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Wise rather than clever

From: Narrative Portraiture: Portraits of Two Texas Artists

Video: Wise rather than clever

I have another photographic assignment for you, and with this one I think the title says it all, the title is Wise Rather than Clever. You may remember one of the previous movies when I was talking about Keith's darkroom and I was showing those different phrases that he has written in his darkroom. One of those phrases was "Create pictures that are wise rather than clever." What does that exactly mean? Well, sometimes I think intelligence is something that we gain quickly. It happens fast. Wisdom, well, that's something that we can only gain through experience and through the passage of time.

Wise rather than clever

I have another photographic assignment for you, and with this one I think the title says it all, the title is Wise Rather than Clever. You may remember one of the previous movies when I was talking about Keith's darkroom and I was showing those different phrases that he has written in his darkroom. One of those phrases was "Create pictures that are wise rather than clever." What does that exactly mean? Well, sometimes I think intelligence is something that we gain quickly. It happens fast. Wisdom, well, that's something that we can only gain through experience and through the passage of time.

You know so often in contemporary and modern photography, we try to create those frames which are clever. We take someone down to the beach and the beach is kind of gloomy. We have them holding a red or bright yellow umbrella, and then we compose a frame so they are on the rule of thirds, and we have this clever picture. But it doesn't really say very much. It's not very deep. Those photographs that are wise, they have this depth. They are profound. They say more. They say something which we can only say if we are patient.

You know as I think about that phrase, wise rather than clever, I think back to that photo shoot, that one when I was photographing Charles Stagg. You know after it I was talking with Keith and I said, "Keith, did you make any frames, did you take any pictures?" and he said, "Oh yeah, I did." And I started to talk to him about that, and he said, "Yeah, I made three pictures." Three pictures! You know, I compare that to my 300 or more. Here he took one picture per hour. Now granted Keith had been there before, he knew Charles.

But I guarantee that his pictures were full of something different than mine. In a sense I was trying to be clever, capture the person and the space and the place and think about composition and light and form. Now Keith was thinking about all those things, but perhaps he was thinking about something even more. And that's what I want you to do. One way that you could approach this is to go out and to photograph someone and to photograph one image per hour or photograph a location that way. In other words, take your time. Slow way, way down.

Another way that you could do this assignment would be to create a project for yourself. "I want to photograph this" and then give yourself a duration, say, of one or two years and then take time making those pictures. And I think if you take time and if you give your photography the space of time, sometimes what can happen is you can create those frames that are perhaps wise rather than clever.

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Narrative Portraiture: Portraits of Two Texas Artists

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Chris Orwig
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