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Photographic Selfhood - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Photographic Selfhood
Although my decision to begin writing "Friends-only" entries has paid significant psychological dividends, I also realize that confessing my current state of mind will only take me so far. It's good to let myself feel, but I also need to think.

Because my recent trials have overlapped with a crisis in my relation to photography -- I haven't been taking many pictures and have struggled to take good ones when I've made the effort -- I'm hoping to make sense of my troubles by reflecting on the relationship between identity and photography. More specifically, I want to understand how my approach to photography has been bound up with who I am. For every decision to take a picture is also a decision about how to communicate one's vision of the world, both to others and to oneself.

Since I first conceived of this endeavor, I've thought long and hard about which photographs I should write about. Even though the focus of this project will be on what I've done with a camera, I rapidly concluded that I would need to ponder the ways I've appeared in other peoples' photographs in order to understand the ways I've chosen to present myself.

In thinking about the decisions I make with a camera, I also realized that I was powerfully influenced by pictures from which people were largely absent. Although my mother took photographs of my sister and me when we were young, she concentrated most of her artistic energy on landscapes and structures from which she did her best to exclude evidence of human presence. I need to ponder how her preferences shaped my own.

And I also concluded that it would make more sense to jump around in time, focusing on moments when my relationship to photography underwent a transformation, rather than to proceed in chronological order. Perhaps I will rearrange everything in chronological order at some later date. For now, though, the important thing is to write about what comes to mind without giving myself room for the doubt that often silences me.

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Comments
judo100 From: judo100 Date: December 17th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I am both a writer and a painter, although all I show here is my painting side. I symphatize with your struggles with photography. I have recently given up writing for the time being. It had gotten too hard to get started and too tied up in who I was. I even quit my writing group a couple of months ago. For now, I am focusing entirely on painting. But who knows? Perhaps I am really a writer who can't find their true voice.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 18th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think that's a common problem for the artistically inclined, that they both want to work in a variety of media and find that it's extremely hard to work in more than one at once. I have also been having a devil of a time writing recently, on top of my aversion to photography, but starting the ball rolling with this project seems to have helped loosen something inside me.
croneitude From: croneitude Date: December 17th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I saw these lines from a poem today:
"we take pictures or cry as if we could // live forever"
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 18th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oooh, I like that!

And it also makes me sad, aside from the line-liking.

I do feel so split these days.

BTW, I'd very much like to go on a photography expedition with you some day. I've been so swamped with end-of-semester stuff that I'm very behind in my correspondence. And I know that you have been overwhelmed with both professional and personal burdens. But, yes, that sounds great.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: December 18th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This sounds like it will be a really fruitful endeavor. I especially like the idea of focusing in on whatever strikes you--on the flash points in the history of your relationship with photography.

As you say, you can try to put things in chronological order later.

More thoughts will have to follow later. I'm about to dash out the door...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 18th, 2010 07:30 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm excited about the project. I suspect that I will learn some useful things about myself (or the lack thereof). I look forward to your thoughts on the subject.
bitterlawngnome From: bitterlawngnome Date: December 18th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
yeah my mom did the same thing .. bazilions of (bad) pictures of something green, very very few of people. must have been a generational thing.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 18th, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think it was. My mom was a pretty good photographer. And she had a real gift for capturing my sister and I when she did deviate from her standard procedure to photograph us. As I'll write about in this project, she used to complain about how hard it was to find a good foreground for landscape shots, even as she avoided having people in the frame who would have made a perfect foil to the mountains or ocean in the distance.
flw From: flw Date: December 18th, 2010 08:08 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You are good at projecting a narrative onto a frame. It's digital too, so, do it alot. why not?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 18th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I sense an agenda here!

;-)

You're right that "projecting a narrative onto a frame" is both one of my strengths and perhaps also a crucial weakness. That's precisely why I believe my attempt to confront the problem of selfhood when my sense of self is in such a profound state of crisis needs to be routed through an examination of my relationship with photography. In other words, I think I do it -- and do it well -- because in doing it I confirm that I am who I think I am, in an "ergo sum" kind of way.
flw From: flw Date: December 20th, 2010 09:50 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I always have an agenda, I wish I knew what it was. Remember... photography is DIGITAL. So, no penalty for bad job. It's probably a lesson I could learn myself. No penalty for trying.
duccio From: duccio Date: December 18th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I take on a more and more "unconscious" attitude with my camera, and I get very quick impulses of things around me and quickly take a few pictures of what I think I see in my mind's eye. Sometimes I see through the viewfinder right away that there is nothing there and don't press the shutter button, but usually I see, and do. I discover that I trust my instincts rather than my thought process. This is satisfying, opens the world, and works for me.

