#604. Photography as a chain of events and decisions

By pascaljappy | How-To

Jun 07

This could have been an “every story tells a picture” post describing the photograph below : it would have explained how, during a week-end with the family, I stumbled upon these huge agave lying uprooted on the ground, still too large and heavy to be wheelbarrowed away, still very much alive in spite of being out of the ground for weeks and probably able to survive another couple of months of this before drying out, how the shape reminded me of Nero’s ship (a bitter work of art in its own right) in Star Trek Into Darkness and how the childish feeling of pity compelled me to make this series of “still zombie” portraits.



It would have added that my Distagon 1.4/35 ZM (aka Audrey) was mounted on my A7r2 and how post processing was done in Capture One (as a consequence of the big post-processing software turmoil you may have read about on these pages recently).

But I’d like to go a little further in that direction and dig into the who concept of photography as a chain of events and decisions that : begins by leading you to encountering a subject and : ends in your post processing / printing settings, with gear, composition and technical choices somewhere in the middle.



Why ?

Because it is the consistency and consciousness of this process that makes a good photographer. Not location (that’s real estate), not top gear (that’s Joey), not recipes (that’s Jamie & Gordon) All 3 of which will soon be mastered by Watson. IBM’s AI Watson. The whole business worlds seems totally oblivious to the **super fast** rise of AI and artists are worse still. But trust me, you’ll be seeing robotic works of art sold in galleries ere long. And excellent looking art, at that.

What separates this from inferior, and yet far better, work is this : the chain of events and decisions that led you to the shot. Something that belongs only to you and that you alone can hone and embody.

This is why AI won’t make jobs redundant or artists passé. This is why some forms of workshops and photographic are inherently limited. You can only really learn by getting to know yourself, by finding past masters that inspire you, by letting your natural aspirations and view-point shine through your work/songs/photographs …

Being really good at anything is all about exposing yourself. Being socialmedialy successful is only being average, appealing to the greatest number. Being commercially successful is bending your natural drive slightly to meet what you understand of a public’s expectations. You’re never great to all eyes, but only to those who see the world like you do.



First things first. This was a week-end at home, for a family birthday reunion. My type of anecdotal setting for photography. Others would be catching the first photons of day by the Seine, or hiking a Scottish Munro or diving an Icelandic lake or camping on a Carribean beach or pacing a Tokyo avenue or… It’s hard to be good at anything and pretty much impossible to be good at everything and to all people (trying is called hubris).



Then comes understanding what moves you. Not necessarily on a super intellectual level (that’s a recipe for being an academic bore) but at least well enough to let your intuition drive you.

Had those been slaughtered puppies, this post would have gone crazy viral. But who cares about plants, right ? I do.



I know for sure, though I don’t know why, that seeing these huge life forms dying on the ground moved me. They’d been removed for safety reasons so, ultimately, for good reasons. Nevertheless, seeing them on the ground like beached octopuses was unpleasant. Some, as a swan song, were powering superb 10 foot long flower stems from the energy stored inside them. A survival mechanism for the species, possibly ? A sacrifice with the ultimate sense of irony, maybe ?



Then comes composition. I this case I tried to highlight the struggle between live and rotten, the deformity, the struggle for survival and the scale of the “massacre”. Keeping it very simple and non spectacular.

Gear choices matter too. Here, Audrey is a super transparent lens with manual focus. I know the photograph will be very true to life and organic, and that focus will be where I want it to be to the zillionth of a millimeter. I know what bokeh will look like. Unobtrusive but not opitmistic-creamy like a Milvus gem.

Aperture is roughly f/4 because this is where the lens is at its most organic. And it will leave me enough depth of field for a natural perspective. Some are more open to abstract and select one part of the subject while others are closed-down to provide greater scale and realism.



And then there’s post-processing. CaptureOne is used for its great neutrality with the Sony bodies and colours, structure and contrast are pushed enough to accentuate the feeling of decay.

Right up to this moment of quiet monochrome surrender to fate.



