On the face of it, this seems like a very obvious statement of intention. For most people, this is not even something that gets called into question (see this article on why we photograph). Perhaps it’s an odd issue I’m personally facing, but the discussion of all things photographic and creative is the purpose of this site after all. Of late, I’m stuck between four places: photographing the commercial, as specified by the client; photographing what appeals to me personally, which is almost always not commercially viable at all; photographing what the audience of this site wants to see and photographing what the art world dictates I should be doing.
I’ve struggled a bit for a title to today’s essay. Through the course of my investigation into other forms of art – perhaps investigation is a bit too strong a word; meandering or exploration is probably closer – I’ve noticed that photography stands apart for two reasons: perception, and origin. They’re really one and the same if you dig a bit deeper, and this also applies to a lesser extent to its derivatives – film/ video, mixed media etc. I suspect I may open a can of worms with this piece, but I’m also hoping it’s going to provoke some interesting discussion below the line in the manner of some of the classic posts of old…
Sometimes – quite frequently, actually – I fin myself on an aircraft with not very much to do. I fly often enough and spend enough time in the air that I’m one of those people who will bother to try and find out the flight route in advance and pick the seat most conducive to photography on arrival or departure – assuming of course there isn’t an engine or wing in the way*. I’ve gotten some very satisfying images this way.
*Frequent travelers will know there’s always a tradeoff: the front of economy is usually blocked; the rear usually is noisy and has a lot of traffic en-route to galleys and toilets, and the view isn’t always clear because of the convection visible due to the engine exhaust heat. Or, you fly up front and land up bankrupt.
I originally wanted to call this article ‘is anything truly original?’ – however, I think that’s the concluding question I’d like to leave the reader with rather than the opening one. There has been a lot of debate recently – both in the comments here, offline amongst my usual correspondents and in various places on the internet about why a) photography is perhaps not perceived as ‘highly valued’ as other art forms; b) obviously derivative works and the creative value – or lack of – contained therein; and the greater question of whether c) the medium as a legitimate creative art form rather than merely a recording/ documentary one. Perhaps the biggest question is in the title: ‘but is it art?’
The perpetually asked question of ‘but is it art?’ is one that’s impossible to answer. I’ve tried, I know I’ve been found to fall short, and won’t event attempt to define it. But today I’d like to approach this topic from a slightly different angle: how are the three things in the title related?
The final article in this series on printing leaves behind the technique and even the images to consider a far deeper philosophical consideration: art vs. the process vs. the result. To make a successful image, there are three primary considerations: the idea, the execution, and the display medium. Most photographers struggle to manage more than one of these – there are a lot of people who are very good at shooting brick walls and test charts and can remember ever single custom function of their cameras, but cannot compose at all. Similarly, there are a lot of people who point and shoot with their phones but are quite gifted compositionally; yet they are frustrated by their inability to capture what they imagine. And both groups almost never think about how the finished work is to be presented and viewed.
Work like this, I produce for myself and myself only: I don’t care if anybody else likes it; frankly, I wasn’t even going to upload or share it, but it got accidentally included in a batch. I know it certainly has zero commercial potential. Perhaps that makes it amongst the purest images I create?
Here’s a sticky question I’ve been battling with for a few months: does it matter what other people think of my images? Although it may sound rather egotistical, I think it’s actually a very valid consideration from several standpoints: that of the hobbyist/ amateur; that of the commercial/ professional, and that of the artist. And I’m pretty sure the answer is different for each one. I’m not even going to try and answer the question of what one should do if you fall into all three categories…I suppose it requires a healthy dose of schizophrenia.
After my review of his first book, I received a very complimentary email from Nick thanking me for my review and expressing something between relief and gratitude that the lengths he went to to get to prints right were being appreciated. A short correspondence developed, and he has very graciously agreed to an exclusive interview for the site, which follows my review of the final book in the series – Across The Ravaged Land – and constitutes today’s post. I admit that writing the questions for that interview made me somewhat nervous, because Nick is one of my few true photographic heroes; a rockstar with integrity, talent, and beyond that, passion. Let us begin.
Not so long ago, we had a healthy debate on the line between photography and art (if you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend spending some time on both the main article and the comments – especially the comments). In yesterday’s photoessay, I attempted something different. Distilled out of this are a few thoughts and interpretations on the definition of art…