#1216. Celebrating photography!

By philberphoto | Opinion

Jul 02

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”.

For openers

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.

Antenna Array

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.

The Dancers

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.

The Mating Dance

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.

Taking Flight

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.

Open for Business

Instant photography

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).

My Jubilee!

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!

Mother superior

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!


​Never miss a post

​Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Philippe, I need time to digest this. It is all very thought provoking, and I almost feel a need to ignore EITHER the text OR the images, so that I can focus my thoughts and concentrate moe clearly on the other one of the two. One at a time! BBL

  • Lad Sessions says:


    This is a superb essay (with delightful images, showing the infinity of views possible for any small thing)! You have highlighted most of the points that make photography such a satisfying pursuit. I might add (i) mastering the skills of using some kind of technology (camera and post processing, if not printmaking), which gives all the confident joys of mastery; and (II) learning how (better) to see the world (for me, noticing things I would have otherwise passed by).

    For years I have resisted calling what I do “art,” as that conjures up (for me) too much selfishness (think Gaugin) and conceit (think just about any famous photographer or the pretensions of “artistes”), as well as a status beyond my reach—but I have noticed others occasionally using that term to describe my work, and my resistance is crumbling just a bit.

    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • philberphoto says:

      Lad, you are so right in the two points you add to mine! Many thanks for it, and for your kind words as well. As pointed out in the post, they matter!

  • Oh what a breath of fresh air this article is Philippe. Your quote: “Unquestionably, I get joy from an image that stirs my senses. But knowing that this has also stirred others is joy on steroids,” sum it up. This is what`s kept me grounded in the gallery business for 22 years and counting. Hope to be in Paris this Nov. and would really enjoy meeting you and Pascal if our schedules align. All the best to you and again thanks for your beauty and professionalism.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the joys of photography, Phillips! I totally concur and can add nothing to the text. Like Jean-Pierre, I was distracted by the delicacy and beauty of the begonia images, each lovingly crafted to display their best attributes……wonderful! Kudos

    • philberphoto says:

      Ah, Nancee! This post took many months in writing as it morphed into its final inception. And in one of them, I wrote how much influence your art and craft have over where I am today. Those thoughts and words are not lost, merely stored away for the newt post. Until then so many thanks, sweet music to my ears!

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Philippe, not the auto-corrected “Phillips”……sorry about that!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I cannot select which image I love the most. Sorry.
    From my mother, I inherited a love of art and a passion for begonias – but her begonias were far better than mine, so I migrated to other flowers – and I’m afraid that my passion for art never progressed to her level – I have tried drawing and painting many times in my life, but never achieved the standard she did. Instead, I am left with the very first oil painting she ever did, on the wall right beside me as I sit here at my desk, writing this – a painting I fell instantly in love with, the moment she showed it to me, the night when she brought it home from art school. Well I suppose art school helped – she started going there in her 60’s, surrounded by a horde of 17-25 year olds who loved her to bits, and called her “hippie grannie”!
    From my father’s side of the family I inherited a passion for cameras and photography, with one cast-off Kodak Box Brownie, two second-hand Voigtländer Bessa II’s, two second-hand Zeiss Super Ikontas, a Zeiss Contaflex (with magazine backs, so I could shoot with whatever film I chose, and swap them in seconds), before I finally managed to buy a dream machine – my Zeiss Contarex, with the Planar lens (smaller version) they fitted to the Hassy that took the first shots on the moon, and two other lenses, magazine backs etc etc. And my own darkroom, with the most expensive enlarger you could buy, at the time.
    There’s been a voice on DS telling us that macro is not “art”, but whoever said that cannot possibly have seen these photos, Philippe. I’ve spent weeks – months – taking the photos and post processing them into the best I can manage. I commonly use a stackshot rail and only shoot outdoors as “the exception, not the rule”, to avoid the impact of the wind. Which gives me a deeper appreciation for what you have achieved here, than others who generally shoot – whatever – birds, animals, landscapes, the Milky Way, Northern Lights.
    Which is why I find it hard to tear my eyes off your images, and focus on the text instead.
    I’ve opened this article six times already, and always with the same result. But I’m getting there – edging [slowly!] towards the text. I’ve even read the captions under most of the images. And now know there are eleven images!
    Do you hang your prints? – is your home like a florist’s shop, with flowers all over the place, in every room?

  • John Wilson says:

    Phillipe – Everything was going swimmingly until I reached The Joy (episode 1) … “it gives my soul a voice”. This time one month ago I was sitting in the living room of a house in Revelstoke with five other photographers deep in a discussion of what exactly is “art”. My definition came down to “it’s the soul of man crying out to heard” … not a lot of daylight between us it would seem. I’ve always known that I see the world differently but had no way to capture or show it to anyone else till I picked up a camera 60 years ago … and as they say the rest is history. There’s only one item on my “bucket list” … to take pictures of my funeral. Now wouldn’t that be a hoot!

