Being yourself – no gurus

Going Home

Paul Butzi today commented on his intent not to renew his subscription to Lenswork – – noting that one of the effects of Lenswork was to lead young or ambitious photographer to seek to emulate the style of work found therein in order to get their work included. There is a widespread application of this pressure to conform throughout photography, whether propagated by magazines, fora or camera clubs – which has a very clear and obvious parallel in other areas of life… Some magazines are so full of articles on how to make money with photography that you start to feel inadequate if you don’t! Fora demand absolute sharpness and fully detailed shadows – you feel like a second class citizen because you like a shot taken without a tripod that you didn’t labour for hours on in photoshop. I once met a man who had submitted the most beautiful platinum-palladium print into a club competiton only to have it dismissed by the judge because of a slightly blown highlight… he explained that this was because he only had a 5 by 4 camera and had produced the print from an enlarged neg which wasn’t quite a  good as the original… he was going to buy a 10 by 8 camera so that his contact prints would be big enough for the comps. The end result seems to me to be difficulty in having confidence in what we see and wish to make pictures of and a focus on techniques or technical quality at the expense of seeing or the expression of our vision. Fundamentally a lack of confidence in ourself and a consequent inability to make technique a servant in expressing our vision (which is not meant to sound as grand as it does!).

I don’t really know how to fix this – I love looking at other peoples work and find it a great inspiration – but I have found it much easier since stopping buying magazines and limiting my forum activities to places where discussion and criticism of pictures takes place as a constructive dialogue about a picture rather than a simple (often misplaced) one way critique.



4 Responses to “Being yourself – no gurus”

  1. It’s so true, I’ve seen it over and over again in my fairly short photographic lifetime.

    I think there are a couple of reasons that it happens – firstly, photography is something that draws not only the ‘usual’ artistic types who might be into other visual arts, but those who would be interested in the gadgetry, the technical details and the science behind the process of creating images. These people would be more inclined to judge images on their technical qualities, rather than something less tangible and quantifiable, such as their artistic merit (for want of a better phrase). This leads me on to my second reason – when people get together in groups to share and discuss and measure things, they want a set of criteria to measure these things with. It’s pretty much impossible to quantify the artistic merit of an image and all the emotional responses we have to certain images – so they fall back on things that are easier to measure such as exposure, sharpness, straightness of horizons, that sort of thing, where the group has established a clear indication of what end of the spectrum is ‘good’ regarding those criteria.

    It’s a sad state of affairs, but I hope that enough people can realise what’s going on and break away from that structure, to start evaluating their own work based on something other than the technical specifications. I do wonder though, how many don’t, and end up with all their talent funnelled into that narow gap of what is deemed acceptable and good by these majority groups.

    Ok, I’m done!

  2. Good points. I’ve noticed it also, it’s one of the reasons that I stopped participating in competitions, and why I ended up gathering up a group of like-minded friends for critiques.

    I also attended a workshop with Tony Sweet, who does a lot of unconventional photography, and that helped me to open up my eye quite a bit.

  3. Julie, Rakesh

    Thanks for your comments.

    I agree, Julie, that the technical and gadgetry components of photography can draw in poeple who then wish to use that to judge everything. Certainly, I have a technical background:) Hopefully, we can get beyond that either through being inspired by other work that doesn’t depend on technical wizardry or by even seeing that we like some of our own’imperfect’ pictures.

    Rakesh, having a group of friends who share pictures and offer constructive, but not constraining, critique is a great blesing!


  4. My theory is that the technical side of photography is very easy, especially in light of how smart digital cameras are getting now.

    There are a lot of people in one of the local photography meetups who routinely share technically perfect images made with insanely expensive cameras who are amazed at what someone with a “cheapass” camera can do — and still don’t realize how little impact the camera has on the process if you know what you’re doing.

    Most of the people who’ve been attending regularly however are on the other side of the fence. They don’t care much about the toys, they’re more interested in the art.

    You’re right, being able to gather up a group like that is extremely fortunate, and I think it’s been a great benefit to my photography!

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