A while ago, I got to talking to a friend on Writing.com, and his comments spurred Identity Crisis. However, these’s one aspect of his comments I didn’t cover there, and I actually forgot about it until a month or so ago when I attended a premiere at a local photo gallery. That aspect is audience expectations.
Steve (said friend) said that artistic photography should make some sort of statement about reality. I’ve already stated the reasons I disagree with that idea. In recent weeks, though, I’ve found I might not be the only one. Let me clarify that. I’m not the only one among photography consumers that merits technique and aesthetics over commentary. This is a mindset that can be found even among some (semi) professional photographers. This exhibit was held at Minneapolis Photo Center, a place I didn’t even know existed until last summer. It’s a place that you really only know about if photography is a big deal to you.
The premiere was really crowded, and I had to wait a bit to move from photo to photo. As a result, I had a chance to do some eavesdropping. It was incredibly fascinating. Many people who attended the show focused on the form and technique photographers employed. The nature (heh) of the exhibit certainly encouraged technical remarks. Even so, there were a lot of comments that could apply to most photo exhibits. In particular, I heard one gentleman remark on people downright abusing Photoshop to turn photos into paintings. I totally understand that complaint. Even so, at least these individuals used Photoshop in a plausibly convincing manner.
It was a pleasant surprise ti hear so many people focus strictly on what was in front of them. (Pardon the pun. Again.) There wasn’t any speculation about the photographer’s intent or any larger message. It was people simply enjoying the photos at face value. More to the point, it was people who regularly peruse photography taking everything at face value. Seeing and hearing people admire (or criticize) the images themselves proved enlightening. It also made me wonder about other photography audiences.
I admit I haven’t been around non-photography audiences as much as I’ve been around those who are more immersed in the photography world. When I’ve been around the former, the comments are less technical. At the same time, there aren’t many people seeing the exhibited photos as grandiose statements. Some people remarked on how the photos reflected the times. Others noted very general observations about the composition of the photos. You could hear a pin drop when nudity was involved. Hey, I live in the US and am speaking from experience in US museums. What do you expect? In any case, the comments were broad and superficial even in museum settings. I found that to be intriguing. I think I’ll need to make some more observations, though, to see if this holds up.
I have a lot to catch up on, and for the sake of getting it done I’m not going in chronological order. So let’s kick off with something fun. By fun, I mean birds. I love photographing birds. You should know that by now.
Not surprisingly, one of my favorite things to do when I visit Florida is photograph all the birdies I encounter. If my husband and I are at a park, we’ll trail birds as long as possible. Well, I’ll tail the birds, and he’ll watch me. 😀 The birds amuse us both, but our reactions are far different.
We visited a lot of different places in Florida but didn’t see a huge variety of birds. That was a bit of a bummer, but I managed with what I found. Between beach-dwelling pigeons and a crap ton of little blue herons, I had a field day with photographing these little dinosaur descendants. Had I seen more varieties (including cormorants, roseate spoonbills and sandhill cranes) my head would have most likely exploded. On that note, enjoy my birdy shots! I know I have tons of fun with them. 🙂
A very strange thing has been happening. I’ve been talking to people offline about photography. Trust me what I say this is not something that happens very often.
So what have I been discussing with people? Well, just about anything and everything. I did attend a special exhibit for National Camera’s 100th Anniversary. I didn’t talk to people there, but it was an enlightening visit that preceded some interesting conversations I’d have in the following days. I listened to people talk about their past experiences using the equipment on display. The cameras on exhibit covered the gamut from a 1914 model (that still works!) and 617 format cameras to 80s Polaroids and the first iPhone. I was especially amused by the early digital cameras (point and shoot as well as SLR), as I had some memories of them. My mom had a super bulky Kodak model back in 2001, and I found it better suited for makeshift binoculars. I primarily used it to locate my dad in a crowded convention center after he was sworn in as an American citizen. Good times.
The next morning was when the conversations began. My husband and I had brunch at Signature Cafe before going to the Minnesota Zoo for a visit. Our server (Dave) was a cordial guy who it turns out was into photography and even served as an assistant for a friend who did extensive professional work. We discussed Canon and Nikon cameras. Dave had worked primarily with Canon models up until this last year when he was gifted a Nikon and some lenses. I will cop to Canon probably having better continuous shooting. I have used continuous shooting on Nikon, and it does take a little bit to process. Your finger needs to be on that shutter button a while if you want to get the maximum benefit of this shooting method. Needless to say, I’ve lost some precious opportunities. Thus, I would be more likely to defer to Canon in these cases. That said, we both agreed that the picture quality from Nikon models was overall superior. It’s always good to have a Team Nikon ally. 🙂 After brunch, my husband and I went to the Minnesota Zoo, where photography was the order of the afternoon. Hooray, flutterbies!
