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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre General Photography Talk 
Thread started 28 Jul 2011 (Thursday) 02:55
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How do you approach pictures that you know will be controversial?

 
Clean ­ Gene
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Jul 28, 2011 02:55 |  #1

Okay, just a little background info. Recently I was in a commercial photography class, and I hated it. For starters, most of it dealt with shooting people, and I generally don't like shooting people. Secondly, much of the assignments where we had to shoot people consisted of making the people look good. Which I also generally don't like, because I get bored to tears by a lot of the standard-ass kinds of fashion and glamour portraiture that you see in ads and stuff. I'm not knocking that kind of stuff, it definitely serves a purpose. I just hate having to do it myself. And thirdly, I took the six week summer course, had very little time to find models, and of the few that I found, many ended up backing out of the shoot for BS reasons. So yeah...I absolutely HAAAAAATED that.

Thankfully, the second half of the course revolved around products and still-life photography. Which suited my needs perfectly, because a freaking product isn't going to bail on me at the last minute.

Anyway, for one of the later assignments, I did some pretty gruesome $#1*. Leading up to the assignment, I actually made very certain to ask the teacher about the parameters for what was acceptable content. Because I still realized that it was a COMMERCIAL photography course, and that regardless of QUALITY, that the pictures should be commercially viable. So...I was sort of troubled about that. Because I really wanted to get away from the conventional magazine/advertisement stuff. Anyway, the teacher said that for that specific assignment, deviating from conventional content was acceptable, so long as the resulting photograph utilized the lighting techniques illustrated in the course.

So...that seemed like free pass to do what I wanted. I immediately started taking out the dead animals that I'd collected in previous weeks and stuffed into my refrigerator, and started shooting the hell out of them. So...I'm spending a weekend shooting dead animals, manipulating them into various poses, playing around with lighting. The shootstarted with a simple concept, I played around with that concept for a while and realized it wasn't working, then I sort of used the same prop and switched concepts to something that I thought had more emotional weight. So I'm working with that concept, I then tweak the lighting and the props until I think I've finally "got it". I then pat myself on the back, throw the props away, and go have myself a beer and a nice dinner in order to reward myself.

And here's where the problem came up. I'm sitting there by myself enjoying a few drinks and having a nice dinner as an afterwards reward for doing a good job. And while I'm doing so, I start thinking back on the work that I just did. And...the more that I think about it, I realize that I botched the entire ****ing thing and had absolutely no work that was suitable to turn in. That the entire time I was playing around with maggots and dead ****ing animals, that it SEEMED like a good idea. And that yeah...the teacher did specifically say that I could do unconventional content for that assignment, but she probably never expected me to go that far. It's like...it TOTALLY seemed like a good idea at the time, and the teacher sort of gave me approval to do it ("sort of", because I never explicitly stated what I as going to be shooting). Meanwhile, the second that it was done, it immediately seemed like the worst idea I've ever had. So I wa totally expecting to totally get an F at that point. But I didn't have anything else to show, so what the hell.

So I've got my pictures. I'm expecting to submit the worst picture, which also happened to be the most "commercial" out of all of them. I ask her for advice on what to submit. She then sees the thumbnail for what I consider to be the best picture (also the least commercial, and most likely to totally piss people off, which is why I didn't include that to her as a potential submission). She then happens to see the thumbnail, and says, "enlarge that, I want to see it." So I open up that file for her and she's like, "WOW! That's it. Use that."

And here's the important point. It was for a grade. Which means it had to be submitted for critique. The way that that particular teacher did critique was sort of unlike what I'd been exposed to. In that she always randomized images, removed the photographer's name, and expressively forbid the actual photographer from taking ownership. I guess the whole point being, the image either stands on its own as an image, or it doesn't. That who took the picture is entirely irrelevant and that the class should be able to discus the pictures without having any idea who made them. So...my picture comes up, and the entire class sort of gets pissed-off. It basically turned into an entire exercise of the classroom totally ripping on the picture for being sick and totally ****ed up. Which sort of pisses the teacher off, because at that point "constructive criticism" flew out the window, and she's having to watch a student get totally railed on without being able to defend himself (as per the "don't express ownership of this picture" part of the critique). And also probably the fact that HER judgement was primarily what got the picture submitted for a grade in the first place. SHE thought that the picture kicked ass. The rest of the class was giving sort of a kneejerk emotional response about how ****e4d up it was, with hardly anyone offering constructive criticism. So from the teacher's perspective, she's getting pissed off on two levels. On one hand, she's getting pissed off because she knows that a student is getting the **** insulted out of him by the entire ****ing classroom, with hardly anyone having anything constuctive to say other than "whoever did that is one sick mother******." But more importantly is that the teacher actually REALLY LIKED the picture, so people ripping on it like that is sort of calling HER taste into question.

