On the Art of Not Being Art

So……..last weekend I ventured forth into the wilds and shot photographs, but it wasn’t until mid-week that I was actually able and willing (and emphasis is placed on the word “willing”) to take a look at them. The British use the term ‘rubbish’ to describe that which we Americans typically call ‘crap’. Crap or rubbish the meaning gets through and I wasn’t prepared for being critical of my own work. This is something new (well, sort of) and I must say it’s a disheartening process.

In the past almost all of my photography was simply related to the process of capturing a moment in time for prosperity. Artistry was unimportant. Technique inconsequential. Picture taking was simply a means by which to preserve a moment in time so one could look back upon it at some future point and have a nice smile. The finer points of photography were, shall we say, upon the back burner. But now I must buck up, consider all manners of issues and shoot, shoot, shoot!

Alas, I have now taken my nascent steps into self-loathing.

When one stops taking pictures for the purpose of capturing a moment, but instead attempts to consider what the picture will say, or convey, if you will, one must be prepared for the tortuous process of self examination and criticism. While I have heard and read others make statements concerning the prodigious amount of rubbish/crap they shoot before finding a few gems, I had assumed that my innate gifts and natural talents would spare me of such mundane trouble. Those other mere mortals may have to search high and low to find a pitiful few ‘keepers’, but my media card will be bountifully filled with only the stellar and spectacular.


While still operating purely on amateur inclinations and hubris, I had to wade through the excrement upon my media cards to find anything of merit or value. Maybe five of the pictures of cardinals are okay (with one being pretty nice in my opinion) and nothing of the waterfalls being of any value other than a waste of battery power, which means the power company will make a few cents from me when I recharge it. At least someone will be happy. The photos from Saturday (taken at a golf course in our community) also left me wallowing in despair.

To make matters worse I quickly realized that working with photography software is not as ‘fun and easy’ as I had led myself to believe. I do not lack for software options (minimalist to serious ametuer), but more advanced (and I’m speaking of Adobe’s PhotoShop Elements 6 and PhaseOne’s Capture One) are markedly more intimidating. Just as I believed my so-called natural ability would lead to excellent results from picture one, I assumed my natural talent to pickup on software would be more than sufficient to see me through these applications.

To quote the oft-used expression from the Star Wars movies, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”


10 thoughts on “On the Art of Not Being Art

  1. Ah yes, that wonderful phrase “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Don’t forget its companion… “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

    But on a more pertinent note, why the shift from “When one stops taking pictures for the purpose of capturing a moment” to “but instead attempts to consider what the picture will say, or convey”. Surely that’s just giving yourself a handicap from the word go. Why not just carry on “taking pictures for the purpose of capturing a moment” but simply take more of them.
    After all, the bottom line is, once all the layers of meaning we choose to pile upon it are stripped out, that’s all we’re really doing anyway… and all we can do. For we can never be absolutely certain that the viewer will “interpret” the picture as we perhaps intend it to be interpreted.

    And if its any consolation, my “keep rate” when I first started was about 20%; and now, if I’m extremely lucky, I may be able to manage a couple of extra points on that… occasionally!
    And even the keepers generally aren’t up to my expectations. But what the hell. Its fun!

    And referencing the title of the post, if all else fails maybe we can make an artform out of crap! Whaddya think? 😉

  2. Welcome back from your weekend excursion. I hope it was fun….or whatever it was supposed to be.

    Okay, why shift from picture taking to making art. Because that’s what the 40D is for! I can snap pictures with my Canon A95 or A630 if all I want is pictures for the sake of pictures. Granted, the 40D takes better pictures and certainly the shutter snaps when one depresses the shutter release (as opposed to the painfully slow process when one uses a digital point-and-shoot), but the whole purpose of the 40D was to do something more. Be something more. Accomplish something more. And by “more” I mean other than emptying the bank account.

    Yes, it probably is a handicap as it immediately puts me on the spot to do something better. Pressure is unneeded and actually tends to intimidate me to the point where I don’t want to take pictures. I know; it’s dumb. But I never said I was smart in my WordPress postings!

    I will likely keep all my pictures if for no other reason than to remind me of what not to do. I think I’m likely being way too hard on myself. One doesn’t pick up a dSLR and instantly become a better photographer. If that were true certainly having spent the additional funds for the Nikon D300 would have made me an even better photographer! I’m guessing that inspiration is also part of the equation and where I feel more inspired leaves me taking pictures that I don’t think others will really care to see.

    However, my neighbor across the street had family visiting last week. I had run over there to provide my neighbor a few pictures I had taken when she and I were out on the golf course a few weekends ago. Her sister so liked one of my pictures of the cardinals she asked if she could have one to take home, frame and put up. I was very touched. I should have signed it just in case I’m a world famous photographer one day and she can tell everyone how she got my picture back when I was a nobody!

