24 January 2006

Think about it or just do it?

In yesterday's Photography Photography and Quilting in the Zone , Jim Putnam quoted part of an email discussion. Since I feel I may pick up some of his hooks and explore them, at a future date, here is a fuller form of my message from whichhe quoted:

JP> They show a side of photography that comes closer
JP> to philosophy...

There you touch on a tender subject. As with most arts, crafts, occupations, whatever, there is a lively tension between those (on one hand) who are impatient with analysis and just want to get on with it and those (on the other) who are compelled to think about it. I tend to be in the first faction when actually engaged in making images, but fall into the second for the rest of the time.

There is a parallel (and, in my opinion, closely related) tension between those who are dismissive of technique and those who believe that it is fundamental. Once again, I oscillate. In the Polaris and Rip van Winkle piece I mentioned a friend who produces superb work entirely from automatic cameras ... that person doesn't worry about how the photographic process works, yet still produces and sells haunting images. I have another friend who regards a compelling image as worthless unless there is detail in both highlight and shadow – and the photographer can account for exactly why every other zone on the tonal scale was rendered as it was.

For myself, I believe that knowing in intimate detail how to control the whole process is important: but I forget about it while making an image. I believe that the knowledge of craft, philosophy and critical theory subliminally feed the process of production, but do not necessarily have a place in the process itself.

I see the same things in your descriptions of quilting – though your assessment of them, allocation to them of importance, and position on them, may well be different from mine. Although the finished quilt is important, both craft/technique and philosophical issues are clearly of importance to you as you work and as you consider your work. That's partly why I so highly value your quilt centred musings, and once suggested that you make them a regular part of your blog structure.

I insist on students considering both craft and philosophical aspects of both their own work and that of others (regardless of the subject they are studying). Many of them will put it aside as soon as they are free of me ... but I do believe that it will have strengthened and deepened them. It quite often produces views and thought from them which I find politically or philosophically painful, but that's OK: it's the existence of views and thought that is important.

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