Snowed in and called off we will have a week’s wait for member Gerry Painter’s evening. Something to look forward to. So this week, through the rattle of ice rain on the living room window, which rather underlines the soundness of the decision to call things off, we are going to talk about connecting with our images.
When looking for something to photograph, chance, as we have often reiterated in this blog, falls to the prepared. There is, however, a difference between what fine art photographer Cig Harvey calls “Target Practice” and telling a story, and a personal story, rather than the story of someone else. Now you don’t have to go to quite the same limits as she went to, only shooting in one room for a year, but taking responsibility for everything in the frame and avoiding the “Yeah buts’”. That is, doing it, rather along the lines we talked of in the last blog, because we are not all full time artists.
Photography is a channel to put our thoughts in. Cig Harvey again. This is a particular form of photography, the fine art angle, but don’t we do this consciously or subconsciously, anyway? This, at least in part, is improvement as a continuous process, because the stories never stop, we just switch them off at some point. We are all taking a little moment in history and slicing away at the baggage that surrounds it and showing a truth. Or maybe just taking drunken snaps on the camera phone during an after work drinks session. Maybe something in between, but for those of us who take our art even a little more seriously, there is the recognition of something achieved, with a little something to take forward to the next frame. Basically, “Yes, and …”
Fine art most of us would think beyond us, but we have all taken that sort of image at some time or other, even if by accident. Indeed the definition of what fine art might be in photography isn’t even settled definitively. It is, on one level, peoples’ bread and butter. But not all fine art photographers are fine art artists making a living. Most, I suspect, are on the amateur level – which doesn’t make them averse to making money from their photography, just means it’s not a regular source of income. Essentially “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer”, which tells us next to nothing because it doesn’t include much and really doesn’t exclude anything apart from the implication that if you are not an “Artist” you cannot be a fine art photographer.
That Wikipedia definition does try and make such a deliniation, but even so the misses the potential irony (neigh sarcasm) behind Picasso’s statement that “I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn”, but does give room to John Steinbeck’s comment on Robert Capa “… That the camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart…” The whole “Is photography art?”debate is endless and, frankly, sterile. It will never be conclusively settled and is as much about fashion as it about metaphysical discussions of meaning and being. Maybe it’s all what the Journalist Fyfe Robertson labelled Phart, but I think that rather misses the point.
Exclusivity certainly plays a part in the discussion. Certainly it is not all of it. Vision, idea, technique, a body if work all have their place and frequently find their way into this blog and our Thursday evenings and hopefully seep into our practice. As illustrated last week this doesn’t have to be a long practice but mulling it over, working the idea into a concept, finding the materials it needs, getting everything together then executing the shot can be the fruit of days, weeks, months, years. Doesn’t make it any better or worse to look at, but the effect on the photographer as the centre of this whirl does make it something more than the recording of a play of light on a subject.
Above all it is an attitude, a desire and a great deal of persistence that makes an artist, regardless of medium. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, especially when practising, and it doesn’t have to be to please anyone else but ourselves, but I suppose most of us take photographs to show others. Over time though we develop our own photographic fingerprint, but standing in the same place Ansel Adams stood and point our camera at the same vista as Ansel Adams pointed his at at the same time of day as Ansel Adams did at the same time of year as Ansel Adams did does not mean we get the same picture that Ansel Adams got, much less make us Ansel Adams. All we do get is the same thing every other photographer got doing the same, at best a downscale Ansel Adams look a like picture. It is instructive to do what the masters of the medium did and do, but is of little value if we cannot make those images we make our own. Afterall access to the original completed file or negative means we can run copies faithful to the original ad infinitum.
Which is one of the arguments that some people propose to strip photography of the idea that it might be art. Art is an artefact, it is made, it is up to us to make up our own minds what we consider art or otherwise.
Happy New Year as we enter the 2017 portion of the season. We kicked off with the first of two editing related sessions, next week we have a speaker talking about the Photoshop Plug In, Topaz. This week it was members to turn to sharpen, hue, pare, crop, colour, desaturate and or generally mangle, torture and deface – depending upon your individual tastes – a common set of five images. The proof of the pudding being in the consumption it is fair to say that though the number of source images was small, no two interpretations were the same.
