23 January 2021

Genuine Photography

Everyone is unique and original, giving joy in listening to variety from other creative people. One day we like to listen to Beethoven, and another day Mozart. What our photography looks like in a session will be influenced by how we feel on the day, the time, the weather and all sorts of other factors.

But as already alluded to, there are those who have a significant marker in their work. While Haydn is good to listen to, his work is not as developed as Beethoven. It becomes tiresome more quickly. Composers were trying to develop music that could hold interest over longer periods of time. Trendy ideas did not hold up. Music was developed through composition, exploring harmonic changes, thematic exploration and expanding the use of minor keys.

Each artist develops their work over time. The foundations are pretty clear at the outset. People notice a new level of composition, complexity or maturity during an artist’s journey even if it is hard to define.

It is surely a healthy sign to recognise when a photographer does better work than one’s own. This gives inspiration, but freedom to rejoice with the other person. It may not be that one’s own work is “less”. It may be certain qualities as we see in the difference between Beethoven and Mozart. Nonetheless, if we cannot be excited by other people’s work in our field we have some issues to sort out.

This surely suggests all artists have the right to pursue their work. What becomes problematic is when people are not finding themselves, where attempts to develop work, or even to be noticed, shifts in other directions. To some extent this may be a difference between inherent talent and aptitude, versus some form of misplacement. It is dangerous to jump to conclusions on this, but we generally know when someone has what it takes, and someone else does not. Peers are able to judge among themselves, as opposed to the risk of one person judging and jousting our hearts in isolation.

An example of the danger goes back to when I asked a University lecturer if I would ever be able to write. I had poor grades. He said no. Yet, over the years, I developed a style of writing and communications. Another person said I would never be able to work with computers, because in those former days of punch cards, I could not punch holes in a card to answer a mathematical equation that was posed to me. I had top grades in mathematics at school. Being less aware of how people behave, I succumbed to the bad behaviour of the person denigrating me who obviously wanted to boast. Years later I worked on highly complex computer solutions for ASX listed companies. When I was younger I tried to be employed with IBM. I failed. I asked if there was any chance of working with IBM. I was told it would never happen. Years later I was an in-country specialist in my field with IBM travelling to various parts of the world and in contact with geniuses.

This does not mean people do not have talent just because it is not evident up front. If someone is following their dreams, they have every right to do so if there is inherent talent, and the time is being clocked up – investment of time.

There are those who think they can have what others have, and not put in the time. That is life. But there are also those who really do not have the outward sign of talent, thinking they are really good. Sometimes this is normal, in that we grow past where we are now, and feel embarrassed about who we were before and what we thought was good. But some people truly think they are good when they just are not. Perhaps it is a deep seated psychological condition that does not mean the person cannot be talented, but in terms of their current reality, they cannot express talent in a “true” and appreciated way.

I feel honest, genuine photography is about who we are, not trying to compete with others. Others may give us inspiration and new standards to aim for, but we cannot be someone else. In developing ourselves, we produce what others love. There is no exception to this. And the thing is, what we produce in our twenties, thirties or forties can be less developed than what we produce in our fifties and sixties, as odd as that may seem. J.S. Bach’s most complex piece of music was written on his death bed – even though he did not complete it, and it does not sound particularly pleasant to our norms of hearing.

Over the years I have never seen a website template work. Some designers execute a project and try to force the next client into their previous “template” without success. Some clients like the look of a template and say, “Let’s use that!” but it does not work.

When I first played music, there were pre-defined sets of sounds I felt comfortable with. Today I am able to surround myself with sounds I never could before, that do not jar my sensibilities. I have never been into strong dissonance, but there is nothing odd to me now about playing c, d, e, f#, g, a, b, c as opposed to c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c. It is quite beautiful and opens up my own ability to play sounds I did not before. And even though my prior years of improvisation were somewhat more clumsy, it was improvisation my University music teaches noticed, and which people notice more today. These are creative developments in hand but developments we kind of don’t predict. In years past, performers had to compose, create. Today, performers are locked into 8 hours a day practice, with no requirement to create – and so we miss out on the new Beethovens we should have had.

