Page 2 of "The Photographer's Playbook" and I was stumped. All Dan Abbe was asking me to do, in this first photographer's "play" was to figure out what game I was playing. It would have been much easier to skip over this first assignment and move on to photograph the moon, or myself in a mirror. But that would have been cheating.
I spent the next few days trying to define the game I am playing, and once I began to be able to articulate it I really began stressing as Dan Abbe then asked me to learn my game. Well that means that I not only need to be able to articulate it, I need to be able to measure some form of progress to in my development.
So I threw out everything I thought about art and photography. I chose to forget that I lack talent, I chose to forget the gear I have or want to get. I forgot about digital, film, storage and display. I needed to articulate my game and here it is.
I want to be able to approach street, landscape, portrait, architecture and still life photography and deconstruct it to a simple image with an emotional involvement. The idea is to create an image with "kando". This is my game. Now how will I learn my game?
Photography as an art form is made to be shared. Just as music is written to be heard, a photograph is taken to share. So I needed to take my photography in each of these genres to others and more specifically to people who understand photography. I needed to be critiqued.
So I divided up these understandings into a simple roadmap for my "game". Below is the version as it sits now. I am sure this will be altered over time, but this is where my thinking is at.
There it is, I have defined my game and I have set out a roadmap to learn my game. I have included establishing the academic background, shooting, printing and sharing. The "end game" is when I have a portfolio that can stand up to a critique and images with kando. It only took me a week to do. What a crazy photo assignment this turned out to be!
The second lesson I wish I learned much earlier in my photographic journey is actually a lesson within a lesson. When I first picked up a camera to start making art, I thought I was after the beautiful image. We all know the one I am talking about, wonderful clouds, colorful horizon with crystal clear blue sky with some warm foreground element to balance off the shot. I traveled the world looking for these shots which I kept seeing in all the on-line photography classes. This perfect image must be the pinnacle of photographic expression, if it wasn't then why would all the experts be teaching it?
Only years later did I realize that the wonderful postcard perfect image of a sunset, with brilliant colors and sense of depth was...crap. The reasons all the experts teach how to capture those images is because it is the easiest thing to teach. There really is very little art in those images. It is about capturing a perfect scene.
Those same experts, then take the photographer indoors to practice shooting with lights, modifiers and reflectors. Again, a place they could control, easily teach and sell a bunch of gear in the process. I do not blame them, I would do the same if I was making a living off photography courses.
What I learned is that Art can be at its strongest when it is simple. Removing the complications of life, the clutter of advertisements and the noise of messages can create a powerful image from a simple object. The lack of busy messages can carry the strongest message through an emotion.
The image of the bulls above, is actually a work by Picasso where he deconstructs a bull in order to be able to transmit a message with as little information as possible. The goal, ensure everyone who looks at the drawing knows it is a bull, but remove all unnecessary things. This deconstruction is amazing to me, and the simplification it brings is astounding.
This idea that art is not perfection, but the communication of an emotion and the power of transmitting that emotion with some very simple objects changed by view on photography. I have not shot a sunset in ages, as I focus more on the details of a persons hand, face or silhouette.
The lessons I learned right after this one is that of size. When I first began printing images, I wanted to print the largest size possible. I printed massive prints, then bought a printer that could print on a large scale only to print largely forgettable images. I thought this was the best that could be done and went about my life.
Then on a afternoon in Paris, I went to a Museum to see an exhibition of my favorite photographer Josef Sudek. I had seen his work in books and on the internet but had never seen one of his actual prints. Imagine my surprise when the image I thought was going to be large was tiny. I was dumbfounded! Here was a master photographer who was printing small images. I stood there wondering why, and then involuntarily took a step closer, then another and another. I found myself getting close to the print, closing the gap, and focusing on it. The rest of the world drifted away and there was only me and this print. A astounding little print.
As photographers develop in their skill set and abilities, there are some lessons that are learned rather late yet can have a very strong impact on the quality of images captured. I decided to make a couple of posts on the two lessons I wish I had learned years sooner than I actually did.
The first lesson I learned from a website that has long ago disappeared. The concept of the site was to bring together photojournalist techniques with the "dad photographer" job role. When I first visited the site, I was taken aback by the quality and honesty of the images he would take. I was so drawn to it, I began to look at the techniques he was employing and then realized that they were the same ones that famous war correspondents would use.
Photojournalists do not take pictures based on a preconceived image. They take what is there, in the most factual way possible and record the event. Dark circles under the eyes, odd clutter around the subject and distracting lighting are all included.
This is not to say that photographers like Emma Goldsmith is wrong, they are professionals and when families go for professional shots, they expect images that are "perfect". Emma did a great job on the image above, and it is an image I would be proud to show. But there is a difference between a photoshoot and life at home.
I want images of my kids growing up, surrounded by all their toys, and clutter that make a house a home. Looking at my photography as a way to capture their "truth" set me free from worrying about the perfect pose, perfect lighting and the absence of noise on the image.
There are some tricks to this approach to photography that are worth mentioning.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.