Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Artist And The Viewer

In my bog post for July 18th I mentioned Eric Kandel's book The Age of Insight. I was initially impressed with the premise of the book and looked forward to delving in. Reading the book is slow going, there is a lot to give pause and think about, and the way the subject matter is presented is definitely stimulating. Since the subject matter of the book centers on the life of fin de siecle Vienna the main proponents discussed are Freud, Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoshka. They form the core of the premise in the book. Because Freud is the only actor on the intellectual/scientific side of the equation, the premise of the book falls heavily on subliminal sexuality and aggression as the underlying or unconscious factors motivating the artists (I've yet to encounter any mention of spirituality).

The strongest attraction that the book holds for me is its exploration of the role the intended audience plays in the investment of feeling and emotion by the artists in their work. Any artistic work presented, in any medium, without that deep investment by the artist falls flat on its face and isn't worth my time. When I see a performance I want to be pinned to the back of my seat, when I view a photo, painting, or sculpture I want to have the wind knocked out of me. And that's the effect I seek to have on my viewers.

I invest my work with specific feelings when I take the photo, and I try to enunciate and accentuate those emotions as I process it to create the image. That processing involves the conversion from color to b/w, the optimization of tones and contrast, and the manipulation of perspective to create drama and draw your eye to where I want it to be in the image. As a piece of music unfolds, or as a drama plays out, the composer/playwright has complete control of your attention because the work unfolds in time. With a visual work, such as a painting, sculpture, or photograph the whole work is presented in its entirety at the moment of perception. The viewer is free to move around the work as he sees fit, and that often does not  suit the intention of the artist who is trying to convey an emotional message. It's through subtle adjustments in processing the image that the photographer pushes the viewer's eye to where and how it's intended to focus.

I invest a meaning in any image I present, based upon my emotional (conscious or unconscious) motivation in taking, processing, and developing the image. I can't hope to elicit the same interpretation or response from anyone who happens to see the work. There may be millions of people who view the work (oh all right, tens of viewers ..... who's counting!) and each person brings his/her own feelings to the experience. But if I invest myself in the process - and that means I don't simply go out and snap snap snap pictures, as so much of street photography seems to me to be - I can expect that by my latent emotional investment in the work I can elicit and emotional response by the viewer who brings to the experience his own feelings.

I approach street work in two ways. I try to stay as inconspicuous as possible to capture the people in my images reacting and responding to the environment in which they are immersed. I make a point of not insinuating myself into the situation - that would change the dynamics of the experience. On the other hand, sometimes I get noticed. When that happens I try to make the most of the situation and interact as positively as I can with the subject. Even though the camera was at my waist as I walked past this gentleman on 125th street in Manhattan, he saw me coming. The tip of his hat and the effort to look dapper in spite of the condition of his clothes, the cigarette hanging from his lips, and his body language shouted attitude to me.