#939. Can wine makes you a better photographer?

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Dec 09

Hey, what did you expect? I’m French … But bear with me for a second, as there is a real link I’m trying to highlight in this quick post 😉

 
 

That link came to my mind during a wine tasting dinner with friends last week-end. Among those friends, two painters, a photographer, an art book binder, and myself.

We all enjoy wine and most of us in the room have been formally trained in oenology. One guest though, stands out from the rest of us, having assembled a cellar with thousands of exquisite bottles and regularly participating in day-long professional tastings of (occasionnally) more than one hundred wines. If you’ve ever run a marathon, driven 36 hours in a row, hiked to exhaustion or dealt with French administration, you have an idea of what sustained effort is. If not, you cannot begin to imagine the level of concentration required to taste and analyse 100 wines over 8 hours.

All this to say, all of us in the room were wine and art enthusiasts.

 
 

But, at no point did the conversation steer towards a direct comparison between the two. What happened instead was an unexpected discussion about how we experience wine tasting. And it surprised me to realise how different this is for each of us. And some implications for us photographers.

One of the two painters, the most expert taster among us, a stout fan of Nicolas de Stael uses strong colours in his compositions and revealed that colour in wine provides no pleasure to him. He uses it as an important source of information but only his sense of smell and taste trigger an emotional response in his experience. Others had different views, loving the depth of some old red burgundies, the old straw colour of wines from the Jura, the crystaline transparency of summer whites, the toffee darkness of vintage sauternes … the palet evoked personality to them.

While speaking of the bouquet of a local wine unknown to most of us (a strong and unpleasant smell of unrefined oil due to the type of barrel used), the discussion veered on the difference between being educated to aroma and bouquet using artificial aroma sets. Entry level kits replicate the aroma of a fruit (banana, strawberry …) for example, while the more expensive ones replicate the aroma of a wine that smells of those fruits. A far bigger difference than it sounds to someone not interested.

 
 

I’ll spare you the rest of the technicalities reported by our most expert friend, except for one detail: sound. Yup, sound. I’d never even considered … listening … but sparkling wines do make different sounds depending on their composition. Some ping, some froth, some bubble up … Apparently, that’s enough of a thing that a book was written about it.

But enough about this. What I’m getting at is the dual nature of drinking wine and how this is so rarely the case of photographic experience.

You can slog down a glass of rosé by the pool to fuel giggles and engage in one of the least introspective experiences you can think of (still fun, I’m not judging). Or your can do the exact opposite. That same glass can engage all your senses fully, take you into a state of deep concentration and absolute focus on the moment. No one has written “Zen and the art of winetasting” yet, but that would sell well and carry meaning (a rare combination indeed among non-fiction books, these days).

 
 

And that was my small epiphany of the moment.

How often has photography engaged all your senses? How often has your photography produced a physical object you can look at, touch, smell, listen too and feel focused on to the exclusion of the rest of the world?

That doesn’t have to be your goal. We’re all perfectly entitled to enjoy memory making on a superficial level just like we can take a swig to drown that piece of saussage left on the plate. But I believe it can be interesting to try, if only once.

 
 

Because 99.99999% of worldwide photography consists of electrons inside servers, we’ve largely lost the connection that slows us down and actually makes us feel something. What would be wrong with printing a carbro that adds its thickness variations to the texture of the paper, frame it using a fragrant wood, or create a platinum print on super thin Japanse paper and let it flap in the wind?

And how about making that photograph with an old view camera, under a hot black cloth, close to smelly collodion plates, slowly inspecting the focus on a grainy old ground glass. Anything that can engage us and focus us even more powerfully that a Zen retreat. Everything we need is right there at our fingertips, it’s just a matter of changing how we think about photographs.

 
 

So, what really stuck with me after drinking too many wines with great cheeses and monkfish tajine is this: what if existentialist wine buffs could teach us a lot more about our hobby than any photo guru could? Whadjathink?

 

​Never miss a post

​Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Aye, Pascal,
    a good thought!
    Opens for new ways outside traditions.

    ( Just as research or development often gets a boost when people from other branches join.)

    A painter I knew often made frames where some of the wood strips were longer than the sides of the painting and let them stick out on one side.
    That gave a very special feeling of space around the painting.
    – * –

    Love your photos, especially the next to last one, and the b/w clouds.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I must have been drinking. To tell the truth, I was! (Drinking, I mean). But the second photo, Pascal – the one you used for a header, as well – does it REALLY have the moon in it, as well as that sunset? Anyway, whatever the white spot is, that’s a magnificent photo! – and a complete justification for trading the Sony gear in, to buy the Hassy!

    Hmm. Thought provoking article. The discussion of oenology brought back a flood of memories – my father was an oenologist and a great deal of my childhood focused on vineyards, wineries and wine. To the point that I rarely touch a glass of beer, and only do it to be polite, if I do it at all.

