Musings on Photography

The Hard Way

Posted in Blogroll, interesting blogs, large format, process by Paul Butzi on May 2, 2008


I’m still in the post-SoFoBoMo recovery, so I’m not quite up to speed yet.

Nevertheless, via Joe Reifer’s Ramblings about Photography, I found this very thought provoking post on Tony Fouhse’s tonyfoto/drool.

And here I must rant a bit about digital being “easy”. While it’s never really the machine that takes the photo (it’s the machines’ operator) digital makes it way more likely that just about anyone can come away with an image that’s, you know, properly exposed. Then don’t you just slap the file onto your computer screen and admire it for, like, 20 seconds before you hit NEXT, never really living with the image? But the way digital technology has made so much disposable, made the generation of photographs (and photographers) so easy (and so easy to delete, thereby erasing history) kind of bugs me.

Hmm. Sorry, I’m not buying any. I read/hear this complaint about ‘digital’ all the time, and to be honest, it always seems like complete bunkum to me.

Part of the problem is that I just don’t believe, even for a second, that we can really control how any eventual audience reacts to our work. We can control how WE react to the work, and that’s about it.

So when Fouse says “Then don’t you just slap the file onto your computer screen and admire it for, like, 20 seconds before you hit NEXT, never really living with the image”, he’s saying that for some bizarre reason, he can’t make himself do anything else. There’s nothing to prevent him leaving an image up on his screen for hours or days and interacting with it the way he’d interact with a print on the wall. There’s nothing to keep me from taking, say, a print of Ed Weston’s Pepper #30 and running it through a shredder, other than the fact that I like the print enough to hang it on the wall instead.

So all the argument about digital being ephemeral and ‘not real’ and ‘disposable’ is really more about our own attitudes, and not about the technology.

The part that really fails to stick for me is the idea that in order to make artmaking worthwhile, we must make the process hard. We must pay our dues, the reasoning goes, and we must make the process so difficult that we exclude the vast seething masses of wretched humanity from art-making. And I think that’s blowing smoke. I think it’s little more than some sort of guild behavior. If you’ve been reading here for long, you’ve probably come to realize that’s an attitude with which I vehemently disagree.

But interestingly, Fouhse continues:

Another reason why I’m planning on using the 4×5 is that it changes the ways you work. It slows things down. Each time I push the button it costs me 6 bucks (film and processing). Not that I’m gonna use that as an excuse to become (even more) anal. I’m just interested in using a different process, giving the old brain a workout.

I think it’s interesting because Fouhse seems to have done an abrupt turn, here. He’s gone from saying that if the work is done digitally, it’s too easy. Now he’s saying that doing it the hard way is useful to him because it slows him down and is more expensive, and imposing those constraints on himself is actually helpful and not a hindrance. In other words, he’s saying that using the 4×5 looks harder but is actually easier. In other words, he’s saying that imposing constraints on himself actually makes it simpler for him to get at making the art he wants to make.

One reason I find that interesting is that I’ve long suspected it was true for me, as well. SoFoBoMo is, if nothing else, an experiment in how imposing some seemingly pointless constraints (e.g. you must do everything in a one month period) would seem to make it harder to get a book done but actually makes it easier.

5 Responses

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  1. Gordon McGregor said, on May 2, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I’m a big fan on imposing somewhat arbitrary constraints on my process. Have been for many years now. I find it is the only way to get anything useful done, for me. Otherwise I enjoy the full range of unconstrained freedom and do nothing. Or a little bit of everything, which amounts to the same thing, generally.

    So a single 4Mb CF card (yes, Mb)
    or only taking one picture home with me (I can take as many as I like, as long as I delete the last one before the next one.

    Or just one shot, or never moving out of a 3 ft square until I’ve made x images.

    You get the idea. My sofobomo ‘approach’ section rambles on about similar constraints I impose to simplify my process – same lens, same aperture, same camera, same subject distance. I describe it as being lazy but I think it is really just being constrained enough to let me get something done.

  2. Tony Fouhse said, on May 2, 2008 at 5:40 pm


    Thanks for your thoughts about my post “The Hard Way”. I agree with you on many of your points, up to a point

    You say that the digital/disposable argument is about our attitudes, not about technology. I’ve got no problem with that statement. I do believe, however, that our attitudes are affected by technology. Every time a new technology surfaces and is adopted by the mainstream our society changes some. Perhaps that’s the point I was trying to make. I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that our late 20th/early 21st century society and economy isn’t based on disposability.

    Regarding your second pulled quote… neglect to mention that in my
    post I also say: “I choose them because they will be difficult. Perhaps that’s just me. Perhaps others think that that’s just craaaaaaazy. They’d choose a project that they could enjoy, that would reaffirm things they know, that would be relaxing.”

    You see, I’m not suggesting that my way is THE way……I’m only talking about the way I like to work, what floats my boat. ( I hope you took the time to look at my personal projects. The most recent one, USER, is a series of portraits, shot at night, of crack addicts. Let me tell you…..that was difficult.)

    Your 4×5-looks-harder-but-is-actually-easier statement is one way to look at what I describe, and probably true. There are all kinds of difficult though and I think your argument just touches on a few of those aspects.

    I really appreciate your thoughts on my post. I write my blog to make myself (and others) think and react. The same reason I do personal projects. I suppose your reasons are similar.

    Keep going.


  3. Guy Tal said, on May 3, 2008 at 5:28 am

    Come on people. Can’t you just see the smile on someone’s face who may be reading this 20 or 50 years from now? If you don’t know what smile I’m talking about, pull up to a mirror and think hard about those spoiled brats racing around in horseless carriages (in those terms), or those radical sissies in the new house who just had to have indoor plumbing and flush toilets. Well, you get the point.

    It’s not about the technology, it’s about attitude. Some attitudes are easier to change than others, but sooner or later, like it or not, the photographer standing by the side of the road with an 8×10 view camera will likely draw the same response as a traditionally-dressed Amish family pulling onto the road in a buggy.

    I say all this, fully intending to continue using my own view camera for one simple reason: it gives me pleasure. It has nothing to do with the quality of my work, in my own eyes.

    Quoting from one of my own articles:

    “Take your subjects seriously, take your camera seriously and – more than anything – take yourself seriously. Believe that you can make great images, believe that whatever camera you’re holding right now is capable of capturing great images, and believe that there are great images to be found wherever and whenever you are. A common mistake is to dismiss a great moment for lack of faith in your own abilities or the abilities of the camera you happen to have with you.”

    Full text here:


  4. Theodore said, on May 4, 2008 at 5:04 am

    If i remember silk screen was thought of as an easy way of doing art. I look at it this way if you use a pencil,pen,camera,canvas,or a slab of wood. Its all about the adventure of getting there. Digital allows me the ability to make images that i never dreamed of. You are right take life seriously but smile when you do!

  5. Martin Doonan said, on May 6, 2008 at 5:49 am

    I think photos were, for the majority, rather disposable. Ever been to a slide show by your weird photographer uncle / hundreds of slides flipped through. Lkewise giant photo albums from vacation. For most people, nothing much has changed.

    I dislike constraints, personally. I like digital for the ability to try a bunch of stuff, check if it looks OK & then try a bunch more stuff. Shooting for SoFoBoMo, where I deliberately focus only on the subject at hand, is actually quite frustrating for me – there’s potentially a lot more to be photographed while I’m out but that would really hamper SoFoBoo progress.

    I reach for the 4×5 when there’s something I really want to print big. I don’t find it any slower but I do take a whole lot less exposures of a given scene.

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