I'd rather watch paint dry.

greenspun.com : LUSENET : B&W Photo: Creativity, Etc. : One Thread

The other day I seen some award type photos from the WA Photographic Club. One of the winning entries was a picture called "Old Bolt". It was, yes you guessed it, a close up of an old bolt on a piece of old timber. If this is art then what does this old bolt tell me? What emotion can an old bolt elicit in me? If it is some other form of expression or documentary then what do I really care about the grain and texture of the wood? The same goes for close ups of taps against the backdrop of (yet another) setting sun. And if I see one more photo of an "old Man" win an award from a photographic club I'll scream in pure frustration. Are there any old men around who have not been photographed at least once by an amateur or professional photographer, oblivious to the ubiquity of such photos?

In spite of all the above, there certainly are good uses for photography other than for commercial or scientific use, such as social documentary and portraits. I will concede that there is a small percentage of photography that could be considered "art photography" at least in the sense that these photos have the potential to elicit nostalgia or the feeling of change in a changing world, somehow connected with our own sense of loss and inevitability. But even this merges with the genre of social documentary or otherwise an historical context

I agree with some posts on this subject that art is a subjective thing. Art can be someone's idea of what is visually attractive, ugly, interesting or beautiful. But how many times can you look at a female nude and say that is interesting? Like photos of old men, are there any new and different ways to photograph the female body? Even if there are, who cares? Naked males or females or nubile nymphs do not constitute art to me, but moreover just trite photography with no more meaning in it's form than a large boulder in low shadow (also infinitely explored by numerous landscape photographers now in their eighties or dead).

When I look at the flower works of Mapplethorpe and his contemporaries what I see is good flower arranging, expensive lighting set ups and the ability to use them. Would I frame that tulip or hyacinths and hang it on my wall? I don't think so. But I would go out in the garden to pick those flowers, put them in a vase and display them. The application of colour, texture, and form already supplied by nature. Mapplethorpe's other works fall into the general category of social/historical documentation, i.e. homosexual emancipation.

As for rusted bolts, rotting wood, gaudy sunsets, taps dripping, flaking paint, or the hundred other subjects that win photo club competitions every year, frankly I'd rather watch paint dry.

-- Roland (burch@wantree.com.au), December 09, 1997


Watching Paint Dry

"Watching Paint Dry" Now that's artistic. If you find nothing moving in photography because you lack imagination or feeling don't blame it on photography. Moreover, you will find little sympathy and fewer converts to your way of thinking on a photography forum.

You act like photography is the only medium that has subject matter that is overdone. Like painting is any better. You seem to have convinced yourself that photography has only one merit: to document. You seem to think that just because photographers approach the same subject over and over again it somehow loses is validity. Who cares if the subject has been done a million times. Does the photo stand on its own merits? For you, the answer is no. Period. Regardless of subject or content. Except to elicit the feeling of nostalgia in some "art photography." It sounds to me that the problem you have with photography is your inability to get into contact with your own emotions.

I don't know, I can look at a female nude many times and find it interesting. The problem that you suffer from is thinking that the thing photographed is necessarily the meaning of the photograph. Subject matter doesn't really matter in photography, emotional content does. The study of the nude figure, male or female, is about the relationship of light to form. These relationships exists everywhere in the world. Even in your garden.

If you get more value from going out to your garden to pick flowers than looking at a photograph of them, go pick them. But I guess I don't understand that if you like that better, and it's OK, if someone else would rather look at a photograph of flowers, why does this bother you so much? Mapplethorpe's flowers don't mean anything to you? Do Georgia O'Keefe's?

-- Jef Torp (JefTorp@aol.com), December 10, 1997.

What a dork I've been

To Everyone on this forum that is reading this thread. I am relatively new to on-line discussions and don't use the written word very much in my everyday life. As such, when I read Mason's post about being civil my first thought was that someone must have been a real dork. Come to find, while I was re-reading my own post, what a dork I'VE been. Tone of voice, and general tongue -in-cheekiness just don't come through like it all sounded in my head as I was writing it. I guess my passion for photography and what I feel are its expressive capabilities bypasses my reasoning faculties and straight into the fight or flight section of my brain. From there they went straight to my fingers and into this forum. It came as some surprise to me that the very thing I was trying to fight against, i.e. lack of acceptance to my point of view, was the very thing I was practicing in return. To quote myself, if someone would rather go out into the garden and enjoy flowers instead of photographing them, why should it bother me?

Anyway, I apologize to everyone and hope that in the future my responses can be more respectful of other viewpoints.


Jef Torp

-- Jef Torp (JefTorp@aol.com), December 11, 1997.

