I think a great deal about photography. I wonder if it has meaning, I wonder if I am doing it “right”, I wonder if my work is “art”. Much thinking and few answers to bring comfort. But still I think about it.
All this thinking has brought me to a view of photography that I don’t see reflected in the writing and comments of others. I read and hear about the right way to do it, I watch videos on how to make my pictures better, I read many reviews
of cameras and equipment. But I don’t see how I view it in all my reading and watching.
To me I am a graphic artist creating images on paper and canvas. I apply paint and ink in whatever ways I find that please me and I create images that express what I feel. To do this I use various tools; a camera, a computer, a printer. These are my paint brushes. Whether I am successful in my effort to create “art” is for others to decide. It is out of my hands and I don’t really worry about that. Time will judge. And I will continue to make my art.
I do look at the work of others, I do study lessons I find online, and I do practice with my small store of equipment. And I create what pleases me. It is my view that no one has the authority or the right to tell me I am wrong to do this. It is fair to say that I have no ability. That is criticism. But you cannot tell me I have no right. That is oppression.
This point of view informs me when I read of historical arguments such as those between “Pictorialism” and “Naturalism”. To me all of those arguments are specious. I don’t care what school you follow. I only care about your portfolio. It does not matter how you create your images. It only matters whether your pictures speak to me? And conversely, do my pictures speak to you?
But, to back track a little. My view of photography may interest you but it does not bind you. If you find satisfaction taking pictures of birds with your Canon Rebel then good on you. That is valid photography and let no one tell you otherwise. If you belong to your local camera club for the social evenings and the chance to discuss your hobby with like minded people, that is enough. In other words, just as you can’t tell me the right way to take a picture neither can I tell you that you are doing it wrong. And just as importantly, I cannot tell you that mine is better than yours. I can offer an opinion but no more. And if your opinion is otherwise, it is just as valid.
Now, back to what I do. I create prints, which in my view, is the ultimate goal of artistic photography. There are other types of photography and we all agree that they are useful in their fields. And of course photography can be simply an enjoyable pastime. What I like to produce is printed by me on fine watercolor paper or on artist’s canvas, it is signed, it is framed and mounted. I stretch my canvases on stretcher bars I create and finish myself.
I want my work to be mine alone. I want to please you not only with the image but with the feel and texture, with the finish of the surface, with the quality of the light reflected from it. I want it to be an experience. This is what I strive to do.
Several weeks ago a call went out from my camera club for entries to a photo competition. For a few moments I thought that I might enter. Then I read the rules and became discouraged. Images were to be JPEG files, they were to be no more than 1400 pixels by 1050 Pixels and one dimension had to be the maximum allowed. Maximum file size was to be 1.8 MB. The color space was to be sRGB. No composite or infra red images were to be allowed. No creative filters were to be used. No long exposures of clouds. And there were other rules all of which were to be consistent with the rules for the Canadian Association for Photographic Art. And within these rules we were to create art. Or were we?
My first thought was that this is not what I do. For me no digital file is, or can be, “art”. No image on a computer screen can be “art”. “Art” is something that you can hang on your living room wall. To enjoy it you should not have
to sit down at your computer. “Art” should not be hidden from you because you cannot operate a computer.
My second thought was that these rules promote RPRT (Right Place Right Time) photography. The man who happens to travel to a location and happens to point his camera just at the right time can take a winning picture. No talent or ability is necessary. That is not necessarily the case but it tends in that direction. If you create rules to level the playing field, so to speak, you end up leaving only the view in front of the camera and you exclude creativity.
Finally, if you strip my images of their fine paper, if you deny them the ink that makes them glow, if you restrict them to small computer screens, if you cannot handle them and admire them in their fine detail and luxurious feel, you destroy what I do. I am not sure what you are judging but I know I am not being judged for my “art”.
This sounds elitist. I do not mean it to. As I have said, photography as a pastime is a legitimate use of the medium and if comparing and judging JPEG images brings pleasure, why not indulge in it. I have seen beautiful images in these competitions; some really stunning ones. But I saw them on a small screen. I admire them but they are not what I do. Now that I think of it, I may be sounding not only elitist but also condescending. Well, it is not meant to be. Just enjoying the hobby is no better or worse than what I do. I just don’t feel that I want to take my photography in that direction.
So what kind of a competition would I be interested in? It would have to involve prints. And that is where the problem arises: the cost of mounting such a competition. It would need space and time. And these are both expensive. And then there is the problem of rules again. I saw a wonderful photo exhibition a few years ago. But all the prints were framed in the same frames and they were all the same size. Again, someone else defining the art of others. I understand why they did that but if art is to be individual expression, how can this be? I don’t want to be in a photo competition, I want an art competition.
It seems to me that photo competitions of the type my camera club was inviting us to promotes the view that photography is not “art” and cannot be “art”. It may be beautiful, it may be exciting, but it is not “art”: it is just photography. I think photography can be “art” but not this way.
So I did not enter the competition and I did not win. But I created another print yesterday that pleases me and stirs in me emotions like I felt when I saw the scene originally. And what is even more wonderful, my greatest critic, Susan, likes it. So I know I am doing something right!