I have just found this photograph. Well a couple of days ago I rediscovered it, and today I realised how much I really loved it. That was looking at it on the phone. On the full screen of my computer, I am not so sure. So today I will print it out and pin it up on the wall to stare at for a while, to see if it really passes the test of time.
Time seems to answer many questions and solves a lot of problems. Yes, it is true that it doesn't solve all of the worlds and humanities problems, otherwise we would be happily living in utopia. But it does seem to solve creativity problems, it does help decide on if an artwork is resolved. It allows your minds to mature on an idea and on your photographs.
I have read recently that giving your images time to breathe, to mature and grow is bullshit. They cited reasons and talked about Garry Winogrand. How terrible it was that he didn't see all of his work. It seemed to play down on his obvious genius. Criticised his demeanour. It was actually very disappointing to read. I am surprised how dogmatic some photographers and writers on photography can be. I suppose they think it brings them clicks, or perhaps they are just like that as people. Who are you to tell someone what is right or wrong? Isn't better to just describe what you do and express your opinions as opinions. Nothing more. To urge people to experiment visually and with their thinking is to be celebrated.
To tell others what to do should be condoned. Is much like the photoshop argument, which I hate, we argue where the line of post-processing ends and manipulation begins. For me, it starts when I start to imagine the photograph. The manipulation grows as I use my camera, actively changing how the photograph is going to look. I stop with burning and dodging, and a bit of spot removal. That is because I love the taking photographs. I dislike (hate and despise even) my time at the computer. I don't think I have used Photoshop for the past ten years. I stop the post-production manipulation at a point that suits me. Who am I to tell you when to stop using photoshop. You should stop at the point where you find yourself with a resolved photograph or one you feel you need to abandon. Process as much as you love to do.
When I write that time is the answer to many questions, that is just my opinion. You don't have to follow my advice. I am actually just suggesting that you go back and revisit your work, and spend time with it. So with this in mind lets revisit the included image.
On first viewing, I would have discounted it because the branch in the upper right-hand corner is disappointingly soft. I tell people, sharpness is an illusion, and that sharpness like many things photographic depends on size. So I won't really know if it is sharp enough until I print it out at my favourite size. My eye scans the edges of the photograph. I am looking for distractions. There are some, but the question is are they too much or not. I could darken the vignette, but that would change the natural one. I could clone it out, but I don't like doing that. I could burn it down a bit. But I intuitively think it doesn't need it. Again, on my computer where the photograph is larger than the printed size, I can't really tell. So yet again I come back to the same answer. Print it out Len, have a look at it. And see how you feel about it over time.
So I print it out. Look. I stare. I analyse with my logic. I listen to my feelings. I judge.
It looks good, the branch is marginally soft, but not obviously so at normal viewing distance. The tree in the lower corner isn't the distraction I imagined. So as an act of finishing it, I number it #1. I title it, "The Donaldson River, The Tarkine". I sign it. I emboss it with my studio's stamp and the business logo.
I take it to my bedroom and blue tac it to my grandfather's wardrobe. Yes, that is also special to me, for he made it well before I was born. Now I can really live with it. Actually, if all of my picture frames weren't in an exhibition I think this one is worthy of a frame.
But the frame needs to wait. The next few months of looking at it will seal its fate. Will it get ripped up. Will it get thrown in the box of old prints? Will it get a frame? Will it get exhibited? Right now I don't know. But one day the answer will just arrive.
The real moral of this article, the one that I started with in my mind, is the same one I have been telling people for ages. Give your work time.
So here are some things I do:
- I only have one rating system. Five stars for outstanding work. That is it. I don't use four stars or any less. It is the flagging system that is built into Lightroom. But I don't like to give a photography a flag, I prefer to give it five stars. A little bit of positive psychology just for myself. When I go through my lifelong digital catalogue on Lightroom there is just over 9,000 five star photographs. The reality is that most of them probably don't deserve that rating. But by doing so I get to revisit ones that I thought had merit sometime in the past.
- I often let my photographs sit on my camera for some time before I download them. So last week I did a shoot with a model in lingerie, the first one in what seemed like years. I waited a few days before looking at them. So I could forget what I was trying to achieve when I took them. Forget the look I was going for. This is because I didn't want to judge them on striving for that look. If it I don't succeed I will often discount the photograph rather than judge it purely on its artistic merit.
- I regularly revisit shoots from a year ago, and even longer. I pick a full trip. Say, all of my Tarkine photographs. I then go through all of the images again. I take my time, I savour them. I assess and judge them again, without the memory of taking them. Well, usually I can't remember. Some photographs are just so memorable I can't let them go. Do you know that every time I do this I usually find a better photograph than all of the ones I have previously given five stars too? That is what I am doing I am looking for the hidden gems. The ones I glossed over. The ones I judged as failures. My taste may have changed, my memory might have faded, my emotions will have shifted. Search for the gems, and the masterpieces. They are there hidden amongst your previous work.
- I live with my work that I think is going to be amazing. I show people these photographs. I will put them on the web, present them in camera club talks, I will put them into my workshops. This is so I keep seeing them. It gives me time to live with them. Slowly my feelings change, either they grow or slowly they fade.
- I print my work. I pin it to the walls. I blue-tac them to the cupboards. I use a magnet and put them on the fridge. I try to do this at the finished size, but I often do small little prints. I own a little Canon Zelphie printer, it only does 4 x 6 inch prints. It gives me a working proof that is great. If it is going to be an exhibition print, I print it off at A3 and live with it at that size too. Sometimes I even frame them and put them on the wall. There have been times when I have taken the frame down, removed the print and ripped it up.
- Really look at your photographs. I mean stare at them. Not for a minute or two. But for much longer. Ten minutes. Twenty? An hour! Over a month. A year. Allow your mind to drift. Notice your feelings. Analise your work. Really get to know it. Work out what works for you.