Friday, May 25, 2012

They said it best

Today marks the first anniversary of the first post on the Prairie Rim Images blog.  That was actually just a "welcome" post; the first real meat was posted two days later.  I decided to celebrate by sharing with you all a number of insightful quotes about photography that I've saved over the years.  Some of these quotes did not originally refer to photography, but are nonetheless applicable to creative endeavors.  Hopefully some of these will inspire you to pursue a new direction in your craft as they have me.

I'll start out with a few from Ansel Adams.  Many of these came from his 1983 book, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, which I found to be a wonderful glimpse behind the scenes into the mind of a master.

"Absent from these pages are statements of what the photographs 'mean.'  I cannot, and will not, attempt to describe, analyze, or define the creative-emotional motivations of my work or the work of others.  Description of the inspiration or the meaning of a work of photography, or of any other medium of art, lies in the work itself.  The endless discussions of creativity appear to me to be pointless intellectual carousels; their purpose seems more the presenting of burnt offerings and worshiping of modish identifications than the achieving of mutual enlightenment.  Only the print contains the artist's meaning and message.  I hope that my creative and technical standards are supported in this book more through my images than through my dissertations."
-- Ansel Adams, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, p.vii

"All art, including photography, cannot be defined or explained because it relates to experiences not measurable in material terms.  Physical procedures and techniques may be thoroughly discussed, but these are of little value unless a compelling creative reason-for-being exists.  To borrow again from the statement by Alfred Stieglitz, the camera enables us to express what we have seen and felt in the worlds of nature and humanity."
-- Ansel Adams, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, p.170 (final paragraph of the book)

"There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept."
-- Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams, c.1950
"I have done considerable work with the 35mm and hope to continue in the future.  I stress the importance of choosing (if possible) the ideal camera and format for the problem at hand.  In general, I favor a tripod-mounted view camera for static subjects that invite contemplation -- or a small hand-held camera for 'the decisive moment.'  This term is the title of Henri Cartier-Bresson's superb book on his work; it defines better than any other description I know the importance of highly trained awareness of the 'moment' and the immediate and intuitive response of the photographer.  It should be obvious to all that photographers whose images possess character and quality have attained them only by continued practice and total dedication to the medium."
-- Ansel Adams, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, p.156

"...very few photographic manufacturing technicians comprehend photography as an art form, or understand the kinds of equipment the creative person requires.  The standards are improving in some areas, however:  in my opinion modern lenses approach the highest possible levels of perfections, and today's negative and printing materials are superior to anything I have known and used in the past.  I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it.  I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop."
-- Ansel Adams, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, p.59

The above was written in 1983, one year before Adams' death.  At the time, the most popular desktop computers were the Apple IIe (the Mac was still a year away) and the IBM PC Jr.  Mass-produced digital cameras wouldn't appear for another dozen or so years.  Amazing foresight for a man that had witnessed 60 years of photographic evolution.

"In the electronic age, I am sure that scanning techniques will be developed to achieve prints of extraordinary subtlety from the original negative scores.  If I could return in twenty years or so I would hope to see astounding interpretations of my most expressive images.  It is true no one could print my negatives as I did, but they might well get more out of them by electronic means.  Image quality is not the product of a machine but of the person who directs the machine, and there are no limits to imagination and expression."
-- Ansel Adams, An Autobiography, 1985

"The digital revolution in cameras and printers has been good and bad for photography.  A vast number of people are taking more pictures than ever before, mostly creating a sea of mediocrity.  Digital pictures can be bigger and sharper than ever before, but size and sharpness are nothing without content and ideas.  Digital manipulation has undermined the believability of photographs and the tripod has killed the moment.  We have been flooded with a plethora of big and boring pictures being sold in limited editions at inflated prices.  I still prefer the intimacy and manageability of smaller prints, which people can look at on a one-to-one basis."
-- Constantine Manos, Rangefinder magazine, April 2010, "American Color"

I've also found some great inspiration from listening to live interviews with successful photographers.  Ibarionex Perello's The Candid Frame podcast is one excellent source for these.  I also used to enjoy the now-defunct PhotocastNetwork.

"As photographers, we get so fixated on making the image that we're not present, appreciating what is around us in the moment...  when we think about it in terms of a photographic trophy we're going to take home we miss out on the whole point of being out there."
-- Ibarionex Perello, focus ring #10

"For me, sometimes I'll go to an event, and I'll recognize that sometimes I'm separating myself from the experience as a result of having the camera with me.  Other times, the camera provides me the opportunity to get closer to it than I might be able to otherwise.  But I think one of the challenges for me, a little less so now than it was before, is giving myself permission to be in the experience, to be in the moment, to enjoy where I am and not be so trophy oriented in terms of, 'gotta get this picture, gotta get that picture,' because I think that you lose what could be the best part of the experience and that's just being in the experience and not being so fixated on just getting the photograph.  It's a struggle for a lot of people."
-- Ibarionex Perello, The Candid Frame #51 interview with Jay Kinghorn, 20 April 2008

I tend to have that problem myself, especially since I shoot events professionally.  Whenever I'm at an event with my camera -- whether I'm on the job or not -- I find myself acting as a disconnected photographer rather than an engaged spectator.  I have to consciously put the camera down and pay attention most of the time.  More quotes from podcasts follow:

"What good is a picture if it's not shared?  And so, sure, you can take a picture and be happy and proud of it for yourself.  I respect and appreciate that opinion.  But, you know, art, if it's locked in someone's basement, it has a hard time changing the world.  And if the [end goal?] for art is to effect change, like let's get those images out there."
-- Chase Jarvis, The Candid Frame podcast #86 (6 Dec 2009), referring to his book, The best camera is the one that's with you

"When speed dating, wear a low cut blouse."
-- Jeff Curto on focus ring #12

Explanation:  when you only have a short amount of time to interest somebody in your photo, hit them with something that's immediately accessible and engaging.  As an aside, Curto's "History of Photography" podcast series is incredible.

