Tag Archives: Philosophy

1018 – Living In A Different World

Oh dear, so much has happened since the last post! Where shall I begin? OK, I’ll begin with answering some of the comments to that rant about style.

Ted, I guess we disagree much less than you think we do 🙂

I looked up Reed Dixon, and I very much appreciate what he does. If for any reasons he will still do the same kind of images in 30 years (or if he did it that way all through the last 30 years), I most probably wouldn’t.

What I did in my post, was to define the word “style” (for me!!!). I am aware of the fact that style is frequently used to denote outward attributes of an image that can best be characterized as mechanical. I mean things that could be cast into a Photoshop action. Other people call that “effects”. To call something like that a “style”, does not make sense to me at all. The only meaningful definition of style that comes to my mind is connected to a way of seeing. If anything, for me, just like for Paul Maxim and Ove, style is an attribute of personality.

We have a photo book in Carinthia, a very expensive and very beautiful book with portraits done by Henri Cartier Bresson. On Sunday I took the opportunity to have an intense look at these images, and what I did was looking for the signs of a distinct style.

Frankly, I didn’t find anything that would allow me to pick out an HCB from the mass of photographs. There are some hints though, for example that he didn’t seem to care much about the “Rule of Thirds”, and if he did, he frequently placed the head of his subject in the lower third, including a seemingly undue amount of background. In other words, he didn’t follow rules, he broke them.

Unfortunately he didn’t break them in any consistent manner, thus taking away the fun that we could draw from instantly recognizing him.

It goes on like that. It’s easy to recognize the Erwitts as long as there are dogs in the image, but if not? I doubt it.

But this is not specific to photography, it’s just by accident that we discuss it in that context. In my eyes style, when that word makes sense at all, is a certain way of seeing the world, of judging one’s own work, ever evolving until we die. Style is a statistical entity that can be seen as an inconsistent and evolving, but still recognizable pattern in the background of a large body of work. If it is not evolving, well, then the artist probably has found something that sells.

The market does abominable things to artists. Capitalism is not everything, and from a perspective of art it fails miserably. Why? Because it tells artists to stick to their recipe, to basically repeat themselves, or better, to repeat whatever they found that sells. THAT‘s the reason why some Artists continue to produce the same things, over and again, for 30 years and more.

Hopefully this has cleared things up a bit. Enough of that.

As I said, so many things have happened, and although I’m late to the party, I should at least send you over to Cedric’s blog, as he has written a very clever post about artistic ambivalence and ambivalence in general, all circling around the question what photographs tell about the photographer.

As to these pictures, well, they were all taken with my new (and cheap!) Sigma 28/1.8, and they demonstrate perfectly why I like this lens: With its ability to focus down to the front element, it opens up a completely different world. Nice bokeh, huh?

The Song of the Day is “Living In A Different World” by “Honeydripper” Roosevelt Sykes. I have it on disc 57 of “The Ultimate Jazz Archive”, and if you aim for something cheaper, you can get it as well on his “Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 8”.Hear the song on Deezer.

1017 – Meet Me At The Station

Should I ever be tempted to adopt this image’s post-processing as a “style”, I’d really have to re-engineer what I’ve done. This was a very experimental 20 layer job, and actually I like it pretty well.

Speaking of “styles”, you know it won’t happen. I always say “style is for the dead”, meaning that the style of an artist is normally ever evolving, and only when we’re dead, posterity can finally shelf us under a certain style.

But maybe we should look deeper and ask what a style is? We often hear processing methods (like what I currently experiment with) called styles. Thus I could speak of my “Orange Tinted B&W Style” or could call what I’ve just done with the image of Villach’s train station a style. Superficially it seems so and many people use “style” in just that way. The viewers do it and many artists do it as well, and interestingly enough, many artists even stick to their “style”. It’s something that I don’t understand and much less desire. For me that is not style but only technique, craft. It’s just like a garment. Some images wear this and some wear that, and it may make sense in its context, but all the time?

