My work vs Atget's (Part II) : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

My sincere appreciation to those who took the time to write in my previous thread. Here're my thoughts:-

Adrain, you talked about projected "vision". I'm not so sure about that because if I'm going to have a "vision", then I'm almost certain to have to look for something and in my experience I always find nothing if I go around looking for it. It may be the case for Atget but I just don't know how, for myself. Maybe this "vision" can be executed in still life (you can arrange it) but not likely with landscapes. I tend to agree with Ellis that Atget was in love and moved by his subjects. I admit getting caught in tech stuff quite often. My prints are not flawless (quite weak, actually)and I'm afraid to be perceived as a lousy photographer. I should change that thinking. So what if people tend to relate high quality printing with good photographs!

I may have created the impression that I'm trying to shoot like Atget. But that's not the case. I admire how freely he was in his eyes and mind able to capture his subjects with such ease. As Bruce said it, I must like the process of making pictures and to make those pictures for myself, first and foremost. No doubt about that, but my frustration is ignited deeper than just thinking that I may not have what it takes after all. What about my social responsibility? Haven't had a decent income for the longest time is abandoning responsibility. You'll just drag everyone down with you. You sure can juggle between job and photography, but you know inside you cannot be good at both. Someone told me recently that to make a good photograph is more difficult than to paint. I'm not a painter, so I don't know, but I do know I'll feel guilty if those are not my best work. Eight years isn't a long time at photography as Joe pointed out. Ansel said one good picture is about right. Supposing I photograph for 30 years, how would 30 photographs pay the bills for over three decades? It would be irrational to even think about it. Social pressure is mounting! But Joe made me see a point that those who are good at what they do always makes it look easy. As for 10,000 negatives, I probably wouldn't make it in my lifetime. I did a calculation and came up with almost 900 negs (800 4x5's & 100 5x7's) from eight years work. Printed about 25 negs. Probably 4 or 5 decent (though not flawless)photographs. Adding the countless times out in the field without removing the camera from the sack, that's more than 99 per cent failure rate. Five photographs and eight years of shooting, thinking, learning, smelling, drinking, dreaming photography??? I seldom go back to printing old negs, though I know reprints always get better. I'd rather move on. Almost all are 4x5 contact prints and won't sell anyway. Honestly, I didn't do it to sell. Just six people have actually seen my work. Sometimes I don't know what the hack I am doing this for. I do not normally cast my thoughts openly, but I guess I want to find out if those serious photographers out there do feel the same when in a slump, and for the same reasons, and the way to go is to "expose" my own situation. Art & Fear will be my next book to read. Thanks for the recommendation, Scott and Tom.

I like what DJ narrate about things going a certain pattern and to keep at it to get better. I think if I do decide to quit photography, it would not be for pottery or anything, but for butter & bread issue. Perfectionists (not in the technical part of photography in my case) do make things hard for themselves, don't they?

I've read both Robert Adams books. In Beauty in Photography, he showed a chinese painting of what looks like six pears by Mu Chi. Simple brush strokes and it seems so easy. Thousand times of failed attempts and a love for his medium! But Sandy, obsession without the means to do it is misery. I have long accepted the fact that there will only be a very small audience for such work, so to think of getting recognition for my work has not been on my mind at all. What do audience know about photography anyway? If some great personality says my work is a treasure, audiences will find an excuse to agree (Matt, you're right!). If you ask me, Jonathan, what am I getting at all these years, I'll tell you I don't know. If you asked if I'm confuse; I probably am!

You know John & Ed, I've recently upgraded to an 8x10 Ansco and this beast has intimidated me for over a month. Not a single exposure made! It's huge, heavy, clumsy, and I weight just a hundred pounds. The ground glass is so dim with a slow 305mm lens and the image is so big I am overwhelmed. The viewing seems less intimate than would my 4x5 and 5x7. I cannot 'connect' with the subjects. Similarly, an 8x10 print or larger overwhelm me. I generally feel a lost in intimacy with bigger prints. I tried a little change in my routine, it didn't work. Perhaps more time is needed.

