Hey, what did you expect? I’m French … But bear with me for a second, as there is a real link I’m trying to highlight in this quick post 😉
That link came to my mind during a wine tasting dinner with friends last week-end. Among those friends, two painters, a photographer, an art book binder, and myself.
We all enjoy wine and most of us in the room have been formally trained in oenology. One guest though, stands out from the rest of us, having assembled a cellar with thousands of exquisite bottles and regularly participating in day-long professional tastings of (occasionnally) more than one hundred wines. If you’ve ever run a marathon, driven 36 hours in a row, hiked to exhaustion or dealt with French administration, you have an idea of what sustained effort is. If not, you cannot begin to imagine the level of concentration required to taste and analyse 100 wines over 8 hours.
All this to say, all of us in the room were wine and art enthusiasts.
But, at no point did the conversation steer towards a direct comparison between the two. What happened instead was an unexpected discussion about how we experience wine tasting. And it surprised me to realise how different this is for each of us. And some implications for us photographers.
One of the two painters, the most expert taster among us, a stout fan of Nicolas de Stael uses strong colours in his compositions and revealed that colour in wine provides no pleasure to him. He uses it as an important source of information but only his sense of smell and taste trigger an emotional response in his experience. Others had different views, loving the depth of some old red burgundies, the old straw colour of wines from the Jura, the crystaline transparency of summer whites, the toffee darkness of vintage sauternes … the palet evoked personality to them.
While speaking of the bouquet of a local wine unknown to most of us (a strong and unpleasant smell of unrefined oil due to the type of barrel used), the discussion veered on the difference between being educated to aroma and bouquet using artificial aroma sets. Entry level kits replicate the aroma of a fruit (banana, strawberry …) for example, while the more expensive ones replicate the aroma of a wine that smells of those fruits. A far bigger difference than it sounds to someone not interested.
I’ll spare you the rest of the technicalities reported by our most expert friend, except for one detail: sound. Yup, sound. I’d never even considered … listening … but sparkling wines do make different sounds depending on their composition. Some ping, some froth, some bubble up … Apparently, that’s enough of a thing that a book was written about it.
But enough about this. What I’m getting at is the dual nature of drinking wine and how this is so rarely the case of photographic experience.
You can slog down a glass of rosé by the pool to fuel giggles and engage in one of the least introspective experiences you can think of (still fun, I’m not judging). Or your can do the exact opposite. That same glass can engage all your senses fully, take you into a state of deep concentration and absolute focus on the moment. No one has written “Zen and the art of winetasting” yet, but that would sell well and carry meaning (a rare combination indeed among non-fiction books, these days).
And that was my small epiphany of the moment.
How often has photography engaged all your senses? How often has your photography produced a physical object you can look at, touch, smell, listen too and feel focused on to the exclusion of the rest of the world?
That doesn’t have to be your goal. We’re all perfectly entitled to enjoy memory making on a superficial level just like we can take a swig to drown that piece of saussage left on the plate. But I believe it can be interesting to try, if only once.
Because 99.99999% of worldwide photography consists of electrons inside servers, we’ve largely lost the connection that slows us down and actually makes us feel something. What would be wrong with printing a carbro that adds its thickness variations to the texture of the paper, frame it using a fragrant wood, or create a platinum print on super thin Japanse paper and let it flap in the wind?
And how about making that photograph with an old view camera, under a hot black cloth, close to smelly collodion plates, slowly inspecting the focus on a grainy old ground glass. Anything that can engage us and focus us even more powerfully that a Zen retreat. Everything we need is right there at our fingertips, it’s just a matter of changing how we think about photographs.
So, what really stuck with me after drinking too many wines with great cheeses and monkfish tajine is this: what if existentialist wine buffs could teach us a lot more about our hobby than any photo guru could? Whadjathink?
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