Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Photography Is Exclusion

Most of the time when I read commentaries on photography I lose interest very quickly because they seem to be not particularly about photography. The commentator usually uses the art and/or craft of photography as a vehicle for his/her intellectual gymnastics and verbosity. Occasionally, however, I happen upon an article that grabs my attention. This column, written by Joerg Colberg in Concientious magazine, was a follow-up to another which appeared earlier in the same magazine. 

Just to whet your appetite, here's a quote from the article: We must not overburden photography with something it cannot do - providing us with an accurate portrayal of anything. Instead, we must acknowledge the maker's hand, and we should talk about it's role - and our reactions. 

What especially piqued my interest in the article was the proposition that, because photography is inherently a subjective representation of reality - beginning with the photographer's choice of what to photograph and how to photograph it, through the editor's (or curator's) choice of what selection of the photographer's work to actually present to the public, and ending with the viewer's perspective of the work based on his/her experience and psychological filters - the experience of viewing photographs should be less about becoming informed by the material and more about inspiring questions in the viewer's perception of the images. 

Yeah, that's a mouthful. But it nails exactly what I shoot, how I shoot, and why I shoot it. If I get an image that moves me, I invest time to make it beautiful and/or compelling not only because I get satisfaction from making beautiful things - musical phrases, photographs, books - but also because by making something beautiful it becomes more appealing and more noticed. If I've done my job right, the more attention the object gets, the more moved my audience is, and hopefully the more questions are piqued. It doesn't always work. Sometimes my message is too subtle and goes unnoticed, and sometimes its too obvious and hits like a sledge hammer. But my mission as a creative artist is always the same: to evoke a feeling, and by so doing raise questions.

One of my favorite haunts in New York is the Museum of Modern Art. Being an inveterate people watcher, the museum is always rich with subject matter - people looking at the artwork with quizzical expressions, people interacting with others with the artwork as a backdrop. On this particular day I was walking through a corridor to a photography exhibit. On the wall was a display of words covering several panels - the significance of the words was that they were all somehow very large, powerful, and positive in meaning or connotation. And they created a sense of anticipation to anyone walking along the corridor to view the show. And yet, in complete juxtaposition to the intent of the wall display there sat this gentleman with a facial expression and body language that was a dramatic counterpoint to the wall display. That's the feeling I had, but it was just my interpretation of a gut feeling that the scene evoked for me. That I had some stirred feelings was all that was necessary for me to value the moment and capture it, to process the image in a way that focuses the viewer's attention on the counterpoint of the words and the person sitting in front of them. And in so doing present an image that hopefully touches you on some level and gives pause to consider what's happening.