After setting up yesterday’s post on my foray into ‘intentional photography,’ I came upon Geoff Dyer’s* The Ongoing Moment at school. So whilst I am busy aiming at intentional photography, Dyer quotes Dorothea Lange to the effect that, “to know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting.” A page later he quotes John Szarkowski saying Garry Winogrand’s best pictures “were not illustrations of what he had known, but were new knowledge.”

But does this mean I should simply continue wandering about with a camera capturing sights that look interesting? It seems to me anyone can do that (and with excellent phone cameras most people do!). My pictures might be slightly better crafted than theirs, based on my years of experience and technical knowledge, but not necessarily any more interesting to an audience than their own pictures already are to them. What’s the point of an MFA if all I’m doing is capturing ‘new knowledge’ that I don’t ‘know ahead of time [is] what [I’m] looking for’?

I’ll continue to ponder this dichotomy, perhaps in these pages. Stay tuned…

* I was already highly favorably inclined towards Dyer after having read his novel, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi – highly recommended.

Published by

Adam Isler


7 thoughts on “Follow-up”

  1. Even if you do not actually make a point of changing, when you look back at what your work was like a few years ago you may find that you have changed without being aware of that fact anyways. Maturity gives depth to the soul

  2. “to know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting.”–this can be a bit confusing. I’ve often read that one should have a plan before you go out with your camera so you know what you want to photograph. When you were in NY, did you think about capturing random people/places? Ms Lange might consider that limiting but why? This give you something specific to look for but I don’t see it as your preconceptions. Your subject was but what those people were doing was not. I like/d your street photography a lot. Yesterday’s foray into intentional photography–not so much.

    1. Thanks, Lois. The thing I’m wrestling with is the difference between being a “professional” who knows what he’s trying to create and has the chops to create it and just being a person with a camera who is sometimes lucky in capturing interesting random moments, which, btw, is much easier to do in a city of 8,000,000 diverse and anonymous strangers than a charming town of 40,000 neighbors and friends. Also, of course, it’s a particular school of photography, best exemplified perhaps by Garry Winogrand in the 70s, and slightly frowned upon these days to the extent that the photographer is exploiting a position of privilege that is not extended to his/her unwitting subjects. Somewhere, perhaps in between those poles is the space I need to find.

      1. Adam–you know I’m a fan. This is just such a different form of photography than what I am used to seeing you post so I need to change my way of viewing this. Change is not my favorite thing, but this ‘charming town’ is winning me over. You will find that space–I’m glad to be along for the ride.

  3. My response would be that your MFA time is an opportunity to concentrate on photography for an extended period of time vs episodic point and shoot moments or days. Photographic camaraderie in itself is a treasure and a casual noncompetitive learning arena. A wax on /wax off approach does have its benefits, and so does spray painting. Forget the MFA laurel and appreciate the opportunity and experience. Formal education at this stage of life should be a laid back joy. Anxious to continue to follow your journey.

    1. I thought I replied to this but it seems to be missing…
      Yes, I agree with you – having already “retired” and not needing to embark on a remunerative career is liberating and I’m simply enjoying getting to play. The point of the MFA is not the credential but the learning and the direction. But that still means I’m learning to accomplish photographically things that I set out to do, so the question is how deliberate what I set out to do needs to be…

Leave a Reply