Photographic education goes beyond the camera – by Shaun La
Teaching and learning are not bounded by institutions with classrooms. But the classroom should not be underestimated, either.
With photography, we are in an unfamiliar space. The camera can be in a device that can accept and make out phone calls, write e-mails, or layer out digital maps for us who are new to an area. It can be more about the device’s gadgets; whereas, the camera is an option, not the complete instrument.
Alongside this unfamiliar space in photography, there is the marketing that anyone can teach photography. You could turn right or left while surfing the Internet and visually walk into workshops or programs that stimulate the notion that they can teach any student all about photography with a technical pill.
If you were new to photography and did not know any better, you would be all too willing to fathom the technical way as the sure way to become a photographer. An aperture setting, shutter speeds, ISO, composition, the ability to know your lighting are all significant in learning about photography–but the photographic education does not stop here.
ILFORD films have strong tones with their greys and blacks. Kodak T-MAX has a neutrality that is sharp and this is why it can be a back and forth film for photographers who deal with ILFORD’s HP5+. Both, T-Max and HP5+ have special and separate ways of treating their grain. HP5+ has this merging of grain, where tones and depth can be one; whereas, Kodak’s T-MAX places an emphasis on bringing out the lines of light more than the tones, and this is why the 100 or 400 speed are so excellent with being a part of their B&W photography team.
There is the other option in Kodak, for B&W photography, Tri-X. When it comes to Tri-X, the cubic grain can really give photography a grain that is not extra smooth, but is aesthetically strong in the feeling/texture look of a photograph. Tri-X has magnificent tones; whereas, T-MAX accepts bright tones with a polished outcome that is pleasing.
Fuji’s NEOPAN/NEOPAN Acros will offer a pearly blend to rich tones, giving your B&W work, a merging. Even Kentmere (which is under the same umbrella of business ownership as ILFORD) has this super grain construction that is so different to ILFORD’s graceful grain.
Rollei’s B&W films come with a visual strength that has a very smooth grain to them. From their 400 speed to their 25 speed films, their grainy ingredients, will find a way to situate themselves under various lighting conditions.
Bergger film is tonal strong with its contrast, you can push this film and it may not even look like you pushed it to balance out an incorrect aperture setting or shutter speed, or simply pushed it for the sake of it.
Even Arista’s EDU (Fomapan), can be a sharp B&W film to work with, in 400 or 100 speeds. Fomapan can catch light evenly, which makes working with a lens filter a possibility to offset the tonal range not coming through.
Our visual society of today
We are a high-tech society. Tomorrow can be ancient history. Our society places the 20th century as if it should have 1987 B.I. (Before the Internet) added somewhere, and what high-tech success has done to a medium under 200 years old (photography) would be to make it as concise as possible. Digital photography is currently helping us understand the quickest and easiest way to learn how to take a fast photograph.
The reading of photographs may seem time consuming, so we scan and we let our eyes find little visual scents that are familiar to our smell test. We love to sniff out shock-value, celebrities hanging with other celebrities, selfies, photographs with collecting massive amounts of Likes. We want hand-me-down photographs; whereas, social-media leaders instruct us as to what is good or great photography.
An impact on the learning of photography
As it takes time to learn a language–the alphabet, words, sentences–how to articulate and enunciate a language consists of learning the fundamentals. The fundamentals of photography go into knowing the Eye and the Moment (the alphabet and the expression).
You do not need to be a photographer in order to have an Eye!
A major asset to the greatly diverse photography of the 20th century and its full 100 years, has to be given to the editors, curators, print collectors, writers, professors and teachers who advocated for photography to be a serious counter, a modern medium for society to grow into, intellectually, entertainingly, philosophically and artistically.
The most popular medium in our high-tech society–the commercialism of photography–has become the gateway for photographers with all kinds of success to stand at podiums and declare that they know how to deliver to you, the Moment, the formula, the marketing skills, to become any kind of photographer you want to become—just as they are.
We as a society have confused teaching with a technical pupil and mentoring with marketing—photography wise.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone taking the time out to show a group of people how to hold their camera, adjust their lens, set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO on day one and on day two, that same someone, showing the same group of people how to gain followers on social-media.
But where do we as a very visual society address the difference between picking up a book about the history of photography, reading it, going over it with a teacher, while learning about photography, even if you do not end up evolving into a photographer?
Our rush to photograph any and everything has put the student into a crash course, neglecting any form of wanting to know more about the foundation of photography. It is no wonder to why we, as a very visual society, can become so self-indulgent and forget about photographers who paved the way for us.
