Sunday, 4 October 2009

Learning to see

This is an excerpt from my latest book review: The Education of a Photographer, edited by Charles H. Traub, Steven Heller, and Adam B. Bell (Allworth Press, New York) that was just published by Soundscapes, Online Journal on Media Culture from Groningen, The Netherlands.

Then there's "Photography at the Crossroads," a magazine article from 1951 by Berenice Abbott in which she makes the point that photography — among other things — is essentially concerned with "realism — the real life — the now." Right, I couldn't agree more: the essence of photography is to be present. Let me give you two quotes from this piece that I've found particularly inspiring:

"Many photographers spend too much time in the darkroom, with the result that creative camera work is seriously interfered with."

"Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term — selectivity.
To define selection, one may say that it should be focused on the kind of subject matter which hits you hard with its impact and excites your imagination to the extent that you are forced to take it. Pictures are wasted unless the motive power which impelled you to action is strong and stirring. The motives or points of view are bound to differ with each photographer, and herein lies the important difference which separates one approach from the other. Selection of proper picture content comes from a fine union of trained eye and imaginative mind."

In "Untitled", an essay by Cartier-Bresson, I came across this: "Photography implies the recognition of a rhythm in the world of real things." I take this to mean that to be a good photographer one needs to understand that the real world is in constant flux. And, to discover the movements (the rhythm — how wonderfully put!) of this flux. Very true indeed!

And then there is this smart statement by Susan Meiselas: "A lot of people buy cameras and film, and a lot of people buy photo books of a certain kind. The obvious example is the "Day in the Life of" series. Now, what's the problem? Why aren't people interested in what we documentarians are passionate about? Why are we in such a small ghetto?" Good question, isn't it? Actually, I liked her response even more: "We have to find ways of taking people someplace they don't expect to go."

The full text you'll find here

1 comment:

Becca said...

Thank you for the tip! I added it to my shopping basket right away. Nice to see that Susan Meiselas had contributed to the book, I have had the privilege of having her as a tutor, she is an amazing woman... reason enough for me to read it :)