At the risk of being thought to have imbibed too much of the new year spirit we are going to look at what it is we are actually presenting. Taking this right back to basics then no two images, once altered, are the same. They bare the imprint, however minute, of the person who altered them and the peculiarities of the tools that they were altered with. Also they are most definitely not, cannot be for reasons of time, geography and interpretation be the same as the photographer – s/he who pressed the shutter and was witness to what was captured. What is actually being photographed is another perspective again, because it is in a different place in time and space to the camera.
So much is true, essential in that we are talking the laws of physics, but nonetheless not particularly of great importance when it comes to our taking photographs. Except in two circumstances. One is in the circumstance of where we are using the image as the basis of a piece of art – The conscious use of the imagination in the production of objects intended to be contemplated or appreciated as beautiful, as in the arrangement of forms, sounds, or words (Freedictionary.com) – a pleasing representation of something we have seen, framed, captured and post processed in the hope of making something that the viewer can form an emotional attachment to. The other is a claim that what we are showing is the truth (as opposed to a truth) – Conformity to fact or actuality (Freedictionary.com). The first is an opinion the second is an assertion, for unless present we have no way of knowing just how truthful a claim that is.
So what? Well in the former, I agree with you, so what? Not being a collector of fine art, or otherwise, prints. Apart from the fact that a lot can be learned by looking critically at other peoples work, it is a personal matter as well as something that is subject to fads and fashions and more or less informed opinions. That is not to say that certain commonalities cannot be agreed in what we accept as pleasing to the eye.
It is said that “The Camera never lies” (Robert Louis Stevenson), which Caesar Romero contradicted, “It lies every day”. Stevenson was making a point about the difference between fine art and photography though I prefer David Bailey‘s assertion that ” It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary. (In “Face,” London, Dec 1984). The fact remains that certain physical limitations endure and it takes a certain skill to get round it.
Does it matter, then, if we alter images? Of course not and yes, absolutely! As ever context is all. The camera is neutral. Whatever is in front of it it will render a more or less recognisable facsimile of, depending on our mastery of focus and the exposure triangle. Our job, behind the camera, is to let this story making tool tell a story. If we are claiming that the story we are telling is a true one, then absolutely it matters if and what we enhance/remove. This is especially the case in photojournalism where the reputation of the publication using an image can be severely tainted by the manipulation of a photograph to tell an enhanced story.
So there is, in some areas, a tension between truth and beauty. That is before we come back to matters of taste but there is still a question of whether it matters if an image is a photograph or a graphic design? Again, of course not and absolutely! It counts in the matter of work flow, especially when editing. We have, many times, referred to the opposing camps of Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-istas and Ye-Accolytes-Of-Photoshop. In truth we probably aspire to the former but fall back on the latter, but there is a reason why the Camera-ista has a point and it is linked to a number of themes we have looked at over the past couple of years.
First off is the argument about artist/artisan. Frankly I find this to be an empty one. If you take something and make something else of it then you have created art. Art may not be the end which you had in mind, for instance if you took wood to make a chair I am guessing that you would rather sit on it than look at it, but there will be a reaction to the way that it has been put together and thought about, its design, that will include an overall effect. This overall effect is where the art concept lives. It is not all of it, but it is an integral part of it.
Secondly, fine motor skills and the ability to pick up a pencil or a brush and create a representation of a person or thing is the same as picking up any other tool and making the same. The camera is a tool. Mastery of the tool leads to mastery over the final result. It does nothing to add soul to the final result, but it is a gate keeper to others interacting with that same soul. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Pentax, Olympus, Hasalblad, Phase One and the rest, immaterial. Light and the laws of physics work the same way for them all. Post processing may be able to put things in but it can only bring out soul if soul is there to be found in the first place. Post processing, and by far the most commonly found is the Photoshop/Creative Cloud family but I mean post processing in general, is just another tool. You can be good bad or indifferent in using it.
So get out, photograph, think about what you photograph, look at others photograph, learn the ways of light, bring it home, polish it, present it and go again. Sounds like some sort of hobby to me.
Happy New Year.