This site has a gargantuan amount of information about cameras, but that is only a small part of photography. Photography would be no more than a way of documenting things had it not been for photographers. To say how significant photographers are, there isn't even a tag for them yet!

How can I ask a question in order to learn more about photographers rather than how to take a photograph. For example; "Is there an 'Ansel Adams' of urban landscapes?", or "Why do people say Dan Winters breached the gap between commercial and fine art photography?". These seem very subjective as they are, but are interesting questions to ask and since have cultural relevance, have an atemporal vale to them.

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    The [history] tag suits well for questions about photographers already dead. – Esa Paulasto May 9 '13 at 11:14

No doubt there will be a little bit of luck involved; you have to hit the right segment of the community in the right mood on the right day with the stars aligned just so, and that's if the question is well-formulated, interesting and answerable.

Of your two example questions, the first ("Is there an 'Ansel Adams' of urban landscapes?") I would mark as essentially meaningless. There is a trivial interpretation, which is to ask if any photographer has ever been granted such a lofty title by a writer or critic such that it stuck well enough to be searchable on teh intarwebz. If there is a unique and definitive answer, knowing it won't add anything to the community, any more than knowing that Harold Edgerton's friends called him "Doc". If the question is asking whether anyone has ever applied the Zone System (or its digital spiritual descendant, HDR) to cityscapes effectively and without extra cheese, the answer is "of course", and may come with a few example links to any of the thousands of photographers who've managed the trick. It could be specifically about making the Chrysler Building look like Half Dome, or geometrically abstracting neoclassical or Modernist architecture in a manner similar to Adams' treatment of adobe structures. Or it could be asking if anyone sparked a popular vision of Gotham in the same way that Adams did for Yosemite.

On the other hand, the "same" question, asked backwards, might be interesting. If you start with a photographer and ask why he might have been widely called "the 'Ansel Adams' of urban landscape", that can lead to a cogent expository on similarities in artistic and technical approaches, the effects the photographic work may have had on tourism, immigration patterns or preservation efforts, etc. But the key to both the question and the answer(s) would be applicability rather than a mere history lesson.

The second example question ("Why do people say Dan Winters breached the gap between commercial and fine art photography?") is more definitively answerable, at least insofar as it concerns his celebrity portraiture. It's still subjective as all-get-out, but at least it touches on familiar territory for a technically-minded crowd (taxonomy and nomenclature). (I think the answer is too obvious to have asked the question, but I can sort of see why it might be asked by someone else.)

Photography lives in three disparate realms: science, craft and art. Because of the history of the Photography stack, it's not at all surprising that we have a lot of members who are fascinated by the science aspect. (It's fair to say that most of the early members got here via the footer or sidebar on another Stack or through Area 51. People who discovered the site as a stand-alone photography site came much later.) Honestly, though, most of the science of photography lives at a level below the level of abstraction we are working with. In my photographic lifetime, that level of abstraction has been raised tremendously. (In computing terms, when I was a kid, it was like working in C with frequent drops to assembly. I didn't have to know how to make the gates, but I did have to know how to twiddle bits in order to get even the most basic stuff done. Today it's more like Python or Ruby, and you can spend most of the time living happily in the Django or Rails world without even dropping to the base language, let alone building your own optimized binaries.) But the science part is full of numbers and charts and things that make tech-heads' worlds comfortable, and gear questions are a good proxy to that world.

The art aspect may live at a level above what we can comfortably deal with. It's tremendously subjective, and it tends to divide people into two opposing religious camps, which for convenience's sake I'll label the Buddhists and the Pythagoreans. There are masterful photographers in both camps; the only real difference between those masters is in the way they articulate and justify the subjective artistic decisions they've made. The Pythagorean will invariably put numbers to it, no matter how bad the data fit might be; the Buddhist will go out of his/her way to deny the existence and meaning of numbers even while invoking at length a "natural harmony" that can be concisely described as "the Fibonacci sequence". A Buddhist critic will find what he's looking for in a Pythagorean's photograph, just as a Pythagorean critic will find his colour tetrads and Golden Section overlays work just fine on a Buddhist's photo (perhaps with some data-fitting problems). The only definitive answers or magic recipes that exist result in things like school pictures, where nothing is wrong, but nobody cares.

