Not in terms of content, but in terms process are you more like Robert Capa or Ansel Adams? Are you images fundamentally created in-camera with little technical fuss, or do they require painstaking control, either in-camera or in post-production?
Tom Wolfe got me thinking about the nature and nurture aspect of the photographic process in January, when I read “Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill,” one of his essays in Hooking Up. Wolfe is fascinated by the thinking of Edward O. Wilson, whom he calls “neuroscience’s most extraordinary figure.” According to Wolfe, Wilson believes that, regarding the question of the importance of nurture versus nature in human development, “inbred traits will trump upbringing and environment every time.” In short, Wilson is a nature man. He believes that we were born to be what we are.
Even if you are not interested in the role that genetics plays in character, you will appreciate the analogy Wolfe shares from Wilson, which sums up the thesis Wilson put forward in the final, “now famous Chapter 27″ of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, published in 1975. Wolfe writes:
“Wilson compressed his theory into one sentence during an interview. Every human brain, he said, is born not as a blank slate waiting to be filled in by experience but as ‘an exposed negative waiting to be slipped into developer fluid.’ The negative might be developed well or it might be developed poorly, but all you were going to get was what was already on the negative at birth.”
It’s a nice analogy, but not as strong as Wilson probably meant it to be. As we photographers know, “developer fluid” can be contaminated to the point off being ineffective, or simply stronger or weaker than expected — greatly altering the “at birth” (at exposure) potential of a latent image. This is what I thought when I read Wolfe’s synthesis of Wilson’s thesis.
I’m not arguing with Wilson’s thoughts about genetics, nor am I being nit-picky about his analogy. But I did like Wilson’s analogy in regard to the nature versus nature debate that stirs up so much emotion. He meant to make a clear statement but presented a analogy that, to photographers at least, it open to interpretation.
Capa Versus Adams
Wolfe/Wilson got me thinking that the processes of different photographers might be seen as fitting into an analogous spectrum with “Nature Photography” on one end and “Nurture Photography” on the other.
Robert Capa survived his landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1945. However, even if he had not (and his film had) we would still be able to see the iconic images he made on D-Day. With each release of his shutter, Capa’s image-making process was fundamentally complete. This is an example of what I am calling Nature Photography, not to be confused with photography of nature.
Ansel Adams is well known for the painstaking processes he went through to create his images after he exposed his film. Yes, a darkroom technician could have created a print from Adams’s negative of “Moon and Half Dome,” but it would not have been Adams’ vision. This is an example of what I am calling Nurture Photography. Continue reading “Nature or Nurture: What’s Your Image-Making Approach?”