Musings on Photography

Quantity is Quality

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on November 2, 2006

In 1997, when it was time for my New Year’s resolutions, I decided to set some photographic goals. My big goal was to produce one finished print, mounted and matted, each week. At the end of the year, I’d have 52 mounted, matted prints ready to go into frames. It turns out that was an ambitious goal. I didn’t achieve it, but I did make a lot more photographs than I had the previous year.

My catchphrase for this goal was “Quantity is Quality”. My working theory was that by doing at least one print per week, I’d ensure that I made a consistent effort each week to get out and expose film, to get into the darkroom and print, and to take at least one of the prints I made and finish it off by flattening it, dry mounting it, and cutting an overmat for it. That part of the project worked amazingly well. I learned a lot about steamrollering roadblocks in my photographic practice. And, I believe, by focusing on keeping quantity up, I made dramatic improvements in quality. I find it paradoxical but for me it seems that by focusing on making a lot of work and not worrying too much about how good it is, I not only make better work but also improve more quickly.

So I’ve been interested in things like photoblogging and the Photo A Day process, and the Painting A Day movement started off by Duane Keiser. They seem to be related to my idea that in a limited sense, Quantity is Quality, or at least Quantity can lead towards Quality.

I have a lot of photoblogs that I like, but far and away my favorite is Kathleen Connally’s A Walk in Durham Township. I was drawn to her photoblog because she lives not far from where I grew up, and she’s photographing stuff which I’m interested in. But what amazed me as I looked at the archives in her blog was what I saw as a steady improvement in the quality of her work from the earliest images to the most recent ones.

And then I read an interview of Kathleen, and she said that she makes between 100 and 300 exposures a day. That’s a lot of exposures, although in fairness she does say that she’s not averse to making 50 exposures of one scene, as the light changes. Clearly what’s happening for Kathleen is that, in some sense, quantity is quality.

I get the same feeling from browsing the Painting a Day websites I’ve visited, like Jon Conkey’s THEMEWORKS, where Jon picks a ‘theme’ for each month, with the theme seemingly chosen to emphasize some particular aspect of Jon’s praxis – quickness in rendering, long view landscapes, etc.

So part of what I’m trying to do now is focus on quantity again. That’s part of why I like the streamlined nature of an all digital workflow; it eliminates a lot of the overhead that makes focusing on quantity such a strenuous proposition. It’s often hard for me to get over the hump and get out the camera, but I am thinking maybe a photo a day photoblog might be a good motivator. Maybe it’s time to revive the Quotidian View, just to have a specific venue for the daily photos, along the lines of Doug Plummer’s Daily.

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  1. Paul Butzi said, on November 2, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    Gordon McGregor writes (via email):
    I certainly think that a good dose of productivity is a great way to get more creative. You certainly don’t have creative breakthroughs sitting around thinking about it. At least I don’t. I have do be being productive before I can even start thinking about being creative. So I’d agree, that quantity is a part of the way towards quality.

    But I’ve seen a lot of Photo a Day projects go down in flames, due to the daily grind of having to post one photo, any photo. So it depends on how much free time you have to devote to it.

    In 2005 I tried to do a good photo a week collection. At least one good photo posted each week. Even that escaped me but the process worked well to get me to do more interesting stuff and get beyond my inherent laziness.

    My Picture a week for 2005

  2. Colin [] said, on November 2, 2006 at 3:09 pm

    I think that it is Bayles and Orland who said both the following:

    – To take good photos you have to be taking photos

    – The purpose of the vast majority of your work is to teach you how to make the small fraction that soars.

    I’ve been really enjoying my Today’s photo commitment. I have a slightly different working tempo to many similar photoblogs as about 75% of the pictures start as negatives, not as raw files. So the taking part of the process can be a bit lumpy – more some weeks than others – but I sit down each day and bring one picture to fruition. A real print on paper.

  3. matt~ said, on November 2, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    One of the oft over looked benefits of an increased shooting tempo is its positive impact on your editing skills. Nothing like a daily round of going through negatives or files to hone you selection skills.

  4. Jon Conkey said, on November 3, 2006 at 9:39 am

    Only those who push themselves will ever know the fruit that awaits from such an effort.

  5. Paul Butzi said, on November 3, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Kent Wiley comments (via email):

    About the recent fence picture: it strikes a chord in me. I’m always looking at fences. And here in central Virginia we’ve got a lot of them.
    In fact, it seems to me that the county will eventually have three board fences around every piece of private property. At first they’re an interesting sight. Then they become incredible: someone actually maintains that five miles of whitewashed horse fence around those thousand or however many acres. Eventually it progresses to incredulity: it’s simpler/cheaper to tear down a fence that runs for half a mile or more around a field and put up a brand new one than to be bothered to scrape and repaint what’s already there. Then into the ridiculous: the “impression” of a fence. That is, a three board fence that runs 75 or 100 feet along the road but encloses nothing. It is simply more of what we build over and over, objects that are supposed to look like something else, that don’t dare look like what they really are. By now I’m at the love/hate stage: visually they still fascinate me the way they lead my eye into the landscape, but the constriction of the landscape borders on the criminal. The county has few unfenced vistas any longer, so that we may contain our prized, pampered equines. I can’t see the view because of the fences. Not that they block the view, but it’s far from unfettered. Which brings to mind this posting from photostream: “I’m with photostream on this and deliberately tilt my landscapes towards including what one might reasonably expect to see, even a long way from the road. The problem with the ‘glamourisation’ of landscape (getting up early, excluding ugly bits
    etc) is that it feeds into the urban concept of the mythical landscape, where lambs gambol (and don’t end up in the butcher’s shop) and everything is on a ‘big screen’, off the edge of which they drop their coke bottles and crisp packets. That there is a green space at the end of their road, on which a supermarket is about to be built doesn’t register as eligible to be called landscape.” So much for my rant…

    But the picture…conjures the above out of my experience. It’s a completely different take on fences than I often visualize, which is a good thing. I often see them running along the landscape into the distance. Yours doesn’t do that: it jogs back and forth, then circles around and disappears into the fog. Really nice moves, something like the shape of a treble clef. The sign bothers me, but is prefectly fine. I can’t read the text on the web photo, but actually like that, since I take it to be some political campaign (which makes me realize that I need to document the political signage currently running around here.) I don’t really need to know the particulars. As I look closer, I see that it says something about “Save Our Farms”, certainly a topical issue here as well, but it’s not currently on the ballot. Not being able to read the text makes it a graphic, and one that’s completely at odds w/ the landscape because of the garish “Day-Glo” color. It catches the eye, which then slides along the fence and dissolves into the fog. I could probably read even more into this, but suspect that I’ve spent enough time commenting already.

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