A few days later, I ended up conversing with a guy watching the Torchlight 5K on Hennepin Avenue. I went for the parade that followed the race but went early to get a good spot. I found a railing for newspaper racks, and there wasn’t much room in front of said railing, which gave me pretty decent visibility. Anyway, I realized that like a complete dumbass I left my battery at home and didn’t have another on me. While my husband wonderfully went back home to get one, I chatted with the guy to my left. It turns out he’d been in Minneapolis much of the day to take pictures. He had a Canon compact point-and-shoot model and displayed a decent aptitude for the cameras he was using. His composition struck a cord with me, as it was reminiscent of some of my work throughout the years. He asked a lot of questions, and I shared with him the things I’ve managed to learn over time. As I’ve gotten older, I understand that photography is truly an ongoing learning process. Unlike writing, I feel like I have a lot more I can learn in terms of the craft of photography. In some people’s eyes, I wouldn’t be called a photographer. That doesn’t mean I haven’t made efforts to learn what I can in terms of technique and research equipment. During this conversation, I discussed the rule of thirds and elaborated on a panning technique that focuses on a moving subject in the foreground but blurs the background. I even pulled up Facebook photos to show as examples. The gentleman expressed great interest in learning more about the nuts and bolts of photography, and he even laughed at my (completely unplanned) pun in which I used the phrase “the big picture” when discussing the components of exposure. Talking to him also made me realize just how much I have learned so far in taking photos. Between reading, chatting with picture-taking friends, and just going out there, I’ve done quite a bit of work in the roughly 15 years I’ve been taking pictures. I didn’t even realize that much time had passed. 😛 In all seriousness, being able to teach someone a bit about photography made me realize how much I enjoy this craft and how much I want people to understand what it is that practitioners of this craft go through. It’s not whipping out a cell phone and grabbing something to plug into Instagram. It’s a method to look at what’s around you, one that requires great concentration and alertness to any given environment. Thus, people who state that photography is easy miss an important point. Operating a camera is easy. Capturing a photography is another story.
Once upon a time, photography was a waiting game. After you clicked the shutter and removed the exposed film from your camera, each step to get to seeing the end result required patience. You’d have to wait for the developer and fixer to prepare the negatives for printing. The prints themselves took time as well. If you weren’t able to do this yourself for whatever reason, you’d need to send the film off to a lab. That could take up to a week or more, depending on the lab you selected. While I’m young enough to adapt to various new electronics with ease, I’m also old enough to remember sending my film off to a lab. Gotta love being born in the mid-80s!
I started thinking about this after reading a post about one woman’s memories of the photographers in her life and her dabbling in the craft. While I didn’t grow with darkroom enthusiasts nearby, I do have some darkroom experience. When I was in fifth grade, I did an experiment comparing the effectiveness of suntan lotions and sunblocks. Given that I grew up in Florida, this seems like a perfectly reasonable science fair project. 😛 Anyway, to control for differences in melanin, I used black and white photo paper. I slid a sheet of paper in a clear plastic report folder that had four taped sections. I applied the sun lotions to separate quadrants and set the folder in the front yard for an hour or so to get some sunlight. Once that was done, I brought the paper in the house for development. I was in fifth grade at the time, so I was allowed to do some of development work. The thing is, we never obtained the light bulb needed for darkroom work, which meant I was truly in the dark. The reason we didn’t get the bulb was because we converted the guest bathroom (my bathroom) into a darkroom for this project. I set everything up and stuffed a couple towels in the bottom of the door to ensure no light came in to muck up my prints. It had been a real chore getting all the chemicals and photo paper, but we did get all the materials. Keep in mind this was back in the mid 90s, and I lived in a small town. I’m surprised there was even a photography store that had everything in stock. Armed with fixer, developer, rinses and bins, I set to work developing my sun exposed science project prints. They turned out pretty well, and it certainly got the attention of my classmates come time for the science fair. I don’t know what happened to those prints. I kind of wish I still had them.
The point of that story is I know how to wait. Having put my hands in the developing chemicals at a fairly young age (before I even started taking my own pictures) gave me a chance to understand the processes photographers have gone through many, many times. It’s not a quick process, especially when you’re doing all the processing yourself. When I started taking my own photos in my teens, it was back to the waiting game. I’d take my disposable cameras and APS canisters to Publix and later Walgreens so they could send it to their offsite labs (as many outlets with in-house processing lacked APS capabilities for the first couple years). That involved waiting a week or so for my photos. This was especially annoying when I was 15 and took nearly 100 photos for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Since my family bought the film, I did not get the negatives back and barely had a chance to look at the prints before handing them over. I had only been taking pictures even halfway seriously for a year at the most, so that waiting game was kind of annoying. It got a little better once I got out of high school and got a job in a photo lab. I’d still opt for next day service since it was cheaper, but I got to look at my photos right away. It was a good time. 🙂
Along the way, film gave way to digital, both for my personal endeavors and throughout the photography world. This wasn’t an instant catalyst to instant photos, but the wait time shrunk significantly. For those who embraced digital right away, there was still a need to visit a photo lab and stick your memory card in the appropriate slot. Then you’d go through and select the prints you wanted (not to mention making edits). While you could get your prints within an hour at most, those kiosk areas got crowded and a little unsafe for others in the store. Half the time, if I was helping someone at a kiosk I had to also play traffic cop to ensure nobody got hurt. I left the photo lab in 2005, but since I still took pictures, I kept tabs on what changes developed (heh). I was making photo CDs of my digital pictures pretty regularly, so I could see when the commonly used equipment started to shift from cameras to phones. It’s fairly recent, all things considered. Even when the first iPhone rolled out in 2007, people were really relying on their separate camera photos up until 2009-2010. That’s when the shift to cell phone cameras began. It didn’t really pick up for another year after that, but now everything is available instantaneously.