So the students are getting pissed off on a moral/ethical level, and the teacher is getting pissed off on two levels: not only is she seeing one person (me) getting totally railed on by his/her classmates, but she's also probably taking that on a personal level since SHE thought that the picture is awesome and then it's totally getting piled on by like, a ****load of students. Meanwhile, I'm just sitting there watching everyone else's anger level just go through the roof.

And...I ended up getting an A on the picture. Which ultimately, really doesn't seem like much of a success. After all, the teacher seemed to be the ONLY one who liked the picture in any capacity whatsoever. So I don't even know if she's giving me an A and saying that it kicks ass because it really IS awesome, or if she's giving it an A and saying that it's awesome because that allows her to justify HER assessment of the picture.

Meanwhile, I'm just left in the funny little place. I started out thinking that the idea was bad, which is why I decided to ask if I could do it. I then started thinking that the idea was good, and spent a decent amount of time working on it. Once done, I immediately thought that it was gonna be a total failure and that everyone would hate it. Then everyone DID hate it, with the sole exception of my teacher. But I don't even know if the teacher loves it because it's actualy GOOD, or if she just has to love it because I submitted it on her advice and then dozens of people mercilessly railed onit.

And I'm just in this middle ground. Where if that many people hate it, I obviously must have done SOMETHING wrong. I suspect that I went too far with that audience. Meanwhile, even though the teacher seems to love it, it just isn't working for me. I've looked over the final product over and over again, and I don't think I went far enough. On one level, I can see the picture as being totally sick and innapropriate. On another level, I can see it as a great idea that simply ISN'T DONE.

Anyway, that's sort of an issue for me. Because I'm sort of having difficulty balancing out what people want to see, and what I want to show. So I'm just sort of curious how y'all mentally deal with the absolute certainty that your work is going to piss people off, and how you navigate the line between doing stuff that's inflammatory and controversial vs doing stuff BECAUSE it's imflammatory and controversial.




  
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ThatJamesGuy
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Jul 28, 2011 02:58 |  #2
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What..the..****..


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kajiwara13
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Jul 28, 2011 03:05 |  #3

photos must be seen




  
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Clean ­ Gene
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Jul 28, 2011 03:15 |  #4

kajiwara13 wrote in post #12836110 (external link)
photos must be seen

I don't think it really relies on the specific picture. My bigger question is more about how to deal with the competing nagging little parts of your brain. Where on one hand you're thinking "**** those guys, this picture is good." Then you simultaneously have the other little guy sitting on your shoulder saying, "WTF...don't listen to that other guy. He's an idiot. No one's going to like this."

You know...the basic cartoon stereotype where the cartoon devil is sitting on a person's left shoulder, and a cartoon angel is sitting on the right shoulder. I'm asking how you guys react when you just get that overall feeling. Wherein both the angel and the devil are BOTH 100% right. How do you react when a concept or idea feels 100% worthy and valid, yet you simultaneously are absolutely 100% sure that absolutely no one is going to like that **** and that it's a bad idea to show it to anyone?

And additionally, do you find it hard to tread the line between "I'm doing this even though it's going to piss people off" and "I'm doing this BECAUSE it's going to piss people off"?




  
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ThatJamesGuy
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Jul 28, 2011 03:21 |  #5
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I'm just trying to imagine someone posing half frozen animal corpses for a photo..


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Clean ­ Gene
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Jul 28, 2011 03:30 |  #6

ThatJamesGuy wrote in post #12836137 (external link)
I'm just trying to imagine someone posing half frozen animal corpses for a photo..


Well, on one hand, think of it like this...most people I see AREN'T posing animal corpses. So regardless of the quality of the pictures or if they are saying anything meaningful, doing that sure as hell gets people's attention.

I'm just worried about venturing into the whole "shock rock" kind of territory, in which getting attention is really the only reason why I try to do it.




