All of us are photographers. Which means that we look at our craft “from within”. I find it a rich exercise to sometimes take a step back and look at it “from the outside”.
One of the values of this is to reconnect with how much photography has to give/offer, and to avoid taking all of that for granted, only to be fully appreciated, should we lose it.
The least difficult art form to execute, and the easiest to understand
Looking at photography as an art form, it has some quite distinguishing features. It is one of the least, if not the least demanding craft. Making a photo image of some merit is so much easier than a painting or a sculpture, or than playing the violin….. Which should not be (mis)understood to mean that an image is somehow less “worthy” simply because it is less hard to produce. Conversely, a picture “speaks” much more easily, and therefore to a far greater audience, than a painting or a sculpture. Which are mostly seen by the many in image form anyhow…. Appreciating an image like Joe Rosenthal’s “raising the flag on Iwo Jima” does not require any specific cultural education, the way a Raphael or a Vermeer does.
Art you can perform with any suject -or almost-.
Remember Ansel Adams’ “moonlight over Hernandez”? It would be hard to find a more seemingly ordinary scene, banal even. Yet it is one of the world’s most celebrated photographies. The very same can be said of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s picture of a man leaping over a puddle “derrière la gare Saint Lazare, pont de l’Europe, Paris”. Which is why I chose to only illustrate this post with images of begonia flowers. Wonderful little nothings, maybe 3cm across.
A memory for the ages
As can be seen from these pictures, I have been quite a few times to shoot begonias in a greenhouse. I told the gardeners: my flowers never fade and die. A picture can not only capture the truth of an instant or moment (see AA and HCB above), it can also make it last forever.
The best way to share
The best way to sum up how practical digital images are for sharing is this: it is the way all visual art is shared today. including all analogue art forms, which are promptly digitized. And sharing matters. If no-one can enjoy it, is it even art ? Unquestionably, I get joy from an image that stirs my senses. But knowing that this has also stirred others is joy on steroids. Actually, if I did not share, I am not even sure I’d keep on making images. It would feel self-centered, sterile, fruitless and pointless. So, yes, sharing matters.
Instant coffee may not be the best, but instant photography is. And being instant is now so important to the pleasure eco-system of photography. Instant viewing on the LCD, to enable re-taking the shot if it isn’t right (when the subject will allow it). Instant processing, instant sharing. This is key to an unprecedented number of people shooting a humongous amount of images. That we may not approve of the gear or quality level of such images doesn’t mean they don’t exist in a meaningful way. We now live, more than ever amid a photographic culture, ruled by POIDH (Picture Or It Didn’t Happen).
The cheapest art form
Let’s face it, while our art enjoys a revival of its film form, going digital has taken most of the cost and hassle out of image-making. Results are instant on the back LCD, and it would take a very sharp cost-accountant to figure out exactly how minute the cost of each picture is. And this low cost -and ease of use, too, with the advent of digital, and even more with the smartphone- has triggered a quasi-permanent, quasi-universal presence of photographs and photographers in our daily lives.
The joy (episode 1)
When Pascal asked me to formalize why I loved photography, I answered: it gives my soul a voice. Yes, my mind has a voice. I can and do use it in professional and interpersonal matters. But there are limits to what words and even wordless communication can convey. Raw emotion, a resonance, a vibration that comes from somewhere unknown to my consciousness, but that screams: it’s me! Before photography and I became acquainted, inept as I am to all other forms of artistic creation and/or production, that scream remained buried, voiceless. And, with one click of the shutter button, my status evolves from spectator and admirer of creation to being a participant in it. Not bad for something that is really cheap, really accessible and really universal!
The joy (episode 2)
If becoming part of a creative process rather than a “mere” spectator of it (my personal feeling) is step one of the joy of photography, step two has be creating something that isn’t/wasn’t there. Photography, except when slavishly reproducing what is there (product photography, postcards, mughsots), is a bona fide sui generis act of creation. The begonia flowers never actually looked like the pictures in this post, if only because bokeh doesn’t actually exist in real life, but only because of the photography process. So photographies actually add to the body of beauty present in the Universe. Not bad for something that is really cheap, really accessible and really universal!
The joy (episode 3)
Step 3 of the joy of photography works somehwat is reverse to step one. Step one is: my soul has a voice. In my case: for the first -and to date only- instance. But spending time giving a voice to my soul has lead to discover what artistic soul and voice I have. Which pictures resonate, and which not tells me where my soul lies, what components it incorporates. Yesterday I shot a beautiful image (not shown). It reminded me of my first beautiful image, that of a dog, many years ago. Lovely images, both of them. Technically excellent, oozing charm, dripping with meaning. Except my soul just wasn’t invloved. I see it, like it, admire it, pat myself on the back for having taken it, but only my pride and vanity get anything out of it. It is not nourishment for the soul. Yes, it was shot very early in the day, and I should get credit for having bothered to get up early, but I can imagine the same shot being shot by countless others who would have been there. Whereas the tiny begonias, they are mine. We are family. I am home. And I try never to forget how precious that is, to have a home for one’s artistic soul. Long live photography!
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