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Why are photos so forgettable? February 21, 2013

Posted by cantueso in drawing, photography.
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Or: why are photos so forgettable?

First a great painting of a little aristocratic kid tle aristocratic kid by Goya in 1787
now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

444px-Don_Manuel_Osorio_Manrique_de_Zunica
in public domain according to
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Don_Manuel_Osorio_Manrique_de_Zunica.jpgby Goya in
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mulei.jpg

Here is Pisanello’s great drawing of a mule. It is pen and ink on paper and was made between 1395 and 1455, now to be seen in Paris at the Louvre.

Next there are some modern drawings of a mule and Picasso’s famous horse and donkey :

mule1.jpeg……..

mule-2.jpeg ….

….. el quijote de picasso

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And some photos of a mule

grey-mule.jpg …..

mule-3.jpeg

….. little mule and

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the photo of a famous horse
shadowfax lord of the rings

Shadowfax , the horse of Gandalf in the War of the Ring.

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It seems that a drawing shows the artist’s mind more  plainly and so it generates a response  of admiration, curiosity,  envy or some lively aversion, as  for instance that sneezing mule :

mule-2.jpeg

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…..But what exactly is silly about this drawing?

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Photos rarely do that. They are either more of the schoolbook kind, impossible to remember, or they are manipulated for impact and hard to recall.

The basic question is:  would a photographer ever invade public consciousness like Van Gogh, Picasso, and Dalí, Peanuts or the Simpsons?

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You see this photo

war plane ….

…………..israel-war-plane

and mentally you go blank and finally you say “….hmmm”, unless, indeed,  you are yourself a pilot or a designer, and the photo tells you lots of things that the lay public can’t see.

.

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You see this drawing

…. and you frown or you smile or even react and say :

Did you draw this contraption?
Notice it is bow-legged ?
Tell the pilot to pull up his landing gears!

The little red airplane is successful in engaging one’s imagination.

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_my cat loves croppy

Of all the LOL cats you may have seen, how many can you recall?

 http://icanhascheezburger.com/

ref tn_funny-pictures-sad-cat-blackandwhite1

>>>>  The little red airplane is by Raphael Wünsch.

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Comments»

1. brokenbike - March 22, 2008

I disagree completely, what you are comparing is a Fine Art Drawing (Picasso) and a snap shot. Snap shots are not meant as art. They are meant to preserve a moment in time. There is something that exists that is called Fine Art Photography where things like composition, exposure, shadows, highlights, are all accounted for (very similar to drawing). Research some fine-art photographers.

Alec Soth
Adam Golfer
Stephen Shore
Jamie Campbell
Glenn Glasser

These are people who make art with a lens, as opposed to creating a snap shot of an object. And just for clarification, these photographers do not manipulate any of their work. Photo manipulation is amateur at best.

2. cantueso - March 22, 2008

To brokenbike

I did not know that the manipulation of photos was for amateurs at best. I do hope it is true and if it is, I also hope it will become more widely known. ….

Supposing that from a pile of photos you could pick out the best, could you then tell whether these (that you consider the best ones) were made by one photographer or by two or three?

3. brokenbike - March 22, 2008

You do bring up good questions.

I think usually photographers have some sort of style that is consistent with all of their work. However, most contemporary photographers have all started to emulate eachothers style (somewhat).

So my answer would be, possibly, you’d be able to pick out the ones that were made by a single photographer.

And the what is art question is one that always plagued me.

ps: hopefully I was able to link my account this time.
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To Brokenbike:

But you got around the problem which was to choose 20 good photos from a stack of 100 or 200 and then say how many authors there are in these 20. –

4. David - March 22, 2008

This is an intriguing debate. The technical craft of photography can be just as manipulative as the work of the painter or sculptor. I favor the broadest possible definitions for art.

This may be helpful.

