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.