There are veteran photographers, 70, 80, 90 years old, who have profound knowledge and experience about this medium and often they are swept to the side, because this modern area of photography loves the advancement of speed, ascending to a higher level, and not reflection on who and what originally made those levels.
What could happen when we ascend over a medium’s core?
Relatively recently, Souvid Datta acknowledged that he plagiarized the photographic work of a very well-respected photographer Mary Ellen Mark (March 20th, 1945 – May 25th, 2015).
It is my guess that this sort of plagiarized momentum goes back to the lack of teaching photography outside of the technical side of learning about this medium. If you swim into a deeper pond than Souvid’s plagiarizing of Mary’s photographic work, and channel over to the painter Richard Prince, who boldly swindled photographs that he did not originally photograph from Instagram, you would see a devastating view of no checks and no balances when mediums are measured right next to each other.
Had Prince tried this with traced paintings from Dutch Masters, the Pop-Art comedy from such an antic would not ever be taken seriously enough to gain an original provenance or cultural value when boiled down to an imitation or tracing being worth more than the original masterpiece.
Richard’s rephotographed photography of Sam Abell’s original Marlboro Man advert photography sold for millions–there are some original photographs from proven photographic eyes of the 19th and 20th centuries whose photographic prints are not valued for millions of dollars.
Photography once laced up its boxing boots during the late 19th century and fought for this medium to be separated from or connected to the older and more culturally established medium, painting. It could have been Henry Peach Robinson (Pure or Straight photography) and Peter Henry Emerson (Pictorialism) disagreeing with what makes a photograph; however, their agreement on photography having the possibility to be a visual art did not entertain a clash.
20th Century Meanings
There used to be a definitive answer to what was photography. The 20th century opened up the realms of a professional photographer being able to do commercial work with publications such as magazines and newspapers, as well as neighborhood photographers who made a living with a studio, photographing the community who wore their best clothing with the anticipation of well-framed photography inside of their homes or offices, even their wallets or purses, as well as under the plastic covers that are the interiors of family photo-albums.
On the gallery walls, the amateur photographer roamed with their work. Some of these photographers had careers or jobs outside of photography. Being that the sales of photographic prints could not be a gold mine, professional photographers did not always look at the gallery walls as a way to make consistent, decent income.
The hobbyists or amateur found the same satisfaction the professional photographer found with making dollars and cents with their camera, but their reward was up on the walls. Just to know that people would view the works of amateurs, hobbyists or the photographer with a trained eye who refused to sell out to editors telling them how to photograph, was a balancing beam in photography—it stipulated what was commercial, what was art and what was candid.
Just to put the gallery scene in the 20th century into a financial perspective. Helen Gee, who partly owned the Limelight Gallery in New York during the 1950’s/60’s had original photographic prints from Gordon Parks and Henri Cartier-Bresson for under 50 dollars.
Today, the term “famous photographer” has engulfed the brand of being a photographer; therefore, a social-media following (if a gigantic one) could lead a photographer to being booked by publications who want to use their huge collection of followers as a base to merge into their following–cross-promotion–and from there, galleries are looking for the next famous photographer as well.
I just want to be a technical photographer, if I wanted to know art history, I would have became a Painter
The lack of education for the modern photographer could have a proliferation of ramifications on the future of photography being unconcerned and ignorant of its founding past.
Gaining an education about photography (historically and technically) can be self-taught (such as myself), mentored or taught in a classroom or workshop that has a full circle about this medium.
It is not uncommon to find photographers teaching about this medium who do not have “book-work” outside of their coffee-table books or some other works filled with poetry and photographs. The absence of knowing their history has become non-existing, because photography on a societal level refuses to bridge the small steps from the 20th century and the little-older steps from the 19th century–establishing a photographic ancestry for this 21st century.
To have photographers who are able to articulate or enunciate this medium’s historical significance, modern advancements and an optimistically, academically, artistically future would extend this medium’s potential into a cultural prosperity commending its preparation to display a classical period of its own…because, there are no classical periods in photography.
The work that has been done (70 plus years in the 19th century and a full 100 years from the 20th century), and what we are doing right now will be a huge decider in photography welcoming or rejecting its own Renaissance.
But, if you are just about aperture settings, shutter speeds, copying your photographic lighting from the next popular photographer, then you likely never wanted to learn about this medium called photography, you simply wanted the medium to loan you some of its attention.
~ Shaun La
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