It’s all one chain of decisions. Some conscious, some happened-on by chance (which is often mostly a projection of your past choices) and some intuitive. Photography is all about letting energy run freely through that chain, doing nothing stupid (like following the look of another based on his/her fame, or selecting gear on the basis of MTF graphs and labrat tests, or letting ego tamper with composition) to break the flow at any point.

There’s no such thing as a creative genius. Some minds are free and educated. Some are chained by social convention or the desire to please all. Some of you will relate to those photographs, others will wonder how and when I lost the plot. Hopefully. If everyone scream “meh”, I have failed. If no one feels as sad as I did, then I am alone in my neurotic brain 😉 😉 😉 Please take a few seconds to give the photographs time to sink in. What do you think ?

So what’s your childhood emotion ? What’s your fetish ? Your frustration, rage, connection, love … ?


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  • philberphoto says:

    For you to have “lost the plot” infers that, somehow, at some point in time, even in a far away galaxy, you “had the plot”. Now what on earth could ever have made you think that? 🙂

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Fascinating. I love it. Most impressed with what you produce with Capture One, although I’ve no intention of spending that much on yet another PP program – I’ll just have to content myself with envy, instead of pride – that still qualifies as one of the seven deadly sins, I believe.

    I must respectfully disagree with your penultimate paragraph. There have been plenty of examples of creative geniuses. Unfortunately for me, I just don’t happen to be one of them. But I do appreciate them – Michelangelo – Monet – Degas – Rodin – the other PP (Picasso 🙂 ) – Van Gogh Dali – etc etc etc. Most had little time for “social convention” or any “desire to please all” – they didn’t all have the same level of self confidence (Van Gogh’s ear, for example), but they all had a conviction about the quality of what they were doing, and most of them had a defiance for conventional views.

    And I don’t feel threatened by AI. No matter what Big Blue or any of the other geeks puts into an electronic substitute for the human brain, they cannot replicate things like feelings and intuition. Their creations will still be electronic substitutes for the real thing. They may, for all I care, be utterly marvellous electronic substitutes. They may one day go where no man has gone before, and reach the furthermost stars (none of us will – in the absence of some means of exceeding the speed of light by a vast margin, that’s impossible for humans). But only a true artisan can make a good bottle of champagne, however much that galls the “wannabe’s” who run vast corporate empires and suffer from the delusional belief that means they can do – or manufacture – absolutely anything.

    Frankly, I’d rather buy a painting done by one of the elephants at the zoo, than a painting done by some AI contraption. I trust the elephants’ artistic ability far more than the machine’s.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Jean Pierre!

      The interesting thing with AI is that, just like most endeavours, the great will coexist with the crappy. Some will pour their heart and soul into their creations. So that some AI will be works of art. But, for as long as my current understanding of the field remains valid, they will remain proxies incapable of creating human art. But who knows what marvels randomness and evolution will bring about ? 😉

  • Paul Ferzoco says:

    Nice post. I too love plants and find a fascination with the beauty of decaying vegetation. Very nice captures.

  • Steve says:

    Pascal, I love these. I love their animateness. Is that a word? Like beached squid there’s a definite sadness. When I lived in the bush in SA I was surrounded by sentinel-like aloes and loved wandering among them in the twilight, they always seemed to have a sentient air about them. Mind you I talk to the trees here at home, and the birds and rabbits and anything else that will lesson, so could be accused of being plotless. Tell someone who cares..


    • pascaljappy says:

      It’s a word to me 😉 There’s always something very poignant to large plants and trees. Anything living, I suppose, once you pay enough attention to it.

  • Adrian says:

    I think in a colour filtered black and white some of these would look “epic”. Often the art of production design in films is overlooked and unnoticed – I agree with your “heart of darkness” reference, and many other films that had interesting visions of things we haven’t yet seen or imagined. That these everyday subjects have the same quality demonstrates your vision in seeing them as subjects. Very interesting.

  • Doug Shoemaker says:

    Beauty in Death. The Agave is famous for its characteristic of perishing after a single reproduction event. Perhaps these have given themselves wantonly to the pollinators, and having won some carnal knowledge, had their senescence arrested by the spade.

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