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Thoughts On Tradition

I would like to begin with some thoughts on tradition and photography. Typically, we tend to either blindly embrace or reject tradition rather than trying to understand its place and importance in our lives. Some want to be free from pictorial convention, the time-consuming difficulty of technical mastery, and do something new nonetheless. By analogy, we want to get from Santa Monica to Long Beach in less than an hour without a vehicle. Others are utterly caught up with their cars, wax job, multiple CD player, and climatized interiors coursing on smooth shocks, and have forgotten their starting point and destination. Tradition as a vehicle is thus misunderstood as an end in itself, and its significance as a means to transport an observer, as a conveyance of transaction, is lost from memory. These people often feel they are more important than people from other traditions or no tradition and are contentious and self-righteous about it. The trick is to embrace a tradition, or perhaps two or three traditions, without getting caught by attachment to a particular discipline as an end in itself. Robert Fripp put it nicely with the aphorism: “Discipline is a vehicle of joy.” Insofar as every medium is a message, we must understand how to navigate the vehicle, know its limits, and how it differs from other media without turning that into an academic formalist program. Otherwise, when we arrive in Long Beach it will be very hard to carry our cars on our backs having failed to find a parking space where we can leave our attachment and aversion behind.

Tradition is not an end in itself, but rather a vehicle of communication, learning, and joy.

Thoughts On Tradition, circa 1999