I learn better when there is some structure to support my learning. To learn photography, I need a workshop, a project, or some other external support. Left to my own devices I slide back into my habitual groove of taking pretty much the same kinds of photos of the same kinds of things.
I’m in between courses right now. It’s like being between meals: the next meal may be some while away, but you know it’s coming.
I thought I’d keep busy in the meantime. I bought an e-book with 50 chapters and joined a study group that would work through that book over a year. But the combination of a fast pace (a chapter a week) and no real external pressure meant that it was hard for me to keep up the pace, so I dropped out after just a few weeks. It’s still a good book so I hope to work my way through it at a slower pace. At some point.
Then another assignment turned up on a blog. This one had a deadline of almost a month, and (deceptively) simple theme, so I thought I’d play. The assignment was “lines”.
For several weeks I saw lines everywhere. I could not walk down a street without mentally noting: line. Line. Line line line. Lines. Lines.
I took photos of lines, wherever I some some lines I somehow found interesting. And I looked at other people’s photos of lines. But every time I did, I found myself questioning the purpose of that photo.
What is the meaning of these lines? Who cares about these lines? Why?
Well, hopefully that will be part of the discussion of this in the assignment wrap-up, I thought, and looked forward for that follow-up blog post. To my great surprise and equally great disappointment, Zack’s critique post had nothing at all to say about any of this. There was no mention of the use of lines for a purpose, or the meaning of lines. Lines were lines, and that was that. They could be well seen or not, well lit or not, well photographed or not. But they were never anything more than just lines.
And I just could not make myself care about these photos, or the critique video. I left it after 20 minutes and have zero interest in continuing with that assignment series. Totally not my cup of tea.
So what if your lines really make you go “wow, great lines!” or “man, look at those stunning lines”. Who cares about lines?!
Apparently, a lot of people do.
And I’m not saying that lines cannot be the subject of the photo. They can – but in that case they need to say something about something. They might communicate the awesome tallness of a skyscraper, or the stark beauty of an iceberg, or something. Or they may have a supporting role in a photo where the subject is something else: by pointing at some subject, framing it, barring the way to it, etc.
Lines need to have a point, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Today I was listening to a podcast by another photographer while emptying the dishwasher and doing the dishes: Question The Image, by David DuChemin. He also talks about lines (starting at 19:10 in the podcast) and it was fascinating to me to hear how differently he approached lines. In just a few moments he had questioned lines from half a dozen aspects. “Do they lead the eye, do they provide balance, do they form relationships between elements, do they connect things? Do they lead you in to the photograph or out of the photograph?”
Now this is photography with a meaning, photography that says something.
Two well-known professional photographers with blogs. And two so utterly different ways of thinking about photography.
Lines of growth. Of aspiration cut off. Of contrast, natural vs man-made.
Lines of exclusion. Lines that bar the way, separate, outsiders vs insiders.
Lines that block but also protect and support.