Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Photography and Insight

Third in line of my favorite activities, after playing music and shooting photos, is reading. I'm always searching for interesting books, fiction and nonfiction, that are challenging and engaging. And I'm spurred on in my search by the utter dearth of such material on TV (except for the occasional - and very occasional at that - interesting broadcast on PBS). I've just begun to read a book by Eric Kandel entitled The Age of Insight which explores the role of the unconscious in art. The book is especially interesting to me because Kandel focuses on my favorite period of art history - German expressionism of the turn of the 20th century, and specifically on three of my favorite artists from any period of art history - Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoshka, and Egon Schiele.

I often begin to read intellectual explorations of the psychology of creativity, probably in the hopes of getting some sort of cognitive understanding of what goes on in my very confused brain, only to be disappointed by the lack of intuitive understanding most writers exhibit through their sterile academic analyses and/or their pandering to 'new age' philosophy. In just the brief preface Kandel has written to this book I see that neither is the case.

Most often my photography work is centered around people - in particular, the street portraits I feature in my blog posts. In this book Kandel says that he intends to focus specifically on the portraiture work of the three artists mentioned because (as he says in the preface) 'we now have the beginnings of an intellectually satisfying understanding - in both cognitive psychological and biological terms - of how we respond perceptually, emotionally, and empathically to the facial expressions and bodily postures of others.' What is street portraiture, if not the photographer's intuitive reaction and/or response to the people and faces towards which he is drawn to point the lens?

Kandel focuses on three great masters of painting. I don't presume to intimate that my work approaches the genius of what they produced. There may be those who would deny the similarities between painting and photography - I chose not to engage in that dialogue. The process that I enchants me is the unconscious intuitive visualization of a persona, how it is expressed by facial and body language, and how the artist seeks to recreate that visualization so that viewers of his work can have the same experience of the artist's subject at that moment.

I was walking across 125th street in Harlem a few Sundays ago and noticed that many people, dressed in their 'Sunday' finest, were coming out of a church on 124th street. I noticed these three 'church ladies' who's' faces were aglow with the spirit of the service.