Restoring the Craft in Photography
In a world where folks take more photographs than ever before the craft in taking those photographs is dying. Photographs are endlessly generated but no one seems to take the time to consider the craft involved in creating a true photograph. Millions and millions of random snapshots appear on Facebook, twitter and the rest of social media outlets.\
An argument can be made to blame the smart phone directly. It is extremely convenient. It is always accessible. We never leave home without it. At least with the point and shoot pocket cameras, of the last couple of decades, the process in your mind was entirely about taking a photograph. You had to reach for what you knew was a camera then raise it to your eye, frame a photograph and then click the shutter. Somehow, the smart phone breaks that mental process. The device is almost always in your hand and opening an app or swiping the screen it doesn't seem to simulate the process of thinking about taking a photograph. The smart phone experience seems closer to the same mental process that we use when answering a text message or checking email or Facebook. I don't believe this stimulates the same creative juices that are required to really manage the craft involved in creating a photograph.
There are proponents of what is referred to as “ iPhonography “. I applaud their efforts. They use the little cameras built-in to smartphones to create some really beautiful photography. They blog, tweet and produce inspirational training videos on the skills involved in creating a photograph with smart phone. However, I’m not really convinced there is a tremendous amount of skill using a smart phone to make a photograph. Certainly there is a set of basic instructions on how to use the app. There is a list of different apps you can choose from. There is an even longer list of apps you can use to edit your photographs. Almost all of these applications allow you to add filters's to your photographs. These filters range from mild tint to bizarre colorations and distortions. They also allow you to upload your amazing creations in aninstant your favorite social media destination. This allows up to millions of people to view you're your masterpiece all across the globe. The total viewing time, about one second. Your photograph probably won't end up in a museum either. A life time for a photograph online is rarely beyond a few minutes. The likes, views, hearts and emoticons fade quickly and are remembered by no one.Photographs that last are those that do hang in museums. Work by world renowned photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Cappa, Ansell Adams and a litany of others. Finding a list of these folks is as simple as Google. Appreciating the craft requires an outing to see a show in real life.
So what's the difference? Why are they in museums while your photographs don't even get there 15 minutes of fame. The best answer I have is the craft put into those photographs. The discussion at this point, requires the definition of the word craft. Our boy, Merriam Webster, informs us of the following:
Bicycles Stairways - Henri Cartier-Bresson
The discussion at this point, requires the definition of the word craft. Our boy, Merriam Webster, informs us of the following:
Full Definition of craft
1: skill in planning, making, or executing : dexterity
2: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill <the carpenter's craft> <the craft of writing plays> <crafts such as pottery, carpentry, and sewing>
b plural : articles made by craftspeople <a store selling crafts> <a crafts fair>
a : a boat especially of small size
This sounds a bit broad. Let me refine that a little bit. Zoom in, so to speak. Craft is the skill in planning / seeing, making and understanding of the tools required for photography. The next step along the path is becoming an Artisan.Wherever these terms are used in other disciplines there is always an object of some type that results from the effort. Think of the carpenter, the stone mason or, closer in spirit, the painter.
Let us also cool our jets for a minute. I am not saying this cannot be accomplished with a smart phone camera but it is rarely done and for our purposes offers to many distractions. I think a return to craft would result in those tools being put to generally better use. Allow me to propose a plan to help you start building your craft.
Step one - Get a camera. I don’t care what kind. Just a dedicated camera. I favor my 500 c/m Hasselblad when the juices are really flowing. My digital Nikons come out for work and family snap time. You might pick up a really cute digital point and shoot. Fine, my only specification is that it be capable of working in a manual mode or at least a dedicated aperture priority mode.
Step two - RTFM. ( read the fine manual ) This is part of the discipline training as a growing crafts person.
Step three - Get off your duff and spend some dedicated time looking for photographs to make. ( no selfies, not yet )
Step four. - Read a book, a book about photography. Yup, a book. No video substitution. This can be technical or inspirational. Even Dr. Suess can be inspirational. Though, you might have a little trouble finding a talking cat. Practice something you found in the book. Imitation is a very practical form of flattery.
Step five - Make some prints. You can get them at some WAL place or online. Again I don’t care. Once you get them, hang them up where you see them often. Look at them and think about how they affect you. Are they warm and really fuzzy or are they dark and dangerous?
Step six - Think about why any one or group of photos makes you feel that way. Now go out again and try to duplicate that feeling with new photographs.
Step seven - Go to a museum, a gallery or an art show and pay attention.
Step eight - You’ve been waiting for this one. Rinse and repeat. ( after three rounds you can take selfies but I bet they’re much different. )
In going over these exercises for about forty years, I have learned a great deal about the craft of the photograph. I can guarantee that as you grow as a photographer or if you just do this for a while. Your photographs, even on your phone, will gain new life and you will have a greater appreciation for the craft of photography.