Friday, November 19, 2010

Zen and the Art of Photography

I've been reading the book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," by Robert M. Pirsig. Many people read this book years ago but, somehow, I never did. Now, I am. Not because I happen to be a Harley-Davidson motorcycle owner/rider (I am) but, if truth be known, the book's title, all on it's own, has always beckoned me. Why it's taken so long for me to finally purchase a copy and read it is something I can't explain.

It's slow going, the reading that is. Not because I'm a slow reader: I'm no Evelyn Wood but I can read at a fairly speedy pace. It's slow going because so much of what Pirsig wrote truly resonates with me. It resonates in ways that makes me want to constantly ponder what he's saying. To use a much used phrase, it's thought provoking. (When I'm thought-provoked, I usually advance at much slower rates.)

Pirsig's book, of course, isn't intended as a guide to motorcycle maintenance. Motorcycle maintenance, while being an integral part of the story, is used as analogy and metaphor. There's even an occasional simile thrown in. Mostly, Pirsig's book is about life and how we perceive it.

If Robert Pirsig were a photographer, he could have easily titled his book, "Zen and the Art of (insert any genre) Photography. He could have used whatever genre of photography he enjoyed shooting most as the analogy for the topics he wrote about in his book. His book has a universally applied feel and appeal that way.

One of his discussions (he calls them chautauquas) talks about classical versus romantic perceptions. Pirsig says most people view things in one of two ways: either from a classical perspective or a romantic perspective. I think this is especially true for photographers.

Those who see things from mainly a classical perspective understand (or seek to understand) their underlying form. For photographers, it might mean they're most interested in the science of photography-- why, from a technical point-of-view, one picture works and another might not. If you, like me, often visit photography forums, you probably already realize that many photographers seem (almost obsessively) focused on photography from this classical perspective. (Gear, technique, etc.)

Romantic perceptions are more immediate and focus on the appearance of things and less on how that appearance was achieved. Romantic perceptions are, as Pirsig notes, "...primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive." Feelings, as opposed to facts, dominate romantic perceptions.

It seems to me truly great photographers find a unique balance between the classical and the romantic. They find a balance between the art and science of photography. They realize both are important, equally important. They know that no amount of classical thinking or classical application, as it's applied to photography, will suffice or will produce memorable results. They know great photographs must appeal, first and foremost, to the romantic; regardless of how that appeal was achieved or the underlying forms and functions which generated the romantic appeal.

I've thought about authoring another ebook, one titled, "Zen and the Art of Glamour Photography." It would mostly concern itself with the romantic side of photography and from more of a philosophical perspective. I'm not convinced, however, that many would be interested in reading such a book. I have no problem running apart from the pack. While the vast majority of photography ebooks concern themselves with the classical, technical, and science of photography (and less on the romantic, creative, and intuitive) I don't relish putting my heart and soul into something that doesn't produce tangible rewards... as materialistic as that might be.

Sorry if I've gone all philosophical today. It's a bit dreary outside-- overcast, drizzling, and chilly. (i.e., chilly for Southern California... which probably ain't that chilly for many people in other places.) These kinds of days often have this effect on me.

The pretty girl at the top is another from my set with Penthouse Pet, Tori Black, on a pool table.


Joshua said...

I'm right with you on this book. Though, I haven't started it yet. It seems like most around me has read it. My room mate has given me the low-down on it and it seems like I need to get it...right after I get through some of this other book he threw on my desk today "The power of your subconscious mind" by Dr. Joesph Murphy.

Dan's Life and Times said...

I would definitely read it. I'm a romantic at heart and tend to view everything that way.

Dan Holahan

Jim in Huntsville said...

Don't give up on the classical book. I never thought about it, but a stroll to my bookshelf shows tens of books on technique, but nary a one on the "gut" aspect of what makes one picture work and another, technically equal photo, not work. While my photos are good and I get pleasant reviews from viewers, I've yet to have someone say that one of my photos moved them.

Gregory said...

Read the book years ago and should read it again if my son hasn't disposed of it. On the non-photography front what HD are you riding out there? I for one would gladly transfer funds via paypal for your view of the romantic side of photography. There is only so much gear can do for you.

jimmyd said...

@Gregory: My ride is a '99 FXDL. (Dyna Low Rider) Some call these "club bikes" but I don't ride with a club. The front-end has been replaced by one from a Dyna Wide-Glide which gives it a bit more of a rake. It's all black w/chrome. You can see a pic of it here:

Joshua said...

I forgot to add, where are the models feet? I can't quite figure out how her butt is off the table and her feet are nowhere in range of support for that pose. Driving mah brain gearz!

jimmyd said...

@Joshua: You mean you don't have one of those Paul C. Buff levitation machines? With their AC9 Alien Bee adapter, you can levitate your model with a Pocket Wizard. I'm thinking Paul Buff used to be one of the MIB and he secreted some alien technologies out the door.

Joshua said...

OMG he's such a genius!