Photographic Seeing

I recently finished reading Andreas Feininger’s Photographic Seeing (1973). I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a beginning photographer, but there is certainly some wisdom there for those who are willing to dig through the early–1970’s-era film-focused text.

The book has a great explanation of perspective as it relates to wide angle lenses. The assertion that wide-angle distortion is actually ‘uncorrected’ reality is well-explained and convincing. I certainly gained a new appreciation for extreme wide angle photography—though not necessarily the talent to pull it off myself.

But the best lesson to be gleaned from Photographic Seeing is that you really must care about the subject of your photographs:

[P]eople interested only in “photography” get nowhere… They flutter from subject to subject, photograph people today and landscapes tomorrow, they shoot still lifes with the same abandon (and lack of interest in the subject) as babies or pets. Their pictures are sharp, grainless, colorful, technically unassailable, and totally devoid of feeling because they didn’t feel anything about their subjects…

The first question any independent (i.e., not boss-ridden) photographer should ask himself is: What kind of subject am I interested in? For interest is the indispensable factor which sparks any creative activity.

In retrospect, my successful photographs—the ones I look back on fondly—are of those subjects I do care about. My daughter, an angel statue, a storm over ruins in Mexico. And I have taken hundreds of photographs that are as forgettable as their subjects, because I didn’t care about them.

Trying to go out and ‘make a photograph’ leads me to unsatisfactory results and, even worse, the lack of motivation to head out with the camera at all. As the temperatures start to cool off heading into autumn, I’m going to try to rededicate myself to my photography. But, but aiming to capture images of things I’m genuinely interested in, rather than just ‘getting some photos’ I hope both my quantity and quality improve.