Photography is quite a complex pursuit despite what appears to be merely the push of a button. Like any pursuit photography requires attention, practice, skill and thought. Accomplished photographers have a ‘good eye’, a ‘way-of-seeing’, developed through years of deploying skills, using techniques and gaining knowledge. Their defining marque is their ‘style’ – a way of seeing and revealing the insights their ‘eye’ has given them. These insights are ‘well seen’ and if they capture a pleasing essence of the scene make a ‘well composed’ picture.
Living in the context of photography for so many years I feel I know these concepts intimately. I hear photographic judges use these terms. I know photographers, who when in critical mode, apply them in conversation. However, are these terms identifying photographers as artists? Do these terms really just skirt around the subject? The ‘eye’ in photography is a wonderful thing. However, it is not the same ‘eye’ that a painter has – although there is a lot of overlap. The painter constructs a new ‘whole’ out of a myriad of individual brush strokes. They may have dissected the scene they paint or may have created it in their minds eye. Both would be an endeavour of art because they have created a new synthesis from something they have seen inside themselves or out in the world. It is that synthesis that is awesome. Does the photographer create in such a way?
In the depth of myself I don’t really think of myself as an artist. My captures of the world are a way of becoming engaged with it, a sort of conversation between inner me and the outside of me. Yet, I cannot deny that over the years my photographic eye has become affected by a way-of-seeing. It is a ‘way’ that other photographers and yes, artists too, have persuaded me is more aesthetically pleasing to my audience.
True, as a photographer I don’t always produce pictures just to please others. Sometimes it is just for me. The shot above is an example. I took it because I love that view and in particular that great cedar tree in the centre. In truth the picture is not really the essence of what I see when that cedar is before me in all its splendour. Yet, it does remind me of the wonder and awe I see when in communion with this magnificent specimen. However, the awesomeness of the subject of a picture is not about the art. Artistic success is when you engender the wonder and awe of your audience about the picture itself – the artistic interpretation of the scene portrayed. If you were awed by the picture of the tree (not the tree depicted) then I think I would have achieved art.
Photographers are sometimes awed by a picture because they do not know how it is done. Alternatively they may be awed because they feel a particular technique is beyond their own skills. Either way they are not awed by the art in the picture. There is something in the nature of an artistic picture that tugs at the heartstrings of the viewer about the picture itself and its impact. A new synthesis has truly been created by the photographer.
I continue to have a conversation with the world around me through my photography. However, on a very few occasions I have stepped beyond that conversation reaching to a new level. It is a level that has rendered my viewer speechless. They have been completely taken in by the wonder of the picture itself. I think in those few instances I probably did achieve art – through a new synthesis. I am not sure if I can do it again or if I ever will. However, it is a privilege to say that once or twice I have pushed the button and created art.
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