Two recent articles in National Geographic have drawn my attention and illustrate two “issues” with the popular view of photography and photographic creativity.
In Blind Photographers Push the Envelope of Expression, Brian Howard describes a new book which “examines the work of visually impaired artists who use sounds, smells, and even touch to guide their cameras.” The article nicely avoids the over-lyrical, at no point did I feel the artists were using their disability as a marketing argument and, while not all to my personal tastes, some of the photographs are just plain fantastic.
Then comes a comment, which doesn’t seem to be provocative or aggressive in any way: “… forgive me if I don’t understand. Photography is a VISUAL art form. If you cannot see what you are photographing, independent of other senses, how can you be a photographer …” (please no comments on the comment. The point is not the comment but to analyze the popular point of view about photography it carries).
What strikes me, seeing the photographs on that page, is the sheer variety of styles. Take a look at Flickr or Instagram or any competition, for that matter, after that and everything will seem so depressingly uniform. Again, I don’t like all of these photographs, but I admire the creativity behind all of them. It’s like having functional eyes is making us unable to see.
Something else: yes, photography is a visual art, in that photographers produce a visual object. What this means is these photographers are unable to see their own creations ! Is that the ultimate form of self-exposure and generosity?
Moving on to Smartphone Photos Take Us on a Celestial Journey. While the photographs on that page seem to take forever to load, you can see most of them on the author websites: Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protick. And one photograph that does load on the NatGeo website says it all for me. It is a black and white photograph of a person walking in a river or small lake. Caught in a ray of sunlight, the person is completely washed out, totally white. And the photograph is magical in a way that would have been unavailable to a person shooting with a 13-bit dynamic range digital camera.
That photograph feeds my current fascination for Smartphone photography. It’s becoming more and more obvious to me that, as gear extends its technical capabilities, so does is force most of us into a standardized mold. Group f/64 for the masses. Much like Photoshop turns all fashion models into plastic-skinned skinny angry dolls. Let’s blame Ansel Adams 😉 He tought us all how to make the technical most out of the medium. And let’s now turn our gaze to artists such as Koenning and Protick who show us how to make the creative most out of a medium.
Most of us are going about photography the wrong way. I include myself in this desperate search for X1-D perfection instead of working on my creative juices.
Yes, there’s room for the shallow-depth-of-field high-dynamic-range look, yes there’s room for the high-depth-of-field high-dynamic-range super-saturated landscape. But there’s probably a lot of fun to be had in exploring the creative avenues of low-tech gear. And probably a lot more to learn about creativity and ourselves. Quick, before Smartphone manufacturers give us machines with MFT curved sensors and 16 bit range as I’ve recently been begging them to 😉
What say you ?