“In a river the colour of lead”

I’m having doubts. I feel tense. It doesn’t seem right, yet the response has been overwhelmingly positive, or so I think. Was it the right thing to do or have I, as usual, fucked it all up?

I’m writing about my recent series of uploads to Flickr of pictures taken with my no-longer-in-my-possession Canon A95 digital point-n-shoot. You know…things like this:

Neutron & Proton in the sun (3)

As I’ve previously mentioned, my intent was simply to fill the gap that had been created by my not shooting new pictures with either my Canon 40D or the recently acquired Canon Rebel XTi. Thanks to a variety of causes, my time spent with the 40D has been zero and time with the Rebel sporadic and infrequent at best over the past three to four weeks. So up went some personally reviewed and selected images from my old and trusty Canon A95. But does this sort of behaviour fit into the mind-set that was the impetus for the creation of my Flickr account and what do the pictures mean in a greater context?

The intent of my Flickr account was at least two-fold: (1) a place to share publicly my photos, and (2) a place to share my journey as an amateur dSLR photographer. As such it seemed reasonable that my Flickr account would be filled with images taken by me using the Canon 40D (and more recently the Rebel as well) and that said images would weave a tapestry of my sojourn through learning more about this hobby. Notice I didn’t state that my photographs would get better, just that I would “learn” and with knowledge hopefully would come better pictures. Hopefully. (Ahem)

It was never my intent for my Flickr account to contain and display the sort of every-day imagery previously captured with my Canon A95. Those images were, after all, just records of a moment in time. The 40D/Rebel combination are supposed to be more about growth, thoughtfulness…..dare I say it….art? Or, at the very least, a more serious attempt at the hobby of photography if art is too-strong a term to use here (and I know at least one person who would say such!). But does this original intent dictate that I cannot upload images from other cameras of pictures taken with far less lofty intent? And who is to say some of them aren’t perfectly lovely pictures in their own right?

Tired Mercedes in the sun Dec 2004

A review of my various contacts on Flickr provides no insight into this quandary in which I find myself. They really are all over the place in terms of what they post. Some only upload a single image a day or every other day. I imagine this is a best of the best approach and likely works really well if you have such great photos in the first place, which clearly isn’t my situation (perish the thought!). Others post a small collection of images every few days, while others will upload thirty, forty, fifty or more in a single sitting. Many post only images that are directly attributable to their professional standing as a photographer, while most are like me; posting images created from the hobby of photography. Very few offer the more candid every-day type shots. So where does this leave me?

And adding to this dilemma is an issue even darker and more disturbing: I think the recently uploaded, every-day ‘record’ images are garnering more comments than anything I have put up in the past. What does it say about my current photographic endeavors when my just-point-n-shoot images warrant more commentary and praise than my I’m-working-hard-on-this-photograph imagery? How daft (and depressing) is that?

I confess….it is awfully difficult to feel positive about one’s more serious endeavors when it would appear that every-day candidness is more effective and creates stronger responses.


7 thoughts on ““In a river the colour of lead”

  1. Fork, your photo of the kittens sleepy eyed and sundrenched can’t help but garner attention. The subject matter is so sweet! I suspect you are too serious about your photography…. Don’t hit me….but Often just enjoying something comes across. Yes, you do great formal photography but I think, like the amazing photos of your daughter, it is the love for your subject, the pure enjoyment of the moment that makes a photo special.

  2. “every-day candidness is more effective and creates stronger responses”… possibly because it represents some sort of fundmental honesty to which people respond almost subconsciously… recognising some indefinable quality therein that is absent from more “artificial” images?

    Re the Flickr dilemma, well, presumably you’ve guessed my take on it, which is that its all grist to the mill.

    “It was never my intent for my Flickr account to contain and display the sort of every-day imagery previously captured with my Canon A95. Those images were, after all, just records of a moment in time. The 40D/Rebel combination are supposed to be more about growth, thoughtfulness…”
    This, for me, is precisely the sort of remark that pushes me into the arms of the “photography isn’t art” camp for, perhaps wrongly, I read into it exactly the sort of pretentiousness that simply makes me want to mutter “Oh, get your head out your arse and get real!”
    I’m sure that’s not quite how you intended it to sound though. Nevetheless I think in a way it goes right to the heart of your Flickr dilemma which, I suspect, is a reflection of how you “see” photography.

