What’s Become of Us?

When I was 15 I was lucky enough to meet a photography friend and mentor. Stephen was only a year older than I was but he was very knowledgeable and had tremendous confidence. Together we went to photography exhibits in museums and art galleries and I became acquainted with photography’s history and present.

I remember watching how Stephen looked at photographs. He’d position himself in front of an image and just stand there and take it in. Then he’d move on to the next photograph. He gave each image its due.

How many of us when browsing photographs on the web give each image its due before moving to the next one?

I doubt very few of us, because it seems more and more photographers are resorting to wider and wider lenses and more and more saturation to get our attention. Art on the web has become like a political sound byte. If it can’t make its point in a few seconds, it’s passed on.

Digital cameras haven’t helped either. Rather than waiting for our film to get back and examining each image on a light box, we see everything, or at least we think we see everything immediately.

I for one can’t. Even when I shot film, it would be days or weeks before I could determine if I thought an image was good. My own emotions and expectations and my desire for them to be good clouded my vision and I couldn’t look at them objectively. Only after some time had passed and I moved on to having high hopes for another image could I look at the older ones and see them with an objective eye. I had to spend time with them, and get to know them.

For me, the purpose of art is to get our attention and absorb us so fully that for a moment at least we are removed from our everyday life. The artist has made an effort to provide that experience for us. We as patrons owe them the effort to stop and let the art do its work.

The photo above is one of my favorites. I shot it in the spring of 2011, but it didn’t make my 10 best for that year. I didn’t even remember it existing when I compiled my 10 best for 2011. I came upon it a couple of months ago and it immediately grabbed my eye. I guess I had to wait a over a year until I could really see it.

~ by danbaumbach on July 14, 2012.

10 Responses to “What’s Become of Us?”

  1. Agreed Dan. Digital can be amazing but it’s also made it easier to be mediocre as well.

  2. This is exactly how I feel about post processing and sorting my images as well. I’ve become better over time in determining my “good” images, but it can still take a while. Often a few immediately grab my attention from a day of shooting. The rest, get to wait a while before I can be objective.

    I do hope that the oversaturation and (badly tonemapped) HDR will be a trend that only lasts a while. As they become the norm they may fall out of favour and again be overtaken by what I would consider better photos.

  3. Poignant message here about the direction that landscape photography has taken. Indeed everything has become instant. This didn’t start with the transition to digital, though that accelerated the change. Part of the problem is that galleries and magazines have emphasized “wow” factor in photographs. They have encouraged us to go for photographs that grab the viewer immediately, rather than those that take time to grow on the appreciator. The latter usually have more lasting power and more soul, which we are discovering we have lost now that we expect everything instantly like microwaved food, with similarly inferior consequences.

  4. Lovely sentiments, Dan. I wholeheartedly agree with you.

  5. Well said, Dan. Your post has been sitting in my laptop’s browser for a month waiting until I could get a better handle on what I wanted to say… And I’m still not sure how to articulate it. I know that, personally, I’ve gotten addicted to shooting giant panoramas of grand landscapes, and I feel like I’ve really lost my sight for the small details that used to be more prevalent in my work. I’ll only say that even some of the great photographers get swept up into this, as Tom Till has recently admitted. Thanks for getting me to think about it.

    • Thank you Mark for your comment. It’s hard not going with the tide. I turn up the saturation on one of my photographs and all of a sudden it appears like I’ve become a better photographer. Keeping to ones vision takes a lot of fortitude, the willingness to admit that we’ve been wrong and being willing to start anew. Only time will tell how much we’ve followed our own muse or the muse of the time.

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