(a gratuitous image to decorate, not illustrate, this entry)
I am going to digress from the “Looking at Photographs” series and enter into an area that I feel is important and related to Part 3 of that series. Part 2 of Looking at Photographs will be posted early next week.
A very long time ago, I adopted that phrase “Never say Never” as a personal philosophy. It wasn’t that there weren’t things that I wanted to avoid but what I felt was that if we take the never posture, we, maybe, drop our guard. I had actually experienced this myself and had certainly seen it in the wider world, where powerful people preached one set of values and then were arrested or ruined by doing the things they preached against! But, on a less serious level, it also just puts us in a box if we later changed our mind—it can cut off possibilities.
Even after I adopted this, I caught myself suggesting one “Never” and then doing it! Well, it wasn’t really a never, just an excluding sentiment. When I lived in southern California, before I moved to Portland, I had been traveling around the country quite a bit for work. I love discovering new places—and always took my camera even though in those days I still had a day job. But after repeated trips to a couple of states, I made the statement to many that they were “the last places on earth that I would ever live”. One of those was Texas—whoops! What we find is that our “world view” can change when circumstances change. I found a compelling reason to move there and actually am enjoying it (at least it is Sunny all year!).
On the other hand, I guess we could consider that as prophetic, as with time and circumstance, who knows, Texas might be “the last place I will ever live”!
But, back to photography and creative considerations.
I think one of the most damaging statements one can make in a creative environment is that one should “never” do something. I also think generalized “should do’s” can be problematic, but we will get to that tomorrow in another post.
For other reasons, I actually researched photographic and art instructive literature back into the 1700’s (photography not quite so far back!) and while I found suggestions on things to do in some types of literature, I certainly don’t remember any “Never” statements.
My post tomorrow will get into what I am calling “a tale of two worlds” with regards to photographic education, where I will suggest that guidelines have been around for a long time. What I have discovered, though, is that with the growth of the interest in photography–especially in the last 10 years, that these guidelines have become much more restrictive and codified and migrated from suggestions to consider to RULES.
And to the point, there are starting to be more and more Never statements coming into the vernacular. Listening to a video tutorial recently, presented by a major equipment supplier, the presenter came right out and said “Never put your horizon in the center” and gave no quarter. And while centering your horizon might not work at times, it certainly can “when it does”. In my last entry here I, in fact, posted an image where the horizon was in the middle of the image (link to a larger version here ) and I think you will agree that it is a pretty successful image. Hiroshi Sugimoto did an entire series of seascapes where he did this—He even marked the ground glass to be sure they were perfectly centered. I saw the work at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington DC and it knock my socks off! (not so much my wife but not because the horizon was centered, tastes vary!)
In another such video, a well credentialed photographer presented a lot of things he “never” did—in the context of instructing others—however he had a sense of humor about it, posting images where he had actually done those things and tagging his “never” statement with “unless I decide to do it”. I wasn’t crazy about the Never statements but at least he acknowledged how they were also a bit preposterous.
The strangest one I read was in a book on photography composition, “Never compose an image that reads from right to left”. I don’t know, but I think people are visually ambidextrous or should I say “ambivisual”. And I dare say, that there are countries that don’t read from left to right or front to back for that matter. Let’s get a grip! Successful images don’t come in one size or direction.
The point is that “Never” is a bit ludicrous when it comes to creative endeavors. We should always be looking to solve our visual problems to effectively communicate our vision without concern for do’s or don’ts—what works, works. There is certainly no room for “Never” in creative endeavors.
Note: The closest thing to a “never” in photography might be don’t drink the darkroom chemicals unless you don’t value your health. But then, there is one that is healthy in one version and actually done by a lot of people, including my wife. The black and white “stop bath” is acetic acid and water. Vinegar is essentially acetic acid and, as such, white vinegar is often substituted for commercially available solutions made for photography. But I certainly would not recommend drinking it after a darkroom session! Vinegar and water does have some health benefits while maybe white vinegar wouldn’t be the best choice–my wife uses Apple Cider Vinegar.