    Then a discussion of various stimuli to genius in photography, art or anything else.

    And this punchline –
    “How often has photography engaged all your senses? How often has your photography produced a physical object you can look at, touch, smell, listen too and feel focused on to the exclusion of the rest of the world?”

    I have to say at once that I am my own worst critic. Because I grew up as an introvert, I am more like a tortoise than a toreador. VERY reluctant to show anything I do, in public. It’s just the same with my piano playing – even though I’ve been doing it for nearly 70 years, I usually stop at once if I think anyone’s listening. So I find it easier to answer your questions obliquely, by citing photographs taken by other people.

    The answer is –
    (1) Not often, but in fact heaps of times in total numbers
    (2) I have one of them in this room – one of Glen Cowan’s photos – a photo of a sea dragon. Adrian’s shot of yachts off the coast near Barcelona. The exhibition by the two Chris’s that I saw recently – roughly half the exhibits affected me like that and for weeks afterwards the memory of seeing them repeatedly kept flooding my mind, like some of the paintings I admire most. And yes, they blocked out the rest of the world.
    (3) Only if they are printed. Reproductions in cyber space normally don’t “do it” for me – at best, they are “interesting” – Adrian’s was an exception, and frankly so is the photo heading this article. Some of Ming’s, too. And Nancee can do it, as well. But I’d still rather withhold any views of mine, until I see a print. And for the benefit of other members of DearSusan, the same goes for them and their work – from time to time they produce photos that blow me away and I keep re-opening the relevant posting to see it over and over again – but I’d still prefer to see a print.

    For me, you said it all, when you said –
    “Because 99.99999% of worldwide photography consists of electrons inside servers, we’ve largely lost the connection that slows us down and actually makes us feel something.”

    I’ll go with something in the other 0.00001% 🙂

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hmm, not sure about the moon. Can’t see it on the photograph and don’t remembber, to be honest.

      “I’ll go with something in the other 0.00001%”
      Maybe it’s the scarcity that makes it special. Maybe if we printed all our shots, we’d get bored of that too. But, then, we’d probably shoot far fewer because printing takes time, energy and money. So, all in all, I still think it’s good practice (lise you).

      70 years of piano playing … very impressive. What a delight it must be, even if on your own.

  • John Wilson says:

    Pascal – I have a problem. I’m allergic to alcohol so I can’t drink wine. I lack the experiencial framework to “grok” the meaning of your experience. But I do have a personal analogue – music. Growing up in a house full of music and being auditory I learned to listen not just to the sound of the music but to the nuance of the sound. To me orchestras and bands are like the intricacies of that fine old burgundy or vintage sauterne. The Montreal Symphony under Charles Du Toit had a distinct aural flavour like no other orchestra, the same goes for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. The same is true of composers – Bruckner, Brahms, Karl Jenkins, Phillip Glass, Marian Mozetich, John Williams, Arvo Pärt.

    The Berlin Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini will have me running from the room … like that smelly wine from bad barrels. Reminds me of those cheap local wines we used to buy in gallon jugs as a wild bachelor in the 60s; excellent wood preservative and paint remover.

    Photographically, to me a finely crafted (aesthetically) image is like a finely crafted sonata or prelude. Having learned to think in terms of collections of images, collections are like symphonies. I look at your shots of the rainbow and clouds and I hear Greig and Dvorak. The abstract below that is Glenn Gould playing Bach. The sunset is Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faon. The glass is Ravel – the string quartet.

    So what does you fine old burgundy sound like?

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      LOL – wellI had to miss out on being abstemious, with a prominent wine maker as my father. But mother went to the conservatorium, she was still playing the piano when I was young, and from the moment I was old enough to appreciate it at all, music entered my soul and took over. I couldn’t live in a world without music. I’ve just been listening to Rossini, and I’m about to go & play Mendelssohn on my own piano.

      It may sound odd to other members of DS, butI agree with you, John, that music shapes the artist in us – if we appreciate it the way you and I do. Just as a painting or a photograph or a sculpture will haunt my mind for days or weeks after I see it, so too will music.

      And any such pressure or impulse helps shape how we see and feel.

      • John Wilson says:

        D’accord mon ami and hoist one for me to the gods of music.

      • pascaljappy says:

        To me, music is “worse”. I hear a good piece and it’s in my head constantly for the next few days. Particularly chamber music. Larger formations rarely have the same impact on me (although some slower passages do). But a piano sonata or string quartet can haunt my mind for days on end to the point that it’s hard to get work done … Sadly, that is true, and I rarely listen to music, unless on holiday.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Larger formations – symphonies and concertos, presumably – generally have complex point & counterpoint. When you tire of listening to the main theme you can tune into other minor themes, woven into the structure of the chords, but happily playing a different theme.