I've also found some insights into what it takes to be both commercially and artistically successful in this business: find, develop, and practice your own distinct style.

"Photographers should know that it is possible to rise above the clutter and be successful.  Not just monetarily, but successful in terms of the satisfaction you will get from doing absolutely the best you can with your images.  Shoot from the heart.  There is room in the photographic world for original thought.  In fact, it's far more important today than it was in the past."
-- Anne Geddes, Professional Photographer, Jan 2009, "Shoot from the Heart"

"There's a ceiling to how much you can charge as a general practice photographer, but the more specialized you are, the more branded your signature style is, the more valuable your images become.  Clients are trying to figure out what you're really good at, what you're passionate about.  When you have a truly distinct style, it becomes all about the picture, not your experience or your age or your equipment.  Vision is what gets you jobs now."
-- Rob Van Petten, Professional Photographer, Jan 2009, "Near Future"

And how do you set yourself apart from the crowd?

"Avoid the temptation of imitation."
-- Kenny Loggins, TV interview, Legends & Lyrics

"If you want to take more interesting photos, become a more interesting person."
-- summarized from a dialog with Jay Maisel

"If you've been bit by this photography bug, by this need to put frames around scenes and edit out reality, you have to go out and do it.  Put everything else on hold and go out and shoot.  That's how you find your style."
-- Rob Van Petten, Professional Photographer, Jan 2009, "Near Future"

"You have to get back to what it was about photography that interested you in the first place.  It comes down to doing projects for yourself, going out and photographing things that inspire you.  Those who do are the truly successful photographers, in the much larger sense of success."
-- Eric Meola, Professional Photographer, Jan 2009, "True"

"I need personal work.  I think every artist does.  I think we all do.  If you do too much client work and not enough of what you think you can do and want to do, it gets very tedious and you kind of lose scope of why you're in this in the first place.  And so this project kind of gave me a huge reawakening of why I love this and why I'm excited about this Photoshop stuff...  You have to spend quite a bit of money every year in self promotion, printed materials, and personal projects.  People value that.  Art directors value that stuff.  They love seeing your personal stuff.  As much as you can afford to do, I think that's wise."
-- Dave Hill, in a presentation at Valio Con 2011

Walt Disney, c.1954
"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long.  We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
-- Walt Disney (from end credits of Meet the Robinsons)

If you want to avoid burning out, don't become too entrenched in the job:

"Once the amateur's naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it.  Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur."
-- Alfred Eisenstaedt, photojournalist who captured "V-J Day in Times Square"

"Work on stuff that matters.  Create more value than you capture.  Take the long view."
-- Tim O'Reilly, in his 11 Jan 2009 blog entry

"Craft without vision is just an exercise in pressing buttons."
-- Andrew S. Gibson, in one of his The Magic of Black & White ebooks

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive.  Because what the world needs is men who've come alive."
-- Gil Bailie, as quoted in Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

Artist Chuck Close has a different opinion than Bailie:

"Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.  If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.  But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else you reject will push you in another direction."
-- Chuck Close, in Andrew Zuckerman's book, Wisdom

"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are.  I don't believe in circumstances.  The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them."
-- Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893), act II

One of the great things about photography is that it teaches us to pay attention to the world around us:

Dorthea Lange's iconic "Migrant Mother"
"Stare.  It is the way to educate your eye, and more.  Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop.  Die knowing something.  You are not here long."
-- FSA photographer Walker Evans

"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."
-- FSA photographer Dorthea Lange

"Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling.  If you can't feel what you're looking at, then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."
-- photojournalist Don McCullin

"There will be times when you will be in the field without a camera, and you will see the most glorious sunset or the most beautiful scene that you have ever witnessed.  Don't be bitter because you can't record it.  Sit down, drink it in, and enjoy it for what it is."
-- DeGriff

"Light makes photography.  Embrace light.  Admire it.  Love it.  But above all, know light.  Know it for all you are worth and you will know the key to photography."
-- George Eastman, founder of Kodak

And finally, computer science guru Donald Knuth explains why being a gear head isn't all bad:

"The enjoyment of one's tools is an essential ingredient of successful work."
-- Stanford computer science professor Donald E. Knuth

I suppose that's about all I should take the time to share today.  While researching backlinks for this post, I discovered a great web site for photography quotes:  I really want to hear any other great quotes that have inspired you folks.  Please share them in the comments below!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comment below. Comments are moderated, so don't be alarmed if your note doesn't appear immediately. Also, please don't use my blog to advertise your own web site unless it's related to the discussion at hand.