Thanks for that little spark at the other end of the tunnel, I can see your crawling marks and footing in this same path. But I'm climbing two feet and falling three for now. Where does this lead to, Jim? Brian, Justin, John, I know you're pushing my along, but where am I going?? I am still confused.


-- Aaron (, December 20, 2001


I believe that you might benefit from a reading of Edward Weston's "Daybooks." Not technically, but inspirationally.

-- Willhelmn (, December 20, 2001.


Making really successful pictures is hard work, and knowing whether you've succeeded or not can be equally difficult. Spending the day not getting any exposed negatives can be every bit as valuable (though much less enjoyable) than a day when everything clicks. Especially if you are paying attention to why things aren't clicking--it may not be that you're failing to connect, but that you're connecting perfectly and realize the conditions are not going to produce the pictures you want. With enough of this negative data, you learn to recognise the conditions that do work and take full advantage of them.

Production is a very tricky issue. If you shoot less and have a higher success rate, is that an improvement or not? If you learn from experience when not to shoot, has your 'production' gone down, or become more precise and targeted? Do you thrive on careful planning or countless hours spent in serendipitous searching? The answers will be different for each individual.

If you've found the move from 4x5 to 8x10 to be daunting, try simply practicing. First just practice manipulating, setting up and taking down the camera. Then go out without film and get used to the machine. Pictures are aesthetic objects, but cameras are machines and you need to learn how to work with a specific camera just as a machinist needs to learn to use a lathe. To mix the metaphor, once the 8x10 feels as natural as riding a bike, the pictures may star

-- Carl Weese (, December 20, 2001.

......start happening.

Was supposed to be at the end there. The software seems to cut off the end of postings from my computer. Anyone know why, know why, know why

-- Carl Weese (, December 20, 2001.

Try making some exposures with your 8x10". They don't have to be the most profound images in the world, just things that are interesting to you.

If the prints don't inspire you to work through the awkwardness of a cumbersome format, then maybe it's just not the format for you. I feel the same way about 4x5"--tried it and enjoyed the process, but it didn't click for me the way 8x10" and the 8x10" contact print did. Why should you feel compelled to use 8x10" if you don't enjoy the process or the results? Some external standard? Find your own standard, and I think you'll be happier.

-- David Goldfarb (, December 20, 2001.

I'm wondering if perhaps your frustration doesn't stem from not having some aspect of technique allowing you to realize your vision. Black and white photography can be like that. For me, it was finally learning to achieve proper exposure and contrast control that enabled me to become satisfied with some of my prints. And, that makes all the difference. You have to have some wins to enjoy what you do.

Have you thought of taking a workshop. A good workshop can make a big difference in one's inspiration and on one's ability to achieve that inspiration. For example, I've heard good things about Bruce Barumbaum's (sic?) workshops in central Washington. There are good workshops available all over the country. Perhaps you can find one in your area.

It's absolutely possible to be good at both photography and at a regular job. One may not take as many photographs, but if some of those photographs are pleasing, then they are good at photography.

-- neil poulsen (, December 20, 2001.

I agree with Neil that a workshop would be an excellent boost to your confidence and your outlook.

I was also thinking that it might do you well to take a more casual approach for awhile to try to relieve the pressure you seem to have burdened yourself with. Take a 35mm camera and shoot anything that captures your attention. Do not edit your thoughts or what draws your interest--just shoot it. I think in the pursuit of perfection, it is very easy to edit out those concepts that come to mind and which could be most exciting. The trouble comes when we overthink or over analyze, and in doing so, dismiss promising creative ideas as a waste of time.

As for pursuing your art in your spare time, consider that Kafka only wrote in his spare time and he turned out some pretty good books during his off hours.

-- Ted Kaufman (, December 20, 2001.

