Flickr, art, my own pictures, your pictures, and coincidences

(fair warning: this may be a long post but as everything I say is important so you should keep reading)

This morning I was, as usual, doing some of my best thinking, while taking a shower. My shower is where, for whatever reason, I relax and my mind tends to wander and I seem to think more clearly. This mornings topic wound up being about photography.

My photography.

My photography and what I am thinking about it, where I want it to go and what I want it to mean to me. In brief, or as brief as I can be, this is the conclusion to which I came: I am going to take pictures of whatever I want and do with them whatever I want.

I have experienced a variety of feelings over the past few months about what I have been doing and where I want to go, and I seem to have lost sight of my original reasoning for purchasing a dSLR (my lovely, lovely Canon 40D): because my point-n-shoot digital cameras didn’t satisfy my desire for quality images AND because they took way too long to actually ‘snap’ a picture. Too many high contrast photos had that purple fringing issue and you wouldn’t believe how many photos I took that didn’t come out because the subject matter (almost always one of the cats or dogs) moved during the actual capture process. Those digi point-n-shoots are just way too slow at snapping an image, especially without use of the flash. I really never thought much about post-processing of images (other than maybe crop & zoom) and while I knew I wanted to explore photography as an art form I wasn’t buying the camera for that purpose. I derive an awful lot of pleasure from simply taking pictures. Pictures of anything and/or anyone. As a matter-of-fact I think it is the actual process of picture taking that I enjoy more than anything else. Recording images of the more furry members of my family makes me very happy. Getting in the car and traveling to one of my more favourite parks to walk about and snap images brings me great pleasure. Trying to capture a decent picture of a winter cardinal, while elusive, is a great way to spend a morning. Just handling the equipment, the weight in my hands, the strap around my neck, the physical sensation of raising the camera to my eye….all work to create a sense of well-being within me.

Now, I think this train of thought was brought on, in no small part, by a blog posting I read yesterday. You can find it here. The posting discusses some particular techniques to use in Photoshop to create an effect that the writer believes turns an ordinary photo into something extraordinary. And it is a great effect. But here is what I thought was most interesting about his entry: when he shot the original image he already had in his mind what he wanted to do to it. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this idea. He scoped out a location, determined what he would do to an image in post-processing (to obtain his final result) and then shot images to take back home with which to work.

What?

I don’t think like that. I still have a hard time wrapping my wee little brain around this sort of work. Maybe it’s because I see post-processing software as a place to ‘fix’ things or to accentuate something or de-accentuate something. I don’t know. And while I KNOW that image editing software can let me do so many things, I, to be frank, never really think of it in that manner for myself. I take an image to capture a moment. To make a record of a moment in time. For me, it’s more a matter of accurately recording the moment than altering it to convey something more……(maybe this explains why I never liked the work of Impressionist painters until much more recently in my life)

So, I exited the shower feeling….well….feeling better about myself and my photo-taking experiences thus far. I had been comparing them to others (which is patently dumb) and to expectations I had created in my head based upon ideas that had crept into my brain, but which I hadn’t thoroughly vetted in any meaningful way. And suddenly I felt the urge to upload photos to Flickr and join the image-hosting world regardless of the fact that my photos are completely average by any measure. And that is just fine by me.

Now let us jump to this afternoon where I’m using the tag surfer option here in WordPress.com and I wind up over on Blogger (somehow – it just happens you know) and I came across this posting from Tim Connor, who is discussing an article he read by a New York Times Magazine writer named Virginia Heffernan, whose article can be found here. And between them both are interesting discussions of Flickr and what is a “Flickr” photograph. It seems they both generally agree, but with some divergence, that there is a certain type of image for which Flickr is famous: heavily processed with image editing software. Which, of course, brings us full circle; back to my shower and thinking about what I want from my photographic endeavors, and thinking about the posting about how to create a particular look with Photoshop, etc.  Clearly my aesthetic is not their aesthetic and for probably the first time since I began this process in December 2007 I’m okay with the idea that I’m not doing things like other folks.  I don’t have to be anything.  My pictures don’t have to be anything more than pictures.  My subject matter can be what makes me happy and all other considerations be damned.

Besides…..I guess this means I’m pretty avant-garde because my images certainly do not fit within the so-called Flickr aesthetic. Damn if I’m not super-fucking cool.

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9 thoughts on “Flickr, art, my own pictures, your pictures, and coincidences

  1. Talk about following leaders… basically, yeah, all what you said!

    As for that last bit about the “Flickr aesthetic”… that’s just pure bulls**t! Sure, there are a lot of heavily post-processed pics on Flickr, but there’s also loads that aren’t. Dunno what the balance is, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to discover that the ones straight off-camera are in the majority.

    If I had to characterise a “Flickr aesthetic” (assuming such a thing exists in the first place) I’d simply say its a photo-sharing site for Mr(s) Everyman(woman). Pretty much anything goes (good, bad, indifferent) providing its legal of course.

  2. And another thing… that idea of taking a pic that fits into a preconceived idea of what you want to do with it strikes me as really bizarre in a photo-enthusiast type context.

    That’s the sort of modus operandi we used to employ in the graphics trade.
    Its also suggestive of some of the less ethical “documentary photographers” who go into a project with a fixed idea of the story they want to tell (not letting little things like facts and “truth” stand in the way of course), rather than letting the story tell itself almost.

    I think if I ever caught myself doing that I’d be sorely tempted to pack all my kit away and never touch photography again.

