a teatray in the sky

dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants

Posted in 5D Mark II, Architecture, Capitol Hill, Photography, Washington, DC by firthefirst on April 3, 2010

today Tina and I are on our way up to New York City as you read this, but thanks to wordpress’s nifty delayed-publish option I don’t have to attempt to drive and blog simultaneously (would that fall under the no-texting law, or just reckless endangerment?).  I wanted to put up a series I took in union station last weekend, some thoughts regarding the post title, and another shot that is far less austere and really makes me smile.

the dominant theme behind this series is the strict symmetry and rhythm of the classical architecture that burnham & root hearkened to in their design for the monumental entrance to the nation’s capitol.  it’s not the most exciting series of photos, perhaps, and I might also have tried harder to find “unique” viewpoints to document the architecture from.

there’s the thing about photography, though.  in all honesty, it’s all been done before.  it’s something I was taught about architecture at Maryland, and while I don’t think it’s quite accurate for architecture, I think it applies very well to photography.  given the DSLR boom that has occurred in the last five to ten years, everyone and anyone that wants a camera has one.  and since we don’t need to pay a chemical-loving vampire $15 a roll to live in a pitch black room all day and develop our photos, the people who have digital cameras are going out and endlessly shooting photos.  sure you can adopt a high-and-mighty stance and assume everyone else just doesn’t have a clue and can’t possibly be making great art with their cameras, but you’d be wrong.  amateur photographers are probably taking better photos than amateurs at any other point in history — face it, it’s not that hard to learn to compose and expose. 

the basics haven’t changed since photography was invented: aperture, depth of field, focal length, shutter speed, quality of light.  the seeing hasn’t change since, art was invented: color, contrast, composition, rhythm, depth.  the light hasn’t changed since Prometheus: one light, two lights, three lights, and onwards (Rembrandt lighting?  yeah, some guy named Rembrandt already thought of that in 1625).  the tricks haven’t changed since a company called Eastman Kodak set up shop: filter, dodge, burn, cross-process, infra-red, multiple-exposure, etc.

so it’s time to let the ego go.  we’re all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.  what’s more, we are now millions of dwarfs clambering all over one another.  don’t be surprised when someone not only sees what you see, but even sees it just the way you see it.  make no mistake, I’m not saying we should all go out and take the same pictures.  I’m saying you shouldn’t go out trying specifically not to take the same picture.  you should be going out there to try to capture exactly what your eye and mind want to capture.  nothing more, nothing less.  forget about the other dwarfs and climb away.

rightly or wrongly so, I’m happy with the union station series — they captured the union station that I saw on saturday.  maybe I’ll go back some other time and see a different union station.  that’s the joy of photography.  this too, is the joy of photography:

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4 Responses

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  1. Stephanie said, on April 3, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Hey John Li!
    Secret exposed: I occasionally read blogs of people I haven’t talked to in years, thanks to Facebook newsfeed. Btw,…it /was/ you whom I saw driving that minivan in the Falls Grove parking lot last month, right??

    Anyway, had to comment, cuz your post reminded me a bit of an article I read just this past week:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/business/media/30photogs.html

    Hope you’re well, and congratulations on your engagement/new house!

    • firthefirst said, on April 4, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      hey Steph! great to hear from you; yeah that was totally me that waved at you in the Safeway parking lot after the snowstorm … man the snow feels like so long ago already (thankfully)

      thanks for the link to the new york times article … it’s exactly the reason I have no intention of making my photography professional in any way, it’s just not worth the effort. I also don’t intend on selling any of my photography since I feel it’s wrong of me to undercut the valuable work of true professional photographers slaving away out there.

      are you in the DC area these days? hope to see you around sometime

  2. Laura said, on April 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I LOVE this pic of Tina 🙂 I hope there’s a lot of wooing going on!!!


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