PHOTOGRAPHY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE COMPLICATED

“The world is a more interesting place than our ideas about it.”
-Richard Benson

As of late, I have been attempting to better understand the history of photography and the place it holds in the art world.  (I recommend the photography primer at the blog, aphotostudent.com and if you are up for some wordy ontological debates, the book Words Without Pictures.) Within some of what I have read, there is a pervasive argument that the more intentional the photographer, the more artistic the photograph and thusly, the better the work. While this can be true, and this sort of photography beautiful and worthwhile [see work by Thomas Demand for example] I do not believe it should be a standard or at least, not THE standard for judging photography.  Nicholas Grider said photography is, “simultaneously being both art and non-art-both ‘the thing itself’ and a record of the thing itself.”  How refreshing an idea that photography doesn’t have to be high brow pursuits full of complicated concepts that leave the viewer feeling threatened by not understanding the frame at which s/he is looking, but at the same time be very complex.  Actually, how beautiful a conflict. Personally I’d much rather the response to any of my work be the very familiar sentiment, “I could have done that.”  Because at least the viewer has recognized something familiar in the frame, perhaps even recognizing themselves.  At the same time, I hope there is a level of accomplishment with my camera that in fact not just anyone could pull off, lending the photograph to a new and creative perspective.

By nature, photography is creative and has a voice.  Without much effort it can translate our perceived world into a more ideological one.  In the film, The Royal Tenenbaums Gene Hackman’s character, aptly named Royal Tenenbaum and the patriarch of the family has died, leaving behind a not so royal legacy.  (To be fair Royal Tenenbaum, despite all his flaws was an admirable man but was a man who for the most part was completely self absorbed with little regard for his children or wife.)  At his funeral his tombstone reads, “Died Tragically Rescuing His Family From The Remains Of A Destroyed Sinking Battleship” thus being remembered as the ideological Royal, the reality of who he was (or at least a partial reality) was forgotten and a new reality etched in stone, a photographic memorial of Royal Tenenbaum.

And so, how refreshing that we should not feel obligated to dismiss ambiguity and luck as a part of the creative process.  That at times, we can allow photography to simply be photography.  I am not arguing for happenstance photography, to shoot and occasionally get lucky photography.  A photographer should still be thoughtful, intent and observant. But the photographs are out there waiting to be made, new relationships waiting to be formed:  something new and newly observed.  Lee Friedlander said, “You don’t have to go looking for pictures.  The material is generous.  You go out and the pictures are staring at you.”  Perhaps we should champion more that what is beautiful about photography is not what the artist brings to it but rather what the photographer is given: The opportunity to respond to the world.  Or to respond to one’s own self,  to one’s own thoughts.  A response sometimes intentional and sometimes serendipitous, or even accidental.

Photography is communal.  It happens between the photographer and the subject matter, between subject matter and the audience, and between the audience and the photographer.  Because photography is so tied to reality, because it even becomes reality [see this essay by Andre Bazin] one can do nothing more than either ignore how it speaks to us or engage, to be observant and responsive, both the photographer and the viewer together acting as a community.