How do I feel about it? I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I can appreciate having something more readily available and not requiring extensive processing. This can be especially useful in the wake of disasters, crimes, or other events that would benefit from real time photography. On the other hand, I’m dismayed at how having photo editing software in smart phones is making everyone think they can take pictures. Even though I’m a photographer, you couldn’t pay me $80 billion to set up an account on Instagram. It’s all not my aesthetic, but that’s mostly because I’m not up for filtering my photos to an oblivion. Some people may complain about snotty attitudes from some photographers regarding what constitutes “real photography”, but I can understand why some people who have extensively practiced the craft get upset. When I worked in the photo lab, I saw a lot of things that could go wrong with taking pictures. While it’s not as likely to see the finger in the lens mistake these days, camera shake is still a problem with any form of camera, and completely out-of-focus have diddly to do with art. It looks like a drunk person’s point of view, at least from where I’m sitting. I could go on about all the various basic things I’ve seen people do that they think is cool but is not going to be taken seriously by anyone with even a passing interest in the craft. I acknowledge that even with taking pictures for just about half my life now there are still things I can do to improve. The thing that bothers me the most about the instantaneous nature of photography these days is that the speed of the process tends to obscure the weak points in a photographer’s craft, thus hindering improvement and progress.
On that note, enjoy some photos I took at Blank Park Zoo way back in April! Since the weather was rainy when I went, I’d like to go back in more pleasant conditions (and with a longer lens). It was a good time.
As I mentioned, I went to the Minnesota Zoo twice in the last few months. My husband and I are both members, so we get free admission. I also like taking pictures of animals, as it’s less stressful for me in spite of the unpredictability of an animal’s movements. I’ve also felt a stronger affinity to animals than to people. I even wanted to be a veterinarian when I was a child. Because of all the familiarity involved (both with the subject and the location), I decided this would be a good time to test out my new D5100 (Rigoberto; he will get his own entry very soon). So how did that go?
Overall it was successful. The biggest takeaway I got was that I needed a better zoom lens option. I’d gotten so used to Cameron’s zoom capabilities that shifting to a kit lens was a real shock to the system. I have two longer lenses in mind but will need to wait to purchase them until I get a job. In the meantime, I’ve taken the time explore Rigoberto’s capabilities. The ISO range is not only wider but much better at handling noise. With Cameron, even going up to 1600 was something I avoided doing due to the noise involved. With Rigoberto, 1600 is a breeze. I’ve even shot at ISO 3200 with good results. I’ll have to show that in a future entry, as I didn’t have a reason to jack the ISO that high during my zoo visit. 1600 was the highest I needed to go. I will say that the one thing I still haven’t gotten used to is adjusting the aperture. I’m used to Cameron’s system, which involved selecting aperture in the shooting menu and then turning the dial. I could only go to f/8, to boot. Now I have at least f/18 at my disposal, but I didn’t have to go quite that small since the lighting was subdued both inside and out.
Enough of that rambling. Have some animal pictures! The zoo’s critters decided that 14 degrees was party weather (for December in Minnesota) and ended up being quite active when we were there.
Our Illinois visit took us from Springfield to Chicago, where we spent a few days playing (tacky) tourist while almost mingling with the locals. We hit up the museums and zoos while deciding where to eat by actually wandering the streets of the Gold Coast neighborhood where we lodged for a few nights.
I wouldn’t be inclined to call the experience life-changing, but it was nice to go half-local in our jaunt to the Windy City. Admittedly, the weather was kind of crappy most of our stay. This really only affected our visit to the Willis Tower (which was sabotaged by fog). Not surprisingly, the bluest skies appeared the day we were scheduled to leave, but we were able to enjoy a sunny walk around downtown in the morning hours (after stuffing ourselves stupid at Hash House a Go-Go). The only other hiccup was that my battery died in the middle of our zoo visit, which meant I only got a couple crappy cell pone pictures in the aviary. That was a shame, as the aviary was very active during our visit. Those minor issues aside, I captured a lot of things in Chicago. I can’t help but wonder if the personal duress contributed to this.
So what else did we do while on the East Coast? Plenty! I spent a lot of time in New jersey as a child. Many summers were spent contemplating the finer points of South Jersey produce, frolicking on the Atlantic coastline and being immersed in the local culture. All of that time left me with an empty feeling when I stopped visiting due to high school band commitments and work. Though I ended up in the area almost a decade ago while evacuating for hurricane Frances, I didn’t really get a chance to revisit the various stomping grounds of my youth. Thus, going back in 2013 was my first summer vacation there in 13 years. It was wonderful to be back there. I won’t be revisiting the area for a while, but my husband and I will return. We have a lot of other trips planned before then.