Last meeting was our annual thumbing of the collective nose to Cartier-Bresson’s fear of the contrived, the Creative Round. In that all of photography, from one point of view, is contrived, we can take comfort in a Sontagian view that Photography is a “Promiscuous way of seeing” and here are we. It is also another way to open the arguments between the Get-it-right-in-the-camera-ista’s and Ye-accolytes-of-photoshop, but we won’t.
Congratulations to the winners, (Check out the Facebook page or the website) this in some ways is the hardest round of all to to enter, not least because the definition of what we mean by creative is quite fluid. It stems from an original thought or vision. This gives us less chance to take the image we want by accident, the surrealist streak in photography if you will, as it tends to involve a lot of planning and preparation. The flip side of this is that the deliberation it involves is good for us in all the other forms of photography, because it is a productive habit.
“A skilful photographer can photograph anything well” according to John Szarkowski. So that doesn’t mean just slapping on a filter over an existing photograph and calling it creative, though there is nothing to say that you cannot. Passing a superficial inspection is one thing but the photographs that hold the attention are rarely going to be constructed that way. Skill in photography is as much about practice and deliberation and attitude as it is in any other form. The trick for the hobbyist is not to make it a burden, but to enjoy and enjoy learning.
It’s why having a theme works for our development. Yes it is fun (for us, the rest of the family can feel a little left out) to take a camera everywhere and photograph what takes our fancy or arrests our attention, but when we narrow ourselves down we concentrate on looking, and looking for associations with this idea, which we are using to organise our output. A photograph.
It brings us back to that deliberate frame of mind again. This is also something that helps when we feel that we have plateaued in our development. It can be frustrating to not quite get what we visualised, but also it can be the brain’s way of telling us time to try something different. To create a random element in that, basically to set the challenge, use the theme link above and use this preset random number generator to pick a topic from those 328 themes; get a camera; your least used lens or least used camera even, and get right on it.
There is something to be said in rekindling the simple pleasure of just taking a photograph in a spare five minutes. It can be as simple as arranging things to hand on a desk or a table and practising the basics of composition, because nowhere is boring when you have a camera in your hand.
To give a couple of examples:
Whilst waiting for the potatos to boil I took about four frames of a satsuma and a couple of apples, altered saturation and played a bit with curves and made them presentable if not earth shattering images. Of course, if I wanted to become rich I should have taken photographs of the spuds.
Waiting for a relative to get ready I was struck by the incidental arrangement of my Works ID badge and glasses on a side table. Nudged things around very slightly, took it, cropped it square, painted a bit of blur on it. Quite like it. Doubt I will see it hanging in the Royal Society of Arts any time soon, but hey, I got a small sense of achievement out of it.
Same occasion at the other end of the trip, I was waiting in a coffee shop and set myself the challenge of getting the branded coffee cup and the illuminated sign in the window. A bit of cup shuffling, bit of Dutching (avidly watching all those 60’s Batman shows as a kid finally paying off), applied a saturated, bluish, filter to tone down the harsh lighting, job done. No need to buy a new dickie bow for any award ceremony on its account, but that’s fine. I had observed, visualised, framed, captured and post processed in under two minutes, made a photograph that gave me a small sense of having done something, enjoyed doing it and the result. All this by taking a camera to (some) things that make you go Hmmm.
All these were shot and processed and uploaded to Flickr via my decidedly mid-range mobile phone, which has three times as many pixels as my first digital camera had, two very capable editing apps and a link to the internet, all in something that fits in the palm of my hand. The fact is, for a very high percentage of the day I have access to a camera. Yes I prefer to shoot with my camera body and detachable lenses, yes I can potentially do more with it, but the equipment isn’t the point, making the image is. And no one knows what camera was used and very few actually care.
Restriction is as much an opportunity as a wealth of opportunity. This can be shooting with a different lens or one you don’t use very often, a different camera (including your phone camera if you don’t use it very often) close ups (not necessarily macro), wide angles (making sure to include something in the foreground) there are plenty of variations. A simple one is to deliberately frame a portrait and a landscape version of the same image, being careful to compose the best image in each.
As we gave him the first word we will give him the last, in the interests of symmetry, a noble subject for an image. Henri Cartier-Bresson said of taking a photograph that the thinking should be done before and after the taking of a photograph. Make that gap your Zen Moment. Take that time just to enjoy being a photographer.
Speaker Clive Haynes FRPS led the evening on Topaz and it is as well to reiterate that this isn’t just an Adobe compatible plug in, but that there are a number of editors that is designed to work with, and there are fourteen or so different plug-ins Topaz offer. Adobe, of course dominate the market, but all the plug ins are available at a discount via Clive’s website. From the afters this was one of those presentations that hit home at some fundamental beliefs about photography.
