Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Simple Philosophy

Human biases, societal norms and marketing hype have blanketed photography … changing it from an art form into a record collection. Every image we see, every book we read, every movie we watch strengthens these preconceptions. Instead of speaking our minds, we simply capture what’s in front of us — showing the world where we’ve been and what we saw instead of expressing to others how it makes us feel. We take these pictures as they should be ... from an angle familiar, under lighting that’s safe. We listen to the experts. We shoot in RAW, use a tripod, turn on image stabilization, use auto-focus, auto-exposure, we work the final product in Photoshop and hunt for meaning after the fact. Sure the results are bright and colorful, but what does it say about the photographer? What does it say about us? Our images record a lot ... but say very little.
Over the years, brilliant marketing campaigns, an over-abundance of auto features coupled with our willingness to settle for something less than amazing has stifled our vision and softened our resolve. It has us chasing technology instead of developing vision and control. Techniques and ideas once thought of as vital; such as depth-of-field control, perspective choices, focal-length options, color, tone and saturation issues have been replaced with face-recognition software, auto-white balance and auto-exposure.
Vital tools usually found on the camera or the lens such as the depth-of-field preview button or a simple DOF scale have been taken away, hidden or minimized. Do camera manufactures truly believe that people don’t care about what’s in focus ... and what isn’t? They are even telling us that true ‘quality’ comes from the number of electronic dots your image is made of ... as if more mega-pixels will somehow magically make our poorly composed picture better. And, now, with the plethora of special features available, art is thought of as nothing more than the next pre-programmed shooting mode.
Where is the vision, where is the creativity, where is the pride?
An artist on the other hand (one who himself is in focus) creates a message unique with his camera. He tells a story and shares with the world his vision of what’s in front of him. He communicates this difference as boldly and loudly as possible for it’s in this difference that immortality sings. For him the camera offers a chance to explore his own thoughts and share the results, a lasting memory of the man and his vision, not just the world that surrounded him.
Ask yourself a question: If someone were to look at your images would they know you shot them, is there something special, something that speaks of your vision, your thoughts ... or is it just a picture of what was in front of you? An artist with a camera is in control of perspective and depth-of-field. He uses composition and design. He plays with, tweaks and manipulates human biases, he explores the random juxtaposition of graphic elements, the ordered placement of things and ideas and even, on occasion, challenges his own expectations and techniques.
How can a photographer do this with his camera set to auto? Automatic exposure, automatic contrast, automatic white balance, automatic saturation and even automatic focus are designed to give the photographer an average image — one that doesn’t challenge society, one that falls in-line with preconceptions, one that looks good to everyone. It produces a normal picture. An artist doesn’t want normal.
Average is nothing to aspire to.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. absolutely!!! I just returned from a trip to the Netherlands, and was with a group of fellow River Cruisers. 95% of the people did nothing but auto everything, and took picutures of boring things. A few had the good D-SLR cameras, and seemed to be making a least an effort at composition. I suppose many fellow travelers will be happy with their pictures because they don't know better, or do not care. They just want to show where they went.( Which can be all right for them).

    I still have lot's to learn, but enjoy using my In Focus learned techniques, that even make my non art shots looka lot better, and more intersting.


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