The Photographic idea

This past week I got into a discussion with two local photographers about photography as Art. Their opinion was that photography has become mostly a point-and-shoot process that is really all about documenting one’s personal life.

I think defining Art has always been “in the eye of the beholder”.  

I remember a friend chastising me when I was too critical of a photographer’s image, by saying that all to familiar phrase, “I may not know about Art, but I do know what I like.” 

Ansel Adams, in the forward to his popular 1950’s book “The Print” said, “Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles…” and he continued, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art…technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I remember the series of books by Adams when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a good final print.

We don’t need to worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t satisfactory it’s easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened later. Contrast can be changed and increasingly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make large prints at all. 

That said, I still think that Adams’ forward in “The Print” may be as worthwhile now as it was in 1950 for a photographer’s Art. Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process is still important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the negative, and the printing procedure. He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the files, and outputting to an online portfolio.

Adams wrote, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes. So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative…” He continues by saying, “the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print (image file?) itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”   Those words remind me not to be as critical of other photographers work, if as Adams put it, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

I think what my friend meant when he said, ““I may not know Art, but I do know what I like.”   Was that I should be paying attention to what a photographer might be saying with his or her image and remind myself to think about “interpretation” and the “performance of the photographic idea.”

That is why its good that I still have that somewhat out-dated book, and why I should regularly open it up. After all the prattle about the newest camera, or lens, or computer programs, I need to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.

Anacortes, the Shipwreck Festival, and Photography

Welcome Seagull

Just waiting

Bargan hunters


What a crowd

Patriotic Hydrant

Fireman,armadillo,H2O bar

Red door

Red Crown gas

three windows

Calm ocean


Kayaks away

Tree at Washington park


Any excuse I can find to visit the coastal town of Anacortes in Washington State is good. An easy four to five hour highway drive from my home in Pritchard to what is referred to as the homeport of the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands, is the town of Anacortes and an annual event called the Shipwreck Festival.

Since 1981, the Shipwreck Festival is actually a giant community garage sale that on the third weekend of July each year occupies about nine blocks of the town’s main street, offering, I suppose, “plunder” or “treasure,” which are the favorite local words from over 200 or more businesses, organizations, antique dealers, small vendors, and families for all the neat stuff they have for sale.

As I wrote, any excuse I have to visit Anacortes is good, and although my main goal is the photographic opportunities I can find in that old town’s architecture and the rugged coastline, I do enjoy wandering through the giant flea market while on my way and always, always meeting interesting people.

And this year was no exception. Just as I finished parking my car and was getting my camera out of its bag I chanced to meet, talk, and exchange emails with local photographer Dan Codd. Although we were both in a rush to get going, my wife and I to begin our journey into the street market and Codd to do some street photography, Codd (from what I can see online is prolific wildlife and scenic photographer) took the time to make some suggestions on places to photograph.

Later my wife Linda and I, met and had coffee with a couple that were spending the week sailing with a group on a very large two masted schooner. We talked about Anacortes, sailing and photography, and coincidently, they were named John and Linda.

Upon arriving the first night we chanced on a downtown bar, “The H20,” and behold, they had live music. The place was packed, but a friendly waiter said, “Just wait”. And after a moment talking with the performers, “Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble”, who smiled from the stage area and waved, we moved to the front and sat at the table that had been set-aside for them. And naturally, later that evening, the lead singer, Mr. Taylor, slid in beside us to say hello.

I have to say a that late night at the bar and a day walking and poking through the street market tires a guy out, nevertheless, after a late lunch as my wife took a break back at the motel I grabbed my camera and headed out to prowl the alleys, marina, and eventually the rugged coast of the nearby Washington State park. I started out about at 3pm and got back when I began loosing the light several hours later.

This was not the first time I have strolled through the neighborhoods of Anacortes. I like the bright colours owners have painted their doors, windowsills and porches. Along the main streets there are many buildings still standing that I expect must be from the late 1920s or 1930s. There is a shipyard filled with large vessels, a boat filled marina and, just a short drive away, the wonderful rocky, and easily accessible coastline that surrounds the park, all just waiting for me to photograph.

This was the kind of vacation that I like – the opportunity to photograph, within less than a day’s drive to a completely different environment then the one I live in, a chance to meet new people, great seafood restaurants, and, I almost forgot, the Shipwreck Festival.

I like your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at