The presentation this week was by club members who are also members of the “Dream Team” which was started by former Reflex member Tony Cooney, who gave an excellent talk to the club on his time serving in Iraq at the beginning of this season. The Dream Team is a collective of models, M.U.A’s (Make Up Artists) and photographers, some of whom are also Reflex members, who meet once a month to shoot in a variety of venues on a given theme.
This links well into next weeks reflection on how the club has affected two members photography, because one of the ways that we improve is to get ideas and feedback from other photographers. Now it is a fact of life that some people are thin skinned and others immune to the criticism of others and it is also a fact that we are more likely to listen to positive criticism, of which there are two sorts. There is that which is founded in reason, and when reasons are given then we can learn and there is that which is founded on prejudice, the one and only way.
The first of these is worth listening to the latter is, largely, just somebody telling you at length that they did not take this photograph. That which is founded on experience and an open mind may be just as subjective as that which is founded in ego but is by far the more useful of the pair. If there is some form of standardisation to the process then there is a basis for a shared understanding. Mix this with practice (and make it fun) and we get somewhere on the road to results.
The Dream Team’s wide ranging interests and themes and the interconnectedness of the various art forms involved make for something much bigger in the end. Any fool can press a shutter button, daub their body in some paint and gurn at a camera, but that whole Gestalt thing is vastly different when specialists come together to produce a result outside their individual discipline. The inter-connectedness of those disciplines and the imaginations of the people involved make for something much larger.
There is a scientific basis to this, according to research at Stanford University that looked into the difference between finding our passion and developing one. It concluded that being told to find our passion maybe well intended but ultimately it is misplaced advice.
In the short term to find our passion we must go looking for it, for sure. In so doing we create deliberate actions and with such purpose comes results. In the short term, the very act of looking opens up our minds to new opportunities. Open up our minds to new opportunities and we open up ourselves to creative possibilities. Open up ourselves to creative possibilities and we may find our passion. It is what comes next that is critical for development of that passion.
It is the relaxing bit that comes with having found our true passion in life that does the damage. The comfort food of “True Passion” turns sour – maybe it’s our true yoghurt – when it comes to the hard bits. First off, in relative ignorance, we can kid ourselves that we are quite good at this thing, and that we have got it cracked. This is the brain looking for time off and we will get stuck there if we don’t become critical of our own work – creatively critical that is.
Learning by looking at the greats is as old as art itself. Photography is no exception. You can look at your Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, Weegee, David Hockney, Martin Parr, Richard Avendon, Robert Capa, Diane Arbus, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Edward Weston make the list as long as you like, with the internet it can be done. Look at what they have published and have some sort of framework to go by BUT, we are not going to be them. Their time and pathway are different to ours, as well as their artistic sensibilities, no matter how much we admire them. What do we learn from what they see?
The point about that is that it is a great way to learn technique. It’s a great way to set ourselves challenges and that is where finding and developing take separate paths. If we go the development route we are much more likely to stick with it and to use the challenges and frustrations as spurs rather than drift way from something we found.
Collaborative working, under the right sort of atmosphere, is a great way of developing. Knowing the direction we are going in, or want to go in, forces us into certain choices. Again these are better if they are deliberate choices. The biggest factor in this is having somewhere there is a free flow of ideas and an informal collective can be a very good framework for that, especially when ideas are coming in from different disciplines.
Get this bit right and the way that the team works becomes more flexible and responsive to the overall goal – everybody is ending up with some great shots to add to their portfolio. Because there was time and effort put in then the capacity to use these skills, set ups, lighting, composition tools and so on again, under different challenges, adds to not just the photographers, skill sets.
When taking photographs of people, which the Dream Team essentially is, it can seem that it is the photographer who is doing the final work. OK the MUA’s/hairdressers/ got the subject’s look ready, which determines a successful outcome by altering and enhancing where light, shade and attention will fall, and the models give the look, clothes, posture and attitude, but it’s the tog who is determining the final composition. Sort of. Really it is the photographer who has the greatest opportunity to foul everything up and the easiest way to do that is not to take efforts with the other people in the process.
Essentially the photographer has to give credence to the fact that successful photographs of people are not taken they are given. It is a collaborative process.
Our thanks to David Southwell not only for a sterling job in judging the Hankin and Scantlebury Trophies round but for doing so at short notice. Always a model when it comes to his consideration and feedback. Our continued run of no shows, reasons aside, continued as the 2015-2016 season goes down as “The year the Judges didn’t”. Results will be posted on the club website made available and the awards made at the end of year bash.