Me too

I can relate to what you have said and there have been many times when I wished that I could have retracted a statement posted in haste. However having said that I think that the strenght of ones reaction is a reflection of your passion for the subject. So I will probably continue to make people shake their heads no matter how careful (and dull) I try to be. Who knows I might even be one the people Mason was referring to.

-- Andy Laycock (aglay@interchange.ubc.ca), December 11, 1997.

Well, I personally do like watching paint dry...

Don't judge photography by clubs. I'm sure there are many exceptions, but some of them seem to specialise in hackneyed cliches. Some clubs reward those who break out of these narrow circles; others just punish them.

Yup, subject matter as such doesn't mean a thing. Well, it does, because we bring preconceptions of the subject-matter to the viewing, and those preconceptions interact with what the photographer brought. If all he/she brought was the cliches we already had, the result is what you express. If the photographer brought very different ideas, we might feel something very different: shock, horror, whatever. Sometimes, the photographer brings something that makes us see something very different, so that whenever we see the original subject again, we see it differently. Such genius is rare, and very rarely found at a local camera club.

Look at it another way. Everything has been photographed. Everything has been painted. Everything has been written about. And filmed, videod, whatever. A poor photographer/painter/writer can only repeat the work of others. The truly original can give us new, delightful insights.

Here's an exercise. Take an old bolt and an old piece of wood. Use all your imagination, and photograph it. I'll bet you can come up with something new, or at least something you have never seen before.

And I can't resist rising to the bait of that wretched word. A*t is not automatically present, or absent, according to the subject matter. Van Gogh painted chairs, flowers, fields. Take your favourite painter (or artist in any media). What, to you, makes it "art"? Is it really inherent in the subject, or is it in the treatment by the artist?

-- Alan Gibson (gibson.al@mail.dec.com), December 10, 1997.

The thing about photography or any other art form is that it will mean different things to different people or (as in your case) not elicit any feelings at all. I am greatly affected by photographs of all sorts but can rarely explain why and I don't really feel the need to. Some people are never satisfied with the pure visual satisfaction from art but need to categorize their feelings according to some doctrine. I would be interested to know what sort of photography you do like because I can't imagine that you could be so down on it and still take the time to look up photography sites and contribute to this forum.

-- Andy Laycock (aglay@interchange.ubc.ca), December 10, 1997.

Hi all, this is a really great thread that should spawn discussion for some time. However, let this be a gentle reminder to limit discussion to the subject matter. Avoid the temptation to go off on tangents that might infer personal attacks or insults. I know this is a subject that will get a strong response, so I wanted to insert this reminder here. The subject is a classic and deserves a lively debate, but without personal attacks, please!

(We had a problem with a thread degenerating into personal attacks recently, and I had to hit the "delete" key. Now back to the thread...)


-- Mason Resnick (mresnick@idt.net), December 10, 1997.

drying paint

I understand what your frustration seems to be , but I would not allow one groups idea of what constitutes good photography to cause any loss of sleep. One of the more unusual experiences I have had was being asked to judge a "contest" at a camera club in Fla. The rules of judging were so confined and strict that one could hardly consider images that fell outside the type of images that you are talking about. With that said, I doubt that there are many out there, that if they were to look , would find negatives in the bottom of the box that at least come close to these.

-- jim megargee (mvjim@interport.net), December 10, 1997.


Sorry---final sentence should have read--

would not find negatives.........

-- jim megargee (mvjim@interport.net), December 10, 1997.

G'Day Roland,

You know several years ago I became the proud owner of an old F1 35mm camera. Someone turned me on to Ansel Adams books "The Negative" and "The Print" the little hard bound first edition ones. In the book The Print there is a photograph "Sunlight on Old Boards". For some reason this simple image stirred an emotion in me. I wondered how he was able to make this photograph that could cause this reaction. So I began to attempt to learn this craft. Although these old boards are a simple subject "just old boards", no one in this whole world has ever or ever will be able to precisely duplicate this image. To me this is one of the fascinating things about photography. Although every subject has been done many times they are each as individual as the different individuals making the photographs.

-- Dell Elzey (potog@mindspring.com), December 10, 1997.

your observations are the main reason that i dont look in any but one or two of the current photo magazines for photography, i just dont like what they show case. self magazine, this old house and many of the so called "womens" magazines have photography that beats the living day lights out of the min stream photo mags. i would suggest, respectfully mind you, that if you dont like what you are seeing , dont look there. if more people "abandoned" the main stream, cookie cutter photo journals, maybe they would take the hint and find out what it really is that the photo publis is after. its just a thought, and may not address your exact concern, but i think it is along the same lines as what you feel is a concern.