If you're not paralyzed from the neck down, they you're in great shaped. I think you've made life a little too complex and I think you're a little lost. That happens to all of us to some degree at some point in our lives. You're thread almost sounds as it you're mentally whipping yourself and it's time for you to quit, you're had more than your share of self doubt, now it's time to go on living.

You can sit in a room an eternity and ask endless questions about life, about yourself, and you can self-doubt yourself into mental paralysis. Somehow I just don't think you're as bad as you've convinced yourself, and on the other hand you don't need to torture yourself because you're not as good as you want to be, yet.

You might as well play the cards you have been dealt, come up with a plan, something that's been suggested here or something you can come up with, any plan so long as it's a plan. Do it after you've relaxed yourself for a while, and take a vacation from being a 'tortured artist' and have some fun with your life.

One thing you gotta remember about life, you can go out and have fun living it, or you can sit in a room forever and ask yourself why you're not an inch taller. That's what you're doing.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 20, 2001.

You need to read Rilke's "Letters To a Young Poet". It anwsers many questions you have raised.

-- hugo Zhang (, December 20, 2001.

Couple of thoughts. If I die tomorrow and my good wife rents a dumpster and scoops every piece of photo gear along with negs and chromes into it with a grain scoop, I am still "paid in full!"

It's the journey I'm reveling in, not the destination. I don't know where it's taking me, and I don't much care. I'm doing this for me.

Second thought. The Ansco has performed it's job fabulously! Remember how BIG that 5X7 used to seem. The Ansco made it tiny, which is about all the Ansco's probably good for. I initially bought a Cambo 8X10. Nice to know if I ever take up deep sea fishing I'll have a suitable anchor to hold my craft steady. Then I bought a Folmer and Schwing 11X14. The Deardorff is a feather compared to it, and it's truly good for nothing because I'm afraid it would float. Hmmm. If I get cold, I see about an hour and a half's worth of BTU's.

Lighten up guy. I know, easier said than done on some days. Jim

-- Jim Galli (, December 20, 2001.

I also like the workshop idea. Most people need feedback on their work. If possible try to find some local people to get together with and look at prints. I feel you can't see enough high quality work. Personally I just don't get the same feeling looking at web sites that I do with the real thing. Lot's of people are out there working day jobs and producing art. I'm retired now but I find that more time does not necessarily equate with better photography. Sometimes your best work comes in short bursts. Talking about found landscape images here. As others have said sometimes the equipment can become a burden. You should also use an easy camera sometimes. I like to take out an old Agfa folder loaded with Ilford d3200 and shoot anything that catches my eye. Loosens you up and some nice images result. If you can get beyond the belief that everything has to be an 8x10 contact print. You just have to go with the flow and enjoy the process. Making it into work or trying too hard never seems to work for me.

-- Chuck Pere (, December 20, 2001.


Please don't take me literally when I said follow your obsession to the ends of the earth --- I couldn't afford to go to Antarctica, but I was obsessed with it, so I made my "Imagining Antarctica" series here in the Northeast states. If something occupies your mind, you must find a way to express it.

I strongly disagree with your suggestion that it may not be possible to make landscape pictures with a preconceived "vision." You do not have to set up a still life to have an idea and go looking for ways to fulfill it. The landscape work I respond to most is quite visionary and quite specific. Richard Misrach works in very specific series in a limited geographic area, the desert Southwest. He goes out with ideas, knows his country, and comes back with magnificent, heartbreaking pictures that have something to say about place and what happens to it when mankind makes mistakes. Sally Mann, likewise in the South. These people are very educated about their part of the country. I admire the printmaking of someone like Ansel Adams and he has some transcendent individual photographs, but I prefer seeing a body of images where some idea is being worked out. The idea could be psychological, political, sociological, but it should always also be personal. Again, if you don't have some connection, affinity, or obsession with the subject your pictures will be sterile.

If you want to do landscape, set yourself a project having to do with your favorite kind of landscape, or kind of light. Examples: open treeless country only. Dawn pictures only. Closeups of different grasses only. Windy days only. The beaches of the Gulf of Mexico only.

