Musings on Photography

Name Your Dream Assignment

Posted in interesting blogs, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 18, 2009


I noticed that Doug Plummer, (of Dispatches fame) has submitted a project to the “Name Your Dream Assignment” contest.

I’m a big fan of both Doug’s blog and his photography. If you browse back through his blog, you’ll see a fair number of posts about his dance photography, along with a fair bit of writing about his experiences photographing dance.

I think Doug’s proposal is excellent. Through his blog, I’ve seen the sort of work he does, and I know Doug would produce a lot of great photography if his proposal was selected.

So, please – take a moment, go over and browse his blog posts about still and video of dance. Go and read his proposal over at Name Your Dream Assignment. Think about the photos on Doug’s blog, and about his writing and open sharing of his photographic process, and consider that you’re not picking just a project proposal, you’re picking a project proposal where you know the person is an incredibly skilled and committed photographer with a deep, abiding, and personal interest in the subject. This is a proposal that comes directly from Doug’s love of both photography and dance – it’s not just an attempt to produce a proposal that’s attractive to a large group of people and will get a lot of votes.

And if you think Doug’s proposal has merit, please go and give it a positive vote. I know that you have to register to vote – yes, it’s a hassle. But you can avoid much of the hassle by unchecking the ‘send me lots of stuff’ check box on the registration page, registration takes only 30 seconds or so, and I really think Doug deserves the support.

So I’m asking, as a sort of personal favor, that if you think his proposal deserves a positive vote, please just register and give it a vote. It’ll only take a short while. Honest.

Just do the work

Posted in interesting blogs by Paul Butzi on December 10, 2008

Via Terry Teachout’s About Last Night:

“I have never thought about what I was doing in terms of art, or ‘this is great,’ or ‘world-shaking,’ or anything like that. To me, it was always a job of work–which I enjoyed immensely–and that’s it.”
John Ford, interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich (1966)

Do the work. Don’t worry about the outcome. Let the chips fall where they will.

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.

SoFoBoMo Business – Blogs

Posted in interesting blogs, Solo Photo Book Month, web issues, Websites by Paul Butzi on February 16, 2008

Colin Jago has made a very useful post which includes links to all the known blogs of SoFoBoMo participants. If you’re signed up and you have a blog, but it’s not on Colin’s list, get in touch with Colin and I’m confident he’ll add your blog to the list.

I’d like to encourage people to blog their SoFoBoMo experience. With a blog, it’s easy to just put your thoughts out there, as you have them. Others can read what you write, and they can respond to it in the comments or in their own blog. It’s easy to put up photos, there’s no limit to how often or how infrequently you write. With virtually all modern browsers supporting RSS feeds as well as a host of really good RSS feed readers, it’s easy to keep up with what everyone is saying.

Best of all, you might find that running a blog is fun, and continue with it beyond the end of SoFoBoMo. You can start a blog at zero cost at (that’s what I use), at blogger. com (also used by a fair number of photo bloggers) and probably at other places I don’t even know about.

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Something to brighten your day

Posted in interesting blogs, Websites, whimsy by Paul Butzi on December 28, 2007


Dave Beckerman clearly has too much time on his hands, and sent me a link to his video production, titled One Print with the Epson 4800, which you must watch.

It’s only three minutes sixteen seconds long, but it’s packed with emotion. Tension, innovative camera work, and excellent choice of musical backing seem to convey the anxiety, drama, tension and tedium of fine art inkjet printing. This is a masterpiece you’ll remember forever.

Or something. I suspect that Dave broke the legal fun limit when making this thing.

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Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Posted in Blogroll, interesting blogs, landscape by Paul Butzi on September 17, 2007

An interesting post on Joe Kazimierczyk’s blog about his current show and a talk he gave at the gallery. The title of the show, which I find intriguing, is “Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary”.

I’ve been following his blog for a while now. His artistic stomping grounds are not far from where I grew up, so I find his work both familiar in subject matter and interesting in approach.

Out there on the web

Posted in Blogroll, interesting blogs by Paul Butzi on September 9, 2007


More interesting things I’ve encountered on the web:

  • Doug Plummer has an interesting post about using the various sliders in Adobe Camera Raw to eke out the most and best from an image captured under the nightmare lighting conditions – hard, direct sunlight with deep shadows from an open sky. I’m just beginning to get a grip on how to integrate recovery and fill sliders into my workflow (especially planning on their use when in the field making exposures) so this post was a huge treasure trove for me.
  • From Doug Stockdale’s blog, Singular Images, this post on artist’s statements. I’ve been known to mock artist’s statements mercilessly, but the web site that Doug links to makes an interesting case for the artist statement as part of presenting your work.
  • Also from Doug Stockdale, this post on pricing which would be interesting to people just getting started. I like the post mostly because of the photo that accompanies the text. There’s just something about gas stations at night, I don’t know what it is.
  • From Mike Johnston’s The Online Photographer, this excellent essay on being an artist and making a living.