Later when I download them, I find (or don't find) what I saw out in the field, or maybe I find something else. I might use the whole picture, or crop it drastically. Maybe other people do like this. It feels like it takes me about 10 or 15 minutes of picture looking and taking to turn off the thinking and awaken the instinct. I am able to leave "ways of thinking" and find new feelings in myself about things around me, and it's exciting. I don't write much about the pictures I take as you know, except sometimes in the comments I might elaborate on them. Someone might uncover other interior thoughts from looking at the photos that provoke a verbal response from me. Looking back in my journal, I see my pictures and usually can remember exactly what was the reality going on at the time, and also get an inkling of feelings that the images triggered that relate to other times and memories that I carry around dormant within me, and that the "open looking" tap and bring to the surface again. Do you have a similar way of looking and seeing?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 18th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This is all very interesting. It sounds like you concentrate your deliberation -- the kind of intention that you are aware of as intention in the doing -- on the post-processing end. A lot of photographers I know do that. Historically, I've tended to go the opposite way, reflecting on what I'm trying to capture and exerting myself to get the exact framing I want, then leaving the shot pretty much unaltered after the fact.

There have been exceptions, as I will write about in this project, including a period when I deliberately shot very quickly and with only the most at-a-glance regard for framing because I was trying hard to "become new" and free myself from habits that I'd come to regard as potentially self-destructive.

Right now I'm in a space where I'm a little more open to post-processing, even though I still rarely change my photos after they've been downloaded to the computer. I've come to realize that the use of Photoshop-like technology is silly to avoid when almost all camera are already using automated procedures to alter the finished shot before the photographer even sees it.

I'm still very conservative, however, when it comes to the question of framing. Unless I have a very specific purpose in mind and can't get close enough to the subject to get the framing I need, I still won't crop. One of the things I want to explore in this project is whatever it is that led me to be opposed to cropping. Perhaps part of my problem asserting myself is bound up with this hesitancy.
duccio From: duccio Date: December 18th, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I feel pretty fortunate that I think I have an innate sense of composition - one that is "off center" maybe one could say, and that expresses the subject of a photo as being other than the object in the photo. It probably is not a compositional sense that one would learn in a school, although I don't know, having never taken any formal photography classes, but it works for me.

I used to have photoshop elements 2.0 in my old computer - lots of possibilities and tricky gimmics, but when that machine died, I decided to not get the latest photoshop update, and instead use only the tools in iPhoto and Photobucket. This means a certain limitation in what is possible, a limited palette, as artists like Velasquez among others led me to understand the benefits of.

Some pictures cannot be made without severe cropping, such as this one which I will post sometime later. This picture was originally in vertical format and showed the tall buildings flanking Market St., seen from the area across the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building at the foot of Market. More interesting to me was the seemingly orderly, crosscurrent back and forth of the people crossing the street within the general chaos that is the reality of life outside of our little dream bubbles. This picture had to be cut out of the usual dimensions of a photograph and made wider, and still I cropped from the sides too, to remove discordant elements and compose the crowd in somewhat of an asymmetrical balance within the frame. I probably used only about a quarter of the original.

Photobucket

It's true that I did make this picture post production, but I tend to see the pictures instantly in my head in a flash before I even raise the camera, and so I think all the pictures are post production from the moment I lift the camera. Maybe I catch the thing, maybe not, Sometimes I adjust my composition and take another. Later at the computer I examine them to see which one came closest to the mark, and what needs to be done to hone in and sharpen my thought. In this one, It could be said that looking at the original photo uncropped was like looking at a reality and selecting the subject from within it, just as walking the streets with the camera is the same kind of selective process, all driven by intuition rather than a dedicated and limited search for specific subject matter. My attitude to all art endeavor is that a creation is not a copy of an existing reality, That reality is perfect as it is. My photograph cannot top that perfection, it's only a reduction of it. I must make a new reality and as perfect and complete in itself as I can make it. I rely on everything that a lifetime of living can give me to approach that goal.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 18th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That makes total sense. It doesn't bother me when others take this approach. On the contrary, I welcome it. That said, I have tremendous difficulty willing myself to make that move. I feel like I'm cheating if I do anything to alter the shot-as-recorded except, perhaps -- and even this comes hard to me -- making an image that is too light or too dark easier to make out.

Consider the photograph of Berlin I just posted in my follow-up entry to this one. It really annoys me that the horizon is skewed. And I don't feel that the shot captures the astonishingly bright colors of the Wall as I remember them, a problem that could be remedied in post-processing and probably should be, considering that the Agfa slide film I shot back then has tended to go magenta over the intervening years. Nonetheless, I posted the photo as-is without making these changes out of a sense of obligation to the documentary record.
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