January 22, 2018

“Seeing” as a Course Offering in the Photographic Curricula of U.S. Community Colleges

La Jolla Sunset

 

Seeing has been  realized as one of  the most  important aspects  in photography,  but has yet to be  taught as a subject in the photographic curricula of U.S. community colleges1,2.

In Pictorial Effect of Photography3, (1881) Henry Peach Robinson states: “The most obvious way of meeting with picturesque and beautiful subjects would be the possession of a knowledge of what is picturesque and beautiful; and this can only be attained by a careful study of the causes which produces these desirable qualities. He who studies the various effects and character of form, and light and shade … and examines and compares those characters and effects, and the manner in which they are combined and arranged, both in pictures and nature, will be better qualified to discover and enjoy scenery than he to whom this study has never appeared necessary, or who looks at nature alone, without having acquired any just principles of selection.” He further states: “Men usually see little of what is before their eyes, unless they are trained to use them in a special manner.”

And yet it is not taught as a subject at the majority of the community colleges. Why?

George de Wolfe says that “We begin as children seeing the world as a mystery.”4 As we grow up, we learn how to store what we see in the memory banks of our brain and to use it for future reference. If we do not teach ourselves to better our way of “seeing,” the world will remain a mystery.

As artists, photographers must learn how to compose (composition being the “advanced” form of “seeing”). They must not only understand the rules of composition, but they must also contemplate how the brain is going to translate what the human eye is seeing in their photographs. This can only be acquire by obtaining the knowledge through practice, research, and study.

Having an eye for composition is often referred to as a natural-born talent. In his book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates the World-Class Performers from Everybody Else5, Geoff Colvin comes to the conclusion that the one single element that differentiates exceptional performers from normal adults, is deliberate practice or deliberate effort to enhance performance in a specific field of expertise.

Mozart and Tiger Woods are often referred to as people with and enormous amount of natural talent. Both are considered to be child prodigies.

Mozart’s father was a composer, performer and a specialist in the field of teaching music to children. When Mozart was born, his father resigned all his other duties and focussed all his energy on teaching him (Mozart jr.) to become a composer. At the age of eight, Mozart produced his first compositions. His first works were cited as copies and imitations of other masters’ work. This shows that Mozart learned, like other people, by observing, copying and imitating the work of other Masters. At age 21 Mozart published his Piano Concerto No. 9. At age 21 he already had eighteen years of specialist musical training behind him.

Earl Woods, the father of Tiger Woods, had a life long passion for golf. When Tiger Woods was 7 months old, he received his first golf club from his father. From his high chair, Tiger had to watch his father hitting golf balls into a net in their garage. It was burnt into Tiger’s mind. Earl taught Tiger how to putt and grip his golf club even before he could talk. At age 2, Tiger started to practice and play at a golf course regularly. Since Tiger was four years old, his father started to hire specialist coaches and teachers to train him. When Tiger was admitted to the U.S. Walker Cup team at age 19, he already had 17 years of intensive training and practicing.

Seeing is to the photographer as what hearing is to the musician and hitting the ball is to the golfer. By deliberate practice Mozart and Tiger became masters in their various fields of expertise.

In his research, Professor K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, and a pioneer in researching deliberate practice, found that how expert one becomes in his field of specialization, has more to do with how one practices, than with how hard, or how often one practices.6

How one practices is a skill to be learned. Why is it then that “Seeing,” which is such an important and integral part of photography, is so deliberately ignored as a subject at community colleges?

In the book, “Perception and Imaging: Photography – A Way of Seeing,”7 Richard D. Zakia is quoting Henry Thoreau in saying: “Many an object is not seen, though if falls within our range of visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e., we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we look for.” Our intellectual ray is defined as to have a greater understanding of what is being observed. If the student is not taught to understand what he is observing, he does not know where and how to look. Therefore the obvious will not necessarily be seen. If this is the case, the photographic student will miss out on a vast array of possible objects and compositions.

Observation is defined as the means to “describe existing situations using the five senses, providing a “written photograph” of the situation under study.”8 Can one be taught how to observe in the right manner? Yes, one can be taught. And this must most certainly form part of such a curriculum. E.H. Gombrich says: “We can only recognize what we know” while Teilhard de Chardin defines observation as: “The more one looks, the more one sees. And the more one sees, the better one knows where to look.” In the art environment observation can also be described as a “verbal attempt to describe a non-verbal experience.”9

Children tend to observe composition more quickly than adults. At some stage in the process of becoming an adult, one looses this ability. Adults have to be retrained to see composition within a frame.10

The great Bauhaus teacher of the 1920’s, Johannes Itten, told his students: “If you, unknowing, are able to create masterpieces in color, the unknowledge is your way. But if you are unable to create masterpieces in color out of your unknowledge, then you ought to look for knowledge.” This wisdom comes from the the beginning of the previous century, and still it is not applied in the field of “seeing” in photography in community colleges in the 21st century. Why?

