Thursday, May 22, 2008

dancing about architecture

Listened to an interesting discussion this evening from Jeff Curto, on his Camera Position podcast/blog. Jeff was describing what he considered the contribution of an arts background was to a photographer. I have had a very engineering focused education, with very little exposure to the arts. I've always felt somewhat limited as a result of that, particularly when I venture into what might be considered fine art photography. Often I just don't have the context to even understand work or to talk about it in a sensible way. I don't mean the obfuscated, cliche-ridden world of 'artspeak' but just to be able to find the intersections and shared ideas that can really bring work to life. I often hear people discuss symbolism and archetypes in work and I'm groping towards what that really means and how to use it. Pictures that aren't what the subject is, but what else it is. Matters of colour theory or clever nods and winks back to other work. I've looked at a lot of photography but maybe haven't ventured far enough afield into other areas or types of artistic expression to really get the breadth or depth of knowledge that I'd like to have. Jeff talks about the purpose of an arts background really being about exposure to a lot of ideas and art. Perhaps it could be considered as a guided, focused tour through the history of artistic styles. The study gives you the opportunity to synthesize ideas together in your head. To make connections, to spawn new ideas and perhaps avenues for your own photographic work. To me that is quite a marked contrast to the much more teaching-oriented engineering discipline. There are right and wrong answers, much of the learning is understanding methods and mathematical approaches. Certainly at a deeper level it is also about exposure to and synthesis of ideas and concepts , but there seems to be something different going on with the arts approach. Knowing and experiencing is perhaps more important and there aren't right answers, just ideas. Jeff also touches on another subject that I've kept coming back to in this blog. That's the idea of shooting things that you care about. Finding the things that you love or that you are passionate about and making pictures on, around or about those topics. That seems to be the best way to push deeply enough into an area to have the opportunity to do interesting work. On the flip side, I'm also keenly interested in photographing the things that scare me a bit or that I'm afraid of. Following your fears as well as your passions seems to be a powerful way to make good progress. Really I think that passion and fear are both parts of the same idea of following your strong emotional responses and trying to bring that into your images. I've seen a big improvement in my pictures when I do this and also changes in my own life that reach out into other parts, helping with more than just image making. An upcoming work event will require quite a lot of networking and generally approaching strangers, making a quick impression, talking, making conversation. Used to be that was a particular area that I was uncomfortable with, but the last year or two of portrait photography has helped me develop just those skills. What was a bit of a concern now doesn't really bother me at all. Jeff's discussion can be heard here and there is a follow-up discussion on his blog. Get involved if it interests you.


doonster said...

Gordon, I understand where you're coming from being an Engiener myself. however, this is my counnterpoint. I like to go at the art making process unencumbered by previous ideas, motives, motiefs etc. I want it to be about what I wnat to say, not what others have said in the past. I have spent (and continue to spend mroe time) trying to learn about other art, but not really art theory. I think it can get in the way.
It's much the way I approach my engineering, too. I try not to get caught up in other's theories about things and let my own anaylsis lead me to conclusions. I merely let the laws of physics act as the boundaries.
In both caes I need to feel I undestand the process and the result for myself, regardless of opinions or anaylsis of others.

As for the portrait work, I think that would be far to scary for me to even start.

Ted said...

I wonder how much an artist is held back by his lack of technique. I wonder how much technique is applied engineering. In photography technique means the mastery of an astonishing range of pre and post processing apparatus (a multi-light shoot for example). You mention the color wheel, and its mastery.

Someone once wrote that you always have as much technical mastery as you need. And yet most photographers are gear heads… obsessed with the Great White out there somewhere which will open up a door to creative expression that will… will… to outrageously mix metaphors… wag the dog.

Jeff’s musings in that podcast affected me the same way it did you. I wondered if I’d missed the art-education boat that actually harpooned Moby Dick. Have you listened to Jeff’s course on art history? It’s stunning background for those times when you are alone with your monitor wrestling a concept free from the pixel pile your camera delivered up.

I wonder if every artist wonders about the opportunities less traveled? Earlier this month a quote for Jack Kerouac triggered an image out when I read… “What’s in store for me in the direction I didn’t take?”

I wonder about the things I'll never know that will allow me to understand and then communicate that understanding or the feelings of my understandings in images. And what’s in store in the direction I didn’t take. We’re on the same page here Gordon… all of us who want our art to be meaningful… and to learn from the wheel, but not reinvent it.

As for Doonster's approach... Yeah... the mystical exploration of what we can discover inside of us is a parallel approach... one that consistently presents us with a thrill of discovery... but may become discouraging as we bonk up against the walls of our own selves. How often do you hear the lament, "I seem to be taking the same pictures over and over..."? Perhaps it takes the whump on our paradigms from outside to redirect our discovery process?

Thanks for thinking at me…

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