Musings on Photography


Posted in process by Paul Butzi on November 11, 2009


Colin Jago sent me the link to this video of Henry Wessel discussing his artistic process.

The part that rang my bell was this:

So the mind’s always in there saying “Ah. Look at that. You know… Telephone pole. Macadam. This, move right, move left. So you wind up making maybe five pictures, six pictures of the same stuff. The first ones, you can see how different they are than the ones when your mind got in there.

When your mind gets in there they start to look like photographs that you already know. They look like problems that you’ve already solved. They’re never taking you to a place that’s unfamiliar. They’re taking you to what you’re supposed to do.

Then they look like everybody else’s photographs.

This is where I’m at. I’m trying to make photographs without a rationalized checklist (cameras settings? check. Focus? check. Major elements of composition arranged artfully? check. Distracting elements of composition minimized? Check. Edges ok? check. Lighting perfect? check.) and instead just let myself do it. I’m aiming for look, look, look, see, raise camera to eye, let shutter go. Part of what I’m trying is minimizing the time between when I see something to photograph and the moment when the shutter goes ‘kathwap’.

Every second I delay is another second of opportunity for my rational mind to get in there and say “That’s crap. Look at that clutter. Keep that branch away from the edge. Jeebus, your’e screwing it up. Hold the camera level. This is going to be boring. You’re stupid. This is all stupid. You’re photographing the wrong stuff.”

Of the photos I’ve made in the last month, the ones I still like after looking at them over and over are by and large the ones where I saw something, lifted the camera, and let the shutter go without hesitation. They’re often the ones where afterward I was left standing, camera in hand, thinking “What the heck? What was that?”

I have learned one trick – when my brain says “photograph that”, I just photograph it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a photograph I’ve already made – I just go ahead and make it again. Making it again is the fast way to get past it. So I walk past that same tree for the 500th time, and I see the same photograph for the 400th time, and I don’t bother with thinking “No, Paul, you’ve *already* made that photograph” and the resulting struggle, instead I just give in to the impulse and make it. See, lift camera, shutter. The cost for the exposure is near zero. Just make the photo, put it behind you, move on to the next photo.

If you walk past the same tree every day for the next year, and you make the same photo 365 times, it’s not 1 new photo and 364 mistakes. It’s a series of photos that perhaps leads you to a new place. And would be part of what I’m looking for.

3 Responses

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  1. Paul said, on November 12, 2009 at 5:56 am

    I’m at the same point as you are . It’s either your theory or I’m going to just give up photography for a long long period of time. I’m burnt out with rules and everything digital! I’ve started taking my 8×10 out with hyperfocal setting and shooting paper negatives. I’m having so much fun,there’s such a large element of imperfection in the images that it makes me so free because I DON’T CARE. The images are just for my viewing.

  2. Paul L. said, on November 12, 2009 at 9:52 am

    I watched the video and absolutely loved the thoughts behind it. Perhaps that’s why I’m now attracted to street photography. There’s a certain freedom in total reaction without thinking. It’s nice, also, to be surprised at what I get. Thanks for sharing the video.

  3. Andreas Manessinger said, on November 15, 2009 at 5:08 am

    Yup! There is a bicycle that I photograph every other day, but I have not published a single one of those images. Still it appeals to me. One day I may make a photo that lets me find out why.

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