The workforce thinks that time sheets help, but in my view they destroy high value and gain. In Taipei there are wonderful people who are in bondage to long work hours, imprisoning them. They have no idea what it is to have team lunches during the week, or to leave a building to get morning tea. It just does not happen. People sleep under desks. People have to come into the buildings with food so that the workers can stay in them. This is truly an outrageous assault on the human soul and has nothing to show for it. This “spirit of slavery” is perhaps why I wanted to jump out of my skin in great urgency to get the airplane wheels off the tarmac when I left Taiwan. And yet in this mess, people are generous, and the country has the best food in the world. I cannot explain such oddity.

I recall one photographer who tried to be unique by placing his camera up close to right angles on building walls. It never sat with me. I don’t know why my photos are exactly the way they are, but I don’t try weird shots for the sake of it. I work with my eyes, the details, and my intuition and creativity in some undefined way, just as over time people who play musical instruments develop their own style of improvisation. One cannot speak the same as another person, despite imitation. It is physically impossible anyway.

Another person seemed to me to be fairly underdeveloped in their use of commercial photography, but interestingly did stunning impromptu life photography. This is what they needed to realise, to identify, to even cherish, but other pressures clouded this truth. Why do we try to be what we are not? Why do we not recognise what we are really good at? When we build websites or engage IT projects, we need to identify strengths and weaknesses to enable us to develop the work well. There is the question of our personal and professional development, and how that comes into play with creativity. When I went to University I was not taught basic and critical techniques that are readily available for free by concert pianists on YouTube. I was even taught bad techniques. We have to find our way through this, so it is a challenge to those younger in the workforce.

This does raise the question of technical skill. People were quick to give me articles and books on how you take photos. I took thousands of photos, including use of filters, so that was my learning. It turned out that the books were not saying anything different to what I learnt. However, they did clarify some things such as f-stops. I think I would consult the books for highly specialised work. Technical books don’t make me take better photos. Great photos inspire. Some disciplines must make use of technical books – no option. Often I have read a technical article that isn’t true. For instance, a specific camera lens is supposed to be a great all rounder, really excellent. Reality is it cannot reproduce colour and light – a big disappointment, and no wonder if you look at the price tag. It was the same for selecting speaker monitors. The Internet articles were saying how good one particular brand was. When I listened to the speakers at a shop, I said to the guy, they shouldn’t even manufacture it. He agreed. It is a matter of what we actually do see or hear and how surprising it is when we can trust that, not in an obstinate way, but there is a level of stability we know within ourselves. What we see is what we see. What we hear is what we hear. A friend of mine has trouble seeing the things that make poor or unacceptable photographs – such as bad tinting. Yet, he is an artist painting beautiful work. We express what is best in our own particular medium.

One friend got into photography and started producing some interesting photos. Over time these escalated into amazing, amateur level award winning photos. My own creative work is simply hobbyist which I am fine with. I enjoy someone else’s surprises. For example, I had taken my own photo of the inside of a train carriage – no people at the time in the carriage. Mine was a good photo. My friend’s photo of the same at a later date was jaw dropping and received public recognition. Mine could not compare. This is exciting. I don’t however usually know which of my own photos people will like or not like. Some are pretty obvious but I have images I think are special that no one else does.

Good photographers may not have their work seen. I have seen amazing photography that has not been financed or seen by the public at large. The same with art work and sketches. It is a dilemma. Some people find a niche that will lead them into revenue generating projects. We all need income, so we may find some stability in our work. It is said that J.S. Bach’s impromptu pipe organ playing far exceeded his written manuscripts. We will never know.

But whatever we are doing, the creative person proves they are by being interested in their art form. People take pictures without anyone advising them to do so. You just do it. The same with computer programming – you spend countless hours doing your craft, even if the returns are small increments. Laying one brick at a time eventually becomes a wall – one day when you look back at it. But, if you are not laying the bricks, the wall is never built. You can’t fake some final product. People who want to steel or be criminal try to have the rewards without the talent or effort. There are people like this in the IT workforce too.

