Looking for Pictures - The Art Side, Photo-Beacon, January 1898

It's been said over and over, the camera doesn't make the photographer, it's creativity and skill that matter more than anything else. I particularly enjoyed watching how the YouTube channel DigitalRev TV so brilliantly illustrated this concept with their Pro Photographer Cheap Camera series of videos. The first time I heard this idea, which I assume anyone seriously reading this website has heard as well, I must have been 13 years old, enrolled in my first photography course at a summer learning course. And I would continue to hear it over and over as the years progressed, although admitently it did take me a decent amount of time before I began to appreciate what this basic principal actually meant in practical terms. 

I was reading through an old issue of Photo-Beacon from 1898, and I was actually a little bit surprised to read an article by Reverend F C Lambert basically echoing this sentiment that the gear doesn't matter so much as the photographer, albeit in the long, flowing language that was normal for articles written in this time period. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did. 

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LOOKING FOR PICTURES – The Art Side, Photo-Beacon

January 1898

 By a curious perversity of nature it so comes about that the things we ought to bear in mind are usually the very things we forget. This certainly is the case with most of us when we go off, camera in hand, looking for pictures." In this case the chief thing to remember is that success for the most part does not so much consist in finding a picture all ready to hand as in using whatever comes to hand and making it yield a picture. Genius consists not so much in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things in an unusually thorough way. So the true artist does not rely upon some startling or rare subject, but he deals with common subjects in an uncommon way. Or, to put the same idea in a slightly different light, one may say that our success is more a matter of treatment than of subject. Now, to some who read these words this word treatment " may not convey a very clear idea, therefore a word or two may not come amiss. Let us suppose three friends walking along a country lane to come across a laborer plodding home after his day's work. Friend number one sees something may be done with his hand camera, and snaps this worthy son of the soil as he is climbing the stile leading to a field path. His chief idea is to catch the motion and movement of the man-to express action and life, to get what he calls "go" in the figure. To get this arrested motion a brief exposure is required, and as the day is declining the result is chiefly marked by sharp outlines of dark against light, with little or no gradation or half tones. On the whole the resulting print partakes chiefly of the nature of a diagram, well calculated to show the speed of the shutter. But more likely than not the particular position of the limbs is curious rather than beautiful. They probably show some odd position that one has never especially noticed or perhaps even seen in a moving figure. Our friend number two is of a different turn of mind. He sets to work to interview the figure. The tripod is set up, and the novice model is put now in one position, now in another. The figure is to be used as an aid in composition. The intention in his mind is to illustrate a certain idea, a line of poetry, etc. First one position and then another is tried, so that the arrangement of the figure especially, and of the composition generally, may aid in telling the tale, pointing the story.

But camerist number three is of a different way of thinking to both his companions. The figure to him is of no great interest; in fact, is only one of many items going to make up the general sum total. His intention is to express the general sentiment or impression of the scene-a calm, peaceful evening, the sun's declining rays, broad shadows, tranquil, quiet, calm, reposeful–the end of the day. The figure is therefore of secondary importance, a patch of dark against the sunset sky. Now, in each of these three widely different cases the intentions of the photographers have little or nothing in common. They are aiming at different ideals, and consequently approach the task in different ways.

Again, half a dozen different camera workers may be dealing with the same subject–for example, the expression of strong sunlight. And they may all use decidedly different ways of doing this. One may employ violent contrast of strong light and deep shadow. Another may seek to fill his picture with the utmost brightness, to the exclusion of all deep shadow A third may have it nearly all deep shade, with only a mere suggestion of strong light. Another, again, may rely on choice of subject, and so on. Treatment, then, is the way of looking at things, and so we come round again to our starting point–that in looking for pictures one need not worry about particularly picturesque objects so much as keep the mental eye wide open and ready to seize upon some characteristic phase of the subject. A few of our very superior persons have scoffed at the idea of trying to make a picture to fit a certain idea, to illustrate a line of poetry. Now, apart from the well-known fact that painters of eminence have chosen to work at times in that way, this much yet remains to be said, that the study of poetry tends to quicken the observation, to broaden the sympathies, and to suggest directions in which pictures may be found. One of our best-known poems may be quoted, namely, the ever-graceful "Elegy" of the poet Gray. The poem is as it were one long picture, or rather a series of connected pictures melting one into the other, and so forming a whole, harmonious in all its parts.

All these pictures are strictly common place in the sense that they present to us the ordinary events of village life. There are some thousands of English villages where this poem may be daily seen in living panorama. What, then, is it that makes this recital of commonplace facts universally popular? Two factors conspire to this end. Firstly, the subjects chosen for the string of pictures are replete with human interest and contain that one touch which the master poet tells us makes all the world akin. The other factor is the strong element of personality shown in every view. We see in his words and phrases the pictures that were floating before his mind's eye. His treatment is simple, unaffected, and direct, and one is made to feel that he wrote not so much to gain the esteem of others as to find vent to his own feelings. In brief, then, we photographers need not wander to far distant places to find pictures, for they are to be found much nearer our own door. What is wanted is to cultivate the power of seeing sermons in stones, books in running brooks, and beauty in objects the most common place. Picture-making in photography does not depend on the plate, lens, or camera employed, but upon the one who employs them. 
– The Amateur Photographer. 

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