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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Art Photography, Personal Photography

I've talked about the Personal Now, which is ultimately what almost all photographs are about. This has grown into an immense river of images posted to flickr, facebook, instagram, and wherever other mechanisms exist to share imagery. This river of images is (and always has been) the background against which Art photography takes place, it is the context in which we all live, and from which we view Art photography.

So what? What does this even mean?

As the river of images grows, it has the effect of trivializing photography as a pursuit. Everyone's doing it, everyone can do it. The commercial guys are feeling the pinch in a pretty big way, now, and it's just going to get worse for them.

The emotional weight of an individual image shrinks as we see more and more of them.

"Personal Now" images, straightforward slice of life images, documentary, street, this pretty flower, that striking view of a building, almost inevitably feel like something we have seen a thousand times. If we haven't actually seen it a thousand times, we feel as if we could have. We sense that a thousand or a million images substantially identical to this one already exist out there, and we are probably right.

On the up side, it's possible that a really good image gains strength from the background of mediocrity, of ordinariness. More and more, a photograph must stand against other photographs, and less against the real world. This may be why we're seeing a pretty rapid trend toward more and more radical processing, the need to "stand out" against the mass? Might the outre approaches to photography be seen as a rebellion against the mass of images made by everyone?

In making an Art photograph one could take the approach of distilling existing photographic ideas, possibly ordinary and common ones. Can one make a great photograph which distills the essence of "This is my entree at this fancy restaurant"? Can one boil down "this is my drunk friend" down to a single fantastic image? This approach is, in some sense, the opposite of attempting to stand out and rise above. It is embracing some elements of the river of images, and trying to make something of them.

As with all influences, one can embrace the river, or rebel against it. Both are good ideas. The bad idea is to dither about what to do.

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