At the joint workshop with John Sexton, Ruth Bernhard gave the participants some advice — the same advice that she gave in the two previous workshops that I’d attended with her:
Take photographs no more than 30 feet from your bed.
It was not expressed as an exercise, but as a preferred way for an artist to relate to photography. I found this one to be more problematical than the advice I put in the previous post.
You can’t deny that it worked for Ruth. It fit well with her two main choices of subject matter: studio nudes and still life. Or maybe it was the other way around; those two subjects fitted her dictum.
Her advice pretty much prohibits the practice of street or landscape photography, most documentary photography, journalism, and many other photographic pursuits.
I’m not quite sure what Ruth meant, but I’ve always treated this as an exaggeration for effect of the photographic maxim that the more time you spend with the subject, the better your pictures will be. In her formulation, you live with your subject. That certainly is a sufficient condition for the kind of intimate knowledge it takes to produce great pictures, but, in my mind by no means a necessary one. If you return to the same landscape over and over or walk the same streets for days and days, you’ll have a chance to develop that intimate connection that greatly increases your chances for better photographs.
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