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To David:

I would be really thankful if you could give me two or three examples of “the broadest possible definitions for art”. I just looked up “art” in my little online dictionary and it says “the product of human creativity”…….

5. cantueso - March 23, 2008

To Brokenbike and David:

I thought that the problem was more this way:
Anyone can make 100 000 photos. But not anyone can even try to draw, because it takes time and some sense of purpose.

6. -30- - March 23, 2008

I agree with brokenbike et al. Photography may be a newer technology, but it is, or can be, every bit as creative and expressive as painting. Certainly there are bad, boring, amateurish photos. But fine photography is every bit as much an art as fine painting. It is just as difficult to master; it is no more or less expressive than the artist who produces it. The camera is a tool, just as a brush is. A computer is simply a modern tool. The artistry is not in the tools; it’s in what is created with them.

Recognizable style? The recognition is probably as much in the viewer’s eye as the artist’s work. For example, I love Ansel Adams’ photography. I could probably pick his work out of a pile of fine photographs.

Nothing has made me appreciate fine photography more than trying (and failing utterly) to produce some myself.
——————————————————
To -30-

But the question is much simpler: can you tell how many authors there are if I show you 20 good photos?

7. David - March 24, 2008

That’s an interesting problem. 20 good photos- but how do we qualify that to select the group of images? Who says which photos are “good”?

I know people who could look at such a group of fine photographs sort them by photographer. But of course! Because they know the art and world of photography. Their eyes have learned by looking at 100,000,000 photographs.

Your question seems to boil down to a discussion of abstract quality and how we know it when we see it. I find your orientation to photography very interesting. You wrote elsewhere that you’ve never used a camera. How could this be? Your love for language is very impressive, and it’s what drew me into your blog in the first place.
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To David:

No!!!! I do not mean anything so complicated at all!

[1] I say: photography is considerably more impersonal than drawing or painting.

[2] To prove that, I say: There is a big pile of photos. You pull out twenty that you think are good.

[3] When you have 20, I will ask you to say how many authors you think there are in the batch that you have chosen.

8. David - March 25, 2008

OK, now I get it. Thanks for explaining it. I felt the need to defend photography from the accusation of being boring and that was coloring my commetary.

Your idea would be a very good exercise for a photography class! It probably is already.

I would need some cues to play this game of Pile Of Photos. I would only need to know that all the photographers whose works are in the pile actually consider themselves to be “photographers”, professional or amateur. Not that I mind looking at Uncle Bob’s snapshots, but not for this game. In the pile must be pictures by people who are a little more serious about pointing the camera. If you don’t mind. Then, I contend, with a little effort, a reasonable sort by “author” (your word choice is interesting. Words mean much more to you than pictures, don’t they?) could be made by another photographer.

What a fun game that would be. I think I’ll mention the idea to some art professors I know. They’ll say, shit Dave, we’ve been doing that forEVER!

9. -30- - March 27, 2008

So, Cantueso, there’s no thought or creativity in a snapshot, but an idle pencil doodle has value? What about the artist (painter) who uses snapshots to preserve a mood or remember details for a future painting? (I’m not trying to be flippant; I’m just trying to understand the distinction you are making.)
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To -30 -
No. I did not mean “any doodle”, nor “any snap shot”.

In my view : why are drawings more exciting and photos more boring? because normally there is much less effort in a photo.

10. David - March 29, 2008

This has turned into a much more thoughtful exercise than I expected it to cantueso. Thanks for pushing it along. Here’s how I can now word my concordance with your position.

The photographic process is artificial, depending more on inorganic apparatus than on who is operating the camera. Drawings are produced directly from mind, eye, and hand. Organic and thus representative of the life that creates them.

However, I still feel that I could make a reasonable attempt at grouping the photographs by author. But that’s because I am a true believer in photography having practiced it for so long and taken so many pictures. :-)

11. cantueso - March 29, 2008

To David:

The fastest proof that photography is impersonal:
No photographer has reached both the insiders and the crowds the way quite a few 20th century painters and recently even some architects have.

