Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment

Started Jan 28, 2013 | Discussions
amalric
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Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
Jan 28, 2013

Among the sites that foster photography, irrespective of gear, Michael Reichmann's has some wonderful insights:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/why_what_works.shtml

I am not sure that his categories are as universal as presented:

Contrast / Gesture / Implication

Photography has a fleeting nature, and other partitions are as legitimate. Like HCB's, Barthes, Sontag's - each a decoding of their own societies.

The pragmatical approach has the advantage that you can start to work immediately with it.

I am restricting myself to B&W in order to develop a better sensibility to contrast - tones. However I can see the need for Gesture, and Implication - whatever it means (perspective?)



My 'interesting' pictures have always one of the three elements:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/amalric/sets/72157629693142319/

Or do they? I am reminded that according to Barthes it is not enough for a picture to be interesting, it must have a point (punctus).

Surely I try to avoid Sontag's "to establish within people a "chronic voyeuristic relation" to the world around them. Among the consequences of photography is that the meaning of all events is leveled and made equal".

Which is the terminal state of gear consumerism, often seen here and in other sites.

Thus LL and the best ones find themselves in the contradiction of financing themselves with gear ads, but having to foster photography by other means.

As Reichmann says:

"Why do some photographs succeeded and some not? Indeed, what makes a good photograph? Why are some worth looking at, thinking about, admiring or even hating? Why do some (most?) not even merit a second glance?

Are there rules, and who makes the rules? Then, if there are rules – who even cares? Isn't it enough to just do one's thing?

Heady questions aren't they? But these are the ones that must be asked by any photographer who wants to grow an understanding of their art and craft, and even of themselves. These are the questions that students and workshop attendees ask the most often, once they get beyond a fixation with the latest gear."

Am.

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JamieTux
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

Maybe I'm just spoiled (or biased) by having a landscape photographer for a father (http://www.t2landscapes.co.uk/p13119098).

Either way I find most of the images posted on LL very uninspiring - their rules may be good - and Michael seems to know what he is talking about regarding cameras and photography - but go and apply the principles and rules to most of the shots on the site and see where that gets you...

With regards to the rules - I don't think that they are set by a person!  It's what cultures and convention find pleasing - more axioms than rules really.

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amalric
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to JamieTux, Jan 28, 2013

JamieTux wrote:

Maybe I'm just spoiled (or biased) by having a landscape photographer for a father (http://www.t2landscapes.co.uk/p13119098).

Either way I find most of the images posted on LL very uninspiring - their rules may be good - and Michael seems to know what he is talking about regarding cameras and photography - but go and apply the principles and rules to most of the shots on the site and see where that gets you...

With regards to the rules - I don't think that they are set by a person! It's what cultures and convention find pleasing - more axioms than rules really.

Lucky you if you have a father that doesn't do ordinary landscapes.

I don't agree however about LL. Most of their pictures are good, they have a good structure, in the American naturalist tradition.

Are they avant-garde? Landscape is not really about being so, unless you do urban environments, where tensions are palpable, and culture is in a flux. Is Nat Geo, better than that?

However as you notice, the article is really about what to teach, besides gear. Ph/phy is not about mechanics, assembling parts, as most seem to believe here. Therefore *not anything goes*.

So better choose some down to Earth rules that can improve one's *communication skills* from the start.

I could fight for the Triangle of Exposure, or Composition in Depth, but another Trivium is fine with me.

BTW LL is not so lame: theirs is a devilishly interesting paper about Oriental landscape art:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/the_synthesis_of_chinese_landscape_painting_and_photography.shtml

I am sure most here know v. little about.

My point however was still different: it was about having a punctus - pardon the pun.

In my picture it is a Beheading. So really *a Gesture*. Tones however contribute, and composition too: the head of the fish replaces that of the fishmonger.

Am.

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dgnelson
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

amalric wrote:

Heady questions aren't they? But these are the ones that must be asked by any photographer who wants to grow an understanding of their art and craft, and even of themselves. These are the questions that students and workshop attendees ask the most often, once they get beyond a fixation with the latest gear."

Interesting read, thanks for those links.

I'm still at the stage where I'd like to say that I've even made one brilliant image, or even a  very good one.

I will say something about gear though.  I enjoy looking at the mobile phone and apps groups on flickr.  There's a lot of creativity there, it's like no one has told them the rules and you get some interesting images as a result.  A lot of photos you see elsewhere are just a variation on what someone else has already done.  Well, it is a bit difficult to come up with something original when every man and his dog has a camera.