This site should be primarily about the craft; about using the technology to translate the vision (whatever that might be) into a tangible, finished photograph. There are far too few substantial "how" and "why" questions that don't involve post-processing (or Social Engineering for the Autistic 101, in the case of people pictures). If we're going to bring photographers into the question space, we ought to be asking about, and giving answers based on, aspects of the craft first and foremost. (We had a question that basically ran, "I hate this picture, so explain why it's art." The popular answer didn't fit with the asker's preconceptions — it didn't say, "you're right, it's an invalid expression of an invalid concept, and therefore anyone who likes it is insane" — and things got, um, unpleasant.) If we stick mostly to, "here's what I want to say, now how do I say it?", much education and edification will be had by all.

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    +1 for your last paragraph. We had a couple of people asking questions very like "Here's what I want to say, now how do I say it?" and I thought that added a lot to the site. – mattdm May 9 '13 at 5:23
  • But I think your assumption that a "Buddhist's" natural harmony reduces to the Fibonacci sequence betrays a strong "Pythagorian" leaning even if you don't want to admit it. :) – mattdm May 9 '13 at 11:25
  • That is merely one of the possible harmonies; I'm thinking of a particular example based on the forms of plants I once heard, along with a rejection of the numeric equivalent suggested in an interview (it was, indeed, the Fibonacci sequence). I think both sides have had too much fibre in their diets. – user2719 May 9 '13 at 11:38
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    Refreshing to read an answer with a bit of humour! I definitely understand and agree with what you are saying. I'll try asking a question once I figure out a more interesting question than Dan Winters :P Could you link to the heated debate please. I want to see if it was aggressive or constructive debating, and how I might veer to the latter. – James May 9 '13 at 11:40
  • @GoodGravy — I don't think so, since it comes from a time long ago and far away when "internet" meant Gopher, Archie and Usenet and almost nobody had access (the '80s). I think I remember the "Buddhist" in the interview being Freeman Patterson, but I could be way off base there. And I think it was a CBC Radio thing (sounds like the sort of thing they'd do), but all I'm sure of is that I was living in Nova Scotia at the time. Sorry to be so old. (Not to you, just in general.) – user2719 May 9 '13 at 11:48
  • Oh, sorry -- misunderstood. You're looking for this. – user2719 May 9 '13 at 17:41
  • I think that one actually worked out just fine. – mattdm May 10 '13 at 15:03

The way I read the FAQ, I would see this sort of question to be in scope as long as it resulted in substantive answers rather than "Bob Smith" in response...


In my opinion, if you have a question to ask, ask it, and let the community decide if it is a fit. I am not willing to state myself that ALL of your questions about photographers are or will be inherently subjective. That can only be fully determined once the question has been asked. If you ask a question about a photographer a few times, and the community closes them each time, then it should become clear whether the questions you are asking are too subjective or not.


I appreciate the sentiment you have, but it's very difficult to ask a question about a photographer in a way that isn't subjective - per the FAQ, we prefer to focus on practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Of course, if you could ask a a question relating to photography in this manner, then I'm sure it would be welcomed.


I think both of your example questions are both on-topic and reasonably answerable.

It gets a lot harder when the question gets into contemporary photographers where there isn't much recognition; here, I think a general rule like Wikipedias's guidelines for notability might be helpful. For example, one guideline might be whether answers to ghe question can reasonably cite secondary soureces rather than just giving opinion and linking directly to the photographer's own site. (Maybe we don't need to be as strict (for example, we could take references to other blogger's posts about the photographers.)

  • I like the idea of leniency for references designed to inspire a debate. As far as I can tell, and with answers so far The Ansel Adams question seems to be too broad at the moment and can only be answered by name dropping. – James May 9 '13 at 11:43
  • Well, it might be better to be more specific about what you really mean by "The Ansel Adams" -- I assume a real question would have a bit more detail than the example. – mattdm May 9 '13 at 12:45
  • The 'specific' gets even broader for the question I had in mind. I would be more interested in finding revered masters of urban landscapes. – James May 9 '13 at 13:06
  • Yeah, "find me some revered masters of urban landscapes" tends towards poor list-like answers. But this is where I think the references and citations are useful: not answers with opinions about favorites, but answers about photographers who have been written about as revered masters. – mattdm May 9 '13 at 13:18
  • The FAQ notes that subjects which could be a whole book are too broad. On the other side of the scale, I think that in general many topics which could be a 15 minute lecture make great questions, and I can see such a lecture on the canon (no pun intended) of urban landscape photographers. – mattdm May 9 '13 at 13:20

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