Why photograph something like an "Old bolt"? Because it shows the beauty and charm of an everyday object that everyone passes by and takes for granted. Because it shows an instant in time of something that is, like everything else is in a constant state of decay and will never be like this again. Because it shows the photographer's vision, so what if not everyone else "gets it".

"these photos have the potential to elicit nostalgia or the feeling of change in a changing world, somehow connected with our own sense of loss and inevitability"

Why can't an "Old bolt" do this?

-- Tim Brown (brownt@ase.com), December 11, 1997.

I have noticed in another thread that it has been mentioned that art(photography in this case) is a subjective notion. I think art serves to provide an aesthetic of our world, whether it be photography or flower arrangements(i.e. Ikabana). Obviously there are many differences in aesthetics. Some people like portraits of children(BLAH, IMHO) while others like abstracts[YEAH!! :)], Others like rusted bolts while others like crime scenes. It's not that any aesthetic is, in general, better or worse than any other; it's only better or worse in the aesthetics of the world you create.

-- (Moschika@sirius.com), December 17, 1997.

Safe, bland, technically perfect, "art" photography. I couldn't have said it better myself. Ditto Roland's comments on Mapplethorpe and the rest of the slick commercio-artistic crap peddlers that seem to hog most of the gallery space in the major urban markets. Hassleblad + softlight + pretty flower arrangement = art? I don't think so.

-- Peter Hughes (ravenart@redshift.com), January 13, 1998.

When people show me their work I never criticize their masterpieces because it is not what they want to hear. Besides, maybe they are very good and I am the one who has no taste. Who am I to say the photograph of your dear old Mum is badly composed? Well what difference does it make? It doesn't until art becomes competitive. We photograph because we need to and hopefully not to prove we are high achievers somehow. If you think your art is better than the next guy, send me a hundred bucks and I'll e-mail you the good news.

-- ray tai (razerx@netvigator.com), January 14, 1998.

For me, the bottom line to any human aesthetic would be the question: "does this produce emotion ? " and, (if I get really picky); "is this an elevation of the human spirit " (a glorification of creation ) or is this another step towards the celebration of depravity and hopelessness? Have I learned anything from this image (other than LIFE SUCKS) Has it moved me? I acknowledge that everyone sees with different eyes, but we share a common humanity that, just as we can tell a true note from a scratch on a blackboard, can tell the difference between a meaning-fully produced image and a snapshot. When I take a photo (other than "Aunt Carrie @ the Kids in Vegas" or "BUY THIS NOW!!!") I am trying to show something that my heart feels. Not sell/buy/promote/destroy or dictate. Maybe tell a story. When I see a rusty bolt or a rotting cabin, I see the changes of time. When I see an old persons face, I feel my own mortality. Some Images take time and thought to process. Perhaps quick drying paint is not the answer.

-- Dougal (nightshade1@home.net), January 18, 1998.

Great Stuff;!

I know where your coming from. I felt the same way until I went on vacation with a point & shoot. I thought a print was a print was a print. When I got home I had some shots that really opened my eyes. Two of thoes I have hanging in my office. That was some seven years ago. I have since then phurched some very good used Canon equipment. I now have some twenty of my best shots hanging in my office. The comments I receive are as follows; "...I saw that light house, but you know, I never noticed that picket fence there before."(he fished off the cape every year) "...hey man what do you call thoes fuzzy things coming out of the center of that flower close-up, there beautiful." (and he just stood there and quitetly looked) "...is this that fence line I saw you parked by every morining on the way to work?" How old was that bolt? who put it in the wood? What was it part of? Why did you even notice it? After you noticed it, so what? Are you that why about all things? So what? While your passing through, smell the roses, because as the old bolt & wood, we'll pass on. Thanks for space to share my opinion Jerry

-- Jerome Sobacki Sr. (jpsbls@gamewood.net), May 09, 1998.

I'd rather watch paint dry, and I'll also remember to smell the roses

Yes, while you're passing through, photographing, DO stop and smell the roses, literally.

I took a wander through rural Washington recently, and I came upon an old, old farm house. Some of the siding had fallen off, but it still stood, out there, by itself, in the arid farmland.

The farm was bust when they left the house behind, I'm sure. There were a couple of out buildings, and a concrete foundation of something. No old car or wagon carcass was present. They must have left in the only transport they had.

I stopped. I photographed. I photographed in Kodak IR and E100SW. My Pentax 6x7 clicked and clicked.

There in front of the house were, still thriving, two rose bushes. The blooms were bright yellow.

My shutter clicked. The shots were bracketed. Many focal points were tried. Film passed in and out of my camera, paraded before the lens.

I forgot to smell the roses.

-- Brian C. Miller (a-bcmill@exchange.microsoft.com), June 17, 1998.

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