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Thread: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

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    xpatUSA's Avatar
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    Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    There's a philosophy, with a following, in the world of music:

    For example, a guitarist whose instrument has but one pick-up and a volume control. The amp has no special effects, maybe just volume, bass and treble (like in the old days before 'prescence' was added). The amp output is clean and pure. No foot-pedals. The guitarist produces pure and simple sounds not a wall of distortion and the like.

    Is there a place for such minimalism in the world of photography?

    I ask because, from just one camera (a humble Kodak C643), I now have a Galaxy smartphone/8MB cam, a Canon point-and-shoot, 3 Sigma DSLRs and a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds! It just doesn't seem right somehow . . especially for an amateur who prints nothing, rarely takes any pictures of note and who, instead, spends more time getting anal about optical and photological theory.
    Last edited by xpatUSA; 5th September 2013 at 03:30 AM. Reason: clarified the question, removed the link

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    I'm sorry but...I am not going to give up the life style that we slaved for all those years. For what...
    an attack of conscience about the perceived needs in the world. Human behavior hasn't changed since
    the dawn of man...accumulation of stuff through work or warfare is/was a prime motivating factor in
    our development...just like food, reproduction, shelter and the rest of our needs.

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Those who die with the most toys win! Actually, although I have spent quite a bit of money on my photo equipment, the money I spent doesn't compare with what some hobbies cost. My next door neighbor races cars, another sails. Now those are some REALLY expensive hobbies

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    xpatUSA's Avatar
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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    I've removed a link in the OP to a site which promotes minimalism per se, not wishing to appear to be in favor of such a life-style. I'll try the question again - is there a place for minimalism in photography? The preceding posts seem not to address that question but do instead appear to promote the opposite. Or, refining said question a bit more, is there a place for photographic minimalism in these fora? Either in the form of a paucity of equipment, or a simplicity of output - perhaps in the Japanese tradition, embodying zen, wabi, sabi, and such?
    Last edited by xpatUSA; 5th September 2013 at 01:41 PM.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Of course there is, particularly as a hobby where, not being driven by any commercial imperative, it can be as diverse as we choose to make it and minimalism can sit at one end of that diversity. There is though, a difference in my opinion, between Minimalism in terms of equipment and that in terms of output. The fact that you never want too much clutter in a composition apart, Minimalism in terms of output is a style choice. I guess it can deliberately be so in terms of the equipment you own, but is it that straight forward? When I first started in Photography, I couldn't afford an SLR. I relied instead on an old folding bellows camera that had been given to me. That was minimalist born of economic need. As my ideas developed, that camera became limiting and I moved on to better equipment. Had I left minimalism behind? In that I no longer used a camera only capable of the basic necessary functions required to take a photograph, you could say that I had. In that I only owned the minimum in terms of equipment needed to satisfy my developing photographic needs and not for the sake of pride of ownership (i.e. nice to have), the answer I guess would have to be no I hadn't. It depends on your definition of the term. Am I rambling on, I probably am

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    I may be misunderstanding Ted but to me simpfication is one of the most important aspects of photography and separates the men from the boys ... the careful selection of the essential from the 'get it all in' mob. There is a place for the GIAI becuase it obviously appeals to the great unwashed masses so it is commercially justified.
    I am using un-PC terms above but they are the easiest to use.

    As to equipment I was writing on another forum tonight about a person in my early days of photography who simply had a Contax and the standard [ or kit] lens who set us thinking, admiring him and his work/technique. In those days most of us simply had a single camera.
    I have serious reservations about the newbie who buys a camera and two lens kit.
    Last edited by jcuknz; 5th September 2013 at 08:08 AM.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    If your talking about the Minimalistic image...for some reason, that I yet to figure out, this image
    that has but three points of reference has become one of my most popular images.

    Mini Competition #1713

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    I'm not sure if you mean minimalist gear, or minimalist photos. So I'll answer both questions.

    Can you get stunning results from very small gear collections? The M4/3 revolution is all the proof one needs. One camera, one or two primes, and I think a street, landscape, fine art, or architecture photographer would have enough gear for a career. An action photographer would be up the creek. Ditto for portraits and events. Could they get by with one camera and no lights? Sure, but in those situations, two high-end DSLRs might be just as minimalist (in terms of fulfilling your specialty's requirements and the customer's expectations) as an M4/3 camera for photographers with less demanding subject matter. Likewise, a portrait photographer's lighting demands will be massively different from a sports photographer's, so they'll each have different definitions of minimalist.