But in defence of the gear heads, gear is important.  Sure, a good photographer can photograph a wedding with his iPhone, it's been done.  But in the end, gear shouldn't get in your way, it shouldn't be a hindrance to your art.  I attended a guitar class some years ago, the instructor brought to our attention the need to have a good instrument, it makes it easier to make music, you don't have to fight the guitar.  It's a similar story with photography.  You need good gear.  And besides, it gives us average photographers a way to look good.

Dan

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richarddd
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

amalric wrote:

BTW LL is not so lame: theirs is a devilishly interesting paper about Oriental landscape art:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/the_synthesis_of_chinese_landscape_painting_and_photography.shtml

I am sure most here know v. little about.

Chinese landscape painting is one of my favorite art forms.  We were inspired to go to Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, in China because the paintings were so beautiful.  When you're at those mountains, you realize 700 year old essentially monochrome paintings are much more representational than you might have thought. Gorgeous area, with misty low lying clouds wonderfully contrasting craggy mountain rock.

I didn't think the article had anything original to say, but I could see how it would be interesting if you're not familiar with the subject.

19th century landscape painting is also worth studying. Things such as aerial perspective (distant items tend to have lower contrast, detail, saturation) and the play of light can be inspirational for landscape photography and processing.

I'm a frequent LL reader.

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amalric
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to dgnelson, Jan 28, 2013

dgnelson wrote:

amalric wrote:

Heady questions aren't they? But these are the ones that must be asked by any photographer who wants to grow an understanding of their art and craft, and even of themselves. These are the questions that students and workshop attendees ask the most often, once they get beyond a fixation with the latest gear."

Interesting read, thanks for those links.

I'm still at the stage where I'd like to say that I've even made one brilliant image, or even a very good one.

I will say something about gear though. I enjoy looking at the mobile phone and apps groups on flickr. There's a lot of creativity there, it's like no one has told them the rules and you get some interesting images as a result. A lot of photos you see elsewhere are just a variation on what someone else has already done. Well, it is a bit difficult to come up with something original when every man and his dog has a camera.

But in defence of the gear heads, gear is important. Sure, a good photographer can photograph a wedding with his iPhone, it's been done. But in the end, gear shouldn't get in your way, it shouldn't be a hindrance to your art. I attended a guitar class some years ago, the instructor brought to our attention the need to have a good instrument, it makes it easier to make music, you don't have to fight the guitar. It's a similar story with photography. You need good gear. And besides, it gives us average photographers a way to look good.

Dan

Mine is not a case for originality, but for craftmanship, as Reichmann mentions too.

Gear fetishism is almost always a substitute for learning a skill. IMHO nothing is better than spending a year taking pictures every day.

*Then* the camera will become transparent, one will have the promptest reactions, and as a result one will start to *see* opportunities, where there was nothing before, but just dull ordinary life.

Any camera will do then, even the simplest one. Leica is a very simple affair if you think, compared to those Towers of Babel that are modern dSLR.

If you think the case is not very different for a pen and a pencil: everybody uses them but very few can write prose or draw. Not that it is needed, but if it happens, it can be a significant gift to others.

Finally when I hear people happily discussing thousands worth of equipment with nothing else to show than test shots, then I think that investing a few hundreds in a course, would do them much better than any new camera.

Discussing what can be taught, organising principles, in such a fleeting art or craft, is not useless I find, and can even be v. refreshing. I always remind fondly HCB describing is hunting techniques. It can be great fun.

m4/3 is where it is at, because it is the 'always with you camera', a great help to hone one's skills.

Am.

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amalric
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to richarddd, Jan 28, 2013

richarddd wrote:

amalric wrote:

BTW LL is not so lame: theirs is a devilishly interesting paper about Oriental landscape art:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/the_synthesis_of_chinese_landscape_painting_and_photography.shtml

I am sure most here know v. little about.

Chinese landscape painting is one of my favorite art forms. We were inspired to go to Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, in China because the paintings were so beautiful. When you're at those mountains, you realize 700 year old essentially monochrome paintings are much more representational than you might have thought. Gorgeous area, with misty low lying clouds wonderfully contrasting craggy mountain rock.

I didn't think the article had anything original to say, but I could see how it would be interesting if you're not familiar with the subject.

19th century landscape painting is also worth studying. Things such as aerial perspective (distant items tend to have lower contrast, detail, saturation) and the play of light can be inspirational for landscape photography and processing.

I'm a frequent LL reader.

In fact I am reading about Japanese landscape painting at the moment, and I am also interested by Wabi Sabi - many are.

