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  #1  
Old December 28th, 2007, 01:53 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Default The neophyte and photography... a long, boring essay

I expect most people who become enamored with photography feel the same way I do: We want it all and we want it now. Some of us are willing to work for it, and work hard. However that doesn’t mean we can be as patient as would be ideal. Then there are those of us who are not patient at all.

When something consumes one, as photography has me, there are multilayered reasons why. Of course, the desire to create beauty is a common reason. Me, for example: I’ve wanted to create something of beauty as long as I can remember. Lacking any talent, I accepted that I would never be able to do so (other than the children I brought into the world, that is). The longing, though, never abated.

I suppose for some, there is the desire to create something that will be admired. This, believe it or not, does not strictly apply to me. Sure, I like praise, too, but I want to create things I find beautiful. However, I also know that as I learn, what is beautiful to me changes, becomes more refined, and I become more discriminating. The lesson here is that beautiful is not simply beautiful. There are levels and layers of beauty. I want to create something truly beautiful and that takes time, effort, and persistence, along with the ability to see what is beautiful. This is where feedback becomes important. One learns from feedback. The more detailed the criticism the better. But along with this must be encouragement so one doesn’t begin to feel hopeless and helpless. Unfortunately, that can easily happen.
The beginning photographer likely does not know what is good versus great. I know when I see a photograph that takes my breath away that it is great. But there are some that garner praise and approbation that my eye passes right over. There are also those I like that leave “those in the know” cold.

All of this is what I call the problem of the Undeveloped Eye. On other fora I’ve read bitter complaints about people posting snap shots of their kids and/or pets. Well, ok, but those folks likely don’t realize they’re posting snapshots! It’s the problem of the dreaded Undeveloped Eye rearing its ugly head (sorry, I’m rather fond of mixing metaphors).
Other problems include a lack of understanding of depth of knowledge required. Photography? Pick up a camera and press a button, right? Wrong. The technical knowledge body feels overwhelming. The beginner may find him/herself suddenly in the deep end of the pool without ever before been in the water. “I just want to make pretty pictures, not learn all this stuff!” It doesn’t work that way and it may be a rude awakening for said beginner.
The next problem is uncertainty. After a bit of exposure, we may know we don’t know a lot, and not know that we know what we do know. Uncertainty is both plus and minus. The plus is that it opens one to guidance and feedback. The minus is that it gets in the way of knowledge acquisition.

The learning schedule is idiosyncratic. Every person has a learning style unique to him/her. While the seasoned pro may see clearly the path the neophyte should follow, it simply may not work. What seems logical to the pro may not take into consideration “within-subject variables.” In my case, I was (and am) so ignorant of many basics that it never occurs to pros that anyone this clueless would be out there trying to shoot. So, learning schedule and learning styles are idiosyncratic.

Photography serves many needs for many people and no two people will be the same. I recently realized that while two major reasons I became involved in photography was to distract and (in a way) hide, photography has been the most self-revelatory endeavor I’ve ever engaged in. As my experience with photography has grown, my motivations have changed.
I imagine all of this must seem alien to the seasoned pro. I teach statistics and what seems so simple, so straightforward, so easy to me seems like an impossible mass of details and cognitive noise to some students. I cannot remember what those early days felt like, nor can I understand the “buzzing blooming confusion” (phrase stolen from philosopher William James) the statistics neophyte experiences.

The people at OPF are generous with their time and encouragement. Most are also spectacularly talented and knowledgeable. However, in order for them to feel the effort they put into helping beginners develop is not wasted, there must be a sense that the beginner is listening, willing to work, and are serious about their efforts. The neophyte may be doing just that (seriously listening and working) but the pro may be baffled by the neophytes inability to do what the pros so clearly suggested. I think part of this communication breakdown may be due to the some of what I’ve mentioned here.

The purpose of this essay is to attempt to bridge the neophyte/pro gap in communication. I hope I’ve been able to do that just a little bit.

Asher, if this essay is out of place or undesired, please delete at will.
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  #2  
Old December 28th, 2007, 02:33 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is online now
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No, Rachel, this is not out of place; far from it! Your feelings and ideas are pertinent to the newbie as well as even more experienced photographers. No doubt others might add their own take on beginning the journey.

Asher
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Old December 28th, 2007, 03:08 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Thanks, Asher. I'm hoping other new people will add their own experiences. What they agree with and disagree with would be very interesting to read. I'm also hoping the experienced people will express their perspective and ask questions if they have any.

I read the mission statement of OPF and the opening paragraph particularly struck me:

"We’re open to everyone serious about the best, the practical and the finest in photography. Our goal is to enhance the discussion and exchange of ideas on photography."

As written, that would include the neophyte, but one sort of neophyte: the serious neophyte, not the dilettante. We need a common language and understanding, I think -- we being pros and beginners -- to prevent frustration and time-wasting.

I believe in a give and take. I've taken a great deal here. This is how I'm trying to give back.
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Old December 28th, 2007, 04:12 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is online now
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Rachel,

As I read and write I also flesh out my own ideas and continually collect insight to help my own evaluations of art I observe and make. We can all learn from each other from neophytes too.

Asher
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  #5  
Old December 29th, 2007, 04:41 AM
nyschulte nyschulte is offline
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Rachel,

A little story (history?) of my way into a 'simple' hobby or ?simply a hobby? :
I have been hiding behind computers for 15 years with very little social contacts.
So i had to face a double challenge when i started my venture into photography back in november 2005.

I first had to check into the technical part of digital photography. After reading some books, my first dSLR was aquired and i started taking pictures. No trace of people photography at that moment.Had there be not an event which brought me to people photography, i would probably not having taken that road at all.
It came then my venture in studio photography which brought some additional technical challenges. So by june 2006 a small studio was modestly equiped at my home. Until february 2007 i had mainly two persons to work with and counted about 8000 pictures of people, landscape, architecture.

Then i was proposed a personal challenge, which brought me into contact with about 20 person at the same time. Now came the panic as my social skills were so badly underdevelopped. This was a challenge which proved so rewarding, that i don't want to think about the consequences if i had failed. I was lucky to succeed in both the technical part and the socializing part.

So since march 2007 i had the pleasure to work with more than 60 people in my small studio, almost 30 000 pictures taken, booked until mid of february. I still learn with each and every session, there are so many things i want to try and more and more people are asking for their portraits to be made.

First step was the picture taking part. Second level is the picture retouching part. No later than the last month i added a third component, which is printing. I try now to evolve on all three parts, step by step.

The investment was heavy both in time and equipment. The challenge now is to find the right balance between my money making job and my hobby.

It is only when you try to teach someone on a given topic that you see how good your knowledge is. I do not master all technical aspects. This is partially a pitfall from the digital world. The trial by error works up to a certain level. Shooting film may help as it asks for more preparation/thinking/planing.

The main pitfalls i have encountered were amongst others the budget limitations (time and money), how to build up a relation with a model. Luckily for me in found a tremendous help from Frank Doorhof's workshops and DVD's. When i had some blocking or pressing questions, i took a on-on-one workshop with him, and could so move one quicker.

When i think about the motivations for photography now, there are some answers:
- having a way to show my creative/artistic side
- do something else than working
- curiosity for the technical aspects
- the reward when people see their portraits which shows them in a glamourous way
(glamour in the sense of showing them not as they are used too, not necessarely them showing more skin)
- socializing

and some questions:
- how to define a personal style
- change the hobby into a part-time job

some challenges:
- get out of the security of the studio
- joining a photoclub - to do some competions - prepare an exhibition ?
- dig out that old film body and give it a try

Regards,

Nicolas
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