Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Photography as 'painting by numbers'

I caught the above piece doing the rounds on the social media yesterday and thought it was spot on. Anyone who moves in outdoor circles and has a Twitter or Facebook account will generally have more than a few acquaintances who describe themselves in terms of ‘Joe Bloggs-Photography’. Just how do you define a photographer though?  Like a lot of people reading this, I take thousands of images every year but I’d never in a million years describe myself as a photographer. Like the majority of people who use a digital camera, I’m a simple ‘happy snapper’ who might get lucky once in a while and produce an image which has some merit.

However, there is a tendency alluded to in the above piece which sees people of limited creative talent describe themselves as photographers. That’s fair enough I suppose. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some punters find images which to me are pure ‘chocolate box’ as ‘fantastic’ and bestow their praises accordingly. ‘Wow Denzil, that’s simply stunning!’..’OMG...I need to share this!!!’. But again, how can we judge an image objectively and how can we evaluate someone's work?  Is it someone who simply earns a living from photography? In that case a humble wedding photographer could be seen as a true photographer whereas a talented and truly creative amateur could be seen as a happy snapper.

I blogged a while back about how I generally find the work of photographers like Colin Prior simply boring. Technically exceptional but creatively limited. The fact that Prior sells thousands of books, calendars, greeting cards etc, suggests that my personal taste in photography is a minority view. People like their stereotypical images of mountains captured under a brooding sky with wisps of cloud wrapped around the pink tops. Nice for sure, but as the man said...’is it art’? Well not for me I’m afraid. Mountains are great photographic and painting subjects which are held in an ever changing elemental frame but there’s more to capturing their power and glory than by just taking a razor sharp image which captures that moment in time.

If we are attaching a creative value judgement on an image, how can we compare a technically brilliant photograph with say a naive, fauvist painting of a mountain by someone like James Dickson Innes or Augustus John ? Not surprisingly, if I had to hang an image on my wall I would choose the painting over the photograph every time; and not simply because of its financial value. The painting is a unique creative impression; a one off imbued with the essence of its creator whereas the photograph is the product of a machine. Captured by an individual for sure, but an image which can be recreated ad-nauseam from the original.

But this is rather drifting from the point. Painting v Photography is not the issue here. In the age of digital photography, everyone’s a photographer it seems but relatively few have genuine creative talent. Cameras, equipment and editing suites are so sophisticated these days that just about anyone can capture technically proficient images which appear to offer some artistic merit but in truth, it’s like painting by numbers. Follow the instructions and make a nice picture. No talent required.

Ironically, I caught an artists website on which a number of reviewers were quoted. I saw a quote from myself under which I was described as a ‘photographer’. Nope...never was, never will be, but I’ll continue to snap happily away all the same!

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