However I like the pragmatic LL approach, aerial perspective  being so distinctive in regards of linear perspective.

In fact I suspect many Chinese photogs. at flickr make use of pollution to increase the effect

Am.

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dgnelson
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

amalric wrote:

IMHO nothing is better than spending a year taking pictures every day.

That sounds good to me.

*Then* the camera will become transparent, one will have the promptest reactions, and as a result one will start to *see* opportunities, where there was nothing before, but just dull ordinary life.

That is more than craft or technique, that is art.

Any camera will do then, even the simplest one. Leica is a very simple affair if you think, compared to those Towers of Babel that are modern dSLR.

Maybe, but I'm glad I gave up my iPhone for m43.

Thanks again for the links.

Dan

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duckling
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

One of the worst trends of the past decade has been over-simplification. Photography has become "democratized" (personally I prefer 'accessible') and everybody wants to learn how to create beautiful, communicative, "artistic" photographs. Of course, where there is demand there is supply. Thousands of books, workshops, DVDs and blog posts have been trying to address this issue, but only very few are of any use to me. You can't reduce "good photography" into a set of composition rules. In fact you cannot produce consistently good work without the visual literacy (another cliche, sorry), general education, set of morals and critical thinking which will make you a good citizen of the modern world. A good (rather than successful or popular) photographer needs a lot of technical, artistic and general knowledge, discipline and determination. However, none of it will work without singular motivation, something to say.

I try to follow these three simple rules:

1. Over-analysis kills art.

2. Popularity is over-rated.

3. Perfection is boring.

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CharlesTokyo
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013
Oh how I've loved talking about this recently. It's such a fascinating subject. What is a good photograph? It's late here and it's something you can discuss for hours so a few paragraphs on a forum can hardly do it justice. 

(Just a small thing to end on. There are so many types of photography, reportage, art, commercial (ads/catalogs), fashion, art, street that I don't think it's possible to put them under one encompassing definition of good and bad. Commercial photography is meant to convey something particular which probably isn't true of art or street. Reportage is yet something different.)

I'm lucky to have so many photography galleries near me. It's wonderful to see 8-30 selected images together rather than the jumble we get online. A relatively normal photo can become strong and the glue to tie others together. We've lost that on the internet where we see photos one by one where we can select the order.

The simplest thing I can say is that I want to see photos that show the unique way you see the world. Those photos on a one-by-one basis, may not be anything spectacular, but as a well chosen set that support each other turn into a body of work that shows off the photographer's vision.

3 minute brain dump and I'm sure it won't come across well.

  1. Subject trumps all. (pretty much) If you put interesting things in front of your lens you'll get better.
  2. Find the great photos in your everyday life. (shooting a roll of film/40 photos a day helps). Anyone can take nice photos of flowers, sunsets and cats, but taking photos of the world as only you see it takes your photography to another level.
  3. I've come to believe your subjects should be strong. If you ask someone what the photographer saw that made them take this picture I think it should be pretty clear. It doesn't mean the photograph can't be vague, but the subject should be clear. Trying to put three interesting things as subjects in a photo generally makes them weaker. 
  4. People reacting to your camera are more interesting than people not paying attention to you at all. People reacting/responding to you as a photographer are generally the best.
  5. In this age of computers it's easy to dismiss a print, but that's really how your art is communicated. You lose so much control on a screen. That's really everything he talks about in first section of the article, prints. Dodging/burning is how you can bring out the subject in your photo.
  6. Shape and texture. Photographs are light bouncing off something and entering your camera. Shape and texture make photos interesting. It's difficult to make a good photo of light/shadow as the subject.
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RoelHendrickx
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Thanks for the reminder to go take a look there.
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

It had been a while.

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amalric
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Re: Thanks for the reminder to go take a look there.
In reply to RoelHendrickx, Jan 28, 2013

RoelHendrickx wrote:

It had been a while

I enjoy discussing photography, instead of cameras, for once, Roel.

However I didn't plan to discuss tastes, or even History of Art. So to me ducking's or CharlesTokyo, are boht legitimate.

It's the segmentation which surprised me:

Contrast / Gesture / Implication

Does it work for you? Can you teach it?

Leaving apart Colour Theory, which worries me considerably

Am.

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richarddd
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

amalric wrote:

In fact I am reading about Japanese landscape painting at the moment, and I am also interested by Wabi Sabi - many are.

Spending inordinate amounts of time in museums and traveling to Japan can advance one's understanding of these things.  Works for me.

However I like the pragmatic LL approach, aerial perspective being so distinctive in regards of linear perspective.