As ever, the last two rounds of the ROC have shown that the interests, eyes for an opportunity and styles of club members are very different. They are, if we let them be, calls to go out and do some things afresh, to get better. In the final analysis the only person we are competing against is our self. We have visited this improvement theme more than a few times but that does not alter the fact that it is our own experience and limitations that go into taking the next frame. It maybe a little dispiriting when people/clients are name-checking a 9 year old over you, or when the fourteenth consecutive judge has failed to notice your genius, but that doesn’t matter because you are following your passion.
Except it does matter.
It matters because you don’t need to let your passion get in the way of your passion for. Passion here, we could also read as ego, passion for as motivation. I am not going to launch into a Freudian lecture on Id Ego and Super Ego, but the point was made on Petapixel this week in an article built around a Mike Rowe video entitled “Don’t follow your passion“. Essentially it is about blinkering ourselves to opportunity by focusing on what we desire, or think desirable, or think we should think desirable.
Someone, actually it was Ralph Waldo Emerson and in answer to your next question, yes I do know where he is, said that life is a journey not a destination. Well thinking about it he might be right but actually that doesn’t actually mean anything nor does it indicate what we should do next. Let’s put this into photographic terms. Your eye sight is fading, it was always better in the days of film, you were once the proud owner of an Austin Allegro and your favourite colour is beige. Conclusion? Go and judge some club competitions, who will then marvel at your beige enhanced, photochemical scented nostalgia and razor perception of the necessary width of a border. A fairly accurate description of the judge who doesn’t pick your photo for at least a commendation, obviously.
What we have here is not so much a matter of perspective as a matter of investment. The landscaper who hacks across perilous marshlands in the dark in order to get that glorious sunrise, slightly over exposed, but that can be “fixed in post”, with the horizon bang in the middle, but that can be cropped out, the dynamic range in the frame more than JPEG can handle, did that for effect, and with the tips of branches intruding from one side, strong vignette will sort that out, is left with a sense of achievement imbued by the difficulty of the journey and the glory of the post shoot slap up breakfast. The journey becomes the point and the spectacles distinctly rose hewed because of it. Along comes the judge, who has trekked that very path, taken that very scene, made it part of their successful RPS panel and basically says “Should have gone to Specsavers”. If a good ‘un their feed back will provide a map to get them there. Obviously, our landscaper is the victim of myopia, poor taste, jealousy, misunderstanding etc etc. Yet, following their passion, and as we seem to be in the middle of a quote-fest, they have fulfilled the Yogi Berra observation that “If you don’t know where you are going you might find yourself someplace else”.
It’s not the trek over the perilous path that the judge is judging, it’s the image that resulted and it is being judged against the other entries in that part of the competition. Yes, it is all relative, and if the competition regularly shoots for and is commissioned by National Geographic then the standard you have to hit to be good enough to reward is going to be far, far higher. In this rather extreme case you have a decision to make. Buckle or learn? If you are following your passion then the former is easier, eventually than the latter. If you bring your passion with you, as Rowe points out, then the latter becomes a lot easier – if you have a system for and a willingness to put it into operation.
There is a negative side that can raise its head here and that is to do with confidence. Lack of confidence is, I would speculate, the number one reason members don’t enter club competitions and whereas it is true, or maybe, it can also come across as a bit glib to say, nothing ventured nothing gained. The essential truth doesn’t take the sting out of failure. Experience has taught me that if you don’t “fail” (come up to expectation, yours or someone else’s) you cannot learn. Fail is just an acronym. First Action In Learning. Don’t fail, can’t learn, can’t learn won’t improve. Enter the competitions not to win but to learn. That is where the judge’s feedback is so very important. If you have a system for and a willingness to put it into operation. Simply put, take what the judge said could be improved, go take two similar shots, one with those sins included and one with them omitted. Which seems better? Make a note, as in write it down in a note book. Practice the better outcome. Read your notes often.
All of which takes motivation. Actually two things it takes, the first I have just mentioned, repetition, the second is the spur to action. The pattern for most people who are not obsessive/compulsive is to have a whole lot of enthusiasm at the beginning which tales off to mild interest and finally redundancy over time. In that way motivation carries the seeds of its own destruction. The key is to vary. Not one technique done to death but two or three practiced together, and always with a critical eye, a positively critical eye. Technique is more important 99 times out of a hundred, than gear, but that is not to diminish the role that gear can play. It’s just better to invest in it gradually and purposefully. Know why and what you are going to achieve by investing in it. What it isn’t is a crutch for bad technique. Which brings us back to the top of the page.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Practical outdoors, bring your cameras. If weather inclement then we will be indoors.