    I suspect part of the reason we accumulate gear is that our photography branches off into areas we didn't expect. Initially, I was thinking street photography, but that went out the window quickly when I was invited to start shooting roller derby. Suddenly my street minimalist setup was totally inadequate. A new body, two lenses, and three flashes later, I think I'm back on track. But a minimalist setup, however ergonomically and fiscally desirable, frequently falls by the wayside under demands for redundancy and performance.

    On the flipside, there's always room for aesthetic minimalism. I can't think of any area where there isn't room for very simple compositions. Note the massive, persistent popularity of white or black seamless paper for portrait photography. That's essentially the most minimalist background you can get, regardless of the equipment one uses to produce or capture it. Likewise, simple, uncluttered compositions tend to have good impact. But as always, there are countless exceptions.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Quote Originally Posted by chauncey View Post
    If your talking about the Minimalistic image...for some reason this image, that has but three points of reference, has become one of my most popular.
    That is a fine image which clearly illustrates the less-is-more-approach to the choice of scene, as opposed to 'GIAI' referred to by jcuknz above.

    I was also referring to equipment, having lately given in to the 'Gear Aquisition Syndrome' to a small extent. I have noticed that, in photographic fora, there is a tendency to 'downgrade' simple stuff like phone cameras and to 'upgrade' top-of-the-line DSLR's and to express some disbelief that a cell-phone could ever take as good a shot as a 12MP+ DSLR with professional lenses.

    On the other hand, we also read equally disparaging comments about people who buy, e.g., a Hasselblad and proceed to take holiday snaps with it.
    Last edited by xpatUSA; 5th September 2013 at 01:44 PM.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Quote Originally Posted by RustBeltRaw View Post
    I'm not sure if you mean minimalist gear, or minimalist photos. So I'll answer both questions.

    I suspect part of the reason we accumulate gear is that our photography branches off into areas we didn't expect.
    That's a good point. In my own case, I've accumulated 5 cameras all of which serve my purposes well enough. Theoretically, if I were to turn minimalist, 4 should go - thereby simplifying an equal accumulation of various batteries, chargers, CF cards, SD cards, etc etc.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Minimalism is something that usually implies specialization, whereas being a generalist tends to mean equipping oneself to deal with any eventuality.

    Henri-Cartier Bresson did most of his work with a Leica rangefinder camera and a 50mm lens. Pretty darn minimalist in my view. Yousef Karsh shot did almost all his work with an 8x10 Calumet view camera, but he also use photographic lights, much of it in B&W. Again, the minimalist definition fits in quite well.

    On the other hand, if your photography is more than just street photography / photojournalism or portraiture, one tends to get some rather specialized equipment. A portrait setup is not going to work for action photography or macro work. Add landscape work, and you are looking at additional lenses, filters, tripods, etc.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Ted, we also have to realize that for some such as the originator of the article you read, promoting their esoteric beliefs is as much their favourite hobby as photography may be yours. Whether it be vegetarians, environmentalists, movie critics, teachers, pot smokers, journalists, whatever, even photographers, each group has its self-appointed messiah's and even more spokespeople. Extremists like having an audience, are enjoying what they do and bask in their smugness. Even better if you get paid for a book or see your name in the paper. Might some even just be trying to convince themselves? You don't see where their lives go and what hobbies or followings they have on the sides.

    If you want to follow, fine. If you don't that's fine too just make sure their input is only adding to your own valuable opinion. We're not here long enough to give up everything we take pleasure in. As with any learning we need to grow and sometimes that means a healthy expansion of our resources including courses, books or tools.

    In my world, using the terms 'photography' with 'equipment minimalism' is oxymoronic. I suggest you would find more people with an opinion that completely support that stance and give you lots of good reasons as well.

    By the way, 2 years ago I attended a very good seminar called the 'Zen of Photography'. It had absolutely zero to do with lightening my camera case.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Ted - the moment you use the word "philosophy", what you are really saying is that you are applying an artifical constraint that has no real rationale for being there.