    Making an artform out of crap is an American tradition my friend. Hollywood, CA is dedicated solely to just that!


  3. Hm… now that’s an interesting take, and one that hadn’t really struck me before. I’ve sort of worked from the basis that a better camera simply means better pictures… not necessarily a different type of picture.
    In terms of making art, well, I’m not sure a better camera will do the trick. Read a coupla interesting blogs within the past few days almost on this very point, where highly “artistic” shots were being produced on 1) one of the old Polaroid instant cameras (land cameras were they called?) and 2) um… I think it was called a Holga – little more than a plastic toy that produces what would technically be regarded as rubbish photos.

    Maybe the better camera would enable the photographer to more accurately or effectively reproduce his/her artistic vision, but I’m not at all sure that it should be seen as anything other than a rather better tool for simply taking “happy snaps”. Have to think about this some more.

    And of course there’s the joy that comes from owning a well-crafted bit of kit!

  4. You bring the point full-circle for me. The 40D is a better tool for taking pictures. If this is true then why would I want to take boring ol every day pictures? Better tools should result in better end-results, which in turn (in my opinion) lead to a desire to create something more interesting than the everyday/mundane.

    The point-and-shoot cameras did a very fine job of capturing the cats playing with their toys, the dogs playing in the snow, my parents visit over the holidays, etc. Am I really getting pictures that are five times better in quality than what I was obtaining with my A630? (the 40D being 5x more expensive)

    At this moment in time I think I’m more trapped by my own preconceived notions of what the purchase of the 40D is meant to represent as opposed to what it can represent.

    No doubt I’m making this more difficult than it need be, but I started the process with certain ideas and expectations and I’m having difficulty letting them go even though I believe I should.

  5. Ok, yeah, I see what you mean, but let’s turn this around… why did you want to take photos of cats playing with their toys etc in the first place?

    Was it that the scene momentarily captured the attention so grab the first image-taking tool that comes to hand (and of course point & shoots are very handy/convenient) or did you get the p&s specifically to do just that?
    So are the scenes being driven by the camera, or is the camera simply what you use when the scene coalesces?

    Maybe this is where we differ, for if I understand you correctly then you’re following the path that the sort of kit one uses should in a sense dictate the type of shot to aim for, whereas for me the camera is simply the tool I happen to use to capture what I see, and I work on the basis that the better the tool then theoretically (subject to my own uselessness of course) the better – technically, in terms of focus, resolution, exposure and all the rest of it – the picture can potentially be (oh how I wish that worked out in practise though. But that’s another point… the more sophisticated camera offers opportunites for learning more of the right skills than does the basic p&s!).
    If I could afford it I wouldn’t hesitate to spend thousands on a fully pro camera but I’d still take the “cats playing with their toys” type shot.

    I don’t think its a situation where there’s a right or a wrong but rather possibly a matter of different perceptions. Should lead to some interesting dialogues ‘twixt us though 😉

  6. Oh… here’s a p.s. to my last…

    Seems to me most scenes are gonna be everyday/mundane to someone. Its our own unique perspective/interpretation and the literal physical angle we shoot them from that makes them unique. And surely that can be achieved as easily with a p&s as a super-duper all bells and whistles camera?

  7. Yes! Yes! You are absolutely correct. A better camera should simply lead to better results when used properly. And offer the opportunity to take the everyday and mundane and perhaps change them (via post-processing) into something more interesting. I should be thinking of pleasing myself and sod all else. I don’t have to impress anyone. My perspective on this has been skewed by certain expectations I made during the research and purchase processes. Shame on me for not being myself and instead being a jerk.

    Funny thing, I very much enjoy the very lovely photos I find at this site (http://www.dooce.com), which are taken from the ‘mundane’ and ‘everyday’ perspective. So here I am thinking I have to be all these things, while I really want to simply be myself….just like the person taking these photos.

    I’m wondering if my issue of analysis paralysis, in relation to the purchase process, has spilled over into my mind-set as far as picture taking itself is concerned?

  8. Wow, I’m impressed! Welcome to the club mate. Let’s get on out there and show all those pretentious little… um… can’t think of s suitable word… that first and foremost photography should be fun, and secondly, that we’re doing it to please ourselves and not to pander to whatever may be the current “artistic fad”.


    P.S., and I’ll check out that website as well

  9. Nothing like having to beat a guy with e-mails and comment to get him to wake up and realize he’s being a total nutter, eh? Thanks for helping straighten me out.

  10. Ah, it works both ways. Think your latest email’s just knocked some sense into my befuddled brain. Responding to that a bit later when I’ve simmered down somewhat from the joy of being freed of the shackles of over-rigid thinking.


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