In honor of
Edward Weston & Jerry N. Uelsmann
On APUG an old time film guy asked why the new digital photogs use so much extreme effects on their pix. I hear the same thing about my work. Either it is extreme content or extreme processing.
Infrared flash photo
As a social doc photog I generally don’t set out to stage extreme photos…I just document what I find naturally occurring in our world. There is a big difference between staging bullshit, extreme photos just to get attention versus documentation of life as it unfolds.
Sure, sometimes I freak things out with cartoonish HDR, but it is based on natural, but intensified color, so it is still real – just supercharged. No one pays me to do social doc photos. I am completely self-funded with my photography, therefore I shoot and process the photos exactly as I like. The critics seem to be a little confused. They must be thinking they hired me to shoot for them.
Just shooting extreme photos does not make it a great pix. Look at this example…Piss Christ.
When I look at Piss Christ, I am looking through a street / doc photogs eyes, not as an artist. To me this is bullshit…but to the artist and its admirers, it is gold. So, to each their own. There are certain rules that help a photo have a flow and poetic symmetry. Although, rules are made to be broken…shoot your pix from the heart and not from some rule book.
” A society without jaywalkers might indicate a society without artists.”
In any case, artists are on a different wavelength than the rest…they have to be allowed ‘some’ leeway for creativity to flourish…that is the bottom line. Never let anyone brow beat you about your art. When it comes to art, there are no boundaries…if it is legal, the artist can do as they please.
Multitasking ~ Infrared flash photograph from Piecing Darkness artists’ book.
I’m not a big fan of Winogrand and his crooked, jumbled up, confused style. (Look at the bulk of his estimated 1.5 million photos, not the handful they trot out when his name is mentioned.) But, I do like a number of his sayings. One gem is…
Great photography is always on the edge of failure.
In any case, I take the critics ‘extreme’ comments as a compliment. If you not doing extreme work – you’re not doing much nowadays.
The German ‘bridge artists’ learned long ago that distorted reality was an important tool to use for emotional effect. This is something you may profit from with your art.
Don McCullin talked about the problem of competition in the 1960’s.
This is what McCullin’s competition looked like in 1952.
McCullin said he tried to produce strong photos to set his work apart from the crowd.
A still photo is not like a movie. The still photo must capture the attention of the viewer as well as say something that is remarkable and worthy of study in one frame. Why would any photog not want to create strong work?
People are just more extreme nowadays….
It used to be ‘extreme’ to show a photo of a homosexual, smoking weed with a tattoo and green hair. Nowadays that is all mainstream stuff. Someday it may be extreme to show a person with no tattoos! This just underscores what is extreme to one person may not be extreme to another person.
Every day millions and millions of pix get uploaded on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, just to name a few. If you want to get ahead in a world of 2 billion cell phone cams at large you had better be doing, strong, extreme as well as outstanding work nowadays.
Every genre of photography seeks to produce extreme work. The landscapers look for extremes with their constant chase for the blue and golden hour. What else is popular with the camera fondlers on the photo forums? They slap on sunglass filters to make extreme blurs of the water and clouds.
The portraitists are either looking for extreme ‘no expression’ or ‘extreme expression.’ The average smiley face is not what they are after. Some portraitists like shadowy chiaroscuro or high key, all white scenes…again extremes.
The high contrast devotees and shadow experts working on the street are looking for extreme lighting as they wait 20 to 30 minutes for the right person to walk into planned scene. The street photogs shooting juxtaposition of people with signage are looking for extreme comparisons. Sure, we all do em. But try it in the dark, with the signs moving and no viewfinder…extremes can set you apart from the crowd.
Infrared flash photograph from Piercing Darkness artists’ book.
Even the banal experts look for extreme boring with their shots. The tilt-shifters and diffusion devotees are looking for extremes in view and softness. Finally the large format, Edward Weston, f/64 group guys look for extreme sharpness with their work.
We have tools as photographers that we can use to call attention to our image. We all use some of these tools to one degree or another….high or low contrast, HDR, grain, color whether muted, bold or selective, BW, sharpness, diffusion, composition, bokeh, lighting, subject matter, etc. Without extremes, a photos is nothing. Although if you age a snapshot long enough, nostalgia value may give it a rise…a la’ Vivian Maier
What would this photo be without extremes?
It would be a snapshot, nothing of interest to anyone other than the family and relatives.
Same with the next photo. If the guy was sitting on the bed or standing in the room with his clothes on you would not know much about him. You may make assumptions, but you’re still only guessing. My photo is pretty straightforward with the message.
BTW, it wasn’t staged, everything is exactly as shown. I just asked him why he liked Burt Reynolds so much….he showed me…I shot it.
In the other arts it is the same thing.
Guitarists use fuzz, reverb, tremolo and wha-wha for effect and attention. Trumpets…maybe they invented wah-wah before guitar?
Dizzy liked a one of a kind horn.
An artist got a little extreme to make a statue of Dizzy…
Here are some of my ‘extreme photos’ and some of the composition rules I used or rules I broke, in making them.
A textbook example of diagonal leading line composition.
A textbook example of triangular composition.
A textbook example of motion blur in relation to camera distance.
An example of circular composition.
An example of centered composition.
An example of mountain peak composition.
An example of broken pattern composition.
An example of juxtaposed composition.
An example of balanced composition.
An example of framed composition.
An example of a whimsical composition.
An example of selective color composition.
An example of a self-portrait shadow composition.
An example of full frame composition.
An example of tilt-shift composition.
An example of simplified composition.
An example of center weighted rule of thirds composition.
An example of panoramic composition.
An example of curved converging lines composition.
An example of layered composition.
An example of symmetrical composition.
An example of composition incorporating signage.
An example of circular fisheye composition.
An example of shallow depth of field.
An example of a mystery composition.
An example of chiaroscuro.
An example of motion blur.
An example of telephoto compression.
An example of silhouette composition.
Breaking the rules – Wide angle distortion.
Breaking the rules – Crooked composition.
Breaking the rules – Grab hip shot.
Breaking the rules – Exaggerated vignette.
Breaking the rules – Low angle shot.
Breaking the rules – Cutting the feet off.
Breaking the rules – Toned and grain.
Breaking the rules – Negative reversal toned.
Breaking the rules – Incorporating empty center space.
Breaking the rules – Extreme processing.
Breaking the rules – Fast, overhead, unframed grab shot.
Breaking the rules – Grainy…blurry.
Breaking the rules – Shooting into the sun.
Breaking the rules – Collage storytelling.
Breaking the rules – Grunge HDR
Breaking the rules – Shot from behind
Breaking the rules – Single image HDR.
Breaking the rules – Hyper-real HDR
Peephole: Peering Into the World of 1970’s Hollywood and L.A. – 2013
Portfolio: Peering Into the World of 1970’s Hollywood and L.A. – 2013
Twenty-six Roadkills – 2013
Encyclopedia of Photographic & Fine Art Ink Jet-
Printing Media – 12 Volume Set – 2014
Bikers’ Mardi Gras – 2015
Gender Benders from the 1970’s – 2015
De Wallen: Amsterdam’s Red Light District – 2015
180 – The Circular Fisheye at Large – 2016
Piercing Darkness – 2016 *
The Americans…60 years after Frank – 2016 *
Whoop-Whoop – Forthcoming
Secrets of Candid Photography – Forthcoming
*Projects under consideration for a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship
“Yes…Yes…Yes…photography is like that and there’s no maybes. All the maybes go to the trash. There is a tremendous enjoyment in saying yes, even if it is for something you hate. It is an affirmation…Yes!” ~ Cartier-Bresson