Hello everyone, this is Laurent Breillat for Learn Photographyand welcome to this new video!
Today, I would like to talk about the place of instinct or intuition in photography. The idea came to me while reading a page of the book Photo Work at Aperture, where 40 photographers answer questions about their practice.
American photographer Matthew Connorswhich was exhibited at the MoMA in New York, answers an interesting question: “… I think it is a good idea to have an exhibition on this subject.Where would you place your style on a continuum between completely intuitive and intellectually formulated?”
I’ll read you his answer right after, but I thought I’d tell you about it right away, because I think that for many beginners and amateurs of photography, it is difficult to know how to make the difference between reflection and intuition..
Indeed, when you start, you often don’t have so much intuition on how to photograph a scene (I’m talking of course in terms of composition, for the settings it’s a bit harder to do them intuitively ^^). And yet, when you start to listen a bit to the great photographers, we realize that many people say they don’t really know how they do it…. Just, they photograph as it comes to them.
Some people think much further upstream, of course, such as, for example, Gregory Crewdson that I told you about in Incredible Photographers. But that doesn’t mean they can explain their choices rationally.
Then how come? Do these photographers just have a special talent, innate, almost magical, that you’ll never have?
Well, I don’t believe in that. Before I elaborate, I’m going to read Matthew Connors’ answer to the question he was asked. I’ll give you a rough translation.
For the record, he is asked where his style falls between completely intuitive and intellectually formulated :
“It’s somewhere in between. Where exactly depends on the particular project and its stage of development. While I photograph, I try to tap into the reservoirs of intuition I have. But I generally operate on the other side of the continuum when I make decisions about what contexts to approach, what form it should take, and what tools to take to the field. As a project progresses and important patterns emerge, I’m more concerned with the relationship between the images. When I photograph, it pushes me to make more conscious decisions about how new images can relate to existing ones.
But I have to say that I have never completely trusted the dichotomy between intellect and intuition. These supposedly different ways of working overlap in my mind. Our intuitions are ways of implementing very quickly a set of intellectual formulations that we have developed about the world. They’re constantly gestating in response to the culture we consume and the experiences we have. The way my intuition modulates an image at a given moment can be as much influenced by my relationship with my father as by a puddle I walked into the week before. Paul Graham once called a photographer’s intuition their “liquid intelligence”. It’s always stuck with me. »
I agree 100% with what Connors says.and so I would like to pick up on the three main points he makes in his statement.
1. Act of photographing vs what’s around
Firstly, it separates the act of photographing, as such, from everything around it.and in particular the preparation of a project, and the reflection on its evolution.
He is more in the intuition at the moment of photographing, and more in the reflection for all that there is around, notably the edition, therefore the selection of the images, and the orientations that he will give to the project, as a red thread emerges.
2. Evolution as progress is made
Second, it talks about a progression as a project progresses.. If you’ve been following the different videos of my photographic series, you may remember that it goes exactly like this: I start purely on instinct, I let a red thread emerge intuitively, then I identify it consciously, and I make conscious choices of constraints, which will then guide my shooting.. It thus becomes a little more intellectual (it is no longer 100% intuition), but at the same time these constraints are somewhat liberating: intuition can express itself 100% freely within this given framework, without wondering if we are going to succeed in doing something coherent. The framework reassures on the final coherence of the project, and allows in the end to avoid the parasites of the conscious brain, which has already given its opinion, and which is happy.
Moreover, the students of the Regard Nomade know this, since it is the method that is taught in it.
3. No separation of intelligence / intuition
The third and last thing he mentions is that in the end there is no separation between the two…. And I agree with that 100%. For me, intuition is just “unconscious intelligence”.. That is to say that this intuition develops because it has been nourished from external sources and personal reflections.
The reason why an experienced photographer can compose quite intuitively, without really knowing how to explain why, is not a particular talent. It is because he has recorded so much information through cultivation and practice that he is no longer even aware of it.. But it doesn’t make her any less cerebral.
So I don’t completely pull this out of my hat, it’s actually been proven in a study. I swiped this out of the book. Seven Myths about Education.
An experiment has been made on chess players of all levels, from grandmasters to novices. They were presented with a chess board from a real game… for a very short time (between 2 and 10 seconds), and they were asked to replace the pieces of memory.
The great masters were able to reproduce with near-perfect precision (93%!) the positions that still contained about 25 pieces!
Experts replaced 72%, good amateurs 50%, and novices 33%.
But the amazing thing is that they then repeated the experience years later……with the same result, by the way, but they did add an interesting variable they placed the pieces at random on the board, on certain exercises.
And in this situation, all players, from masters to novices, remembered only 3 or 4 pieces on averageThis is even worse than the novices on the first experience, who were working on real chess situations.
This experience therefore suggests that the main difference between chess novices and grandmasters is above all the number of memorized positions they have in mind. Chess is in fact not so much a game based on reflection as on memory. Researchers estimate that a chess grandmaster has memorized between 10 000 and 100 000 possible positions of the board!
Since then, the experience has been duplicated in several labs, and in other fields such as algebra, physics and medicine. What this proves is that elements of other problems appear in the newand knowing them helps to solve new ones.
On the other hand, if the circumstances are not similar, competence is not transferred.
So to get back to photography, it’s obviously not a scientific field, but you see what I’m getting at here: if you’ve unconsciously memorized hundreds or thousands of photographs of great masters of photography – because you’ve opened a lot of books, you’ve been to book fairs and stuff… –, it will make you gain in intuition when shooting, and allow you to compose your images elegantly, without knowing how to do it in the end..
Here you go, I hope this reflection will help you to place the cursor for you, and will encourage you once again to develop your photo culture. 🙂 Tell me in comment the place that instinct and reflection have in your photography, it interests me a lot to know how you, you feel it on a daily basis!
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I’ll see you in the next video, and until then, see you soon, and good pictures!