a photo study: the photographer II

Looking for curves…Nikon D750    f/7.1    1/80s   35mm   100 ISO

“Photography is a medium where one admires the work done by others…It is great to admire the work of other people, but it’s necessary to have one’s own distinctive style…I would rather be a mediocre photographer than an excellent imitator..the best thing I have ever heard about my work is when someone said, “that is unmistakably a Ralph Gibson photograph…” ~Ralph Gibson

During a taped interview with COOPH, Ralph Gibson shares a koan that was offered to him by Dorothea Lange, “Oh, I see your problem Ralph you have no point of departure.”

To which Ralph replied, “That’s true Dorothea. What is the point of departure?

“Well if you have your camera and you’re going down to the drugstore to buy toothpaste…you have an objective to buy toothpaste…you might then intersect something worth photographing. But if you just walk around the street looking for something to shoot you will never achieve very much.”

Looking for geometric shapes….Nikon D750   f/7.1   0.4s  24mm   100 ISO

Ralph Gibson has expanded his initial understanding of a point of departure.  It guides him to be looking for an unusual point of interest or perspective in an ordinary frame. To help achieve this point of departure, he notes, “Take your camera everywhere with you… If you have your camera in tow, chances are that you might come across a striking frame. But, if you just stand at the corner of a street and wait for something to happen, you will never get a picture.”

“To have a point of departure is not to go out and shoot. It’s to have a project in mind and going out looking for a shot that represents or showcases this emotion or concept that your project is about.” ~Ralph Gibson

looking for shadows…Nikon D750   f/7.1  1/30s   35mm   100 ISO

“From now on, before I go shoot, I’ll consult internally to focus on one thing I want to capture, and have that point of departure. It’ll give purpose to my work and me being out there. The advantages are that I’ll learn patience, presence and a deeper sense of observation. This is a powerful and deep message…have a point of departure.” ~Ralph Gibson

  1. Find your point of departure….decide what to photograph. ”Is it the who or the what I’m photographing…?”  What is it I’m looking for in…?
  2.  Establish a visual signature…when you look at the work of somebody you admire that photographer has a visual signature to their work.  It is because their way of looking is something you recognize…how they are perceiving the world…
  3. Don’t listen to the critics…if you pay attention to what other people say about your work, you’re not going to really know very much about your own work. You’re going to know what they think about it but you’re not going to know why you do it.
  4. Be inspired…the key is not to get too inspired. Staying inspired is really the number one question in the creative person’s life.
looking for shadows…Nikon 750   f/7.1   1/15s   35mm   100 ISO

“I have investigated a lot of ideas—I love taking pictures of nothing, of ordinary objects, maybe even just the corner of a room. I love flattening and even reducing things. When I photograph flesh, I like to make it look like a stone. But, when I am photographing a stone, I like to make it look alive. I love re-contextualising the quality of my subjects.”~Ralph Gibson

Why not take a few minutes to wander about a gallery of Ralph Gibson’s work:   http://www.ralphgibson.com/gallery.html

As I’ve noted before, I have enjoyed the process of sharing ideas and images.  I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about point of departure. 


    1. Today while out on a photo walk with an objective in mind I experienced an increased awareness of my environment and consequently I was, at times, photographing a number of distractions. So, I wonder if for me is the “intent” more about being present than having a theme. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      1. I favor the idea of ‘being present’. The practice of ‘letting go’ works well in photography unless, of course, you have to photograph something in particular for an article or illustration.

        Even then a peaceful mind will find the best POV or lighting for the subject. My best photos are usually the ones that I had no plans to make.


      2. First, Brenda, I want to say that quite often when a photo showed up in my reader and I thought it was yours, and I was right. 😉
        I wonder if we could benefit from both. I mean have a point of departure once in a while, and without a point of departure the rest of the time. My feeling is that one would help me to look deeper, and the other broader.
        Just a thought… Have a great day.

      3. Thank you 😊 while there are bloggers whose photography I correctly identify, I do find it amazing how an image has the potential to reflect its photographer. Found my self pondering your words and realized that while out on a photo walk with a theme/objective…this point of departure may have acted like a shield. So, now I wonder is it possible or can I open myself to the world to see deeper and broader. Thank you for this perspective…clearly food for thought.

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