The Write Way

Closed, Low Rent Apartment Building, Casper, WY

There are all too few people in this day and age who can write and critique, intelligently and sensibly, about photographs and the art of photography. It seems to be a dying art in itself. Sure, we have hundreds, thousands, of magazine and Internet articles hardware, techniques, locations, HDR and camera phones, but those are about specifics. Photography 101 stuff. Great for beginners or hobbyist whose camera bag gets opened only a few times a year, but nothing for the thinking photographer, the artist. It didn’t used to be that way. In past years some of the most talented and respected photographers and photographic curators regularly waxed poetically not on gear or gimmicks or academic double-speak, but on art. Depth. Substance.

Some of the now departed notables included Minor White (edited Aperture when it was still good), Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, John Szarkowski, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Steichen, Stieglitz and, more recently, the hilariously insightful Bill Jay. I highly recommend you read as much from these folks as possible.

Notable contemporary writers on photographic art, those who are still alive and kicking anyway, include Richard Benson, Brooks Jensen and Robert Adams, a former academic who corrected his misguided career and life path from teaching college composition to making amazing photographs.  I have read each and every one of these authors/photographers, but find the most relevance, the most meaning, at least for me, in the writing of the latter. Not only is Adams an exceptional writer (and photographer), but his thinking and reasoning are clear and straightforward. Despite being an academic, he eschews academic speak and writes in a way that is easily understood, but does so meaningfully (he should really be teaching Communicating with the Written Word 101 for college professors). Most importantly, at least for me, is that when I read his books, I feel as if he is writing specifically for me. Reading my thoughts. It’s incredibly inspiring to find an author who can, succinctly and meaningfully, put into words my personal, but poorly considered, thoughts and feelings.

The contemporary writers/photographers I mentioned above, however, are all getting long in the tooth and I don’t see anyone coming along to take their place. Sadly, rational and critical discussion about photography has given way to irrational and emotional blog posts (guilty!) and heated Internet forum arguments about gear and techniques. We seem to be going the wrong direction.

Two inspirational books of Robert Adams which should be on every photographers bookshelf include (among others):

Beauty in Photography
Why People Photograph

others I highly recommend include:

Photographs by John Szarkowski
Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski
History of Photography by Beaumont Newall
Daybooks 1 and 2 by Edward Weston
On Being a Photographer by David Hurn / Bill Jay

note: I am not getting any payments, royalties or pats on the back for these links. They exist simply as references to help you find the books I am recommending.

Pix-ture Perfect

130905_SkidMarks_CheyenneWYSkid Marks, Laramie County, WY

A friend and fellow photographer who shoots primarily large format film cameras likes to use the term “pixelography” to describe digital photography and the resulting digitally prints. He did it again the other day. He doesn’t dislike the digital process, mind you, and probably shoots digitally more than he may care to admit but he feels that, as it’s different than his preferred process, it needs to answer to a  different moniker. I have tried to cleverly refer to the silver-halide process as silverography every chance I get (to differentiate between webplateography, makeyourownemultion-ography, VanDykeography, and Polaroid), but it falls on deaf ears. To be honest, it used to bug me as it was, at least subconsciously, an wee bit of an insult, but I’ve decided it’s an issue that is entirely his.

Still….I wonder why some people are still differentiating digital photography simply because of the process. I started professionally shooting with my first digital camera, a $15,000, 1.3-megapixel, Kodak DCS3, in 1996. Seventeen years ago! Some folks have been shooting digitally even longer. Seems to me enough time has passed for inclusion into mainstream terminology by all. This is even more relevant considering that consumer digital SLR cameras are on a major sales decline, being relegated as unnecessary with improvements to both handheld and cell phone cameras. They could be finished in five years, if you believe the pundits. This means the holdout few still shooting hard-to-find digital SLR cameras and using Photoshop (aging camera jockeys and hipster art students) will be, in the not too distant future, considered the counter-culture traditionalists who dislike the newer technologies, software, and their assigned users. And, more importantly, we will have the responsibility…nay, the DUTY!… to make fun of this new generation  and to call them names (Hmmm….I am beginning to understand the need for differentiation because, because for irrational reasons, I am sure I will hate them). Ideas floating around my head are:

Dinkyography (because the sensors are so small…SLAM!). Variations include Dwarfography and Stubbyography.

Automaticography (because the cameras will have few changeable settings…POW!)

ET-ograpy (cuz you can shoot photos while you “phone home”…oh, snap!)

Straightarmography (due to the outstretched posture used with an LCD screen….booya!)

..and lastly, dumbassography.

I’m leaning for the latter (because, remember, I’ll hate them, but I don’t know why)