WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE?

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“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers instinctively know the answer; non-photographers don’t normally think to ask. It gave me pause.

To me, it’s obvious why any picture was taken: the photographer saw something. Light, shadow, image, color. Abstract or representational, something about the image appealed to the photographer’s inner eye.

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I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows. If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.

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I think if anyone asks such a question, one of two things is true. The photographer has failed to convey his or her vision. Or the viewer doesn’t understand art or artists. Either way, it’s a failure to communicate.Β You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

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I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.” I don’t believe it applies to the arts or other things, such as sports. Or mathematics.

If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer. Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. Because it’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some reasonable chance of success. Not everyone has talent for art … but everyone has a talent forΒ something. The challenge is determining what it is.

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Categories: Education, Nature, Photography

Tags: , , , , ,

22 replies

  1. Great post and pictures. I think everyone is good at something and they should be encouraged to find their potential but as you have said, it is not right to tell kids that they can be whatever by working at it. But you don’t necessarily need to be good at something to enjoy it either. like Charlie Brown, I may never be a great baseball pitcher but I can still enjoy baseball. (the last sentence was for illustration purposes only – I don’t like baseball much at all).

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  2. Ya know, Marilyn, I’m in agreement with most of what you say. Used to be I would say everything. I do believe one’s right brain either functions real.darned.well, or not. On the other hand, one of my cousins is an extremely talented painter. He teaches workshops from time to time, for those who “cannot” paint. A portion of his theory is that as children, we ALL see things differently. Then society and cultural norms suppress much of that “vision,” if you will. Having seen some of the first workshop paintings done by both adults and youth who couldn’t paint a barn red if they tried, I was truly amazed by the depth and vision achieved. He wrote a book you might be interested in reading. I’ll have my beloved RosaSmartyPants send the name to you, as I believe she knows how to be in touch. Best…QofD

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  3. You are probably right about the “You can do anything” line. But I remember a well known personality once advising me to always LISTEN carefully and intently to people. He was referring specifically to the interview process but generally to a life process. You actually see and learn a lot about people and places by listening very carefully.

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  4. The reason you take your photos is almost always obvious! Love em!

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  5. You’re right about that “You can do anything” myth. One must have aptitude and sometimes a bit of luck.

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  6. Absolutely. My standard in photography is a gut reaction. Like you, I take what appeals. When I get home and unreel the images on the computer there is usually one (sometimes two) that makes me smile, or makes me say,” that’s the one”. Some things need not be explained, some things should not. I wrote a poem years ago that featured a man standing on a bridge. One woman wanted to know about the bridge, what it looked like, did it have a name, yadda yadda. Finally I said, the poem isnt about the bridge. “Oh”, she said, “it isnt? then why did you add it?” Hard to stand on water, babe. *g*

    The decaying house. I love that. I could spend a very long time imagining that house before it started to slide, and the reasons why it was abandoned (perhaps that house behind it, for when the family got too big for three rooms and a porch)–and the chimney, which seems to be growing right out of the porch roof…

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    • πŸ™‚ The shack is actually maintained by the town of Hadley which keeps it from falling town. For reasons only Hadley knows, it’s sort of a town Mascot. But a great photo subject πŸ™‚

      I love bridges. You can read a million levels of meaning into them … if you want. Or not:-)

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  7. Like you I often take pictures of churches, not for religious reasons but because I like the architecture. In the area I live in there are a lot of lovely old wooden ones and I enjoy photographing them. I love your photos.

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  8. I would never ask why you took the picture. I might ask, now why didn’t I catch that perspective. Beautiful pictures.

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    • Why you didn’t catch that perspective is a photographer’s question to another photographer. Why do you shoot so many churches is, — not to put too fine a point on it — a dumb question.

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  9. I love all the pictures in this post! Beautiful! My favorite is the 2nd one from top, the one with the shriveled vegetables! But in one way, my reaction to questions about my stories/blogs/photos is different. When people ask me “Why I wrote/shot something”, I am intrigued. I usually ask them what their thoughts are about it before revealing my side of the story…which more often than not is simply, “Just..because I liked it…” Also, when we like some form of art, we interpret it based on our knowledge, experiences and insights. It’s interesting to know where the artiste is coming from. If I am anywhere close to what the artist had hoped for, I feel proud. Having said that, I don’t think I need to ask you that question. I love these pictures and I am glad you took them!!

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    • The particular questioner wanted to know why I take pictures of churches. What’s with the churches he asked — as if I had some church-driven agenda. Of course I shoot churches because I live in New England and we have a lot of them. They are often the most interesting buildings in town. It’s not an agenda — it’s architecture and light.

      I think most of us “see” a picture. We analyze — later — why we took it, but I think at the moment of creation, it’s just there. We see it. We shoot. Later, we process, sharpen, adjust, crop, whatever is our thing … but at the moment I shot it, I’m not analyzing anything. I’m just seeing something.

      And thank you πŸ™‚

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