And then there is the other form of style that I don’t get: ever recurring content. I remember when in the early days of this blog I had a conversation with Ted Byrne. We talked about blogging and continuity, and I told him of a blog that brought one image of a piece of litter on the street per day. One piece of litter a day, every day, all photographed by the same person. An incredible exercise in perseverance, as at that time, that blog had already over 1000 posts.

Ted was shocked. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like “waste of time” and “what a poor life”. I have no idea if this blog still exists, and I don’t mean to ridicule it, but for me this is just a good example for this second kind of “style”. I simply can’t understand why people do it. For me, it would drain all the fun out of it. What can possibly be interesting in 1000 or 2000 scraps of paper?

So, if my definition of style does not mean ever recurring post-processing methods and does not mean ever recurring content, what the heck does it mean?

Well, I can only talk of myself, but I am quite sure I have a certain style to work with lines, especially lines that go in corners. I also may have a certain characteristic way to feel balance, and these are things that are pretty independent of what combination of filters I currently use, whether I work in B&W or color, or whether I do landscapes or street photography. These things recur, because they are important to me, they are a part of my visual value system. These are things that feel “right” to me.

How do you feel about style? Do my ideas ring true to you? Am I completely wrong? And if so, why?

The Song of the Day is “Meet Me At The Station” from the compilation of live songs “The Live Adventures of the Waterboys”. See a video on YouTube.

1007 – Seen And Not Seen

Mark “The Landscapist” Hobson did it again. He wrote one of his usual rants against what he calls the “pretty-picture crowd”, and as so often, I mostly agree.

He argues with the two Japanese concepts of “hade” and “shibui“. Both mean a form of beauty, “jimi” being a third one, with shibui being roughly the ideal middle between flashy, gaudy hade and dull jimi.

From “The pursuit of comparative aesthetics” by Mazhar Hussain and Robert Wilkinson we learn that

Restraint is one of the ingredients in shibui. Shibui art objects are unobtrusive, unostentatious and modest with understatement as a characteristic style. An underlying notion is, that the less powerful object will probably be the more artistically effective.

For Mark, the full saturation mindset of the “pretty-picture crowd” is of course hade, and he insists that hade, while not intrinsically wrong, is only endurable against a backdrop of shibui. So far, so good, and I agree, but it may be worth looking deeper.

First it is worth to notice, that hade and shibui are not necessarily connected to certain levels of saturation. Mark oversimplifies. Vincent van Gogh’s pictures probably have more characteristics of shibui than of hade, but when you see them hanging on a wall, you are almost blinded by the saturated colors.

Furthermore we can’t reduce hade and shibui to purely aesthetic categories, they are as much defined as behavioral concepts, as lifestyles, which probably best explains the attributed relative values, and as I understand Mark’s attitude, his gripes seem to be more with behavior and intent than with measurable physical qualities like (over-)saturation.

I guess what we artistically pursue, hade or shibui, it all boils down to why we do it. It’s not even a matter of being a leader or a follower, we all are always both of it to a certain extent. No, it’s a matter of why we pursue art. Do we do it essentially for ourself, meaning: are we free, or do we do it to impress, meaning: are we dependent upon positive feedback, do we strive for admiration?

The more we depend on others, the more we will compromise, the more we will try to please, and pleasing in a Koyaanisqatsi world always and at first means getting seen at all, something that hade perfectly accomplishes.

But even if it is shibui that we pursue, we must ask ourselves why we do it. Is it for us or is it to impress, because there can also be vanity in modesty. Less obtrusive, but only to a degree, and it does not even cater to a different crowd, only to a smaller one 🙂

I think another aspect of the same thing is, that we should realize we have time, how much time we have, and that it is OK to take time. When I begin to express myself in any creative way, I have all my life to fool around, to try things, to change, both myself and how I work, and I have the freedom to allow myself to do that.

I don’t mean to pray isolation here, that would seem quite ridiculous for a blogger, but I do pray being a little more relaxed. It’s OK when I don’t get raving comments on every photo, and it’s OK when some of my blog posts are met with indifference or are simply ignored.

Relax. Whatever the crowd does: keep doing what you do if you like it and feel compelled to do so.