But don't pick one of those. Pick YOUR place, your weather, your time of day. Then shoot it till you get it right.

Cheers, Sandy

-- Sandy Sorlien (, December 20, 2001.

I have two suggestions: (1) In addition to reading Edward Weston's "Daybooks," a very good suggestion that someone else made, also read "Art and Fear" by Ted Orland and someone else whose name I've forgotten; and (2) beg or steal the money and attend a John Sexton workshop. Any one will do since the purpose isn't necessarily technical knowledge (though you'll get plenty of that) but rather inspiration and instilling a renewed love for the medium which John will provide in abundance.

-- Brian Ellis (, December 20, 2001.

hi aaron - have you ever tried to put into words what you want your pictures to be about? jotting down your thoughts might help you define what you want to accomplish. i also think it is a good idea to grab a small format camera and just shoot as much as you can. without the barrier of setting up a bigger camera whether it is 4x5 or 8x10, a small camera can sometimes help work things out. i tend to get "writer's block" and rather than try to force my self to shoot big negatives, i shoot 35mm or 110 film until it leaves. a change in "venue" helped me when i was wearing similar shoes to yours. rather than photograph people, buildings, and urban landscapes i was swallowed whole by my darkroom and printed things like glass with ink and wax, discarded plastic scraps i found on the street, anything and everything i could, so i could figure out what the heck i was doing. in the end (5 years later) it helped my printing technique, and helped me dig way down inside myself and figure things out - a little ... i have to admit nothing gets fixed right away - and like you, i wrestle with similar thoughts all the time. it isn't easy to work things out, but when you see a little bit of blue sky the sun sometimes follows, and that is a good thing :). best of luck - john

-- john nanian (, December 20, 2001.

I am much better now getting things out of my chest. So the general consensus we gather here is re-work approach, loosen- up, take a break, practice, attend workshops, show your work, improve techniques, plan, have fun, don't self-doubt, have a vision, move-on. Great Team! Thanks. I need a little clarification about having a "vision" which I'll post in a new thread.


-- Aaron (, December 21, 2001.

Just like to add a couple of thoughts.

I think you need to think back to what it is that drew you to the pursuit of photography in the first place. Was it a particular image, a specific photographer or body of work, a feeling you got during the process? Think about it, write it down and decide what you need to do to get back to that point. If your concerns are mostly with the quality of your work, seek out someone qualified who can give an honest critique of your work.

Second, I don't know how old you are or if you are married with a family. If you do have a family, welcome to the reality for a lot of us. I have a career, family, financial responsibilities etc. Sometimes I am lucky to get 2 or 3 hours in the darkroom a week. I began to work with night phtography because 4am was about the only time I had to myself for awhile. I have always had a goal of producing at least one "fine" print a month, mounted and matted for the last 10 years. I have exceeded that number from tme to time and yet if someone asked me to provide material for a showing, I would only consider 20-24 as demonstrating my finest work to others. That is after exposing hundreds of rolls and sheets of film, going through boxes upon boxes of paper, and gallons and gallons of chemicals. And I have even sold a few prints over that time. Yet I consider 20 to 24 to be quite an accomplishment.

Someone mentioned vision. I think vison evolves over time. It starts by photographing things you are interested in and love, maybe very familiar with or comfortable with. For me the camera is how I "write" about the world as a see it. Vision for me has evolved into using light, film and paper (or pixels someday) to present my unique take on the little pieces of the world I turn my camera on.

-- James Chinn (, December 21, 2001.

As another thought, do you like color? Taking LF color photographs can be rewarding. You might consider color negative, since you have greater latitude with negatives, and since color prints from negatives can be better than color R-type prints from transparencies. I've gotten some great color shots with which I'm very pleased.

You might try one of the Fuji, daylight corrected, four-layer films. I liked Agfa Optima, but it's no longer available in 4x5 sheets. Others may also have suggested films that they would recommend.

-- neil poulsen (, December 21, 2001.

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