In your eyes what makes a great photograph?
I have to catch myself often when thinking about a “great photograph”. I tend to think in terms of a “great photographic print”…the way the image or intent is presented via the photographic print and mastery of that craft.
A great photograph never has to be output onto a tangible surface given the technological age we have moved into. I love viewing the creativity of the masses and am often humbled by it…there is a great deal of creativity out there that would have no witness had it not been for this technological age. Whether it be Facebook, Pinterest or the multitude of other technological means of cyber-presentation. Everyone is a photographer these days, a documentarian, an op/ed author. Most have something to say, many visually, and most would like others to bare witness to that commentary. So what is a great photograph in those terms? Does the image convey the intent of the author? And is that communication received and interpreted clearly?
I would like to limit my answer as it relates to fine art photography because it is the mastery of this particular craft to which I aspire. To me a great photograph is masterfully crafted and manifested intent. It is the light’s interaction with the subject and the luminosity coming from the print…my eyes want to feel the light illuminating from the print. When I look at a photographic print I want to be taken into the print. Show me the path in, let me spend some time in the scene, hold my attention, ask me a question(s) and then show me the path out so I can further contemplate the intent or my reaction to the photograph…and make me want to do it again and again.
Does it matter what the subject of the photograph is? Not to me. It is the presentation of that subject matter. How is it composed, how the tones are presented, the quality of the print and the manner in which the print is finished and presented. A great negative has all the detail, all of the raw information (intent). A great print masterfully presents and refines that intent (crafted). All fine art photographers aspire to that great print. That is what I love so much about fine art photography…that craft. Always striving to further develop that craft…the craft of making a great photograph.
Think about all the great photographs you have seen over the years. At what point did those photographs become great photographs? At the genesis of the photographer’s intent? The moment the stars aligned for the photographer to be at the right place at the right time? The moment the subject was composed? The moment of light? When the shutter snapped? When the negative was developed? When the contact sheet was made? When the first test print was made? The final print realized? All those pieces must be in play. Every step masterfully negotiated. That is the fine art of a great photograph in my mind.
What format do you work in?
I use a Zone VI 4/5 and a Hasselblad. A Holga is usually not far from reach too. These last two years I have been using my 4/5 almost exclusively. I continue to marvel at the level of detail and available tones that size negative affords. Like any addict, you eventually need more though.
I was out photographing with Brett Thomas this summer and we both had 4/5 and Hasselblads. I wanted to loosen up a bit so I took out my 6/6. I also wanted to play with my plane of focus…or lack of focus. I reached to the lens and tried to adjust my tilt. Oops. Up until then I had not realized how much I used and relied on those 4/5 features. Having that focusing control is yet another tool in the quiver to help tell a story.
The Hasselblad is down right sexy. I love the way it feels in my hands. And the glass…that beautiful glass.
I actually prefer the square format to the 4/5 format and I do not have any issues with cropping…all tools and methods are fair game!
Occasionally, I will use my Elan7 35mm for real loose work. I do not think I have anything on my website from those sessions, but I have spent a lot of time playing the capture of time. Moving and handheld, a 35mm at 1 to 4 seconds, horse and rider usually being the subject, is a very “fine-brush” like effect. In black and white it is quite elegant. I used my 35mm to practice then took my Hasselblad out and worked with that. I would love to try it with a handheld 4/5, but have not expanded out that far.
One of the first filters I bought was a 13-stop neutral density filter. A 6-stop shortly followed. I wanted to be able to make a 7 minute exposure in the middle of the day. I have used that filter quite a bit. Both filters in fact. When you add bellows, filter, and reciprocity factors and zone manipulation, trying to figure out my exposure (even using my fingers and toes) is difficult for me…I have seen my share of ruined negatives because I miscalculated. I love the effect of a 7 minute exposure, even mid-day. There is a quality of light you can get, not to mention the movement effect of time that we do not see.
I am really grateful to have this wonderful gear. I think back to when I bought my first 35mm camera and how humbling that was and what you could produce with it. I have to remind myself from time-to-time that it is not about what tools I have, but what I do with the tools I have. As a back country skier for many years, some of the best skiers I saw had the crappiest gear.
Any stories you would like to share?
What is on the horizon for your work?
People. I am being drawn to photograph people. Environmental portraiture or street scenes of sort perhaps. The thought terrifies me quite frankly, but I feel I need to do it, I need to explore that. Very few images I have made include people…not directly anyway. Those times I have made attempts were very uncomfortable for me. It was too intense, too intimate. The eyes open right up into the soul and that is too much for me. I think it is my need to connect with people on a heart level. Moments of wonder, anger or sadness. Moments of truth are when the heart is open. It is not often in our daily life that we get to communicate from our heart…or maybe its just me. I think that is part of the process before me.
Short term future: Me, Steve Zmak, Brett Thomas, David Gubernick, and Greg Weeks are converging on Yosemite at the end of October. Burn some film, light up those CMOS sensors for 4 days. From there I am heading up to Mt. Shasta to burn some film with John Rickard and go to a gallery opening for Kim Weston at the Red Door Gallery. Turning south again I will head to Grass Valley to burn some film with Phil Kember for a few days. That is a gift photography has given to my life. Spending time with good and talented people in their every evolving creative flow. I love that.
Anything else you would like to share?
No, I think I have taken up enough of your time. I did not know I had so much to say. This has been a meaningful experience for me and I thank you for taking the time to engage my thoughts and for your kind words about my work. Best of success to Rfotofolio and for your own personal photographic process.
Thank you Roger, for your time and your art.
You can see more of Rogers work on his website. rasphotography.com