In art and photography history lessons one can see how much emphasis the old masters placed on the mastering of the art of “seeing.” They grasped the importance. In class the importance of composition or “seeing” is pointed out, but not deliberately taught.

Vladimir Horowitz, on a less serious note said: “For me, the intellect is always the guide but not the goal of performance. Three things have to be coordinated and not one must stick out. Not too much intellect because it can become too scholastic. Not too much heart because it can become schmaltz. Not too much technique because you become a mechanic.” The importance of finding balance in composition, is therefore also important.

In 1881 Henry Peach Robinson deemed it necessary, and important, to write a book on “hints on composition …”. This book was deemed to be the authoritative manual of photography for many years to come. If he, as many other, grasped the importance, why is it that “seeing” is, after all these years, not taught as a subject in the photographic curriculum at the majority of community colleges?

This is certainly a subject for further investigation.

Works Cited

1Photography Associate's Degree Programs.” Education Portal. Education Portal.com, 2013. Web. 15 May 2013.

2“Photography.” 2012 – 2013 Catalog. San Marcos: Palomar College, 2012. 236-38. 2012-2013Catalog-web.pdf. Palomar College, 2012. Web. 15 May 2013.

3Robinson, Henry Peach. “Chapter II.” Pictorial Effect in Photography: Being Hints on Composition and Chiaro-oscuro for Photographers. Philadelphia: E.L. Wilson, 1881. P. 6-7. Print.

4DeWolfe, George. “George DeWolfe Photography Contemplative Photography.” George DeWolfe Photography Contemplative Photography. George DeWolfe, 2008. Web. 23 May 2013.

5Colvin, Geoffrey. Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Portfolio, 2008. E-book.

6K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406.

7,9,10Zakia, Richard D. “Perception and Imaging: Photography – A Way of Seeing / Edition 3.” Barnes & Noble. Focal Press, n.d. Web. 15 May 2013.

8Kawulich, Barbara B. “Participant Observation as a Data Collection Method.” Forum: Qualitative Social Research. Institute for Qualitative Research, May 2005. Web. 15 May 2013.

Research Paper  by Francois  Swart

 

Black & White Photography: Converting your Photo

 

Rock Creek Lake | Photographer Francois Swart

Rock Creek Lake | Photographer Francois Swart

My first blog post for 2014! A new year and my quest for photographic excellence continues. My wish is that you will take the journey with me.

Black & White photos has a unique place in the art world, and also in photography. It allows more room for interpretation than the color photo.

Earlier today Kevin La Rue (V.P. Marketing for MacPhun Software) and I discussed black and white photography and the ways of converting your existing photos to black and white. I immediately decided that this is a good topic for discussion.

There are several ways to convert your image to black and white, but let’s first start with what NOT to do. NEVER capture your photo in black & white in camera. The color channels will be lost, and that will limit your ability to get the best possible black & white photo – and isn’t that what you want?

Not all photos will grant itself to black & white. When you capture the photo, you may visualize this phenomenal, mind blowing, black & white image. And when you look at it afterwards, you realize that you misjudged the opportunity completely. Maybe it is a great color image, but it is not the same in black & white. If you took the photo as black & white, you cannot convert it back to color afterwards (unless the photo was taken in RAW). The opposite is true for a color photo.

Another advantage of converting the color photo to black & white, is that all the color channels are still available for fine tuning. I.e. you can darken or lighten the blue sky by adjusting the blue channel, or dramatize the contrast in the clouds without effecting any other color (i.e. greens, reds, and yellows) in the photo.

How to evaluate a scene for a black and white photo is a subject to be discussed on its own, and I will get to that in a future post.

I randomly selected this image for conversion. I deliberately did not use Photoshop to do the black & white conversion, as the software is not readily available to everyone. In the stead, I used MacPhun Intensify Pro. It is quite powerful and is available at $59.99.

I have been testing it for some time now, and I must admit that I stand amazed at the possibilities.

It comes with a preset bundle, and then you can use the adjustments to tweak the settings to perfection. If you like the adjustments you made, you can save it as a new preset. How cool!

The photo was taken up above, from Rock Creek Road at Rock Creek Lake in the Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes.