Wednesday, February 24, 2016

In Wallace Steven’s poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird he states that it is not clear whether he prefers the beauty of innuendo or the beauty of inflection. I feel the same way about photography. It is difficult to say which genre or even facet of photography I enjoy most.  

But I can say this with considerable certainty: I have no intentions of boxing myself into the corner of technique and conventional wisdoms.

On one hand I see, on occasion, beauty in capturing a likeness that resembles the reality of the subject. Yet I am never really happy doing that because it is not personal a personal statement. To do anything less is imitation. It is either simply documentation or at best taking my vision from another. That has little value to me. I could care less if my photograph looks like anyone else’s photograph and am only truly happy when it obviously doesn’t. Why would I ever want to photograph like someone else? That isn’t what I want from photography. I don’t remember who said that if you want to know what something looks like, for heaven’s sake go look at it—don’t photograph it. I fully agree.
A photograph is not the object photographed. It is a separate entity.

This sounds like an oxymoron but I personally believe it is a proven truth--very few amateur photographers can actually see a photograph.
In my opinion, if a person can only see a photograph as the subject matter of the photograph they will never learn to see the photograph. It is called verisimilitude, a sense of reality that overwhelmingly blinds the photographer to the photograph. Most never seem to realize that there is even a difference between seeing the photograph as the subject matter and seeing it as a photograph. They simply look through the photograph, not at the photograph. Oh, yes, they can see the rules, the asinine conventional wisdoms that are constantly regurgitated. They delude themselves into believing that is the photograph. That is simply the means not the end.

A photograph is an object of art. Before a person, a photographer, can see art they must, absolutely must, be able to see that simple fact that a photograph of a flower is not a flower—but very few can.
Seeing a photograph as the subject matter is like reading a primer--“See Dick run”, and never understanding that it should be a poem. It’s like Frances Cornford’s, Fat White Lady Seen from the Train, “Why do you walk through the fields in gloves, When the grass is soft as the breast of doves And shivering sweet to the touch?  O why do you walk through the fields in gloves, Missing so much and so much?”

A photograph is a visual experience that is different from the visual experience of viewing the subject matter—or at least in my opinion it should be. It is the photographer’s statement about the subject matter that only exists because of the photographer’s vision. It should be unique to the photographer.
Sadly, much too often that is a vision borrowed from someone else and is not a statement true to the photographer.

“There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried…”   Ralph Waldo Emerson
So, if my photographs don’t look like you think they should look, that’s okay. I am not using your vision. I see that as something good not a negative. Look at my photographs to see how I see, not so you can me how to see like you do. In the two years that I was separated from the camera club I grew more as a photographer than in the previous eight years when I was concerned about getting ribbons in competitions. The conundrum is how to maintain that growth since I have rejoined.

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