  3. In regards to the Flickr aesthetic they may be referring to sites that generate the most views. Ergo they must represent the “Flickr aesthetic” because they are the most popular (at least in views). Just a guess….

    Regarding your second comment, I’m not certain what to think. While I cannot wrap my head around the idea of doing that sort of thing (and I mean that I cannot imagine an end product that is heavily processed from a scene I ‘m seeing in real life), I think I understand why someone may want to do it.

    Consider those pictures whereby the photographer de-saturates the colours of an image until it’s black & white, but then, using image editing software, highlights a single item or part of an item with the original colour or another colour. You know, like a b&w of a face, but the eyes are coloured.

    Or am I not understanding what you’re saying?

  4. I’m more of a capture the truth of a moment kind of person (not ready to call myself a photographer yet) but I think that those who manipulate their images may be more the artist. To me an artist does something to their work. Nonetheless, my favorite photos I’ve taken are ones that are pure, in their original state.

  5. Yeah, I understand only too well why someone would do it (plan a shoot with the specific intention of post-processing), and how they’d probably go about it.
    Its just that (taking my graphics hat off once again) I find it difficult to come to terms with the idea that someone who enjoys photography for its own sake (pretty much as you described what you get from it forkboy) would even want to do it.

    Kym: Whilst not now quite as much of a purist as yourself (which is to say that I’m not now as averse as I originally was to post-processing in order to remedy defects in the original shot with the intention of rendering it closer to how I originally saw the scene or whatever) I still tend to favour your approach.
    You’ve also expressed an idea that I’ve been toying with for some time in my mental tussle with the “art as photography” debate. I always seem to get just so far with this and then stumble on the same question, over and over again… what is the definition of “art”? (And I don’t mean the literal dictionary definition, but how the term “art” is generally conceived by people).
    The vast majority of photographs that I’ve seen and would regard as art have quite clearly been extensively post-processed. So when people speak of a photograph as art, is that the type to which they’re referring?

    That I have neither the desire or intention to do that is one of the principal reasons in fact why I don’t regard any of my pics as “art”… they’re simply photographs.

    That said, I think photographs can be taken “artistically”, which to my mind is a different matter entirely, and embraces the choices made in terms of composition, exposure, etc.
    But does that make them art? No, for me they’re still just photographs! Yet even here I come unstuck.
    Example, of all the pics I’ve shot (published and unpublished) there’s one I really like, and I’m sorely tempted to think of it as “art” even though there was virtually no post-processing involved at all… it just seems to me to have far more of the qualities of a painting rather than a photograph. Its here if you want to see what I mean.

  6. Yes Mike…I very much recall your renaissance, if you will, to the Church of Post-Processing. And I too feel much the same way as does our friend Kym – it’s the image captured at that moment in time that is important.

    But short of taking our cameras, pointing them in random directions at any given moment and pressing the shutter release button, aren’t we frequently mentally processing our images just before we capture them? Framing and composition is a form of processing. Do we want our focal point to be dead center or utilize the thirds principle? Horizontal or vertical? Shallow or long depth of field? In a sense I would argue that as we apply techniques to determine the image we will capture once we depress the shutter release button we are being artists.

    Perhaps we allowing preconceived notions of what is an artist (and therefore art) cloud our opinions? I know that when I think of an ‘artist’ I think of a painter, sculpture, dancer, etc. and maybe we just don’t see ourselves lumped into that same category. It seems to me though that those traditional artists express their perspective of realty through their respective mediums, which is, in essence, what we do when we put our cameras up to our eyes and select an f-stop, a shutter speed, a white balance, the framing of the subject, the focal point, etc.

    And I’m very much intrigued by your comment, Kym, regarding the capturing of “…..truth of the moment”. It reminded me very much of something I have previously read that was written by either you, Mike, or one of your other WordPress mates (maybe LifeSpy) or, sorry, someone I linked to from you, LifeSpy, etc. I seem to recall it was a discussion about photographing demos and how one could manipulate the scene based upon how the photograph was taken. Manipulation sounds an awful lot like what each of us does when we use our cameras as we go through the process of setting up each shot. (although manipulation has such a negative connotation and that isn’t what I’m trying to imply)

    And my apologies if this hasn’t been particularly clear or concise – I’m having a brain-fart of day this morning.

  7. This thread seems to be getting weirdly similar to a discussion I had with LifeSpy ages ago, wherein I argued something along the lines that perhaps the only “artistic” impulse I would acknowledge in the pre-shot stage would be in the actual composition or framing (and maybe choice of “scene”, which can amount to the same thing). The rest of it (all the decisions re exposure, DoF, etc etc) seem to me to be more in the nature of technical considerations, i.e., that which can be determined by a technician (painting by numbers so to speak) as opposed to an artist.
    And I suspect what it all comes back to, once again, is how one defines art. And there is my dilemma/paradox for I have yet to articulate a definition I find truly satisfactory… hence why I’ve still not yet set my thoughts down in a post of my own.

  8. You do that! Hell, we still haven’t yet determined the best choice word for what are these things we are taking with our cameras. Photograph. Picture. Image.

    But if you notice I think I have settled upon image for most instances. Don’t know why. I guess I just felt the need to try something and thus far it has felt most ‘right’.

  9. Dunno ’bout “image”. Think I still prefer your former suggestion “record”. But consistency’s never been one of my strong points (in terminology at least) so I still find myself referring to “pics”, “photos”, or any other term that happens to pop up in my mind.

    But one day I really am gonna have to get to grips with this whole issue. Its beginning to bug me now, and I really resent that.

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