Photography and Art

Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's the subject stupid

I enjoy Alec Soth's blog. Every day, he has something interesting to say about the art of photography. Lately, he's been focusing on the teaching of photography, largely due to an experience that he had doing a freelance teaching stint. He seems undecided on the question of whether photography can be taught or not. Certainly, the technical side of photography can be taught, but can you teach someone to see? Can you teach them how to pick a subject, how to time the shot and how to compose the image? Alec isn't sure and neither am I.

However, there are lots of articles about the artistic side of photography and I've been reading them quite avidly to try to improve my art. For example, Alain Briot writes quite often on the art of photography. He's written the featured article on Luminous Landscape called "Developing your Vision".

My favourite article is a discussion between two accomplished photographers, David Hurn and Bill Jay, a chapter in their book On Being a Photographer. You can read the chapter on picking a suitable subject here. It made a point that I hadn't really given a lot of thought to, but it is so simple that it hits you right on the forehead -- doh!

You should photograph subjects that you are passionate about! Of course. How could I be such an idiot? Don't bother with crap that is just pretty or stuff that other people are passionate about, focus on the subjects that turn your crank.

There are a couple of important corollaries to this point. First, you have to research your subject to find the right images. Second, you should pick subjects where your passion intersects some other group of people or you'll be taking photos purely for your own enjoyment.

This reminds me of Ed Burtynsky. No wonder he is so popular and successful. I heard him speak once and he is absolutely passionate about the industrial landscape. He researches each photograph for days or weeks -- stalking his subject like a hunter in the forest. He may visit a target subject many times looking for the right vantage point, the right time and the right lighting conditions.

Similarly, Alain Briot specializes in taking photos of the grand canyon and environs. He hikes for miles and miles looking for the right vista, the right time of day and the right weather conditions.

Yes, that's it! It's the subject stupid. Now, what am I passionate about? That's the question.

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