On the Facebook Group there was a lot of talk about what is worth editing, reflecting last week’s theme of editing and how much of it can a photograph have before it becomes a piece of graphic design. This week we are going to look into who owns an image, and this is linked to last week’s discussion on editing and on the Mighty Book of Face discussions from this week.
A year ago a San Franciscan judge decided that, under American copyright law, a monkey could not own the rights to a picture it had taken because it was not human, even though it pressed the shutter. A new definition for “Chimping” this was not (the practice of taking a shot then reviewing it on live view and going ooh and ahh and pulling faces. Another reason to go mirrorless). It is, under English law (and not a few other jurisdictions), a question of personality, and though “Naruto” the Black Crested Macaque in question certainly seems to have bags of it in the way most of us think of personality, in law it is the capacity to hold legal rights and obligations within a legal system. This is what enables firms to go to civil law over disputes in contracts and so on.
Now you’ve seen the picture in question, I am sure, it became known as the Monkey Selfie. David Slater “took” the picture, in that he provided the materials, set up the shot and patiently waited for the Macaques to partake. Macaques have no legal personality and therefore cannot give their consent, nor withhold it to be photographed, nor profit from doing so. If the Macaque was owned by a person (it couldn’t in the UK by members of the general public, there are legal issue preventing this) or other body that has a legal personality then that animal would be their property and the prudent photographer would be careful to get a property release.
Now this isn’t the time nor the place to go into the pro’s and con’s of this case but it does illustrate something that most of the internet (i.e. the people who use the internet) is either blithely indifferent to or unaware of. Someone made that picture you are looking at. When someone makes their living from that, copyright has particular weight. Unless they give you permission to use that photograph, either directly or through a Creative Commons License, or other form of explicit license deal then we do not have the right to own their and/or use their property.
Without turning this into a Politics lecture (for that you’d have to pay me) this actually goes deeper than a feeling of “Mine”, it is an absolute foundation of our society. Let me quote from Wikipedia (Academics look away now): “Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property has the right to consume, alter, share, redefine, rent, mortgage, pawn, sell, exchange, transfer, give away or destroy it, or to exclude others from doing these things” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property) . So regardless of opinions on Social Media (fancy that) demanding the right to exploit others work free of charge isn’t what the law in England and Wales licenses. Whether you agree with Pierre-Joseph “Property is theft” Proudhon or not is, as far as the law allows, irrelevant. We make property by mixing our labour (intellectual and or physical) with materials and by doing that create something that didn’t exist before and over which we have title (ownership free of valid claims by other parties). Then we can consume, alter, share, redefine etc etc it as we see fit within certain boundaries.
Fairly straightforward, at least until the lawyers get involved. There is a concept called fair use and there are questions of when others take your property as a starting point but make art of their own from it, such as sampling in music. Whose art then is it?
Artist Richard Prince was doing this with other people’s Instagram feeds and making $90,000 a pop out of it, a couple of years back (maybe still is) by altering the originals by posting a couple of words as comment underneath and then printing the whole thing. This did not please a lot of people, particularly those whose Instagram feeds he had mined for images, though others were quite accepting of it. No one sued of copyright infringement this time so its legality has not been tested. Civil law really is for the rich or otherwise well funded. Especially as he started “Rephotographing” other people’s work in 1975 and some of his work has gone for $1m or more, he would probably be in a position to afford to defend it. Indeed in 2008 he did just that and his defence of fair use (see above) was not accepted. Obviously this has not deterred him.
In fact this whole idea of other people’s stuff is quite problematic. An image can spin an idea, we might try to recreate that image or give it a new spin, either intentionally or through technical short-comings. We have in the UK the idea of freedom of panorama, which was under threat from the EU in its bid to harmonise European commercial law but was finally decided in favour of having one. If what you are taking is a view taken from common land it is not subject to copyright (though the manner you do it in might be in breach of other, criminal laws) and we have covered this before. If it involves street photography then you must not conduct yourself in such a way as to cause alarm. If it involves minors it is always best to get a responsible adult’s consent – first. If it involves making money from someone’s image or an image of something that they own you can save yourself endless by getting a properly formatted consent (you can get them as a phone app these days). Ditto if you are profiting from the image of the property of another person (it all goes back to title).
So, editing our images, well silk purses and sows ears metaphors aside – or why are you wasting your time in the first place? judgements – is a matter of personal taste, at least as far as the amateur goes, but how much, really, is it your image in the first place can be a complicated problem.
N E X T M E E T I N G
19th Jan 2017 19:30 – The Chairman’s Evening: I believe a camera will be required. Maybe a tripod too. Bring yours.