Musings on Photography

What’s the connection?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on November 19, 2006

Photographer Doug Plummer is also a birdwatcher. He’s not a birdwatcher in the sense I am (I watch the birds caper about outside my studio window and give them names like Manny, Moe, and Jack, the three Stellar’s Jays that live near my home). He’s a birdwatcher in the ‘read about a bird on a mailing list, head out to go see it’ sense. You can read about one of his recent birdwatching adventures here.

So what’s the connection to art and photography? Read the following: “You look … and go usual suspect, usual suspect, usual suspect, usual suspect, wait. That’s different.”

That could easily be a description of a photographer, waiting for the photograph to happen. You’re going along, and it’s usual suspect, usual suspect, usual suspect, wait. Out comes the tripod, up goes the camera. Click.

It’s nothing deep or insightful. It just reminds me of so many other things I’ve heard photographers say. At a workshop dinner, I heard John Sexton comment that the most useful photographic technique he’d found was the u-turn. Truer words were never spoken.

I’ve gone on long photographic trips with a friend of mine, David Clarridge. David has lots of excellent qualities that make such long trips companionable, but one of the ones I most value is his reaction when we pass something he wants to photograph – an almost instant “I think we need to go back”. No apology, no hesitation. That’s because the second worst thing is when someone waits for five miles, and THEN says “I think we need to go back.”

What’s the worst thing? When you’re sitting in the restaurant after sunset, and your photographer buddy says “You remember that little grove of trees, with the really still pond beside it? I wish we’d stopped there.”

5 Responses

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  1. Dwight Jones said, on November 19, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Most photographers have other hobbies as well. The hobbies they choose seem to correlate with the kind of photography they do.

    Ham radio operators tend to like swing-lens panoramic cameras. Technical stuff satisfies the inner geek.

    People who like waxable cross-country skis also like to use manual focus cameras, especially the Olympus OM series.

    People who fly-fish tend to value the experience of photography more than they value actually having photos. These people can be seen using rangefinders or view cameras.

  2. Dave New said, on November 20, 2006 at 9:42 am

    “Manny, Moe, and Jack” — oh my. That isn’t a reference to “My Old Flame”, by Spike Jones?

    The remainder of the quote is “No, she couldn’t have been Moe…”. 😎

  3. Paul Butzi said, on November 20, 2006 at 9:51 am


    No, sorry. It’s not that I don’t like Spike Jones… but that’s not the reference.

    Anyway, the jays are loud, argue a lot, and have a lot of energy generally. So I named them after the Pep Boys – an auto parts store chain. The three Pep Boys were (are?) Manny, Moe, and Jack.

    But maybe the Pep Boys were named after the Spike Jones line. Stranger things have happened.

  4. Dave New said, on November 21, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Yeah, sorry. A little Googling would have dug up the Pep Boys reference.

    Nevertheless, the lines from “My Old Flame” (done in the voice of Peter Lorre) —

    “Doris, Laura, Chloe, Mannie, Moe, Jack?
    No, it couldn’t have been Moe…”

    — is certainly an eerie coincidence, if the Pep Boys didn’t get their names from there.

    “Stranger then fiction…” 😎

  5. Doug Plummer said, on November 22, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Thanks once again for the reference to my site and my process Paul. There may be a similar attentiveness between birding and photography, but for me the modalities feel very different. Both are a particular focussed attention to the moment. Both connect me to the particularity of a place. But it is hard to do both simultaneously. Seeking the identity of that chip call in the dense underbrush creates this sense of heightened, intense anticipation, and all other sensations fade. Photographing that same dense underbrush is like softening the boundaries between all the sensations of being in that place. It’s weirdly different, though I often photograph in the same places that I bird. And there are undoubtedly neural connections that have grown because I engage the landscape in such different ways, and they feed each other.

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