Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Branching Out


One of my “New Year’s Resolutions” was very simple: Learn to play nice (or nicer) in the photographic sandbox.  I’ve been accused, in the past, of taking verbal shots at people who, in my opinion, were acting just a little silly.  Historically, that trait hasn’t been restricted to fellow photographers, of course.  I play no favorites.  I did the same thing with acquaintances, relatives (especially relatives), coworkers, bosses, and anyone else who didn’t seem to be making any sense at some particular moment.  As an aside, I can say from vast amounts of experience that it’s not the best way to get ahead in the world.  You tend to piss people off that way (like the person who just happens to be responsible for salary increases or promotions).  But I’d do it anyway.  Go figure.

Anyway, such verbal criticisms seem to be especially unwelcome in the photographic community.  I’ve never really understood this.  Well, I understand what people say is the reason.  Since Art (there’s that word again) is very personal and very subjective, no one should question or judge the value of another’s work.  It’s OK to not like someone else’s work but, especially with respect to photography, it’s generally not OK to say so publicly.  But why not?

The same logic doesn’t seem to apply to other types of expression.  If you don’t like a novel, it’s perfectly acceptable to slam the book and the author.  If you think a movie sucks, just say so.  Don’t like the music at a concert that you payed $100 or so to see?  It’s OK to let the artist know you’re displeased.  You can “boo” or just walk out.  You could even ask for your money back.

In the photographic blogosphere, however, such actions are “taboo”.  Even if someone suggests that their style and their subject matter is more “worthwhile” than anyone else’s, it’s still considered bad form to respond in kind.  Confrontation is not good.  We’re just one big, happy photographic family.

Well, my “resolution” is toast.  It’s just not in my nature to turn the other cheek in the face of nonsense like this:

 But, just like the nearly endless stream of pictures made at iconic locations – Half Dome, Horse Shoe Bend, Old Faithful, Rainbow Arch, et al – I don’t understand the weird idea, to my way of thinking, of wanting to picture what has been pictured a zillions times before. I want to avoid like the plague putting my feet and my tripod feet in the same places that have seen a zillion feet and tripod feet before me.

To be completely frank, I am so sick and tired of images of all the iconic places that I don’t even want to visit any of these places for any reason whatsoever.

In case you missed it, this little gem is from the Landscapist (Mark Hobson’s blog).  Now, I enjoy reading Mark’s blog, and I agree with him on a lot of issues, but his insistent implication that photographing in “iconic” locations is a waste of time is arrogant and silly.  In Mark’s mind, photographing a plateful of garbage in his sink apparently has more value.  In all fairness, maybe to Mark it does.  That’s fine.  But to tell the world that any image taken in a national park (or other such place) is of no value because it’s been done “a zillion times before” is horse pucky.

I would suggest that he take a hard look at his own work.  In terms of style and subject matter, he’s not only painted himself into a corner, he’s become the corner.


6 Responses to “Branching Out”

  1. "the cornerman"

    If I may, several comments –

    in lifting the quote from my entry, you neglected to include the part where I stated, “OK, that’s fine – everybody needs to have a hobby”, and, as I always do, my favorite caveat, “… to my way of thinking…” – both statements imply rather directly that even though I may consider it a waste of my time to do whatever, it’s entirely up to others to decide for themselves whether it is so for them. I’m just stating my opinion, AKA, “verbal criticism”.

    Like you, I am no stranger to dispensing “verbal criticism” and I am prone to doing so in a wide expanse of circumstances and regarding a wide array of subjects. When it come to photography, I do not subscribe to the one-big-happy-family scheme of things. Rather, I from the f**k-’em-if-they-can’t-take-a-joke school of things (for years I wore a label pin which stated exactly that).

    That said, that’s why I like and even encourage “verbal criticism” on my blog. For me, it’s all about lively (and hopefully informed) discourse and that is why I always welcome your opinion on things. Since I am also a believer in the if-you-can’t-take-the-heat- get-out-of-the-kitchen philosophy, I am very comfortable sitting square in the center of the kitchen with my butt bolted to a chair.

    Although, at your behest, I will now move the chair (with my butt attached) to the corner of the kitchen where it rightfully belongs.

  2. "the cornerman"

    PS – your last few picture entries are running over into the right-hand column of your site – at least they are on my screen (I’m using a Mac with both Firefox and Safari). Just thought you might like to know.

  3. Paul Maxim

    You just gotta love a guy who can take a punch and come back with not only a joke, but some helpful advice as well (I’d stupidly missed the fact that the last two images were too big for the column; they should now be corrected).

    As I said, Mark and I apparently agree on a lot of things (our political views seem to be similar, for example). We also have a fair amount of history in common. We both come from the same part of New York and we were both in the Army on Okinawa at about the same time (during the Vietnam War). And yet we seem to have completely different views of what makes a “good photograph”. Just one of life’s mysteries, I guess.

    I just love the part about moving his chair into the corner (at my behest!). Where would we be without a sense of humor?

  4. Markus Spring

    Not wanting to take up the discussion about criticism and or cornering – the lead shot is working for me through pattern and color set. And it is in a way decent which I can’t put in words at the moment, it gives a sense of sheltered harmony not wanting to be obvious and visible to the world.

    What however made me smile is the fact that this picture uses vignetting as graphical element, something that is connected for me with a whole lot of the landscapist’s images. Chance or intent? Can’t tell…

    • Paul Maxim

      You’re not far off the mark, Markus. I did intentionally mimic Mark Hobson’s style here (especially the vignetting). I like the image as well, even though it’s a distinct “outlier” from my normal style.

  5. JH

    Good thought provoking discussion.

    I had a look at your “About Me” page, and this (cf. the photo) made me smile: “You will never see me photograph a pile of twigs.”


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