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On Photography: Part One

This picture has very little to do with the discussion (or discursion) below.

This will be the first of a series of posts in which I will ramble of about various aspects of photography as an art. I do this from the point of view of someone who has been more of a consumer than a creator of art but also as someone new to photography and attempting to come to grasps with it on an ideological level.

I find this the most confusing of arts to ponder which is why I am writing this post. With the proviso that I believe that photographic masters are the equal of masters in any other art form, I still think in some ways it is the easiest of the arts.

My point is this: given the technology and given the intermittent perfection of nature, someone with no background or training, and even with no intention, can take a photograph worth preserving. Naturally, one of the hallmarks of mastery is consistency and possibly also range yet in no other art is an inadvertent production of a near perfect product by someone ignorant of every aspect of the art so possible.

I see two reasons for this.

1. There is no other art in which the mechanisms of production have been so automated. For instance the picture above was taken with a preset scenery setting on my Olympus for sand or snow. My contribution was to turn the camera on, select the setting, decide on how much of the view to include and press the button. I did not have to worry about exposures or white balance but even if I had taken the picture with manual settings, more importantly I did not have to construct what I was photographing. Which leads me to the second point…

2. The world as is runs circles around us when it comes to perfect objects and scenes. Given access to snow and trees and sky, it is unlikely that I could make anything near what I took that picture of.

And yet, we associate the finished products almost entirely with the photographer. Even if no automatic settings are used, there is still a lot of work done by the technology, and more substantially, the content has been provided. Though we can consider style, I think it behooves us somewhat to look through the photograph and pay homage (just as the photographer has done) to the original scene.

If photography is honest, it is the humblest and truest of arts. At least in the representative modes, it has no equal in reproducing the wonder of existence in the world. The photographer is like an interpreter, a medium through which the world flows. It might be, as I said, the art most amenable to producing random excellence, but despite this (or perhaps because of it) it may be the most authentic of all the arts.

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