Creative method; Edward Steichen on photography
The creative method the National Association of educational broadcasters presents Edward Steichen on photography here first as Lyman Bryson photography is nowadays thought of as a great art and yet anyone can snap a camera. By what right can the mechanical recording of pictures be called creative. Mr. Edward Steichen and I had a conversation on this subject and had my first question went to this point. Well essentially Creative Photography is no different from creative I mean any other medium. The only basic difference is the technical difference. Photography is the only medium that begins with a finished product. The artist in any other medium the poet the musician for that matter begins with a blank area and then gradually builds up his conception as a having it under control all the time. The photographer sees the pressure of the button and then he struck the simplicity of
course as we know from the hours and thousands of amateur photographers among them through school children. It's easiest thing in the world to make a poor graph but the complication comes in the fact that you have to bring your full experience your full knowledge your perception your understanding your imagination all of the qualities which an artist must possess. Bring them into focus and what in one instant You're listening to Edward Steichen on photography. Or as. Well as. Creative. The photographer is create or one of 10 conversations with creative Americans about the nature of their work the creative method prepared by WGBH FM
in Boston under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio center. Later it will tell you how you may obtain excerpts from this and 21 other radio essays on the creative process in American arts sciences and professions. But now all Edward Steichen on photography. And here is Lyman Bryson. I don't want unnecessary to complicate our discussion Mr Steichen. But I'd like to go back a little bit to the prior question of just what is creative. Well I probably will give you the same answer that most everyone would give you but it's a very difficult thing to define. But creativity is seeing something or feeling something. Having an emotion about something whether it's a subject or not or a thought an idea or a concept. I'm bringing that all things together and putting him
through the crucible of the intellect. Until a new thing is born. I notice you use two different factors in this Mr Steichen one is the intellect and the other is the is the skill the artistic skill the trained gifts of the artist. Is it possible is it to be creative unconscious like. I don't think it's possible to be creative. It's possible to create something unconsciously that has the appearance of creative. This is what was in my mind mistaken. We often see in the great heaps of photography photography the great heaps of pictures that are taken by amateurs. I want to ask you some questions about amateurs later on. Occasionally something which is so striking so we would say if we know that you had taken it so perceptive and yet we have a strong suspicion that the amateur didn't know what he was doing are we being unjust to the amateur.
No because there's another peculiarity of photography it's probably the only medium wherein the medium itself creates a fine photograph. I let them know that I would limit the word mixer produces a response or for a fine photograph an automatic camera sometimes does it. We have seen X-ray photographs we've seen Fred terroristic astronomical photographs what the new 200 inch telescope does look peer into the skull and of speech some of the pictures are of extraordinary beauty. They're not creation. A child a very young child but has a normal sense of copying your own think produces some perfectly extraordinary things just simply instinctively. This disappears later on. Under the pressure of the desire to imitate the desire to do well with that instinctive something that the child has has in a way its counterpart with the machine produces.
I've seen extraordinary war photographs that were made with the North America camera fastened to a machine gun of the airplane duels for instance. There certainly was no photographer involved because the pilot was busy shooting and trying to bring down the plane. Well that that has to do with the subject which I suppose there's no limit to the subjects that a camera can make beauty and significance out of. But Europe's rather surprising statement that the artist with the camera begins with a finished product. Suggests to me that perhaps there may be both advantages and disadvantages in using a mechanical means. Decidedly yes. The advantages are of course that once you see clearly what you want. And you have the technical ability to handle the subject. You have got your tools. The disadvantage is what you have got to bring to that
instant the difficulties that are involved there. And there are almost a measurable laser not mechanical difficulties these are normal difficulties created by that are caused by the fact that you must deal with a mechanical engineer. I think that the people who don't take an interest in photography or don't believe that photography can possibly be an art exaggerate the importance of the mechanical instrument. As I said at the very beginning what the artist has to give. Must all be present when he makes a photograph. Whether or whether he's doing a great symphony or a poem or a painting of the same qualities are involved one of the old ideas of what is beautiful and not the old aesthetic as you might call it of painting the graphic arts do they apply to photography or do we need a new aesthetic. I don't think the pride of story every morning played in the else but the good and the beautiful and the truth is a cliche. The artist is concerned with
troops. Now whether the truth deals with something that's clear cut and forthright and honest or or whether it is the deep and dark devious. That is his. That's the room that he's exploring and that's what he must express at the time. There are people who says think that a sunset. Is Beautiful that's a purely automatic reaction if the sky is covered with what looks like current jelly. They say it's beautiful. But as if they've turned their back against a sunset they might see an afterglow reflected on the buildings that was infinitely more beautiful but they haven't their prejudices their preconceived notions to keep them from seeing it now those kind of prejudices happen to an artist. The lack of freedom that a needy ology a nation government can impose on an artist are as nothing compared to those he will impose upon himself by saddling himself with preconceived notions about things.
Well when you start by saying mistaken that the artist is trying to to depict the truth present truth and and it must be honest it's still true isn't it that two equally honest artists with perhaps comparable gifts might look at the same subject and produce two quite different pictures. No question about that. We've had through the entire history of painting and of music and poetry and everything. Then truth is something individual is used as the individual sees it possibly. But that suggests serious limitations on the area of art that I don't quite like. There are various kinds of troops. There might be various kinds of reality. I remember when Xan telling me a story once and he was in the museum and a boy and a girl were sitting opposite. Abstract painting.
And there she said to the boy or the boy said to the girl don't you think that abstraction is the greatest form of reality. And then Sean said I was tempted to go behind them and whispered Are you sure it's stiff it's dangerous to make positive assertions about things that go in there. Well I was what I was really reaching for. Mr. Steichen was the fact that I'm sure from other things you said. That an artist photographer has the same freedom in seeing the world through his own personality as the user of any other medium. He's not mechanically bound by the mechanism that he uses in the camera. The mechanism of the camera becomes part of him like breathing. Otherwise if he has mastered it. And so consequently there is no binding he's only bound by the fact that
he must conclude everything into it and wrap it up into an instant. Anyone intelligibly is a relative term sometimes it's a split second. Sometimes it may go into minutes. But after all compared to well Leonardo is said to have worked for two years on doing the portrait and one that leaves us when our photographer worked for two years photographing one subject I think it will produce a greater portrait you've used the word meaning several times Mr Steichen. When you say that a man must bring all that he has and his resources his gifts and so on his mechanical resources to bringing the meaning out of something is the same thing as you or you are designating when you say the truth as he sees it or is meaning something else is there a meaning in the subject. Well in this case don't forget the simplest literal representation of any Tyrell can make
of a scene a person a place or an object. Is true but the artist he sees that truth has some kind of significance. All right now its significance instead of meaning. But what are all right that there is there that that thing expresses something to him or he sees that into that he sees something into it. I am sorry we haven't any images here of Brant but I know of two photographs Francis Alfred Stiglitz and Charles Sheeler chiller was a painter and Stiglitz was one of the great pioneers in the whole field of photography. The most photographed Barmes. Now both of those photographs of burns are reflections of the way those two men see things. She really was in trance where the sunlight and the bonds for the texture of it and the beautiful lines of the simple construction to Stieglitz the barn was an
all round tractor thing it was turbulent. He used that to create an idea that had only a relative meaning in the barn itself to express something the blackboards on. Well in that respect the artist does have control and he brings out significance is that great or mean but it's not so significances to the scene sometimes yes. There himself. Well then they must exist in himself as well as they have but he can't invent them in the sea and he can't imagine they are there because the camera won't respond to that. But he actually sees them there. It makes him to decide when he has to make that photograph or what he is to photograph. I don't wear the Stieglitz would have photographed the bar and if she were photographed in my bed I noticed she wouldn't photograph the burned cigarettes photograph. In that respect there's a selection is one of the great elements in photography that goes towards making it possible
to create. So the great artist photographer responds to things in nature which bring out of him the things that seem to have priced exactly. It starts with the object in nature actually. I believe if it starts within himself then he's impinging something under it and I doubt whether that would make a great photograph. This brings me to another aspect of your own work Mr. Stark and when you say that you can use these things in your great exhibition the family of man. You talk of photographs the saying that how many countries has it been in 38 countries involved and millions of people have seen it over a million up to the present. Yes and this means that this this picture of humanity which you devised out of photographs has touched a great part of the living humanity of the earth now and I am sure you ASSume don't take it for granted that they all get a certain kind of significance out of it I don't mean all Exactly. It
speaks a common language. That's true and it's probably the only universal language we have today. The image I was puzzled at first as to whether it would be understood by everybody apparently it has and I think the answer is that the onlooker participates in the exhibition a Japanese for the poet once said. But when you look into a mirror you do not see your reflection your reflection sees you. Now the people look at these pictures and the pictures look back at them and see them. So they become part of the exhibition it. There must be some kind of a melting or a fusion between the onlooker and the pictures next which to account for this. Fantastic. Audience it has developed and the same thing of course is in its book form isn't it I mean gone very rightly over a million copies of the book are in circulation so that while the book doesn't say that they proclaim the thing as vigorously as
exhibition it because a different technique it's a more limited technique. I believe that an exhibition of that type where the scale of pictures and depth seeing things before you go back is a new medium in there and one that does compete with the film. Let's come to film in a minute but let's hear ask you one more question about this about the family of man Mr. Stark and those are not photographs you took your cell phone. No these are photographs made by photographers in the 38 countries I think. She weighed 300 photographers and volved in the exhibition. A great many of them amateurish. You might call them but they were pictures or accidental or pictures where the subject was so extraordinary that the pictures are struck me. These things were all you'll need to express an idea and I don't think photography has ever had a more difficult problem facing it. And there's proof in here that photography is a medium particularly capable of giving form to an idea.
You've spoken several times of amateurs Mr. Steichen and I asked you once perhaps a little unfairly to the amateur as to whether or not an amateur would ever get a good picture except by accident. May I interrupt there. Yeah there's a real difference between a good photograph and a great photograph. I think in how much amateurs have produced many good pictures we had some of them in this exhibition we talked about the family man. There's one picture in there that was made by the secretary of a famous photographer I didn't find anything in the photographer's collection that I could use but the secular happened to pull out of her pocket book for a snapshot that she had made of her child in the fall or so. But it was a good photograph when the great photograph but it it added to the total to produce a great picture. Yes that's because in your in your exhibition of family man you're creating a totality and you had to get certain details that would say certain things you depended on total effect for
greatness but could anybody but someone who knows as much about this is YouTube as just I can tell the difference between a good photograph and a great one. It might not be able to tell that instantly. But time will resolve that question. A great photograph is one that lives. There are many photographs that appear great the first time you see them and then they listen. From then on the opposite is true of a great photograph. It's like any great work of art. It keeps on growing and it grows in spite of isms and cults that develop in the interim. Well now what. What would you say about these 45 million snapshot takers Steichen. Are they just like amateurs in any other art. I think so. Is there any chance of a fourth guard developing role I don't think I think it probably was there. The difficulty would be to find it and bring it out and if it isn't there it was due to the fact that these millions of adventurers
are being misled by being encouraged to make artistic photographs and all kinds of other claptrap. I think most amateurs that buying a camera. It's either a father or a mother that wants to photograph the children. Now that's that's on the right track. That's something they know something about. Any father or mother with a slight little proficiency in the technique of making photographs makes a better photograph of their kids than any photographer can produce it may not be as great a work of art. It may not be a beautiful photograph but that is their children because they are they are they know them they know what to observe. They know what to take. Are you going to get any great art photographers out of the amateurs I mean. Well I think all of the good photographers began as amateurish. Did you begin as a photographer as a painter or mistaken. Well I began both simultaneously as a matter of fact. When you began there weren't a great many art photographers in the modern us know what I began when I was 15 and I didn't know what
Art first fear was but what. I was interested in getting just getting a picture and be sure that I got an image on my plate and pretty able to transfer them to paper. Now you were you painting at the same time. Yes I was from the beginning you were interested in being an artist. Yes I was. It would almost force him to that. But did you did you drop painting then. Well I did at the end of World War one years and then I decided I wanted the medium that but be closer into contact with the world we were living in and that photography could do that for me better than painting and so I've been photographing silently ever since except during the last seven years since 11 years I should say since I took on the work at the Museum of directing the photographic department there. I gave up my own photography so as to keep a strongly objective point of view which if you're working yourself it's very difficult to maintain.
But recently the issue has been getting too strong and I've begun my third apprenticeship now. Are you tempted to paint now. Well I'm going back to where I began working with both. The reason I asked this question is just darkens does not idle curiosity about the career of a distinguished artist. It's partly because there still are so many misunderstandings about the relation between these two arts and I think that when you tell the amateur that what he ought to do is to photograph the subject that he understands. Try to get a good picture of it. That's sound advice but what do you say to the young person who says well I want to be an artist and all means that. Who has the real urge. How should he train himself to be an artist. Well obviously he has to learn how to handle his instrument but what else. I've been loath to give advice. I've always when I talk to young photographers I always end up by saying I don't pay any
attention to anybody's advice least of all my name because I would probably change it by tomorrow however. I think the most important thing for anybody that really is interested in making a career of photography. Well a professional that goes beyond a mere recording and not some books or X-ray picture or something of that kind. The first thing that they need is an education. I would strongly recommend before they think of taking up photo visa pressure for me as a profession. They at least go through a university career. In all of the humanities and in science and in mathematics to develop the mind to make the mind more receptive and more understanding. It's so easy for the youngster in photography to develop into a rut by taking up photography professionally to shoot it. And then I'm told we have a better
school. There are teachers I still think that the photographer is best working out his problem with by himself. He can study photographs. He can study the work of artists in every other medium. If you do. Be interested in music. There is a wonderful source in the foreground. And import or am literature. He must find his relationship to the world he lives in before he can find his relationship to the medium is going to use. I very much struck with the fact that you use this this term as these this phrase several times mistaken for getting in touch with the world he lived and you turned definitely to the camera from the brush because you wanted to get close to the world we live in and yet in this magnificent the now famous exhibition of photographs that you put together it is the world we live in of course but its the world of human beings. You don't seem to be so much impressed as some artists
are with the gadgets and the gimmicks of the world. I. Know I have. I think any living organism whether it's a dandelion plant or a human being or a giant sequoia is more wonderful than the most marvelous gadgets we have as a as a as a living thing. All living things are more wonderful than anything we make. The other things are all things that we use. There are help us to enrich this quality of living that we have if we don't use them it's because we are inadequate to what's been given to us by science and industry. I don't say that an artist couldn't make living things out of photographs of the gadgets. He will can inject life into them but they in themselves don't have. And yet when I want to put things into a machine called a dishwasher that to a certain extent becomes a living thing to her.
It's an extension of her hands and soapsuds that she's always been in because I think it's human beings that transform the inanimate into something living. It's a human thing that makes this true it seems to me that whether or not you define creativity has just taken you given a very vivid idea of what creativity is in yourself but so you say you're a human you're a living organism and you respond to the living organisms that you've all been likened to dark. To beauty and truth and the lie. MARTIN I wonder which were letters. Edward Steichen on photography. And here again is our host and commentator for the creative method Lyman Bryson. This technical difference between photography and all the other arts history Steichen makes quite clear it is the fact that photographer has to see his picture.
Snap it. And that's all there is to it. He has to in a sense begin with the finished article whereas other artists can tinker modify rethink and so on target for can do nothing except take it over. I was very much struck with the fact that he used the word intellect first one I think among a creative artist to use that word in quite this meaning although many of them of course would say that there was a strong intellectual or structural element in what they were doing but it may be that dogged for dealing with things which he can't manipulate. Has to approach what he does with more of it with a more intellectual grasp of its essential structure than people working in other media. That's something that might require a good deal of examination but it indicates also that photographer may be somewhat less emotional than the other arts. He was just like and says that photography is an art and
what art 6 is truth and is no different. The difference between what a photographer does and seeking the truth what a painter or any other representative artist might do. However and this is where he makes a comment upon some of the tendencies in modern photography which he of course was the great innovator in the beginning he was the great pioneer. So you can't make living things out of mere snapshots of modern gadgets no matter how complicated or fascinating the gadgets may be in their mechanical nature. Except he says except as human beings transform the inanimate machine into something alive. But even then living things are nature in nature are more wonderful than anything we make. If you want to be a creative photographer do what every other creative artist does. Go back to nature. Thank you Dr. Bryson. You've heard Edward Steichen the photographer as Creator our one of 10 Conversations furthering our understanding of
- Creative method
- Edward Steichen on photography
- Producing Organization
- WGBH Educational Foundation
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- This program presents Edward Steichen discussing successful creative methods in photography.
- This companion series for The Creative Mind presents radio essays on a creative activity by an outstanding representative of that activity. Dr. Lyman Bryson hosts.
- Fine Arts
- Media type
Guest: Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973
Host: Bryson, Lyman, 1888-1959
Interviewer: Cavness, Bill
Producer: Summerfield, Jack D.
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-55-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Creative method; Edward Steichen on photography.” 1964-10-26. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 21, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rsr00>.
- APA: Creative method; Edward Steichen on photography. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rsr00