Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Love Letter to Photography

(or something like that)

I spend too much time griping about photography as done by other people. What I really dislike, I think, is pretense, but altogether too often it comes across as "I hate this kind of picture, or that kind" and that's unfair, unkind, and not actually true.

We often speak of "more pictures taken in the last 17 nanoseconds than in the first so and so many decades of.. " and so on. What we perhaps should say is "more people can now take a photograph, at this exact instant, than actually did take photographs in the interval ending ten years ago" or something. Ultimately, photographs are taken by people, to record and (usually, but not always) share with others what was recorded. It doesn't matter if the people to be shared with are the curators at the MOMA, or just mom and all her friends, the mechanic of sharing, of showing others, is almost universal.

The details vary. Mostly, people want to share "now" with their friends. "Look, see what I see. See my coffee, my lunch, my car. Look, see where I am." "Look, see what I made" is a common theme, whether it be the photograph itself (Performance Photography), or the cupcakes newly frosted. Often there's a strong undercurrent of narcissism, of vanity ("look at me", "I have a hot model in my house", "look at how well I copied Ansel Adams") but in this moment of generosity let us ignore that, and focus on that desire to show people something.

Personally, I am interested in photographs with "weight", whatever that even means. I increasingly think it has more to do with context, presentation, than the actual content of the pictures. I am sure that you could make a powerful collection of photographs consisting of nothing but "selfies", or pictures of drunk happy girls at parties. It is well established that, conversely, you can make lightweight, meaningless pictures of human suffering and other weighty ideas.

Since, apparently, "weight", my personal interest in pictures, has little to do with what's actually in this picture or that, I can set this whole issue aside for a moment, and simply love the photographs for a bit.

That impulse to photograph, somewhere between creating an artwork, and pointing out something with a gesture, that is a beautiful thing. That desire to show people something, that's an act of generosity, of communication and connection.

That's pretty great, isn't it?


  1. I had a similar discussion with Mark Klett, when I was trying to convince him to let me take one of his graduate courses at ASU, despite my never having taken a photography course before. (He did eventually relent, but I ultimately decided it was going to cost me far more money that it was worth to me, so I passed on it.)

    As I recall it, his position was that many aspects of a photo that weren't plainly visible in it mattered at least as much, if not more, than those aspects that were. In other words, he believed the concept, context, and scholarship surrounding a photo are at least as important as the photo itself. (At the time, he was working on his re-photography project and in that specific case, I agree with him. But to my mind, that's also an exception, not the rule.)

    On the other hand, it's my opinion that a photo must speak for itself and whatever one sees in it is the primary message and everything else is secondary.

    Based upon your comments above, I gather that you're somewhere in the middle of the continuum: i.e., a photo speaks for itself, but some (a lot?) of what it has to say is implied and its voice is often heard best as part of a chorus than solo ... yes?