The Introduction section of the course materials encouraged students to look at the work by Joachim Schmid. (Boothroyd, 2014) described the photographer as follows:-
‘Joachim Schmid (b.1955) is a prominent German photographer who has based his photographic career on using other people’s pictures. In a genre referred to as Found Photography Schmid provides witty and perceptive insights into our collective fascination with using photography to document our existence.’
I was interested in a lot of Joachim’s comments throughout the interview and made the following observations:
‘If you look at many photographs – that’s true not only for snapshots – it’s nearly impossible not to notice recurring patterns’ I assume this is generally how photography developed anyway: rules of composition didn’t happen by accident, they developed by looking at images that somehow appeared to ‘work’ whilst others looked ‘unbalanced’ or unpleasing to the eye somehow. The ‘recurring patterns’ while the art form was evolving would have included keeping horizontal and vertical lines parallel to the edge of the frame, picking 3 items to include in a group rather than 4, say, using leading lines etc. Colour theory would also have been developed by the physical human reaction to seeing contrasting colours together. Both types of emerging ‘patterns’ would have led to photographers taking images which generally comply with rules of composition and colour. Now that photography is much more advanced it should be no surprise to us that given the volume produced, that focus on patterns within photography has evolved to looking at e.g. how wedding group images are formed which best ‘fit’ the needs of the married couple to remember their guests, the way they interacted on the day etc., and why these formats are copied in their 1000’s. Schmid has developed this into more of a scientific study of the patterns and how they seem to educate us ‘subliminally’ to take photographs that conform to ‘norms’.
‘A digital presentation seemed to be the obvious way to present digital images. I was happy with the results but I noticed soon that it is difficult to get an attention span of more than a few minutes for digital presentations. Then I tried books. People look at them much longer, page by page, going from book to book. I have seen people who spent two hours looking at books’. This should be obvious to anyone who uses the Internet regularly. The entry point is via a search engine which presents slithers of information together to allow you to locate the article containing the information you need. The skill of scanning snippets of information at high speed is related to using a computer and the efficiencies you gain from that. Why would you then assume to use the same piece of equipment to fully digest information (be that an image or an article)? Very frequently I print stuff off from the Internet in preference to reading it on screen, not just because it saves my eyesight from the glare of a screen, but simply so I make a point of reading it through thoroughly from start to finish. It is the same with images. Also there is a sensory, tactile pleasure gained from holding a book or print, feeling the texture and even sometimes smelling the pages/prints (especially old musty ones!).
‘If millions of people are happy taking the same pictures again and again they won’t stop.’ Sontag highlighted the ‘work ethic’ drive to capture and record all of our images and she even went on to suggest that this is very apparent for certain nationalities who are traditionally predisposed to having a strong work ethic such as the Chinese and Germans when they are on holiday. (Sontag, 1977). Further, people are not generally interested in the millions of other photographs out there that match their ‘set’, they are just interested in their own and therefore it’s actually totally irrelevant that the global stock of photographs contains so much repetition or clichéd patterns.
‘I think we have to face some facts hardly anyone talks about. One of them is overproduction, not the overproduction of photographs but the overproduction of photographers. There are hundreds of art schools in Europe, each of them churns out another bunch of young artists every year, and most of them don’t stand a chance on the art market. A limited number of galleries, a limited number of collections, shrinking budgets of public collections, and a constantly increasing number of artists.’ This is something which probably the OCA welcomes with open arms, but from a student perspective, I think Schmid is worrying too much! Students of photography will have multiple reasons for studying it in 2015: they may want to just generally improve technically for their own personal (hobby) satisfaction; they may want it to support another venture such as that of teaching, where this skill might be used to provide additional learning materials or charity workers who may wish to advertise their own events, create their own websites etc. Maybe many just simply enjoy it ! Years ago, the majority of students of photography probably set their sights on higher achievements, but generally had fewer reasons to study it – perhaps they wanted to go into journalism or take portraits of celebrities or the royal family, the common denominator was that this was likely to be their main source of income; nowadays the link between the study and the target end result might be a vast range of reasons not solely linked to generating income.
Sontag, S. 1977 On Photography. Penguin Modern Classics, 2014.
Boothroyd, S. (2014) An Interivew with Joachim Schmid. At: www.weareoca.com/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid/