The Third Bucket of Transformation

A few days ago, Duncan Davidson wrote a great piece called The Third Bucket where he broke down photography skills into three buckets: soft skills (craft), hard skills (science), and a third bucket, which you might call “art”.   

For a while, I’ve personally been focused at thinking about photography in these two buckets, craft and science if you will. But, just as I got too comfortable with that thought, something in the back of my head sits up and points out that I’m missing something important. There are skills that don’t fall into either the craft or science buckets. These skills include the ability to conceptualize what you want to communicate in a photograph, the ability to provoke an emotional response in a viewer of the work, the vision to look at things in a way that is intriguing, or the ability to suss out what is important in a fast moving and world changing event. This is the real art of photography. It’s what transcends simple documentation into an image with the power to either move one to tears or a smile, or even to change the world.

Duh! How could I miss that one for so long. Maybe because it was so obvious? Sort of like air? It was surprising to me, considering all those years I spent in architecture school.

The problem with this last bucket is that it’s really hard to talk about. It’s full of things that are hard to describe in words. The je ne sais quoi. Exposure? Easy to communicate in words on a variety of levels. The feeling of a photo of a baby? Obvious, so obvious that words aren’t necessary. What makes a photograph from a war zone make people want to stop making war? An awful sublime, but so very hard to put words to.

This is something I’ve been pondering myself. I’ve gone from taking pictures, simply reacting to what is around me, to making pictures – working to arrange the circumstances (as much as possible) to create a picture. Once you make this jump, you are soon confronted with some of the questions that are in Duncan’s third bucket. I’d also put the whole question of artistic vision into that bucket as well. What am I trying to say? To who? And what is my style of saying it? I’ve gotten into a stereotypical artist’s funk about all of this, with not quite an end in sight.

Fortunately, the day after I read Duncan’s piece, I saw Zack Arias’ video “Transform” over at Scott Kelby’s blog. It’s strangely comforting to know that someone of Zack’s caliber has some of the same feelings. It obviously touched a chord with many other people as well, judging from the comments and the Twitter reaction.

Back into it…

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