Archive for March, 2010

On Art, and Photography

March 26, 2010

A hillwalker once came across a painter out in the countryside with his easel. He stopped a while to look at the scene and to study the painting. After a minute, he said to the painter, “Very nice, but I don’t see a lake over there”. The painter replied, “What lake?”.

On reflection, it hardly matters whether there was a lake, and the painter left it out, or there wasn’t and the painter created one. When you’re working on a piece of paper that you intend to hang on your wall, you can do just as you please. Constable did hundreds of cloud studies in an attempt to capture the forms and colours of the landscape as accurately as he could, but in composing a finished scene on canvas he placed his figures, carts and animals wherever he wanted them.

This is one aspect of art, filling your sheet as you choose. Rather like novel writing, you create the scene you want your viewer to see. It may relate to what’s ‘out there’, be informed or inspired by reality, but it can represent what you feel inside. This is also true of photography since photography, by its nature, is very inclusive. But photography also includes another factor that painting and drawing have some difficulty with – the snapshot. The technology of painting means that accurate reportage of a moment in time is virtually impossible. It is the technology of photography that makes it possible to capture the moment. (The so-called truth of photography can attract many a counter argument, but I consider it as valid as the subjective truth of our own eyes, not more so.)

The argument is usually predicated on the idea that ‘art’ is good, and photography is a late arrival. We seek out evidence to prove that photography is just as good. This is quite wrong, I think, since the camera and whatever post-processing you employ can do both – it can create imaginatively, or represent accurately. We have street photography and reportage, neither of which can effectively be carried out with a brush.

Edward Weston insisted that he was a photographer first, and artist second, but this is one of those issues of labelling that has flip-flopped backwards and forwards over the years precisely because there is a huge overlap of intent. I don’t think there’s any great merit in the argument.

Does “straight out of the camera” have an intrinsic value? I find it a useful aim, but it’s not a condition of my photography. Cartier-Bresson famously didn’t crop his negatives, but for one simple reason; and it wasn’t a rule, it was simply that he didn’t need to. On the other hand, he was extremely fastidious about achieving the right contrast in the final print.

Using a DSLR and a large format camera, and a wide range of tools in between, suits me. I don’t find that shooting sheet film slows me down, it just takes longer and I don’t mind that. I can go out with my K10D and shoot five images, just as I might with the Neretta, and hopefully have something valid to work on when I get home. But whatever the technology employed, post-processing is both a necessity and a whole other skill-set.

I try to avoid the ‘art’ word, and looking at the Turner Prize awards over the past twenty years I ask would I really want my work to be associated with Fine Art at all?

Incidentally, this character has been sitting under the colonnades on a main street in Bologna for many years painting landscapes and scenic sunsets. He sells every one of them.

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