    There have been minimalist view for many different reasons; those that do not crop images, those that use prime lenses only, those that work exclusively in B&W, etc.

    I don't have an issue with, for instance using a prime because it is perhaps smaller or lighter than a zoom or has less distortion or is sharper. But to shoot primes only for no specific reason is "philosophy" and I frankly will never understand why people restrict their creativity in this way. It's rather likely only carrying screwdrivers in a tool box, and then using them as a pry bar or hammer. Yes, it might work, but why not use the proper tool for the job...

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Quote Originally Posted by xpatUSA View Post
    For example, a guitarist whose instrument has but one pick-up and a volume control. The amp has no special effects, maybe just volume, bass and treble (like in the old days before 'prescence' was added). The amp output is clean and pure. No foot-pedals. The guitarist produces pure and simple sounds not a wall of distortion and the like.
    Yes... but having spent time engineering and producing music many of those guitarists then go into a desk via a 'simple' mic, then out again, through half a dozen bits of valve and solid state rack mount kit, then through an AD converter, then a DSP, then a DA converter, back to the desk and then out of the desk again, through another AD and into a PC or MAC where it gets worked on even more with a collection of plug-ins, often to recreate the 'simple' analogue tone they started with

    But I get your point.

    In terms of equipment or output I think Manfred and Lex have said it all from my perspective.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    but why not use the proper tool for the job...
    That's precisely the reason I spent eight grand on my Canon 1DsMkIII years ago...I wanted one body,
    because of my eclectic style, that was capable of doing it all, from macro to BIF to those gymnasium
    shots, and a pile of MP for good measure. It serves me well.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Quote Originally Posted by chauncey View Post
    If your talking about the Minimalistic image...for some reason, that I yet to figure out, this image
    that has but three points of reference has become one of my most popular images.

    Mini Competition #1713
    Chauncey - it's clear to me why this is a great image. This is minimalism - and it's powerful. Well done and congratulations.

    You could have even eliminated the geese (ducks), and it would still be a powerful image.

    Someone (maybe it was you) suggested that an image should tell a story - this one does.

    Glenn

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    When HCB was taking photos I would suggest that most photographers only had one camera and one lens .. the current state of play is pure consumerism. Though another reason is the lack of specialisation in photography today where a 'photographer' is expected to handle anything?

    My impression of the link that the others were of the GIAI whereas while wide you have beautiful clean simplicity .... and an odd number of features
    Last edited by jcuknz; 5th September 2013 at 10:18 PM.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Glenn, you humble me sir...thank you.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    I don't see what is so unknown about minimal gear. Most people are getting by with an iPhone as their only camera and instagram as their only pp. Minimalism is also relative. One person's minimal setup is another person's awesome kit. I, too, started with the Kodak 643. For a while, I used my phone, an upgraded Samsung point and shoot, and my D90. Now, my D90 sees a very high percentage of my overall use. But, now I have a few more lenses. Is that minimal? How to define it? I suppose if I change lenses, I lose minimalism but I am not sure. I never really thought of my increased set up as a deterrent to style or quality imagery. Quite the opposite. So, this part of the argument has no real point for me.

    In terms of artistic minimalism, I am all for it. Many will say looking at an abstract sunset: Where is the subject? This image needs a boat or something. I say: gorgeous.

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    Re: Is there a Place for Minimalism in Photography?

    Quote Originally Posted by xpatUSA View Post
    There's a philosophy, with a following, in the world of music:

    For example, a guitarist whose instrument has but one pick-up and a volume control. The amp has no special effects, maybe just volume, bass and treble (like in the old days before 'prescence' was added). The amp output is clean and pure. No foot-pedals. The guitarist produces pure and simple sounds not a wall of distortion and the like.
    Gotta love it! Charlie Christian is my guitar idol. That's all he used. However, at the time he was using it, that particular choice of equipment was leading edge, even revolutionary. So is what you describe as "minimalism" today actually just using antiquated equipment?

    After a 35 year love affair with a Pentax SP1000, I have joined the digital revolution. I know, from years of shooting film, and now digital, the photographer is the artist, whatever equipment they use.

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