In fact I suspect many Chinese photogs. at flickr make use of pollution to increase the effect

You can do a lot in post processing to create such effects.

Since others are providing lists:

1) If you want to take more interesting pictures, stand in front of more interesting things.

2) Light is key.  For landscapes, dawn, dusk and after a storm usually produce much better results than harsh midday light. Alas, this can mean getting up well before dawn, missing dinner or getting wet.

3) Simplify. Get rid of distracting elements. Be aware of what catches the eye, such as very bright areas.  Carefully examine the edges of the frame and the background.

4) Work the scene. If something looks promising, try various angles, walk around, vary settings, etc., etc.

5) Be familiar with the usual rules, such a rule of thirds, leading lines, patterns, etc. Being familiar does not mean necessarily following

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RoelHendrickx
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Re: Thanks for the reminder to go take a look there.
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

amalric wrote:

RoelHendrickx wrote:

It had been a while

I enjoy discussing photography, instead of cameras, for once, Roel.

However I didn't plan to discuss tastes, or even History of Art. So to me ducking's or CharlesTokyo, are boht legitimate.

It's the segmentation which surprised me:

Contrast / Gesture / Implication

Does it work for you? Can you teach it?

I don't often rationalize it like that.

What I most often just aim for (and I feel that is already a lot) is to show something that is meaningful or at least interesting (content aspect), and to show it in a way that is either pleasing to the eye or different from how we would look at that ordinarily (form aspect).

Good images are those where both aspects are present.

Leaving apart Colour Theory, which worries me considerably

Am.

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amalric
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Re: Thanks for the reminder to go take a look there.
In reply to RoelHendrickx, Jan 28, 2013

RoelHendrickx wrote:

amalric wrote:

RoelHendrickx wrote:

It had been a while

I enjoy discussing photography, instead of cameras, for once, Roel.

However I didn't plan to discuss tastes, or even History of Art. So to me ducking's or CharlesTokyo, are boht legitimate.

It's the segmentation which surprised me:

Contrast / Gesture / Implication

Does it work for you? Can you teach it?

I don't often rationalize it like that.

What I most often just aim for (and I feel that is already a lot) is to show something that is meaningful or at least interesting (content aspect), and to show it in a way that is either pleasing to the eye or different from how we would look at that ordinarily (form aspect).

Good images are those where both aspects are present.

Yes. but possibly you are so used to your ways that you don't rationalise them. Think instead of teaching a son or a daughter.

What comes first? Contrast covers that: it's tone control BTW of composition. Gesture covers content. Behaviour must have a symbolical element, even if unexpected. Or better so.

Implication leaves me wondering. Reichmann makes the example of a deep staircase.

So it might be in the way of perspective, and composition in depth. You feel drawn in.

Then, as a painter you'd eye how the picture looks in terms of colours, perhaps as emotional, or deeper involvement.

I don't say that one checks all the boxes before pressing the shutter button. However, when trained, one might decide whether it is worth doing it so or not, in an instant.

This assuming that machinegunning is a no-no.

HCB explained that for him it was a matter of geometry, and appearance/disappearance of the subject.

Am.

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vincent filomena
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

I always wonder

about people who use pictures of cripples to make a point !

Vjim

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Vlad S
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Rules vs. insights
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

amalric wrote:

Among the sites that foster photography, irrespective of gear, Michael Reichmann's has some wonderful insights:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/why_what_works.shtml

Are there rules, and who makes the rules? Then, if there are rules – who even cares? Isn't it enough to just do one's thing?

I think there's a lot of confusion because people take insights, or guidelines as if they were rules. Following rules creates a conforming image, but not necessarily an inspired one. Passion, empathy, aesthetic are more than rules, they are the product of our life experiences.

Consider "gesture" and "implication." Are they rules? How do we ensure these elements in an image? Or are they simply observations that cannot be taught, but grow in our minds as a result of observation and participation in the surrounding life? Is there a recipe for inserting implication in an image?

I think it was an interesting read in the sense of finding words to describe different aspects of an image, to put a finger on that je ne sais quoi. But I do not think that someone who was not able to see the "implication" before will suddenly become sensitive to it after reading the article.

Vlad

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Aleo Veuliah
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Re: Why What Works (Luminous Landscape), a comment
In reply to amalric, Jan 28, 2013

Simple and good article, enjoyed to read. Thank you for posting.


