Musings on Photography

Subject matter

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on January 3, 2009


The award winning photographer/blogger Gordon McGregor writes eloquently about what he calls the five stages of development of a photographer. He goes on to write some great stuff about focusing:

It doesn’t need to be a grand theme. It could just be your lunch. Find something that matters to you and make the pictures of it that try to express why you care about it. Go back a few times, expend some effort to go beyond that obvious first view. I spent a couple of years visiting one garden here in Austin, 2 or 3 times a month for 2 years. I think after the first 6 months I’d actually managed to work my way through all of the cliches and other people’s ideas that crowded my head and actually start making my own pictures.

I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, and it’s taken me years to realize what Gordon puts so neatly in one paragraph. It turns out it doesn’t much matter *what* you focus your attention on, so much as it matters that it be something that engages you in some durable way. We look at Ansel Adams photographs of Yosemite, and we think that to make great photos we need to be making photos of pristine places like Yosemite, and we forget that Adams was literally photographing his backyard. And somehow, we look at Ed Weston’s Pepper #30, and we’re so impressed by this photograph of a pepper in a tin funnel that we manage to never quite notice that Weston was photographing his lunch because he didn’t want to leave the studio for fear that he’d miss a paying customer. (and we somehow don’t spend much time wondering about numbers 1 through 29. When’s the last time you made 30 photographs of anything without giving up?)

The photos are there, everywhere. If we can’t find them, the fault lies with us, not with the scenery.

4 Responses

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  1. JH said, on January 3, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Beautifully written! As they say about spiders, a great photography subject is probably only one meter away from you at any time.

  2. Guy said, on January 3, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Perhaps by that logic those of us who are both passionate about photography and care deeply about pristine places are either doubly blessed or doubly cursed.

    Certainly you can make a beautiful photograph of almost anything, but what if your goal is not just to make a beautiful photograph but to make a photograph of something beautiful?

    Adams didn’t just wake up one morning to find Yosemite in his back yard. He worked hard to get there.

    Perhaps a more poignant lesson is to not confuse one’s means with one’s goals.

    “…the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures.” — Vincent Van Gogh


  3. Drea said, on January 7, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Amazingly Written!
    I love the fact that something that usually seems so complicated, and hard to explain, is put out so simply and it is made so clear.

    Kudos to the author, for putting this out for everyone to read.

  4. latoga said, on January 25, 2009 at 1:00 am

    “Your focus determines your reality.” The hard part is choosing to focus. Even harder can be sticking with that which you choose.

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