Thursday, March 13, 2008

any bumper sticker ideas?

Tony Mendoza


In the midst of my drinking and schmoozing last week, I spent some time talking to a nice designer guy from California who referred to himself as a "humble, amateur" photographer. He said that he'd been really interested in photography, but found that after photographing every tree, kid, sunset, friend, etc. around him, it all began to seem redundant and boring. As if he'd approached every available subject, did what he could do with it, and wanted to move on to the next thing.

The more I think about it, the more I think that his approach to photography makes sense, but is the very source of the problem that he's encountering. More often than not, students in my intro classes come in with the notion that the success of a photograph is almost exclusively dependent upon their choice of subject matter. If a picture includes a weathered barn or a dog or a southwest desert, it must be "good." As I've gone and on about here (speaking of redundancy), my interests are in photography that is about that relationship between the photographer and the subject, whether it's a barn or a dog or a red rock arch.

Wright Morris

Len Jenshel

If I were going to lose money by producing photography related bumper stickers, the first sticker I'd make would be "DON'T TAKE PICTURES, MAKE PICTURES" for it's reinforcement of the call for individual action. It's rare that passivity is used to advantage, maybe in terms of personal interaction, but not in terms of the actual picture-making. But still, the question is one of balance. Making work that's honest and personal, yet not so manipulated or indulgent that it becomes excessive or narcissistic. A favorite quote from Robert Adams, a perfect example of a photographer who doesn't appear to have ever gotten bored with trees:

"When we think of pictures in the documentary style we think of views that tend to be frontal, that are made from enough distance to put the subject in context but not so far away as to reduce the scene to an abstraction of oriental planes, and pictures that are printed so that they are not difficult to retranslate back into life. There are, to be sure, as many varieties and degrees of this style as there are photographers who use it, but its distinguishing characteristic is always the same, restraint- an avoidance of bizarre camera angles, extreme lenses and formats, and exotic darkroom manipulations. That rationale is respect, a deference for the subject on its own terms a deference afforded naturally to what is itself eloquent. The photographer's chief effort is to be fair."
-from Why People Photograph ("Michael Schmidt")

4 comments:

gemstate said...

"Photo Student", permission to make mistakes and drive poorly.

simon said...

Can i place an order for one of your bumper stickers? I say that I'm going out to make a photograph all the time and people don't like it.

Anonymous said...

What are "oriental planes"?

shawn said...

my take on the oriental planes is that he's referring to work that gets so far back that perspective is lost and it becomes abstract. like aerial photography.
simon, i'll stick by you... "make" beats "take" anyday.