          I know what you’re saying about music getting stuck in my mind for days & nights on end. But I couldn’t contemplate living in a world without music – and this simply adds to the pleasure it gives me.

          Because of my father’s association with the wine industry in Australia, I had the opportunity to mix with all sorts of people in the industry – which gave me access to wines you would normally only dream about. And some of those experiences have been wedged in my brain ever since – like my introduction to brut champagne – being given a glass of a white wine made in 1886 – a 35 year old shiraz – they were all experiences that are just simply “there”.

          The human brain is a very complex organism! And while I appreciate what you say about how music impacts in your case, I want the lot – music AND wine!

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Larger formations – symphonies and concertos, presumably – generally have complex point & counterpoint. When you tire of listening to the main theme you can tune into other minor themes, woven into the structure of the chords, but happily playing a different theme.

          I know what you’re saying about music getting stuck in my mind for days & nights on end. But I couldn’t contemplate living in a world without music – and this simply adds to the pleasure it gives me.

          Because of my father’s association with the wine industry in Australia, I had the opportunity to mix with all sorts of people in the industry – which gave me access to wines you would normally only dream about. And some of those experiences have been wedged in my brain ever since – like my introduction to brut champagne – being given a glass of a white wine made in 1886 – a 35 year old shiraz – they were all experiences that are just simply “there”.

          The human brain is a very complex organism! And while I appreciate what you say about how music impacts in your case, I want the lot – music AND wine!

      • Sean says:

        Pete,
        This may interest you: ‘Music and the brain – All in the mind’
        Link
        https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/music-and-the-brain/11760718
        I know that the post is about wine and photography and I don’t want to subvert nor whitest that, but you’ve touched on music and this article has just popped up on our National ABC carrier as a download, for future reference …

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ha ha!! That one made me laugh, John! Particularly the Toscanini part 😀 I love the analogy between music and photography. Maybe we could do a group show and call it “pictures at an exhibition, and have fragrant frames and match the ambiant music to the theme of the photographs!!!

      The sound of fine burgundy is complex. First is the creasing of bank notes and the sound of cringin shoulder ligaments. Then, there’s the cork popping loundly like modern ones don’t anymore. Then the pouring and the glass placed on the table to let the wine settle. The smelling of aroused tasters and the peculiar sound of that dignified slurping that is only allowed around the table in such circumstances, then the scribbling of notes. To the makers, the sound of that wine probably starts with the hooves of the horses still used to manucure the very slopy rows of vines. There must be quite a bit of walking in dusty cellars, and opening of casks at various stages during the maturation and a specific reverberation of sounds in those vaulted tunnels. Possibly water dropping from the ceiling. And much, much more. To the musical taster, who can know? The sound of a horse and cariage speeding through a leafy forest in the autumn wind? To me, a more recent red is fresh and has a spring in its step, like a Schubert octet? 😉

      • John Wilson says:

        Years ago there was an early evening music program on the CBC radio network called “Music For A While”. The host was a lady named Danielle Charbonneau who had what I still consider to be the most beautiful speaking voice I’ve ever heard – a clear, softly rounded contralto with the gentlest most beautiful French accent. If I could have I would have curled up in the speaker and just listened to her. I used to think that if I fine old burgundy could speak, it would have sounded like Danielle Charbonneau.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Haven’t you ever been in a winery, and gone through the cellars? We used to play in them, as kids, while dad was working elsewhere in the winery. Even one that really WAS a cellar – accessed through a sort of trapdoor set on the ground, then down the stairs into the gloom below.

        Modern wineries here use a lot of stainless steel and huge vats above ground. But that’s for mass production, not the tender loving caring hand made wines of yesteryear – the ones that make you shoot into a state of delirium after the first sampling sip.

  • Sean says:

    Aha! In response, good wine, to me, is an upper-cylinder lubricant, so it can, and does, modify how the ‘executive centre’ and related parts, whilst ‘protectively housed’ within a ‘bony bombranium’, do come cooperate – artistically and creatively in the area of photography. It still begs the question, if wine leads to better crafting of photos along with the modification and enjoyment derived from photography. Without promoting activities extending into abuse and or dependency, look at photographers such as, for example, Les Baker, Terry Richardson, Dash Snow. This psychotropic lubricant certainly seems to have cemented a place, in photography, because isn’t the act of photography a consequence of ones brain function resulting from perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behaviour – due to alterations from various stimuli. Click.

    • pascaljappy says:

      “upper-cylinder lubricant” 😀 😀 😀

      Wine may not be the best ally before heading out, although a tiny measure probably relaxes us. But the total engagement with tasting that happens with some passionate pros is what fascinates me. And it leads me to wonder how often we are as deeply absorbed by our photography. Not just the photography of others, but our own.

      Wouldn’t it be great to be absorbed by a shoot like a Zen monk in deep meditation?

