Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Assumption of Error

I propose the following thesis: One cannot successfully show a picture that is not, essentially, straight photography. By "straight photography" I mean a picture that is in focus, had adequate depth of field to cover the interesting bits, has color that is correct within contemporary standards, does not suffer from motion blur, and so on.

The reason any attempt to show something else is that deviations from straight photographic tropes will be seen as mistakes. Is it out of focus? The photographer must have fucked up. There is a base assumption that the photographer is incompetent, and must have meant something other than what we're looking at. Only if no "errors" can be detected, will the self-styled Photographer (and in some contexts the general public) accept the photograph as any good.

If you show a collection of photographs with similar "errors" you at least have a chance at persuading the audience that you meant it. The more astute viewers might even ask themselves if there was a point to rendering everything out of focus, might ask what it means, what the intent was. At any rate, they will tend to believe that you meant it. They may still think you're wrong.

If you present "serious photographs" (Art, or whatever) with these sorts of things in them, the self-styled photographers will generally judge you an idiot. Either you cannot get things in focus, or you stupidly refuse to, and everyone knows that getting the subject in focus is the most important thing. The broader audience may or may not get it. They may also leap to the conclusion that since you've put in "errors" it must follow that they, or their three-year old kid, could have done it.

Of course other artists get the same business. Abstract paintings are frequently judged as "my five year old could do that" which, as with pretty much all photography, has an element of truth to it but misses the point. The point is that your five year old did not, and would never have had the idea to do that. All art is, ultimately, conceptual, photography more than most.

Still, you can't please everyone, and it's virtually impossible to please self-styled photographers, so you shouldn't fuss about it much.

The general viewing audience may or may not get it when you give them a collection of "mistakes" but there is at any rate a chance.

At this point, with highly automated cameras, we really don't have technical errors in any meaningful way. The average person points the camera, presses the button, and gets a perfectly satisfying picture out. The focus may not be quite where intended, perhaps, but the average person does not care. The minor errors are not meaningful to the photographer. On the flip side, the competent technician mainly gets all the technical details just the way she wants them, and again, there are no meaningful technical errors (she's already deleted problematic files).

Ironically, therefore, the only time when technical errors are actually relevant and meaningful is when someone simultaneously cares about fiddly details like that and is not capable of reliably getting those details right. Unhappily, these are the majority of people out on the internets chattering away about photography. It is these people who line up to judge everyone else. It is these nattering incompetents who want to tell you all about how terrible you are because you make some "mistake" which either you don't care about, or which was a quite deliberate choice.

1 comment:

  1. I just bought a copy of 'The Decisive Moment' 2nd Ed. All wonderful photos, all by today's current standards rather soft (and going by the accompanying text, also soft by the standards of the day.) But me oh my, hardly a one but transported me far far away. Such is the presence of the images, they generates othes senses as well. As was also said in paraphrase, an image with optimal qualities or data is not an optimal image.