  
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MrEddy
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Jul 28, 2011 08:24 |  #7

Have to respond to this with two things. One - immediate thought springs to the film 'A Zed and Two Noughts', which is completely irrelevant, but somewhat related to the subject matter of your photos. But that aside... I find the idea of presenting something that has THAT sort of reaction fantastic. How interesting is everyone 'liking' something by comparison? I'm obviously putting aside commercial considerations. It doesn't sound like broad appeal is part of what you're going for anyway, I'm surprised that it's giving you so much pause. Isn't a strong reaction the entire point? Doesn't always have to be happiness or joy.

Obviously I don't have the same vision as you do so I have to admit to not having faced the same kind of problem (my photographic problems are much more mundane - mostly lack of talent). But on the other side of things, I _like_ to be challenged, whether it's through photography, music, film or other mediums, so I'll happily camp on the side of 'piss people off - it's good for them', and some of the rest of us will enjoy it for other reasons.


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PhotosGuy
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Jul 28, 2011 09:20 |  #8

Where if that many people hate it, I obviously must have done SOMETHING wrong.

No matter what you do, someone will love it, someone will hate it, someone will come up with a trolling comment just to get attention, & many won't know what to say will just ignore it & move on.
So what? Some "art" is made simply to generate thought & controversy.

I suspect that I went too far with that audience.

"Suspect", crap! You knew that going in & what amazes me is that you were surprised at the reactions? REALLY? (SNL reference there.)

I can think of several reasons why those images might be suitable for a commercial application. But I don't want to think that you might be trolling here just to get our reactions when you well know already what they might be. ;)


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quiksquirrel
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Jul 28, 2011 09:35 |  #9

First of all, I really can't see how a few dead animals could possibly be controversial, let alone inflammatory.

And to answer your question.
I deal with stuff like that by not dealing with it. Honestly, I couldn't care less if people hate my work (unless they're clients).
If I like it, that's enough for me. If other people don't like it, they don't have to look at it.

Doing something SPECIFICALLY to provoke that sort of response on the other hand, is kind of pathetic. It has been done to many times, and generally only serves to "hide" the fact that the "artist" didn't have the skills or creativity to do anything else.




  
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MikeFairbanks
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Jul 28, 2011 10:12 |  #10

As we say in the action sports world when someone tells a story: Without pics it didn't happen.


Thank you. bw!

  
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Jul 28, 2011 10:16 |  #11

^^^x2


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Jul 28, 2011 10:20 |  #12

MikeFairbanks wrote in post #12837296 (external link)
As we say in the action sports world when someone tells a story: Without pics it didn't happen.

My favorite is IndyJeff's, "If you saw it happen, you didn't get the shot." :D


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ssim
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Jul 28, 2011 12:00 |  #13

MikeFairbanks wrote in post #12837296 (external link)
As we say in the action sports world when someone tells a story: Without pics it didn't happen.

Ditto....

Not that I really care but is the ******ing, *****ked necessary to tell the story.


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SOK
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Jul 28, 2011 18:56 |  #14

ssim wrote in post #12837808 (external link)
Not that I really care but is the ******ing, *****ked necessary to tell the story.


I know...makes it really ****ing hard to read! :D


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jmg181
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Jul 28, 2011 19:40 |  #15

Clean Gene wrote in post #12836092 (external link)
Anyway, that's sort of an issue for me. Because I'm sort of having difficulty balancing out what people want to see, and what I want to show. So I'm just sort of curious how y'all mentally deal with the absolute certainty that your work is going to piss people off, and how you navigate the line between doing stuff that's inflammatory and controversial vs doing stuff BECAUSE it's imflammatory and controversial.

Honestly... the answer depends. Its one thing to be contracted to do a specific piece of work, and its another to do something that speaks to you for the sake of art. If its for the sake of art, or your take being asked for....

Screw what other people think, because you were asked for your take. Art isn't about pleasing people, avoiding conflict, etc. Art is expression, and that transcends photography. If you are doing it for the sake of pissing people off, that in itself can either be art, or being a jerk, but it depends on the situation.

In other words... if you're getting paid, you do what the client wants. If what the client wants is summery happy pretty pictures, thats what you'd take. If the client wants a gritty look at life, thats what you'd take.

If you're not getting paid, and you're looking to show something that catches your eye, that has meaning to you in some way, then thats what you do.

That is your responsibility in any business - providing what the client wants. When you're doing something personal (or from your personal view as requested by the client), its personal, and you do what feels right for you - other peoples opinions don't really apply.


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How do you approach pictures that you know will be controversial?
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