my own & I have not copied someone else’s.

There is a tendency to think that, if one buys the latest, all-singing, all dancing, multi-functional, plastic or metal box that the Japanese or Germans care to offer us, it will improve our photography. IT WILL NOT. The only benefit from spending more money on equipment is to enhance ones versatility, that is to allow you a greater degree of choice in how & where you can take photographs. Spending more money on lenses only gives you an option of a wider aperture to use & better quality glass enabling better enlargements. None of this makes you a better photographer. It is easy for me to say this because I was lucky enough to be able to buy the expensive equipment, but it is still true.
It is obvious from this that the purchase of expensive equipment, whilst desirable from other aspects,
even if it is only to assist one in being a poser, has no effect on what one is going to photograph, or in how one is going to present the final image. What one photographs comes from the head & the heart, it does not come from the equipment one uses to grab that moment in time on film. Most of my expensive Canon equipment has now gone & by choice I use a large format camera made in the 50’s with lenses dating back to the 30’s, all of which helps me to get emotionally involved with & part of what I am trying to record on film. Where this is impractical, I use a 35mm Leica, which was surprisingly easy to get used to. The reason for choosing a Leica to replace the Canon, was that the German glass gives me a negative of similar consistency to those from the 5”x4”. My relatively expensive enlarger has long gone & I now use a condenser enlarger which was last made in 1951 which I cannot get parts for, so I use negative holders of a different make & stop light leakage with parcel tape and cardboard. I also have a cold cathode enlarger of indeterminate age, for my 5”x4” negatives. I do have quite good lenses for these, which is the only thing that matters. Apart from the enlarger lenses, all of this was bought second-hand. If I had the money, I would probably buy a “better” condenser enlarger, not because it would produce better prints, it would not, but it would probably be easier to use.

A fair degree of "self-satisfaction", or, "arrogance", or, whatever you like to call it, is necessary to enable one to display ones images, particularly to other photographers. Having done so, arrogance is replaced by a feeling of nervous anticipation as to what comments may be made. Whether comments are favourable, or, otherwise, the end result is similar. Praise simply confirms the photographer’s own opinion & restores the arrogance. Criticism is ignored, on the basis that the critic does not understand the image, therefore again arrogance is restored. No comment at all is the worst possible thing, as it leaves one in limbo, with no base from which to restore self-satisfaction. Fortunately it soon comes back, or, we would just stop taking photographs.

If we choose to exhibit our work to others, I am led, somewhat tongue in cheek, to question our motives in doing so.
Is it:- (a) To act as interesting wallpaper; (b) To astound others with our brilliance; (c) to provide something to interest others, (d) to watch anxiously from the far side of the room, waiting for the crowd to gather round & admire it, or (e) to obtain the approval of others.

Although all of the above has some relevance, I prefer to see it as a means of sharing a moment of time which gave pleasure, by presenting ones interpretation of that moment, in the hope of sharing the pleasure with others. Assuming that commercial considerations are not involved, the prime requirement of any image is that it gives pleasure to its creator. If it gives pleasure to others, that is a bonus, not a requirement. Having said that, most of us want others to see & admire our work. There can be little that gives greater satisfaction than the approval of our images by our peers. Art, Analysis, etc; have no relevance whatsoever to this.

Bruce Carter – 17/03/98.

Your comments would be appreciated

 

Bruce Carter, FZPS