Capture or Create?

It’s the “vision thing”.

As a photographer, does one capture an image or create an image?

Either. Both.  What about using photography as art?

Photography can serve many functions. It can document, it can augment, it can illustrate, it can illuminate, it can interpret, it can witness, it can lie.

Which is right? None. All. Which is art? Potentially none. Potentially all.

Necessary caveat: I am hardly an expert or the last word on such as this, but it is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. It’s just my opinion. (In the next blog post, I’ll link to a much more profound and better written essay on how this works. Come back in a couple of days.)

Without revisiting the whole “Is photography art?” thing, I simply refer you to a post from about a year ago:

… summed up by photographer Ruth Bernhard who said that photography is an art if used by an artist. But even that distinction does not address whether or not a photographer has a vision.

As discussed in prior posts, many photographers wonder how to make their work different. “Everything has been photographed” (probably true), so how does one make a different, new picture of the same things already photographed?

In the prior two posts, I discussed fairly simple things such as getting a new angle on a scene, or moving in closer, etc. When you are at a location that has been photographed a zillion times, pretend that you are there with the photographer who took “the” picture, and then find a different way of photographing the same scene.

Have a vision. Vision is not the same thing as pre-visualization (or just visualization).

That’s easy for me to say. Yet, all of my photographic life I have had visions of pictures in my head that I couldn’t consistently get onto film (or sensor). Not specific images so much as a “look”. Often, I’ve tried to force the look onto photographs I was making, with some, but limited success. Now, in just the recent past, I have come to a few realizations.

I know of many photographers who are – whether consciously or unconsciously – essentially Ansel Adams wanabes. This is not a bad thing, necessarily. Many do perfectly competent work, they are more than happy with it, it satisfies them, and they are happy to show the work to others. Its just derivative. We all know photographers who think that shooting models, i.e., young, relatively attractive women, is what photography is all about. More power to them. Then there are the street people.

Please keep in mind that I am not denigrating straightforward landscape, documentary, street, or fashion and product photography; it is what dominates the medium. But to differentiate one’s work from all else out there, to be an artist rather than a recorder, one has to see things differently. And a start toward that process might be to make, rather than take photographs (an old cliché in its own right). This is simply how I am approaching this.

A while back, I looked at decades of work and determined that I did not ever have to make any of those pictures again. Not that I won’t, but I will not feel I’m missing something if I don’t. It’s not that the work was bad – some of it is very good if I say so myself – but I have got to make different work.

There needs to be color along with the black and white. I’ve mentioned Carl Weese’s comment before that black and white was mature in film but color is coming of age in digital. One can use one or the other. Use both. It’s not a religious argument.

I don’t believe that I need to seek out scenery or events to photograph. I am not really a landscape photographer. I’ve done it, will continue to do it, but it’s not my driving force. I can actually view a scene without thinking: “I need to photograph this.” I can travel without a camera. I had realized years (decades?) ago that I was not a portrait (or fashion) photographer or a “street” photographer; and I’ve done all of that at one time or another.

I am currently doing a documentary project photographing historic pipe organs: and one of the challenges is finding that “different angle” and making some of the photographs more than just a recordation of the instruments or the churches being photographed. Since the project is for an archive, the recordation is necessary; but I get to make my own statement. A satisfying irony is that many of my more “artsy” shots have proved as or more popular with the audience of the project. Perhaps that’s because it is not what they’re used to seeing?

Documentary projects are not my “thing” either, although I’ve done some of my best work in this genre. The pipe organ project is satisfying because of my interest in the instruments. Likewise, the Texas Church Project in the prior decade allowed me to apply photography to my interests in architecture and history.

Most significantly, those vague images rolling around in my head have begun to gel. This is likely, or at least partly, attributable to my doing less of other photography, allowing my brain to focus on photographs I want to “make”, rather than the latest ones I’ve “taken”.

I’ve realized that photography for me needs to be a deliberate act. I do not carry a camera around all of the time, any more than my painter friends have a brush and canvas at the ever-ready.

So, the “new” images have to be done mostly in the studio. I need to set up and control everything, rather than “capturing” a scene (there will be exceptions). I’ve done very little studio work in my life, although I have the tools (lighting, backgrounds, etc.) I’m not talking about the usual, classic still lifes – the fruit and flowers, etc. It’s various things, usually ordinary things, but with a “look”. A vision. An “angle”.

Will it be completely new and original? Alas, no. (See prior post) What I want to do has been done before, to some extent – but not by me! A couple of my friends have said: “So, where are these new pictures?” Fair question. Not yet. Not ready for public consumption. At the SILVER exhibition last year, one of the comments I received was that the pictures I was showing were not what they were used to seeing from me. That was interesting to hear, but those photographs were transitional at best.

It’s a work in progress. I’m just an amateur. Just trying to make some art …


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