Friday, May 13, 2011

A Rant about a Ranter

As everyone on the blog knows, I very frequently take issue with conventional photographic wisdoms. It’s true I do.

Next month, David Bahn and I along with another photographer, Jerry Klumpp, are going to teach a one night class session on Exposure and Metering. As you might expect this is going to be difficult for me without going overboard so I have asked David and Jerry to temper my rants as best they can. David is putting together the visual presentation, Jerry is supplying the “example” photographs and I will write the study guide. David and Jerry will need all the help they can get—not in teaching the class but in tempering my rants. LOL

I sometimes wonder why I am so in disagreement with conventional wisdom. Sure growing up reading the transcendentalist writings of Emerson doesn’t exactly help one fit into society but I can’t blame it on Emerson. Then there was Ralph Hattersley. How can anyone explain Hattersley? His The Psychology of People Pictures and Discover Yourself Through Photography is indelibly etched in my brain. Hattersley without ceasing railed against the means and photographers captivation of the means at the expense of the end. And Eli Siegel’s Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?, and teachings that opposites are one. I never stood a chance. Then there was my mother. I should have inherited one of her best traits. She would not argue. She would state her opinion as though it was gospel truth and that was the end of the conversation no matter how much more the opposition talked. Okay, maybe I did. Then there is the fact that I am basically an angry person at almost all functions of society but mostly just at myself. In all due consideration how can I possibly be confused?

Maybe it is Emerson’s fault because I really, really dislike rules. I dislike being told what to do or how to do it. I really, really dislike anything that I perceive as being a homogenization of thinking or doing. The most surprising thing that I find about life is that I am still vertical. Surprisingly no one has ever beaten the crap out of me in over seventy years—not that it hasn’t been tried a few times—just didn’t work.

In the process of working on the class I was in hopes that I could find a good graphic illustrating the various lens openings. On the very bottom shelf of the book case in the studio closet is the twenty volumes of The Encyclopedia of Photography published by Greystone Press probably in the sixties. It was a significant undertaking and as such was dated before it ever went to print. A few years ago when I absolutely had to divest myself of a goodly portion of the books that I own—which I turned around and replaced a large quantity of the divestment—I seriously considered dumping The Encyclopedia. True they had whiskers even when I bought them but there is still a great deal of useful information hidden among the pages. The equipment changed the concepts didn’t. There must be thousands of diagrams and I thought surely I would find my needed graphic there. I didn’t.

Instead all twenty volumes are scattered about on my bed—the only flat surface in the house still available because all the rest (even in the kitchen) are littered with either photographic equipment or books on photography. The bed I have to unload at least once a day. I’m not reading about exposure or metering but what I always read—bios of photographers, photographic philosophies, aesthesis and in this case composition because we are considering a second class on composition.

I did find a partial answer to why I constantly rail against the Rule of Thirds in this quote:

“The so-called laws of composition should more justly be called “aids to the beginner in pictorial work.” They serve to shield beginners from too great a disappointment in their first picture efforts, but a too slavish adherence to these pictorial aids and a blind following of them will only retard the free unfolding of an artistic personality. To violate these laws of composition successfully has frequently been an indication of artistic prowess. Therefore, regard no law of composition as absolute, for it may be changed by tomorrow.

For most workers, hoverer, these aids are of immense value, not so much for what they are, but for what they induce the photographer to see.

A lack of imagination and personality can never be replaced by any arbitrary set of rules of composition. Like other tools of the photographer’s craft, rules of composition will not perform by themselves. The photographer has to add to them his mind and personality. The reason for the great popularity of the many books and articles dealing with composition is the misconception in the minds of most people that a good law of composition is equivalent to good taste.

The great danger in these dogmas lies in their tendency to lull the student into a false feeling of security. The student tends to believe that as long as he adheres to these arbitrary laws, his pictures will automatically be in good artistic taste. The worker in the visual arts must always remember that his art is about a means to an end—the end being the expression of an artistic personality.”  Cramer, Konrad, from The Encyclopedia of Photography, Vol 5, p. 891.

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