Musings on Photography

On Content

Posted in process, web issues by Paul Butzi on March 29, 2009

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Chris Klug comments on this post:

There are many styles of photo blogs. Some post images and say nothing. Others talk a lot and occasionally post an image. Your style seems (intentionally or not) to get us thinking more about the issues you raise and less about the image itself. It often is more about Musings on Life than photography, which is wonderful. Sometimes it feels as if the image is an afterthought. However, as Martin mentions the image above, so shall I: this is a truly lovely image

Thanks, Chris, for your kind words on both the photos and the content.

A few points about this blog that I try to make clear once a year or so:

I’m writing this blog mostly as a way for me to figure things out. Sometimes what I write is the end point of a long period of thinking about some topic, and sometimes it’s an immediate response to something I saw or heard or read. Most of the time, though, it’s more a recording of where my mind happens to be as I try to muddle things through. I don’t claim to know what’s right or wrong, but I do claim to know what I’m thinking. I’ve written things in this blog I now think are wrong. There’s no warranty that comes with the text. When I write about a technique or a process or some bit of gear in glowing terms, it’s because I’m using it and it works for me. It might not work for you – that’s ok, people are different. There are blogs that deal in photographic facts; this is not one of them. I’m more interested in the why of photography than I am in comparing camera and lens specifications.

The photos are, except when specifically called out in the text of a post, completely and utterly unrelated to the writing in the text. When I started writing this blog, the process of choosing appropriate photos for each post was just too much work. And so I punted, and took the easy way out, and so the process of selecting the photos for the posts works like this:

  • I spend time making photographs. The photos that I think are winners generally (but not always) have copies sized for the blog that get put in one big directory I think of as “the pool”. (there are not many photos I think are winners). Often I have photos which are not winners, but are interesting for some other reason – they annoy me, or they’re nothing like what I expected when I let the shutter go, or they were interesting accidents, or there’s something else that catches my attention. Those interesting non-winners often get put in the pool directory as well. The pool is just a collection of photos that I think are interesting, and it turns out that often the photos which are most interesting from a process point of view are not the ones that are the best standalone photos. Not all the photos I make are candidates for the pool – I routinely make photos that I’m unwilling to put in a blog post, for reasons ranging from privacy to they’re boring accidental photos of the inside of my camera bag.
  • I sit down to write a post. The first thing I do is I pick a photo out of the directory, drop it into the post. Most of the time I then delete it from the pool directory, but sometimes I forget (and thus a photo can get used more than once). I don’t try to match the photo to the post in any way; often I’m not clear exactly what I’m going to write, and even if I do have a clear idea it’s generally the case that the post ends up not being about that initial idea. So there ends up being no obvious connection between the text content of the post, and the photo that accompanies it. It’s almost completely random.

So the stream of photos is not directly connected to the stream of text. I suppose it’s possible that my subconscious mind is grinding away connecting the stuff, but that’s as directed as it gets. The text is a stream of things I’m thinking about. The photos are a stream of photographs I’ve made, both the successful ones and the un, and the photos are deliberately in no particular order at all. Sometimes a photo sits in the pool for a long time, sometimes it gets used the same day.

Anyway, this means that the content of this blog is a little different from most blogs. It means that the posts are usually not definite conclusions but are more often middle of the process fumbling attempts to sort things out, and it means that the photos are not a parade of my greatest hits but often more like a parade of my photos that didn’t quite work, but might not quite work in an interesting (to me) way. The photos and the text are two entirely unrelated streams. I don’t often comment on my own photos – maybe I should. Mostly, though, I find it interesting to just throw them out there and see what response they get, if any. I’ve put photos out there I thought were solid winners, only to get email saying they weren’t up to scratch. I’ve put photos I thought were peculiarly boring out there, and had people enthuse about how great they are. It’s been a lesson in perception, let me tell you.

This is a quirky way to do a blog, and I recognize that. It’s probably a horrid way to attract readers, and I recognize that, too.

5 Responses

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  1. Ron Dowd said, on March 29, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Paul, your approach works for me, I regularly check in on you (via Google Reader). Thanks for your ruminations and your images. I like the way you’re always out of season from me, here in Sydney Australia. From your images and comments I get rich facets of your world.

  2. Chris Klug said, on March 29, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    I think it’s clear from my comment, but the reason I keep coming back is, indeed, the gentle ‘poke’ you often give us, your readership, to ‘consider’ something. We’ve talked about this a little in the past, but I was trained as a theatrical lighting designer and know you are very passionate about live theater and one of the things theater does better than film or TV or almost anything else is precisely that, getting the audience to think about something. It’s not surprising to me that you have managed to intersect two of your passions.

  3. Rod Graham said, on April 1, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I understand writing a blog to work things out in your head. I used to keep a personal journal for much the same reason, though it takes a lot bigger cojones 🙂 to do it in public like you. And yes, I like this image very much; I think something about the colors and the selective focus. Anyway, it “feels good” to my eyes. Keep ’em coming!

    Rod

  4. Chessa said, on April 2, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I found you bc I need (desperately) to finish my artist statement and I’m having a terrible time completing it. I googled it and it brought me here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight. I’m going to subscribe to your blog and add you to my own blogroll. thanks, again! oh, and I’m also sharing your link on twitter bc I think everyone can benefit from it!
    🙂

  5. Lisa said, on April 13, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Your approach works for me. I use much the same for my blog about an American beech tree. I thought I would just do it chronologically, but it turned out that each shoot brought so many images and ideas, chronological was impossible. So now I too save a pool, and pull from it when i have time to write posts.

    keep up the great work.


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