Blog #21 Photography! But Why?
In this week's blog post, I'm feeling very reflective of my recent experiences and many successful activities within the art of photography. Those include: an art show, publications, contest selections, paid portrait work, completion of the professional course in photography from NYIP, teaching a film class to students, building a darkroom, and others. Riding the wave of these activities has caused me to become introspective all of a sudden. But why? Why photography? What's it all for, anyway? Why is it that I feel the need to carry a camera and make photos, like everyday? It is simply fun? Or do I feel a compulsion to document my life so that when I'm old and senile I can scroll through hundreds of thousands of images to remember the good ol' days?
For some insight as to why I might be so compelled to make photographs, I sought the advise of my dear old mother. It's no coincidence that I'm writing this blog during the week of the Western holiday of Mother's Day. My mother graduated from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), a prestigious New England art school sometime in the late 1960s. She studied art history, design, fine arts, and painting. Afterwards, she was a painter for many decades.. When I was very young, she would take my into Soho, New York City to help her with art shows in galleries in the City. I had fun helping her set up and then she would let me kicking it around Canal Street while she did her thing. Her style is abstract (see below). She still paints and has developed her craft over the decades although she mostly does abstract pieces. She's 70 years old now and recently had a painting selected by the Boca Raton Art Museum in Florida. Over the years she has dabbled in sculpture, drafting, and interior design and decorating work. I never really asked her "Why do you paint"?. In researching the topic for this blog, I finally got to ask her this question. Her response was "To breathe".
When asked "Why do you paint"?, my mother responded "Why do you breathe?". "I have to", she continued. It was an emotional outlet for her. Painting and being creative makes her feel free and happy. She views painting as work, however, not a simple fun pastime or hobby. The reason for this, she explained was because there are many decisions that she is required to make in the creative process. This can be the cause of some degree of stress and challenge. Nevertheless, there is a drive that pushes her to paint. It all started to make sense to me.
As a photographer, I can relate. I will get dressed each morning, throw the camera over my neck, and head out into the unknown. It's become completely normal. I carry a camera to casual events, work, formal events, the beach, just about everywhere. I get a weird sense that I'm forgetting something if I don't have it then I remember that and can (and do ) always use my iPhone. Sigh of relief, carry on.
Photographers have at least as much if not more decisions to make in the process of making images. What camera should I use, full frame, medium format (120mm), APS-C cropped sensor, digital, film, colour, black and white, should I use a wide angle lens, a standard (50mm), telephoto or portrait lens? What about ISO, shutter speed, or aperture? Do I want a shallow depth of field (DOF - Focus) or a deep DOF? Should I bring the flash today? These are the decisions that are needed before the shutter is pressed. After the shutter is pressed, there are countless (literally thousands) of possibilities that can be applied to process the image. Darkroom and digital processing have similar adjustments such as cropping, dogging, burning, adding or subtracting contrast, colour choices, black & white, and many other details. How will the image be displayed? On screen, printed on paper? What size? Should the print be made on matte paper, glossy, semi-glossy paper? What about the frame? The possibilities are practically endless.
The basic premise, however, doesn't change for the artist regarless of the medium in which he or she or working. We make images because we need to. Photography is quite literally life for some of us. Maybe we get paid sometimes, all of the time, or never. This doesn't matter, really. The point is that we photograph because live and live because we photograph. Creative activities are work. We need to be creative and this is our avenue. It's that simple. You can debate cameras and the audience. all day long but it's hard to argue against the photographer himself or herself as the ultimate first and foremost audience for their own work. Does all of this sound very philosophical and profound? Maybe it is but that's the point. Sometimes, we need to ask the tough questions so that we can discuss the difficult topics, and then move on.
There are a few good articles floating around the internet this month on similar topics. Spencer Bentley from Petapixel wrote a really nice piece about how the camera type makes him feel. http://petapixel.com/2016/05/09/important-camera-feature-makes-feel/. My take-away from his discussion is that the camera is the photographer's tool and there is a real visceral connection between the two. Sometimes we need to try different cameras to find the right one, or at least the right now one. Dear Spencer, I feel you, bro.
Another very talented and insightful photographer is Eric Kim. His recent piece titled "Shoot More, Worry Less" is aimed at those photographers, professional, hobbyists, or otherwise, who occasionally feel paralysed by the myriad of decisions that we are constantly confronted with. Should I even bring my camera out today? What if it rains? What lens should I bring? Ok, stop. Mr. Kim offers a rational approach to troubleshoot this potentially debilitating condition faced by many artists. http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2016/05/04/shoot-more-worry-less/
In summary, we shoot because we need to. Don't think to much. Make beautiful images.
Thanks for reading. May the light be with you, always.