    As you know, for me it serves a dualfold purpose. Initially I embarked upon it simply to create a body of images of certain types of events in order that they could be used by like-minded people as a resource. Also as a documentary record of said events.
    But I very rapidly discovered that I also really enjoyed photography, and everything associated with it. Thus, when I’m not actually pursuing the “work” side of it (i.e., the documentary/photojournalist type stuff) my sole intent really is simply to have fun. And if in the course of having fun I end up with images I quite like then it seems reasonable to share them with others.
    Curiously, as time’s progressed I’ve found I’ve become rather less concerned about the “technical” quality of the images (for want of a better term) and more interested in the overall appearance, “feeling”, “atmosphere” or “look” of the image (however you care to describe it).
    This isn’t to say that I don’t care about or try to become a “better” photographer (in the sense of increasing my understanding of the discipline and improving my technical ability), but I don’t really obsess about it. If it happens, fine… if it doesn’t, what the hell.

    What hasn’t changed though is that, for me, photography is simply about recording moments in time. Nothing more lofty or meaningful than that. If folk want to read more into it, that’s up to them… I don’t intend to.
    And if I can find other fun things to do with it along the way, great, but the bottom line is its still only photography, and nothing to get hung up about.

    Not at all sure that any of this will help you resolve your own dilemma but that’s what mates are for… to share thoughts (as well as photographs).


  3. P.S. You know what I’m like about cats… I can take ’em or leave ’em. And in all honesty I’d much sooner leave ’em. That said, those cat pics above are really neat shots.

    So there!


  4. Your response is precisely what I expected, which is good because this means I conveyed my meaning with enough precision and that I have a good sense of where you are coming from photography-wise. And now that we are enjoying such explicitness, it is appropriate that I reply in kind.

    For me there is a distinct difference between snapping some pics over others. Some pictures (those typically captured with the digi p&s) are very much a record and nothing more. My complete attention at the time I press the shutter is likely a single item: a cat, the daughter, etc. I have little to no concern for the background, the composition, form, structure, line, etc. Framing is the only real issue to which I pay any attention.

    While this photography serves a purpose (recording a moment in time) it does not satisfy or fulfill another part of me. I won’t call it an artistic side, but let us call it a creative side. There is a part of me which wants to combine the excitement I find of simply handling and being behind the camera with being concerned about those issues of colour, line, form, composition, etc. that is part of the creative side of photography (or any such endeavor).

    Oddly enough, my time spent on Flickr has taught me one thing about the course of criteria that photographers often employ in the attempt to create Art or, at the very least, creative photographs: I don’t like a lot of it. I see lots of pictures that I am quite certain follow certain creative precepts and, therefore, should be attractive, but they aren’t for me.

    For me they look too contrived. To posed or created. To unnatural. Which, naturally, begs me to wonder if there is anything to the entire process? Maybe those concepts work to create pictures that most anyone else would enjoy, but I find too many too dull.

    In the end I have no idea where this leaves me. I guess the good thing is I don’t have to worry too much about it. As long as I can derive pleasure from this hobby then I need not worry about the rest. Besides, it would seem that the quest for “better” pictures just seems to cause more headache than it’s worth.

  5. Well, aside from our ongoing “art” debate [grin] it seems that we’re largely in agreement, maybe apart from…

    “For me there is a distinct difference between snapping some pics over others.”

    Well, there’s certainly a difference in my approach to certain types of pic, but I’m not sure its the sort of difference you mean.
    For example, I approach my “photojournalist” type pics rather differently to the way I approach my other stuff, but that difference is occasioned by the situation rather than anything else.
    Specifically, the circumstances under which those pics are taken are generally fairly stressful, and the pics themselves have to be taken in a timely fashion. That’s to say, there’s usually very little time for preparation or to do any extensive tinkering with settings… nor the opportunity to retake shots.
    Of course not every shot at such events is subject to these pressures and where that’s the case then my approach tends to be the same as with all my other stuff.

    The other type of pic where my approach may be a bit different is with the… er… let’s call them “staged” shots. Stuff like the theme photos for example. The difference being that I’m actually planning and setting a scene up rather than simply shooting whatever chance presents me with. But that’s about the only difference. When it comes to the actual act of photographing the scene I’m not aware of there being any difference at all.

