I do not actually make many prints. Out of thousands of photographs I will create maybe one or two prints. For me, the making of the print is a special thing and I put much effort into it. This is the creation of the Art.
I have said before in these pages that, for me, the print is “photography”. If there is art in this craft it is to be found in that final product that ends up on a wall somewhere. This is what we savour and enjoy, this what adorns our lives, this is what we collect. All the negatives and digital images that we hoard contain no art because they are inaccessible. And when we die, they will evaporate as our heirs will carelessly dispose of our computers and hard drives. Only the work we do on our prints will survive.
If you want to call it art, then you have to display it. If you feel you make art, you must surround yourself with your work. Art must be treated like art and not like snapshots or mere illustrations.
I don’t enter photo contests because they want a digital image or a print matted to 16 x 20. It seems that all entries must be the same. That immediately hobbles any art that may lurk in the submissions and reduces the images to pablum. Yes, they may be beautiful, they may demonstrate the ability of the equipment, but they mask the art. It is only in the print that we see what soul lurks beneath the ink. No, contests are not about art.
I am not denigrating photography as a pastime. It is one of the great hobbies and it serves to engage people with the world around them. And indeed, there is a whole industry built on training and instructing so that people may become really proficient makers of images.
Our world is full of photographic decoration. That too is a valid function of photography. But what is current today is remodeled tomorrow. Our world is a voracious consumer of photography. But seldom do we stop in wonder before a photograph and marvel at the skill displayed and the emotional impact it carries.
Photography is many things. It is a great keeper of records; It holds cherished memories; it is an entertainment. But where does the art reside unless it is the print displayed in glory on the wall of a home or museum. To be art it must be something unique that people can collect, cherish, display, treasure. It has to be a print.
“Hawkeye in the Woods” hangs, for now, in the entrance way to our home. Every day I pass by it several times and I never fail to look at it and enjoy it. That is the essence of art, if I am permitted to comment on my own work.
When I make a print, it takes me two or three weeks. I obsess about it. I spend several sessions at my computer, make several small copies, set them where I can see them as I work, and think about them. Many a night I will fall asleep picturing an image and pondering how to present it. And slowly it takes shape. Sometimes I abandon an image because I cannot make it work. Other times it comes easily to me. But always there is much thought.
Is my final print art? Well, I am the worst judge of it as art. That is because it is not my judgement that counts. My current project, “Hawkeye in the Woods”, was taken on a beautiful fall day in a park in Surrey. The leaves were still on the trees, the sun was warm, and I enjoyed the walk immensely. So when I look at that image I am taken back to a lovely afternoon of pleasant memory. But what of others who did not share that experience? What do they feel gazing at what I have produced? That is the key.
“Hawkeye in the Woods” is a print from a negative taken in a Brownie Hawkeye camera. For me this print has double meaning because, not only is it a fine photograph in its own right, but it is a sterling example of what very old very simple cameras are capable of when they are give a chance to perform.
If it is art, it will raise in the viewer emotions different than mine. But it must create in them impressions, interest, thoughts that arise from the work itself. It must be a self contained reaction proceeding from the print to the viewer.
As an example I offer the work of Canadian Photographer Dan Jurak. His photographs speak to me. I was not there when he took them so I have no experience of the places he takes me. And yet some of his work speaks to me strongly. I enjoy looking at it. Were it on my wall I would gaze at it every time I passed by. The print would give me a pleasant experience when I was in its presence. That is when a print becomes Art.
If you are making Art what you do must be treated like art and not like a poster or snapshot. It must be individual, it must be unique, and it must speak to the viewer.
And if it is Art, does it have monetary value? Well, in that question lies another discussion. But this is enough for today. I have to go and make Art!
And finally, this is an example of work by Dan Jurak of Alberta. If I had a copy of this on my wall I would be thrilled. This definitely passes the “Living Room Test”: I would be proud to own it, hang it on my wall and display it to guests. In a large framed print there is no question that this is “Art”.