No Wonder the Digg People Went Crazy

May 30th, 2006  |  Published in old and busted  |  1 Comment

How to Make Great Photographs:

> Avoid the friend, neighbor or co-worker who works in computers, science or engineering and always talks about cameras. These people’s passion is usually just for the cameras or computers themselves, not about photography itself or art or expressing their imagination visually. Watch out for people who prefer to talk about tools instead of actually making photos. There are thousands of people who watch sports on TV and can talk endlessly about sports stats for every one athlete who actually plays professional sports. You want to talk to the rare guy who actually does it.

> […]

> Also be warned: the internet is still overloaded with the technical people who invented it. These are the last people from whom you’d want to learn, since they are usually equipment fetishists, not artists. They happen to be the ones most likely to post websites or waste their time in photo chat rooms and user groups. Beware.

I’m still digesting most of this essay, but the excerpt above resonated as soon as I read it. It’s a pretty harsh summary, but it touches on an idea I’ve had for a few years now, which is that the total number of pretty pictures in the world isn’t necessarily tracking with the amount of art in the world. To some extent, the capacity to make pretty pictures almost effortlessly might even be confounding the instincts of some artists.

I used to walk by a house in our old neighborhood where some folks ran a small gallery out of a converted living room. There was a lot of neat pottery, but there was also some photography. The pictures on display out the front window were marvelously detailed and spoke of someone with access to some great hardware, but they were sort of lifeless … almost pornographic in their fetish for detail at the expense of interesting composition.

Perhaps that was their point, but that wasn’t my instinctive reaction to them. They just looked like hyper-detailed yet uninteresting pictures. Siting next to the much more interesting pottery, it seemed as if the artist was overwhelmed by the mere technical potential of digital shooting and forgot about adding the expression part, which he/she clearly had when it came to pottery.

Anyhow … I don’t like the tone of that excerpt because it takes a second, less-inflamed reading to realize he’s not discounting the potential existence of the “nerd artist” as much as he is pointing out that some tech geeks pose their own risks to discussing photography. It’s understandable why Digg’s readership treated the essay like a swat on the nose.

Some other interesting points:

> Creation is a solitary act. I can’t create photos if I’m being distracted, watched or asked questions. I need to get out on my own and concentrate.

> It’s OK to go out and photograph as a group. You do have to split up and shoot on your own once you get there. Otherwise everyone in the group winds up with identical mediocre shots. Split up and see what you see, then meet up at the end for some socializing.

Definitely how I feel when I’m shooting.

> You cripple yourself if you have someone expecting you to be back at a certain time. I’ve made my best work when I let the group go ahead and I continued to work at something that excited me.

That seems key. Sometimes you have to just stand there and stand there and stand there, which is boring for everyone else but pretty exciting if you’re poised to get the thing you know could happen. I love the sense of disorientation and spaciness that comes from stepping out of that timeless pause and back into Everyone Else time.

In one set of prints I have on the wall, the unifying factor in all of them, interestingly enough, is time. Several were taken on a morning hike at Lost Lake. I put Ben on my back and we set out before anyone else was awake, giving me lots of time to slow down and watch. Another was taken one morning when Ben woke up fantastically early, so I bundled him into the car and we drove to a nearby beach and jetty. Two others in that set were taken on a hike where I made it a point to ask Al to be very patient so I could pack along the tripod and pause a lot. My favorite shot of all in those pictures was taken because I fell back from a group and had plenty of time to experiment before getting just the right one.

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