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Considering how this discussion fluctuates between different combinations of photography, wine and music…

    … I’d just like to mention, that when I listen to music, i.e. really listen in order to savor the actual interpretation, half a glass of wine is more than enough to eliminate that sensitivity – but doesn’t yet influence my enjoyment of the music.

    ( And I’m not oversensitive to alcohol.)

    I haven’t (yet) tried to photograph – or post process – after wine…
    [ hmm ]
    … maybe I ought to try that … it might give me a new perspective on photographing when sober.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Now, of course, it’s impossible to condone or encourage that. But, if you ever do photograph under the influence of wine, it would be interesting to hear about your results 😉

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    A bit O.T.
    I just thought I’d add a little inspiration – admittedly of a different kind…

    https://youtu.be/0jX9TFw39II

    https://youtu.be/02KDboirH2o

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Shared fascination, once again Pascal 🙂

    In the 80’s, I was trained in wine (lost it now in North America and Asia… busy with other interests…).
    One day, I proposed to test the association between wine and music; challenge; 5 very defined wines, a few friends, 5 musical classical pieces (I still remember Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, forgot the two other ones and the specific pieces); each a notepad, keep secret, compare our notes after.
    Would you believe it… 100% same answers!!
    (I still remember Mozart with Château Margaux, Beethoven with Château Latour… forgot the others, sorry… getting an old pal :D).

    Then well, for 15 years, on my former website, one of the six books I recommended to my audiophiles (and mostly music lovers) customers and friends was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” from Michael Pirsig… I suppose you were thinking of that book 🙂
    I used to say that when I build a satisfying high end high-fidelity system, we could “touch” the sound….
    As for photography, I remember taking a photo that evoked to my former painter girlfriend a sound… she said she could “hear” it.
    That even started a long conversation about Van Gogh – and a couple others – synesthesia , that strange neural affliction (is it really one… or a fantastic blessing?) where the brain hears images and sees sounds 🙂

    I have some photos that have a musical pace… including two bad examples (the patterns evoke scores, so they stay too much in the visual domain)… I will try to find the ones really “sounding”
    Wouldn’t this be a fascinating topic for us DSers?

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      This is entering really weird territory. I started with music, because it entered my soul and simply took over. That and a lot of other things ran in the same direction – the pursuit of excellence is one name for it – and music, art, sculpture, architecture, photography, all ran in that direction, for me – whether it was something I was capable of creating or something someone else did. (Quite obviously I never designed the pyramids or the Sagrada Famiglia, but that’s of no importance – what matters is being able to appreciate these things).

      Adding fine wine to the list is a logical step in the same direction – the planning, the planting, the nurturing, the harvesting, the crushing, the separation, the fermentation, the aging, the bottling – and finally, the withdrawal of the cork – the savouring – circling, ever closer – and at last, the liquid moves past the “nose” test and lands on the tongue.

      You ought to be able to draw a parallel course for the planning and execution, the post processing and finally the printing and viewing, of a photograph – compressing the whole thing into a slightly less long winded description! 🙂

      And I think you can draw a similar path for all the others – art, music, sculpture, whatever.

      It’s about the effort that lies beyond the simple snapshot, and produces great works – memorable ones. And it’s just as important in all these genres.

    • pascaljappy says:

      That would be a fascinating subject, yes. If you do find those photographs, please send them and we could make that a collective post, or a challenge.

      Cheers

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Sorry, Robert Pirsig… must stop drinking wine today 😀

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Much of this discussion makes me think of a very interesting book on creativity by Dorothy Sayers:

    ” The Mind of the Maker (1941) is a Christian theological book, … It used the experience she had of literary creativity to illuminate Christian doctrine about the nature of the Trinity.”

    ” In The Mind of the Maker, one of her most profound works, Sayers contends that the creative process in art works in ways that correspond to the dynamic relation among the three Persons of the Trinity in Christian theology — and that the activity of one illuminates the activity of the other. ”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mind_of_the_Maker

    Online text:
    http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/dlsayers/mindofmaker/mind.c.htm

    ( Personally I don’t think we were thrown out of paradise, I believe we were *allowed* to leave if we preferred to be creative instead of being taken care of. After all we were made in the image of (the creating) God.)

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    You might also appreciate this quote, John –

    “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” – Ansel Adams

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Your short post is followed by a plethora of engaging and entertaining comments, Pascal! It’s funny how wine, music and art seem to be interrelated in so many ways.
    Your mention of wine tasting brought back fond memories of travels in France which lead to professional wine classes at the CIA in Napa, and then to working for an importer of French wines and traveling to France for commercial wine tastings in Burgundy, the Loire, the Rhône…..swirl, taste, spit…repeat…aahhhh – I miss it all, even though I still enjoy matching a good wine with just the right food.
    Thanks for the post and your lovely images.

  • >