Be here now

Posted in art is a verb, interesting blogs, process by Paul Butzi on August 31, 2007

From the BBC website, a link which reads “Day in Pictures: Some of the most striking images from around the world“. (there’s no reason I’ve picked on the BBC version, here. I just saw it when reading an article on Vint Cerf. There are similar links on the web page for every news service on the planet.)
“Striking images,” I thought. I looked at the images, and they were, indeed, striking. Exotic. Unusual, extraordinary. Striking, fair enough. But, I wondered, what of the claim that this is represents a worldwide day in pictures? Um, not so much.

The news focuses on the striking. If it’s not something bad, it’s go to be something exciting or exotic, something the news people think lies outside our daily life. You don’t read about the pleasures of the quotidian in the newspaper, nor do you see still photos or video of it on CNN.

That’s fine, but I think it increasingly leads us down the wrong path. The problem is that it causes us to live out there, instead of right here. It’s not that out there is bad. Things and places and events which are ‘out there’ for me are, naturally enough, ‘right here’ for someone else. The difficulty creeps in when we attend to ‘out there’ to the extent that it interferes with our ability to be ‘right here’.

In that Jungian synchronicity way, I’ve been getting this message from a lot of different directions lately. From Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales (a book about why some people survive and others perish), the author lists the first rule of survival: be here now. And, from Paul Lester’s recent posts on photography, Taoism, and his personal spiritual journey – “This simply means that I need more practice in staying in the ‘now’.” And from Doug Plummer’s blog, where he writes so eloquently and transparently about his own creative process, “My entire work life and artistic life is dependent on deep connection and communication with my surroundings, and working from that place.”

And that sort of highlights a paradox. You can’t make good photos, it seems, unless you’re right here, right now, not just physically but also mentally. And yet, at the same time, I sometimes have to remind myself to put down the camera, not worry about capturing this moment, and just be here now.

So sometimes the camera is a tool that helps me be here now. And other times, the camera is a distraction that interferes with my ability to be here now.


Posted in interesting blogs, macintosh by Paul Butzi on August 26, 2007


As part of the household switch to Macs, we’ve taken delivery on one of the iMacs that Paula will be using. As a bit of a treat, I gathered up a bunch of photos that I’ve made in and around the house, and put them in a folder, and told the iMac to use the photos in the folder to make a slideshow as the screen saver. I don’t know what I expected – snap transitions, blah blah, but I thought it would be fun. But it turns out that the Mac does cross fades between the photos, and it also does a little Ken Burns style pan-and-zoom across/into/out of the photos, so that the slideshow is filled with motion. And, you know, I watched it go, and I thought “Hey, this looks pretty darn good. Especially for no effort!”

And that got me thinking about slideshows. It got me thinking about slideshows as a way to present a body of related photos, in a sequence. I’ve always hated, and I mean intensely hated, those web sites where portfolios are presented as slideshows. I hate that I want to flip through the photos quickly, and can’t, or that I want to go more slowly, and can’t. I guess slideshows are like children’s invented summer plays – when it’s not your children they’re excruciatingly horrid, but when it’s your children, the same play is a beautiful testament to the wonderful imagination and creativity encoded in your genes.

So I was sort of expecting that the next slideshow I came across I would think was the same old horrid painful dreadful stuff.

But no. This morning, I came across this slideshow on Dave Beckerman’s blog. I sort of winced when I hit the ‘start’ button. And then I was entranced. A slideshow. A slideshow with MUSIC, the very sort of slideshow I hate, hate, hate. And, truth be told, I loved it. It doesn’t hurt, certainly, that Dave’s photos are awesome. It doesn’t hurt that I like the music, either.

But a week ago, I would have hated it intensely. Interesting.

blogs, tools, community

Posted in interesting blogs, web issues, Websites by Paul Butzi on August 25, 2007


There was a time when the online photo community was centered around a few USENET newsgroups – and it’s various sub-groups. Other online photo communities formed in places like Compuserve, AOL, et al. Following on came websites like the large format photography website at,,, and a slew of others. Layered across all of those were various mailing lists.

Communities form through pretty much any technology that lets people communicate.

My favorite currently is the loose community that seems to form among/between the blogs written by various photographers. Part of the reason is that the blog format seems to encourage people to write more thoughtfully and share more from personal experience, and it seems to discourage flaming (or, at least, it seems to cut the feedback loop that causes every disagreement to turn into a rapid descent into personal insult). It’s easy to ignore voices that grate, not too hard to find voices you enjoy.

Not long ago I started using an RSS feedreader. I’m not convinced this is an improvement over reading the blogs I enjoy by viewing the blog website directly. The RSS feedreader is a great way to cut the time needed to find the blogs that have posts I haven’t read, but it also divorces the content from the comments, from the layout of the blog website – not necessarily an improvement. RSS readers are great blogreading tools but perhaps not great community building tools.

Don’t know what I’m getting at, really. Just more musings, as advertised.