I also don’t mean to play down the value of feedback, positive or negative. Feedback is OK and it is important as a means to determine where we are in relation to others. It only does not nourish us. What nourishes us, what gives our efforts substance, what gives us freedom, is to stand deeply rooted in our own experience and our own judgment. Other people can help us find out where we are, but it is up to us to know where we want to go.

Having said all that, I notice that my latest images were far from being public successes on SmugMug. Still, they indicate a turn from the playful experiments with Snap Art to an exploration that centers more around content and ambivalence, and this is exactly what I chose as my current side-project. At the moment I like it and feel compelled to do so 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Seen And Not Seen” from the 1980 Talking Heads album “Remain in Light”. Hear it on YouTube.

982 – Three Ways to One

OK, the rain stopped, in mid-afternoon I took the car, drove into the next forest, looked for a way, some nice lines, anything that would possibly work with an ultra-wide, and here is the result.

I have used a polarizer, set the minimum shutter speed for Auto ISO to 1/8s, and then I took a series of images in this place.

I tried to get as low as possible, in order to use the cracks of the asphalt as foreground, I tried to keep any high-contrast sky out of view, and because the resulting image was too much tilted even for my taste, I have warped and twisted it around in Photoshop until it would fit 🙂

Today is summer solstice, and as bad as the day was in between, it ended in the most magnificent sundown I have ever seen in my life. Imagine a clear, bright sun coming in very low. Above a dark cloud cover. A sunlit rural church, behind it the most impossible storm clouds, dark violet with mixed in patches of deep orange. Honestly, in Photoshop I would not dare to do that. I would pull the trigger, I would tone it down, because no sky will ever look like that and … Damn, it did and I was on the train!!

Yup. That’s the reason why you get nothing but a forest road. Sorry for that 🙂

But there is another thing that I have learned and that I want to share. It’s nothing photographic, more philosophic, but I try it anyway.

Michael visited us today and confronted us with a hypothetical question. He had been to a discussion in Salzburg where the question arose, and the hypothetical situation was the following:

Imagine a trial for rape. The defender argues that the victim had invited the rapist with her provocative clothing. The judge is a muslim woman wearing a hijab. The prosecutor claims the judge to be biased.

Actually the situation is rather stupid and my solution would be, that as long as there is not a law that forbids wearing certain clothes while executing certain offices, there is no merit to the claim at all. The judge may indeed later be found to have been biased, but the same could be true for anyone, and everything beforehand is nothing but prejudice.

Michael argued in a different way. He says that we are a secular society, and that religious symbols, regardless of the actual religion, are incompatible with the function of a judge. Openly wearing a religious symbol is always a public embrace of a certain set of believes, and believes are by definition prejudices.

OK, that’s the setting. The interesting point now is, that Michael and I come from the very same position. Both of us agree that we live in a society that at least claims secularity, that a truly secular society is what we should strive for, and still we go different ways.

Michael’s idea of banning religious symbols in certain contexts where the bearer acts as a representative of the state, is more or less the French way. My own position is liberal, relaxed, probably libertarian, basically it’s “Judge people by their doings, not by what they wear, and you can’t judge them before they act”.

What I find so fascinating, and why I share this stupid scenario, is my sudden realization, that a philosophical position in no way determines your actions. Both ways can be argued and defended on good grounds, and both of us could claim the same reasons. Still we would execute either tolerance or force, trying to defend the same position.

That’s it. No big image, no big insight, only the conclusion that things can get pretty complicated when you begin to look into the details 🙂

The Song of the Day is probably a little less song-like than some may expect. It’s “Three Ways to One” from Ornette Coleman’s 1997 album “Colors: Live from Leipzig”. Yes, that’s the guy whose album “Free Jazz” gave name to the whole genre. I personally know some people who strictly refuse to call that music, but on the other hand, I keep getting the same reaction to Schönberg as well 🙂

Deezer has the album for you to hear. Give it a try, relax, go with the flow, and you may even find yourself tapping, maybe even itching to move to it 🙂