12. cantueso - March 29, 2008

To David:

Your own recent photography is precisely the much reviled snapshot, and all the applause you get is only due to the idea of the shot, with the quality mostly missing in funny way reminiscent of amateur-like rhymes in Heine or Dylan and amateurish looking film in Woody Allan.

I think that is pretty novel. One of your best photos in that regard, and really low quality, not even sharp! — is the picture of some grey blue doves sitting on a grey blue stone vase in winter or reflected in white water.

Some of the nicest snaps are in such poor focus that I used to speculate whether you had security cameras on your premises. The photos look like the camera is static and your dogs and vases and cairns and cats stray into its range!
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[Added April 6]

the text above refers to photography at http://davidlevine.wordpress.com/

13. David - March 30, 2008

Ouch cantueso! Your tone now feels a bit harsh, or am I just being oversensitive to your sometimes odd syntax? I agree with what you’ve written, however, and add that the reason I include so many reviled snapshots is that I often don’t have the time or the talent to come up with clever words for my posts. Moreover, I blog for purely selfish reasons, and appreciate whatever audience I happen to get. If they like the cute doggy snaps, I’ll supply them.

My recent blog photography with the digital point and shoot camera is absolutely of the snapshot variety. Highly disposable and low resolution for web browsing speed. But now I’m curious to know what it is that you liked about the image of the mourning doves in the bird bath. That seems like a “reviled snapshot” to me, and its poor quality is my technique plus the camera’s digital zoom feature, which usually looks pretty bad. But I’m glad you liked it, and that you exclude my older images from your critique. :-)
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14. cantueso - March 31, 2008

To David:

Not, not harsh. The poor rhyme in Heine and in Dylan is often, typically, a sneer on the slick or a rejection of romantic sentiment: “I am a poet /
and I know it” is Dylan’s famous example, a mix of shyness and arrogance in flouting the standards.

15. David - April 2, 2008

Thanks again for explaining at such length. I really appreciate it. We are in complete agreement.

16. pendrive9 - April 22, 2008

@ cantueso:

You don’t seem to be aware of photography’s bread-and-butter business, the capture and visualization of facts not only in reporting. What would the sciences do without the photos, the physician, the biologist, but also the criminologist, the astronomer, even the politicians? These photos rely on personal qualities like perception and vision in the sense that the photographer has to know exactly what he wants to get and has to go out hunting for it.

cantueso - May 10, 2009

You are right, but that is a different story.

17. David - May 9, 2010

Here’s another reason, which I’m surprised I didn’t think of two years ago, why photographs are so forgettable. They generally represent how things looked, when a camera was pointed at them, for a tiny fraction of a second. What could be more forgettable than an instant whose duration is shorter than the blink of an eye?

cantueso - May 10, 2010

But you wouldn’t assume, would you, that the longer you have seen something, the longer you will remember it!

No, no. Marcel Proust says how once he came home unexpectedly from a vacation and when he walked into his living room, there was his grandma who did not expect him at all; nor did he expect to see her.

So, suddenly and only for the fraction of a terrible second, he saw what she really looked like (ugly, sick, an old hag) and what his love for her had always prevented him from seeing.

And Marcel remembered all of this some 25 years later to write about it.

I think the secret of those cat photos and also of yours is similar: the sudden revelation of truth and truth catching the viewer by surprise. —

neeMcM - May 10, 2010

This doesn’t explain why cat photos are so funny. It only explains what may cause a lasting impression.

cantueso - May 10, 2010

You are right. But can you figure out why cat photos are so funny?

Cats are not often that funny to watch, but kittens are.

18. Carl D'Agostino - October 21, 2011

Years back I had a 16 year old boy in my history class with a very unique talent. You could give him any black and white photo and he would draw in pencil and from 10 feet back you could barely tell which was which. It was astonishing.


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