I am reading some essays from John Berger. The very first one in this book of selected essays which I have is about Drawing.
Berger characterizes drawing, in the sense of the artist sketching for themselves, as a process of discovery. The artist, in the act of drawing, explores and learns which the subject is, what it actually looks like, in detail. This little space there, the alignment of this line or plane with that. The relationship of this bit to the other bit.
This, of course, makes perfect sense, but it's not something I had quite thought of in quite that way.
But then, Berger says, there is in every drawing a moment of crisis. There is a point in the process at which the act of drawing becomes more about the drawing than about the subject. The subject begins to serve more as a reference to confirm what the artist already wants to put into the drawing. The drawing takes on a life of its own and, in a meaningful sense, the process of discovery ceases.
Photography is nothing like drawing. In the act of photographing, one may be almost entirely unaware of the subject. More usually, you have some grasp of the larger forms, the bigger and more obvious graphical qualities, perhaps some emotional or human handle on the thing, a few other details. At best a sort of narrow and probably kind of trivial gloss on the whole thing.
However, when you come to the computer, or the enlarger, and begin to work on the damned thing, if this is something you do, then something a bit like drawing happens. You notice little bits of pieces, small details, larger forms you missed, and so on. In the decisions about what to bring out, and how, and what to suppress, and how, you examine the photograph minutely. You discover it and you discover what was photographed.
As with the process of drawing, there can come a crisis point. There comes a point, if you're deep into the thing, where the work you are doing ceases to be about what was in front of the camera, and begins to be about the photograph itself. This might come almost immediately, if you're some compositing hero for whom photographs are merely raw material, or a collage artist, or whatever. It might come very late if you're a Serious Street Tog showing the gritty side of life on the street. It might never come.
But when that moment arrives, it behooves you to notice it. It's not so much that you ought not proceed past that point, it is that once you do proceed you are in a different territory.