Is it photography?

I just hooked up with Zack Arias’ blog and was reading back posts when I came across this one:  Is it Photography?

The post is built around a comment he recieved from a previous comment he made.  Read the entire post – it is great.

But I’d like to borrow the text of the actual comment, because I loved what this guy said about why we do this, the growth process.  Zack gave his name as ChrisDavid42.

First, my opinion about art vs. commercialism:
Art has always existed at a cross-roads between commerce and human expression. Artists who wish to benefit from their art will always be subject to the aesthetic of those who are willing to commission, or pay, for that work. On the other side of the coin are the artists who reject all control in pursuit of a “pure unadulterated expression of their vision.” I recently read of a photographer from eastern Europe who was discovered in his sixties or seventies. He spent much of his life in poverty and two decades in a mental hospital. I don’t want to be that guy.

I believe a key element of art is the interaction between artist, medium, and subject. Though at times this may not be conveyed successfully to the viewer, an arguably necessary component of “successful” art, the joy of the creation of art, in my mind, is as important as the result.

Zack consistently pushes his listeners and readers to strive for excellence and individual vision in their work, and I agree. And, I have been encouraged by his message. However, I must respond to a couple comments, including the comment about getting a side job rather than producing mediocre work, or as in one of Zack’s repeated quotes “competing with Wal-mart.”

I also take issue with Zack’s comment that an image can be a photograph, but not photography. I agree completely with the sentiment that there is way too much mediocrity in the industry and in the media. I cringe at most of the photos our local paper runs, especially after years of reading Zack’s blog and Strobist and knowing that 5 more minutes of effort could have improved those pictures. And yet, that tolerance for mediocrity is the what will allow me to build a small portrait business and get the experience that you can’t get from blogs, or shooting your kids and neighbors, and pay for the equipment that I can’t pay for out of my household budget.

As a photographer, I find incredible joy from making images of people. I find joy from growing in my craft technically, or, to say it differently, interacting with my camera and equipment. I find great joy from interacting with people and creating a photo with them, not of them. My goal is to someday have the skill that allows my images to show the world “my experience” or “what I see in my subjects.” However, I am still producing mediocre images, because of where I am at technically in my photographic journey. But, my skills are improving, and I am seeing more and more improvement in my images.

I have recently had the opportunity to do two evenings of “event portraits.” Setting up in a corner at a community event and doing a hundred mini-portrait sessions over the course of two hours. The blogs and videos very much informed that experience, but having to shoot successfully under pressure is something that you can only learn from experience.

And I loved every minute of it, every compromise, every success, every time that I had to sacrifice composition to a technical detail, every time I was able to show them a picture that was better than they expected; even the failures when I couldn’t overcome technical difficulties, or connect with my subjects. Every second of that was PHOTOGRAPHY.

Even if it doesn’t translate yet on my website, it was photography. Even if I spend two years competing with Walmart for customers. It was photography because it was a labor of love for the craft; even if the viewer cannot see it. Someday it will be GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY and the viewer will see it. And that is my problem with Zack’s criticism, you can’t always ascertain the process from the product. however, I think we could agree it is a communication failure, the failure on the photographers part to successfully communicate his/her vision.

Perhaps where I take issue is that I perceived an insult to the process, and I see the process as inseparable from the product. (Honestly, what is really tweaking me is that I really identify with the first person you critiqued. One of the first things you read from her e-mail was that she had been doing this for one year. I look at what I was doing after a year and think “wow. I didn’t have the guts to put together a website after a year.”)

Zack commented in earlier critiques that kid sports photography may be boring, but he will buy it because it is his kid. I totally get what he means here, it is like watching a movie where somebody’s dad dies in the first scene, you are emotionally connected to the movie whether it is poorly scripted and produced or not. Same thing with the pictures, you buy them even if they make you cringe. However, I think that the answer is not to berate the photographers for making lifeless images, the answer is to stop buying the images. Vote with your wallet, pay a more envisioned photographer to make images of your kid in his softball uniform. Keep encouraging and educating photographers and the overall level of the industry will rise.

In summary, thanks for taking the time to read my rant. Your critiques are successful because they are thought provoking. I love listening to them. I listened to your critique on Tuesday and have been arguing the ideas in my head all week. I absolutely loved your talk at Photocamp Utah; it inspired me. I will continue to cull my best images for my portfolio, and I will continue to shoot whatever people will pay me to shoot (or let me shoot for free), and i will likely display some of that in my portfolio, if that is what my customers want and are paying me for.

enough said.

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