When I began my photography I was at University. I took an introductory course that used a dark room and film. During the years I took various photos that to me were a bit boring and unrewarding. I never kept those photos – hmmm. However, this at least shows I had an interest back then. What I see as interesting today may not be as interesting as something tomorrow, and what I saw as uninteresting yesterday may have new life today, and yes, be interesting. It is an odd play. Out of interest, I had photos of South Bank in Brisbane being constructed, but one lost photo was of the fountain in the Brisbane River in the early 1980’s. I have not found any public photos of it since, but I had it. Most of our photos are lost over time so it is a real question – what do we do?

When I first edited digital files, I over compensated with preference for too much brightness and whiteness. After having edited literally thousands of files over several years I no longer worry about certain finicky details, and I don’t overbalance the image attributes. I think some of the earlier problems were around the newness of light and image to my mind. As we develop patterns in our brains, they settle down and we look for other characteristics to fulfill. I can still view older photographs and know they are “good” just as I can view a website and appreciate it despite it no longer impacting me as it did at first sight. However, I can quickly pick an unimaginative website. There are many WordPress themes that have nothing to contribute, yet, at first they looked smart.

What becomes more lasting then is a sense of composition, rather than the new experience of an image. Certainly for websites it is composition and content, among other things. Practically we can develop our photography. For instance, if we are taking shots of a room, we don’t want a piece of waste paper on the floor – unless that is good for some reason. We can go to safety training so we assess and mitigate risk on a site.

But apart from reality and practicality, composition I feel is key. Members of the public all respond with their own preferences, which vary over time as well. One of my “best” photos is in an empty room with a stack of chairs, a doorway to a corridor outside, and some cabling from a speaker system. It does something to me. I think it has a sense of composition, that someone was in the room, even though the objects have no life in themselves. Other people say it does nothing for them.

I am very aware however of people liking awful photos – bad tinting, poor presentation of the image, blurring and so on. Bad photos don’t seem to trouble too many people. Just go to a souvenir shop to see some photos.

I posted two of my photos to the pexels free site that clocked up millions of views and hundreds of thousand of downloads in a relatively short space of time. I don’t know why. Other photos were not recognised in the same way. The compositions had colours that people are not used to seeing every day. The images are natural with no manipulation of the image attributes.

I quite like the way people can manipulate digital images, but it is not my focus or strength. My images are pretty constant in terms of presentation. I tend to do layouts that reflect my Microsoft PowerPoint background. Surprisingly, I never used Visio in the workforce. My IT background originated around Unix and keystrokes. I find I work faster with more creativity using drag and drop and coding on websites than live editors. This goes well against the grain for some, but I am remaining honest to that point. Don’t get me learning Spanish now.

There are billions of people taking photos. There are multiple-millions of websites. Young people are trying very hard to find identity and meaning. We cannot compete on these grounds so we look elsewhere.

Over the years I spent countless hours developing my “craft”. Those less inclined to love what they do would chide me, saying it should not take up my time. If I had not done that, I would not have been who I was or succeeded. When I once traveled to New Zealand through the snowy mountains to get to Milford Sound, I was disappointed. I did love seeing cars buried in snow. That was fantastic. I preferred the raw nature of Doubtful Sound. But I vividly remember thinking I would rather be at home studying Hex code.

It is often quite easy to recognise the difference between people’s work, even though photography is just a flat image on a page or computer screen. And, we will find photos unique to our surroundings. We may not take photos of some bloody wrestling match, but we will stumble into some unique shots of our own. We do like to share those moments.

My photos of the first helicopter landings at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney only came about because of the many years I lived in my high rise apartment that overlooked the hospital and its new constructions. At first, those shots were viewed by several hundred people, but now they have one or two views. I have many photos of my shoes and my carpet, some I really like. I often found it was the first image I took that won at the end of the day. Sometimes the second, and less often others. No wonder my first shoe shot or a biscuit that fell on the floor were the best!

My interest in photography has a specific series of events I won’t go into here, but I do have a story behind it. When we develop a new website it is good to search for a story. There are always contexts. Essentially I think we make better IT projects when we develop our story with the client. My identity is not that of a photographer, but it has been part of me since school and University. If anything, music is much closer to my identity. For others it is working with a garden shed and tools, or carpentry, cooking, reading, painting, whatever. My websites have given me the ability to use some extent my previous Unix skills and visual layouts. But these sites too have a story as it was not my aim to be a web designer, and as such I only engage a few sites under specific conditions.