thoughts on fine art vs anecdotal photography (timothy dingman)

The definition of creating fine art photography is simple: “INTENT.”  Learning your craft makes it easier.   What’s an “f” stop? How do ISO and shutter speed affect each other? How do you and why do you want greater or more shallow “depth of field?” These photographs are done with planning, envisioning, and previsioning before an image is captured

Cartier Bresson claimed that he could essentially walk out on the street and magically recognize the “decisive moment.”  Stiechen, Stiglitz, Larry Clark and many others, stalked and studied their subjects before photographing them.  Ansel Addams and Edward Weston planned photos weeks and years in advanced and then spent more time creating the perfect print to express their literal point of view. The executed their “vision” by carrying 8×10 or 11×14 cameras onto the desert, into Yellowstone park or onto the streets of NYC.  They spent hours/days doing wet processing in darkrooms where the floor is always concrete; where it is always too hot or too cold, where, even when it got less toxic they were breathing pretty nasty fumes.

When I was doing this, I figured it would take three hours to mix chemistry, temper it and, process B&W film in canisters.  After a day drying, it would take four hours to review negatives, again mix and temper chemistry and, get my first acceptable 11×14 print.  This is before even considering toning.  I got some good work with some good, probably, archival material. In the case of color and slides (E-6, C41, Kodachrome) it all went to a lab and I would discard what I screwed up or what didn’t work.

Anecdotal photography is casual and almost accidental in nature. Someone with a cell phone or a point and shoot camera walks around and takes “snapshots.”   They see something and point a camera at it and press the shutter…frequently 10 or more times and, maybe something comes out.  The exposure will be correct. Everything will be in focus. The color balance will be OK.  However, will the image accurately convey what the artist/photographer wanted to capture; or, will it just be what some very talented engineer in Japan assumed you wanted and made all the decisions for you?

This does not mean it’s “bad.”  Look at Meatyard, look at Maier.  However, I am not yet ready to say that every cell phone owner is a photographer.  My friend and mentor, John Van der Wieil has a quip; “If I buy a camera, that means that I’m a photographer. So, if I buy a violin, that must mean I am a musician?”

 

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