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      And it IS about how YOU see the world, John.
      Over half a century I took a photo which I thought ticked all the boxes – correct exposure, sharp enough, good tonal range, good composition, told a story. I loved it then, and I still do. But everyone I showed it to at the time hurled negative criticisms at it.
      So until quite recently I never showed any of my photos to anyone else, much. Except my wife, and if it was dog portraits (which I take a lot of) the owner of the dog – who could hardly be expected to tell me what was wrong, they’re always too busy seeing their beloved dog!
      Then there was another one – a “street” shot – that I am fond of, that I took i Toulouse about 5 years ago. I love it! But I’ve shown it to several other amateur ‘togs, and they all had the same criticism – “you should have made them look at the camera!”
      Well that’s precisely what I think you should NEVER do, in “street” – except when it’s essential, to the nature of the image.
      And in any case, that wouldn’t have told a story, the way the photo did, with them all looking at each other, as they chatted on the street in front of the restaurant door where they were going.
      “The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject” – Marcus Aurelius, circa100 A.D.

    • philberphoto says:

      John Let’s not rush that funeral shoot thingy, John, shall we? But, in the -hopefully very long- interim, many thanks for your kind words. They mean to me what I said in the post: joy on steroids!

  • Dallas Thomas says:

    Philippe I’m literally lost for words on the beauty of your words and an images.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Even if there were NO images, NO photos, NO illustrations, your article would be fascinating – informative – educational – inspirational.
    I can only conclude that these thoughts have been swimming around in your head, waiting for you to express them and, perhaps, share them for some time, Philippe.
    Your opening paragraph brings to mind the introduction of a book I once found [and found irresistible!] called “The Book of Nonsense”. Before proceeding with the main body of text, the authors explained to us that “nonsense is a formal method adopted by deep thinking people, to find solutions to problems that conventional wisdom has failed to solve, by inverting reality and attempting to look at the problem from an entirely new and different direction”.
    I read that passage as I was crossing through the reception area at the office, as I returned from the bookshop. And as I read those words I cried “Eureka! I’ve got the answer – the answer’s nonsense – nonsense is the answer!” Leaving several of my partners and some other people looking utterly stunned, wondering what that was all about!
    From “without”, instead of from “within”. Careful who you share it with – you also might get very strange looks from other people.
    Running parallel to your comments on “art” is the fascination – the obsession – that humans have with images. We have an insatiable appetite for them. I read the other day that as many photo images are created in several seconds as the total number of people in China. Photography might be a lesser form of art, but utterly irresistible to humans.
    Next, your choice of begonias – verging on dangerous turf – at this point, your right flank is exposed to attack from the anti-Macros. Why, I wonder? Macro is not about gear – it requires thought – planning. A sports photographer simply sets the thing up and does “point and shoot” – taking bursts, and selecting the only “photo” from a hundred others, back in the studio. A macro ‘tog has to do all that “sorting” in his head, before firing the shutter – and hope he’s made the right decision, and captured the right image. In many cases, there’s only one chance at it, one chance to capture “that shot”. “All that gear” is no more help, in this context, than the sports photographer’s tripod – or tele lens. Or the architecture ‘tog’s w/angle. Or that flat camera with the pancake lens (preferably “all black”), used by the street ‘tog.
    I smell envy in the comments from anti-Macro’s!
    As for the notion that “photography is not art” – “Joy 1” explodes that myth. Perhaps it’s true that snapshots don’t qualify – but then a child’s first painting would be unlikely to be acclaimed as art either – any more than an 8 year-old’s plasticine model of a horse could be promoted as “sculpture”.
    No – the click over isn’t some kind of “who dun it”, or what species of photography it is. It’s the level of (1) genius and (2) effort – thought or whatever – that went into the creation of the image.
    OMG – that’s enough! I might or might not come back and continue on from “joy 2”, later.

  • Mer says:


    This is a thought-provoking read – and the pictures sure don’t help me hold off on a macro lens purchase. Nicely done.

    The joy(episode 3) speaks very much to my own feelings about photography. Sure, the process of taking photos of a reasonable standard can be very easy with modern cameras, but creating those images with X factor is – for me – very difficult. That you’ve been able to focus(no pun!) your photography on something that connects with your artistic soul is a very good thing.

    I find it’s a bit of a love-hate thing. I love being part of the creative process(episode one), but hate falling short on the quality of the images produced. Mind you, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be so satisfying when things turn out well.


  • >