It isn't really about making "good" pictures - text by Jeff Ladd, photographer



It Isn't Really About Making "Good" Pictures

As counterintuitive as it sounds, studying photography or putting into practice what one learns is not just about making "good" pictures. As students or even professionals, we come equipped with images in our heads that we identify as "good" masterworks. It used to be said that if a photographer made five great pictures a year that would stand the test of time, then that was a great year for that photographer. But the real point of photographic education is establishing a relationship with a medium that informs your life even when you are not directly engaged with it. The "good" photos that may come from that relationship (as wonderful gifts) are ultimately secondary to the pursuit. Anyone can learn how to make a photograph that suits a set of criteria of being "good." There have been dozens of "how to" books that lay out such direction very clearly and concisely. But what do you learn from photography pursued in that manner? How is that a sounding board for your relationship to the world and your interest in what you are describing?

The pursuit of art is a three-way collaboration between the world, the medium, and the artist. The artist is the weak link. What makes any established relationship with any artistic medium ultimately necessary for any individual is how that relationship directs our engagement with the world. My link to the world is through photography, and if making "good" photos was the endgame, then I would have given up my pursuit. The hidden gift is that with the establishment of that relationship, the medium and the world (and ultimately you) do not allow one to rest on their successes. The medium and your lessons learned force you to continuously up the ante in your picture making and your pursuit of knowledge. Your past successes will most likely fade with time, because you are interested in the next photograph. This constant self-criticism is what at times defeats artists but at other times causes them to continue to grow and challenge themselves. If it weren’t for that self-criticism, the artistic side of the medium would have died long ago.

—Jeffrey Ladd, photographer and ICP - International Center of Photography - faculty member.

Thanks a lot, Jeff.
I made this photograph in São Paulo, 2003.