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amalric
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Re: Rules vs. insights
In reply to Vlad S, Jan 28, 2013

The trouble with the absence of rules, is that you cannot teach with it. Cultural relativism might well be the rule in some countries, but photography CAN be criticised, as well as Literature. They are both part of the realm of Semiology, i.e. the science of Signs.

Therefore Barthes took an inteterest. Interpretation is not whatever goes, interpretation has limits. Beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder. You can judge, condemn or save an image according to a certain set of rules, be they formal, psychological, biographical, historical etc. In Literature I was taught at least a dozen criteria.

And if you think of it, Vlad, without involving you, cultural relativism will always be invoked by the lazy noob or amateur in order to avoid being judged for his/her true skill. Instead he will advertise how expensive his equipment is, how optically unique his lenses are, and take shelter behind that.

Which is the general *consumerist* expectation in forums. Now are some of you implying that photography cannot be taught, or that it is a loss of time? That a camera can do all?

LOL even a drone cannot do that, it needs some input to reach a target, and it is also frightfully imprecise.

How much more so a product that must be reaching the reasons of the heart?Beauty and fairness and the like? You think that a camera can do that by itself? Think again.

Even if you go hunting or fishing you'll take pride in your technique, and leave pride in the equipment to noobs. And what if you are a surgeon, will you take pride in the last brand of your scalpels?

Really if some of you have such a low opinion of photography, why don't you hang on your neck a life-logging device, like a SenseCam and let your camera do all, only doing some clicks in the software to assemble automatically your memories?

Then you will have a guarantee, that you can remember *something* which has not the encumbrance of beauty or harmony. Or the least meaning for others, because your memory is surely not to be so interesting to others, like your doggie or brat.

Which you can festoon with all the virtue of your precious lenses, without any guarantee that others will be take an interest.

Is that how photography is evacuated from forums nowadays? LOL

Am.

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Vlad S
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Re: Rules vs. insights
In reply to amalric, Jan 29, 2013

amalric wrote:

The trouble with the absence of rules, is that you cannot teach with it.

This statement implies that rules is the only possible framework for teaching and appreciating art. I disagree with that. There does not have to be a set of pronouncements of what is good and what is bad. For example, a common technique for teaching and studying art is comparative analysis. It does not need a rule to validate a work of art, but only a point of reference - any kind of point, be it response of the viewer, or a different work of art, or a real life situation.

Cultural relativism might well be the rule in some countries, but photography CAN be criticised, as well as Literature. They are both part of the realm of Semiology, i.e. the science of Signs.

Cultural relativism is not what I had in mind (more about what I meant below), but since you brought it up, I do think it's important. One does not exclude another. Cultural relativism is not a rule, it's a fact of life. Whether we approve of it or not, our perception is biased by our circumstances. It becomes less pronounced as more people share the information space via the modern mass media, but even then the same events are evaluated differently. Semiotics does not suggest that all symbols are common to everyone.

Therefore Barthes took an inteterest. Interpretation is not whatever goes, interpretation has limits. Beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder. You can judge, condemn or save an image according to a certain set of rules, be they formal, psychological, biographical, historical etc. In Literature I was taught at least a dozen criteria.

All these criteria are post-factum analysis. There has not been a system of rules that would produce masterpieces on demand. It may not be even possible in principle, because if we look for outstanding qualities in a work of art, then anything that can be churned out by simply following rules cannot be outstanding by definition.

One can learn to create pleasing images, and one can probably to say with a high degree of certainty that certain images will be unpleasant, but IMO this "paint by the numbers" art has all the inspiration and meaningfulness of the corporate portraiture. Of course there's a market for that too, but is it something that touches you?

Now are some of you implying that photography cannot be taught, or that it is a loss of time? That a camera can do all?

I think it's very difficult to say what can be taught and what can't. As it is with many skills, the ability to see things can be developed, as well as the presentation skills. But consider Thomas Kinkade. He came upon a formula that resonated with so many people, and made him a commercial success. His studio planned to keep producing "Thomas Kinkade studio originals" even after his death, so his method was taught. But at the same time his style became the showcase of bad taste and kitsch, and mass production. Did Reichmann write about such mass produced stamp work, or was he trying to just give a direction for a personal search?

That a camera can do all? Even if you go hunting or fishing you'll take pride in your technique, and leave pride in the equipment to noobs. And what if you are a surgeon, will you take pride in the last brand of your scalpels?

I think I saw only one person in these forums who expected the camera to produce images without any work from the operator: Photoperzon. I think that in general the expectation is that knowledge is important, but if the camera is not a capable tool then your abilities can run into its limitations. I would mostly agree with this sentiment.

Vlad

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