Too Much of a Good Thing

transient 1, photograph

“…detail kills imagination.”

-Colley Whisson

A bit of a controversial position to take as a photographer in this day and age of digital everything – more megapixels, bigger sensors, better lenses, sharper prints…  The capability is all there, but does that compel us to use it?

Most painters, except those doing photo-realistic pieces, know that the surest way to kill a painting is to try to put all the detail in it. It’s a beginners mistake. The viewer is more engaged when their perceptual system has to get involved, when it has to resolve what’s going on.

I find myself drawn to photographs that are more suggestive than descriptive for the same reason. I have to look at the photograph for a while to figure out what’s going on. Too much detail, as Whisson says, deprives me of an important facet of my experience.

Some will argue, perhaps rightly so, that photography is a unique medium because of it’s ability to capture detail and render scenes literally. They say that one should embrace this and find the artistry within that characteristic, that doing so is what it means to be a photographer. I understand this – I sometimes wonder why photo-realistic painters don’t just become photographers!

Maybe I should take up my brushes again. But until then, I’ll soldier on taking pictures that stare those damn pixels right in the eye!

7 responses to “Too Much of a Good Thing

  1. I agree completely, Bob. In my recent personal work (mostly black & white material that I haven’t released publicly yet), I find myself more and more dealing with the suggestive and the evocative, rather than the descriptive and the literal. I still have a foot in the high-resolution world to meet the demands of certain markets, but as you point out, it’s the images that set our imaginations in motion to fill in the details that really hold our interest over the long term.

    There’s a reason that many great photographers managed to make their marks using only “lowly” 35mm film, and/or relatively primitive lenses that were soft and low-contrast in comparison with today’s standards. A photograph doesn’t have to hold up to massive enlargement to be great.

    Your work is lovely, by the way.

    • Justin

      I’ll be very interested in seeing your new work. In the painting world, many (most?) tend to start of doing very representational work and evolve to a more abstract style over time. I find it interesting that this doesn’t happen as much in the photography world.

  2. I completely agree. Not that there isn’t a time and a place for pin-sharp, ultra-detailed images (there is!), but that’s not the be-all-and-end-all – there’s also a place for picture that invoke and suggest rather than show.

  3. Great topic, and your image is really special. In our photo group we had an “out of focus” assignment. I find it extremely challenging to intentionally shoot images OOF. Kind of along the lines of this post’s theme. Well done Robert!

    • Thanks, Bob!

      A lot of my work of this sort I do with special lens setups, particularly Lensbaby stuff. This was shot with the zone plate optic in their system – a very challenging optic to work with I find. I also found it more difficult to use straight lenses to get similar effects. Maybe you should try a Lensbaby and see if it helps.

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