Monthly Archives: July 2010

Vision vs. equipment

How much effect does your equipment have on your photography? Someone once told me that vision dictates photography, but I would be one to argue that equipment dictates a sizable chunk of the way one photographs. Take for instance 8×10 versus 35mm. Two completely different cameras and two completely different ways of thinking. Granted, you could possibly make the exact same photographs in many circumstances, unless we are talking about action/ sports photography or the likes. Not only does it change the way you shoot your images but the cameras have two very different effects on the people you are photographing (if you are a portrait kind of person).

I know I treat my digital SLR very differently from my 4×5 and I treat the images I make very differently as well. 4×5′s get scanned and stored in a laborious process so I don’t make very many images with the 4×5. I have to have the presence of mind and some foresight to even bring it along on a trip with me. My SLR I throw around like like a yo-yo often not even looking through the viewfinder. It often becomes an extension of my body and I experiment constantly with it. In some ways it is my sketch book for projects I intend to work on in a serious manner. It is also often a light meter, yes I said a light meter, for my 4×5 work. You would be surprised at how close the digital capture is at matching 4×5 slide film.

I also know of people who often go out looking for things to shoot relative to the equipment they are using. Take the Lens Baby phenomenon for instance. While I find it mind blowing that people spend thousands of dollars on a digital SLR and then slap a $2 plastic lens on it, many people enjoy the nostalgia and organic feel it brings to the photographs. It is a mere reaction to the perfection of the digital world and will undoubtedly continue. Although I would hope with less expensive cameras. Seriously, a Holga is only like twenty bucks.

So how much of your photography is determined by vision and how much by equipment? Does the equipment take over at some point?

Adam Clark Vroman

I have spent the last week looking at the work of Adam Clark Vroman. I have long been interested in how the work of late nineteenth and early twenty century landscape photographers have dictated my own, if not others views of the West. Vroman is a kind of link between the early western expansion and survey photographers of Jackson, O’Sullivan, and Hillers and the later more sentimental landscape works of Weston, and Ansel. Take a good look at the landscape work of Vroman and you will see what I mean.

image from the Andrew Smith Gallery

Vroman was not a professional photographer, at least not by today’s silly standard of making more than half your money from photography. Vroman instead owned a bookstore in Pasadena California (which is still open by the way) and he often made trips to the Southwest over a period of ten years photographing landscapes and portraits. His photos he mainly gave away to friends, subjects, writers, and other intellectuals with an interest in the Southwest. Most of his prints were platinum and he never exhibited them.

Now a hundred years later he has become quite a historical figure in photography. HIs prints are bought and collected on a regular basis.

Vroman spent years photographing the Hopi and the Navajo at a time when Western tourism was rearing its ugly head for the first time. The hand held camera had recently democratized photography to the general masses and tourists were likely to pay Natives for a chance to photograph them. By 1902 Hopi Indians had actually restricted photographers to a small area during their their Snake dance. Whether or not Vroman was considered part of the problem still remains a mystery to me. The way he describes photographing a Native portrait seems to be more of an exchange of conversation, description, patience, and eventually prints from the session, seems to me to remove him from that category of camera toting tourist and put him into a documentary / ethnographic category.

The Vroman collection consists of 2400 negatives, mostly glass plate, and a selection of original prints. The collection was purchased by the Los Angeles County schools audio visual division and promptly forgotten about until 1957.

I find the work of Vroman quite beautiful, much as I find the work of Adams, Weston, and Strand beautiful. But my mind stops there on this kind of work. I find it meditative and I marvel at the technical prowess of the photographers, especially during a time of limited technology. I have spent more than my fair share of time working in large format out in the field and even today wit the advances in film and darkroom, it is still a laborious process, but that is part of the reason I do it. It slows me down.

I see this type of work still being made. Take a look at Flickr or even the APUG group and you will see it by the thousands. I even make work that echoes the sentiments of this type of work but I have a much greater task in mind. I want people to question this type of work and the effect that it has upon our sentiments. I want people to understand the power this type of photography has over us and its virtues as well as its downfalls. I need the viewer to think, not just meditate.

in name only

Has anyone else noticed the disturbing trend in the fiction book world lately? You know, the one where the author’s name is now huge and the title of the book is small. I realize the book industry is in a bit of flux here but this is very strange indeed. Imagine if artists started marketing their work this way. Wouldn’t it be strange to see a large panel with a small painting or photograph and a huge name?

OK I get it. Books are different. The goodness is on the inside and the outside is just a package to sell it, but I am talking about a more disturbing trend that has been with art for quite some time. The trend of artists selling work and viewers buying work on name only.

Name recognition, while being a powerful marketing tool, is by no means a judge of quality. For instance, I had a friend once who in the midst of a conversation about photography said the following blanket statement: “I love (insert artist name here). I just love everything he does.” The rest of the conversation went a little something like this.

Me: You love (artist’s name)?
friend: Absolutley.
me: You know him?
friend: Well, no not personally, but I love his work.
me: Of course but you SAID, you love him.
friend: so what is the difference?
me: It is a huge difference. He is a person and his work is an object or objects created by him. He could be a complete asshole for all you know.
friend: I doubt it. His work is amazing.

You see where this is going right. Such and such artist can do no wrong and all his work is great because HE made it. While I agree, I really liked one of his books, I thought the rest were mediocre and never bought any of them. But I also never confused the work with the person either. I always try and judge art on the merit of the object, or more often, the effect the object has upon me. If the work moves me in some way or changes the way I think about the world around me, or hell even if I just like the color scheme, then I am a fan. Sure in the past, I have picked up books because I recognized the name, but I have never ordered a book site unseen. (Thank you Photo Eye book tease) So I guess in the end of this ramble, my point is this: Buy work because you love IT.

just a thought

I make some art that has to do with our conceived view of nature or wilderness and quite often I come across some ironic things out there. I am not sure if others see the same irony as I do but I’ll keep pointing it out just the same.

This is just a thought for the outdoor industry.

When choosing a name for a product that is intended to be used in nature or the wilderness, please stray from naming it things like, “Probe”, “Intruder”, or “Destroyer”. It kind of defeats the purpose.

PS this is not my photo, just one I borrowed from the candy store known as the internet.

digital democracy

A mentor of mine told me a few years back that the digital revolution had made photography more democratic. It put cameras into the hands of the masses and gave them easy access to the photos and the publication or “self publication” of the resulting photos. I agree with him on his theory as the digital revolution has accomplished this in many different realms.

Journalism has seen this same change as well. Blogs and online magazines run for little or no money at all have popped up all over the map. Even Twitter and Facebook have become sources of news for all of us.

Yet at the same time it has watered down much of the content. On a semi weekly basis I look at Facebook and have to wade through pages and pages of Farmville status updates, shameless self promotion, and meaningless crap to get a few worthwhile pieces of information. Same goes for blogs and online magazines. I see the same work over and over again. The sheer amount of work has increased twenty fold, yet the quality has gone down in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong here, when I do find something I really like, I am ecstatic because I had to work so hard to find it. Good photography for me has become like a meal made over an open fire after a 15 mile hike in the mountains. It tastes so much better.

I have no answer to this issue. It just nags at me on a daily basis. Some of you out there probably don’t even see it as an issue. Many of you are probably very excited that you now have these new found capabilities to produce and self publish your work. Me, well, I am a big fan of quality over quantity.