31 July 2012


Thames at Richmond


Richmond Green

What Constitutes a "Good" Photograph?

There are a million answers of course; but hell, here's one more. 

1.            Technical proficiency: I am still caught in the “technically faultless” trap at the moment but I am aiming to get to the point where issues with focus or noise, for example, don’t bother me so much, where proficiency is enough because the photo has something to say besides "look how sharp / well exposed I am". Sometimes this is the case, but not often. Perhaps the subjects I photograph are not compelling enough to override considerations of poor technique. Given enough stimuli, a bit of noise or motion blur can be overlooked in favour of the interesting subject the photographer has chosen to show; in the absence of stimuli the viewer notices technical deficiencies and looks away, unmoved. Of course, the accrual of Old Master status also "helps" the viewer overlook what otherwise might be seen as faulty technique, but that takes time, talent, luck.... (see below).
2.            Compulsion / rarity / beauty: Most often, the subject needs to be compelling, unusual and / or beautiful, and preferably all three. And what class of subjects at least contain the possibility of being compelling, interesting and beautiful? Generally (though not always) they require something sentient, preferably human. At the moment I believe beauty is the most important of the three, despite the current trend in Art towards a situation whereby beauty isn’t necessarily a consideration, where interesting ideas are more important than crafted splendour. I prefer splendour however, and maybe always will.
What else? Well, I find women more compelling than men, as one might expect given my gender and sexuality, but I should perhaps look to increasing my confidence with, and exploring the beauty of, men; the Male Gaze on the Male Form. Originality is also key, though true originality aside from the very specifics of what is in front of the camera is difficult to achieve: I don’t always grasp what Picasso meant when he said bad artists copy, good artists steal – appropriation rather than a loan, I think – but such a thought is inspiring.
3.            Ambiguity: As Gregory Crewdson notes, you don’t look at a photograph, you look through it at something else. I take this to mean, at least in part, that as the viewer of a photograph worthy of study you bring a lot of yourself to the picture. Sunsets and kittens are sunsets and kittens, conventions, you can’t look through them at something else, can’t imbue them with a meaning beyond the already apparent. A Crewdson picture, however, gives you a starting point, somewhere to dive into the depths of his imagination as well as yours, a chance to explore. Difficult to achieve, but essential if you want to do more than be the operator of a machine that can record photons.
4.            Emotion: The challenge is, of course, that they are hard to evoke. A favourite emotion of mine to try and capture is melancholy, perhaps because it is ambiguous and therefore contains the seed of one of the other core components, mentioned above. But that is a topic for a whole other blog post. For the purposes of this entry, any emotional response to a picture is better than none.
5.            The Ability to Stand Alone: Art does exist in something of a vacuum, unlike much else. It has to speak for itself in the absence of its creator. Again, a topic for another post, but it is worth noting that the essential point is that the photograph has to have something to say, even if, indeed preferably if, what it says is different depending on those to whom it is speaking. 
6.            Time: Does the accrual of time give a patina of potential meanings to a picture in a manner otherwise impossible to replicate? My wife, to reference but one intelligent source, believes this to be the case. Through forgetting and loss of custom, time effortlessly adds layers of mystery, of ambiguity, of coded symbolism to Art. And, on the whole, the older the picture, the more depth it adds, the more ambiguity. It needs the factors above to be worth decoding, of course, and whether this will be the case is to some extent in the mind of the beholder, but if you have some or, preferably all, of the above plus a dollop of time, you’re on your way to having created something worthwhile.

So, all that being said, can I post an example? Well, watch this space and let me know.

29 July 2012

Drama School

Jack White on inspiration and maintaining creative tension

I'm not a fan of the music but what he has to say about creativity and how it is fostered by limits to creative freedom is very interesting.

Charlie, Port Eliot

Boots, baby, Boots! Port Eliot

Greyhound Puppy, Richmond

Men's Olympic Road Race (the Return), Richmond Park

Men's Olympic Road Race, Richmond Bridge

Olympics Visitor, Richmond

Port Eliot

Port Eliot

Port Eliot

Port Eliot

Flower Show, Port Eliot

Passing Stranger, Port Eliot

27 July 2012


DSCF6555, originally uploaded by patrickdodds1.

17 July 2012

Matilda Sturridge

Eel Pie Island



Gregory Crewdson

Apparently Gregory Crewdson teaches that you don't look at a photograph.

You look through it at something else.

Which strikes me as brilliant. So what constitutes a looky-through (TM) picture? Well, there's this, taken during marriage vows - a nice picture but a tad uni-directional and "easy" - you aren't looking through and then all around; as a viewer who doesn't know the subjects, you know where you are:

So, how about something like this:

Try looking at that as one or other of their parents in 30 years time and see if you don't look through it rather than at it. Again, however, it won't necessarily spark questions for the uninvolved, for those who don't know the children.

Here's another:

Nothing much eh? Except for me because I know that it is the bathroom floor of the house in which my stepfather lived, some days after his death. So of course I look through this at something else entirely.

The key to an iconic photo, it therefore begins to appear, is to create a picture that strangers can step through to look around at another world, another, mythic, reality. If that isn't going too far.

Now, creating such photos at a wedding is relatively straightforward, technique and a modicum of taste notwithstanding. Doing this elsewhere, in situations that are not immediately recognisable (news stories, sporting events and the like): therein lies the rub.

Let's take this shot (Why? Because I happen to like it and, whilst it was taken at a wedding, isn't a Wedding Shot per se):

I like it, as I say, and I like it for a number of reasons. But I don't think it takes you through to another place. It isn't a conduit. Its an interesting, beautiful even, woman in a great outfit with a bit of thought given to the look, the pose, the surroundings, and the post-processing. But it isn't, even with the mystery added by the antique tint, a huge gaping worm hole to another reality.

In fact, I'm struggling to find a looky-through shot, a through-the-looking-glass picture. Maybe this:

It has a nice tonal range, nice soft / blurry figures who, being indistinct, promote thought, guesswork.

But not for long.

Close, in other words, but no cigar. And so, the search continues.

As a quick aside, do have a look at the ice cream van on Crosby Beach shot from a few years back - that provokes thought for me, although even then, does it translate? Will Burt Burtcombe in Burtsville Arizona look at it and think wow, what ever happened to my youthful dreams? Probably not.