    In terms of the things you mention (background, composition, form, structure, line, etc) I think I’ve always taken account of these (not always successfully, I’d hasten to add) but again with the occasional exception of the “event” pics where very often its a case of “beggars can’t be choosers”.
    And, unless the actual physical circumstances dictate otherwise, I can’t see any reason why any pic should be treated differently.

    Nor do I think, in reality, we’re all that far apart in the “art” debate, for what you say about your reaction to so many of the attempts to “create art” fairly accurately describes my own reaction.

    Regarding the quest for better pictures, to what are we actually referring? Technically, or visually? And who decides? For the goal is just far too subjective. Do we go with what’s generally accepted as “better”. Or should we be guided by what we personally prefer?

  6. Well I know that you know that I’m just giving you total shit about the issue of art. Most of the time. I’m not convinced either way regarding the issue of photography as art. It certainly does entail certain characteristics that could be considered part of the crafts that comprise the world of Art, but photography does seem to lack the hands-on quality that I so associate with forms of Art.

    I definitely look at my own photography as falling into the two afore-mentioned groups. There is a distinct difference between those two modes and my approach to those pictures. Maybe even more to the point is how I react to the product (the pictures): I am very forgiving of what I will consider to be a “keeper” in the arena of record images versus hobby images (those where I’m trying to do something other than recording a moment in time). I will keep all sorts of record photographs, which are often filled with all sorts of technical and/or visual flaws/errors/etc. But my level of acceptance for the hobby photos is much, much higher.

    Your final paragraph in your last reply brings to mind a number of thoughts. Perhaps too many to delve into here (even though this is a place where I look forward to the exchange of ideas regarding photography), but here’s what I think regarding your points:

    1) I’m hoping to improve on both the technical and visual perspectives, but I would hope that improving one or the other will have some benefit to the other.

    2) Who decides? I guess that depends. Whoever is the audience would be the most likely answer. If only I view my photos then I need only impress myself. If others view my pictures then I would hope those viewing them would find something of merit or worth to them. Of course I’m not certain it makes any difference in the great scheme of things unless I’m trying to sell my pictures, get them into an exhibit, etc. Then I would have to be concerned about the opinion(s) of others.

    3) I like to believe that there must be some truth to many of the theories and ideas postulated by artists regarding visual arts; the Rule of Thirds for example. (and because it’s the only one coming to mind at the moment) Does utilizing the Rule of Thirds really make for more pleasing symmetry or is this just something “experts” say so that they can write books and make a living at being “experts”? I don’t really know the answer. But I’d like to think that there is merit to many of the ideas put forth and as such I should be able to utilize some of them in an attempt to create more visually pleasing pictures. Otherwise it’s really all just a roll of the dice, isn’t it?

  7. Regarding the distinction you make between your two different types of pic, I suspect that the more effort you put into your “hobby” photos will inevitably reflect itself, possibly with your barely realising it, in your approach to your “record” photos. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t… unless you make a conscious effort for it not to do so. And I can’t imagine any valid reason why you’d wish to do that. Unless you’re just plain perverse.


    Reference the “three points”:

    1) Yes, I’m sure that’s the case.

    2) Hmm. Who decides depends on whom we choose to decide!
    I’m in two minds about this. I suppose if one’s in the commercial market then its quite important that one’s images appeal to the target audience… practically mandatory in fact.
    But if that’s not the case then I think I tend to exactly the opposite. It seems to me that every photographer should, over time, develop their own “style”. I don’t mean that they should consciously set out to do so, but that it will be an inevitable consequence of what and how they shoot. It further seems to me that the, if you like, “integrity” of such a progression or development would be compromised if one’s guided by what appeals to others rather than by what oneself finds appealing.
    This is not to say that we should totally disregard the opinions of others, but that we should be extremely circumspect before allowing those opinions to impact what we ourselves prefer.

    3) By nature I’m somewhat suspicious of all “rules” that relate to creative pursuits, which in part is a carry-over from my time in the graphics trade.
    Seems to me that such rules are derived from an analysis of what is “aesthetically appealing”, and then applied as a guide to the creation of other things that should, therefore, also be appealing. Theoretically anyway.
    But it also seems to me that if one’s guided solely by the “rules” then what’s achieved is little more than “painting by numbers”, and can stifle the creative impulse.
    Consequently I think rules, certainly as they apply to creative matters, should be applied with discretion and indeed abandoned if considered appropriate.

    Perhaps that should be a rule!

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