I have previously written about the seemingly inherent conflict between technical skills and creative expression. If you have read the posts, you know that I don’t really believe there is such a conflict, but think that craftsmanship only broadens the artist’s expressive abilities. Some time ago I read The Creative Photographer by Andreas Feininger. Feininger was a late staff photographer at Life when the magazine was at its heights. In the book he has a passage that goes straight to this duality I have focused on in my blog-posts, which makes for a very strong statement. Let me quote a few passages the book:
«Although, according to popular belief, photo-technical knowledge and skill are first among the qualifications of a good photographer, in my opinion they rank last. I say this because I have met too many photographers who literally knew all the answers in the book, were experts in photo-technical matters, owned the finest equipment, and never made a worthwhile photograph. On the other hand, I know for a fact that several of our most successful photojournalists have only the sketchiest ideas about photo technique – and that the laboratory technicians [remember this was written before the age of digital photography] assigned to do their work suffer whenever they have to print their films. But these photographers know how to make good pictures. They know how to see, they feel for and with their subjects, and they know how to express their feelings in photographic form. Any competent photo technician can make acceptable prints from technical poor negatives, but if feeling and sensitivity are lacking, then obviously, there is no remedy».
«This should not be interpreted to mean that I condone bad technique. I don’t. But if I had to choose between the two – a meaningful picture that is technically poor, and a meaningless picture that is photo-technically unassailable – I unhesitatingly would choose the first. However in this age of foolproof cameras, […] there is really no excuse for bad photo technique. Technique can be mastered by anyone who cares to make the effort. And once mastered, it should be taken for granted and not used as a measure of the value of a photograph – or a photographer».
The Creative Photographer by Andreas Feininger was first published in 1955. Since then photo technique has only become easier to get grip on and to master, thanks to digital imagery and cameras that are so much more advanced compared to back then. Andreas Bernhard Lyonel Feininger – as his full name was – (1906-1999) was a German American photographer, and writer on photographic technique, noted for his dynamic black-and-white scenes of Manhattan and studies of the structure of natural objects (according to Wikipedia. The photograph to the left, «The Photojournalist», may be Feininger’s best-known photograph. The now-iconic image of photojournalist Dennis Stock was taken for Life Magazine. Picture also from Wikipedia).