Post from July, 2018

So What Are You Doing About It?

Monday, 16. July 2018 0:59

Some people said they felt weird about celebrating the Fourth of July this year, given the political situation in the country. I got emails about it; there were tweets about it. So I thought about it, and I revisited what I had written immediately after the 2016 election; at that time I said essentially that there was no “correct” response for artists. I still hold to that opinion, but find that two years down the road many in the artistic community feel more threatened and upset than they did even immediately after the election. So I thought about it some more and came up with this question: so what are you doing about it? There are many possible answers to that question, but here are few suggestions:

  • Talk to people. Nobody knows what you think as long as you keep it to yourself, but the fact is that we influence many more people than we think we do, so the more we open our mouths about what we see wrong with the country or what a better path might be, the more likely it is that we will influence someone.
  • Post on social media. I had no knowledge of how many in the artistic community felt about politics until I saw some of their posts of Facebook. And then I found that many of those posts were thoughtful, articulate, provocative—and well worth reading. Yours could be too.
  • Subscribe to and forward newsletters. Accurate and honest information can be nothing but good; pass it on to your friends who may need to hear some truth.
  • Create your own newsletter—for the same reasons as above. Use your editing and curating skills develop content and get the word out to those to whom it matters. It’s a more work, but it’s a worth-while project.
  • Write and call those legislators, even if they seem to be following the (other) party line. I’m not sure that petitions do much good, but if enough constituents call and write, it can and does sway all but the most hardline elected officials.
  • Give some money to those running for office who can make the changes you want made. Give to causes with whom you sympathize. Give to organizations who show that they can make a difference
  • Become politically active. Campaign for candidate you think will make a difference. Someone has to stuff the envelopes, run phone banks, deliver the yard signs, organize at the grass-roots level.
  • MAKE SOME ART! Use your artistic skills to give expression to your political or social feelings. I’m not suggesting that you make all your art political, like Michael Moore, or Pussy Riot or even Sacha Baron Cohen. You might, however, make a piece here and there that communicates your beliefs. Consider just a couple of examples: Matt Johnson created a series of satire photos of Trump and his allies that has become very popular on Facebook. Jason Isbell expanded his musical offerings to include an examination of his personal societal concerns, saying “I can’t stay completely silent.”

Maybe we, as artists, should follow suit and not stay completely silent ourselves. It seems to me that if all we are doing is acting fearful and complaining, we are all but encouraging the status quo. Is that what we really want to do?

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Standard Sizes

Sunday, 1. July 2018 23:12

In case you haven’t noticed, the internet is rife with advice for artists. For instance, a Google search yields 71.5 million articles. Some of the articles are nothing more than common sense; others border on the surprising. Some seem useful and others no so much. Occasionally, I will read advice articles, particularly if they have something to do with theatre or photography. One can never have too many insights.

Recently, I ran across one that was purported to be necessary tips for photographers. There was one on this particular list that I had not run across before, so it stuck out: “Make standard size images.” It’s very practical advice, particularly if the photographer is doing commercial work. Off-site printers usually price by standard sizes. In-house printing benefits from standard sizes in that (a) those are the sizes in which paper comes, and (b) printing to those sizes eliminates time-consuming trimming. Image-processing software facilitates cropping to standard sizes. Even mats come precut to standard sizes, as do frames. Printing standard sizes makes everything cheaper and easier.

Standard sizes do, however, introduce a restriction into the creative process. Some artists welcome restrictions and boundaries because they have been shown to enhance the creative process. Some photographers take this into account in their workflow. For example, there are photographers who know when they take the picture what formats the prints will be. Indeed, a number of photographers shoot with specific formats in mind for a series they are developing. Some photographers intend to use 100% of the negative or capture in the print.

My experience, however, has been that no matter how much planning goes into a shoot, there will always be images that cry out for cropping, and that, once done, actually “makes” the image. Conscientious cropping can establish the organic boundaries that allow the image to be all that it can be; such boundaries have little to do with standard formats.

And if the boundaries are organic the image will naturally look better. Why? Because the edges are part of the picture. Where the photographer draws the boundaries defines the image. The distance of elements in the picture from an edge contributes to the composition, modifying the image’s impact, and probably its meaning.

So it turns out that perfect cropping often results in a nonstandard-size print. Sometimes it’s off by a little; sometimes a lot. But it almost certainly will be off. Then the photographer has to decide whether or how to massage this perfectly-cropped image into a standard size. If the photographer decides on standardizing the size, the question becomes how much of a compromise is s/he is willing to make.

One photographer I know has five different scalable “standard sizes,” four of which are based on height-width ratios. The last is a variable size for long, skinny pieces. The rationale is that given that many “standard” possibilities, one would come close enough to the perfect crop that any compromise would be minimal. He says, however, that even with all those choices, he still occasionally has a crop that just won’t work with any of his standard sizes. What does he do? He prints a custom size.

There are circumstances which dictate that standard sizes are the proper choice. My vote, however goes to the photographer mentioned above. Art is not meant to be fitted into standard-size boxes. Think about novelists or poets or composers or choreographers or directors having their work confined to “standard sizes.”

Selecting an artistic form is far more complex than selecting which standard-size box it fits in. One of the goals in creating is, I think, to allow the artifact to reach its full potential. And whatever size that turns out to be is, by definition, the perfect size for the piece, whether it is standard or not. This is true not only for photography, but for all the arts.

Category:Creativity, Photography | Comment (0) | Author:

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