Andrew Cholakian says you can’t hack photography in response to Peter Norvig’s article dedicating significant amounts of text to the technical aspects of creating photographic art. You’ll noticed that I used the word “create” in my previous statement, which will stir up its own sub-controversy. There are a group of people who feel that photography it not art, and is definitely not creation, because you’re only capturing something, not creating it. This is where both that group of people, and Andrew, are wrong.
Photography is art. A great photographer sees a scene and very quickly develops a strategy to capture the essence of that scene. Think of the many times you’ve seen beauty with your eyes. How did you feel? Capturing that moment means capturing the feeling. The photographic image is a vehicle for all the emotions you felt while being there.
When technical individuals, like Peter Norvig, enumerate the mechanics of photography, they’re teaching the tools used to create. Leonardo Di Vinci created some of his greatest works by understanding not only the appearance of his subjects, but the way their bodies worked. This allowed him to create. He could see a man or woman in any natural pose because he understood how the body worked. He also understood the mechanics of his tools. Di Vinci knew when to use a pencil and when to use a brush. He knew exactly how to stroke the canvas in order to create his visions.
Many non-technical photographers cannot relate to mechanics because they learned through a different method. Some individuals are intuitive learners. They learn by trial and error: “When I do this, I get that.” “That” is never a technical concept, it’s a result. The next time they find themselves in need of “that”, they replicate the steps. They may not even think of it in such explicit detail. They just do it. It’s an intuitive process, not a list of steps or parameters.
Andrew claims you can’t hack photography, but I can’t find where that claim was supported. I’m not even sure what it means? Does this mean we can’t use the technical aspects of photography to create moving photographs? I’d certainly disagree with that. Composition, exposure, and depth-of-field are the photographer’s palette. If you don’t know how to conjure these elements on demand, then you’ll miss lots of opportunities to create a great photograph. How you learn them is up to the individual.
So what’s the appropriate rant? Many technical learners never get past the mechanics. Every photo remains an algorithm to be perfected. Their photographic output is largely without emotion because they’re not trying to create; they’re simply trying to replicate the scene.
A more appropriate rant, I believe, would be to encourage technical learners to apply their new-found skills in broader ways. Intuitive individuals “feel” the scene more naturally, but often struggle with the mechanics of their device resulting in lost opportunities. Technical individuals learn their device, but find it more difficult to identify the “feel” of the scene, resulting in lost opportunities. As it turns out, the two have a lot to learn from each other.
Note: I don’t mean this as an attack on Andrew or any other author. I think he’s got some things wrong, but I prefer to use direct language when I write, rather than litter the material with qualifications to avoid offense. I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who takes their time to write about their views. Otherwise, there would be no discussion.